Protesters at Middlebury College in July, 2017, and social pseudo-scientist Charles Murray, who marched his way into eugenics infamy with his (co-authored) academic farce, 'The Bell Curve'
Let us concede we live in treacherous times with bastardized memes and subtle mind viruses regularly unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. In this deformed mental and intellectual atmosphere, Donnie Dotard and his lame tweets is only the most obnoxious example. More generally, climate denial propaganda, economic misinformation and irrational conspiracy ideations - such as spawned by Q Anon - are a dime a dozen. And sadly, relatively few Americans possess the critical thinking skills to parse BS from fact and distinguish fake news from the genuine article..
Into this moral and intellectual vacuum any kind of poseur, dilettante, or crank can seemingly make an impression, especially if he or she can generate some facsimile
of genuine academic work, i.e. a veneer of actual scholarship. No one has performed better in this ersatz scholarship category than Charles Murray co-author of 'The Bell Curve
'. Indeed that co-authored parody of scholarship paved the way for his later work, 'Coming Apart
' wherein we learned that all those poor whites - displaced from their jobs - could have landed on their feet had their IQs only been high enough. But sadly, they weren't, so they are left to pound sand and cry for government help - like those displaced, forlorn coal miners now scratching for aid in Kentucky.
So both books have merely served to advance Murray's pet general narrative that a certain segment of Americans are destined to be in the underclass- by virtue of lower IQ, genetically traced-- and we ought to get used to it. Even writing (with his co-author Herrnstein) at the end of The Bell Curve
"It is time once again for America to try living with inequality, as life is lived..."
As "life is lived"
? Such a reprehensible statement smacks of Social Darwinism as promulgated by Herbert Spencer, the British philosopher who had no patience for such niceties as government assistance. He deemed the poor and infirm “unfit” if they couldn’t compete for resources without state assistance and it was their lot to be eliminated if they couldn’t manage. As Spencer put it (Social Darwinism in American Thought, American Historical Association, 1955):
"The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better.."
Author Richard Hofstadter points out (pp. 41-42) Spencer absolutely repudiated all state assistance to the poor, the needy, physically feeble, or infirm. In terms of the role of natural selection in “social evolution” such aid amounted to unwanted artificial interference in nature. Not to mention, meddling in the “natural development” of a superior society. As Spencer put it (ibid.):
"If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well that they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best that they should die. "
Again, this could have been lifted right out of a Nazi Eugenics tract. Just as Herrnstein and Murray's Bell Curve bilge.
So in perspective, taking Messrs. Herrnstein and Murray's conclusion at face value, the Democratic candidates ought to just abandon their proposals to create a "wealth tax", i.e. to tax accumulated wealth instead of income. (WSJ, yesterday, p. A1). As noted in the article:
"Liberals see extreme inequality as morally wrong and socially divisive and regard the current system which taxes income generated by wealth more lightly than wages as especially objectionable and a contributor to wealth gaps such as between blacks and whites."
Whereas in Murray and Herrnstein's Bell Curve, one can simply lay the blame at a "genetic" disparity in IQ between blacks and whites. Hence, how can a wealth tax or even a highly progressive income tax correct what nature has already pre-ordained? That then leads to the authors' chapter on dysgenesis.
What is that all about? Basically they use suspect research and citations, which they either mischaracterize or inflate, to attempt to make the case that blacks are intellectually inferior genetically to whites. At the core of this dysgensis effort one beholds this skewed Bell curve:
How did they arrive at such a skewed graphic? Well, they began by asking: "How do African-Americans compare with blacks in Africa on cognitive tests?"
Sounds simple enough, no? But the devil as always is in the details. The pair thus started with the null hypothesis that 'there should be no significant difference between the IQs of black Africans and African-Americans'.
This was based on testing the effects of discrimination (as African-Americans experience every day) and genes. Hence, black Africans - say in Cameroon - ought to have higher
IQ scores than African- Americans IF low IQ scores for the latter are a result of discrimination rather than genes.
To try to get to an answer the pair cite as their authority Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster. So they cite a Lynn paper from 1991 in which he "estimated the median black African IQ to be 75... about 10 points lower than for American blacks
Murray and Herrnstein then conclude that the difference cannot be accounted for by the "special circumstance" of African-Americans (i.e. discrimination), hence genetics must explain the difference. To try to bolster this view (that African -Americans have higher IQs than black Africans) the pair then cite a Ken Owen paper from 1992. writing: "The IQ of coloured students in South Africa - of mixed racial background- has been found to be similar to that of American blacks.
Now note where this is going. All of a sudden we have the white genetic component entering via the "mixed" background of the South African students. The implication almost doesn't have to be outright stated: The addition of Caucasian genes to African genes - in both S Africa and the U.S. - results in a 10 point higher IQ score over native Africans. What accounts for the difference? Well, obviously the whities' higher IQ genes have entered the picture!
