A Small Victory for Academic Freedom


Charles Murray

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands deserves credit for backing the invitation of Dr. Charles Murray, author of the controversial “Bell Curve,” to the Pamplin College of Business. He was apologetic and wimpy, and he perpetuated the lies of the ideological left, but in the end he stood up for the idea that universities are places where unpopular ideas can be discussed.

As is to be expected, some members of the university community were aghast at the invitation issued to Murray, who in Sands’ words “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.” In the usual manner of the left, campus voices denounced his views as “deeply offensive” for promoting a “white supremacist agenda,” and objected to his invitation to speak.

Tim Sands

Tim Sands

The cries rose to the point where Sands responded with an open letter to the university community. While the topic of Murray’s speech was expected to fall within the scope of a lecture series on capitalism and freedom, he wrote, “the audience will find it difficult not to relate the context of Dr. Murray’s remarks to his earlier statements on race and intelligence. Yet there is room in the intellectual life of the university for perspectives that sharpen our critical thinking skills and evoke thought and discussion on topics such as ethics, morality, logic and the scientific method.”

“This will not be the last time that a student group, a faculty member or the administration invites a speaker whose views will be regarded by some in our community as repugnant, offensive or even fraudulent,” Sands said. “While we cannot prevent others from finding their place on each of these axes, let us set an example for free speech AND civil discourse.”

Murray applauded Sands for defending intellectual freedom, but he did not appreciate the way the university president characterized his work.

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.

I should begin by pointing out that the topic of the The Bell Curve was not race, but, as the book’s subtitle says, “Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.” Our thesis was that over the last half of the 20th century, American society has become cognitively stratified.

Click here (trigger warning!) to read the rest of Murray’s response which summarizes the findings of “The Bell Curve” and explains how it bears little resemblance to the way it has been portrayed by people who have never read it. Perhaps some people have misused Murray’s work, I don’t know. But blaming Murray for the words of people over whom he has no control is like blaming Wagner for Hitler’s holocaust, Einstein for the dropping of the atom bomb, or American leftists for Stalin’s Holodomor. (Never heard of it? Look it up.)

It was grotesque for Sands to tar Murray by association with “fascism, racism and eugenics.” I suppose he had to throw a sop to the little Stalins at Virginia Tech who would purge every offending ideology if they could. But in the end he did the right thing. Let us hope that the university ensures that Murray is allowed to give his speech without disruption by student brown shirts.

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10 responses to “A Small Victory for Academic Freedom

  1. re: ” But blaming Murray for the words of people over whom he has no control is like blaming ”

    I don’t think he was blaming. I think he was acknowledging the blatant misuse of the work and actually defending the work and justifying the legitimacy of the event and lecture.

    What people object to – is how folks who ARE racist have co-opted the book to claim that it says something it does not – so they can further their own racists views and who would THEN claim their views are legitimate because they are being given as lectures to Universities.

    but I would ask you this – who said this:

    ” “You want to have a job training program for welfare mothers? You think that’s going to cure the welfare problem? Well, when you construct that job training program and try to decide what jobs they might qualify for, you had better keep in mind that the mean IQ of welfare mothers is somewhere in the 80s, which means that you have certain limitations in what you’re going to accomplish.”

    who said that?

    • I suspect Murray said that.

      What do you find objectionable? Would you suggest creating job-training programs for welfare mothers geared to the intelligence of college graduates?

      Or are you insinuating that there is something racist about referring to “welfare mothers”? If you suggest that it’s a code word for “black,” then you obviously haven’t read Murray’s book about the woeful condition of white America.

  2. I’d like to KNOW how you know that welfare mothers have that average IQ.

  3. Wow, LtG. Your screed has induced me to get the book to see for myself.

  4. what “screed”? It’s a very simple question and so far – no answer just more blather about “screeds”. what’s with you guys?

  5. Murray’s last book “Coming Apart” details the subject previously debated here, that the breeding of the more intelligent and creating a class of elites may not be in the best interest of America. A good study.

