Posted on September 6, 2020

The IQ Wars

Christopher Brand, American Renaissance, February 2002

The study of g, or the general factor of intelligence, is perhaps the most controversial area in psychology. Proponents of the g factor argue that it is the psychological basis of most human mental abilities, that it is largely genetic, and that it cannot easily be improved through environmental manipulation (except to some degree by breastfeeding). Much of the controversy has to do with the overwhelming evidence that is not distributed equally across socio-economic classes and races, and that g’s unequal distribution explains why some people and societies fail while others succeed. If g is a valid concept, it is a profoundly important one, but it has been under constant attack from doctrinaire opponents who refuse to accept the genetic basis for intelligence. Have opponents been so successful that the study of is now on its last legs? Has political correctness finally suppressed even all mention of IQ and racial differences? It would be easy to think so, but a recent conference on intelligence provided grounds for optimism.

In December 2001, in Cleveland, Ohio, the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR) held its second annual conference. Because IQ is too hot to handle, no university could be found to host the scholars who had jetted in from places as far away as Australia, Austria, Germany, and California, so the venue was a Holiday Inn. Among the 40 researchers active in the field were such martyrs to the IQ cause as Emeritus Professor Arthur Jensen (University of California, Berkeley), Philippe Rushton (University of Western Ontario), Linda Gottfredson (University of Delaware) and myself (sacked by Edinburgh University in 1997 for saying too much about intelligence, race, sex, feminism, unwed mothers and pedophilia). Our opponents came too. People like Prof. Earl “Buz” Hunt (University of Washington), Prof. Nathan Brody (Wesleyan University) and Prof. Joseph Fagan (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland) lumbered into action to face pretty hard pitching.

Arthur Jensen

Arthur Jensen

Adding novelty to the discussions was a pair of “ethically concerned” psychologists from Indiana University. They presented a paper denouncing the “insensitivity” of IQ testers and deploring the absence from the conference of “people of color.” In fact, three Asians and a Hispanic were among the 40 authors who reported their findings in 20-minute digests that allowed almost everyone to be a speaker. No blacks had even applied. As it happens, many East Asians are happy with the concept of g, and its invariable finding that their group has the highest average IQ, though they know the subject must be discussed only in academic language and never with the Western press.

Sparks inevitably flew. Phil Rushton, with an anti-apartheid activist as his co-author, shocked the g-doubters with results from IQ testing in one of Africa’s two best universities, Witwatersrand. He has found that the black African students had a mean IQ of only 84. Assuming top-flight university students have IQs at least one standard deviation above the mean, this yields an estimate of an average IQ of only 70 for Africans as a group.

I explained that population differences in g were apparent to Plato, who may have derived his understanding from observations as a slave, and from what seems, in the Symposium, to have been his experience of late-night drinking parties with the lower orders. Unfortunately, few Western philosophers followed Plato’s lead of mixing widely, and after Plato, it was more than two thousand years before g and eugenics were discussed articulately and systematically.

Tim Bates of Macquarie University in New South Wales argued — as I have been explaining to an unreceptive world since 1977 — that “rapid information processing is the basic mechanism underlying g.” Roland Tiu of Case Western Reserve spoke about “the importance of the role of processing speed and IQ in predicting reading comprehension.” Speed of information processing is likely to be governed by the efficiency of the brain at the biological level, and is very unlikely to be influenced by the usual environmental interventions touted by g-doubters. Altogether, the factor was having something of a field day.

Aghast, the g-doubters resorted to the usual smokescreen of methodological and ad hoc objections. They demanded data recounts and replays down to the last detail. In desperation, they trotted out once more the only strong data set that appears to support the racial-egalitarian view. The mulatto, out-of-wedlock children of German women who lived near US Army bases shortly after the Second World War seem to have average IQs not far off the German average. This overlooks the likelihood that the black fathers were probably more intelligent than the average black grunt. Girls who had lived through Hitler’s war were probably looking for partners with stripes on their shoulders and cartons of cigarettes in their jeeps, not black squaddies of uncertain means.

Critics of g newly returned from another conference in Australia told of the “Abecedarian” Head Start project, which ran from 1980 in North Carolina, and once claimed to have produced IQ gains of up to 25 points. Today, the alleged big gains are forgotten — they were reported only in the very early stages. Still, enthusiasts like to rejoice that after a 20-year expenditure of $11,000 a year, the “disadvantaged” participants show a four IQ-point increase by age 21 — but no reduction in crime or welfare rates as compared to controls. Some breakthrough for the social engineers!

Black and White IQ Distribution

One g-doubter even promised he could eliminate the black-white IQ difference simply by teaching black children the right answers to vocabulary tests. His research showed instruction of this kind doesn’t do any good for white children because they know the words already. But he seemed to think race-targeted “opportunity-giving” would be a fair way to rectify the basic inequalities that result from traditional testing methods. Phil Rushton and I agreed that this man’s work simply makes no sense. He is plainly one of those who feel that any black-white difference is always and obviously due to some “lack of opportunity” for blacks. The liberal-left is now reduced to gibberish about I — well-funded gibberish, of course.

The other side tried to make much of “multiple intelligences.” This idea arises from the fact that high-IQ people are typically found to have unusual cognitive specialties in verbal, mathematical, spatial and memory abilities. These cognitive discrepancies at the high-IQ range impress only left-wing theorists who don’t get out much, and don’t realize differences of this kind are rarely found in ordinary people. The exotic specialties of high-IQ folk are eagerly read by the left to mean that intelligences are really “multiple,” and that all people are wondrously equal in that they all must be good at something.

