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

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

Legacy of racism
Pat Shipman

Aim higher
Barbara Lerner

Living with inequality
Eugene D. Genovese

Meritocracy that works
Loren E. Lomasky

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

When facts and orthodoxy collide

Vol. 24, School Psychology Review, 01-01-1995, pp 12
Craig Frisby


ewsweek's October 24, 1994 cover story on The Bell Curve(Herrnstein & Murray, 1994) opens with the provocative question, "IQ: Is It Destiny?" In reality, Herrnstein and Murray's central thesis is much more conservative (but no less provocative): IQ variation is strongly implicated in the social stratification (and related social problems) commonly observed in modern American society. For school psychology, a question that may be more closely tailored to our profession is, "To what extent does IQ score variation offer a robust explanation for variation in scholastic achievement?" I argue that a proper understanding of the concept of "robustness" lies at the heart of the answer to this question, as well as sincere attempts to objectively evaluate controversies surrounding The Bell Curve. For purposes of this discussion, the meaning of the terms IQ and academic achievement need to be made more explicit. I define a person's IQ conceptually as the mean of a distribution of scores obtained from an infinite number of administrations of the same intelligence test without practice effects (i.e., akin to a person's "true score" in classical test theory). Scholastic achievement is a global term that refers to scores on standardized achievement tests, class grades, grade point averages, graduation and promotion rates, cognitive complexity of course content in a program of study, as well as the myriad of informal indicators of classroom learning.
Within a representative sample of school children ranging from the profoundly mentally disabled to prodigies in the advanced mathematics and sciences, it is generally beyond dispute that IQ is a robust factor in explaining variance in academic achievement (Brody, 1986; Weiss & Weisz, 1986; Welsh, 1986). Many educators usually react defensively to this principle with the cliche that "all students can learn." However, this response misses the point. All students may be able to learn, however, the quality and rate of this learning is not comparable across extremes in the IQ continuum. All other factors being equal (and barring serious learning disabilities or emotional problems), significantly brighter students (a) learn complex material at a more rapid rate, (b) are able to grasp abstract concepts and understand them at deeper levels, (c) can spontaneously generalize what is learned to a wider class of problems, and (d) usually progress through school with minimal academic difficulties. In contrast, students with IQs in the 80s and below (a) tend to have greater than average difficulty with grade-level material, (b) must be explicitly taught concepts at more concrete levels, (c) tend to avoid academically rigorous classes in favor of cognitively simpler classes in secondary school, and (d) have a school experience characterized by higher levels of chronic academic failure and early school termination.
Only two situations exist in which IQ variation in a sample is not as robust a factor in explaining variation in academic achievement. The first situation, discussed by Herrnstein and Murray (1994), is when the range of IQ within a group is restricted (i.e., as in classes "tracked" for scholastic aptitude). Here, it is reasonable to assume that other manipulable factors begin to exert a stronger influence in explaining variation in academic outcomes for the restricted sample. In addition to ability, numerous models of student learning (e.g., see Burstein, 1992; review by Fraser, Walberg, Welch, & Hattie, 1987) include the role of opportunities to learn, affective and attitudinal factors (e.g., motivation, interest), instructional factors (e.g., academic learning time, corrective feedback, classroom climate), and manipulable home factors (e.g., amount of time devoted to homework) as important influences on student learning outcomes.
The second situation in which the influence of IQ variation is attenuated is when the outcome variable is less dependent on the g (general mental ability) factor. For example, consider a scenario in which a chronically failing student in remedial-level classes is observed to have memorized perfectly the words to a large number of popular songs. The frustrated teacher optimistically concludes that this constitutes evidence of "high intelligence" not detected by conventional methods. However, rote memorization of song lyrics is not comparable to a hierarchical sequence of study in algebra, as individual differences in successful mastery of the latter is much more dependent on the g factor. Similarly, Jensen (1989) summarizes a number of empirical generalizations regarding the specific contexts in which variability in learning is most highly related to variability in the g factor.

