Mail & Guardian

The scientists who are proud to be racists

18 Oct 1996 00:00 | Staff Reporter

Race scientists say intelligence is built into our genes - should we believe them? Gary Younge reports from London

CHRISTOPHER BRAND is proud to be a racist. Not a mad, bad racist who sticks lit fireworks through Asian people's letterboxes, or a violent nutter who attacks black people on the streets with broken bottles. Brand is a "scientific racist". He does not think black people are less intelligent than whites. He knows it.

To prove what he believes is a basic and irrefutable truth, Brand recently wrote a book, The g Factor, General Intelligence and Its Implications, and backed up his assertions with graphs, charts and matrices. The New York publishers, John Wiley & Sons, hailed it as "a well argued, critical review" written by a man "well known for his contributions to research and debate on intelligence and personality".

Then things started to go horribly wrong. In an interview with a British newspaper, Brand, a lecturer at Edinburgh University, expanded his views on race and went on to claim that single mothers should be encouraged to mate with higher-IQ males in order to widen the gene pool of their offspring.

The publishers withdrew the book. "The management does not want to support these views by disseminating them, or be associated with a book that makes assertions we find repellent," a representative said.

Shortly afterwards, students voted to have Brand removed from his teaching responsibilities. The next day, Edinburgh University's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland, said he found Brand's views "false and obnoxious".

Brand is down but by no means out. For in the small but vocal academic world of race scientists - those who believe there is a genetic link between race and intelligence - on both sides of the Atlantic, his recent experience serves as a sado-masochistic initiation ceremony, a rite of passage for those who have mastered the art of creating the controversy of which they then claim to be the victims.

They are a close-knit group who follow each others' work avidly, phone each other at home regularly and express a chorus of well- orchestrated disgust in the national press each time one of them is lambasted for putting an academic spin on tired racist myths.

"The mythology of martyrdom among race scientists is so strong that it is highly unlikely they would not be aware of what the likely consequences of their theories would provoke," says Marek Kohn, author of The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science.

Most hardline is Roger Pearson, born in Britain but living in the United States. He argues that Nordic people are the highest form of life nature has produced and has set out a vision of a "supergeneration", a genetically engineered master race. In 1982, Pearson received a letter of congratulation from then US president Ronald Reagan for his contribution to the conservative cause.

Pearson has taught at several colleges and universities in the US, and has a track record in ultra-right politics. In 1957, he founded the Northern League to foster "the interests, friendship and solidarity of Teutonic nations". He publishes the Mankind Quarterly, a journal which Kohn describes as "a refuge for race scientists who could not accept the Unesco [United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organisation] anti-race order".

Then comes the emeritus professor of psychology, Richard Lynn, who recently retired from the University of Ulster, in Northern Ireland. Like Brand, Lynn describes himself as scientific racist. "If we are talking about people who believe there are genetic differences between the races, then I am definitely a scientific racist." He has collated evidence from IQ tests conducted in Africa which suggests half the black population of the continent is mentally retarded.

Occupying the middle ground is Jean Philippe Rushton, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, who, according to Kohn, "would never describe himself as a racist". Among other things, Rushton believes black people's brains are smaller than those of other races, leaving them less intelligent but more highly sexed and aggressive.

Rushton is reported to have paid 150 participants - 50 black, 50 white, 50 Asian - to answer questions on penis size. His conclusion? "It's a trade-off: more brain or more penis. You can't have everything."

Rushton expanded his brand of race science in a book called Race, Evolution and Behaviour, which Arthur Jensen, psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, lauded as "brilliant".

Jensen is described as the "high priest" of race scientists and has not always believed there is a genetic difference in intelligence. "Blacks' low-average IQ is due to environmental rather than genetic factors," he wrote in 1967.

Two years later, in the Harvard Educational Review, he changed his mind and created a storm that is still raging. "Between half and three-fourths of the average IQ differences between American negroes and whites is attributable to genetic factors," he said.

It was "the most explosive article in the history of American psychology, triggering one of the most bitter and scientific controversies since Darwin, and catapulting him from relative obscurity to national prominence", according to William H Tucker, author of The Science and Politics of Racial Research.

Jensen says: "The reaction was incredible, and mostly hostile. I had to have bodyguards and was constantly threatened. It just shows how things have changed. You can talk about these things now and nobody bats an eyelid."

That is not quite true. When Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein released their book, The Bell Curve, two years ago, Murray was branded by the New York Times as "the most dangerous man in America". The book claimed that while the great majority of blacks might lead socially useful lives, they are biologically inferior in intelligence to whites.

The Bell Curve disclosed little that Jensen had not said 25 years before, but packaged it in a more palatable form at a time when the US was obsessed with the race issue. It sold 400 000 copies, and race scientists believe it gave their cause an enormous boost.

The central tenet all race scientists share is that the IQ of black people is 15 points lower than white people, and that this cannot be explained away by societal factors - "it is in their genes". So, in what they call "matching for socio-economic status", a university-educated black is still 15 IQ points down on a university-educated white.

"Almost the full Afro-American deficit could be detected in children as young as three years, born to black mothers who were themselves college-educated, married and had no pregnancy complications or health problems," writes Brand in The g Factor.

Most also adhere to an ethnic league table of intelligence, which Lynn terms the "Oriental, Caucasian, Negro gradient. Orientals have a fractionally higher IQ than Caucasians, who in turn have a far higher IQ than blacks."

Ask Brand if he really believes all this and he will let out a loud laugh. "I don't believe you are asking me that question," he says. "You won't find any scientist of any repute who has said anything different since the turn of the century."

Actually, psychologists of great repute are lining up to rubbish these theories.

Says Professor Steven Rose, a leading neuroscientist and director of the Brain and Behaviour Research group of the Open University: "We have been over all this ground a very considerable time ago, along with the question of whether IQ measures anything at all. Whether IQ tests are anything to do with intelligence, rather than silly number games, depends on the theory that there is any underlying factor which they call `g', or crystallised intelligence that can be measured."

Rose believes developments in scientific theory have made these views redundant: "Biologists have long since discarded the concept of races. The genetic differences within any given socially defined `race' are greater than between different `races'."

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