Written throughout four years of extensive research by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life is a comprehensive treatment of its stated subject matter. It uses massive amounts of data on intelligence in the American population to present multiple analyses of the effects of intelligence on American social structure. From these varied analyses, Herrnstein and Murray present their argument for how to preserve the American ideal in the face of the effects of intelligence on American life.

The book opens with a simple introduction to the concept of intelligence and the research surrounding it. The authors clearly point out the dichotomy between the perceived wisdom on intelligence and the scholarly knowledge. They conclude by defining their basic terms and the scientific conclusions that they operate from for the rest of the book. Part I deals with the development of what the authors call a "cognitive elite". They detail how the most intelligent people in American life are, through the educational system, becoming stratified and isolated from the rest of society. Part II details the strong relationships between intelligence and social behavior, especially the elements of society that most consider distasteful: poverty, crime, welfare, and so on. The authors show that intelligence has a huge, unconsidered relationship to most social phenomena -- a relationship that must be taken into account to fully deal with these problems. Part III considers intelligence in the national and demographic sense. This is the most controversial aspect of the book, as it deals with the ethnic differences of intelligence, and then discusses the possibility of dysgenic pressure (the possible future decreases of intelligence.) In Part IV the authors discuss the meaning of all their conclusions and possible solutions to the problems they present. They present in the final chapters their vision of a free and equal America, and how this vision can be realized in the face of their overwhelming data and the effects of intelligence on American society.

Introduction

Herrnstein and Murray begin their work by attempting to dispel many myths about intelligence. They show that the popular wisdom surrounding the concept of intelligence is completely contrary to the state of scientific knowledge (giving multiple sources to verify this assertion). They give a brief history of intelligence and the science of psychometrics (the study and measurement of the human mind), which they then use to define the terms and foundations for the rest of The Bell Curve. Among these they give six statements, which they regard as beyond scientific dispute (i.e. already shown true beyond reasonable doubt) and as fundamental to the rest of their work. These are:
  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 world 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.

These statements underlie the rest of The Bell Curve and are necessary truths to make its analyses valid. It is important to note: throughout the scientific community at large, these statements are beyond scientifically valid dispute.

Part I : The Emergence of a Cognitive Elite

The first part of The Bell Curve discusses the effects of intelligence at the top of the cognitive ability distribution. Chapter 1 begins by examining the educational factor. By analyzing standardized test data and college admissions records, it becomes clear that over the past 50 years, the determining factor in college attendance (both in general and for specific schools) is, rather than social class or wealth, overwhelmingly the intelligence of the student. This selection for cognitive ability stratifies the most intelligent of the population by placing them all in the same place at once: college. The next chapter discusses the same stratifying effect in the workplace. Through educational credentials and the need for intelligence in certain jobs, the partitioning effect continues in many professions. These include teaching, engineering, law, research, architecture, medicine, and accounting. Through the educational system, the most intelligent students are siphoned into these occupations, keeping them near other bright people and apart from the majority of the population for the rest of their lives.

Chapter 3 deals with the economic reasons that these systems have come into being. Put simply, intelligence is the single most powerful predictor of job success, and by extension, workplace productivity. A smart person has a much greater dollar value than an average one for a business owner. The statistics in this chapter are some of the most startling in the entire book. For example, a person who has an IQ of 115 is approximately 80% more productive than a person with an IQ of 100 (on the average.) This is not a large difference in dollars for a job stocking shelves at Wal*Mart, but for an engineer designing the newest medical technology, it is an enormous factor. Thus the pressure to select for intelligence in business is both valid and unavoidable. The final chapter of this part deals with the possible results of the cognitive partitioning system. Because of the strong pressure to partition in both education and the workplace, Herrnstein and Murray predict that intelligence will soon become the basis for a full-blown American class system, with all the consequences that implies.

Part II : Cognitive Classes and Social Behavior

The second part of The Bell Curve deals with the social behaviors that educated society normally considers undesirable (poverty, crime, unemployment, illegitimate children, etc.) The authors note that social scientists have previously almost ignored intelligence in their analyses of social behavior. However, an analysis of the data on cognitive ability leads Herrnstein and Murray to conclude that it is intelligence, rather than simply socioeconomic status, that is the cause of all these social effects. In addition, they find that when intelligence is taken into account, it either nearly eliminates or reverses the accepted trend of these behaviors in comparison to other "effects". This leads the authors to rightly conclude that any study of social policy relating to these behaviors is decidedly incomplete without taking account for the effects of intelligence.

