Monday, July 31, 2006

An Interview with Charles (Bell Curve) Murray

About 10 years ago Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein wrote "The Bell Curve", a book that caused great outrage on the American left. I never read the book, but I dimly recall that the authors claimed that there was a general intellectual capacity that was roughly measured by IQ testing, that IQ was largely genetically determined, and that some ethnic groups had bigger average IQs than others. I think he was fond of South Koreans in particular, but I may be losing it there (I have a family relationship to Korea that probably affects my memory).

At the time I didn't say much, because, although I didn't care for the tone of the quotes I read, I suspected the substance would hold up. I thought the evidence even then was pretty strong that IQ was genetically determined [1], and that the main environmental effects were intrauterine and served only to lower the genetic limit. I also felt, with less data, that it was likely that there was indeed a general ability to synthesize and problem solve, and that it had some correlation with IQ test results. As to the ethnic relationships I was and am agnostic, but I didn't think the data was there to rule it out. So the book seemed plausible, albeit infected by an off-putting arrogance.

So I was interested in this Charles Murray interview featured in an obscure web site. Murry may even have mellowed slightly, though his religious devotion to Libertarianism is only mildly abated. It is interesting reading.

By the way, one way in which I believe I differ from Murray is that I don't think being smarter makes a person a more deserving human being. I value traits like integrity, compassion, mercy, wisdom, humility, curiousity, kindness, forgiveness... Murray seems to have adopted the Libertarian faith that intellect is the measure of perfection. (I wonder how they'll feel about our silicon heirs?)

[1] Yes, I've read some recent reviews claiming environment was more important than we'd thought. I thought the articles (NYT) were so dull and confused they weren't worth writing about.

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