The Bell Curve

Published: November 7, 2010

I read this book 15 years ago when it first came out. At that time it was subject to a slew of reviews by people who never read the book. The reviews were all along the same line. How could those two guys have the audacity to write a book that contradicts my view of the universe? The book is a text in statistical sociology. However it was written such that people without a high level math background could read it. However the authors knew their readership going in. A number of times they mentioned that only a very small segment of the population would read the book. That segment happened to be the people at the very top end of the IQ spectrum. Basically, the only readers are people like me. The rest of the country would consider the book based on their inherent biases rather going through the effort to actually read it. So let’s say this book is only accessible to the top 10% of the people in America on an IQ basis. That cuts the possible readers to 33 million. Then politics cuts it again. The top half of the smart people who are liberals cannot read the book. Some of the issues in the book just don’t fit into their world view. So given the choice between reading a text that violates their worldview or remaining ignorant, they choose the latter option. I understand that. It’s tough for most people to bust their worldview. In my case, I’ll change my view at the drop a sound statistical analysis. But I’m flexible that way. So what I’m going to try to do here is to write a review of that book that doesn’t trample worldviews. That may not be possible, but hey, this is what I do. So let me get started about why I like social scientists. They are, by and large, the least politically correct people in America. They are the grown up versions of the kid who said the emperor has no clothes. They say that and all the other folks gasp. So yes, that is how this book went. Everyone trashed it. The political left trashed it as racist. The political right knew they would be called racist if they endorsed it, so they ran screaming from it. Then they both passed laws that implemented all the policies espoused in the book. Eventually, someone will write The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. But the guys who wrote this book have pushed that day down the road a few decades. They were soundly abused for doing what they did. Telling the unpopular truth. But they did it. They were not always right, mostly when they tried to predict the future. But they did fine with analyzing the past and present. The future, well, angels should fear to tread there. Having read the book twice, I can say without a doubt that the authors are two of the most compassionate people in America. And they are the least biased of any I’ve ever read. They did not come in with a political agenda. They came in with a human agenda. They asked the question “How do we best live together?” And they came up with some very compassionate answers. To be able to read the book, you have to buy into one idea. That idea is that different people have different IQ’s. If you don’t buy that idea, then you are beyond the pale of this text. If you can grasp the idea that “All men are created equal” does not equate to “IQ doesn’t exist”, then you can read the book. Once you buy into the idea that people differ in IQ, then the book tracks along solidly. The idea that there are very few people who are at the high end of the IQ spectrum pops up. The authors quote Thomas Jefferson who said “The best minds should be raked from the rubbish annually”… and put into jobs that require higher cognitive ability. Jefferson was one of the smart guys, so he may have been a bit biased. But he helped build the country that happens to be the only superpower on earth. So let’s say he’s got some game. When you agree that people have different IQ’s, it’s a small step to see that different groups have different IQ’s. The group of people called “engineers” have an average IQ of 120. The “average” engineer is smarter than 90% of the people in America. If you went to college you may have seen this. No one drops out of Criminal Justice into Engineering, but the reverse is true. An Engineering curriculum sorts on IQ. Only the top end IQ people make it through the program. People of any race or gender can and do become Engineers. But when you look at the numbers, you see that people of some races are more apt to become engineers. Turns out it is the races that have the higher IQ, specifically, the higher math reasoning IQ. It was on this point that the book blew up and took all the heat by the people who reviewed it without reading it. The idea that different races have different IQ’s is an anathema to some. To me, it’s not a big deal. Any more than the idea that some races are better at catching fish or hunting bears. Races are optimized for different things. The fact that society rewards one thing more than another does not make one better than the other, it just means that one gets richer at a given time in history. It’s not a good vs. bad issue, it’s a now vs. then issue. Caucasians are not singled out as “the master race”. Asians and Ashkenazi Jews outscore Caucasians as a group. Race wise, white folks are the middle of the pack. You would not think a couple white guys saying white guys are average is racist, or maybe you would. I take that back. I don’t see it that way, but you are entitled to your opinion. To me it would be stunning news if all races had the same IQ. But that is me. I expect that people are different both