In this week's edition of Newsweek, the cover story is devoted to
the controversy of genetics and intelligence-spurred by a new book by
Charles Murray and late Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein, entitled
The Bell Curve, in which they boldly proclaim that African Americans
and other minorities, as a collective group, are intellectually inferior to
Although the argument is really nothing new, this time it seems to be
getting a little more attenion-as this debate touches upon many of the
contemporary controversies that resonate in our country.
Of course, to buy into the idea that African Americans are intellectually
inferior for genetic reasons, one must first subscribe to the premise that
one's nature is a controlling factor over one's environment. It is the old
nature versus nurture debate.
Although, as Newsweek reported, this particular debate of genetics
and racial intelligence is really nothing new, drawing upon centuries of
history, there are some serious implications of this new work, which is
receiving a substantial following.
Despite what Murray and Herrnstein say their book advances, it seems to be
a lodestar for ultra-conservative ideology. Their basic findings, that the
country is ruled by an intellectual elite and that the intellectual
groundlings at the bottom lack the aptitude to climb the social ladder,
could feed ultra-conservative positions on social issues such as:
affirmative action, government programs, and crime. If one were to
accept The Bell Curve's theses, one could also postulate that any
governmental program designed to promote minority participation in the
middle class and ascension from the lower classes would be futile.
As was reported, scholars on both sides of the debate lined up to support
their respective side. Charges that Murray is a racist are probably
unfounded, as Murray doesn't seem to have a much of a political agenda. But
the misapplications of Murray's findings could become widespread among
The complex arguments that go to the core of this psychological and genetic
debate are far beyond the scope of this editorial, but the possible effects
of his findings, socially, are monumental.
Whether or not one's intelligence is solely defined by genetics or their
environment is not really of major consequence. What is of major
consequence is how this information is used and how it is applied without
substantiation. This is a very sensitive debate, that has volatile
qualities which could explode if improperly used. We should not invest too
much stock in findings like this, for each time someone seems to have made
a startling new discovery in this area, someone on the opposing end of the
argument is positing some contradictory study.
How intelligence findings are seen poses the danger
Published: Wed Oct 19, 1994 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 12:46 p.m.