Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Are Black People Stupid? Opinions Differ

Here's how The Bell Curve was handled on PBS's Newshour back when Andrew Sullivan courageous devoted his magazine, the liberal New Republic, to pushing the idea that black people are stupid. 10-28-94.

MR. MAC NEIL: Let's take a look at another issue that has decided public policy implications and political overtones which has attracted enormous attention this past week after the publication of a book entitled Bell Curve [The Bell Curve, Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray].

MR. MAC NEIL: The thesis advanced by authors Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein in The Bell Curve is that IQ is the best predictor of a person's success in life. If you have an average or above-average IQ, you'll do well. A below average IQ, your chances of success are lower. The book further argues that as the economy becomes more and more sophisticated and technological and, therefore, dependent on educated people, the disparity in incomes between those with high and low IQ's will grow.

CHARLES MURRAY, Author, The Bell Curve: [ABC, "Good Morning America" Clip] There is an important factor in understanding what's been going on in this country, and it's called intelligence. High intelligence at the top, low intelligence at the bottom doesn't explain everything, but you are not going to understand unless you understand the role of this factor.

MR. MAC NEIL: This argument is not new, nor all that controversial. What has landed The Bell Curve on the cover of many magazines and Charles Murray on numerous talk shows is that the book also links IQ with race. On Murray's Bell Curve of IQ scores blacks as a group have an average IQ of 85, whites 100, Asians 105. This is why, the book claims, blacks are disproportionately living in poverty and also more likely to commit crime. While many scientists attribute IQ differences to environment and circumstance, Murray argues it is mostly due to heredity.

CHARLES MURRAY: I don't know of any reputable study that doesn't say that intelligence is at least 40 percent inheritable and no more than 80 percent inheritable. Dick and I talked about that range. Probably it's in the order of 60 percent.

MR. MAC NEIL: While Murray and Herrnstein base their findings on various studies and extensive research, many of the conclusions they draw are fiercely disputed. Even the President of the United States has stated his disagreement with the book's findings.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: [Oct. 21] I have to say I disagree with the proposition that there are inherent racially based differences in the capacity of the American people to reach their full potential. I just don't agree with that. It goes against our entire history and our whole tradition.

MR. MAC NEIL: Given The Bell Curve's thesis that intelligence, in large part, is something one is born with and can't be changed, Murray and Herrnstein argue that the current anti-poverty programs such as "Head Start" and affirmative action are ineffectual and a waste of money.

CHARLES MURRAY: ["The Think Tank" with Ben Wattenberg] What has puzzled the people who work in this area is how extremely hard it is to take the environment, enrich it, and then produce the increases in cognitive functioning that you think you ought to get. It's real tough to improve IQ.

MR. MAC NEIL: Ed Baumeister, what's your reaction to The Bell Curve and all the publicity it's attracted?

MR. BAUMEISTER: It runs across a two-centuries-old idea in this country. Whether the founding fathers were drunk on the enlightenment or not, they said in five words, "All men are created equal." And that's infused our politics from then to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is very expensive but it gives people with disabilities access. Man has always taken the measure of other men, from the cave, when they measured strength or the size of the club, so the measuring is, has always been there, and conclusions based on that measuring have always been there. But when you say that you're founding a country on the notion that despite the measures, all men are created equal, then you've put in place a notion that fights with this species-old habit.

MR. MAC NEIL: Lee Cullum, what's your reaction to all the brouhaha about this?

MS. CULLUM: Well, Robin, I'm afraid it can do some harm. If it's not true, I think we can see people damaged unjustly. If it is true, I don't think that's any help either. It's kind of like eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and you get expelled, of course, from the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Eden of American ideals, which Ed was just talking about. So I would like to introduce another idea that has come to my attention, it's a theory called means, not genes, means. I am told that means are psychological carriers of culture. They are inherited in a way, and they are quite susceptible to evolution, susceptible to mutation, and I think they are carriers of hope. And I just wouldn't want the Murray thesis to extinguish hope, regardless of the truth of it.

MR. MAC NEIL: Erwin Knoll, do you think there's a danger of the Murray thesis extinguishing hope?

MR. KNOLL: No. I don't think it's ever dangerous to advance a thesis and debate it, but I do think we should be mindful of the fact that The Bell Curve isn't really a scientific treatise. It's a political track, and its politics I believe are fundamentally racist. I believe the book serves a purpose for those who want to advance its ideology, and that purpose is to, to blame the disadvantaged for their own plight and to make sure we don't help them with it at all. I think though the assumptions of the book are extremely questionable. Spend an evening watching Congress on C-Span, and you can't possibly accept the notion that America's elite is endowed with high IQ. It just doesn't work that way.

MR. MAC NEIL: Cynthia Tucker.

MS. TUCKER: Well, Robin, I don't think much of The Bell Curve at all. I think Erwin Knoll hit the nail on the head. It's not a scientific treatise. It's a political track. Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein are trafficking in some racist ideas that are at least 100 years old. What is particularly disreputable is that the people who first advanced those ideas may not have known much better. But science has become a lot sharper since then, a lot better. Bimolecular scientists now map genes. Those ideas have been discredited. Those people, and the hard scientists who actually look at genes say that there are very few differences among the races. In fact, the very idea of race, itself, is one that many scientists are being to call into question. So Charles Murray has absolutely no excuse for advancing this point of view.

MR. MAC NEIL: Gerald Warren, what's your view of this, and what impact do you think it's going to have on policy debates about education and other policies?

MR. WARREN: I have no idea whether it is a scientific book or not, Robin. I am told by people whom I admire that Charles Murray is a reputable scientist, a reputable social scientist. I question some of his assumptions as well. I question the doomsday ending to the book. I think -- I think people of goodwill can overcome this IQ difference that is probably quite right, that there is this difference between, between these groups, but we don't, we don't deal with people in terms of groups. We deal with individuals, and that's the way we should be. I do know this. I do know that there are successful experiments where young black children are taken out of at-risk situations, neighborhoods, and put into schools with their parents, and both parents and students go to school at the same time, and the reading ability of these children from age three to age six is enhanced immeasurably. So I think over time, with parental involvement, which was left out of this book, the Head Start kids and the Early Start kids, and these kids I'm talking about have an equal chance.

MR. MAC NEIL: Caroline Brewer, what impact do you think it's going to have on the debates about affirmative action and other, other, and education and other policies?

MS. BREWER: Well, I hope that wise and learned people will rise to the forefront as the conservatives have and denounce this book for everything that it is, and it's simply pseudo science. There's nothing remarkable in this man's work. It's, it's like he has come along and with a fresh coat of paint on a very old house. This stuff has been around for as long as humans have been around, and in our recent times, it's the basis for slavery and oppression all across our land. And it is -- if it were not for the belief by a number of Europeans and Americans that they were racially superior to black people, then we would not have had slavery, and we would not have had oppression. And it is simply necessary that they believe in their own natural superiority in order to justify the oppression and, and the enslavement of black people. And so this is just a continuation of that. I don't see a whole lot that's new in it. I don't see a whole lot that's remarkable about it. And I don't think it takes another scientist to look around the world community and see that it is simply untrue, that it simply cannot be backed up. Right now in Russia, you have a situation where a number of families are falling apart. They are getting involved in crime. There are alcoholics, and that is happening because of the economic conditions in that country. And so for him to say that blacks have a propensity to be involved in these kinds of behavior simply because they are black is absolutely ludicrous, when you can look around the world and see environmental situations that contribute to this kind of behavior.

MR. MAC NEIL: Okay. Well, thank you very much, Cynthia Brewer, ladies and gentlemen.