Ideology and censorship in behavior genetics.
by Glayde Whitney
(Past President Behavior Genetics Association Florida State University,
Vol. 35, Mankind Quarterly, 06-01-1995, pp 327.
Presented below is the entire text of my presidential
address presented to the Behavior Genetics Association (BGA) on
the occasion of its 25th annual meeting at Richmond, VA on the
second of June, 1995. Since the journal Behavior Genetics is sponsored
by the BGA, some explanation is required as to why this presidential
address is not published in the Association's own journal.
The primary topic of the address was ideologically-based
dogma and taboo hampering the pursuit of knowledge in the science
of behavior genetics. The response to the address has been such
a parody of political correctness that it might appear to be an
instance of collusion between the perpetrator and the detractors
for the purpose of exposing an absurdity of our times. However
sadly, there is no collusion. Both the author and the detractors
appear to be sincere.
The address was presented at an evening banquet.
The very next morning at a meeting of the BGA Executive Committee
the author was shunned except for a brief scolding, and was the
recipient of demeaning ad hominem asides. The Executive Committee
busied itself with how to distance the BGA from the offensive
talk. The editor of Behavior Genetics refused to publish the paper
(contrary to understood policy) and the Executive Committee voted
(with one abstention - mine) to issue an official statement of
denouncement. Then shortly after the meeting there began a call
for the author to resign from the BGA. As stated in a public mention
of the affair (Science, 1995), officers of the BGA, and a few
others, began to post condemnatory "open letters" on
the BGA's electronic bulletin board.
The issuers of these calls for resignation seem
to have lost track, in the finest Lysenkoist tradition, of the
many distinctions between scientific organizations and political/religious
organizations. Scientific organizations are composed of scientists
with some common interests, wherein science consists of alternative
hypotheses, the truth value of which is judged by their congruence
with observable data. Typical as a scientific organization, the
BGA bylaws state purposes which include the promotion of scientific
study, assistance in training of research workers, and dissemination
of knowledge. Nowhere in the BGA bylaws is there a creed or a
listing of necessary beliefs.
On the other hand, political/religious organizations
usually have an official creed, or party platform, to which members
swear fealty. Those heretics that violate the faith are typically
shunned, expelled, or forced to resign. Science has no heretics,
and honest science does not thrive in an atmosphere of inquisitional
control (Whitney, 1995). A century ago Andrew White (1896/1965)
wrote an excellent historical account of the warfare between science
and ideology. Although the battlefields shift, the war continues.
It would be highly misleading to leave the impression
that the author is alone, adrift in a sea of condemnation. On
the contrary, private letters of support and commendation greatly
outnumber the public critics. In view of the attempt. at censorship,
I greatly appreciate the editors of The Mankind Quarterly providing
an archival repository for the address:
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF BEHAVIOR GENETICS
Today there are more and better data concerning
genetic influences on behavioral and neuroscience variables than
ever before in history. We have tremendously benefited from the
revolution in molecular genetic techniques - the new genetics.
In 25 years behavior genetics has come from being a small field
on the fringe of the social sciences to being recognized as central
to an understanding of the human condition (Wiesel, 1994). Just
a few weeks ago Science noted that the new director of NIMH should
be someone who appreciated the role of genetics in mental health
(Marshall, 1995). This is an amazing shift from 25 years ago when
behavioristic environmental determinism still reigned supreme.
We are obviously well into a paradigm shift of major dimensions,
perhaps a true Kuhnian revolution in Science and Society (Barker,
1985; 1992; Kuhn, 1970). In the future it might be referred to
as the Galtonian Revolution, on a par with the Copernican. The
shift is but one illustration of the long-term self-correcting
nature of science: Objective investigation of the real world,
conducted with integrity and interpreted without intentional ideological
bias, can eventually lead to real advance.
As has sometimes been the case for these after
dinner talks, I want to take just a few minutes to share with
you some personal reminiscences and some personal views. Twenty-five
years ago I got my first full- time faculty position. This was
after student days at Minnesota, a bit of a time-out for military
service, and a post-doctoral stint in Colorado. At Colorado the
Institute for Behavioral Genetics was a wonderful setting. Gerry
McClearn and John DeFries, along with Jim Wilson, were running
the place. There were a bunch of stimulating graduate students
around: I recall Tom Klein studying the taste of mice and Boris
Tabakoff messing with alcohol. Doug Wahlsten and I were side-by-side
post-docs, Joe Hegmann had just left and Carol Lynch was just
arriving. Wonderful friends and colleagues, all of them. The best
of days in a stimulating environment.
Well then, I got hired to represent behavior genetics
in the neuroscience program at Florida State University. A good
program but vastly different in orientation. Not a lot of geneticists.
I was there only a brief time when one of the old-timers who ran
the place came by for a friendly chat. As polite southerners do,
he began with a lengthy discussion of weather, trees, traffic,
chiggers, and children. And then, finally, by-the-way, he said
"Glayde, you know we hired you because we want genetics in
our psychology program, but, as a Professor at a southern university,
we hope you will have the good sense to keep away from that human
business. Because of your location you would have no credibility,
and none of us need the flak"!
Well. That in fact was consistent with my plans,
I was busy setting up a mouse laboratory at the time and sure-enough
had enough good sense to do passably well with mouse research.
After all, I've still got the job and I've been invited here tonight.
To understand my mentor's concern, we need to
view it in historical context. 1970 was an interesting time. Tallahassee,
being a state capital with two state universities, had already
had its share of demonstrations, riots, burning and looting. It
was in 1970 that Black Panther supporters got around to killing
jurors and a judge; 1970 that a mathematics building was bombed
on the campus at Wisconsin, also with loss-of-life (Collier &
It was also in 1970 that our colleague Arthur
Jensen was taking a lot of flak (Pearson, 1991). As everyone in
behavior genetics knows, Jensen published an interesting review
paper in 1969 (Jensen, 1969). Interesting but hardly ground breaking.
As a student at Minnesota, I had had the course in differential
psychology. With interesting textbooks (Anastasi, 1958; Jenkins
& Paterson, 1961) and team taught by such professors as Lykken
and Meehl. We had considered fifty years worth of data, and various
interpretative theories. Jensen in 1969 had a few new data, by-and-large
consistent with all that had gone before. No big deal scientifically,
at least not to any student of behavior genetics from Minnesota.
But obviously a great big deal in some circles.
Over the intervening twenty-five years it has
become obvious that Jensen's sins were, and continue to be, two-fold.
First, he did not stay within the confines of a reigning dogma,
and second, he violated a current taboo.
The dogma of course is that of environmental determinism
for all important human traits. This dogma has relaxed in recent
years, at least for individual differences, and at least within
science. But the dogma has not relaxed for group differences and
has not relaxed within politics as differentiated from science.
The attacks on Jensen, and by extension on all human behavior
genetics, are clearly political, ideological, philosophical.
The Marxist-Lysenkoist denial of genetics, the
emphasis on environmental determinism for all things human, is
at the root of it (Davis, 1986; Medvedev, 1971; Pearson, 1991;
Weiss, 1991). Economic oppression is at the root of all group
differences and don't you dare say anything else. The Marxist
invasion of left-liberal political sentiment has been so extensive
that many of us think that way without realizing it.
It has been suggested that I should talk about
"Marxitis" that is, the Marxist infection of ideas.
Many of the scholars that suffer from Marxitis do not realize
that they are infected. The symptoms of this disease include an
intellectual bias, an insistence on environmental determinism
as the acceptable cause of group differences. In severe cases,
it includes an unbending intellectual absolutism akin to medieval
scholasticism. It is lethal to honest science.
A couple of quotes from heretics that have left
the movement: "the utopianism of the Left is a secular religion
. . . . However sordid Leftist practice may be, defending Leftist
ideals is, for the true believer tantamount to defending the ideals
of humanity itself. To protect the faith is the highest calling
of the radical creed. The more the evidence weighs against the
belief, the more noble the act of believing becomes" (Collier
& Horowitz, 1995, p. 246).
