Monday, March 21, 2016

An open letter to the Virginia Tech community

By Charles Murray

Last week, the president of Virginia Tech, Tim Sands, published an “open letter to the Virginia Tech community” defending lectures delivered by deplorable people like me (I’m speaking on the themes of Coming Apart on March 25). Bravo for President Sands’s defense of intellectual freedom. But I confess that I was not entirely satisfied with his characterization of my work. So I’m writing an open letter of my own.

Dear Virginia Tech community,

Since President Sands has just published an open letter making a serious allegation against me, it seems appropriate to respond. The allegation: “Dr. Murray is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity — a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”

Let me make an allegation of my own. President Sands is unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve — the book I wrote with Richard J. Herrnstein to which he alludes — or with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.

The Bell Curve and Charles Murray
I should begin by pointing out that the topic of the The Bell Curve was not race, but, as the book’s subtitle says, “Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.” Our thesis was that over the last half of the 20th century, American society has become cognitively stratified. At the beginning of the penultimate chapter, Herrnstein and I summarized our message:

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.

A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.

A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. [p. 509].

It is obvious that these conclusions have not been discredited in the twenty-two years since they were written. They may be more accurately described as prescient.

Now to the substance of President Sands’s allegation.

The heritability of intelligence

Richard Herrnstein and I wrote that cognitive ability as measured by IQ tests is heritable, somewhere in the range of 40% to 80% [pp. 105–110], and that heritability tends to rise as people get older. This was not a scientifically controversial statement when we wrote it; that President Sands thinks it has been discredited as of 2016 is amazing.

You needn’t take my word for it. In the wake of the uproar over The Bell Curve, the American Psychological Association (APA) assembled a Task Force on Intelligence consisting of eleven of the most distinguished psychometricians in the United States. Their report, titled “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns,” was published in the February 1996 issue of the APA’s peer-reviewed journal, American Psychologist. Regarding the magnitude of heritability (represented by h2), here is the Task Force’s relevant paragraph. For purposes of readability, I have omitted the citations embedded in the original paragraph:

If one simply combines all available correlations in a single analysis, the heritability (h2) works out to about .50 and the between-family variance (c2) to about .25. These overall figures are misleading, however, because most of the relevant studies have been done with children. We now know that the heritability of IQ changes with age: h2 goes up and c2 goes down from infancy to adulthood. In childhood h2 and c2 for IQ are of the order of .45 and .35; by late adolescence h2 is around .75 and c2 is quite low (zero in some studies) [p. 85].

The position we took on heritability was squarely within the consensus state of knowledge. Since The Bell Curve was published, the range of estimates has narrowed somewhat, tending toward modestly higher estimates of heritability.

Intelligence and race

There’s no doubt that discussing intelligence and race was asking for trouble in 1994, as it still is in 2016. But that’s for political reasons, not scientific ones. Once again, the state of knowledge about the basics is not particularly controversial. The mean scores for all kinds of mental tests vary by ethnicity. No one familiar with the data disputes that most elemental statement.

Regarding the most sensitive difference, between Blacks and Whites, Herrnstein and I followed the usual estimate of one standard deviation (15 IQ points), but pointed out that the magnitude varied depending on the test, sample, and where and how it was administered. What did the APA Task Force conclude?

“Although studies using different tests and samples yield a range of results, the Black mean is typically about one standard deviation (about 15 points) below that of Whites. The difference is largest on those tests (verbal or nonverbal) that best represent the general intelligence factor g” [p. 93].

Is the Black/White differential diminishing? In The Bell Curve, we discussed at length the evidence that the Black/White differential has narrowed [pp. 289–295], concluding that “The answer is yes with (as usual) some qualifications.” The Task Force’s treatment of the question paralleled ours, concluding with “[l]arger and more definitive studies are needed before this trend can be regarded as established” [p. 93].

Can the Black/White differential be explained by test bias? In a long discussion [pp. 280–286], Herrnstein and I presented the massive evidence that the predictive validity of mental tests is similar for Blacks and Whites and that cultural bias in the test items or their administration do not explain the Black/White differential. The Task Force’s conclusions regarding predictive validity: “Considered as predictors of future performance, the tests do not seem to be biased against African Americans” [p. 93]. Regarding cultural bias and testing conditions:  “Controlled studies [of these potential sources of bias] have shown, however, that none of them contributes substantially to the Black/White differential under discussion here” [p. 94].

