Is The Bell Curve Scientific Racism? — My Latest for Paste Magazine

Sam Harris is no stranger to controversy. Known as one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, critics have accused the neuroscientist and author of being racist and Islamophobic for his comments, including suggesting we should profile Muslims at airports. He also raised eyebrows in a 2015 when he laughed along with gay conservative Douglas Murray’s transphobic comments during an episode of Harris’ podcast “Waking Up.” Most recently, Harris interviewed Charles Murray, co-author of the infamous 1994 book The Bell Curve, which suggests Black people are genetically predisposed to low IQs. According to Harris, the controversy surrounding the book is due to political correctness:

People don’t want to hear that a person’s intelligence is in large measure due to his or her genes, and there seems to be very little we can do environmentally to increase a person’s intelligence — even in childhood. It’s not that the environment doesn’t matter, but genes appear to be 50 to 80 percent of the story. People don’t want to hear this. And they certainly don’t want to hear that average IQ differs across races and ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, Harris must have missed the memo that the truth is more complicated than that.

For starters, critics are quick to point out Murray and co-author Richard Herrstein’s scholarship is shoddy at best and outright political propaganda at worst. In a 1995 Scientific American article, psychologist Leon Kamin noticed that one of their sources was a 1991 paper by Richard Lynn comparing the average IQs of people of different ethnicities which, according to Kamin, “reported only average Matrices scores, not IQs; the other studies used tests clearly dependent on cultural content.” He also claimed that Murray and Herrnstein ignored social and economic factors that lead to individual success and instead just focus on IQ. Then there’s the fact that Murray and Herrnstein devote two chapters of The Bell Curve criticizing affirmative action, which led Kamin to believe the book was politically motivated (Wikipedia refers to Murray as a “libertarian conservative”).

Click here to read the rest.

Oh boy, this is gonna piss a lot of people off!


  1. says

    I find that a great failure of the racist mind is in how the bigotry infects thier ideas of inheritance. I’ve heard some Trump supporters describing Trump’s abilities in politics as “4d-chess”.

    Borrowing the metaphor a racist thinking about and talking about inheritance only operates at a fraction of one dimension, the DNA (like they can think in chromosomes). They miss the DNA methylation patterns, the miRNA and piRNA in the sperm, the lnRNA in the egg, and the better than a half dozen histone modifications.

    I’m convinced that some of that info can turn experience into changed behavior in descendents. The poor and the rich in all likelyhood have more different gene transcription than average people between two races. I find racism good to be disgusted by because of the sheer injury it does to how society thinks about inheritance.

  2. StevoR says

    Good article.

    I think the whole idea of “race” is unscientific bovine manure. There’s no such thing, people are just people. All individuals. (“I’m not!”)

    Race is a social construct, arbitrary, fluid and with no real factual basis.

    Racism OTOH and its warping, corrosive and very ugly impacts is sadly all too real.

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