Review – Intelligence, Race and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen (Kevin Lamb)

Review – Intelligence, Race and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen

Kevin Lamb

Frank Miele
Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002

243 pp.



A Skeptic Objectively Examines Arthur Jensen’s Work

The actual story of Arthur R. Jensen’s career path and research accomplishments is one that runs counter to the caricature rendered by egalitarian critics. A scientist who has published over four hundred articles and seven books, four of which are among some of the most cited publications in the psychological literature, Jensen has tirelessly pursued an exemplarily productive life as an educator and pioneering researcher in his own field of expertise—differential psychology.  Jensen studied under Percival Symonds as a graduate student at Columbia University, then under Hans Eysenck for two years in a postdoctoral program in London. As an educational psychologist and eventually pioneer  as a differential psychologist, Jensen spent his career teaching at the University of California at Berkeley.  He is the recipient of numerous awards and is ranked among the top one hundred most recognized psychologists among his colleagues.

Jensen gained notoriety when the Harvard Educational Review (HER) published his landmark article, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” which its editors had solicited for the Winter 1969 issue.  In 123 pages, Jensen  summarized the findings from the psychological literature on individual and group differences in IQ and the degree to which genetics plays a role in shaping these differences.  Jensen’s framework for considering these issues was the abysmal failure of compensatory education programs (Head Start) to achieve a lasting, measurable increase in the intelligence levels of disadvantaged children.  Jensen’s article addressed the nature of intelligence, the concept of heritability, social class differences in intelligence, possible dysgenic IQ trends, kinship correlations, and racial differences in IQ. Shortly after its publication, a wave of publicity and widespread coverage in the mass media engulfed Jensen, including a profile in the New York Times Magazine that coined the expression “Jensenism“ and two interviews with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.  It prompted several replies from critical scholars that were published in subsequent HER issues and led to an eventual monograph that included a rejoinder by Jensen.  Over the years, Jensen has received hundreds of requests for reprints of his article.  It remains one of the most cited articles in the psychological literature.

Frank Miele’s recent book, Intelligence, Race, and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen, explores Jensen’s work in considerable detail.  In terms of objectivity, it will likely remain the standard for other such books in the future.  It is the first book to cover the full scope and magnitude of Jensen’s writings and explain his scientific outlook to a lay readership.  Miele, an editor for Skeptic magazine, has put together a concise yet definitive volume that spans Jensen’s career and yet carefully examines Jensen’s major research accomplishments in a clear and succinct manner.  Each chapter flushes out the essential highlights of Jensen’s career and major research endeavors: “Jensenism,“ the g factor in IQ studies, heritability and the nature/nurture paradigm, race and racial differences in intelligence, the Bell Curve wars, and science and social policy.  It thus covers the full panorama of an interesting iconoclast—a social scientist who pursued unresolved research questions while defying the trends within his own profession.

The image of Jensen that emerges from this informative volume is of a courageously honest, persistent, and thoroughly meticulous scientist.  In his most important undertaking—research that culminated with the publication of his 1998 book, The g Factor—Jensen has remained several steps ahead of his critics.  Anticipating various weak points in his thesis (that g is the single ubiquitous factor in the constellation of human abilities), Jensen pursued a range of research projects and independent analyses that would solidify the thesis: measuring reaction times and their relationship to differences in g (indicative of an underlying physiological correlation to general mental ability); the full range of biological correlates from body, brain, and head size, electrochemical brain activity, cerebral glucose metabolism as measured by positron emission tomography (PET scans), to nerve conduction velocity; the heritability of g; population and demographic differences (race and sex differences); the impact of nutrition, home environment, and other non-biological factors; and theoretical challenges to g from multi-intelligence rivals such as Howard Gardner and Robert Sternberg.

By taking a lead in these research areas, Jensen carved out a scientific niche that has earned him the respect of a number of his contemporaries.  A 1998 special issue of the journal Intelligence, edited by Douglas K. Detterman, and the forthcoming festschrift edited by Helmuth Nyborg testify to the high esteem with which Jensen is viewed by his fellow scientists.8  When the American Psychological Association sponsored a talk by Jensen on the Cyril Burt controversy and research taboos during the APA’s centennial convention in Washington, D.C. in August 1992, the large banquet room at the Washington Hilton Hotel was nearly filled to capacity.  Several hundred attendees turned out to hear Jensen’s enthralling lecture and slide presentation on the latest developments in the  Burt affair—a turnout five or ten times the norm for such a lecture.

Miele provides a well-rounded portrait of a complex individual.  He describes a man whose personal interests include reading biographies (with particular interest in Bertrand Russell’s life and scientific philosophy, and in Mohandas Gandhi and Indian culture) and playing the clarinet while cultivating an intense interest in classical music. Jensen’s support for the role of inheritance in intelligence, we learn, was preceded by an initial belief in the efficacy of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society“ programs.  Needless to say, Jensen comes across as a workaholic, steadfastly devoted to his professional work.

The book’s only shortcoming is the lack of space devoted to certain secondary and tangential issues. More space could have been devoted to teasing out the relationship between Jensen’s own research interests and career path as an educational psychologist to specific educational policies that Jensen must have pondered to a considerable degree. Despite the turmoil that engulfed Raymond Cattell’s nomination and subsequent withdrawal for the APA’s Life Time Achievement Award a few years ago, the subject never comes up, nor is Cattell’s work ever touched on.  Jensen knew Cattell reasonably well and most likely would have had some interesting thoughts about Cattell’s wide range of research interests, including his controversial philosophical beliefs as articulated in two separate but related books on his “beyondism” ideas.  The issue of political correctness surfaces from time to time, but only incidentally.  Jensen mentions that he submitted The g Factor to eight different publishers before it was accepted.  Miele could have pressed Jensen further about his views on these and other issues, including his collegial relationship with Nobel physics laureate and race researcher William Shockley, and Jensen’s thoughts about Shockley’s own research endeavors.  Miele barely skims the surface of Jensen’s interests in eugenics, which could have been expanded into a separate chapter.

Still, Miele is to be commended for an otherwise thorough and comprehensive review of Jensen’s major contributions to the psychology of individual and group differences in general mental ability. If there is one aspect of Jensen’s life (both professional work and personal pursuits) that emerges from Miele’s book, it is that the caricature of Jensen (promoted by Tucker and other critics) as a man consumed by “racist” objectives could not be further from the truth.  Jensen states unequivocally that he has never supported segregationist policies; believes that people should be treated as equals before the law; accepts the idea of equal opportunity (provided that academic standards of excellence apply even-handedly to everyone); and believes that the variation in IQ within families is as important as the differences that exist between blacks and whites in terms of understanding the latent problems in educational policies.  His overarching goal is to pursue the truth wherever it leads and to let the truth win out, rather than to advance politically correct fallacies.  The irony is that it is Jensen’s staunchest critics who have persisted in grinding an ideological ax and, in the process, have tossed any regard for the truth to the four winds.



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