[This article appeared in the Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Spring 1995, pp. 93-128.] 



Dwight D. Murphey

Wichita State University 


The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray

The Free Press, 1994 


            The Bell Curve is a serious work that deals with important subjects and that merits the attention it has received. Indeed, it challenges the entire structure of contemporary American social policy to the extent that this is based on multiculturalism, affirmative action and the concept of the liberal welfare society. Coming at a time when the vast Federal budget deficit – largely the product of welfare spending - has become a matter of national concern, it is not surprising that the book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Nor is it surprising that it has been under heavy attack in a media that has in recent decades fairly consistently favored multiculturalism, welfare spending and affirmative action designed to remove inequalities of income and influence among the diverse ethnic groups which constitute present-day America.  

            In The Bell Curve, the late Richard Herrnstein of Harvard University joins Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute in drawing attention to what they see as the "cognitive partitioning" of American society. They say that the more highly intelligent members of contemporary American society attend the top universities (80% of the highest IQ quartile now attend college, whereas only 55% of that quartile were able to attend college in 1950) and are becoming centered in a few occupations. By contrast, those of low intelligence are forming an underclass steeped in a variety of social pathologies. The authors believe that modern technology is placing increasing importance on intelligence in the workforce, and indicate that in a modern society there is less demand for those of lower intelligence, who in the past would have been fruitfully engaged in useful laboring activities. 

            This is even more significant, the authors hold, because intelligence is largely inherited, and costly social engineering schemes have failed to succeed in helping individuals of lower intelligence find a creative place in the modern world. Because the book is designed to emphasize this aspect of the problem of poverty, much of it is devoted to a review of scientific studies of intelligence, IQ tests, and of the bearing of genetics on cognitive ability. What has fired criticism the most, however, is that two chapters discuss the evidence for ethnic differences in intelligence. These present data that show that blacks on average perform significantly lower in IQ than whites and orientals. The authors observe that affirmative action has removed barriers that prevented higher-intelligence blacks from advancing in society, and that both blacks and whites of higher intelligence are moving into a meritocratic upperclass. This, they say, has left blacks of lower intelligence to stultify in welfare-based ghettos. To authors Herrnstein and Murray, affirmative action plans are no longer useful, since those who remain at the lower levels of society do not have the inborn intelligence to succeed in a meritocracy. They suggest that some form of benevolent conservative system of welfare is the only solution to this predicament.  

            This review will consist of two main parts: a critique of The Bell Curve by this author, followed by an extensive analysis of the media reaction to the book during the first four months following its appearance.  

This Author's Critique 

            While the book makes a number of valuable points, it seems to this reviewer to be excellent in much the same way that a camel, arguably one of nature's more functional and yet aesthetically least satisfying creatures, is excellent. Some subjects, such as intelligence and the statistics that go into studying it, primarily reflecting the psychometric work of Richard Herrnstein, are discussed extensively. Because their prominence is so disproportionate to the rest of the work, these may be likened to the humps on a camel's back. In their effort to bring this aspect of the modern dilemma to the attention of their readers, other subjects that are important to the analysis of the problems facing modern American society are hardly discussed at all. "Cognitive partitioning," as the theme that seeks to tie it all together, seems, like a camel's spindly legs, too insubstantial to support the humps' great bulk.  

            To be specific, Herrnstein and Murray seek to demonstrate that low intelligence correlates with the population of an increasingly menacing, genetically-determined, underclass in the United States, and the book contains a series of chapters about specific social problems in which it is shown that each problem correlates with low intelligence. It is worth noting that these chapters deliberately do not pertain to blacks, since the authors wanted to show that their analysis was not centered on the racial differences in IQ that they mention later. Regression analysis, the authors say, shows that intelligence is a cause of most, if not all, of these problems.  

            Without challenging the authors' emphasis on the importance of an appropriate level of intelligence to cope with the increasing sophistication of many job-related tasks as America moves into the future, what needs to be noticed is that such a correlation by itself is in no way the same thing as a full consideration of the causative factors that have since 1965 led many people of lower intelligence to act as they do. The overall level of IQ did not drop precipitously for any group within the United States during the half-decade between 1965 and 1970, but the level of behavior certainly did. The analysis of those other causative factors would require investigation into the ideology of victimization, the impact of moral relativism, the disincentives of welfare, the pathologies of the "therapeutic state," the decline of the family and of true community - most, if not all, of which received serious attention in Murray's earlier work entitled Losing Ground, but which receive only passing mention here. This book concentrates on the role of intelligence and on the degree to which intelligence is inherited and is hence largely immutable and unresponsive to the expensive environmental remedies attempted by government over the past three or four decades.  

            In American courts, juries are instructed that one thing is a cause of another if the second "would not have occurred but for the occurrence of the first." Applying this in the context of The Bell Curve, it is possible to say that the pathologies of the underclass would not exist if it were not for its members' lower intelligence. But this does not mean that there are not a number of other causal agents, such as those listed above, that also constitute "but-for causes." There is compelling reason to think that but for the ideological turn toward pathological behavior that the United States took in the mid-1960s, the members of American society with relatively low intelligence could for the most part still comport themselves as good citizens. To say this is not to say anything that Murray doesn't know himself. It is just that the book places so much emphasis on intelligence, as part of spelling out so thoroughly Herrnstein's work, that these other, perhaps more important, causal factors are given little attention. To the extent these other causal factors are discussed, it is in the realm of moral philosophy, not of the empirico-mathematical science that the authors apply to intelligence.  

The nature of the theme 

            Because experience has shown that book reviewers are sometimes lazy and don't even read the book they are reviewing, this reviewer wondered as he read The Bell Curve whether many commentators would separate themselves enough from the book's elaborate discussion of statistics and intelligence to even notice the overall theme. It has been a pleasant surprise that many have.  

            The theme points to the occurrence of an on-going "cognitive partitioning" in American society. Brought on by rapidly increasing technology, it is a process that separates a super-intelligent "cognitive elite" from the mass of ordinary people. These in turn are separated from a growing underclass that is drained of intelligence to the point of becoming a pathological "critical mass." The partitioning simultaneously threatens democracy with its growing class stratification and points ahead to an increasing assault on civilized life by members of the underclass. 

            Taken on its face, this appears important. So why do I call it "insubstantial"? For three reasons:

. Because Herrnstein and Murray give the theme only truncated treatment. Until the final chapter, the reader is left to wonder, "how does all of this about intelligence fit into anything?" The authors also speak of the partitioning without offering much by way of solutions. They appear to have subordinated the general theme to their extensive discussion of the specifics about intelligence.

. Because the authors' suggestion that a cognitive elite may arise, centered in the professions and technical trades, when stated forebodingly, is not convincing. As Ernest van den Haag pointed out in a generally favorable article in National Review, there would be nothing necessarily exclusive about it; it does nothing to make impossible the success of countless other people, albeit somewhat less than geniuses, who can make fortunes in the many other pursuits of life and thereby come to belong, also, to the affluent "elite." The great wealth made by many ball players and entertainment personalities comes to mind, but a moment's reflection makes it clear that there are countless other possibilities for those who might be able to make up with character, energy and diverse talents for what they may lack in genius. The elite will be neither small nor exclusive. Herrnstein and Murray could, of course, respond that they are not claiming that their "cognitive elite" is to be regarded as identical to the affluent elite.

. Because the book is not fully persuasive, either, in its discussion of the necessary nature of their "underclass." As we know from the United States' experience prior to the mid-1960s, there is nothing about low intelligence that condemns the less intelligent to less than a productive, civilized existence. True, it conduces to it in several ways, not the least of which is the foreshortened "time perspective" that Edward Banfield talked about a few years ago in The Unheavenly City. But a reversal of the other causative factors that have since the 1960s led to the emergence of a "menacing" underclass - alienated ideology, moral relativism, overweening paternalism, the decline of family, etc. - would make the situation far less apocalyptic and would take away much of the ill effects of "cognitive partitioning." Murray knows this himself, and so devotes attention to an alternative vision of society along neoconservative lines, favoring, as Irving Kristol has, a conservative welfare state (i.e., one whose redistributive programs reward acceptable rather than pathological behavior). The addition of IQ and "cognitive partitioning" to the equation has added a causal ground for pessimism, but one that is not nearly so controlling as the book's emphasis makes it seem. Murray's other writing is in many ways a better statement of the overall situation. The weakness of this over-emphasis on differences in intelligence has strengthened the hand of reviewers dedicated to the concept of biological egalitarianism. The Bell Curve has stimulated violent controversy, with many egalitarians resorting to open abuse and to the demonization of both the book and the researchers whose work on intelligence and heredity has been cited in it.