There is a "readiness to reshape reality
to make the world correspond to an idea" (Collier & Horowitz,
1995, P. 37). There is a "Willingness to tinker with the
facts to serve a greater truth" (Collier & Horowitz,
1995, p. 37). And so it has obviously been with many of the critics
of behavior genetics. Over the last twenty-five years, as the
scientific data accumulate, as the paradigm shifts, the stridency
of the critics intensifies. Driven by ideology and not constrained
by the truth, when all else fails they engage in misrepresentation
and character assassination. They accuse their targets of committing
the very propagandistic excesses that they themselves are doing
(Avery, et. el., 1994; Beardsley, 1995; Brimelow, 1994; Gould,
1994; Kamin, 1995; Lane, 1994; Miller, 1994; Murray, 1994; Weyher,
Lynn, Pearson, & Vining, 1995).
Some one among them coined the term "Jensenism".
Near as I can tell "Jensenism" consists of scientific
integrity, outstanding technical competence, and objective honesty.
Well, Jensen's first sin was to venture outside
the Left-Liberal Marxist dogma of environmental determinism. His
second sin was even less forgivable, he violated a Taboo: He mentioned
race outside the environmental envelope. The Behavior Genetics
Association has been in existence for 25 years. The end of the
Second World War was 50 years ago. Peter Brimelow (1995) has suggested
that since the second world war we have been suffering what he
calls "Adolf Hitler's posthumous revenge on America"
(Brimelow, 1995, p. 1). The posthumous revenge is that the intellectual
elite of the western world, both political and scientific, emerged
from the war "passionately concerned to cleanse itself from
all taints of racism or xenophobia" (Brimelow, 1995, p. xv).
The aversion to racism has gone so far that the scientific concept
of race itself is frequently attacked. The results are often ludicrous.
For example, on three adjacent pages of a recent issue of Science
we are led to believe that races do not exist, but that it is
important to assess the genetic diversity of remaining native
populations, and a black scientist at a black university should
be funded to investigate the black genome as a route to appropriate
treatment of diseases of blacks! (Kahn, 1994). The many and important
distinctions between objective investigation of group characteristics,
and prejudicial pejorative values are lost in a political atmosphere
where objective reality is sacrificed to political creed.
Brimelow suggests that the term "racist"
is now so debased that its new definition is "anyone who
is winning an argument with a liberal" . (Brimelow, 1995
p. 10, italics in original). He suggests that we feel uneasy because
we have been trained - like Pavlov's dog - to recoil from any
explicit discussion of race.
Let's test Brimelow's theory of emotional conditioning
with just a couple of illustrations of data. Here and now is the
setting for our experimental test. Here we are scientists, sophisticated
with regard to behavior genetics. We tell our students that we
are the scientists concerned with the causes of individual and
group differences (Fuller & Thompson, 1978; Rowe, 1994). Any
time you observe a phenotypic difference between definable groups,
it is a reasonable scientific hypothesis that the difference might
be caused by environmental difference between the groups, or the
difference might be caused by genetic differences between the
groups, or by some combination of genetic and environmental differences.
Now to look at the data relating to the Brimelow
test, we include five figures.
The first figure has data from a UN demographic
yearbook (United Nations, 1994). The variable here is murder rate
per 100,000 of population, for a few countries. This is a typical
representative figure: Among so-called advanced nations, or industrialized
nations, the United States suffers a high murder rate. The environmental
determinists have many theories, some complex and all critical
to aspects of American society. Often we are asked, for instance,
"why are Scandinavians in the U.S. so much more murderous
than are Scandinavians in Scandinavia?" The answer is that
they are not. The premise of the question is false.
The second figure has the same "industrialized"
European, largely Caucasian, countries along with an estimate
of the murder rate among whites in the U.S. Surely nothing to
be proud of, the murder rate among whites is pretty consistent
across countries, the rate among U.S. Caucasians is identical
to England, and somewhat lower than the two Scandinavian countries.
The United States is of coursea multicultural, racially diverse
country. This same point has been made previously, with data from
different sources (Taylor, 1994).
The third figure has the murder rate for the United
States across 22 years, by race. Obviously quite consistent, approximately
a 9-fold difference averaged across years (Uniform Crime Reporting
Like it or not, it is a reasonable scientific
hypothesis that some, perhaps much, of the race difference in
murder rate is caused by genetic differences in contributory variables
such as low intelligence, lack of empathy, aggressive acting out,
and impulsive lack of foresight.
