Saturday, 24 May 2008

Bruce Charlton: Heretic

An article published in the Times Higher Education asserting that the reason for the over-representation of higher social classes at top universities is down to IQ difference has provoked a predictable response from politicians and left-wing activists.

Bruce Charlton, a Reader of Evolutionary Psychiatry at Newcastle University, wrote that the uneven class patterns seen in elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are "a natural outcome of meritocracy", citing research which suggests that there is a difference of approximately one standard deviation in average IQ between the highest occupational social class* and the lowest.

Prof. Charlton's article does not argue that the IQ difference is due to inheritance rather than environmental factors, only that said difference exists and explains inequality in university admissions. Despite this, some critics have attempted to rebut it by insinuating that he does:

"It should come as little surprise that people who enjoy a more privileged upbringing have a better start in life...It is up to all of us to ensure that not having access to the social and educational benefits that money provides is not a barrier to achieving one's full potential."" -
Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary

Others give the impression of a straightforward knee-jerk reaction to the mere suggestion that admissions inequality might be due to anything other than prejudice. Gemma Tumelty of the NUS complains that Charlton is "wrong-headed, irresponsible and insulting", and Bill Rammell MP that the arguments "had a definite tone of 'people should know their place'".

The words 'ideologically incorrect' spring to mind. For decades now, scientists and thinkers whose arguments contradict an egalitarian political agenda have been denounced**, as Charlton has this week, by critics motivated not by the desire for scientific truth, but by their interests in promoting that agenda.

In this case, that is the likes of Hunt and Tumelty, who rather than engaging with the arguments made have instead attacked them as though heretical - which, in a way, they are - and misrepresented them in the process.

* Highest occupational social class (SC), defined as "mainly professional and senior managerial workers such as professors, doctors and bank managers"; lowest occupational social class defined as "unskilled workers". From here.

** For many more examples and background, I recommend Chapter 6 of 'The Blank Slate' by Steven Pinker, entitled "Political Scientists".

1 comment:

Dave Hill said...

Even if his critics have misrepresented him I'd argue that the findings of evolutionary psychologists and "scientific truth" are almost never the same thing!