Racism and IQ (Again)

Someone really should sit Andrew Sullivan down and school him on racism and the roots of the IQ debate. He once again reveals his complete lack of depth on the subject in his re-hash of Watson’s comments about “race” and “IQ.” Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber does an excellent (what’s the superlative above excellent?) job of explaining why Sullivan (and Watson’s, and Hernstein and Murray’s, and Rushton’s) take on “race and IQ” is flawed in a series of lengthy posts that you can find here. These are long posts, but well worth the time if you have an interest in this topic.

Part of what is so annoying about Sullivan’s insistence that the “data demand addressing” around IQ is that he, like so many others wedded to the notion of biological race, commits what Troy Duster refers to as the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” Here, Sullivan commits this fallacy in thinking that “IQ” is really an accurate measure of some sort of inherent, immutable intelligence. In fact, there’s lots of research that demonstrates what so-called IQ tests are best at measuring is class position, such as a French study by Capron and Duyme which found that children adopted by high-SES parents score higher than children adopted by low-SES parents. It seems appropriate that this is a French study, since the practice of testing for “intelligence” began in France, with Alfred Binet in 1905, specifically to find in which areas the French school children needed remedial education. Following that, it was imported to the U.S. and promoted as tool in the eugenics movement by people like Henry Herbert Goddard, America’s first intelligence tester and author of the famous American eugenics tract, The Kallikak Family. Goddard and others in the eugenics movement at the beginning of the 20th century, envisioned IQ-testing as an effective tool for addressing the social issues of their day, such as poverty, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, and immigration restriction (See, for example, Zenderland, Measuring Minds, Cambridge University Press, 1998). Indeed, if you take a look at the testimony by “social science experts” of the day who testified before Congress in the hearings prior to the widespread, and racist, 1924 immigration restrictions, many of these leading social scientists used the “evidence” from IQ tests. These tests were administered to new immigrants in English and then in a fallacy of misplaced concreteness (treating results of the IQ test “as if” it were a real, concrete thing), used the lower scores on IQ tests as evidence of their putatively lower intelligence which justified their exclusion as “worthy” immigrants and future citizens. Dr. Jonathan Plucker, Indiana University, offers this detail on Goddard’s work at Ellis Island:

In 1913 Goddard was invited to Ellis Island to help detect morons in the immigrant population. In his Intelligence Classification of Immigrants of Different Nationalities (1917) he asserted that most of the Ellis Island immigrants were mentally deficient. For example, he indicated that 83% of all Jews tested were feeble-minded, as were 80% of the Hungarians, 79% of the Italians, and 87% of the Russians. The result was that many immigrants were turned away and sent back to Europe.

I dare say that none of the contemporary anti-immigrant, anti-black (or more precisely anti-African) proponents of Watsonian-style IQ-mongering would dare to launch a convincing argument that 83% of the Jewish population is “feeble-minded.” And I hope they would  take issue with the notion of a Jewish “race.”

Let’s review: “race” as biology is a fiction, racism as a social problem is real.