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Psychology lets us down again

August 26th, 2005

Dr Petra

IQ research hasn’t always had a very good reputation. Allegations of fabricated data, shoddy science, and racist applications have tainted this area of study for decades.

Sadly it seems IQ research is about to get another kick in the teeth by the latest study to be published in the British Journal of Psychology in November.

The research by Paul Irwing (senior lecturer in organisational psychology at University of Manchester) and Richard Lynn (emeritus professor at University of Ulster) suggests women have lower IQs than men.

They completed a meta analysis of 57 existing studies of IQ. A meta analysis involves drawing together a selection of published research papers that match specific criteria in order to identify overarching themes or findings, where you can look for similarities or differences in related research.

Since this study is not yet published it isn’t clear exactly what papers made up the 57 in this meta analysis. Nor do we know about the robustness of the selection criteria, what the researchers included and excluded, and the age and quality of the research picked out for study. However that’s what we ought to be looking out for when the research is published.
Until then, let’s go down a more traditional psychology route of ‘objectivity’. We can’t speculate on the quality of the study but we can perhaps look at the beliefs the researchers hold about their subject. From a traditional psychological perspective they ought to hold no opinions – coming to their data with an open mind. Whilst Irwing is claiming he’s a ‘feminist’ Lynn holds slightly different views.

He brings to his research an agenda that suggests black people and women are intellectually inferior to the white man, and that social ‘underclasses’ should be kept in check. An attitude that underpinned much IQ research in the past and contributed to mistrust in this area of study.

But it’s good to see that within the world of contemporary psychology a haven can still be found for the bigot. Or if you prefer to use a scientific discourse, someone with a conflict of interest whose methods may be suspect or shoddy.

This study hasn’t been published yet, but already sections of the media are expressing concern about it. Whilst I’m all for academic freedom and the right to publish, questions should be asked when prestigious journals publish data that may court controversy but scientifically just don’t stand up.

I’m not alone in holding those views, Paul Irwing the co-author of this meta analysis is quoted in a number of papers saying “To be honest I’m not sure I have done the right thing.”

Lynn, however, continues unabashed in the press. Here are a few of his views:
” Going back 50 or 80 years, women didn’t think about careers because they were just mothers.”
“My argument is elitist. The professional and middle classes are generally superior in regard to other classes, particularly the underclass, in terms of intelligence and moral character.
“Natural selection has broken down. In centuries past, it did the job for us of weeding out those with low moral character or low intelligence. There was a high mortality rate. Now the underclass survive and have children. Obviously some measures need to be taken”
“If we are talking about people who believe there are genetic differences between the races, then I am definitely a scientific racist”

Why not enjoy more of these scientifically robust statements at Lynn’s website.

Interestingly the defence of this yet to be published research is that intelligence should be discussed but political correctness prevents it.

But if you want to play with science then you’ve an answer to that problem. If your research is robust, if you can indicate the studies in the meta analysis were also of a high standard, and if your methodology was sound – not to mention if you were able to identify any conflicts of interest you as a researcher may hold, then you can make a case about gender and intelligence. I’m sure people would be interested in it.

Unfortunately if your research is discussed before publication with no room to identify the quality of that work, and if the underlying views of the researcher are negative towards half the participants in the research itself, then we’re not debating around political correctness, we’re talking bad science.

Oh but what am I saying? ….. Must move away from computer…! call a man to help turn it off….. I don’t know how….Must start petting kittens…..arranging flowers… put on pinny……reach for mixing bowl and start baking…..mustn’t discuss merits of science…..after all I’m just a girl.

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