Whenever The Bell Curve is mentioned, someone is likely to claim that it has been "decisively refuted" by Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, makes three assertions. First, intelligence is the single most important factor in determining academic success and prosperity, and it is highly important in determining other beneficial outcomes in life. Second, intelligence is primarily determined by genes. Third, the average intelligence of some races is higher than it is for other races, for reasons that are again genetic.
These assertions infuriate many liberals. Nevertheless, few conservatives embrace them. This may be because they imply that there is little moral significance to the distribution of wealth and income. Charles Murray has acknowledged, "science is demonstrating that no one deserves his IQ." The Bell Curve suggests that the rich are not better people than the rest of us. They are more fortunate in a way the rest of us would rather not think about. Moreover, their achievements are out of reach for most of us.
Rich conservatives want us to believe that we can achieve what they have achieved if only we apply ourselves. They fear that if we don't believe that, we may believe that raising their taxes is a good idea.
Therefore, The Mismeasure of Man has received a positive reception. Unfortunately, Professor Gould's arguments are so erroneous as to indicate deliberate deception.
In much of the book he describes and refutes nineteenth century explanations of racial differences in intelligence and behavior. Think about that for a moment. During the nineteenth century everyone knew that the sun provided the earth with warmth and light. Nevertheless, physicists and astronomers had no concept of the nuclear fusion that made this possible. Disproving an nineteenth theory on how the sun provides warmth and light does not mean that the sun does not provide warmth and light.
During the first half of the nineteenth century Samuel George Morton used lead shot and a large number of skulls in order to argue that Germans, English, and Anglo Americans have larger brains on the average then other races. Professor Gould claims that Samuel Morton fudged his results.
However, a study by an undergraduate at Macalester College in St. Paul, John S. Michael, concluded that it was Professor Gould who fudged his results.
When a 1996 edition of The Mismeasure of Man came out Professor Gould did not mention John Michel's study. This led Ralph L. Holloway, an expert on human evolution at Columbia to say, "I just didn't trust Gould. I had the feeling that his ideological stance was supreme...I just felt he was a charlatan."
Professor Gould did make a few legitimate observations about Samuel Morton's research. For example, larger people tend to have larger brains than smaller people, even though larger people do not tend to be more intelligent than smaller people. When comparing Caucasians with Mongoloids, Samuel Morton included Peruvian Indians, who tend to be small with the Mongoloids. He omitted East Indians. East Indians are considered to be Caucasians. They are also small.
Nevertheless, more recent brain measurements with larger samples and more advanced methods demonstrate that when body size is held constant there is still a strong correlation between brain size and intelligence. Moreover, Orientals (inhabitants of China, Korea, and Japan) tend to have larger brains than whites, who tend to have larger brains than Negroes. Finally, Orientals tend to have higher IQ's than whites, who tend to have higher averages than Negros.
Professor Gould points out that nineteenth century theories of racial differences overestimated the comparative intelligence of white Gentiles of north western European origins. Contemporary race realists like Jared Taylor, Professor J. Philippe Rushton, and Richard Lynn freely acknowledge that Orientals tend to be more intelligent than white Gentiles. Richard Lynn has written a book describing the intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews that is entitled The Chosen People: A Study of Jewish Intelligence and Achievement.
In their book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution University of Utah professors Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending explain how the Ashkenazi evolved to have the highest average IQ of any racial group.
By not acknowledging this, Professor Gould leaves some of his readers with the illusion that those who inquire into individual and racial differences in intelligence are motivated by white racism and anti-Semitism.
In his Reflections on the Revolution in France Edmund Burke wrote, "an absurd theory on one side of a question forms no justification for alleging a false fact, or promulgating mischievous maxims on the other."
Early hereditarians overestimated the average intelligence of those of north western European ancestry, while underestimating that of Italians, Orientals, and Ashkenazi Jews. Professor Gould draws attention to this. Unfortunately, he does this in order to suggest that differences in average intelligence are insignificant and easily bridged by social reform and social welfare spending.
Professor Gould devotes a chapter exposing errors and weaknesses in IQ testing among military recruits during World War I. During World War I the entire concept of IQ and the practice of IQ testing were very new. Testing the ability to learn, rather than what has been learned, is difficult. It should not surprise us that methods used during the First World War were inexact.
Stephen J. Gould wants us to believe that IQ testing during World War I was a politically malevolent waste of time and money. If this was true, the U.S. military would not have continued the practice. The U.S. military has remained solidly committed to intelligence testing because it has proven its ability to separate recruits who can quickly learn complex skills from those who cannot.
