PSEUDO-SCIENCE & RACE
A collection of articles about the book The Bell Curve, the book, and similar psudo-science trash.
In a speech entitled "Science, Education and Democracy," delivered at the 1913 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Atlanta and published a month later in Science magazine,* James McKeen Cattell, owner and editor of Science, declared--while arguing for educational opportunities for blacks--that "There is not a single mulatto who has done creditable scientific work." [reference]
1. Science and Opportunity : "Charles Henry Turner and Ernest Everett Just ... had been publishing scientific articles in major journals for several years before Cattell delivered his speech."
2. The Bell Curve Debate : "Herrnstein and Murray prefer to ignore all the advances that have been made in neurobiology, embryology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary biology and genetics. No serious scientist now speaks of intelligence as a single faculty."
3. The Dishonest Claim of Genetic Racial IQ Differences : If you grow genetically similar seeds in uniform conditions, most of the slight variations that occur in them will be due to genetic differences. Since the environmental variance is nearly zero, the heritability ratio is high. If the same seeds are grown in a variable environment much of the observed variation will be due to the environmental differences and the resulting heritability ratio for the same seeds will be low. Thus it is impossible to talk about the heritability of the seeds themselves, only of the seeds grown under particular conditions.
4. Scientific Racism, A review of The Science and Politics of Racial Research
ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY:
Science and Opportunity
by Kenneth R. Manning
This myth was common in the white world of science, which found it easy both to accept and perpetuate the notion that African Americans had never done any worthwhile scientific work. Among those unacknowledged were the 18th-century mathematician and astronomer of African-American descent Benjamin Banneker, who had sent his scientific work to Thomas Jefferson who in turn publicized it in the United States and abroad; Edward Bouchet, one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate in the United States--in physics from Yale University in 1876; and Charles Henry Turner and Ernest Everett Just, who had been publishing scientific articles in major journals for several years before Cattell delivered his speech. It was left to black intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois to take issue with this myth, especially since no objections came from white scientists, not even from liberal-leaning ones like Jacques Loeb, a friend of Cattell's. DuBois's criticism of Cattell in the pages of The Crisis,dag the official journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was one of the factors that led the NAACP a year later to create the Spingarn Medal, an award slated for a male or female of African descent "who had performed the foremost service to his race." The first award, serving as a conspicuous counterexample to Cattell's pronouncement about the lack of achievement by blacks in science, went to the rising biologist Ernest Everett Just.
Cattell's type of sweeping generalization about what a race has or has not done in science is rarely, if ever, heard today. The scientific community has, by and large, moved beyond such crude, unsubstantiated myths. The change of attitude first became evident in the 1920s, when research results of African-American scientists began more often to appear alongside their white counterparts in the various professional journals, as blacks began, in greater numbers, to participate in scientific communities at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, and elsewhere.
World War II brought further opportunities. At Los Alamos and at the universities and research laboratories involved with the Manhattan Project, many white scientists witnessed for the first time black scientists joining their community in closer, more integral ways. Blacks who worked together with whites on the atomic bomb included physicists Edwin R. Russell and George W. Reed, as well as the chemists Moddie D. Taylor and the brothers William J. and Lawrence H. Knox. The eminent white physicist Arthur Holly Compton remarked that the bomb project was unique in bringing together "colored and white, Christian and Jew" for a common purpose.
However, while African Americans were clearly doing creditable scientific work, they were still not full-fledged members of the scientific community. After the war African Americans in science continued their tradition of working at historically black universities, barred as they were from holding faculty positions at most white research and teaching institutions. This pattern continued through the 1950s, well beyond the legal end to segregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. Black scientists attracted young black students into the various scientific fields at black colleges and universities, institutions that had limited resources for scientific research. Herman Russell Branson and Warren Henry of Howard University, S. Milton Nabrit and Henry C. McBay of Morehouse College, and James R. Lawson and Samuel Massie of Fisk University all served as inspiring mentors to students who went on to earn doctorates at white institutions in the late 1950s and 1960s. The scientific community owes this cohort of pioneering mentors of black students a great debt.
In the early to mid-1960s additional opportunities began to open up in science. These were the consequence, in part, of the social and political upheavals in the United States--the sit-ins and demonstrations in the South by young black college students, the March on Washington, and the passage of federal civil rights legislation. While universities began to admit more African Americans as undergraduates, some of whom entered scientific fields, the scientific community was mostly a passive beneficiary of these developments. Little, if any, progressive action to integrate blacks into higher education or to bring them into the mainstream of the scientific enterprise emanated from the professional ranks of science. That is not to say that some individual white scientists did not join blacks on the freedom rides in Mississippi, Alabama, and other parts of the Deep South. During the last half of the 1960s, political activists on college campuses throughout the country questioned not so much science itself as its uses and abuses. African Americans, some of them pursuing science as a career, were part of this group. As aspiring scientists, they worked to balance their political commitments and their career goals. It was sometimes difficult for them to explore Banach spaces in mathematics classes or repeat Arrhenius's experiments on the conductivity of electrolytic solutions in the chemistry lab while demonstrations against Dow Chemical Co., the Vietnam War, and the killing of black students at Jackson State proceeded apace. There were university-wide strikes during two spring terms of my four college years--strikes protesting the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and police brutality on campus in 1969, and the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State killings in 1970. Many young scientists became part of the strike leadership, leaving the protected sanctity of their classrooms and laboratories to organize, march, and fight for justice. This experience heightened their awareness of the role of science and academic institutions in perpetuating past inequities, and of their responsibility to stimulate transition to a fairer and more equitable society. While some potential scientists from this group were ultimately lost to the profession through disillusionment and other reasons, others were able to balance politics and career, pursuing productive change within their fields on matters of race, access, and diversity.