Poverty is the first issue the authors deal with. Via multiple regression analyses, they clearly show that intelligence is far more important than childhood socioeconomic status when predicting the economic welfare of a person later in life. In their succinct terms, it is "better to be born smart than rich." The story is similar for the educational perspective, particularly for high school. A person with high IQ is extremely likely to finish high school regardless of their economic circumstances, whereas someone of low cognitive ability who comes from a wealthy family is not nearly so inclined. The same pattern is repeated on a lesser scale for post-secondary education. The study of unemployment is one of the most telling in this part of the book. It shows that for unemployed men, the greatest risk factor in predicting unemployment is not socioeconomic background or education, but instead intelligence. The same applies to men out of the labor force for reasons of injury or disability. The prediction is by far the strongest in terms of cognitive ability. The eighth chapter is entitled "Family Matters" and discusses the status of the American family when viewed in light of intelligence data. The conclusions, in short, are frightening. While among the average and higher levels of intelligence, the traditional American family is still strong and stable, in the lower classes of intelligence the nuclear family is all but destroyed. The "decay" of the American family is almost entirely based on the effects of intelligence.

Chapter 9 deals with the relationship of welfare and intelligence. The story is again much the same, although less clear than on previous topics. Cognitive ability is the primary factor in predicting temporary welfare dependency, regardless of previous socioeconomic status. However, unlike previous subjects, chronic welfare dependency is more subject to childhood dependence on welfare or childhood poverty. This lends credence to the "culture of poverty" argument, but there is a bit more to the story. Among those who have low socioeconomic status as children, those in the upper portion of the intelligence distribution are able to rise out of the "poor culture" and avoid welfare for the rest of their lives. The next chapter focuses on parenting, specifically the question of whether intelligence affects the ability of parents to raise their children well. The data shows two clear conclusions. First, high intelligence is not a prerequisite for being a good parent -- those with average intelligence make fine and even excellent parents in the majority of circumstances. Second, however, is that the most damaging homes and family environments exist in those places where the parents are on the low end of the cognitive ability distribution.

Crime is the next subject that Herrnstein and Murray discuss. It is well known, and well documented, that the criminal element has a lower intelligence than the average population. The average criminal has an intelligence about 8 points lower than the average American, with the career or chronic criminal differing by far more. The authors also show that those with high intelligence, even if they come from high-risk backgrounds, are far less likely to commit crime than those of average or low intelligence. The final topic in this part of The Bell Curve is civility and good citizenship. Measuring this quality with several methods, the authors show that intelligence strongly correlates with a person's values. Those people with higher intelligence are more likely to have qualities considered to be virtuous or morally good -- in short, to be a good citizen.

Part III : The National Context

This part deals with the ethnic differences in intelligence, the effect of intelligence on typical comparison of ethnic groups, and with the effects of differing fertility patterns on the intelligence distribution as a whole. The first chapter takes some time to establish that there are definite, measurable, significant differences in intelligence between various ethnic groups. The authors also take some space to dispel the myths about ethnic bias in intelligence testing (which they do in great detail in the Appendices.) The next chapter proceeds to examine ethnic inequalities when intelligence is taken into account. The results are interesting. In education and entry into the high-level workforce, the gap between white and black reverses after intelligence is accounted for. However, even when intelligence is accounted for in the analysis, unemployment, wage earnings, and other topics still contain a sizable racial gap. Intelligence is part, but not all, of the picture.

Chapter 15 deals with the demography of intelligence. The conclusions seem small in nature, but may have far-reaching consequences. In short, because of changing immigration trends and the tendency of low-IQ mothers to have children first, the intelligence distribution is experiencing pressure downward over time. This amounts to a fraction of a point per year, but, as the authors show, even a change of a few points could be expected to yield massive and disruptive effects. The last chapter in this part shows that among those who experience social problems, the vast majority is in the low segment of the intelligence distribution. Regardless of the causal possibilities, the prevalence measurement is indisputable. Thus, solutions to any social problems should be engineered to help those who have less cognitive ability than most of the population.

