My first encounter with Arthur Robert Jensen (1924 – 2012) was in 1969, shortly after he became notorious for writing that genes account for a substantial part of the black/white difference in IQ. I was a student at Yale, where Jensen was invited to speak. Like virtually everyone on campus, I was an uncompromising egalitarian and was sure Jensen’s arguments were laughable.
When I got to the lecture hall, there was a crowd outside but no one was allowed in. There had been threats of violence and the talk was canceled. Most of my friends were happy: The “racist” had been defeated. Although I was convinced Jensen was completely wrong, it seemed cowardly and shameful to silence a man, no matter what his views.
It didn’t occur to me that I was acting shamefully. I knew nothing about genetics or IQ testing—nothing at all—and yet I was convinced I knew better than a scientist who had studied the subject thoroughly. How embarrassing to have been such an arrogant young lefty!
The goons who shut down Jensen’s talk may have had an influence on my life. It took me 15 years to realize that Jensen was right, and that I and the goons were wrong. Surely, my eyes would have been opened sooner if Jensen had been able to speak, and I had heard the calm, factual, talk he would surely have given.
The primacy of data
Until 1967, when he was 43 years old, Arthur Jensen believed that differences in IQ were almost entirely determined by environment. He had received a PhD in psychology from Columbia in 1950, had worked with Hans Eysenck in London from 1956 to 1958 and also in 1964, and had become a full professor at UC Berkeley in 1966. He had studied retarded children with IQs lower than 75 and had found racial differences in patterns of mental disability. Still, he held conventional views.
In 1967, Jensen received a Guggenheim fellowship to study at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California, where he planned to do research for a book about how cultural deprivation depresses the intelligence of minorities. At the center he met a geneticist who persuaded him to study the genetics of intelligence, and this completely changed his views. Instead of writing a book, he wrote his famous February 1969 article for the Harvard Educational Review, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?”
In this 123-page article, he laid the foundation for a correct understanding of intelligence: IQ tests are valid and reliable, they are not biased against minorities, social mobility means that the genes for high IQ are concentrated in higher social strata, and there is a substantial genetic contribution to both individual and group differences in intelligence.
There was an immediate explosion (the best account is Roger Pearson, Race, Intelligence and Bias in Academe, Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1991). The board of Harvard Educational Review came under so much pressure it stopped making reprints of the article—not even Jensen could get any. It explained this was because the article “presents a view of intelligence that we feel must be read in the context of expert discussion from other psychologists and geneticists.” In many libraries, vandals tore the article out of the magazine and destroyed it. Leftists on campus called for Jensen to be fired—and worse.
In July of the same year, Martin Deutsch (1926-2002), who was involved in setting up Head Start, made a speech at Michigan State University in which he claimed that Jensen’s article contained “53 major errors or misinterpretations.” This claim was gobbled up by the Left despite Deutsch’s refusal to say what the errors were. In 1973, he admitted that the “53 errors” was an off-the-cuff answer to a question from the audience, and that he had no idea the claim would be trumpeted by egalitarians.
Yale was not the only place where Jensen was silenced, and police protected him several times from howling mobs that rushed the podium. As psychologist Sandra Scarr has written, “I learned what it is like to be spat upon and to put my body on the line to get Art out of a University of Minnesota auditorium. It was shocking and frightening, as surely the radicals intended . . . .”
At home in Berkeley, Jensen received so many vicious telephone calls—many late at night—that for a time his family routed all calls through the police station. The police advised him to move out of his house, and he stayed with friends. There were threats against the Jensens’ 11-year-old daughter, and for almost a year the police warned her not to walk the two blocks to the school bus. For several years, Jensen filed his movements in advance with the campus police. If he needed to go somewhere, two officers showed up to accompany him. One year, two plain-clothes men attended his class to keep an eye out for thugs.
Jensen was always cheerful in the face of hatred, but he was bothered by its effect on others:
My greater concern is that I know that other faculty members are adversely influenced by these events and have often kept silent out of fear. They have told me so. . . . It compromises their intellectual position on controversial issues. . . .
Jensen’s persecution continued for years. In 1977 he went on what was to be a lecture tour of eight Australian universities, along with Hans Eysenck of the University of London Institute of Psychiatry. The men were not even going to speak about race—only about IQ, personality, and learning—but the Left found this intolerable. At his first stop, the University of Melbourne, demonstrators tried to keep people out of the lecture hall. When Jensen began to speak, they banged on metal bins and chanted: “What do we want? Jensen! How do we want him? Dead!” Jensen could not be heard over the din, and escaped to a basement room, where he continued his talk through a video link to the lecture hall. The lefties then broke into the basement room and ended the talk.
After this debacle, three of the other universities canceled Jensen’s talks outright, and several others allowed attendance by invitation only. Only at the University of Adelaide was he able to give a public lecture to a packed house.
