Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Pseudoscience of Psychometry and the Bell Curve

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Pseudoscience of Psychometry and the Bell Curve

Article excerpt

Joseph L. Graves, Jr., Department of Life Sciences, Arizona State University-West; and Amanda Johnson, Arizona State University Honors College*

This article claims The Bell Curve merely reiterates the fallacious argument long embraced by psychometricians: that intelligence can be reduced to a single ordinal measure (g) that is the primary factor for determining group or individual social-class status. The book's policy recommendations, particularly its call to dismantle initiatives designed to ameliorate social inequality, are shown to have evolved from pseudoscientific theories about the distribution of cognitive abilities across racial/ethnic groups. Evidence from the biological sciences and quantitative genetics is presented, pointing to the significance of environmental and physiological factors neglected by the psychometric program. These data reveal that social inequality is not a symptom of immutable biological inequalities but rather the result of longstanding biases and differential opportunity structures.


Genes, Race, and Intelligence

Concerned because of Army Alpha IQ data demonstrating the allegedly moronic character of the Jewish race, the eugenicist R. A. Ross wrote in 1914 about the menacing specter of "overliterate" Jews polluting the ranks of professional positions in New York City (Chase, 1977). Along with other eugenicists, Ross then began to dictate conditions to the country's leading universities. As active members of numerous college admissions and testing boards, they demanded the strict imposition of quotas designed to keep all Jews, Italians, Poles, Mexicans, Blacks, Asians, and other non-Aryan students out of the nation's undergraduate and graduate institutions (Baltzell, 1964; Gossett, 1963). Their rationale for imposing these quotas was the belief that "American intelligence is declining, and will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial admixture becomes more and more extensive" (Chase, 1977, p. 272). They subsequently fought the integration of the nation's public schools, armed forces, and other societal institutions with all the statistics and figures the budding "science" of mental testing could provide. As Brigham (1923) explained in A Study of American Intelligence,

. . . the army mental tests had proven beyond any scientific doubt that, like the American Negroes, the Italians and the Jews were genetically ineducable. It would be a waste of good money even to attempt to try to give these born morons and imbeciles a good Anglo-Saxon education, let alone admit them into our fine medical, law, and engineering graduate schools. (p. 210)

That was 70 years ago. Since then, the sciences involved in the Great IQ Debategenetics, physiology, neurobiology, and psychology-have made great strides, and the illogic of the psychometric argument has been played out in human events. Even the seemingly innocuous aspects of psychometric thought have had devastating consequences for humanity. The European holocaust remains the most obvious example of the kind of policy implementation that follows from psychometric research programs (Muller-Hill, 1988). The principles of this discipline have also been used to support the active neglect of true equal opportunity for 29 million people of African ancestry in the United States. This neglect is best illustrated by mortality rates that are presently two to five times greater for African Americans than for Euro-Americans across all age classes and for nearly all causes of death (Graves & Place, 1995; Polednak, 1989).

Not 25 years after the savage inhumanities of Auschwitz were unveiled to the world or 5 years after the Civil Rights act of 1964 was passed, the eminent psychometrician Arthur Jensen penned his infamous 1969 Harvard Educational Review (HER) article, "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" Jensen's article is, in brief, the manifesto of the modem psychometric movement. …

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