Bell Curve


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Bell Curve

  1. 1. The Bell Curve 1The Bell Curve, published in 1994, was written by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray as a work designed to explain, using empirical statistical analysis, the variations in intelligence in American Society, raise some warnings regarding the consequences of this intelligence gap, and propose national social policy with the goal of mitigating the worst of the consequences attributed to this intelligence gap. Many of the assertions put forth and conclusions reached by the authors are very controversial, ranging from the relationships between low measured intelligence and anti-social behavior, to the observed relationship between low African-American test scores (compared to whites and Asians) and genetic factors in intelligence abilities. The book was released and received with a large public response. In the first several months of its release, 400,000 copies of the book were sold around the world. Several thousand reviews and commentaries have been written in the short time since the books publication. Introduction - assumptions about intelligenceThe Bell Curve begins with fundamental and important assumptions, makes assertions (supported by the author’s evidence), draws conclusions based on statistical analysis of the evidentiary data, and concludes with wide-ranging recommendations for national policy-
  2. 2. makers to follow. The authors state that their main motive is, “the quest for humandignity." (p. 551). Their concluding paragraph seems to support this motive:"Inequality of endowments, including intelligence, is a reality. Trying to pretend thatinequality does not really exist has led to disaster. Trying to eradicate inequality with 2artificially manufactured outcomes has led to disaster. It is time for America once again totry living with inequality, as life is lived: understanding that each human being hasstrengths and weaknesses, qualities we admire and qualities we do not admire,competencies and incompetencies, assets and debits; that the success of each human life isnot measured externally but internally; that all of the rewards we can confer on each other,the most precious is a place as a valued fellow citizen." (pp 551-552)The Bell Curve, in its introduction, begins with a brief description of the history ofintelligence theory and recent developments in intelligence thought and testing, throughthe eyes of the authors. The introduction concludes with six important assumptions thatthe authors build much of the Bell Curves case upon. These six assumptions regarding thevalidity of "classical" cognitive testing techniques include:There is such a difference as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beingsdiffer.All standardized test of academic aptitude or achievement measure this general factor tosome degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately. IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent, or smart in ordinary language. IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a persons life. Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups. Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.
  3. 3. The authors proceed to explain, using classical cognitive test results primarily, to explainhow lower levels of measured intelligence impact an individuals, or indeed an entire classor group of individuals life in American society. The rest of the book is divided into fourmajor parts. 3Part 1 - The Cognitive ElitePart 1 (Chapters 1-4) describes the intelligence stratification of American society and theresulting emergence of a "Cognitive Elite". The essential conclusions of this Part of the bookare that more intelligent (higher measured IQ) Americans are selected for college, and endup in fewer professions; American society is becoming cognitively stratified, with theCognitive Elite crossing paths rarely with those of lower cognitive abilities. In the last halfof the twentieth century, more and more Americans have been getting college degrees.College graduates have been funneled into a selective few occupations, especially for thebrightest of the bright. The authors assert that more intelligent employees are moreproficient employees, so that even among high-IQ professions like law, the highest IQpersons end up at the top. In addition, the authors argue that IQ tests could be the mostimportant indicator of potential employee success, and therefore should be allowable as aninput to the hiring process. A final point is made with respect to earnings based oncognitive ability. Since the cognitive elite are more proficient, they make more money, livein different areas, and send their children to different schools, churches, stores, etc. Thisleads directly to physical separation from the rest of society.Part 2 - IQ and Social ProblemsPart 2 (Chapters 5-12) of the book addresses social groups at the low end of the cognitiveability spectrum. Assertions are made, and conclusions reached, concerning the propensityof people involved in anti-social or otherwise undesirable behavior or situations to be
