Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Bell Curve: preface, acknowledgements & introduction

Before getting into The Bell Curve proper, I have some notes on the sections that come before:


The preface contrasts the wealthy overclass against the poor underclass and states that the true cause of social inequality is intelligence.
What good can come of understanding the relationship of intelligence to social structure and public policy? Little good can come without it. 
In a 2014 New Yorker article Piketty’s Inequality Story in Six Charts the first chart demonstrates the change in the top 10% of income over one hundred years.

Did the intelligence of those in the top ten percent suddenly drop in 1940? Did they start to suddenly rapidly gain intelligence between 1980 and 2000, which is to say in the span of a single generation?

And what made the top ten percent relatively stupid between 1940 and 1980?

Maybe the book will provide genetics-based answers to these questions.


Richard Lynn and Arthur Jensen are thanked for their advice. Also thanked for advice were others I was unfamiliar with:  Robert Forsyth, Len Ramist, Malcolm Ree, and Frank Schmidt

I was unable to find via Google any references to the Robert Forsyth mentioned in The Bell Curve, but while looking for that I found something of interest, because by coincidence Forsyth is also the name of a town where another violent attack by a white majority against prosperous blacks occurred. I had been aware of the Memphis riots of 1866 but the Forsyth story had apparently been little known outside the area until Patrick Phillips wrote a book.
In 1912, white mobs set fire to black churches and black-owned businesses. Eventually the entire black population of Forsyth County was driven out, says Blood at the Root author Patrick Phillips.
It makes you wonder what other stories are out there, known only to locals, of white mob attacks on black businesses, and, as the interview makes clear, black property owners.

Len Ramist is best known for a paper co-written with Rich Morgan and published in 1998 entitled "Advanced Placement Students in College: An Investigation of Course Grades at 21 Colleges."

As to Frank Schmidt and Malcolm Ree, according to the Slate article from 1997 The Bell Curve Flattened:
...the psychometricians who dominate the footnotes of The Bell Curve are John Hunter, Arthur Jensen, Malcolm Ree, and Frank Schmidt. These men are well known within the field as representing its right wing, not a mainstream consensus.
No acknowledgement of Rushton or The Pioneer Fund.


The Introduction begins by stating:
...for the last thirty years, the concept of intelligence has been a pariah in the world of ideas. The attempt to measure it with tests has been variously dismissed as an artifact of racism, political reaction, statistical bungling, and scholarly fraud.
This is followed with the history of intelligence conceptualizing and testing from Darwin to Galton to Charles Spearman and the development of the concept of general intelligence. They seem to consider Arthur Jensen something of a hero, first writing:
In 1969, Arthur Jensen, an educational psychologist and expert on testing from the University of California at Berkeley, put a match to this volatile mix of science and ideology with an article in the Harvard Educational Review. Asked by the Review's editors to consider why compensatory and remedial education programs begun with such high hopes during the War on Poverty had yielded such disappointing results, Jensen concluded that the programs were bound to have little success because they were aimed at populations of youngsters with relatively low IQs, and success in school depended to a considerable degree on IQ. IQ had a large heritable component, Jensen also noted. The article further disclosed that the youngsters in the targeted populations were disproportionately black and that historically blacks as a population had exhibited average IQs substantially below those of whites.
Then later:
As far as public discussion is concerned, this collection of beliefs, with some variations, remains the state of wisdom about cognitive abilities and IQ tests. It bears almost no relation to the current state of knowledge among scholars in the field, however, and therein lies a tale. The dialogue about testing has been conducted at two levels during the last two decades - the visible one played out in the press and the subterranean one played out in the technical journals and books. 
The case of Arthur Jensen is illustrative. To the public, he surfaced briefly, published an article that was discredited, and fell back into obscurity. Within the world of psychometrics, however, he continued to be one of the profession's most prolific scholars, respected for his meticulous research by colleagues of every theoretical stripe. Jensen had not recanted. He continued to build on the same empirical findings that had gotten him into such trouble in the 1960s, but primarily in technical publications, where no one outside the profession had to notice. The same thing was happening throughout psychometrics. In the 1970s, scholars observed that colleagues who tried to say publicly that IQ tests had merit, or that intelligence was substantially inherited, or even that intelligence existed as a definable and measurable human quality, paid too high a price. Their careers, family lives, relationships with colleagues, and even physical safety could be jeopardized by speaking out. Why speak out when there was no compelling reason to do so? Research on cognitive abilities continued to flourish, hut only in the sanctuary of the ivory tower.
Three approaches to intelligence assessment are described:
  • The Classicists: Intelligence as a Structure
  • The Revisionists: Intelligence as Information Processing
  • The Radicals: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

And they identify Jensen and then later, themselves as proponents of the first:
We will be drawing most heavily from the classical tradition. That body of scholarship represents an immense and rigorously analyzed body of knowledge. By accepted standards of what constitutes scientific evidence and scientific proof, the classical tradition has in our view given the world a treasure of information that has been largely ignored in trying to understand contemporary policy issues. 

Idiot Savants

They discard the usefulness of "idiot savants" in telling us anything about human intelligence in the box on page 22:
To add one final complication, it is also known that some people with low measured IQ occasionally engage in highly developed, complex cognitive tasks. So-called idiot savants can (for example) tell you on what day Easter occurred in any of the past or future two thousand years [45] There are also many less exotic examples. For example, a study of successful track bettors revealed that some of them who used extremely complicated betting systems had below-average IQs and that IQ was not correlated with success.[46] The trick in interpreting such results is to keep separate two questions: (1) If one selects people who have already demonstrated an obsession and success with racetrack betting systems, will one find a relationship with IQ (the topic of the study in question)?versus (2) if one selects a thousand people at random and asks them to develop racetrack betting systems, will there be a relationship with IQ (in broad terms, the topic of this book)?
Nowhere in the book do they mention autism, a condition that is sometimes associated with an ability to perform complicated calculations as well as "an obsession" with various subjects. Those with autism appear to vary in levels of competence, but are united generally by an inability to "read" other people and a seeming lack of interest in the emotional states of other individuals. They lack what might be called "emotional intelligence" which Herrnstein and Murray have previously dismissed in the section on "The Radicals: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences" saying (my highlight):
...we confess to reservations about using the word intelligence to describe such factors as musical abilities, kinesthetic abilities, or personal skills. It is easy to understand how intelligence (ordinarily understood) is part of some aspects of each of those human qualities-obviously. Bach was engaging in intelligent activity, and so was Ted Williams, and so is a good used- car salesman - but the part intelligence plays in these activities is captured fairly well by intelligence as the classicists and revisionists conceive of it... In the case of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, conventional intelligence may play some role, and, to the extent that other human qualities matter, words like sensitivity, charm, persuasiveness, insight-the list could go on and on-have accumulated over the centuries to describe them. We lose precision by using the word intelligence to cover them all. Similarly, the effect that an artist or an athlete or a salesman creates is complex, with some aspects that may be dominated by specific endowments or capacities, others that may be the product of learned technique, others that may be linked to desires and drives, and still others that are characteristic of the kind of cognitive ability denoted by intelligence. Why try to make intelligence do triple or quadruple duty?
But since they believe in the essential role that intelligence plays in economic success, why would they dismiss the skills of a good used-car salesman? Given the importance of sales in any capitalist society, surely the interpersonal skills involved - skills not possessed by the most accomplished autistic computer programmer - should count as "intelligence." After all, where would Apple be if the company had been founded only by programmer Steve Wozniak without the charisma and salesmanship of Steve Jobs?

And what about the earnings potential for successful track bettors. Are only some kinds of economic success evidence of "intelligence" as defined by The Bell Curve?

Six conclusions

Towards the end of the introduction they discuss "six conclusions."
To draw the strands of our perspective together and to set the stage for the rest of the book, let us set them down explicitly. Here are six conclusions regarding tests of cognitive ability, drawn from the classical tradition, that are by now beyond significant technical dispute:
  1. There is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ. 
  2. All standardized tests of academic aptitude or achievement measure this general factor to some degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately. 
  3. IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart in ordinary language. 
  4. IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person's life. 
  5. Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups. 
  6. Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent. 
I am especially curious to learn what evidence they have that supports conclusion 3. I've never heard of a methodology that tests colloquial designations of "smart" per individual against the same individual's test scores, but perhaps The Bell Curve will have some support for this. We shall see.