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The Study Of The Bell Curve - Civilisation Américaine

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1 - How does the press consider the authors of THE BELL CURVE ?

2 - Is the high percentage of low IQ an accurate explanation of the failure of American society ?

3 - THE BELL CURVE disturbs the political scene.


1 - Slavery.

2 - The « Jim Craw Law ».

3 - Quotas of immigration.

4 - Eugenism.

5 - Abolition of Affirmative Action and Welfare.

«A race is one of the major groups into which human beings can be divided according to certain important physical features, such as the colour of their skin or the kind of hair they have.»

«Class is one of the groups of people into which a society can be divided, by considering their different social or economic status within it.»

«Genetics is the study of heredity and how qualities and characteristics are passed on from one generation to another by means of genes.»

«The intelligence of a person or animal is their ability to understand, learn, and think things out quickly, especially compared with other people or other animals of the same kind. Intelligence is also the ability to think and understand instead of doing things automatically or by instinct.»

«Your IQ is your level of intelligence, which is calculated from the results of a special test that you do ; an abbreviation for 'intelligence quotient'.» Collins Cobuild, English Language Dictionary, London, Harper Collins Publishers,1993.

Race, class, genetic, intelligence and IQ, are keywords which shape the book THE BELL CURVE, written in 1994 by Charles Murray, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and Richard J. Herrnstein, a professor of psychology at Harvard who died of cancer in September 1994.

This so-called scientific book asserts that access to financial, economic, intellectual, political power, is more and more established by the intelligence of the individual rather than external factors such as wealth, sex, and social class. Furthermore, the authors dare write about racial differences in intelligence. That is to say that black Americans are genetically inferior to whites. By the way, according to Murky and Herrnstein, Blacks'intellectual weakness is also hereditary.

What are the consequences of THE BELL CURVE ? On the one hand, its publication aroused a polemic among the international press, especially the American and French one. On the other, the idea of racial differences is still present in the American mind : segregation may not have disappeared yet.

« THE BELL CURVE is a big complex book that is based on a deeply pessimistic and deeply angry-view of American society. » Tom Morganthau, « IQ, is it destiny ? », Newsweek, October 24, 1994, p.31.

This controversial book is indeed about intellectual differences among ethnic groups, and social classes. « Si les pauvres sont pauvres, c’est d’abord parce qu’ils sont moins intelligents que les riches ; on peut le déplorer, mais on ne peut rien y changer, car l’aptitude intellectuelle est fixée une fois pour toutes ; pris collectivement, les Noirs, même s’il en est de brillants, sont moins intelligents que les Blancs. » Michel de Pracontal, « L’Amérique malade du QI », Le Nouvel Observateur, 9 novembre 1994, p.22. Blacks perform more poorly on IQ tests than whites, so according to Murray and Herrnstein, they must be less intelligent. The IQ scores of children correspond to those of their parents, therefore intelligence is hereditary. « The IQ has a genetic component that cannot be eliminated by society. » Jim Holt, « Anti-social science ? », The New-York Times, October 19, 1994, p.23. Moreover, high-IQ people get married to each other, and are more likely to have high-IQ children who will form the « cognitive elite ». While the others who hardly get married, have many low-IQ children. As for them, they will remain at the bottom of the social scale. Murray thus concludes that the government should abolish welfare, and should limit affirmative action.

On the chapter concerning racial differences, Murray and Herrnstein show that, on average, blacks perform about 15 points lower than whites on intelligence tests, and the IQ score of Hispanics is also 10 points lower than the one of the whites ; whereas Asian-Americans have higher results. It means that whites are on average smarter than blacks, that Japanese and Chinese are smarter than whites, and that it is determined by genes.

They think the difference helps to explain why many blacks are destined to remain in poverty, and they insist on the fact that blacks must face the reality of their intellectual disadvantage. « For whites who are already predisposed to believe that blacks are inferior, this is going to confirm their prejudices, » said Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Harvard Medical School. Then, Murray and Herrnstein wrote that « some ethnic groups nonetheless differ genetically for sure, otherwise they would not have differing skin colors or hair textures. ». Nevertheless, Murray vehemently denies he is racist, it is merely the law of nature. However, the press is radically against him, the late Herrnstein, and their book. « THE BELL CURVE, is a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship. [...]. It’s an ugly stunt. Mr. Murray can protest all he wants, his book is just a genteel way of calling somebody a nigger. » Bob Herbert, « Throwing a Curve », The New-York Times, October 26, 1994, p.27. « Comment deux universitaires talentueux, même de droite, en sont-ils venus à écrire un brûlot ségrégationniste et antisocial ? Murray et Herrnstein s’appuient sur une impressionante masse de statistiques pour bâtir un raisonnement en quatre temps, qui tourne aussi rond qu’un moteur Ford. » Michel de Pracontal, « L’Amérique malade du QI », Le Nouvel Observateur, 9 novembre 1994, p.22.

The press does not only speculate on the authors’ideas, but also on the purpose of IQ tests.

First, every newspaper


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