  4. 4. below average when measured for cognitive ability. The conclusions reached aresummarized as follows: Poverty - Low IQ is a strong precursor of poverty, even more so than the socioeconomic conditions in which people grow up. 4 Schooling - Low IQ raises the likelihood of dropping out of school before completing high school, and decreases the likelihood of attaining a college degree. Unemployment, Idleness and Injury - Low IQ is associated with persons who are unemployed, injured often, or idle (removed themselves from the workforce). Family Matters - Low IQ correlates with high rates of divorce, lower rates of marriage, and higher rates of illegitimate births, Welfare Dependency - Low IQ increases the chances of chronic welfare dependency. Parenting - Low IQ of mothers correlates with low birth weight babies, a childs poor motor skill and social development, and childrens behavioral problems from age 4 and up. Crime - Low IQ increases the risk of criminal behavior. Civility and Citizenship - Low IQ people vote least and care least about political issues.Part 3 - IQ and RacePart 3 (Chapters 13 - 17) addresses issues of a national focus, turning attention to cognitiveand social behavioral differences between racial and ethnic groups. The controversysurrounding these topics and the incredibly complex nature of the comparisons beingmade is acknowledged by the authors from the outset; the reader is cautioned to "readcarefully". The assertions and conclusions reached in this part of The Bell Curve include thefollowing:
  5. 5. Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability - East Asians typically earn higher IQ scores than white Americans, especially in the verbal intelligence areas. African-Americans typically earn IQ scores one full standard deviation below those of white Americans. The IQ difference between African-Americans and whites remains at all levels of 5 socioeconomic status (SES), and is even more pronounced at higher levels of SES. Recent narrowing of the average IQ gap between black and white Americans (about 3 IQ points) is attributed to a lessening of low black scores and not an overall improvement in black scores on average. The debate over genes versus environment influences on the race IQ gap is acknowledged. The Demography of Intelligence - Mounting evidence indicates that demographic trends are exerting downward pressure on the distribution of cognitive ability in the United States and that the pressures are strong enough to have social consequences. Birth rates among highly educated women are falling faster than those of low IQ women. The IQ of the average immigrant of today is 95, lower than the national average, but more importantly the new immigrants are less brave, less hard working, less imaginative, and less self-starting than many of the immigrant groups of the past. Social Behavior and the Prevalence of Low Cognitive Ability - For most of the worst social problems of our time, the people who have the problem are heavily concentrated in the lower portion of the cognitive ability spectrum. Solutions designed to solve or mitigate any of these problems must accommodate, even be focused towards, the low cognitive ability profile if they are to have any hope of succeeding.Part 4 - IQ and Social Policy Part 4 (Chapters 17 - 22) focus on the idea that we must all live together in this country of diverse cognitive ability, just as we must all live together in this nation of diverse racial and ethnic background. All major domestic issues that we address must include a component that takes into account the predominant cognitive levels
  6. 6. of the target population. For example, if we want to implement a training programfor unemployed men, we should realize that fully half of the target group will havemeasured IQ below 80. This should have a significant impact on the resulting socialprogram or policy we establish. Specifically, the discussions in this part of the book, 6the culmination of the authors efforts, include:Raising Cognitive Ability - If it were possible to significantly, consistently, andaffordably raise intelligence, many of the negative consequences of societal low IQcould be mitigated or removed. However, historical attempts to raise IQ usingnutritional programs, additional formal schooling, and government preschoolprograms (such as Head Start) have proven to have little if any lasting impact onintelligence as measured by IQ tests. The one intervention that has consistentlyworked to raise intelligence is adoption form a bad family environment into a goodone. The authors recommend that children born to single mothers with lowcognitive ability be voluntarily given up for adoption.The Leveling of American Education - The average American school child has notsuffered from recent declines in overall school system measurements. Indeed, thefocus of American public education has shifted more and more towards educatingthe average and below-average child to the exclusion of gifted children. Among themost gifted students, SAT scores have been falling since the mid -1960ís. No morethan one-tenth of one percent of federal education spending is targeted towards thegifted students. As American education has been "dumbed down" to accommodatethe average and below average students, the gifted students have been allowed toslide by without developing their true potential. The authors recommend that somefederal education funds be shifted from disadvantaged programs to gifted programs,and that the federal government encourage parental choice in education throughvoucher programs, public school choice programs, or tax credits for education. Afinal recommendation is for educators to once again view as one of the chiefpurposes of our educational system to educate the gifted because the future ofsociety depends on them, an education that fosters wisdom and virtue through theideal of the "educated man".
