Bell Curve: Intelligence And Class Structure In American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) By Richard J. Herrnstein, Charles Murray
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The seminal book about IQ and class that ignited one of the most explosive controversies in decades, now updated with a new Afterword by Charles Murray
Breaking new ground and old taboos, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray tell the story of a society in transformation. At the top, a cognitive elite is forming in which the passkey to the best schools and the best jobs is no longer social background but high intelligence. At the bottom, the common denominator of the underclass is increasingly low intelligence rather than racial or social disadvantage.
The Bell Curve describes the state of scientific knowledge about questions that have been on people's minds for years but have been considered too sensitive to talk about openly -- among them, IQ's relationship to crime, unemployment, welfare, child neglect, poverty, and illegitimacy; ethnic differences in intelligence; trends in fertility among women of different levels of intelligence; and what policy can do -- and cannot do -- to compensate for differences in intelligence. Brilliantly argued and meticulously documented, The Bell Curve is the essential first step in coming to grips with the nation's social problems.
- Amazon Sales Rank: #7052 in Books
- Published on: 1996-01-10
- Released on: 1996-01-10
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: 2.16 pounds
- Binding: Paperback
- 912 pages
Michael Novak National Review Our intellectual landscape has been disrupted by the equivalent of an earthquake.
David Brooks The Wall Street Journal Has already kicked up more reaction than any social?science book this decade.
Peter Brimelow Forbes Long-awaited...massive, meticulous, minutely detailed, clear. Like Darwin's Origin of Species -- the intellectual event with which it is being seriously compared -- The Bell Curve offers a new synthesis of research...and a hypothesis of far-reaching explanatory power.
Milton Friedman This brilliant, original, objective, and lucidly written book will force you to rethink your biases and prejudices about the role that individual difference in intelligence plays in our economy, our policy, and our society.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. Commentary The Bell Curve's implications will be as profound for the beginning of the new century as Michael Harrington's discovery of "the other America" was for the final part of the old. Richard Herrnstein's bequest to us is a work of great value. Charles Murray's contribution goes on.
Prof. Thomas J. Bouchard Contemporary Psychology [The authors] have been cast as racists and elitists and The Bell Curve has been dismissed as pseudoscience....The book's message cannot be dismissed so easily. Herrnstein and Murray have written one of the most provocative social science books published in many years....This is a superbly written and exceedingly well documented book.
Christopher Caldwell American Spectator The Bell Curve is a comprehensive treatment of its subject,never mean-spirited or gloating. It gives a fair hearing to those who dissent scientifically from its propositions -- in fact, it bends over backward to be fair....Among the dozens of hostile articles that have thus far appeared, none has successfully refuted any of its science.
Malcolme W. Browne The New York Times Book Review Mr. Murray and Mr. Herrnstein write that "for the last 30 years, the concept of intelligence has been a pariah in the world of ideas," and that the time has come to rehabilitate rational discourse on the subject. It is hard to imagine a democratic society doing otherwise.
Prof. Eugene D. Genovese National Review Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray might not feel at home with Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Lani Guinier, but they should....They have all [made] brave attempts to force a national debate on urgent matters that will not go away. And they have met the same fate. Once again, academia and the mass media are straining every muscle to suppress debate.
Prof. Earl Hunt American Scientist The first reactions to The Bell Curve were expressions of public outrage. In the second round of reaction, some commentators suggested that Herrnstein and Murray were merely bringing up facts that were well known in the scientific community, but perhaps best not discussed in public. A Papua New Guinea language has a term for this, Mokita. It means "truth that we all know, but agree not to talk about." ...There are fascinating questions here for those interested in the interactions between sociology, economics, anthropology and cognitive science. We do not have the answers yet. We may need them soon, for policy makers who rely on Mokita are flying blind.
