Whitewashing Scientific Racism: Revisiting the Equalitarian Myth

Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

It is one of the most famous scenes in literature: Aunt Polly commands Tom Sawyer to whitewash the front fence in punishment for some misdeed. Clever Tom pretends it is a joy to whitewash the fence and soon has tricked all his friends into whitewashing the fence for him, indeed, they pay him for the privilege. Similarly, Race Differences in Intelligence (RDI) researchers as well as outright racists often trick mainstream scholars into whitewashing the ugly history of their activities.

A perfect example is this article in the psychology journal, Intelligence where we are presented with an analysis of “controversies in the field of intelligence research.” It is a scientometric analysis meaning it is a quantitative account of such controversies as reported in the scientific literature. There is nothing wrong with that in principle but often such work needs supplementation by a detailed account of specific incidents in the database. As Lorraine Daston recently explained:

if you are looking for causal mechanisms, often only a detailed ethnography will reveal what exactly is the cause of some observed pattern in behavior. And it can work in the other direction — a hypothesis developed from ethnographic work may require statistical testing. These two modes of inquiry, so often opposed to each other, seem to me to work hand-in-glove, at least from the standpoint of the goals of scientific explanation.

Following Daston’s advice, it behooves us to look as some of the incidents in the article in order to get the clearest picture of the listed “controversies in the field of intelligence research” and what is missing from that picture.

A horse wearing blinders

Horses, and some researchers. wear blinders so they can’t see things that they might disagree with.*

The whitewash begins with the omissions. The articles authors Noah Carl & Michael Woodley announce that “Scholars working in this field, or those merely interested in its findings, have found themselves denounced, defamed, protested, petitioned, punched, kicked, stalked, spat on, censored, fired from their jobs and stripped of their honorary titles” (p. 1). Very dramatic. Further on, they note that:

we defined incidents at the level of individual ‘communications’ from researchers, where by ‘communication’ we mean any scientific statement, article, book or lecture that provoked—either immediately or after a certain time period—some kind of sanctions against the person concerned

The article is not only an inventory of intelligence researchers, but those “interested in its findings.” In a footnote they clarify

Not every person featured in our database is an intelligence researcher in the sense of an academic who has published books or articles about psychometric intelligence. For example, one (Larry Summers) is an economist and (former) senior university administrator. However, the vast majority of persons are intelligence researchers in the sense given above, and we decided not to exclude incidents just because the person concerned was not an intelligence researcher per se.” (p. 1)

They article itself is very sparsely documented but in their “supplementary material” they post a spreadsheet listing every incident they included in their analysis along with a brief note as to the source for their information (it is paywalled, unfortunately so you can either trust me or ask the authors to provide the spreadsheet to you). So we have access to every incident they included.

Looking at the incidents they report  shows they leave the vast majority of “intelligence research”  untouched. They are concerned not with the field, but only the much, much smaller field of Race Differences in Intelligence (RDI) research; any controversy outside that narrow domain isn’t counted. This is not the “analysis of controversies in the field of intelligence research” promised in the title but rather a parochial concern of a small band of people “interested” in RDI research. But, it turns out, not all of them.

Carl & Woodley claim to cover every year since 1950. This is, as the saying goes, is right in my wheelhouse! I wrote a whole book on intelligence researchers and those “interested in its findings!” Surely they would include how the social scientists who worked with the NAACP in Brown v. Board of Education were denounced as Communists on the floor of the U.S. Senate! Or how pioneering African-American scholars, like Horace Mann Bond, who debunked the use of IQ tests were persecuted and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities at which many of them worked were constantly threatened by southern legislatures? How about how well-funded right wing think tanks, some headed by Archibald Roosevelt–Teddy’s son,  attacked all egalitarian social scientists as “Marxists” and “Lysenkoists?” Surely they must have sifted through the enormous body of literature that documents how conservatives denounced and attacked anyone influenced by Gunnar Myrdal’s work? The 100 or so antiracist professors who have been targeted for harassment in recent years by the far right? Are they in?

