- Hardcover: 876 pages
- Publisher: Free Press (September 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0029146739
- ISBN-13: 978-0029146736
- Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (369 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life
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Michael Novak National Review Our intellectual landscape has been disrupted by the equivalent of an earthquake.
David Brooks The Wall Street Journal Has already kicked up more reaction than any social?science book this decade.
Peter Brimelow Forbes Long-awaited...massive, meticulous, minutely detailed, clear. Like Darwin's Origin of Species -- the intellectual event with which it is being seriously compared -- The Bell Curve offers a new synthesis of research...and a hypothesis of far-reaching explanatory power.
Milton Friedman This brilliant, original, objective, and lucidly written book will force you to rethink your biases and prejudices about the role that individual difference in intelligence plays in our economy, our policy, and our society.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. Commentary The Bell Curve's implications will be as profound for the beginning of the new century as Michael Harrington's discovery of "the other America" was for the final part of the old. Richard Herrnstein's bequest to us is a work of great value. Charles Murray's contribution goes on.
Prof. Thomas J. Bouchard Contemporary Psychology [The authors] have been cast as racists and elitists and The Bell Curve has been dismissed as pseudoscience....The book's message cannot be dismissed so easily. Herrnstein and Murray have written one of the most provocative social science books published in many years....This is a superbly written and exceedingly well documented book.
Christopher Caldwell American Spectator The Bell Curve is a comprehensive treatment of its subject,never mean-spirited or gloating. It gives a fair hearing to those who dissent scientifically from its propositions -- in fact, it bends over backward to be fair....Among the dozens of hostile articles that have thus far appeared, none has successfully refuted any of its science.
Malcolme W. Browne The New York Times Book Review Mr. Murray and Mr. Herrnstein write that "for the last 30 years, the concept of intelligence has been a pariah in the world of ideas," and that the time has come to rehabilitate rational discourse on the subject. It is hard to imagine a democratic society doing otherwise.
Prof. Eugene D. Genovese National Review Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray might not feel at home with Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Lani Guinier, but they should....They have all [made] brave attempts to force a national debate on urgent matters that will not go away. And they have met the same fate. Once again, academia and the mass media are straining every muscle to suppress debate.
Prof. Earl Hunt American Scientist The first reactions to The Bell Curve were expressions of public outrage. In the second round of reaction, some commentators suggested that Herrnstein and Murray were merely bringing up facts that were well known in the scientific community, but perhaps best not discussed in public. A Papua New Guinea language has a term for this, Mokita. It means "truth that we all know, but agree not to talk about." ...There are fascinating questions here for those interested in the interactions between sociology, economics, anthropology and cognitive science. We do not have the answers yet. We may need them soon, for policy makers who rely on Mokita are flying blind. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Richard J. Herrnstein held the Edger Pierce Chair in Psychology at Harvard University until his death in 1994. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
1) Reviews consisting entirely (or almost entirely) of expostulation rather than information ("racist garbage", "most important book of the 20th century")
2) Asserting what the book doesn't deny and denying what it doesn't assert.
3) Distortions of the book's content, and other disinformation, for instance:
- "the panel criticized the authors for not explaining what intelligence is" (intelligence is defined on page 4 (!) ).
- "The Bell Curve ignores bad diet" (Nutrition is explicitly dealt with on pp. 391-3).
And so on.
Many of the critics appear not merely to have misunderstood the book, but not even to have read it; amusingly, this is actually admitted in one review ("Although Head has only browsed through the book, she has seen this kind of pseudo-science before"). Some appear to be basing their argument upon the Moralistic Fallacy: if different groups had different average IQs for even partially genetic reasons, it would be a Bad Thing, and therefore that cannot possibly be the case.
(It also follows, naturally, that there's no need to examine the evidence, because the correct outcome is known in advance; and also that those who think otherwise must be making factual and/or logical errors, either unconsciously or consciously, making them fools in the former case and fascists in the latter.)