About the Author
Richard J. Herrnstein held the Edger Pierce Chair in Psychology at Harvard University until his death in 1994.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Cognitive Class and Education, 1900-1990
In the course of the twentieth century, America opened the doors of its colleges wider than any previous generation of Americans, or other society in history, could have imagined possible. This democratization of higher education has raised new, barriers between people that may prove to be more divisive and intractable than the old ones.
The growth in the proportion of people getting college degrees is the most obvious result, with a fifteen-fold increase from 1900 to 1990. Even more important, the students going to college were being selected ever more efficiently for their high IQ. The crucial decade was the 1950s, when the percentage of top students who went to college rose by more than it had in the preceding three decades. By the beginning of the 1990s, about 80 percent of all students in the top quartile of ability continued to college after high school. Among the high school graduates in the top few percentiles of cognitive ability the chances of going to college already exceeded 90 percent.
Perhaps the most important of all the changes was the transformation of America's elite colleges. As more bright youngsters went off to college, the colleges themselves began to sort themselves out. Starting in the 1950s, a handful of restitutions became magnets for the very brightest of each year's new class. In these schools, the cognitive level of the students rose far above the rest of the college population.
Taken together, these trends have stratified America according to cognitive ability.
A perusal of Harvard's Freshman Register for 1952 shows a class looking very much as Harvard freshman classes had always looked. Under the photographs of the well-scrubbed, mostly East Coast, overwhelmingly white and Christian young men were home addresses from places like Philadelphia's Main Line, the Upper East Side of New York, and Boston's Beacon Hill. A large proportion of the class came from a handful of America's most exclusive boarding schools; Phillips Exeter and Phillips Andover alone contributed almost 10 percent of the freshmen that year.
And yet for all its apparent exclusivity, Harvard was not so hard to get into in the fall of 1952. An applicant's chances of being admitted were about two out of three, and close to 90 percent if his father had gone to Harvard. With this modest level of competition, it is not surprising to learn that the Harvard student body was not uniformly brilliant. In fact, the mean SAT-Verbal score of the incoming freshmen class was only 583, well above the national mean but nothing to brag about. Harvard men came from a range of ability that could be duplicated in the top half of many state universities.
Let us advance the scene to 1960. Wilbur J. Bender, Harvard's dean of admissions, was about to leave his post and trying to sum up for the board of overseers what had happened in the eight years of his tenure. "The figures," he wrote, "report the greatest change in Harvard admissions, and thus in the Harvard student body, in a short time -- two college generations -- in our recorded history." Unquestionably, suddenly, but for no obvious reason, Harvard had become a different kind of place. The proportion of the incoming students from New England had dropped by a third. Public school graduates now outnumbered private school graduates. Instead of rejecting a third of its applicants, Harvard was rejecting more than two-thirds -- and the quality of those applicants had increased as well, so that many students who would have been admitted in 1952 were not even bothering to apply in 1960.
The SAT scores at Harvard had skyrocketed. In the fall of 1960, the average verbal score was 678 and the average math score was 695, an increase of almost a hundred points for each test. The average Harvard freshman in 1952 would have placed in the bottom 10 percent of the incoming class by 1960. In eight years, Harvard had been transformed from a school primarily for the northeastern socioeconomic elite into a school populated by the brightest of the bright, drawn from all over the country.
The story of higher education in the United States during the twentieth century is generally taken to be one of the great American success stories, and with good reason. The record was not without blemishes, but the United States led the rest of the world in opening college to a mass population of young people of ability, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, and financial resources.
But this success story also has a paradoxically shadowy side, for education is a powerful divider and classifier. Education affects income, and income divides. Education affects occupation, and occupations divide. Education affects tastes and interests, grammar and accent, all of which divide. When access to higher education is restricted by class, race, or religion, these divisions cut across cognitive levels. But school is in itself, more immediately and directly than any other institution, the place where people of high cognitive ability excel and people of low cognitive ability fail. As America opened access to higher education, it opened up as well a revolution in the way that the American population sorted itself and divided itself. Three successively more efficient sorting processes were at work: the college population grew, it was recruited by cognitive ability more efficiently, and then it was further sorted among the colleges.
THE COLLEGE POPULATION GROWS
A social and economic gap separated high school graduates from college graduates in 1900 as in 1990; that much is not new. But the social md economic gap was not accompanied by much of a cognitive gap, became the vast majority of the brightest people in the United States had not gone to college. We may make that statement despite the lack of IQ scores from 1900 for the same reason that we can make such statements about Elizabethan England: It is true by mathematical necessity. In 1900, only about 2 percent of 23-year-olds got college degrees. Even if all of the 2 percent who went to college had IQs of 115 and above (and they did not), seven out of eight of the brightest 23-year-olds in the America of 1900 would have been without college degrees. This situation barely changed for the first two decades of the new century. Then, at the close of World War I, the role of college for American youths began an expansion that would last until 1974, interrupted only by the Great Depression and World War II.
The three lines in the figure show trends established in 1920-1929, 1935-1940, and 1954-1973, then extrapolated. They are there to highlight the three features of the figure worth noting. First, the long perspective serves as a counterweight to the common belief that the college population exploded suddenly after World War II. It certainly exploded in the sense that the number of college students went from a wartime trough to record highs, but this is because two generations of college students were crowded onto campuses at one time. In terms of trendlines, World War II and its aftermath was a blip, albeit a large blip. When this anomalous turmoil ended in the mid-1950s, the proportion of people getting college degrees was no higher than would have been predicted from the trends established in the 1920s or the last half of the 1930s (which are actually a single trend interrupted by the worst years of the depression).
The second notable feature of the figure is the large upward tilt in the trendline from the mid-1950s until 1974. That it began when it did -- the Eisenhower years -- comes as a surprise. The GI bill's impact had faded and the postwar baby boom had not yet reached college age. Presumably postwar prosperity had something to do with it, but the explanation cannot be simple. The slope remained steep in periods as different as Eisenhower's late 1950s, LBJ's mid-1960s, and Nixon's early 1970s.
After 1974 came a peculiar plunge in college degrees that lasted until 1981 -- peculiar because it occurred when the generosity of scholarships and loans, from colleges, foundations, and government alike, was at its peak. This period of declining graduates was then followed by a steep increase from 1981 to 1990 -- also peculiar, in that college was becoming harder to afford for middle-class Americans during those years. As of 1990, the proportion of students getting college degrees had more than made up for the losses during the 1970s and had established a new record, with B.A.s and B.S.s being awarded in such profusion that they amounted to 30 percent of the 23-year-old population.
MAKING GOOD ON THE IDEAL OF OPPORTUNITY
At first glance, we are telling a story of increasing democracy and intermingling, not of stratification. Once upon a time, the college degree was the preserve of a tiny minority; now almost a third of each new cohort of youths earns it. Surely, it would seem, this must mean that a broader range of people is going to college -- including people with a broader, not narrower, range of cognitive ability. Not so. At the same time that many more young people were going to college, they were also being selected ever more efficiently by cognitive ability.
A compilation of the studies conducted over the course of the century suggests that the crucial decade was the 1950s. The next figure shows the data for the students in the top quartile (the top 25 percent) in ability and is based on the proportion of students entering college (though not necessarily finishing) in the year following graduation from high school.
Again, the lines highlight trends set in particular periods, here 1925-1950 and 1950-1960. From one period to the next, the proportion of bright students getting to college leaped to new heights. There are two qualifications regarding this figure. First, it is based on high school graduates -- the only data available over this time period -- and therefore drastically understates the magnitude of the real change from the 1920s to the 1960s and thereafter, because so many of the top quartile in ability never made ...
Most helpful customer reviews
537 of 579 people found the following review helpful.
