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Reflections on My Life as a Eugenicist, Part 2

Leto and Her children, Apollo and Diana3,434 words

Part 2 of 4

University of California, Santa Barbara

In 1975, I was excited to begin the doctoral program in Psychobiology at UCSB. It was a far cry from the excellence of Berkeley, but then so were the vast majority of other places. I had always been interested in sex differences, so I began studying the effects of pre-natal hormones on masculine and feminine behavior. 

Things got off to a good start. The campus was nice, and my coursework was interesting. The weather was gorgeous, and there were lots of bike paths, so I had fun cruising around on my 10-speed. But I had two problems. First, my academic advisor was a tall, thin, 60-ish, rather eccentric guy whose behavior didn’t bode well for my future. He played “footsie” with me under the table when a bunch of us went out for beer, and when we were sitting alone together in his office, he would put his hand on my knee. I had long blonde hair, and I was young, and but I wasn’t a child, and I had fended off unwanted advances before, but that was always on a date. This was different. I should have pushed his hand off, and if he put it back again, I should have done something, maybe stomped on his foot, or at least walked out. But the problem was that his eyes glazed over, and frankly he looked insane, so I just sat there in a state of paralysis.

My second problem was even worse. All doctoral students had offices in the psychology building which they shared with one other student, and my office-mate was a rather unattractive guy – let’s just call him Rat-Bastard. We got along fine, but we didn’t talk much because I worked really hard. Then one day he asked me the source of my income, which wasn’t exactly polite. I was trying to be nice to him – even though he was a creep – so I told him I had a National Science Foundation fellowship and I also got financial aid. He said, “Oh, you can’t have both. It’s not allowed.” I wasn’t worried because I’d been totally honest on my application, and they had given me both, and even added together it was still a modest sum. Two days later, however, I got a call from the Financial Aid Office, and they told me that henceforth, I would get no more financial aid on account of the fact that I had a NSF fellowship. “But the fellowship is so small,” I protested, “it’s not enough to live on!” “It doesn’t matter,” she replied. “Those are the rules.”

Rat-Bastard! So, after two semesters, I was forced to drop out of graduate school. In retrospect, I realize that he might have been a sadist, or maybe he was angry at some perceived slight, but by far the most likely explanation is that he overheard me say something in defense of Jensen, so I guess he decided he’d do the world a favor by ruining the career of a “racist.” I hardly ever talked about Jensen, but if the subject came up, I knew enough about the controversy to make one or two points on his side. And (silly me) I thought we were supposed to be scientists, not ideologues! At any rate, as I cleaned out the desk in my office, R-B sat there and watched me with a look of smug satisfaction on his ugly face.


My advisor at UC Santa Barbara had suggested I take a leave of absence instead of dropping out entirely, so when I got back home to Berkeley, this made it possible for me to take a few graduate classes at UC Berkeley, including one with Jensen. I was glad to see him again, and I was kind of relieved, too, because I was beginning to feel like the rest of the world had gone berserk. The controversy raged on, and the campus paper, The Daily Californian, ran an article about Jensen, along with his picture, and they asked him how he was reacting to all the fuss. He said he was doing fine, and that he was pretty much “unflappable.”

My boyfriend and I got married during this time – he had been my teaching assistant for one of my psychology classes. He was funny, and very smart, and we played tennis every day.

We got along well, except that he believed what we’re all “supposed” to believe, whereas I did not, but it didn’t seem like a big thing. I remember telling Jensen that I’d recently gotten married, and he asked me how my husband felt about my beliefs – I replied that he tolerated them. But now this conversation seems more significant to me than it did at the time, because I’ve come to realize that holding unpopular beliefs can be a source of friction, sometimes very serious friction, not only between friends, but within families as well. I know that his wife, Barbara, was very supportive of his work, but his mother never forgave him. I ended up divorcing my husband several years later for other reasons, but it probably didn’t help that he often referred to me as “the Nazi.”

