Too dangerous for words

September 13, 1996

Arthur Jensen is the grand old man of all the controversial theories expounding a link between intelligence and race. Now, more than 25 years on, he is still rocking the boat and his latest book has been rejected by publishers.

Publisher John Wiley and Sons has been coy on its reasons for rejecting an 800-page tome from Arthur Jensen. The manuscript was returned by parcel post to its 73-year-old author, professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, with a short note dated July 29: "I after careful review and discussion, we have concluded that we are not the right publisher for your book I" Wiley spokeswoman Susan Spilka observed, correctly, that there was no contract nor commitment to publish. "We look at thousands of books, we reject some and accept some," she said blandly.

But it is hard not to jump to conclusions. After all, Wiley had seen the first ten chapters of the book, which appeared to pass muster, and this spring a Wiley editor went on record saying there should be no problem publishing the book, assuming reviews for the final chapters were "as positive as they had been" for the rest. This statement came just as Wiley cancelled The g Factor, by Christopher Brand, literally the day before publication, after Brand, lecturer in psychology at Edinburgh, began to expound in the press on his views about race and IQ.

Arthur Jensen's book is also called The g Factor, and though he says it is "less exciting reading", it covers much of the same ground. Author of six published books and countless articles, he is a grand old man of the field. He was famous for controversy on intelligence and genetics before either Brand, or The Bell Curve, the book by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, which last year set America alight with its theories about the links between race and intelligence.

It is more than 25 years since Jensen first tasted the kind of notoriety - student boycotts, academic opprobrium - that Brand encountered this April. In the spring of 1969, he wrote a book-length article for the Harvard Educational Review, entitled "How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement?" In it he argued that compensatory education programmes had failed to improve scholastic achievement or boost IQ, and that genetic factors, not just the social and economic environment, explained the differences between blacks and whites on test scores.

It made Jensen a marked man. Written up in Time, Life and Newsweek, he was met by demonstrators wherever he appeared. In Berkeley, already a hotbed of student protest, his classes were held in different rooms every week. The university provided him with two plain clothes bodyguards, and its bomb squad checked his mail. At a speaking appearance at a college in Canada, Jensen and the professor who introduced him were pursued across campus, until they managed to reach the main door of the psychology department and slam it shut behind them.

Critics and supporters alike now regard Jensen's book-length article as having resurrected century-old debates on intelligence and race. "Jensen started the new round of scientific racism," said Steven Rose, professor of biology at the Open University, who has debated with Jensen, and adamantly opposes his views. "I think of him as the grand-daddy of this area".

Jensen draws a line to his work from the British psychologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Francis Galton and Charles Spearman, who "discovered" g. (Galton founded the Eugenics Society of England, before the Nazis put that particular term out of bounds.) Rose, for one, dismisses the upheavals over Brand's and Jensen's work as "the last gasp of a pre-Copernican science, like the belief the sun goes round the earth". Like other critics he derides g as a "simply absurd" way of shrinking all that goes on in mental behaviour, such as arousal, attention, perception, the speed of processing, into a mathematical construct reached by factor analysis.

Christopher Brand's troubles began when he referred to himself in one interview as a "scientific racist". It was this kind of comment that pushed Wiley's management to look again at his book and conclude that it made "repellent" assertions that the publisher did not wish to be associated with.

"I've learned to be a little more circumspect in dealing with the press, though I tell them what I think," says Jensen. "You don't say foolish things like calling yourself a scientific racist. I don't think he [Brand] realises the meaning and implications of it." The term, he maintains, is an oxymoron anyway. "If it's scientific, it isn't racist, and if it's racist, it isn't scientific. I would resent it if anyone called me a scientific racist or any other type of racist."

The g factor is a concept of general mental ability or intelligence. As Jensen defines it for the layman, people high in g who are good at one kind of mental task, for example the speed with which they take their finger off a button or identify the longer of two flashing lines, tend also to be good at others, such as discriminating between higher and lower notes. IQ is a good but by no means perfect measure of g. Someone low in g may possess unusual talent in manipulating numbers or playing music by ear, but without g "you have an idiot savant I they never amount to anything because they can't pull it all together".

