Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting”

Fact–Value Conflation and the Study of Intelligence

Abstract

Some prominent scientists and philosophers have stated openly that moral and political considerations should influence whether we accept or promulgate scientific theories. This widespread view has significantly influenced the development, and public perception, of intelligence research. Theories related to group differences in intelligence are often rejected a priori on explicitly moral grounds. Thus the idea, frequently expressed by commentators on science, that science is “self-correcting”—that hypotheses are simply abandoned when they are undermined by empirical evidence—may not be correct in all contexts. In this paper, documentation spanning from the early 1970s to the present is collected, which reveals the influence of scientists’ moral and political commitments on the study of intelligence. It is suggested that misrepresenting findings in science to achieve desirable social goals will ultimately harm both science and society.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    According to Sotion in Succession of Philosophers, Anaxagoras “was brought to trial for impiety by Cleon because he said that the sun was a fiery lump” (Barnes 2001, 187).

  2. 2.

    Kitcher (1997) repeats this argument in a paper published in Noûs.

  3. 3.

    That “various intellectual capacities” are highly correlated has been known since the early 20th century (Spearman 1904, 1927; Wechsler 1958;  see historical discussion in Sesardic 2005, 34–36; scientific discussions in Carroll 1993; Woodley 2011).

  4. 4.

    See Sesardic (2005, 203). Elsewhere, Dennett (2006b) refers to the problem of balancing “allegiance to truth against...appreciation of the social impact of some truths and hence the need for diplomacy and reticence.”

  5. 5.

    Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative criteria, Haggbloom et al. (2002) rank Jensen the forty-seventh most eminent psychologist of the 20th century, just behind Stanley Milgram. Since Haggbloom et al.’s criteria included “survey response frequency...[,] National Academy of Sciences membership, election as American Psychological Association (APA) president or receipt of the APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award,” controlling for organized persecution of Jensen would lead him to be ranked much higher. In 2006, Jensen received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Intelligence Research (an international organization, as its name indicates).

  6. 6.

    Sternberg and Kaufman continue: “We do not know of anyone who seriously questions this assertion. Even Gardner (2006), well-known for his theory of multiple intelligences, has agreed that one could speak of a \(g\)-factor that encompasses some (but not all) of his proposed intelligences and that has wide-ranging predictive value.”

  7. 7.

    For example, Jensen was pilloried for claiming in 1969 that early intervention programs to boost IQ and academic achievement—such as “Head Start”—would not have lasting effects on their beneficiaries (e.g., by Feldman and Lewontin 1975; Gould 1996, 7; Hacker 1992, 35; Longino 1990, 166; Montagu 1997, 161). In 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quietly released a Congress-mandated report showing that the effects of Head Start participation disappear by third grade: “There is clear evidence that Head Start had a statistically significant impact on children’s language and literacy development while children were in Head Start. These effects, albeit modest in magnitude, were found for both age cohorts during their first year of admission to the Head Start program. However, these early effects dissipated in elementary school, with only a single impact remaining at the end of 3rd grade for children in each age cohort: a favorable impact for the 4-year-old cohort (ECLS-K Reading) and an unfavorable impact for the 3-year-old cohort (grade promotion)” (Puma et al. 2012, xxi).

  8. 8.

    Gardner does not say how multiple intelligences were being measured. As noted, assessments to test multiple intelligences “have not been associated with high levels of psychometric validity” (Kaufman et al. 2013, 814), but that is beside the point.

  9. 9.

    Gardner tells the same story in Gardner (2009).

  10. 10.

    Janet Monge, Keeper of Physical Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum where the Morton collection has been held since the early 1960s, says: “We had never hosted Gould...” (personal communication to Sesardic, reported in Sesardic 2005, 41).

  11. 11.

    Although Lewis et al. (2011) were forced to use circumspect language when describing Gould’s transgressions in their PLoS Biology paper, one of the authors of the study—anthropologist Ralph Holloway—was quoted in The New York Times as follows: “I just didn’t trust Gould....I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme. When the 1996 version of ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ came and he never even bothered to mention Michael’s study, I just felt he was a charlatan” (Wade 2011).

  12. 12.

    E.g., see the discussion of Head Start in note 7 (above).

References

  1. Aristotle. (1998). Politics (C. D. C. Reeve, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

  2. Barber, A. (2013). Science’s immunity to moral refuation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 91(4), 633–653. doi:10.1080/00048402.2013.768279.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Barnes, J. (2001). Early greek philosophy (2nd ed.). London: Penguin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  4. [Bible, Hebrew] Tanach. (1996). (2nd ed., Scherman, N., Ed.) New York: Mesorah.