But here's the bugbear: In a footnote the pair cite the Owen 1992 paper as seeming to "prove" the IQ increment peculiar to both S. African mixed race students and American blacks. (Interestingly, the actual reference doesn't appear in The Bell Curve's bibliography. GO figure.) Maybe the reason for non-inclusion is that Owen's work is not properly characterized. For one thing, he used the nonverbal Ravens' Progressive Matrices (thought to be less culturally biased than standard IQ test)
Owen found that out of a possible maximum raw score of 60, whites scored 45, Indians scored 42, mixed race (coloreds) scored 37 and blacks scored 27. Seems straightforward, no? Not quite. The second bugbear was that the test's developer, John Raven, repeatedly insisted there could be no translation of his test into IQ scores. Hence, Herrnstein and Murray were confabulating IQs out of thin air.
Worse, the source for another Lynn citation (accepted as valid by the Bell Curve pair) that "Zambians had a lamentably low average IQ of 75
" was given as Pons ; Crawford -Nutt, 1978."
But in an astounding research misfire of stupendous proportions - one more likely for a green 1st year social science student- Herrnstein and Murray failed to note that Lynn had taken the Pons' data from Crawford-Nutt's paper and converted it into a bogus IQ average of 75. At the same time the pair failed to recognize that Lynn chose to outright ignore the substance of Crawford-Nutt's paper which reported that 228 Soweto black HS students scored an average of 45 on the matrices test, or higher than the 44 scored by same age whites. Most appalling 5 of 6 studies were omitted from Lynn's 1991 summary - by which time the average African IQ had gone down to 69. Selection bias on steroids, anyone?
As described by one book review of The Bell Curve in Scientific American
(Feb., 1995) from which the preceding graphic was obtained:
"Lynn's distortions and misrepresentations of the data constitute a truly venomous racism, combined with scandalous disregard for scientific objectivity."
"Lynn is widely known among academics to be an associate editor of the racist journal Mankind Quarterly and a major recipient of support from the nativist, eugenically oriented Pioneer Fund. It is a matter of shame and disgrace that two eminent social scientists- fully aware of the sensitivity of the issues they address - take Lynn as their scientific tutor and uncritically accept his surveys of research.
But, of course, given Murray and Herrnstein's conclusions, it is impossible to decouple their work from a clear and intentional agenda: to attack affirmative action, .e.g.
"Affirmative action, in education and the workplace alike, is leaking a poison into the American soul
And argue for accepting inequality (see earlier quote) as a natural norm.
Indeed, the revealing quotes of this dysfunctional pair of academics tells me they damned well knew the unsavory nature and pseudoscience underpinning Lynn's work, but used it anyway. They used it because it advanced their own deformed elitist agenda based on their pet prejudices and presumptions, i.e. that genetics really does separate the human family by IQ, and we ought to accept inequality instead of fighting it. Should we then be charitable to Murray and Herrnstein for possibly being over confident in giving so much sway to Lynn's research? Hell no! Examining this book as a scientific researcher it is clearly so full of blatant holes, slipshod methodology and questionable sourcing that if it was submitted to physics referees - in terms of a physics context (using similar regression analyses) - it would be rejected outright. Much like the daft papers of climate deniers are by reputable climate journals.
For example, one of the first things the budding researcher learns in any science - when applying statistics - is not to conflate or confuse correlation with causation. And yet the Bell Curve duo commit this fundamental transgression in spades. We see this in the ridiculously (and excessively) long section of their book featuring analyses of data from the National Longitudinal Survey Of Labor Market Experience of Youth (NLSY for short). The data, even without doing a single regression analysis do
show a correlation between IQ and socio-economic status.
But to besiege the reader with a blizzard of charts, graphs, tables etc. to extrapolate to a conclusion that IQ (inherited of course) translates into better paying jobs and higher socioeconomic status is simply twaddle. It posits that the correlations obtained are actually causative. As the SciAm reviewer of the book put it (ibid.):
"The core of Herrnstein-Murray's message is phrased with a beguiling simplicity: 'Putting it all together, success and failure in the American economy, and all that goes with it, are increasingly a matter of the genes that people inherit
So if you are a sanitation worker, or wait staff person, instead of say a high end investment banker or stock broker, then you have to blame your low IQ genes. Interestingly, members of Mensa - to provide an example of an inversion of the above- are often asked: "If you're so smart why aren't you rich?"
Well, for a lot of reasons! Kudos here must go to Dr. Steven Mason in his article 'Let's Get Dumb' in one issue of Intertel's Integra (October, p. 26, 2014). Mason, in about 5 pages, shows that very often being smart isn't the asset so many believe, but an actual liability. Especially in terms of 'making it in our money obsessed capitalist culture
As Mason points out, in conjunction with this 'why aren't you rich' theme (p. 27):
"There are several reasons for this being the case. One is that employers don't especially like employees who are smarter than themselves. The result is that many of my friends belonging to high IQ societies wind up underemployed, working at jobs far below their potential."
