Archive (Home)

Breaking the Last Taboo Thomas J. Bouchard
Academic Nazism Steven J. Rosenthal
A Cartoon Elite Nicholas Lemann
Acting smart James Q. Wilson
Common knowledge Michael Barone
Methodological fetishism Brigitte Berger
How the Left betrayed I.Q. Adrian Wooldridge
The Attack on The Bell Curve Richard Lynn
IQ since The Bell Curve Christopher Chabris
The Emergence of a Cognitive Elite Volkmar Weiss
Cracked Bell James J. Heckman
The Bell Curve and its Critics Charles Murray
Curveball Stephen Jay Gould
The Bell Curve David Lethbridge
Deeper into the Brain Charles Murray
The Return of Determinism? The Pseudoscience of the Bell Curve Rajiv Rawat
Soft Science With a Neoconservative Agenda Donald D. Dorfman
IQ and Economic Success Charles Murray
Egalitarian Fiction and Collective Fraud Linda S. Gottfredson
Ethnicity and IQ Thomas Sowell
The Bell Curve Chester Finn
IQ Fight Renewed Anthony Flint
Foretelling The Bell Curve Daniel Seligman
For Whom The Bell Curve Tolls Frank Miel
When facts and orthodoxy collide Craig Frisby
Cracking Open the IQ Box Howard Gardner
Race, Genes and I.Q. Herrnstein, Richard and Murray, Charles
Genius of genes Pallab Ghosh
A Reply to Charles Murray Heckman, James J.; Kamin, Leon J.; Lane, Charles; Lewis, Lloyd B.; Loury, Linda Datcher; Nisbett, Ri
Riding "The Bell Curve" Ernest R. House and Carolyn Haug
How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement? Arthur R. Jensen
The Intelligence Of Nations Philippe Rushton
Is intelligence fixed? Nathan Glazer
IQ will put you in your place Charles Murray
Paroxysms of denial Arthur R. Jensen
Intelligence and the social scientist Leon Kass
Obscuring the Message and Killing the Messenger Pat Duffy Hutcheon
Commentary on some of the empirical and theoretical support for The Bell Curve John Kranzler
Ländernas framtid avgörs av medborgarnas IQ Gunnar Adler-Karlsson
Legacy of racism Pat Shipman
Aim higher Barbara Lerner
Living with inequality Eugene D. Genovese
Meritocracy that works Loren E. Lomasky
Dispirited Glenn C. Loury
Mainstream Science on Intelligence
Moral intelligence Michael Young
Murdering the Bell Curve Ann Coulter
Going public Richard John Neuhaus
The Ominous, New Cognitive Elite Charles Murray
The Bell Curve Francois Nielsen
Not hopeless Ernest Van den Haag
Sins of the cognitive elite Michael Novak
Robert Siegel Interviews Charles Murray
The Bell Curve: Some implications for the discipline of school psychology Thomas Oakland
Some Recent Overlooked Research On The Bell Curve Arthur Jensen
The Bell Curve E.L. Pattullo
Race, I.Q., American Society and Charles Murray
Race, IQ, Success and Charles Murray
Does IQ Matter?
Interview With Robert Sternberg
Scientific American Debunks Leon J. Kamin
The Bell Curve Sandra Scarr
Is the Bell Curve Statistically Sound? James Case
Is The Bell Curve the stealth public-policy book of the 1990s? Charles Murray and Daniel Seligman
The General Intelligence Factor Linda S. Gottfredson
For Whom The Bell Curve Tolls Frank Miele
A Conversation with Charles Murray
Trashing 'The Bell Curve' David Seligman
Freedom, Welfare and Dystopia Charles Murray

Obscuring the Message and Killing the Messenger
Pat Duffy Hutcheon


y any conceivable criterion, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray have produced in The Bell Curve (New York: Free Press, 1994 ) an educational work of prodigious scholarship. At the very least their book should be valued as a compendium of vitally important information on what is actually happening to intelligence and class structure in the late twentieth-century United States. For its political significance alone The Bell Curve deserves careful perusal and thoughtful assessment. However, judging by the prevailing tenor of the emotionally charged reviews in the popular press, the initial response amounted, instead, to a confused clamor of indignant ad hominem attacks on the authors.
Perhaps such a response was inevitable. Perhaps Herrnstein and Murray unwittingly obscured their central message by presenting the concepts of intelligence and class within the framework of ethnicity. But it is difficult, today, for an honest social critic to avoid that explosive subject. More and more Americans are choosing to define themselves in terms of minority-group membership. And, increasingly, each group's members define themselves according to observable indicators of ethnic heritage such as skin color. But Herrstein and Murray are not among those who seek to exaggerate the importance of bloodlines and mystical ancestral "spirit" as defining criteria of citizenship. On the contrary, they make it plain throughout their book that they support a political/social system based on justice for individuals--regardless of ethnic roots. Clearly they are alarmed at the prospect of the balkanization of the United States' citizenry. In fact, they are attempting to sound a warning about the shoals ahead, for any

society embarking on that suicidal course.
Ironically, however, the authors have inadvertently obscured their real message by falling in line with "politically correct" terminology. They chose to accept the currently established categorization of Americans by skin color, and then proceeded to draw comparisons among those categories in terms of the average intelligence of the individuals assigned to them. This may be legitimate as a statistical exercise, but whether or not their findings are meaningful within the American setting is another question entirely. The results of such an analysis are only valid and reliable to the degree that the original categorization was in fact derived from real and discrete differences both in genetic inheritance and in early childhood cultural influences which, together, determine intelligence.
The majority of those who define themselves as "black," "white," "Latino," "aboriginal," or "Asian" in North America today are so genetically mixed, and so socialized from birth into the media-generated American culture, that the labels have meaning almost entirely in political terms. Any cross-group comparison of average scores is likely to tell us more about the recent history of the groups in question than about what one might expect of specific members. The mean IQ of a group reveals nothing about the range of ability encompassed, nor of the probability that a given person will be in the upper or lower percentiles of measured ability. In fact, the major--and predictable--result of average group IQ scores is the encouragement of unwarranted prejudgments of individuals on the basis of largely irrelevant criteria.
One could argue that Herrnstein and Murray have done more harm than good to their cause by accepting conventional wisdom to the extent that they have and employing scientifically invalid (and socially divisive) categories in