19

BEHIND THE CURVE

Leon J. Kamin

The Bell Curve, with 400,000 copies in print just two months after its publication, has created an enormous stir. The authors unabashedly assert that scientific evidence demonstrates the existence of genetically based differences in intelligence among social classes and races. They maintain further that data from some 1,000 publications in the social and biological sciences show that attributes such as employment, income, welfare dependence, divorce and quality of parental behavior are determined by an individual's intelligence. These claims—another eruption of the crude biological determinism that permeates the history of IQ testing—lead Herrnstein and Murray to a number of social policy recommendations. The policies would not be necessary, or humane, even if the cited evidence were valid. But the caliber of the data in The Bell Curve is, at many critical points, pathetic. Further, the authors repeatedly fail to distinguish between correlation and causation and thus draw many inappropriate conclusions.

I will deal first with an especially troubling example of the quality of the data on which Herrnstein and Murray rely. They ask, "How do African-Americans compare with blacks in Africa on cognitive tests?" They reason that low African-American IQ scores might be

____________________
The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. Free Press, 1994 ($30).

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