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.

Mesmerism @ The British Library

The British Library has somewhat of a mesmeristic theme going on with their programming this season:

On their Untold Lives blog, Christopher Green (a different Chris Green than ours at York) writes about the career of Annie De Montford, a popular mesmerist who worked in the UK and the US in the 1880s. Read it here.

De Montford is also featured in the library’s ongoing exhibit Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun, along with other historical figures who worked as magicians, pantomimes, and conjurors. The show is free, and on until March 12th. More information can be found here.

Not least, a talk will be given on March 6th by Wendy Moore titled The Mesmerist: Science vs Superstition in the Victorian era. From the flyer: ”

“…when mesmerism wafted over the Channel from France, physician John Elliotson was intrigued and resolved to harness its benefits for medicine. But his surgeon friend Thomas Wakley, editor of the influential Lancet, was disturbed and soon determined to expunge all trace of mesmerism from British shores.

Their battle throws into sharp focus fundamental questions about the fine dividing line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition, in a Victorian society bedazzled by the magic of the music hall. And it poses questions – about hypnotism and other alternative therapies – for us today too.”

Further details with time and location can be found here. 

 

Photographic Procedures at Charcot’s Salpêtrière

The stellar Remedia blog has featured a piece by De Montfort University Photographic History Research Center fellow Beatriz Pichel called The Backstage of Hysteria: Medicine in the Photographic Studio. In it, the introduction and development of medically oriented photography at Salpêtrière is surveyed, inverting the focus of from analyses of the produced images to the production thereof. Through emphasis on how “medical priorities, as well as the materiality and technical requirements of the photographic equipment, determined the kind of images taken, and the places in which they were taken,” Pichel the processes of mediation by which supporting evidence for medical theory were created. See here to read the article. 

“Disposition de l’appareil photo-électrique poire les études médicales”, Albert Londe, “La Photographie a la Salpêtriere”, La Nature, 1883. CNAM.

History of Psychiatry Podcast Series

hous_x180Robert Allan Houston, historian of English social history at St. Andrews in Scotland is producing a podcast series with the straightforward title ‘History of Psychiatry.’

Houston’s approach is simultaneously accessible and nuanced; the series is a nice listen of its own accord, but would also make for a quality teaching resource. He has posted three episodes so far, each a nicely digestible length hovering around ten minutes (as he puts it, “bite sized.” Their topics are as follows:

  • 1.1 Psychiatry And Its Subject
  • 1.2 An Historian’s Approach to Psychiatry: The Aims of the Series
  • 2.1 Melancholia and Mania: The Main Classifications

Here is the open source link for the podcast at Sound Cloud.

Find out more about the arc of the forty-four episodes total here, as covered by the Research @StAndrews Blog.

Neuroskeptic Review: Patient H.M.

Neuroskeptic, part of Discover Magazine’s series of blogs, recently posted a review of a new book, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets. The book, written by Luke Dittrich who is himself the grandson of H.M.’s neurosurgeon, tells the story of the infamous case study of the patient now known to be Henry Molaison.

In the review Neuroskeptic focuses on three troubling aspects of H.M.’s story as discussed in the book. First, the psychosurgery performed on H.M. to address his epilepsy had no medical basis. Second, H.M.’s life was not nearly as sedate and content as it often portrayed and he threatened suicide at various points in time. Finally, the ethics of Suzanne Corkin’s longterm study of H.M. is thrown into doubt as, following the death of his parents, H.M. lacked a legal conservator to speak to his interests. This meant that H.M. himself provided consent for many of Corkin’s studies, though whether this can be understood as informed consent is doubtful. Moreover, the cousin eventually appointed conservator for H.M., it turns out, was not related to H.M. at all and simply provided blanket consent for Corkin’s tests of H.M.

Read Neuroskeptic’s full review online here.

The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history

Robert Heath

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Robert Heath claimed to have cured homosexuality by implanting electrodes into the pleasure centre of the brain. Robert Colvile reports on one of the great forgotten stories of neuroscience.

For the first hour, they just talked. He was nervous; he’d never done this before. She was understanding, reassuring: let’s just lie down on the bed together, she said, and see what happens. Soon, events took their course: they were enjoying themselves so much they could almost forget about the wires leading out of his skull.

The year was 1970, and the man was a 24-year-old psychiatric patient. The woman, 21, was a prostitute from the French Quarter of New Orleans, hired by special permission of the attorney general of Louisiana. And they had just become part of one of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

The patient – codenamed B-19 – was, according to the two academic papers that catalogued the course of the research, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and birth”. He came from a military family and had had an unhappy childhood. He had, the papers said, entered the military but had been expelled for “homosexual tendencies” within a month. He had a five-year history of homosexuality, and a three-year history of drug abuse: he had tried glues, paints, thinners, sedatives, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, even nutmeg and vanilla extract. He had temporal lobe epilepsy. He was depressive, suicidal, insecure, procrastinating, self-pitying and narcissistic. “All of his relationships,” wrote his doctors, with an unsparing lack of sympathy, “have been characterised by coercion, manipulation and demand.”

One of the strangest experiments in scientific history: an attempt to use pleasure conditioning to turn a gay man straight.

In 1970, B-19 ended up in the care of Robert Galbraith Heath, chair of the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans. Heath’s prescription was drastic. He and his team implanted stainless steel, Teflon-coated electrodes into nine separate regions of B-19’s brain, with wires leading back out of his skull. Once he had recovered from the operation, a control box was attached which enabled him, under his doctors’ supervision, to provide a one-second jolt to the brain area of his choice. Continue reading The ‘gay cure’ experiments that were written out of scientific history