  7. 7. Affirmative Action in Higher Education - The edge given to minority applicants tocollege and graduate school is an extremely large advantage that puts them in aseparate admissions process. Asians are a conspicuously unprotected minority duein large part to their above average intelligence scores. The cost of affirmative action 7in higher education includes the psychological consequences of students admittedunder affirmative action programs, at lower cognitive ability levels, being seen as alow proportion of the overall student population, but a high proportion of thestudents doing poorly in school. This can lead to increased racial animosity and thehigh black dropout rate on American campuses. The authors recommend a color-blind affirmative action, giving preference to members of disadvantaged groupswhen qualifications are similar.Affirmative Action in the Workplace - Affirmative action programs in the workplacehave had some impact, on some kinds of jobs, in some settings, during the 1960ísand 70ís, but have not had the decisive impact that is commonly asserted in politicalrhetoric. action does produce large racial discrepancies in job performance in agiven workplace. Blacks have been overrepresented in white collar and professionaloccupations relative to the number of candidates in the IQ range from which thesejobs are usually filled. The data suggest that aggressive affirmative action doesproduce large racial discrepancies in job performance in a given workplace. Theauthors recommend a color-blind affirmative action, giving preference to membersof disadvantaged groups when qualifications are similar.The Way We are Headed - Three significant trends have emerged that, leftunchecked, will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society. Thesetrends are: 1) An increasingly isolated cognitive elite, 2) A merging of the cognitiveelite with the affluent, and 3) A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottomend of the cognitive ability distribution. The authors see the continued polarizationof society with the underclass anchored at the bottom, and the cognitive eliteanchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder andharder for them to lose. The authors denouement of their prognosis is the coming ofthe "custodial state - an expanded welfare state for the underclass that also keeps it
  8. 8. out from underfoot". The custodial state will have the following consequences: 1) Childcare in the inner city will become primarily the responsibility of the state. 2) The homeless will vanish. 3) Strict policing and custodial responses to crime will become more acceptable and widespread. 4) The underclass will become even more 8 concentrated spatially than it is today. 5) The underclass will grow. 6) Social budgets and measures for social control will become still more centralized. 7) Racism will re-emerge in a new and more virulent form. A Place for Everyone - In order to avoid the pessimistic custodial state conceptualized in the previous chapter, the authors propose a different scenario for American society in this chapter. The foundation to this alternative (more positive) scenario is the rethinking of equality and inequality.The Bell Curve, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, subtitled Intelligence andClass Structure in American Life, provides a superb and unusual opportunity to gain insightinto the meaning of experiment as a method in science. The primary desideratum in allexperiments is reduction of confusing variables: we bring all the buzzing and bloomingconfusion of the external world into our laboratories and, holding all else constant in ourartificial simplicity, try to vary just one potential factor at a time. But many subjects defythe use of such an experimental method particularly most social phenomena becauseimportation into the laboratory destroys the subject of the investigation, and then we mustyearn for simplifying guides in nature. If the external world occasionally obliges by holdingsome crucial factors constant for us, we can only offer thanks for this natural boost tounderstanding. (p. 3)On Social Darwinism:The Bell Curve rests on two distinctly different but sequential arguments, which togetherencompass the classic corpus of biological determinism as a social philosophy. The firstargument rehashes the tenets of social Darwinism as it was originally constituted. SocialDarwinism has often been used as a general term for any evolutionary argument about the
