Intelligence and Race Revisited

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (Free Press, NY, 1994), authored by the late psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein, PhD, and political analyst Charles Murray, PhD, captured the full attention of the media, as well as the wrath of many, for several weeks this past fall. Although the points raised in the book are not new, it seems that every so often a published manuscript finds itself at the center of heated debates.

The Bell Curve cites a wealth of data, primarily from cognitive abilities tests, showing racial/ethnic group differences. Drs. Herrnstein and Murray raise the question of genetic versus environmental influences on intelligence and note their concern over the emergence of a 'cognitive elite' social class that will flourish in this 'information economy,' but to the peril of those who are less cognitively 'endowed.' The authors also caution that 'much of public policy toward the disadvantaged starts from the premise that interventions can make up for genetic or environmental disadvantages, and that premise is overly optimistic.'

As a preliminary step toward taking an active role in these very public debates, APA coordinated with several psychologists to prepare a media advisory that attempted to make some limited points about test scores, what they reflect, and how they might be influenced. The primary purpose of such an advisory was to alert the media to the expertise psychologists have in this area. Prior to the media release, APA staff had been asked only for general information about I.Q. tests and for referrals to sociologists, anthropologists, and psychiatrists. To this end, the release was a success. Following its release, newspapers and television stations began to request referrals for psychologists to interview. The release also resulted in two requests from the Department of Education for psychologists to assist with Department policy and statements.

Even though the media blitz subsided, the larger issues of intelligence and its genetic versus environmental influences remain and can be expected to be raised in public policy contexts. For this reason, APA's Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) agreed at its November meeting to collaborate with the Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment (CPTA) and the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) to develop a more comprehensive APA response. BSA plans to sponsor a symposium at the 1995 convention in New York and will be exploring other ways that APA can respond to such issues.

APA Home Page . Search . Site Map