In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Steven Pinker responds to my description of him as occupying the “lonely ice floe of IQ fundamentalism”:
What Malcolm Gladwell calls a “lonely ice floe” is what psychologists call “the mainstream.” In a 1997 editorial in the journal Intelligence, 52 signatories wrote, “I.Q. is strongly related, probably more so than any other single measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic and social outcomes.” Similar conclusions were affirmed in a unanimous blue-ribbon report by the American Psychological Association. . .
A few things here are worth mentioning:
First, the editorial in question made a number of other arguments that, I think, most observers would agree fall on one end of the nature-nurture continuum: that all IQ tests measure the same thing, that heredity is more important than environment in determining it, that group differences are relatively unaffected by schooling or socioeconomic factors. It also said that the IQs of different races cluster at different points, with the average IQ of blacks falling about a standard deviation lower than that of whites, and that these differences show no sign of converging over time.
Second, two thirds of the editorial board of the journal Intelligence declined to sign the statement.
Third, the statement originally appeared on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal in 1994, explicitly in defense of “The Bell Curve,” a book whose supporters are typically quite happy to call one of the most controversial books of the past 25 years.
Fourth, fifteen of 52 signatories to the Wall Street Journal statement have had their research supported by the Pioneer Fund. For those who have not heard about the Pioneer Fund, here is a brief description of its history from “The Pioneer Fund: Bankrolling the Professors of Hate,” by the historian Adam Miller:
In 1937 the Pioneer Fund was founded by Wicklife Draper, whose
In 1922, Laughlin also wrote the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law which was adopted in one form or another by 30 states and resulted in the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people in the
Among the fifteen Pioneer Fund-sponsored signatories were Arthur R. Jensen (who has cited the heritability of IQ to argue against interventions to boost academic performance of minorities), J. Philippe Rushton (who, since 2002, has been the president of the Pioneer Fund, and who has argued that the size of what he terms the “Negroid brain” is inversely related to that of the Negroid penis); Rushton's colleague Douglas Jackson (best known for arguing that men are significantly more intelligent than woman), and Seymour Itzkoff (a eugenicist who holds that blacks and whites have such distinct evolutionary histories as to belong to different subspecies).
Fifth, the APA’s own report on the subject,“Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns,” which Pinker suggests is in sympathy with his position, was largely directed against IQ fundamentalism. For example, it noted that IQ results correlated well with total years of education—in part because high scorers receive encouragement, and are placed in "college preparatory" classes where their peers provide encouragement, too. The amount of education someone receives then itself has an effect on social status. ("In summary, intelligence test scores predict a wide range of social outcomes with varying degrees of success. Correlations are highest for educational achievement, where they account for about a quarter of the variance.") The paper points out that one reason intelligence scores predict occupational level is that "admission to many professions depends on test scores in the first place," and also explores the evidence that "workplaces may affect the intelligence of those who work in them." It delves into the Flynn effect, and the various possible explanations for it; and suggests that what little evidence is available "fails to support the genetic hypothesis" for the black/white differential in psychometric scores.
I don’t mean to suggest that Professor Pinker agrees with the more eccentric positions of the some of the 52 signatories. (Though the Pioneer Fund website does describe one of his books as a “must read”; the New Yorker, where I work, was less generous). The fact that ideas are sometimes supported by people with unsavory connections does not make them invalid. An ice floe is not necessarily a bad place to be. It’s just that if you are plainly floating on one, it doesn’t make much sense to insist that you are standing on solid ground.