  9. 9. biological basis of human differences, but the initial nineteenth century meaning referredto a specific theory of class stratification within industrial societies, and particularly to theidea that there was a permanently poor underclass consisting of genetically inferior peoplewho had precipitated down into their inevitable fate. The theory arose from a paradox of 9egalitarianism: as long as people remain on top of the social heap by accident of a noblename or parental wealth, and as long as members of despised castes cannot rise no matterwhat their talents, social stratification will not reflect intellectual merit, and brilliance willbe distributed across all classes; but when true equality of opportunity is attained, smartpeople rise and the lower classes become rigid, retaining only the intellectuallyincompetent.This argument has attracted a variety of twentieth-century champions, including theStanford psychologist Lewis M. Terman, who imported Alfred Binets original test fromFrance, developed the Stanford-Binet IQ test, and gave a hereditarian interpretation to theresults (one that Binet had vigorously rejected in developing this style of test); PrimeMinister Lee Kuan Yevv of Singapore, who tried to institute a eugenics program ofrewarding well-educated women for higher birth rates; and Richard Herrnstein, a co-author of The Bell Curve and also the author of a 1971 Atlantic Monthly article thatpresented the same argument without the documentation. The general claim is neitheruninteresting nor illogical, but it does require the validity of four shaky premises, allasserted (but hardly discussed or defended) by Herrnstein and Murray. Intelligence, intheir formulation, must be depictable as a single number, capable of ranking people inlinear order, genetically based, and effectively immutable. If any of these premises are false,their entire argument collapses. For example, if all are true except immutability, thenprograms for early intervention in education might work to boost IQ permanently, just as apair of eyeglasses may correct a genetic defect in vision. The central argument of The BellCurve fails because most of the premises are false. (pp 4-5)
  10. 10. On the genetic nature of IQ:Herrnstein and Murrays second claim, the lightning rod for most commentary, extends theargument for innate cognitive stratification to a claim that racial differences in IQ aremostly determined by genetic cause’s small differences for Asian superiority overCaucasian, but large for Caucasians over people of African descent. This argument is as old 10as the study of race, and is almost surely fallacious. The last generations discussioncentered on Arthur Jensens 1980 book Bias in Mental Testing (far more elaborate andvaried than anything presented in The Bell Curve, and therefore still a better source forgrasping the argument and its problems), and on the cranky advocacy of William Shockley,a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. The central fallacy in using the substantial heritability ofwithin-group IQ (among whites, for example) as an explanation of average differencesbetween groups (whites versus blacks, for example) is now well known and acknowledgedby all, including Herrnstein and Murray, but deserves a restatement by example. Take atrait that is far more heritable than anyone has ever claimed IQ to be but is politicallyuncontroversial body height. Suppose that I measure the heights of adult males in a poorIndian village beset with nutritional deprivation, and suppose the average height of adultmales is five feet six inches. Heritability within the village is high, which is to say that tallfathers (they may average five feet eight inches) tend to have tall sons, while short fathers(five feet four inches on average) tend to have short sons. But this high heritability withinthe village does not mean that better nutrition might not raise average height to five feetten inches in a few generations. Similarly, the well-documented fifteen-point averagedifference in IQ between blacks and whites in America, with substantial heritability of IQ infamily lines within each group, permits no automatic conclusion that truly equalopportunity might not raise the black average enough to equal or surpass the white mean.(p. 5)On pervasive disingenuousness:Disturbing as I find the anachronism of The Bell Curve, I am even more distressed by itspervasive disingenuousness. The authors omit facts, misuse statistical methods, and seemunwilling to admit the consequences of their own words. (p. 6)
