Boli replies to Gouinlock on The Bell Curve

(1) The full text of my critique of The Bell Curve is 21 pages long; Emory Report was able to publish only about four pages of it. I am sending the complete version to Prof. Gouinlock and will be glad to make it available to any other interested readers.

(2) The theses Prof. Gouinlock identifies as the core of the book summarize it well. My critique accepts the first thesis, that intelligence varies widely. I reject the second thesis, that IQ differences are highly correlated with a wide spectrum of behavior, because the relationships between IQ test scores and behaviors are uniformly small or even negligible. (In technical terms, in most cases the analyses account for less than 10 percent of the variance, and in many cases for less than 5 percent.) Given the very weak relationships found by Murray and Herrnstein, the book as a whole overstates its case enormously.

(3) I do not argue against the claim that "there is a significant genetic component in IQ." I do argue that the presence of genetic differences in intelligence among individuals tells us nothing about genetic differences between races. I show that the type of study required to assess adequately the hypothesis that racial differences in IQ test scores are genetic in origin has never been attempted. The "evidence to the contrary" Prof. Gouinlock mentions is evidence that racial differences exist, not evidence that they are due to genetic factors. Rushton's views based on a theory of environmental harshness are not just controversial; they are nonsense, given the present state of knowledge.

(4) The fact that "many investigators of IQ make ethnic distinctions" demonstrates that research traditions sometimes make consistent errors. To reiterate: race is socially, not genetically, defined; the genes of people who check the box marked "African American" on a questionnaire may be almost entirely of African origin, but they may also be primarily of European origin. Genetic arguments about "races" are suspect unless the genetic differences between groups are known. In other types of studies, of course, the social definition of race is wholly appropriate because it is the social definition that has demonstrable consequences.

(5) I do not accuse Prof. Gouinlock's departed friend, Richard Herrnstein, of being racist; I argue that the book is racist, in the following sense. It presents the view that racial differences in intelligence are substantially genetic in origin and unamenable to change through social programs, but it cannot support that view. It therefore is essentially ideological and, in my view, intellectually dishonest. Perhaps, however, it is only naive; its theoretical and methodological failings are indeed elementary. Even if these failings are the result of ignorance rather than ideology, however, the book gives a boost to racial prejudice in this country.

(6) I assume Prof. Gouinlock includes me among those reviewers who use the book as a "handy instrument" to show that they are "morally sensitive - in the politically correct way, of course!" When he reads the full text of my critique, I believe he will change his mind. In its pages he will find very few traces of blood dripping from my heart.

"Political correctness" is a remarkable moral and cultural construct I would be happy to discuss with Prof. Gouinlock; I give a lecture on its sociological origins and implications in one of my courses. I reject categorically the notion that groups that are poor, disadvantaged, or the objects of systematic discrimination are ipso facto endowed with moral virtue. I find that blacks, gays, Latinos and Navajos (for example) are neither more nor less virtuous than any other social categories of people.

My view that we have an obligation to try to help improve the lives of the poor and disadvantaged has nothing to do with the attribution of moral virtue implicit in political correctness. In this I am hopelessly conventional: I accept the Western ideology asserting the basic dignity and worth of every person, and I insist as a sociologist that the poverty and disadvantage suffered by racial minorities is structural and institutional in origin, not genetic or psychological. The Bell Curve's policy positions would exacerbate, not ameliorate, the problems its authors discuss, precisely because they reflect and reinforce the American cultural preference for individualist explanations of social ills.

(7) I thank Prof. Gouinlock for his response. Public intellectual debate is all too rare at Emory, and I appreciate the chance to carry on a dialogue. Nancy Spitler of Emory Report is also due thanks for making space available to us so that the important issues raised by The Bell Curve would not simply fade away.

John Boli