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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Now Tell Us How You Really Feel

From a Q&A about "The Bell Curve" on its 20th anniversary with author Charles Murray:
Reflecting on the legacy of “The Bell Curve,” what stands out to you? 
...The reaction to “The Bell Curve” exposed a profound corruption of the social sciences that has prevailed since the 1960s. “The Bell Curve” is a relentlessly moderate book — both in its use of evidence and in its tone — and yet it was excoriated in remarkably personal and vicious ways, sometimes by eminent academicians who knew very well they were lying. Why? Because the social sciences have been in the grip of a political orthodoxy that has had only the most tenuous connection with empirical reality, and too many social scientists think that threats to the orthodoxy should be suppressed by any means necessary. Corruption is the only word for it. 
Now that I’ve said that, I’m also thinking of all the other social scientists who have come up to me over the years and told me what a wonderful book “The Bell Curve” is. But they never said it publicly. So corruption is one thing that ails the social sciences. Cowardice is another. [emphasis added]
Well, after all, social science is not rocket science. I found the whole interview interesting.

6 comments:

Howard said...

Bret,

You were probably swamped when I used that in this comment. It really jumps out at anyone who values intellectual integrity, but it is not surprising.

Bret said...

Oops. You're right, I did miss that, but perhaps it needs its own post?

Clovis e Adri said...

I can only see here an author complaining that people who do not cite him enough are either corrupt or cowards.

It is really about the others or about his ego? Hard to say.

Bret said...

Clovis,

The Bell Curve brouhaha was a bit before your time. It was an extremely polarizing book, or at least the subject is polarizing. I read it about a year after it came out and was stunned that it was nothing like how any of the reviews described it. When I read it, I found that the reviews on all sides completely misrepresented the book and it looked to me then and now as if the reviewers, for the most part, hadn't actually bothered to read the book. They just made stuff up.

The was unfortunately some praise for the book from rather odious channels - unashamed racists and racist media outlets, for example. I won't bother googling for such links, but they're easy enough to find.

On the other side, the condemnation of Herrnstein and Murray was relentless. A couple representative examples of the sort of stuff I saw in various reviews:

"a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship...a genteel way of calling somebody a nigger" [Bob Herbert, NY Times, 27-Oct-1994]

"intellectual brown shirts...a vile, disingenuously vicious book by two truly odious men" [Adolph Reed, Progressive Magazine, 1994]

So between the extraordinarily negative attacks on the authors and positive reviews from folks whose views I definitely don't share, I expected a really horrible and nasty book.

But that wasn't what I found at all. It was kinda boring actually. The vast majority of the book focused strictly on whites and the correlation of their "IQs" (as measured by various tests, some of which really aren't IQ tests) and various other factors (crime, education, etc.). They probably should've stopped there, though they wouldn't've sold nearly as many books (and selling a lot of books was almost certainly a goal, in my opinion).

The last chapters do then discuss the range of IQs across races and discuss policies that might address the stratification of IQs that they observed. These were no doubt the chapters that inflamed passion, but no review I saw correctly characterized the statements in these, or any other, chapters.

All of the activity I've described in this comment is that of the media. But it is the corruption and cowardice of academia that enabled it to get as out-of-control as it did.

And I think that's a bad thing.

Peter said...

I had the same experience as Bret. I bought it expecting gripping controversy, but could hardly keep awake, even when I jumped ahead to the juicy parts. Reading sociology is a little like what I imagine experiencing a stroke is like. First the fingers go numb, then the hand, then the arm....

Hey Skipper said...

[coffee spew]

Dammit, Peter, warn me when you are going to do that.

I read the book also, and found it an interesting, if not entertaining read.

Hebert and Reed, among other progressives, should not have a license to use the word "racist". The book reported factual data, and drew conclusions from that data, which itself is no more racist than the boiling point of water.

Progressives become astonishingly hostile when their shibboleths get attacked. Stephen Pinker for both The Blank Slate and Better Angels; Napoleon Chagnon for Noble Savages.

(I've read all three; they are excellent.)