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Race, I.Q., American Society and Charles Murray

Think Tank Transcripts:Race, Success and Charles Murray

ANNOUNCER: 'Think Tank' has been madepossible by Amgen, unlocking the secrets of life through cellular andmolecular biology. At Amgen, we produce medicines that improvepeople's lives today and bring hope for tomorrow.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theWilliam H. Donner Foundation, the Randolph Foundation, and the JMFoundation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello. I'm Ben Wattenberg. Can intelligence bemeasured? Does a high IQ score predict success? And are theredifferences in average IQ between ethnic and racial groups?

Last week on this program, Charles Murray, author of thecontroversial new book, 'The Bell Curve,' answered yes to thesequestions. This week we start a two-part discussion by looking at thescience, or alleged science, of race and IQ. Next week we deal withthe policy implications of Murray's ideas.

Joining us to sort through the conflict and the consensus areRoger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University; LindaGottfredson, professor of educational studies at the University ofDelaware; Douglas Besharov, resident scholar at the AmericanEnterprise Institute; and Christopher Winship, professor of sociologyat Harvard University. And from Boston via satellite, Glenn Loury,professor of economics at Boston University.

The topic before this house: Race, IQ, success, and CharlesMurray. This week on 'Think Tank.'

MR. WATTENBERG: Last week in an in-depth interview on thisprogram, Charles Murray introduced us to 'The Bell Curve:Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.' He knew it wouldbe highly controversial.

(Begin excerpt of previously taped interview.)

CHARLES MURRAY: We're dealing with very explosive stuff here.

MR. WATTENBERG: You sure are.

MR. MURRAY: And when we said you can face all these facts withoutrunning screaming from the room, one of the things that bothers us isthat people are all too eager to run screaming from the room.

(End of excerpt of previously taped interview.)

MR. WATTENBERG: And Murray was right. The book caused a mediafirestorm. Why? Well, consider Murray's claims. He asserts that IQtests accurately measure general intelligence and that a high IQscore is a good predictor of academic and career success.

MR. MURRAY: (From videotape.) There is a dirty little secret thatwe try to expose in the book, which is that the conventional wisdomin the media about IQ tests and what they measure and don't measure,and expert opinion are 180 degrees opposite. IQ is a very importantpredictor, not just of academic success, but of economic success.There is powerful evidence that they measure the same thing in lowerand upper socioeconomic groups and in different racial groups.

MR. WATTENBERG: Murray says further that as we enter the age ofthe information economy, society will place a higher premium onintelligence. The result: smart people will do better than everbefore and people with low IQs will do worse.

MR. MURRAY: (From videotape.) If you're real smart in the UnitedStates today, you'll probably end up going to a real good school,you'll probably end up in a profession that pays good money and yoursalary is going to continue to go up while other people's salariesare stagnating. And at the other extreme of society, you've gotpeople who have fewer and fewer jobs they can do that repay the costof paying for them.

MR. WATTENBERG: Murray says people with low IQs will findthemselves in a growing underclass that is a great deal more likelyto remain poor, commit crimes, have more babies out of wedlock, andend up on welfare.

Moreover, Murray argues that about 60 percent of intelligence isgenetic, and his most provocative assertion is that on average,blacks in America have a lower IQ than whites, about 15 points lower.

Many critics are in stark disagreement with Murray. They arguethat differences in IQ are mainly the result of environmentalinfluences, such as growing up in impoverished neighborhoods,attending bad schools and living with pervasive racism. Some say thatby even bringing up the question of race and IQ, Murray andHerrnstein are heating up racial tensions.

MR. MURRAY: (From videotape.) I am afraid, first, of raciststaking what we say as a basis for conclusions that Dick Herrnsteinand I think are utterly unfounded. I am worried -- we were bothworried about all the ways in which people are too inclined to takesomething like IQ and make it into fate. I like to think that we dida good enough job that there will be enough other people of good willwho will point to what the book says and say, those guys didn't saywhat you're trying to make them say.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, let's begin with the obvious question,and the question is, what do you think about the Murray-Herrnsteinbook, 'The Bell Curve'? And I call first on my colleague at AEI,Douglas Besharov.

MR. BESHAROV: Well, I think anyone who's read the book -- and Idon't think there are that many people who have; it's a long book --will agree that it's a masterful accumulation of data. It's really afinely written book, and when Herrnstein and Murray are right,they're very right. But when they're wrong, I think they're verywrong. They're right that IQ matters, they're right that increasinglypeople who score higher on tests earn more money and are moresuccessful in our society. But I think they're wrong about what theysay about the inability to raise IQ scores, especially for low-incomeor disadvantaged children, and especially for African-Americans. Ithink there is sufficient evidence that we should keep trying, and Ithink their conclusion that we should give up on the endeavor iswrong.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Chris Winship.

