Back in 1994, innumerable pundits informed us that only low-IQ idiots like those haters Herrnstein and Murray were so repulsively stupid as to not know that smart people don’t believe in intelligence anymore. Or something. The critics weren’t wholly coherent, but their rage was clear. (As Freud noted, projection is a widespread tendency.)
One of the less vituperative denunciations by the many reviewers who likely hadn’t actually read the book was by “civil rights lawyer, Barack Obama.” The future president intoned on NPR in 1994:
The idea that inferior genes account for the problems of the poor in general, and blacks in particular, isn’t new, of course. Racial supremacists have been using IQ tests to support their theories since the turn of the century. … With one finger out to the political wind, Mr. Murray has apparently decided that white America is ready for a return to good old-fashioned racism so long as it’s artfully packaged and can admit for exceptions like Colin Powell.
Of course, the irony is that Obama’s fabulous career epitomizes the prime subject of The Bell Curve: the rise of a “cognitive elite” facilitated by standardized testing.
You may have the impression from all the excoriations that The Bell Curve is all about the gap between whites and blacks in average intelligence. As Murray noted in explaining his book’s surprising sales:
The descriptions of The Bell Curve as an angry, racist polemic have led people in bookstores to pick it up to see what the fuss is about. The pages to which they turn are nothing like what they expect, their curiosity is piqued, and some of them buy it.
In reality, the white-black gap is the subject of Chapter 13, “Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability.” Herrnstein and Murray conclude that chapter in their usual thoughtful, reasonable style:
If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.
The gap that The Bell Curve documented nearly a generation ago is still the subject of Establishment obsession. In 2002, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush got together to solve the gap by passing the No Child Left Behind law, which legally mandated that by the spring of this year every public school student in America would be above average.