I worked at part-time jobs while I continued to read and study. I applied to the University of Minnesota so I could work with Thomas Bouchard on the famous Minnesota Twin Study, which united identical twins from all over the world who had been separated at birth. All the people involved in the study – including the twins and the researchers themselves – were surprised at their striking degree of similarity. The twins were delighted to meet their co-twins, and they became instant friends. Of course, they were very similar in IQ. But what also captivated my interest was that identical twins separated at birth had the same laugh, the same gestures, the same phobias, similar taste in clothes, the same favorite subjects in school, similar vegetable aversions, and similar (but not identical) religious and political beliefs. The fact that the twins often shared minutely specific traits and idiosyncracies filled me with a sense of wonder. It’s almost as if a baby is born, and he is who he is. He grows, he matures, he learns (and what he learns matters), and gradually he becomes an adult, with full adult consciousness. But the Minnesota Twin Study really brings home the fact that a baby is hardly a tabula rasa (blank slate), as political correctness would have us all believe.

I was looking forward to starting the Fall semester at the U. of Minn., but I got sick with recurrent sinus infections, so I wrote to the Psychology Department and asked if I could begin the following year, and they agreed. For that entire year, I took broad-spectrum antibiotics repeatedly, and then one day, I got really sick. The doctors couldn’t figure out what it was, so they concluded that it must, therefore, be “psychological.” So for the entire next year, I saw one doctor after another after another about this new “mystery illness,” and they all gave me the same bogus “diagnosis.” Their assumption was that if they didn’t know what it was, it must, therefore, be nothing! In fact, it was more of an insult than a diagnosis (and for this they’re supposed to get paid money?) I never doubted for a second that I was sick, but I finally went to a psychiatrist just so I could tell the doctors I went. In retrospect, I realize that I was extremely lucky that the guy I saw was honest and had common sense. He told me I was definitely not crazy, and that I was obviously sick. He said that “psychological” is just a convenient, face-saving way to get rid of patients when doctors reach a dead end diagnostically. I agreed with him, but it seemed like such an unenlightened thing to do, both arrogant and unkind. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with you,” they prefer to say, “You must have some kind of mental problem.” By this time, I was beginning to seriously wonder if physicians will be over-represented in Hell. The psychiatrist also predicted that I would eventually diagnose myself, which turned out to be prescient.

I had already started going to the medical school library at the University of California, San Francisco. After 1 ½ years of the new “mystery illness,” I’d lost 40 pounds. (I lost 40 pounds, yet I wasn’t on a diet! That should be a clue to those deadbeat doctors that something was wrong!) At this point I was 5’8″ tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds. I knew I’d have to figure it out myself, and that I didn’t have forever to do it, because I was wasting away. Finally, after several months of searching, I figured out what was wrong with me and how to treat it. (It was extremely rare, and didn’t even have a name.) I mailed a copy of the journal article to my Berkeley doctor, with the relevant passages highlighted in yellow. He ordered the blood test, the results confirmed my diagnosis, he prescribed the recommended drug, and I was completely well again in a few weeks.

Then – with a very bony finger, and vengeance in my heart – I dialed a famous malpractice lawyer in San Francisco. After a lengthy discussion, he concluded that we could have nailed them for malpractice, except that I sustained no permanent damage. I did, however, waste 2 years of my life.

A word of explanation about my overall health is necessary at this point. All my life, I’ve had a very marked lack of physical stamina, and far more illness than most people. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a minor heart defect and an immune deficiency (both of which I predicted as far back as junior high school based on my experiences). (Both are genetic.) When I was an undergraduate, I took classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so I could stay home and rest on Tuesday and Thursday. My grades were good, but I didn’t always make all As. I was already working at my full capacity, which was kind of like having 2-3 fewer usable hours per day than everybody else had, or like being a 4-cylinder car when everybody else is a 6-cylinder or 8-cylinder car. Once I had a regular 40-hour-week job in an office, and I called in sick almost every single Wednesday because it was just too exhausting. So the point is that poor health has been a life-long problem for me, and a constant source of anxiety.

