Distinguished American professor Linda Gottfredson was originally invited to give a keynote lecture at a pedagogy conference in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Yet, before the conference was about to take place in October this year, she received the message that she had been “uninvited” following protests from other researchers arguing that Gottfredson’s non-egalitarian conclusions contradict the organizer’s ethical standard.
Gottfredson is possibly best known for her theory of vocational choice, which in her view depends on a number of factors, where the perception of one’s own self plays a key role. This part of her work is not politically controversial. However, she also has a long-standing research interest in intelligence and, in particular, studying differences in IQ between individuals and groups. In this connection she has defended the “Bell curve” to the effect that general intelligence in a population follows a normal distribution, which implies that there can be huge differences in intelligence between individuals. She has also concluded that IQ is a significant predictor of success in life at various positions in society.
These conclusions, based on a large body of empirical evidence from the US military and other sources, contradict central tenets of the educational tradition prevailing in Sweden and elsewhere, according to which there are, as a matter of fundamental principle, no significant differences in intelligence between individuals or groups. Gottfredson is quite candid when, in her writings, she criticizes the representatives of the latter “egalitarian fiction” for intentionally ignoring what she maintains is irrefutable empirical evidence.
A letter from the University of Eastern Finland rejects the conclusion, attributed to Gottfredson, that intelligence is inherited. The letter proceeds to draw attention to the fact that the IAEVG’s ethical guidelines discourages all forms of stereotyping and discrimination and advocates equal opportunities, concluding that Gottfredson’s “views are in stark contradiction with the IAEVG ethical standards”. Another protest letter mentions Gottfredson’s endorsement of the Bell curve as an aggravating circumstance making her inappropriate as a plenary speaker.
How empirically based conclusions about the distribution of intelligence within or between populations, or about the origin of such distributions, themselves can be discriminatory is not explained in the protest letters. Is it perhaps the protesters’ own implicit bias that reveals itself when they associate lower intelligence with less human dignity? The practical conclusion that Gottfredson draws is, in any case, admirably humanitarian: that people with low intelligence should receive special support so that they can do better in life, and that the importance of such intervention increases as society becomes gradually more complex.