Part IV : Living Together

This final part of the book contains the authors’ recommendations for using the analyses they have presented thus far. They apply their conclusions to social policy in America and then present their vision for the future. Chapter 17 discusses the methods available to raise intelligence across the distribution. The data, unfortunately, shows little success. The most important environmental factor in raising intelligence appears to be nutrition, which has steadily improved across the past century but has begun to plateau in recent years. Herrnstein and Murray call for additional research in this area -- but research that is not afraid of discovering what may be the hard truth. The following chapter analyzes the state of American education. The conclusion is straightforward: The American educational system has done well in helping the disenfranchised and the underprivileged -- but at the expense of the gifted few who will be the movers and shakers of future society. They suggest, that beginning in government, American society reemphasize academic excellence, with the hope of motivating the gifted student to excel and therefore to produce. Chapters 19 and 20 take a hard look at affirmative action in higher education and the workplace, and find it lacking. The available data shows that affirmative action is not serving its intended purpose and that it could not stand up to a full, rigorous public scrutiny.

The penultimate chapter is entitled "The Way We Are Headed". In this chapter, the conclusions of the previous parts are drawn into a dire, but accurate, prediction of the future. The authors predict that due to economic pressure, the isolation of the cognitive elite will continue. The underclass, increasingly determined by cognitive ability, will become increasingly mired in poverty and crime. And because the intelligent are the active and affluent, they will begin to restructure society so that they can no longer lose, and so that the underclass, by extension, can no longer win. In the final chapter, however, the authors present their vision. They reject the concept of an egalitarian society that compensates for individual differences through socialism or a welfare state. They lay out the doctrine of a "valued place", stating their belief that any person can have a happy life if he or she has a happy family, a community of peers to interact well with, and a fulfilling position in the workforce. This, Herrnstein and Murray argue, is the correct vision for an equal and free America.

Afterword

Soon after the publication of the first edition of The Bell Curve, Murray wrote an afterword to respond to many of the ridiculous criticisms of the book. This afterword is included in later editions and lays out exactly why the most prominent detractors of the book (Stephen Jay Gould) are wrong, and what the effects of The Bell Curve may be far into the future. Murray predicts that the reexamination of these issues that The Bell Curve has prompted may be its most important achievement.

The Appendices

The authors include several appendices, which are self-explanatory to any reader of the book. The book concludes with its bibliography and comprehensive chapter-by-chapter notes. The appendices are:

  1. Statistics for People Who Are Sure They Can't Learn Statistics
  2. Technical Issues Regarding the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
  3. Technical Issues Regarding the Armed Forces Qualification Test as a Measure of IQ
  4. Regression Analyses from Part II
  5. Supplemental Material for Chapter 13
  6. Regression Analyses from Chapter 14

Beyond Scientifically Valid Dispute

There is a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase "beyond scientifically valid dispute" that misinterprets the meaning of the phrase and distorts the intent of its use. This particular phrase means, in effect, that no scientist will be able to use data to challenge a particular claim. Such a phrase (see also "beyond significant technical dispute") is only applied to conclusions that have been rigorously established by decades of research. This is definitely the case for the six assertions The Bell Curve makes in its introduction. Since the most publicized and ringing indictments of the book are based on these, some qualification is in order.

Now, it is certainly possible to argue with any of these principles: they are not self-evident. However, any degree of research into the topics in the technical literature will show that these claims are not disputed by the scientific community at large. This is because the data clearly shows these conclusions. To analogize: it would be possible for a physicist to challenge the Laws of Thermodynamics, but he would be a laughingstock in the scientific community because he could not produce any data.

This is the case with Stephen Jay Gould's argument against The Bell Curve. He presents what is known as the "factor-analytic argument" against the very concept of g. This argument, unfortunately for him, was scientifically discredited decades ago. In fact, when he re-raised the issue in his review of The Bell Curve, there was significant response from the scientific community. Fifty-two experts in the fields of psychology (note: Stephen Jay Gould was an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist) wrote a public letter supporting every one of The Bell Curve's major claims. This letter, entitled Mainstream Science on Intelligence, was published in the Wall Street Journal on December 13, 1994.

It is sufficient for me to elucidate the meaning of this phrase and mention "Mainstream Science on Intelligence". I strongly encourage those who desire the facts to do their own research in the techinical literature of the field. Your findings will totally validate any of the six claims that The Bell Curve (and I) claim are "beyond scientifically valid dispute".

Personal Notes

The Bell Curve is an extremely controversial book that happens, like The Origin of Species before it, to be based in indisputable science. Thousands have denounced the book as evil, ignorant, and racist. It is none of these things. I enjoin any who think this to read to book carefully, referring to the sources cited by the authors whenever they are unsure. As Murray says in the Afterword, "you will find the exercise instructive."

