First, let us dispose of a misconception: "The Bell Curve" has not been "widely condemned as junk in scientific journals worldwide" — rather, it has been so condemned in the tabloid press. A task force set up by the American Psychological Association explicitly to investigate it confirmed its main conclusions*; as did 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).
For myself, I found this a strange book in some ways; and the reason is that it falls logically into three parts. 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. Thus almost by definition these parts are on shakier ground.
- The first section 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, as I mentioned, extrapolates present trends: in particular, 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. H.J. 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, ISBN 0-912736-16-X, 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, making policy recommendations, is well outside my area of competence; so I offer no comment.
There is, however, another misconception to rebut, and that is that "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 (ISBN 0-380-71165-6). Or see J. Philippe Rushton's review of "Mismeasure", or Arthur Jensen's review, both 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!
*Update: 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.
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.
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