OF RADICALLY BIASED 'SCIENCE' LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR THE CONTROVERSIAL
THEORIES OF A TENURED UNO PROFESSOR.
By Michael Depp
(OCLC: 34980091 ISSN: 1089-3520; LCCN: sn 96-4184)
May 11, 1999
ORLEANS -- In the Department of Economics and Finance at the
University of New Orleans, Edward Miller's office door is not
particularly conspicuous. No posters adorn it, and there are no
notices of upcoming lectures or conferences, no articles or comic
strips, no recent book reviews. Only a dot matrix printout of
his undergraduate students' most recent test scores is posted
under his nameplate.
Miller's profile hasn't always been this understated. The research
professor of economics and finance, one of the highest paid faculty
members at UNO, stunned the university community in July 1996
when he brought his studies on race and intelligence to mainstream
attention in a letter to Gambit Weekly. The letter, in which Miller
defended politician David Duke's claims of consistently higher
intelligence in whites than blacks, caused an instant furor. UNO's
associate dean of multicultural affairs, Janet Caldwell, blasted
Miller for violating the university's administrative policy by
identifying himself as a UNO professor in the letter (an identification
actually affixed by Gambit editors). Chancellor Gregory O'Brien
blanketed the local media with a condemnation of Miller's work,
calling his conclusions "personally repugnant," and emphasizing
that "there has been no university support for his research."
black students at UNO and beyond demanded conciliatory meetings
with university officials, UNO faculty members circulated petitions
against Miller's research, and voices in the community cried out
both for and against him.
amid the controversy, the pain, and the questions Miller's comments
left in their wake, the full story behind the economist and his
forays into science never was unearthed. UNO unambiguously distanced
itself from the professor and his inflammatory ideas, rapidly
doing damage control after being caught unawares by what many
were calling a racist in its faculty ranks. But its administrators
never offered the community a context for Miller's racially obsessed
brand of science and the historical trajectory that helped to
produce it. Nor did they offer insight into the scholarly niche
in which his ideas were incubated.
Miller continues to research and publish on issues of race and
intelligence, disseminating his ideas through a network of scholars
who believe themselves to be victims of academic censorship and
a liberal media. They publish prolifically in self-produced journals,
endure periodic controversies when their work garners outside
attention, and continue to amass the data that they feel confirms
what they have been asserting for decades: all races are not created
buzz of fluorescent lights is the loudest noise heard in the hallway
of the UNO economics department. Conversations between passing faculty
members are brief, and most doors are closed, preventing any intrusion
of sunlight. It is the kind of place where a person might do a lifetime's
scholarly work in relative seclusion.
Miller promptly arrives at his office for an interview, it is
hard to imagine him having any kind of clamorous effect on these
quiet halls. The portly, 55-year-old man peers through thick bifocals
at the jangling cluster of keys in his hand. His visibly pregnant
and much younger wife, Viola, a recent emigre from China, stands
behind him. She also enters the office, but leaves after a moment
for an empty room across the hall. She will sit there silently
for the next two hours.
not very comfortable with this," Miller drawls, his voice punctuated
by a sudden, frequent laugh.
perches at the edge of his chair and clasps his hands; he has
no such hesitancy. He is eager to have his positions clarified.
In fact, he believes that if one looks objectively at his data,
his conclusions cannot be refuted.
found that people who don't have a strong position prefer to attack
people's motives rather than refute them," he says.
bulk of Miller's incendiary publications cross over into psychology
and anthropology, disciplines far afield of his own training as
an economist. Nonetheless, he considers himself qualified to speak
and publish on issues of race and intelligence.
problems that deal with intelligence and group differences are
basically statistical, and economics uses statistics heavily,"
he says. "The economist is usually very well-trained in statistical
analysis. We take data from other people and then basically just
an economist, Miller's accomplishments are estimable. After finishing
two bachelor's degrees in three years at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, the Richmond, Va., native finished a Ph.D. in economics
at the same institution and went on to a series of government
jobs, including work in the Office of Management and Budget, and
in Richard Nixon's White House, where he worked on energy policy.
He came to UNO from Rice University, and has, in the course of
his career, published more than 150 papers in at least seven disciplines.