For myself, I found this a strange book in some ways, but only one other reviewer (Jennifer Kerns, I think the name was) touched on the reason. And that is that the book falls logically into three parts, which by their very nature are of varying reliability.
The first, and by far the largest, covers the available evidence on IQ and heredity. The second and third parts extrapolate present trends to the future (with unpleasant consequences) and make policy recommendations to deal with these projected consequences. Thus almost by definition these are on shakier ground.
- The first section, which excited by far the most controversy, is (ironically), easily on the firmest ground scientifically — as confirmed (for example) by an American Psychological Association task force explicitly set up to investigate it*; and by a letter to the Wall Street Journal by fifty-two leading psychometricians, a copy of which can be found on the Net ("Mainstream Science on Intelligence", also reprinted as an appendix in H.J. Eysenck's Intelligence: A New Look).
It seems to me a very able summary: it defines its terms, states its assumptions, produces its evidence and argues the merits of the various theories purporting to explain it. So there's no need for you to take my word (or anyone's) as to whether the thesis is justified; the evidence and the arguments are both there; if you're capable of rational thought, you should be able to decide for yourself. And this is what I advise you to do.
- The second part envisages the potential stratification of society by intelligence into a hereditary élite and underclass. Here the authors start to part company with some (at least) of the aforementioned psychometricians. Eysenck, for instance — certainly in the "hereditarian" camp as regards IQ — writes of an earlier article in Atlantic Monthly:
"Here Herrnstein is definitely beginning to run off the rails in his predictions (...) he disregards the importance of regression, the genetic factor which causes children of very bright and very dull parents to regress towards the mean of the whole population (...) [R]egression makes it quite impossible that castes should be created which will breed true — that is, where the children will have the same IQ as their parents. Within a few generations, the differences in IQ between the children of very bright and very dull parents will have been completely wiped out." (The Inequality of Man, pp.213-219)
Richard Lynn, however, disagrees, pointing out that if regression operated in all cases, then dog-breeding, and indeed evolution as a whole, would be impossible.
- The third part, the policy recommendations, is well outside my area of competence, so I offer no comment.
I should, however, like to make one further comment on other reviews, those containing the recommendation: "People wanting an honest scientific analysis of the claims of racial superiority should read Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man".
Gould's writing certainly has many admirable qualities, but honesty and scientific impartiality are not conspicuous among them — for specifics, see (for example) Chapter 3 of John L. Casti's Paradigms Lost. Or see J. Philippe Rushton's review of "Mismeasure", or Arthur Jensen's review ("The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons"), or John B. Carroll's, all of which you can find on the Web.
I've been following the debate over IQ for 40 years, and The Mismeasure of Man has more factual errors per page than any book I've ever read.
For a critical but still rational review of Herrnstein & Murray, I suggest Thomas Sowell's from American Spectator, which can also be found on the Web ("Ethnicity and IQ").
If you want a balanced account of the IQ field, try Intelligence: The Battle for the Mind, half of which is written by H.J. Eysenck and half by Leon Kamin, with a final rejoinder from each. The best summary I'm aware of remains, despite its age, H.J. Eysenck's The IQ Argument (Race, Intelligence and Education in the U.K.); but good luck getting hold of it!
I should have said that although the APA report could not (or at least did not) explicitly rebut any of Herrnstein & Murray's data, or their logic, it refused to endorse their conclusions.
I haven't changed the body of the review because that would make nonsense of the discussion in the Comments.
For a more detailed factual account of the tactics of Gould et al, I recommend Ullica Segerstråle's Defenders of the Truth, although I'm not sure I'm convinced by her psychological diagnosis.
Probably the best survey of the various issues and viewpoints that I'm aware of is The Race Gallery by Marek Cohn (1995).
I cannot understand why so many reviews talk about opinion or about cultural approaches or about races. This book is not about what you or I think or about socio-political correctness or in-correctness. It is about how things are seen from the perspective of serious professional statistics.
