The Bell Curve

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Sun Feb 19 14:10:56 EST 1995

*The Bell Curve* has gotten a lot of fuss in the United States, as 
well as in Europe, as mentioned by another poster.  My opinion is that it 
goes along with the current conservative political climate, which 
seems to have a strong undercurrent of looking for scapegoats and quick, 
easy answers, perhaps as a result of difficult economic times.  

As distasteful as I find the policy suggestions that the writers and 
followers of this book are proposing, any attempts to point out that 
these ideas are old, recycled, and discredited tend to bring forth a hue 
and cry in academics and in the popular media, of "there go 
the PC police of the left again!  Trying to suppress any ideas that don't
fit into their liberal ideology!" and somehow they manage to become, in 
their minds at least, the guardians of free speech and academic freedom, 
which again, IMHO, are traditionally liberal ideas.
	Dr. Vincent Sarich at UC Berkeley, where I worked for a year and 
a half getting my Ph.D., has long been an advocate of studying the 
genetic basis for intelligence, and becomes especially defensive when he 
feels his academic freedom is being invaded.  Berkeley being Berkeley, student 
protestors have disrupted his class from time to time, which hasn't 
exactly helped their cause.  On the other hand, I can hardly blame them 
for protesting statements that he has made such as "a woman's brain is, on 
average, 200 g smaller than a man's brain, you can build a chimp out of 
those 200 g."  (Unfortunately my memory of this quote is not exact, being 
3 years old at this point, but the thrust was that the difference between 
a woman's and a man's brain was a chimp's brain.)  
	I like the suggestion made by another poster that someone 
interested in intelligence testing and genetics read Stephen Jay Gould.  A book 
that is even more germane to the subject is *The Mismeasure of Man*.  But 
I am curious about how people in general view Stephen Jay Gould, 
especially in Europe.  I have a German friend, who has read 
widely in biology (much more widely than I have), with whom 
I have a lot of science policy discussions, and we agree on a 
lot of things, but one of them is not Stephen Jay Gould.  My friend 
thinks Gould is just a popularizer out for his own gain, with no new 
ideas of his own.  He also thinks that Gould has set himself up against 
"sociobiology," specifically the ideas of E.O. Wilson.  Not having read 
Wilson myself, I can't disagree too intelligently, but my gut feeling is 
that Gould's argument is not with sociobiology, per se, but with the uses 
to which people want to put it, and that is my argument with the authors 
of *The Bell Curve.*  Even if their "research" is 100% true, does this mean 
that we should condemn the "less intelligent" to broken lives of economic 
despair? And ignore and waste the other gifts that they have to offer 
	A politically less-charged example:  Height is clearly genetic.
Let's say height is desirable in 
society for some reason.  Improved nutrition will make everybody taller, 
it won't make everybody the same height, but it will allow everyone to 
achieve more height than they could without improved nutrition.  Still, 
even with the best diet in the world, some people (like myself, for 
example) will still be shorter than average.  But, if height is desirable 
for some reason, does this mean that only genetically "tall" people 
should get good food to make them even taller, and let the rest of us 
starve?  This seems to me to be what is being touted by followers of *The 
Bell Curve*, only substitute "intelligence" for "height," and 
"educational and economic opportunity" for "nutrition."
	It seems to me that the best response we can make to this book as 
scientists and educators is to put out counter-arguments, and make sure
they are heard.

Karen Allendoerfer

(This posting represents only my personal opinion, and not necessarily 
that of Caltech or its employees)

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