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Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Bell Curve & its critics

As promised here is the first of what will likely be many posts examining The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein.

The entire text of The Bell Curve is currently available online and can be found here.

I don't know how long this text will be available online since I assume it is posted and available for free without permission of Murray and the heirs of Herrnstein. The Bell Curve is also available in print, used, for as little as $1.45 (plus shipping) on Alibris. This is the recommended route for those interested in the complete text of The Bell Curve since it is legal yet does not provide Charles Murray with additional profit.

The Bell Curve is hugely influential in the world of hereditarianism, which I will more often refer to here as "race science." The term race science does not indicate that there is legitimate science involved, but rather that proponents of the notion that there are human "races" and that such races have uniquely evolved moral and intellectual capacities believe that their claims are based on science.

The Bell Curve was published in 1994 and the New York Times reviewed it together with two other books:

"Race, Evolution and Behavior A Life History Perspective" by J. Philippe Rushton and "The Decline of Intelligence in America A Strategy for National Renewal" by Seymour W. Itzkoff

The review doesn't mention Rushton's or The Bell Curve's connections to The Pioneer Fund, nor that The Bell Curve cites Rushton's work eleven times (see bottom of this post).

It does mention that Murray and Herrnstein defended Rushton:
In their book, Mr. Murray and Mr. Herrnstein do not support Mr. Rushton's theories of human evolution, but they comment that "Rushton's work is not that of a crackpot or a bigot, as many of his critics are given to charging... As science, there is nothing wrong with Rushton's work in principle; we expect that time will tell whether it is right or wrong in fact."
Not long after this review in the New York Times came Charles Lane's New York Review of Books article The Tainted Sources of The Bell Curve in which he mentions Mankind Quarterly, which received money from The Pioneer Fund.
Surely the most curious of the sources he and Herrnstein consulted is Mankind Quarterly—a journal of anthropology founded in Edinburgh in 1960. Five articles from the journal are actually cited in The Bell Curve’s bibliography (pp. 775, 807, and 828).2 But the influence on the book of scholars linked to Mankind Quarterly is more significant. No fewer than seventeen researchers cited in the bibliography of The Bell Curve have contributed to Mankind Quarterly. Ten are present or former editors, or members of its editorial advisory board. This is interesting because Mankind Quarterly is a notorious journal of “racial history” founded, and funded, by men who believe in the genetic superiority of the white race.3 
Mankind Quarterly was established during decolonization and the US civil rights movement. Defenders of the old order were eager to brush a patina of science on their efforts. Thus Mankind Quarterly’s avowed purpose was to counter the “Communist” and “egalitarian” influences that were allegedly causing anthropology to neglect the fact of racial differences. “The crimes of the Nazis,” wrote Robert Gayre, Mankind Quarterly’s founder and editor-in-chief until 1978, “did not, however, justify the enthronement of a doctrine of a-racialism as fact, nor of egalitarianism as ethnically and ethically demonstrable.”4
Gayre was a champion of apartheid in South Africa, and belonged to the ultra-right Candour League of white-ruled Rhodesia.5 In 1968, he testified for the defense at the hate speech trial of five members of the British Racial Preservation Society, offering his expert opinion that blacks are “worthless.”6 The founders of Mankind Quarterly also included Henry E. Garrett of Columbia University, a one-time pamphleteer for the White Citizens’ Councils who provided expert testimony for the defense in Brown v. Board of Education;7 and Corrado Gini, leader of fascist Italy’s eugenics movement and author of a 1927 Mussolini apologia called “The Scientific Basis of Fascism.”8
In between the NYTimes and NY Review of Books pieces, ABC World News Tonight did a story on the connection between The Bell Curve and The Pioneer Fund. The transcript is available online and includes the following:
As for The Bell Curve's co author, Charles Murray, when we told him what we'd found out about the Pioneer Fund, he accused us of being on an intellectual witch hunt that would have a pernicious effect on research.
This blog will review The Bell Curve in-depth, but it should be said that anthropologist Marvin Harris got there first. In his last book, Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times published in 1998, Harris included a chapter called "Biologizing Inequality" which focused on The Bell Curve. Harris has many scathing criticisms of the book which this series will discuss from time to time. One of the most interesting is a section that Harris entitles "Learning to Live with Inequality:
According to Herrnstein and Murray, once it is realized that IQ sets unalterable, genetically determined limits on the kinds of remedial programs that can be implemented on behalf of the underclass by well-meaning members of the cognitive elite, the way will be cleared to get rid of long-standing conceptual errors about the human condition. At last the cognitive elite and the cognitive middle will awaken to the fact that the underclass is simply not smart enough to function effectively in the increasingly complex and technical postmodern social milieu. A new and more realistic attitude toward inequality will emerge in which the centuries-old Enlightenment doctrine that equality can be achieved and practiced by everyone will be driven from our minds and from our institutions. (Note that this disparagement of the Enlightenment gives Scheper-Hughs and other advocates of critical anthropology strange bedfellows.) Once everyone learns that people are not created equal in intelligence and that intelligence increasingly determines class identity, the blinders will fall from our eyes and we will be able to design a better America. In other words, Herrnstein and Murray want us to believe that our basic problems arise from having too much equality in our lives. We need to learn to live with more inequality:
It is time for America once again to try living with inequality... (551)
There are two ways to interpret this exhortation. One is that we have not really been living in a society plagued by racism, sexism and poverty where the average CEO makes over one hundred times what the average worker (NOTE: it's now 361 times) does, and 10 percent of the households have a net worth more than two times greater than the net worth of 90 percent of the remaining households (Kennichel 1996) (NOTE: it's worse now). The other is that we are being exhorted to return to the good old days when people of wealth and status felt no shame for not feeling responsible for advancing the welfare of the underclass. 
Speaking of strange bedfellows is Pinker's defenses of The Bell Curve with its anti-Enlightenment values positions in contrast to his recent incarnation as champion of the Enlightenment.

