Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Regular Service

As I've remarked before (here), every time I bring up the racist tract The Bell Curve, the apologists come out in full force. This is a regular event here. Each time I hope it won't be necessary, and each time it is. It shouldn't be necessary to point out over and over again why no decent person should embrace this book or its authors, and why anyone who does is either a bigot or a fool or both, but apparently it is. But, since my dear friend Jonah doesn't understand why statements supporting Murray and the Bell Curve are "self-evidently damning statements" we'll try to explain it to him. Very slowly. And, then, maybe next time he'll think twice before revealing himself to be a bigot, a fool, or both.

DeLong starts us off with that noted communist Thomas Sowell's critique of the book.

Let's continue with University of Chicago Professor of Marxist Economics James Heckman (Journal of Political Economy, October 1995:)

1. The central premise of this book is the empirically incorrect claim that a single factor - g or IQ - that explains linear correlations among test scores is primarily responsible for differences in individual performance in society at large. Below I demonstrate that a single factor can always be constructed that "explains" all correlations in responses to a test or correlations in scores across a battery of tests, but in general this g is not constructed by conventional linear methods. There is much evidence that more than one factor -- as conventionally measured -- is required to explain conventional correlation matrices among test scores. Herrnstein and Murray's measure of IQ is not the same as the g that can be extracted from test scores available in their data set. They do not emphasize how little of the variation in social outcomes is explained by AFQT or g. There is considerable room for factors other than their measure of ability to explain wages and other social outcomes.

[Let me just add that the sentence "They do not emphasize how little of the variation in social outcomes is explained by AFQT or g" is crucial. There is widespread belief that Murray and Hernstein demonstrate that their "g," flawed as it is, explains a great degree of the variations in social outcomes.]

2. In their empirical work, the authors assume that AFQT is a measure of immutable native intelligence. In fact, AFQT is an achievement test that can be manipulated by educational interventions. Achievement test embody environmental influences: AFQT scores rise with age and parental socioeconomic status. A person's AFQT score is not an immutable characteristic beyond environmental manipulation.

3. The authors do not perform the cost-benefit analyses needed to evaluate alternative social policies for raising labor market and social skills. Their implicit assumption of an immutable g that is all-powerful in determining social outcomes leads them to disregard a lot of evidence that a variety of relevant labor market and social skills can be improved, even though efforts to boost IQ substantially are notoriously unsuccessful.

4. The authors present no new evidence on the heritability of IQ or other socially productive characteristics. Instead, they demonstrate that IQ is more predictive of differences in social performance than a crude measure of parental environmental influences. This comparison is misleading. It fails to recognize the crudity of their environmental measures and the environmental component that is built into their measure of IQ, which biases the evidence in favor of their position. Moreover, the comparison as they present it is intrinsically meaningless.

5. Finally, the authors' forecast of social trends is pure speculation that does not flow from the analysis presented in their book. Most of the social policy recommendations have an ad hoc flavor to them and do not depend on the analysis that precedes them. The appeal to Murray's version of communitarianism as a solution to the emerging problem of inequality among persons is a deus ex machina flight of fancy that is not credibly justified.

Both Sowell and Heckman were too polite to focus on the explicitly racist elements of the book, instead of the shoddy arguments in support of that racism. And, for that we have Digby. Part 1:

It’s true that the authors argued with wide eyed innocence that the book merely said that there are individual and group differences in intelligence and that these differences seriously influence the organization of work in modern industrial societies and that unfortunately they are pretty darned immutable, but golly gosh kerwillikers, that doesn't mean we all can't get along.

Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s just a little reminder that each individual should be judged on their own merits, and that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, the book also said some pretty strange things, even if you accept that IQ is the best indicator of future success and that IQ is immutable, which Herrnstein and Murray do, and even if you use their thoroughly discredited logistic regression analysis that assumes no IQ socioeconomic status interaction (when in fact, IQ and SES are highly intercorrelated) concluding that low IQ causes poverty. In other words, even if you take their completely flawed and discredited analysis at face value, when you get into the book (written btw for the lay reader -- no peer review) it isn't hard to see the real agenda.

In spite of all their studied concern about the “cognitive elite” and the danger to our society of all the smart people conspiring to keep out the odd and unusual smart poor person, we find that what they are really worried about is a supposed downward pressure on the distribution of IQ in the United States, which they call “dysgenic” pressure. They believe that blacks are experiencing much more severe dysgenic pressures than whites and speculate that part of the problem may be differences in reproductive strategies among the races. They blithely mention in passing a theory that blacks have the largest genitals and the highest frequency of sexual intercourse among the three major races but reserve judgment on whether that is relevant, saying that only time will tell.

(Who can really say what effects those huge black dicks have on those lil’ chocolate gals? It’s possible that once they set eyes one of those monsters they just can’t control themselves and those inferior genes just keep on gittin passed down. Better keep them large genitals away from the white wimmin!)

