E's Reviews > The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein
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Dec 28, 10

bookshelves: politics-history
Read in November, 2003

The United States has been *officially* free of segregation, slavery, and anti-miscegenation laws for 52 of its 234 years. (Though didn't Bob Jones University only just integrate in 2000?) Apparently this is long enough to convince many that any argument bordering on racism is a revolutionary, persecuted concept. While all political ideas - no matter how old and tired and simplistic - should indeed be entertained, challenged and debated, there is something particularly perverse about American racism claiming victimhood. The Klan did that. George Wallace did that. And armed with the epithet "PC police," the new Social Darwinists continue that grand tradition so resilient in our nation's history.

I read this book at the end of a college course on genetics and our task quickly snowballed into tearing the methodology to pieces. Not because the thesis is politically incorrect, but because the assumptions are so broad and the science is so flimsy. The authors, to begin with, are not geneticists but psychologists looking to ride the wave of public interest in genetics brought on by the Human Genome Project at the end of the 20th century and to breathe new life into the antiquated and long-discredited realm of eugenics. The authors' blind faith in so many broad assumptions elicted the first of many guffaws among my classmates:

1) They rely on traditional racial categories, but American definitions of “black” and “white” are social categories based on appearance, not genetics. The One Drop Rule is an American cultural custom, not a genetic finding.

2) They insist that IQ testing proves blacks are genetically less intelligent, yet the study was vague in its assertion of which exact gene makes black Americans less intelligent. There was no examination of people with Sub-Saharan African heritage living outside of the United States.

3) They insist that IQ is a definitive measure of intelligence, yet IQ testing has been proven to be severely culturally biased - our ancestors would have done very poorly.

4) Furthermore, IQ testing only measures math and verbals skills - it does not account for the vast majority of intelligences identified by multiple intelligences theory.

5) They insist IQ is passed on from parent to child, yet the heritability of IQ has yet to be proven since parents with high IQs usually have an easier time providing intellectually nurturing environments to their children thanks to the economic value our society places on having a high IQ.

Unfortunately, rigorously applying the scientific method is no match for telling social conservatives what they want to hear. In the words of Mark Twain, "It is far easier to fool the people than to convince them that they have been fooled." However, racist sociologists are not the only ones absorbing the assertions of such a book. As Cordelia Fine's studies show, any class of test-takers who are told that their demographic is known to perform poorly will do so, in contrast to a class that is not told this.

I file this one under "Know Your Enemies" along with all the other half-baked arguments for Social Darwinism. Only the United States, South Africa and Neo-Nazis are still obsessed with coming up with labels for different variations of skin tone, hair texture, eye shape and ancestry, but as long as they continue to be, the methodology of any supposed scientific corroboration must be examined. And called out for its inaccuracies.

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Charles David Edinger You are living in a world of fantasy outrage and ostentatiously silly methodological criticism. As someone who

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