  5. Block, N. J., & Dworkin, G. (1974). IQ, heritability and inequality, part 2. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 4(1), 40–99.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Block, N. J., & Dworkin, G. (Eds.). (1976). The IQ controversy: Critical readings. New York: Pantheon Books.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Carroll, J. B. (1993). Human cognitive abilities: A survey of factor-analytic studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Chomsky, N. (1976). The fallacy of Richard Herrnstein’s IQ. In N. J. Block & G. Dworkin (Eds.), The IQ controversy: Critical readings (pp. 285–298). New York: Pantheon Books.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Chomsky, N. (1988). Language and problems of knowledge: The Managua lectures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Davis, B. D. (1978). The moralistic fallacy. Nature, 272(5652), 390. doi:10.1038/272390a0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Dennett, D. C. (2003). Freedom evolves. New York: Viking.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Dennett, D. C. (2006a). Breaking the spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon. New York: Viking.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Dennett, D. C. (2006b). Edge: The reality club. An edge discussion of BEYOND BELIEF: Science, religion, reason and survival. Edge. Retrieved from http://www.edge.org/discourse/bb.html#dennett.

  14. Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Edwards, A. W. F. (2003). Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy. BioEssays, 25(8), 798–801. doi:10.1002/bies.10315.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Feldman, M. W., & Lewontin, R. C. (1975). The heritability hang-up. Science, 190(4220), 1163–1168. doi:10.1126/science.1198102.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Flynn, J. R. (1999). Searching for justice: The discovery of IQ gains over time. American Psychologist, 54(1), 5–20. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.54.1.5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Flynn, J. R. (2012). Are we getting smarter? Rising IQ in the twenty-first century. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Gardner, H. (2001). The ethical responsibilities of professionals. The good project: Ideas and tools for a good life. Retrieved from http://thegoodproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/GoodWork2.pdf.

  21. Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons in theory and practice. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Gardner, H. (2009). Intelligence: It’s not just IQ. New York: Rockefeller University. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP4CBpLNEyE&feature=related.

  23. Gardner, H., Feldman, D. H., & Krechevsky, M. (Eds.). (1998). Project spectrum: Early learning activities. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Gottfredson, L. S. (2005). Suppressing intelligence research: Hurting those we intend to help. In R. H. Wright & N. A. Cummings (Eds.), Destructive trends in mental health: The well-intentioned path to harm (pp. 155–186). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Gottfredson, L. S. (2010). Lessons in academic freedom as lived experience. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(4), 272–280. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Gottfredson, L. S. (2013). Resolute ignorance on race and Rushton. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(3), 218–223. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.10.021.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Gould, S. J. (1994). Curveball. The New Yorker, pp. 139–148.

  29. Gould, S. J. (1996). The mismeasure of man (Rev ed.). New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hacker, A. (1992). Two nations: Black and white, separate, hostile, unequal. New York: Scribner.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Haggbloom, S. J., Warnick, R., Warnick, J. E., Jones, V. K., Yarbrough, G. L., Russell, T., et al. (2002). The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Review of General Psychology, 6(2), 139–152. doi:10.1037//1089-2680.6.2.139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Herrnstein, R. J., & Murray, C. (1994). The bell curve: Intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Holcomb, H. R, I. I. I. (2005). Buller does to evolutionary psychology what Kitcher did to sociobiology. Evolutionary Psychology, 3, 392–401.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Hunt, E. (2011). Human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Jensen, A. R. (1969). How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement? Harvard Educational Review, 39(1), 1–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Jensen, A. R. (1980). Bias in mental testing. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Jensen, A. R. (1998). The g factor: The science of mental ability. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Kamin, L. J. (1974). The science and politics of I.Q. Potomac, MD: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Kanazawa, S. (2008). Temperature and evolutionary novelty as forces behind the evolution of general intelligence. Intelligence, 36(2), 99–108. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2007.04.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kaufman, J. C., Kaufman, S. B., & Plucker, J. A. (2013). Contemporary theories of intelligence. In D. Reisberg (Ed.), The oxford handbook of cognitive psychology (pp. 811–822). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Kitcher, P. (1985). Vaulting ambition: Sociobiology and the quest for human nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kitcher, P. (1997). An argument about free inquiry. Noûs, 31(3), 279–306. doi:10.1111/0029-4624.00047.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kitcher, P. (2004). Evolutionary theory and the social uses of biology. Biology & Philosophy, 19(1), 1–15. doi:10.1023/B:BIPH.0000013273.58226.ec.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Krauss, L. M. (2012). A universe from nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Krebs, J. (2010). We might err, but science is self-correcting (p. 19). London: The Times 19.

  46. Lane, C. (1994). The tainted sources of ‘The bell curve’. The New York Review of Books, 41, 14–19.

  47. Lewis, J. E., DeGusta, D., Meyer, M. R., Monge, J. M., Mann, A. E., & Holloway, R. L. (2011). The mismeasure of science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on skulls and bias. PLoS Biology, 9(6), e1001071. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001071.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Lewontin, R. C. (1972). The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology, 6, 381–398. doi:10.1007/978-1-4684-9063-3_14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Lewontin, R. C. (1974). The genetic basis of evolutionary change. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Lewontin, R. C. (2000). The triple helix: Gene, organism, and environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Longino, H. E. (1990). Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Luzzatto, M. C. (1998). [Derech Hashem] The way of God (6th ed., A. Kaplan, Trans.). Jerusalem: Feldheim. (Original work published 1735).

