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Charles Murray Re-enters Great American Inequality Debate
Social scientist Charles Murray, the co-author of the 1994 bestseller The Bell Curve, is perhaps America's premier data analyst. His 1984 book Losing Ground provided the intellectual impetus for the successful 1996 welfare reform law. His 2003 work Human Accomplishment is a delightful statistical romp among the most eminent scientists and artists in global history.
Now, Murray is back with a landmark essay, "The Inequality Taboo," in the September issue of Commentary. The printed text alone totals 7,500 words, and the web version contains over 10,000 additional words of notes and sources. If published just by itself, Murray's 1,500-word Footnote 44 would rank as the crucial statement on the recent trends and future prospects of the white-black IQ gap.
Known among his friends for his remarkable judiciousness, Murray is a rather sensitive soul. The foul calumny he has been subjected to over the last eleven years must have been tiresome.
Murray hadn't crafted an essay about IQ since his little known (but important) 1999 effort reporting the then latest results of the enormous military-funded National Longitudinal Study of Youth look at IQ and life outcomes. This year, however, the absurd denunciations visited upon Harvard president Larry Summers for offering what Murray calls "a few mild, speculative, off-the-record remarks about innate differences between men and women in their aptitude for high-level science and mathematics," persuaded Murray that intellectual discourse in America had decayed so shamefully that he needed to return to the fray.
"The Inequality Taboo" consists of three parts:
- A defense of Summers's discussion of why brainiac math nerds are more likely to be male than female;
- An updating on the last decade's worth of new findings on the white-black IQ gap;
- And a ringing call to Americans to start discussing honestly the group differences that we see every day:
"What good can come of raising this divisive topic? The honest answer is that no one knows for sure. What we do know is that the taboo has crippled our ability to explore almost any topic that involves the different ways in which groups of people respond to the world around them—which means almost every political, social, or economic topic of any complexity."
Murray suggests that both high-end male-female cognitive differences and the white-black IQ gap appear to be more or less "intractable"—he writes:
"Whatever the precise partitioning of causation may be (we seldom know), policy interventions can only tweak the difference at the margins."
Murray's defense of Summers is well-done, although the stupidity and bad faith of the attacks on the Harvard president were so blatant that lesser analysts managed to make most of Murray's points last winter.
One interesting fact that Murray doesn't mention is that the much-demonized IQ researcher Cyril Burt was the first to determine that women were equal to men in intelligence. British psychometrician Chris Brand writes:
"[I]n 1912, the British psychologist Cyril Burt overturned Victorian wisdom by finding males to have the same average general intelligence as females (using the new Binet tests from France), [and] this finding was replicated in countless investigations (and qualified by the observations that males have a wider range of IQs—thus producing more geniuses and more mental defectives—and that adolescent boys only temporarily lag behind adolescent girls in mental development)."
The majority of psychometricians, including, most notably, Arthur Jensen, support Burt's finding of mean gender equality. (However, Richard Lynn has a paper coming out arguing that men average a third of a standard deviation—or five points—higher in IQ).
Nor is there any dispute that, just as Summers said, at the extreme right edge of the Bell Curve, from which Harvard's math and science professors are drawn, there are more men than women.
One of the most newsworthy aspects of "The Inequality Taboo" is Murray's view that the white-black IQ gap may have narrowed slightly in recent years. According to Murray's article, the three most recent re-normings of major IQ tests came up with a mean white-black gap of 0.92 standard deviations, or 14 points.
That doesn't sound like much of a change from the one standard deviation (15 points) racial gap that IQ realists have been talking about for decades. But, in reality, they've been intentionally understating the traditional size of the difference. A 2001 meta-analysis of eight decades of data suggested a 1.1 standard deviation gap (16.5) points. So, if this new 14 point gap found in the three recent re-normings holds up as more data comes in, we may have seen some significant progress on this massive social problem.
Currently, though, the evidence remains far from clear. Murray writes in a footnote:
"Forced to make a bet, I would guess that the black-white difference in IQ has dropped by somewhere in the range of .10–.20 standard deviations over the last few decades. I must admit, however, that I am influenced by a gut-level conviction that the radical improvement in the political, legal, and economic environment for blacks in the last half of the 20th century must have had an effect on IQ."
Murray is too honest, however, to skip over the other, more disturbing, possibility: that the greater fertility of lower IQ women has had a dysgenic and/or "dyscultural" effect. Murray has calculated that 60% of the babies born to black women who began participating in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth in 1979 were born to women with IQs below the black female average of 85.7. Only 7% were born to black women with IQs over 100.
I hope that the improved nutrition, health care, and other environmental enhancements that have allowed African-Americans to come to dominate basketball, football, and sprinting in recent decades have also driven up black IQ scores more than the tendency of intelligent black women to remain childless has driven them down.
But the overall situation remains murky. It needs more research than is currently being funded.
Does part of the white-black IQ gap have a genetic basis? Murray suggests an experiment that might prove conclusive:
"To the extent that genes play a role, IQ will vary by racial admixture. In the past, studies that have attempted to test this hypothesis have had no accurate way to measure the degree of admixture, and the results have been accordingly muddy. The recent advances in using genetic markers solve that problem. Take a large sample of racially diverse people, give them a good IQ test, and then use genetic markers to create a variable that no longer classifies people as 'white' or 'black,' but along a continuum. Analyze the variation in IQ scores according to that continuum. The results would be close to dispositive."
I bet, however, that Murray's critics won't rush to fund this study and put their money where their mouths are.
In his coda, Murray says:
"Thus my modest recommendation, requiring no change in laws or regulations, just a little more gumption. Let us start talking about group differences openly—all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and non-poor that could inform policy for reducing poverty."
Sounds like the table of contents for VDARE.com!
"Even to begin listing the topics that could be enriched by an inquiry into the nature of group differences is to reveal how stifled today's conversation is… Let us stop being afraid of data that tell us a story we do not want to hear, stop the name-calling, stop the denial, and start facing reality."
I'm sometimes asked why I come up with more new insights than the typical pundit. (Here's a list of four dozen things I've either discovered myself, accurately forecasted, or scooped the rest of the press about).
It's not because I'm smarter. It's because I just tell the truth.
The great thing about truths is that they are causally connected to all the other truths in the world. If you follow one truth bravely, it will lead you to another.
In contrast, lies, ignorance, and wishful thinking are dead ends.
The Great American Inequality Debate is in one of those dead ends. Charles Murray—and we here at VDARE.COM—are trying to rescue it.