Last fall, he spent a semester as a Fulbright lecturer at People's
University in Beijing.
says his initial interest in matters of race began in the 1970s,
when he was doing statistical work in capital budgeting and became
curious about economic disparities along racial lines. He describes
the next two decades as a "reading period" in the literature of
racial variables, especially intelligence. He was tenured at UNO
in 1986, and his first publications on race and intelligence followed
in the early '90s. "It took a good deal of reading before I had
nerve enough to write up the conclusions," he says.
newly emboldened by the safety of his tenure, his first papers
on the subject persistently emphasized racial differences. "It's
almost silly to say that you can't see the differences between
an African and a European or between someone from China and Africa,"
he says. "These differences are well-known and fairly prominent."
subscribes to the notion that the world consists of three macro-races,
referred to in some of his colleagues' literature as Caucasoid,
Negroid and Mongoloid. He acknowledges, however, that even among
those researchers whose work he values, these divisions are crude
and in dispute.
most significant difference between these three races, Miller
argues, is in head (and consequently brain) size, and he and a
number of his colleagues have published studies asserting a correlation
between brain size and IQ. He argues that Asians, on average,
have the largest brains, followed by whites and then blacks, and
that average intelligence decreases in that order. The data in
these studies, which Miller and his colleagues do not collect
personally, comes from head size measurements taken during autopsies,
skull volume measurements, outside cranial measurements using
tape measures, and most recently (and to Miller and others' argument
most reliably) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, derived
from live images of the brain. Miller frequently invokes six such
MRI studies in the late '90s as irrefutable data supporting his
argument for an overall lesser intelligence among blacks.
Miller doesn't stop with intelligence, citing the work of controversial
University of Western Ontario psychologist J. Philippe Rushton,
whose writings include the information that "Asians and Africans
consistently aggregate at opposite ends, with Europeans intermediate,
on a continuum that includes over 60 anatomical and social variables."
Most salient in these variables: "brain size, intelligence, sexual
habits, fertility, personality, temperament, speed of maturation,
notoriety in Canada once extended to near-prosecution under his
country's hate-crime laws. His extensive work in sexual characteristics
among the races has included analyzing genital, breast and buttock
size. He has found that blacks lead in size in all of these categories,
followed by whites and lastly by Asians.
Miller is asked if any professional academic organizations endorse
these types of conclusions, he doesn't give a direct answer. In
fact, he attacks their motives. "Most of the organizations try
to avoid controversy," he says. "They denounce anybody who says
anything that's not politically correct."
describes his personal politics as being on "the mild conservative
side," but goes on to say that his scientific work has been resolutely
apolitical. Then he pauses. "After a while, you may notice some
implications in it," he adds.
might be an understatement. Included in Miller's published papers
is a series of book reviews/essays he has written for the Journal
of Social, Political, and Economic Studies and the Mankind Quarterly.
In one review, "BackFire: Commentary and Extension," he eagerly
supports journalist/author Bob Zelnick's arguments about affirmative
action, and argues for the virtues of ability testing. "Politically
(in my opinion)," he writes, "the problem in getting ability tests
legalized is the need to admit honestly that blacks (and to a
less degree certain other groups) really are lower in ability.
If one says they are lower in ability, one is accused of being
an essay titled "Why Race Matters: A Review and Extension," Miller
engages the work of the infamous City College of New York philosopher
Michael Levin, whose insistence that blacks are far less intelligent
and more violent than whites once prompted him to assert that
"blackness is a sign of danger." In the review, Miller supports
Levin's ideas about why "certain beliefs about race have prevailed."
Miller's explanation: "The simplest answer is observation; the
traits have been repeatedly observed."
in mental capacity, differences in sexual relations, differences
in genitalia, differences in appearance. The cumulative picture
of a black individual in Miller's paradigm is small-headed, over-equipped
in genitalia, oversexed, hyper-violent and, most of all, unintelligent.
Sound like a stereotype? Not to Miller, who protests that "science
is science and the facts are facts." But Miller does not work
in a scientific vacuum, and the data he puts forth as truth is
far from black and white.
Phrenology and `Niggerology'
understand Miller's work, it's necessary to pull back the focus
and look to the historic emergence of the very notion of race. In
doing so, it becomes clear that science and politics have always
been ineluctably bound, and discussions of race invariably have
been accompanied by discussions of political rights and public policy.
the mid-19th century, whites on both sides of the abolition issue
were clamoring to find a scientific defense of their racial politics.
