The Bell Curve:

  Links and Resources

PSYCH 457: Psychological Testing
Aubyn Fulton, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Pacific Union College

The Bell Curve by Herrnstein & Murray is an important text both in the intelligence literature in particular and psychology and society in general. The content of the book is relatively unremarkable. I agree with what others have observed; that what is true in the book is not new, and what is new in the book is not true (though of course there are some old lies in there too). However the popularity of the book suggests that many Americans were all too pleased to find a guilt-reducing excuse for their own relative affluence and advantage. I think it is important for psychology students to familiarize themselves with both the fairly well supported assertions in the book, as well as the unsupported assertions, ideologically based interpretations and outright distortions.

I require students in my Psychological Testing course to read Stephen J. Gould's Mismeasure of Man prior to extended sections of The Bell Curve. Links to Reading Questions that I provide them for both texts are included on this page. I also provide a selection of links to documents located on the World-Wide Web that pertain to The Bell Curve. I do not pretend to be neutral in my view of the book, though I do try to be fair. Many of the links are to negative reviews of the book, though some positive links can be found as well. I also include a link to my own brief summary of what seems to me to be the supported (though distorted), and unsupported claims of the Bell Curve. In my class I also have students read both positive and negative reviews of the book.

Reading Guides

Mismeasure of Man

The Bell Curve The Bell Curve Debate 
Official Psychological Responses to the Bell Curve
Book Reviews & Reactions
Affirmative Action

Supported, Distorted and Unsupported Assertions in The Bell Curve
By Aubyn Fulton, Ph.D.

I disagree with the social and political agenda of The Bell Curve, and with critical elements of its interpretation of the psychological literature on intelligence. People do vary in their performance on IQ tests, and this performance is related to important outcomes. There are "race" group IQ differences, and IQ tests predict academic outcomes for African-Americans as well (or, as poorly) as they do for white Americans. However there is no basis for the conclusion that The "race" group differences are genetically based, or that Americans should just accept social inequality and attribute it to inborn and immutable intelligence differences.

I think that one of the tactics of the authors of the Bell Curve is to state well established findings as harshly as possible in an effort to provoke opponents into making intemperate and indefensible attacks. Another tactic is to include very brief and modest disclaimers, which are later used as cover to defend against attacks on their more extensive, bold and unsupportable treatment of controversial assertions. {For example, in their introduction they inconspicuously acknowledge that the very existence of "g" is debatable, since it is a circumstantial inference from statistical observations (p. 3). From then on they proceed to assume that all reasonable psychologists agree that "g" is a real entity that is the physical (indeed, metaphysical) basis of what is commonly meant by intelligence. If questioned on this, Murray would almost certainly point to his earlier caveat and argue that he made the requisite disclosure of the equivocal basis of "g" - however the impression left on most readers, a result of the clear intent of the authors, is that "g" is the real basis of intelligence, and that anyone who challenges this notion is a crank).

Below, I summerize what I consider to be some of the assertions made in the Bell Curve which are well established (but unfairly explained), and some of the assertions which I believe to be unsupported.

Assertions Supported (but not fairly explained) in the Bell Curve:
Assertions made, but not supported, in the Bell Curve: