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The Musgrave-Herrnstein Letters

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

(The following exchange of letters between Professors Richard J. Herrnstein and Richard A. Musgrave is printed with their permission.)

DECEMBER 14, 1971

To the Editors of the Crimson:

As one of the signers of the recent faculty statement condemning the disturbance of Professor Herrnstein's classes and in view of the continuing discussion, I should like to add these comments to my earlier signature.

I signed the letter to join in reassertion of the principle that disturbance of classes cannot be tolerated and to protect the type of out-of-class agitation (involving misrepresentation of Herrnstein's statements, as reported in the Crimson) which evidently occurred. At the same time I feel that the article under debate--especially in association with the slanted editorial introduction--was unwise and to me objectionable. It should have been made clear therefore that the signers of the faculty statement included people for at least one person) who felt that the article was neither of compelling quality nor merit and--in view of the hurt and disturbance to which it would give rise--of poor judgement.

Not being a geneticist, I will not pass on the question whether ability is inherited or not. Speaking as a layman, it would seem to me reasonable to assume that inheritance is one factor; but speaking as a social scientist with some experience with quantitative work, the evidence mentioned in the article seems to me to be extremely skimpy. Nor do I find evidence of a critical review of the quantitative procedures underlying the alleged findings by the author sufficient to lead me to accept his judgment that the case is indeed proven beyond doubt.

However this may be, the problem would not be conflict-laden if all people had green skin and were members of the same class, but such is not the case, hence the difference between writing on botany and writing on genetics. The crucial point is that propositions about inherited intelligence (applicable to individuals within all groups) are one thing, while conclusions about differentials in average intelligence among racial groups are quite another. The latter do not follow the former, yet it is easy to slip into the error that they do. Professor Herrnstein does not explicitly draw the second conclusion, and there is even a small sentence disclaiming it. Yet the whole setting of the article including its slanted editorial introduction leaves an overall impression that such a conclusion is suggested.

I do not see that the empirical data cited support such a conclusion with a degree of probability acceptable in a sophomore paper on statistics, especially if the massive environmental differentials between racial groups are considered: I therefore find it wrong to launch an article of this sort at the very time when the rectification of racial injustices of the past is the over-riding concern of our country. Academic freedom, like other privileges, involves obligations as well as rights. These rights, as I see it, do not offer a franchise to write lightly, on the basis of the most sketchy evidence, on propositions which inflict severe injury on others as well as on the prospects of solving our tragic heritage in race relations.

Feeling this way, should I conclude that the type of protests which occurred were indeed justified? The answer is no because the university above all must be a place where discussion can be carried on in civilized terms. Yet it should have been made clear in the faculty statement from the outset that the signers included people holding the above view. Since it was not. I wish to do so through this letter. Richard A. Musgrave

DECEMBER 14, 1971

Dear Professor Herrnstein:

I think it is fair to let you have a copy of the enclosed letter which I have mailed to the Crimson.   Richard A. Musgrave

DECEMBER 20, 1971

Dear Professor Musgrave:

Lest you confuse the skimpiness of the evidence in my article (for heritability of I.Q.) with skimpiness of evidence on the subject in general. I hasten to refer you to the following sampling:

1) Burt, C. The genetic determination of differences in intelligence: A study of monozygotic twins reared together and apart. British Journal of Psychology, 1966, 57. 137-153.

2) Gottesman, III. Biogenetics of race and class. In M. Deutsch. I. Katz, and A.R. Jensen (Eds.) Social Class, Race, and Psychological Development. New York: Holt, Rinchart, & Winston, 1968. Pp. 11-51.

3) Honzik, M.P. Developmental studies of parent-child resemblances in intelligence. Child Development, 1957, 28. 215-228.

4) Jensen, A.R. I.Q.'s of identical twins reared apart. Behavior Genetics, 1970, 1. 133-148.

5) Jinks, J.L. and Fulkner, D.W. Comparison of the biometrical genetical, MAVA, and classical approaches to the analysis of human behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 1970, 73, 311-349.

6) MacArthur, R.S. Some cognitive abilities of Eskimo, white and Indian-Metis pupils aged 9 to 12 years. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 1969, 1, 50-59.

7) Noble, C.E. Race, reality, and experimental psychology. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 1969, 13, 10-30.

8) Vernon, M. Fifty years of research on the intelligence of deaf and hard-of-hearing children: A review of literature and discussion of implication. Journal of Rehabilitation of the Deal, 1968, 1, 1-12.

9)Cattell, R.B. The multiple abstract variance analysis equations and solutions: For nature-nurture research on continuous variables. Psychological Review, 1960, 67, 353-372.

10) Erlenmeyer-Kimling, L. and Jarvik, L.F. Genetics and intelligence: a review, Science, 1963, 142, 1477-1479.

You should also look carefully at Environment, Heredity, and Intelligence, Harvard Educational Review, Reprint Series No. 2. You will find that the high heritability of I.Q. is generally accepted by virtually all workers who are conversant with the data on I.Q. and with the technical concept of heritability. They argue about details, but not about the large points.

