It’s “Murray Week” here at the substitute Building. Next up is Charles. You remember, the Bell Curve guy? He’s back with an editorial in the WSJ. He doesn’t say much more than “I was too right” with a lot of excess verbiage.
The veneer of “science” over political polemic is pretty thin here. In the original ruckus neither the Bell Curve boys nor their outraged opponents did anything I’d call science. The “scientific debate” was about the political significance of race in the United States, and more particularly about the policy of affirmative action. The book and much of its associated research was paid for by political organizations, and the opposition to the book and its ideas was rooted in political ideas as well. There was no such thing as a disinterested third party evaluation of The Bell Curve‘s claims.
Once you step out of the little historical box of late 20th century U.S. race politics, the whole thing looks like a Laputan debate out of Gulliver’s Travels. People were assigning the word “science” to discussions of concepts like race and intelligence that couldn’t even be defined properly. IQ was treated as a fact like the speed of life, race was assumed to be innate and obvious and eternal, and asses were made of many.
It should be clear to anyone capable of critical thought that we don’t understand the brain well at all. Concepts like IQ or g are almost medieval compared to our understanding of body processes like vision or digestion. Personally I think it will be a decade or more before we have a clear idea of the brain’s real structure and function instead of just a list of what goes wrong when you whack certain parts of it. So forget about defining “intelligence” for now.
And the idea of defining race brings to mind a Spanish official trying to figure out if someone is a mestizo or an octaroon, or the South African government’s detailed tests for negritude (hair kinkiness, skin albedo, etc.). Trying to describe “races” without making people laugh openly requires a tremendous amount of obfuscation.
Which brings me to the point I wanted to make all along. The social sciences just aren’t. I just can’t swallow this shit, and I never have. I look at “political scientists” like Murray or any number of other racist, Marxist, fascist, religious, or other -ist social theoreticians and I can detect little more than layers of unnecessary verbiage over prejudice. Some of these people I agree with, some I don’t, and some I can’t even penetrate, but it sure as hell isn’t science. That’s a method, not a form of magic invoked by excesses of vocabulary.
Dogma from me: The social sciences are a failed attempt to legitimize sociopolitical warfare with jargon.