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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


There are a lot of interesting things raised here - nice post.

I think that one additional factor that's relevant to the discussion is that government funding of scientific research overall has declined over the past 5 years. There was a time not long ago when 15-20% of grants submitted to the National Institutes of Health were being funded; now it's down to about 6 or 7%. There's a lot of important research that isn't being funded (perhaps this is necessary in the current economic crisis; I don't know).

As you rightly point out, it may also be that priorities have shifted away from the IQ research of the type that the author is describing.

Having said that, is it possible that a reviewer of a scientific journal or a reviewer on a federal grant panel might have a negative bias toward IQ research that might turn out results that suggest racial differences unaccounted for by environmental variables? I think that's possible. I serve on a grant panel (for basic neurobiological work, mostly in animal subject, not the type of work that tends to have political implications). Still, biases of reviewers can come into play - sometimes unfairly. Psychology researchers tend to be a pretty progressive group (myself included) and it's possible that some can take on the inappropriate role of intellectual defenders against reactionary views.

Ideally, politics doesn't play into prioritizing science. For the reasons you mentioned, its possible that there is no effort to squelch the IQ work. On the other hand, I think it's a realistic concern.

Thanks for some much needed perspective. Sullivan's concerns are reasonable, but it's evident that he accepted his own premise with checking it against any data.

The focus in the political discussion has been on Full Scale IQ score, that single number that fascinates many lay people. FSIQ is of relatively limited clinical utility.

Perhaps, but Sullivan is clearly interested in IQ as a social science variable, i.e. as a predictor of social outcomes a la The Bell Curve, so subscale scores are less important to him than that the FSIQ. For clinicians the subscale scores may be more relevant (although many of their interpretative efforts verge on quackery).

Whether the race thing has led to a drying up of funding for IQ research in general is an empirical question, and I don't know the answer for certain. I would however say that in recent decades a bias against racial-genetic explanations in academe has meant that lots of research on the question has either not been done at all or at least has not been published. Lots of rather silly research has also been funded simply because it has promised to challenge the traditional psychometric approach to intelligence. It's also clear that there's very little funding available for anyone who wants to study if the racial gap is genetic in origin.

For some historian of science, it would be an interesting topic to study how the bias against genetic explanations has distorted research in social and behavioral sciences.

although many of their interpretative efforts verge on quackery

How often do you read clinical reports and in what capacity do you read them? What do you see so often that verges on quackery? I ask because in my experience, seeing patients who've undergone assessments and in other work I've done where I review a large number of reports, interpretations are generally conservative and they don't occur in a vacuum. You wouldn't take one score difference and run with it, but you'd be interested in a pattern of relative weakness and strengths across a range of tests and observations. Thus my comment that it's much more complex than the example I offered.

***IQ have prevented non-racial research into intelligence***

In the 1970's I understand it was difficult even to get funding for twin studies. More recently, Linda Gottfredson's article about academic freedom, available on her faculty page, discusses efforts by her university to break her tenure when her IQ studies touched on ethnic differences.

Greg Cochran, Henry Harpending & Jason Hardy published a paper in 2006 hypothesising how high measured iq of ashkenazi jewish people arose. Steven Pinker has written that this could be tested reasonably easily, but the study has never happened. Presumably because of political reasons.

Also, a talk at Havard Medical School on the genetic basis of variation in mental ability was mysteriously canceled.


I also saw the Sullivan discussion and you have said what was troubling me - the assumption that a score on an IQ tests tell you all you need to know and therefore had explanatory power for differing racial outcomes [when there are so many other factors that could impact outcomes] - IQ has been used and abused and needs a much more nuanced approach than that used by Jensen et. al. and most importantly a distinction between science and political use of this data. Thanks.

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