Revisiting "The Bell Curve"

A reader writes:

The latest flap with James Watson appears to be playing bigger in England than the US, and I think you are picking up on that. I was really surprised that Wikipedia had the scoop locally.

Normally a story like this would be covered by all the MSM and the columnist would have material for weeks. But there is a caution here that traces itself back to the Bell Curve.

I read The New Republic Bell Curve edition that you edited and had not read the book or been familiar with the authors. TNR pretty much ripped the book down and kept it out of the discussion for a long time. I have not seen in the 13 years since then, another book with such an intense reception or discussion.

So I finally had to get the book and read it. It was relatively cheap in paperback and had been updated. It was a lot more complex and nuanced than I expected. Murray and Herrnstein were careful in their conclusions. It was hard to argue with a lot of their data and examples. What wasn’t hard to understand was the reaction to the discussion. You were not allowed to appear discuss this. It was off the table and a reinforcement of the ‘Political Correctness’ movement gathering steam.

I took the New Republic’s criticism as a little deeper analysis of social policy in general. In science the Uncertainty Principle places limits on what we can know and what we can do at the Sub-Atomic Level. The Bell Curve was suggesting the Social Policy had limits, and that is really what the rage was about.  For the last 100 years America had seen explosive growth in the standard of living and the distribution of wealth.  We’ve spent generously to help the middle class succeed.  Not just welfare, but GI Bill, Education, Immunizations and Social Work.  Especially with the Civil Rights movement as these benefits were expanded to the last Americans.

My theory was partially reinforced when Welfare Reform was initiated. If anything in the book was to be taken up as something worth changing in social policy it was the encouragement of young poor mothers to have more children via Aid to Dependant Children. Clinton, at Gingrich’s urging, practically implemented the changes in social policy advocated in the Bell Curve. Add the University of Michigan Admissions Policy challenge to the Supreme Court and America was certainly implementing a lot of Bell Curve corrections to our social policies.

And Charles Murray was gaining in stature. On C-Span you could not get through the phone lines to comment on his latest work. I did not see any substantial criticism of his work.  Other studies on Meritocracy seemed to reinforce the ideas in the book. As more genetics was understood, the book held up. Murray was correct that not all well intentioned ideas are going to succeed.  They need to be reviewed and examined in details.  As Dr. Watson said last week:

"Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

Yes there are dangers in starting the dialog about race and intelligence. Patricia Berne is correct that new ideas like this get twisted to conform to political views.  But there is a greater danger. The Conservative Movement in America has read the Bell Curve and watched social policy and is implementing a lot of it’s policies. The Left is ignoring them and pretending they will go away. Murray and Hernstien may be correct, and Watson’s work may confirm it. The Left should be looking to see how they can adapt to this reality, before they get left behind.

As always, your intuition on the subject is correct. Something has to give.