  6. tell me again – how you know a whole class of folks has a particular average IQ? how did you know that?

    so all women on welfare have an average IQ in the 80’s? how did you find that out?

  7. Here is one of the more interesting things Charles Murray has said (in an essay published by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, where he is currently a Fellow), and relevant to Larry’s quote: “Try to imagine a GOP presidential candidate saying in front of the cameras, ‘One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy.’ You cannot imagine it because that kind of thing cannot be said. And yet this unimaginable statement merely implies that when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.”

    This quote from 2000 (you can find it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Murray_(political_scientist)) is remarkable to me because it might as well HAVE BEEN said by a 2016 GOP presidential candidate. Say what we will about The Donald, he is not constrained by worry about political correctness. Charles Murray, on the other hand, has spent a career worried about political correctness, specifically, how p.c. preconceptions prevent us from seeing, much less addressing, relationships among data that imply cause-and-effect according to the standard criteria of sociology and, if they did not arise in a racially-tinged context, would easily demand the attention of and commentary from any unbiased political theorist. That, to me, is a useful antidote to the academic straightjacket so many in academe wear like a mantle but President Sands, here, refused to embrace.

    Beyond merely a provocateur, Charles Murray performs a useful function. Indeed, he has helped reopen the debate over “nurture versus nature” in education and psychology and sociology that has made it possible to discuss in polite scientific circles the probable significant genetic component to how the brain works: that is, to how we think. Recently there has been a flood of studies examining the genetic component in anger, in bipolar disorder, in dementia, in differences between the sexes as to how we approach analysis of problems, etc. Does race also have a genetic component? Self-evidently. Are race and the way the brain works related? Certainly not necessarily; but Murray maintains we should at least be open to the possibility!

    Beyond all that, Murray no less than any other scientist or AEI Fellow must be prepared to explain his data. Larry’s question is a good one: where did Murray come up with “all women on welfare have an average IQ in the 80’s”? I don’t know. But if the data is from a reputable source, it is reasonable to infer from that, “you have certain limitations in what you’re going to accomplish” with job training programs to remedy the welfare problem.

  8. Remember, the statement that “women on welfare have an average IQ in the 80’s” need not have anything to do with race. It could well prove true of all races. That’s why Murray wrote the book, “Falling Apart,” which focuses on the increasing social dysfunction in lower-income white households. The point is to show that certain negative social trends are taking place that are entirely separate from race. Given that lower-income white households are increasingly characterized by out-of-wedlock birth, divorce, substance abuse, child neglect, etc., if the same thing is true of blacks and Hispanics, the reason probably has to do with something other than race.

  9. My question was never about race. It was simply how do we know what Murray was saying was true. He seems to make it a statement of fact and then wonders why folks react badly to his “words”. Really?

    but the idea that someone who is in dire economic circumstances might be caused by genetics and IQ seems stupid and ignorant on it’s face but those that think there is a link should set about collecting data to support that premise with more than “beliefs”.

    and to make that implication and stop there – without data – and calling criticism of those making that implication without data as victims of PC – good grief!

    and for any of us to pretend that there are NOT racists who ARE claiming that Murray’s “theory” is true – and, for instance, leading to claims that lower SOL scores in Va schools is related to it – I’m sorry folks – this is what is wrong with some of our politics… these days. Folks who “believe” genetics causes poverty have “issues” in my book but let me see the data if it is so true.

    It’s NOT political correctness to identify overt attitudes about “genes” that have no backing in facts and science… it’s basically calling out ignorance and racism .. for what it really is.

    People with “very excellent” IQs do stupid economic things and suffer grievously as a result – its not genes… that causes it.

    Any FOOL can see this if they really want to … the fact that some of us choose to remain blind to it and instead focus on the poor or folks of color is a distinctly unsavory aspect of some of us… and perhaps those who hold such horrific attitudes are themselves genetically predisposed that way?

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