This is almost too good to be true! Just hours after Slate published William Saletan's incredibly strained condemnation of Bill Bennett's remarks, Slate turns around and publishes "The Dumbing-Down of the U.S. Army: And some modest proposals for countering the trend" by Slate's military writer Fred Kaplan. The Slate article criticizes the U.S. Army's new plan to get more recruit by lowering its high school graduation and IQ standards. One reason Kaplan gives is that that lowering cognitive requirements will make the Army more black!
"Further evidence that the war in Iraq is wrecking the U.S. Army: Recruiters, having failed to meet their enlistment targets, are now being authorized to pursue high-school dropouts and (not to mince words) stupid people... More than that, the Los Angeles Times reports today that 4 percent of recruits will be allowed to score as low as in the 16th to 30th percentile—a grouping known as "Category IV"—on the U.S. Armed Forces' mental-aptitude exam.
By the way, this mental-aptitude exam, the AFQT, is the exact same one that provides the bulk of the data for Richard J. Herrnstein's and Charles Murray's infinitely denounced The Bell Curve. Kaplan continues:
As of 2003 (the last year for which official data are available), just 6 percent of active-duty Army soldiers lacked a high-school diploma or a GED. Just 1 percent scored in Category IV on the aptitude test.
Not since the mid-1980s—when the military brass first decided to reject low-scoring applicants—have the all-volunteer Army's standards been allowed to dip so steeply.
Well, to be precise, Congress banned the enlistment of anyone scoring below the 10th percentile back in the early 1950s because of documented trouble in training and accident prevention among people with IQs of 80 or less. In 1992, the military virtually stopped accepting new enlistees below the 30th percentile (IQs below 92, which is about half a standard deviation above the African-American median). Since the end of the Cold War, only 1% of new enlistees have scored below the 30th percentile.
Several career officers are dismayed by this new policy—not least because it reverses the progress that has been made these past two decades in the buildup of a professional army.
In the mid- to late-1970s—in the wake of the Vietnam War, the height of popular disenchantment with the military, and the start of the all-volunteer armed forces—as many as half of U.S. soldiers hadn't finished high school, and as many as one-third were Category IV.
One of the little-known reasons for the notoriously low quality of enlistees during the Carter Era was the "Misnorming" fiasco:
The military's norms for scoring applicant's entrance tests results on the new ASVAB (the 10 subtest exam of which four were the traditional highly g-loaded IQ-like tests, long known as the AFQT, the ones used in The Bell Curve) were set wrong (too easy), and thus the military let in many applicants from 1976-1980 that they would have rejected if they had known how stupid they really were.
Misnorming was corrected in 1980, then Reagan pushed through pay raises for soldiers and boosted patriotism. The test scores and subsequent on-the-job performance of recruits went way up, then reached a peak in the post-Cold War era when the military downsized and shed a lot of lesser talent. The average IQ of new enlistees (not even counting officers) has been over 100 for at least the last 13 years.
The new policy will leave the Army's ranks in far better shape than they were back then. But officers, analysts, and many recruiters are disturbed by the trend, the lowering of a barrier, the reversal of an accomplishment.
Should they be disturbed? Is it important that nearly all our soldiers have a diploma or score better than abysmally on an aptitude test? Yes and yes, for at least two reasons.
The first reason is sociopolitical. Not many nations have an all-volunteer army, and the concept could not be sustained if the burden of service fell entirely on the lowest classes—on those who joined the military because they couldn't find jobs elsewhere. The inequity would be intensified—rendered impossible to ignore—if the face of this lower-class army were disproportionately black. This was precisely the kind of military we had in the early days of the all-volunteer force: overwhelmingly poor, uneducated, and African-American. But this is no longer the case. The racial mix, reading levels, and aptitude scores of today's Army are not much different from those of 18-to-24-year-olds in American society as a whole. [Emphasis mine.]
Calling William Saletan! Your colleague Fred Kaplan is making the racist assumption that young blacks will continue to have lower IQs in the future. Time to crucify him like you did to William Bennett.
Kaplan, though, is certainly right: the black-white gap when the AFQT was renormed in 1998 was 14.7 IQ points.
Interestingly, that was down from the anomalously large 18.6 point black-white gap found on the 1980 renorming of the AFQT (a recent meta-analysis of over 100 IQ studies covering over 6 million individuals found an average black-white gap of 16.5 points). Subsequent analysis suggests that the unusually low scores achieved by black males on the AFQT in 1980 was caused by blacks being more likely to give up and not try to finish the 105 page long paper-based test after they realized they weren't going to do well on it.
The 1998 version of AFQT is given on a computer which adjusts to how well the test-taker is doing. If you miss a lot of early questions, the program will then give you easier questions. This makes taking the test less depressing for low IQ individuals, so that somebody who, say, would have given up halfway through the old 105 page test and gotten a 65 might keep going and get a 75 instead.
Also, it's quite possible that the black-white IQ gap is narrowing in real terms. Charles Murray presents some evidence suggesting it might be down to only 14 points now. So, Saletan can plausibly argue that we don't know what the IQ gap will be, if it exists at all, in, say, 2150 A.D. But, if Saletan wants to put his money where his mouth is and bet me that the racial IQ gap will disappear within my lifetime, well, I would be happy to relieve him of his money.
Kaplan goes on to argue that the difference in test scores (and graduation rates) has real world consequences:
But the point of an army is to fight wars, not to promote social equality. So, the more critical reason to lament the Army's declining standards is their likely impact on military skills. This is a high-tech army, where even tank crews and artillery spotters deal with digital displays and computerized commands. Low-tech missions, too—foot soldiers on patrol in the sorts of "stability operations" they're conducting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia—require a degree of alertness, sensitivity, initiative, even rudimentary foreign-language skills, that goes beyond a rote ability to follow orders and shoot straight.