Satisfying smackdown of a politically correct university president
When The Bell Curve, a dispassionate and rigorously scholarly study of intelligence and class structure, written by the late Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, was published in 1994, outrage from the politically correct was immediate. I will never forget reading a copy of it shortly after publication on an airliner set to depart San Francisco for New York when a passenger boarding the plane sneered at me, “Why are you reading that sh*t?” as he passed by my seat.
This book was, in other words, forbidden knowledge and the taboo was being enforced by random affluent progressives, because among other topics, it discussed the indisputable fact that IQ varies in statistically significant degree by race, and it examined the various explanations for why that might be the case. The position of my fellow passenger and almost the entire left-leaning segment of the public and the chattering class was that such questions must not even be asked.
Genuine critics of the book had their say, as well, in the normal scholarly fashion, and the book emerged pretty well unscathed. Murray was able to respond fully to his critics, and on balance, the findings of the book have been upheld, and reinforced by further research (see below).
But for the progressive class, the sin of examining forbidden questions that could cast doubt on their shibboleths can never be forgiven. And the punishment extends to the creation of “knowledge” of untruths about the book so widely disseminated that a university president (the custodian of a community of knowledge seekers) casually passes them on – even while seeming to stand for the integrity of honest vetting of ideas.
Which brings us to Tim Sands, the president of Virginia Tech, a reputable state-supported university that invited Charles Murray to lecture there, only to experience the same sort of pressure I encountered on an airliner 20 some years ago. In an Open Letter to the Virginia Tech Community, Murray responds to the politically motivated educated ignorance that Sands offered in his defense:
Since President Sands has just published an open letter making a serious allegation against me, it seems appropriate to respond. The allegation: “Dr. Murray is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity — a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”
Let me make an allegation of my own. President Sands is unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve — the book I wrote with Richard J. Herrnstein to which he alludes — or with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.
Murray proceeds to refute Sands’s slurs with detailed examination of the scholarly work on his book, nearly all of which has validated the actual findings of it – which are not at all what critics like Sands assume they are. I highly recommend the body of the letter for anyone who wishes to know something about IQ and heritability.
But the larger point is that Sands should either apologize for his careless words or resign, because they stand for the antithesis of what a university ought to be about. Forbidding scholarly inquiry on political grounds or passing on lies intended to do so has absolutely no place in a university, especially a state-sponsored one.