I’m working through the task of learning about influences of eugenics on psychology and society. As a part of this, I’m reading Leo Kamin’s, The Science and Politics of IQ (Kamin, 1974). I’ll use this page to write notes about what I’m reading.

It seems that Kamin put his research and duties as chair on pause to write this book.


Kamin sets out to show that there is no heredity basis for IQ. In the first few chapters he place IQ testing in the context of eugenics and social policy, then he turns to a debunking of the data.

Some good questions: Why do some psychologists persist in believing that IQ is heritable even though the data dont support the conclusion?

“The answer, I believe, is related to the second major conclusion of this work. The IQ test in America, and the way in which we think about it, has been fostered by comen committed to a particular social view. That view includes the belif that those on the bottom are genetically inferior victims of their own immutable defects. The consequence has been that the IQ test has served as an instrument of oppression against the poor–dressed in the trappings of science, rather than politics.”

Pioneers of IQ testing in America

Binet, Alfred, French psychologist who developed the first usable IQ test in France. According to Kamin, Binet seemed to be aware of the eugenics context of his work, and that he was not interested in hereditary concerns about feeblemindedness.

Terman, Lewis from Stanford, translated the binet test to English. Published “Stanford-Binet” in 1916. APA president in 1923. A stern eugenicist.

Goddard, Henry Vineland Training School in New Jersey. Argues for classifying “feeblemindedness” into groups based on IQ (idiots, imbeciles, morons). Eugenicist. Classist, racist. Generally the worstist.

Yerkes, Robert From Harvard. Administered the Alpha and Beta tests to the Army (2 million). APA president in 1917. Worth reading his report on the Army IQ testing (Yerkes, 1923).

Kamin goes on talk about how these early reports were used in government by advocates of eugenics policies. Lots of racist fear-mongering.

Psychology and the immigrant

The linkage between eugenics and immigration policy is a deep one, and Kamin connects some dots about eugenic fears and US immigration policy to block immigration of “inferior” races, with IQ testing mixed in here as a “scientific tool” to legitimize the racist/eugenicist policies.

Separated Identical twins

Kamin turns from a historical context to a takedown of evidence for the inheritance of IQ.

  • A takedown Cyril Burt’s work on IQ inheritance using twins.

Kinship Correlations

studies of adopted children

The accuracy of secondary sources

IQ in the uterus


OK, I’ve skipped a bunch of things in this book in terms making notes on them. The bulk of the book is Kamin examining, in great detail, never-ending flaws in the data and inferences made by mental testers about whether IQ test scores have a genetic basis. Kamin’s conclusion is that a prudent reader would not take the available evidence (70+ years worth) as justifying that conclusion.

The beginning of the book presented IQ testing in the context of aggresively racist and eugenicist ideologies that were propagated by psychologists, and government officials. Kamin focuses particularly on immigration, as well as how government officials continued to resonate with Yerkes IQ testing of the military.

There was a rather abrupt transition between the social/historical dimensions of Kamin’s discussion, and his dive into a critique of the data. For example, Kamin appears to assume that everyone knows what an IQ test is, what the questions are, how the measure is calculated. The details of the measure itself are only mentioned in passing, and mostly in the last conclusion chapter. So, Kamin was interested in debunking the data itself, and not so much the methodology. Maybe Kamin assumed the reader already assumed the inventories were obviously biased, and didn’t go into that side of things.

I thought it was interesting that he concluded with an extended quote from J. B. Watson. Also a card-carrying eugenicist (ar at least signed up to be one according the eugenical news).


Kamin, L. J. (1974). The science and politics of IQ. Psychology Press.
Yerkes, R. M. (1923). Eugenic Bearing of Measurements of Intelligence in the United States Army. The Eugenics Review, 14(4), 225–245.