13 Search Results for: bell curve

A Tale of Two Bell Curves

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” ~ John F. Kennedy 1962 To paraphrase Mark Twain, an infamous book is one that people castigate but do not read. Perhaps no modern work better fits this description than The Bell Curve by political scientist Charles Murray and the late psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein. Published in 1994, the book is a sprawling (872 pages) but surprisingly entertaining analysis of the increasing importance of cognitive ability in the United States. It also included two chapters that addressed well-known racial differences in IQ scores (chapters 13-14). After a few cautious and thoughtful reviews, the book was excoriated by academics and popular science writers alike. A kind of grotesque mythology grew around it. It was depicted as a tome of racial antipathy; a thinly veiled expression of its authors’ bigotry; an epic scientific fraud, full of slipshod scholarship and outright lies. As hostile reviews piled up, the real Bell Curve, a sober and judiciously argued …

How a Rebellious Scientist Uncovered the Surprising Truth About Stereotypes

The Sydney Symposium At the back of a small room at Coogee Beach, Sydney, I sat watching as a psychologist I had never heard of paced the room gesticulating. His voice was loud. Over six feet tall, his presence was imposing. It was Lee Jussim. He had come to the Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology to talk about left-wing bias in social psychology. Left-wing bias, he said, was undermining his field. Graduate students were entering the field in order to change the world rather than discover truths.1 Because of this, he said, the field was riddled with flaky research and questionable theories. Jussim’s talk began with one of the most egregious examples of bias in recent years. He drew the audience’s attention to the paper: “NASA faked the moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax.” The study was led by Stephan Lewandowsky, and published in Psychological Science in 2013. The paper argued that those who believed that the moon landing was a hoax also believed that climate science was a fraud. The abstract …

The Politics of Science: Why Scientists Might Not Say What the Evidence Supports

Suppose a scientist makes a bold claim that turns out to be true. How confident are you that this claim would become widely accepted? Let’s start with a mundane case. About a century ago, cosmologists began to realize that we can’t explain the motions of galaxies unless we assume that a certain amount of unknown matter exists that we cannot yet observe with telescopes. Scientists called this “dark matter.” This is a bold claim that requires extraordinary evidence. Still, the indirect evidence is mounting and most cosmologists now believe that dark matter exists. To the extent that non-scientists think about this issue at all, we tend to defer to experts in the field and move on with our lives. But what about politically contentious topics? Does it work the same way? Suppose we have evidence for the truth of a hypothesis the consequences of which many people fear. For example, suppose we have reasonably strong evidence to believe there are average biological differences between men and women, or between different ethnic or racial groups. Would …

Genetics, Fear, and the Slippery Slope of Moral Authoritarianism

I write this essay as a newly minted geneticist, trained especially in the societal implications and ethics of genetics. As the Google memo saga unfolded last month, I was reminded of social pressures I was subject to in my own training at the University of Washington. I was also reminded of the lines of this song, by Malvina Reynolds: And the people in the houses All went to the university, Where they were put in boxes And they came out all the same, And there’s doctors and lawyers, And business executives, And they’re all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same1 I graduated from the University of Washington’s public health genetics doctoral program in December 2016, for which, in addition to my dissertation, I took two years of courses in genetics, ethics, law, and various social sciences, woven together to appreciate how genetics is construed by scientists and the public. As one might expect, eugenics was well-covered ground in the public health genetics program. Many warnings were offered up to …

Should We “Stop Equating ‘Science’ With Truth”?

Actually: no. In the modern world, there are ever fewer reasons to maintain the distinct roles of men and women, which evolved over millions of years. But to imagine that we are not living with that inheritance is to reject not just science, but all forms of logic and reason. The message that liberates women is not: men and women are the same, and anyone who tells you different is oppressing you. The message that liberates women is: men and women are different. (And in fact, everyone who is intellectually honest knows this—see Geoffrey Miller’s excellent point regarding the central inconsistency in the arguments being presented by the control-left.) And not only are men and women different at a population level, but our distinct strengths and interests allow for greater possibility of emergence in collaboration, in problem-solving, and in progress, than if we work in echo chambers that look and think exactly like ourselves. Shutting down dissent is a classic authoritarian move, and will not result in less oppression. You will send the dissenters underground, …

No Voice at VOX: Sense and Nonsense about Discussing IQ and Race

Sam Harris, a noted commentator, recently had a podcast discussion with Charles Murray about the reaction to the publication of The Bell Curve in 1994. It is an informative, respectful discussion and I urge you to listen to it. Shortly after this podcast, the popular online news site VOX.com, ran a piece with the headline: “Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ—Podcaster and author Sam Harris is the latest to fall for it.” The piece mostly restates old arguments that continue to misrepresent what The Bell Curve actually said about race and genetics. It is based on a selective reading of the research literature and the assertion of facts that are not supported by a weight-of-evidence. There is nothing new or original in the arguments and these arguments have been challenged many times by other experts in the field. Nonetheless, VOX gave new life to the false narrative that Murray is “peddling junk science” about average IQ score differences among racial/ethnic groups being genetic and therefore some groups are genetically inferior. The …

Getting Voxed: Charles Murray, Ideology, and the Debate on IQ

“The impulse to think that environmental sources of differences are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.” Charles Murray “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of the truth than lies.” Friedrich Nietzsche   Recently, the popular online political outlet Vox published an article in response to Charles Murray’s interview on Sam Harris’s “Waking Up”1 podcast that illustrates the insidious effect ideology can exert on science. The article, written by a group of esteemed scholars, Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett, contended that Murray is still “peddling junk science” about race and intelligence, thereby duping otherwise critical scholars like Harris with pseudo-scholarship and sophistry. The article attempts a moderate, scientifically sound criticism of hereditarianism (i.e., the contention that at least part of the Black-White IQ gap is genetic). Unfortunately, the result is a tendentious and ideologically skewed attack on Murray that forwards cherry picked studies, ignores copious data, and dismisses the impressive explanatory power of hereditarianism with a wagging finger of moral disapproval. Turkheimer et al did not dispute many of the most important points discussed …