Herrnstein Article Adds Fresh Fuel To I.Q. Controversy
Nineteen months after "I.Q." touched off a blaze among radicals and academics, Richard J. Herrnstein, professor of Psychology, has added another log to the fire.
In an article in the April issue of Commentary, Herrnstein rebuts those who have charged that his theories are racist and defends his original viewpoint, while offering description and thinly-veiled criticism of the reaction and tactics of radicals and academic colleagues.
Herrnstein directs his first attack at the "environmentalist doctrine that dominates both our education and our attitudes toward social policy," and goes on to rebut his critics.
By far, the most common charge leveled against Herrnstein has been that of racism, to which he replies: "...my article took what might be called an explicitly agnostic stand on racial (i.e., black-white) differences in tested intelligence. For technical but compelling reasons, as touched on in my article, I believe that racial and ethnic group differences are hard to pin down as regards inheritance."
"We do not know why blacks bunch toward the lower end of social scale," he writes, "or, for that matter, why Jews bunch toward the top. Cultural factors, general surroundings, and racial discrimination each complicates the analysis in unknown ways." He adds that it was "neither my goal nor my subject" to determine genetic vs. non-genetic factors for various groups.
Herrnstein is condescending towards the radicals who, he says, damaged his student-instructor relationship in Soc Sci 15, deluged the Harvard community with leaflets and posters, misquoted him, accused him and disrupted his attempts to speak publicly at Harvard and other campuses.
"They were not really radical," Herrnstein writes, "in the sense of getting at the roots of anything, or even being politically innovative. On the contrary, my radical critics were quite old-fashioned and doctrinaire, as leftist extremists go..."
To amplify this view, Herrnstein later notes that "not only the vulgar accusations of 'racism' and 'facism,' but also the political paranoia can be found in both the Russian and domestic Marxist reactions to the application of biology to the study of man..." He compares current radical views with those of T.D. Lysenko, a Russian anti-geneticist.
Portions of the tone of the article--a quote such as "the stranger who threatened to stab me 'some night in Harvard yard' as I was leaving the lecture hall, I took to be acting impulsively and not reflecting official SDS or UAG or PLP policy"--may lead one to believe that Herrnstein may have enjoyed parts of his battle, an idea that he denied last night.
"There were times when I was fascinated by it," he said, "but it was a morbid fascination--certainly not enjoyment. It was actually quite gruesome."
But the reaction of the radicals was "less gruesome than those who are not radical," Herrnstein said, charging that many scholars "tried to obscure rather than discuss, and others who had the knowledge didn't use it."
"You might ask, 'Can you blame them?' after seeing what's happened," Herrnstein continued. "Yes, I can blame them. Don't you expect some courage out of the academic community?"
His article also accuses radicals of "deflecting attention away from the issues themselves," and notes the progression:
"1) Radicals denounce me (or others who bring the facts to public attention) as 'racist,' 'fascist,' etc.
"2) In response, the liberal 'expert' deplores the crudeness of the attack, while expressing apparently scholarly reservations about the 'questionable' logic or the 'tentative' findings or the underlying 'political' biases in the document in question. The liberal expert's position appears to take the middle ground between the radicals at one extreme, and, for example, my article at the other.
"3) The public, observing the range of views, also takes the intermediate position--in this instance, the liberal one..."
Herrnstein stressed once again last night that he had presented no facts in his original article that had not been presented before, and that he "wrote the article under the role, 'I shall put in my article no facts under empirical challenge.'" He said that although challengers have said or implied his facts are not correct, he has found no evidence contradicting his premises.
Herrnstein's Commentary article, in altered form, will appear as part of his forthcoming book, I.Q. in the Meritocracy.