Bell curve thesis sociology

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  2. The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’
  3. How scientifically accurate are Charles Murray's writings? : sociology
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Though a few chapters in Measured Lies , the most vituperative and scientifically irrelevant of the five volumes under consideration, attempt data-based argumentation, most settle for sarcasm, self-righteousness, and name-calling.

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And then there are The Bell Curve Debate and The Bell Curve Wars both published in ; the former is an anthology of historical documents and reviews, mostly negative, which the editors rightly claim represent the general trend among responses to Herrnstein and Murray's book; the latter is a set of essays, also mostly negative, that originally appeared in a single issue of the New Republic when The Bell Curve was first published, with a few similar pieces added for effect. According to its back cover, The Bell Curve Wars "dismantles the alleged scientific foundations.

In it, Gould repeats many of the same accusations of racism and attributions of political motive that he made in his book, The Mismeasure of Man , written in response to the earlier controversy sparked by Jensen and Herrnstein. W ITHIN THE social-science community and the academic world in general, Gould's critique has been widely accepted as the canonical demonstration that the concepts of intelligence and its heritability are at best nonscientific and at worst racist and evil.

For instance, all of the contributors to Measured Lies who cite Gould's essay do so approvingly, if we count the one who asserts that it does not go far enough. Indeed, so well has The Mismeasure of Man endured that in its publisher reissued it with a new introduction and appendices, including the ubiquitous "Curveball," but left the main text essentially unrevised.

Gould charges that the craniometrists of the 19th century, and later intelligence researchers as well, operated from racist assumptions, and implies that on those grounds their work should be ignored or even suppressed. Insofar as the charge is meant to include figures like Herrnstein and Murray, it is absurd as well as malicious.

But even in those cases in the past in which racist assumptions can indeed be demonstrated, the proof of the pudding remains in the eating, not in the beliefs of the chef. Useful science can proceed from all sorts of predispositions; nor--it seems necessary to add--do the predispositions of scientists always point in the same direction, especially where discussions of human nature are concerned.

Before World War II, for example, the anthropologist Margaret Mead, presumably basing herself on her observations of non-Western cultures, wrote: "We are forced to conclude that human nature is almost unbelievably malleable, responding accurately and contrastingly to contrasting cultural conditions. But what about Gould's main scientific contention--that, as he puts it in his introduction to The Mismeasure of Man , "the theory of unitary, innate, linearly rankable intelligence" is full of "fallacies"?

The theory that Gould is attacking usually goes under the name of general intelligence. Its advocates, practitioners of the hybrid psychological-statistical discipline known as psychometrics, argue simply that while individuals differ in their abilities in a wide range of intellectual realms, a relationship exists among these variations that can be attributed to a common factor. This common factor is what the psychometricians label general intelligence, or g. A brief example will illustrate the evidence they adduce for this proposition. Suppose a group of students takes a set of ten, timed mental-ability tests, five based on verbal materials such as choosing antonyms and five based on spatial materials such as drawing paths through mazes.

Each student will receive ten scores, and each student will have a unique profile of scores, higher on some tests than others. Now suppose we correlate mathematically the students' scores on the five verbal tests. We will probably find them positively, though not perfectly, correlated--that is, the score on one will predict reasonably well the scores on the others. With the aid of a statistical procedure known as factor analysis, we can examine the pattern of these positive correlations and infer that they can be explained by the existence of a common factor, the most logical candidate being the "verbal ability" of the students who took the tests.

The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’

Analogous results would likely occur if we factor-analyzed the set of five spatial tests. What if we combined all ten tests in a single analysis, looking at all the possible correlations?


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Most likely we would find separate verbal and spatial factors at work. But those factors themselves will almost always be correlated.

A superordinate, or "general," factor-- g --can then be extracted to account for the commonalities across all the tests, though this factor will be revealed more by some tests than by others; such tests, known as "highly g -loaded," are taken as especially good measures of general intelligence. T O THE extent that it is not simply political, the debate that followed The Bell Curve and "IQ," and that lies at the heart of Gould's critique in The Mismeasure of Man , is over the very existence and coherence of general intelligence.

Each side has made the same points over and over, and each side believes it has refuted the other side's arguments. The reason this is so is that the two sides proceed according to different definitions of intelligence. The psychometric camp, which includes Herrnstein and Murray, Jensen, Eysenck, John Carroll whose treatise, Human Cognitive Abilities , offers the most extensive factor-analysis of mental tests , and most psychologists who have traditionally studied the topic, hold to a conception of intelligence that closely matches what common sense and the dictionary tell us the term means.

The opposing side, which sports a more eclectic set of disciplinary backgrounds and prides itself on a more sophisticated and inclusive perspective, divides human abilities into broad classes--logical, spatial, interpersonal, verbal, etc. Scientists make bad dictionary writers and worse philosophers. Their main skills are in constructing experiments and generating explanations for what they observe. Neither of these endeavors requires agreement on what the words involved "mean" in any deep or absolute sense, only on ways of converting the elements of the theory at issue into operations that can be carried out in an experiment and repeated later if necessary.

