Science Condemns Co-Inventor of the Transistor
Another racist called out for his racism,
yet Charles Darwin, one of the most
influential racists in history, gets a pass
The November 18, 2022 issue of Science Magazine celebrated the 75th anniversary of the transistor, an invention that changed our world. And yet the editor of the magazine, H. Holden Thorp, included a blistering editorial against William Shockley, the co-inventor of the transistor, for his racist views on eugenics.
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
The invention of the transistor was so significant that it is logical to divide history into pre-transistor and post-transistor periods. This invention gave us, or made possible, almost every electronic device used today. Transistors are semiconductor devices used for amplifying, regulating, and generating electrical signals. They replaced the unreliable vacuum tubes which regularly burned out in televisions, requiring service by the ubiquitous TV repairman.
Their small size, low cost, long life and low power consumption made transistors ideal for myriads of uses. They are the heart of the integrated circuits called “microchips”, which often contain millions of these minuscule devices etched into their shiny surfaces. The average automobile has over 3,000 microchips, each with hundreds of transistors. Deeply embedded in almost every electronic device—from kitchen appliances, televisions and cell phones to airplanes—transistors have become the nerve cells of the Information Age. The Science article on the transistor describes the 75th anniversary of its invention as
a triumph of both basic and applied science. What started out as studies on the fundamental physics of silicon led to the device that makes it possible to read this article online. The co-inventor of the transistor, William Shockley, who along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, won the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics, is correctly recognized as a primary architect of the computer age. Gordon Moore (co-founder of Intel Corporation) famously said that Shockley put the silicon in “Silicon Valley.”
My Experience Working with William Shockley
In my consulting work under Shockley, I had some deep conversations with him about racism. I once mentioned creation, which he rejected because he said the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. He made it clear that he was a committed evolutionist and recognized that evolution required the existence of differences between organisms, some of which gave them a selective advantage. Other traits resulted in disadvantages in the struggle for resources, such as space, food, mates, and other life-sustaining resources.
One of the many factors which influence survival is intelligence. Shockley’s theory was that retrogressive evolution, or dysgenics, was occurring among American Blacks—meaning that less intelligent Blacks were having more children than those persons that had significantly more intelligence. This belief was widely accepted by Western academics for over a century. It was also common among scientists until it slowly lost favor about the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Shockley also thought that more and more scientists were compromising with the creationist view that all races were equal before God. He did not put it that way to me, but it was clear that this is what he believed. Thus, for evolution to exist, differences between individuals must exist. If all humans were equal on all of the major factors that affected survival, evolution could not occur. Shockley echoed Darwin’s belief that the “highest races and the lowest savages” differ in “moral disposition … and in intellect.”
Darwin had strong racist beliefs. “From the remotest times successful tribes have supplanted other tribes,” he wrote “…At the present day civilised nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations.” Furthermore, the “western nations of Europe … now so immeasurably surpass their former savage progenitors and stand at the summit of civilization.”
Darwin wrote that evolution would cause the gap between civilized man and his closest evolutionary ancestor the apes to eventually widen. He even believed that the inferior human races would become extinct, creating a larger gap between humans and our closest relatives, the apes. The gap would eventually be between civilized man “and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.” But while the Civil Rights Movement had forced Western society to abandon this view, Shockley held on to it. No doubt when he was a student at Cal Tech and MIT in the early 1930s, he was exposed to Darwin’s views and the eugenics movement, and never moved beyond what he learned there as a youth. Darwin’s open support of racism caused Blacks to be less likely to accept Charles Darwin’s views.
We also talked about his experiences and perceptions of Black persons. I could not discern any indications that he was antagonistic toward them as a group. All I heard him say about Blacks was positive. Shockley was a committed intellectual Darwinist, not a man driven by hate as are many racists. He once mentioned that when he was in the hospital several of his nurses were Black. He made a point of describing them as kind, compassionate, professional, skilled, intelligent, well trained, and very capable.
