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Goddard Undefended

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A recent YouTube video from the user “Modern Heresy” purports to critique Ken Richardson’s works in his 2017 book “Genes, Brains and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence” as well as some of his older works. I have addressed the claims most specifically about social class here, and RaceRealist has addressed the video as a whole here, but today I want to go more in detail on the issue of Goddard, since it took up basically a third of the video. I thought the section was fairly pedantic, as it’s barely two paragraphs of his book, but since the video creator thinks it to be so important [1], it must be addressed.

The issue of Goddard’s testing of immigrants on Ellis Island has long been the subject of academic controversy, being debated in the journal American Psychologist by Herrnstein, Kamin, Albee and others (Albee 1980; Dorfman 1982; Kamin 1982; Samelson 1985; Synderman & Herrnstein 1983). The most comprehensive rebuttal to Syndermann and Herrnstein’s erroneous paper can be found in Gelb et. al (1986), as noted by RaceRealist.

Basically, the issue that the video maker alleges is based around several small issues. The first relates to the proportion of the individuals tested that were found to be feeble-minded and the meaning of this result, and the other has to do with how Goddard tested immigrants on Ellis Island.

Richardson claims in his 2017 book that:

That was after long and trying journeys, using the tests in English through interpreters. By these means, the country came to be told that 83 percent of Jews, 80 percent of Hungarians, 79 percent of Italians, and 87 percent of Russians were feebleminded. Almost as bad were the Irish, Italians, and Poles and, bottom of the list, the blacks. Only the Scandinavians and Anglo- Saxons escaped such extremes of labeling.

Richardson (2017)

The video creator correctly notes that Goddard’s study was:

makes no determination of the actual percentage, even of these groups, who are feeble-minded.

Goddard (1917)

“Modern Heresy” then claims that this statement from the beginning of the Goddard paper demonstrates that Richardson was misrepresenting the paper. I agree that it is misrepresentation insofar as Richardson did not clarify that the primary purpose of the paper was not to determine the percentage of ‘feeble-minded’ individuals, but this is different than the primary claims that Richardson was making. Richardson’s broader point here is about the use of IQ tests to cause social harm, e.g. by the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924. Clearly, as Gelb et. al (1986) has shown, he is correct on this point. But the minutiae are what are interesting here, so let’s get into them

When Richardson states that:

83 percent of Jews, 80 percent of Hungarians, 79 percent of Italians, and 87 percent of Russians were feebleminded

Richardson (2017)

he is indeed accurately quoting a real statistic from one of Goddard’s paper (contra Herrnstein 1981), which occurs in Goddard’s Table II (Dorfman 1982). And again contra Herrnstein (and Cochran et. al 2006), this sample is not (entirely) a group of immigrants specifically chosen because of their feeblemindness, but includes a fairly representative sample. As noted by Goddard:

For the purpose of the first question an investigator selected 39 cases—20 were Italians and 19 were Russians—who appeared to her to be feeble-minded. These were then tested by the other investigator, the results being recorded for later study.

Goddard (1917)

Note that contra Cochran et. al (2006), there are no Jews in the sample that Goddard specifically selected of feebleminded individuals. But Goddard’s second selection is what is most relevant here, about which he states:

For the second question cases were picked who appeared to be representative of their respective groups. In this list we had 35 Jews, 22 Hungarians, 50 Italians and 45 Russians. (5 Jews, 2 Italians and 1 Russian were children under 12 years of age.

Goddard (1917)

Despite Goddard’s caution at the beginning of the article that “the study makes no determination of the actual percentage, even of these groups, who are feebleminded” (Goddard 1917, p. 243), he later notes that the sample is “representative”(Goddard 1917, p. 244) and that despite the selection involved in the sample due to the exclusion of “superior individuals”, the small number of them ” did not noticeably affect the character of the group” (Goddard 1917, p. 244). As such, he stated that to estimate the character of these national groups, one would only have to be “revised … by a relatively small amount” (Goddard 1917, p. 244). He finally concluded that “one can hardly escape the conviction that the intelligence of the average ‘third class’ immigrant is low, perhaps of moron grade”.

