Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class
Author: Charles Murray
Just when the world seems poised to boil over with political rancour and outrage, along comes Charles Murray — right on time — with a new book titled Human Diversity.
Yes, that Mr Murray, who in 1994 co-authored The Bell Curve, with Richard J Herrnstein, arguing in two notorious chapters that IQ differences between the races were mostly innate and mostly intractable. Social programmes like welfare or early education intervention ought to be scrapped not only because they were fruitless but because they encouraged women with low IQ (“the wrong women”) to have more children. These “findings” were presented as good news. Why should intellectual achievement be considered the hallmark of success? Why should black people interpret this neutral data as a statement of their inferiority? No, the authors maintained, with breathtaking condescension: They will develop their own alternative sources of esteem; they might, for example, console themselves with their athletic “dominance”.
The book has been roundly discredited on moral, political, and scientific grounds. With Human Diversity, Mr Murray tries to stoke some of the same controversy that powered The Bell Curve although more cautiously. “I’m discussing some of the most incendiary topics in academia,” he writes, hastening to add that “the subtext of the chapters to come is that everyone should calm down”.
We are on the cusp of a revolution, Mr Murray argues. Advances in genetics and neuroscience promise to liberate the social sciences from a stifling orthodoxy that denies the differences between people by insisting that we are blank slates, our potential impeded only by our environments. He identifies three key tenets of this orthodoxy: Gender is a construct; race is a construct; and class is a function of privilege.
Human Diversity has all the bulk of authority. A synthesis of research on the putative differences between the sexes and races, it’s rich with statistical analysis. It’s a curious fact, however, that Mr Murray — who lambastes the unwillingness of politically correct social scientists to look dispassionately at the data — publishes his books under such carefully controlled circumstances. Early readers were handpicked and, on one occasion, flown to Washington by the American Enterprise Institute and briefed by Mr Murray himself.
As with The Bell Curve, we will have to wait for peer reviews to carefully sift through the science. Yet several claims are plainly contentious, even to the lay reader. Take Mr Murray’s description of male brains as “systemisers” and female brains as “empathisers”, drawing on the work of the psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. What Mr Murray avoids discussing are the profound questions surrounding one of the studies that scaffold his thinking.
In 2000, Dr Baron-Cohen and colleagues published a study of day-old babies, which found that boys looked at mobiles longer (hence “systemisers”) and girls at faces (“empathisers”). This study has never been replicated, not even by Dr Baron-Cohen. Not to mention the core question, as posed by the psychologist Cordelia Fine, who has written extensively about bias in research on sex differences in the brain: “Why think that what a newborn prefers to look at provides any kind of window, however grimy, into their future abilities and interests?”
Or consider Mr Murray’s interpretation of why women haven’t branched into more male-dominated fields over the last 30 years. Sexism cannot be the culprit, he claims. Now that the outright prohibition of women entering male-dominated fields has ended, any vestigial opposition ought to have abated in “a matter of years”. Never mind the wealth of research showing the very real persisting impediments that Mr Murray dismisses. To name just one well-known example: In a study at Yale University, over 100 scientists reviewed a résumé submitted for an open position. The résumés were identical, although half were submitted under men’s names and half women’s names. The women’s résumés were ranked significantly lower than the men’s — by both female and male faculty.
Stranger still are the inconsistencies. “Race is a construct” is among the tenets Mr Murray seeks to dismantle. Yet tucked midway through the book is the bland assertion that his evidence does not “deny the many ways in which race is a social construct”. “Ancestral populations” might be more apt, he concedes. Not 40 pages later, however, he’s back to huffing at the “elite wisdom” that “race is a social construct”.
The main question is: Why am I asking these questions of Charles Murray? True, the burden of proof is on him to make a case for this “exciting” scientific revolution (whose discoveries just happen to regurgitate some of humanity’s most pernicious, wearying, and stubborn stereotypes). But proof is not Mr Murray’s concern. Despite its blizzard of statistics, the book’s most astonishing declaration is on the first page. If “you have reached this page” — the first page, I remind you — “convinced that gender, race and class are all social constructs, and that any claims to the contrary are pseudoscience, you won’t get past the first few pages before you can’t stand it anymore. This book isn’t for you.” He continues smoothly: “Now that we’re alone …”
This book is for the believers. Rigorous readers, sceptics, the unindoctrinated — you won’t be persuaded by Human Diversity, but why should that matter? You’re not even invited. How’s that for a safe space. How’s that for an orthodoxy.