Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, April 2003
Frank Miele, Intelligence, Race & Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen, Westview Press, 2002, 243 pp.
Probably no man in the 20th century has contributed more to the study of human intelligence than Arthur Jensen — and probably no scientist has been more hated for it. Were his contributions in any other field, Prof. Jensen, emeritus of U.C. Berkeley, would have received every scientific award and honor. Instead, by demonstrating the unitary and hereditary nature of intelligence and the genetic origins of racial differences in mental ability, he has been viciously attacked by the ignorant, while earning the mostly private admiration of specialists. Ever the detached scientist, Prof. Jensen has never let personal or political considerations affect his work, and has rarely revealed much about his private life. This collection of conversations with journalist Frank Miele clearly summarizes his most important scientific ideas, but for readers who are generally familiar with recent findings on intelligence, the best part of this book is the glimpse it offers of Arthur Jensen himself.
Prof. Jensen’s paternal grandparents were Danes who immigrated from Copenhagen. His maternal grandfather was a German, who dismayed his family by marrying a Polish Jew. Born in California in 1923, Arthur Jensen grew up as a quiet boy, who read a great deal and showed no interest in team sports. He was a precociously accomplished student of the clarinet, and played with the San Diego Symphony for a year when he was only 17. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 1945, and worked as a high school biology teacher and orchestra conductor before going on to Columbia in 1952 to study educational and clinical psychology. He liked to audit courses outside his field, and remembers Margaret Mead’s energy and “boundless enthusiasm:” “Her lectures were immensely colorful and entertaining,” he says, “and it was clear that she thoroughly enjoyed her showmanship.” Even then, he recalls, many were skeptical of her zeal for the “blank slate” view of human nature (see Sam Francis’ review of The Blank Slate), and his psychology professors warned him that she knew nothing about psychology.
After earning his Ph.D., the young scholar spent the years 1956 to 1958 working in Hans Eysenck’s laboratory in London. This was his first exposure to the London School of psychology, in which Prof. Eysenck carried on the empirical tradition of the great British pioneers, Francis Galton and Charles Spearman. It was a turning point in Prof. Jensen’s career: “Eysenck was a kind of genius,” he says, “or at least a person of very unusual talents, and the only person of that unusual caliber that I have come across in the field of psychology. I got perhaps as much as 90 percent of my attitudes about psychology and science from Eysenck. The three years I spent in his department have been a lasting source of inspiration.”
Eysenck was among the first post-war psychologists to study racial differences in IQ. In London, Prof. Jensen also attended a lecture by Sir Cyril Burt, on his pioneering work on the heritability of intelligence and the genetic origins of group differences. He says Burt’s “was the best lecture I had ever attended,” and found Burt “a brilliant and impressive man.”
Still, Prof. Jensen did not abandon his conventional beliefs in the power of environment to raise or lower intelligence, and went on to publish 30 papers and build a non-controversial reputation before he finally concluded that Eysenck and Burt were right. In 1969 he shocked the country with his famous Harvard Educational Review article, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” This 123-page paper, which demolished the view that proper instruction could raise children’s IQs, may have been the most sensational scholarly article ever published in America. Although only five percent of it was about racial differences in intelligence — which Prof. Jensen concluded had a substantial genetic component — it was enough to make him a pariah and a household name.
Frank Miele’s book does not dwell on the insults, death threats, and mob actions that “Jensenism” provoked, and the target of this hostility is admirably philosophical about it. Mr. Miele says Prof. Jensen bears no grudges, and there seem to be two sources of his equanimity in the face of attacks that would have silenced lesser men. One is the capacity to endure what Prof. Jensen calls “strong disapproval.” “I myself don’t like it,” he says, “but I sometimes wonder why I seem to tolerate it. I believe one has to have relatively little need to be liked. I suppose it’s a kind of eccentricity to be willing to risk strong disapproval.”
The other source of Prof. Jensen’s calm appears to be the inspiration he finds in his chief role model. “Mahatma Gandhi has been my number-one hero since I was 14 years old,” he says, adding that Gandhi was “one of the few people I know of who lived nearly his whole adult life by principle, entirely by principle . . . He is the one who first comes to mind whenever I feel puzzled as to the right course of action.”
The right course has been a stance not unlike that of Thomas Jefferson, who is quoted under the American Renaissance nameplate. As Prof. Jensen puts it: “One of the tenets of my own philosophy is to be as open as possible and to strive for a perfect consistency between my thoughts, both spoken and published, in their private and public expression. This is essentially a Gandhian principle, one that I have long considered worth striving to live by.”