Nathaniel & Sylvia Weyl

I read several interesting articles about eugenics by Nathaniel Weyl in the Mankind Quarterly, and then I read his book The Creative Elite in America. I wrote him a letter, and we struck up a fascinating correspondence. Nathaniel and his wife Sylvia invited me to visit them at their home in Boca Raton, Florida, so the next time I went to Memphis to visit my family, I decided to fly down to see them. They had all the same heretical beliefs that I did, such as eugenics, and race differences in IQ, so it was a celebration of kindred spirits We had so much fun together, and when it was time for me to go, we all hated to say good-bye.

“Thank you so much for inviting me,” I said. “I really had a fabulous time.”

“It’s been wonderful having you,” Sylvia said. “We’ve had a marvelous time, too.”

“Yeah,” Nathaniel concurred. “We’re really gonna miss you!”

“And I’m gonna miss you, too!” I exclaimed

I looked up at the ceiling as I processed a thought.

“Say, I’ve got an idea,” I suggested, only half-facetiously. “Why don’t I go home to Berkeley, get all my stuff, move in, and live here indefinitely?”

“Great!” they exclaimed in unison.

So I did!

The year I lived as Nathaniel and Sylvia’s house guest was one of the best times of my life. They were in their late 60s, and both of them were fascinating, wonderful people. Living with them was peaceful emotionally, and stimulating intellectually. We often went to the beach in the afternoon, and then sat out in the garden drinking champagne, talking about everything under the sun. Sylvia was a Jew, and Nathaniel half-Jewish, but he identified with Jews. Despite being Jewish herself, Sylvia actively disliked Jews, and found them physically ugly. Her mother had changed their last name to Castleton, and Sylvia always made it a point to sign her name “Sylvia Castleton Weyl.”

Nathaniel was a raconteur with a treasure trove of interesting stories. Both Nathaniel and Sylvia had been card-carrying Communists – in fact, that’s how they met – until they learned about the secret treaty between Stalin and Hitler, when they renounced Communism and told the FBI everything they knew. Nathaniel testified at the famous treason trial of Alger Hiss. He told me once that a Jewish organization had approached him about assassinating Hitler, but he declined. I asked him why, and he replied quite candidly, “I didn’t want to do it ‘cause I might have gotten hurt!”

I took some graduate classes in statistics at Florida Atlantic University while I was there in Boca Raton. The head of the Psychology Department said it would be OK to use several personal letters I’d gotten from Jensen and Raymond Cattell as letters of recommendation for admission. I didn’t even look at them, but now I think they must have mentioned eugenics. At any rate, one of the professors I met was very friendly, and he invited me to have lunch with him the next day, but when I arrived at his office, he informed me rather coldly that he changed his mind, and that he was going to eat a sandwich alone in his office. Soon thereafter I was in another professor’s lab talking to him, and there were 2 grad students kind of joking and horsing around. One of them sort of shoved his friend forward, and said to me, “Here’s Roger, kill him, he’s stupid!”

It was instantly clear that I was poison as far as the Psychology Department was concerned – but it was so unfair! Dozens of incidents like this peppered my career, and I was sick of it. I probably should have asked for a meeting and given them a short lecture on what my true beliefs really were – most of the time, it’s the word that upsets people. The race issue is different, but concerning eugenics, when I explain to people what I actually believe, many people agree with me – they just don’t like the word because, like the 2 grad students, they think “eugenics” means “kill all the dumb people” or something equally draconian.

During my year in Boca, I applied to a handful of doctoral programs, and was accepted, I think in part because of Jensen’s letter of recommendation. Ironically, even though he was pilloried by the popular media, he was very highly respected by first-rate professors in the field. I remember reading his Bias in Mental Testing that year, which was a terrific book, mentally stimulating and a model of lucid writing. He was a master of explaining complex ideas simply and clearly.

