Has Anyone Read "The Bell Curve?"

Posted by awebb 5 months, 3 weeks ago to Books
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After hearing about students on multiple college campuses protesting Charles Murray for being a racist, I decided I needed to read his book The Bell Curve.

I just finished last night and am hoping there are a few Gulchers who have also read the book as I'd love to have a discussion.

Actually, while a discussion would be great, I'd love to be educated. My background is not in psychology or social science so The Bell Curve is the only book I've read on the origin of IQ.

If you've read The Bell Curve, do you think Murray is accurate in his assertions that:

- IQ is genetic (somewhere between 40 and 80%)
- There is an IQ disparity between people of different races (this is why he's being called a racist)

By the way, shouldn't liberals love Charles Murray? He's basically saying that your IQ is largely genetic which means you can't control it (or at least not the majority of it). This means if you're below average intelligence, it isn't your fault... instead of blaming an "unjust society" for high crime or high unemployment among minority groups, liberals could be blaming genetics using Murray's work as a guideline.

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  • Posted by  $  WilliamShipley 5 months, 3 weeks ago
    One has to be exceedingly careful about the comment about an IQ disparity between people. It's much more accurate to say that the means of the two populations are different. Assumptions about individual people cannot be made using statistical differences between groups.

    So, you can't use a statistical difference between the means to discriminate against someone. You also cannot use a statistical difference between the means of results to prove there was discrimination. (What is commonly done).

    This is an incredibly hot button subject. There is a real world and a real answer. Whether we like it or not shouldn't matter -- but it matters a lot!
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    • Posted by KevinSchwinkendorf 5 months, 2 weeks ago
      I've not read "The Bell Curve," but I have heard of it. It is perfectly legitimate to calculate the average IQs of different populations (e.g., "black" vs. "white"). It would be almost impossible for the two means to be exactly equal, if the averages are reported to enough "significant figures." But, one should also calculate the sample standard deviations (sigmas) of the two populations, and then one can test the hypothesis that the two means are equal. You do this by evaluating a statistical test (like a "Z" test, where Z = (m2 - m1)/SQR(sigma1^2 + sigma^2)). The square root term represents the "pooled" standard deviation between the two populations. If this Z value is greater than some cutoff (like 1.96 for a 95% confidence level), then you reject the null hypothesis that the two populations are equal, and conclude (with 95% confidence) that the two values are sufficiently different as to be "outside statistics." If Z is "small" then you accept the null hypothesis that the two means are the same (to within statistical variation). Of course, the two means (m1 and m2) will be different to some degree, but such a test will determine whether it is statistically significant or not. I would strongly suspect that m2-m1 is small compared to the pooled sigma in this example, assuming a sufficiently large sample was used.
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      • Posted by  $  WilliamShipley 5 months, 2 weeks ago
        It is my understanding that every time this is done the differences in the mean is significant to reject the null hypothesis. Which then leads to discussions of biases in the test which account for the unacceptable difference.
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  • Posted by  $  skidance 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    I've read it three times. Simply because one names an inconvenient fact does not make one a racist! Murray and Hernstein also made the point that there are hundreds of thousands of black people in this country with IQs greater than 130. They also emphasized that factors other than simply IQ matter, and made suggestions on how the difference might be partially ameliorated. And supposedly, northern Asians average IQs three points higher than average Caucasian scores. I should add that I think that cultural standards--or lack thereof--also contribute mightily to crime and unemployment, as well as other social ills. One other point: I've read a couple of other books on the subject, and many experts seem to agree that IQ is 40-60% genetic. I haven't heard any of them being called racists....
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  • Posted by tdechaine 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    I expect he said nothing wrong that political correctness can't screw up.
    Too much made of IQ. Whatever one's is, one goal should simply be to be as productive as possible and accept who you are. It is only the push for economic equality that makes it relevant as to who is at fault for what and who owes who based on genetic differences.
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  • Posted by Herb7734 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    Let's get ethnic for a moment. Most everyone has grown up with kids who were always a few steps behind the other kids.Some may have been abused, or autistic, but there always seemed to be a "Nutsy Fagan" or "Moishe Pippik" in the crowds.Some of them remained the kid whose elevator never made it to the top, but what confounded both the geneticists and racists is that many of these persons just grew up to be like everyone else and even in some cases leaders in their field. I have an aquaintance that I've known since childhood. Looking back, I think he had what's currently described as ADHD. He barely made it through school,bout- long story short he went into business and became a leader in his field bringing his company up from virtually nothing to the 2nd largest globally. Personally, I think there is a genetic component. But it crosses all racial lines, just as there is a genetic component to physicality, or musical ability, or ability to express oneself. To be science - accurate it needs to be proven through scientific method, hence the Bell Curve, we all know the difference. The kid who played the piano by ear, the kid who could think in terms of math, the kid who could never tie his shoes.
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  • Posted by mccannon01 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    Yes, I read it back in '95 during the first controversy just to see what all the fuss is about. I still have it in my library and, if I get the time, I may read it again. There is a tremendous amount of detail that I have since forgotten, but the gist regarding race (a small part of the book) was all races have morons and geniuses with a mean center of the bell that shifts a bit when race data are compared to each other. One of the indications of the data is there is a reasonably strong genetic component where parental IQ (high or low) will most likely get passed on to the next generation, apparently regardless of race. Knowing that, presumably interracial parents will also pass their IQ on to the next generation. As I recall, interestingly, the IQ of the mother is more likely to get passed than the IQ of the father. None of this is 100%, of course, because higher IQ parents can birth lower IQ children and vice versa.

    Murray & Herrnstein were mainly messengers of a data set. Frying them politically out of hand because you don't like the data is... well... very low IQ. On the other hand, frying them because you have political power and wealth to gain may be pretty smart, if unethical.

    In the end I think IQ is an important subset of the human gene pool, but it isn't the only one. "The Bell Curve" explores the apparent effect of IQ in human endeavor, but there are other bell curves of talents and abilities that are not studied between its covers. I figure most people who are protesting Murray at this time have never read the book and are really clueless of what it actually reports and discusses. There are "smart" charlatans at work here. I came to that same conclusion in '95.
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  • Posted by  $  Mikelofton 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    I read the book many years ago so my recollection might be a bit fuzzy. Suggesting that IQ is wholly or partially genetic makes perfect sense to me. It's why certain cultures survived and others did not. What happened to Mr. Murray and the host professor at Middlebury College is a clear signal to me that the gap between the haves and have-nots (created mostly by and exacerbated by a fundamentally flawed monetary policy) has become painfully obvious and the 99%-ers are getting ready to erupt in larger numbers than ever before in my lifetime. Mr. Murray points out in his most recent book, "Coming Apart" how education, marriage, etc... affects one's lot in life. He does this with expert research over a number of years. The fact that an unusual proportion of lower income producers might be a certain ethnicity doesn't make him a racist as much as it makes him a competent scientist.
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  • Posted by mia767ca 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    ...and, to continue, i have trained students from every culture and region of the world...there is a vast difference in how minds of individuals think based on the culture they are brought up in...but, again, they can adapt...to different culture and different mindsets...based on the average individual's ability...IQ just means faster or slower..not necessarily better...it gives the higher IQ a short term advantage...which can be a disadvantage, if the higher IQ relies on just the higher IQ to "get by"...

    again, the "best" culture or civilization is the one that respects the "rights of the individual" and allows freedom to flourish...
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  • Posted by DoctorObvious 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    Good thing Eric Hoffer is not around to speak at colleges. His observations would elicit more violent protests than those against Murray. If his work is without bias, then the left is shooting the messenger. With that in mind, watch the Mike Judge film Idiocracy. You should laugh but also may cry as you see the decline of society when only stupid (mainly white) people breed. Enjoy!
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  • Posted by mia767ca 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    although i have not read "The Bell Curve", it deals with probability analysis and randomness...the better book to read would be "Against the Gods" by Bernstein.

    IQ does not represent intelligence, just the potential ability to acquire information at a greater pace than the average person. Mozart was born "gifted" and creative. There are "elite" athletes. But the rise of civilization was due to the individuals of lesser abilities who were free to succeed.

    With that said, i have been an instructor pilot in the Air Force and at American Airlines...and i teach others how to trade the stock market. I have come across many different types of individuals, how males learn vs females (i headed the program in 1975 to bring women into pilot training for the Air Force and the Navy).

    What the bell curve is telling you is that the top 5% "gets it" and the bottom 5% never will...those of us inbetween can learn it if we apply ourselves. Our ability to learn trumps the potential.

    I have had new traders simply look at a market chart and "get it". When i ask them to explain how...they can't. It just makes sense to them. They can be successful traders if they learn how to "systematize" what they are seeing...but they can bust out just like those who will never be successful traders.

    Once again, i applaud Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden for their epistemology of individualism and their objective philosophy and understanding of the uniqueness of the individual in life and the potential for all us to better ourselves by being free to succeed, regardless of the potential we are born with...more importantly, we are born with the ability to succeed if we are left alone and not herded into groups.
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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 5 months, 3 weeks ago
    I haven not read the book, but I have a few comments on your summary/questions.