In The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate of Afro-American
Character and Destiny 1817-1914, George M. Fredrickson outlines
prevailing trajectories of thought in that period, noting the
rise of the "American school of ethnology," which held that the
various races of mankind had been separately created as distinct
and unequal, a theory also known as polygenesis. Among the methodologies
employed to prop up this theory was the collection of data on
human skull size and shape and its comparison across different
races. Such studies would anticipate the scientific vogue of the
late 19th century, phrenology, which studied the contours of the
skull as predictive of intelligence and behavioral qualities.
the loudest and most influential champions of polygenesis was
Dr. Josiah C. Nott, whose self-described field of "niggerology"
marked blacks as an inferior race slated for imminent extinction
because of inherent ineptitudes.
rapidly gained currency among supporters of slavery. It was especially
popular in intellectual circles, where elaborate biological arguments
were made for Caucasian racial superiority and the necessity of
blacks' continued enslavement. As this argument would have it,
blacks would expire from their own feeblemindedness, were they
ever to be released from captivity.
emancipation failed to produce the much-prophesied "Negro extinction,"
racially fixated scientists then turned to the application of
Darwinian theory. Predictions again did not bode well for blacks,
and their expiration once more was anticipated on the grounds
that numerous disadvantageous traits, among them a disinclination
to work, would drive them out of existence. When none of these
predictions came to pass, scientists continuously revised their
these ever-evolving, unapologetically racist theories was the
fear of intermarriage between the races. For these white scientists,
such relations amounted to a debilitating pollution of the superior
Gilman, a professor of liberal arts in human biology at the University
of Chicago (and a Metairie, Louisiana native), has done extensive
work on the "science" of race. "Over the last 150 years, there
has been a desire to take the latest cutting-edge science, whether
it was the discovery of blood-types or now the genome, and fit
it into 19th century models of race," he says. "The question is,
`Why do people keep going back to notions of race?'"
relates the work of Miller and his colleagues to racist 18th and
19th century science. When Charles Murray and the late Richard
J. Hernstein published their now-infamous 1996 study, The Bell
Curve, Gilman was among the first experts to describe the
book's scholarship as the product of a lineage of biased studies
and conclusions. "Certainly the stuff that's been done recently
on intelligence and race is not terribly different from the stuff
that was done 150 years ago," he says.
sees a link between now-discredited pseudosciences like phrenology
and the conclusions some have drawn from more recent MRI studies.
"There's no difference, and of course there is a difference,"
he says. "Phrenology made some presuppositions about the relationship
between brain localization, brain size and skull size. We know
that's specious. MRI measures different things. If we're talking
about electronic resonance in the brain, MRI measures that very
well. But when you start to say that certain heightened areas
mean certain things, then you get into some very suspicious arenas."
says that MRIs do provide a veneer of legitimacy for such studies,
but cautions that it is in the crucial area of interpretation
where things become cagey. "Over the last few years as we've developed
various and sundry means of measuring brain activity, if we go
from one measurement to another, one of the things that we realize
is that there a lot of maps that don't overlap very well. The
various measuring mechanisms tell us different things, and the
way we read those different things is based on our presuppositions."
brings things back to politics. Felipe Smith, a professor of English
at Tulane University and author of American Body Politics:
Race, Gender, and Black Literary Renaissance, also has researched
racial motives in scientific history. "The science is always about
a public agenda," he says. "It's always about how we use these
results to make society a better place, i.e. public policy."
such policy motives in a historical and social context, Smith
says, punctures "the self-representation of the scientist as being
a kind of custodian of pure analysis of what the numbers say."
His book opens with the example of William Benjamin Smith (no
relation), a Tulane professor of mathematics who, in 1904, wrote
a "scientific" defense of Southern policies of racial separation.
At the time of that writing, Tulane's own desegregation was beginning
to look more likely.
captures the whole scientific cadre that was beginning to elevate
Darwinian science and numbers to a kind of deific position," Felipe
Smith says. "And it's rather interesting that 100 years later,
there's this resurgence of people who want to go back to the numbers
to do statistical analyses as a basis for making these kinds of
fine judgments and discriminations in population groups."
Such Thing as Race
research professor and author Martha C. Ward describes herself as
one of the few at the university who still maintains an open dialogue
with Ed Miller. She participated in the colloquium on race at UNO
that followed the Miller controversy. She also devoted a chapter
of her forthcoming book, How I Got to Be White, to Miller
and his colleagues. Yet she insists that she will not debate him
in a traditional sense. "What Ed wants is to say that your ideas
are the equivalent of my ideas and they're debatable, and I refuse
to say that," she asserts.
of the most strenuously argued points of How I Got to Be White
is that science is as much about politics as it is about inquiry.