Our side pointed out that claims for new tests of “multiple intelligence” are essentially fraudulent. Such tests and indeed the “intelligences” themselves are invented at colossal expense at Harvard and Yale in the hope of finding a way out of the political embarrassment caused by the persistent black-white difference in the unitary value of g. Conference organizer Douglas Detterman (Case Western Reserve) and I both explained how and why variation in g is what explains behavioral differences among ordinary people, even if it does not account for special abilities among the very intelligent.

Gerald Barrett, a lawyer from Akron, Ohio, explained how he had several times had “evidence” from the new multiple intelligence “tests” thrown out of US courtrooms because they failed to meet professional standards or legal guidelines. Today in America it is only the legal profession that maintains a semblance of academic standards while many universities have become propaganda agencies for political correctness.

Despite the liveliness of occasional exchanges, the psychology experts were disinclined to acknowledge each other’s brilliance, and applause for the speakers — whether race realist or politically correct — was perfunctory. Asked to comment on Prof. Rushton’s South African discoveries, one of the brightest students at the conference said, first, that Prof. Rushton “should have set aside his obsession with brain size and IQ” — when in fact Prof. Rushton had not mentioned brain size in his talk. The student also said he “had always thought African IQ to be pretty low, so Rushton need not have gone to the rather boring trouble of proving the point.” Such are the rewards for inquisitive and hard-working academics today.

Philippe Rushton

Philippe Rushton

The ignoracism (to use the term of the late Raymond Cattell) that generally characterizes the critics of IQ extended even into the breaks and informal discussions. Asked their opinions on the simplest aspects of race and IQ, attendees would stare resolutely into the middle distance, hoping for the call that would end the coffee break and let them scamper back to hear the next convoluted, g-avoiding presentation. Not even the rise of political correctness in the universities and the reduction of conservatives to five percent of faculty members in America could be discussed in coffee breaks. In this respect, the other side — for which such silence is a primary objective — has arguably triumphed.

Some people refused even to open their ears to opposing views. Although the Indiana “ethicists,” claimed to “come as friends to the IQ community,” they absented themselves when Prof. Rushton described the ultra-sensitive psychometric testing procedures at Witwatersrand — so much did they prefer their own stereotypes to reality. The press also absented itself: Denial is the only way the New York Times can handle the entirely robust and demonstrable phenomenon of IQ.

Fortunately, the graybeards slugging it out in the name of scientific progress were not alone. There were merciful signs of a younger generation bringing reinforcements. From Holland, a young researcher arrived with news of a South Asian IQ of less than 90 — for which finding this former liberal had endured press denunciations comparing him to “the fascist Brand in Scotland.” From Delaware came a young engineer who had converted to psychology so as to study the possibility that the “Flynn Effect” (of rising IQ scores in the 20th century) had been due not to teachers, social workers or other do-gooders but to increased geographical mobility. He theorized that the IQ rise was due to outbreeding and hybrid vigor, as recessive genes were smothered. Harrison Kane the young co-author of my own paper was not able to attend the conference but sent in a major new data set attesting to the overwhelming importance of g in accounting for mental ability variations in 6,000 Americans — a finding also reported by Dasen Luo, an Indiana colleague of Douglas Detterman’s sizable Cleveland team. A convert from a Sydney MA course in commerce proposed a biological theory of intelligence as “neural plasticity in competitive networks,” which is apparently “a general mechanism that adapts the connections in response to the environment.” This is not a theory that conforms well with the environment-is-all view, but Dennis Garlick’s full paper will appear soon in psychology’s most prestigious journal, Psychological Review, so the g-doubters could not sniff openly.

The current generation of young IQ scholars does not enter the field through ordinary academic channels. Because the thought police are everywhere — as those who attended this conference plainly believed — there is little space or funding for realistic psychology. There is not a single university in America or Britain offering a course in scientific psychology’s major discovery: IQ. Edinburgh University remains Britain’s major center for IQ studies, but after I was fired, the department felt compelled to change the name of its Structural Psychometrics Group to Psychometrics Research Group because the previous name was so closely associated with me and my Ph.D. students.

One might have thought psychology would by now be a science (or at least an academic subject) of careful argument and non-anecdotal evidence. Because it is, instead, so ideologically doctrinaire, it often takes unique experiences for students to break into serious IQ studies. In two cases, the young g-backing researchers who presented papers in Cleveland had been impressed by the hounding they had suffered once their names were linked to mine. In another case, a young man had identical twin sisters and also a third, non-twin sister, and was struck by the twins’ remarkable psychological similarities. Yet another young researcher had grown up as the only child of a bright, successful and self-made engineer, and found himself seriously shocked when, at age five, he had to endure the public schools of Australia’s Deep North.

Perhaps it was always this way. I arrived at hereditarian views around 1965, when I was working as a psychologist in Britain’s top maximum-security psychiatric prison. I was amazed to find that the staff and prisoners invariably credited the problems of any adopted prisoner quite uncritically to the fact of having been adopted. I, myself, was adopted (perfectly happily) and knew that was certainly not enough to turn people into psychopathic criminals.

Arthur Jensen, likewise, made a unique, individual move in 1965 to work in London with Hans Eysenck, the arch-critic of the projective (e.g. inkblot-style) tests in which Prof. Jensen was then an expert. And those who attended the Cleveland conference were reminded of the continuing scholarly inquisitiveness of this sprightly 77-year-old — an alertness likely to be put to excellent use for quite a few more years thanks to the longevity that runs in the Jensen family.

Long live individual experience and the powerful curiosity, doubt, and rebellion it encourages! Unfettered curiosity and the willingness to fight convention now furnish the last hope that academic psychology will survive the battering it has had from the West’s newly emerging religion of political correctness.