af Mike Gorman

Intelligence, Race, and Genetics : A review of Intelligence, Race, and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen (interviewer: Frank Miele, Skeptic magazine)

Have you ever met Arthur Jensen? Wouldn’t you like to? Wouldn’t it be interesting to meet this popularly maligned, yet academically distinguished man who has stirred up such enormous social controversy with his monumental body of research and provocative theorizing on the subjects of intelligence, race, and genetics?

After all, for all that his work has sparked such bitter controversy in both popular culture and in some academic establishments, his impact upon the fields of psychology in which he has worked and the esteem in which he is held therein are considerable indeed. For example, as a preface to a very recent interview with Dr. Jensen, a publication of the American Psychological Association summarized Jensen’s career thusly:

During his years at UC-Berkeley, [Dr.] Jensen [Professor Emeritus of educational psychology] became increasingly interested in human cognitive abilities. He took up research initially started by Francis Galton and Charles Spearman, namely that human cognitive abilities, as diverse as they might be, all have a common general factor (called g) and this common factor can be measured, in part, via studies on reaction time (a field of study called Mental Chronometry).

His monumental production of scholarship (over 400 peer-refereed or invited publications) has earned him the adulation of his peers and a permanent place in the history of intelligence research. This fact was reflected in a 1998 edition of the journal Intelligence, which was entirely dedicated to Jensen’s life and research; moreover he was recently named as `One of the Most Eminent Psychologists of the Twentieth Century’ [their capitalization].

Well. It looks as though some assistance might be in order for those of us who, though able and educated enough to proceed with some expectation of a productive interview, could nonetheless benefit greatly from the guiding hand of someone with the requisite background expertise and subject-specific interview experience to turn this meeting into a truly outstanding encounter.

That’s exactly the kind of assistance made available in a brand new book just published (November 2002) by Westview Press: Intelligence, Race, and Genetics

Conversations with Arthur A. Jensen. This book is a series of provocative interviews, organized by chapter-specific subtopics within the general subjects of Jensen himself, the history and content of his life’s work, and his specific aims for the continuance of that work. It is not a debate. Each topical interview is preceded by a general introduction and background, and followed by a most useful and knowledgeable Further Reading list.

The interviewer is Frank Miele, a contributing editor to Skeptic magazine who is considered perhaps the pre-eminent interviewer of behavioral scientists of our time. Jensen himself says of Miele although I have been interviewed many times in the last thirty years, by such figures as Jph Alsop, Dan Rather, Phil Donahue, and Mike Wallace, to name a few, I haven’t met another interviewer who came as well prepared and as sharply informed on all the topics as you have been. I’m rather amazed, I appreciate it, and I thank you very much.

The prelude is meant to introduce Jensen, the man behind the science and the controversy. In fact, however, the topical interviews do a much better, up close and personal job of that, starting from the first chapter with the man, his career, and the emergence of so-called Jensenism.

Informing the discussion throughout the book are the three main tenets of Jensenism, first presented by Jensen in his famous Harvard Educational Review article in 1969 and outlined by Miele as follows:

  1. Compensatory education had been tried, and it had failed to raise significantly either the IQ or the school performance of disadvantaged children.
  2. Genetic differences were more important than cultural or socioeconomic differences in explaining individual [IQ] differences within the white population (the only group for which there were adequate data at that time).
  3. Most explosively, it was therefore only reasonable to ask whether genetic differences played some role in the 15-point Black-White average-IQ difference.

Logically prior to these tenets, of course, are the principles that IQ (more precisely, general intelligence or the g factor, which is said to represent an underlying property or properties of the brain which cause the variously perceived components which constitute the common sense idea of intelligence to correlate positively and significantly) is real and not just a statistical artifact, that it is measurable (at least on a ranked or ordinal scale), and that racial identities represent real and significant biological groupings rather than purely social or ideological constructs.

The scientific gathering and analysis of evidence for these claims is presented quite clearly and convincingly throughout, and one comes away from the experience prepared to believe that what has been presented is well within mainstream science and representative of most of the best efforts in the field to date. At the same time, it is made clear that not all of his ideas are universally accepted within the mainstream, nor is the evolution of these investigations anywhere near complete. The establishment of psychometric g, for example, as a result of studies of individual differences, sets the research goal of understanding the underlying structure which enables intellectual performance, understandable in principle as a result of the study of any one individual.

The topical chapter presentations include:

What is Intelligence? The g factor and its rivals. What g is, what it is not, and how the concept stands up to its critics.

The meaning of heritability an analysis of how we approach knowledge of what accounts for individual differences within groups. The related later chapter on Nature, Nurture, or Both even includes a good basic introduction to some statistical concepts used in such discussions.

What is Race? Biological realities and the appropriateness of focus on the subject of racial differences. This focus has come, both for better and [mostly] for worse, to dominate public discussions of objective measurements of human potential.

From Jensenism to the Bell Curve Wars social and political issues which currently surround, and so often obfuscate, public perception of the underlying science. Miele mentions, and Jensen responds to, the objections of the most vocal critics of Jensen’s conclusions.

Science and Policy what’s to be done. New ground for public discussion by Arthur Jensen, and about time. A personally defining repudiation of repressive racism and segregationist social policy.

Especially in the context of the vituperation which has been directed at this man, it is interesting indeed to hear him speak of the idealism which has so characterized him, of his embrace of Ghandian social ideals, and of his personal honor a kind of epistemic integrity born of a simple, profound, and fearless respect for truth here is a unique opportunity here for the interested and open minded non-professional to fairly-comprehensively encounter Jensen’s thought, outside of the enormous volume of highly technical professional journals and in accessible conversational interview format.

There are inevitably some areas of discussion that could have been expanded. I would have preferred, for example, that a little more time be spent on Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence insofar as it credibly suggests some effective (if limited in range) alternative intellectual adaptive strategies perhaps complementary to, but separate from, the g factor. Sternberg, in a previous interview [3] conducted by our redoubtable Mr. Miele, comments as follows:

I am not disagreeing that IQ is predictive of a lot of things. I’m not one of the extreme left-wingers who say that IQ tells you absolutely nothing. I don’t agree with that. So to the extent that it predicts some level of success in pilot training, I don’t have any argument with that. But I do argue with the idea that IQ is the end of the line. We have been working for about 10 years in the field of practical intelligence, predicting, for example, the success of managers and sales people, which are pretty practical occupations. We actually did a study at Brooks AFB and found that our measures of practical intelligence that is, measures of how well you can go into an environment and figure out what you need to succeed in that environment and then actually do it predict job success in managerial jobs and in sales jobs at least as well and arguably better than IQ tests. Moreover they do not correlate with IQ tests, which means that (a) IQ is not the only predictor, and (b) the kinds of predictors we have are relatively independent of IQ. That’s not to say that one is important and the other is not. Rather, it says that both are important and that there’s more to predicting success than just using IQs. If you want to predict success in jobs, I’m not saying that IQ is worthless, but I am saying that it’s not the only thing you can use.

Limited as to range such practical intelligence may be, but I think it is interesting and important that it is predictive of some kinds of job success and that it does not correlate with IQ tests. Jensen’s basic comment in response to Miele’s question with regard to this is that “There would also be a number of small group factors and specificity too, mostly in his measures of ‘practical intelligence’, which are highly specific to particular kinds of knowledge useful in certain job settings. Except for g, the importance of all these various abilities and traits is problematic. [p. 57] Problematic might better have been said as (at least) Can open question for some of Sternberg’s findings.

I think that it is essential to come away from these interviews with what I suggest is a critically important appreciation of the dynamic character of what is happening in these fields of enquiry. One finds a pervasive ambition on the part of many, and especially on the part of Arthur Jensen, for what is never contemplated by the intellectual cowards and incompetents of ideology and dogma. What I mean to say is that the fondest hopes implied by what is being done here are, as they ought to be, that what has been so successfully defended will evolve and be essentially replaced as progress is made. Some good examples are given by Jensen himself in his discussions of new directions.

On IQ tests:

If there’s anything on which my judgement has changed significantly since 1969, it is the scientific value of typical IQ tests. Psychological tests are limited by the fact that they do not provide absolute scales, that is, those that have a true zero point and equal intervals throughout their range . . . As I’ve worked on my book in progress on Mental Chronometry (it) has become ever clearer to me that the standard tests used in psychology only allow us to see ‘through a glass darkly’ . . . the study of human mental abilities is now going directly into the brain, and for this to progress apace we will need to measure behaviour in physical units, namely time measured in milliseconds. [pp. 188-189]

On the underlying identity represented by psychometric g:

At the level of psychometric test scores and factor analysis, the g factor is unitary. At a biological and genetic level of measurement and analysis, g is most probably not unitary, but is related to a number of different elements, such as overall brain size, the number of cortical cells in certain regions of the brain, nerve conduction velocity, the amount of myelination of neural axons, the richness of the glia, various neural transmitters, brain glucose metabolism, and (others). [1, p. 13]

Finally, I must say that I think that the best of all possible new directions would be elimination of the centrality of the race issue with regard to social, economic, and educational policy. From malign repression to hopeful egalitarianism to neurotic evasion of the outcomes of the ensuing reality checks of psychometrics, academic performance, and ineffective remedial programs such as affirmative action, race-oriented determination of policy has consistently demonstrated above all of its intentional concerns that it simply never has and never will work to the benefit of anyone. The time has clearly come to leave once and for all the relevance of multivariant genotypes to behavioral characteristics where it so clearly belongs in the domain of scientific progress.


My own agenda is to bring psychology more fully into the larger domain of biology, and to apply the methods of differential psychology, psychometrics, and behavioral genetics to bear on some of the questions concerning the causes of individual and group differences that have arisen especially in the field of education. My aim in this is to produce good science as best I can, not to change the world or push any social or political program. [p. 169]

Let it be so. We can still press for the elimination of such injustices as substandard programs and programmatically low expectations. But the time has clearly come to stand up for the primacy of both individual evaluation and individually oriented programs of instruction, especially in the context of the ever-increasing empowerment of computer assisted instruction. It all seems so simple, really, once we find our way past the deafening choruses of race-and-politics ideology that continue to this day.

Jensen, appropriately, with the last word:

[I do not agree] that there is any advantage to legally enforced racial balance . . . I favor any measures that would maximize free choice. It won’t lead to either complete segregation or to complete racial balance . . . quality education does not mean the very same program of instruction for every child, but equal opportunity for all children to receive a specific program tailored to their individual differences . . . I especially stress the words individual differences to emphasize that these differences cut across all racial, ethnic, and social class groups… If there are racial, ethnic, social class, or any other kind of group differences in the proportions of the groups that meet [educational] selection criteria, so be it, as long as every applicant, regardless of group membership or background, has been evaluated objectively on his or her individual achievements.

Copyright 2003 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, e-Skeptic magazine ( and Permission to print, distribute, and post with proper citation and acknowledgment. We encourage you to broadcast e-Skeptic to new potential subscribers. Newcomers can subscribe to e-Skeptic for free by sending an e-mail to: