N.Y. REVIEW OF BOOKS Is Shocked, Shocked to Find Silicon Valley's Wealth Is Based on Smart Old Ideas About Nature / Nurture
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From a review by Ben Tarnoff of Palo Alto by Malcolm Harris in the New York Review of Books:

Better, Faster, Stronger
Ben Tarnoff
Two recent books illuminate the dark foundations of Silicon Valley.
September 21, 2023 issue

… Palo Alto isn’t about a place so much as an idea: a theory of selective breeding called the Palo Alto System, which, in Harris’s view, has long guided the region’s ruling class. He locates the origins of the Palo Alto System in a lovely stretch of the South Bay now occupied by Stanford University. On one end of Stanford’s campus sits a big red barn that looks like it fell out of a children’s book—one of only two buildings remaining of the dozens that were once distributed across Leland Stanford’s horse farm. In 1876 the industrialist started buying up acres in the area, creating a ranch. By the end of the following decade the ranch had become the Palo Alto Stock Farm, an operation with a staff of 150 devoted to the scientific perfection of horse breeding.

Stanford wanted to breed stronger horses, faster. …

The Palo Alto Stock Farm turned out to be a big success. The principal innovation was the Palo Alto System, which involved teaching horses to trot when they were young. That way, Stanford and his operatives could identify the promising ones early, train them intensively, and then use them as studs to produce more promising colts, thereby transmitting talent via superior genes. “Instead of optimizing for adult speed, they optimized for visible potential,” Harris writes.

The Palo Alto System didn’t stop with horses. It became the guiding philosophy of the university that Stanford carved out of his estate in 1885. Harris focuses in particular on David Starr Jordan, the university’s first president, whom Harris credits with bringing the Palo Alto System “out of the barn and into the classroom.” Like many self-styled modernizers of the period, Jordan loved eugenics. Under his direction, Harris argues, “the small, young university became a national center for controlled evolution.” Young white people with potential would be identified and intensively trained, in the hope of staving off racial decay.

One of the features of the Palo Alto System as it applied to horses was an obsession with quantification. As the system migrated to humans, this quantifying impulse turned toward intelligence testing. Lewis Terman, a psychologist who joined Stanford University in 1910, helped popularize the notion that intelligence could be expressed in a single number, such as an IQ score. He was especially interested in high-IQ children. “Budding geniuses needed to be identified and elevated,” Harris writes, “while young degenerates needed to be corralled where they couldn’t dilute the national race or turn their underachievement into social problems.”

Conveniently, Terman found one budding genius at home, training his son Frederick as intensively as a promising colt. William Shockley Sr., a Stanford engineering professor, took a similar approach with his son. In both cases, helicopter parenting plus nepotism paid off: Frederick Terman and William Shockley Jr. helped create the field of operations research during World War II, using mathematical techniques to optimize military decision-making. As the war came to an end the younger Terman began an illustrious career as a Stanford administrator, first as the dean of its engineering school and then as the provost. He turned Stanford into a cold war university flush with Pentagon contracts and the surrounding valley into a major node in the military-industrial complex. Meanwhile, in 1955, Shockley started a semiconductor company that, while short-lived, inaugurated the area’s silicon industry. …

Shockley was a vicious racist, with a lifelong passion for eugenics. His views are typically treated in histories of Silicon Valley as mysterious quirks—Harris quotes a biographer who called their origin “unknown and unknowable”—but Harris demonstrates that they were far from aberrations. Shockley was simply articulating the principles of the Palo Alto System that had formed him, as transmitted by his father. Those principles weren’t exceptional by the standards of their time, but they found especially fertile ground in California, where whiteness, Harris argues, had always served as the state’s “core organizing principle.”

This is basically the point-and-sputter version of my 2012 column in Taki’s Magazine:

Silicon Valley’s Two Daddies

Steve Sailer
July 11, 2012

With Silicon Valley back on top of the world, it’s time to point out a bit of unwelcome history.

There are two competing narratives about the technology hub’s origins:

-The famous tale of how William Shockley‘s obnoxious management style led to start-up silicon chipmakers such as Intel;

-The less-familiar version centering on Stanford professor Frederick Terman and Hewlett-Packard.

What has almost never been pointed out is that the two rivals for the title of Father of Silicon Valley, Shockley and Terman, have common roots in early 20th century Palo Alto’s scientific and ideological consensus, a now extremely unfashionable worldview that has been driven underground but remains fundamental to how Silicon Valley actually succeeds in the 21st century.

William Shockley (1910-1989) grew up in Palo Alto, where his mother graduated from Stanford. … When Shockley decided in 1956 to set up his own R&D lab to commercialize silicon semiconductors, Stanford provost Terman encouraged him to return to his native region where he could be near his widowed mother. With Terman’s help, Shockley hired eight brilliant young assistants. They soon rebelled against Shockley’s obstreperous management style and quit Shockley Semiconductor. The “Traitorous Eight,” notably Intel’s Robert Noyce (“The Mayor of Silicon Valley“) and Gordon Moore (“Moore’s Law“), went on to found most of Silicon Valley’s major chip companies.

Shockley then became a Stanford professor under Terman. At Stanford, he made himself one of America’s most hated men by pointing out the difference in average IQ between whites and blacks, noting the evidence for substantial heritability of intelligence and suggesting government subsidies to encourage less intelligent people to forgo reproducing.

Shockley was the first to put the “silicon” in Silicon Valley (a term coined in 1971), but before him had come Fred Terman (1900-1982). In Valley lore, Terman is best known as the avuncular academic who mentored his old students William Hewlett and David Packard in 1938 as they founded HP in a Palo Alto garage to make oscilloscopes. In 1951, Terman had the university create the Stanford Industrial Park and rent it out to tech companies, forming the core of Silicon Valley. He encouraged his grad students to start companies and hire Stanford professors as consultants, establishing the tech entrepreneurship template.....

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....

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.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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