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"A King among Men: Arthur Jensen"
In this era of 900 page doorstop biographies, Frank Miele's highly readable new book Intelligence, Race, and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen features one of the niftiest format concepts of recent years. Miele—who over his decade with Skeptic Magazine has emerged as the leading interviewer of the top names in the human sciences—e-conversed at length with Jensen, the UC Berkeley emeritus professor of psychology, author of 435 articles in refereed scientific journals and undisputed heavyweight champion of IQ research, frequently about the controversial topics mentioned in the title.
Intelligence, Race, and Genetics merges biography, autobiography, popular science, and polemical debate, most of it in easy-to-digest Question & Answer style. The self-effacing Jensen will probably never write a full-length autobiography, so this may be as close as we come. Miele includes interesting details that I hadn't known, such as that Jensen's father was Danish and his mother Polish Jewish. "Early on," Miele notes, "Jensen noted how the dour demeanor of his Danish relatives contrasted with the fun-loving atmosphere of his mother's side of the family." Contrary to immigration enthusiast wishful thinking, intermarriage makes people not less but more aware of human differences.
Even Chris Brand, the noted IQ researcher and historian of psychology, says that he hadn't known Jensen's ethnic background before. Brand has pointed out to me that Jensen could have cited it to counter the scurrilous libel that only a raving Hitlerite could be interested in race and IQ. Yet Jensen never has - presumably because he thinks (correctly) that it is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of his scientific theories.
Intelligence, Race, and Genetics may be the best easy-to-read introduction to IQ since Dan Seligman's 1992 A Question of Intelligence. [Click here for Peter Brimelow's article on Seligman.] It's certainly less forbidding than Jensen's own monumental 1998 The g Factor, although that remains the gold standard. (Here's my review.)
Finally, because Miele knows the research so well, he is able to muster a long list of Infrequently Asked Questions and give Jensen as tough a grilling as he's ever received.
Jensen became notorious in 1969 for proposing in a long Harvard Education Review article that:
- Compensatory education wasn't terribly effective.
- That, in Miele's words, "genetic differences were more important than cultural or socioeconomic differences in explaining individual differences in IQ within the white population."
- And that, when it came to explaining the 15 point IQ gap between whites and blacks, in Jensen's words, "The preponderance of the evidence is, in my opinion, less consistent with a strictly environmental hypothesis than with a genetic hypothesis, which, of course, does not exclude the influence of environment or its interaction with genetic factors."
This didn't make Jensen terribly popular in 1969. And he remains a pariah to the intellectual establishment. The g Factor was rejected by ten publishers and ended up at a mail order house – and this after the enormous commercial success of Murray and Herrnstein's The Bell Curve. The publisher's negligible distribution muscle explains why Amazon took six months to get it in stock and today has only one copy on hand.
Likewise, the basic facts that Jensen laid out 33 years ago continue to be ignored. Consider the recent (November 30) New York Times article "Why Are Black Students Lagging?" by Felicia R. Lee. In it, we find that the proponents of various 100% environmental explanations can't even agree with each other - but that no representative of the obvious alternative theory is fit to be quoted in the newspaper of record.
Among specialists, fortunately, Jensen's reputation is different. A 1998 edition of the technical journal Intelligence was devoted to a tribute to Jensen from 13 leading experts. It was issued under the title "A King among Men: Arthur Jensen." Editor Daniel Detterman of Case Western Reserve University wrote:
"When I first met him personally, I wondered what his biases and prejudices really were and tried to identify them for many years. My effort was wasted. I finally came to the conclusion that he just doesn't have any. I think this may be a point that is impossible for his critics to understand. On the other hand, it is the very reason he has stood up so well against his critics. He has invested himself in pursuit of the truth, not any particular set of ideas. … He would gladly know the truth even if it proved him wrong."
Whether Jensen will ultimately be proved right or wrong, he is a role model for scientists everywhere.
A lifelong student of Mahatma Gandhi, Jensen told Miele:
"One of the tenets of my own philosophy is to be as open as possible and to strive for a perfect consistency between my thoughts, both spoken and published, in their private and public expression. This is essentially a Gandhian principle, one that I have long considered worth striving to live by."
December 01, 2002