Monday, August 29, 2005

"The Bell Curve" Revisited

Andrew Sullivan thinks this new article by Charles Murray, one of the authors of The Bell Curve, is a must read. The Bell Curve, for those who don't recall, was the extremely controversial 1994 book that claimed to prove that blacks have lower IQs than whites. At least, that's what I read about the book at the time, and I well recall how the authors were excoriated in the media. I never actually read the book, but have a pretty clearly bad impression of it.

Apparently, Murray was inspired to write this article by the recent contretemps over Larry Summers' remarks that some evidence suggests there are more men than women who score at the top level in science aptitude tests. Since I thought Summers' comments were not particularly outrageous, and witnessed the frequently hysterical response to his comments, and the many ways they were inaccurately portrayed in the media, I thought it would be worthwhile to check out Murray's article. Perhaps he had been similarly slimed and maligned.

Well, first, yes, he really is saying that scientific evidence shows that blacks score lower on IQ tests than whites, and that they perform less well on tests that purportedly test not for academic achievement, which would clearly be more susceptible to environmental factors, but for certain types of mental acuity which are not altered by environmental factors.

Not hard to see why this is controversial. Unfortunately, I'm not particularly qualified to assess the science. While certainly anyone should be allowed to pursue this kind of scientific inquiry, it is not totally clear what one would do with such information. Indeed, Murray himself seems a bit cagey in his article, simply saying that this knowledge would help change social policies designed to overcome black/white inequalities. Does he think we shouldn't bother, as blacks are just stupider? Andrew Sullivan doesn't say either, even though he says that the book "still holds up as one of the most insightful and careful of the last decade." He also says that
the fact of human inequality and the subtle and complex differences between various manifestations of being human - gay, straight, male, female, black, Asian - is a subject worth exploring, period.

I agree, but I am curious as to whether there are any non-white, non-male scientists championing the view that science tells us that non-white non-males are intellectually inferior. Not claiming that Murray or Sullivan are racist or sexist, but it does seem like an awfully conve-e-enient theory for them.

I'd be curious to find out what the scientific arguments against the Bell Curve were. Something I'll have to look into.

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