Psychology wants to be a science. Unfortunately, respect and reputations need to be earned. Just putting the name science in your department name or in the title of your journals doesn’t make you a science. A decade ago, social psychologists were shocked to find out that for years one of their colleagues had just made up data and nobody had noticed it. Then, another social psychologists proved physics wrong and claimed to have evidence of time reversed causality in a study with erotic pictures and undergraduate student. This also turned out to be a hoax. Over the past decade, psychology has tried to gain respect by doing more replication studies of classic findings (that often fail), starting to preregister studies (which medicine has implemented years ago), and in general to analyze and report their results more honestly. However, another crisis in psychology is that most measures in psychology are used without evidence that they measure what they measure. Imagine a real science where scientists first ensure that their measurement instruments work and then use them to study distant planets or microorganisms. Not so psychology. Psychologists have found a way around proper measurement called operationalism. Rather than trying to find measures for constructs, constructs are defined by the measures. What is happiness? While philosophers have tried hard to answer this questions, psychologists cannot be bothered to spend time to think about this question. Happiness is whatever your rating on a happiness self-report measure measures.
The same cheap trick has been used by intelligence researchers to make claims about human intelligence. They developed a series of tasks and performance on these tasks is used to create a score. These scores could be given a name like “score that reflects performance on a series of tasks some White men (yes, I am a White male myself) find interesting,” but then nobody would care about these scores. So, they decided to call it intelligence. If pressed to define intelligence, they usually do not have a good answer to this question, but they also don’t feel the need to give an answer because intelligence is just a term for the test. However, the choice of the term is not an accident. It is supposed to sound as if the test measures something that corresponds to the everyday term intelligence to make the test more interesting. However, it is possible that the test is not the best measure of what we normally mean by intelligence. For example, performance on intelligence tests correlates only about r = .3 with self-ratings or ratings by close friends and family members of intelligence. While there can be measurement in self-ratings, there can also be measurement error in intelligence tests. Although intelligence researchers are considered to be intelligent, they rarely consider this possibility. After all, their main objective is to use these tests and to see how they relate to other measures.
Confusing labels for tests are annoying, but hardly worth to write a long blog post about. However, some racist intelligence researchers use the label to make claims about intelligence and skin color (Lynn & Meisenberg, 2010). Moreover, the authors even use their racist preconception that dark-skinned people are less intelligence to claim that intelligence tests measure intelligence BECAUSE performance on these tests correlates with skin color.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientists to realize that this is a circular argument. Intelligence tests are valid because they confirm a racist stereotype. This is not how real science works, but this doesn’t bother intelligence researchers. The questionable article has been cited 80 times.
I only came across this nonsense because a recent article used national IQ scores to make an argument about intelligence and homicides. After concerns about the science were raised, the authors retracted their article pointing to problems in the measurement of national differences in IQ. The editor of this journal, Psychological Science, wrote an editorial with “A Call for Greater Sensitivity in the Wake of a Publication Controversy.”
Greater sensitivity also means to clean the journals of unscientific and hurtful claims that serve no scientific purpose. In this spirit, I asked the current editor of Intelligence in an email on June 15th to retract Lynn and Meisenberger’s offensive article. Today, I received the response that the journal is not going to retract the article.
This decision just shows the unwillingness among psychologists to take responsibility for a lot of bad science that is published in their journals. This is unfortunately because it shows the low motivation to change and improve psychology. It is often said that science is the most superior method to gain knowledge because science is self-correcting. However, often scientists stand in the way of correction and the process of self-correction is best measured in decades or centuries. Max Plank famously observed that scientific self-correction often requires the demise of the old guard. However, it is also important not to hire new scientists who continue to abuse the freedom and resources awarded to scientists to spread racist ideology. Meanwhile, it is best to be careful and to distrust any claims about group differences in intelligence because intelligence researchers are not willing to clean up their act.