The bell curve


“Andrew Sullivan has a recent post on IQ. ”

That statement is only partially true.  Several weeks ago he had a post, and then it was recent, and I thought to myself that it was about time I wrote one of my own about “The Bell Curve”, the controversial book published in the 90’s about the various average tested IQ’s for different ethnic groups.  And, truth be told, I was really waiting for Andrew to mention it again (as he does from time to time as he was the original publisher of the book) because Ta-Nehisi Coates had mentioned it in passing months and months ago and I waited so long to ricochet a post off of that one I could no longer find the original on his site.  This actual post is too small to justify the procrastination (or at least it would be if I hadn’t spend a good chunk of paragraph nattering on about it), but I think the real problem was that I knew if I did this post I would have to do a post, or more likely a long series of posts, on IQ itself, which is a very interesting geek-like topic to me, and something I’ve read and thought a great deal about and so could easily bore all of you to death with.  Faced with the potential mass exodus (;-) of readers (you know who you are), I became paralyzed.  Anywho, here’s the post I should have written:

“The Bell Curve” basically boils down to this:  If you take the self reporting Asians, they score about five percent higher on IQ tests than self reporting Causcausians, who in turn score about five percent higher than self reporting African-Americans (aka “Blacks” in the early 90’s).  The rest of the book was a lot of nonsense about the CONSEQUENCES!!! of this ‘undeniable’ truth.  I’ll give the authors credit for having the balls to publish data that was only going to get thim in trouble with the culture police and shunned from polite society, but on the other hand they filled many pages with shaky speculation on what it meant, and those dark ruminations left me thinking a) they were bigots (although if the facts are the facts, even a bigot can be right) and b) they probably would probably be hailed as geniuses in any bar occupied by conservative white intellectuals and drink for free all night, thereby offsetting their ostracization from the PC crowd, who certainly can be a pain in the a**.  Oh and I should note that it’s been a decade and a half since I read the book and couldn’t even finish it so I am sure the numbers cited above are only in the ballpark.  Hernstein’s earlier work without Murray were drier but more interesting.

What fascinated me about “The Bell Curve” wasn’t the book itself then, but rather the controversy that rose up like a sand storm, obliterating all radio talk show hours in its path.  Because in the end, even if we accept all of Hernstein’s and Murray’s (the authors) numbers at face values, they don’t have any actual relevance.  Because any given black guy or white woman or Asian child isn’t affected by the average intelligence of their ethnic group.  They are affected by their own precise intelligence, inasmuch as we are affected by our intelligence at all (an over rated concept BTW).  The bell curve of the book is one with a wide distribution, ranging from severly mentally handicapped to once a century genius.  Look at it this way: I’m of Irish descent.  Maybe the Irish on average are about five percent shorter than other people (I don’t know, I’m making it up).  Maybe they are even twenty per cent shorter.  Little wee guys.  But I’m six foot one.  When I go to cram my sore knees into that coach class seat what the heck do I care about the fact that some average cousin of mine would be comfortable?


One Response to “The bell curve”

  1. Cathy Says:

    Exactly! We each must exist in our own world.

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