Science’s Distortion of William Shockley
In the Science editorial, Thorp attempted to picture Shockley as a loner, not mainstream, even claiming that he, “carried out his non-physics work through op-eds and conservative think tanks, not through the accepted mechanism of peer review that he used in doing physics.” But, in fact, Shockley published in leading mainline peer-reviewed literature, openly pushing what we now regard as his racist ideas. Some of the many examples include:
- Shockley. 1965. “Is Quality of U.S. Population Declining.” U.S. News & World Report, November 22, pp. 68–71.
- Shockley. 1966. “Population Control or Eugenics.” In J.D. Roslansky (ed.), Genetics and the Future of Man (New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts).
- Shockley. 1968. “Proposed Research to Reduce Racial Aspects of the Environment-Heredity Uncertainty”. Proposal read by Shockley before the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on April 24, 1968.
- Shockley. 1968. “Ten Point Position Statement on Human Quality Problems”, revised by Shockley from a talk which he presented on “Human Quality Problems and Research Taboos.”
- Shockley. 1969. “An Analysis Leading to a Recommendation Concerning Inquiry into Eugenic Legislation”. Press release by Shockley, at Stanford University, on April 28, 1969.
- Shockley. 1970. “A ‘Try Simplest Cases’ Approach to the Heredity-Poverty-Crime Problem.” In V.L. Allen (ed.), Psychological Factors in Poverty (Stamford, CT.: Markham Publishing).
- Shockley. 1970, “New Methodology to Reduce the Environment-Heredity Uncertainty About Dysgenics.” National Academy of Sciences Autumn Meeting (Houston, TX), October 19-21.
- Shockley. 1970. “Proposed NAS Resolution, drafted October 17, 1970.” Proposed by Shockley before the National Academy of Sciences.
- Shockley. 1971. “Hardy-Weinberg Law Generalized to Estimate Hybrid Variance for Negro Populations and Reduce Racial Aspects of the Environment-Heredity Uncertainty.” Annual Meeting NAS, Washington, D.C., May 13.
- Shockley. 1971. “Negro IQ Deficit: Failure of a ‘Malicious Coincidence’ Model Warrants New Research Proposals.” Review of Educational Research 41(3):227-248, June.
- Shockley. 1971a. “Dysgenics – A Social Problem Evaded by the Illusion of Infinite Plasticity of Human Intelligence?” Manuscript for reading at the American Psychological Association Symposium titled: “Social Problems: Illusion, Delusion or Reality.”
- Shockley. 1971b. “Models, Mathematics, and the Moral Obligation to Diagnose the Origin of Negro IQ Deficits.” Review of Educational Research 41(4):397-377, October.
- Shockley. 1972a. “Dysgenics, Geneticity, Raceology: A Challenge to the Intellectual Responsibility of Educators.” Phi Delta Kappan 53(5):297-307, January.
- Shockley. 1972b. “A Debate Challenge: Geneticity Is 80% for White Identical Twins’ I.Q.’s.” Phi Delta Kappan 53(7):415-419, March.
- Shockley. 1972. “Proposed Resolution Regarding the 80% Geneticity Estimate for Caucasian IQ.” Paper presented by Shockley at the Genetics Conference.
- Shockley. 1973. “Deviations from Hardy-Weinberg Frequencies Caused by Assortative Mating in Hybrid Populations.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 70(3):732-736, March.
- Shockley. 1974. “Eugenic, or Anti-Dysgenic, Thinking Exercises.” Published as a press release dated May 3, 1974.
- Shockley. 1974. “Society Has a Moral Obligation to Diagnose Tragic Racial IQ Deficits.” In Pearson, R. (editor) Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems. Scott-Townsend, Washington, D.C., January 1. Prepared statement by Shockley to be read during his February debate with Roy Innis.
- Shockley. 1978. “Has Intellectual Humanitarianism Gone Berserk?” Introductory statement read by Shockley prior to a lecture given by him at UT Dallas.
- Shockley. 1980. “Sperm Banks and Dark-Ages Dogmatism.” Position paper presented by Shockley in a lecture to the Rotary Club of Chico, California, on April 16, 1980.
- Shockley. 1981. “Intelligence in Trouble.” Article by Shockley published in Leaders Magazine, dated June 15, 1981.
