In this article on RationalWiki, the junk science racist book The Bell Curve by Charles Murray is broken apart for what it really is (see the caption for the image of the book- “Eugenics for the masses!”). This firmly demonstrates that the real Skeptic community is not on the side of Sam Harris, who apparently isn’t as deeply ingrained into that ideology as I once thought. How does Sam Harris fit into this? Well he gave a pandering interview to Charles Murray on his podcast “Waking Up.” I’m trying to get through it, but I’m cringing through every second of this non-sourced, non-fact checked drivel.
First of all, to be substantive, Sam Harris claims (as does Charles Murray) that 50-80% of intelligence is inherited. These arguments are partly based on studies done of monzygotic (identical) twins. However, as Jay Joseph indicates in his meta-analysis of twin studies, the advocates of nature over nurture in terms of intelligence have ignored some systemic biases in their data. I will add one more source of bias to the ones Joseph lists, namely WEIRD bias, or having samples that are exclusively from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic countries. Therefore, even if you control for sociodemographic factors within a certain country, unless you are doing a multi-country analysis from several different regions of the world, you cannot really generalize these psychological studies, even if they have good methodologies otherwise, to the entirety of humanity.
Leaving twin studies aside, the most conservative estimates of the “percentage of intelligence” determined by genetics are 40%. Unfortunately, if you simply trust Wikipedia on this, you will get the same 50-80% figure parroted by Harris. So let’s chock this one up to: the jury is still out. And if this was the only reason why The Bell Curve and Sam Harris’ interview of Murray was troublesome or problematic, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. Oh no. Of course, Murray racializes the debate.
Now in anthropology, we take the topic of race and intelligence seriously, given the fact that our discipline has had a sordid past tainted by eugenicists, evolutionists, and people that tried to claim that some populations were inherently superior to others. Although the discipline arose largely as a reformist science, several individuals tried to take anthropologist down that eugenicist road in the 20th century. Nevertheless, anthropologist Jonathan Marks does a systematic critique of the Bell Curve in this article. His essential argument boils down to this: “The most direct antecedent of the Bell Curve is a loose confederacy of ideas collectively known as social Darwinism, popular in America in the latter portion of the 19th century.” Not only that: there is a direct line of intellectual connection between Charles Murray and early social Darwinists, through a shady funding organization known as the Pioneer Fund, founded by Harry Laughlin, a bona fide eugenicist who received his degree from Heidelberg University in 1937. You heard me right, a Nazi university. So, not only does Murray cite eugenicists, he cites Nazi sympathizers! It gets worse, because the Pioneer Fund provided money for the Bell Curve to be sent by mail to every name on the mailing list of the American Anthropological Assocation, the American Sociological Association, and the American Psychological Association: every sociologist, anthropologist, and psychologist in the country! Of course most probably threw it away as hogwash propaganda, but still!
So let’s get this out of the way now: everyone claiming that simply calling Murray a racist is a lazy intellectual argument are missing the definition of racist. The definition of racism is, from the Oxford English dictionary:
“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
Murray is by definition a racist for claiming that some “populations” (that’s BS code) are intellectually superior to others.
So at this point some would claim “well then I guess being racist isn’t a bad thing by that definition”. Well, fortunately Murray fits into the other category of racist as well:
“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”
Murray is obviously antagonistic towards minorities based on his stated policy prescriptions of curbing immigration and eliminating welfare. (Let’s not even touch the fact that he’s a Koch brothers-funded American Enterprise Institute connected conservative with an obvious agenda- that’s too ad hominem for some people). But I wouldn’t say its ad hominem to point out that Charles Murray is funded and aided by an organization founded by a literal Nazi. So please, let’s call a spade a spade:
Charles Murray, you’re a racist. Sam Harris, you’re at best a racist by proxy, at worst a cynical converted white nationalist working to bring about the next Third Reich. You are now two steps away from being associated with the Nazi Party. The choice is yours, Sam Harris: dissociate yourself with Charles Murray, disown him entirely, or lose whatever shred of credibility you have left. The choice is yours.