Minds made feeble: the myth and legacy of the Kallikaks.

Minds made feeble: the myth and legacy of the Kallikaks. – book reviews

Scott Haas

When psychologist Henry Goddard published his book about the so-called Kallikak family in 1912, the popular response was widespread and positive. Here was a scientific study that not only showed that genetics was the determinant of intelligence, but also illustrated this conclusion with photographs and stories of an actual New Jersey family, the Kallikaks, to prove the point. The evidence seemed irrefutable. Goddard’s approach was no imaginative that Broadway considered staging a play based on his research. In fact, his ideas even had an impact upon language: Goddard coined the word moron, now a popular misnomer. Indeed, the Kallikak study is best characterized as a work of great imaginative effort, with no scientific value whatsoever. Minds Made Feeble: The Myth and Legacy of the Kallikaks (Aspen, $19.95) by J. David Smith takes a close look at the Kallikak study. The Kallikaks (an invented name) were said to be divided into two branches: one good, rich and smart; the other–an illegitimate offshoot–bad, poor and stupid. Smith reports, however, that photgraphs of so-called “bad” Kallikaks were retouched to make the folks depicted look evil, that many of the historical data simply are not true and that Goddard’s methodological approach was unscientific.

Goddard’s deception has been reported before, most notably in Stephen Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man; Smith’s most important contribution is his documentation of Goddard’s deceits. Smith went to New Jersey and tracked down surviving Kallikaks, and he discovered that the presumably tainted side of the family wasn’t so bad after all. While it did have its share of failures, it had successes as well, including at least one case of high academic achievement.

Goddard’s study of the Kallikaks is, unfortunately, typical of intelligence research. Great efforts have regularly been made in this field to show that the disenfranchised just don’t have what it takes to be full citizens. The point behind this sort of rubbish is to provide a scientific basis for unjust and inhumane treatment. Such as approach will always be popular because it makes society’s socalled superiors feel better about themselves and their laws.

The most dangerous feature of studies like Goddard’s, as Smith points out, is that they lead inexorably toward social policy. In Goddard’s day, emigration from Eastern Europe was curtailed in large part because more than half of those tested at Ellis Island by Goddard were found to be morons. In the 1930s,the German government killed off many of its retarded citizens who found themselves without strong advocates. Several states, using The Kallikak Family as evidence, passed laws requiring involuntary sterilization of the mentally retarded. Today we have sperm banks of Nobel Prize winners.

COPYRIGHT 1985 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group