  11. 11. Nothing in The Bell Curve angered me more than the authors failure to supply anyjustification for their central claim, the sine qua none of their entire argument: that thenumber known as g, the celebrated "general factor" of intelligence, first identified by theBritish psychologist Charles Spearman, in I904, captures a real property in the head. 11Murray and Herrnstein simply declare that the issue has been decided, as in this passagefrom their 1970 Republic article: "Among the experts, it is by now beyond much technicaldispute that there is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which humanbeings differ and that this general factor is measured reasonably well by a variety ofstandardized tests, best of all by IQ tests designed for that purpose." Such a statementrepresents extraordinary obfuscation, achievable only if one takes "expert" to mean "thatgroup of psychometricians working in the tradition of g and its avatar IQ." The authorseven admit that there are three major schools of psychometric interpretation and that onlyone supports their view of g and IQ. (p. 8)But this issue cannot be decided, or even understood, without discussing the key and onlyrationale that has maintained g since Spearman invented it: factor analysis. The fact thatHerrnstein and Murray barely mention the factor-analytic argument forms a centralindictment of The Bell Curve and is an illustration of its viciousness. How can the authorsbase an 800-page book on a claim for the reality of IQ as measuring a genuine, and largelygenetic, general cognitive ability and then hardly discuss, either pro or con, the theoreticalbasis for their certainty? (p. 8)On social policy:Like so many conservative ideologues who rail against the largely bogus ogre of suffocatingpolitical correctness, Herrnstein and Murray claim that they only want a hearing forunpopular views so that truth will out. And here, for once, I agree entirely. As a cardcarrying First Amendment (near) absolutist, I applaud the publication of unpopular viewsthat some people consider dangerous. I am delighted that The Bell Curve was written sothat its errors could be exposed, for Herrnstein and Murray are right to point out the
  12. 12. difference between public and private agendas on race, and we must struggle to make animpact on the private agendas as well. But The Bell Curve is scarcely an academic treatisein social theory and population genetics. It is a manifesto of conservative ideology; thebooks inadequate and biased treatment of data displays its primary purpose advocacy. The 12text evokes the dreary and scary drumbeat of claims associated with conservative thinktanks: reduction or elimination of welfare, ending or sharply curtailing affirmative action inschools and workplaces, cutting back Head Start and other forms of preschool education,trimming programs for the slowest learners and applying those funds to the gifted. (Iwould love to see more attention paid to talented students, but not at this cruel price.) (p.12)On faulty conclusions:However, if Herrnstein and Murray are wrong, and IQ represents not an immutable thing inthe head, grading human beings on a single scale of general capacity with large numbers ofcustodial incompetents at the bottom, then the model that generates their gloomy visioncollapses, and the wonderful variousness of human abilities, properly nurtured, re-emerges. We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve both because it is wrong andbecause it will, if activated, cut off all possibility of proper nurturance for everyonesintelligence. Of course, we cannot all be rocket scientists or brain surgeons, but those whocant might be rock musicians or professional athletes (and gain far more social prestigeand salary thereby), while others will indeed serve by standing and waiting. (p. 13)I closed my chapter in The Mismeasure of Man on the unreality of g and the fallacy ofregarding intelligence as a single-scaled, innate thing in the head with a marvellousquotation from John Stuart Mill, well worth repeating: The tendency has always beenstrong to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having anindependent existence of its own. And if no real entity answering to the name could befound, men did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it wassomething particularly abstruse and mysterious. (p. 13)
  13. 13. How strange that we would let a single and false number divide us, when evolution hasunited all people in the recency of our common ancestry thus undergirding with a sharedhumanity that infinite variety which custom can never stale. E pluribus unum. (p. 13)The Bell Curve is a strange work. Some of the analysis and a good deal of the tone are 13reasonable. Yet the science in the book was questionable when it was proposed a centuryago, and it has now been completely supplanted by the development of the cognitivesciences and neurosciences. The policy recommendations of the book neither are alsoexotic, neither following from the analyses nor justified on their own. (p. 61)... I became increasingly disturbed as I read and reread this 800 page work. I graduallyrealized I was encountering a style of thought previously unknown to me: scholarlybrinkmanship. Whether