Hey, Herrnstein and Murray, how do you process that?
Mason also notes that "kids hate those geeks who screw up the grading curve". These kids, who aren't afraid to show their smarts are also the most victimized and bullied. No surprise then how back in 1978 my niece Vanessa expressed fear and shame at repeatedly outshining her classmates at St. Joseph Convent school in Trinidad, and asked advice. She was leaning to "dumbing down" her profile and being less conspicuous. I advised against it and told her to do it only if she felt it was critical to her ongoing emotional balance.
Perhaps the most provocative insight rendered by Dr. Mason concerns the communication gap between people of significantly different IQ. He writes (ibid.):
"It's been demonstrated, though not widely publicized in this PC culture, that complete and effective communication between those separated by more than fifteen IQ points is unlikely. It means there is no way, repeat NO WAY, that people with IQs of 115 are ever going to explain to people with IQs of 85 why it's important to graduate high school."
By the same token, it likely means a communication gap will exist between those of IQ 110-115 and those of Mensa or Intertel IQ level (130-135) on matters of politics, including deep politics (and I warrant most 115'ers don't even know what it means), science, philosophy, history and economics. The gap is simply too vast to be bridged. Now carry this gap into the typical American work scenario and what do you see? Likely enmity breaking out especially if the Mensan or Intertel member doesn't play sufficiently dumb over time. (Again explaining why - if outed- they will not get that promotion and hence, well, remain at a lower socioeconomic station. But this is not because of low IQ as the Bell Curve Bozos claim, but rather being enmeshed in an anti-intellectual culture .)
Taken at a more fundamental level, Mason's thesis indicates that the upper two or so IQ percentile of Americans will never be able to communicate effectively and completely with most of the rest of the population. This gets most glaringly exposed in the political domain. Again, the need of so many voters to base their choices on atmospherics and optics ("Is he a guy I can have a beer with?") is downright disheartening. It makes me want to scream, "No you dummy! Don't worry about the damned beer but what he can do in office!"
And this emotional tendency (often of swing voters) surely explains many of the puzzling election results over the years, from electing Gee Dumbya Bush in 2000, to the deranged semi-imbecile, criminal and grifter Donald Trump in 2016. The takeaway? The practical intelligence that helped put such losers into office has to be exceedingly low. So even if one is a top flight investment banker or history professor and had voted Bush in 2000, 2004, and Trump in 2016, his working intellect can't be all that great irrespective of what Herrnstein-Murray claim. Even Harvard Prof Harvey Mansfield attributed Trump's election to the "lower half of the IQ curve." And that includes all those business CEOs, market quants, and other "upper socioeconomic class" hotshots. Oh sure, they got their tax cuts - but look what Trump's trade war has cost them, and we haven't gone beyond a technical recession yet.
Speaking of that: the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted many criticisms of The Bell Curve
, most notably Charles Lane’s thorough takedown in The New York Review of Books,
have pointed out that Murray’s attempts to link social inequality to genes are based on the work of explicitly racist scientists. In an afterward to the book, Murray rejects criticisms that rest on the fact that “we cite thirteen scholars who have received funding from the Pioneer Fund
, founded and run by men who were "Nazi sympathizers, eugenicists, and advocates of white racial superiority.” Murray contends that the racist pseudo-scientists he cites “are some of the most respected psychologists of our time
” and that “the relationship between the founder of the Pioneer Fund and today’s Pioneer Fund is roughly analogous to that between Henry Ford and today’s Ford Foundation
To me, such woeful blindness and shoddy work is deliberate and totally disqualifies Murray (and Herrnstein) from claiming any objective insight into socioeconomic status and its relation to IQ. At the same time it shows me that those students who protested his effort to spout racist, eugenic -based rubbish at Middlebury College 2 years ago were totally justified. Indeed, as critical thinking citizens it was incumbent on them to block the dissemination of toxic racist propaganda disguised as scholarly research.
Indeed, not to do so allows the proliferation of racist memes and the sort of degenerate codswallop recently put out in a WSJ op-ed by Heather MacDonald ('Trump Isn't The One Dividing Us By Race', August 19, p. A19) Let us note this hack is the author of 'The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture'. One can only imagine here that Ms. MacDonald is a firm acolyte of the Charles Murray Bell Curve cult. Especially when she argues (WSJ, ibid.) the racial divisiveness is the product of diversity acknowledgement and "its main propagation by the academic left and mass media". To see her spouting her balderdash live on you tube (at Hillsdale College) check out this link:
Getting back to the authors of The Bell Curve, truth be told what these two have produced is no more scholarly than Gerald Posner's 'Case Closed' which tried to finalize the specious Warren Report as the last word on the Kennedy assassination. JFK Assassination experts document twelve of the most serious “Posnerisms” here:
"Coming Apart?" - Charles Murray's Arguments After..