            The Bell Curve is, indeed, the work of two very different authors (which has led to my analogy to the awkwardness of a camel). Herrnstein, who died of lung cancer in September 1994 just before the book was released, was an empirico-mathematical social scientist from Harvard in the area of psychometrics; Murray is a social philosopher and cultural commentator from the American Enterprise Institute. The result of their merger goes into great detail about the psychometric evaluation of intelligence, including even some excellent instruction to the reader on the basics of statistics. This reflects Herrnstein. It is all placed in a context of social philosophy, but without leaving enough space to elaborate on that complex topic sufficiently. That is Murray's part. One way to look at it is that Murray has performed a valuable service of providing a vehicle that brings the implications of Herrnstein's psychometrics to wide public attention. It has, in addition, achieved other valuable ends.  

Upholding freedom of inquiry 

            A few of the commentaries on the book, written by those who find it ideologically compelling to admit no possibility that men are not all born biologically equal, have bordered on hysteria. As we will see in our later review here of the early literature, these have criticized the book as having the potential for reawakening what they portray as Nazi-like racism. Their point is valid enough as a reminder that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," but otherwise such fears, in the context of a work of serious research and thought, should be seen for what they are: a form of hyperbole that seeks to foreclose inquiry. If scholars must perceive the Nazi shadow every time they speak honestly about race, a society is in serious trouble.  

            One of the most valuable contributions of The Bell Curve is that it runs counter to that taboo. By its very existence, it cries out  for freedom of inquiry. The question is raised, as Nathan Glazer (to paraphrase him) did in The New Republic, "Why bring up these issues? They are better left unmentioned, unstudied; and to the extent they are not, society should impress a taboo upon them!" What is most important about this is that it raises again the issues that were once thought to have been settled when modern Western civilization came to embrace the outlook of the open society. It was just two hundred years ago that the delightful English conversationalist Samuel Johnson could argue that "every society has a right to preserve public peace and order, and therefore has a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous tendency ... No member of society has a right to teach any doctrine contrary to what that society holds to be true." No doubt there are a number of social cements that need to be preserved to maintain even a free society, but there is great value in holding fast to the faith that the inquiring mind is one of the principal pillars of freedom, both as a means and an end. 

Implications for the United States' growing system of minority preferences 

            There are indications that a substantial number of Americans now sense that what is done in the name of "civil rights" has betrayed its initial moral premises and has become an ideological-political-opportunistic "con game." The Bell Curve strikes a blow to the myths that underlie this untoward extension. It is almost certainly this, far more than a genuine apprehension of any impending Nazism, that causes the greatest apprehension within the multiculturalist Left. 

            Prior to the civil rights movement that followed World War II, American society lived with a form of "cultural exceptionalism."  White Americans generally believed quite sincerely in the principles of a free society, which include "equality under the law" and a willingness to judge each person on his merits. But during the Progressive movement around the turn of the century and for several years thereafter it was felt that historical circumstances, coming out of the existence of slavery and its aftermath, justified the compartmentalization that was reflected in the concept that was then known as "equal but separate." 

            As is known, this came under the most powerful moral attack during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Blacks were no longer to be treated as an exception; it was imperative to make universal the principles of legal equality and individual merit. The consensus for those values was so strong that they seemed self-evident to most Americans, who went so far as to impose upon themselves a system of legislation commanding individuals in the great run of life's activities to judge people by their merits and not to make race any part of their criteria for decision. Fraternity was to be backed by the police power. The United States was to be a color-blind society. 

            It wasn't long, however, before liberal ideology swept the country past that. The issue of color-blindness became muddied by the presence of "de facto residuals" of the earlier social order. The desire to overcome those residuals suggested compensatory preferences, which themselves would suggest, once again, a form of "cultural exceptionalism." But the preferences didn't long retain their character as temporary expedients to return the United States to a truly color-blind society. Instead, the ideology, now confident of its power, came to embrace "multiculturalism" and the "benefits of diversity." The idea of color-blindness went out of fashion, except for whites for whom it remained obligatory, among the "politically correct"; now people are to be advanced because of their blackness, or their being female, or their ethnicity. It is this that amounts to a "con game," since it transfers the moral impetus from one thing to something else quite inconsistent with it and because it invokes a double standard, proscribing to whites, and especially to white males, what it encourages in others. It has led the United States into a double-track system of rights and privileges, leaving behind a unitary system of law and of Constitutional protections. 

            It is into this context that Herrnstein and Murray have come forth to splash a bucket of cold water onto the amorous coupling.  Assuming they are right - and it takes an expert in social science methodology, which this reviewer is not, to judge that -, what they point out is shattering:  

.  That the distribution of intelligence among blacks - in a bell-shaped curve that is offset somewhat to the left of that of the society at large - is not such as to make available large numbers of persons who are intellectually capable of success within the cognitive professions. There are many very intelligent blacks, but their percentage at the higher scale of intelligence falls significantly short of matching the percentage of blacks in the population as a whole. What this means, say, is that if universities and government departments adopt a policy, as many are, of hiring almost all minorities until a certain social reconstruction is achieved, they will be competing for the same small pool of qualified individuals. This will force them to lower their standards, will cause millions of people to look with doubt upon the achievements of any given black, and will cause resentment among those who, though better qualified, are displaced. The idea that such racial preference can be indulged without adverse consequences depends upon the faith in equal intelligence, and that is precisely what Herrnstein and Murray are puncturing.  

.  That blacks in the United States are already equal, and sometimes over-represented, in high-level positions - and in education, occupations and wages - relative to what would be predictable if intelligence were the criterion. The revolutionary impact of this is that it contradicts the myth of continuing "victimization" (a new word for the old Marxist concept of "exploitation.") The idea that a vicious mainstream society is victimizing minorities is the glue that holds together the ideological alliance of the Left's alienated intellectual culture with the groups that, the intelligentsia hopes, will long relish being disaffected and unassimilated.

Dysgenic trends 

            Three genetic forces, the authors say, are at work to lower the level of intelligence in the United States: a higher birthrate within the less intelligent underclass, a postponement of child-bearing for several years by more intelligent women, and the nature of recent immigration, which has been from the Third World. The first two of these forces are at work not just within the society at large, but also within the black community, leading to a worsening of prospects for blacks within a civilization that is increasingly rewarding intelligence. This is a matter that might well be of constructive concern to blacks themselves. 

            Of course, a discussion of anything genetic is taboo, since an investigation of dysgenics automatically conjures up images of Hitler's abuse of eugenics. The facts are important, however; they certainly call, as the authors do, for at least so much as a repeal of the policies that presently favor more babies by low-income women. The issue isn't whether the United States should impose a draconian eugenics, but whether it should stop doing things to encourage dysgenics. 

A call for a more humane social order 

            It may seem incongruous to mention it in light of the cries that have been raised that the book, by comparing the intelligence of races, is proto-racist, but time should be taken to notice that Herrnstein and Murray sketch the outlines of what could be a much more humane society. Understandably, they see few profound human satisfactions in the crumbling, warring inner cities fostered by the custodial, therapeutic state. They offer the alternative of a truly free society, in which people at all levels find sustenance, warmth and "a valued place" through the local, interpersonal processes that multiply so profusely within humanity

when government and ideology don't get in people's way. 

            Two criticisms of this vision are to be made by those who take a conservative perspective. First, such persons will be inclined to argue that the proposition that "some sort of redistribution is here to stay" should, at the very least, be debated. There will likely be a vigorous discussion on the Right about whether the "conservative welfare state" favored by Murray and Herrnstein is in fact a minimal necessity. This especially means identifying and scrutinizing its specific components, comparing them, as libertarians and classical liberals are so wont to do, with voluntaristic and local alternatives.  

            Second, Herrnstein and Murray say that the United States must "return to the melting pot as metaphor and color blindness as the ideal." Many people are beginning to argue that it is rapidly becoming too late for the American people, if they care about their identity, simply to endorse a melting pot without qualification. They have for thirty years been flooded with immigration of non-European origin. Americans saw the melting pot as a splendid ideal when the newcomers would melt into a high Euro-American civilization. A reverse process whereby Euro-American civilization melts into that of the Third World is, to those of conservative bent, another matter entirely. The latter is what will happen unless Americans quickly form and enforce a consensus to limit immigration. Murray and Herrnstein express concern about the current immigration because of its dysgenic effects. In terms of American identity, the concern will need to go further and center on the long-term continuity of the United States culturally and politically. But this is hardly a criticism of Herrnstein and Murray; it is too much to expect them to have carried the dialogue that far. The issues they undertook to study are more than enough for any two thinkers, however courageous. 

