Talking about cognitive ability in 2017
2017 has already seen more science-lead findings on cognitive ability, and public discussion about the origins, and social and moral implications of ability, than we have had in some time, which should be good news for those seeking to understand and grow cognitive ability. This post brings together some of these events linking talk about differences in reasoning that are so near to our sense of autonomy and identity.
Twenty years ago, when Dr Charles Murray co-authored a book with Harvard Psychologist Richard Herrnstein he opened up a conversation about the role of ability in the fabric of society, and in the process made him famous for several things (most of which that he didn‘t say), but for which he, and that book – The Bell Curve – came to act as lightning rods, for the cauldron of mental compression of complex ideas, multiple people, into simpler slogans. 20 years on, Middlebury campus showed this has made even speaking to a campus audience fraught with danger.
In the wake of this disrupted meeting, Sam Harris interviewed Dr Murray in a podcast listened (and viewed on youtube) by and audience of many thousands, creating a new audience and new interest in ideas about ability, its measurement and relevance to modern society.
The Harris podcast lead a response in turn, published in Vox in which IQ, genetics, and social psychology experts Professors Eric Turkheimer, Paige Harden, and Richard Nisbett responded critically to the ideas raised (and those not raised) which they argue are essential for informed debate on group differences.
And that lead in turn lead to two more responses: First by criminologists and evolutionary psychologists Bo and Ben Winegard, Brian Boutwell, and Todd Shackelford in Quillette, and a second post at Quillette, also supportive of the Murray-Harris interaction, from past-president of ISIR and expert intelligence research Professor Rich Haier.
And that lead to a series of planned essays by Professor Harden (first of which is now published here) and Eric Turkheimer (here). And Each of these posts contains a wealth of valuable information, links to original papers, and they are responsive to each other: Addressing points made in the other posts with citations, clarifications, and productive disagreement where that still exists. They’re worth reading.
The answer, in 2017, may be a cautious “Yes, – perhaps we can talk about differences in human cognitive ability”. And listen, reply, and perhaps even reach a scientific consensus.