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In 1969, Arthur Jensen wrote an article in the prestigious Harvard Educational Review [HER} that transformed him from highly respected, but little known scholar, to one of the most controversial and influential psychologists of all time. So influential was Jensen, that a new word entered the English language: Jensenism; and a platoon of famous scholars made a career out of trying to debunk him.

The three tenets of Jensenism are:

  • Compensatory education fails to improve the IQ or scholastic skills of culturally deprived kids.
  • Genetics explains more of the variance in American IQ than culture.
  • Genetics likely explains some part of the 15 point black-white IQ gap in the United States

So powerful was Jensenism that President Nixon assigned his staff to report to him on Jensen’s HER article. In 1974 Daniel Patrick Moynihan stated, “The winds of Jensenism are blowing through Washington with gale force.”.

Frank Miele writes:

According to John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon told him that he believed America’s Blacks could only marginally benefit from federal programs because they were genetically inferior to Whites. All the federal money and programs we could devise could not change that fact. Though he believed that Blacks could never achieve parity in intelligence, economic success, or social qualities, we should still do what we could for them, within limits, because it was the “right” thing to do.

From page 151 of Intelligence, Race and Genetics by Frank Miele

While Nixon was clearly a Jensenista, Jensen was a self-described liberal, stating:

In fact, I voted for Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. I felt strongly enough about it that I voted by absentee ballot because I was in London on sabbatical leave working as a Guggenheim Fellow in Eysenck’s department.

I believed in the Great Society proposals, particularly with respect to education and Head Start. When I returned to California I gave talks at schools, PTA meetings, and conferences and conventions explaining why these things were important and should be promoted. I have always been opposed to racial segregation and discrimination. They go against everything in my personal philosophy, which includes maximizing individual liberties and regarding every individual in terms of his or her own characteristics rather than the person’s racial or ethnic background. How could I think otherwise when at the time I had been steeped in Gandhian philosophy for over 20 years?

From pages 33-34 of Intelligence, Race and Genetics by Frank Miele

But by 1969 he was clearly less liberal when it came to compensatory education for disadvantaged kids. Was he changing his views to gain political traction in Nixon’s more conservative America? Jensen states:

Absolutely false! That way of thinking is completely foreign to me. I am almost embarrassed by my lack of interest in politics and I was even less interested in those days than I am now. The idea of providing any kind of “ammunition,” scientific or otherwise, to help any political regime promote its political agenda is anathema in my philosophy. One always hopes, of course, that politicians will pay attention to scientific findings and take them into consideration in formulating public policy. But I absolutely condemn the idea of doing science for political reasons.

I have only contempt for people who let their politics or religion influence their science. And I rather dread the approval of people who agree with me only for political reasons.

From page 35 of Intelligence, Race and Genetics by Frank Miele

Nonetheless, some racists reached out to Jensen, for help. Jensen states:

After the publicity surrounding the HER article, I did receive a number of letters from so-called citizens’ groups in various Southern states, asking if I would write letters to their local newspapers in support of racial segregation in public schools. I replied that I was, and always have been, absolutely opposed to racial segregation of any kind. One of these people wrote back calling me “just another Berkeley pinko!” He at least gave me the satisfaction of knowing I had angered him.

From page 21 of Intelligence, Race and Genetics by Frank Miele

So after 30 years of arguing that races differ in genetic IQ, what did Jensen think of affirmative action. Jensen states:

When the original concept of Affirmative Action was just catching on in the 1960s it was not a quota system. That only came later. I approved two main facets of its original intent, and I still do: (1) We should make special efforts to ensure that historically underrepresented minorities are fully aware the educational opportunities in colleges and universities, in job training programs, and in employment opportunities are open to all, provided they meet the usual qualifications; and (2) colleges and universities, job training programs, and employers should actively seek out and recruit minority persons who could qualify by the usual standards, including the use of academic talent searches at the high school level, special inducements, and scholarships to encourage academically promising minority students to go on to college.

From page 177 of Intelligence, Race and Genetics by Frank Miele

Arthur Jensen lived from 1923 to 2012.