concerning an issue of science, policy, or rhetoric, the authorscome dangerously close to embracing the most extreme positions, yet in the end shy awayfrom doing so. Discussing scientific work on intelligence, they never quite say thatintelligence is all important and tied to ones genes; yet they signal that this is their beliefand that readers ought to embrace the same conclusions. Discussing policy, they neverquite say that affirmative action should be totally abandoned or that childbearing orimmigration by those with low IQs should be curbed; yet they signal their sympathy forthese options and intimate that readers ought to consider these possibilities. Finally, therhetoric of the book encourages readers to identify with the IQ elite and to distancethemselves from the dispossessed in what amounts to an invitation to class warfare.Scholarly brinkmanship encourages the reader to draw the strongest conclusions, whileallowing the authors to disavow this intention. (p. 63)On divisive arguments:Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the book is its rhetorical stance. This is one of themost stylistically divisive books that I have ever read. Despite occasional avowals of regretand the few utopian pages at the end, Herrnstein and Murray set up an us/them dichotomythat eventually culminates in an us-against-them opposition. (p. 70)
  14. 14. Who are "we" ? Well, we are the people who went to Harvard (as the jacket credits both ofthe authors) or attended similar colleges and read books like this. We are the smart, therich, the powerful, and the worriers. (p. 70)Why is this so singularly off-putting? I would have thought it unnecessary to say, but if 14people as psychometrically smart as Messrs. Herrnstein and Murray did not "get it," it issafer to be explicit. High IQ doesnt make a person one whit better than anybody else. And ifwe are to have any chance of a civil and humane society, we had better avoid the smug self-satisfaction of an elite that reeks of arrogance and condescension. (p. 71)On social policy:Though there are seven appendices, spanning over 100 pages, and nearly 200 pages offootnotes, bibliography, and index, one element is notably missing from this tome: a reporton any program of social intervention that works. For example, Herrnstein and Murraynever mention Lisbeth Schorrs Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage, abook that was prompted in part by Losing Ground. Schorr chronicles a number of socialprograms that have made a genuine difference in education, child health service, familyplanning, and other lightning rod areas of our society. And to the ranks of the programschronicled in Schorrs book, many new names can now be added. Those who have launchedInterfaith Educational Agencies, City Year, Teach for America, and Jobs for the Future, andhundreds of other service agencies have not succumbed to the sense of futility andabandonment of the poor that the Herrnstein and Murray book promotes. (p. 71)
  15. 15. Concluding comments:It is callous to write a work that casts earlier attempts to help the disadvantaged in theleast favorable light, strongly suggests that nothing positive can be done in the presentclimate, contributes to an us-against-them mentality, and then posits a miraculous cure.High intelligence and high creativity are desirable. But unless they are linked to some kind 15of a moral compass, their possessors might best be consigned to an island of glass beadgame players, with no access to the mainland. (p. 72)"The publicity barrage with which the book was launched might suggest that The BellCurve has something new to say; it doesnt. The authors, in this most recent eruption of thecrude biological determinism that permeates the history of IQ testing, assert that scientificevidence demonstrates the existence of genetically determined differences in intelligenceamong social classes and races. They cite some 1,OOO references from the social andbiological sciences, and make a number of suggestions for changing social policies. Thepretense is made that there is some logical, "scientific" connection between evidence culledfrom those cited sources and the authors policy recommendations. Those policies wouldnot be necessary or humane even if the cited evidence were valid. But I want to concentrateon what I regard as two disastrous failings of the book. First, the caliber of the data cited byHerrnstein and Murray is, at many critical points, pathetic and their citations of those weakdata are often inaccurate. Second, their failure to distinguish between correlation andcausation repeatedly leads Herrnstein and Murray to draw invalid conclusions." (pp 81-82)|On the subject of evidence sources:"Herrnstein and Murray rely heavily upon the work of Richard Lynn, whom they describedas "a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences", from whose advice they have"benefited especially". ""I will not mince words. Lynns distortions and misrepresentations of the data constitute atruly venomous racism, combined with scandalous disregard for scientific objectivity. Butto anybody familiar with Lynns work and background, this comes as no surprise. Lynn is