Beginning in the early 1970s, American scientists and administrators attempted to increase the number of minorities in science and engineering fields, and intervention programs were initiated to further this mission. These national, regional, and local programs, many of which have survived into the 1990s, have sought to open the door for more African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans to share in the scientific endeavor. Individually conceived and implemented, each program has a story that needs to be told. In 1992 Walter Massey, the second African-American director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), declared that "a host of programs have been conceptualized, touted, and funded--and largely, they have not made much of a difference."ddag He, and especially his colleague Luther Williams, asserted that these programs had failed. Their characterization, perhaps correct as it relates to increasing the number of blacks in science, seems not to speak to a qualitative assessment of the intervention programs--how they related, for example, to the experiences of individual participants. To determine this, educators and policy makers need first to know exactly what happened, when, and to whom. Fortunately, because a number of these programs still exist and are ongoing, we are able to capture both their past and current status, and shape their future.
Since the 1970s, scientific organizations, universities, and learned societies have opened their membership to include more minorities. The AAAS, for example, established the program "Opportunities in Science" in 1972 to tackle the problem of minority underrepresentation. Still, the representation of African Americans in scientific careers hovers around 2 percent, which leaves much to be desired. We now realize that there is no quick fix. The systematic and comprehensive development of a scientific legacy for African Americans will require time and a concerted effort all along the educational pipeline, from preschool through graduate school. Unfortunately, counselors and teachers--not all white--sometimes steer young black students away from the rigorous scientific and mathematical courses required for future training in science. When these students do survive elementary and high school and find themselves at prestigious white institutions, some are confronted with professors with lower expectations for their performance than for that of white students. Such paternalism is detrimental not only to African Americans, but to whites as well.
Universities have a special role to play in bringing blacks into scientific fields, since these institutions serve as filters for entry into the professional world of science. At the undergraduate level, college admissions are carried out by administrators who, guided by institutional goals of producing a diverse student body, have had some success in increasing the potential pool of African-American students for careers in science. At the graduate level, however, admissions are handled by faculty in the academic science departments who are not necessarily motivated by the same institutional commitment and who produce less impressive recruitment results. At the highest professional level, as faculty, the recruitment, appointment, and promotion of African Americans is the most disappointing of all. The reasons are complex and varied, ranging from lack of faculty expertise in performing the necessary recruitment tasks to a reluctance by some to change the complexion of science at the most exalted level. This juncture is a focal point along the career pipeline, perhaps the only remaining place where total and absolute self-selection into a bastion is still practiced.
The decisions of science faculty are therefore critical in diversifying science and engineering fields. In order to invigorate initiatives to build and sustain a critical mass of African-American students in science at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, more African-American science and engineering faculty need to be recruited. Since recruitment efforts for such faculty are often driven by central-office administrators with less than enthusiastic support from faculty, these efforts are frequently doomed from the start because they create tensions between faculty prerogatives and administrative goals. Because appointment, promotion, and tenure are faculty matters, an increased presence of African Americans and other minorities in academic departments depends principally on decisions made by majority faculty. Science faculty members must, therefore, be convinced of the appropriateness and rich advantages of bringing into their fields members who are not necessarily reflections of themselves.
When Dr. Massey was guest speaker at the MIT commencement ceremony in June 1991, 3 years after he had served as president of AAAS, I eagerly awaited his views on the subject of race and science. But he said nothing in this speech about opportunities--or the lack thereof--for African Americans in science. As the second African-American director of the NSF addressing a captive audience of scientists, students, and parents, he missed a unique opportunity. Silence on the topic left the impression that all was well in the world of science.
A year later a special issue of Science magazine entitled "Minorities in Science: The Pipeline Problem"¤ was published. Devoted to the subject of increasing the pool of African-American scientists, it featured the success story of Massey and others who had benefitted from special mentors in their early education. Here Massey wrote forcefully and eloquently on the subject of blacks and their ongoing struggle for opportunities in science.
The efforts of individual scientists, universities, and professionals are essential if we are to approach the 21st century with any hope of creating a diverse scientific community. Despite the current political atmosphere and the arguments against interventive efforts emanating from recent works such as Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray's The Bell Curve (1994), and Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom's America in Black and White (1997), we must continue the struggle to diversify the world of science and to encourage and enable all who wish to enter it. Increasing diversity will require time and commitment beyond lip service, and courage in the face of political detractors.
KENNETH R. MANNING is Thomas Meloy Professor of Rhetoric and of the History of Science at MIT. His biography, Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just (Oxford University Press, 1983), won the Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society. He is writing a social history of African Americans in medicine.
