'In Defense of the Bell Curve,' written by Vincent M. Sarich, holds many flaws and struck
'In Defense of the Bell Curve,' written by Vincent M. Sarich,
holds many flaws and struck me as exactly equal to self-professed
"psychics" who insist that, though every psychic ever tested has
been shown to be "sadly mistaken," there are _still_ psychics
somewhere. "The Bell Curve," even after it's been shown to be a
flawed and unscientific work, _still_ has those who will defend
its as scientific.
What struck me first was the stark contrast to Diane F. Halpern's
detailed, point-for-point, non-political evaluation of the
validity and merit of seven key points being advanced by Charles
Murray and Richard Herrnstein. Whereas Halpern's value judgements
were few, with major focus upon the key issues, Sarich's first
opening salvo was to spout the 1990's curse word "liberal" as many
times as he can unreasonably work it in. To be frank, had I
wanted to be innundated with thoughtless political rhetoric
specifically designed to demonize vague, ill-defined "liberals,"
I would have tuned in the Rush Limbaugh Show.
The opening salvo is enough, I would opine, to justify discounting
the article as mere politics rather than science. Giving devils their
due, however, I continued to read and was unsurprise to see that the
tone set at the beginning didn't change one Hertz. Imagine the
audacity to proclaim athletic ability as a racial characteristic
without even so much as a glib, off-handed, dismissive comment on
the culture within which athletic prowess is perhaps one of the best
vehicles for success among male black children.
Mr. Sarich's scientific achievements are indeed impressive but his
faulty defense of 'The Bell Curve' isn't one of them. He should stick
to anthropology and biochemistry where he shines and stop using his
high acedemic standing and undisputed scientific achievements as a
platform to launch his right-wing political positions.
The _real_ "defense" of 'The Bell Curve' that we observe is coming
from those who hold racist and politically conservative views. These
defenders draw back in mock surprise and exclaim how "liberals" are
themselves being racist; how everyone who asks the authors "where the
hell's the science, guys?" may be dismissed as just the glass-eyed
politically correct who doesn't give a damn about the facts. If we
weren't interested in the facts, we wouldn't be demanding that they
show us some science!
The accusations against critics are ironic in light of the overwhelming,
sound scientific debunking 'The Bell Curve' has recieved coupled to the
heavy public exposure to the actual agenda held by some references
offered by the authors. Suggestions that the authors are allowed to
compartimentalize-away the right-wing racist viewpoints held by some of
their references while maintaining that their conclusions are
scientifically valid is utter twaddle. As skeptics we're supposed to
judge each claim upon its own merits -- and we have. We can't ignore,
however, the inclusion of supportive references which are utterly
I did some minor research into the Pioneer Fund and groups that are
financially tied to it, and I have made some of the information I found
available for download via MODEM. I elected not to include anything
which was difficult or impossible to verify (such as the interesting
claims by one conspiracy-minded individual that the Pioneer Fund was in
some way responsible for the John F. Kennedy assination.) Readers who
wish to read some of the newspaper articles I found describing the
Pioneer Fund may read all about it by calling (818) 335-9601 and
downloading these files.
The validity of each accusation made against the Pioneer Fund should
be evaluated with the same critical thinking that goes into debunking
their pseudo-scientific claims. As more verifiable files arive, I
will make them available.
After reviewing what's being said about the Pioneer Fund in various
newspapers, I reviewed what various right-wing watch groups had to say
about the Pioneer Fund and several related groups. I was not surprised
to learn that the Pioneer Fund was responsible for the majority of the
financial backing of the infamous Prop 187 in California. [see note 1]
What did come as a surprise was the ties to Francis E. Walter, the
chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee. (This was
reported by Grace Lichtenstein of The New York Times, December 11'th,
1977. The copy of the article I recieved did not indicate the page
numbers it appeared upon.) Some of the articles I have state that
the 1975 director of Pioneer Fund was Thomas F. Ellis of Raleign, N.C.,
(who is currently serving on The Concil for National Policy.) In
other articles, Ellis is stated as being on the Board of Directors
from 1973 to 1977 until the Pioneer Fund was publically exposed by the
11/Dec/77 New York Times article. It seems he was the manager of
Jesse Helm's 1972 campaign for Senator and currently works with Oliver
J. North, Nelson Bunker Hunt, Jesse Helms, and Marion "Pat" Robertson.
Back in 1977, Hope Punnett, the Secretary of the American Society of
Human Genetics, said that claims by either Dr. Jensen (a former
psychologist who became well known for his 1969 article theorizing
that intelligence was hereditary; he recieved $1.1 million from the
Pioneer Fund according to ABC News) or Dr. Shockley, should not be taken
too seriously because she did not think either had developed good
scientific information to support their theories. In 1976, the
American Society of Human Genetics published a statement of its
committee on genetics, race, and intelligence which was endorsed by
nearly 1,400 members. Some of the text of the statement is offered
by the 1977 New York Times article:
"In our views there is no convincing evidence as to
whether there is or is not an appreciable genetic
difference in intelligence between races," it said.
