Monday, June 18, 2012

What REALLY Drives Research on Racial Differences in Intelligence

Should science study whether white males have a greater genetic predisposition toward precipitating Wall Street crashes than do black males?  Nature magazine has not posed such questions and never will.  The premises upon which such research would be based are not considered "mainstream science."  No audience would be willing to pay hard-earned cash for such findings, however mathematically precise they might be graphed and packaged.  Why then should the cognitive inferiority of certain races be treated any differently?
My latest book,  Straightening the Bell Curve: How Stereotypes about Black Masculinity DriveResearch on Race and Intelligence explores this issue in painstaking detail. Its answers are unsettling.

This summary of the book's chapters appears in the "Introduction:"

Chapter 1 introduces the work of mathematician Francis Galton, who coined the term "eugenics" in an 1883 work called Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development. A chronic invalid as a child, the British scientist advocated a new science for improving the human race through better breeding practices. A decade and a half earlier, he had published his seminal work Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences, employing for the first time in biology a mathematical construct termed the "Gaussian distribution," or the now familiar bell curve.  While Galton earned some degree of intellectual respectability in Britain, it was actually in America, still preoccupied with proving the inferiority of its former slaves, where his mathematical concepts found practical applications. From its inception, research on cognitive differences between the races yielded a powerful but unintended consequence: As more scholars affirmed the intellectual inferiority of the African, the whites’ fantasies of the blacks’ superhuman sexual potency grew, so entrapped was scientific and popular thinking in the folkloric inverse correlation between brawn and brains that a belief in the cognitive inferiority of Negroes almost by definition meant that this group must be oversexed.

Chapter 2 traces the emergence of intelligence testing as a more refined methodology than skull measurement for judging presumed racial differences in intelligence. Perhaps the strongest advocate of Galton’s eugenic views was a biologist named Charles Benedict Davenport. He asserted that racial intermarriage led only to "disharmony of physical, mental, and temperamental qualities" and must be avoided at all costs. So disapproving of physical gratification did Davenport become that later in life, he began advocating sterilization and castration of the "unfit." His colleague Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University used the falsified findings of British psychologist Cyril Burt to translate the eugenic focus on mental inheritance into popularizing intelligence testing in America. Terman opined that one met uneducable Negroes with such great frequency, that research on racial differences in mental traits merited a special urgency. He also believed that their "unusually prolific breeding" created a grave problem for society. While intelligence testing, or psychometrics, gained momentum during the early decades of the twentieth century, the eugenics movement fell on hard times after World War II. Horrified by evidence of the Holocaust, Americans associated selective breeding theories with Aryan notions of racial superiority. In fact, had it not been for the 1961 near fatal car accident of a Nobel Prize–winning scientist named William Shockley, the twentieth century’s preoccupation with cognition and physical attributes finally might have faded from view.

Chapter 3 details Shockley’s transformation from physicist to modern-day eugenicist, preoccupied with race and the superiority of white genes. Some colleagues believed that the car accident that crushed Dr. Shockley’s pelvis and left him disabled might have triggered mental changes in him as well. Whatever the case, not long after returning home from the hospital, Shockley began directing his anger toward the reckless driver who maimed him into racial formulations. His ideas began to coalesce around the notion that an inverse correlation existed between blacks’ cognition and physical prowess. Later, in donating his sperm at the age of seventy to a sperm bank set up for geniuses, Shockley suggested to an interviewer for Playboy magazine that women who would otherwise pay little attention to his lack of physical appeal would compete for his cognitively superior sperm. But the sperm bank’s owner apparently concealed from Shockley a painful truth. Women employing its services rejected the sperm of the short, balding Shockley in favor of that from younger, taller, more physically attractive men, whatever their IQ. Arthur R. Jensen, a psychologist at the University of California–Berkeley, became an early disciple of Shockley’s. As a young man, he had abandoned a promising career in music after critics said that his playing lacked "soul." Jensen expanded on Shockley’s racial theories and by 1969 became the leading spokesman for the new eugenics movement after publishing an article titled "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" Jensen asserted that genetic rather than environmental factors created the differential in IQ scores between whites and blacks. He also warned that racial differences in intelligence would lead to dysgenic, or downward, evolutionary trends in urban slums. Jensen may have been frustrated with Shockley’s inability as a physicist to validate their racial theories in psychological terms. So he took up the slack with such intellectual vigor and energy that the term "Jensenism" was coined to describe the psychology of proving "black cognitive inferiority." The Berkeley psychologist wrote dozens of books and articles, injecting such new theories into the discourse as "reaction time" and "choice reaction time," in which he attempted to prove that the brains of whites operated more efficiently than those of blacks. His work met with resistance at every turn. It was at this moment in his career that Jensen stumbled upon the work of a fellow psychologist who had taken up the cause of proving racial differences in IQ. Jensen had found his soul mate.