on a case by case basis and as a group. And the authors do make that point. Even though races as a whole differ, you can’t tell anything about the individual based on race. The smart guy from a low IQ race will easily outscore the slow guy from the high IQ race. Between you and me, you know nothing based on race. But when you start setting up national policy based on race, well then you have to look at what they group average is. That is all they are saying. It’s not that tragic, but you have to be able to read the book to get that. They can’t advocate eugenics. But the problem in the 90’s was this. We had social policies that encouraged low IQ citizens to reproduce. And society was against high IQ people reproducing. The problem with that is that high IQ people are the top producers. Basically they do more in less time than others. They can solve complex problems quickly. It sounds like that is a good thing, but ultimately it is the bad thing about smart people. We’ll get to why smart is a problem in time, but it is. First however, lets look at the low end. Most of the crime is committed by the least intelligent people. The idea of the criminal mastermind is mostly theatrical. In real life, people who choose crime are the least intelligent. Since IQ is passed from parents to children, encouraging low IQ people to reproduce adds to crime. At the time this book was written Roe V. Wade had not fully kicked in. But the argument that abortion solved the crime problem in America was in the offing. The fact is that once abortion started to work, Mom’s were doing a fine job of aborting the future criminal class. The authors didn’t know this in the early 90’s, but it has been the prime driver. In their case they did advocate as much birth control as we could get, vice a welfare state that rewarded low IQ women for having as many kids as possible to max out the welfare benefits. The stats on crime in all counties follow one pattern. 6% of the population commits a shade over 50% of the crime. If you remove those 6%, your are living in a much safer society. Think about the boat people that arrived in florida from Cuba. Per the lore, the Cubans dumped their 6% on us. Since every country has this problem, and since it is the bottom of the IQ range that create the problems, our prior policies of encouraging criminals to make lots more criminals was not very sound. The idea that some the world would be better if some people were never born seems a little harsh, but roughly 94% of people are net good, 6% are net not so good. Getting past the criminal issue, we have the more pressing problem. This is where the smart guys are the problem. Smart people make the laws. And they make them in very complex ways that average or below average people can’t work with. Starting a small business is so convoluted in most places that you need an above average IQ just to get going. That takes people with simple products and services out of the game as business owners and leaves them as employees. This was not a conspiracy by the smart folks, it is just that smart people are the ones making the laws. And smart people have rewritten the crime laws. It used to be simple “stealing is wrong”. But now it is more like “stealing is wrong unless there are extenuating circumstances”. So say you are a not too bright guy and hear that BP is ruining the gulf. So you put two and two together and figure that knocking off BP stations is not only not bad, but something patriotic. Um, well, no. The authors do advocate a simplification of the legal system. Going back to a simple “stealing is wrong, period” would facilitate the day to day lives of low IQ folks who are contemplating a life of crime. It would steer them into other avenues, at the least it would remove the confusion. On the upside, they acknowledge that life sucks if you are not bright. Since we live in a world where smarts does matter, those who lose the smart lottery are up against it from the start. What they propose is to make it easier for the bottom folks by using things like the Earned Income Credit. That really does help those less well off when they are trying to make it on a low pay lifestyle. That is much better than just giving them cash to sit at home. By and large, few of us want to sit around doing nothing as wards of the state. The problem isn’t that we are lazy. We are the hardest working people on earth. The question is, how do we best help those who are not able to do head work as well as others? That really was what the book was about. From cover to cover, these guys spoke the truth as they knew it. They tried to help America. In the end they did, but they were abused mightily for it. And I’ll say that is exactly the way it should be. You can’t just have everyone running around willy nilly telling the truth. Society by and large only works when people tell each other pleasant lies. The truth is often painful. Most people, myself included, can only deal with so much pain in a day. So we soften the hard edges of life for one another and that gets us through the days without killing each other. So this truth telling stuff should only be done rarely. And only by the best minds we have. And when they we do that, we extend the run here in America for a few more years. The rest of the world may not like that. But for me…

Any Comments?

Holding Serve

Published: November 7, 2012

We just had an election in the USA. Here is a glance at how we seem to be behaving.

Both Sides of the Issue

Published: February 12, 2012

A few graphs about power, technology and autonomy.