Exactly two years ago today, my colleagues and I published an article in Archives of Scientific Psychology in which we analyzed the discussion about intelligence in each book and screened it for inaccuracies and logical fallacies (Warne et al., 2018). We found that over three-quarters of introductory psychology textbooks had at least one factual error and/or logical fallacy in the lesson about intelligence.

Identifying a problem is merely the first step to fixing it, and so on p. 46 of the article, we stated that we would send a copy of the errors to the textbooks authors. The responses were interesting and possibly give a hint at whether the content of introductory psychology textbooks will improve.

The responses

The 29 textbooks had 55 authors, and I attempted to email all authors of a book at the same time. I was unable to contact 13 authors (23.6%). Three of those authors were deceased, and I could not find an email address for the other 11 authors. Additionally, one author passed away four days after I sent the email. (I’m pretty sure that his death is unrelated to my email.) In the end, at least one author of 27 of the 29 textbooks (93.1%) was contacted.

At least one author of 15 different books replied to the message. These messages were all cordial and gracious, which I think is very encouraging. Many authors had questions about the article, about the standards we use to identify inaccuracies, and tips for understanding intelligence research.

I was worried that sending the emails would seem judgmental and shaming. But judging by the replies, that was not the case. Most authors who responded were grateful for the feedback.

This doesn’t mean that all the authors were pushovers. John O. Mitterer felt that some of our standards for accuracy were “uncharitable” and “one-sided.” This may be because his book (Coon & Mitterer, 2016) had one of the longest lists of inaccurate and fallacious passages. I can’t blame him for disagreeing, though I still think that the standards for factual accuracy that my coauthors and I used (Gottfredson, 1997; Neisser et al., 1996) were fair. Both articles represent mainstream statements of facts about intelligence, and both were published long ago enough for the information can trickle down to textbook authors. The fallacies source (Gottfredson, 2009) is clear and factually based, also.

On the other extreme was David G. Myers, who engaged in several email exchanges with me in response to the feedback about the then-current edition of his book (Myers, & DeWall, 2015). Myers has rewritten the section of his book on intelligence, and asked me to serve as a peer reviewer for that portion. I still don’t agree with everything Myers writes, but these are typical disagreements among professionals. Basic factual inaccuracies have all been corrected, and the next edition of his textbook is going to be great.

(Fun fact: A then-current version of Myers’ textbook was my introductory book almost 20 years ago.)

The responses from the textbook authors showed us that these writers want the same thing that my coauthors and I want: a high-quality psychology education for students. They all stated that they were appreciative of the feedback, and most plan on incorporating our feedback into their textbook revisions. I got the impression that we’re all on the same team.

The Silence is Deafening

Although my experience is positive with the replies I got, a very common response was silence. A total of 19 authors of 12 books never replied to the message. Perhaps these people did not receive the email at all. Or maybe they’re just ignoring it or are too busy to reply. It is impossible to know why I did not get a response, but it is discouraging nonetheless.

I understand firsthand how hard it is to get a textbook correct and that the revision process is complicated. Still, whenever readers have sent me unsolicited feedback for my statistics textbook, I have acknowledged their message. It is not realistic to expect authors to implement every suggestion–especially when these suggestions are contradictory–but it is realistic to ask people to acknowledge a reader’s message sent in good faith.

Can anybody hear me? Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Time Will Tell

It is too early to know whether the article and the messages I sent to the authors have any impact. Textbook revisions take time and work, and some of the books that we evaluated have not had new editions published since the analysis started in late 2016. And there is turnover in the textbook market; one author stated that there would be no revised version of the textbook, and new books get published.

I’m cautiously optimistic that the lessons on intelligence will be more accurate in the future. But only time will tell. Maybe a follow-up article in 2028 is in order.

References

Coon, D., & Mitterer, J. O. (2016). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior (14th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Mainstream science on intelligence: An editorial with 52 signatories, history, and bibliography. Intelligence, 24(1), 13-23. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0160-2896(97)90011-8

Gottfredson, L. S. (2009). Logical fallacies used to dismiss the evidence on intelligence testing. In R. P. Phelps (Ed.), Correcting fallacies about educational and psychological testing (pp. 11-65). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/11861-001

Myers, D. G., & DeWall, C. N. (2015). Psychology (11th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Neisser, U., Boodoo, G., Bouchard, T. J., Boykin, A. W., Brody, N., Ceci, S. J., . . . Urbina, S. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and unknowns. American Psychologist, 51(2), 77-101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.51.2.77

Warne, R. T., Astle, M. C., & Hill, J. C. (2018). What do undergraduates learn about human intelligence? An analysis of introductory psychology textbooks. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 6(1), 32-50. https://doi.org/10.1037/arc0000038

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