The author is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Room 16-236, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA. He dedicates this essay to Leonard M. Rieser, president of AAAS from 1971 to 1974.
dag The Crisis 9, 81 (1914).
ddag Science 258, 1177 (1992). ¤ Ibid, pp. 1057-1276.
The Bell Curve Debate
A Lucy Horwitz review of
1. The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein & Charles Murray
2. The Bell Curve Debate- Russell Jacoby & Naomi Glauberman, editors
Surely no reader of this column needs to be told what The Bell Curve, probably the most reviewed and discussed book of this or any recent year, has to say. But for those of you who have been visiting other planets during the last six months, here is the basic argument:
General intelligence, called "G," and defined as "a person's capacity for complex mental work," constitutes the "broadest conception of intelligence." IQ is "what people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart." G, IQ or smarts can be accurately (and without cultural bias) measured by standard intelligence tests. IQ is 40%-80% heritable and is relatively stable over a person's lifetime. Blacks' IQ scores are significantly lower than whites'. Low IQ is the cause of social problems such as poverty, crime, unemployment, illegitimacy, welfare dependency, etc. High IQ is the only passport to success. The world is rapidly separating into a cognitive elite and a cognitively deficient underclass. Nothing can be done to raise IQs, and social programs such as Head Start, Affirmative Action, AFDC, etc. are useless, counterproductive or both. Since nothing can be done to change these inequalities, the only answer is "letting people find valued places in society." My first reaction when I read The Bell Curve some months ago was regret that this book was not available twenty years ago. At that time I was writing an elementary statistics text, half of which covered the fundamentals, while the other half used examples to demonstrate how statistical fallacies can distort the truth beyond recognition-inadvertently or purposefully. I spent long hours in the library, collecting examples of such fallacies from many different sources-newspaper and journal articles, advertisements, political speeches, etc. And now here is a book which could have saved me all that trouble. Every fallacy I wanted to demonstrate, available in one convenient volume!
My second reaction, of course, was regret that this insult to our intelligence had been published at all. As the weeks went by, I was happy to see that no one seemed to be taken in. Experts and laymen alike were quick to point out the dishonesty of the book, uncovering flaw after flaw in its words and numbers, its logic and statistics, its charts and graphs. It was variously called "atrocious science" (Scientific American, February, 1995), "pseudoscholarly" (San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 1994, "sleazy" (The New York Review, November 17, 1994),"an unusually lengthy promotional brochure for a rather unattractive political package." (The Washington Monthly) "a house of cards constructed to push a political agenda" (Business Week, November 7, 1994), "a fable masquerading as social science" (San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 1994), etc., etc.
So why was it getting all this publicity? I decided it might be what I had come to think of as the Archie Bunker Effect. Why was All in the Family so popular? Because the strongest human emotion is not love or hate, but the need to feel superior to someone. And Archie Bunker, by expressing his need to feel superior to everyone different from himself, provided a double thrill-the thrill of having others put down, yes, but also the thrill of feeling superior to Archie. And so it seemed with The Bell Curve. I began to see it as providing the guilty thrill of feeling superior to a whole race, plus the virtuous thrill of feeling superior to its racist authors.
Was that too cynical? (My friend Frank says we are always afraid of being too cynical, whereas the world keeps reminding us that we are not cynical enough.) And what was I doing clipping every review, making my own lists of flaws and fallacies, clearly preparing to add my two cents worth?
The answers to these questions appeared in the form of a manuscript entitled The Bell Curve Debate. Just as the authors of The Bell Curve (hereafter TBC) could have saved me a lot of time in l974, the editors of The Bell Curve Debate (hereafter TBCD) could have saved me a lot of trouble in l994. For in 1995 they are coming out with a fat volume which gathers together everything that has been said about TBC and more. Perusing the manuscript resolved my conflicts about writing this column.
Although I could not see my way clear to urging people to go out and plunk down $30 just to see for themselves what trash can be published under the guise of "scholarship," I have no hesitancy at all in urging people to beg, borrow or buy a copy of The Bell Curve Debate, which raises a host of interesting questions and provides some very illuminating answers.
TBC clearly generates two areas of dispute-the scientific and the political. But TBCD raises many additional questions. There are the questions about the scientific data on race, IQ and heritability, and questions about how this data is to be interpreted, yes, but also about the meta-issue of whether science should investigate these questions at all. Similarly the political debate about the programmatic implications also leads to the question of whether these issues should be publicly debated.
After reading TBCD, I no longer doubt that the answer to this last question is a resounding "yes." Two things convinced me of the importance of having such a discussion. The first was the surprising number of people who were taken in by the bogus arguments of TBC. The second was my almost being taken in by "Going Public" by Father Neuhaus, in which he pleads for no public discussion of these issues. I read it with the same pleasure I often derive from reading Miss Manners, whose concern for people's feelings I find highly commendable. Father Neuhaus argues that "Society depends upon taboos and interdictions. Kindness is no limp or expendable virtue." He then goes on to chide the authors for speaking about racial differences in cognitive functioning "especially when they conclude that there is little or nothing that can be done about it."
