Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

My latest article is now on The Humanist (first published 15 May 2017). Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism.

The Bell Curve was founded on a flawed premise that inferred a correlation between intelligence, socio-economic achievement, and genetics, without accounting for the effects of discrimination. The research was funded by the eugenics-promoting Pioneer Fund, while academics like Stephen Jay Gould showed that The Bell Curve obscured data.

Time has proven the book to be scientifically “reckless.” It enjoys a resurgence in 2017, the era of Trump, specifically because it is read as proof that White people are superior to racial minorities, especially Black and Latin people. […]

Harris’s characterizations of Murray’s critics are a projection of the push back he feels he’s unfairly faced. “You were one of the canaries in the coal mines,” Harris tells Murray. Having previously dismissed Murray, Harris now feels an affinity due to facing rebuke for racism (while continuing to espouse similar views).

The atheist movement has changed. Once the almost-exclusive domain of White men, calls for equality have challenged conversations, as diverse groups of women and minorities seek a more inclusive vision for atheism. It is telling that aggrieved White men feel more comfortable hosting uncritical discussions on scientific racism than engaging in anti-racism practices to reform the movement.

Read more on The Humanist.

We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve both because it is wrong and because it will, if activated, cut off all possibility of proper nurturance for everyone's intelligence. Prof Stephen Jay Gould
We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve. – Prof Stephen Jay Gould

4 thoughts on “Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

  1. There are some good points that you make, and yet the last line is risible.
    ” It is telling that aggrieved White men feel more comfortable hosting uncritical discussions on scientific racism than engaging in anti-racism practices to reform the movement.” I believe you are referring only to Harris, who may be considered a “White Man,” but he does not stand for the entire category.
    Are there other “White Men” who join in Harris’s scurrilous racism-embrace? Sure, perhaps a few, but enough to assign a direct connection to white men being Murray-loving scientific racists? Harris is a white man, no doubt, but he is an individual speaking, and he does not speak for atheism, not in the least.

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    1. Hi Notabilia,
      Harris has built an entire audience around his identity as a White man. White men in general all benefit from racialised and gendered systems of inequality. Harris’ brand as an atheist is pitched at other White men who share his sense of aggrieved entitlement, a concept detailed in Michael Kimmel’s book, “Angry White Men.”

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  2. I watched the interview with Sam Harris a man often at the centre of controversy with the best of intentions. I must admit I agree with Charles Murray that many of our cherished beliefs are wrong. Most people hate the very concept of IQ since it suggests that we are not all born equal.
    A little realism clearly shows that George Orwell was right ‘ some are more equal than others ‘. The confusion arises in the difference between equal in talent and equal in value. My IQ is about 105 just a little above average now that means I will be excluded from a career in particle physics and many posts among the elite in silicon valley.
    Sadly those born with less ability are destined to earn less money and be poorer but this discrepancy is not so bad as the third of the world’s populations who have to survive on less than $2 per day, or the millions in India who have no outside toilets. If you are fortunate enough to be born into the wealthy westernized countries you will be in the world’s top 5% regarding wealth. We must remember that 1% of 7.5 billion is 75 million. Let me invent a new word Wealthism it’s far more widely spread than racism but most of us being among the world’s elite sit back content that we ride on the crest of the wave.

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    1. Hi Kersten,
      You are entitled to your opinions, but I’ve linked to the science showing that Murray’s science on IQ was always flawed, lacking in empirical reality, and that it backs his and his co-author’s racist agenda. George Orwell did not ever mean “some are more equal than others.” His writing is satire of communism. No need to invent a new word (“wealthism”) as the word class describes income inequality, and scientific evidence shows this is linked to racial systems like colonialism over the centuries and ongoing racial discrimination.

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