More facts and less name-calling, please
By Paul Magnussen
Since you're reading this, I assume you're thinking of buying -- or at least reading -- this book. That being so, you'll probably want to read other reviews than mine. This is in principle a good idea; but having just read all of them (147 at the time of writing) I should warn you that you'll need both considerable stamina and a strong stomach: there are indeed thoughtful and informative reviews, but they are islands in a sea of drivel. By "drivel" I mean the following:
1) Reviews consisting entirely (or almost entirely) of expostulation rather than information ("racist garbage", "most important book of the 20th century")
2) Asserting what the book doesn't deny and denying what it doesn't assert.
3) Distortions of the book's content, and other disinformation, for instance:
- "the panel criticized the authors for not explaining what intelligence is" (intelligence is defined on page 4 (!) ).
- "The Bell Curve ignores bad diet" (Nutrition is explicitly dealt with on pp. 391-3).
And so on.
Many of the critics appear not merely to have misunderstood the book, but not even to have read it; amusingly, this is actually admitted in one review ("Although Head has only browsed through the book, she has seen this kind of pseudo-science before")
For myself, I found this a strange book in some ways, but only one other reviewer (Jennifer Kerns, I think the name was) touched on the reason. And that is that the book falls logically into three parts, which by their very nature are of varying reliability.
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 projected consequences. Thus almost by definition these are on shakier ground.
- The first section, which excited by far the most controversy, is (ironically), easily on the firmest ground scientifically -- as confirmed (for example) by an American Psychological Association task force explicitly set up to investigate it*; and by 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).
It 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 envisages 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. 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, ISBN 0-912736-16-X, 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, the policy recommendations, is well outside my area of competence, so I offer no comment.
I should, however, like to make one further comment on other reviews, those containing the recommendation: "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 (ISBN 0-380-71165-6). Or see J. Philippe Rushton's review of "Mismeasure", or Arthur Jensen's review ("The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons"), both 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 2007: 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.
I haven't changed the body of the review because that would make nonsense of the discussion in the Comments.
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.
567 of 643 people found the following review helpful.
Fascinating, and implying frightening consequences
By John Wismar
In reading the synopses above and the few negative reviews below, I have to wonder if their authors read the book in question, or merely the media hype. This book is not about "ethnicity and intelligence." It's not racism, nor even about race.
This book tries to show that A) people are becoming stratified according to intelligence (you go to school with, work with, and largely socialize with people of similar ability) and B) many of our social problems can be explained in terms of differences in intelligence (ie, in blunt terms, dumb people are more likely to commit crimes, etc.) They provide a huge base of data to support their thesis.
The authors have bent over backwards to try to avoid any hint of racism in their studies; the only place the issue even arises is when they report that blacks and Latinos have historically scored lower in IQ tests than have whites (Asians have scored higher), and that the claims of "cultural bias" are not supported by any data or studies. These details alone are enough to inflame the politically correct among us, unfortunately.
To portray this book as some type of white supremecist manifesto, you would have to have a strong agenda of your own, and totally disregard the content of the book.
206 of 232 people found the following review helpful.
A Courage Book - Comment from an African-American
By T. P. Evans
The question is not whether a difference exists in IQ scores between whites and blacks, but why does the difference exist! Murray and Herrnstein give a fairly convincing argument that IQ is a factor in determining ones success in life. Blacks with an IQ of 120 are just as likely to graduate from college as whites or Asians with a similar IQ, and Murray and Herrnstein note that fact in their book. However, I do think that the authors did not provide convincing evidence that IQ is primary genetic. That's the flaw of the book.
My second comment is about the racial aspect of the book. I am an African-American man, and I did not find the book to be racist. In our age of political correctness, anyone who writes about the differences between the races will likely face a firestorm of criticism, regardless of how accurate the content of the book. People of African heritage tend to run faster than people of European heritage. As a matter of fact, men of African heritage ran the top 30 times ever recorded in the 100-meter dash. If someone observed and commented about this fact, does that make him or her a racist? It certainly does not!
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