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on 27 April 2017
Very thought provoking book. Coldly clinical analysis of the implications of how American society is evolving and the implications therein, backed by hard statistics and a maths primer to help those without a Maths degreee (me). understand. This book has been attacked by the Left as being racist, elitist and downright bad, but it's just reporting on the observations. I'm sure it is very well received in China - the PRC does not operate on sentiment.
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on 23 April 2017
Have only looked briefly at this, I tend to pile up books to read whilst on holiday . This book is written so that one can scan a synopsis of each chapter which seems a good idea.. I look forward to reading it on the next cruise!
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on 16 June 2017
Written 25 years ago but the ability of people to believe something while the statistical evidence is showing they are wrong has if anything increased. It would be interesting to see what the author's view of the somewhat dystopian future he paints in the book is now, with the advent of the internet and robotics.
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First, let us dispose of a misconception: "The Bell Curve" has not been "widely condemned as junk in scientific journals worldwide" — rather, it has been so condemned in the tabloid press. A task force set up by the American Psychological Association explicitly to investigate it confirmed its main conclusions*; as did a letter to the Wall Street Journal by fifty-two leading psychometricians, a copy of which can be found on the Net ("Mainstream Science on Intelligence"), also reprinted as an appendix in H.J. Eysenck's Intelligence: A New Look).

For myself, I found this a strange book in some ways; and the reason is that it falls logically into three parts. The first, and by far the largest, covers the available evidence on IQ and heredity. The second and third parts extrapolate present trends to the future (with unpleasant consequences) and make policy recommendations to deal with these. Thus almost by definition these parts are on shakier ground.

- The first section seems to me a very able summary: it defines its terms, states its assumptions, produces its evidence and argues the merits of the various theories purporting to explain it. So there s no need for you to take my word (or anyone's) as to whether the thesis is justified; the evidence and the arguments are both there; if you're capable of rational thought, you should be able to decide for yourself. And this is what I advise you to do.

- The second part, as I mentioned, extrapolates present trends: in particular, the potential stratification of society by intelligence into a hereditary élite and underclass.

Here the authors start to part company with some (at least) of the aforementioned psychometricians. H.J. Eysenck, for instance — certainly in the "hereditarian" camp as regards IQ — writes of an earlier article in "Atlantic Monthly":

"Here Herrnstein is definitely beginning to run off the rails in his predictions (...) he disregards the importance of regression, the genetic factor which causes children of very bright and very dull parents to regress towards the mean of the whole population (...) [R]egression makes it quite impossible that castes should be created which will breed true — that is, where the children will have the same IQ as their parents. Within a few generations, the differences in IQ between the children of very bright and very dull parents will have been completely wiped out." (The Inequality of Man, pp.213-219)

Richard Lynn, however, disagrees, pointing out that if regression operated in all cases, then dog-breeding, and indeed evolution as a whole, would be impossible.

- The third part, making policy recommendations, is well outside my area of competence; so I offer no comment.

There is, however, another misconception to rebut, and that is that "people wanting an honest scientific analysis of the claims of racial superiority should read Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man".

Gould's writing certainly has many admirable qualities, but honesty and scientific impartiality are not conspicuous among them — for specifics, see (for example) Chapter 3 of John L. Casti's Paradigms Lost. Or see J. Philippe Rushton's review of "Mismeasure", or Arthur Jensen's review ("The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons"), or John B. Carroll's, all of which you can find on the Web.

I've been following the debate over IQ for 40 years, and "The Mismeasure of Man" has more factual errors per page than any book I've ever read.

For a critical but still rational review of Herrnstein & Murray, I suggest Thomas Sowell's from "American Spectator," which can also be found on the Web ("Ethnicity and IQ").

If you want a balanced account of the IQ field, try Intelligence: The Battle for the Mind, half of which is written by H.J. Eysenck and half by Leon Kamin, with a final rejoinder from each. The best summary I'm aware of remains, despite its age, H.J. Eysenck's The IQ Argument (Race, Intelligence and Education in the U.K.); but good luck getting hold of it!

*Update: I should have said that although the APA report could not (or at least did not) explicitly rebut any of Herrnstein & Murray's data, or their logic, it refused to endorse their conclusions.

For a more detailed factual account of the tactics of Gould et al, I recommend Ullica Segerstråle's Defenders of the Truth, although I'm not sure I'm convinced by her psychological diagnosis.