Measurement is the most important such operation; as Kelvin pointed out long ago, without a way to measure something it cannot be studied scientifically. This is why the oft-repeated phrase, "intelligence is nothing more than what intelligence tests measure," is, as an objection, merely a tautology. The truth is that as long as intelligence can be reliably measured--it can be, with a variety of tests--and validly applied--it can be, to predict a variety of outcomes--it is intelligence.

If we suddenly started calling it "cognitive ability," "cognitive efficiency," or even "the tendency to perform well on mental tests," it would still have the same scientific properties. Nothing about the natural world would change. One way to test the schemes of the proponents of "multiple intelligences" would be to apply research techniques that might or might not suggest a role in them for general intelligence.

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But this is an exercise the advocates of multiple intelligences tend to rule out of consideration a priori. Thus, as Howard Gardner correctly notes in Frames of Mind , there is good evidence that different parts of the brain are responsible for different abilities.

However, when at a recent seminar a member of Gardner's research group was asked how abilities in the various intelligences are measured, the swift response was, "We don't measure them.

Sam Harris & Charles Murray on Human Intelligence (The Bell Curve)

Gardner's theory is very popular in educational circles these days, as is the idea, espoused by Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence , that skill at managing one's own emotions and interpreting those of others is very valuable to social interaction and success in life.

Surely both of these ideas are correct, as far as they go. But neither one of them addresses intelligence in a complete way.

How scientifically accurate are Charles Murray's writings? : sociology

This is a point raised with special vehemence by Gould. It is balanced and comprehensive, summarizing virtually all the relevant studies on the nature of intelligence and demolishing most of the challenges and alternative explanations of the major findings. It is not, however, an easy book for nonspecialists to read, which is why we are also fortunate to have Hans Eysenck's much more accessible and even entertaining Intelligence: The New Look. In refuting Gould's point, Jensen demonstrates that mental-test scores correlate not just with one another but with many measures of information-processing efficiency, including reaction time how quickly you can press a button after a light flashes , inspection time how long two separate line-segments must be displayed for you to judge accurately which is longer , and working-memory capacity how many random items of information you can remember while doing something else.

Jensen also reviews the many direct biological correlates of IQ, such as myopia a very heritable condition , brain electrical activity, estimates of nerve-conduction velocity the speed at which brain cells communicate with one another , and the brain's metabolism of glucose.

Even brain size, the study of which is richly derided by Gould, has been found with modern imaging technology to correlate with IQ. These chapters, among the most impressive in Jensen's book, put general intelligence as a psychological trait on a more solid foundation than is enjoyed by any other aspect of personality or behavior.

They also speak persuasively to the issue of its heritability, the argument for which becomes more plausible to the extent that intelligence can be associated with biological correlates.

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One can go farther. To Stephen Jay Gould and other critics, belief in the heritability of intelligence is inextricably--and fatally--linked to belief in g ; destroy the arguments for one and you have destroyed the arguments for the other. But as Kevin Korb pointed out in a reply to Gould in , and as Jensen affirms here, the g factor and the heritability of intelligence are independent concepts: either hypothesis could be true with the other being false.

In some alternate reality, intelligence could be determined by wholly uncorrelated factors, or for that matter by wholly environmental i. It is simply less of a stretch to imagine that a general factor both exists and is somewhat heritable, since, as Jensen shows, this combination describes our own reality. Arthur Jensen raised a firestorm three decades ago when he asked, "How much can we raise IQ and scholastic achievement? This brings us back to the Mozart effect, which purports to do in ten minutes what years of intensive educational interventions often fail to accomplish.

It is difficult to determine their experimental procedure with precision--their article was less than a page in length--but the essentials appear to be as follows.

Thirty-six college students performed three spatial-ability subtests from the most recent version of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Before one of the tests, the students spent ten minutes in silence; before another, they listened to ten minutes of "progressive-relaxation" instructions; and before still another, they listened to ten minutes of Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K.

The subjects performed the tests in different orders, and each test was paired with equal frequency against each listening option. The results, when converted to the scale of IQ scores: for silence, for relaxation, and for Mozart. A self-help entrepreneur named Don Campbell trademarked the phrase "The Mozart Effect," published a book by the same name, and began selling cassettes and CD's of his own, including versions designed specially for children.

Frances Rauscher testified before a congressional committee and gave many press interviews. What was wrong with this picture? The article in Nature did not give separate scores for each of the three Stanford-Binet tasks necessary for comparative purposes , and it used dubious statistical procedures in suggesting that listening to Mozart enhanced overall "spatial IQ" or "abstract reasoning. Finally, they claimed that the effect lasted for only ten to fifteen minutes, but gave no direct evidence; since the subjects were apparently tested only immediately after each listening episode, there was no way to see how this interval was calculated.

I N AN attempt to reproduce the finding that classical music enhances "abstract reasoning," Joan Newman and her colleagues performed a simple experiment: each of three separate groups comprising at least 36 subjects completed two separate subsets of Raven's Matrices Test a good measure of g before and after listening to either silence, relaxation instructions, or the Mozart-effect sonata.