            No book in this reviewer's memory has done so much to provoke so stimulating and widespread a discussion. If there were a Nobel Prize for Freedom of Inquiry, Herrnstein and Murray would be among the leading candidates. 

Media Reaction to The Bell Curve 

            The Bell Curve has proved one of the most provocative writings of recent times. It would seem that within weeks of its publication in October 1994, virtually everyone involved in social commentary in the United States had something to say about it.  

            Since it is doubtful whether many who are interested in the book will have had the time or the sources available to read more than a part of that early literature, the Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies has benefited from a clipping service which supplied the initial commentaries that appeared in late 1994 and early 1995 so that this article can report on them. This survey is based on approximately 125 book reviews, columns, articles and television commentaries that appeared in the American media (plus a small number from England and Canada) during that period.  

            The media's treatment of earlier writings in similar areas was discussed in Stanley Rothman and Mark Snyderman's book The IQ Controversy: The Media and Public Policy (Transaction Books, 1988) and in Roger Pearson's Race, Intelligence and Bias in Academe (Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1991). Pearson is editor of Mankind Quarterly.  

            As the above critique suggests, this literature is significant for two reasons: because the issues raised by The Bell Curve (and others), and the debate over them, are important; and because the very publication of the book in violation of the demands of "political correctness" in the United States in the 1990s raises vitally significant issues of freedom of speech and of inquiry. The demands for suppression of the book were well illustrated in February 1995 when mass protests occurred at Rutgers University in New Jersey after it became known that the university president, who had an long record of promoting affirmative action, had made a comment to the faculty senate three months earlier about "genetic, hereditary background" being a cause of the low average scores of Rutgers' black students on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.  

            A warning may be in order. Although the remainder of this article is a report on the literature rather than an evaluation, even a simple review of it involves characterizing and classifying the commentaries. This requires judgments about nuance and degree. To help assure being fair to each author, we began by reading each commentary with careful attention to the integrity of its author's view taken as a whole. The reader would need to study the sources himself to see whether we have succeeded in that effort. 

The Tone of the Reaction: Favorable and Unfavorable. 

            Although it has sometimes been said that The Bell Curve was greeted with a firestorm of denunciation, that description is by no means entirely correct. The reaction during the first three months covered the entire spectrum of possible opinion, with ample representation at almost every point along it. There were a number of favorable commentaries, including a favorable review in the New York Review of Books, and these can be placed along a continuum that ranges from "uncritically supportive" to "tentatively sympathetic"; some commentaries staked out neutral ground; and yet another continuum applies to those that were unfavorable, ranging from "unfavorable, but reasoned" to "purely vituperative." Perhaps because we expected a large number of denunciatory pieces and so took them for granted, we are impressed by the volume of reasoned discussion, both favorable and unfavorable. There is considerable civility within much of it, resulting in an impression that a genuine national debate is occurring within an important segment of the educated public. At the same time, significant voices urge shrouding such issues in silence or intimidating those who dare to speak on them.  

Favorable Reactions 

Uncritically supportive  

            Because it limits itself to paraphrasing The Bell Curve, one review that can arguably be called "uncritically supportive" is a column by psychology professor Richard Lynn, which appeared in the London Times.1 Lynn was one of the sources most frequently cited in the book, and it was only to be expected that he would report favorably, although he  demonstrated his fairness by restricting his comments primarily to informing the Times' readers of the book's content rather than to evaluating it.  

Supportive through a weighted presentation  

            In this survey, it will be interesting to note the argumentative techniques used by different writers. A favorable article by Peter Brimelow in Forbes2 adopts a technique that is to be expected from those who are sympathetic to the authors' position. He recounts a series of arguments against the book and follows each with a Herrnstein-Murray rebuttal to give it the final say.  

Supportive, with a reasoned basis  

            Several favorable critics make their discussion a reasoned consideration of one or more issues. This would not be surprising in most contexts, but here they are taking up issues that part of the intellectual culture insists be off-limits. In a brief column, Kevin Lamb, an assistant librarian for Newsweek, discusses the nature of psychometry as science, speaks of the ad hominem attacks on Herrnstein and Murray, and explores such issues as the measurability of intelligence, its heritability and intractability, and the factors that, in addition to intelligence, cause success.3 In the New York Times Book Review, Malcolm Browne, also supportive, makes a reasoned discussion of eugenics, suggesting that "sooner or later, society may have to decide whether human beings have the right -- perhaps even the duty -- to strengthen our species' cognitive defenses ...."4 Daniel Seligman in National Review tells of the growing body of knowledge about the genetic role in human behavior. He cites increasing assertions by scientists that such a trait as homosexuality is biologically determined, but warns that genes create probabilities rather than determined outcomes.5  

            In an article published in London, Hans Eysenck, one of today's most prominent empirical psychologists, reviews at length the scientific consensus supporting Herrnstein's view of the heritability of intelligence among "the great majority of experts - psychologists, behavioral geneticists and educationalists."6 Columnist D. J. Tice in St. Paul, Minnesota, observes that the Herrnstein-Murray thesis "offends the essential hubris and egalitarianism of the modern world view" and calls for a redirection of social policy away from "the kind of help liberal society prefers to give" (to the less intelligent).7 Christopher Caldwell in The American Spectator demonstrates a knowledge of the current literature beyond The Bell Curve and gives an excellent and detailed summary of Herrnstein and Murray's main points, accompanying each with intelligent reflection.8 Michael Barone, a senior writer for U. S. News & World Report, was the author of the first commentary in the National Review's December 5, 1994, symposium. He focuses on how the demonstration of genetic inequalities undercuts the rationale first for the ideology of "victimization" and then for the "rotten" "regimes of [reverse] racial preference" that have been developed on behalf of minorities in the United States in recent years.9  

Not unsupportive, but with criticisms  

            Other favorable authors include some points of disagreement within a reasoned analysis. Conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan says that intelligence is important but that other traits such as character and courage are also keys to success.10  Michael Novak seconds this with the "wish [that] somebody would write a companion study, as scholarly as theirs, concentrating on issues of character rather than on issues of intelligence."11 Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post is favorable to Herrnstein and Murray's warning about an emerging underclass, noting that "for the last two decades it is the very liberals who so vehemently denounce Murray who have been obsessed with race," but says that he opposes any form of multiculturalism, even a conservative one such as he sees The Bell Curve suggesting, because he prefers the ideal of a color-blind society. He disagrees with Herrnstein's thesis that group differences in intelligence are rooted in genes, and adheres to the belief that environment and culture determine intelligence, since the differences change over time.12 Economist Thomas Sowell, a black and a supporter of the free market, is favorable and respectful, but is persuaded by the "Flynn effect" (the belief that IQ is generally rising with each generation) that the role of genetics is questionable. The "Flynn effect" also suggests to Sowell there is no threat of a dysgenic trend. He supports Herrnstein and Murray against the charge that IQ tests are "culturally relative" by observing that people do live within particular cultures.13  

            Two of the otherwise seemingly favorable authors take issue with The Bell Curve's projections regarding the emergence of a genetically-determined cognitive partitioning. William F. Buckley refers to Malthus and Marx and then says that "one more grand social schema" can only provoke a smile.14 Washington Times columnist Richard Grenier points to the continuing importance of character, judgment and common sense, and concludes that "personally, I don't think this apocalyptic vision will ever come to pass."15 

Tentatively sympathetic  

            The issues are so controversial that some authors treat them with obvious diffidence. Elise Houlik interviewed Professor Robert Gordon, who is one of the sources cited in The Bell Curve, for an in-house magazine at The Johns Hopkins University where Gordon is employed, reporting that "I prepared myself to meet an absolute ogre ... Instead, I found a normal, unassuming man with a strong commitment to his research."16 Book reviewer Mel Small for the Detroit News-Free Press is temperate and friendly, but shies clear of expressing agreement.17 

