C. Loring Brace (1999) Racialism, Racism, and the Bigot Brigade. Psycoloquy: 10(062) Intelligence g Factor (11)

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Psycoloquy 10(062): Racialism, Racism, and the Bigot Brigade

Book Review of Jensen on Intelligence-g-Factor

C. Loring Brace
Museum of Anthropology
University of Michigan
1109 Geddes Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA



Jensen (1998) differs from Jensen (1969) only in statistical elaboration. Although 'intelligence' is described as a 'construct' and therefore something that should be discarded as a word, it lives on as 'g' which in fact is a construct of factor analysis. 'Races' may themselves be social constructs, but since people believe in them, they live on as entities to be invested with varying amounts of 'g'. However, not only do races have no biological coherence, but an assessment of the millions of years of hominid prehistory leads to the espectable null hypothesis that there should be no difference in mental capability between any of the human groups in the world. Assumptions to the contrary qualify as racialism and actions based on those assumptions qualify as racism.


behavior genetics, cognitive modelling, evoked potentials, evolutionary psychology, factor analysis, g factor, heritability, individual differences, intelligence, IQ, neurometrics, psychometrics, psychophyiology, skills, Spearman, statistics
1. With the publication of "The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability" (1998), Arthur R. Jensen illustrates in the form of a single person an embodiment of the judgement applied by Talleyrand, that politicien extraordinaire, to characterise the Bourbons of the ancien regime in eighteenth-century France: he has learned nothing, and forgotten nothing. This ponderous, extensively documented and clearly written volume is simply an updated version of the tract he published thirty years ago in the Harvard Educational Review, 'How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement?' (1969). These, along with an unbroken stream of similar written contributions, present a massive picture of mental stasis. One of those intervening manifestations, his "Bias in Mental Testing" (1980), an equally ponderous monument to intellectual inertia, adds a depressing demonstration of the pervading presence of bias in the mental testing business ' not in the nature of the tests themselves but in the assumptions on the part of the testers.

2. Jensen's outlook is a classic example of 'racialism' in Todorov's sense of the word (Todorov, 1993:91). As a racialist, he takes it for granted (a) that entities called 'races' exist, (b) that there is a continuity between physical 'type' and behavioural capabilities, and (c) that those capabilities can be ranked in hierarchical fashion among groups. He is less explicit in reiterating those elements of his belief in his recent writings, including "The g Factor," but it is quite clear that nothing has shaken his initial faith in their reality. Other reviewers are dealing at great length with the thicket of details contained in his latest book, including the realisation that his 'g' is simply an artifact produced by the nature of factor analysis. The basic flaw is not in Jensen's technical treatment, but in his unexamined underlying assumptions. His conceptual framework is exactly the same as it was thirty years ago. It will repay us, then, to go back and look at what he said at that earlier time.

3. Although he now quotes his inspiration, Charles Spearman (1904, 1927), on the observation that 'intelligence' has 'no scientifically acceptable meaning in the context of human individual differences' (p. 48), there has been no wavering in his conviction that group differences are real and significant. Initially, he approved of the idea that 'intelligence' is the ability to adapt to 'civilization' and that 'races' differ in that ability according to the civilisations in which they live (edited reply to letter by D. N. Robinson, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 21, 1969:14). I.Q., in his view, is a measure of the ability to adapt to 'Western' civilisation. The implication, of course, is that people of recent African ancestry have not had enough time to adapt to the selective pressures imposed by 'Western' civilisation and therefore should be expected to have lower I.Q. scores. Indeed, he has gone on record as declaring that 'at least' one-quarter of the African American population is mentally retarded as measured by his 'g', and that this, not the legacy of slavery and a succeeding century of enforced inequality of opportunity, is the reason for the social and economic disparity between African Americans and other groups to whom they are compared (Jensen, 1992:174).

