In 1969, Harvard Educational Review published a long, 122-page article under the title “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” It was authored by Arthur R. Jensen (1923–2012), a professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. The article offered an overview of the measurement and determinants of cognitive ability and its relation to academic achievement, as well as a largely negative assessment of attempts to ameliorate intellectual and educational deficiencies through preschool and compensatory education programs. Jensen also made some suggestions on how to change educational systems to better accommodate students with disparate levels of ability.
While most of the article did not deal with race, Jensen did argue that it was “a not unreasonable hypothesis” that genetic differences between whites and blacks were an important cause of IQ and achievement gaps between the two races. This set off a huge academic controversy—Google Scholar says that the article was cited more than 1,200 times in the decade after its publication and almost 5,400 times by December 2019. The dispute about the article centered on the question of racial differences, which is understandable as Jensen’s thesis came out on the heels of the civil rights movement and its attendant controversies, such as school integration, busing of students, and affirmative action. Jensen questioned whether it is in fact possible to eliminate racial differences in socially valued outcomes through conventional policy measures, striking at the foundational assumption of liberal and radical racial politics. His floating of the racial-genetic hypothesis was what set his argument apart from the general tenor of the era’s scholarly and policy debate.
In this post, I will take a look at Jensen’s arguments and their development over time. The focus will be on the race question, but many related, more general topics will be discussed as well. The post has four parts. The first is a synopsis of Jensen’s argument as it was presented in the 1969 article. The second part offers an updated restatement of Jensen’s model of race and intelligence, while in the third part I argue, using the Bradford Hill criteria, that the model has many virtues as a causal explanation. In the fourth and concluding part I will make some more general remarks about the status and significance of racialist thinking about race and IQ.[Note]