What Is Intelligence, and Who Has It?

Malcolm W. Browne, New York Times, October 16, 1994.


In “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray write, “Mounting evidence indicates that demographic trends are exerting downward pressures on the distribution of cognitive ability in the United States and that the pressures are strong enough to have social consequences.” It makes little difference whether people at the low end of the intelligence scale pass on their deficit genetically or environmentally, they say: “If women with low scores are reproducing more rapidly than women with high scores, the distribution of scores will, other things equal, decline, no matter whether the women with the low scores came by them through nature or nurture.”

This thesis becomes especially unpalatable when one considers the authors’ observation that a large proportion of this emergent underclass is black. Unless future accommodations between ethnic groups lead to a more harmonious social structure, Mr. Herrnstein and Mr. Murray say, the potential for racial hatred seems enormous.

However much one may disagree with this assessment, the possibility that the authors may be even partly right makes these three books worth plowing through and mulling over. The articulation of issues touching on group intelligence and ethnicity has been neither fashionable nor safe for the last three decades, but these scholars argue that the time has come to grasp the nettle of political heresy, to discard social myths and to come to grips with statistical evidence.

New York Times