The United Nations has a lot of indexes; another
one is the HDI (that is, Human Development Index). The HDI is
meant to index a bunch of desirable characteristics (such as longevity,
knowledge, real income, etc.). Overall, the U.S. ranks fifth among
the nations in the HDI. To get fifth on the international list,
you combine U.S. whites, who rank first, with US blacks who rank
31st, a level similar to some other black countries (Eisenberg,
1995), and this after more than a generation of racially preferential
social policies. If you equate for IQ, U.S. blacks are actually
doing at least as well as U.S. whites (Herrnstein & Murray,
Back to murder rates. Environmental determinists
seem generally befuddled by murder, and most of their social policy
suggestions, when implemented, seem to make matters worse rather
than better. Of course environments do matter, and environmentalistically
based policies do have an impact. In 1994, the murder rate in
New Orleans, LA, reached 86.5, while in Richmond, VA, the murder
rate was 77.9, for second-worst large city in the United States
(Perlstein, 1995). Obviously, the environmental determinists are
not benign; they do not occupy a moral high ground; their policy
recommendations do have consequences.
We can do a pretty good job of predicting differential
murder rates, simply by considering racial composition of the
population. For example, in the fourth figure we have aggregate
data across the 50 states of the United States. The simple correlation
between murder rate and percent of the population that is black,
is r= +0.77. For Figures 4 and 5, the homicide data are from the
U.S. Department of Justice (1981), while the population percentages
are from the 1980 census (Race, 1981). I know of no environmental
variable that accounts for more of the variation. Rather than
the 50 states, we can look at all of the 170 cities in the United
States that had a 1980 population of at least 100,000. With 170
data points, it would make a messy scatter- plot; the overall
correlation between murder rate and percent of the population
which is black is r=+0.69 (Kleck & Patterson, 1993; Kleck,
Simply for illustrative purposes, the fifth figure
is the rate-by- state as in figure 4, but with the values for
Washington, DC included. As you can see, the very high murder
rate for Washington, DC is simply what one would predict, given
knowledge of its population composition.
We could go on-and-on, there are books-full of
variables (Baker, 1981; Rushton, 1995). But this is enough to
conclude the Brimelow Test.
Do you have an emotional reaction? I know I do:
Uncomfortable to even consider; Anxious; Repulsed; Upsetting.
I conclude that I have been quite thoroughly conditioned. The
Taboo against considering race runs deep. But some of our social
problems continue to get worse.
I would like to conclude on an uplifting and happy
note. But what to say? Perhaps the optimistic prediction that
over the next 25 years, as we get further into the second century
of the Darwinian revolution, we in behavior genetics will do for
group differences what we already have accomplished with individual
I wish to thank Richard Hagan for thoughtful comments
on an earlier draft, Sharon Wittig for assistance in preparation,
and Paul M. Hammersten for valuable assistance with references.
GRAPH: Figure 1. Murder rates per 100,000 of population
for a few "industrialized" countries. Data are from
the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, forty-fourth issue.
GRAPH: Figure 2. Murder rates per 100,000 of population
for a sample of countries. The estimate of U.S. white rate is
the average over 22 years from the U.S. Uniform Crime Reporting
Program (1988). The values for other countries are from the U.N.
Demographic Yearbook, forty-fourth issue.
GRAPH: Figure 3. Murder rates per 100,000 of population
for the United States, by race, for the 22 years of 1965 to 1986.
Data are from the U.S. Department of Justice, Uniform Crime Reporting
GRAPH: Figure 4. Homicide rate per 100,000 of
population, plotted against percent of the population that is
black, for the 50 states of the United States. The homicide data
are from the U.S. Department of Justice (1981), while the population
percentages are from the 1980 census. The correlation is r=+0.77.
GRAPH: Figure 5. Homicide rate per 100,000 of
population, plotted against percent of the population that is
black, for the 50 states of the United States, as in Figure 4,
with the addition of data for Washington, D.C. in upper right
of the figure.
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