They also conclude that Latino immigration is putting downward pressure on the distribution of American national intelligence. They conclude, "Putting the pieces together--higher fertility and a faster generational cycle among the less intelligent and an immigrant population that is probably somewhat below the native-born average--the case is strong that something worth worrying about is happening to the cognitive capital of the country"

Oh lordy. Those wetbacks are bringing us down.

The authors believe that low birth weight and high infant mortality are probably caused by "prenatal negligence" on the part of stupid poor women rather than inadequate availability of medical care. They also trot out some unpublished research the relation between crime and low IQ, and between civility and high IQ. (I guess this shows which side of the bell curve the average dittohead falls on.)

They argue that America's “current fertility policy” subsidizes births among stupid poor women (most of whom happen to be black and latino) and, therefore, for the good of the country, welfare should be eliminated and policies should be put in place to lower the birth rate amongst these groups.

They also believe that our immigration policy is a danger to society because it assumes an indifference to the individual characteristics of immigrant groups.

But, they believe fervently in individualism. They say it over and over again. Once you deal with the birth rate of the oversexed blacks and close the borders to the dumb Mexicans that is.

And BTW: neither author ever conducted or published any research in scientific journals (which are subject to peer review) on the genetic basis of IQ and poverty in his entire career.

Part 2:

One can surely spend a lot of time refuting this nasty book in scientific terms --- it's as a rich target for scholarly ridicule as you can think of -- but common sense will tell you what the book is really all about just by reading the acknowledgements in which the authors declare they benefited especially from Richard Lynn's work and advice, a professor of psychology at the University of Ulster whom they describe as "a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences."

The esteemed professor Lynn, who helped the authors so much, has been quoted as saying, "What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the 'phasing out' of such peoples.... Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent."

Now, one could overlook that and assume perhaps that the authors were merely using his "work" for their(seriously flawed) statistical analysis, but since the book comes to much the same conclusions, albeit in more politically correct terms, it's clear that they were kindred spirits.

I can't speak for other liberals, but when a book uncritically uses the work of someone who advocates the "phasing out" of certain races and then goes on to use a completely flawed statistical model (that fails to take into account socioeconomic status) to prove that certain races have lower IQ's due to their genetics, then I don't think it's unfair to say that it is a political work and not a scientific one.

It's not the liberals who were being "unfair" or "afraid" by rejecting the book out of hand, it was those who pretended that Murray and Herrnstein weren't cynically using the language of science (by treating g theory as "mystical," for instance)to "prove" to their lay readers that blacks and Mexicans were "problems" (and that those problems are immutable because of their race), so no matter what the government or others try to do, they are going to remain a problem unless we get them to stop breeding and immigrating. That is what the book concludes whether anybody wants to admit it or not.

I for one don't think it is "unfair" to reject that kind of racist garbage out of hand but neither am I afraid to discuss racial differences in IQ. But, here in the United States, particularly as it pertains to African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, a genetic definition of "race" is a useless and phony construct. Murray and his ilk apparently don't care to admit that the "blood" of both of these races has been mixed with European "blood" for so many centuries that it is virtually indistinguishable from his own. Whatever differences exist between the races in this country cannot be explained by genetics alone, a fact which The Bell Curve ignores with its dishonest analysis.

As with "Creationism," Steven J. Gould and others were obligated to refute the shoddy science on which the book is based and they demolished it. But, since the book is obviously a racist political document, I find it a bit absurd that in order to be "fair" liberals in general have to argue the underlying scientific conclusions when the political agenda is right up front and clear for all to see.

It is both a work of astonishing scientific dishonesty AND a racist tract. One needn't refute it's scientific conclusions to point out its political intent.

I normally end this discussion by quoting quoting Andrew Sullivan's bio and his thoughts on the subject when TNR published the Bell Curve. But, in hunting for those I find that Andrew Sullivan is still keeping a copy of the book under his pillow. From the 11/23/04 New Republican:

And this, of course, cuts to the chase of the meritocratic project. The inequalities of ability are far more crushing than the inequalities of a rigid class system. And the great mixed blessing of a democracy in which everyone has a chance at success is that inequality of results seems crueler and starker. It cannot be blamed away. We're not there yet, of course. But you only have to read The Bell Curve (no, not its racial chapter) to see where we are headed.

An open market society with an effective educational system in an economy that increasingly values brainpower over brawn will lead inexorably to greater and greater inequality. And that inequality may be even less tolerable for those at the bottom than in days gone by. We can ameliorate this. But even if we improve the education system, the result is greater efficiency in advancing inequality. Human envy will not die. Neither will differences in human ability. And resentment will grow.

Contrary to myth perpetuated by Bell Curve apologists, there wasn't just one "racial chapter" which is "bad" and the rest of the book is fine and dandy. It's pretty much bollocks from start to finish, and the stuff on race isn't confined to one chapter. Andrew Sullivan, bigot or fool or both?