It is not about what we want, but about what nature does with human nature and its most distinctive feature / evolutionary advantage. If one does not like it, one should not be reading this book in the first place and should put a complaint claim to mother nature.
Not everything that happens in this planet is about human society. Way too much human protagonism!!! What really bothers many readers and many more opinionated none-readers of this book, is the fact that nature does not care what they think, and shall never consult with them.
This is only a commonsense observation. People who can figure out how to deal with life's problems are happier. As I write this I am having a fight with Social Security to receive my pension and a fight with the bank to get a deposit credited to my account. Fighting this kind of bureaucratic battle takes intelligence. People without the ability to argue their case, write a letter, and call their Congressman lose out. This same kind of intelligence, needless to say, is valuable to employers and leads to success at work.
One of the observations is that as American society has become more mobile, like kinds of people tend to group together. There are enclaves of high income, highly intelligent people in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC. Lesser enclaves exist in the three cities area of North Carolina, Austin Texas, Madison Wisconsin and other university towns. More than that, the upper strata congregate very predictably in certain neighborhoods, comfortably separated from the minorities and other hoi polloi in their neighborhoods.
This results in what the authors call "cognitive stratification." Young, mobile and affluent people seek each other's company and marry each other. The society is naturally separating itself by intelligence. A topic that Murray in particular addresses elsewhere is that even though the cognitive elite have the wherewithal to raise families, they don't. Those that don't, do. The result is that the world is getting dumber, summed up quite well in Richard Lynn's Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations.
The discussion of race which has made this book infamous does no more than reiterate what psychometricians have consistently discovered since intelligence first started to be measured a century ago. Black Americans, on average, score one standard deviation lower on IQ tests than whites: averages of 85 versus 100. What they also find, but which does not excite controversy, is that Ashkenazi Jews average 115, Americans of Northeast Asian descent average about 107, American Indians average about 90, and Hispanic Americans about the same.
It is worth a paragraph to describe what intelligence is. Intelligence tests measure the ability to cope in a modern society. They are designed to be independent of culture. Some of them are even independent of language. They produce highly reproducible results – there are a wide range of intelligence tests available, and all of them will yield pretty much the same results for a given individual.
In practical terms, a one standard deviation difference in population averages means that only one person in six in the lower population has an intelligence at or exceeding the average of the higher group. Only one white person in six is as smart as the average Ashkenazi Jew, and only one black and six is as intelligent as the average white. The bell curve explicitly predicts that there will be extraordinarily smart, and extraordinarily dumb people in every population. This is only common sense – we see exceptional Blacks such as Paul Robison, Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell who far exceed almost all of their white peers. On the other hand, you run across some dumb Jews. But not very many.
Intelligence is highly correlated with success in school, income, health and happiness. This deserves a side note on statistics. A high correlation in the social sciences is not extraordinarily high. In round numbers, intelligence explains about 25% of the difference in levels of success. Other factors, such as personality, good looks, a stable family, being born rich, and so on certainly play a part. Statistically, however, none of these are as important as intelligence.
As I write this review in 2016 the question of intelligence is even more pertinent. Technology is eliminating routine jobs at an alarming pace. Typists and grocery check out clerks are becoming a thing of the past. The target now seems to be drivers, paralegals and others who do fairly routine work. It is simply easier and more accurate to have machines – often computers – do the work than to pay people. At the same time, as noted in Lynn's book above, the intelligence of nativeborn Americans is declining. The problem is compounded by the fact that America is bringing in large numbers of immigrants from the populations with lower intelligence.
Murray and Herrnstein did not offer a very optimistic conclusion or a realistic way out of this problem. There does not appear to be one. It has only gotten worse since their publication. In hindsight, the United States appears to be worse off for not having paid attention to this book when it came out, just as it did not pay attention to the Moynahan and Coleman reports in the 1960s. As things collapse as I write this, during the Clinton – Trump election campaign, it appears that the chickens are coming home to roost.
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