Academic Racism: Into the Muck

When Nobel Prize winner James D. Watson suggested in October that Africans are innately less intelligent than others, he was met by an international firestorm of scientific criticism, ultimately resulting in his public apology and later resignation from the Long Island laboratory where he was chancellor. Many experts on intelligence challenged the scientific basis for Watson’s comment, and the director of the Human Genome Research Institute, who took up his post after Watson left it, described Watson’s remark as “a racist statement.” In fact, the weight of current scientific evidence suggests that differences in IQ between racial groups are principally caused by environmental factors.

In the aftermath of the Watson controversy, Slate.com, a normally liberal online magazine, published a three-part series by its science and technology columnist, William Saletan, that suggested strongly that IQ differences were, in fact, related to race. But within days, Saletan had published an essay entitled “Regrets,” in which he admitted that he had done a particularly poor job of summarizing the state of science on the IQ question. (Another Slate writer, Stephen

Metcalf, also posted a major critical response to Saletan’s series.) In fact, as Saletan partly admitted in his apology, almost all of his conclusions came from the work of J. Philippe Rushton — a man who heads up a racist foundation, the Pioneer Fund, dedicated to race and IQ studies. The fund was created in 1937 to pursue policies of “race betterment,” specifically promoting the genetic stock of the white settlers of the original 13 colonies.

Then it was the turn of The New York Times. On Dec. 1, six weeks after Watson’s remarks, a story by Patricia Cohen summarized the controversy, the Slate episode, and the debate over race and intelligence. But Cohen made almost precisely the same

mistake that the unfortunate Saletan did. Quoted prominently in her story was one Linda Gottfredson, identified simply as a sociologist at the University of Delaware, saying that Saletan had nothing to apologize for. Gottfredson hailed Saletan, in fact, for possibly being “the first journalist to so directly acknowledge the scientific evidence” and called the response to his series evidence of a “moral panic.”

Just one little trouble. Gottfredson, along with Rushton, is one of the merry band of Pioneer Fund grant recipients. Since 1988, she has accepted at least $267,000 from the racist foundation. Gottfredson also opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act because she said it fails to recognize innate differences in intelligence. And she criticized what she called “the egalitarian fiction that all groups are equal in intelligence.”