Craig Nulan put a question to me in a recent comment thread. To wit:
“The main question I’d like answered is how precisely did you get hoodwinked and bamboozled to serve as a host and conduit of racist thought David? What was the intrinsic appeal of IQ heritability pseudo-science that made you buy into it hook, line, and sinker?”
Having traded a few comments with this charmer at BlackProf.com and The Assault on Black Folks’ Sanity, I’m fairly certain that Mr. Nulan isn’t interested in a good-faith dialogue on this wickedly complicated subject.
I say that because –
1) Nulan’s preferred style of disputation seems to be the “ad hominy” attack (i.e., throwing personal insults around like hot grits), and –
2) All of Nulan’s polemical eggs appear to rest in a basket of denialism... denying that intelligence is heritable; denying that intelligence can be measured via testing; denying even the possibility that different human sub-groups might have unequal cognitive aptitudes.
His mind is made up – due to ideological necessity, not scientific evidence – and anyone who dares to disagree “[does] not warrant respectful attention” and is on the side of “EVIL.”
And yet I shall respond to Craig Nulan. In part because I am so intrigued by his own high intelligence. (You can’t sneeze at a computer science degree from MIT.)
In a comment that was destroyed during Nulan’s recent ugly break-up with Michael Fisher at the Assault, Nulan revealed that he’d been tested several times as an elementary-schooler... and he scored off the charts. Is it a random coincidence that psychometricians identified young Nulan as extremely intelligent... and ten years later he matriculated at one of the world’s elite universities?
And so I asked Nulan: Did those childhood tests measure something real... and worth measuring?
He buck-danced around that one like Sandman Sims, refusing to give the simple and obvious answer: YES.
As for Nulan’s current query of me... It may sound funny, but my earliest awareness of the IQ controversy dates to an episode of “Good Times.” I forget the overall plot details, except that the payoff featured the Evanses peppering a doofus white official with multiple-choice questions like “What is an ‘alley apple’?”
When the doofus white official answered wrong, Florida Evans declared triumphantly: “You just failed an IQ test.”
Even as an adolescent, I thought: “That’s not a question of intelligence! That’s a trivial knowledge!” (Besides which, black folk in D.C. didn’t refer to bricks as “alley apples.”)
At the age of 13, unaware of the ideology of liberal egalitarianism, I saw through that framing of the IQ question as silly and dishonest.
Jump to “The Bell Curve.” Like a lot of thoughtful people, I followed that controversy closely. Particularly the many rebuttal essays published in Commentary and The New Republic.
It was the unpersuasiveness of those rebuttals which impacted me. I was like, “Shit... they didn’t knock it down at all.” I was rooting for them to. But they didn’t.
Neither did Stephen Jay Gould’s book-length rebuttal, “The Mismeasure of Man,” republished in 1996 as “The definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve.”
For one thing, as much as Nulan hammers the IQ hereditarians for being politically biased, Stephen Gould wears his own left-wing biases – or, as he puts it, his activist commitment to “social justice” – on his shirt-front.
“I wrote ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ because I have a different political vision” than the authors of the “The Bell Curve,” Gould wrote in his revised edition. But he assured readers that he was well capable of policing his own prejudices.
And still, even Gould (whose resume of the history of psychometrics has been well studied by Nulan)... even Gould doesn’t deny that cognitive abilities are inborn to some degree:
“The hereditarian fallacy is not the simple claim that IQ is to some degree ‘heritable.’ I have no doubt that it is, though the degree has clearly been exaggerated by the most avid hereditarians.” [Emphasis added.]
So, at least in Gould’s case, we’ve narrowed down the area of interest: figuring out just how major or minor is the acknowledged influence of genetics on intelligence.
Craig Nulan won’t grant even that much. (I wonder why?)
In one of the comments destroyed when he split from Fisher’s blog, I mentioned a well-known experiment by psychologists R.M. Cooper and J.P. Zubek in 1958. This animal experiment was cited by social psychologist Thomas F. Pettigrew in his 1964 text “A Profile of the Negro American.”
According to Pettigrew, this experiment demonstrated the key impact of environment on cognitive functioning.
What Cooper and Zubek did was, they tested laboratory rats who had been raised in three different environments: an “enriched” environment, a “natural” environment and a “restricted” environment.
But here’s the key: They tested two different kinds of rat in each environment... a “dull strain” and a “bright strain.”
The purpose of the experiment, after all, was to determine whether “bright” rats would be cognitively impaired by a bad environment and whether “dull” rats would receive a cognitive boost from a good environment.
But how could they get a group of “bright” rats and a group of “dull” rats to test?
Through selective breeding, that’s how.
They put rats through mazes. Those who navigated the mazes quickly were deemed “bright”... and were bred with other “bright” rats to produce the “bright strain.”
Likewise, the rats who navigated the mazes poorly were deemed “dull” and were bred with other “dull” rats to produce the “dull strain.”
In Thomas Pettigrew’s words, the investigators created “two genetically distinct strains of rats, carefully bred for 13 generations as either ‘bright’ or ‘dull.’ ” And then they proceded to raise rats from these two populations in varied environments.
So, you see, even an experiment designed to show the impact of environmental factors on intelligence took for granted that cognitive potential – “brightness” or “dullness” – is heritable. It’s in the genes.
Now isn’t that a daisy?