In 1984 George Orwell wrote: "All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers, but they could not afford to encourage any illusion that tended to impair military efficiency. So long as defeat meant the loss of independence, or some other result generally held to be undesirable, the precautions against defeat had to be serious. Physical facts could not be ignored. In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four."
It is all right for the dean of admissions of a university to pretend that IQ differences do not matter, and that blacks and Hispanics do not have less ability; they have different ability. Inadequate blacks and Hispanics pay the same tuition as do competent whites and Asians. When beneficiaries of affirmative action drop out or flunk out, the university still deposits their tuition money in the bank. The university can encourage blacks and Hispanics who do not belong on campus to take useless puff courses in black and Hispanic studies. When they graduate and end up in minimum wage jobs the university has still not lost. It can brag about having a student body "that looks like America," and it can continue the scam.
Those in charge of the U.S. military cannot afford these delusions. That is why they have continued to perform intelligence testing, despite pressures to lower standards for blacks and Hispanics.
Over the years mental aptitude testing has become better able to predict intellectual outcomes. You will not learn this by reading The Mismeasure of Man.
Professor Gould obliquely acknowledges a strong correlation between different mental abilities. Then he spends much time arguing against those who he claims maintain a one to one correspondence. He argues that the lack of a one to one correspondence between intellectual abilities somehow means that the concept of IQ is invalid. Nevertheless, intellectual abilities correlate in ways that intellectual talent and athletic talent do not. This is why elite universities sometimes give athletic scholarships to football and basketball players who can't read at a sixth grade level.
Stephen Gould quietly acknowledges that intelligence is partly determined by genes. Then he ignores the fact that those on the other side of the dispute accede some importance to environment. In the process he leaves his more naïve readers with the assumption that intelligence is highly malleable.
When reading Professor Gould's book I was reminded of Voltaire's letter to Rousseau after reading Rousseau's "Essay on the Arts and Sciences." Allow me to paraphrase: Professor Gould, never before has anyone used so much intelligence to encourage us to believe that intelligence does not matter.
A candid, public debate on this subject has been effectively suppressed. Those who agree publicly with The Bell Curve and similar books often jeopardize their careers. Many college students are required to read The Mismeasure of Man. I suspect that most are required to agree with it in order to get a good grade. The Mismeasure of Man would be more valuable as part of the reading list of a college course on logical fallacies. Many fallacies are committed in this book, including an appeal to the consequences of a belief, appeal to emotion, guilt by association, and the straw man fallacy.
Any teacher who has taught for very long in a multi racial public school that practices social promotion, but that does not segregate students into ability levels knows that some students learn faster with less effort than other students. They know that those in the first group can learn what those in the second group cannot. They know that students in some racial groups tend to learn faster than students in other racial groups. They know that while learning ability correlates with parental income, there are notable exceptions. The logical conclusion to be drawn from these observations is consistent with the thesis of The Bell Curve, rather than that of The Mismeasure of Man.
You don't need to read The Bell Curve to know that The Mismeasure of Man was written by an ideologue with a political agenda. Spend several months as a substitute teacher in a predominantly black public school. You will find that the problem is not that the toilets don't flush. The problem is that white students who try to use the toilets get beaten up. You will find that the great majority of the black students are several years behind, that many are rude and disrespectful, and that a fairly large minority of the boys are dangerous and criminal.
SAT and ACT scores are not equivalent to IQ scores. Nevertheless, they correlate. From 1987 to 2012 the race gap in SAT scores between whites and blacks increased. The ACT scores in 2005 show a similar gap.
Charles Murray put it best when he wrote in "The Inequality Taboo," "specific policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm." The Mismeasure of Man is an articulate expression of the delusions which have since 1960 inspired government policies that have wasted several trillion dollars while raising rates of crime and illegitimacy.
Stephen Jay Gould used Darwinian evolution as a weapon against Protestant Fundamentalists. Nevertheless, Charles Darwin believed that innate differences between individuals, and average differences between sub species and human races are of critical significance. He was sympathetic toward blacks, but his sympathy was motivated by pity. He believed that blacks are inferior. Professor Gould ignored Charles Darwin by arguing that innate intelligence differences are unimportant.
The Mismeasure of Man does not decisively refute The Bell Curve and similar books. Those books will be decisively refuted when a method is developed that significantly and permanently raises the intelligence of poor children of low intelligence, and when the race gap in intellectual performance is closed. Head Start failed to achieve the first goal. No Child Left Behind failed to achieve the second goal. Two generations of failed policies are enough.
Those who believe that IQ differences between individuals and average differences between nations and races are unimportant or significantly changeable believe something for which there is no evidence at all.