No. None of these well-documented cases are mentioned in the article. In short, not only does the article falsely claim to be an analysis of “field of intelligence research” while only focusing on the much narrower band of RDI research, but it only surveys those folks who stand up and say: “The scientific truth probably is that black people are dumber than white people, deal with it America!” If you said something like that, you are in their analysis, even if you never researched the question. If you were a well-qualified intelligence researcher but disagreed with claims of racial inequality Carl & Woodley ignore you.

Looking at three specific cases that make their cut demonstrates how questionable their methods are. Let’s dive in!

Case One: Frank C.J. McGurk

A picture of

McGurk as pictured in US News in 1956 with his unfortunate mustache

Carl & Woodley’s first example is from 1956, a full nine years before their second example. They describe a “Controversy following article on group differences in IQ” by psychologist Frank C.J. McGurk (1910-1995). Carl reports that McGurk was “denounced,” the first of 101 such denouncements they claim to have recorded. A “denouncement,” in and of itself apparently counts as a “sanction” for their purposes and thus they count it as one of their “incidents.” But, what counts as a “denouncement?” They don’t say, but do offer hints. First, they write they count when “the individual was publicly denounced.” It seems, from this sentence, that public criticism of research and argument do not count as denouncement, but only when the individual him or herself is attacked. Thus, the work of RDI could be criticized but as along as the criticism does not touch character of the RDI researcher, it should not be recorded as a “denouncement.” This would seem to be the reason that Carl and Woodley claim that “critical commentaries in academic journals, even when moralistic in tone (e.g., Sternberg, 2005), were not sufficient to generate a controversy” (p. 2).

McGurk published a defense of continued racial segregation in 1956 in U.S. News and World Report. He claimed his research proved that the gap between white and black children was immune to eradication and therefore racial segregation should continue. That an article a mainstream magazine maintaining such a thing in 1956 should receive a sharp response shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Carl and Woodley claim that McGurk was “denounced” for it.

As support for McGurk’s denouncement, Carl & Woodley cite an article I wrote, this one to be specific. My article described how anthropologist Carleton Coon’s work was appropriated by segregationists in the early 1960s as weapon against racial integration with Coon’s behind-the-scenes aid. Here’s the paragraph I wrote describing McGurk’s “incident” and his involvement with the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics (IAAEE):

Coon also knew founding IAAEE member, psychologist Frank C.J.McGurk. In 1956, while on the faculty of Villanova University, McGurk published, “A Scientist’s Report on Race Differences” in the newsmagazine, U.S. News and World Report. McGurk had argued that the intellectual differences between whites and blacks were genetic and immune from environmental influence and that these differences made effective school integration impossible. McGurk’s article brought a sharp rejoinder from mainstream social scientists and McGurk interpreted this criticism as persecution for his “heretical” ideas concerning race differences. A few years after the U.S. News article, McGurk wrote to IAAEE mainstay, Wesley C. George that, “for the past three years, Villanova has censored me stiffly. I may not write without their specific approval . . . . That is what happens when priests do not fall into line.” McGurk would become the favorite example for the IAAEE to use when they pointed to the dangers academicians face when they “tell the truth about race.” Coon was also concerned about “poor Prof. McGurk who lives near me in my winter residence in Devon, PA. He has been persecuted for his [U.S. News] article to such an extent that it has affected his health.”

To me, the interesting thing about this paragraph is it contains no evidence for any denouncement, i.e. attacks on McGurk’s character. To be sure, I wrote of (and cited) “a sharp rejoinder from mainstream social scientists” but this, according to Carl & Woodley should not qualify as a “denunciation” since they claim critique of the science is legitimate.  The mainstream response, apparently unread by Carl and Woodley though I cited it for the reader (Klineberg, O. et. al. 1956. “Does Race Really Make a Difference in Intelligence?” U.S. News and World Report 41: 74–76), criticizes McGurk’s methods, but not his character.  That it appeared in the same popular magazine rather than a scholarly journal, is appropriate since that is where McGurk’s original claims appeared. In other words, the cited source for McGurk’s denunciation (me) does not support the claim Carl & Woodley make.

