Stephan Jay Gould's Critique of The Bell Curve in The Mismeasure of Man



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Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

“The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” is a 1994 publication authored by Herrnstein R. and Murray C. The authors worked to show the correlation between social status and IQ and as they state in their objectives, the aim of carrying out this scientific experiment was to figure out the cause of inequality in natural endowments especially intelligence. According to the authors, knowledge of such natural occurrences will help Americans to appreciate life by understanding each other’s strengths, and weaknesses and this understanding will help them live together.

In grounding their problem statement, the authors mention that in American society, the social status of the people depends greatly on their intelligence rather than on their social backgrounds. In addition, they state that intelligence cannot be measured externally, therefore, it is impossible to modify. However, it is heritable and this implies that strengths and weaknesses in intelligence contribute to the nature of the current and future generation.

“The Bell Curve” received a lot of criticism especially from social scientists and the majority argued that the book is rather a political screed and a racism enhancer and not a scientific oriented as the authors suggested. Stephen Jay Gould, a zoologist and a professor at Harvard, is one of the critics of “The Bell Curve” and he wrote a critique of the book in his “The Mismeasure of Man” (1996). Gould in his argument points out that the measure of intelligence is non-scientific and the move by the authors of "The Bell Curve" to measure intelligence had a racist foundation.

Herrnstein and Murray argue that low IQ which is a measure of intelligence is the cause of the high level of unemployment, crime, and other social problems especially those related to poverty. In other words, they concluded that intelligence is a key factor in correlating the outcome of the kind of life that people live. But as Gould sets out to argue, is social stratification enough to determine intellectual merit? Does it mean that the disadvantaged in society get into their situation because of possessing low IQ levels?

Christopher Chablis

Even if it is true that racism exists in our society, ignoring that there are biological differences will not help solve the vice. As Christopher puts it, people tend to overreact when their beliefs are challenged and this could be the case with Gould’s reaction to "The Bell Curve" Gould referred to Herrnstein and Murray’s work as full of racist assumptions and non-scientific but Christopher is quick to mention that when the proof is available, beliefs are outdone. The fact that the authors make conclusions after experimenting adds credibility to their conclusion whether the conclusion hurts the beliefs of other people or not. The case of "The Bell Curve" and Gould's criticism may well be regarded as that of time which has been troubled by the truth. To an extent that is not political, the authors had a point to proof and anyone who wished to challenge it should have experimented to prove the point right or wrong instead of using literature.

By and large Herrnstein and Murray's work has been greatly misinterpreted by Gould; the authors maintained that the objective of conducting such an experiment and authoring the book was to contribute to the suggested solution to social issues that affect America. As such, seeking solutions cannot be successful if some situations in society are assumed to be non-existing. In their experiment on how intelligence correlates with race, their mission was not to demonstrate how disadvantaged or advantaged a certain race is over the other. The fact that they used a factor in their experiment which considered very sensitive in the social setting was just unfortunate for the socialists.

John Carroll

John Carroll in his analysis does not completely support Herrnstein and Murray's view but feels that they gave a good impression by going ahead and coming up with results from their experiment as proof. This is by far very important to scholars since it allowed other interested scholars to prove the two authors right or wrong. Carroll is however dissatisfied with Gould’s argument while disagreeing with the finds in "The Bell Curve". To begin with, Carroll notes that Gould’s reaction is more personal than scholarly.

In his book "The Mismeasure", Gould states that he was angered by some omissions made in the experiment; this is not one of the best reactions by a good scholar. Gould has dealt much on how the factor analysis ‘go had been misused by the two authors but Carroll cannot stop to wonder why he should emphasize an issue such as factor analysis which according to how he places his arguments, he does not fully understand how it is applied in the scientific field.

According to Carroll Gould’s assumptions on the work of Herrnstein and Murray are the major causes of discredit in his analysis (Carroll, 1995). First, he tries to show the readers that "The Bell Curve" is more of an incitement to racism than scholarly material. Secondly, he fails to understand that scientists can never be referred to as being objective since their findings must deal with the surroundings and this means that at some point they may be forced to deal directly with their subject. This is unlike other areas of research such as sociology where the researchers may experiment by mere observation without the subjects’ knowledge.

Gould may have a point while criticizing "The Bell Curve" but the reason why several scholars are against his critique is because of making some basic assumptions. His assumption that the two scientists consciously classified people opened criticism on his knowledge on the characteristics of scientific findings. This was wrong since one of the basic techniques in scientific studies is classification. However, Gould was quick to conclude that the two scientists decided to classify their samples with racism objective; this was a wrong assumption and it provided critics with a sense of racial incitement on Gould’s part.

The case of objectivity by Gould was based on the fact that Herrnstein and Murray used people of different races to conduct their experiments. Even if it has been argued that intelligence is hard to measure; it is quite possible that the scientists picked on it as a factor analysis for scientific investigation but not to stir up social attitudes as Gould tried to conclude.

Phillipe Rushton

Phillipe Rushton dismisses Gould’s critique of "the Bell Curve" as a piece of work that mishandles evidence and one that is uninformed. Rushton argues that Gould disregards recent developments in science and intentionally leaves such information in his analysis; therefore this is unfortunate to readers of his work. In his new edition of "Mismeasure of Man", Rushton notes that Gould neglects Leigh's findings on the correlation that exists between brain size and intelligence with the possible intention of avoiding contradiction in his work.

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Withholding such useful information from readers and deletion of some sections in his new editions puts his work in question. Rushton agrees that it is true that the discussion of issues such as the relationship between brain size and sex or IQ and race is understandably a sensitive thing in society and most cases a social taboo. However, providing unscrupulous and inaccurate information while addressing these issues in a scholarly environment is indisputably a major failure and Gould falls for this in his work. In his conclusion, Rushton states that Gould fails by consciously omitting important information in his new edition on current research findings. He constantly refers to work that has been refuted to support his arguments, and also contradicts some scientific finds and these standards make him branded as a character assassin.

Boston Review

"The Boston Review" supports Stephen Jay Gould's critique of "The Bell Curve"; he agrees with Gould that the study by the two authors is misleading. The review notes the response of Murray to Gould who questioned whether Herrnstein and Murray imply that IQ differences are genetic. Based on Murray’s response, it concludes that the authors are agnostic on whether it is the genetic characteristic or the environment which is responsible for the black IQ level.

The review challenges Herrnstein’s and Murray’s take on the heritability of genes and social stratification based on the point made by the two authors that 60% of IQ genes are heritable. This leaves room for the conclusion that then some social classes may be in no way influenced by the 60% heritable IQ genes but by other factors. The review also condemns the viewpoint of the two authors that gene pool pollution is likely to occur due to immigration. It supports Gould’s viewpoint that the conclusion of the study is damaging to society and it lays a foundation for racism since it suggests that gene pool pollution should be avoided.

Indeed Herrnstein and Murray dealt with an issue that is critical in the complex society as one we live. I would side with Christopher and argue that the concept in ‘The Bell Curve’ has been subjected to misinterpretation by Gould. Their work was not to show how one race is superior or inferior to the other but it was solely a statistical empirical which was meant to illustrate how IQ and behavior affect the social environment. As much as the ‘Mismeasure of Man’ does not agree with the ‘go factor analysis as used by the scientists; it would be rational to avoid viewing the conclusion of their study from a psychosocial perspective and eliminate the possibility of racism in the study.

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