Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 28, 1994

Robert Gordon Draws Student Protest at Homewood
By Christine Rowett

     Though his beliefs have made him controversial for nearly 20
years, Robert Gordon makes no apologies.
     In 1976 the Hopkins sociologist produced a model of race
differences in delinquency rates. His research was based in part
on juvenile court records in Philadelphia from 1949 through 1954;
records showed the prevalence for delinquency was 50.9 percent
among black youths and 17.9 percent among whites.
     In the years since, Dr. Gordon has been asked to explain and
defend similar research.
     "Nowadays, it takes self-confidence to speak up for
objectivity without fear of playing the fogy," he wrote in 1988.
"And so, although most scientists continue to conduct themselves
as though objectivity matters, the principle itself is seldom
     Most recently, the book The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and
the late Richard J. Herrnstein expanded on that research,
stating--among other things--that on average, blacks are less
intelligent than whites.
     Dr. Gordon, who considers himself one of a few "catalysts"
for The Bell Curve, does not defend or promote the book. He
simply stands by it.
     His stance was outlined in a story titled "Professors of
Hate" published last month in Rolling Stone magazine. The story
focused on Michael Levin of the Philosophy Department at City
College of New York and on The Pioneer Fund, which sponsors
research by Dr. Levin, Dr. Gordon and others. Dr. Gordon was
prominently described as one of the "Professors of Hate," who
believe genetics and race account for differences in
     Dr. Gordon said he does not take a position on the
contribution of genetics to the between-race difference in IQs.
He does agree, however, that genetics contributes substantially
to IQ differences within race.
     The Rolling Stone article prompted a one-page letter
addressed to the Hopkins "community." Attributed to
representatives of the black student body, the letter condemns
the professor and his teachings. It was published in the Hopkins
News-Letter Nov. 11.
     "[Dr.] Gordon is an intellectual disgrace to Hopkins and its
credibility as an academically reputable institution," the letter

Forum planned
     The university and the Black Student Union will co-sponsor a
forum Wednesday, Dec. 7, to discuss the issue. Howard Taylor, a
Princeton University sociologist, will be the featured speaker.
Dr. Taylor is the former director of Princeton's Afro-American
Studies Program and a researcher in social psychology, the IQ
heritability controversy, and race and ethnic relations.
Additionally, three Hopkins professors will sit on a discussion
panel. The time and location of the forum have yet to be
     Kenneth Anderson, president of the BSU, helped organize the
event. He said Dr. Gordon will be invited to attend.
     "I have no fear of his statements," Anderson said. "They
should be acknowledged for what they are: misguided research that
has gone astray, that has nothing to offer the community."
     Though Dr. Gordon admits he has not yet read The Bell Curve,
next semester he plans to teach a course on the book. He will
accept only students who have taken his Intelligence and Society
     "In general, there's an enormous range of individual
differences in IQ scores," Dr. Gordon said. "Most people don't
realize this, and they tend to treat IQ scores much lower than
their own as though they're not to be believed."
     His research, he said, concludes that there is a moderate
connection between low IQs and crime among blacks and among
whites. But the connection to the crime difference between blacks
and whites, he said, is much stronger. 
     "The difference between the black version of that prevalent
statistic and the white version is closely consistent with the
difference in IQ distributions," Dr. Gordon said. "It suggests
the black-white difference in IQ distributions fully accounts for
the black-white difference in delinquency.
     "If you care about black crime rates, then you have to care
about this," he continued. "If you don't care about black crime
rates then you can chase your favorite variable that's
politically correct and uncontrover-sial."        
     The unsigned letter from the black student body also calls
for the removal of Dr. Gordon--who has been at Hopkins more than
30 years--and poses a "challenge" to the university's
"institutional endorsement" of Dr. Gordon.

