A bit of back history: I started learning about intelligence and intelligence tests when I was an undergraduate in 1964-1968. This included taking group intelligence tests at the beginning of my psychology course, and giving face to face Wechsler tests in my final year. I then started my first research project leading to my PhD: “Cognitive effects of cortical lesions sustained in childhood” which involved about 300 neuro-psychological examinations, and I did about another 300 Wechsler examinations on the psychiatric wards from 1968 till the late 70s. My first publication was in 1970 on “Intellectual abilities of immigrant children” and I had the odd experience of lecturing Arthur Jensen on the subject barely one year after the publication of his famous paper.
Thereafter I concentrated on other psychological topics, but still wrote a summary chapter on intelligence in 1980. Jensen’s “Bias in mental testing” had a big impact on me, making me revise many of my earlier opinions. I also wrote some papers in the early 80s on testing cognitive ability in severely handicapped patients. Basically, I kept in touch with the subject, but didn’t start reading in more detail again till the late 90s, and then making it a focus of attention from about 2002 onwards. I started going to International Society for Intelligence Research meetings in 2007, after which I abandoned a book I had almost completed on intelligence, finding that it was better to keep looking at new findings rather than summarize older work.
It was only after an ISIR conference in 2012 I began blogging, mostly to justify to myself the cost of the journey by spreading the word more widely than the few delegates who had been able to attend. My blog had 4 readers to begin with, though that quickly grew to 20, and later even as high as 116. Number grew further. I rank myself merely as an occasional publisher of research, and an informed commentator.
Around that time I wrote to my university’s lecture room booking department. I wanted to have an open meeting for students. Potential speakers sounded a note of caution: if group differences were to be discussed they feared hostile interruptions and damage to their careers. Opinions varied about the risks, but eventually I reluctantly decided meetings would have to be invitation only, for speakers and a few others. I hoped that participants would change their minds and begin to welcome sympathetic journalists, and a wider audience. Meetings were announced on my blog, but without location details, and papers reported afterwards. Quite a few readers wanted to attend, and I regretted not being able to invite them all. Speakers were very cautious about career-limiting publicity, and feared that some prospective attendees simply wanted to make trouble. Even when intelligence researchers met privately there was concern about any photographs being taken, and different attitudes as to what, if anything, could be reported.
Toby Young, a journalist and free schools advocate gave the 2017 ISIR Constance Holden lecture about the difficulties of conducting intelligence research. He had attended the London conference for about two hours to talk to the speakers and gather material, and in his ISIR lecture described the London conference as “like a meeting of Charter 77 in Václav Havel’s flat in Prague in the 1970s.”
Six months later he was appointed to a Government committee, and this triggered fiercely negative reactions from political opponents to his generally conservative views. Because his ISIR lecture mentioned the invited conferences at UCL they were described in lurid and misleading terms, such that many speakers later had problems with their own universities. Moral: if you want to have a conference on intelligence research and group differences, avoid universities.
Enough background. Here is the reply written by the participants, published in the journal Intelligence.
It may seem other-worldly to answer press misrepresentation with an academic paper six months later, but academic debates are a slow affair, since they require people to read texts and think about arguments. There ought to be long moments of quiet when all you can hear are pages turning.
P.S. “No conferring” is a catch-phrase from University Challenge, said by the quiz master to remind each team of 4 undergraduates that they have to answer the initial question on their own.