What about McGurk’s self-reported claim that he had been “censored” by his home institution, Villanova? In Science for Segregation, I write about McGurk’s experiences much more extensively including a full account of the devastating critiques of his shoddy scholarship (pp. 81-88). Regarding McGurk’s censorship claim I wrote:

McGurk’s account of experiences at Villanova may well have been accurate. In many southern universities, race relations had been a controversial topic. However, the far more likely situation in the South was for liberals on the race issue to face harassment. Those academics who spoke out in favor of integration in the years after Brown came under fire from both the segregationist political establishment and from the House Un-American Activities Committee, who often suspected integrationists of Communist tendencies. (p. 86)

As we have seen, none of the experiences of intelligence researchers who fought segregation made it into Carl & Woodley’s inventory–only segregation’s defender Frank C.J. McGurk.

I reported one more important fact in my book. The supposedly censored and sickly McGurk was given a forum by the American Psychological Association in 1959 to discuss his research and experiences, a strange thing for someone reportedly denied the right to speak his views. There he praised Villanova for protecting his academic freedom to research as he saw fit. The New York Times headline was: “Professors’ Right to Views Upheld: Psychologist Says Villanova Resisted Calls for Ouster After Article on Negro.” The article explained that McGurk “alluded to what he said were censorship and threats that dissuaded social scientists from testifying on social issues” but McGurk was not afraid to testify on the mental inferiority of black people. Just a few years later he testified in federal court repeating his U.S. News article’s claims that IQ testing justified continuing racial segregation. In the 1970s he published in Willis Carto’s racist periodical American MercuryNone of which stopped Arthur Jensen from co-authoring an article with the unrepentant segregationist in 1987. This is how the mainstream journal Intelligence present a vigorous defense of the rights of a segregationist while ignoring the attacks on racial egalitarian researchers who faced far greater threats.

Case 2: Vincent Sarich

The second example is Berkeley anthropologist, Vincent Sarich (1934-2012). A quick search of Psych-Info database turns up zero publications in psychology, let alone any in intelligence research. He must be one of those included because he was “interested in intelligence research” rather than an expert in it. And, sure enough, he gets in their database because he believed that black people were, on average, just not as smart as white people. According to Carl & Woodley, Sarich faced “protests following statements about affirmative action.”  This claim is not accurate, Sarich faced only one protest according to Carl & Woodley’s cited source. It is important to find out more about that source.

The Sarich incident is one of twenty-six of the 111 “incidents” where the sole source is a book entitled Race, Intelligence, and Bias in Academe, a book much beloved and even sold by the racist right that sports an introduction written by Hans Eysenck, someone much admired in RDI circles (no matter how fraudulent his scholarship was). The book was written by Roger Pearson. Regular readers remember Roger Pearson, the devoted follower of Nazi racial theorist Hans F.K. Guenther! He’s the guy who wrote this in the fascist periodical The European in 1956:

In order…to adhere to the laws of evolution, the German National Socialists fanned the rational appreciation of race and evolution in Germany. The national or tribal spirit was stirred, unity of spirit and unity of purpose were encouraged as the ONLY way to survival in a world which, distorted by man’s imperfect attempts at civilised life, is yet, and will always be, subject to the physical laws of nature. No German was to be guilty of introducing or spreading hybridity, imperfect stock within the nation was to be discouraged from reproduction, and those who were fit were to endeavour to raise the birth rate, in order that the German nation might grow in numbers and strength in competition with the ever increasing millions who pressed upon the borders of Europe.

