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January 08, 2005

More Intellectual Garbage Pickup

Atrios notes Jonah Goldberg and the Weekly Standard taking a dive for Charles Murray:

Eschaton: Wow.

Murray catalogs 4,002 significant individuals over the course of 2,750 years who comprise humanity's all-star team, itself broken down into subcategories of chemistry, biology, astronomy, etc. He came up with the list by taking 167 respected encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, and other reference works, tallying up the size, frequency, and content of the entries on specific individuals and their accomplishments--and then crunching the numbers with the sort of élan and sophistication we've come to expect from the author of "Losing Ground" and coauthor of "The Bell Curve."

Which means it is time to once again refer to the Hoover Institution's Thomas Sowell's view of The Bell Curve:

You don't have to write a 50,000 word critique of Murray. All you have to do is point them to Thomas Sowell's American Spectator review of The Bell Curve. Sowell pulls his punches--no book that goes to the lengths The Bell Curve does to keep from considering education as an independent influence on people's life-paths can possibly be, as Sowell calls it, "very sober, very thorough, and very honest." But even Sowell's pulled punches are devastating. And no one can call Thomas Sowell a politically-correct left-wing hack:

Upstream: Issues: Bell Curve: Thomas Sowell: Vol. 28, American Spectator, 02-01-1995, pp 32:[Herrnstein and Murray] seem to conclude... that... biological inheritance of IQ... among members of the general society may also explain IQ differences between different racial and ethnic groups.... Such a conclusion goes... much beyond what the facts will support.... [T]he greatest black-white differences are not on the questions which presuppose middle-class vocabulary or experiences, but on abstract questions.... [Herrnstein and Murray's] conclusion that this "phenomenon seems peculiarly concentrated in comparisons of ethnic groups" is simply wrong.... European immigrant groups in the United States... scored lowest on the abstract parts.... So did white mountaineer children in the United States... canal boat children in Britain... rural British children... Gaelic-speaking children.... This is neither a racial nor an ethnic peculiarity.... [G]roups outside the cultural mainstream of contemporary Western society tend to do their worst on abstract questions, whatever their race might be....

Perhaps the strongest evidence against a genetic basis for intergroup differences in IQ is that the average level of mental test performance has changed very significantly for whole populations over time... ethnic groups... have changed their relative positions.... [T]he authors seem not to acknowledge the devastating implications of that finding for the genetic theory of intergroup differences.... American soldiers tested in World War II... were higher than... American soldiers in World War I by the equivalent of about 12 IQ points.... Strangely, Herrnstein and Murray refer to "folklore" that "Jews and other immigrant groups were thought to be below average in intelligence. " It was neither folklore nor anything as subjective as thoughts. It was based on hard data, as hard as any data in The Bell Curve. These groups repeatedly tested below average on the mental tests of the World War I era, both in the army and in civilian life. For Jews, it is clear that later tests showed radically different results--during an era when there was very little intermarriage to change the genetic makeup of American Jews.... A man who scores 100 on an IQ test today is answering more questions correctly than his grandfather with the same IQ answered two-generations ago, then someone else who answers the same number of questions correctly today as this man's grandfather answered two generations ago may have an IQ of 85.

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?....

Perhaps the most intellectually troubling aspect of The Bell Curve is the authors' uncritical approach to statistical correlations. One of the first things taught in introductory statistics is that correlation is not causation. It is also one of the first things forgotten.... The statistical term "multicollinearity," dealing with spurious correlations, appears only once in this massive book.

Multicollinearity refers to the fact that many variables are highly correlated with one another, so that it is very easy to believe that a certain result comes from variable A, when in fact it is due to variable Z, with which A happens to be correlated. In real life, innumerable factors go together. An example I liked to use in class when teaching economics involved a study showing that economists with only a bachelor's degree had higher incomes than economists with a master's degree and that these in turn had higher incomes than economists with Ph.D.'s. The implication that more education in economics leads to lower incomes would lead me to speculate as to how much money it was costing a student just to be enrolled in my course. In this case, when other variables were taken into account, these spurious correlations disappeared. In many other cases, however, variables such as cultural influences cannot even be quantified, much less have their effects tested statistically....