But the broader point that “the country came to be told that ….” that Richardson makes is equally both slightly misrepresentative but also broadly correct. A news article published in 1917 about Goddard’s paper noted that “the most favorable interpretation of their results is that two out of every five of the immigrants studied were feebleminded” (The Survey 1917). It also describes that 83 percent of Russians were found to be feebleminded using the typical criterion, meaning that Richardson’s note that the Amerikan was exposed to the claims of immigrant feeblemindedness is accurate, even if Goddard’s article itself can’t be used to make those conclusions. Indeed, it was Pioneer Fund president Harry Laughlin who cited Goddard’s figures in his testimony to Congress during the debate over the Immigration Act of 1924 (Swanson 1995). It is well known that science is commonly misrepresented by the public, and this example may be one of many (Dumas-Mallet et. al 2017). The video creator alleges that because Goddard attributed this low intelligence level to environment rather than heredity, Richardon’s discussion of Goddard is yet again incorrect. But Richardson does not name Goddard as an anti-immigrant xenophobe, he merely points out that these figures later became the basis for anti-immigration xenophobia, which is a historical fact as noted above. Again, the video creator confuses Richardon’s discussion of Goddard and the discussion of xenophobia and then conflate Richardson’s claims with the ones made by Kamin and Gould in the past.

There is one more issue brought up in the video as to Richardon’s portrayal of Goddard’s testing of immigrants, and it is Richardson’s claim that:

Amid distressing scenes at the infamous reception center on Ellis Island, he managed to ensure that all immigrants— men, women, and children of all ages— were given the IQ test as soon as they landed

Richardson (2017)

While it is unclear as to Goddard’s specific role in the development of the use of testing during immigration proceedings on Ellis Island, it is uncontested that there was widespread use of mental tests upon entry to the island (Mullan 1917; Zenderland 1998, p. 419 note 17), and that Goddard was the person who was sent out to inspect the mental testing procedures the immigration enforcement officers were engaging in in the first place (Goddard 1917; Sussman 2014, p. 84) following the US ban on “moronic immigrants” and subsequent fear that moronic immigrants were still getting through (Davis 1925, p. 218-219; Wilkes-Barre Record 1907). Again, while Richardson’s treatment of the issue is curt and may seem a bit reductive, it is not wholly inaccurate. He’s not writing a history textbook or publishing a paper in The American Historical Review, he’s writing a book that covers numerous topics about IQ.

[1] The author again brings up the Goddard issue in the comment reply to RR’s recent article.



  1. Modern Heresy says:

    My goodness. Never thought a YouTube channel with < 200 subs and a video with 400 views would cause such a commotion.

    I was typing up a reply to your last post then see this…

    A few points.

    In the video I make it clear that I am not defending Goddard in general.
    I specifically acknowledge that the media misrepresented his work regarding testing immigrants at Ellis Island.
    The point about Goddard was not about Goddard per se. It was that, me, some guy with a YouTube channel, is reading a book that might challenge my worldview with as open mind as possible, and I keep coming across crap like that, or the Bell Curve quote, so every 5 minutes I’m muttering under my breathe “what the fuck…”. I felt that was the most blatant example, so I made sure to thoroughly cover it.

    Needless to say, it made taking Richardson’s work seriously much more difficult for me. How hard would it have been to put a sentence such as “Although Goddard’s study did not intend to report the average intelligence of the immigrants populations, the country came to be told…”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Modern Heresy says:

      Well, I put hyphens to delineate the points, but it didn’t display them. So if the formatting looks all messed up, that’s why.

      Liked by 1 person

    • sillyolyou says:

      Nothing about Richardon’s discussion of Goddard came across to me as if it was grossly misrepresentative or off-putting of the situation. That’s why I wrote this article.


    • Romello says:

      I haven’t looked into the issue of early IQ tests of immigrants. But I don’t see how this helps egalitarians. If some groups can increase their intelligence quickly when exposed to a better environment but others (blacks for example) can’t even with huge amounts of spending on education then it seems to strengthen the hereditarian case.


    • sillyolyou says:

      I haven’t looked into the issue of early IQ tests of immigrants. But I don’t see how this helps egalitarians. If some groups can increase their intelligence quickly when exposed to a better environment but others (blacks for example) can’t even with huge amounts of spending on education then it seems to strengthen the hereditarian case.

      You seem to be confused as to how causality works.


  2. dealwithit says:

    is Donna Rotunno trans? definitely NOT a “beutiful italian woman”.


  3. Romello Delomand says:

    This is one of the reasons I’m a race realist. If the evidence for egalitarianism is so strong, why do they have to lie, call names, dig up old thinkers who can’t defend themselves, guilt by association, etc.? Gould was a fraud and certainly he’s the worst, but most of the others mislead by omission.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sillyolyou says:

      I haven’t lied, nor have I called names, nor done anything like “guilt by association”. I am merely criticizing the factual statements made in a video – do you have an issue with that?

      Name one instance of fraud that Gould engaged in.


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