You know, Roger Pearson, who edited a newsletter under the name “Edward Langford” for a network of white supremacists called The Northlander where he warned of the dangers of the equalitarian menace! It is only natural that Carl & Woodley, who are also concerned about “equalitarianism” (p. 5) would call upon good ol’ Roger for a quarter of the “incidents” they reported. After all, Arthur Jensen thought “Roger”s book was excellent and Jensen is the patron saint of strictly “scientific” RDI research. That Roger Pearson was the source for a quarter of the “incidents” reported by Carl & Woodley.

Pearson’s book was published by Scott-Townsend Press, owned and operated by, you’ll never guess, Roger Pearson. It is shoddily assembled and sparsely documented. Pearson’s only cited source for the Sarich incident is a Washington Times article (cited as 11 November 1990 but actually appeared on 26 November 1990; so Carl & Woodley get Pearson wrong and Pearson gets the Washington Times wrong (things are getting sloppy in scientometric land).  Pearson claimed:

Sarich acknowledges that race and sex may predetermine ability, and to disprove him some 75 blacks decided on November 7, 1990, to invade his anthropology classroom and demand that the University muzzle him. As one protestor argued, “Sarich may be right on some of these things, but he shouldn’t be allowed to teach them.” The protestor’s view reflects an unusual interpretation of what onstitutes scholarship.

The Washington Times actually reported the quotation but noted that the protesters were “mostly black.” The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle somehow missed the racial identity of the protesters and that juicy quotation, but the Times at least found one of Sarich’s colleagues who was worried about the content of Sarich’s course: “”He is teaching controversial material and is doing it without scientific evidence, yet leaps to these radical conclusions.” Professor Sarich has told the department that there is scientific evidence for his theories but “has not provided any citations for us.” “The evidence he has is either unknown or not yet published and may never get published,” she said.  On his course content on homosexuality, the Times reported Sarich as saying:

“I have to admit that there isn’t a lot of foundation behind that. In discussions it was clear that my students had more experience and were more heartfelt about the homosexual issues, and I had to agree with them.” Professor Sarich, who said he does not teach the course based on “facts,” added that his fundamental point was to explain that there is no genetic basis for homosexuality. (New York Times (23 December 1990, Section 1, p. 28)

What was the punishment for Sarich for teaching a class based on stereotypes and without evidence in published literature. It must have been pretty bad because Pearson claimed that Sarich faced “crucifixion” (p. 284). Pearson, the Nazi sympathizer, nor Carl & Woodley who cite him, elaborate on the crucifixion but a few minutes research revealed the horror to me. First, the equalitarians hushed up the whole incident with a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle  that was picked up nationally (25 November 1990). Second, Sarich was silenced by the San Francisco Chronicle by publishing his written editorial defending his views (21 December 1990). Finally, the last nail in the crucifixion, Sarich was punished with a vote in Berkeley’s Faculty Senate that supported him and condemned the student protesters (San Francisco Chronicle, 16 December 1990). Let us turn away from the torture of a poor teacher who’s only sin was spreading racist stereotypes without providing any supporting evidence to his students!

The whitewash of Pearson as a trusted source is accomplished simply by citing him as an authority in a mainstream psychology journal Pearson’s wild and poorly-documented claims, made in the service of his racist ideology, are transformed into a trusted source on “intelligence controversies.” But we are not done with Pearson yet.

Case Three: Glayde Whitney (1939-2002)

Glayde Whitney speaking at the IHR Conference

We’ve met Glayde Whitney before in this space and I outline the whole Whitney saga in Science for Segregation. According to Carl & Woodley there was a “Controversy surrounding lecture to the Behavior Genetics Association” in 1995. They are right. Whitney was the president of the BGA and his presidential address in 1995 was on black/white differences in IQ. Whitney had not touched on this topic in his thirty-year research career,he studied the inheritance of taste preferences in mice, was no expert on the subject and the BGA was so offended both by the racism and by the sloppy research Whitney displayed that they refused to print the address in their journal as was customary. Don’t despair, however, because Whitney published it in Mankind Quarterly, which was edited at the time by the bad racist penny:  Roger Pearson.