Neutral Reactions 

            Some of the commentators express neither agreement nor disagreement, simply trying to report the various sides of the argument. Nina J. Easton's article in the Los Angeles Times is balanced, although the "pull-quotes" that highlight the piece are negative. An odd thing about her article is that she uses emotive words against both sides, apparently reflecting a reportorial style of assumed cynicism rather than a bias against either side.18 A fair-minded discussion from both points of view is written for The Chronicle of Higher Education by Ellen K. Coughlin.19 Sometimes a humorous approach is taken, as in columnist Gil Spencer's light-hearted report on The Bell Curve's cognitive-partitioning thesis.20 Writing about the book in the Boston Globe before its appearance, Anthony Flint made a balanced discussion of both sides of the heritability debate.21 Robert S. Boyd of the Wichita Eagle's Washington Bureau gives a balanced, factual review of the history of recent genetic studies, and reviews the points of difference.22 Four commentaries talk about the issues for their own sake without expressing an overall reaction to the book, or else with only an incidental reaction. Michael Young and Brigitte Burger in the National Review symposium, and Alexander Star and Martin Peretz in The New Republic's symposium, which was generally unfavorable, are of this sort.23         

            Also standing between the favorable and unfavorable pieces are various mixed commentaries. James Powell's article in Insight is favorable, mainly reporting the views contained in the book, except that the headline ("New Ideas About Smarts Stand Logic on its Head") is negative, possibly having been assigned to Powell's work by an unsympathetic editor.24 Peter Passell's book review in the New York Times treats the book with considerable respect, but is unfavorable toward the book's policy suggestions.25  

Unfavorable Reactions 

Unfavorable, but with reasoned argument  

            Later, we will see a number of strongly unfavorable commentaries that are purely vituperative. Many of the critics seem determined to warn other academics against publicly supporting Murray and Herrnstein's thesis by demonizing the two authors.  However, a number that are unfavorable present their case with reason and civility (although civility should not be seen as precluding a vigorous articulation). Richard Nisbett in The New Republic's symposium gives Herrnstein and Murray credit for dealing with "extraordinarily important issues," but argues that the book contains "three assertions ... about race and I.Q. that do not reflect the consensus of scholars," citing the genetic basis for group differences, the intractability of IQ, and the belief that group differences in IQ are not significantly reducible.26 In one of the better rebuttals, Ann Hulbert in the same symposium goes deeply into the substantive issues, attacking the empirical analysis, citing the Flynn effect, pointing to what she sees as inconsistencies, and taking issue with the book's policy prescriptions.27 E. D. Hirsch, Jr.'s, column in the New York Times makes a civil discussion that contains no personal attack on the authors or their sources, but that disagrees with Herrnstein and Murray on the evidence for racial differences in intelligence, citing counter-examples from situations where excellent education is available.28 Columnist George Melloan in the Wall Street Journal uses emotive words to debunk The Bell Curve but is fair in raising points from both sides.29 

            Other commentaries that can plausibly be placed in the same category are those by B. A. Wilson, Kathryn Markel and Eric Oddleifson in the letters-to-the-editor section of the Wall Street Journal, all on October 28. Wilson attacks the idea that an elite is becoming isolated, especially when compared to what is called "the old `legacy' elite." Markel cites a recent study that causes her to opt for more, not less, social intervention. Eric Oddleifson argues the case for multiple intelligence and the consequent insufficiency of a simple IQ score.30 Columnist Peter Shrag in the Baltimore Sun goes so far as to deny that the study of race and intelligence is "science," but observes that the study of those subjects feeds off of the Left's own racial categorizing.31 John Leo, in a column in the U. S. News & World Report, is unfavorable on the ground that The Bell Curve "is a very unhelpful book," providing no answers beyond "pessimism and negative group labeling."32 In an article in the same issue of that journal, William F. Allman covers the gamut of issues from a critical perspective but without demonizing Herrnstein and Murray.33  

            Scott McConnell is reasoned in a New York Post column despite using some emotive language.34 A report in London's The Economist by an unnamed author accuses the book as being political and opportunist, but stays on a reasoned track despite its negative impressions.35 A news article quoting Jack Kemp, a Republican presidential aspirant in past years, indicates that he is unfavorable, since he considers the ideas unpalatable and the book "pseudo-scientific"; but he balances this with a reference to Murray as "a man of honor and integrity."36  

            Four additional commentators round out the list in this category. They are columnists Doug Hufnagel in the Camden Herald, Don Munsch in the Denison (Texas) Herald, Sheldon Smith in the Milwaukee Journal, and book reviewer Mary Meehan in the National Catholic Register.37  

Unfavorable, and cleverly ad hominem  

            Frank Rich in his column in the New York Times is thoroughly critical, but turns a neat phrase, as when he writes of The Bell Curve's having "enough equivocating for another 'Hamlet,'" or speaks of the book's "air of unimpeachable authority, much as all those radar maps impart meteorological gravity to Willard Scott."38 Josh Ozersky at Notre Dame and St. Mary's College uses sardonic humor, presenting his column in the form of a tongue-in-check battery of IQ test questions.39 

Unfavorable without significant argument but falling short of demonizing  

            Barbara Vobejda's article in the Washington Post paints an unfavorable picture without giving much content by surveying the commentaries prior to late October and citing studies contrary to the Herrnstein-Murray position, saying that the latter "brush them off."40 A book review by an unnamed author in the San Antonio Register says most social scientists disagree with the view that genes are important to racial differences in IQ, but gives little of its own reasoning.41 A column by Joyce Evans in the Milwaukee Sentinel is content simply to say that Herrnstein and Murray's ideas are "unproved."42  

Unfavorable, with heavily weighted presentation, but still short of demonizing  

                To say that a piece stays "short of demonizing" is to make a judgment about it that may or may not seem justified to others reading the commentary. The reviews that are examined later that seek to "demonize" Herrnstein and Murray seem a form of attempted suppression, since a probable motive for extremely abusive commentary is to punish the current authors and to "chill" the desire of future researchers to extend the inquiry. Accordingly, we are not anxious to classify a commentary into that category if there is any way to credit it as simply being within the rough give-and-take that all authors dealing with sensitive public issues must expect.

            Debra Viadero in Education Week makes several substantive points about IQ, quoting from scholars whose views are contrary to those of Herrnstein and Murray, in an effort to create the impression that The Bell Curve is poorly founded.43 The same weighted technique is invoked by Anita Manning in U.S.A. Today.44 She quotes a dean at Temple University to make a point that is essentially anti-intellectual, since it does not accept inquiry on its merits: "I have to ask why this issue is so enduring.  Why is it comforting ....?" In Time magazine, Richard Lacayo weights his discussion by giving center stage to three selected social scientists, each of whom takes a critical view of the book.45 Jim Holt's op-ed column in the New York Times combines reasoned argument about discoveries in the "hard science" of genetics with a heavy use of highly emotive terms to cast a strongly negative pall: "psychometry ... has a long and farcical history ... irrational convictions ... manure of pseudoscience and quackery."46 David Stipp's book review in the Wall Street Journal and a bylined news article by John Boudreau in California are unfavorably weighted by giving most of the say to opponents.47  

            The fringe of pure vituperation is approached by seven pieces that are highly unfavorable and whose argument seems, at least to this author who is not an expert in the study of intelligence, as outside the "reasoned" range. Readers will want to examine these to see whether they agree. In the New York Times "Editorial Notebook," Brent Staples recites a history of putatively stupid, biased IQ testing on Ellis Island during World War I and in the 1920s. As to the heritability of intelligence, he brushes it off as "a long-unproved claim" and as supported by "no plausible data."48 In The New Republic's symposium, Dante Ramos does not trouble to examine the evidence, but simply writes off the finding that the average IQ of African blacks is 75 as "ridiculous."49 Neither does Stanley Crouch in the same symposium consider the merits, simply ascribing extraneous motives to the authors.50 Leon Wieseltier, who writes the longest of that symposium's commentaries, is highly emotive and vituperative, taking up a number of issues in a personal and ad hominem fashion, and starting with the assumption that Herrnstein and Murray are wrong.51 Jason DeParle uses a chatty feature-story format for much of his article in the New York Times Magazine.52 There is considerable emotive coloring, creating an unfavorable image of Charles Murray, and a theme of amateur psychoanalyzing (which, though mainly negative, ends with a certain empathy). He gets into the issues on the merits in the final part of the article. Columnist Linda J. Collier in the Philadelphia Tribune bases her piece on straw men by  using two important misstatements of Herrnstein and Murray's positions.53 She speaks of their "theory that whites are superior and that everyone else falls behind them" [overlooking the high IQs accorded by the authors to several hundred million Asians], and she asks "how come they assume that by looking at my face they can tell my intellectual capacity with reasonable accuracy and precision?" [ignoring Herrnstein and Murray's emphatic statement that nothing can be said about an individual because of statistics relating to a group]. Robert N. Taylor in Kansas City is emotively unfavorable without giving The Bell Curve's research a fair consideration.54  

Very unfavorable: opposing scientific inquiry into race and intelligence, or seeking to repress such research by demonizing it  

            A sizeable number of commentaries are purely vituperative. Instead of reviewing them at this point, we will detail them in the discussion (which follows) of the demand that research into such areas as behavioral genetics, comparative intelligence, and eugenics should be suppressed, since they seem calculated to place all such research "beyond the pale." 