Probably the best survey of the various issues and viewpoints that I'm aware of is The Race Gallery by Marek Cohn (1995).
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on 9 February 2015
A thorough scientific and thought provoking analysis of the impact of measured IQ on life prospects. If being born with a low IQ consigns you to the economic underclass with little hope of redress, then society must take note and act appropriately. So far so good but then the authors bring race into it! Since no policy prescription would ever be based on the race of the individual, only on their measured IQ, it is difficult to see what value there is in their observations of the correlation between race and measured IQ: particularly where much of this correlation might be due to other cultural and social environment issues. A potentially valuable scientific work has thus been consigned to the world of shouting matches and may soon be forgotten by the wider public.
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on 11 April 1999
I picked up "The Bell Curve" three years ago, and resolved to read it cover to cover, which I did. Quite a lot to absorb, but ultimately worth the time investment. I wouldn't suggest it for those who have less than a passing interest in race issues, since the authors took a measured and scientific approach to an otherwise emotional topic. This makes for a thoughtful but demanding read, which I believe is a far superior approach to the topic than a "jazzed up", rhetoric filled, pulp novel, written for popular consumption. However, this means that the book is slow and requires careful reading in order to fully get at what the authors are saying. Most importantly, contrary to popular belief, the book is not all about race. Rather, the majority of the book envolves analysis of race neutral studies. Approximately 20% of the book is actually dedicated to racial analysis, and it is my honest opinion, having read the book, that the authors took a good-faith approach to a controversial topic. I do not know if their analysis was correct, but I do know that the controversy was undeserved. The hype that surrounded this book was less about the authors work and more about our society's inability to come to grips with the issue of race. In the final analysis, all the book proved was that the issue of race is far more complex than the popular media would have you believe. If you really care about this topic, read this book. Really read it, and then think about it. Then, whether you are outraged or inspired, atleast you will have a leg to stand on when you quote/criticise the work.
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on 29 September 2005
When this book was first published I read quite a few "reviews" of the book and attacks on Charles Murray in the media. Having read the book, it seemed to me that none of the people attacking it or its author had actually read it. It's clear that many of the people reviewing this book here haven't read it either.
Contrary to what you may have heard, The Bell Curve is not some sort of racist polemic. It has one chapter, out of twenty-odd, on the subject of race and IQ and the discussion in that chapter is backed up by solid data and hedged with the usual ifs and buts that psychologists always bring up whan discussing IQ.
So what is the book actually about? Well, the authors' thesis is that as life has become both more mobile (e.g. greater equality of opportunity) than in the past, the intelligent and well educated people end up at the top of society and the less intelligent and well-educated at the bottom. This has led to problems for those at the bottom. I could elaborate, but you can read the book for yourself.
I was not 100% convinced by the authors' views on IQ, and their analysis of American society didn't address the fact that the USA is one of the most economically unequal societies in the world. Also, I think they could have been rather MORE daring sometimes, but I guess they were trying hard not to offend anyone. Nevertheless, the authors' deserve praise for raising some original questions and trying to address controversial topics in a mature way.
Anyone in the UK who enjoyed the book might also like 'Mind the Gap' by Ferdinand Mount, which is not about IQ but also addresses the problem of the widening gap between rich and poor, specifically in Britain.
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on 1 June 1999
I first heard of the Bell Curve over four years ago while attending one of my social science university classes. The Bell Curve got so much positive attention as a revolutionary, critical review of issues so current and pressing within our society, at the time, and today that I felt I would really appreciate reading it and reviewing the authors scientific efforts. As I studied the book (text) over a period of months, I could not help notice all of the off-the-cuff commentary, quick-shots really, by people who, obviously, had not studied the text nor the issues covered within the text. I heard claims of racism, subtle racism disguised as science, claims, to my complete astonishment, such as, "dirty little book, that's all it is". There seems to be some confusion, amazingly, as to what this book is all about. I guess that for some reason the standard remedy of "read the book" just doesn't seem to work here. I have noticed that a common trend among many of Murray's negative commentators: their ostentatious inability to distinguish the difference between the physical characteristic of "Ethnicity" and the sociological characteristics describing "One's ability to succeed in life". I continually read that the Bell Curve is about the relationship between "Intellect" and "Ethnicity"; this simply is NOT the case. In fact, as you will find, upon studying the text, the Bell Curve IS about the relationship between "Intellect" and "One's ability to succeed in life". I suppose that sociologists, psychologists etc... who hold dearly to conventional beliefs and "understandings" about sociological phenemon have, in light of Murray's and Hernstein's study, found themselves in a difficult spot and deeply disturbed. But so, I imagine, did followers of Archimedes when Newton developed his three laws of motion, refuting the conventional wisdom of the time that motion necessitated a force. And so, I imagine, did followers of conventional wisdom of the time, when Galileo presented his study, upholding the Coprenician system of planetary orbits. NO, in fact, they didn't like Galileo's findings at all, so much so that they forced him to renounce his SCIENTIFIC findings! It is scary to me, but when I, a student of the Bell Curve, see these commentators on telivision or read of them in the papers.... speaking of "dirty little books", "racism disguised as science" etc..., I have the feeling that If this were not the 20th century, and if we did not have the constitution protecting our right to publish scientific findings, these very same negative commentators might just try to force Murray to renounce his scientific findings, keeping us all in the dark for as long as possible. Well, fact is: the Earth does rotate around the Sun, folks. Read the book, get a telescope, know the truth.
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on 15 April 2017
"Very good". Quite battered and curled, in fact.
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on 10 August 2000
Lest it be misunderstood and I fear that is precisely what the critics of this book are doing, the whole point of Bell Curve is to show how important it is to treat people as individuals, not groups. However, this group-specific treatment is precisely what is happening in the current multicultural American educational system. The point is that because different groups (ethnic, racial etc.) perform differently in different subjects, we should not insist on quotas and precentages to be met in any area of public life. This is, in my opinion, the correct reading of the book and the lesson to be derived from it. Naturally, those who wish to use this book in order to gain from it ammunition for their racist thinking will do so, but they are doing harm to serious scholarly research.
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