Legacy of Racism

Pat Shipman, National Review, December 5, 1994.


Human intelligence is an eel-like subject: slippery, difficult to grasp, and almost impossible to get straight. Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein make a heroic attempt to lay before the public a topic of writhing complexity: the interaction of intelligence, class, and ethnicity in America. The authors have not succeeded wholly, either in presenting the information or in convincing this reader of their conclusions, but I must applaud them for the clarity and honesty of their attempt. Who else has had the audacity to try to teach a nation raised on factoids and ten-second sound bites to think in subtle terms of probabilities, correlations, and standard deviations?

The authors’ conclusions are so unwelcome that many readers will find themselves, as I did, slogging slowly and carefully through each paragraph, poring over every footnote, making irritated notes to themselves to seek out this or that study from the original literature to satisfy their skepticism. The research that Herrnstein and Murray summarize is exquisitely sensitive to the way a question is framed, so that the thinking reader cannot coast for even a paragraph without paying attention. But in the end, it all comes down to three questions: What do they say? Is it true? What should we do now?

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