The Cyclical Return of the IQ Controversy: Revisiting the Lessons of the Resolution on Genetics, Race and Intelligence

Journal of the History of Biology 54 (2):199-228 (2021)
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In 1976, the Genetics Society of America published a document entitled “Resolution of Genetics, Race, and Intelligence.” This document laid out the Society’s position in the IQ controversy, particularly that on scientific and ethical questions involving the genetics of intellectual differences between human populations. Since the GSA was the largest scientific society of geneticists in the world, many expected the document to be of central importance in settling the controversy. Unfortunately, the Resolution had surprisingly little influence on the discussion. In 1979, William Provine analyzed the possible factors that decreased the impact of the Resolution, among them scientists’ limited understanding of the relationship between science and ethics. Through the analysis of unpublished versions of the Resolution and exchanges between GSA members, I will suggest that the limited impact of the statement likely depended on a shift in the aims of the GSA due to the controversies that surrounded the preparation of the document. Indeed, the demands of the membership made it progressively more impartial in both scientific and political terms, decreasing its potential significance for a wider audience. Notably, the troubled history of the Resolution raises the question of what can make effective or ineffective the communication between scientists and the public—a question with resonance in past and present discussions on topics of social importance.

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Davide Serpico
Università degli Studi di Milano