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January 08, 2005

Sowell vs The Bell Curve

I didn't know that Thomas Sowell was one of the folks weighing in against Murray and Hernstein back in the mid 90s when people were all up in arms over the Bell Curve. I would have liked to have had him at the ready when I was debating here in the second tier. It is interesting to note that I cannot detect anything horrendous that has happened as a result of the publication of the infamous book. Then again, I'm not quite the policy wonk - not that any policy wonk the web has produced has outed the name of the welfare reformers who considered TBC gospel.

DeLong updates us nicely, and Atrios is, as usual, the comment magnet. For myself, I'll just add the following to the archives. I would like to see Atrios' archives as well.

Herrnstein and Murray... say:

The national averages have in fact changed by amounts that are comparable to the fifteen or so IQ points separating blacks and whites in America. To put it another way, on the average, whites today differ from whites, say, two generations ago as much as whites today differ from blacks today. Given their size and speed, the shifts in time necessarily have been due more to changes in the environment than to changes in the genes.

...[T]he failure to draw the logical inference seems puzzling. Blacks today are just as racially different from whites of two generations ago as they are from whites today. Yet... the number of questions that blacks answer correctly on IQ tests today is very similar to the number answered correctly by past generations of whites. If race A differs from race B in IQ, and two generations of race A differ from each other by the same amount, where is the logic in suggesting that the IQ differences are even partly racial?....

Posted by mbowen at January 8, 2005 04:36 PM

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Sowell's review really is the best critique of the book out there. He points out that most of the book is an attempt to show that IQ differences among different white populations is based on genetics, and race only comes in during the last chapter of something like 12 chapters. He shows that most of what they say in the book is correct, but they just go beyond the data and even against the data in insisting that it's a largely genetic issue. The data show that any isolated genetic population will increase in the number of questions they get right as it becomes more involved in modern civilization. That shows that it's cultural and social in some way. He also makes the right distinction to make in separating something's being internal and something's being genetically caused. What he thinks happens is that intelligence is a feature of the person that develops over the course of childhood and adolescence, and while there's a genetic potential hardly anyone fully realizes it. Social barriers prevent that. Those in populations who do worse on these tests have more barriers to it. He doesn't go into all the sociological explanations McWhorter does, but their views are consistent in that McWhorter's explanations for low test scores and grades are explanations also of why the skills necessary for developing those intelligence faculties might not get developed as well.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at January 10, 2005 06:30 AM