A nicely done critique of Murray and Harris

It tries hard to be generous to both Murray and Harris, but this analysis of their racist claims also doesn’t cut any corners in tearing apart their claims.

Harris is not a neutral presence in the interview. “For better or worse, these are all facts,” he tells his listeners. “In fact, there is almost nothing in psychological science for which there is more evidence than for these claims.” Harris belies his self-presentation as a tough-minded skeptic by failing to ask Murray a single challenging question. Instead, during their lengthy conversation, he passively follows Murray to the dangerous and unwarranted conclusion that black and Hispanic people in the US are almost certainly genetically disposed to have lower IQ scores on average than whites or Asians — and that the IQ difference also explains differences in life outcomes between different ethnic and racial groups.

In Harris’s view, all of this is simply beyond dispute. Murray’s claims about race and intelligence, however, do not stand up to serious critical or empirical examination.

I’m far less charitable in my opinion of the two. It also doesn’t help that after I posted my criticisms of their bad science, I got flooded with racist email — the people who love Harris and Murray most are not dispassionate, objective scientists, but rather a motley assortment of unhinged bigots. Among other things they did, they subscribed me to goddamned awful newsletters and mailing lists, such as the one from American Renaissance. I got an invitation to attend their 2017 conference, featuring such illustrious racists as Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor, and John Derbyshire.

That is the company Harris and Murray keep. Let’s not pretend they’re serious scholars anymore, ‘k?


  1. CHARLES says

    I think Harris needs to re-assess his views on what constitute “facts” and “evidence”

    In reality these ideas date back to the ridiculous 19th Century concept of the “White man’s burden”

  2. microraptor says

    In reality these ideas date back to the ridiculous 19th Century concept of the “White man’s burden”

    Sounds like Harris, all right.

  3. FiveString says

    Thanks for the link to the Vox article. It does an excellent job of summing up the scientific consensus, in pointing out Harris’s myopia, and in assessing the danger of common liberal reaction. I strongly identify as a liberal myself, yet I listen regularly to Harris. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from listening and find him to be bright, articulate, and provocative. But when I listened to the interview he did with Murray I certainly came away with a nagging feeling that he was letting him off too easily – the Vox article did a great job of articulating why that was.

  4. Saad says

    What amused me about the previous Murray/Harris thread was how oblivious the white supremacists were of their own abysmal critical thinking skills. They thought we were the ones resisting scientific facts when it was them getting upset and whining that their racist claims were being met with skepticism and critical inquiry. Emotional snowflakes. They just want quick, convenient answers to reinforce their prejudices. So unscientific.

  5. chrislawson says

    I like most of the article. It has two serious flaws to me — one is that it doesn’t really convey the seriousness of Murray’s distortions (it keeps insisting they’re bad, but fails to mention the devastating awfulness of his intended policies: specifically cutting welfare programs and stopping immigration to the US because according to Murray, both degrade the genetic quality of American intelligence), and the other is that it fails to understand the value of protesting.

    The left has another lesson to learn as well. If people with progressive political values, who reject claims of genetic determinism and pseudoscientific racialist speculation, abdicate their responsibility to engage with the science of human abilities and the genetics of human behavior, the field will come to be dominated by those who do not share those values. Liberals need not deny that intelligence is a real thing or that IQ tests measure something real about intelligence, that individuals and groups differ in measured IQ, or that individual differences are heritable in complex ways.

    All well and good, but it’s not exactly silencing Murray since he has his books on sale and useful idiots like Harris to give him broad media access. Besides, what do you do with a charlatan like Murray who has promoted these racist views for more than 2 decades and refuses to concede that anything he said was mistaken? What do you do with Harris who uses his “skeptic” platform to softball Murray’s deceptions and fails to challenge him even on widely known, highly reproducible counter-evidence like the Flynn effect? Our Vox authors seem to be of the opinion that the best way to deal with serial evidence-deniers is more civil discussion of the evidence. Well, it just doesn’t work for evidence-deniers. Sometimes protests are the only way to get any headway. (Not that I’m defending anyone who brought violence to the protests.)

    Seriously, scholars “engaged” with Murray 24 years ago. Devastating critiques were written by Kamin, Gould, Lane, Chomsky, and literally hundreds of others. And Murray has not conceded one single solitary minor point. He has lost any right to be engaged with civilly.

  6. says

    I’m not familiar with Murray’s or Harris’ views; do they ever address the concrete evidence of discrimination that does exist (e.g. studies showing that people perceive blacks as bigger and more threatening than whites even when they’re the same size, identical resumes are less likely to get interviews if they have a stereotypical “black” name, etc?) Even if we grant for the sake of argument that different “races” could have different average IQs, that doesn’t automatically mean that discrimination doesn’t exist or that it’s justified.

  7. says

    @7, hbd1

    That article seems to have nice citations to check (not sure they change the conclusion much or at all…), but when it complains that “the authors explicitly replace Murray’s argument with a weaker one”…they don’t show this is the case. What is Murray’s stronger argument? How is it different from the weak argument Vox summarized? They don’t say.

  8. emergence says

    Accusing college students of overreacting to Murray is disingenuous. You can’t really approach the idea that certain races are mentally inferior to others dispassionately, especially when you or someone you know is part of one of the groups being shat on. What we have are white guys like Murray and Harris devaluing the lives of people of color, and then wagging their fingers when people understandably react with anger. It’s not saying much that they can talk “objectively” about the inferiority of other races when they themselves aren’t the ones whose intelligence is in question.