Sources

Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray. The Bell Curve. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

"Mainstream Science on Intelligence." The Wall Street Journal. New York City: Dow Jones & Company, 1994. (Public Domain Work.)

Personal knowledge, learning, and consultation with professors in the field.

IQ is not related to race. It is related to social level.

This confusion is nothing new. European aristocracy is the best example of a social class who thought their culture and their intellectual advance were an absolute proof of their genetic superiority. The rise of the bourgeoisie, and the Revolutions which followed (most notably in America and France) proved them wrong.

There are (at least) 2 very simple (and purely technical) ways to prove that IQ is more correlated to "well-offness" than to DNA or race :
  1. Studying the average IQ of Black children adopted by White people, or more generally of children from poor families adopted by wealthy families. It will almost certainly be higher (on average) than the IQ of their biological relatives.

  2. The Ainu people live in Japan, on the Hokkaido island. They have two distinctive characteristics :

This book is scientifically rubbish. As Mr Gould put it, "(it) is simply a more polite way to call the Blacks dirty niggers". It is difficult to understand how such a blatantly flawed reasoning generated so much debate.
Although I don't directly disagree with all of the writer's ideas, I think the above writeup is incoherent and self-contradictory.

The writer says that "IQ is not related to race." A few lines later, this becomes "IQ is more correlated to 'well-off'-ness than to DNA or race [italics mine]." It must be one or the other. In either case, the view that genetics plays a minimal-to-negligible role in intelligence is without experimental support. If genes are so trivial, why do identical twins raised apart show a 76% correlation in IQ scores? If the environment is all-powerful, why do unrelated children adopted by the same family show an IQ correlation of zero percent? (Ridley, 1999*)

But suppose we accept the claim that IQ really is entirely to do with class. In that case, poor people are stupid. Is this what the writeup is supposed to be arguing? If so, it is no less bigoted than racial prejudice; it is merely transferring the stupidity from one group to another, whether or not the claim is backed up by evidence.

Either intelligence has a significant genetic factor, in which case some people are more intelligent than others by nature; or the only important determinants of it are environmental, in which case some people are more intelligent than others by virtue of their upbringing and lifestyle. In either case, some people are going to be less intelligent than others.

Later on, it is claimed that one of the supposed "proofs" that IQ is not racial is the existence of the Ainu people. These are whites with a "less advanced" culture, so IQ can't be a racial thing. Where does this conclusion come from? Is he saying that the Ainu people are stupid, thus proving that every race is capable of stupidity? He compares them to native Americans and eastern Africans, so this is presumably not his intention. But the paragraph contains no mention of IQ, only cultural advancement, so what exactly is his point? As far as I can tell, his argument number 2 is totally irrelevant to the discussion.

I haven't read The Bell Curve, so I can't comment on it directly, or on Thomas Miconi's (or Stephen Gould's) opinions of it. Is IQ related to race? One problem here is that this question can be interpreted in two different ways. IQ is definitely related to race in the sense that different races score different average IQs. That is not a debatable fact, given that we are talking about IQ, which is defined as the result of an IQ test, and not actual intelligence, whatever that may be. But the question people are interested in is whether there is a genetic basis for these differences. I'm not a geneticist or a psychologist and I don't know the answer. However I suspect it's most likely that the IQ differences between races (as opposed to individuals) are largely environmental in origin, as this is backed by most of the evidence I've encountered (as an interested layman).

Miconi is right, unlike some, in recognising that the issue is not a priori, as he seeks to provide practical rather than theoretical arguments. But one of the practical arguments in the above writeup, the one that I discuss, is not very good. On the other hand, I think that his first point, about non-white children adopted by white parents, is a good argument that racial IQ differences are not genetic - the influence of white parents is not, of course, to do with their white skin, but the fact that whites in the U.S. are on average wealthier than non-whites.



*Ridley, M. (1999). Genome. Fourth Estate Limited, London.



Since writing this, another point has been made known to me which is important when dealing with the differences between groups. Whether or not there are genetic or environmental differences between the average IQs of races, racial discrimination is wrong. Some far-right groups have tried to use the "fact" of innate IQ differences to justify racist political policies, but it is no justification at all. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all such prejudices, although they may be hard to avoid, are still repugnant. Even if it were confirmed that one race was genetically more intelligent than another (which I don't think is going to happen anyway), this would not have any practical moral implications. Racism is wrong because of the universal ethical sense shared by all people, not merely on the testable proviso that all races are identical. There is no justifiable reason to discriminate against an individual because their "group" (be it race or anything else) is on average 5 IQ points lower than another, whatever the reason for that difference.