MR. WINSHIP: Well, I agree with Doug about most of the points he'smaking, not all. I think the part of the book that really deals withthe relationship between IQ and various social problems is enormouslyimportant and deserving of a lot of attention. Hopefully, we'll getinto a discussion later about how believable those results are.

I think the discussion about social policy and what kind ofsociety do we want to have, if there are innate differences inpeople's ability to succeed in this society, is most important andreally is quite distinctive from both the traditional conservativeand the traditional liberal perspective.

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. In Boston via satellite, Glenn Loury, youheard the question. What do you think about the book?

MR. LOURY: Well, I think the book is an important one. It'sprovocative, in places it's quite disturbing, but I mean we need tokeep this thing in perspective. This book is not 'Mein Kampf.'Despite some of the hysteria and the reaction to it, it is in themain a sustained piece of social science analysis. That doesn't makeit right in every respect, but it makes it in the main a question ofwhat are the data telling us about some important social questions.

It's in places brilliant. I think it's in places incredibly naive.I think it shows that iconoclasm for its own sake is not necessarilysuch a good idea.

MR. WATTENBERG: Glenn, you wrote in the 'New Republic' about thisbook that it was 'the crudest of racial generalization,' and inanother spot you said it was 'errant nonsense.' Do you stand by that?

MR. LOURY: Yeah, that's what I said. I mean because at the end ofthe book and in that 'New Republic' article, there is speculationabout the political and social hierarchy in the United States that Ithink is not implied by the social science analysis in the book. Ithought much of the kind of political generalizations that theauthors come to in the book were quite questionable and not supportedby their data.

MR. WATTENBERG: Linda Gottfredson.

MS. GOTTFREDSON: I take the book as an invitation to the nation toengage in a sustained dialogue about some issues that we've beenreluctant to entertain for a long time. We have some fundamentalprinciples in the nation that turn out to be conflicting. We can'ttreat everybody alike or in a color-blind manner and at the same timeget color-blind or equal results. And we have yet to come to termswith what our philosophy should be in the face of that fact.

MR. WATTENBERG: Roger Wilkins.

MR. WILKINS: Well, I think Charles Murray is disingenuous, forwhatever brilliance of analysis there may be and whatever brillianceof putting together your own research. Murray -- I don't know ifHerrnstein -- Murray knew what would grab the headlines, and for himnow to behave as if he was a lone, brave scholar doing things thatneeded to be done and kind of amazed that people would be angry andhurt is, I think, ridiculous.

I think Charles' greatest talent is that he is a statisticalpolemicist, that he has certain, fixed political visions and views,ends that he wants to achieve, and I think this book is about that.

MR. WATTENBERG: Linda Gottfredson, you're a psychometrician. Doesgeneral intelligence exist?

MS. GOTTFREDSON: Yes, it does. What we mean by generalintelligence when we use IQ tests is a very general capacity to solveproblems, to reason, engage in abstract thinking, and the like. It'smeasured quite well by a variety of kinds of mental tests, and that'spretty much the consensus in the field.

MR. WATTENBERG: Does anybody disagree with that?

MR. BESHAROV: Well, I think to add to that, it's not somethingthat you're born with totally, which is to say, the process ofintelligence I think is an unfolding one, with an interplay betweeninnate capacities and the environment. And the mistake which I thinkoften is made is to say that person is intelligent without realizingthat there's a whole history of development that leads that person tothat point.

MR. WATTENBERG: Do IQ tests measure intelligence?

MR. BESHAROV: It measures something that is associated withsuccess in many avenues of American life. Now, there are a lot ofifs, ands and buts around that because there is also motivation,there is dedication, there is discipline. And also, it measuresacquired knowledge, many of our tests, and that's an interactionagain with an environment.

MS. GOTTFREDSON: Well, you can measure the very same intelligenceon tests that are completely nonverbal. They can use numbers orletters or figures and get exactly the same intelligence.

MR. WATTENBERG: Now, do IQ tests accurately predict academic andcareer success?

MR. WINSHIP: Really what Murray and Herrnstein are arguing is thatIQ is an important determinant of all different kinds and measures ofsuccess. In this book, the analysis Herrnstein and Murray have doneis a serious and is a good analysis, but it's not cutting edge andit's not as sophisticated as it might be.

A better way to get at this would be to, say, look at siblings.Siblings have common family backgrounds. They have the same parents.They've grown up in the same environment. If you believe theHerrnstein and Murray argument that intelligence is as important asit is then you should see important differences between the siblingsin success that are related to their differences in intelligence.