There's something terribly wrong here, and it's not too difficult to see what it is. The problem is a failure to make the distinction between taking people to task for telling vicious lies about an issue and saying that the issue shouldn't be discussed at all. As long as some people secretly believe in the inferiority of some segment of the human race, we shall have to continue to publicly expose their errors.
This leads us to the related meta-issue of the social responsibility of scientists. Are there certain things that scientists should not study because they are potentially damaging to society? This debate has raged for as long as I can remember, beginning with arguments about the atomic bomb. (Remember Tom Lehrer's "When the missiles go up who cares where they come down. That's not my department, said Werner von Braun"?) Well, it's a big question, and one we won't attempt to answer here-it will probably always remain between the consciences of individual scientists and their funding agencies.
But we can say something about this particular case. Charles Murray makes much of the alleged courage he and his co-author, recently deceased Richard Herrnstein, showed in breaking the "taboo" of talking about race and intelligence. Perhaps in some circles there is such a taboo. But among most responsible scientists today, the only taboo is bad science. And that taboo they have certainly broken, though I'd hardly call their act courageous. Ellen Willis, in "The Median is the Message" has an excellent discussion of this aspect of the debate.
It is true that there is very little responsible work being done in the field of racial differences, but as several writers point out, this is not because of any "taboo," but rather because modern science has moved beyond the crude notion of human races. Read "Defining Race" by Steven A. Holmes (or better yet the article it refers to by Jared Diamond in the November 1994 issue of Discovery). Learn why it makes as much sense to group Eastern European Jews and French Canadians together, or Nigerians and Norwegians as it does to define the races we generally accept. It's all a matter of which genetic traits we pick. We happen to use skin color. But one could just as well use blood type, presence or absence of the enzymes lactase, the sickle-cell gene or any other sets of genes that vary from group to group.
The other supposed taboo is to talk about intelligence. And here again we run into not a taboo, but just plain bad science. As Howard Gardner puts it, "When it comes to science, the book could have been written a hundred years ago." Herrnstein and Murray (hereafter H&M) prefer to ignore all the advances that have been made in neurobiology, embryology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary biology and genetics. No serious scientist now speaks of intelligence as a single faculty like g that is set at conception and remains unchanged throughout the lifespan. Intelligence is now generally regarded as context-specific, and whether you want to accept Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences or some other system, g is decidedly out.
There are many good articles about the question of what constitutes intelligence and what intelligence tests really measure. The best is Leon Kamin's "The Pioneers of I.Q. Testing," a real eye opener. For instance Binet, who designed the first intelligence test to predict school performance, did not believe that his tests measured a genetic immutable trait. He actually "prescribed therapeutic courses in 'mental orthopedics' for those with low test scores." Read also Brigitte Berger, who in "Methodological Fetishism" points out that what standardized intelligence tests measure is not intelligence, but something she calls "modern consciousness." In Joe Chidley's "The Heart of the Matter," Camille Paglia is quoted as saying "What they're calling IQ is Apollonian logic-cause and effect-that the West invented...to identify that narrow thing with all human intelligence is madness." Also look at Horace M. Bond's "What the Army 'Intelligence' Tests Measured."
So now we have two questionable constructs, race and intelligence, for which H&M analyze realms of data. To judge the quality of any data, one looks, among other things, at sample source and size. Leon Kamin, in "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics," goes back to the original studies that H&M draw on. He sums up the result of his research by stating that "the caliber of the data cited by Herrnstein and Murray is, at many critical points, pathetic-and their citations of those weak data are often inaccurate."
As one example, the longest section in the book depends entirely on data from the "National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Experience of Youth,"(henceforth referred to as the NLSY). There are two main problems with this data. The first is that all the data is self-reported. That is, it comes from answers the subjects gave to questions about themselves. Not all self- reported data is worthless, but it certainly raises a red flag of warning to any experienced statistician. The second problem is sample size. The survey included 12,000 subjects. That seems a lot. But when they get sorted into dozens of different categories, and then only the extremes of the categories are used to draw conclusions, you end up with very small numbers on which to hang very large generalizations.
And now we come to the use of statistics. Admit it, you don't want to hear about it. And that's just what they're counting on. If Samuel Johnson were alive today, he might well decide that the very last refuge of the scoundrel is statistics. I will briefly mention three of the most serious sins committed here, and point you toward the articles that do an excellent job of explaining the issues in non-technical terms.
Probably the most egregious crime is the constant confusion of correlation with causation. Correlation simply means that a connection exists between two sets of data. For example, there is generally a correlation between height and shoe size. Taller people tend to have larger feet than shorter people. The fact that a correlation exists, tells you nothing about cause and effect. A correlation between A and B might be due to A causing B, B causing A, C causing both A and B, sheer coincidence, or experimental error. Yet over and over again correlation is treated as cause. In particular, the cause of all social ills is either stated or implied to be low IQ. See Kamin on this point, too. Many of the articles comment on this fallacy, and David Suzuki focusses on it in an excellent piece, "Correlation as Causation"
Closely related to the concept of correlation is that of regression analysis, and the longest section in the book (that using the NLSY data) is filled with graphs of regression lines. Here's how they work. You plot points on a graph such that each point represents two pieces of data, such as income and education or, if you are an author of this book, IQ and illegitimacy. Then you use a mathematical formula to calculate a "line of best fit." The angle of this line tells you whether there is a positive or negative correlation between the two sets of data. The guilty little secret that most non-statisticians do not know is that you can always draw such a line, whether there is a real correlation or not. Then, if you are an honest statistician you report the strength of the correlation. But as Gould puts it,"...in violation of all statistical norms..they plot only the regression curve and do not show the scatter of variation around the curve, so their graphs do not show anything about the strength of the relationships... Indeed, almost all their relationships are weak."