    - Is 40%-80% of IQ genetic?
    It rings true for me. My suspicion is if a child is abused or neglected, it could have a huge impact. Once you provide for them and don't abuse them, the genetic components begin to take over. So you get a lot of benefit not abusing kids but not much further benefit from giving them the very best education, environment, etc.

    - Is there an IQ disparity according to race?
    I suspect there may be but the correlation is not large enough to be useful. If you take a bunch of arbitrary traits (e.g. height, body dimension ratios, etc) and compare them with performance on various tests (e.g. IQ test), you can find some correlations. Suppose we find that short people are better at math and tall people are better at remembering faces. The correlation won't be strong enough to consider only short candidates when hiring for a mathematical job.

    Does the book address the merits of the IQ test itself? Performance on the test itself is a useless ability. We're interested in it to the extent it reveals something scientific or correlates with other things such as ability to run a business, ability to reason, etc.

    "shouldn't liberals love Charles Murray?"
    Even more today than when I first heard about the book 20 years ago, it seems like people approach scientific questions starting with their desired answer.

    Many lines of hominids with differences in size, appearance, and abilities coexisted on earth. It wasn't a simple march of evolution as grade-school posters about evolution suggest. All modern homo sapiens appear to have a common ancestry, but what we find out that the last common ancestor was before anatomically modern humans appear? Maybe the races predate anatomical modernity and have different abilities on average because of it. That would be very exciting. As a scientifically-minded person, I don't get what's in it for liberals and conservatives. I understand it if they're getting paid to write commentary saying society is unjust/just, the races are the same/different, or just anything to fire people up emotionally so they watch the ads. Most people are not getting paid that way, so I don't get what's in it for them. Reasonable disinterested people should only want the truth.
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  • Posted by Mitch 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    I don’t understand your argument, obviously, some groups of people are better endowed in some aspects of physical performance or mental performance then others; not acknowledging this simple willful ignorance. Why can we say that Black people are better at basketball but we can’t say that Asians are better at school? There are skills not measured by these two that other groups excel in, running are predominantly white as well as cyclist, science and engineering are typically male, I’ve noticed that most woman have a better aptitude for grammar. Why can’t we celebrate these in other groups of people?
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  • Posted by  $  Olduglycarl 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    No, but I saw an interview. The man is not a racist...that's just silly. However, I think he hasn't accounted for culture, language or mysticism's.

    If an entire culture, like the jungles of Africa or South America; even islam...then daa...they will not have a whole lot of stored information nor a useful integration of that information. They could not compare to the civilized world...but most could adapt and increase their IQ's. Language, (reading and writing) and metaphors are very important here.
    I am using the works of Julian Jaynes here and the notion that, for the most part, IQ is just a measure of stored information, and an ability to use that information to solve problems etc.

    There is a Big difference between Compartmentalized information in the brain and integrated knowledge of the mind.
    These differences really stand out in government as we observe it these days.
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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    KevinSchwinkendorft's comment reminded me think distribution is every bit as important as the mean. Also the distribution of IQs probably is not Gaussian (i.e. a "bell" curve). It could happen that they have the same mean, but they're distributed such that extremes are much more frequent in one group. In this case the top geniuses (outliers) would be mostly from one group, making meetings of geniuses wrongly appear really racist.

    This reminds me that there has to a point to looking at groups. We could waste time doing analyses of whether random physical traits (e.g. detached earlobes) is correlated to random abilities (e.g. ability to recognize faces), and it would just be indulging a fetish for grouping people unless the answer might lead to meaningful scientific understanding.
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  • Posted by  $  DrZarkov99 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    The flaw in Murray's proposition has always been the question of how to measure IQ to account for cultural differences. Lacking a reliably unbiased measurement system, I believe he erroneously attributed cultural influence on the results as genetic.