Racial Differences in Scholastic Achievement

In addition to what is known about the relationship between IQ and achievement, an established fact is the gap that averages about 1 standard deviation in the mean IQs within a representative distribution of whites' and blacks' intelligence test scores (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). Herrnstein and Murray do not flinch from carrying these facts to their logical conclusion; namely, that widespread disparities in average scholastic achievements between whites and blacks can be largely attributable to average group differences in measured intelligence (which, they argue, is substantially heritable within groups).
Herrnstein and Murray were quite careful in The Bell Curve to emphasize the substantial overlap in the black/white IQ distributions. Nevertheless, to parade facts about racial differences before the general public is akin to putting a lit match to gasoline, as evidenced by the public's swift and venomous reaction to The Bell Curve. At the heart of this hornet's nest is the issue of how much of the average IQ difference between racial groups can be attributable to genetic factors. School psychologists, however, are not quantitative geneticists. Hence, resolution of this issue is of limited practical value to the field and best left to specialists. The important question of relevance to school psychology is whether the relationship between IQ and school achievement variation is the same for blacks (as a group) as it is for whites (as a group).
There is a vast sea of literature that addresses this issue directly, through attempts to offer alternative explanations for black scholastic underperformance (relative to whites) that deemphasize IQ variation as a source. These alternative explanations boil down to three main schools of thought (as summarized in Table 1), which I characterize as "Disadvantage/Oppression," "Cultural Differences," and "Psychological Maladjustment" explanations. There is considerable overlap between these perspectives, such that it is often difficult to discern where one perspective ends and another begins. Nevertheless, implicit in each perspective are "emotional themes" that shape social attitudes and lead to orthodox ways of thinking about the origin of average group differences in scholastic achievement
According to the Disadvantage/Oppression school of thought (characterized best by Myrdal, Sterner, & Rose, 1962), the source for racially based social disparities in America can be traced back through the centuries and ultimately attributed to the point at which blacks were brought to America as slaves. A competitive footrace between a black runner (representing African-Americans) and a white runner (representing Caucasians) is often used as a metaphor for explaining the social advancement of these two groups, as well as explaining present day social inequalities in schooling, housing, and employment. Here, it is often argued that slavery held back the black runner while the white runner was permitted to freely sprint. The ugly history of official racial discrimination and segregation following the abolishment of slavery in America further crippled the black runner, making it difficult for him to compete on equal terms with the white runner. The current disproportionate poverty of blacks relative to whites is interpreted as visible evidence of this "legacy" of slavery. Due to America's history of officially sanctioned racial discrimination, this view assumes that whites cannot be fully trusted to treat blacks fairly apart from constant external monitoring by regulatory agencies. Therefore, the solution to racial inequality is an extensive system of compensatory education, sweeping affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws, the aggressive litigation of civil rights violations, and the elimination of racism and prejudice through social activism.
In the educational arena, the disproportionate poorer performance of black children is widely believed to arise from poverty, its correlates (see Table 1) in the nation's inner cities and rural areas, and institutional racism in the nation's schools (Gay, 1979; Pine & Hilliard, 1990). According to this school of thought, black children do not achieve commensurate with whites on IQ tests because they have been historically denied commensurate opportunities to develop educationally and become familiar with the content embedded in the items. Therefore, IQ tests are viewed as an insidious mechanism for preventing access to opportunities for African-Americans.
The emotional themes running throughout this school of thought crystallize around the notion of "helping the underdog." Here, blacks are viewed as a disadvantaged and disenfranchised minority group that requires society's compassion, assistance, and protection. Implicit to the words "minority group" is a notion of a collective who are helpless, vulnerable to persecution, and in need of economic and political empowerment in order to compete on equal terms with the rest of society.
