The Human Intelligence Debate

Richard Phelps:

For decades, the indefatigable Will Fitzhugh has refused to stop reminding us of a stark and stubborn paradox of American culture, both apparent and hidden at virtually every U.S. public school. We fastidiously measure observable variations in athletic skill and ability and celebrate those who excel. Meanwhile, we shush and shame those who attempt the same in the cognitive domain. The outfall of this profound bias can be seen in the tables of content of Fitzhugh’s Concord Review, where high school students publish excellent long form scholarly history journal articles. Scan the names of the authors and the locations of their schools over the past few decades and one cannot help but notice the trend—away from American-born authors and toward students raised elsewhere, some now attending U.S. private schools as international students, but many still residing at home overseas. And this not in a STEM field, but in the humanities.

Russell T. Warne’s, In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths about Human Intelligence, ably illustrates another consequence of the suppression of information about intelligence—the size of the chasm that now separates a well-developed subfield of psychological science (perhaps the most developed subfield) and public perceptions of same, even among the otherwise well-educated. In the Know is Warne’s attempt to bridge that chasm.

Warne asserts

it is disheartening that there are so many incorrect beliefs about intelligence. I cannot think of another topic in psychology that is the subject of so many widespread misconceptions. (336)

It is also unfortunate that it takes courage to write about the scientific study of intelligence for a popular audience. But it does; that is, unless one is piling on the intelligence bashing bandwagon. Remarkably, Warne manages to remain (mostly) aloof of the debilitating cultural debates, primarily by sticking to the scholarly research literature, and avoiding popular or political sources. At the same time, Warne writes in a clear and engaging style that makes a technical scientific subject relatively accessible to a popular, educated audience.

He asserts that his book