An (imaginary) exchange with Eysenck about meritocracy

Taylor [T]: Why are you so concerned about genetic determination of mental ability?

Eysenck [E]: If abilities are determined by birth and society can predict who will be naturally talented, then it can allocate its resources more efficiently, for example, through separation of school children into separate tracks.

T: Why not test young people and use the results to make such predictions—then we can forget the issue of where their abilities originate?  You have, after all, been a life-long proponent of mental testing.

E: If abilities are biologically inherited and society is meritocratic, then elites are biological elites.

T: And so…?

E:  Rather than wait until children are old enough to be tested for intelligence, we can allocate resources from birth onward according to their parents’ status.

T:  High status parents already do that.  Wouldn’t someone who does not believe in meritocracy—someone who prefers a system that perpetuates privilege—also support the practice you propose?

E: The difference is that I would use intelligence tests at eleven, sixteen, and so on to check that the right children have been placed on the advanced tracks.

T:  Then, again, why not simply use such testing and forget the heredity issues?—especially given that parental intelligence is an imperfect predictor of offspring intelligence.

E:   Even if starting to track children at an early age leads to some errors, it is probably a more efficient allocation of educational resources.

T:  Efficient for whom?—You must know that tracking in practice means more than providing different kinds of education;  time and again it has resulted in unequal allocation of resources (Oakes 2005).

E:  That does not have to be the case.

T:  Maybe not, but unless you can show that unequal allocation has never been the case in the past, how could you show that the current “pyramidal structure” of society is due to “inherited inequalities in mental ability”?

Extracted fromTaylor, P. “Why was Galton so concerned about ‘regression to the mean’? -A contribution to interpreting and changing science and society” DataCritica, 2(2): 3-22, 2008,


Oakes, J. (2005) Keeping track: How schools structure inequality. New Haven: Yale University Press.


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