Libertarians like to imagine that Silicon Valley is the product of an immaculate capitalist conception with no messy government involvement. Yet it was actually kick-started in the 1950s and 1960s by billions in taxpayer dollars spent on gizmos for preventing or fighting nuclear war.
Silicon Valley chroniclers usually treat Shockley’s eugenics campaign as a regrettable and idiosyncratic anomaly. Yet Shockley was merely trumpeting what had long been a prevalent ideology in Palo Alto dating back to Stanford’s founding president, David Starr Jordan. In 1902, Jordan published a pamphlet, The Blood of the Nation, that made a eugenic case against war, arguing that the battlefield kills the bravest and best. (Jordan’s argument became widely accepted in Britain after World War I.)
Strikingly, Fred Terman’s father, Lewis Terman, a Stanford psychologist, was the father of IQ testing in America. In 1916, he published the Stanford-Binet IQ test, America’s first. Lewis Terman became a prominent eugenics advocate.
In 1921, Terman began his landmark study of gifted children with IQs of 135 and above, which continues even today to track its dwindling band of aged subjects. (Ironically, the young William Shockley was nominated for inclusion in Lewis Terman’s study, but his test score fell just short of the cutoff.) To the public’s surprise, “Terman’s Termites” showed that highly intelligent children were not particularly likely to grow up to be misfits like the much publicized prodigy/bad example William James Sidis. Indeed, the higher the IQ, the better the outcome. Terman’s study was an early landmark in Nerd Liberation, one of the 20th century’s most important social developments.
His son inherited Lewis’s biases: Fred Terman’s wife of 47 years, who had been one of his father’s grad students, said he only became serious about courting her after he went to the Psych Department and looked up her IQ score.
Of course, all that IQ and eugenics stuff was just pseudoscience, and it’s all been forgotten in modern Silicon Valley, right?
No, not really. To get into Stanford today, you have to score higher than ever on the IQ-like SAT. Students who scored a perfect 800 on the SAT math test make up 26 percent of Stanford’s freshman class. Silicon Valley firms such as Google make a cult of recruiting high-IQ workers, constantly devising clever ways to identify the clever.
Silicon Valley has largely managed to stonewall the diversity enforcers. Jesse Jackson has been bringing his racial shakedown tour to town since the 1990s, with relatively little to show for it other than some Go Away money. Shockley would be hardly surprised to learn that black, Latino, and female shares of the complex jobs in Silicon Valley are low and falling.
In summary, the worldview that Palo Alto’s early 20th-century IQ testers and eugenicists developed explains part of the basis for the American economy’s most productive sector in the 21st century.
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