- Shockley, William, and Roger Pearson (editor). 1992. Shockley on Eugenics and Race: The Application of Science to the Solution of Human Problems. Scott-Townsend, Washington, D.C., January 1.
This sample list shows that Dr Shockley, a professor at Stanford University when most of this work appeared, was publishing widely in leading academic peer-reviewed journals and books. To picture him as a loner and radical racist is worse than inaccurate. The fact is that, “science” in general was supportive of racism and eugenics for much of the last part of the 19th and most of the 20th century. The Civil Rights Movement changed all of this. Thorp admits:
The failure of Science to condemn Shockley began in 1968, [this is when eugenics was only beginning to be opposed] when it published a letter lamenting the fact that he was prohibited from speaking at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn [one of the few places that would not allow him to speak]. The letter repeated the familiar trope that Shockley was simply asking questions about the role of race in intelligence. But Shockley had no scientific basis for doing so, he was not submitting peer-reviewed papers on the topic, [clearly not true as documented in the list above of some of his publications], and most importantly, he was using his ideas as the basis for promoting eugenics.
Then Thorp claimed that
Shockley was part of a cadre of physicists who advanced ideas outside of their area of expertise to promote a right-wing agenda. He was a close friend of Frederick Seitz—president of both the National Academy of Sciences and Rockefeller University—… Like Shockley, Seitz carried out his non-physics work through op-eds and conservative think tanks, not through the accepted mechanism of peer review that he used in doing physics. Seitz was not, at least publicly, as overtly in favor of eugenics as was Shockley, but he was a strong advocate for genetic determinism.
The list above shows, however, that Shockley’s publications were neither in right-wing nor conservative journals, but largely mainline liberal journals. In 1969 Dr. Arthur R. Jensen, Professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, weighed in with scholarly and statistical support for Shockley’s dysgenic thesis. Jensen was the author of over 400 scientific papers published in peer refereed journals and was on the editorial boards of two scientific journals, namely Intelligence and Personality and Individual Differences. About this time Shockley toured the country, speaking at colleges on both coasts, spreading his dysgenic Darwinist notions wherever he could find a listening ear.
Why Not Give Equal Treatment to Darwin?
I would like to see a follow-up editorial in the next Science or Nature article dealing with evolution (or Darwin). To be consistent, the editorial should describe Darwin as “part of a cadre of naturalists who advanced ideas outside of their area of expertise to promote a left-wing agenda” and see if that assessment would survive. And to conclude the editorial, it should add the following: “Make no mistake, Darwin was a racist; Darwin was a eugenicist,” just as Shockley has been described by Science.
The editorial by H. Holden Thorp in Science incorrectly states that eugenics supporters and racists tend to be “conservatives” or even “right-wing” nut jobs. Thorp is right to condemn racism and eugenics but totally ignores the critical influence of evolution on these beliefs. Darwin’s first cousin, Francis Galton, originated the ideas that Shockley supported, (namely eugenics), but the editorial included not a word about Galton’s and Darwin’s racism. Galton was inspired by his cousin, Darwin, in developing his eugenics program which, incidentally, Darwin said he supported. Science magazine’s focus on Shockley, as if he originated these ideas and was a loner misfit to support them, greatly distorts the entire story. The true story is that eugenics and racism were progressive evolutionary ideas and were supported, not mainly by the political right or mainstream conservatives, but by the liberal left, college professors, and academics.
References and notes
 Thorp, H. Holden. Shockley was a racist and eugenicist. Science 378(6621):683, 18 November 2022.
 Anderson, Austin. Philosophy for the Many. https://sites.williams.edu/engl-209-fall16/uncategorized/the-dark-side-of-darwinism/, 2016.
 Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. D, Appleton & Company, New York, NY, 1871, p. 36.
 Darwin, 1871, p. 160.
 Darwin, 1871, p. 178.
 Darwin, 1871, p. 201.
 The JPHE Foundation, Inc. “Blacks Less Likely to Accept Charles Darwin’s Dethronement of Mankind.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 21, pp. 2-159. Autumn 1998, pp. 39-40.
 Thorp, 2022, p. 683.
 Thorp, 2022, p. 683.
 Thorp, 2022, p. 683.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.