I didn’t apply to UC Berkeley because I was afraid that if I were accepted, I might disappoint Jensen because my serious lack of physical stamina made it impossible to work long hours, and then he might want to get rid of me, but it would be extremely awkward. I considered going to the University of Hawaii to work with Cattell, but he was a psychometrician, and I never did particularly well in math. I couldn’t believe it when I made a decent score on the math GRE (not super, but respectable), because I always thought I was just plain stupid. Actually, I still think I’m stupid, at least in math. At any rate, I don’t like it, and it intimidates me. But that was a shame because Cattell was an absolutely honorable man, which matters a great deal for one’s academic advisor. Plus he openly espoused eugenics.

I finally decided to go to the University of Texas in Austin, so after spending one whole year as Nathaniel and Sylvia Weyl’s house guest, I moved there in 1980 to begin work on my doctorate in psychology. I hoped that my health would hold up at least long enough to finish the degree.

University of Texas, Austin

The Psychology Department, like most fields of study, is divided into specialties, such as Clinical, Biological, and Cognitive. But at the University of Texas (unlike most places) there was also a Differential Department, which is why I was there. Differential psychology is very much a continuation of the “London school” of psychology started by Francis Galton in the 19th century. It deals with genetic and environmental influences on individual differences and group differences (such as sex and race differences) in IQ, personality, and behavior. This was definitely the best place for me to be.

Although the weather is hot and humid in the Summer, Austin is a surprisingly good town, with good live music and good restaurants. I liked my classes, and I discovered that I enjoyed teaching. Since I had sub-normal stamina, I figured that it would be wise for me to forgo socializing and “fun” (like movies), so I could conserve what strength I had to devote to work. I only made one new friend, my roommate, Wan Ying, who was a visiting professor of Computer Science from the University of Shanghai. She told fascinating stories about the Cultural Revolution when all the professors were forced to leave the universities to go work in the rice paddies, and she slept in a barn with chickens and pigs. I was a bit surprised that we had almost exactly the same sense of humor, despite belonging to different races and having grown up in totally different worlds. Wan Ying and I even laughed at the same Monty Python skits.

In my second year, I met Frank Bean, a demographer in the Sociology Department. He had a terrific data set called The General Social Survey. Each year the GSS interviews a very large, random sample of the U.S. population, and the survey included a short vocabulary test, data on number of children, plus lots of other variables, and this spanned most of the 20th century. The vocabulary test was perfect as an IQ test for use in large demographic studies. The opportunity of a lifetime was sitting right there in front of me, and I knew it. I was excited! This was exactly, precisely, the research I’d always wanted to do.

People had been commenting on the fact that smart people have few children since the days of ancient Rome. In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the problem became much worse because the smartest people learned about the new methods of contraception and used them correctly, whereas less-smart people did not. Casual observation seemed to suggest that there was a negative correlation between intelligence and number of offspring, and studies were conducted in England and America to test this, but the results were inconclusive because of methodological flaws. I felt quite certain that we were currently witnessing dysgenic fertility in the U.S., and there was just one obstacle to my dream study – the computer. I had zero experience, and back then, computers weren’t as “user friendly” as they are now.

Each day, I took the elevator up to the Population Research Center at the top of that famous tower where, in the mid-1960s, a maniac with a rifle shot at students walking around below. There were a bunch of guys up there, sitting at computers, working. They were all experts, whereas I was a complete novice. Frank told them they had to help me, but they didn’t much like it, and they gave me the nickname “Space Cadet.” I had a hard time, but after weeks of angst and frustration, it just hit me all of a sudden, in a flash, and I understood! Glory hallelujah! Very soon, I had results. My hypothesis was confirmed, that we had, in fact, had negative correlations between IQ and number of children (dysgenic fertility) for most of the 20th century. I wrote up the paper, Frank and I sent it to the journal Intelligence, and it was published in 1984.[1] I was very proud of this study because it was the first large, methodologically-sound research on the relationship between fertility and IQ ever conducted, and the Differential faculty members were duly impressed.


1. Van Court, Marian, and Bean, Frank, (1984) New evidence of dysgenic fertility for intelligence in the United States: 1912 to 1982, Intelligence, pp. 193-201.


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One Comment

  1. rhondda
    Posted January 7, 2016 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Marion. I certainly can relate to ‘it’s all in your head’.

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