From Pacific Standard:
Research has identified embedded racism in IQ tests. Now, prosecutors in at least eight states are using that research—to legalize more executions.
DAVID M. PERRY JAN 25, 2018
As a concept, IQ is terrible. The idea that we can reduce intelligence to a simple number, quantifiable in a test, exacerbates inequality in numerous racist, classist, sexist, and ableist ways. Not only do people have worth beyond their measurable cognitive ability, but IQ also routinely awards higher numbers to abled middle- and upper-class white males, reinforcing pre-existing ideologies in the name of “science.” Over the last many decades, scholars and activists have pushed back against the regime of IQ testing in all contexts, often successfully.
Now, prosecutors in at least eight states have been hiring experts to testify about the racist nature of IQ, in order to kill more black and brown men.
The Supreme Court has slowly been carving out exemptions to the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that people with intellectual disabilities could not be executed, but left it up to the states to determine who is or is not eligible for that protection…. Still, IQ testing continues to play a major role, with a threshold of around 70 serving as the cutoff score, below which a person cannot legally be executed.
Here’s where “ethnic adjustments” come in. The practice, as documented by attorney Robert Sanger in a 2015 article in the American University Law Review, adjusts IQ scores upward for people of color convicted of capital crimes. According to Sanger, prosecutors in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, California, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have all used ethnic adjustments to successfully impose the death penalty on people who otherwise might have been deemed exempt. In his article, Sanger works methodically through case after case, noting in particular the role played by expert witnesses for the prosecution, who testify to the racial biases of IQ testing.
Statistically, some minority cohorts tend to perform worse on tests than White cohorts; prosecutors argue that this discrepancy is not based on intellectual inferiority, but rather that there are testing biases and behavioral factors that cause minority test-takers to underperform. Thus, the argument goes, minority IQ scores should be increased to control for these biases and behavioral factors.
I wrote for UPI back when the Supreme Court made its 2002 decision:
Analysis: IQ defenders feel vindicated
By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent | June 24, 2002 at 12:37 PM
LOS ANGELES, June 24 (UPI) — Several IQ researchers, accustomed to having their field of expertise ignored or denounced as racist and fraudulent, were bemused by Thursday’s vote by six Supreme Court Justices to ban the execution of murderers, in effect, who score poorly on IQ tests.
As staunch defenders of the much-maligned concept of the intelligence quotient, these scientists found vindication in the Supreme Court’s embrace of intelligence testing, though they cautioned that the Justices’ understanding of the complex subject was simplistic.
The IQ experts were particularly amused that newspapers that routinely condemn IQ tests as biased and meaningless were quick to endorse intelligence exams in this case. The New York Times, for example, editorialized, “[I]nflicting the death penalty on individuals with I.Q. scores of less than 70 who have little understanding of their moral culpability violates civilized standards of justice.” …
Finally, the Court’s decision officially designates that a much larger fraction of the African-American population is of diminished moral capability compared to the white and East Asian populations. About 2 percent-3 percent of whites or East Asians don’t exceed 70 on IQ tests, vs. 10 percent-12 percent of American blacks (and more than 20 percent score below 75).
Some of the IQ defenders were quick to point out that Court and the New York Times had implicitly agreed with them that IQ tests were not racially biased. Gottfredson said, “The death penalty may be the only public policy debate involving race in which we are not bombarded with the usual canards about IQ tests being biased against blacks.” She contends that abundant evidence shows IQ tests are equally good at predicting a variety of life outcomes for both blacks and whites.