Jensen's book revisits the same ground as 25 years ago. Simply put, it argues that the reason why American whites score on average some 15 points higher than American blacks in IQ tests (what he refers to coyly as "the W-B difference") is a difference in g. That in turn is a result of genetics and environment.

The environmental component, he goes on to say, is mainly the biological effect of "nongenetic variation in prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal conditions and specific nutritional factors". It appears he is urging readers to disregard the impact of culture, social conditions, and racism on black scholastic and economic achievement, in favour of pregnancy and infant care, and food.

"The study of human differences cannot be racist," Jensen says. Anthropologists study physical differences between racial groups; medical researchers differences in blood pressure. "I'm simply doing the same thing with this trait called g."

Almost proudly, he noted that his researches found no differences in g between men and women - thus avoiding charges of sexism. "I can't find any evidence at all that the sexes differ on the g factor, so from that point of view my book is politically correct," he says, chuckling.

Jensen recognised in selling his book that the "climate has changed, that publishers are somewhat cautious". He approached the Free Press, but having published both The Bell Curve and The End of Racism, by conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza, they passed on a third book in the same sensitive vein. Three other publishers turned him down on the basis of an outline - one saying explicitly that if its message was consonant with The Bell Curve, they would not be interested.

He warned Wiley he was going to deal with the race issue, and it was agreed they could hold off on a contract until the publisher had seen all of the book. The first ten chapters apparently passed muster. One of Wiley's chosen reviewers was Wesleyan University psychologist Nat Brody, a member of the panel put together by the American Psychological Association to examine some of the issues raised by The Bell Curve. "I disagree with Jensen's views on race and intelligence and have said so publicly," he said, but told Wiley "essentially that it was a good book, and an important book I it represented an articulate and sophisticated defence of Jensen's argument that the most important measure of intelligence is the concept of general intelligence I it was not a book written for a broad audience by any stretch of the imagination".

But it was in chapters 11 and 12 that Jensen apparently returned with a vengeance to the subject of a genetic basis for racial differences in intelligence. According to Brody, it has hardly featured in Jensen's work in the past two decades. His best-known recent work was a book called Bias in Mental Testing, arguing - perhaps predictably - that there was no inherent bias in such tests.

Brody was not sent chapters 11 and 12. As the reviewing process is confidential, it is not clear who was.

Jensen assumes the decision was made by management higher-ups, but is convinced he will find a publisher. "I have not been privy to whatever discussions went on at the Wiley publishing house," he said. "They have told me very little. They obviously want to smooth this over, and let it die a natural death."

ARTHUR JENSEN EXPLAINS WHY HE WROTE THE g FACTOR

In my book, The g Factor, I have aimed to write the first comprehensive work exclusively on the subject since Charles Spearman's The Abilities of Man (19). Spearman's g has grown in importance since he discovered it in 1904. At the behavioural level, the g factor is a psychological construct that accounts for the fact that people's performance levels on diverse tests of cognitive ability, indeed on all mentally demanding tasks of any kind, are positively correlated with one another. The g factor is not a property of the tests or tasks per se, but reflects mainly differences among people in the anatomical and psychological features of the brain that affect the efficiency of information processing in every kind of performance that involves any conscious mental effort. I wrote this book because this important construct is poorly understood by the general public and even by many behavioural scientists.

Besides sketching the history of the g concept and its technical basis in psychometrics, my book presents evidence that g is the chief active ingredient in the usefulness of mental tests in understanding individual differences in scholastic performance.

Individual differences in g are more highly determined by genetic factors and have more physical correlates than do individual differences in any other mental abilities independent of g. It is related especially to properties of the brain, such as its size, metabolic rate, the speed and amplitude of evoked electrical potentials, and nerve conduction velocity in certain brain tracts.

The well-known black-white differenceon mental tests is largely a differencein g. What my book explains as the "default hypothesis'' suggests that the averageblack-white difference in g (which is equivalent to about 16 IQ points in the US) comprises the same genetic and environmental factors in about the same proportions as account for individual differences within each racial population. This hypothesis, I argue, explains the whole body of available empirical evidence onracial differences better from a scientific standpoint than do attempts to explain the data solely in terms of either genetic or environmental causes.

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented

Sponsored

Featured jobs