"Science is not neutral or free of values," she writes. "It's
an enterprise of patterned power relations, human errors, and
social judgments, as many excellent critiques show." Miller, she
says, simply won't acknowledge that.
that is only the beginning of her rebuttal. The real clincher,
she says, is that "there's just no such thing as race."
is a lived experience, a social and political construction within
a consensual reality," she writes in How I Got to Be White.
"Race is learned and defined in cultural terms."
American Anthropological Association (AAA), the nation's largest
organization in that discipline, agrees. Its "Statement on `Race'"
lays out the 18th century emergence of the concept of race as
a means of establishing social hierarchies and rationalizing European
colonial attitudes, stating, "It became a strategy for dividing,
ranking and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers
AAA doesn't stop there. It also has taken a stance against studies
that argue for genetic differences across so-called racial lines.
It asserts that most physical variation, about 94 percent, occurs
within "racial" groups, rather than between them. Human variation
is basically continuous, with no distinct lines between one "race"
there are always those who will argue that what looks different
must be different. "The color of one's skin is a convenient optical
way of categorizing people," says Steven Kroll-Smith, a professor
of sociology at UNO. Kroll-Smith helped organize the colloquium
on race at UNO, which addressed issues of scientific racism from
a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The colloquium -- initiated
by faculty members, not the administration -- was UNO's only substantive
response to the 1996 controversy.
says the work of Edward Miller and others is a contemporary revival
of eugenics, the late 19th century movement that promoted hereditary
improvement through selective breeding. "[This belief] has emerged
during periods where it seems to be culturally important to rank
people," he says, adding that such rankings could then be used
to distribute social resources based on "scientific or numerical
indicators." The starkest example of this movement, he adds, was
the Third Reich.
the AAA and Ward, Kroll-Smith espouses the view of race as a purely
social construction. He also questions another component of the
debate. "There is no consensus on the definition of intelligence,"
he says. "We have people constructing tests that by their very
nature construct notions of intelligence in the questions that
they're asking. So you've got the tail and the dog problem going
around and around.
has always been attached to the moral with these guys," he adds.
"The idea that intelligence can't simply be a number that indicates
one's capacity to function cognitively, but that it also signals
moral disposition, has been a big part of the eugenics movement."
points outs that those scholars advancing theories about race
and intelligence are almost invariably white men, and that they
have closed ranks in a kind of outcast club of intellectual misfits.
"They find their way into these networks after having been teenage
nerds," she says with a laugh, "and they're sensible enough to
keep quiet until they have a tenure-track position."
not all agree that these men and their ideas can be laughed off.
Rushton speaks with an impeccably well-measured British accent,
his syllables rolling out with the kind of melody normally reserved
for a BBC news reader or a narrator of children's stories. Catch
a reference to him in the Canadian or American media, though, and
you're more likely to see a caricature of him shaking hands with
Hitler than sharing story time with a circle of kids.
my views became widely known back in 1989, the media here in Canada
essentially ran cartoons as though I were wearing a Ku Klux Klan
hat and having a conversation with a delighted-looking Adolf Hitler,"
says the psychologist, speaking by phone from his office in Ontario.
"They ran editorials linking me to the Holocaust and racism and
all kinds of horrific things, and eventually I had to take out
libel action. It's swastika-painting and political propaganda.
There's no attempt at an objective appraisal."
media may have been guilty of hyperbole, but it also was responsible
for unearthing Rushton's connection to the Pioneer Fund. This
62-year-old nonprofit organization in New York grants more than
$1 million a year to academics conducting research in genetic
racial differences in intelligence and behavior, as well as to
those who examine the policy implications of such "findings."
Pioneer Fund has a long history of supporting eugenic and hereditarian
causes from behind the shadows. Among its beneficiaries have been
Arthur Jensen, a University of California at Berkeley psychologist
who, in the throes of the civil rights movement, wrote of the
genetic superiority of whites over blacks; Stanford University
physicist William Shockley (the co-inventor of the transistor),
who proposed sterilizing welfare recipients and the voluntary
sterilization of the "intellectually inferior"; Rushton; and one
candidate whose Pioneer check of $2,000 was refused by UNO --
tightly acquainted circle of benefactors, grantees and affiliates
publish, cite and support each other, regularly rallying to the
cause of whichever individual finds himself under the latest scrutiny.
