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Monday, May 20, 2019

The Bell Curve, chapter 1: the peculiar plunge of 1975

The first chapter of The Bell Curve is entitled "Cognitive Class and Education, 1900-1990" and its main gist is that during that time the percentage of American students who went to college climbed, and college enrollment favored the most intelligent students and therefore the general non-college educated American population became on average less intelligent than the college-educated.

But there is one passage that absolutely astounded me in this chapter (my highlight).
After 1974 came a peculiar plunge in college degrees that lasted until 1981-peculiar because it occurred when the generosity of scholarships and loans, from colleges, foundations, and government alike, was at its peak. 
How is it possible that a post-1974 plunge in college degrees would be considered "peculiar" and left without even an attempt at explanation? It was immediately obvious to me what the possible explanation for the "peculiar plunge" might be and I was not eligible for the draft during the Vietnam War. But Charles Murray was.

According to the NYTimes article from October 1994 Daring Research or 'Social Science Pornography'?: Charles Murray there is this description of Murray's Vietnam War years:
While there is much to admire about the industry and inquisitiveness of Murray's teen-age years, there is at least one adventure that he understandably deletes from the story -- the night he helped his friends burn a cross. They had formed a kind of good guys' gang, "the Mallows," whose very name, from marshmallows, was a play on their own softness. In the fall of 1960, during their senior year, they nailed some scrap wood into a cross, adorned it with fireworks and set it ablaze on a hill beside the police station, with marshmallows scattered as a calling card. 
Rutledge recalls his astonishment the next day when the talk turned to racial persecution in a town with two black families. "There wouldn't have been a racist thought in our simple-minded minds," he says. "That's how unaware we were." 
A long pause follows when Murray is reminded of the event. "Incredibly, incredibly dumb," he says. "But it never crossed our minds that this had any larger significance. And I look back on that and say, 'How on earth could we be so oblivious?' I guess it says something about that day and age that it didn't cross our minds." 
MURRAY LANDED AT HARVARD IN THE fall of 1961, where by his own account he spent four mostly uneventful years, studying Russian history and working at a classical music station. Taking a "pride in perversity," he went out of his way to advertise his oddness, wearing his ties, for instance, with the fat end short. "I really had very few close friends," he says. Graduating in 1965, Murray left for the Peace Corps and stayed abroad for six years. "Thailand was the transforming experience in my life," he says. "Thailand is where I grew up."
Charles Murray was born in 1943. He went to Harvard in 1961 when he was eighteen, which provided a draft deferment. He graduated in 1965 when he was twenty-two and joined the Peace Corps, which provided a draft deferment (as this article in the 1966 Harvard Crimson notes) although you would still be eligible for the draft once you came out of the Peace Corps. But Charles Murray stayed in the Peace Corps until he was 25 and "during the remainder of his time in Thailand he worked on an American Institutes for Research (AIR) covert counter-insurgency program for the US military in cooperation with the CIA."

The Vietnam War officially ended in April 1975.

Charles Murray was "oblivious" when he and his friends decided to burn a cross. Is it also obliviousness that Charles Murray, draft avoider, Harvard graduate and political scientist, ignored Vietnam as a reason for the sudden drop in college attendance after 1974?

Strangely, Steven Pinker also doesn't seem to understand the importance of Vietnam on the behavior of young people in the 1960s as I noted when reviewing a chapter in "Better Angels" last year. Pinker is Canadian, which still does not excuse a public intellectual attempting to explain attitudes in the 1960s, but at least his obliviousness could be attributed to the fact that he was never in danger of being drafted.

The Vietnam War and the draft were significant social forces as discussed in many books written on the subject including Rough Draft: Cold War Military Manpower Policy and the Origins of Vietnam-Era Draft Resistance and Random Destiny: How the Vietnam War Draft Lottery Shaped a Generation.

And there was another social impact of the Vietnam War as discussed in the 2008 paper by Ilyana Maria Kuziemko Dodging Up ” to College or “ Dodging Down ” to Jail: Behavioral Responses to the Vietnam Draft by Race and Class:
The Vietnam draft generally excluded the tails of the socio-economic status distribution through the use of qualifying criteria (e.g., a minimal IQ score, a relatively clean criminal record) and college deferments. I present a simple model in which highSES men “dodge up” (gain a deferment by investing in human capital) and low-SES men “dodge down” (appear unfit for service by disinvesting). Drawing on a little-used dataset of draft-aged men from the Vietnam period, I find that six months after receiving a “bad” 1969 lottery number, blacks and low-SES men report higher rates of delinquent behavior than do their counter-parts with “good” numbers, whereas whites and higher-SES enroll in college at higher rates than do their counter-parts with “good” numbers. Moreover, in administrative data from Georgia, men with bad numbers are overrepresented in prison admissions in the twelve months following the 1972 lottery.
It's a very strange thing, this unexplained "peculiar plunge." My guess is that because it demonstrates how easily social circumstance - as opposed to test scores - can influence college enrollment, it was ignored as an inconvenient nuance on the topic. Or maybe, because Charles Murray avoided the war with little fuss, he didn't consider it worth mentioning.

An exchange between two individuals supported by
Koch money: Charles Murray and Pamela Paresky

Or it could be that "obliviousness" is a common trait of IDW intellectuals, along with a belief in race science and a notable indifference to the influence of rightwing plutocrats like Charles Koch on academia coupled with hysteria over student demonstrations.

When students misbehaved when Murray was given a platform by Middlebury College they were disciplined - although in a recent tweet Murray indicates he feels it wasn't enough, but didn't respond when I asked him what an appropriate punishment would be.

The Middlebury police department offered an explanation:
In a separate news release Tuesday, the Middlebury Police Department said it would not bring charges in connection with the protest. 
The department’s chief, Thomas Hanley, said in an interview that it was impossible to identify the protesters who hurt Ms. Stanger or damaged the car. 
“This was a number of individuals in the dark, wearing masks and black clothing, along with a bunch of college students,” he said. “It was more of a scrum. There wasn’t any assault per se.”
So there was no assault per the police but rather, it appears, accidental injury of a faculty member during the "scrum."

You have to wonder what kind of punishment Murray would want for college students taking over colleges to protest the Vietnam War.

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