"Well designed research... may yield valid and socially
useful results and should not be discouraged. We feel
that geneticists can and must also speak out against
the misuse of genetics for political purposes and the
drawing of social conclusions from inadequate data."
Here in 1995, we're forced to take such claims seriously to the point
where they must be debunked upon scientific merits least the advent of
mass communication lead large sections of the lay populace to believe
that "The Bell Curve" is scientifically well grounded. In fact, according
to the spokesmen of several Universities who have been contacted by the
reporters of the articles I have found, the grants they recieved from
the Pioneer Fund are something of an embarrassment after the history of
the Fund is exposed to them.
Of major surprise was learning that the Pioneer Fund, under the
leadership of Harry H. Laughlin, was responsible for creating the
"involuntary sterilization movement in America" which, Jan Mirilovich
claims, led to the involuntary sterilization of over 75,000 people
from between 1924 and 1972. [see note 2] Hitler and Goebbels,
Mirilovich states, invited Laughlin to receive an honary degree for
his work in passing "The Modern Eugenics Laws in America."
[see note 3.]
I also found a transcript of the ABC World News Tonight story on
The Bell Curve and the Pioneer Fund which aired on November 22,
1994. Bill Blakemore of ABC News, New York, commented that when
co-author Charles Murray was told ABC News learned of the Pioneer
Fund connection, "he accused us of being on an intellectual witch
hunt that would have a pernicious effect on research." The ABC
transcript starts at the Pioneer Fund mailbox service in Manhattan
and tells viewers that the Pioneer Fund has no office and that the
President and four directors avoid publicity and talking with
reporters. Charles Murray also declined to be interviewed by ABC
on camera though he told ABC News that he knew very little about the
Pioneer Fund and that he had never taken any grant monies from the
Pioneer Fund, stateing that of the references in "The Bell Curve,"
only two researches cited in his book had.
The ABC News transcript verified much of the other materials I have
collected, including the mandated involuntary sterialization laws
which, by 1931, was in 30 states. The transcript places the instigation
of the sterialization program into the hands of Pioneer Fund's first
President, Harry Laughlin, who, according to the transcript, "wanted
the lowest 10 percent of Americans sterilized to, quote 'eradicate
inferior people.'" The transcript also verifies the connection to
Adolf Hitler by, in 1936, distributing Hitler's propaganda film called
"Erbkrank" (which means "Hereditary Defective") to American High
Schools. The Los Angeles Times, on November 3, 1994, also verifys the
Those of us who state our growing concerns about right-wing extremist
groups are often accused by those we ask critical questions of as being
conspiracy and hate mongers. As skeptics, however, we're more
interested in the pseudo-science being employed. A comment made by
Jonathan Beckwith, a Harvard University geneticist, reminded me greatly
of Creationists speaking outside of their field:
"I think it's important to realize that most people
doing this work are not geneticists. And that if you
ask people in the mainstream genetics community, you
are not going to find much support for this work."
Before the ABC News Tonight show aired, the Los Angeles Times on
November 3, 1994, published an article titled, "In Honor of Charlatans
and Racists; 'The Bell Curve' pays tribute to some of history's
most notorous pseudo-scientific hate-mongers," written by Alexander
Cockburn. This article starts off by takeing a look at 'The Bell
Curve's' "intellectual ancestry," listed in the book's introduction.
"There on the opening page is Galton, cited in blandly
respectful terms. Galton was a charlatan whose scientific
procedures are well exhibited in his 1873 essay 'Hereditary
Improvement.' He wrote that, after the great famine of
the 1840's, 'The Irish type of face seemed to have become
more prognathous, that is, more like the Negro in the
protrusion of the lower jaw; the interpretation of which
was that the men who had survived the starvation and other
deadly accidents of that horrible time were more generally
of a low or coarse organization."
Within the computer networks, where Creationists repeatedly state their
ignorance as to what evolution is and what it is not, I find that such
racist pseudo-science -- created to support a hatred or right-wing
political agenda -- does a great deal of damage. It is this type of
pseudo-research -- using claims of natural selection and evolution for
validation -- which I and countless qualified paleontologists and
biologists have had to _constantly_ explain is _not_ valid science.
I find it ironic that people complaining about intelligence differences
between races contribute greatly to the growing ignorance of the
population in matters of simple biology and evolution.