Finally there is the fallacy of confusing statistics about populations and individuals. This may seem too obvious to mention. Even H&M say in their disingenuous fashion that just because blacks as a group are dumber than whites, this says nothing about any individual black. However, when it comes to the concept of heritability, they completely lose it.
Heritability says nothing about the extent to which a trait is inherited by an individual. Rather it is a measure of the extent to which genotype (the genetic basis of a trait) matches phenotype (the actual expression of that trait) in a given population. If eye color were uniquely determined by one gene, then genotype would always match phenotype, and heritability would be 1.0. Speaking English (as opposed to some other language) has a heritability of 0. There are no genes for English-it is entirely environment-dependant. Traits that psychologists, geneticists and others study have heritabilities between 0 and 1. But because the distribution of genes as well as the interaction between genetic composition and environmental influences varies from one population to another, heritability does also. So to claim that any one number can represent the heritability of IQ for all populations is nonsense. Applying that number to individuals (as in 60% of a person's IQ is inherited) constitutes a complete departure from reality. Pat Shipman has a good discussion in her article "Legacy of Racism," though in other respects I feel she gives the devil rather more than his due.
There are many, many more flaws of this nature, but you get the picture. The final, and to me most damning, point that is made about TBC in TBCD is about the hypocrisy of the whole enterprise. Stephen Jay Gould calls it disingenuousness. As he puts it, "The authors omit facts, misuse statistical methods, and seem unwilling to admit the consequences of their own words." Howard Gardner calls it scholarly brinkmanship, and shows how this "encourages the reader to draw the strongest conclusions, while allowing the authors to disavow this intention." What, me racist? In "Curveball," Bob Herbert quotes a New York Times Magazine article in which Murray talks about how he and some friends burned a cross on a hill when he was a teenager. He is quoted as saying "It never crossed our minds that this had any larger significance." It is clear that Murray has learned nothing in the intervening years.
There are many more treasures in TBCD than I have room to describe. But don't miss Gregg Easterbrook's account of how he suddenly acquired basketball genes when he had the opportunity for daily practice in a black neighborhood, and just as suddenly lost them when he left, or Mike Walter's wonderful comparison of TBC with cold fusion, or Bruce McCall's "Ethnicity, Genetics and Cuteness (Addendum to Recent Fearless Findings)" from the New Yorker.
There are also a number of pieces that you can easily skip. I might note that I found the pieces supporting TBC almost uniformly stodgy, unimaginative rehashes of the book with nothing to recommend them in the way of new insight or new ideas. But what would you expect of supporters of 19th-century science and the politics of Attila the Hun?
If the human race is to survive on this planet, we will have to get beyond the tribalism of the '90s. We are going to have to recognize that we are all members of the same species, with much more to unite than to divide us. We must learn to celebrate our diversity, not because it is the politically correct thing to do, but because we truly appreciate that in it lies the power of the human race, not only to survive, but to evolve.
Lucy Horwitz is a Contributing Editor at the Boston Book Review.
The Dishonest Claim of Genetic Racial IQ Differences
by Douglas Metzler, University of Pittsburgh
Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's book, "The Bell Curve," tries to wrap a conservative political agenda in the mantle of scientific respectability. It should be dismissed as a travesty of population genetics.
In the book, they claim that the stratification of society by income and social achievement is largely the inevitable result of IQ differences, and that these IQ differences, including the average IQ differences found between blacks and whites, are largely due to genetics. The book, and Murray's comments since, have tried to portray the debate on this issue as one between science (on their side) and wishful thinking. This ruse may be succeeding since few commentators are familiar enough with behavioral population genetics to evaluate the book on those terms. In fact, not only are the claims of the book not scientifically proven, they are by their very nature unprovable.
Although the authors provide a brief explanation of the concept of heritability, they go on to ignore the implications of the definition. They repeatedly misuse the concept of heritability as if it were an absolute number, as, for instance, when they estimate that the heritability of IQ is about 60%. But it is meaningless to talk about heritability this way and the authors knew it. Heritability is defined as a ratio. It is the ratio of genetically determined variance in a population to the total variance. The total variance is assumed to be the sum of genetic variance plus environmentally determined variance. If you grow genetically similar seeds in uniform conditions, most of the slight variations that occur in them will be due to genetic differences. Since the environmental variance is nearly zero, the heritability ratio is high. If the same seeds are grown in a variable environment much of the observed variation will be due to the environmental differences and the resulting heritability ratio for the same seeds will be low. Thus it is impossible to talk about the heritability of the seeds themselves, only of the seeds grown under particular conditions.