Now, I've done some analysis with Sandy Kormit at Minnesota thatsuggests that we get effects that are about half as big as Herrnsteinand Murray are seeing when we do the sibling kind of comparison.

MR. WATTENBERG: Glenn Loury in Boston, do you have something toadd on that?

MR. LOURY: Right. I want to associate myself with what ChrisWinship was just saying. I think he was making some very importantpoints.

My answer in general is, well, I'm not a psychometrician, but mysense of it is that there is something there in this concept of G, orgeneral intelligence, that it's reasonably well measured by a varietyof tests, some of them really astoundingly simple in their structure,that the cultural bias argument needs to be taken seriously, but inthe end doesn't defeat the utility of using these tests, and yes,that they do correlate with important outcomes -- educationalachievement, success at economic life, and so on.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, Roger Wilkins, you are a professor ofhistory at George Mason University. Can you give us from yourperspective sort of a rundown of this topic as it has appeared inAmerican history, and why do you think it's sort of reemerging now?

MR. WILKINS: Well, I have to say that I have instinctively moreskepticism about the validity of these tests when applied to blacksthan my colleagues on this panel do.

The second point that I would make is that the scientificexamination of the deficiencies of black people is as old as therepublic. The first person that I know of who did this was ThomasJefferson in 'Notes on the State of Virginia,' in which, though hesays he's against slavery, he analyzes, scientifically according tohim, the deficiencies of black people. These are black people, ofcourse, whom he owns and whose lives he is stealing and whose laborhe is stealing. But he says they are ugly, they smell bad, they arestupid, they can't write poems, they can't do mathematics.

Early in this century, the head of the faculty at the Universityof Virginia saying that blacks should only have a Sunday schooltraining because their lot is to be a source of cheap labor. WilliamGraham Sumner at Yale purported to have the same views. At JohnsHopkins, they were studying blacks' cranial capacities. Howard Odomgot a Ph.D. at Columbia in 1910 with a dissertation that says blackshave no connection to aspirations of the higher sort; they can't beinspired by their homes or by great men.

So I think these people are mining a rich tradition of discreditedscholarship, and I'm convinced that at some stage this will bediscredited, too.

MR. LOURY: Ben, can I say something here?


MR. LOURY: Not in response to Roger, because I think he says somethings that need to be said. But I want to distress the distinctionbetween differences among individuals in cognitive functioning andracial differences in cognitive functioning.

I mean I think, you know, groups don't have intelligence. Peopledo. And much of the abuse that Roger rightly points to is founded onthis error of observing that there may be some differences in thecapacities of human beings and then impugning differences of thatkind to capacities of collectivities of people. And that is a kind ofdangerous move.

MR. WATTENBERG: Are there group differences, Linda?

MS. GOTTFREDSON: Let me go back and talk a little bit about what'shappened in the last three decades. Back in the '60s, during theCivil Rights movement, psychometricians were very leery themselves,many of them, about -- and educational psychologists aboutintelligence tests, and many of us presumed that they were biased,and many people set out to prove that. And there is a variety ofkinds of very specific strategies for assessing whether there is biasin tests. And what the field has reluctantly come to conclude is thatthere isn't bias in the major mental tests in the United States whenit comes to native-born English-speaking peoples.

MR. WILKINS: But if you're talking about a population that just 50years ago, within our lifetime, was largely confined to the South,where twice as much was being spent on white kids as on black kids,where 80 percent of the people were in poverty. And if you're talkingabout a population now where, even today, two-thirds of the kids arein racially isolated schools --

MS. GOTTFREDSON: What you're talking about then is the source ofany differences, and what we were talking about before was whetherthose differences can be measured well and whether they can predictaccurately.

But one thing I'd like to say is that what the tests show is that-- and I think this flies in the face of what racists would want tohear -- is that blacks and whites are fundamentally alike in thatthey all, as well as other racial/ethnic groups, span the full rangeof intelligence. The difference is in the clustering of people.

MR. WATTENBERG: When you say that we don't know the source of thisdifference, if the source is, as Roger says, environmental andslavery and the pervasive racism, I think was the phrase you used,then that would call into question what Murray and Herrnstein aresaying, that a large part of it, or a significant part of it isgenetic.

MS. GOTTFREDSON: They're not necessarily inconsistent. I thinkthey say that it's certainly partly environmental and perhaps partlygenetic. So I don't see an inconsistency.

I think it does put a lie to the whole notion that somehow blacksas a group -- and Glenn Loury was speaking about the importance ofnot speaking about groups -- that blacks as a group are notfundamentally different than whites. There may be more blacks who areat the riskier end of the IQ distribution than whites. And that's avery severe disadvantage for those people. But blacks in that senseare no different than whites. We span the full range of intelligence.