4. Here we need to introduce a perspective that is completely lacking in formulations of this kind. If one takes seriously the information in history and prehistory as available from the archaeological record, virtually no current 'civilisation,' let alone that vaunted 'Western' civilisation, has continued in its present form for more than a few thousand years, or in the case of the latter, a few hundred years. To this, we can add what we have learned concerning just how long it takes to make significant evolutionary changes in human form. For example, the initial spread of humans into the western hemisphere goes back maybe 15,000 years, give or take a few thousand (Frison, 1998; Dillehay, 1999). From that time on, people of Northeast Asian origin have made their homes as continuing local inhabitants from the arctic circle to the equator and well into the south temperate zone. In spite of 15,000 years or so of continuous occupation at those latitudinal extremes, there is no gradient in skin colour among the inhabitants of the New World (Vignaud, 1922). Skin colour is one of those traits that responds as promptly and directly to differences in the intensity of environmentally imposed selective forces as any known, and yet it is clear that 15,000 years is not a long enough time to have had any effect at all on its manifestations in the native populations of the western hemisphere. If that is the case, then the much briefer and more transient differences in the time depth of the current 'civilisations' Jensen posits should have had no discernible effect whatsoever on the intellectual capabilities of the world's people.

5. When one looks at the accumulated evidence concerning the nature of human survival strategies prior to the beginnings of agriculture 10,000 years ago, namely the archaeological record, it is evident that there was no significant difference in the way the various human groups coped for a span of some two-million years (Smith, 1994; Brace, 1995; Fagan, 1998). Yes, some lived in areas where the sunlight is less strong and the winters are colder than in other areas. But the same thing has been true for some tens of millions of years for temperate zone versus tropical rodents, carnivores, and ungulates, and there is no indication that northern mice, foxes and deer are intellectually different from their southern relatives. The same generalisation should also apply to the human situation.

6. Near the beginning of his three-decade-long campaign, Jensen stated, 'I simply say the idea of a genetic difference is not an unreasonable one because everything else that's ever been examined has shown differences and why should the brain be an exception? It's not an unreasonable proposition, but it has not been proved in any scientifically acceptable way. I think it could be' (quoted in Neary, 1970:62). The attempt to provide that proof now runs to more than 400 papers and a series of ponderous tomes.

7. None of this, however, has paid even the most rudimentary kind of attention to the possible circumstances that could have contributed to why one would expect population differences in cognitive capability. Instead, the entire focus has been on the techniques of measurement. At one point Jensen declared, 'One cannot treat a fever by throwing away the thermometer' (1980:xi). There is something extraordinarily telling about that imagery. In the assessment of 'intelligence', Jensen's entire career has been focused on the construction and refinement of an intellectual thermometer. But better thermometers do not in themselves do anything to treat the differences in temperature revealed, any more than better IQ tests do anything to treat the intellectual performance differences revealed. And quite the reverse of Jensen's declaration that 'everything else that's ever been examined has shown differences,' one thing that has not shown group differences is that essential datum, average human body temperature. As the medical profession around the world knows, those aspects of human biochemistry and physiology that are essential for survival are the same in all human populations.

8. It is universally accepted that, even though there are individual differences, thermometer readings which depart from the human norm indicate that there is something wrong. It is at least as expectable that cognitive tests which indicate deviations of one or another group from species-wide standards should also tell us that something is wrong, and that in all probability there are non-inherited factors involved. Given the multiple-million-year stretch during which the selective forces bearing on hominid cognitive capabilities were essentially identical at any given time, we should start with the expectation that the same level of intellectual capability ought to have evolved in all human groups (Brace, 1999a). In effect, this should be regarded as the null hypothesis. Jensen, however, has labelled this the 'egalitarian fallacy,' adding that it is 'gratuitous' and 'scientifically unwarranted' (Jensen, 1980:370).