The key travesty of this book is using measures of heritability within groups to make assertions regarding the differences between groups. Suppose you divide the same seeds into two groups and grow them under uniform conditions except that you give one group more sunlight than the other. In this case the heritability ratio of each group will be high because the environmental variance within each group is low. But the sunlight may cause a large (environmental) difference between the groups. If we did not know about the lighting difference, we would have no way of knowing whether the difference between the groups was due to a genetic factor or some unknown environmental factor. This is exactly the situation we are faced with in regard to racial differences in average IQ scores. We know that heritability of IQ is fairly high among both whites and blacks, but it is scientifically impossible to determine whether there is any genetic contribution to the difference between the groups.
The ideal way to answer such questions is to compare sample groups raised under identical conditions. When this is impossible, you can try to eliminate the environmental factors by equating the groups on those factors. In the human case, we can equate groups on such measurable factors as income, age, schooling, and housing, and see if there is still a difference between the groups. This is sometimes a reasonable way to conduct population studies, but in the case of race it is completely unjustified. It is like equating various social indicators for two individuals, one black and one white, while assuming that the rest of their environmental experiences are identical. No one could possibly come to that conclusion unless they were blinded by ignorance, lack of sensitivity, or racism. It is logically impossible to rule out factors involving the experience of race itself. Factors such as concern about how whites are evaluating you, unfamiliar dialect, cultural differences, and negative self images, are very plausible influences on IQ scores.
Is the racial difference hypothesis plausible even if it is unprovable? Couldn't the races have diverged substantially in the time during which they were geographically separated? While it is possible that there might be some slight overall average difference one way or the other, it is probably not significant because there is no reason to suspect that environmental conditions in Africa made intelligence any less important for survival than did the conditions of Europe and Asia. There is every reason to assume, given the evidence of anthropology and linguistics, that intelligence, language and communication were equally important to all groups of people.
Murray and Herrnstein's claim that the lower social strata of society are in that position largely due to IQ differences is nearly as weak and nearly as destructive as their racial claim. It is true that IQ correlates strongly with social success and it is plausible that intelligence plays some causal role in social achievement. But it is equally plausible that many aspects of social success play a causal role in determining measured IQ. Moreover, many other factors, such as attractiveness, height, personality, energy level, and "character", to name a few, also play important roles in determining achievement. To go from a set of correlations between social factors to a model attempting to show which factors cause others, and how much they do so, always involves making a number of prescientific, often speculative, assumptions, and the interpretation of multivariate statistical techniques is as much an art as a science.
History is replete with elites who have taken their own cultural qualities as evidence that they are naturally superior to the unfortunate classes beneath them. Perhaps Murray should see how far his own personal IQ would get him in the "IQ tests" of some other culture, say the streets of Harlem or a third world country. He could start by seeing how long it would take him to pass a test in black English.
Douglas Metzler is an Associate Professor of Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a statistical consultant and holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of California, Davis, where he also studied behavioral population genetics.
A review of The Science and Politics of Racial Research by William H. Tucker (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
by A. C. Higgins
Below is my review of William H. Tucker's social history of racial research. Tucker provides a detailed history of the movement from its 19th century origins through contemporary Jansenism. Tucker's book appeared at nearly the same time as The Bell Curve and that book is not included in his review. However, the splendid thing about Tucker's exposition is that the Herrnstein/Murray kind of science fits right in; one can see its context.
My review is over long. Yet, I have omitted here detailing the telling descriptions of the battles over school desegregation in the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the reemergence of biological explanations of social behaviors in the 1970s and 1980s. The reader can savor those detailed tellings for himself or herself. Rather, here I would like to emphasize a major contribution made by Tucker to the major interests of this board: fraud in science. Tucker has exposed the mental gymnastics of the social scientist who abuses science in the name of ideology. That is precisely what Tucker sees scientific racists as doing: abusing science by using it as a mechanism of ideology.
The reasoning of scientific racists goes like this: science can tell us the facts and, once we know the facts, we will know what to do. However, science cannot provide a basis for human judgment precisely because science can never provide all the facts. Science is, at best, a statement of probabilities, an approximation, a contingency statement. The judgment that all men are created equal is not a scientific fact but a political and moral judgment about which science has nothing to say.
