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Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Time Event
10:29p
Well, here we go ...
O.K., so here's the other book that I was putting off reviewing. Like The God Delusion, I realize that nearly anything I write about Richard J. Herrnstein & Charles Murray's The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life will offend/upset various segments of my regular readers.

For those who do keep up with my regular journal, this, at 912 pages, is the "big honking book" for which I slated most of December's reading time. Of course, the size and density of this book is the "800lb gorilla" that is rarely addressed in discussions on it. How many people out there who wax apoplectic about this have actually read it? Not read a 5-paragraph review, not read a 2-paragraph savaging, or a 30-second snide dismissal as "racist" on some TV show ... but READ this, all 552 pages of text (primarily statistical meta-analysis - Harry Potter this isn't), 112 pages of appendixes, and all of the 110 pages of notes (I'll cut them some slack as far as the 57-page bibliography and the index goes)? I'm guessing that's pretty close to none, as if they had actually read the book they wouldn't be slamming it. My Wife's reaction was classic for the wouldn't-read-it-on-a-bet crowd ... "Oh, that's just by some guy who wanted to show that he was better than everybody else!" ... like the researchers involved would have spent years analyzing the results of hundreds of different tests from the past 100 years for a little ego inflation? It boggles my mind.

Of course, ever since the insanity of the 60's, "intelligence" is the one thing that can't be talked about, can't be (officially) measured, can't be taken into account. Every other human aspect is the subject of "celebrations of diversity", but when it comes to intelligence, if there is any variance from an artificially assumed "norm", it's because the testing or the tester or the society is "racist". Well, the first half of The Bell Curve can't be "racist" because it focuses strictly on White test scores. All the "meta analysis" of intelligence vs. other factors (education, Socio-economic Status, environment, maternal age, etc., etc., etc.) is done as a base-line with comparisons of just Caucasian data from the past century or so. This is the data which show that intelligence is the single most predictive factor in both success and failure (including crime, poverty, etc.) when all the other "popular" excuses are normalized (either mathematically canceled out, or sampled specifically across populations).

Frankly, the book is a huge mass of statistical analysis, but starts and ends with what are, essentially "dystopian scenarios". First there is the emergence of a "Cognitive Elite" ... in the course of this century the number of people with college degrees went from less than 2% to well over a third ... and most people in America today who are in the upper reaches of IQ probably don't socialize with many who do not have a college education, creating a "class" which is more and more isolated from society in general (how many good friends do you have that watch NASCAR?). It ends with a search for "solutions" which, given the accelerating stratification of society (those with particularly high IQs living in "enclaves" apart from the average folks, and those with particularly low IQs not being able to find any role in a world using automation rather than manual labor), starts to sound almost like Brave New World, with "Alphas", "Betas" and on down the list. And, again, the statistical basis of these scenarios is the data in hundreds of tests over a century of testing, of Caucasians.

Of course, the flash-point for this book is when the authors take a deep breath and start looking at race. Again, they have shown that within the "non-race-biased" White data, intelligence, not education, not upbringing, not social-economic status, is the single most predictive factor for all manner of social ills and benefits, and they take a very hard look at how "race neutral" testing in all its forms (non-literal, all-minority, whatever) makes very little difference (it is pretty damning to the Liberal case when you look at the wide array of tests examined) in the ultimate level of performance.

What is galling is the facts of how the Government has twisted this around ... insisting on racial performance being equal, and any hiring/testing situation that did not have minorities scoring at at least 80% of the white norm were being held as de facto discriminatory! It blew my mind to read that a major "industrial testing" organization distributed a guide for "race norming" results. Say 2,000 applicants of various races and ethnicities took a test to fill a set of jobs, and that the median score was 50/100 ... if five applicants all got a "50" on the test, the white applicant would be reported as having scored "50", the applicant of "ethnicity Q" would get "61", the applicant of "ethnicity R" would get "66", the applicant of "ethnicity S" would get "84", and an applicant of "ethnicity T" would get a score of "89" simply because they were of a particular racial background. And these "adjusted" scores would be "official" ... too bad for the white test-taker who got a non-adjusted score of "88" when he lost his spot to somebody who actually scored 43% lower, but because of the government regulations, hiring according to the "real scores" would simply invite a visit from the so-called Justice Department!

Damn the Liberals for making this "about race" because if it was about intelligence some substantial efforts could be made to improve the conditions for those in the lower IQ ranges who really could use the help. However, due to the perception of the way the data charts out* it very quickly became all about race and quotas and artificially inflated scores, etc. (and if you want to get really depressed, read the chapter "Affirmative Action in Higher Education", where the institutions involved totally lock down their data so that nobody can see what's going on!).

Obviously, I feel that The Bell Curve should be required reading for anybody that wants to get a sense of "what's really gone wrong" in America, but I doubt that many (if any) would heed my call to plow through this. If we want to avoid developing a "dystopian reality" where the IQ-stratification results in outright eugenics, turning a blind eye to the central importance of intelligence can no longer be a social strategy! "Very Good" copies of this substantial hardcover book are available from the Amazon new/used vendors for as little as 20¢ ... so price is hardly a barrier.

I just ask to not be savaged for this review unless you have actually read the book and not just heard it criticized on Air America!


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