    I’d question the objectivity of these guys and their fanboys too. Racism is all about inflating the racist’s ego and providing post hoc justifications for their own simple-minded fear of people who are different from them. I can’t help but roll my eyes at claims by racists that they’ve found objective scientific proof that they’re superior to most of the rest of the human race simply because of how they were born.

  9. chrislawson says

    hb1 — they did ignore the Flynn Effect. Namchecking it and then pretending it doesn’t matter is ignoring it. The problem for Murray is that the Flynn effect directly contradicts all his predictions about IQ going down in America over time. Murray has made this prediction numerous times over two decades. The Flynn Effect shows that he is wrong. How does Murray account for this? Well, from the podcast, he comes up with this extraordinary piece of bullshit about some of the visuospatial questions on IQ tests:

    The ability of people to answer that question are going to be different in 1930 when nobody sees routinely objects rotating in three dimensions in front of their eyes than in 2017 where every television commercial is having you know the script and other things rotating in three dimensions as part of our daily lives.

    You can listen yourself here.

    So there you have it. People in the 1930s had no idea what it was like to see a rotating object! The Great Depression deprived whole swathes of the population from seeing behind things!

    And even then it’s the opposite of what his genetics-based approach predicts. And even worse, Murray goes on to say we don’t fully understand the Flynn Effect — which is true — but then shows no hesitation at all in accepting a racist, sexist, gene-fixed view of intelligence. Do you see the problem here? You can’t wave away a crucial piece of reproducible evidence that contradicts your core predictions because the explanation for it is not well understood but then cleave to your own even less-than-robust predictions which are explicitly contradicted by said evidence.

  10. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says


    It’s almost as if performance on IQ tests depends on factors other than native intelligence.

  11. emergence says

    @ chrislawson

    Wait, Murray thinks that an explanation for the Flynn effect that invokes environmental factors somehow supports his claims about intelligence not being affected by environmental factors? Please tell me I’m misunderstanding, or that seems like a massive own goal.

  12. chrislawson says

    emergence@14 — yes, it’s that bad. You can check out the link (which starts from the bit I quoted; if you go back about 3 or 4 minutes you can hear the whole thing about the Flynn Effect).

    Even worse, he pulls one of the most sleazy demagogue tricks imaginable. He praises Flynn’s research and claims that Flynn’s statistical expertise is well beyond Murray’s ability to understand it…and then ignores everything Flynn has said about how to interpret his own findings. It means he can (1) pretend to be reasonable about other scholars’ knowledge (o, I am but a humble seeker of truth in an uncertain world), (2) dismiss the interpretation of the scholar who actually understands the research, while (3) deflecting any criticism of his own position. It’s just extraordinary. It’s like saying “Schrödinger was a genius far surpassing me, but he was wrong about his famous equation, and I’m far too unlearned about the subject to be able to explain why he was wrong.”

  13. chrislawson says

    Oh, and all you need to know about that Medium piece is the closing line:

    I leave with a question for the authors of this piece. This July, behavioral geneticists will announce over 600 SNPs statistically associated with educational attainment — and IQ by proxy. Are you ready to come back to this topic with that data in hand?

    There are 10 million SNPs in humans, so it would be astonishing if there weren’t a few hundred associated with anything. I bet you we can find some strong associations between SNPs and a person’s social security number. And since children inherit their SNPs as well as their socioeconomic status, the existence of associations will do nothing to distinguish genetic from environmental factors. And yet this fool thinks this is a slam-dunk for his ideas…which means he doesn’t even understand sophomore-level statistics or study design.

  14. chrislawson says

    (oh, and I forgot to mention that the vast majority of SNPs have no bearing on any genetic expression — so they don’t by themselves support any genetic component to anything)

  15. numerobis says

    I bet you we can find some strong associations between SNPs and a person’s social security number

    Until recently the first three digits were the area number. So if there’s associations between SNPs and the residents of certain areas of the US, you’d get a similar association with SSNs.

  16. microraptor says

    What a Maroon @13:

    It’s almost as if performance on “IQ” tests depends on factors other than native intelligence.

    Which brings up the question of just what constitutes intelligence in the first place.

  17. wzrd1 says

    I saw the conference invitation and this came to mind…

    One Mark V ECM unit, 1000 km of
    Fullerene cable, one low yield nuclear warhead.
    Surprise party for foreign dignitary 2017 American Renaissance conference.

    Argosy Special Operations
    Requisition Form,
    CY 9512

  18. Anton Mates says

    chrislawson @15,

    Even worse, he pulls one of the most sleazy demagogue tricks imaginable. He praises Flynn’s research and claims that Flynn’s statistical expertise is well beyond Murray’s ability to understand it

    So Murray lacks the expertise to understand the statistical analyses in Flynn’s work, and he lacks the motivation to gain that expertise, but he’s still spent the last 25 years or so making statistical arguments about racial differences in intelligence? Either educate yourself to the level of your peers, guy, or find something else to do with your life.

    I don’t understand much of anything about homology theory. That’s why I don’t write books about it.

  19. kayden says

    Why are IQ tests so important to racists anyways? What do they measure? How is what they measure important to every day life or individual success?

    Interesting that this year Harris has exposed himself as a racist with his coddling of Murray just as Maher did with his coddling of Milo.

  20. microraptor says

    Why are IQ tests so important to racists anyways?

    So they can “prove” the superiority of their race over others.