Jan 11:

1) What is Science and Technology Studies (STS)?

a.      Typically we think of science and technology as something that has an impact on society. We actually have a two-way interaction; a “dialectic” or feedback loop.

b.     STS is dedicated to creating a better understanding of this feedback loop, and to apply that understanding to social problems.


2) What kinds of social problems can STS address?

a.      Example: the percentage of National Income (the value generated by taking raw materials and labor worth X dollars and selling the resulting product for X+value dollars) that goes to the salary of workers has been dropping rapidly since the 1970s. The economy is booming, but that means little to “Joe Sixpack.”

b.     Example: When we look at income by gender and ethnicity, we see great disparity: white males make the most money, women of all ethnic groups make less, black women make less than white women, etc.


3) How do normative issues (“values,” “ideology”) enter into STS?


a.      Technophobe view: technology is inherently evil. (eg unibomber)

b.     Techno-utopian view: technology is inherently good. (eg Walt Disney)

c.     Technology is neutral view: “a hammer can be used to murder or to build a house. The technological artifacts themselves are therefore politically neutral.”

d.     STS takes a 4th approach – the Social Constructionist view. Examples:

1.     Classist engineer Robert Moses constructs the bridges on Long Island such that low-clearance bridges lead to beaches and parks, preventing poor people from cluttering up his nice areas reserved for the rich. After Moses dies, the bridges are still doing his dirty work – impossible to analyze under the “technology is neutral” view. Artifacts can have politics.

2.     Power stations built in 1923 in Berlin show strong centralization, but those in London 1923 show strong decentralization – different “cultural styles.”

3.     The first voice-recognition software worked better on men than women – not due to an individual’s sexist agency, but do the structural sexism in the institutions.


4) Example of an STS theory of science: Karl Popper’s “falsifiability.” In order to have a hypothesis be scientific, there has to be the possibility of failure. It has to be testable in the sense that test results prove the hypothesis is false.

a.      Illustration from the history of biological detrminism: Italian psychologist Lombroso claimed that criminals were

 genetically inferior, and that he could tell such “born criminals” by looking at their face or other physiological features. If heads were too small he would say they are throwbacks to the apes. If heads were too large he would say they were a typical “criminal genius.” Every “criminal” had some feature Lombroso could claim was a sign of innate criminality. Thus there is no possible face which could falsify his hypothesis – and as Popper tells us, a theory that can never be wrong can never be right.


Jan 13

Biological Determinism: the myth that our social status is written in our genes


Human beings had a monogenetic origin in the recent past. The brain weight to body weight ratio of all ethnic groups and both genders are the same. Yet history is full of attempts to show an innate (genetic) superiority for the upper-class, for Europeans, and for males.


19th century: attempts to show race and gender differences in intelligence via physiological measurements


A. We have already discussed Lombroso in Italy. Now we switch to Samuel George Morton in America:

Morton writes two books: 1839 Crania Americana, 1840 Crania Aegyptiaca

Claimed to have found the following differences in cranial capacity:

White brains > Native Americans brains > African brains


1)     Initial results using flax seed showed large differences

2)     Switched to metal shot – got much smaller differences

3)     If you adjust for body size, differences are zero.


B. Paul Broca (France 1862)

1) Examined arm bone ratios: whites closer to apes, so abandoned this criterion

2) Examined brain size: abandoned upper end of scale because of white “inferiority”

3) Examined brains of criminals: they were larger

4) French v.s. Germans: correctly adjusted German brain size for body size. 

5) Cro-Magnon compared with modern European populations-- abaondoned

6) Male vs Female: did not adjust for body size.



Hereditarian theory of IQ and Eugenics


A. Binet (France 1904):

Head size for best/worst students: “blind” testing removes difference

Turns to testing – only as method to identify learning disability

Cautions against using average of tests as a ranking system or inferring innate ability


H.H. Goddard (US 1912):

Invents “morons” as borderline btwn normal and abnormal

Prevent “interbreeding” that could lower quality of US “gene pool”

Prevent immigrants from “polluting” the US with their “bad genes”


L. Terman (US 1916):

Changes Binet’s system into unilineal ranking, from subnormal to genius.

Disappointing lack of confirmation, eg hobo IQ higher than police and firefighters.

His student Catherine Cox claims to confirm, but used estimated IQ of dead geniuses.


R. Yerkes (US 1917):

WWI provides new testing opportunity

Much of test biased to middle-class WASP culture.

White recruits who failed written test given image version, but not black recruits.

Test results showed strong correlation with poverty – a problem for hereditarians.

Test results showed strong correlation with schooling  – a problem for hereditarians.

Black IQ scores in the 4 highest northern states greater than white ave in 9 southern states.


C. Brigham (US 1923):

Defends work of Yerkes, supports application to immigration law

Cultural bias is OK because we don’t want immigrants who “don’t think like Americans.”

Explained correlation of IQ with amount of time in U.S. using absolute rather than relative time.

Explanation for lower IQ in non-english speaking “Nordics”: “that’s just cultural difference”

Impact of the Army IQ test results for African Americans and Jews: segregation and 1924 immigration restriction act.



IQ and Factor Analysis


Cyril Burt (UK 1940): 

Claimed to have found 53 twins separated at birth and raised apart.

Average correlation remained exactly the same across every sample.

Collaborators Howard and Conway did not exist.

Proof for genetic basis of econ class standing: IQ of parents estimated from class.

Fraud exposed by Burt’s fan Hearnshaw.


Models of intelligence: g (“general intelligence”) versus PMA (“Primary Mental Abilities”)

Eugenics requires single ranking parameter: g (like gas for all mental activities)

Alternative model: PMA (like separate “engines” for each mental activity)

Most IQ tests show strong (PMA-like) variation between abilities (g 2ndary).

Argument is actually irrelevant since it is only a necessary, not sufficient, condition for eugenics to be true – still says nothing about inheritance


Post WWII:


Eugenics suddenly becomes unfashionable – Nazi attempts to eliminate “inferior genes” and breed a “master race” expose the political consequences of eugenics thinking.


1953: Crick and Watson (and Rosalind Franklin) show structure of DNA – the era of biotechnology begins.


Postmodern Biological Determinism


1966: Nobel prize winner William Shockly presents paper at AAAS claiming that the work of Terman, Goddard, and Burt proves there is no point to social programs for African Americans.

Encourages sterilization of anyone with IQ below 100, sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners.


1979: Arthur Jenson – 800 page book defending “g” as general principle of biological evolution.


1981: Harvard biologist Stephen J. Gould publishes The Mismeasure of Man

Expose of the frauds of biological determinism.

Refutes claims using contemporary genetic data, new study of black Germans, etc.


1994: Herrnstein and Murry publish The Bell Curve, again citing the work of Jenson and Burt.