Posted by DeLong at January 8, 2005 12:14 PM

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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... [Read More]

Tracked on January 8, 2005 04:50 PM


As a favour to a great family, would you mind calling it the Gaussian Curve.

Posted by: Big Al at January 8, 2005 02:00 PM

I'm having reading problems again. I thought that "the sort of élan and sophistication we've come to expect from the author of 'Losing Ground' and coauthor of 'The Bell Curve,'" was meant to be sarcasm.

We actually do know what kind of élan and sophistication to expect.

Posted by: Jesse Tov at January 8, 2005 02:53 PM

By Atrios' own standards, Jonah Goldberg's as wrong about the Bell Curve as the NYTRB. Well, it's bad I guess, but really, when he promised some juicy nuggets about NR, and setting the standard with his opening salvo, I was expecting much more than this. It appears as if he's kinda stretching...

Posted by: radek at January 8, 2005 03:01 PM

t's bn yrs snc t cm t. Whch spcfc clms n th bk hv bn dsprvd? Y mght b srprsd t wht pstns ppl lk Hckmn r tkng nwdys.

Posted by: tc at January 8, 2005 05:54 PM

I'm surprised that Goldberg hasn't followed the new anti-french line of his master and removed that accent from "elan" in his words of praise for Murray. And there's an issue, perhaps best left to Steve Gilliard, as to where Goldberg sees Armstrong Williams fitting into the Bell Curve worldview.

Posted by: P O'Neill at January 8, 2005 05:57 PM

I thought about getting an advanced degree in economics, but I couldn't afford the loss in income. Besides I heard that more education will turn you into a liberal.

Posted by: Zelph at January 8, 2005 06:20 PM

Actually it seems like Atrios is being quite slimy about this (for the record I've generally enjoyed reading Eschaton in the past, not least because he usually avoids this kind low blow crap). He give you a context - the 60's NR essay and the "more fun with Jonah post", he puts Jonah into the context and then stops right short of actually coming out and calling Jonah a racist.

No, instead he lets the bloodthirsty mob of his Comments Section do the dirty work with howls of "of course the guy's a racist!".

Calling someone a racist is serious - though God knows there's plenty folks on both sides of the aisle that need to be called on their shit - so if you're gonna do it you better put your reputation behind it and come right out and say it.

If you want to say "in the past NR has published racist crap and hence anyone associated with them today better publicly disassociate themselves with the said crap else the working assumption is that they are racist too", that's fine but have the balls to say it outloud.
(Personal view: not necessarily though it's cause for suspicion. I don't automatically assume anyone and everyone writing for the Nation is a hard core Stalinist but my initial attitude when scouring that mag, like NR, is of scepticism)

If you want to say "any praise for the Bell Curve is tantamount to racism" that's also fine, but have the balls to say it outloud.
(Personal view: yes, but it's a matter of degree. I do think that folks who believe in "a link" between IQ and race are at best flirting with racism but I don't think they're necessarily on par with cross burning klansmen. If anything I'd put at least some of them in the same category as patronizing, condescending do gooders who are making the same assumption implicitly).

Jonah is actually one writer at NR that I enjoy reading though I disagree with him most of the time. He's at his best when he's making fun of some of the stupid things liberals sometimes do (and let's be honest, sometimes liberals do do stupid things). But I've never seen anything by him - except this misplaced acceptance of Chuck M - that would indicate he's a racist.

It being the 50th anniversary of NR Atrios proclaimed open season on the mag and initially I though I was going to enjoy it since there's a ton of things to poke fun at and critcize (not least, the economic writing). But this is already leaving a bad taste in my mouth...

Posted by: radek at January 8, 2005 08:22 PM

I class 'The Bell Curve' with 'The Coming War With Japan' as one of those books that are more fascinating than convincing.
In the case of TCWWJ, it was the fact that on average every ship in the world made 1.3 trips to Japan every year hauling stuff like coal and iron ore. Now with China added to Japan (and with Taiwan and South Korea still growing) the Pacific Rim must be hoovering up hugely more world resources. I didn't expect war with Japan, and I don't expect war with China.
In the case of TBC it's the fact that techs made great strides in both absolute and relative income gains. It was those gains that persuaded my father and mother to have ten kids. If you give a man a 40% raise every year for fifteen years, he's apt to think that it will continue. It didn't continue because the relative diversion of money to techs caused by the cold war stopped when Vietnam sucked up the investment surplus.
If the Vietnam war hadn't happened there might be more than ten of us.

