"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Charles Murray and the Racist Think Tanks That Made Him

In an era that seems determined to pursue a neo-eugenic policy of mis-educating the poor right into compliant Christian soldiers or, failing that, into customers for the prison industry, it is worth examining once more the origins for the contemporary pseudo-science whose once-shadowy backers are now front and center in the highly lucrative pay-to-say research industry known as think tanks.

When MSNBC spends hours and hours a week having the oily John Siegenthaler de-sensitizing the public to the human rights horrors of prison life, and when pretty Paula Zahn brings on skinheads, as she did last evening, to share their views in a forum on segregation, then it is, indeed, time for those who care about civil rights to take a deep breath and look back in order that they may look forward. A couple of clips from Eric Alterman at Media Matters (ht to Media Transparency):
Perhaps the most successful publishing foray into the world of ideas by a combination of right-wing funders and their compatriot intellectuals is the amazing public relations achievement undertaken on behalf of the work of the formerly obscure Charles Murray. How many 800-plus-page nonfiction books featuring over a hundred pages of graphs and source materials have managed to sell upwards of 300,000 copies in hardcover in recent years? How many have inspired Vanity Fair-type celebrity coverage in virtually all major news magazines, as well as a special issue of The New Republic, which featured no fewer than seventeen responses? How many authors of such books have been featured in major Hollywood films, carried by characters wishing to demonstrate intellectual toughness? [1] The answer to all of the above is precisely one: Murray's The Bell Curve. [2] Back in 1982, however, Charles Murray, was still a "nobody" in the words of William Hammett, president of the Manhattan Institute, and about to be Murray's chief patron. Murray's ascendancy would never have been possible without the patient, far-sighted investments in his work by a conservative network of funders and foundations, including the reclusive billionaire, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Olin Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and, perhaps most significantly, Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. They not only supported Murray when he needed time to research and write his books, they funded elaborate publicity campaigns to ensure that Murray's argument would dominate media discourse.
. . . .
The Bell Curveball, Part II

Despite the success and continuing influence of Losing Ground, Murray soon shifted gears. Race is largely absent from Losing Ground. But Murray had a chance meeting with Harvard professor Richard Hernstein, who had been arguing in various places, including the "liberal" Atlantic Monthly, that "[i]n times to come, the tendency to be unemployed may run in the genes of a family about as certainly as bad teeth do now." [1] Murray was clearly excited by arguments like these, and decided to redirect his own research toward it. In 1990, the Manhattan Institute decided that it did not want to associate itself with this kind of research and informed Murray to find another home for his work on what he termed "the genetic inferiority stuff." [2]

Fortunately for Murray, Michael Joyce, who had been so instrumental in supporting him at the Olin Foundation, had now taken over the Bradley Foundation. Murray's $100,000 grant was moved from the Manhattan Institute to the American Enterprise Institute, after a brief -- and failed -- attempt to place him in the more centrist and establishment-oriented, Brookings Institute. Murray was, once again, extremely fortunate in his choice of sponsors. By the time he completed his second book, he had received more than $750,000 since the Bradley foundation had begun its support, with more than $500,000 coming during the four years he worked on The Bell Curve. [3]

The publicity campaign for The Bell Curve mimicked that of Losing Ground. It is safe to say that most scholarly books containing hundreds of pages of regression analyses and primary source-based historical, economic and sociological claims would first be published, at least in part, in academic quarterlies that vet submissions by scholarly peer review on the part of an editorial board. But Simon & Schuster did not even send The Bell Curve to reviewers in galleys, and neither did its authors. A Wall Street Journal news story reported that the book had been "swept forward by a strategy that provided book galleys to likely supporters while withholding them from likely critics." The Journal suggested that AEI "tried to fix the fight when it released review copies selectively, contrary to usual publishing protocol." Murray and AEI also hand-picked a group of pundits to be flown to Washington at the think tank's expense for a weekend of briefings by Murray and discussion of the book's arguments.[4] This strategy would pay off when the book was released and the publicity machine put into action, long before the scientific establishment could garner a look and form any coherent judgments.

Couched between an endless array of tables, charts and ten-dollar words, the Murray/Hernstein thesis, at its core, was nevertheless disarmingly simple. The book's first sentence is: "This book is about differences in intellectual capacity among people, and groups, and what these differences mean for America's future." The authors blame many of the nation's social problems, including the persistence of an "underclass" characterized by high-levels of crime, welfare, and illegitimacy, on the fact that black people are just not as smart as white people. After all, they argue, all racial barriers to advancement have been removed from American society; hence, we have arrived at a near perfect consequential relationship between IQ and socioeconomic achievement. And because, the authors believe IQ to be largely the product of one's genetic inheritance, it is futile for society to try to boost those doomed to failure beyond their natural stations in life. In addition, high-IQ women are now entering the workforce at record rates and refusing to reproduce a comparable rate to that of poor and stupid women, who rarely work and collect lots of welfare money. These trends are "exerting downward pressure on the distribution of cognitive ability in the United States," with its resultant increases in crime, welfare dependency and illegitimacy. Because those under siege will not simply sit tight and let their society slip inexorably into anarchy, the authors predict a future semi-fascist "custodial state" for America, not unlike "a high-tech and more lavish version of an Indian reservation." Unfortunately, the dumb ones among us will lose such cherished rights as "individualism, equal rights before the law, free people running their own lives," according to the authors, but such measures will become unavoidable lest we taken to address the coming crisis of a national dysgenic downturn. . . .

1 comment:

  1. Ironically, the claim "The authors blame many of the nation's social problems, including the persistence of an 'underclass' characterized by high-levels of crime, welfare, and illegitimacy, on the fact that black people are just not as smart as white people" can be completely explained by lead poisoning without reference to genetics.

    Because of historic housing discrimination and "white flight" to the suburbs, African-Americans became the sole inhabitants of the inner-city neighborhoods where lead poisoning became endemic.

    Lead poisoning is known to cause a decline in IQ of almost one standard deviation, is linked with violence and aggression, results in illegal drug abuse to self-medicate known consequences, and can be implicated in child and spousal abuse.

    The public can easily see the consequences of lead poisoning in the Black population and thus were receptive to the claim it is genetic. But lead poisoning CAN be combatted simply by a program of removing the lead from the neighborhoods.

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