A Profile In Courage

     Facts that are not frankly faced have a habit of stabbing us in the back. – Sir Harold Bowden

     I resist the impulse to call any living person a saint. As Simon Templar, played by Val Kilmer in The Saint, put it, “You have to be a very good, and usually very dead person to become a saint. And more importantly, you need to work three miracles.” That limits sainthood opportunities to dead persons only. So: no living saints, except in hyperbole intended to be recognized as such.

     Dr. Charles Murray – yes, he of The Bell Curve — is not a saint. He’s very much alive and so does not qualify. But he is one of the most courageous and clear-sighted scholars alive today. We need thousands more like him…but given the terrible shortfall of courage in academia today, we’re lucky to have the one.

     If you’re around my age, pay attention to such things, and have a reasonably good memory, you might recall that in 1994, around the time at which The Bell Curve was to be published, the scrofulous New York Times published a hit piece on Dr. Murray, under the byline of Jason de Parle. It was titled “The Most Dangerous Conservative In America.” The article tried to make him out to be a rabid racist determined to consign Negroes to some sort of permanent inferiority status – because the book addressed genetic influences on human intelligence.

     Now, a measure of mathematical literacy is required to understand what follows. A mean is the average of a group of numbers reached by adding them up and dividing by the “number of numbers.” It’s the most commonly used of the three averages. (The others are the median and the mode. No, I shan’t define them for you here. Look ‘em up.) A distribution is the curve that best fits the plot of those numbers on a frequency-versus-values graph. The title of Dr. Murray’s book (coauthored by the late Dr. Richard Herrnstein) refers to the shape of the curve as it manifests in intelligence testing.

     To make a long story somewhat shorter, The Bell Curve drew the ire of American liberals, some conservatives, and other politically unaffiliated bien-pensants for daring to note that:

  1. There are persistent differences in the means and distributions of IQ scores according to racial groups;
  2. The mean IQ score of American Negroes persistently falls about one standard deviation – i.e., about 15 IQ points – below that of American Caucasians;
  3. This difference has persisted since the beginning of standardized IQ testing.

     Horrors! The man must be a racist! A white supremacist! Perhaps even a eugenicist! And so the Times set out to destroy Dr. Murray before The Bell Curve could get into circulation.

     Those who were determined to discredit the Murray-Herrnstein findings chose two avenues to pursue:

  1. Attack psychometric testing itself as inherently biased;
  2. Attack the researchers’ motives.

     Neither attack has been successful. The tests are better than they’ve ever been: carefully designed to eliminate cultural dependencies and to minimize the influence of education. Moreover, the tests’ results correlate strongly with life results, especially in those fields where logical thought and analysis are critical. The researchers are some of the bravest and most selfless men in America. If you doubt that last, consider what happens to anyone who dares to challenge the left-liberals’ narrative on racial matters.

     Though Dr. Herrnstein died at around the time of publication, Dr. Murray is still with us – and he maintains that his findings are both accurate and meaningful. Moreover, he insists that we cannot function as a society while continuing to pretend that the racially-correlated differences he found – which are still detectable today – don’t exist. Here’s a passage from the introduction to his latest book, Facing Reality:

     Of the many facts about race that are ignored, two above all, long since documented beyond reasonable doubt, must be brought into the open and incorporated into the way we think about why American society is the way it is and what can be done through public policy to improve it.
     The first is that American Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, as groups, have different means and distributions of cognitive ability. The second is that American Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, as groups, have different rates of violent crime. Allegations of systemic racism in policing, education, and the workplace cannot be assessed without dealing with the reality of group differences.

     If there were a Medal of Honor in the social sciences, Dr. Murray would deserve it for those two paragraphs alone.

     Coincidentally, another voice was recently raised on this subject: that of long time commentator Fred Reed. Concerning the political impact of racial differences, Fred writes:

     Liberals insist that no racial differences exist. But they do not seem to believe it. If they did, they would favor a massive and careful regime of testing to prove their point. Instead, they strenuously resist investigation Why, other than fear of likely results?

     As I’ve written before – and I’m surely not the first to have done so – facts have no agenda. But when the facts challenge a sociopolitical piety, they can make the devotees of that piety feel stupid. If those devotees have used that piety to bludgeon others and to hoover their wallets, they can reasonably fear what might follow. These days “I meant well” has the same exculpatory power as “I was only following orders.” The devotees’ preference for destroying the work and reputation of an honest researcher follows naturally.

     Courage in the academy is rare for that reason among others. Therefore, let us celebrate it when it appears, and defend it against the slanders and assaults of those who fear to be revealed as having erred at tremendous cost. Dr. Charles Murray, I salute you. Gentle Readers: read Facing Reality and ponder its truths.


    • John on June 17, 2021 at 8:30 AM

    I don’t have enough knowledge in this area, Dr. Sowell once addressed this in an interview.  He said that IQ among populations can change over time.  For example Jews used to (as a group) have a lower IQ than whites and now it’s reversed.


    1. I remember that statement by Dr. Sowell. He was frantic to attack the Murray-Herrnstein findings, quite as determined as anyone on the Left. And he was correct that IQ among populations can and does change over time — some populations, over some time periods. Dr. Murray notes in Facing Reality that while the gap between white and black mean IQs did narrow for some years, it ceased to do so roughly around the date of publication of The Bell Curve. That suggests that the narrowing was due to changes in extrinsic factors — probably the gradually diminishing linguistic and cultural dependencies of IQ tests. As those things have been optimized as best they can be, what remains are likely to be intrinsic: genetic rather than environmental or developmental.

      In this connection, note also that the steady rise in the mean IQs of other population cohorts, including Ashkenazi Jews, has ceased, probably for the same reasons.

  1. I just got the book in the mail, FYI.

    If skin color is genetic, and eye color, as are innumerable other traits, and they are, then it is – at least to thinking people – no great leap to conclude the possibility that IQ & reasoning ability and other cognitive functions are also genetic in nature, and thus subject to evolutionary pressures – the same force, albeit with different drivers, that drove melanin content in skin. That any person purporting to be rational and educated could deny this is delusion of the highest order.

    Having said this, there is no call for specific discrimination that I will honor. If we are created in Hashem’s image, and we are to honor the principle that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, there cannot be room for population-based bigotry. Having said that, and it’s thornily-entangled with culture, there are clearly differences in propensities to violence.

    I should note that IQ is mutable. In college I took an IQ test. 140. After reading the book “Thinking Better” which really should have been titled “How to take IQ tests” my score went up to 155 on a subsequent test.

    We Jews have very high IQs, especially in the verbal. I suspect that much of it is not specifically genetic, but rather our propensity to argue, well, about everything. “One subject, two Jews, you’ll get three opinions”. LOL! But yes, IQs in general have leveled off if not started falling. I suspect dietary contaminants, but also an increased reliance on electronics. Just as muscles require exercise to grow and maintain strength, so do minds.

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