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Alexander Alland, Race in Mind: Race, IQ, and Other Racisms ( New York & Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004, $26.95, 224 pages, ISBN 031223838X)—George D. Oberle III, George Mason University


The study of race and its connection to intelligence is one of the most controversial topics of our time. Every few years there is a series of parry and thrusts by those on either side of this debate. Once a new work is published that connects race and IQ, scholars from the fields of anthropology, sociology and biology pick up their foils and scramble to jump into the fray. To make matters worse the notions of racial inferiority are deeply interwoven into our society and as a result the media and popular culture seem to embrace studies that report on how race and IQ are interrelated, and accept them into the corpus of public knowledge. The book Race in Mind: Race, IQ, and Other Racisms is an important response to these arguments. Alexander Alland, a noted anthropologist, demonstrates that many of these arguments are based on pseudoscientific methods and premised upon a false conviction in racial hierarchies. Alland's work is a valuable addition to the scholarship of this subject and he has produced a book that directly confronts the arguments from the biological deterministic camp. Race in Mind demonstrates that there is a historical pattern to these arguments, that are interconnected with Social Darwinism, and that they are interrelated to the socio-cultural problems in the United States.

This book is extremely helpful to readers who are not experts in biology or anthropology, because Alland takes the time to introduce the reader to the complicated terms, methods, and theories that are associated with genetics and intelligence. Much of this is done in Chapter One which the more advanced readers can probably skim if they already have a firm understanding of the role of evolutionary genetics. Most readers will find this chapter useful because it is important to understand "research on racial differences is frequently based on flawed and/or problematic assumptions about evolutionary theory and population genetics" [14]. This primer of evolution and genetics is written in an engaging and completely understandable style, so that the reader can clearly comprehend the physiological nature of genes and how populations pass their genetic materials along to the next generations. Alland patiently describes the differences between environmental and genetic conditions, genotypes and phenotypes, as well as a basic refresher on Mendelian genetics, mutations, population genetics, evolution, genetic drift and behavioral genetics. This refresher is crucial for most readers because as Alland proceeds through his analysis and offers criticism of the works in question the readers must recognize how these arguments are being misused by them to support their personal agendas and biases.

Alland attacks the idea that racial categories are biologically clear and unambiguous. He writes: "In biological classification there are two and only two relatively unambiguous categories. These are the species and the individual. Both are virtually closed units" [40]. Racial categories are most closely allied to breeding populations which "is less definite than the individual organism or the species because gene flow among such units can occur" [40]. Breeding populations are subsets of a species that can for many social, cultural or environmental reasons tend to be genetically isolated. Alland clearly states that this is not due to biological reasons and that the fact that these barriers are permeable which is how the real laboratory for evolution works.

Alland begins to take careful aim at some of the leading proponents of racial categorization theorists in Chapter Four starting with Carlton Coon. Coon was an anthropologist who taught at Harvard from 1927-1948. Alland believes that Coon's work was based upon the biased assumptions that when it comes to intelligence blacks are biologically inferior to whites. Alland believes that Coon is an example of a scholar whose interpretations of the evidence of human evolution that was available at the time were driven by the erroneous theory that blacks are inferior to whites in intelligence. Coon believed that human beings evolved from separate pre-sapient beings. This idea of separate development of human beings has several significant flaws but Alland believes the biggest problem is that some race became fully human before others. Also his selection of fossils to work from were small and anecdotal at best. Lastly, Coon made the classic mistake, made by many pseudoscientific methods in the nineteenth century, which assumed that greater cranium sizes (and thus brain sizes) correlate with greater intelligence. This has been soundly disproved by multiple studies and although Coon's work may have suffered from a lack of fossil evidence, Alland believes that he should not be given a free pass because his arguments were flawed from his assumptions that were racist from the beginning.

Alland uses the remaining five chapters of the book to hone in on specific proponents of theorists who develop arguments from data that is taken out of context in order to show that the level of IQ is somehow connected to race. Alland does not delve into the question of whether IQ tests are an adequate representation of intelligence or learning. This has been a hot issue in the field of psychology. Nevertheless Alland points out that IQ tests are limited in their effectiveness for several key reasons. First, intelligence, as measured in test, is a standardized activity because tests must be normed by taking an average in a test taking population. After that is established individuals can be ranked on a spectrum by that average. Groups of people can also be ranked on this spectrum, but it is hard to identify these groups in clear distinct ways, especially in the United States, because the groups are not distinct biological populations. People of color often score lower on these tests than whites but the fact is that the geographic background of individuals often can make a significant difference in scores. In other words, environment is a crucial determinant to success on these tests. A second reason is that different tests yield different results. This seems obvious, but some scientists insist on comparing data gathered from different tests. Lastly, the environment and conditions of how a test is given or administered also results in major differences in results. Therefore all tests are not equal and the data gathered from these tests must be challenged to insure that this data is used appropriately.

