IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

1980s-1990s: Debate over race and intelligence

History: Race in the U.S.A., a timeline created by the American Anthropological Association, looks at milestones in thinking and actions about race in government, science and society.
/ Source: American Anthropological Association

Arthur Jensen, a protégé of British educational psychologist Cyril Burt and an educational psychologist at University of California-Berkeley, was well known for his work in psychometrics and differential psychology. In the “nature versus nurture” debate, Jensen took a hereditarian position, claiming that genetics played an important role in behavioral traits, such as intelligence. He published a controversial work in 1969 called "How Much Can We Boost I.Q. and Scholastic Achievement?" The opinion he put forward in the publication was that over 70% of the within-race IQ variability was due to genetics, and the rest due to environmental influences, and that as a result programs designed to boost black IQ had failed, simply because the IQ of African Americans could not be increased.   

In 1981, Stephen Jay Gould, the noted Harvard paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, published The Mismeasure of Man, in which he debunked biological deterministic theories of intelligence based on craniometry and psychological testing.

American biologist and geneticist Richard Lewontin, concerned by what he viewed as the oversimplification of genetics, co-authored Not In Our Genes, with Steven Rose and Leon Kamin in 1984. The book questioned the theory of heritability of human behavioral traits such as intelligence as measured by IQ tests.

Within both the mainstream media and the scientific community, large numbers of people rallied to both support and criticize The Bell Curve, published in 1994 by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Some denounced the book and its authors as supporting scientific racism. In 1996, Stephen Jay Gould updated The Mismeasure of Man, rebutting Bell Curve authors Herrnstein and Murray's theories on race and intelligence.