It seems a shame to produce a write-up that serves only to detract from another one. It's poor etiquette, and maybe this write-up won't live long. This is not going to be a review of the book 'The Bell Curve', as I haven't read it, and don't want to. This is a review of SigmaVirus' write-up, above.

About those six assumptions that are 'true beyond reasonable doubt' and 'beyond scientifically valid dispute':

  1. 'There is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ.' - This statement is not merely not evidenct, it is not sufficiently well-formulated to be testable. But to take even a simple example of this statement's failure, an autistic mathematics student and a dyslexic art student are highly unlikely to have any cognitive strengths in common. Applying any single-valued test to such students will not produce results which accurately reflect their respective intellectual abilities. Researchers such as Howard Gardner, of Harvard, have proposed plausible theories of multiple intelligences, whereby a list of eight or nine different factors provide a picture of a person's intellect. Examnples of such factors would be lingustic ability, logical ability, and spatial skills. I have seen one version in which musical aptitude is a distinct form of intelligence, and I have no prima facie reason to dispute this idea.
  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.' - This is simply a statement of faith in IQ tests. IQ tests do not, as a rule, test higher linguistic abilities, retentive memory, general knowledge or artistic aptitude, all of which are considered to be aspects of intelligence by the academic community at large.
  3. 'IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the world intelligent or smart in ordinary language.' - This is simply a restatement of the previous two assertions. As already noted, nothing in an IQ test will measure any of several longer-term intellectual faculties. Moreover, IQ tests are simply not a suitable medium for examining some subjects at all. I've worked with deaf, autistic, dyslexic and emotionally disturbed children. Some of them I would classify as highly intelligent. None of them could have usefully sat an IQ test.
  4. 'IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person's life.' - This statement only has relevance if we accept IQ scores. But in any case, is it right to take this as an assumption at the beginning of a study to see what factors influence human intellectual ability? It seems to me to be assuming a conclusion - or excluding one. Moreover, it has been shown that it is possible to improve one's IQ merely by practising IQ tests. It's not clear whether such practice improves any other intellectual facility.
  5. 'Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups.' - 'Not demonstrably' does not mean the same as 'demonstrably not'. It would seem that ethnic differences in results could be the result of some unseen cultural or other bias in the tests.
  6. 'Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.' - I'm no geneticist, but to quote from the book's review in Scientific American, where the 'they' referred to are the authors of 'Intelligence, Genes, and Success': 'The book erred in using a "broad" definition of heritability as a basis for speculation about genetically based cognitive stratification, they say. They argue that for this purpose a "narrow" definition of heritability is the mathematically correct one and estimate its value at only 34-percent, a figure that makes the emergence of cognitive castes "almost impossible."'.

And then there's the claim made about the certainty of these claims. It is clearly false that they are 'beyond...dispute', or the highly reputable and inconveniently dead Steven Jay Gould would not have written The Mismeasure of Man largely to refute most of the points above. Good science is not done by calling your opponents wrong more loudly than they make their claims. The same hysterical hyperbole and intellectual arrogance is evident elsewhere in the writeup. We're told, without explanation, that the criticisms of the book are 'ridiculous', and that Gould's claims are refuted - without being told what any of the criticisms, or their answers, are! SigmaVirus tells me to go and talk to professors in the field to hear his claims, and those of the authors, confirmed. This assertion, like much of the rest of the write-up, is the language of religious fundamentalism. In order to be convinced of the work's accuracy and truthfulness, I need to read, learn and inwardly digest it. It can be confirmed by reference to its own sources. The existence of any plausible refutation is denied. I advise any readers who wonder about this claim to do a Google search for 'The Bell Curve'. Well-documented, statistically dense counter-arguments abound.

SigmaVirus' own 'explanation' of Gould's opposition to the book is as follows: 'He presents what is known as the "factor-analytic argument" against the very concept of g.' This is not an explanation, in the same way that Griffin's explanation of invisibility in H G Wells' The Invisible Man is not. There's no node for the 'factor-analytic' argument, and no description of this value g. Most of the argument in the WU, in fact, is bombast and obfuscation. It is simply not true that the points are beyond scientific debate, and saying it, no matter how loud, won't make it so. I've presented some fairly key points against them above. In fact, it is not self-evident, or perhaps even provable, that a finite definition of intelligence exists. Human ingenuity is manifold. SigmaVirus constantly tells us that 'any amount' of 'serious research' into the field will confirm his idols' findings. Google thinks otherwise, yielding up numerous statistically based counter-claims. And I've given you the information you need to conduct this research easily in the comfort of your own home. No need to consult with ivory-tower-dwelling professors. Oh, and I'd say Steven Jay Gould, whose subject was genetics (an exact science, and the one under discussion) would have been better able to criticise these findings than assorted professors of psychology (an inexact, non-metric science, and not one with much to do with heredity). Effectively, what appears above this WU is not, as is claimed, a review of the book, but a fraudulent advertisement for it.

