Sunday, February 21, 2021

Letter: IQ tests and racism (1992)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

A brief (and inadequate!) response to your somewhat misleading article dealing with "intelligence testing" (‘We Are Not Inferior', Socialist Standard, November 1991).

There is a long tradition among traditional “socialists" that rejects IQ testing. Stalin banned IQ tests in 1935 on the grounds they were grounded on “bourgeois ideology"; Hitler made them illegal at the same time because of their “Jewishness”. (In numerous studies, the largest in Glasgow, Jews do significantly better than Gentiles—hardly a finding to endear the procedure to the Fuhrer!). And now, the Socialist Party has to put in its two pennies-worth, arguing that the social scientists who support the concept of IQ arc racist and anti-working class.

The racist argument just doesn’t stand up. Both Eysenck (a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany) and Jensen have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact the Japanese and Chinese, individually, whether tested in their own countries or as American immigrants, do better on blind IQ tests than do their white counterparts—but nobody accused the researchers as advocates of yellow supremacy! And, yes, they also report that literally hundreds of tests of black and white Americans have found that the former score lower (although. ironically. Jensen found that blacks perform relatively better on the more culture-loaded verbal tests!)

Likewise, the IQ advocates cannot be accused of arguing that the working class is "innately inferior”, as your writer suggests by repeated references to Herrnstein. Indeed the logic of statistical repression theory, fundamental to an understanding of Eysenck and his colleagues, is exactly the opposite to a "genetic" justification of social class division in society.

As Eysenck puts it: 
  Regression is intimately connected with social mobility. In Western societies, only one person in three retains the social class of his or her parents. The major determinant of this upward or downward movement is IQ. When we look at children of a given family, we find that the brighter ones rise in the social scale and the duller ones drop despite the same education, socio-economic status and home background . . . (Intelligence: The Battle for the Mind. Pan Books 1981, p64)
Contrary to your writer’s assertion, the overwhelming majority of psychological researchers base their theoretical work on the biological basis of human behaviour. We have all met unfortunate individuals born with damaged bodies/brains and consequently limited in their abilities. Only simplistic thought imagines that the handicapped are qualitatively different from the rest of us: we all form an extended continuum. What we are and what we may attain is determined firstly by the genes we inherit from our parents and secondly by environmental factors (especially “educational”— especially in the critical first years of life).

If we reflect upon the great number of genetically determined characteristics and potentialities that vary between major racial groups— body size and proportions, cranial shape and size, hair and eye colour, number of vertebrae. fingerprints, bone density, age when we cut teeth, blood groups, colour blindness, diabetes. depression. schizophrenia—wouldn't it be truly amazing if genetically-conditioned mental traits were a major exception?

When Karl Marx suggested for socialism the slogan "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” he was, as a disciple of Darwin, acknowledging the importance of genetic factors.

This is why IQ tests, for all their failings (and let’s be under no illusions, psychologists do not even have a universally agreed definition of the multi-dimensional construct "intelligence"!) can be a valuable tool for identifying "problems" children are likely to experience as they travel through the vital "learning years”. Knowing each individual's strong and weak attributes can help the teacher devise an appropriate learning environment.
Bob Potter 
Hove, East Sussex

Bob Potter should re-read the article in question and he will find that we did not say that all who support the use of IQ tests are racist and anti-working class. What we said was that racists have been able to use IQ tests to back up their views since the term "intelligence quotient" misleadingly suggests that what the tests measure is "innate intelligence".

Differences in IQ Test scores between so-called "racial groups" (which are in reality cultural groups) are to be explained by the groups' different opportunities to learn to do and/or by their different attitudes towards what is being tested. Thus the high scores of people from Jewish. Chinese and Japanese backgrounds is to be explained in terms of their group's particularly favourable attitude towards intellectual achievement rather than to genetic factors. Similarly. the better scores Bob Potter mentions of American Blacks on verbal tests are due to cultural factors amongst this group favouring verbal expression.

We criticised people like Jensen and Eysenck for suggesting that biological factors related to "race" were at work in such cases. Clearly different human beings do have different abilities—as is indeed implied by the old socialist slogan "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs"—and some of this at least will be due to their different individual genetic make-up. But. frankly, since our correspondent asks, no, we don't think it likely that this will be found to be linked to factors such as skin colour, head shape, blood group or big toe size.

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