By Thomas Sowell
Anyone who has followed the decades-long controversies over the role of genes in IQ scores will recognize the names of the two leading advocates of opposite conclusions on that subject — Professor Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley and Professor James R. Flynn, an American expatriate at the University of Otago in New Zealand.
What is so unusual in the academic world of today is that Professor Flynn’s latest book, “Are We Getting Smarter?” is dedicated to Arthur Jensen, whose integrity he praises, even as he opposes his conclusions.
That is what scholarship and science are supposed to be like, but so seldom are.
Professor Jensen, who died recently, is best known for reopening the age-old controversy about heredity versus environment with his 1969 article titled, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?”
His answer — long since lost in the storms of controversy that followed — was that scholastic achievement could be much improved by different teaching methods, but that these different teaching methods were not likely to change I.Q. scores much.
Jensen argued for educational reforms, saying that “scholastic performance — the acquisition of the basic skills — can be boosted much more, at least in the early years, than can the IQ” and that, among “the disadvantaged,” there are “high school students who have failed to learn basic skills which they could easily have learned many years earlier” if taught in different ways.
But, regardless of what Arthur Jensen actually said, too many in the media, and even in academia, heard what they wanted to hear. He was lumped in with earlier writers who had promoted racial inferiority doctrines that depicted some races as being unable to rise above the level of “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”