Taboo Versus Freedom of Inquiry 

            Early in the twentieth century it was openly accepted in the United States and Europe to study -- and even to base social policy upon findings relating to -- race, intelligence and eugenics. This was displaced, however, by three developments: first, the disrepute attached to National Socialist policies in respect to eugenics and race; second, the ideological view taken by Stalinist Marxism which banned Mendelian genetics in favor of the belief that human beings are wholly malleable and the product of their environment; and, third, the ideological imperatives that arose in the United States in the decades after World War II out of the Civil Rights movement, and of the accompanying moral consensus, on behalf of blacks. A strong taboo against the subjects of race and heredity resulted, except that work continued in the scientific community, being drawn to occasional public attention by the media when new findings resulted in eruptions of militant protest.  

            Scott McConnell in the New York Post points out that this taboo was intact in 1992 when former Fortune editor Daniel Seligman authored "a judicious and highly readable book on IQ testing ... [which] devoted a chapter to race and IQ, and came to conclusions similar to those of Murray and Herrnstein." McConnell observes that the taboo was sufficiently powerful to ensure that "this book was left unreviewed by the mainstream media, and sank with barely a ripple. The taboos in this realm were still in force." Asking what has caused the taboo to break down - and this is perhaps the most significant thing about the widespread reaction to The Bell Curve - McConnell points out that "it's hard not to notice how virtually every aspect of social policy in America has been soaked with race talk -- and that it has not been white conservatives who have been leading the way."55  

            In this context, part of the reaction to The Bell Curve consists of an attempt by several authors to invoke the taboo and to seek to punish Herrnstein and Murray and any others who now or in the future may discuss such issues. Another part consists of a direct discussion of whether there ought to be a taboo on the subject of race, heredity and intelligence, as against freedom of inquiry. We will survey both of these reactions.  

Reportorial review of the opinions 

            Rod Dreher in the Washington Times gives a brief summary of the views of William J. Bennett, Jesse Jackson, James Q. Wilson, Camille Paglia, Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Cromartie and Stanley Crouch about whether the book should have been published.56 Bennett, Wilson, Paglia and Crouch are quoted as favoring open discussion; Jackson and Neuhaus as not; and Cromartie as thinking the publication unwise on Herrnstein and Murray's part. 

Expressing opposition to free inquiry 

            A news article by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post tells about the rebellion that occurred within the editorial staff of The New Republic when the editor, Andrew Sullivan, decided to publish a synopsis written by Herrnstein and Murray.57 The rebellion led to the publication of the symposium, mostly negative, that accompanied the synopsis, and in turn the symposium included an airing of some of the participants' desire to continue the taboo. Glenn Loury's piece asks why it is essential, as Herrnstein and Murray assert, "for people to begin to talk openly." His arguments are prudential, centering on the subject's "destructive" effects in the absence of "useful action," and as such is a radical break from the a priori "free speech as an absolute good" concept long endorsed by many on the American Left. Neo-conservative Nathan Glazer's comments are along similar lines, inquiring "to what end?" the subject should be discussed. "What good will come of it?" His final sentence is breath-taking in the American context: "I ask myself whether the untruth is not better for American society than the truth." Black author Hugh Pearson says Herrnstein and Murray should themselves have seen the destructiveness of their inquiry and have held back from it.58  

            The authors in National Review's symposium are, as we will see, much more open to discussion. Nevertheless, Richard John Neuhaus among them writes of the "questioning of taboos" as "intellectual mischief" and says that "society depends upon taboos and interdictions ... Why was it so necessary to speak this truth, if it is truth, about racial differences in cognitive functioning?"  He runs directly counter to John Stuart Mill's argument in On Liberty that an open marketplace of ideas leads to a better appreciation of truth: "There is an astonishing naivete in the suggestion that we should have a nice, polite national conversation about the alleged cognitive inferiority of blacks."59  

            Outside the symposia, John Sedgwick's long piece in GQ is mainly an exercise in emotive denunciations and ad hominem attacks, but does at one point directly discuss the matter of a taboo, doing so in connection with Philippe Rushton's work:  "'Think of an equivalent topic for scientific inquiry, like "Are Jews Pushy?"' said Nicholas Lemann, author of The Promised Land ... 'Is this an issue that should be put out on the table?' Race relations are so fragile that it is impossible to discuss them without immense tact ...."60 Jason DeParle in the New York Times Magazine quotes sociologist Christopher Jencks as saying that there is a "striking dearth of evidence" about how physical brain processes differ by race and that "this seems to me a case where you ought to have really airtight evidence before you make claims."61  

Opposition to publication on the ground that the book is in error  

            Jencks' point edges close to the position taken by some commentators that the Herrnstein-Murray position is flawed and should not have been published for that reason. Eugene D. Genovese in the National Review symposium argues that the book is "incoherent" because Herrnstein and Murray "begin by rejecting 'race' as a category that will not stand scientific analysis," but then use it anyway. "Exactly what, we may ask, is the subject of this discussion?"62 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's review in the Washington Post is a fair-minded discussion, but cites a "profound schizophrenia" within the book about the isolation of the cognitive elite, since Herrnstein and Murray "bemoan the segregation of IQ among the elite" but then "complain that businesses cannot use IQ as a selection device." He speaks of the "moral dilemma" over publication and asks "which principle should take precedence in this case?," to which he answers "I must confess, I am still confused."63 The tone taken by columnist Sally Steenland for the Knight-Ridder newspapers is very different, since she accords Herrnstein and Murray no respect, calling them "glib" and "not very smart," but she nevertheless cites reasons from her experience as a teacher for thinking that "standardized IQ tests did not begin to capture [the students'] native intelligence."64 

Condemnation and suppression of the subject by demonization 

            Several commentaries, while citing all sorts of reasons for their position, are so vituperative and give so little respect to Herrnstein and Murray as engaged in legitimate inquiry that they are best categorized as attempts to suppress thought and discussion in the subjects covered by the book. Authors in controversial areas must be prepared for considerable abuse as part of a vigorous debate, which they can't always expect to be conducted with courtesy; but abuse beyond a certain point is arguably an effort to coerce and to silence. Just where that point is crossed is a matter of judgment. 

            Here are a few of such commentators' denunciations, necessarily abstracted from the various contexts raised by their pieces:  

.  Jacob Weisberg in New York: "... about as toxic as social science gets ... grist for racism of every variety. You can hear a thousand David Dukes in the background ...."65  

.  Jerry Rosen and Charles Lane in The New Republic's symposium: "Neo-Nazis! ... chilly synthesis ... eccentric race theorists and eugenicists ... racialist notion ... shabbiness of the tradition ...."66

. Alan Wolfe in The New Republic's symposium: "... obsessed by race ... if they said what they meant, their ideas would come across as not only racist, but also nutty ... inegalitarian, ungenerous and reactionary ... the nasty side ...."67 

.  John B. Judis in The New Republic's symposium: "... not based on science, but on a combination of bigotry and metaphysics ... pseudo-scientific racism."68 

.  Editorial in New York Times: "... flame-throwing treatise ... political ideologue ... long and sordid history ... bigots ... aura of scientific certitude ... Though [it] contains serious scholarship, it is also laced with tendentious interpretation ... chilling conclusions ... an act of advocacy."69  

.  Dorothy Gilliam in the Washington Post: "... the type of racist drivel Murray, Herrnstein, et al., put forth as science ... not accord it the dignity given to honest thought."70 

.  James Ridgeway in The Village Voice: The cover illustration shows a monster-like Charles Murray eating the head of a black on a plate and carries the heading "Racism Gets Respectable." The article's language: "... racialist ideas ... attack on American democracy ... scientific racism ... greed, in the name of excellence ...."71  

.  Columnist Carl Rowan: "... orgy ... arrogant 'social scientist' ... bogus science ... drones on and on ... pseudo-scientists ... have written an excuse for the white majority ... Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitism ... The Murray-Herrnstein book is just another curse...."72 

.  Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of National Rainbow Coalition: "It is an attempt to give intellectual standing and political footing to conservative public policies and social programs of repression and/or neglect ... All such superior and inferior theories are garbage! ... pseudo-scientific theories."73  

            Other commentaries that this author would classify in this category are listed in the footnote.74 

            Some of the articles, joined by one national television broadcast, make their attack in the form of elaborate investigative or historical accounts of what they consider the "sordid" researchers cited in The Bell Curve.  They attack, at the same time, a New York foundation that funded some of the research cited in the book, as well as a 35 year old anthropology journal, The Mankind Quarterly, in which many of the researchers cited by the authors had published.75 Those attacks, profoundly ad hominem, need to be considered on their merits and are beyond the scope of this report.  

