Saturday, September 11, 2010

A classic battle of politicized science: Kamin vs. Eysenck

My review of the 1981 book: Intelligence: The Battle for the Mind by Hans Eysenck and Leon Kamin can be found on Amazon here.

I found this old book a fascinating look at the politics of intelligence at its most extreme prior the publication of The Bell Curve. In spite of all the friction generated by The Bell Curve that left a misleading impression in the minds of many people, there was actually a general consensus over most of the technical claims regarding intelligence and intelligence testing.

By the time The Bell Curve was written, the definition of intelligence in psychometric terms was well established as were the moderate correlations with academic success and some kinds of occupational success, and the heritability numbers for IQ from several twins studies. It was also pretty well accepted that there were group differences in scores as well as individual differences.

However, the implications of all of these things was more in question than ever because in contrast to some of the basic assumptions in The Bell Curve, heritability was known be highly variable from population to population, IQ was a reasonably good predictor of an important but narrow range of abilities mainly related to literacy and certain kinds of reasoning, and more was unknown than known about the reasons and implications of the group differences.

In the Kamin vs. Eysenck book, we see Eysenck focusing on things that for the most part are not at controvesial at all, and not taking an extreme hereditarian view. His politics are subtle, you can still read echoes of the earlier hereditarian view in his chapters. He talks about people's "capacity" and emphasizes how environment is important in developing intelligence, but implies that people still reach limits determined by heredity in some sense.

Kamin on the other hand reveals his own politics far less subtly by accusing nearly every individual differences researcher of some kind of bias or racism and by looking for anomalies and assuming fraud throughout the entire range of psychometric testing research.

A very instructive account in the dynamics of how scientists interact (or not!) around controversial research programs depending on the way they express their own biases.

See the full review here.

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