While issues within the Disadvantage/Oppression school of thought are explained in terms of "race" (e.g., racial discrimination), many thinkers prefer the term "culture" in understanding the distinctive features of different racial groups. Culture is a sorer and gentler word that does not invite associations with genetics (as does the concept of race), but rather elevates the mechanisms of social interaction within groups to a position of prominence. According to Cultural Difference explanations, there exists a distinctive "black culture" that differs from the "white culture" of society at large and schools in particular. Common references in the popular media to "black America," the "black community" (as a generic, nonspecific reference), and a "black perspective" reinforce the notion of a cultural distinctiveness from whites and an implied homogeneity within black groups.
In the educational arena, this view suggests that black children do not achieve on par with whites because the culture of schools forces them to behave and learn in ways that are alien to theft natural culture (Allen & Boykin, 1992; Hilliard, 1989; Shade, 1989). IQ test items, as well as the behavioral traits and patterns of thinking necessary to answer them correctly, are regularly criticized as requiring skills that are common in "white culture" but not typical in black culture (Helms, 1992). Within this view, the fact that a test-taker is not white and middle class is seen as sufficient in casting a cloud of suspicion over standardized ability tests. As a result, many psychologists are attracted to "nontraditional" conceptions of intelligence that hold promise for designing instruments which may lead to measurement of the "true" intelligence of black children (Armour-Thomas, 1992; Hilliard, 1987; Schiele, 1991).
Training programs in teacher and pupil personnel service fields assume that in order for nonblack preprofessionals to be successful in working with African-American populations, extensive attitudinal reprogramming is needed to detect "Eurocentric" assumptions, foster cultural sensitivity, and develop "cultural competence." The emotional themes running through this school of thought are that nonblacks need to make sincere attempts to understand blacks, as well as learn to demonstrate respect and tolerance for the cultural validity of behaviors that may be viewed as significantly different from those of whites. This attitude is interpreted as fostering the spirit of inclusion and celebration of cultural diversity.
According to Psychological Maladjustment explanations, the debilitating effects of poverty and racial prejudice, coupled with fundamental incompatibilities between cultures, leads to varying degrees of psychological damage to the psyches of African-Americans. Popular books such as Black Rage (Crier & Cobbs, 1968), Black Like Me (Griffin, 1977), and The Rage of a Privileged Class (Cose, 1993) describe in vivid detail the festering emotional problems caused by the accumulation of racial slights and indignities suffered by individual blacks during the civil rights era through modern times.
In the educational arena, the genesis of the Psychological Maladjusment school of thought is perhaps most closely associated with psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark's famous doll studies with black children in the late 40s. In essence, these studies concluded that black children suffered from a damaged serf-image as a result of the racial segregation and discrimination of the times. Dr. Clark's research was influential in the famous 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision which rejected the doctrine of separate but equal schooling for American blacks. Ironically, as this perspective has evolved, its central argument has shifted to the psychological problem visited on blacks as a result of their schooling in integrated settings. Here, it is sometimes argued that black children (whose schooling brings them into consistent contact with whites) are more prone to suffer from low self-esteem, cultural disorientation, negative peer pressure, anxiety, and stress in academic settings (Boy&&kin, 1986; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Gougis, 1986). According to this view, blacks perform poorly on intelligence tests for essentially the same reasons attributed to their disproportionate failure in academics (see review by Oakland & Parmelee, 1985).
The implicit emotional themes within the Psychological Maladjustment perspective are that black students require a more extensive emotional support system in order to succeed academically in school, particularly in integrated settings. This belief is operationalized most noticeably in predominantly white higher education settings, in which it is not uncommon to find extensive tutoring programs, counseling services, and formalized mentoring networks specifically targeted for African-American students.

