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Herrnstein in 'The Atlantic' Predicts American Meritocracy

By David R. Caploe

A Harvard professor of Psychology predicts, in the lead article of the September issue of The Atlantic that American society will soon develop into a hereditary, biological meritocracy.

In an article entitled "I.Q.", Richard J. Herrnstein, former chairman of the Psychology Department, says that the trend in society toward the dissolution of artificial social and legal barriers will lead to the creation of biological barriers which will be almost impossible to break down.

Hernstein bases his prediction largely on the basis of the high heritability of I.Q. He cites intelligence tests which measured the I.Q.'s of identical twins who were brought up in different homes. The data he cites is drawn from a study in the Harvard Educational Review, by Berkeley geneticist Arthur Jensen who compiled statistics and conclusions from four different studies done in the 1920's.

Herrnstein uses the figures to deal with the relative importance of nature vs. nature in I.Q. He argues that since the genes of identical in their I.Q. test scores will be due to the environments.

Comparing the variation of I.Q.'s in this sample of 122 sets of identical twins, Herrnstein (through Jensen) finds that "more than four times out of five the difference between identical twins raised apart fell short of the average difference between fraternal twins raised together by their own parents."

Based on these and other data Herrnstein says that Jensen and most other experts in the field agree that inheritance counts for about 80 per cent of an individual's I.Q., and all other factors around 20 per cent, including education, nutrition, etc.

Herrnstein believes that a high I.Q., while not sufficient, is very definitely necessary for success in society. He cites the results of a massive 40-year test conducted by Lewis M. Terman, a Stanford psychologist. Terman test over 1600 California schoolchildren between the ages of eight and twelve with I.Q.'s of 150 or over and kept track of their lives for 40 years.

The study showed that these selected children went on to have extraordinarily successful lives. Herrnstein states that this shows clearly the predictive power of the I.Q. test.

Thus, Herrnstein says that in a society in which social and legal barriers are being rapidly dismantled, a person's social standing will be determined pretty much on the basis of what he is born with.

He states his belief in the form of a syllogism:

1. If differences in mental abilities are inherited, and

2. If success requires those abilities, and

3. If earning and prestige depend on success,

4. Then social standing (which reflects earnings and prestige) will be based to some extent on inherited differences among people.

Herrnstein then details five corollaries from this, which can be summarized as follows:

1. Heritability of intelligence will increase as the environment becomes more favorable towards its development.

2. Herrnstein believes that once social and legal barriers are removed, social mobility will be determined (and pretty much stopped) by biological determinants, thus defeating the explicit aims of "all modern political credos."

3. The increase of social wealth (another aim of all current political philosophies, according to Herrnstein) will widen the gap between the upper classes and the lower classes since the upper class will tend to draw those from the lower class with more native endowment.

4. Technological dislocation of labor is going to create a chronically unemployed, technologically unemployable group of workers who do not have the minimum I.Q. to get new jobs in an increasingly complex society.

5. Since those with the high I.Q.'s in society will tend to mate, the other factors beside I.Q. which influence success will also gain a higher heritability.

* * *

In an interview last week, Herrnstein defended his article as a "realistic" appraisal of what was happening in society today. When questioned about the reliability of the I.Q. test, Herrnstein said that the present I.Q. test was reliable for many reasons. He cited not only the predictive power of the test but also its validity in society.

"The best thing about this test is its translability and exportability Because it relies on bits of arbitrary, specific information, it's not culturebound. Historically, the test could go from France to Belgium to Portugal to England. Because of this, the child is being measured, effectively, with all of Western society, his own peer group."

He said that his use of Jensen's statistics was entirely non-controversial. "All Jensen did was to collect the figures of four standard identical twin studies from the 1920's. All I have done is use his conclusions based upon the data."

Herrnstein noted that his use of the statistics was different from Jensen's. Whereas Jensen was trying to determine the nature of the differences in biracial I.Q., Hernnstein was interested in the role I.Q. played in social standing.

He did, however, characterize as "a bunch of baloney" the contention that it would be impossible to determine whether differences in racial I.Q. were due to inheritance or environment.

Then I first wrote the article, I thought that it would be hard. But now I think that all you would have to do is take the areas of the test in which the identical twins differ and see if the crucial black-white differences show up in those areas."

As far as his predictions, Herrnstein believes that they are dismal "only in the light of our political heritage." In the short run, he said he "wanted people to realize that their political goals are fighting the nature of the beast."

"America should not be handling important matters of social policy on the basis of imaginary facts," according to Herrnistein. Asked to what he referred specifically, Herrnstein mentioned a recent Supreme Court decision which barred an employer from giving intelligence tests to janitors on the ground that such a job did not involve the use of intelligence and such a test was used discriminatorily against blacks.

"I doubt that such a thing is true. It's been my experience that every job requires a certain amount of intelligence. What I object to is not Congress's right to legislate equality of opportunity but equally of outcome," he added.