Can the Black/White differential be explained by socioeconomic status? We pointed out that the question has two answers: Statistically controlling for socioeconomic status (SES) narrows the gap. But the gap does not narrow as SES goes up — i.e., measured in standard deviations, the differential between Blacks and Whites with high SES is not narrower than the differential between those with low SES [pp. 286–289]. Here’s the APA Task Force on this topic:

Several considerations suggest that [SES] cannot be the whole explanation. For one thing, the Black/White differential in test scores is not eliminated when groups or individuals are matched for SES. Moreover, the data reviewed in Section 4 suggest that—if we exclude extreme conditions—nutrition and other biological factors that may vary with SES account for relatively little of the variance in such scores [p. 94].

The notion that Herrnstein and I made claims about ethnic differences in IQ that have been scientifically rejected is simply wrong.

And so on. The notion that Herrnstein and I made claims about ethnic differences in IQ that have been scientifically rejected is simply wrong. We deliberately remained well within the mainstream of what was confidently known when we wrote. None of those descriptions have changed much in the subsequent twenty-two years, except to be reinforced as more has been learned. I have no idea what countervailing evidence President Sands could have in mind.

At this point, some readers may be saying to themselves, “But wasn’t The Bell Curve the book that tried to prove blacks were genetically inferior to whites?” I gather that was President Sands’ impression as well. It has no basis in fact. Knowing that people are preoccupied with genes and race (it was always the first topic that came up when we told people we were writing a book about IQ), Herrnstein and I offered a seventeen-page discussion of genes, race, and IQ [pp. 295–311]. The first five pages were devoted to explaining the context of the issue — why, for example, the heritability of IQ among humans does not necessarily mean that differences between groups are also heritable. Four pages were devoted to the technical literature arguing that genes were implicated in the Black/White differential. Eight pages were devoted to arguments that the causes were environmental. Then we wrote:

"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". [p. 311].

That’s it—the sum total of every wild-eyed claim that The Bell Curve makes about genes and race. There’s nothing else. Herrnstein and I were guilty of refusing to say that the evidence justified a conclusion that the differential had to be entirely environmental. On this issue, I have a minor quibble with the APA Task Force, which wrote “There is not much direct evidence on [a genetic component], but what little there is fails to support the genetic hypothesis” [p. 95]. Actually there was no direct evidence at all as of the mid-1990s, but the Task Force chose not to mention a considerable body of indirect evidence that did in fact support the genetic hypothesis. No matter. The Task Force did not reject the possibility of a genetic component. As of 2016, geneticists are within a few years of knowing the answer for sure, and I am content to wait for their findings.

But I cannot leave the issue of genes without mentioning how strongly Herrnstein and I rejected the importance of whether genes are involved. This passage from The Bell Curve reveals how very, very different the book is from the characterization of it that has become so widespread:

In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.

In any case, you are not going to learn tomorrow that all the cognitive differences between races are 100 percent genetic in origin, because the scientific state of knowledge, unfinished as it is, already gives ample evidence that environment is part of the story. But the evidence eventually may become unequivocal that genes are also part of the story. We are worried that the elite wisdom on this issue, for years almost hysterically in denial about that possibility, will snap too far in the other direction. It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences on intelligence and not run screaming from the room. That is the essential message [pp. 314-315].

I have been reluctant to spend so much space discussing The Bell Curve’s treatment of race and intelligence because it was such an ancillary topic in the book. Focusing on it in this letter has probably made it sound as if it was as important as President Sands’s open letter implied.

But I had to do it. For two decades, I have had to put up with misrepresentations of The Bell Curve. It is annoying. After so long, when so many of the book’s main arguments have been so dramatically vindicated by events, and when our presentations of the meaning and role of IQ have been so steadily reinforced by subsequent research in the social sciences, not to mention developments in neuroscience and genetics, President Sands’s casual accusation that our work has been “largely discredited” was especially exasperating. The president of a distinguished university should take more care.