Posted by: wkwillis at January 8, 2005 10:23 PM

According to the _Liberty Bell Curve_, all our liberties are belong to us.


Posted by: Aaron at January 8, 2005 10:36 PM

The most telling part of Sowell's critique for me was this, extracted from one of DeLong's previous posts:

A remarkable phenomenon commented on in the Moynihan report of thirty years ago goes unnoticed in The Bell Curve--the prevalence of females among blacks who score high on mental tests. Others who have done studies of high- IQ blacks have found several times as many females as males above the 120 IQ level. Since black males and black females have the same genetic inheritance, this substantial disparity must have some other roots, especially since it is not found in studies of high-IQ individuals in the general society, such as the famous Terman studies, which followed high-IQ children into adulthood and later life. If IQ differences of this magnitude can occur with no genetic difference at all, then it is more than mere speculation to say that some unusual environmental effects must be at work among blacks. However, these environmental effects need not be limited to blacks, for other low-IQ groups of European or other ancestries have likewise tended to have females over-represented among their higher scorers, even though the Terman studies of the general population found no such patterns.

Of course it may simply be that women are taking over...

Posted by: bad Jim at January 9, 2005 01:22 AM

I think this book is related to the topic at hand, and is quite fascinating:

"Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies"


The author has an interesting take on why Europe and Asia advanced so much more quickly than the rest of the world, and it doesn't have anything to do with genetics - instead, it has everything to do with the quality (resource wise) of the "playing fields" in Europe and Asia relative to those in Africa, the Americas, and Australia. I recommend the book.

Posted by: James Robertson at January 9, 2005 10:05 AM

" Jonah is actually one writer at NR that I enjoy reading though I disagree with him most of the time. He's at his best when he's making fun of some of the stupid things liberals sometimes do (and let's be honest, sometimes liberals do do stupid things). But I've never seen anything by him[Jonah Goldberg] - except this misplaced acceptance of Chuck M - that would indicate he's a racist."

For an alternative perspective on Jonah's racism --or lack thereof--and Atrios's alleged meanness toward Jonah, check African American blogger Steve Gilliard's post:


Posted by: clanndaeid at January 9, 2005 02:35 PM

The point is that Steve, right or wrong, comes out and says it, rather than implying it in a weasly way.
I also see that Atrios strengthened his original position. Good for him.

Posted by: radek at January 9, 2005 03:57 PM

Diamond's book should not be conflated with the wishful thinking and ex post facto rationalization of economic inequality that is the real basis of The Bell Curve. The short rule is: treat people like shit and they will act like manure. The study where children with blue eyes were told they were stupid, etc., produced the result that those children were angry, rebellious, depressed, and mad, and their test scores dropped.
Jonah is a racist, and not a smart racist. Most of the right winger MO is to reinforce the unthinking bigotry of the status quo, what "everyone knows" and of course "liberals don't have the guts to admit" that there are differences. So basically the conservatives don't believe in America-not only are all men (writ large, e.g., mankind) created equal but the definition of what is a "man" or "mankind" is at issue in their cognitive space. Mud people, monkey people, etc., and at best the 3/5ths compromise for slaves. Women somewhere below men and not part of "mankind" and not equal, by any definition.
Goldberg and his NRO buddies are at best ennabling genteel racism and at worst the intellectual justification for the ignorant mass of right-wingers to maintain their status quo of racism, sexism, and inflated self-worth. What Goldberg may not realize is that he himself is on the suspect list, racially, and may find himself in the same unfortunate position as many of the peoples he piles on.

Posted by: bigfoot at January 9, 2005 05:20 PM

These scientists seem to be under the impression they can determine IQ via brainscans, and that "General human intelligence appears to be based on the volume of gray matter tissue in certain regions of the brain". Perhaps you should contact them and let them know the concept of IQ isn't valid.


And what is your problem with Murray's 'Human Acomplishment', other than you think he is a bad person??

Posted by: norman normal at January 10, 2005 12:52 AM

I agree with you guys but we need some relief

Posted by: peter at January 11, 2005 09:43 PM

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