Yet again, social justice activists converged on a conservative-organized event to drown out a voice they did not believe should be heard on their campus. Hundreds of protesters flooded a lecture hall at Middlebury College brandishing “F*** WHITE SUPREMACISTS” signs and shouting at the top of their lungs so that libertarian political scientist Dr. Charles Murray was unable to deliver his lecture as planned. After the event, police say that protesters surrounded the vehicle containing Murray and a professor at the college, jumped on top of it and began pounding on it.
Murray was invited to speak by a student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think thank at which Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar. Leading up to the event, as The Middlebury Campus chronicles, various professors, students, and alumni wrote letters decrying Murray’s planned talk. Students arrived holding signs declaring, “RESIST WHITE SUPREMACY,” “RESPECT EXISTENCE OR EXPECT RESISTANCE,” and “F*** WHITE SUPREMACISTS.” All of this, as Murray addresses below, is in reference to his famous book The Bell Curve, which in one section addresses the possible links between race and intelligence.
After Murray was formally introduced, the chants began (via Insider Higher Ed):
“Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away!”
“Your message is hatred. We cannot tolerate it.”
“Charles Murray, go away. Middlebury says no way.”
“Who is the enemy? White supremacy.”
“Hey hey, ho ho. Charles Murray has got to go.”
After 20 minutes of protesting, with no evidence of it letting up, campus authorities decided to shut down the event and relocate Murray and Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics. Rather than an in-person lecture with students there to engage with the speakers, organizer were forced to live-stream their private conversation instead.
Things got even uglier after the live-stream event.
“According to Middlebury officials after Murray and a professor who interviewed him for the livestream attempted to leave the location in a car, some in the protest surrounded the car, jumped on it, pounded on it and tried to prevent the car from leaving campus,” reports IHE.
Campus officials explained that they felt compelled to shut down the lecture because, while they had expected protesters, they were not prepared for the sheer number that converged on the event.
Murray tweeted his response to the riotous of the students late Thursday night:
The college responded to the shut down of free speech in a statement released Friday morning:
“We’re deeply disappointed that Charles Murray was not permitted to give his talk in the way it was intended. A large group of students took it upon themselves to disrupt the event, which forced us to move Mr. Murray and Professor Allison Stanger, the moderator of the Q&A, to another location. Thanks to some advance planning, we were able to livestream Mr. Murray’s talk and his conversation with ProfessorStanger. We will make a recording of that available as soon as possible so the members of our community who came to the event wanting to hear Mr. Murray will be able to do so.”
In response to his critics, Murray penned a lengthy open letter to the Middlebury Campus debunking mischaracterizations of him and his most famous work, The Bell Curve, which critics have portrayed as a pseudoscience-based, racist attempt to prove white supremacy. Below is an excerpt of the letter in which Murray specifically addresses The Bell Curve‘s approach to the issue of intelligence and race:
There’s no doubt that discussing intelligence and race was asking for trouble in 1994, as it still is in 2016. But that’s for political reasons, not scientific ones. Once again, the state of knowledge about the basics is not particularly controversial. The mean scores for all kinds of mental tests vary by ethnicity. No one familiar with the data disputes that most elemental statement. Regarding the most sensitive difference, between Blacks and Whites, Herrnstein and I followed the usual estimate of one standard deviation (15 IQ points), but pointed out that the magnitude varied depending on the test, sample, and where and how it was administered. What did the APA Task Force conclude? “Although studies using different tests and samples yield a range of results, the Black mean is typically about one standard deviation (about 15 points) below that of Whites. The difference is largest on those tests (verbal or nonverbal) that best represent the general intelligence factor g” [p. 93].
Is the Black/White differential diminishing? In The Bell Curve, we discussed at length the evidence that the Black/White differential has narrowed [pp. 289–295], concluding that “The answer is yes with (as usual) some qualifications.” The Task Force’s treatment of the question paralleled ours, concluding with “[l]arger and more definitive studies are needed before this trend can be regarded as established” [p. 93].
Can the Black/White differential be explained by test bias? In a long discussion [pp. 280–286], Herrnstein and I presented the massive evidence that the predictive validity of mental tests is similar for Blacks and Whites and that cultural bias in the test items or their administration do not explain the Black/White differential. The Task Force’s conclusions regarding predictive validity: “Considered as predictors of future performance, the tests do not seem to be biased against African Americans” [p. 93]. Regarding cultural bias and testing conditions: “Controlled studies [of these potential sources of bias] have shown, however, that none of them contributes substantially to the Black/White differential under discussion here” [p. 94].
Can the Black/White differential be explained by socioeconomic status? We pointed out that the question has two answers: Statistically controlling for socioeconomic status (SES) narrows the gap. But the gap does not narrow as SES goes up—i.e., measured in standard deviations, the differential between Blacks and Whites with high SES is not narrower than the differential between those with low SES [pp. 286–289]. Here’s the APA Task Force on this topic:
Several considerations suggest that [SES] cannot be the whole explanation. For one thing, the Black/White differential in test scores is not eliminated when groups or individuals are matched for SES. Moreover, the data reviewed in Section 4 suggest that—if we exclude extreme conditions—nutrition and other biological factors that may vary with SES account for relatively little of the variance in such scores [p. 94].
The notion that Herrnstein and I made claims about ethnic differences in IQ that have been scientifically rejected is simply wrong. We deliberately remained well within the mainstream of what was confidently known when we wrote. None of those descriptions have changed much in the subsequent twenty‐two years, except to be reinforced as more has been learned. I have no idea what countervailing evidence President Sands could have in mind.
At this point, some readers may be saying to themselves, “But wasn’t The Bell Curve the book that tried to prove blacks were genetically inferior to whites?” I gather that was President Sands’ impression as well. It has no basis in fact. Knowing that people are preoccupied with genes and race (it was always the first topic that came up when we told people we were writing a book about IQ), Herrnstein and I offered a seventeen‐ page discussion of genes, race, and IQ [pp. 295–311]. The first five pages were devoted to explaining the context of the issue—why, for example, the heritability of IQ among humans does not necessarily mean that differences between groups are also heritable. Four pages were devoted to the technical literature arguing that genes were implicated in the Black/White differential. Eight pages were devoted to arguments that the causes were environmental. Then we wrote:
If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. [p. 311].
That’s it—the sum total of every wild‐eyed claim that The Bell Curve makes about genes and race. There’s nothing else. Herrnstein and I were guilty of refusing to say that the evidence justified a conclusion that the differential had to be entirely environmental. On this issue, I have a minor quibble with the APA Task Force, which wrote “There is not much direct evidence on [a genetic component], but what little there is fails to support the genetic hypothesis” [p. 95]. Actually there was no direct evidence at all as of the mid‐1990s, but the Task Force chose not to mention a considerable body of indirect evidence that did in fact support the genetic hypothesis. No matter. The Task Force did not reject the possibility of a genetic component. As of 2016, geneticists are within a few years of knowing the answer for sure, and I am content to wait for their findings.
But I cannot leave the issue of genes without mentioning how strongly Herrnstein and I rejected the importance of whether genes are involved. This passage from The Bell Curve reveals how very, very different the book is from the characterization of it that has become so widespread:
In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.