Several authors that Alland focuses on received significant funding from groups like the Pioneer Fund, an organization that has been cited as a supporter of racist research. Alland informs the reader that this group commended parts of Nazi Germany's racial policies. In addition, the group also funded controversial and questionable research into race and IQ. The Pioneer Fund sought to provide support to researchers that would move towards "race betterment" with particular attention to those who were children of settlers from the original 13 states. Others use the elitist view of meritocracy, or that IQ and social standing are closely aligned, to promote their views. The best-known proponents of this theory are the authors of the Bell Curve. Alland does a good job at identifying the core arguments and weaknesses of all of these arguments. All of these scholars seek to use social Darwinism to promote their conservative agendas. Fundamentally they fall into the trap of racism because they seek to blame nature for inequity rather than environment. In addition two of the people that Alland examines, Shockley and Lorenz, are noted because they were Nobel laureates. It is important to note that their Nobel prize winning work was not related to their theories on intelligence or race. Shockley is a physicist who won an award for the invention of the transistor while Lorenz studied birds and fish. As a result, Alland notes that their expertise is not relevant to the study of race and intelligence.

There are several key examples of how data is misused by some to promote the idea that race is an important factor for consideration by scholars. Alland believes that they do this to advance their agendas which are fundamentally racist and based upon socially conservative political beliefs. For example, Alland points out the work done by Arthur Jensen. Jensen produced a damning report in 1968 of the Head Start program. The Head Start program was designed to assist poor children, who were found to be at a disadvantage in learning in school situations because their physical environments did not provide them with the appropriate skills that translated into learning environments. The idea was that if we provide the poor—in the United States mostly people of color—with the appropriate building blocks for learning than society would be able to improve performance and learning. The Jensen report claimed that putting federal monies into this program would be a waste of resources because 80% of IQ comes from genetics not environment. Alland believes that this report is politically motivated and as a result he examines Jensen's record and potential biases. Alland writes that "it should come at no surprise that Jensen's conclusions were seized upon immediately by those who opposed remedial education programs, like Project Head Start, for young poor children and, in particular poor black children" [80]. Jensen is an educational psychologist whose expertise is in educational statistics. His report received a lot of attention by the press. Alland believes that the timing of this report has direct relationship with the Supreme Court decisions that banned segregation in the public schools, and the civil rights movement.

Alland's history of this subject demonstrates that the same arguments are continually reused to attack the cultural determinist arguments that have dominated anthropologic theory. This argument, first introduced by Frank Boas, suggests that human behavior can be explained best by studying culturally learned behaviors. Sociobiologists are the latest group of scholars who are using these arguments. Alland writes, "I am not a fan of sociobiology as it applies to humans, but one thing that can be said for it—it is not a priori racist, nor are other biological determinists a priori racist. Such theories become such only when they attempt to explain behavioral differences among human cultural groups on the basis of genetics" [107]. It seems clear that as humanity becomes more adept at understanding genetics and the science of life society has become much more willing to associate biology with behavior. For example, people who are overweight are that way because they are genetically predisposed to be overweight. There seems to be a backlash against cultural definitions in favor for the fatalism of biological fact.

Alland's closing words to the reader are from Gunnar Myrdal "until we have full equality of opportunity, until the barriers of de facto racial segregation are broken down, and until racial stereotyping of the kind described in this book end the problem will remain part of the American dilemma" [204]. Alland clearly shares Myrdal's observations.

To conclude, Alexander Alland has written an engaging book that is an important addition to the literature on race and IQ. Alland's narrative is written in a conversational style which adds to its accessibility. Race in Mind: Race, IQ, and Other Racisms could be useful for teachers of history, anthropology, sociology, psychology or even rhetoric. In addition, this work could be useful for students to get a general introduction to the debates in the race and intelligence debates over the past sixty years. It does not deal with the roots of the problem and only provides a glimpse at the historical trend of using science to demonstrate one's racist convictions. Despite the fact that this book is clearly articulated and well reasoned I do not believe that this will be the last fencing match between the two determined camps. To paraphrase W.E.B. DuBois, who argued that the twentieth century would be defined by the notion of race and color, it seems clear that the problems associated with race and color are stretching into the twenty-first century

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