The Corner

Re: Duelling Psychometricians

I mentioned on Monday the debate to be held Tuesday (i.e. yesterday) at the AEI, between James Flynn and Charles Murray, on closing the black-white test-score gap (concerning which the New York Times magazine last Sunday ran a long article).

Audio and video of the event is now up on the AEI site so you can watch the debate for yourself… Except that both speakers, though Murray more than Flynn, rely on diagrams & slide shows that can’t be seen.

I was gratified to see that both speakers expressed pessimism, though of very different kinds.  Murray sees “reasons for pessimism in seeing any further narrowing of the [black-white] gap.”  Flynn declares that: “When I view American society I’m always filled with pessimism.”  He means with pessimism about the prospects of us ever undertaking the vast programs of social engineering he’d like to see.  It gladdens my heart to see so much pessimism flying around.

It is a very collegial debate.  (Though I note Murray’s curious way of pronouncing that word with a hard “g.”  Well, he is a psychometrician.  (That’s a psychometric in-joke.))  These two guys obviously like and respect each other a lot, for all the vast difference in their outlooks–Murray the skeptical libertarian, Flynn the 1960s radical with burning faith in our ability to improve our societies by spending wads of government money.  When I mentioned Flynn once to Murray, he replied that Flynn is a fine & conscientious researcher, and that: ”His numbers look good.”  There speaks the true datanaut.   

For all Flynn’s leftism, he does not seem to have fully internalized the restraints of Political Correctness–see his joke about Irish vs. Chinese at about 27:40 into the show.

On the substance:  Flynn relies heavily on the 1961 Eyferth study, a great favorite with nurturists.  After ten minutes of Eyferth, I found myself thinking: “Yeah, yeah–what else you got?”  Though he does get a bit more general later… but then circling back to Eyferth.  There are thousands of studies on the b/w gap; it’s a bit disappointing to see a big-name psychometrician leaning so hard on just that one, against which (as Flynn admits) all sorts of objections can be raised.

Murray is more heavily technical, and if you don’t know basic statistics his presentation will be tough going.  He takes a (well-documented) swipe at the stupid No Child Left Behind rigmarole, and ventures into some still quite taboo territory–correlation of g (core intelligence factor) with brain physiology, and so on. 

I haven’t yet listened to the Q&A session at the end.  It’s a long video–2:06:55.


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