According to The Bell Curve, Black Americans are genetically inferior to Whites. That’s not the only point in Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s book. They also argue that there is something called “general intelligence” which is measured by IQ tests, socially important, and 60 percent “heritable” within Whites. (I’ll explain heritability below.) But my target here is their claim about Black genetic inferiority. It has been subject to wide-ranging criticism since the book was first published last year. Those criticisms, however, have missed its deepest flaws. Indeed, the Herrnstein/Murray argument depends on conceptual confusions about the genetic determination of human behavior that have not been fully addressed—in fact, have been tacitly accepted to some degree—by many of the book’s sharpest critics.
Before getting to the confusions, let’s first be clear about the conclusion itself. In a recent article on “The Real Bell Curve,” Charles Murray grumbles about critics, such as Stephen Jay Gould, who read the book as saying that racial differences in IQ are mostly genetic. Murray answers by quoting from the book: