January 29, 2020
Social scientists tend to be leftists, but the bulk of their findings have long tended to support rightists.
Charles Murray, a rare man of the right in the social sciences, has been pointing out this paradox since his 1984 book Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980.
Now 77, Murray began planning to write his new book Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class four years ago.
The title Human Diversity is impertinent because we are supposed to simultaneously worship diversity and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humanity is proclaimed to be both a rainbow of diverse delights and a beige putty that is wholly molded by arbitrary social injustices.
But would writing an honest book entitled Human Diversity be worth the abuse? Murray’s wife was skeptical. He explains in its Acknowledgments:
My wife and editor, Catherine…initially tried to talk me out of writing ‘Human Diversity.’ When I began work in the fall of 2016, the nastiness associated with the reaction to The Bell Curve was a distant memory. Did I really want to go through that again?
A kind and sensitive man, Murray had found the ignorant and malignant backlash against his 1994 magnum opus coauthored with the late Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, to be a depressing experience. The hate campaign against Murray contributed to virtually nobody paying attention to his fascinating 2003 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.
But Murray finally got out of the media’s doghouse with 2012’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 by the expedient of applying his superb analytic skills solely to white Americans.
Then came the radicalization of the campuses, when we learned that the bad old days were back no matter what. “Confound it!” said Catherine, or two syllables to that effect, on the day I returned from the riot at Middlebury. “If they’re going to do this kind of thing anyway, go ahead and write it.”
On the other hand, Human Diversity is not intended to be a sharp stick in the eye for Murray’s abusers. It is aimed instead at intelligent readers who want to learn about the state of the human sciences a fifth of the way through the 21st century. Human Diversity is something of a meta-review of recent meta-analyses that have been published in dozens of subdisciplines to summarize countless individual studies.
We’re lucky to have Murray to guide us through so much. Although Murray has made his career largely at think tanks rather than in academia, he is by nature less argumentative than professorial. He works hard at making his vast amount of material comprehensible. His prose style is pleasingly informal.
And Murray’s books have always been appealing physical objects, with elegant fonts, uncluttered graphs, and a little extra leading between the lines to make the text look less daunting.
Still, Human Diversity is, by its nature, an imposingly highbrow book. Murray’s aim is to assist social scientists in finally beginning to implement naturalist Edward O. Wilson’s ambitions expressed in Sociobiology and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge to integrate the softer social sciences with the harder sciences that underlie them:
The sciences form a hierarchy. “Physics rests on mathematics, chemistry on physics, biology on chemistry, and, in principle, the social sciences on biology,” wrote evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers. If so, this century should be an exhilarating time to be a social scientist. Until now, we social scientists—for I am a member of that tribe—have been second-class citizens of the scientific world, limited to data and methods that cast doubt on our claim to be truly part of the scientific project. Now, new possibilities are opening up.
While Murray’s intent is ambitious, his chosen means in Human Diversity is cautious. He largely sticks to “findings that have broad acceptance within their respective disciplines.” There isn’t a lot of new raw data being analyzed, as there was in The Bell Curve and Human Accomplishment, just Murray applying his talents to making sense of dozens of 21st-century research questions.
Although Murray says his intended audience are people who enjoy reading the fine Science section in The New York Times, that could be optimistic. It’s more realistic to suggest that Human Diversity will likely have its biggest impact on grad students.
Science notoriously progresses one old scientist’s funeral at a time, and Murray’s book is aimed at providing a one-volume education for young social scientists who suspect that their future careers will depend upon learning about biology, especially the recent revolution in polygenic scores.
Despite all the cancellations and violence, Murray is upbeat:
The background level of animosity and paranoia in today’s academia is much worse than it was in 1994. But here is the reality: We are in the midst of a uniquely exciting period of discoveries in genetics and neuroscience—that’s good news, not bad.
Murray defines the current conventional wisdom as being that gender/sex, race, and class are all social constructs.
Of course, we are also supposed to believe that any jock who declares himself transgender is in touch with his innate biological inner womanhood.
In reality, society shifted very rapidly on women working during the feminist 1970s; but nothing much has happened since then except a lot of sound and fury:
A look back at what has happened to educational and job choices over the last 50 years suggests that vocational doors really did open up for women during the 1970s, that women took advantage of those new opportunities to the extent that they wanted to, and that we fairly quickly reached a new equilibrium.
Murray sums up one aspect of today’s race dogma:
Race is a social construct. The concept of race has arisen from cosmetic differences in appearance that are not accompanied by inborn differences in personality, abilities, or social behavior.
The other facet, of course, is the simultaneous belief that “whiteness” is inherently vile. Those ideas might seem contradictory, but the people who expound them seem to enjoy saying both and don’t care about your logical quibbles.
Murray goes on:
Class is a function of privilege. People have historically been sorted into classes by political, economic, and cultural institutions that privilege heterosexual white males and oppress everyone else, with genes and human nature playing a trivial role if any. People can be re-sorted in a socially just way by changing those institutions.
Unless the people at the bottom vote for Trump, then they’re just inbred losers.
As a social scientist, Murray is particularly excited by the development over the past decade of polygenic scores, which ought to be able to help answer in the coming years many old questions about nature versus nurture:
By the end of the 2020s, it will be widely accepted that quantitative studies of social behavior that don’t use polygenic scores usually aren’t worth reading.
For example, Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology who went back and got a second doctorate in biology, has been trying to test Herrnstein’s famous 1972 supposition that there has been increasing assortative mating on IQ due to the rise of standardized college admissions testing throwing together young people of similar mental abilities.
Conley’s first crack at evaluating Herrnstein’s Hypothesis using early PGS for educational attainment didn’t back it up, but we’ll see what he finds with the improved PGS published by James J. Lee et al. in 2018.
It takes a huge sample size to generate a polygenic score (Lee’s was more than one million people), but you can then apply a PGS to a smaller sample. For example, you can get DNA samples from very old folks, such as those in the Framingham Heart Study that began in 1948, and thus look well back into the past.
On the other hand, PGS scores so far haven’t worked all that reliably when applied to other races:
For example, a polygenic score based on a test population of English and Italians usually generalizes accurately for French and Germans, not so accurately for Chinese and Indians, and least accurately for the genetically most distant populations from sub-Saharan Africa.
Ironically, while this has slowed the resolution of the race-IQ question, it suggests that genetic differences between continental-scale races are fairly significant.
In any case, large databases for nonwhite races will arrive within a few years. Then what?
For highly charged topics such as IQ, many people will continue to urge that studying population differences does more harm than good. But what happens if findings from European samples about cognitive-related traits such as depression, autism, or schizophrenia lead to more effective treatments for Europeans but not for other populations?
Murray sums up on race optimistically:
…ethnic differences in cognitive repertoires are neither to be doubted nor feared. They exist, and everyone who has seen anything of the world knows it. The mix of nature and nurture? That’s not the issue. The differences themselves are facts. People around the world are similar in the basics and different in the details. We connect through the basics. We live with and often enjoy the differences.
But we now have huge numbers of people employed in the Diversity Inclusion Equity apparatus who owe their pay and power to the only allowable explanation for the patterns that ensue from those differences in cognitive repertoire being the Evil of Whiteness.
Indeed, Christopher Caldwell’s new book The Age of Entitlement argues that there is no obvious way out of this corner Americans have painted themselves into.
Well, we shall see whether Murray’s optimism or Caldwell’s pessimism is more justified.
To make his 319 pages of main text less digressive, Murray has exiled a huge amount of material to the 190 pages of fine print at the back.
I was particularly interested in his update to The Bell Curve in the endnotes from page 416 to 423. What’s happened over the past quarter of a century?
Obviously, Herrnstein and Murray’s main forecast—that the cognitive elite would continue to do better than the noncognitive elite—has come true. So has their most notorious prediction—that group differences in intelligence, such as the white-black gap, would remain largely intractable.
But what about the inside-baseball stats on IQ and income? In Human Diversity’s endnotes, Murray reports on both the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth cohort of over 10,000 late baby boomers and the 1997 NLSY study of a similar number of kids born in the early 1980s.
When the incomes of the 1979 NLSY cohort were evaluated in 1993 when they were 30 to 35 years old, blacks and whites with the same IQs earned the same amount of money. Hispanics, however, earned 6 percent less. Asians were so few they weren’t broken out separately back then.
When the subsequent 1997 NLSY cohort was evaluated in 2014, however, immigrant groups were doing better than whites and blacks. Latinos outearned whites with similar IQs by 2 percent, and Asians outearned equally smart whites by a stunning 57 percent.
Between these two cohorts a couple of decades apart, white incomes at a 120 IQ fell by 4 percent and black incomes by a shocking 19 percent. Blacks with 120 IQs in 2014 made only 84 percent as much as whites with similar intellects, and merely 54 percent as much as equally high-IQ Asians.
These are curious findings, and Murray doesn’t comment much upon them. I’d point out that the sample sizes, especially of blacks at 120 IQ, are not large and the methodological challenges of comparing two separate (but similar) studies are likely complex.
Still, if this trend is real, it could help explain worsening black-white relationships during the current Great Awokening. Perhaps between 1993 and 2014, the earnings of both blacks and whites got squeezed hard by immigrants, and the two old American groups are taking out their financial resentments upon each other rather than upon the newcomers.