It is in that context that I came to the end of President Sands’s indictment, accusing me of promulgating “a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.” At that point, President Sands went beyond the kind of statement that merely reflects his unfamiliarity with The Bell Curve and/or psychometrics. He engaged in intellectual McCarthyism.

See you next week.


American College of Pediatricians: Gender Ideology Harms Children

The American College of Pediatricians issued a position statement last month entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” which will be followed by a peer-reviewed statement on the subject that’s expected to be released by summer, the college told

“The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex,” the statement issued on Feb. 2 stated.

The statement – written by Dr. Michelle A. Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians, Dr. Quentin Van Meter, vice president of the American College of Pediatricians and a pediatric endocrinologist, and Dr. Paul McHugh, university distinguished service professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital – cites eight reasons why “gender ideology” instead of treatment based on biological facts is harmful to children.

The first point is, “Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: ‘XY’ and ‘XX’ are genetic markers of health – not genetic markers of a disorder,” with the purpose of male and female being “the reproduction and flourishing of our species.” It notes “exceedingly rare exceptions of sexual differentiation,” which are disorders but do not represent a “third sex.”

Secondly, “No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.”

The statement added that self-awareness develops over time and can be “derailed” by the experiences and information a child receives from infancy forward. Further, no matter what sex a person imagines themselves to be, they remain either a biological male or a biological female.

The third point is that, “A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking” or the child could suffer from gender dysphoria -- “an objective psychological problem … that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such.”

Fourth, “Puberty is not a disease and puberty-blocking hormones can be dangerous” by inhibiting growth and fertility, according to the position statement.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the statement says, “as many as 98 percent of gender confused boys and 88 percent of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.”

The sixth point is that “children who use puberty blockers to impersonate the opposite sex will require cross-sex hormones in late adolescence. Cross-sex hormones are associated with dangerous health risks including but not limited to high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke and cancer."

The seventh point states, “Rates of suicide are 20 times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBQT–affirming countries.” 

The eighth point calls chemical and surgical treatment of children based on “gender ideology” child abuse. “Endorsing gender discordance as normal via public education and legal policies will confuse children and parents, leading more children to present to ‘gender clinics’ where they will be given puberty-blocking drugs. This, in turn, virtually ensures that they will ‘choose’ a lifetime of carcinogenic and otherwise toxic cross-sex hormones, and likely consider unnecessary surgical mutilation of their healthy body parts as young adults.”

The college, a non-profit organization founded in 2002, states as its mission:

“The Mission of the American College of Pediatricians is to enable all children to reach their optimal physical and emotional health and well-being. To this end, we recognize the basic father-mother family unit, within the context of marriage, to be the optimal setting for childhood development, but pledge our support to all children, regardless of their circumstances.”


Men are victims of sexism too

This International Woman’s Day I had a light bulb moment about sexism.

The sexism I speak of is not sexism against women; it is the type of sexism that places expectations on men: The very sexism that allowed me to "conveniently ignore" the replacement of a blown out (and extraordinarily hard to reach) light bulb in my home.

Innocuous, perhaps — but suffice it to say, when a light bulb moment involves an actual light bulb, you know the universe it trying to tell you something.

You see, I expected my partner to change the bulb because... errr... he’s a man.  And men fix stuff.

There was absolutely nothing stopping me from changing this freakishly awkward light bulb myself. Nothing stopping me at all. Except a buy-in to harmful gender stereotypes, and a fear of ladders placed precariously on a set of stairs, that is.

Stereotypes give us conscious, subconscious, and unconscious expectations about how men and women "should" behave; and these stereotypes lie at the root of inequality.  Stereotypes have a lot to answer for indeed.

While both my partner and I do lots of tasks around the home that are gender-bending, my decision to ignore this particular light bulb taught me a lesson: I have to fight subconscious sexism more consciously.

Like everyone — I am still learning what personal responsibility toward the principles of genuine equality requires. If I expect my partner to change a hard to reach light bulb, how is that any different from him expecting me to vacuum the house?

It is not.

And here is the twist: HE doesn’t expect me to vacuum; I expect ME to vacuum — and this is part of the same problem. I have bought into the gender stereotype that it "should" be my job to do so, when it "should" not.