Hernnstein said that the predicted problem of chronically unemployed workers could be handled "benevolently. To tell you the truth, I'm really out of my field in this area. All I was trying to do was to show the way I saw things going and what might be realistic to expect in the future."

Herrnstein characterized the Galbraith plan as one typically unrealistic. "He says that all ethnic groups and races have equal potential for achievement in any individual setting. I don't know that's not true, but I sure as hell do know that he certainly doesn't know if it is and it's up to him to prove it," he said.

Compensatory education programs, as they exist now, are a failure. I do feel that more money should be made available for experiments in that area. I've heard some good leads on it, but nothing definite. In the meantime, I think it's imperative that the government stop throwing its money down a bottomless hole the way it's doing now," Herrnstein added.

In the long run, society should be "a lot more careful about the type of labor we superannuate unnecessarily." Beyond that, he said that society should "reward those people who do the most socially useful work."

Herrnstein said that this principle could be applied in education by dividing a student's performance by his I.Q. "It's obviously ridiculous to give somebody with a 160 I.Q. A's just for sitting on his ass, while a kid with an 80 I.Q. is breaking his back and getting D's."

He admitted that he was "in somewhat of a quandary as to how such a method could be adapted to society as a whole." When questioned about his definition of 'socially useful', Herrnstein said that would depend on the society.

"While it's true that someone who has organized people to clean up river pollution has done socially useful work, at the same time you can't really penalize too heavily the president of Con Ed whose company may have made the pollution. Because if you do, the price of electrically could go sky-high. It really is a complicated problem," Herrnstein explained.

* * *

The publication of "I.Q." has drawn comment from a number of sources, B.F. Skinner, Pierce Professor of Psychology, a noted behaviorist, called the article "a good exposition to date of the problem."

"What people should be aware of is that it's a social question, rather than a race question which Herrnstein is raising here. Thus, I am concerned about the creation of a society in which each person is decently treated despite his capabilities," Skinner added.

Michael Useem, assistant professor of Sociology, said that the article suffered from "the assumption that one facet of reality can explain the entire picture." Useem also said that what in the first part of the article Herrnstein says is only a potentially, in his predictions he treats as actuality.

"While Herrnstein claims that equality of opportunity is ever increasing, in fact the counter is more accurate. Social mobility, as far as equality of opportunity is concerned, has shown no indications of a linear trend toward the society becoming more open," Useem added.

"I'm not sure the firs part is all correct, but even if it is, the predictions in no way flow logically from it, "Useem concluded. "The first 14 pages seem to be very solid, very lucid analysis. The last two, which contain the syllogism and his predictions, bear almost no relation to what came before it," he said.

Psychology professor E.B. Newman, current chairman of the Psychology Department, said that he knew Herrnstein had been quite concerned with the problem for a long time, Newman said he thought the final impetus was what Herrnstein felt was an over reaction to Jensen's article.

"I not only agree with his conclusions, but I think they're good. College is the first stage of growing up, a trial run. We need to know who's a good risk and who isn't. A meritocracy will help us determine who's competent and who's not," Newman added.

Herbert C. Kelman, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, said that although "Herrnstein tries to build a case for his conclusion, I don't think that the results he comes to are inevitable."

"Nevertheless, I think it's a very challenging piece. Herrnstein is proposing some very strong challenges to the liberal assumption that if we could only increase opportunity to open up our system, our social problems would be solved," Kelman continued.

Kelman said that he was worried that Herrnstein's argument could be used by those who wanted to cut off the drive to equalize opportunity.

"I see the whole thing as a challenge that must be dealt with. Although it can be used to support arguments that I'd be unhappy about, I feel it's definitely worth thinking about. If that's the way we're going, then we'd better do something," Kelman said.

* * *

Although he says he is basically apolitical. Herrnstein has put himself in the middle of a controversy with heavily political implications. And he does, unfortunately, strongly overstate his case.

If Herrnstein had stated that he saw a tendency toward a meritocracy, then his point would have been made. It would have been considered a logical possibility based upon his insights into I.Q. His article could have sounded a very reasonable request to consider the importance of genetics in the solution of social problems.

Herrnstein did formulate a reasonable syllogism which was tentative in its possibilities. The syllogism in and of itself makes sense.

What is questionable is the undifferentiated attitude he takes toward what is fact and what is philosophy. Herrnstein talks of equality of opportunity as if we were fast approaching the ideal liberal state.

It is this confusion which leads Herrnstein to parade speculations about chronic technological unemployment as facts--when they're only beginning to be investigated.

Furthermore, aside from his own predictions, Herrnstein is quite candid about his ignorance of specific social problems and their possible solutions.

But while Herrnstein has definitely not proven that American society is fast becoming a meritocracy, he has carefully shown why the genetic component of I.Q. must be considered a factor in the formulation of social policy.

He has also delivered a strong and healthy challenge to many commonly held notions about man's potential in society.

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