Ouster is not the answer
     M. Patricia Fern ndez-Kelly, a research scientist at the
Institute for Policy Studies whose focus is women and minorities
in the workplace, praised the students for demanding a high
quality of education, but warned that seeking the firing of Dr.
Gordon is inappropriate.
     "I can appreciate the feelings of hurtfulness. Some of these
ideas can be upsetting," she said. "[But] if the university
stands for anything, it does stand for diversity. It is very
important for students to understand that someone cannot be
attacked simply because we disagree with him or her." 
     Dr. Fern ndez-Kelly does question the tests behind Dr.
Gordon's research and said certain variables, including
socio-economic and cultural factors, were not considered.
     "There are all kinds of questions about this research," she
     One of the most significant of those questions, she said, is
the definition of race.
     "How white is white? How black is black?" she said. "Very
few credible scientists would not agree with the difficulties in
defining race."
     The views of The Bell Curve's authors and their allies are
nothing new, she said. Some scientists and a segment of society
have long believed--mistakenly, she said--that those of a lower
social or economic standing are inherently less intelligent.
     "Historically, differences in intelligence have always been
attributed to people who are vulnerable, poor," she said.
"Poverty is always associated with low levels of intelligence."
     Dr. Gordon said that in 1986 he and Linda Gottfredson, who
is now his ex-wife, wanted to form a center at Hopkins for the
study of intelligence in society. The proposal, he said, was
turned down flat.
     "One person told me that this is not the direction the
discipline wants to go in and, therefore, neither should the
department," Dr. Gordon said, his voice rising. "I thought that
Hopkins was supposed to be a leader.
     "If that center had been established, [Dr. Gottfredson] and
I would have written a book that would have been the [equivalent]
of The Bell Curve," he added. "We would have led the nation in
the scientific study of this topic in sociology. Instead, this
nation lost eight years of lead time."

Student comment is mixed
     On the Homewood campus, 4.6 percent of full-time
undergraduate and graduate students are African American. Their
reactions to Dr. Gordon's ideas have been mixed.
     Anderson, a senior international studies major, and some
other members of the BSU are reluctant to make public comments
about Dr. Gordon. 
     "We are disappointed that the Hopkins community accepts [Dr.
Gordon] and embraces him, albeit lightly," Anderson said. 
     Still others have disregarded the research, The Bell Curve
and Dr. Gordon.
     "I know I'm not dumb," biophysics major Ticey Long said. "So
I just blew it off."
     La-Tasha Terrell, a freshman majoring in international
studies, reacts more strongly when discussing Robert Gordon.
     "The fact that we're here disproves [his research]," Terrell
said. "We went through a very competitive process just to be
     "I think that he's a racist, but he's using science and
scientific data against people," added Terrell, a member of the
BSU. "If he were not a scientist, I think he would still believe
     Dr. Gordon's response to his critics is characteristically
     "Most people who condemn my research really only know sort
of superficially about it," he said. "The [result] is just pure
ignorance of the findings and total indifference toward informing
oneself about what's going on."
     He will not satisfy those who label him a racist with a
     "I don't feel obliged to deny things like that," he said. "I
know some of the most eminent researchers in the country. I know
they all think well of my research."
     A bright red flier posted to "non-racist students" at
Homewood recently encouraged them to avoid Dr. Gordon's
Intelligence and Society course.
     "Dr. Gordon is a messenger for the forces of bigotry and
fascism," the flier states. "We urge you to boycott [his] class."
No group has publicly taken responsibility for the flier. 
     "There is a direction for real concern to be channeled, but
it's not toward the messenger," Dr. Gordon said. "It's toward the
     "I care about what goes on in the black community," he said.
"Crime in the black community has gotten worse over the 20 years
or so I've been watching it than my wildest misgivings would have
led me to expect, so what does the future hold?"
     He suggests that there are only two solutions: breaking the
link between IQ and educational achievement, or raising IQs. The
former, he said, is very difficult to do. Raising IQ scores
through genetic means, he said, is possible.
     "If the gene pool changes in a population over time--so that
the intelligence-producing genes become more frequent--IQs go up
on the average," he said. "But that's a question called eugenics,
and it seems to drive people unnecessarily ballistic."
     Eugenics, he explained, basically calls for people with low
IQs to have fewer children and people with high IQs to have more
     "Eventually their children will marry one another," he said.
"There's a slow migration upwards that would parallel the course
of human evolution."
     He realizes it is an unpopular theory, but he is convinced
of its validity. And he doesn't expect to convince all others, or
to receive unbridled support.
     "You're never vindicated in this business. You win, but the
other side never concedes," he said. "I do my research, write my
papers, mind my own business."

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