The Science and Politics of Racial Research details how scientific studies of racial intelligence have persisted since the nineteenth century, from the scientific racism of the proslavery and post-Reconstruction United States to the rise of eugenics in England and the United States, their importation into Nazi Germany, the arguments against integration in response to Brown v. Board of Education, and finally the debates over intelligence testing in the 1960s and 1970s. Tucker argues that these episodes represent a misuse of science and a failure to address what are really moral and political concerns: first, because “science” was a mask for social and political agendas, and second, because antiracist scientists only encouraged a backlash and never-ending empirical debate. In conclusion, he analyzes ethical issues: free speech and responsibility for the uses of research, research subjects and consent. This is a wide-ranging book, at once historical, political, and moral in its objectives.
Aside from the importance of the topic, the book’s strength is its vivid picture of persistent, racialist arguments. The sheer volume of evidence, which will be of interest to historians, biologists, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, and anthropologists alike, underscores a story that is both familiar and new: the voraciousness of nineteenth-century scientific racism, and its similarities to arguments made in the 1950s and 1960s in response to the Civil Rights movement; the influence of American eugenicists on German scientists of the 1930s and 1940s, and their resonance in present-day white supremacy.
In addition, the policy applications of these findings—from antimiscegenation laws, to educational funding issues, to recent battles over entitlements—sharpen the importance of ideas that might be seen as alternatively outmoded or incredible. Tucker’s focus also creates one of the book’s weaknesses: without more attention to the antiracist response of scientists and political activists, one cannot explain the shift after 1930—particularly after World War II, when racist scientists were more on the defensive and were isolated from much of the scientific establishment and legal and public opinion. Still, as Tucker argues, the essential dynamics of the debate remain largely unchanged. If Shockley and Jensen, with whom he ends the book, show that the debate over race and intelligence places no limits on respectability, more recent examples, such as controversies over Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s Bell Curve (1994) and the American Association of the Advancement of Science resolution that “race” has no biological meaning, demonstrate that the issues are alive and well, and that science, as well as politics, still has a role to play.