Anyone remember The Bell Curve? It came out a few years back, and copped a lot of flack for racist interpretations of IQ data.

One of its authors, Charles Murray, is back with this three part series of opinion pieces about intelligence and education policy. It struck me as a pretty fascinating mixture of hard nosed realism and total blindness to his own value system; and it is his blindness to his own assumptions about universal values which allows him to make the proclamations he does.

The crux of his faith is in the mechanics of intelligence testing. But “intelligence is whatever intelligence tests measure” (that from a psychologist named Boring! 🙂 ) – and Murray is forced to rely on a semi-mystical quality, g, which effectively represents one’s genetic intellectual ability. He appears to hold this g above all else in determining human worth and capacity. (The parallels with Brave New World are stark – one can imagine Murray endorsing a world where Alpha, Betas and so on are identified by their g and educated only to that level that their g indicates is worthwhile.)

If this key value judgment is incorrect, then his argument folds. And I think it is: human diversity is humanity’s strength. G may be an important element in humans, but raising it to primary importance is unbalanced.

Having said that, many of his comments criticising the education system and its ill thought out goals and functioning are actually pretty worthwhile, in terms of a misallocation of resources, noting that people get pointless degrees to get jobs rather than useful ones to advance humanity (although, again, his notion of what is important and advances humanity is a matter of taste), and his alternative ideas are interesting if repugnantly elitist. But if the world is broke and someone needs to fix it, shouldn’t we be identifying and training a competent elite to deal with it?

So yeah. An interesting read. On the whole, it reminded me of reading Richard Prebble’s book I’ve Been Thinking. Lots of seemingly commonsense criticism of what is going on, but massive reservations about what he wants to do about it.

Comments are closed.