Commentators who assert the rights of inquiry and discussion 

            In opposition to the reactions just discussed, a few authors took their stand in favor of free research and discussion.             

            Those who spoke up against the "demonization" of inquiry into the significance of heredity and race differences include Samuel Francis, Thomas Sowell and Daniel Seligman. Referring to "smears and outright personal attacks," Francis says that "what is striking about the 'discussion' is its utter banality and fundamental viciousness ...."76 Sowell observes that "what we are seeing now is the beginning of a campaign for the moral extermination of Charles Murray ...."77 Seligman writes: "It is clear enough what The Bell Curve's liberal critics want. They want its ideas suppressed. They want the data to go away. They want the authors depicted as kooks and extremists."78  

            One of the strongest voices for open inquiry is Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City. Speaking of the attempts to silence conservatives on "talk radio," he says that "these efforts to intimidate ... are outrageous. They have to be more than just resisted - they have to be defeated ... The effort by black and white ideologues to repress the speech of others they find disagreeable or repugnant is also currently focused on Charles Murray."79 Columnist Rory Leishman in London, Ontario, relates his argument to the attempts by the Ontario Human Rights Commission to silence Professor Philippe Rushton: "The Ontario Human Rights Commission is a mockery ... Academic freedom is essential to a democracy ... What is happening to our country? Who would have thought five years ago that university professors would soon be less free to express and debate their ideas in Ontario than in Russia?"80 

            Some commentators make it clear that they support the rights of inquiry and speech even though they have significant disagreement with Herrnstein and Murray. Even though he speaks of "a thesis unhelpful to race relations," William Safire asks "should such analysis be banned, its author condemned as a bigot?," answering "No; we follow inquiry wherever it leads."81  Pat Shipman in National Review's symposium says Herrnstein and Murray's "prognosis is one we must take seriously, whether or not we accept their interpretations of the IQ data."82 The editorial that prefaces The New Republic's symposium refers to the argument that "even to conceive of genetically influenced ethnic differences in I.Q. is racist" and says that "this is an intolerable orthodoxy ... To say that a debate simply cannot be had is to enforce a taboo utterly at odds with free inquiry."83  

            Others who argue in favor of discussion are listed in the footnote.84 Randall Kennedy in The New Republic's symposium is probably the most marginal of those opposing a taboo, basing his opinion on a view that sometimes is used to point to the futility of suppressing  pornography: "Attempting to muzzle [Murray] will only give the book additional, bankable publicity."85 

Specific Issues Discussed 

            This report will not be able to survey more than cursorily the many issues that are discussed in the commentaries, but it is helpful lto give some indication of their content. 

What is “science”? 

            As has been apparent from the denunciations, several authors contend that the research into intelligence, genetics and race is not truly science, but is "pseudo-science."86 None of these are, however, in-depth discussions of the nature of scientific inquiry. 

The nature of intelligence 

            Herrnstein and Murray include a detailed discussion of the competing theories of intelligence in the introduction to The Bell Curve. The debate concerning intelligence and intelligence testing is a major source of material for those condemning The Bell Curve, with attacks on the concept of "g" (for general intelligence),87 arguments for multiple intelligence,88 and other discussion questioning both the validity and utility of the data provided by IQ tests.89  

Whether IQ tests are culturally biased 

            There is a long-established dispute as to the extent to which various IQ tests are "culture-free," as raised by many who condemn The Bell Curve. Thomas Sowell says that culture does count, and so finds no basis for objecting that intelligence tests are "culturally relative."90 Columnists Josh Ozersky, James Strong and Linda J. Collier, however, raise the cultural relativity argument against the tests.91 Brigitte Burger gives a specific spin to the cultural relativity point when she says that IQ tests don't really measure intelligence, but "rather, they measure what I have called 'modern consciousness,' a set of intellectual skills that are particularly relevant to operating in the highly specialized worlds of modern technology and rationalistically organized bureaucracies."92  

The reliability of intelligence tests 

            Jacob Weisberg says that "no test can measure creativity or originality," and adds that "the most obvious argument against the validity of IQ is the fact that scores change."93 Leon Kamin says that tests are manipulated to produce the results that the test-makers expect: "The Stanford-Binet revision of 1937, until fiddling, gave girls much higher I.Q.'s than boys."94 Other commentators point to alleged abuses of testing during the first half of the twentieth century to indicate an unreliable foundation for the tests.95 Others discussing IQ tests as such are listed in the footnote.96  

The role of heredity in determining IQ 

            Columnist James Strong declares that genes play no part in determining intelligence, and Jacob Weisberg argues that "the case for a genetic basis of IQ is flimsy."97 Brent Staples says the connection is "long unproved," with "no plausible data."98 The New York Times editorializes that the evidence is inconclusive.99 Anthony Flint's article in the Boston Globe gives both sides of the heritability issue.100 

            Much of the discussion centers on the question of group differences in intelligence. Richard Nisbett says that "to invoke different patterns of abilities as evidence of a genetic basis for group differences is utterly unfounded."101 Some accept the thesis that IQ is increasing through the generations, and see in that a reason to doubt genetically determined group differences.102 Still more take up the issue of whether there are genetically determined racial differences in cognitive ability: Charles Krauthammer sees no basis for them; an unnamed author in the San Antonio Register asserts that most social scientists agree that environment, not genes, causes racial differences; Pat Shipman says that male-female studies suggest that differences are environmental; Andrew Hacker thinks Herrnstein and Murray biased for focusing on black-white differences when they aren't inquiring into such differences as may exist among sub-groups of whites (such as the Irish, Jews, etc.); and E. D. Hirsch, Jr.,cites a lack of racial differences in situations where excellent education is available.103 

Whether individual or group cognitive ability is subject to improvement through intervention 

            Daniel Seligman speaks of a growing belief among the literate public in limitations on the malleability of human beings, such as with respect to homosexuality where it is said that the preference is "immutable, not a personal choice," although he says that genes should be understood as creating "probabilities, not destiny."104 Most of the authors in this survey who commented on the subject, though, argued for malleability (which bears directly on whether social interventions are beneficial).105

Role of factors other than intelligence in causing success 

            Many commentators take issue with Herrnstein and Murray's stress on intelligence, arguing that a number of other factors play important roles in whether an individual succeeds. In Newsweek, columnist Jerry Adler has a delightful piece which, by playing on the value of "good looks," makes the serious point that IQ is just one factor among others.106 Patrick J. Buchanan points to character and courage; William Safire to motivation, stamina and family values; Michael Young to moral intelligence, virtue, mobility; Brigitte Berger to empathy, sense of humor, religious commitment; Don Munsch to ambition and diligence.107 Other authors speaking to this issue are listed in the footnote.108 

The “cognitive partitioning” thesis that society is becoming bifurcated by intelligence 

            Among those who look at the idea of "cognitive partitioning" in general terms are William F. Buckley, who expresses skepticism over what he likens to grand projections in the vein of Malthus and Marx; columnist Gil Spencer, who makes light of the Murray-Herrnstein thesis without any careful examination; and columnist Richard Grenier, who is not persuaded that anything apocalyptic is impending.109  

            As to the isolation of a cognitive elite, Patrick J. Buchanan opines that it will be neither exclusive nor dominant.110 Michael Novak, on the other hand, believes The Bell Curve's data "make a strong case" that a cognitive elite exists that is increasingly experiencing isolation and loss of realism.111 B. A. Wilson thinks it is inconsistent to be concerned about the isolation of a cognitive elite, when the "old 'legacy' elite" was also isolated.112 

            At the other end of the social scale, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., says that there is a partitioning between the black middle class and the black underclass, and takes a strongly environmentalist position by arguing that this is caused by cutbacks in federal programs rather than by genetic variations within the group.113 

Whether low intelligence contributes to the rise of social pathology 

            Surprisingly, the causes of the social pathology to which Herrnstein and Murray devote several chapters receive relatively little attention in the early reactions, although James Q. Wilson in the National Review symposium discusses the causes of criminality.114  