  53. Lynn, R. (2006). Race differences in intelligence: An evolutionary analysis. Augusta, GA: Washington Summit.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Mackintosh, N. J. (2011). IQ and human intelligence (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  55. [Majjhima Nikāya] The middle length discourses of the Buddha: A new translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. (1995). (Bhikkhu Bodhi, Trans., Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Ed.). Boston: Wisdom Publications.

  56. [Manusmirti] The laws of Manu. (1986). (F. M. Müller, Trans.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  57. Michael, J. S. (1988). A new look at Morton’s craniological research. Current Anthropology, 29(2), 349–354. doi:10.1086/203646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Montagu, A. (1997). Man’s most dangerous myth: The fallacy of race (6th ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Newby, R. G., & Newby, D. E. (1995). The bell curve: Another chapter in the continuing political economy of racism. American Behavioral Scientist, 39(1), 12–24. doi:10.1177/0002764295039001003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Plato. (1997a). Apology (G. M. A. Grube, Trans.). In J. M. Cooper (Ed.), Plato: Complete works (pp. 17–36). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

  61. Plato. (1997b). Euthyphro (G. M. A. Grube, Trans.). In J. M. Cooper (Ed.), Plato: Complete works (pp. 1–16). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

  62. Plucker, J. A. (2000). Flip sides of the same coin or marching to the beat of different drummers? A response to Pyryt. Gifted Child Quarterly, 44(3), 193–195. doi:10.1177/001698620004400306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Plucker, J. A., Callahan, C. M., & Tomchin, E. M. (1996). Wherefore art thou, multiple intelligences? Alternative assessments for identifying talent in ethnically diverse and low income students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 40(2), 81–91. doi:10.1177/001698629604000205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Puma, M., Bell, S., Cook, R., Heid, C., Broene, P., Jenkins, F., et al. (2012). Third grade follow-up to the head start impact study final report (OPRE Report #2012-45). Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/head_start_report.pdf.

  65. Rushton, J. P. (1995). Race, evolution, and behavior: A life history perspective. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Rushton, J. P. (2010). Brain size as an explanation of national differences in IQ, longevity, and other life-history variables. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(2), 97–99. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.07.029.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Rushton, J. P., & Jensen, A. R. (2005). Thirty years of research on race differences in cognitive ability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11(2), 235–294. doi:10.1037/1076-8971.11.2.235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Sesardic, N. (1992). Science and politics: Dangerous liaisons. Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 23(1), 129–151. doi:10.1007/BF01801799.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Sesardic, N. (2005). Making sense of heritability. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Sesardic, N. (2010). Nature, nurture, and politics. Biology & Philosophy, 25(3), 433–436. doi:10.1007/s10539-009-9159-9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Singer, P. (1996). Ethics and the limits of scientific freedom. The Monist, 79(2), 218–229. doi:10.5840/monist199679215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Snyderman, M., & Rothman, S. (1987). Survey of expert opinion on intelligence and aptitude testing. American Psychologist, 42(2), 137–144. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.42.2.137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Snyderman, M., & Rothman, S. (1988). The IQ controversy, the media and public policy. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Spearman, C. (1904). “General intelligence,” objectively determined and measured. The American Journal of Psychology, 15(2), 201–292. doi:10.2307/1412107.

  75. Spearman, C. (1927). The abilities of man: Their nature and measurement. London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Sternberg, R. J. (2005). There are no public-policy implications: A reply to Rushton and Jensen. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11(2), 295–301. doi:10.1037/1076-8971.11.2.295.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Sternberg, R. J., & Kaufman, S. B. (2012). Trends in intelligence research. Intelligence, 40(2), 235–236. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2012.01.007.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Talmud Bavli. Megillah. (2001). New York: Mesorah.

  79. Templer, D. I., & Arikawa, H. (2006). Temperature, skin color, per capita income, and IQ: An international perspective. Intelligence, 34(2), 121–139. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2005.04.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Turkheimer, E. (2007). The theory of innate differences. Cato Unbound. Retrieved from http://www.cato-unbound.org/2007/11/21/eric-turkheimer/race-iq.

  81. Visser, B. A., Ashton, M. C., & Vernon, P. A. (2006). Beyond \(g\): Putting multiple intelligences theory to the test. Intelligence, 34(5), 487–502. doi: 10.1016/j.intell.2006.02.004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Wade, N. (2011). Scientists measure the accuracy of a racism claim. New York: The New York Times. D4.

  83. Wechsler, D. (1958). The measurement and appraisal of adult intelligence (4th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Waverly Press.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Woodley, M. A. (2011). The cognitive differentiation-integration effort hypothesis: A synthesis between the fitness indicator and life history models of human intelligence. Review of General Psychology, 15(3), 228–245. doi:10.1037/a0024348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Thanks to James Flynn, Satoshi Kanazawa, Gerhard Meisenberg, and Neven Sesardic for constructive comments on earlier drafts of this paper. My understanding of the issues addressed here has been influenced by conversations with Michael A. Woodley of Menie. This work was supported by a fellowship from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nathan Cofnas.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cofnas, N. Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting”. Found Sci 21, 477–492 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10699-015-9421-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Epistemology
  • Fact–value distinction
  • Intelligence research
  • Science and morality