One of the most useful files I found is a list of organizations and
individuals along with their connections and ties which support far-right
and racist agendas. It lists pseudonyms for groups and individuals
What's also interesting are the letters written by researchers who have
recieved monies from the Pioneer Fund defending themselves by pointing
toward the Ford Foundation and the far greater distribution of money
for the persuit of anti-Semitic agendas. Professor Daniel R. Vining,
Jr., for instance, comments upon Henry Ford's authorship of the book,
"The International Jew," saying that Adolf Hitler, in 1938, bestowed upon
Ford the highest honor possible to non-Germans: the Supreme Order of
the German Eagle. Thus we have a little evil on the one hand and a big
evil on the other and are asked to focus upon the big evil.
That's a good point, actually, except that what acedemics and skeptics
really wish to focus upon is the alleged science, not the political. A
debasement of science remains a debasement of science reguardless of the
motives behind it, and "The Bell Curve" is a widely public, contemporary
debasement of science which needs to be addressed for all the same
reasons Creationism, homeopathic medicine, and other pseudo-sciences
need to be addressed.
Professor Vining made several good points in one of the letters I found.
In one letter, he suggests that the researchers who recieve funding from
the Pioneer Fund should not themselves be automatically demonized as
haters. The real evil, he suggests, is the board membership of the
Pioneer Fund, not those who are unfamilure with their agenda yet recieve
their grants. This, I felt, was a successful defense as it holds a great
deal of truth. Professor Vining pointed out that Universities recieve the
grants directly rather than individuals within the University and this,
too, I felt was a successful defense.
When I consider these comments, however, I can't help but fondly recall
Jack Nickleson in Stephen King's "The Shining" where, when Frank the
bartender informs him his drinks are on the house; his money's no good,
Nickleson tells him, "Frank, I'm the kind of man who likes to know who's
buying their drinks for them." Had I the chance to recieve research
funding for my work, I would probably not be too inclined to look into
who's "buying my drinks" for me. I would learn from other's
embarrassments, however, and start.
The media depiction of those who have recieved Pioneer Fund grants
focus upon the racist agenda rather than the pseudo-science as, quite
obviously, that sells more papers. Sadly, as Professor Vining commented
in one of his letters, the issues of the science should be hashed-out
in the acedemic arena, not hidden in the politics around them. Holding
an opposing political viewpoint is one thing; correctly debunking
pseudo-science is quite another.
In the November 3, 1994 edition of the Los Angeles Times,
Thursday, Home Edition, Alexander Cockburn writes:
"One organization with a keen interest in Proposition 187, though
keeping a low profile for political reasons, is the rabidly anti-
immigrant Federation of American Immigration Reform. One of FAIR's
top lobbyists, former INS Commissioner Alan Nelson, helped draft
Proposition 187 in 1993, the year he was paid $70,000 by FAIR, which
he listed as his only client.
"A review of IRS documents shows that between 1982 and 1992, FAIR
received just under $1.1 million from the New York-based Pioneer Fund,
making it the second-largest of Pioneer's 22 grant recipients."
Jan Mirilovich (pioneer@IDS.COM) states:
"Wickliffe Preston Draper, a 1913 graduate of Harvard who died in 1972,
and Dr. Harry H. Laughlin, created and then championed the "involuntary
sterilization movement in America" -- the so-called "Buck vs. Bell"
Supreme Court case -- which was favorably reviewed by Justice Oliver
Wendell Holmes. It led directly to the involuntary sterilization of
over 75,000 human beings between 1924 and 1972 in the approximately 24
states which passed similar laws at the behest and encouragement of The
Draper founded The Pioneer Fund in 1937.
Jan Mirilovich states:
"But the first major achievement of his work and that of Herr Laughlin,
was when Hitler and Goebbels invited Laughlin to receive an honorary
degree for his work in passing "The Model Eugenics Laws in America".
Hitler used the Draper-inspired American Eugenics Model to pass the law
which will go down in infamy as the Nuremberg Laws: "On the Prevention
of Hereditarily Ill Progeny" - the so-called Holocaust Laws.
Some of the materials I have found reference the following works:
1) "The Nazi Connection"
Prof. Stefan Kuhl, Oxford University Press, 1994.
2) "Professors of Hate"
Adam Miller, Rolling Stone Magazine, October 20, 1994. Pages 106-112
3) "Inherent Inferiority of Minorities"
William B. Shockley
4) "Genetics is the Only Determinant of Intelligence"
5) "Brain Size has an effect on Determination of Native Born Intelligence"
J. Phillippe Rushton
6) "Fund Backs Controversial Study of Racial Betterment"
Grace Lichtenstein, The New York Times, December 11, 1977, page 76
7) "Race vs. I.Q., The Continuing Controversery over 'The Bell Curve'"
The New Republic, October 31, 1994. All pages.
8) "I.Q. Is it Destiny?" Subtitled "A Hard Look at a Controversial
New Book on Race, Class, and Success"
Newsweek Magazine, October 24, 1994.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank