News

The Path to Public Service at SEAS

News

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum

News

Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President

News

Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study

News

Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum

"POLITE INTELLECTUAL SUPPRESSION?" (HERRNSTEIN REPLIES TO KELMAN)

The Mail

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

To the Editors of the Crimson:

Herbert C. Kelman, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics has answered my Dunster House critics on the editorial page of the Crimson. The gist of his statement is that he values academic freedom so highly that he would accord it even to me. "Those of us on the Left," he says to his partisans in Dunster House, must defend academic freedom. The Herrnstein article, he grants, "calls for response--including political response," but within the limits of academic freedom (presumably mine). I appreciate the protective impulse, but have some doubts about both its source and its goal.

First, however, whence the problem? Why does my article bestir our colleague, aside from the Dunster House petition? The answer, it appears, is that he finds much to criticize me for. He hints at six disagreements, which may be worth drawing more sharply than he does in his impressionistic sketch. Here they are, with my answers.

1) He "challenge(s) most of the article's premises." The main premises of my argument are that there are inherited differences in I.Q. and that I.Q. contributes, in some measure, and by some means, to what our society (at least) considers success. To those premises. I know of no significant empirical challenge. I should have heard of some by now if there were any. If some other premises were meant. Professor Kelman should tell us what they are and how he challenges them, not merely that he challenges them.

2) He "disagree(s) vehemently with the sociopolitical values (my article) reflects." I am not sure I know what my article's sociopolitical values are, and I am sure I do not know what Professor Kelman thinks they are. Could it be that, like some of my other critics, Professor Kelman thinks I advocate that which I am trying to describe? When I call attention to the possibility of a society increasingly stratified according to biological factors, or to the social importance, if not the inevitability, of unequal distributions of wealth and status, I am not approving of them, nor, for that matter, disapproving of them. I consider my sociopolitical values, supposing for the moment that I have some, 'o be irrelevant. Let Professor Kelman show how my values have distorted, or even affected, my argument before he scolds me for them. Otherwise, he should let them be, as I do his.

3) He "object(s) to the policy implications to which (my article) seems to point." I drew no policy implications in my article because I felt it pointed nowhere very clearly. In other words, I felt that the data on I.Q., inheritance, and social stratification do not, by themselves, settle conclusively any of the weighty policy questions of the day. They bear on many such questions, but do not answer them. Apparently Professor Kelman agrees for note that he complains about what my article "seems" to imply. To whom should he complain, however? Not me, for I refrained from drawing such conclusions. Not the data, for they would be unmoved. The complaint, I believe, must be lodged with the one who draws the objectionable conclusions--in this instance, Professor Kelman himself.

4) He "feel(s) that not enough was done to clarify (the article's) value premises." Are these different from the sociopolitical values in item No. 2? The key value, personal, not sociopolitical, behind the article is my abiding conviction that it is better to know than not to know. In fact, I find it hard, albeit not impossible, to think of counter-instances, but none in regard to my article. If Professor Kelman advocates censorship of information concerning the topics covered in my article, he should say so.

5) He "feel(s) that not enough was done to clarify the...speculative nature of the article." Most of the article--the historical and empirical summaries--was not speculative, but as factual as I could make it. I continue to await substantive criticism. The speculative parts of the article were written in the form of conditional propositions--in fact, as a syllogism and several corollaries.

6) He "feel(s) that not enough was done to...avoid (my article's) misuse by those who want to believe that Blacks are intellectually inferior." To this accusation. I can answer only by quoting myself. On the question of black-white differences in I.Q. scores, I wrote: "Although there are scraps of evidence for a genetic component in the black-white difference, the overwhelming case is for believing that American blacks have been at an environmental disadvantage. To the extent that variations in the American social environment can promote or retard I.Q., blacks have probably been held back. But a neutral commentator (a rarity these days) would have to say that the case is simply not settled, given our present stage of knowledge." Professor Kelman feels that that was "not enough," but he does not tell us what more he wants.

I agree with Professor Kelman that academic freedom is both fragile and precious. Furthermore, I agree that the SDS and UAG have "undermined efforts to debate the issues raised by the publication" of my article. I doubt, however, that Professor Kelman can see his letter as yet another form of intellectual suppression, albeit more polite and less deliberate.

By casting doubt where there are facts, by impugning my values and motives without substantiation, by conjuring up the specter of racism, he makes it all too easy for well-intentioned people to reject my argument without ever coming to grips with it. The obscurantism exemplified in Professor Kelman's letter has done more, in my recent experience, to "undermine efforts to debate the issues" than the SDS or the UAG. R.J. Herrnstein

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags