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Expert assessment of The Bell Curve

The Bell Curve (TBC) was widely criticized in the media. This is to be expected since the media are left-wing, and left-wingers hate HBD related content. What did the experts think? I don’t recall seeing a compilation of expert commentary on this. I am here thinking of a narrow meaning of expert, limited to researchers who have done primary research in the fields that TBC is built upon. Naturally, one can find any number of left-wing sociologists who attacked it. Here’s an attempt at a compilation:

  • Nyborg, H. (2003). The sociology of psychometric and bio-behavioral sciences: A case study of destructive social reductionism and collective fraud in 20th century academia. In The scientific study of general intelligence (pp. 441-502). Pergamon.
    • Jensen was far from alone in being harassed and in having his rights to free speech hurt. Luckily, some of these colleagues neither accepted to be silenced. Professors Richard Hermstein, William Shockley, Philippe Rushton and others also had their lectures cancelled by demonstrators. In 1971 Hermstein wrote an article in The Atlantic Monthly suggesting that a society based on equality of opportunity would turn out to be a society where social stratification is based on IQ classes. The idea was originally set forth by Young (1958) and further elaborated in 1994 by Hermstein and Murray in The Bell Curve, and convincingly confirmed by others, including Gottfredson (Chapter 15 in the present volume). Hermstein’s lectures were interrupted, and posters were carried around campus with the text: “Wanted for racism”.
    • This was cited by Strenze, T. (2007). Intelligence and socioeconomic success: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal research. Intelligence, 35(5), 401-426. who wrote:
      • The ideas of The Bell Curve have been severely criticized for a number of reasons.Fischer et al. (1996) argued that Herrnstein and Murrayused an inappropriate measure of parental SES and, therefore, underestimated its importance. Hauser and Huang (1997) argued that the claim about the growing importance of intelligence is simply a misinterpretationof previous research. Other researchers have, however,supported the ideas of The Bell Curve (Gottfredson, 2003; Jensen, 1998) saying that its central claims havebeen convincingly confirmed (Nyborg, 2003: 459).
  • Cooper, C. (2015). Intelligence and Human Abilities: Structure, Origins and Applications. Routledge.
    • I have not mentioned this book by Herrnstein and Murray (1994) that caused something of a furore when it was published. There are several reasons for this. First, it seems to have been written with a political agenda in mind: that a “cognitive underclass” in the United States is responsible for what the authors perceived to be the woes of society (crime, single parenthood, high welfare expenditure etc.). Second, there are numerous problems with the analysis and interpretation of the statistical analyses: for example, regression lines for different groups are shown but without a R2 statistic to show how well the model fits the data, it is impossible to interpret the analyses: the same regression line could indicate a R2 of 0.01 (virtually no relationship between the variables) or 0.9 (a massive relationship). Because the analyses were published in a popular book the analyses and inferences had not gone through the rigorous process of peer review to which journal articles are subjected before publication. Finally, the book has a right-of-centre approach to racial differences in g, affirmative action and so on which has been widely criticised by commentators (e.g., Fraser, 1995; Jacoby & Glauberman, 1995).
    • These are some funny criticisms!
  • Meng Hu. The Bell Curve, 20 years after. Meng Hu’s Blog. 2015 Also cross-posted at Human Varieties.
  • Gottfredson, L. S. (2016). Hans Eysenck’s theory of intelligence, and what it reveals about him. Personality and Individual Differences, 103, 116-127.
    • Publication of Herrnstein and Murray’s (1994) The Bell Curve provoked the worst spasms of public vilification and righteous denunciation during the two decades. The book provides an organized readable summary of basic evidence on intelligence, analyzes phenotypic g’s influence relative to that of social class on the early life out-comes of young white adults, and reviews the conundrum presented by the black-white gap in IQ. For intelligence researchers, the book’s major results were old news. For pundits and journalists, they were out-dated, discredited, pseudoscientific, racist rubbish. No falsehood or misconception was too wild to broadcast and rebroadcast. Many academics joined the feeding frenzy to discredit the book’s science, often exposing their own startling ignorance.While the science of intelligence was stronger than ever in 1998,hostility toward it had grown too, even within psychology. Public misconceptions and misrepresentations had continued to multiply even as intelligence researchers proved the old ones mistaken. There were now more constituencies for discrediting it and new media to quickly broadcast their complaints. Critics inside and outside of academe grabbed the most tenuous, marginal, outdated, and implausible re-search results (e.g., Nisbett, 1998) to rebut the ever-expanding, thickening nomological network of evidence on g, as if shooting a pea would sink a ship).
    • This reviews Murray’s 2020 book (which I also reviewed), and while doing so mentions:
      • Despite the positive effects that martyrdom can have for the field of intelligence research, it is probably not much fun for the martyr.Murray has written several other books that are related to The Bell Curve.Here are a few of them:Income Inequality and IQ (Murray, 1998) is about the effects of family environment on outcomes by IQ level showing the importance of IQ in determining major life outcomes like years of education and income. In my opinion, this book does not get enough attention.Real education: Four simple truths for bringing America’s schools back to reality (Murray, 2008) argues that ability is an important determinant of educational outcomes, too many are going to college, and how well America’s gifted are educated will determine its future.Human accomplishment: The pursuit of excellence 800 B.C. to, 1950 (Murray, 2003) surveys human accomplishment and plots the rate of major accomplishment in various fields. It concludes that human accomplishment has been declining since 1750. Coming apart: The state of white America, 1960–2010 (Murray, 2012) describes the effect of the meritocracy and the increasing segregation of social groups based on IQ levels for white Americans as was predicted in The Bell Curve. All of these books have been extremely well documented as The Bell Curve was.

I probably missed some. But overall, reactions from close experts were not generally hostile, and frequently positive. I am not aware of any anonymous survey that asked experts to rate TBC for accuracy etc., but that would be very worthwhile, and indeed an obvious thing to do. Many experts do not speak their mind publicly lest they be branded by the SPLC, various brainlet journalists, and student protesters.

Some of Murray’s own writings about it can be found in:

Search methods

  • Searching on Google Scholar is hopeless due to the indexing of reviews by a million journalists and sociologists, not experts by my working definition. Instead, I opted for searching in specialist journals, primarily in Intelligence. Then I followed up on any references mentioned.

Subsequently, I found this collection of reviews in the public press, mainly.