Throughout this period, Jensen continued to write journal articles and books. He published Genetics and Education in 1972 and Educability and Group Differences in 1973. His massive, 800-page Bias in Mental Testing, published in 1980, demolished the then-fashionable view that IQ tests were biased against women, minorities, and poor people. It was so successful among scholars that his publishers urged him to write a popular version, Straight Talk About Mental Tests, which appeared in 1981.
I meet Arthur Jensen
By the time of my first meeting with Jensen in 1992, he was a giant in his field, with more publications and citations than virtually anyone else in psychology. He graciously agreed to give me an interview, which went on for several hours and ranged widely over forbidden subjects. Jensen told me that by then the hostility had waned and that he was living a normal life. He assured me that his students were surprised at nothing he taught them; that they could not understand what all the shouting had been about in the old days.
When we were not recording, we talked of many things, and I discovered that Jensen was like all genuinely accomplished men I have met: He had striking insights on subjects in many fields, not just his own. Also, he was not angry at his attackers; just baffled. Why couldn’t they just look at the data?
There is no doubt that Jensen, with help from such people as Hans Eysenck, Philippe Rushton, Richard Lynn, Linda Gottfredson, Helmuth Nyborg, and Michael Levin, eventually convinced the experts that genes account for 50 to 80 percent of variation in individual IQ and contribute substantially to group variation—but they never managed to convince the media.
By the mid 1990s, Jensen was hard at work on what was to be his crowning achievement, The g Factor, but could not find a publisher. A deep chill had fallen over the book industry, and Methuen, Jensen’s usual publisher, and The Free Press, which had published Straight Talk About Mental Testing, would not touch The g Factor. Jensen had to settle for Praeger Publilshers, which had a reputation for accepting controversial titles but printing very few copies and selling them at very high prices.
At 648 pages, The g Factor was an extraordinary work of science, and Praeger priced it at a relatively affordable $39.95. It was a magisterial investigation of the nature of intelligence, the extent to which it is under genetic control, and its uneven distribution between individuals and groups. After I reviewed it, I was greatly flattered when Jensen told me it was the best summary of the book anyone had written, and that he was making copies to send to associates and friends.
However, he said the review contained an important error: I had written that when blacks and whites are matched for brain size they have the same IQ, but that was a mistake. He explained that when blacks and whites are matched for IQ they have the same brain size, but the relationship does not run the other way. There are other aspects of the brain besides size—neurofunction, brain metabolism, etc.—that influence intelligence, and the races appear to differ in these as well. Therefore, for blacks to match whites in IQ, equivalent brain size is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. I had always heard that Jensen prized accuracy.
Jensen won admiration for his research and analysis, but he was loved for his character. Always the gentleman, always the scientist, he never ran from controversy but he never sought it. In 2003, in cooperation with Phillipe Rushton and Linda Gottfredson, Jensen’s Danish colleague Helmuth Nyborg published The Scientific Study of General Intelligence: Tribute to Arthur R. Jensen. This was a 642-page collection of articles that were both tributes to a great scientist and major contributions to the field.
Many authors noted that Jensen’s true love was data. As Professor Nyborg wrote, “If Art is loyal to data he is entirely unfaithful to theory,” noting that Jensen would readily sacrifice his own theories if the data did not support them. “Give Art a proper analysis and good data,” he wrote, “and his mind will follow, entirely independently of his previous views,” adding, “that is far more than one can say for most of his critics!”
Thomas J. Bouchard, who directed the Minnesota Twin Study, has said Jensen’s scientific work is “intensive, detailed, exhaustive, fair-minded, temperate, and courageous.” Like all who knew him, Prof. Bouchard was deeply impressed by Jensen’s self possession: “For someone who has been attacked so vituperatively, both in public and in the published literature, I continue to be astounded at the lack of anger and hostility in his replies and the astuteness with which he dissects the arguments of his critics.”
Jensen’s former students added to the Nyborg collection with comments such as: “the finest examples of college teaching I have ever experienced,” “I cannot imagine a better mentor,” “he showed astonishing patience with his critics,” “the toughest reviewer around,” “his own thirst for knowledge is infectious.”
In 2005, together with Philippe Rushton, Jensen published what I think is the best short, academic summary of IQ research ever written: “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability.” By then, however, Jensen was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He continued to publish, but his output declined.
Arthur Jensen died on October 22. His family kept the event quiet, but the news has now leaked out. When a man of his stature dies, even an enemy establishment is compelled to take notice, and it will be edifying to read the flummery that is sure to appear. The major papers will certainly not admit it, but Arthur Jensen was a great scientist and a man of great dignity, even nobility. In a sane world, he would have been a serious contender for a Nobel Prize. That his death should follow so soon upon that of his eminent colleague and friend, Philippe Rushton, only compounds the terrible loss that science—and mankind—have suffered.