Attempts to use science as if to say something about the moral order are misunderstandings or worse. Science says nothing about the ought-to-be and science can say nothing about the moral order. If African Americans are short or tall, young or old, male or female, or whatever else, the knowledge says nothing about their rights under the Constitution. But let me paraphrase and quote Tucker for he makes his points very well:
Scientists claim to be impartial, neutral, "value-free" investigators of the world around them; science is supposedly a procedure for arriving at truth. However, scientists have done wicked things down through history and done them in the name of science. One major example of what has been done in the name of science is racial research and in this book, Tucker provides an overview of racial research from Condorcet (1795) to the present. Briefly, he finds that for two centuries "there have been scientists obsessed with proving that minorities, poor people, foreigners, and women are innately inferior to upper-class white males of northern European extraction." (p. 4) This has been an attempt, quoting Condorcet, "'to make nature herself an accomplice to political inequality.'" (p. 5)
There is implied here a notion that science can, somehow, explain and justify political inequality. This, of course, appears to makes scientific authority a powerful strategy for influencing public policy. If political inequality is seen as a natural consequence of biological inferiority, and biological inferiority can be demonstrated scientifically, it seems that rulers rule according to the laws of nature, not of man. Thus, rulers gave scientists the political task of demonstrating that biology determined their superiority and their subjects' inferiority. More, rulers want it clear there is "no injustice" in their rule. (p. 7) What this book shows is that the "effort to prove the innate intellectual inferiority of some groups has led only to oppressive and antisocial proposals; it has no other use. Indeed, there is no 'legitimate' application for such a finding." (p. 8)
Science is not and cannot be a source of moral authority but the pretense that science can be represents a politically appealing proposition that has become, over the years, a basis for an ongoing campaign to establish a scientific rationale for political and racial oppression. And it is worth reiterating Tucker's thesis: such scientific demonstrations have no other reason for existence than "proving inequality's moral basis." This might well be called the creation of an ideology by means of science but, please note, the ideology existed before the "science" got done and what got done was demanded by the ideology.
Thomas Jefferson put the matter this way concerning blacks: "whatever be their degree of talents, it is no measure of thei rights." (quoted here, p. 11) But, in fact, in the name of science various scientists have eschewed that morality and political judgment preferring that their science prove the worthiness of citizens.
Scientists curry the favor of bigots by providing apparently useful data to them. Take one example: by the 1840s, the challenge to slavery had begun in earnest and so had the defenses of that peculiar institution. In the early part of the decade, the flawed data of the census of 1840 came to be used as a political weapon against the abolitionists. Data of the 1840 census seemed to indicate that blacks living in the North tended to suffer from mental illness at a rate far higher than slaves living in the South. Indeed, free blacks in the North had lunacy rates ten times the rates of slaves in the South. The conclusion was drawn by Southerners that the Negro suffered unduly from "mental activity and where there is the greatest mental torpor, we find the least insanity." (p. 15) Slavery, it would appear to those who looked at these data, was the appropriate social state of the Negro.
Well, the data were wrong. The inexperienced enumerators had erred. And the champions of the South knew well the data's flaws but, like politicians now, they used the data of incipient demography to their own advantage. Then, as now, ideologues used facts which suited their special perspectives. Science served perspective -- not the other way around.
The special perspective of racial researchers is the subject of Tucker's book. The special perspective of these researchers, from the beginnings of their "research" until the present, is their use of "science" to promote political goals. For this perspective was born of the enthusiasm of the 19th century European scientist who imagined, wrongly, that science could save human beings from the need to make political judgments. The 19th century English scientist most particularly, imagined that biological science (a la Darwin) and philosophy (a la Spencer) had provided a method for escaping a society of human making: surely, science could save us by showing us the right, the natural, the biologically correct method of surviving as the fittest. And here, Tucker begins the development of the scientific racist perspective with the work of Francis Galton, Darwin's cousin. Sir Francis' views are based on the idea that science and mathematics can together provide an alternative "religion" -- a belief system -- which, by virtue of its methods, can be ever so much more effective than the old superstitions. That new religion of science applied to justifying Victorian England's social system by demonstrating clearly (and scientifically, of course) its "inevitability" -- and therefore the rightness -- of the class system as it existed in England, Europe's most advanced, progressive and evolved nation. (It also justified Francis Galton's claim to superiority over the hated aristocracy.)
Galton was not interested in the details of his cousin's evolution so much as he was fascinated by the idea of "controlling" evolutionary development through the techniques of proper breeding. Just as dog fanciers could control the development of breeds, so too could right thinking scientists develop a "new science" which would promote the proper sort of human being through scientifically controlled matings. He developed the "science" of Eugenics whose goal was just such control and he promoted quantification and mathematical measurement of "desirable traits" so as to provide the necessary data on the basis of which "truly proper breeding" could occur. The search for measurements of desired traits led directly to the IQ test and the enthusiastic embrace of Eugenics by those interested in the measurement of that trait. It was a truly symbiotic relationship: psychologists got money while the Eugenicists got the science of trait psychology.
Galton's work was picked up in the U.S. by politically and socially elite groups at, among other places, Harvard University where good WASP's sought to protect and defend the country against the incursions of "undesirables." It was at Harvard, in 1895, that the infamous Immigration Restriction League was formed. And, desiring data to prove the inferiority of recent immigrants to our shores, various wealthy Americans endorsed and supported the IRL and the research facility built at Cold Springs Harbor, New York, with Harriman money (also Carnegie and Rockefeller support). There, Charles B. Davenport conducted research and political activity over the first thirty years of this century. And all of the science was designed to promote the idea of biological justification for the social order. By demonstrating the "inferiority" of those at the bottom of the social heap, the upper classes presumptively justified their being at the top of the social scale. They could "prove" their superiority with the IQ test. And, with the same instrument, prove the inferiority of the black. Of course, their proofs ignored "All men are created equal..."
