Behavior analysis, like every other science, has a history of abusive practices and pseudoscience. Azrin & Fox's original (and classic) toilet training article uses overcorrection and required participants to stand for an hour following accidents. Rekkers & Lovaas performed transphobic research that was marked with a mere "statement of concern" - but no full retraction, leaving the careless reader liable to miss the "concern." There are a bevy of behavior analysts who have performed shameful research - none the least of which is Richard Hernstein - the guy behind the Matching Law.
Hernstein is famous for two things: one elegant summary of behavior, and the other a disgusting expression of the worst kind of behavior.
The Matching Law is a simple statement that behavior is allocated by an organism proportionate to the reinforcement produced by the behavior.
Herrnstein once made another simple statement, this time concerning heredity: human intelligence is heritable. Seemingly benign, he expanded on the thought to discuss why there might be variation between people, and, races of peoples.
It is outrageous that it must be said, but races are a myth constructed to allow one group to disenfranchise and exploit another group of people. Physiological race is a myth.
Despite their expensive Harvard education, Herrnstein predicated his research on the notion that physiological race is real. As a result, Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve was a work of sociological fiction presented as scientific fact. Dangerous fiction as it is, it was presented with a banal "for your consideration" attitude that all-to-many readers took at face value as truth. In the book, the authors depict our Earth as populated by peoples of varying intelligence. Intelligence is heritable, and as the intelligent reproduce, they seek intelligent mates, resulting in intelligence "clustering" within families and geographically. They propose that this self-segmentation of intelligence has been occurring since the dawn of man, and has resulted in distinct groups of persons with varying IQs. I'll leave you to guess who the "smart" ones are and who the less fortunate are.
Today, we'd hope to see this garbage for what it is - but recent events in the United States prove incontrovertibly otherwise. What's worse - behavior analysts have significantly contributed to this current.
As professionals, we have to be aware of these wolves in sheep clothing within our midst. They seek to utilize our good name to advance their toxic viewpoints. There is no bargaining or reasoning with racist pseudoscience - when it's seen, it must be condemned without equivocation.
So... The Bell Curve?
The book cloaks itself in pithy claims about careful science and deflects criticism using classic techniques like the facts don't care about your feelings and at least we're brave enough to talk about this. With alumni like Shapiro and Hernstein, they have to be teaching this rhetoric directly at Harvard.
The "science" in the book consists of a mish-mash of cherry-picked data, poor methodology, and occasionally omissions of fact so egregious as to constitute outright fraud. As an example, one of the studies cited in the book on "negroid" intelligence (the term "negroid" itself being offensive, and a false taxonomy propagated by eugenicists) specifically makes claims that test scores in Bantu populations in South Africa are similar to those of African-Americans descendent from slaves. The authors derive the conclusion that slavery, therefore, cannot account for differences in IQ scores among the "races." Of course, if you look at the "research" cited by Herrnstein and Murray, you can see some serious methodological issues.
- The subjects of the African IQ tests took Americanized IQ tests.
- The largest represented groups included Nambian coal miners (who may not have a ton of experience with test-taking situations).
- A group of students from South African school students during the apartheid period of South Africa.
While the latter population may sound more promising, we must remember that the Bantu Education Act specifically prohibited education past the purpose of "service" and manual labor, crippled schools for non-whites, and the Bantu Education act was, of course, devised by a former Nazi party sympathizer. Yikes.
It should be of no surprise that test scores for these various groups would be depressed when the tests were designed for foreign nationals (a test made for Americans, not Africans) and both populations sampled were entrenched in racist systems that were designed to, amongst many other things, deny educational opportunities to persons of color. Outrageously, Herrnstein and Murray simply discarded data from one of the studies where a South African student group - despite their disadvantageous - actually tested higher than white peers.
Further summation would simply reveal the same biased, erroneous methodology described immediately above. Though tempting, we should not censure this book - we should, instead, keep it in mind every time we make a judgment. Behavior analysts have been gravely wrong in the past - considering this, what things are we wrong about today?