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Herrnstein Once Again

By Tom Crane

1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and

2. if success requires those abilities, and

3. if earnings and prestige depend on success,

4. then social standing will be based to some extent on inherited differences among people.

So predicts Professor Richard Herrnstein in his controversial article, "I.Q.", appearing in the September Atlantic Monthly. SDS-UAG has led the assault, demanding his dismissal from the faculty. Throughout the heated debates, many have overlooked the content of the article.

Herrnstein first outlines the development of intelligence testing, often citing the works of Alfred Binet and Lewis Terman. He goes on to conclude using Arthur Jensen's data that 80 per cent of a person's I.Q. is inherited, while all other environmental factors determine only 20 per cent. Although it is difficult to conclusively repudiate his genetic data in the first 90 per cent of the article, many should be shocked by his appalling biases.

In the last two pages of his piece, Herrnstein abandons his grounding in genetics and jumps to social predictions. Fatalistically he tries to show that there is a strong trend toward social stratification determined by meritocracy based on I.Q. For the poor this implies:

...there will be precipitated out of the mass of humanity a low-capacity (intellectual or otherwise) residue that may be unable to master the common occupations, cannot compete for success and achievement, and are most likely to be born to parents who have similarly failed.

To buttress this prediction, he tries to show that it will become increasingly true over time. Essential to the success of this argument is the astounding assumption that America is becoming more equal socially. He ignores all evidence that points to the continuing social stratification, increasing inequities in income distribution, and stagnant social mobility. Herrnstein forces this view to show that if America does become more equal (if the liberal ideal is established) then heredity will become an even bigger factor in determining I.Q. since the environment would become similar for everyone. While he claims to be disturbed by his findings, that he should push his weak arguments so vigorously, makes one suspect that his prediction might be based more on his personal biases.

The article implies that if by natural law or genetic selection a group of people are unfit to advance ("intellectually or otherwise"), then why should a society waste resources to aid them. Herrnstein mirrors the Social Darwinist conclusion made two years ago by Arthur Jensen in the "Harvard Educational Review". Jensen argued that compensatory education had failed to remove the "achievement gap" because I.Q. is predominantly inherited. Such views taken out of context hardly seem worth criticizing, but when placed within the framework of today's politically reactionary climate, they become ideological justifications for such policies as the "benign neglect" advocated by Daniel Moynihan.

Herrnstein's abandonment of scholarly norms in favor of socio-political forecasts led to a barrage of publicity, criticisms, and attacks. The Atlantic editors state in their lengthy favorable introduction to the article, "...social legislation must come to terms with actual human potentialities." And Time led its coverage asking. "Is equality bad for you?" Herrnstein himself recognizes the political nature of his article. He admits that "there is a message for people in government."

Herrnstein came to the Atlantic with the idea of the article in his head because he wanted to test his ideas before he expanded the article into the chapter on intelligence for the basic psychology textbook he is co-authoring. He chose Atlantic because he says he was "writing for the layman." Yet the Atlantic is not the magazine of the masses. According to 1971 statistics provided by Harper Atlantic sales, 65 per cent of its readership graduated or attended college, over 70 per cent have an annual income of $10,000 and over, and over 57 per cent of the household heads are in professional or managerial occupations. Through twisted priorities, Herrnstein, a beginner in the field of intelligence, chose a popular solidly middle class magazine--and not a scholarly journal--to rehash his Soc. Sci. 15 notes without new research, and to introduce a chapter of a textbook written with a "message for people in government."

The article itself contains glaring clitist, racist, and sexist biases. He refers to the study Lewis Terman made between 1925 and 1959 that was published in five volumes entitled the Genetic Studies of Genius. Terman, fascinated by genius-types, examined over a long period a large group of people with I.Q.'s over 150 (genius category). Herrnstein evaluates the data on women accordingly:

...Notwithstanding their poorer salaries, on an average, the women reported greater satisfaction in their lives then the men. The housewives, who were earning less money than anyone else, expressed about as much satisfaction as any other group in the sample. There is little here to support the feminist argument that a housewife's life is intolerable, especially for educated, intelligent women. It would be hard to pick a brighter group than the women in this study, yet they seemed to be adjusting easily to their lot. To give but one example of the many striking cases, a woman whose I.Q. of 192 places her close to the top of the entire sample, and whose re-tested intelligence at maturity was again virtually at the top, was raising eight children, including three sets of twins. According to the account at the latest report, she had no outside activity at that time other than an interest in the P.T.A., but was apparently content, if not serene. Of course, such tranquility may be gone now, fifteen years later.