Most recently, it has been Glayde Whitney, the Florida State University
psychologist who penned the introduction to David Duke's My
Awakening (which was dedicated to Shockley). Praising the
"honest truths" in Duke's memoir, Whitney writes that "racial
egalitarianism is the scientific equivalent of the flat Earth
this network doesn't end with the Pioneer Fund. Both the Mankind
Quarterly and the Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies,
where Miller publishes the bulk of his studies on race and intelligence,
are run by Roger Pearson, a 1966 Pioneer Fund recipient and publisher
who also directs the Scott-Townsend Publishers imprint. Among
some of the more evocative titles in its catalog: The Racial Origins
of the Founders of America; A History of Lynching, Will America
Drown?; Immigration and the Third-World Population Explosion;
and The U.S. Experiment in School Integration.
also a Byzantine web of Internet sites featuring these and other
writings by Pioneer Fund/Pearson-published scholars, all readily
linked to such organizations as the Aryan Nation. Miller's own
Web site, featured in a larger site called "Stalking the Wild
Taboo," is only a few mouse clicks away from an assortment of
links illustrate the fringe quality of these scholars, but they
also demonstrate how readily these data-packed studies can be
used as political ammunition. For these scholars, President Clinton's
pledge to "end welfare as we know it" can be seen as a mainstream
step in the right direction. So can David Duke's unexpected third
place finish in Louisiana's most recent Congressional election.
Breast Size and Family Life
is scheduled for a second interview, but he begs off a few days
before the appointed time, saying that his wife is leery of the
controversy. With only a month to go in her pregnancy, she is worried
that some who disagree with her husband might try to hurt him or
disturb their family. She is relatively new to America, Miller says,
and fearful of what she perceives as this country's readiness for
violence. He says that she repeatedly implores him to stay clear
of public attention.
agrees to a talk on the phone, and the conversation quickly turns
to Duke and the former congressional candidate's politics.
politicians try and find facts to support their positions, and
hopefully the better politicians adapt their positions to the
facts as they understand them," he says. "Duke seems to have been
fairly aggressive in seeking out the facts and even writing a
book. And he's one of the few politicians who has actually read
the scientific literature in this area."
whether individuals like Duke and Miller are simply obsessed with
race, the professor responds so quickly that it seems rehearsed.
"It's certainly less of an obsession with race than most politicians
seem to have -- at least most minority politicians."
goes on to explain that his latest work isn't political, anyway.
He's presently concentrating on original research, although he
admits, "If I ever get a chance again to work in Washington and
influence policy, I may take it."
talks a little about his current research, which includes an eye-catching
paper on homosexuality. "I argue that homosexuality is a result
of numerous genes and environmental factors that, on average,
make males more competent as fathers and a little more feminine,"
he says. "If you get a large number of these factors added up,
then homosexuality results."
Miller-penned paper is even more attention-grabbing, about the
need for human females -- more than other primates -- to have
large breasts. "It will affect their mates' ability to reproduce
if they have a loyal mate who is attracted by breasts swollen
with milk," he explains. "After males had evolved to prefer females
with this shape, females who put extra fat on to retain this shape
were able to attract males."
talking for the better part of an hour, Miller suddenly offers
one unsolicited piece of autobiography. "As you may know, I have
a multiracial son on the way," he says. "So I'm probably a long
way from your stereotype of the person who is opposed to multiculturalism
pauses. "She's making gestures not to say anything," he says,
indicating that his wife has again been silently present for the
duration of the interview. Her quiet protestation is heard briefly
in the background, and then it trails off.
isn't alone in her desire for anonymity. UNO would probably like
nothing better than for New Orleans to forget about Edward Miller,
a magnet for bad publicity and potential admissions dropoffs.
UNO Chancellor O'Brien refused repeated requests to speak about
Miller, or to discuss the fact that UNO's library stocks the Mankind
Quarterly, or to announce any university plans to encourage more
dialogue on issues of race, both in UNO's classrooms and in the
community. "He doesn't want to rehash it all," UNO public information
officer Kit Lipps says.
much as UNO tries its best to keep him invisible, the university
still sends mixed messages to the community. The latest edition
of a school media directory "designed to help members of the news
media in securing authoritative comment on a wide variety of issues,"
which was compiled and released after the Miller controversy,
demonstrates how certain views can insinuate themselves into a
university and community.
Edward Miller's name and contact number, three areas of expertise
are listed: stock market theory, productivity, and human intelligence.