Carl & Woodley also note that Whitney sparked a “Controversy following statements about group differences in IQ” in 1999. What they don’t tell you is the venue where he made those statements: in the forward to the autobiography of America’s most notorious racist, David Duke who dedicated the book to “my friend, William Shockley” (who was also a friend of Pearson and Jensen) In his forward, Whitney explained the real source of the equalitarian menace:

Organized Jewry…dogmatically attempts to keep the general population from awareness of the findings of modem science. The Anti -Defamation League [ADL] of B’nai B’rith [BB] was founded in 1913 from its father organization the B’nai B’rith. The B’nai B’rith promoted socialist and egalitarian revolution. It was founded in the decade of The Communist Manifesto amid widespread unrest throughout Europe. From that time Jewish chauvinism, communism and Zionism were all intertwined.

Here we have a scientist at public institution masquerading as an expert in race and intelligence using his position and expertise to push an antisemitic conspiracy theory in the forward to a book by a Klansman. Certainly this merits “controversy” and should require a response. Carl & Woodley’s source for this controversy is “Florida Senate; 1999; Senate Resolution 2472” and at first I was impressed: they actually did some digging into the State of Florida official documents! Turns out, no they didn’t

“Florida Senate; 1999; Senate Resolution 2472” is easily accessible on the web at Barry Mehler’s Institute for the Study of Academic Racism. Mehler posts it along with editorials that document that many, many people were upset that a professor at one of Florida’s public institutions was spreading racist garbage about Jews and African Americans in the service of a Klansman. A few years later, in 2002, Whitney gave a speech on race science at the notorious Institute for Historical Research, (pictured above) the antisemitic pseudo-research organization dedicated to Holocaust denial. That same year, J. Phillipe Rushton co-authored an article with Whitney. Whitney’s alliance with the very worst racist in the U.S. was apparently of no concern to Rushton. We can only speculate if it bothers Carl & Woodley. That they use Mehler’s research without crediting him, present it as some sort of unjustified attack on Whitney while hiding Whitney’s racism is insulting.

One final word about Barry Mehler, an activist scholar who finally received the historical attention for his pioneering work uncovering the history of scientific racism in Angela Saini’s wonderful new book Superior: The Return of Race ScienceSaini devotes quite a bit of space to Mehler and the thankless work he did for a very long time in discovering the secretive network of race scientists.  Pearson, in Race, Intelligence, and Bias in Academe devotes a chapter to trashing Mehler whom he labels as promoting “Activist Lysenkoism.”

By any honest definition Mehler would qualify as a researcher “interested in intelligence research” who has been involved in many controversies throughout his career. None of these appear on Carl & Woodley’s mendacious “scientometric analysis.” The segregationist was noted, the professor who made racist claims without any supporting evidence was there, the endorser of the Klansman was there. But anyone who opposed the idea of Black racial inferiority was absent. And that is how neo-Nazis and Klansmen and Holocaust deniers get whitewashed in one of the mainstream journals of psychology. 

*“2014 Sleigh and Cutter Festival – Horse Head and Bridle” by pmarkham is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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1 thought on “Whitewashing Scientific Racism: Revisiting the Equalitarian Myth

  1. I wholly agree with your conclusion: “And that is how neo-Nazis and Klansmen and Holocaust deniers get whitewashed in one of the mainstream journals of psychology.” That is because most racism doesn’t originate from and remain limited to individuals. Racism persists because it is pervasive and institutionalized.

    Even in mainstream journals of psychology where one might expect racism to be studied, instead racism is promoted. Not because anyone working or writing for that journal is necessarily racist by conscious intention and identity but because the ideology of race realism has been internalized from the culture, the mass media, etc.

    Racism is too often the default in our society, unless someone goes out of their way to question and challenge it. But that would require immense self-awareness and social-awareness that typically is lacking.


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