Interview with James Heckman

Douglas Clement, The Region, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, June 2005.


Region: In 1995, you wrote a very strong critique of The Bell Curve, Herrnstein and Murray’s book about IQ, genetics and ability, which argued that nature far outweighs nurture.

Heckman: My review wasn’t as negative as those of others. I think the book was very important. It broke a taboo by showing that differences in ability existed and predicted a variety of socioeconomic outcomes. . . . .

I thought the book played a very important role in raising the issue of differences in ability and their importance. It stimulated discussion if only by being a target of attack. There’s an awful lot of convention in academic life. And The Bell Curve was important precisely because the topic of ability had become off-limits to “right-minded” people. It forced scholars to confront important facts about differences among people. I think that was the contribution of the book. So, actually, I’m a bigger fan of it than you might think.

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis