Thomas Sowell — When academics seek truth and not just fame

T SowellAnyone who has followed the decades-long controversies over the role of genes in IQ scores will recognize the names of the two leading advocates of opposite conclusions on that subject— Professor Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley and Professor James R. Flynn, an American expatriate at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

What is so unusual in the academic world of today is that Professor Flynn’s latest book, “Are We Getting Smarter?” is dedicated to Arthur Jensen, whose integrity he praises, even as he opposes his conclusions. That is what scholarship and science are supposed to be like, but so seldom are. (Buy it for 27% off the cover price by clicking here or in KINDLE at a 55% discount, $9.99 by clicking here)

Professor Jensen, who died recently, is best known for reopening the age-old controversy about heredity versus environment with his 1969 article titled, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?”

His answer— long since lost in the storms of controversy that followed— was that scholastic achievement could be much improved by different teaching methods, but that these different teaching methods were not likely to change I.Q. scores much.

Jensen argued for educational reforms, saying that “scholastic performance— the acquisition of the basic skills— can be boosted much more, at least in the early years, than can the IQ” and that, among “the disadvantaged,” there are “high school students who have failed to learn basic skills which they could easily have learned many years earlier” if taught in different ways.

But, regardless of what Arthur Jensen actually said, too many in the media, and even in academia, heard what they wanted to hear. He was lumped in with earlier writers who had promoted racial inferiority doctrines that depicted some races as being unable to rise above the level of “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

These earlier writers from the Progressive era were saying, in effect, that there was a ceiling to the mental potential of some races, while Jensen argued that there was no ceiling but, by his reading of the evidence, a difference in average IQ, influenced by genes.

When I first read Arthur Jensen’s landmark article, back in 1969, I was struck by his careful and painstaking analysis of a wide range of complex data. It impressed me but did not convince me. What it did was cause me to dig up more data on my own.

A few years later, I headed a research project that, among other things, collected tens of thousands of past and present IQ scores from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups at schools across the United States. Despite serious limitations in these data, due to constraints of time and circumstances, these data nevertheless threw some additional light on the subject.

A feature article of mine in the Sunday New York Times Magazine of March 27, 1977 pointed out that any number of white groups, here and overseas, had at some point in time had IQs similar to, and in some cases lower than, the IQs of black Americans. During the First World War, for example, white soldiers from some Southern states scored lower on army mental tests than black soldiers from some Northern states.

Professor Jensen read this article and came over to Stanford University to meet with me and discuss the data. That is what a scholar should do when challenged. But the opposite approach was shown by Professor Kenneth B. Clark, who earlier had sought to dissuade me from doing IQ research. He said it would “dignify” Jensen’s work, which Clark wanted ignored or discredited instead.

Unfortunately, Professor Clark’s ideological approach became far more common in academia, so much so that Jensen’s attempts to speak on campuses around the country provoked dangerous disruptions, instead of reasoned arguments.

Years later, Professor James R. Flynn created the biggest challenge to the hereditary theory of intelligence, when he showed that whole nations had risen to much higher results on IQ tests in just one or two generations. Genes don’t change that fast.

Professor Flynn told me that he would never have done his research, except that it was provoked by Jensen’s research. That is just one of the reasons for having a free marketplace of ideas, instead of turning academic campuses into fortresses of politically correct intolerance.

Advertisements

About geneb527

Retired, but still spending an inordinant amount of time thinking about all things big and small. I am proud to be a strong constitutional conservative. I am also proud to have been married over 56 years to my wonderful wife, Louise. I continue to be amazed that she has put up with me for such a long time, but have been happy that she decided to do so. "The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not," warned Thomas Jefferson.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thomas Sowell — When academics seek truth and not just fame

  1. And yet, some teachers dislike the Khan Academy simply because he doesn’t have a degree in education. As though our educational system couldn’t be doing any better than it is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s