  16. 16. widely known to be an associate editor of the vulgarly racist journal Mankind Quarterly; his1991 paper comparing the intelligence of "Negroids" and "Negroid-Caucasoid hybrids"appeared in its pages. He is a major recipient of financial support from the nativist andeugenically oriented Pioneer Fund. It is a matter of shame and disgraces that two eminent 16social scientists, fully aware of the sensitivity of the issues they address, take as theirscientific tutor Richard Lynn, and accept uncritically his surveys of research. Murray, in anewspaper interview, asserted that he and Herrnstein had not inquired about the"antecedents" of the research they cite. "We used studies that exclusively, to my knowledge,meet the tests of scholarship." What tests of scholarship?" (p. 86)Herrnstein and Murray cite the work of Arthur Jensen on reaction time testing and racialdifferences Kamin comments:"The cited Jensen paper (1993) presents data for blacks and whites, for both reaction andmovement time, for three different "elementary cognitive tasks." The results are not,despite Herrnstein and Murrays contention, "consistent." Blacks are reported to havefaster movement times on only two of the three tasks; and they have faster reaction timesthan whites on one task, "choice reaction time." Simple reaction time merely requires thesubject to respond as quickly as possible to a given stimulus each time it occurs. Choicereaction time requires him/her to react differently to various stimuli as they are presentedin an unpredictable order. Thus it is said to be more cognitively complex, and to requiremore processing, than simple reaction time. When Jensen first used reaction time in 1975as a measure of racial differences in intelligence, he claimed that blacks and whites did notdiffer in simple reaction time, but that whites, with their higher intelligence, were faster inchoice reaction time. He repeated this ludicrous claim incessantly, while refusing to makethe raw data of his study available for inspection. Then, in a subsequent 1984 paper, he wasunable to repeat his earlier finding in a new study described as "inexplicably inconsistent"with his 1975 results. Now, in the still newer 1993 study cited by Herrnstein and Murray,Jensen reports as "an apparent anomaly" that (once again!) blacks are slightly faster inchoice reaction time than whites. Those swift couriers, Herrnstein and Murray, are not
  17. 17. stayed from their appointed rounds by anomalies and inconsistencies. Two out of three isnot conclusive. Why not make the series three out of five?"(p. 88)On statistical abuse: 17"The confusion between correlation and causation permeates the largest section of The BellCurve, an interminable series of analyses of data gathered from the National LongitudinalSurvey of Labor Market Experience of Youth (NLSY). Those data, not surprisingly, indicatethat there is an association within each race between IQ and socioeconomic status (SES).Herrnstein and Murray labor mightily in an effort to show that low IQ is the cause of lowSES, and not vice versa. Their argument is decked out in all the trappings of science averitable barrage of charts, graphs, tables, appendices, and appeals to statistical techniquesthat are unknown to many readers. But on close examination, this scientific emperor iswearing no clothes." (p. 90)"Herrnstein and Murray pick over these data, trying to show that it is overwhelmingly IQnot childhood or adult SES that determines worldly success and the moralpraiseworthiness of ones social behaviors. But their dismissal of SES as a major factor restsultimately on the self-reports of youngsters. That is not an entirely firm basis. I do not wantto suggest that such self-reports are entirely unrelated to reality. We know, after all, thatchildren from differing social class backgrounds do indeed differ in IQ; and in the NLSYstudy the young peoples self-reports are correlated with the objective facts of their IQscores. But comparing the predictive value of those self-reports to that of quantitative testscores is playing with loaded dice." (p. 91)On the relationship between poverty and intelligence:"The core of the Herrnstein-Murray message is phrased with a beguiling simplicity:"Putting it all together, success and failure in the American economy, and all that goes withit, are increasingly a matter of the genes that people inherit." The "increasing value ofintelligence in the marketplace" brings "prosperity for those lucky enough to beintelligent." Income is a "family trait" because IQ, "a major predictor of income, passes onsufficiently from one generation to the next to constrain economic mobility." Those at the
