Denis Campbell, Observer (London), Nov. 5, 2006
The London School of Economics is embroiled in a row over academic freedom after one of its lecturers published a paper alleging that African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries.
Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is now accused of reviving the politics of eugenics by publishing the research which concludes that low IQ levels, rather than poverty and disease, are the reason why life expectancy is low and infant mortality high. His paper, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, compares IQ scores with indicators of ill health in 126 countries and claims that nations at the top of the ill health league also have the lowest intelligence ratings.
Paul Collins, a spokesman for War On Want, the international development charity, said the research ‘runs the risk of resurrecting the racist stereotype that Africans are responsible for their own plight, and may reinforce prejudices that Africans are less intelligent’.
Collins added: ‘The notion that people in poor countries have inferior intelligence has been disproved by much research in the past. This is another example, which other academics will shoot down.’
Philippa Atkinson, who chairs the LSE student union’s 85-strong Africa Forum and teaches in the school’s Department of Government, said the paper ‘reflects the now discredited theories of eugenics, which should have been left behind’.
‘Eugenics was a very influential discourse for centuries,’ she said. ‘It’s the discourse that colonialism and racism in America until the Sixties were based on, and was part of the basis of apartheid too. Nobody could prove that there are racial or national differences in IQ. It’s very, very controversial to say that national IQ levels are low in Africa, and completely unproven. It’s a surprise that the odd person would try to bring it back,’ she said.
However, she said the research contained some interesting ideas and merited serious consideration, and stressed that academics such as Kanazawa should not be deterred from exploring controversial subjects.
The reaction to Kanazawa’s paper will reopen the simmering debate about whether academics are entitled to express opinions that many people may find offensive.
The Observer revealed last March that Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian and Slavonic studies at Leeds University, supported the Bell Curve theory, which holds that black people are less intelligent than whites. He also believed that women did not have the same intellectual capacity as men and backed the ‘humane’ repatriation of ethnic minorities. Initially, the university backed Ellis, despite protests by students and teaching staff, but he took early retirement in July.
Kanazawa declined to comment on either War on Want or Atkinson’s allegations about reviving eugenics because, he said, other academics had come up with the national IQ scores that underpinned his analysis of 126 countries. In the paper he cites Ethiopia’s national IQ of 63, the world’s lowest, and the fact that men and women are only expected to live until their mid-40s as an example of his finding that intelligence is the main determinant of someone’s health.
Having examined the effects of economic development and income inequality on health, he was ‘surprised’ to find that IQ had a much more important impact, he said. ‘Poverty, lack of sanitation, clean water, education and healthcare do not increase health and longevity, and nor does economic development.’
The LSE declined to offer any opinion on Kanazawa’s conclusions but defended his right to publish controversial research. A spokeswoman said: ‘This is academic research by Dr Kanazawa based on empirical data and published in a peer-reviewed journal. People may agree or disagree with his findings and are at liberty to voice their opinions to him. The school does not take any institutional view on the work of individual academics.’
Kate Raworth, a senior researcher with Oxfam, said it was ‘ridiculous’ for Kanazawa to blame ill health on low IQ and ‘very irresponsible’ to reach such conclusions using questionable and ‘fragile’ international data on national IQ levels.
Rumit Shah, chairman of the LSE student union’s 52-member Kenyan Society, said lack of education was probably one reason why many Kenyans die young. Aids, tuberculosis and malaria were key factors too.
Kanazawa’s article was a ‘misrepresentation’ of the true causes of ill health in Kenya, added Shah. ‘It portrays a bad picture of Kenya, because not everyone in Kenya has an IQ of 72. If there was more education, Kenyans would be wiser about their health.’