...(S)cientific evidence was, or ought to be, the prerequisite for political and moral conclusions. For the social scientists, there were no self-evident truths; all men (and most certainly women) were not born equal, nor were they endowed with any inalienable rights unless science could establish their existence. All "social and political institutions," proclaimed James McKeen Cattell, the psychology professor who coined the term _mental test_, had to be "based on the truths determined by science," and "no social system, no political theory ... can be maintained when it is not in accord with science." The Declaration of Independence was therefore to be honored in the same manner as other outmoded scientific theories -- "as the dead bodies over which we have advanced." (p. 106)
And this kind of thinking was not limited to a few crackpots or protofascists. One had to submit to Nature and the natural order of things: George Barton Cutton, the president of Colgate, declared that "Democracy is just out of the question." The IQ test had:
...disclosed too many "mentally subnormal" for universal "manhood suffrage" to be realistic, and yet we were about to double "our greatest ... failure," wrote Cutten, contemplating imminent passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Though it might be "a wise course to treat the people like children and let them play at governing themselves," he observed, what the country really needed was not elected "leaders: but "rulers" -- intelligent autocrats who would "rule and rule well" ... He anticipated that mental tests would produce a "caste system as rigid as that of India," on the one hand depriving "at least 25 percent" of citizens of the ballot while, on the other, returning "the burden and responsibility of government where it belongs ... to the rule of ... the real and total aristocracy." This caste system, Cutten emphasized, would not depend on any accident of birth, wealth, or favor, however; it would have a "rational and just basis." (p. 105)
And be clear on this: education was NOT viewed as an opportunity for the development of the individual's potential but rather as a mechanism for matching persons to the role for which they had been "conditioned by...nature." (p. 108) "A scientifically structured educational system was to be the servant of a scientifically structured society... giving to each "a fitting place in the state" while insuring social harmony, especially among those whose place would not be enviable." (p. 109)
The obsession with mental tests, however, left a scientific legacy that would continue to exert substantial influence on the field of education -- the belief that "intelligence" was biologically innate and hence unchangeable, that is growth ended at biological maturity, that it could be directly assessed by performance on a series of tricky little problems that must be solved as rapidly as possible, and that this assessment determined not only what one did know but also what one could know. This reluctance to explore the modifiability and diverseness of intellectual accomplishment has been partly responsible for the quasi- eugenic role that education still plays, channeling individuals, often from an early age, toward futures determined appropriate for them by the results of an IQ test. (p. 110)
The logical extension of the scientific assessment of differential ability occurred in Nazi Germany. Serving science meant excluding (exterminating) those "unfit" or "unworthy" of life. "The Nazis ... merely designed and implemented the mechanisms to attain the goals proclaimed scientifically necessary by the geneticists and anthropologists." (p. 129)
The Holocaust has commonly been conceived of as a revolt against reason, the ultimate example of the "irrational," designed and executed by the pathologically insane. But if reason was the object of the revolt, it was also the chief ally, a dialectic so monstrously rational that it could override all the traditional bounds of morality. The Holocaust was not so much the overthrow of reason as its triumph over morality. It allowed a scientific ultrarationality -- what Hitler called "ice cold logic" - - to provide murder with rational justification. (p. 133)
Whether murder or simple social inequity, the aim of this "scientific racism" is forever the same: the explanation of political inequality with reference to biological inequality. To these thinkers, it is idiotic or paradoxical to think that all individuals are created equal when biology clearly indicates that "equality" ain't so. Because eugenics had so often been intertwined with pseudoscientific assertions about race and nationality, the inaccuracy -- indeed, the plain foolishness -- of many of these claims became the principal focus of criticism, leaving the underlying assumptions unchallenged. The real problem of eugenics was not the commission of scientific errors, though these were certainly committed in abundance. The attention given to empirical questions largely overshadowed consideration of the more important error, however, the conviction the sociomoral tenets could appropriately be derived from science. Concepts of liberty, justice and equal rights are neither determined nor justified by scientific results but flow from agreements among human beings based on constitutional, religious and moral principles. The intrusion of science into this domain only impeded the Enlightenment's promise to free individuals from the coercive power of church and superstition, moving them out of the religious frying pan and into the scientific fire. Of course, this does not suggest that science has no role in social policy, but it is not in defining goals or rights, it is in developing techniques and methods for achieving principles that have been defined elsewhere.
Tucker details the sorry history of Galton's legacy in this century: the battles over immigration in the 20s, the growth of Nazi ideology both in Germany and here in the U.S., the battles over school integration and the Civil Rights Movement, and the apparently scientific contributions of Arthur Jensen.
This review is already far too long. Suffice it to say that Tucker does a thorough job of applying the insight revealed by his exposure of the racist assumption -- science can prove moral/political inferiority. Science cannot prove anything of the sort and attempts to use science in this way are, as is appropriate for this board, fraudulent.
Tucker touches on some fascinating characters in the history of scientific racism: Frank C. McGurk, Henry Garrett, Carleton Putnam, Wesley C. George, Robert E. Kuttner, Ernst van den Haag, William B. Shockley, Hans Eysenck, Raymond B. Cattell, Roger Pearson, and, of course, Arthur Jensen. These are men whose names and works should be identified.
The quote from Jefferson regarding the distinction between science and morality for blacks or the poor or anyone else is elegant: "whatever be their degree of talents, it is no measure of their rights." Amen.
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