When I read The Bell Curve my main impression was that it showed clearly, over and over again, that its good to be smart and that intelligence is largely hereditary. I had no trouble agreeing with these obvious truths. The next major point, which was not self-evident, but not surprising to me, was that intelligence as measured by IQ is a better predictor of a person's or a group's future success than any of the other usual factors such as economic class or race. This is the book's most interesting contention. The bulk of the book seems to have been written to make this point.
Then Herrnstein and Murray included a chapter on race, which drew most of the attention. Furthermore, they added some stupid policy recommendations, which I simply dismissed without taking them seriously. These policy recommendations draw a lot of fire from the critics in The Bell Curve Wars. The critics persuaded me that Herrnstein and Murray had this agenda in mind and gave it more importance than I had thought. Consequently, my opinion of the authors is now lower. They did not merely do an imprudent thing when they included their half-baked policy recommendations in an otherwise worthwhile book. It turns out that promoting their stupid solutions to their trumped up problem of meritocracy was probably their major motivation for writing the book. In which case they are jackasses.
Stephen Jay Gould points out that many of the correlations in The Bell Curve between IQ and success are weak and that the authors use R rather than R squared in the text, which makes the numbers look better. (20)
In their efforts to attack the book some of the liberal critics exhibit the same kind of bias in favor of their interpretation that Herrnstein and Murray exhibit in The Bell Curve.
Some of the liberals argue for free will and say that our genes are not our destiny. Then they argue for the importance of the environment in explaining the difference in intelligence between groups. They criticize The Bell Curve for being pseudoscientific racism. But all they offer as an alternative is a completely unscientific and counterintuitive faith in equality.
"Herrnstein and Murray have more in common with Malthus than Smith." (121)Several critics point out that Murray was an environmental determinist in Losing Ground where he blamed government policies for the worsening conditions among the lower-class blacks, but that in The Bell Curve Murray rejects environmental determinism and argues for genetic determinism to explain why blacks are less successful.
"A population which listens to Midori or Itzhak Perlman is likely to produce violinists from among its children, and one that doesn't won't. This is as true for the Irish as it is for blacks. Look around you at any classical music concert or at a museum, and you are seeing why many blacks will not become classical musicians or art connoisseurs." (152)
Year Read: 1999
Libertarian Essays by Roy Halliday
Back to Nonfiction Book Notes
Back to Fiction Book Notes
Back to Book Notes by Author
This page was last updated on September 26, 2011.
This site is maintained by Roy Halliday. If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them to email@example.com.