The trouble with Prof. Jensen’s admirable public/private consistency is that he has reached such unfashionable conclusions. He refuses to think something just because others do. “If anything, my attitudes are based on a rather lifelong antipathy to believing anything without evidence,” he says, noting that he was “more or less kicked out of Sunday school” because he did not see enough evidence for the things he was told to believe. His life would have been vastly easier if he had, like many scientists, shaded his findings or simply stayed away from race, but this was not his way. “I have only contempt for people who let their politics or religion influence their science,” he says. Group differences are an important aspect of the study of intelligence, and to dodge the race question would have been, for him, an act of intellectual cowardice.
Now, after nearly 35 years of research following the Harvard Educational Review article, Prof. Jensen’s position is stronger than ever (for a review of his magisterial The g Factor, click here). He says that since the appearance of his famous article, he has become even more convinced that education and social milieu have little effect on IQ, and that it is almost misleading to talk about “environmental” influences on intelligence:
I prefer the terms ‘genetic influences’ and ‘nongenetic influences’ because so many people think environment means just the psychological, social, and cultural milieu in which a person grows up. These nongenetic influences begin virtually at the moment of conception. They have direct effects on the brain’s development and are probably the most important of all environmental effects on g [general cognitive ability — see below]. They include intrauterine conditions related to the mother’s age, health, and blood type; incompatibility between mother and fetus; nutrition; certain medications; and substance abuse. Then there are perinatal conditions such as anoxia, birth trauma, and extreme prematurity. And also post-natal conditions — mainly early nutrition and the various childhood diseases.”
Elsewhere, Prof. Jensen refers to these as the “biological microenvironment,” adding that “these microenvironmental effects may contribute as much as 20 to 25 percent of the total variance in IQ in the population.” Prof. Jensen suspects that improvements in health, nutrition, and child delivery explain a good part of what is known as the Lynn-Flynn effect: “The reduced occurrence of . . . unfavorable microenvironmental elements in the industrialized countries is probably one of the causes of the gradual rise in mental test scores in these countries during the last 60 or 70 years.”
In Prof. Jensen’s view, the home or social environment may influence what field a person may enter, and what he does with his intelligence, but they have little effect on intelligence itself. He points out that the IQ correlation between adopted children reared together is a modest 0.3, but that the correlation drops to nearly zero by late adolescence. After the early years, shared home and parents seem to have no effect.
Intelligence can now be determined by direct physiological assessment of the brain. People differ in the rates at which their brains consume glucose, and in the complexity and shape of their brain waves. Tests of this kind are as good as written IQ tests, and it is hard to imagine how the social environment could influence such things as glucose uptake rates.
People who believe in the power of environment over intelligence should expect a deaf child, who has heard nothing his entire life, to be severely afflicted. In fact, children born deaf perform normally on non-verbal intelligence tests.
Another fashionable notion Prof. Jensen dismisses is the idea that race is a “social construct.” He points out that although there are very few instances of genetic variations unique to a particular population, strong group tendencies at many different genetic locations add up to consistent racial differences. These differences are more than skin deep: “Given the fact that as many as 50 percent of the genes in the human genome are involved with the structural and functional aspects of the brain, it would be surprising indeed if populations that differ in a great many visible characteristics and in various genetic polymorphisms [different forms of the same gene] did not also differ in some characteristics associated with the brain, the primary organ of behavior.”
As Prof. Jensen points out, in nature, when animals differ in form and appearance, they differ in behavior, and there is no reason to think humans are any different. He notes that Robert Plomin of England has already identified four genes, or DNA segments, that affect IQ. As more are discovered, it is extremely unlikely that the different forms of these genes will be distributed equally among all races.
Although some psychometricians still argue that environment accounts for racial differences in IQ, there is essentially unanimity on the view that a person’s intelligence is largely fixed at birth. “The fact that g is more strongly genetic than most other psychological variables is not really controversial among empirical researchers in this field,” says Prof. Jensen. “It is highly controversial only in the popular media. Just try to find any real controversy among the experts who know the research on this issue.”
Indeed, on Nov. 26, 1998, Intelligence, the premier journal in the field of IQ research, published an entire issue of tributes to Prof. Jensen under the general title: “A King Among Men: Arthur Jensen.” Even when it comes to racial differences, he can find no one in the field willing to debate him seriously. Non-genetic arguments simply do not hold up: “The purely environmental or ‘culture-only’ theory . . . has had to fall back on a series of ad hoc hypotheses. They lack any underlying theoretical basis and are often inconsistent with each other, since each one was invented to explain some single phenomenon.”
This does not mean the “culture-only” theory is dead, only that it should be. “Undergraduate psychology textbooks are misinforming hundreds of thousands of college students on this subject every year,” says Prof. Jensen. “It almost sickens me even to thumb through most of the introductory psychology books published in recent years.”