Chapter 4 explores the career trajectory of Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein from renowned experimental psychologist to guru on racial differences in intelligence and muscularity. As a young graduate student he had fallen under the spell of Harvard professor S. S. Stevens, who had coauthored with William Sheldon a book called The Varieties of Temperament: A Psychology of Constitutional Differences, which popularized the concept of "somatotyping," first articulated by William Sheldon.  This theory sought, through the precise measurement and analysis of human body types, to establish correlations comparing intelligence, temperament, sexual proclivities, and the moral worth of individuals. Thus criminals were perceived to be shorter and heavier and more muscular than morally upstanding citizens. Black males were reported to rank higher on the "masculine component" scale than white males did, but lower in intelligence. Somatotyping lured the impressionable young Herrnstein into a world promising precision and human predictability based on the measuring of body parts. Herrnstein was first introduced to Arthur R. Jensen’s work after reading his January 1969 article in the Harvard Educational Review. Herrnstein, who had been exposed to ideas of human cognitive differences based on body type early in his academic career, merely took the next step. In the spring of 1971 the Harvard psychologist wrote "IQ," which the Atlantic Monthly published in its September issue. He contended that intelligence is largely inherited, so no matter what efforts were made, egalitarianism as public policy would not work either with individuals or societal groups.  In the spring of 1992, Herrnstein invited Jean-Philippe Rushton, a younger colleague visiting from the University of Western Ontario, to break fast at the Harvard Faculty Club. Herrnstein clearly must have been entranced by his postulations. According to data the Canadian psychologist had gathered, the normal distribution of penis size and muscularity—with Asians at the low end, whites in the middle, and blacks at the high end—could be represented mathematically with a bell-shaped curve.

Chapter 5 exposes the phallic theology at the heart of research on racial differences in intelligence. For more than a decade, Professor Rushton of Western Ontario University sought to prove an inverse correlation between intelligence and penis size among blacks, whites, and Asians. He conducted this research at a local Ontario shopping mall.

Chapter 6 discusses the probability that had Rushton been working in social isolation, the academic community might have ignored his unusual research on penis size. But Rushton was far more fortunate. He had found a network of congenial and supportive academics in Shockley, Jensen, Herrnstein, and others. By the time Rushton published his sixth book, Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective, in 1995, detailing more research findings of an inverse correlation between brain and penis size among the races, the contours of a tightly knit intellectual cult had solidified. In its first chapter, Rushton echoes the book’s theme by asserting: "The reason why Whites and East Asians have wider hips than Blacks, and so make poorer runners is because they give birth to larger brained babies. During evolution, increasing cranial size meant women had to have a wider pelvis. Further, the hormones that give Blacks an edge at sports makes them restless in school and prone to crime."  While Rushton and his colleagues seemed to take pleasure in perceiving of themselves as wronged martyrs for exposing the "truth," poverty
was one vow no one demanded they take. Race researchers shared in the financial generosity of an endowment called the Pioneer Fund.  A certain urgency also pervaded the atmosphere in which these researchers worked, because the inversely correlated theme of blacks’ cognitive inferiority and sexual precocity tapped into the latent sexualized racism still present within society itself. The more anxiety-provoking the white males’ fear of being "bested" by black males became, the more pressure some white males exerted on the scientific fringes. It became the job of science to diffuse such fears. First, it needed to be shown scientifically that black males had larger penises than the white norm. Second, data had to be presented to anxious white males that they need not worry unduly about sperm competition, because surely, or at least hopefully, their female counterparts would be turned off when they learned that these black behemoths were saddled with smaller brains.  Yet, the most telling evidence that the coordinates upon which the IQ researchers based their correlations of masculinity—performance in sports and cognition—were imaginary rather than real emanated from a hidden variable tucked away in the equation of race. It was associated with neither whites nor blacks, but Asians.

