Human Intelligence and Racism (Draft 1)

This research topic submitted by Emily Gibson and Kristofer Still ( on 2/26/98.

Emily Gibson
Kristofer Still
February 26, 1998
Research Proposal
Natural Systems II

` "If you make statements about racial differences based on data that doesn't exist, and right now there's nothing legitimate, then you are no more than a terrorist."

--Jerome Kagan, professor of psychology, Harvard University

When Alfred Binet began research on the measurement of intelligence, he did not realize the pandora's box that he was going to open. With the creation of the Binet scale (later modified by W.Stern and renamed the intelligence quotient or IQ) human beings were given a quantitative, objective method of gauging "intelligence." Originally, Binet intended his test to be a rough guide for identifying mildly retarded and learning disabled children with the hope of administering these children special training to improve their mental capacity. Scientists like Goddard, Terman, Yerkes, and countless others saw this new test as a means of identifying inferior individuals that needed to be regulated and most importantly prevented from reproducing. Many of them used their data to create a hereditarian theory of IQ that relied primarily on within- and - between group heredity. In other words, they would identify an estimate of heritability within a single population and then say that this similarity within the group also explains the common differences between groups. It was these assumptions that created a major problem: human beings now had quantitative scientific data to support racism and discrimination. The demons were out of the box.
The goal of our research is to take the often false and misleading data that exists on IQ variability and use it to test how people examine this data. We feel that individuals will accept or reject this data based upon their prejudices or lack there of. This is not easy thing to test quantitatively, but we feel that with a little bit of creativity we will be successful. If we perform a successful test, our data should support our thesis that people use hereditarian IQ data to support their stereotypes or prejudices. Some of these stereotypes might include: 1)Asian are really smart and good at math; 2)poor people should score lower on IQ tests; 3)Caucasians of Anglo descent should score higher on IQ tests, etc.
"If Binet's principles had been followed and his tests consistently used as he intended, we would have been spared a major misuse of science in our century." (Gould 185) The misuse of mental test was not inherent in the idea of testing itself. It arises primarily from two major fallacies utilized by those scientists who wished to use the tests for the maintenance of social ranks. Statisticians refer to these fallacies as: reification and hereditarianism.
It is difficult to find any broad aspect of human performance or anatomy that is not to some degree heritable, but the hereditarian fallacy exaggerates the degree of genetic inheritance and is rooted in two false implications. The first inconsistency lies in the equation of the word heritable with inevitable. The fact that an offspring receives a particular gene from its parents does not imply that the environment is incapable of modifying inherited effects. The assumption that inheriting a below average IQ indicates that an individual is innately doomed to stupidity ignores the fact that inherited low IQ might be subject to extensive improvement through proper education. The second problem with heredtiarianism lies in the use of within-group variance to make between group comparisons of variance.
We can illustrate the hereditarian fallacy at work with a simple example. Consider human height within two hypothetical groups of males: one with an average height of five foot, ten inches from a prosperous American town and the other with an average height of five foot six inches in a starving third-world village. Heritiability is 95 percent in both cases meaning that tall fathers have tall sons and vice-versa. This does not mean that better nutrition might enhance the height of the shorter group over a period of time. The same could prove true for education, which has a much smaller heritability than height. (Gould 186) Furthermore, in yesterday's edition of USA Today a study ranked U.S. students (which includes a lot of little Anglo-Saxons) twelfth in performance on standardized achievement tests. Does this mean all American students are innately less intelligent than foreign students or that U.S. education is inferior to that of our foreign counterparts?
The second fallacy, reification, is the assumption that test scores are a yard-stick for measuring a single entity or set of behaviors known as general intelligence. Binet warned against this application of his scale as a routine device for testing all individuals, especially normal individuals. The other question is that whether or not intelligence is testable. Robert Caroll in his essay IQ and Race argues against reification with the argument that intelligence comes in many different forms. He goes on to say: "Most people recognize that there are some people with fantastic memories, some with mathematical minds, some with musical genius, some with mechanical expertise, some with good vocabularies, some good at seeing analogies, some good at synthesizing, some at unifying, etc., etc. And, of course, some people excel at more than one of these behaviors. In short, it may be appropriate to speak of human intelligences, but not of intelligence." (Caroll 23)
So what are the implications for research based upon these fallacies? As I mentioned before the hereditarians manipulated tests and research in attempt to provide quantitative evidence for creating a super-society that divides wealth and labor based on intelligence scores. One example of this was the work of Lewis Terman, who intended to prove that various groups were more intelligent than others and therefore more adept to hold high positions of economic as well as political leadership. He envisioned an extreme version of Plato's republic led not by philosopher-kings but an elite intelligencia responsible for sorting individuals into specific roles based on their score on IQ tests.
The question remains, however, whether or not in our enlightened modern world such a gross misapplication of science could occur. Scientists like Terman were doing their research in the early part of the twentieth century when America was receiving large numbers of immigrants which the U.S. wasn't exactly sure what to do with. Many saw them as a threat to their economic position. Publishing studies based on logical premises that indicated that these immigrant groups were innately inferior seemed like an attractive proposition at the time. Have we come a long enough way that such data could never be introduced without the majority of the population rejecting it? We aren't exactly prepared to support this assumption, many of the prejudices that created the hereditarian theory of IQ are still around today. Hopefully, our field research will prove whether or not this assumption is false or not.
In order to test this we will administer a survey. First we list several ethnicities and ask participants to rank them according to which they think will score highest. If our hypothesis is correct, stereotypes will intervene and influence participants answers. Next we will list the same ethnic groups as before and ask participants to rank which ones they think are the most intelligent. We expect to see a difference in these results from the previous data as people might tend to favor their own race. Members of a minority group may think that intelligence tests do not actually test intelligence as much as they test learned information. This leads us to our next survey question, which asks about a participants opinion about what IQ tests really assess. We believe that more members of a minority group will agree that IQ tests are biased and do not in fact test intelligence but rather learned facts or information. People of Caucasian descent, on the other hand, may believe that these tests do accurately assess intelligence.
In conclusion, we hope to demonstrate that not only do prejudices still exist today, but ultimately we hope to offer some possible positive application of IQ data that could be utilized by modern day education officials.


Dolhinow, Phyllis and Sarich, Vincent. Background for Man: Readings in Physical Anthropology. Little, Brown and Company: Boston, MA, 1971.

Eysenck, H.J. The IQ Argument, Race, Intelligence and Education. Library Press: New York, 1971.

Holmes, John. "Stereotypes in Education: Language Differences." Social Forces, v73n8, March 1995, p 841-974.

Kittles, Rick. "Nature, Origin and Variation of Human Pigmentation." Journal of Black Studies, v26, Sept. 1995, p36-61.

Lawler, James M. IQ, Heritability and Racism. International Publishers: New York, 1978.

Molnar, Stephen. Human Variation: Races, Types and Ethnic Groups. Prentice Hall Inc.: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1983.

Synderman, Mark. The IQ Controversy, the Media and Public Policy. Transaction Books: New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1988.

Tucker, William H. The Science and Politics of Racial Research. University of Illinois Press: Urbana, IL, 1994.

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