Although he is notorious for his findings on race, what may be Prof. Jensen’s most important scientific contributions have been his work on the nature of intelligence. No one else has so carefully demonstrated the reality of a concept that earlier researchers like Charles Spearman suspected but could never prove: the unitary nature of intelligence, or the dependence of virtually all cognitive abilities on a single underlying ability known as the g factor. If we can imagine separate factories in the mind, turning out spatial or numerical or verbal or other kinds of insights, g, or the “general” factor, can be thought of as the common source of power for these factories. The different factories vary in efficiency from person to person, and people have different areas of strength and weakness, but it is differences in the level of g that best explain individual differences in mental ability. This is why, with the exception of very unusual people like idiot savants, those who are good in one subject in school are usually good in all of them.
There are theories of “multiple intelligences,” according to which there are many discreet abilities independent of each other. Liberals like this idea because they pretend to believe all people are equally gifted, but just not in exactly the same ways. As Prof. Jensen explains, the evidence for separate, unrelated intelligences is very thin: “Even though many attempts have been made to devise tests of mental ability that have zero or negative correlations with each other, no one yet has succeeded. It appears that zero and nonpositive correlations among ability tests are the psychometric equivalent of perpetual motion in physics — you can imagine them but you can never demonstrate them in the real world.”
In an age when anyone who can manage to get to a microphone seems to think he is competent to spout opinions on anything, Prof. Jensen is unusually humble: “I myself don’t feel inclined or properly qualified to think through what others may consider the ‘politics’ of my work.” Elsewhere, he adds, “My aim in this is to produce good science, as best I can, not to change the world or push any social or political program.” Also: “The acquisition of factual knowledge should stand apart from policy. But to be effective, policy making must take into account our best factual knowledge about the alternatives under consideration.”
The problem, of course, is that most policy-makers ignore facts that run counter to prevailing orthodoxy, and will not take positions that displease the media. As Prof. Jensen puts it: “Too many politicians take research results less seriously than purely political considerations. The popular media seldom help either, as they are also more politically than scientifically oriented.”
He credits his opponents with good intentions, but points out that “good intentions must be backed up by evidence that the prescribed means for achieving them actually work.” Many scholars know perfectly well that uplift programs will not work, but they remain silent. Prof. Jensen is too much a gentleman to call anyone a coward, but he does say this: “Most academicians, of course speak up on controversial issues only after they are no longer controversial. If it weren’t so disheartening, it would be amusing to see so many of them run for cover when threatened by ideological criticism.”
Not surprisingly, on any controversial subject, the number of people willing to take a position is much less important than the scientific findings: “The idea of consensus is not very meaningful or important in science, especially at the frontiers of knowledge. At first, a consensus is nearly always opposed to any innovation.” For Prof. Jensen, good science always comes first: “Whether I’m right or wrong in any particular instance isn’t the really important thing. What is important is that scientific research on these matters should be encouraged and allowed to advance unfettered.” Needless to say, on a host of topics, not just scientific but historical, we have nothing like “unfettered” research.
Prof. Jensen reports that no fewer than eight publishers turned down his most significant contribution to science, The g Factor. This is a book any publisher should have been delighted to sponsor, but fear of prevailing taboos nearly kept it from being published at all.
Despite his general unwillingness to discuss “politics,” interviewer Frank Miele did manage to draw out Prof. Jensen on a few controversial subjects:
‘The growth of populations world wide,’ he argues, ‘especially in the Third World, is by far the most serious problem we have to face.’ Of the one-child policy in China, he says: ‘The totalitarian conditions that are apparently needed to accomplish this goal seem tolerable if one considers the eventual consequences of ignoring the problem. It seems the lesser of two evils, considering the consequences of overpopulation.’
He notes that among all races, the more intelligent are having fewer children than the less intelligent. At the same time: “[T]here is a greater disparity in birthrates between poorly educated and well-educated Blacks than is true for Whites. If this trend continues over a number of generations, the Black and White populations will be pulled increasingly further apart in average IQ . . . Reducing population seems more urgent to me than eugenics per se. But unless people in the upper half of the bell curve for g have at least as many offspring as those of the lower half, there will inevitably result a dysgenic trend in the overall ability level and the educability of the population as a whole.”
Perhaps most controversially, he takes a position that could serve as the central platform of any movement that seeks to maintain European civilization on this continent: “No First World country can expect to have an open border with a Third World country without serious risk to its own economy and quality of life.” This view follows logically from an understanding of group differences in ability, but politicians who refuse to countenance even the possibility of these differences, will not take even the most basic steps to save our civilization.
Arthur Jensen has spent his life pursuing — and finding — truth. Instead of the honors he deserved, he has endured hatred and calumny. This book is a tribute not only to a great man and a great scientist, but to author Frank Miele, who recognizes that greatness.