Thursday, October 13, 2005

WSJ: The Bell Curve: The Inequality Taboo WSJ: The Bell Curve: The Inequality Taboo

Charles Murray strikes again. It has been eleven years since his Bell Curve hit the bookstore, and that book is still good for an argument. Every time I mention the book, I hear how the book has been debunked. But then, when I follow the links, if, and when there are some, I find that the debunking is nothing of the sort. Almost invariably, the research that is supposed to have debunked The Bell Curve doesn't directly address that mysterious quantity, "q", which is the essence of what is tested in IQ tests.

Lest you think that I accept the book and all of its tenets, I don't. But I do find it interesting, and I think it makes some good points.
The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media's fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public's misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy.

Good social policy can be based on premises that have nothing to do with scientific truth. The premise that is supposed to undergird all of our social policy, the founders' assertion of an unalienable right to liberty, is not a falsifiable hypothesis. But specific policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm.

One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. The statistical tests for uncovering job discrimination assume that men are not innately different from women, blacks from whites, older people from younger people, homosexuals from heterosexuals, Latinos from Anglos, in ways that can legitimately affect employment decisions. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 assumes that women are no different from men in their attraction to sports. Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.

When the outcomes that these policies are supposed to produce fail to occur, with one group falling short, the fault for the discrepancy has been assigned to society. It continues to be assumed that better programs, better regulations or the right court decisions can make the differences go away. That assumption is also wrong.

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