Chapter 7
explains why twentieth-century race researchers placed Asians rather than Caucasians at the summit of the race hierarchy. These scholars used this tendency to see whites as more cognitively advanced than blacks but less advanced than Asians to silence those critics who insisted that the findings of race researchers were ethnically self-serving.  Establishing the racial supremacy of whites, however, was not really what drove this research on racial hierarchies. The real driving force behind this work was not racial bigotry as much as it was the masculine insecurities emanating from the unexamined and sexualized stereotypes to which scholars such as Rushton, Jensen, Herrnstein, and others tenaciously clung. Because these academics wrote for a reading public that did not fear sexual competition with Asian men, as it did with black males, touting the Asians’ cognitive superiority became useful so long as whites remained above blacks in the cognitive hierarchy. But if male insecurities were the true motivating force for this kind of research, why then did the possibility of sexual competition with Asian males fail to preoccupy these researchers?  In recent years, social scientists in diverse academic fields have documented the pernicious stereotypes Asian men faced in American society. Often perceived as undersexed, they were thus perceived as minimal rivals to white men in the sexual competition for women. Underlying this mode of thinking is the presumption that, in the end, a male’s appealing physical attributes will weigh more heavily with females than his money-earning potential.

Chapter 8 reveals the racially polarizing impact the pseudoscientific research on race, intelligence, and masculinity was beginning to have on American society. Leonard Jeffries, a controversial professor of black studies at City College of New York (CCNY), began to respond to Shockley, Rushton, and others with his own pseudoscientific paradigm of "melanism." Its dogma asserted that blacks, because they had more melanin or skin pigmentation than other groups, possessed superior traits that could be ascribed to the special properties of neuromelanin, a little-studied substance in the brain. Melanism did not reflect the collective viewpoint of most African American scholars, and the white supremacist theories of IQ researchers represented a marginal point of view among white academics. But similar to adolescents trading barbs on the school playground, the melanist-IQ researcher debate intensified, ripping at the already fragile seams of America’s multiethnic society.  One fundamental difference between the work of IQ researchers and
melanists, however, persisted. While academic journals published scores of articles by researchers claiming that blacks had smaller brains and larger penises than whites did, the same journals merely ignored the melanists.

Chapter 9 presents a new understanding of intelligence. It is not a single cognitive attribute capable of being encapsulated in an all-embracing digit. Cultural values and cues will play at least as pivotal a role as genetics in determining what a student will consider worthy of his or her time and attention. Likewise, societal preoccupations rather than scientific objectivity all too often will determine what questions researchers ask and what answers they give.

Chapter 10 demonstrates that vulgar racism is not what motivates IQ researchers perennially in search of cognitive hierarchies based on race. Psychologist Al Siebert came right to the point when he lamented that "psychologists have overemphasized tests they score high on. . . . [They] have not developed quotients for abilities they lack." By precisely measuring those deficits—whether in social skills, kinesthetic abilities, intuition, or emotional and practical intelligence—IQ researchers would recognize their own failings or the egregious distortions they engendered. In the world of race and IQ research, the methodological limitations that such researchers perhaps unwittingly imposed on their work cannot help but distort their results. A primary language of the analytical-logical intelligence they recognize and value is mathematics. Yet, however impressive, it is mere child’s play compared to the complexity required to integrate that form of intelligence with other types more intimately related to the understanding of human behaviors. It is therefore not surprising that analytical scientists have tarnished hard-earned scientific reputations in misapplying their linear scientific models to correlating inversely black males’ penis size and other criteria of animality to measures of intelligence. Should American society continue to hold minorities captive to research containing profound public policy ramifications when it is undertaken by academics whose methodological limitations disqualify them from perceiving their subjects rationally? I maintain this issue is about academic standards rather than political correctness, censorship, or racial paranoia.

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