On the Bell Curve

James Bowmaster (jcbowma@arcadia.usae.bah.com)
4 Feb 1995 08:09:28 GMT

There is an excellent commentary on the book "The Bell Curve" in this
month's (i can't find it in this mess, but i believe it was February)
issue of Scientific American. It is worth reading, as it points out
several flaws in the book, from sources of information to improper use
of statistics.

Along the lines of a good definition of race, there probably is not one.
This is because there are quite a few dimensions involved, which makes
it very hard to draw the boundaries. If there were just one dimension,
such as skin color, it would be an easy categorization: define the races
by albedo. However, if you look at a native of South America, and a
native of Africa, with the same darkness of skin, you will see that
skin color itself is not enough. Once enough parameters have been added,
there will be so many dimensions that dividing the space in a reasonable
intuitive manner is impossible. The best that can be done is to divide
groups geographically. This tends to group skin colors, physical features,
cultures, and so forth the best. The problem with this division is that
people move around and intermarry (ex. the African-American segment of our
society can not be put in the same category physically or culturally
with say, Kenyans; so is African-American a separate race from African?)

Physically, the races we have defined could be analogous to breeds in
other animals; when a set of characteristics breeds true (blue eyes,
light skin, blond hair, or olive skin, brown eyes, dark hair) we tend
to label them a race (caucasian and mediteranian in the previous example).
It is known that different breeds in animals have differing temperments,
so is it possible that there are human analogs between the 'races'? i
would tend to believe that it is possible, but where books such as "The
Bell Curve" run into problems is with culture. Culture is an overpowering
force in human behavior, exhibiting an order of magnitude more influence
over decisions, thought patterns, and behaviors than physical traits do.
Culture also makes comparisons of intelligence between 'races' almost
impossible. A good example would be a comparison between White American
Culture and some flavors of African American Culture; this is where
the book draws its line, giving the White American the higher intelligence
based on intelligence tests revolving around symbolic thought. However,
how would White American Culture stand up to African American Culture in
the verbal realm? The African American Culture tends to be an Oral
Culture; in memorizing oral histories and creating oral epics on the fly,
the African American would probably beat the White American hands down
(assuming each came from the 'center' of their stereotypical culture).
For evidence of this, see any text on Social Linguistics (such as
Language, The Social Mirror by Elaine Chaika).

The previous monologue can be stated briefly: The effects of culture drown
out the physical effects of race on intelligence; since there is no
method of isolating a person from their culture, the probability is that
we will never know which 'race' is the 'smartest'.
|Quick to Judge, Quick to Anger, | /-----\ |
|Slow to Understand; | __ _____ /-----\ |
|Ignorance, Predjudice and Fear | \ \_\ \ |::::o| |
|Walk Hand in Hand | {::=============| > | | |
|-Rush (not Limbaugh) | /_/~/____/ | /-\ | |
| | / _ _| |o| | |
| | | / \_/ | \-/ | |
| james bowmaster | \___/ \-----/ |
| jcbowma@arcadia.usae.bah.com | |