    Supposed race difference in intelligence is as controversial as purported sexual preference determined by genetics. Each has proponents with radically different interpretations. Most blacks are offended at the idea they are claimed to be intellectually inferior, but there are a few who see this as another justification for welfare for their inherent disability. This is similar to the "gay gene" controversy, where some welcome the idea that the sexual preference is predetermined, and some fear the idea, as it might lead to discrimination and the abortion of fetuses the have the gene.
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  • Posted by salta 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    My background is not in psych either. But I do like something I've read about design and context of intelligence testing...
    If you take an individual from an indigenous jungle tribe and test with a standard western IQ test, they would likely have low score. If you take any modern western individual, and put into a jungle alone, they would likely not survive well. That does not mean either one is "inferior" to the other, its about context.
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  • Posted by dbhalling 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    I am skeptical. I think the book says that Ashkenazi Jews have the highest IQ and this is somehow set. If that is the case, how come the brightest people in the world were Greek in 200 BC? And how come the Chinese were probably the smartest in the 1300s and the Italians in the 1400 and the british in the 1600-1800 and the people from the US in the 1900s?
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    • Posted by lrshultis 5 months, 2 weeks ago
      IQ is an individualist measurement and not a group measurement and cannot be something such as "have the highest IQ". Groups have nothing. Only individual members of a group possess attributes which can loosely be applied to a group by collectivists. Statistics on groups do not apply to individuals. E.g., from the well known example of drug testing: statistically, sampling shows that 5% of a population uses a particular drug and sampling shows that a drug test for that particular drug is 95% accurate. Some poor slob is accused of using the the drug and the test shows a positive result. Should he be found guilty of using the drug? If one goes by the statistical accuracy of the test one would have 95% chance of having used the drug. But, if one looks at it from an individual point of view, which should be the only way to judge the case, one would find that the poor slob had only a 50-50 chance of having used the drug. To find that, make a sample space and do the calculations.
      I read The Bell curve a couple of times 20 years ago and could no see what the collectivists were talking about. Time for everyone, and especially here in the Gulch to drop any belief that race even exists. No need anywhere for grouping individuals in racial groups such as in "Black Caucuses" or in religious groupings or other for-me-or-against-me groups. Just see individuals. They are hard enough to deal with.
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    • Posted by  $  WilliamShipley 5 months, 2 weeks ago
      We are talking about relatively small differences in the mean between various populations. When it comes to the progress a society makes, it's not the mean of the population that matters near as much as the capabilities of individual outliers -- the inventors who actually make things happen. And whether the societies rules encourage or suppress them.
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    • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 5 months, 2 weeks ago
      I accept the general claim, but we could be even more specific: Baghdad in the 1100s; Florence in the 1200s; London in the 1600s-1700s; Birmingham in the 1700s-1800s; Detroit 1920-1950; Austin, Texas; 1990-Present; Silicon Valley 1960-2010...

      I do agree that what measures "intelligence" is material achievement, given that "material" must be the result of intellectual achievement. That is why a "renaissance" includes arts and sciences. You cited "China" in the 1300s. I knew something from numismatics that was reinforced later by a college class in History of China: when the Kitai "barbarians" pushed on the northern margin of Sung Dynasty China, people fled to the south. The "Southern Sung" saw not a collapse from overcrowding, but a flourishing of arts, philosophy, trade, and commerce. Look to a similar event: the flooding of the Zuider Zee tripled the population of Amsterdam in 1287. They were not "overcrowded" into poverty.
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    • Posted by mccannon01 5 months, 2 weeks ago
      Speculating here: Culture (working philosophy) and population IQ or at least leadership IQ may not always be in sync for advanced living for the general populace. Maybe the cultures you are pointing out were times when the two were in sync and flourished relative to the rest of the world during those periods. For example, I would speculate the founders of the US were above the mean in IQ and since they adopted an improved working philosophy for their government and society at large, a leap in living conditions evolved. Consider also, the likes of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al may have had higher IQs, but adopted seriously flawed working philosophies. Smart people don't always check their premises but proceed on their beliefs anyway.
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  • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    Yes, I read the book some years ago, and I was impressed with the original research, and I accepted the findings -- broadly. I then read The Mismeasure of Man by Ashley Montague which refuted The Bell Curve; and, again, I was impressed, and accepted the findings broadly.

    There is no such thing as "race." What we call "race" is just culture. It is true that gene pools exist. Preparing a lecture to middle schoolers on crime scene investigation - my degrees are in criminology - I was digging into blood grouping. (What most people call blood "typing".) I do not have the details here now, but a hospital in the UK was doing some survey for some other reason and getting people to come in off the street for lab samples. It turned out that group of neighbors showed up and as a secondary consequence of the research, it turned out that apparently these people had some protein that no else ever had. They were all from the same village in India. My maternal grandfather was Hungarian. When one of my grand-nephews was born, the doctor asked "So who's Hungarian?" The kid had "Mongolian spots" two purple birthmarks at the end of his back. My brother and I do not. His son does not. My brother married a girl whose parents were northern (Swedish and "English" whatever that means); and the baby's mother's parents were Jewish (whatever) and Puerto Rican (New Yorkers both). And then... after five generations of mixing, two dots... Fascinating...

    But IQ? No.

    You can breed people to be smart or stupid - tall or short, fat or thin, dark or light ...

    But our modern society demands far more intelligence from the least of us than any hunter-gatherer could have needed. And even so, I accept Carl Sagan's opinion that the so-called "primitive" people had and have more need to be true scientists because their lives are so precarious that they cannot afford ignorance: they know what they need to, and are not confused about the facts. We have the luxury of mistaken theories about economics, politics, and racing high performance automobiles. Both broad claims are true. It depends on context.

    If African-Americans have lower IQs than White people, it is only because (1) A-As are denied opportunities and (2) IQ tests are culturally biased.

    Even if it were true that Irish-Americans have lower IQs than Japanese-Americans, it would say nothing about individuals.

    Individualism is within the nature of the universe. The size of the molecule and the existence of isotopes suggest that within your own body no two hemoglobin molecules are identical.

    (I just saw this, having been away for a couple of days.)
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  • Posted by  $  Stormi 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    I read the book ,many years ago as part of a psychology class. I found it interesting, well researched, but had a bit of issue with the clumping races together, even though in general, the results bore out the author's comments. It trouble me that the white race is decreasing in IQ in the past few years. Current IQ data shows the Hispanic IQ slightly even though mos of them attended US schools! I have seen results that show a child starting school actually decreased in intelligence the longer than ar in US schools.
    I want to read the follow up book, which does address the white IQ. I do not see the book as racist, but merely scientific. We hasve to factor in the reversion to the mean, as well, which says to genius parents will not create a necessarily higher IQ offspring. Chelsea Clinton has a lower IQ than Bill or Hillary.
    The one take away I get, as to the importance of IQ, is that IQ has to be at a certain level before true critical thinking skills come into play. Below that level, which Obama was, they are not a driving force in decision making. That is important as to how world decisions are made. I don't think IQ is necessarily owned by the college educated, as I have known some very high IQ plumbers and truck drivers, with excellent thinking skills.Schools are not our friend when it comes to IQ. Talking with children early and encouraging discussion seems to be a factor in critical thinking and IQ enhancement as they enter school.
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  • Posted by  $  TomB666 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    Yes I read it years ago when it was first published (1994) and had a chance to talk to Murray a few years later at Freedom Fest about it. It disturbed him that many people missed the whole point. Sounds like nothing has changed :-(
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  • Posted by rbunce 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    There are no races in our species. Race is a social construct based on self identification (OK) or others identification of you (not OK).

    There is no genetic test for race, just ancestry regional likelihood that is not certain.
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    • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 5 months, 2 weeks ago
      I see than you took a thumbs down for that. I plussed you back to 1.
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      • Posted by rbunce 5 months, 2 weeks ago
        The science of human genetics is still changing... perhaps some day there will be a genetic test that actually differentiates groups of humans... not sure that would be a good thing should it come about. Certainly the way humans have done it (basically how someone looks) for tens of thousands of years has not work out well.

        Whenever I see a study that reports based on race I try to find how they determined race of each member of the study... sometimes self identification, sometimes third party subjective identification, NEVER have seen one that used genetic identification (as there is not a test.) Federal government guidelines since 1997 races is a social construct based on self identification used by Census for instance. Not verifiable since answer can change each time asked and not validatable since no objective test. Crazy to use that data for DoJ and Courts to redraw Congressional and Legislative districts. Going to get messier before it gets better.
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  • Posted by edmccloskey 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    The book simply expresses Murray's views. It's largely useless data. There is no more importance than that. I see no proof for anything he says but in fact quite the opposite. That's my view.
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  • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 5 months, 2 weeks ago
    "In the United States today, most claims regarding differences between ethnic ‘populations’ in relationship to IQ test performance are based on statistically derived data that relate to scholastic aptitude tests (e.g. Flynn, 2006). With this in mind, and acknowledging the superior educational attainment of African blacks in the United States (and elsewhere) it can thus be argued, because of their superior educational attainment levels, that they must also surmount far more in number and more difficult scholastic aptitude tests, in general, which in turn would require higher level IQs (see Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999). As whites on average do not, or are unable to attain the same levels of academic achievement within these (their own!) academic institutional frameworks, they must also by the racialist thinking employed by some, possess significantly lower cogitative indices on the group level (e.g. Jensen, 1980; Gottfredson, 1986, 1998). In fact, attainment differences of these ‘grand’ magnitudes would suggest that American whites, in particular, are at a significant intellectual handicap when matched against immigrants of black African, East Indian, and East Asian descent. Incidentally, most American whites themselves are the children or grandchildren of “self-selected,” voluntary immigrants from Europe (Ogbu and Simons, 1998), and thus these trends can not be said to result from immigrant selectivity." -- and much more here:
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