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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The influence of The Bell Curve

To get a sense of how influential The Bell Curve is on contemporary race science, we can look at Google Scholar which reports that the book is cited 10220 times.

It is cited multiple times by race science proponents including Linda Gottfredson, Richard Lynn, J. P. Rushton, Noah Carl, Emil KirkegaardKevin Beaver, John Paul Wright, the WinegardsBrian Boutwell and Steven Pinker.

According to STAT an online publication devoted to "reporting from the frontiers of health and medicine":
In the 1990s, (James) Watson became smitten with “The Bell Curve,” the 1994 book that argued for a genetics-based theory of intelligence (with African-Americans, it contended, having less of it) and spoke often with its co-author, conservative political scholar Charles Murray. The man who co-discovered the double helix, perhaps not surprisingly, regarded DNA as the ultimate puppet master, immeasurably more powerful than the social and other forces that lesser (much lesser, in his view) scientists studied. 
It's curious that so many race science proponents cite The Bell Curve to support their race-related views - as when the Winegards and Boutwell use it to make an argument in favor of genetic-based Ashkenazi intelligence in Human Biological and Psychological Diversity, while Murray himself likes to minimize the racial component. I think this is what Ezra Klein was referring to when he described San Harris's goalpost shifting as "a strong version and a weak version of Murrayism."

Murray did an interview with the American Enterprise Institute (where he is a resident scholar) with another American Enterprise Institute scholar James Pethokoukis published in October 2014 when the AEI celebrated the 20th anniversary of the book (my highlights):
The flashpoint of the controversy about race and IQ was about genes. If you mention “The Bell Curve” to someone, they’re still likely to say “Wasn’t that the book that tried to prove blacks were genetically inferior to whites?” How do you respond to that? 
Actually, Dick and I got that reaction even while we were working on the book. As soon as someone knew we were writing a book about IQ, the first thing they assumed was that it would focus on race, and the second thing they assumed was that we would be talking about genes. I think psychiatrists call that “projection.” Fifty years from now, I bet those claims about “The Bell Curve” will be used as a textbook case of the hysteria that has surrounded the possibility that black-white differences in IQ are genetic. Here is the paragraph in which Dick Herrnstein and I stated our conclusion: 
If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (p. 311)
That’s it. The whole thing. The entire hateful Herrnstein-Murray pseudoscientific racist diatribe about the role of genes in creating the black-white IQ difference. We followed that paragraph with a couple pages explaining why it really doesn’t make any difference whether the differences are caused by genes or the environment. But nothing we wrote could have made any difference. The lesson, subsequently administered to James Watson of DNA fame, is that if you say it is likely that there is any genetic component to the black-white difference in test scores, the roof crashes in on you. 
On this score, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning. 
The best summary of the evidence is found in the early chapters of Nicholas Wade’s recent book, “A Troublesome Inheritance.” We’re not talking about another 20 years before the purely environmental position is discredited, but probably less than a decade. What happens when a linchpin of political correctness becomes scientifically untenable? It should be interesting to watch. I confess to a problem with schadenfreude.
Clearly Murray does believe that IQ differences in whites and blacks are genetic - he simply refuses to say how much of the difference is caused by genetics. His theory seems to derive from Richard Lynn's northern superiority hypothesis, an idea that goes back to at least the mid-19th century.

He doesn't explain why he thinks the decoding of the genome establishes that race is not a social construct. Although, in fact I would say it's the opposite, as illustrated by the NYTimes article by Carl Zimmer, White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier which points out that many people have cultural race identities that are not the same as their biological ancestry. The article caused race science proponent Razib Khan to write a defensive response "American racial boundaries are quite distinct (for now)" in pro-race science publication Unz Review, in which he alludes to the race science strategy of "removing all that history," the first time I picked up on the strategy (my highlight):
So I have to take issue when The New York Times posts articles with headlines such as White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier. What genetics is showing is that in fact white Americans are shockingly European to an incredibly high degree for a population with roots on this continent for 400 years. If we removed all the history that we take for granted we’d be amazed that the indigenous peoples had so little demographic impact, and, that the larger numbers of people of partial African ancestry did not move into the general “white” population. 
Khan followed up on the history-removing project recently and Sam Harris confirmed it in his interview with Ezra Klein, discussing Harris's support for The Bell Curve, with Harris explaining that history is irrelevant compared to genetics.

While researching this blog post I discovered something odd about the way The Bell Curve determines what is environmental vs. what is genetic in the section of the Bell Curve that Murray mentions in the AEI interview as:
a couple pages explaining why it really doesn’t make any difference whether the differences are caused by genes or the environment.
Pinkerite will address these couple of pages later in this Bell Curve series.

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