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The Bell Curve: Effects and Findings

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1328 words Published: 18th May 2020

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 Since its original publication in 1994, The Bell Curve has received its fair share of criticism. The authors, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, argue that human intelligence and IQ scores are based solely upon race and ethnicity as well as inherited and environmental factors. The main argument that the authors make is based upon the substantial difference between IQ scores among races, primarily black and white people. Their reasoning behind the findings are test scores and data; however, dive a little deeper and you will find that there is no logical reasoning behind the data and why the authors chose to report it. Murray and Herrnstein offer little to no explanation as to why they conducted an investigation behind the difference of IQ scores between races. In other words, the authors present data to the reader that essentially condones the preconception of individuals based on race (Siegel, 2017).

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 The authors of the textbook, The Color of Justice, discuss Murray and Herrnstein’s argument which states that “success in life is determined largely by IQ: the smarter people succeed, whereas those with lower intelligence fail and end up at the bottom of the social scale” (Fraser, 1995). The textbook goes on to explain how Murray and Herrnstein argue that those who score poorly on the IQ test will always be on the bottom of the totem pole so to speak because their “lack of intelligence” translates to being unemployed, on welfare, and/or leading a life of crime according to The Bell Curve (Murray and Herrnstein, 1994). One of the most controversial topics discussed in Murray and Herrnstein’s book explains that because intelligence is inherited, social programs designed to improve the performance of poor and underprivileged children are doomed to fail from the start and should be abandoned altogether (Walker, Spohn, and Delone, 2012).

 In chapter 15 of The Bell Curve, Murray and Herrnstein pose the question “what good can come from writing this book” (Murray and Herrnstein, pg. 549)?  The authors offer a four part answer to their question to advance their own public agenda. Their answer includes the following: first, social engineering should be “targeted to the small portion of the population that accounts for such a large proportion of social problems.” Second, “policymakers need to design policies that work well for people who may not be as smart as the people who are in the position to design policies.” Third, “much of public policy toward the disadvantaged starts from the premise that interventions can make up for genetic or environmental disadvantages, and that premise is overly optimistic.” Finally, We should care less about gaps in life outcomes between different racial groups because “group differences in cognitive ability, so desperately denied for so long, can best be handled — can only be handled — by a return to individualism” (Murray and Herrnstein, 1994). The answer to their self-imposed question largely summarizes the book in its entirety, stating that because of the gap between cognitive ability, there needs to be changes implemented to help those not as intelligently inclined (Yglesias, 2018).

 In 1994, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) responded to the controversary surrounding The Bell Curve. They issued an official statement:

“The AAA is deeply concerned by recent public discussions which imply that intelligence is biologically determined by race…Such discussions distract public and scholarly attention from and diminish support for the collective challenge to ensure equal opportunities for all people, regardless of ethnicity or phenotypic variation.”

The AAA goes on to disprove the statements made by Murray and Herrnstein in The Bell Curve by saying that “human cultural behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth, and always subject to modification. No human is born with a built-in culture or language” (“American Anthropological Association,” 1994). The AAA continues to disprove the theories and remarks made in The Bell Curve to this day to show supporters of the book just how wrong the authors’ claims are. 

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 Murray and Herrnstein were highly criticized for not having their work peer reviewed which to many is seen as incompatible with their presentation of it as a scholarly text. Richard Lynn of Ulster University states that “the book has been the subject of several hundred critical reviews,” suggesting that the book’s lack of peer review did not prevent it from becoming the subject of academic commentary (Lynn, 1999). In other words, he is stating that even if the book was peer reviewed, the thoughts and ideas in the book would still be susceptible to scrutiny. With the book not being peer reviewed, the research discussed was investigated by the American Psychological Association (APA). Their findings show that IQ scores can be influenced by occupational status and intelligence scores do have a correlation of 0.5 with GPA and 0.55 with the number of years in school as Murray and Herrnstein reported. The APA goes on to state: “several culturally based explanations of the black/white IQ differential have been proposed; some are plausible, but so far none has been conclusively supported. There is even less empirical support for a genetic interpretation. In short, no adequate explanation of the differential between the IQ means of Blacks and Whites is presently available” (“American Psychological Association,” 1996).

 Overall, the statements and findings brought to light by Murray and Herrnstein in The Bell Curve have caused major controversary over the subject of intelligence scores and differences based solely on race. While the book itself was published in 1994, it still makes headlines in today’s world as the agenda pushed in the book is popular among some in America. The statements made in the book are based off of statistics alone and do not represent racial and ethnic groups as a whole. The book goes on to portray poor and uneducated individuals as being less equal than those with an education or money. This is simply not true and in order for the barrier between races to be broken there needs to be equality between all regardless of economic status, education, or racial background.


  • American Anthropological Association (1994). Retrieved September, 5, 2019, from: http://www.aaanet.org.
  • American Psychological Association (1996). Retrieved September 5, 2019, from: http://apa.org.
  • Fraser, S. (1995). The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence and the Future of Americ. New York: Basic Books.
  • Richard Lynn (1999) The Attack on The Bell Curve. Personality and Individual Differences 26, pp. 761–765
  • Murray, C., & Herrnstein, R. (1994). The Bell Curve: Intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Siegel, E. (2017). The Real Problem with Charles Murray and “The Bell Curve.” Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-real-problem-with-charles-murray-and-the-bell-curve/
  • Walker, S., Spohn, C., Delone, M. (2012). The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America. 5th Edition. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
  • Yglesias, M. (2018) The Bell Curve is about policy. And it’s wrong. Vox. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/2018/4/10/17182692/bell-curve-charles-murray-policy-wrong


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