Category Archives: Blogs

Ezra Klein on the Genetics of IQ

Ezra Klein, founder of the “explainer” media company Vox, has written a long piece arguing that, given the long-fraught character of race relations in American society, it is nearly impossible to fairly interpret studies that purport to show that racial differences in IQ are genetic in origin. Klein’s article frames the topic in the context a recent podcast in which “new atheist” blogger Sam Harris defended Charles Murray against his many highly vocal critics. (Murray is co-author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which he endorsed the claim that persistent racial gaps in IQ are the result of genetic differences.)

Although Klein’s article begins there (and Harris has responded with vociferous denials, claims of defamation, and the puzzling release of an old e-mail exchange with Klein), the article soon shifts focus to the more general question of whether anyone can make sense of racial claims of this sort without first coming to terms with the long, sordid history of racial prejudice in the US.

Klein summarizes his view thus:

Research shows measurable consequences on IQ and a host of other outcomes from the kind of violence and discrimination America inflicted for centuries against African Americans. In a vicious cycle, the consequences of that violence have pushed forward the underlying attitudes that allow discriminatory policies to flourish and justify the racially unequal world we’ve built.

Although Harris advances the belief that racialist views like Murray’s are “forbidden” in today’s culture of “political correctness,” Klein notes that there is nothing new in such views; they have been openly held in American society literally for centuries, and are, indeed, the foundation upon which many American institutions were founded.

Klein also considers seriously the view of IQ researcher James Flynn (of the ”Flynn Effect”), who has explained the marked rise in average IQs over the past century in terms of the increasing cognitive demands of the modern technological world that we have created. However, Klein continues,

Over hundreds of years, white Americans have oppressed black Americans — enslaved them, physically terrorized them, ripped their families apart, taken their wealth from them, denied their children decent educations, refused to let them buy homes in neighborhoods with good schools, locked them out of the most cognitively demanding and financially rewarding jobs, deprived them of the professional and social networks that power advancement.

Among the many, many awful effects this has had is to deny black Americans the full cognitive advantages of navigating the modern economy, of wearing their scientific spectacles. For this reason, Flynn argues that “the black/white IQ gap is probably environmental in origin.”

Harris and Murray do not take this scenario seriously, according to Klein, nor do they consider its relevance to claims of genetic differences. Instead, Harris and Murray shift the argument to one in which white advocates of the genetic theory of racial inferiority are the real victims, attacked for “daring” to suggest what has, in fact, been a central trope throughout much of American history.

Klein and Harris have apparently agreed to appear together on one or the other of their popular podcasts. It might well prove to be a tense encounter.

Kira Lussier: From the Intuitive Human to the Intuitive Computer

In a piece over on Technology’s Stories – a project run by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) – Kira Lussier explores the move from intuition as a human capacity to intuition as a feature of computers. In “From the Intuitive Human to the Intuitive Computer” Lussier examines

how intuition became a touchpoint within burgeoning debates around information technology systems in corporations in the 1970s and 1980s, as psychologists, IT designers and executives debated questions that continue to haunt our contemporary moment: How could computer systems, and the vast quantities of data they produce, aid managerial decision-making? What type of work could be automated and what remained the province of human expertise? Which psychological capacities, if any, could be outsourced to machines, and which remain uniquely human capacities? By turning to the past, I interrogate how practical concerns about how to design information systems were inextricably bound up in more theoretical, even existential, concerns about the nature of the human who could make such technology work.

Read the full piece online here.

Somatosphere’s Book Forum – Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject

AHP readers may be interested in Somatospere’s recent book forum discussion of Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega’s Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (discussed previously on AHP here).  The discussion includes the following contributions:

Genealogy of the Cerebral Subject
Elizabeth Lunbeck
Harvard University

All of the Other Brains
Chloe Silverman
Drexel University

Historicizing the Brain
Martyn Pickersgill
University of Edinburgh

Knowledge about the Brain and Societal Interests
Frank W. Stahnisch
University of Calgary

A Reply:
The Neuro: Modernity, Community, and Critique
Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega

ActiveHistory.ca on Women, Healthcare, Trauma & History

Beth Robertson (Carleton University), one of the editors over at ActiveHistory, has written from a Canadian perspective about the impact of the AHCA on American women. The post highlights the history of the pathologization of women’s bodies and health, in particular focused on experiences of rape and assault. Robertson touches on the works of Tardieu and Janet, and discusses the implications of the current medical status of such trauma in relation to the current changes in policy.

Read the post here.

A historical quiz in Psychology Today featuring Pioneers of Psychology

On February 21st, Douglas Kendrick challenged his readers to test their historical knowledge about the field by quoting four “founders” and providing hints about their lives and careers. I expect fans of AHP would do particularly well in this, join the fun here.

Kendrick cites Pioneers of Psychology, by York’s own Fancher & Rutherford, which was just recently released in its fifth edition.