Thanks to Oolong for some of the research for this WU, and for helping with the genetics.

Is IQ genetic, or is it socially determined? If it is genetic, then the fact that some "races" have statistically lower IQ scores leads to the sort of conclusions inherent in The Bell Curve.

What this analysis fails to ask is whether "race" is genetically or socially determined. The common assumption is that "race" is genetic.

But this is not so. Biologists have been unable, despite vast efforts, to find any genetic marker of race. The accepted wisdom in the world of biology is that what lay people call "race" is simply a "folk category", with no scientific underpinning. In other words, there is no way to determine, through genetics or biology, what "race" a person is. Categorisation of people into races is 100% socially determined, and has nothing to do with science.

However it's not just a question of deciding who is "black", "white", "Asian" etc. We should be asking why people consider some differences to be important, and worthy of special categorisation, and not other differences.

I recently passed my final class for a Master's Degree in Education Policy, doing a project in the gap between scientific knowledge of cognition and how that knowledge is socially applied. As such, I touched on the Bell Curve a bit, and have a few comments to make on it.

First off, I would like to discuss a way that a certain group of people - people of African descent, are genetically and biologically inferior to another group of people, those not of African descent. A pretty strong statement, but what I have to say in this regard is scientifically and socially non-controversial. Some people of African descent have a change in single base pair that codes for a single amino acid in a gene that codes for a certain protein, namely hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. Because a single amino acid is changed, the molecule, under certain conditions, will be pushed against other hemoglobin molecules because it is now hydrophobic. The result is the condition known as sickle cell anemia, which can be very dangerous or fatal. This disease only effects mostly those of obvious African phenotype, or, as we say on the streets, blacks.

If someone states that black people can be genetically inferior to white people in their ability to transport oxygen, why is suggesting that one race or group of people is genetically inferior to another in intellectual ability so much more controversial, scientifically and socially? Is it because people would take a genetic condition affecting their body as an external disability, but to suggest that they are stupid is a more personal matter? I think part of it is that, but my own annoyance and objection to theories such as these is that they have no clear science behind them.

I have read much of the controversy surrounding the Bell Curve, and much of it seems to focus on the fact that the author's were a bit too reductionistic in their science, that they did not totally take seriously how institutionalized racism and classism can affect people's lives, as well as the fact that cognitive abilities do not exist in a social vacuum. But my objections come from a different direction: that the authors were not reductionistic enough. What the authors do is connect a social phenomena (intelligence and its connection to what could be considered social success) to a biological explanation (genetics), without explaining what that actually means. They use genetics the way Stan Lee does: we can accept, in the pages of the X-Men, that a "mutant gene" can make someone shoot beams of light out of their eyes. But if someone is writing a book where they suggest that millions of people will never be able to enjoy all society has to offer because they are simply born stupid, they should come up with a better explanation.

So my problem with the Bell Curve is that it does not explain what the biological difference is between intelligent and non-intelligent people. If there is a genetic difference, it can be identified and tested for. We should be able to know exactly which proteins are different between the cognitive elite and the normal folks, we will know just which one of the thousands of proteins in the brain has a selenocysteine in place of a normal cysteine that lets us get into med school, and we will know which enzyme accidentally shunts tyrosine from its normal adrenalin metabolism into producing octopamine, which is what makes people go on benders and end up in prison. But in the hundreds of pages of The Bell Curve, not a single actual biological mechanism is proposed for intelligence. The authors, neither of whom are biologists, use "genetics" the way most lay people do: as a Canadian Girlfriend that can be mentioned as needed, without needing to mention any particulars.

If the authors wish to hypothesize that cognitive attitudes and abilities seem to be rather unchangeable by social intervention, that is a fine social science hypothesis. When they move into the realm of biology, however, they have an obligation to actually present some biological facts or reasoning, rather than using biology as a way to avoid the fact that they have no actual sociological evidence for their hypothesis.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.