MR. BESHAROV: Yeah, but I think that's putting a very polite kindof patina on the findings, and I think it's important to say what thetest score differences are because test scores have so much to dowith opportunity. And if there is a way to change test scores --

MS. GOTTFREDSON: No, I don't mean to be trying to --

MR. BESHAROV: But we should be real blunt about it. Half of allAmerican blacks score below I think it's the 84th percentile ofAmerican whites. That's a whopping difference. I keep using the wordscore because I think that's important. And if the cause of thatdifference in scoring is somehow environmental, then the socialresponsibility and our interpretation of that difference becomes verydifferent.

And I suppose what troubles me about the book and the publicityabout it afterwards is that distinction is not made. There arecarefully crafted sentences where you can see that, but the weight ofthe argument kind of snows over or kind of ignores that underlyingenvironmental aspect.

MR. LOURY: Can I say something here?

MR. WATTENBERG: Glenn, I know you must have something to add tothis.

MR. LOURY: Well, very briefly, because I don't think my point hasbeen understood. Look, there are differences in human populations inintelligence. Why shouldn't we be as concerned about the persons whomay be scoring low because of deprived opportunity, independently oftheir race? Race is not a hard biological category. It's a social andpolitical construct, okay?

In a way, the racialists are hoist on their own petard by thisbook. By teaching us to divide people into the racial categories andthen to compute the averages within the groups, they invite a certainkind of social thinking which wouldn't even occur to us if we lookedat human beings as individuals, recognizing race as the superficialepiphenomenon that it is.

MR. WILKINS: Glenn, this is the United States of America, andthat's how we do look at each other, unfortunately. I mean you'retalking about a world that we might want to live in, but that is nothow Americans are conditioned to look at each other.

MR. LOURY: I understand that, Roger. All I'm trying to say is thatthere is an average difference between people who are identified asblack and white in this country in their performance on IQ tests. Tomy mind, that says nothing about the inherent worth of any humanbeing, but that difference does exist.

However, if we were to look at the opportunities of peopleprimarily in terms of their individual human qualities and worth,which is what we still have the opportunity to do even now as apolitical matter, then we would be inured against the kind of racistgeneralization, the kind of 'Mein Kampf' mentality --

MR. WATTENBERG: Glenn, you mentioned the magic word which is goingto lead us into another part of this discussion, which was'politics.' Do you think that this book is a work of science or awork of politics?

MR. LOURY: I think two-thirds of the book is a work of science andis an important, if arguable, work of science; and I think one-thirdof the book is the kind of political speculation that, for example,Charles Murray engages in in his earlier book, 'In Pursuit.' Andfrankly, I don't think that that's a very deep or profound set ofspeculations.

MR. WATTENBERG: I agree with that one --

MR. WILKINS: If you take Glenn's point, then you move -- in thediscussion Glenn and I were having, if you are going to make thepoints that they make about racial differences in IQ in that book,and you know you are writing in the United States of America and noton the moon, then you will take into account the fact, for example,that only in a flick-of-an-eye ago, 130 years ago, all the blacks inthis country, 95 percent of them were illiterate and impoverished.And today you have this broad array of black achievers.

And as a matter of fact, if you were a real scientist, you mightsay, 'God, these are super people, having lived through what they'velived through and achieved what they have achieved. We ought to studyhow they have done so well.'

There is nothing of that suggested in the thought of these men. Onthe contrary, when they introduce the racial issue, they introduce itas if it exists in a vacuum. I therefore suggest that this isclearly, no matter how good the science is in the good part of thebook, a work of politics.

MR. WINSHIP: Every time we have a social problem in this country,we identify it as a racial problem. As Murray and Herrnstein pointout, there are as many low-IQ people in the population who are whiteas who are black. There are more poor white people in this countrythan there are poor black people. We're still at the point wherethere are more white people in prison than there are black people.

And yet the whole media response to this book is to say, well, weneed to be worried about low IQ and that by definition makes it aracial problem. Why do we have to define it always as racial problemswhen you've had three decades -- you've had a century of socialpolicy that's essentially thought about social problems almostentirely in a racial way, where, you know, the people who need helpare just as many whites as there are blacks?

MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you, Glenn Loury in Boston,Christopher Winship, Roger Wilkins, Linda Gottfredson, and DouglasBesharov.

And thank you. Please join us next week for part two of thisdiscussion at race, IQ, success, and Charles Murray.

We enjoy hearing from our audience very much. For 'Think Tank,'I'm Ben Wattenberg. END

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