It would be foolhardy of me to suggest the thoughts behind of who "should" change the hard to reach light bulbs or vacuum the house in a male-female domestic partnership can sum up the multitude of challenges we face on the road to equality. This is not the case at all. The systemic and institutionalised issues that surround sexism are deeply, breathtakingly complex.

But it is up to all of us to question the stereotypes that play out right under our noses, and in our homes.

I have since realised that saying "Hey honey, have you noticed the air conditioner is stuffed?" is an uncool thing to say. It implies I expect my partner to fix it, and that I expect him to be able to.

I have also realised that half expecting a medal for fixing it myself makes me no different to the man who proudly declares, "I change nappies!"  In both cases, no more than a whoop-de-doo is in order.

Simply put, there are things to be done, and our sex should not determine who does what. The reluctance to embrace non-traditional gender roles (or the idea that we should be rewarded when we do) hurts everyone.

It can be said that road to equality demands us ALL to admit when our thinking could be better.

It can also be said that she who fixes her own airconditioner is twice cooled.


There’s only one country in the Middle East that could produce a soldier like me

By Major Alaa Wahid, highest ranked Muslim officer in the Israel Defence Forces

In the last few weeks, students across the UK have been involved in Israeli Apartheid Week.  Some have supported it. Others have opposed it. Invited by the Zionist Federation UK, last week I was able to attend campuses up and down the country specifically to address and counter some of the claims involved.

These fall into roughly three categories. First, that Israel is an inherently racist, and therefore unacceptable country, comparable to Apartheid South Africa. Second, that its army defends this racist status with acts of illegal and immoral violence. And third, that the only solution to this problem is through the isolation tactics of boycotts.

Like many I met during my visit, I oppose these views. But perhaps more than most people on either side of the debate, I am better placed to argue against them. Because I am an Israeli, an Arab, and the highest ranked Muslim in the IDF.

Is Israel inherently racist, an apartheid state? Well, do you think that such a country would tolerate a person like myself getting to the position I am today? Forget for a second (BDS supporters would like you to forget permanently!) that 20 percent of Israelis are non-Jewish, have full rights, and are represented throughout society. It’s one thing, after all, to have Arab politicians, Christian voters, and Muslim doctors – although we do have them, and quite a few at that.

But a non-Jewish army Major? Someone who has not only fought alongside Jewish soldiers, but now trains them too? Would a truly racist state allow me to play such an integral role in our nation’s defences?

And while we’re on the subject of those defences, let me tackle accusation two: that the Israel army is a particularly immoral one. I am not particularly religious, but as the Holy Quran says, “if anyone killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind.”

I do not serve in the army to kill people – I serve in it to save people. When Hamas fires rockets, or Fatah encourages stabbings, we are here to protect the lives of all Israeli citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish.

And so on to the last point – that the best way to resolve violence and conflict is through the kind of tactics advocated by the Boycotts movement. Namely, isolation and intimidation. For me, this is the most important issue, and the one which makes me shake my head with anger and sadness the most.

Like I said, I visited the UK to combat Israeli Apartheid Week, to challenge the lies and mistruths hurled at the country I am proud to call home. But what hurts me the most is not how unbelievable they are. The opposite, in fact. They are all too believable, and I should know – because I once believed them too.

The reality is that the town I grew up in did not recognise the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. While Arabic is an official language, I did not learn Hebrew until I was 17. I was raised to believe the worst things about Jews, and, had I not eventually met and worked alongside them, I might still believe those things today.

In my role as a soldier, I have met all kinds of people both in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Jews, Arabs, Religious, Secular, Left-wing and Right-wing. I have met Israelis who were prejudiced against me. But I have also met Palestinians who appreciate the work that I do to maintain some sort of peace and stability in the most dangerous part of the world.

Forget slogans and shouting. Peace – real peace – will only come when people talk to each other. Not necessarily agree – just agree to listen. But the irony of Israeli Apartheid Week is that it wants individuals to focus on differences, not similarities. Instead of building bridges between communities, it wants to build walls.

During my time in the UK, I spoke alongside a fellow soldier, a medic who has treated both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists without distinction. We were the Muslim who protects Jewish lives, and the Jew who saves Muslim lives. There’s only one country in the Middle East that could produce a couple like that – and it sure as hell isn’t an apartheid state.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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