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]
Given the central role that testing plays in the American educational system, most datasets that we have on racial and ethnic differences in cognitive ability include only children, adolescents, or young adults. Most of the economic and social effects of cognitive differences are, however, produced by the working age population, so it would be useful to have test scores from older adults as well. The PIAAC survey of adult skills conducted by the OECD provides excellent data for this purpose. Continue reading
Regression to the mean, RTM for short, is a statistical phenomenon which occurs when a variable that is in some sense unreliable or unstable is measured on two different occasions. Another way to put it is that RTM is to be expected whenever there is a less than perfect correlation between two measurements of the same thing. The most conspicuous consequence of RTM is that individuals who are far from the mean value of the distribution on first measurement tend to be noticeably closer to the mean on second measurement. As most variables aren’t perfectly stable over time, RTM is a more or less universal phenomenon.
In this post, I will attempt to explain why regression to the mean happens. I will also try to clarify certain common misconceptions about it, such as why RTM does not make people more average over time. Much of the post is devoted to demonstrating how RTM complicates group comparisons, and what can be done about it. My approach is didactic and I will repeat myself a lot, but I think that’s warranted given how often people are misled by this phenomenon.
Kirkegaard, E. O. W. & Fuerst, J. (2016). Inequality in the United States: Ethnicity, Racial Admixture and Environmental Causes. Mankind Quarterly 56(4).
Previously, we looked at the association between overall state-level biogeographic ancestry (BGA) and overall state-level outcomes. It was found that European BGA relative to African and Amerindian BGA was associated with better outcomes. In this paper, the analysis is extended by looking at the state-level ancestry-outcome associations individually for black and Hispanic self-identified race-ethnicity (SIRE) groups. General socioeconomic factor (S) scores were calculated for US states by SIRE groups based on three indicators. The S factor loadings were generally stable across subgroup analyses and the factor scores were stable across factor analytic extraction methods (for the latter, almost all r’s ≈ 1). For Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, there were strong correlations between cognitive ability scores and S factor scores across states (r = .55 to .78; N = 28-50). This pattern also held when all data were analyzed together (r = .86, N = 115). Furthermore, the size of the Hispanic-White and Black-White S and cognitive ability gaps strongly correlated across states (r = .62 to .69; N = 36-37). Lastly, parasite prevalence did not plausibly explain SIRE gaps in cognitive ability because gaps were smaller in more parasite-rich states (combined analysis r = -.17, N = 91). We found that climatic and geospatial variables did not correlate strongly with cognitive ability and S scores when scores were decomposed by SIRE group, but did so at the total state level, even after statistically controlling for SIRE composition.
The discussion of the performance of African immigrants led by Chanda Chisala has been of unusually poor quality. As such, I thought that I might write a brief tutorial post on how to locate data and estimate differences in hopes that this will inspire better research practices and more rigorous debate. I will also elaborate on the Jensenist position and its predictions, as Chanda, and apparently many others, do not seem to have a good grasp of it at least in its quantified form.
Attempts to assess population aptitude from elite achievement go back to at least Galton. In Hereditary Genius, Galton used an estimate of the number of eminent persons produced by various ethnic and racial groups to quantify the differences between the means of these groups. Since his time, variants and refinements of this genre of analysis have become frequent. In “The Racial Origin of Successful Americans (1914)” Frederick Woods attempted to estimate ethnic achievement by counting and classifying the number of ethnic surnames in Marquis’ “Who’s Who” list. Lauren Ashe (1915) improved on the strategy by determining the representation of ethnic names in “Who’s Who” relative to that found in various U.S. city populations. In the 1960s, Nathaniel Weyl developed a variant of the “Who’s Who” surname method, one which relied on rare surnames, and in the 1980s he applied the method to National Merit Scholarship (NMS) lists (1), which record those high school seniors who obtained the top scores on College Board’s Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).
Chanda Chisala, a visiting Fellow at Stanford University, has developed what he considers to be a devastating argument against Jensenism (racial-IQ-hereditarianism). He develops this in his 2014 blog post, “Killing Jensen — part I“. Pithily put, the reasoning runs:
I’ve been catching up on recent research on psychometrics, behavioral genetics, race differences, and so on. I’ll be posting some comments on papers I found particularly interesting. The first is Frisby and Beaujean’s study of Spearman’s hypothesis. Continue reading
The PDF and data file are available at Open Behavioral Genetics. You can also read the article below the cut.
Published: September 15, 2014
John Fuerst 
Abstract: The authors conducted a meta-analysis of interactions between behavioral genetic variance components (ACE) and race/ethnicity for cognitive ability. The differences between the variance components for Black and White Americans were small, despite the large average test score differences. More substantial differences were found between Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites, though results were based on only two studies. A biometric re-analysis of the CNLSY survey was then conducted and new meta-analytic results were provided. Results were discussed in light of the bio-ecological model which proposes that when the scores of subgroups are environmentally depressed, heritabilities will be likewise.
Keywords: Race, Ethnicity, Heritability, IQ, Environment, ACE model, bio-ecological model
Philosopher Jonathan Kaplan recently published an article called Race, IQ, and the search for statistical signals associated with so-called “X”-factors: environments, racism, and the “hereditarian hypothesis,” which can be downloaded here. His thesis is that the black-white IQ gap could plausibly be due to racism and what he calls racialized environments. He presents simulations in support of this argument. He also argues that “given the actual state of the world there is no way to generate any reasonably strong evidence in favor of the hereditarian hypothesis.”
I have written a detailed critique of his claims. In short, he is wrong. Here’s the abstract of my article:
Jonathan Michael Kaplan recently published a challenge to the hereditarian account of the IQ gap between whites and blacks in the United States (Kaplan, 2014). He argues that racism and “racialized environments” constitute race-specific “X-factors” that could plausibly cause the gap, using simulations to support this contention. I show that Kaplan’s model suffers from vagueness and implausibilities that render it an unpromising approach to explaining the gap, while his simulations are misspecified and provide no support for his model. I describe the proper methodology for testing for X-factors, and conclude that Kaplan’s X-factors would almost certainly already have been discovered if they did in fact exist. I also argue that the hereditarian position is well-supported, and, importantly, is amenable to a definitive empirical test.
The PDF is available at Open Differential Psychology. You can also read the article below the cut. Continue reading