Herrnstein believes that brilliant women make contented housewives and productive mothers. Earlier he says the contention "that the education of women could remove the brightest potential mothers from the breeding stock receives no support in these results." The sexism of this argument runs deep. He chooses a woman with a phenomenal I.Q. of 192 (about one in 500,000 have such I.Q.'s) to represent all women. He then chooses to ignore all available data which prove there is no correlation between contentment and occupational status or income. From this he leaves the reader with the subtle aftertaste that this woman cited has an enviable role which other women, no matter how bright, should seek.

He is only indirectly guilty of racism. All the genetic statistics refer only to North American or Western European whites. Yet his conclusions are directed against blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Chicanos, as well as poor whites. Minority races mainly fall in his category of "low-capacity residue" that he fatalistically predicts will appear. This led Alvin F. Poussaint, associate professor of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital, to conclude in his Dec. 3 Globe article, "whether he intended it or not," Herrnstein "has become an enemy of black people and his pronouncements are a threat to the survival of every black person in American."

Herrnstein also shows callous lack of sympathy for poor people. While he proclaims himself to be "a liberal or left of that," he refers to poverty in such glib terms as "poor and unattractive surroundings." It seems almost out of place to remember that maybe better surroundings like trees and parks would be nice; yet poverty means unemployment, rats, disease, and, in his field, brain damage to infants born to mothers malnourished during pregnancy.

Herrnstein's thesis rests on the underlying premise that a meritocracy based on intelligence is a social good. His syllogism points to-society's discrimination in favor of people with high I.Q.'s (and if one replaces the word "race" for "mental abilities" in the syllogism, one easily sees how society also discriminates racially). Herrnstein never questions the fundamental problems of discrimination or social stratification because of this I.Q. bias.

A society whose leaders are chosen predominantly on the basis of intelligence does not guarantee justice. Are intelligent people necessarily the best people? Mere intelligence will not help one make important value judgements or moral choices. Smart people are equally if not more capable of perpetrating injustice. Consider the war policies of Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy, or Dean Rusk--all of whom are distinguished scholars. So when a society distributes its goods, factors like need, hard work and rare talent deserve reward as much as intelligence.

Given all these considerations, a final look at the fallacy behind Herrnstein's syllogism is in order. The second part says that success requires mental abilities. To support this idea early in the article he presents 1945 data by T.W. and M.S. Harell published in "Educational and Psychological Measurement" which correlates status of occupation to the average I.Q. of those in that occupation. For example, the highest job status on the list is the accountant who has an average I.Q. of 128.1, while teamsters are the lowest on job status with an average I.Q. of 87.7. From this, Herrnstein concludes that most teamsters are too dull (as he calls those with low I.Q.'s) to be anything better than teamsters because an accountant, for example, needs a higher I.Q. "A high I.Q. is necessary for some occupations," he asserts.

In the vast majority of cases, this conclusion is erroneous. Herrnstein begs the important questions in presenting the data primarily in terms of average I.Q. He vastly underplays the importance of differences within each occupation. He notes only incidentally that one truck driver registered an I.Q. of 149, and a P.R. man who supposedly needs an I.Q. of around 126 had only 100. According to well-accepted statistics of the Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research (CEPR), I.Q. explains only 17 per cent in occupational differences.

Herbert Gintis of CEPR, who made many of these studies, said. "The only reason the accountant has got a high I.Q. is that he went to school longer." Rick Edward's CEPR study concludes that job adequacy is not related to intelligence but more importantly to personality traits like docility, relation to authority, subordinancy, and lack of creativity. Gintis's studies show that schools discriminate in favor of those with high I.Q.'s and that the more school one completes, the more one will absorb these personality traits which determine job status. But Gintis warns that I.Q. tells us little that is not already known: as a predictor "social class, independent of I.Q., is a much better determinant of educational and occupational attainment."

Harvard social scientists have a proclivity for lending ideological support to reactionary policies. Should Herrnstein be fired for shoddy work with politically explosive implications? Perhaps, but then what about other Harvard professors who are equally if not more guilty? His I.Q. article deserves a political response since he wrote politically. His ideas should be discredited. But Harvard scholars have rallied to his defense using again the old smoke-screen of "academic freedom." Even if professors within the walls of the "academic community" met their moral responsibility and criticized Herrnstein, would those who read the Atlantic last September ever hear about it?

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