(1924 – 2017)
- Student of:
- Influenced by:
- Time Period: Current Efforts
- Harvard University, Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, 1949
- Harvard University, admitted to the Ph.D. program in Psychology and Social Relations, 1950
- McGill University, professor
- Queen’s University, professor
- 1957-1968, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, professor and chairman (1964)
- 1968- , Princeton University
- One of the first individuals to publicly question the research of Cyril Burt
- Active critic of the hereditarian theory of intelligence
- Spoke out about the dangers of attributing all intelligence to genetic factors (including race)
Ideas and Interests
Although Kamin began his career as an animal researcher, he became interested in the study of intelligence after an episode involving his students and a former colleague in 1972. While teaching at Princeton, Kamin invited Richard Herrnstein (one of the authors of The Bell Curve) to speak to his students about one of his areas of focus, the visual world of the pigeon. Recently however, Herrnstein had written an article in support of the genetic argument for intelligence. The very liberal Princeton students were not in favor of this position and started planning ways to make Herrnstein answer questions about IQ. Herrnstein eventually ended up canceling his lecture to avoid being put in the hot seat. After that incident, Kamin’s students asked him if he had read Herrnstein’s article or if he had an opinion on the matter. Since Kamin had to answer no to both questions, he read Herrnstein’s article and quickly became interested in the controversy surrounding the origins of intelligence.
Kamin quickly realized that the studies conducted by Cyril Burt provided the backbone for the hereditarian argument involving IQ. Before he could take an informed position on the issue, he felt that he had to examine the work of Burt — he started with the largest of Burt’s studies published in 1966. Kamin, being an expert statistician and methodologist, immediately became skeptical about the data and findings being reported by Burt. In order to become fully knowledgeable about both sides of the debate, Kamin then looked at the quintessential studies for the environmental argument and found their data and findings to be much more coherent and theoretically sound. After further investigation of the history of the IQ debate, he was shocked to find that respected psychologists such as Yerkes and Brigham had put forth racial theories about IQ in the 1920s and concluded that the unsupported assumption that IQ was inherited led to unjust social policy in the 1920s. He also saw dangerous parallels to the 1920s in the 1970s with feeble data and unjustified claims being used as a rationale for denying programs and assistance to minorities.
Kamin began to publicly express his doubts about the foundations for the genetic argument in lectures and in a 1974 book entitled The Science and Politics of I.Q. During this time, he also publicly voiced his concerns with the data and findings provided by Burt, upon which much of the hereditarian argument rested (see The Cyril Burt Affair for more details). In addition to Burt’s work, he examined other prominent studies supporting the genetic position (mainly twin studies and studies of adopted children) and reported similar methodological and statistical errors in their research. As Kamin grew older, he decided to spend the majority of his time not doing research, but instead being a professional reviewer and critic of intelligence studies. His work has emphasized the weakness in the genetic argument and provided continued support for the environmental argument. Not surprisingly, his work has caused a good deal of controversy in the nature vs. nurture debate surrounding intelligence.
- The Science and Politics of IQ (1974)
- The Intelligence Controversy (1981; published with H.J. Eysenck) (published as Intelligence: The Battle for the Mind in Great Britain)