Whether there is a dysgenic trend 

            Thomas Sowell's article in The American Spectator gets into this issue most, referring to the theory that intelligence is actually increasing generation by generation and saying that "the implications of such rising patterns of mental test performance is devastating to the central hypothesis of those who have long expressed the same fear as Herrnstein and Murray, that the greater fertility of low-IQ groups would lower the national (and international) IQ over time." This is a rational argument that requires a response from those who support The Bell Curve. More than any other argument, the validity of the so-called Flynn-effect (the hypothesis that intelligence is rising rather than falling) challenges the entire Herrnstein/Murray thesis. 115  

What the policy implications should be 

            Little, if any, support is articulated for The Bell Curve's recommendation for a conservative approach to the welfare state.  Charles Krauthammer discusses it, but says that, preferring a color-blind society, he opposes any kind of multiculturalism, even a conservative one in which "each ethnicity finds its honored niche."116 

            Those who speak up on the policy implications are heavily in favor of continued social intervention to address problems in American society. Jacob Weisberg says that it can just as easily be inferred that interventions should be doubled as to conclude that they should be dropped; Nathan Glazer says American society cannot afford to adopt a purely meritocratic approach, and must consider group representation; Loren E. Lomasky in the National Review symposium says Murray's cost-benefit analysis in Losing Ground was better than the pessimism introduced by a consideration of IQ, and although Lomasky does argue for a meritocratic vision (using professional basketball as an example), he believes a realistic social policy can point toward raising the abilities of the less fortunate even if complete social parity is impossible; Dante Ramos argues that "clan pride" would worsen the black condition; Alan Wolfe says it is a mistake to focus on raising IQs, since a broader goal of raising "life's chances" is achievable; and Jason DeParle would expand rather than contract government efforts.117 Others commenting on the policy implications are listed in the footnote.118 

The perceived impact on "liberal myths"  

            It is evident to several commentators that the views expressed in The Bell Curve, if accepted, undercut the main premises of contemporary American "liberalism." David Brooks points to the views' incompatibility with "the holy troika of race, class and gender studies" that "assert discrimination and oppression."119 Michael Barone in the National Review symposium welcomes the undercutting of the rationale for "victimization," which in turn serves as the justification for racial quotas.120 Michael Novak sees that the destruction of these foundational beliefs can lead to a religious-type crisis within liberalism by destroying its adherents' hopes.121  

Perception of weaknesses and inconsistencies in The Bell Curve 

            Alan Ryan in the New York Review of Books believes that the psychometric research by Herrnstein and the social philosophy of Charles Murray are disconnected, arguing that the policy implications are not supported by the IQ analysis. He sees inconsistencies in arguing for the intractability of IQ and then complaining about the dumbing-down of bright children; in arguing that affirmative action causes an inferiority complex in poor students but not seeing a similar effect within the old "legacy" system (where not-so-bright young men from families of high social standing made it through the Ivy League schools); and in asserting that there is a dysgenic trend while citing evidence that IQ levels are rising.122 Christopher Caldwell in The American Spectator is strongly favorable to Herrnstein and Murray, but says that their many efforts at "hedging and conciliating" are "nonsense."123  

Miscellaneous matters of content 

            As may be expected from such a quantity of writing, there are some notable non sequiturs, straw-man fallacies, and extreme factual postulates, in addition to much fine thought. Perhaps the worst non sequitur is that quoted by Nina J. Easton in the Los Angeles Times from President Clinton's October 1994 press conference: "Clinton said: 'I disagree with the proposition that there are inherent racially biased differences in the capacity of the American people to reach their full potential ... It goes against our entire history and our whole tradition.'" This same non sequitur is expressed by former HUD secretary Jack Kemp, a Republican: "I don't like telling people that are poor or low-income that it's a perpetual condition ... I think that is offensive to the American dream that I was taught."124 There is, of course, no relationship between whether a factual proposition is true (or false) and whether someone wants it to be true (or false). 

            Arguably the most extreme factual postulate put forth by any of the commentators is the suggestion by columnist Eugene Brown in the Michigan Daily (University of Michigan) that the ancient Egyptians, with their contributions in mathematics, philosophy and architecture, were black.125 It is possible that here, too, the wish is father to a belief as to fact.


Editor's Note: The following notes not only indicate the source of each reference, but also constitute a bibliography of the commentaries upon which this article is based.



1. Richard Lynn, column, London Times, October 24, 1994.


2. Peter Brimelow, Forbes, October 24, 1994.


3. Kevin Lamb, typewritten column "Taking Exception" dated October 25, 1994.


4. Malcolm W. Browne, New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1994.


5. Daniel Seligman, National Review, October 10, 1994.


6. Hans Eysenck, European (London, England), October 28, 1994.


7. D. J. Tice, column, St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 26, 1994.


8. Christopher Caldwell, book review, The American Spectator, January 1995.


9. Michael Barone, National Review, December 5, 1994.


10. Patrick J. Buchanan, column, Human Events, November 4, 1994.


11. Michael Novak, National Review, December 5, 1994.


12. Charles Krauthammer, column, Washington Post, October 21, 1994.


13. Thomas Sowell, article, The American Spectator, February 1995.


14. William F. Buckley, column, New York Post, October 12, 1994.


15. Richard Grenier, column, The Washington Times, national weekly edition, October 24-30, 1994.


16. Elise Houlik, article, The Hopkins Standard, November 4-10, 1994.


17. Mel Small, book review, The Detroit News-Free Press, October 23, 1994.


18. Nina J. Easton, article, Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1994.


19. Ellen K. Coughlin, article, The Chronicles of Higher Education, October 26, 1994.


20. Gil Spencer, column, Daily Times (Primos, PA), October 12, 1994.


21. Anthony Flint, article, Boston Globe, August 9, 1994.


22. Robert S. Boyd, article, Wichita Eagle, October 30, 1994.


23. Michael Young, National Review, December 5, 1994; Brigitte Burger, National Review, December 5, 1994; Alexander Star, The New Republic, October 31,1994; Martin Peretz, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


24. James Powell, article, Insight, October 31, 1994.


25. Peter Passell, book review, New York Times, October 27, 1994.


26. Richard Nisbett, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


27. Ann Hulbert, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


28. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., column, New York Times, October 29, 1994.


29. George Melloan, column, Wall Street Journal, October 31, 1994.


30. Letters-to-the-editor by B. A. Wilson, Kathryn Markel, and Eric Oddleifson, Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1994.


31. Peter Shrag, column, Baltimore Sun, October 29, 1994.


32. John Leo, column, U. S. News & World Report, October 24, 1994.


33. William F. Allman, U. S. News & World Report, October 24, 1994.


34. Scott McConnell, column, New York Post, October 14, 1994.


35. "American Survey," The Economist, October 22, 1994.


36. Quoted in news article, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 31, 1994.


37. Doug Hufnagel, column, Camden Herald, November 10, 1994; Don Munsch, column, Denison Herald, October 23, 1994; Sheldon Smith, column, Milwaukee Journal, November 6, 1994; Mary Meehan, book review, National Catholic Register, November 13, 1994.


38. Frank Rich, column, New York Times, October 27, 1994.


39. Josh Ozersky, column, Observer (Notre Dame and St. Mary's College, November 3, 1994.


40. Barbara Vobejda, article, Washington Post, October 21, 1994.


41. Book review, San Antonio Register, October 27, 1994.


42. Joyce Evans, column, Milwaukee Sentinel, November 7, 1994.


43. Debra Viadero, Education Week, October 26, 1994.


44. Anita Manning, U.S.A. Today, October 19, 1994.


45. Richard Lacayo, article, Time, October 24, 1994.


46. Jim Holt, op-ed column, New York Times, October 19, 1994.


47. David Stipp, book review, Wall Street Journal, October 10, 1994; John Boudreau, by-lined news article, Valley Times (Pleasanton, California), November 7, 1994.


48. Brent Staples, New York Times' "Editorial Notebook," October 28, 1994.


49. Dante Ramos, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


50. Stanley Crouch, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


51. Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


52. Jason DeParle, New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994.


53. Linda J. Collier, column, Philadelphia Tribune, October 28, 1994.


54. Robert N. Taylor, by-lined news briefs, Call (Kansas City, Missouri), November 4, 1994.


55. Scott McConnell, column, New York Post, October 14, 1994.


56. Rod Dreher, article, Washington Times, October 19, 1994.


57. Howard Kurtz, article, Washington Post, October 14, 1994.


58. Commentaries by Glenn Loury, Nathan Glazer and Hugh Pearson, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


59. Richard John Neuhaus, National Review, December 5, 1994.


60. John Sedgwick, GQ, November 1994.


61. Jason DeParle, New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994.


62. Eugene D. Genovese, National Review, December 5, 1994.


63. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, book review, Washington Post, November 6, 1994. 64. Sally Steenland, column, Wichita Eagle, November 18, 1994.