  18. 18. bottom of the economic heap were unlucky when the IQ genes were passed out, and willremain there." (p. 91)"There are a number of criticisms to be made of the ways in which Herrnstein and Murrayanalyze the data, and especially so when they later extend their analyses to include black 18and Hispanic youth. But for arguments sake, let us now suppose that their analyses areappropriate and accurate. We can also grant that, rightly or wrongly, disproportionatesalaries and wealth accrue to those with high IQ scores. What then do the Herrnstein-Murray analyses tell us?" (p. 92)"The SES of ones parents cannot in any direct sense "cause" ones IQ to be high or low.Family income, even if accurately reported, obviously cannot directly determine a childsperformance on an IQ test. But income and the other components of an SES index can serveas rough indicators of the rearing environment to which a child has been exposed. Withexceptions, a child of a well-to-do broker is likely to be exposed to book-learning earlierand more intensively than a child of a laborer. And extensive practice at reading andcalculating does affect, very directly, ones IQ score. That is one plausible way ofinterpreting the statistical link between parental SES and a childs IQ." (p. 92)On affirmative action:"The Bell Curve, near its closing tail, contains two chapters concerned with affirmativeaction, in higher education and in the workplace. To read those chapters is to hear thesecond shoe drop. The rest of the book, I believe, was written merely as a prelude to itsassault on affirmative action. The vigor of the attack is astonishing." (p. 98)"Now, at long last, Herrnstein and Murray let it all hang out: "affirmative action, ineducation and the workplace alike, is leaking a poison into the American soul." Havingexamined the American condition at the close of the twentieth century, these twophilosopher-kings conclude, "It is time for America once again to try living with inequality,as life is lived...." This kind of sentiment, I imagine, lay behind the conclusion of New York
  19. 19. Times columnist Bob Herbert that "the book is just a genteel way of calling somebody anigger." Herbert is right. The book has nothing to do with science." (p. 99)On the divisiveness of The Bell Curves argument: 19"That psychometric tradition of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose has been carried forward intactby Herrnstein and Murray. They acknowledge that James Flynn has demonstrated thatacross the world intelligence as measured by IQ tests has been increasing dramatically overtime. Thus an average contemporary youngster, taking an IQ test that had beenstandardized twenty years ago, would have a considerably higher than average IQ score.Perhaps, Herrnstein and Murray suggest, "Improved health, education, and childhoodinterventions may hide the demographic effects.... Whatever good things we canaccomplish with changes in the environment would be that much more effective if they didnot have to fight a demographic head wind." Their conviction that "something worthworrying about is happening to the cognitive capital of the country" is unshakable. Imaginethe heights that America could scale if a Ph.D. in social science were a prerequisite for theproduction of offspring! With environmental advantages working exclusively upon suchsplendid raw material, no head winds would delay our arrival at Utopia. And we would sellmore autos to the Japanese." (p. 105)"That is the kind of brave new world toward which The Bell Curve points. Whether or notour country moves in that direction depends upon our politics, not upon science. Topretend, as Herrnstein and Murray do, that the 1,000-odd items in their bibliographyprovide a "scientific" basis for their reactionary politics may be a clever political tactic, butit is a disservice to and abuse of science. That should be clear even to those scientists (I amnot one of them) who are comfortable with Herrnstein and Murrays politics. We owe it toour fellow citizens to explain that the reception of their book had nothing to do either withits scientific merit or the novelty of its message." (p. 105)
  20. 20. 20________________________________________BIBLIOGRAPHYHerrnstein, R. J. and Murray, C., (1994). The Bell Curve. New York: The Free Press.Jacoby, R. and Glauberman, N., eds, (1995). The Bell Curve Debate. Times Books.________________________________________