Finally, in this introduction to The Bell Curve and some of its critics, is Al Franken when he was the invited comedian to the 1996 White House Correspondents Dinner.





The Bell Curve's Rushton citations
  1. Rushton, J. P. 1985. Differential K theory: The sociobiology of individual and group differences. Personality and Individual Differences 6 441-452.
  2. Rushton, J. P. 1988. Race differences in behaviour: A review and evolutionary analysis. Personality and Individual Differences 9:1009-1024.
  3. Rushton, J. P. 1990a. Race and crime: A reply to Roberts and Gahor. Canadian J. of Criminology 32:315-334.
  4. Rushton, J. P. 1990h. Race differences and r/K theory: A reply to Silverman. Ethnology and Sociobiology11:131-140.
  5. Rushton, J. 1990c. Race, brain size and intelligence:A rejoinder to Cain and Vanderwolf. Personality and Individual Differences 11:785-794.
  6. Rushton, J. P. 1990d. Race, brain size and intelligence: A rejoinder to Cain and Vanderwolf. Personality and Individual Differences 11:785-794.
  7. Rushton, J. P. 1991a. Do r-K strategies underlie human race differences? A reply to Weitzmanetal. CanadianPsych. 32:2942.
  8. Rushton, J. 1991b. Mongoloid-Caucasoid differences in hrain size from military samples. Intelligence 15:351-359.
  9. Rushton, J. P. In press. Cranial capacity related to sex, rank, and race in a stratified random sample of 6325 U.S. military personnel. Intelligence
  10. Rushton, J. P., and Bogaert, A. E 1987. Race differences in sexual hehavior: Testing an evolutionary hypothesis. J. of Research in Personalirv, 21:529-55 1.
  11. Rushton, J. P., and Bogaert, A. E 1988. Race versus social class differences in sexual behavior: A follow-up test of the r/K dimension. Res. Per. 22:259-272.

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