4 MARCH 1995, Page 28

Sir: The cultural gulf between the image of racists normally

seen in the media, that of yobs behaving in a thuggish manner, and the educated middle class may make it dif- ficult for many to accept Alasdair Palmer's suggestion that underlying the pseudo-sci- ence of respectable, middle-class profes- sors, like Messrs Herrnstein, Murray, Lynn, Rushton et al is exactly the same kind of visceral racism which many associate only with those horrifying media images. A per- sonal recollection of Professor Herrnstein at Harvard may help.

When his first articles on race and IQ were published (in the popular rather than the academic press), I was among a group of around 20 Harvard students (which included two black students) who chal- lenged Professor Herrnstein's theories after a lecture one day. In the circumstances the exchanges were reasonably civil, bar one jarring exception. In responding to ques- tions from each of the white students, the professor attempted to reason with them in a 'rational' manner. However, in respond- ing to the questions raised by the two black students, although there was no change in his manner, the substance of his response was entirely different, suggesting that their personal limitations made it impossible for him to discuss his theories with them. For example, he said to one, 'This involves the concept of causation; you are not equipped 'It's being repeated as farce.' to discuss such a complicated concept.' The subtlety of the substantive change behind the continuing reasonable academic tone suggested, to all of the students who wit- nessed it, that Herrnstein himself did not consciously realise what he was doing — it was simply an instinctive reaction when talking to a black person.

Although to the outside world Herrn- stein had the credibility of being a tenured Harvard professor in the seemingly rele- vant psychology department, in fact at Har- vard the psychology department was limit- ed to the study of non-human animals; the human variety was studied in the social relations department. Professor Herrn- stein's speciality which won him tenure was pigeon behaviour.

Gregory Pilkington

The Garden Flat, 5 Ifield Road, London SW10