65. Jacob Weisberg, article, New York, October 17, 1994.


66. Jeffrey Rosen and Charles Lane, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


67. Alan Wolfe, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


68. John B. Judis, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


69. Editorial, New York Times, October 24, 1994.


70. Dorothy Gilliam, column, Washington Post, October 22, 1994.


71. James Ridgeway, article, The Village Voice, November 15, 1994.


72. Carl Rowan, column, Wichita Eagle, October 23, 1994.


73. Rev. Jesse Jackson, column, Washington Afro-American and the Washington Tribune, October 22, 1994.


74. See Alan Ryan, article, New York Review of Books, November 17, 1994; E. J. Dionne, Jr., column, Washington Post, October 18, 1994; Henry Louis Gates,Jr., The New Republic, October 31, 1994; Michael Lind, The New Republic, October 31, 1994; "Red Scientist," letter-to-editor, Brooklyn Challenge-Desafio, October 5, 1994; DeNeen L. Brown, article, Washington Post, November 22, 1994; James Strong, column, St. Louis American, November 3, 1994; Editorial, The Village Voice, November 8, 1994; Editorial, Daily Challenge (NYC), October 28, 1994; Gary Atlin, column, Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ont.), November 1,1994; Robert Reno, column, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), November 4, 1994.


75. See John Sedgwick, article, GQ, November 1994; Adam Miller, article, Rolling Stone, October 20, 1994; Charles Lane, article, New York Review of Books, December 1, 1994; James Ridgeway, article, The Village Voice, November 15, 1994; and the national television feature Dateline NBC on November 22, 1994.


76. Samuel Francis, column, Human Events, November 4, 1994.


77. Thomas Sowell, column, Human Events, November 4, 1994.


78. Daniel Seligman, National Review, December 5, 1994.


79. Ed Koch, column, New York Post, November 11, 1994.


80. Rory Leishman, column, London (Ont.) Free Press, October 22, 1994.


81. William Safire, column, New York Times, October 20, 1994.


82. Pat Shipman, National Review, December 5, 1994.


83. Editorial preface, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


84. See David Brooks, book review, Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1994; editorial, National Review, December 5, 1994; Arthur Jensen, National Review, December 5, 1994; George Melloan, column, Wall Street Journal, October 31, 1994; Malcolm W. Browne, book review, New York Times, October 16, 1994; Ellen K. Coughlin, The Chronicles of Higher Education, October 26, 1994; Washington Times news article, November 4, 1994; Hans Eysenck, European (London, Engl.), October 28, 1994; Robert S. Boyd, article, Wichita Eagle, October 30, 1994; Richard Grenier, column, Washington Times national weekly edition, October 24, 1994.


85. Randall Kennedy, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


86. Kevin Lamb, release of column "Taking Exception" dated October 25, 1994; Peter Shrag, column, Baltimore Sun, October 29, 1994; Jim Holt, op-ed column, New York Times, October 19, 1994; James Ridgeway, article, The Village Voice, November 15, 1994; Robert Reno, column, Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), November 4, 1994.


87. Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic, October 31, 1994; Jane Braaten, letter- to-editor, The Chronicles of Higher Education, November 23, 1994.


88. Eric Oddleifson, letter-to-editor, Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1994; David Stipp, book review, Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1994; William F.Allman, article, U. S. News & World Report, October 24, 1994.


89. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, book review, Washington Post, November 6, 1994; Ellen K. Coughlin, The Chronicles of Higher Education, October 26, 1994; Elise Houlik, article, The Hopkins Standard, November 4-10, 1994.


90. Thomas Sowell, article, The American Spectator, February 1995.


91. Josh Ozersky, column, Observer (Notre Dame and St. Mary's College), November 3, 1994; James Strong, column, St. Louis American, November 3, 1994; Linda J. Collier, column, Philadelphia Tribune, October 28, 1994.


92. Brigitte Burger, National Review, December 5, 1994.


93. Jacob Weisberg, article, New York, October 17, 1994.


94. Leon Kamin, letter-to-editor, The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 23, 1994.


95. See Brent Staples, New York Times "Editorial Notebook," October 28, 1994; James Strong, column, St. Louis American, November 3, 1994; John Boudreau, bylined news article, Valley Times (Pleasanton, CA), November 7, 1994.


96. See Debra Viadero, Education Week, October 26, 1994; Anita Manning, USA Today, October 19, 1994; John Sedgwick, article, GQ, November 1994; Jason DeParle, article, New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994; Kevin Lamb, release of column dated October 25, 1994; Eric Oddleifson, letter-to-editor, Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1994.


97. James Strong, column, St. Louis American, November 3, 1994; Jacob Weisberg, article, New York, October 17, 1994.


98. Brent Staples, New York Times "Editorial Notebook," October 28, 1994.


99. Editorial, New York Times, October 24, 1994.


100. Anthony Flint, article, Boston Globe, August 9, 1994.


101. Richard Nisbett, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


102. Thomas Sowell, column, Human Events, November 4, 1994; Ann Hulbert, The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


103. Charles Krauthammer, column, Washington Post, October 21, 1994; Book review, San Antonio Register, October 27, 1994; Pat Shipman, National Review, December 5, 1994; Andrew Hacker, The New Republic, October 31, 1994; E. D. Hirsch, Jr., column, New York Times, October 29, 1994.


104. Daniel Seligman, article, National Review, October 10, 1994.


105. See Nathan Glazer, National Review, December 5, 1994; Richard Nisbett, The New Republic, October 31, 1994; John Sedgwick, article, GQ, November 1994; Richard Lacayo, article, Time, October 24, 1994; Alan Ryan, article, New York Review of Books, November 17, 1994; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, book review, Washington Post, November 6, 1994; David Stipp, book review, Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1994; Scott McConnell, New York Post, October 14, 1994; Gary Atlin, column, Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ont.), November 1, 1994.


106. Jerry Adler, column, Newsweek, November 7, 1994.


107. Patrick J. Buchanan, column, Human Events, November 4, 1994; William Safire, New York Times, October 20, 1994; Michael Young, National Review, December 5, 1994; Brigitte Berger, National Review, December 5, 1994; Don Munsch, column, Denison (Texas) Herald, October 23, 1994.


108. Earnest van den Haag, National Review, December 5, 1994; Michael Novak, National Review, December 5, 1994; George Melloan, column, Wall Street Journal, October 31, 1994; Malcolm W. Browne, book review, New York Times, October 16, 1994; Sally Steenland, column, Wichita Eagle, November 18,1994; Sheldon Smith, column, Milwaukee Journal, November 6, 1994.


109. William F. Buckley, column, New York Post, October 12, 1994; Gil Spencer, column, Primos (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, October 12, 1994; Richard Grenier, column, Washington Times national weekly edition, October 24, 1994.


110. Patrick J. Buchanan, column, Human Events, November 4, 1994.


111. Michael Novak, National Review, December 5, 1994.


112. B. A. Wilson, letter-to-editor, Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1994.


113. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New Republic, October 31, 1994.


114. James Q. Wilson, National Review, December 5, 1994.


115. Thomas Sowell, article, The American Spectator, February 1995.


116. Charles Krauthammer, column, Washington Post, October 21, 1994.


117. Jacob Weisberg, article, New York, October 17, 1994; Nathan Glazer, National Review, December 5, 1994; Loren E. Lomasky, National Review, December 5, 1994; Dante Ramos, The New Republic, October 31, 1994; Alan Wolfe, The New Republic, October 31, 1994; Jason DeParle, article, New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994.


118. Ann Hulbert, Randall Kennedy and Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic, October 31, 1994; Richard Lacayo, Time, October 24, 1994; Kathryn Markel, letter-to-editor, Wall Street Journal, October 28, 1994.


119. David Brooks, book review, Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1994.


120. Michael Barone, National Review, December 5, 1994.


121. Michael Novak, National Review, December 5, 1994.


122. Alan Ryan, article, New York Review of Books, November 17, 1994.


123. Christopher Caldwell, article, The American Spectator, January, 1995.


124. President Clinton is quoted, apparently favorably, in Nina J. Easton, article, Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1994; and former HUD secretary Kemp is quoted in a news article, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 31, 1994.


125. Eugene Brown, column, Michigan Daily, November 4, 1994.