As I understand your letter, you feel I should not write on a subject with deep social implications because dissemination of the truth may make certain social goals harder to obtain. I, in contrast, do not agree that the truth will make those goals harder to obtain. Moreover, I believe that the truth should influence our thinking in defining social goals. Now, you may dispute whether or not my article is truthful, but first I suggest you consult the large (and rapidly growing) literature on the subject.   R.J. Herrnstein

JANUARY 11, 1972

Dear Professor Herrnstein:

Thank you for letting me have the list of references in the eugenics field. I did of course not intend in my letter to deny the possibility that intelligence is inheritable, but I was rather concerned with the inferences of the Atlantic article which might or might not be drawn therefrom for differences in average intelligence in racial groups.

I am sorry if I hurt your feelings with my letter, but sometimes such cannot be avoided in public discussion.   Richard A. Musgrave

JANUARY 13, 1972

Dear Professor Musgrave:

Your concern for my feelings is generous, but rather beside the point. (I am, incidentally, feeling fine.)

Your letter to the Crimson said: "Not being a geneticist. I will not pass on the question whether ability is inherited or not. Speaking as a layman, it would seem to me reasonable to assume that inheritance is one factor; but speaking as a social scientist with some experience with quantitative work, the evidence mentioned in the article seems to me to be extremely skimpy. Nor do I find evidence of a critical review of the quantitative procedures underlying the alleged findings by the author sufficient to lead me to accept his judgement that the case is indeed proven beyond doubt." The fact of the matter is that there has been no dispute, at least among scholars who study the subject, about the substantial genetic component in the distribution of I.Q. scores in any population for which the relevant data have been collected. The main facts were already noted by Cyril Burt in 1910, although the precision of the estimates of sources of variance has improved greatly since then. My article in the Atlantic merely stated the scholarly concensus, with some representative findings. I have yet to hear of any significantly contrary evidence.

In your letter to the Crimson, you assume the scholarly mantle ("speaking as a social scientist with some experience with quantitative work") and then cast doubt on my description of the scholarly consensus. Given your letter, a lay reader has little alternative other than to conclude that the case for the substantial genetic role in the determination of I.Q. is still a matter of dispute. But that is a false conclusion, as you would quickly find if you surveyed the pertinent literature of the past 60 years, which I assume you have not done.

You also said in your letter "I do not see that the empirical data cited support such a conclusion with a degree of probability acceptable in a sophomore paper on statistics, especially if the massive environmental differentials between racial groups are considered." To what "conclusion" do you refer? As I said in my article, there is a black-white difference in I.Q. (and school achievement) in the United States. While the difference may be more or less genetic, we do not, at this time, have the data to permit a further conclusion. I would be interested to know what statements on this subject (of a statistical character) you would rather have your sophomores make.

I fear I see too plainly what you are really saying. You would rather that human differences not be studied. Or, if the results come out wrong by your lights, that they not be made generally availabe. I could not disagree more. The study of human differences (individual and group, environmental and genetic) is an integral part of my subject, and my subject, like any other academic discipline, may properly be set before the general public in an open society. And not only do I disagree with you, I reject the tone of implicit moral superiority in your letter. I do not believe, and you have not proved, that free and honest discussion of human differences will promote racial injustice or retard its termination. And that, whether you recognize it or not, is actually the issue between us.   R.J. Herrnstein

JANUARY 18, 1972

Dear Professor Herrnstein:

Your further letter has been received. In response, let me restate the purpose of my initial communication, which was to distinguish between two issues, i.e., (1) whether intelligence is hereditary and (2) whether if such is the case, the additional evidence of differential performance on intelligence tests justifies the further conclusion that there exists an hereditary difference in average intelligence between racial groups. Your responses deal very largely with (1) and you chide me for not accepting what you say, is the proven fact of heredity, including. I take it, not only that inheritance is a significant variable in explaining intelligence but that it has overriding explanatory power. My purpose is not to debate this, as it is not the crucial point at issue. The crucial part, as I see it, is point (2).

While you did not draw conclusions thereon I was concerned with the tenor of your Atlantic article and especially its editorial introduction (which must have had your tacit assent) suggesting at least to this reader that the answer to (2) might well also be positive. The statement in your letter, that "while the difference may be more or less genetic, we do not, at this time, have the data to permit a further conclusion," leaves me with the same flavor. As close reading of paragraphs 5 and 6 of my letter will show, it was the support (or lack thereof) of this second proposition to which my "sophomore" quip referred.

As to the matters raised in your last paragraph, I favor freedom of research as much as you do, but I would suggest the following rule of conduct: When dealing with subjects of investigation other than human beings, let researchers feel as free to advance hypotheses as they wish, whatever the evidence (or lack thereof) may be; but when dealing with propositions so monstrous and destructive to human relations and the cause of human dignity as that of hereditary racial inferiority, let this freedom be tempered by the utmost caution and sense of responsibility. In the case of your Atlantic article this, it seems to me, would have called for a careful and extensive discussion of the existing lack of evidence on point (2) and of the considerable difficulties in overcoming it. I do not claim that my morals are superior; but I do believe that a moral as well as a scientific issue is involved.   Richard A. Musgrave

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