9. On the contrary, however, the data of anthropology show that this is fully warranted as a starting point (Brace, 1995, 1999a). Thirty years ago I noted that a credible demonstration of group differences in capability could only be possible 'when social conditions for all races are equal and this situation has existed for several generations' (Brace, 1971). Jensen's reply was that 'Since no operationally testable meaning is given to 'equal' social conditions, such a statement, if taken seriously, would completely preclude the possibility of researching this important question, not just for several generations but indefinitely' (Jensen, 1971:24). In contrast, he offers what he calls his 'default' position, which is that the existence of innate differences should be the null hypothesis tested (Jensen, 1998:444). By definition, then, this is a manifestation of 'racialism' as Todorov has defined it (Todorov, 1993:91).

10. What Jensen has done, then, is to proceed with his programme of assuming the innate intellectual inferiority of people of African origin without making even the beginnings of an effort to set up a scientifically credible test situation. As I replied to his complaint at that earlier time, 'if in fact Jensen were really interested in an unbiased testing of the heritable component of intellectual differences between human groups, he should have been devoting his efforts to setting up a scientifically acceptable test situation. The very first step would involve engaging in an attempt to produce an operational definition of equal social conditions and the systematic effort to see that these be extended to all of those whom he might wish to test... Then, and only then, could the question of inherited differences in ability be posed. In fact, whether or not the question is indeed "important" could only be decided under such circumstances' (Brace, 1971:8, 1980:334).

11. There are many matters about which the informed reader is certain to feel uneasy. The casual treatment of the recent massive increase in I.Q. noted by the New Zealand political scientist, James R. Flynn, is described as 'puzzling' (Jensen, 1998:318), and dismissed as 'the Flynn Effect' as though it were something that Professor Flynn had foisted on the world by some sleight-of-hand trick. This is the same kind of derogatory treatment used by the authors who coined that term (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994:307), although the originators are not mentioned. Then there is the chapter on 'The heritability of g.' This includes a useful contrast between the meaning of 'hereditary' and 'heritability', but there is no recognition of the fact that heritability is not a fixed quantity. Nor is it a property of a trait. It is a ratio of the environmental and genetic contributions to the manifestation of a given trait calculated for a given population at a given time, and it can vary over a very large range depending on circumstances (Lerner, 1954:68). Since Spearman and Jensen's 'g' is a construct far removed from the level of known genetically controlled elements, one wonders whether it is just as inappropriate to calculate a heritability figure for 'g' as it is to do so for those morphological characters used in cladistics simply because they can be defined and analysed. As has been noted regarding the latter, recent developments in biology have made obsolete 'the view that a trait is independently heritable (or heritable at all) simply because it can be separately defined and analyzed' (Thorogood, 1997:7).

12. This leads to my final point. Jensen concludes that 'intelligence' should be discarded as a term, just as concepts such as 'animal magnetism' and 'phlogiston' have been discarded in the past (Jensen, 1998:48). A good thirty-five years ago, the late Ashley Montagu argued that, since it was a social construct, 'Race is the phlogiston of our time' (Montagu, 1964:xii). The prejudicial treatment that has been meted out in the name of a concept which has no coherent biological reality is more than enough reason for discarding it. If we really can discard reifications such as 'race' and 'intelligence' as no more defensible than phlogiston, then there would be no point in writing this review. However, it is abundantly clear from the tenor of Jensen's book that he is strongly committed to both concepts. Jensen has gone on record as saying that 'the social definition of race should be adequate and, in fact, should be the only appropriate definition' (1995:42). Can there be any validity in calculating the heritability of anything that is associated with a 'self-identified' construct that has no coherent biological existence?

13. What Jensen has done is to substitute a statistical construct for 'intelligence' and to attribute different amounts of it to groupings that have no biological reality. I have previously referred to this as 'statistical theology' where 'divinity is depicted with a lower case g' (Brace, 1980:334). Just recently this has been extolled as 'the jewel in the crown' (Rushton, 1999) of his three-decade-long defence of a stance that can only be called racist in Todorov's sense (Todorov, 1993:91). When similar views were promoted in the pages of the Anthropology Newsletter just a year ago (Rushton, 1998), I replied with 'Beware the Bigot Brigade' (Brace, 1999b). The 'g' Factor certainly demonstrates that its author continues to qualify for membership in that still-vigorous sodality.


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