The Robustness Criterion

A detailed critique of the fundamental premises on which these explanations are based is well beyond the scope of this commentary, but are detailed elsewhere (e.g., Roth, 1994; Taylor, 1992; Webster, 1992). Nevertheless, it is important to note that these hypotheses are certainly reasonable when used to explain the poor academic or test performance of isolated individuals in specific situations. It is not uncommon for education professionals to have encountered in the course of their career groups of black students who fail to realize their potential due to any number of the reasons stated in Table 1. However, an explanation's reasonableness is not the essential criterion addressed by The Bell Curve. The larger question is whether such alternative explanations can fully account for group differences on a large scale that have been observed both nationally and abroad, and which have persisted ever since the beginning of standardized testing.
In order for this to be the case, the theory on which an alternative explanation is built must be robust, which means that it must be characterized by three interrelated principles. A theory is more robust than other theories when it: (a) involves the fewest number of statements and assumptions, (b) explains the broadest range of phenomena, and (c) involves predictions that are the most accurate (Singleton, Straits, & Straits, 1993).
Herrnstein and Murray have marshalled a huge body of persuasive empirical evidence which suggests that cognitive ability transcends the factors listed in Table 1 as the single most robust explanation for average achievement disparities between blacks and whites, corresponding to the first principle that characterizes robustness (i.e., the principle of fewest assumptions). The impact of "cultural" differences on scholastic achievement (on a large scale) is undermined somewhat by independent empirical evidence reported by Chubb and Moe (1990). Chubb and Moe used regression analyses to study the effects of school, parent, and student characteristics on student achievement in a sample of 9,000 high school students across 400 schools in the mid 1980s. After evaluating the effects of race as an independent variable in their regression analyses, Chubb and Moe (1990) conclude:
By our estimates the racial composition of a school has no direct influence on student achievement beyond that explained by the socioeconomic makeup of the student body or the organization of the school . . . [W]e found that black students learn neither more nor less than would be predicted of them based on their initial ability, family background, and the social and organizational qualities of their schools. In short, race -- at least the black, non-black distinction --has no independent consequence at either the individual or the school level for student achievement. (p. 127)
With respect to the second principle that characterizes robustness (widest range of explained phenomena), The Bell Curve speaks for itself in the sheer scope of topics covered. Some of the topics covered suggest a strong causal connection with IQ variation, while others can only suggest circumstantial associations (but not clear causal connections) with IQ variation. As a result, Herrnstein and Murray's research will provide fertile ground for scholars across a variety of fields (e.g., education, sociology, anthropology, political science) to critique or develop more fully. Most importantly, critics of The Bell Curve overlook the fact that IQ variation helps to explain both poorer achievement as well as scholastic excellence within black groups. Given critics' charges of the ubiquity of racism and the profound incompatibility of cultural differences, it is a small wonder that black students have achieved anything at all in American society. Yet Herrnstein and Murray show empirical evidence that, after controlling for IQ, proportionally larger numbers of blacks than whites graduate from college and enter prestigious professions. It appears that alternative explanations, such as those listed in Table 1, must go through an elaborate series of twists and contortions in order to account for successful black achievements.
Finally, to what extent do the explanations in Table 1 provide more accurate predictions of outcomes compared to IQ variation (i.e., the third robustness principle)? The explanations within the three broad groupings in Table 1 differ considerably with respect to their level of empirical sup-port, which ranges from rigorous experimental data to unsupported speculation. Many of these explanations blatantly contradict each other (e.g., see low self-esteem explanations in Table 1) and some explanations continue to thrive despite being decisively refuted by empirical evidence (e.g., see discussion of test bias in The Bell Curve). Over time, however, the implicit emotional themes within these perspectives have overridden an objective and dispassionate evaluation of the premises on which these explanations are built. As a result, it is the emotional themes, rather than the accumulation of solid empirical evidence, that drive popular opinions on these issues -much like the caboose pulling the rest of the train. With the passage of time, the emotional themes evolve into passionate social ideologies, and passionate social ideologies calcify into inflexible orthodoxies in academic and professional training programs. By marshalling empirical data that champions IQ as a more robust explanation for disproportionate scholastic achievements between racial and ethnic groups, Herrnstein and Murray invite accusations of harboring attitudes in opposition to the powerful emotional themes associated with the orthodox schools of thought shown in Table 1. When facts and orthodoxy collide, the bearer of the facts is reflexively accused of being "elitist," "racist," "incompassionate toward the plight of minorities," "culturally insensitive," and ideologically reactionary. Sadly, many school psychology students receive the unspoken (but erroneous) message that to seriously study IQ research is categorically incompatible with sympathy for the ideals of social justice, principles of good education for all children, and the value of hard work and discipline for the pursuit of happiness regardless of IQ.


A careful distinction must be made between the concepts of reasonableness versus robustness. Both IQ and some of the factors listed in Table 1 can exist in combination as reasonable hypotheses for explaining poor achievement of an individual student. However, this says nothing about the criterion of robustness in evaluating explanations for group differences on a larger scale. It is imperative that scholars who insist upon the primacy of these alternative explanations (for explaining average achievement discrepancies between large groups) make a coordinated effort to marshal a more impressive body of hard empirical research that tests the robustness of their theories. Until this is done, current efforts to challenge the robustness of IQ variation with alternative explanations are akin to trying to knock down a brick wall with a flyswater. In this regard, The Bell Curve may be easy to criticize, but it will be difficult to ignore.

TABLE 1 Alternative Explanations for Black Scholastic Underachivement Relative to Whites
I. Disadvantage/Oppression Explanations
A. Legacy of slavery B. Teacher racism/prejudice C. Inadequate schools 1. Lack of funds, resources 2. Lack of parental involvement D. Inadequate home environment 1. Poverty 2. Lack of opportunities to learn 3. Deficient mother-child interactions 4. Lack of parental support 5. Lack of academic role models
II. Cultural Difference Explanations
A. Cultural bias in tests 1. Lack of blacks in standardization samples 2. Preference for "dynamic" vs. "static" testing 3. Item loading on white middle class culture 4. Different race of the examiner from test taker 5. Lack of "test-wiseness" B. Afrocentric home/Eurocentric school mismatch 1. Active opposition to "white" cultural values 2. Lack of cultural competence in teachers 3. Lack of multicultural curricula 4. Preference for cooperative vs. competitive learning 5. Preference for black English vs. standard English 6. Black behavioral/learning style
III. Psychological Maladjustment Explanations
A. Expectancy of failure due to low teacher expectations (Rosenthal effect) B. Low self-esteem (negative self-concept) 1. Caused by segregation from whites 2. Caused by integration with whites C. Lack of motivation to achieve D. Test/performance anxiety E. Learned helplessness F. Negative peer pressure (burden of acting white)


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