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Herrnstein and Murry, The Bell Curve (The Free Press, 1994)

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"David G. Lewis" <dglewis@ilstu.edu> Review of Herrnstein and Murray, THE BELL CURVE (The Free Press, 1994)


Date: Sat, 6 May 1995 23:07:36 -0600 (CST)
From: "David G. Lewis" <dglewis@ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review of Herrnstein and Murray, THE BELL CURVE (The Free Press, 1994) 

Reviewed By: David G. Lewis Illinois State University May 6th 1995

Whites are smarter than Blacks, not because they choose to be it's in their gene pool. This argument is not based on racism it's based on genetics according to Hernstein and Murray. If we take this so called objective argument a step further we will eventually stumble along a rather simple but obvious conclusion. According to Hernstein and Murray, whites are smarter than blacks and high intelligence (or IQ) has a strong correlation with success, and low intelligence has a strong correlation with crime, poverty, illegitimacy, and welfare dependency. Therefore the intelligent, most objective stance for the government to take in this country would be to eliminate social action policies like affirmative-action, welfare, head-start, etc. This in a nut shell is the basic premise of the late Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray, authors of the controversial book THE BELL CURVE.

The authors of this book are perfectly aware of the fact that there is an audience in America that readily accepts this type of rhetoric about the alleged superiority of the white race over the black race. The problem with this book is not that it addresses a delicate and often controversial issue. The problem is that the authors take issues of fact and cleverly mixes these facts with fiction, adding a dash or two of stereotypical beliefs and then has the audacity to state that "the differences between these groups do not justify the prejudicial assumptions about any member of a given group whose intelligence and potential may, in fact be anywhere under the bell curve of intelligence from the dullest to the most brilliant." Who are these Harvard educated derelicts kidding?

Most intelligent people, I agree will concede with the central thesis of the Bell Curve, which is that intelligence (or IQ as it is most commonly referred) can be measured. I will also agree with the authors that intelligence does matter. I will even go as far as to say that it matters enormously. However where the authors seemed to have taken a turn towards opacity is when they imply that blacks should shift their focus away from intellectual pursuits and rely on sports, dance, and music in order to achieve the most out of their potential. Now the obvious question to my last statement is where did the authors say that or where did they imply that? Well if you take a look at Part Three, Chapter Thirteen titled "Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability" pages 283-284; the authors talk about an intelligence test called the Wechsler intelligence test. This test has two forms: forward digit span, in which the subject tries to repeat a sequence of numbers in the order read to him, and backward digit span, in which the subject tries to repeat the sequence of numbers backward. The authors conclude that this test is free of any cultural biases because it uses numbers that are familiar to everyone, and calls on no cultural information besides knowing numbers. The results of this test according to the authors, is that whites score twice as high on backward digits as do blacks. However, the authors also tested reaction time of blacks and whites. The hypothesis here being that smarter people process faster than less smart people. The conclusion here was that white reaction time is faster than black reaction time, but black movement time is faster than white movement time. This is a clear implication to me that according to Hernstein and Murray, blacks should shift their focus away from intellectual pursuits because the data shows that blacks cannot function as well as whites; and that blacks should rely on sports, dance and music because that is where blacks natural talent lays.

This kind of book is nothing but dangerous. True enough there may be a 15 point difference between blacks and whites on the standard IQ test, but are intelligent people to believe that this is a result of heredity and has absolutely nothing at all to do with the environment as Murray and Hernstein argue so adamantly? Amuse me for one moment and let us imagine that Murray and Hernstein are correct and that intelligence is hereditary. How do these authors explain for the 15 point jump that whites have made on the standard IQ test over the last 50 years? By their own admissions, blacks currently are scoring at the same level that whites were 50 years ago. If we accept this as truth then are we to also accept as truth that intelligence among whites increased at that level within one generation? I think not! It is obvious to me that the increase in intelligence is definitely tied to the fact that more men and women entered college after the war than at any time prior in American history. This is a societal factor. Murray and Hernstein argue otherwise. The fact that the authors wrote a book that appears to be authoritatively scientific does not negate the fact that this book is frightenly dangerous. This is the type of book that racists place on their book shelves right alongside their bibles. My only question regarding this book is the timing. I wonder if the release of this book was due in part to the renewed resurgence of racial tension that we have seen in this country within the last few years?

After reading this book I asked myself, if I accept the authors conclusion as truth, and if there is little or nothing that can be done to narrow the cognitive gap among races (as implicitly stated by the authors). If people are already talking about these so called truths in private, then why was it necessary for the authors to waste their time writing this book?
David G. Lewis Illinois State University
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