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.
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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).
Kitcher (1997) repeats this argument in a paper published in Noûs.
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).
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.”
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).
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.
Gardner tells the same story in Gardner (2009).
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).
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).
E.g., see the discussion of Head Start in note 7 (above).
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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.
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Cofnas, N. Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting”. Found Sci 21, 477–492 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10699-015-9421-3
- Fact–value distinction
- Intelligence research
- Science and morality