MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF...
In an accurate review of Jonathan Marks's loosely argued What It
Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee, Micaela di Leonardo passes on to readers
the misleading impression that the Great Ape Project uses the genetic
similarities between humans and apes to argue for "human rights" for
apes, "frequently to the detriment of the impoverished African and
Southeast Asian residents of ape homelands" ["Too Much Monkey Business,"
This is false from start to finish. First, the Great Ape Project is not
based on the genetic similarities of humans and great apes but on the
rich emotional and mental lives of the great apes, so well documented by
supporters of the Great Ape Project like Jane Goodall and many others.
Second, the Great Ape Project does not seek the full range of human
rights for great apes, but only the basic rights to life, liberty and
protection from torture, and even the rights to life and liberty that we
seek are not absolute, for they allow euthanasia in the interests of the
apes, and captivity where that is in the best interests of the apes or
is required for the safety of others. Finally, the protection of the
remaining, and rapidly dwindling, forests of Africa and Southeast Asia
where the great apes live in their natural habitat is, surely, also in
the best long-term interests of the human residents of those regions.
Readers interested in finding out more about the project for themselves
may go to www.greatapeproject.org.
DI LEONARDO REPLIES
You've got to hand it to notorious headline-grabbing philosopher Peter
Singer, who has endorsed infanticide for disabled human babies, claimed
we can solve global poverty by just consuming a little less and donating
as individuals to aid agencies (no need, apparently, to complicate
matters by considering capitalist functioning and state and NGO actions)
and called for a revision of taboos against bestiality since "sex with
animals does not always involve cruelty." Now how exactly can he hold
his mouth to call Jon Marks's 98% Chimpanzee loosely argued?
What is so refreshing about Marks's work is that he is a hard scientist
who really understands that we live and act within a shifting political
economy. Animal and ecosystem conservation and human rights for the
impoverished who live in surviving great ape territories in Africa and
Southeast Asia need not be antithetical projects, but Marks quotes
numerous Great Ape Project activists who believe they are, including the
zoologist who chillingly said to him, "Think percentages, not numbers"
in weighing Southeast Asian human vs. ape rights. Others frequently
liken apes to human children or mentally retarded adults. And Singer is
most disingenuous in claiming that the GAP does not argue on the basis
of genetic similarity. The group's official website clearly argues for
apes' inclusion with humans in a "community of equals" because they (and
Singer co-wrote this statement) "are the closest relatives of our
The issue, as Marks makes crystal clear, is not whether apes are
adorable, interesting, endangered and in need of aid--of course they
are--but how we use science to make political arguments. "Why should the
mentality of apes have any bearing on their humanness (or lack thereof)
or their rights (or lack thereof)? If you lose the ability to reason and
communicate, do you...forfeit your humanity and rights? This is a scary
moral place for apes and people to be.... Human rights should neither be
forfeitable nor accessible by nonhumans.... Singling out particular
classes of people in order to show how similar they are to apes is a
troubling scientific strategy, not least of all when the humans
rhetorically invoked are the very ones whose rights are most
conspicuously in jeopardy."
Disability groups and others quite rightly have weighed in en masse
against Singer, but nonhuman primates, too, deserve a better, more
MICAELA DI LEONARDO
THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS ONLY A TEST...
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Eighty years ago, journalist Walter Lippmann took on the standardized
testing enterprise in The New Republic, addressing such broad
issues as the effects of education, opportunity and heredity on test
scores. For example, Lippmann dismissed the claim that IQ tests measure
hereditary intelligence as having "no more scientific foundation than a
hundred other fads, vitamins and glands and amateur psychoanalysis and
correspondence courses in will power." His articles on testing continue
to be valued today not merely because he could turn a phrase but because
he had a firm grasp of the complex technical and political issues
surrounding the use of test scores.
Alas, Peter Sacks is no Walter Lippmann. To Sacks, who reviewed my book
Fair Game? The Use of Standardized Admissions Tests in Higher
Education ["Testing Times in Higher Ed," June 24], the issues are
simple: Tests are evil; eliminating them is good. Sacks has undoubtedly
been aware of my work because I have pointed out errors and omissions in
his writings on testing; in fact, I do so in my book. He ignores large
portions of the book in order to characterize it as "a defense of the
hegemony of gatekeeping exams." A reader of the review might be
surprised to find that my book proposes a new consumer agency to monitor
admissions testing, discusses the perils of relying too heavily on test
scores in admissions decisions and describes research, including some of
my own, in which test scores did not do a good job of predicting
Rather than attempt to address every inaccuracy, I will focus on a
central feature of Sacks's review--his belief that the existence of
score disparities among ethnic and economic groups proves that
admissions tests are biased. In Fair Game? I point out that
determining whether tests are biased is complex and requires a
willingness to look beyond patterns of average test scores. In
Change (March/April 2001), I commented on Sacks's earlier
Change article, "Standardized Testing: Meritocracy's Crooked
Yardstick": "[Sacks] cited several studies to prove that SAT scores and
socioeconomic status are related, and alluded to [a study conducted by
the National Center for Education Statistics]. What he neglected to
mention is that this study showed that socioeconomic status was also
related to high school grades... [and to course background, teacher
evaluations and extracurricular activities]. In particular, 24 percent
of the high-SES group, compared to only 10 percent of the low-SES group,
had high school [grade-point averages] of at least 3.5..."
What the GPA and the SAT have in common is that they are indexes of
previous achievement and therefore reflect past inequalities in
educational opportunity. In The Nation (June 5, 2000), Pedro
Noguera and Antwi Akom noted that "explaining why poor children of color
perform comparatively less well in school is relatively easy:
Consistently, such children are educated in schools that are woefully
inadequate on most measures of quality and funding."
Sacks omitted the findings on grades and other achievement measures from
his book and from his Change article. Presenting the complete
results would have undercut his position that some inherent property of
tests causes the scores to be related to economic factors. (Including
all the findings might have also required him to abandon his pet phrase,
"the Volvo effect," which he uses to refer to the association between
family income and standardized test scores.)
In addition, Sacks is incorrect in implying that class-rank admission
plans like the Texas 10 percent plan, which involve consideration of
high school grades but not test scores, have uniformly led to greater
campus diversity. The Dallas Morning News, for example, reported
on June 19, 2002, that at Texas A&M, the percentages of black and
Latino students have decreased since the initiation of the Texas plan.
As I point out in my book, the plan is structured so that diversity
benefits are likely to accrue to the state's flagship institution, UT
Finally, in response to Sacks's criticism that my writing is
textbookish, I readily concede that I lack his ability to generate
catchy phrases like "Volvo effect" and "crooked yardstick." But clever
labels are a poor substitute for thoughtful consideration of the
controversies that surround the use of standardized tests.
In response to my criticisms of her new book, Rebecca Zwick takes aim
at the reviewer. She says I believe that "tests are evil; eliminating
them is good." It's not surprising she'd make up this straw man, since
attacking it also sums up the entire marketing strategy behind her book.
Zwick--a former researcher at the Educational Testing Service, the firm
that produces such standardized tests as the SAT--and her publisher have
touted Fair Game? as a source of objective information about
testing, positioned to clear up all this testing fuss with common sense
and straight facts. If one chooses to look at a different or broader set
of facts than she does, or to interpret them with a non-ETS spin, Zwick
seems to imply that one must then be a simpleton and an ideologue.
Zwick tries to make hay of the finding that high school or college
grades, just like test scores, also correlate strongly to socioeconomic
status. Not recognizing this, as Zwick takes pains to do in her book, is
to unfairly single out standardized tests as punitive to poor and
minority kids, Zwick claims.
Like so much of her book, Zwick seems to miss the big picture. The
thrust of my entire critique of the testing culture--and her book--is
that gatekeeping tests give questionable weight to one-time performance
on highly abstracted testing exercises, which by definition are mere
approximations of genuine work. And mostly poor approximations, at that.
Given this, it's no wonder that test scores are such feeble predictors
of later success, whether in school or work.
Just as Bates College and other institutions have done, with great
success, in their efforts to reduce the importance of admissions tests,
I'll take classroom performance--as measured by grades, portfolios of
student work and other documentation of student accomplishments both in
and out of school--any day over test performance as an indicator of how
a student will perform in real life, not the tested life.
Regarding the Texas 10-percent plan, Zwick says I'm incorrect in
implying that de-emphasizing the SAT has led to greater diversity for
all state institutions. In fact, I'm not implying any such claim in the
context she quotes. I draw on data only from the University of Texas at
Austin. Zwick speculates that the plan has merely reshuffled the deck in
terms of statewide enrollments of minorities. If Zwick wants me
or another reviewer to take her seriously on this point, she'd better
offer up something of substance or do some real analysis. In her book,
Zwick could only muster up this: "Data on the statewide effect of
the Texas 10 percent plan are hard to come by."
What can she possibly mean with such a vague statement? That university
officials are trying to hide some dirty little secret? Does it mean that
there are no campus-specific enrollment data broken out by race and
ethnicity? Seems improbable. Or could it mean that Zwick could find no
readily available studies by credible researchers that support her claim
that enrollments have merely been redistributed from other state
campuses to Austin? But even a boatload of data needs a theory, an
explanation of what the data mean. Alas, Zwick offers readers no
theoretically plausible explanation whatsoever as to why minority
enrollments might be expected to decline across the state as a result of
reducing the emphasis on SAT scores. In fact, there's every reason to
expect just the opposite.
As for textbookishness, that is certainly no major offense. Sign me up
any day for a dry but forthright book about testing in America.
Regarding Zwick's curious reference to me and Walter Lippmann, I won't
touch that one with a ten-foot number-2 pencil.