A member of a listserv argued with me some years ago that the findings in The Bell Curve, specifically that certain groups are superior or inferior in intelligence as ascertained by intelligence tests, were “empirical”. The word is defined thus:
originating in or based on observation or experience
The most explosive part of the authors’, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, findings was the make up of some of the groups; they relied on old racial groupings, Black, White, Asian, etc., to compare people. Blacks, of course, fell at the bottom of the hierarchy, Asians at the top, and, oddly enough, Jews, a non-racial group, at the pinnacle. I will report in detail on these findings after I finish the long book – well written, BTW.

But I wanted to retort concerning the word empirical. During one of Murray’s book tours, a man in the audience brought up The Bell Curve. He told Murray that he, a White American, had spent some time in West Africa and had had a chance to talk to a lot of people. He found them to be perfectly intelligent and reasonable. He sounded sincerely perplexed that Murray’s finding concerning Africans indicated they were of low intelligence.

Murray’s reply was to refer him to more recent testing which replicated the earlier findings on which Murray had based his work.

Now, who is being empirical, the guy who relies on tests administered years ago by persons unknown or someone who interacted with the test subjects?

I’ve dealt with this book elsewhere in my blog and will discuss it more later. The book generated a huge reaction. It is obvious that we have a lot of people who have never interacted in a personal way with a great many African-Americans who are perfectly willing to apply their limited experience as police officers, military officers, health professionals, social workers, teachers, etc. to the entire group of people in order to agree or disagree with The Bell Curve. The man who interacted with Black Africans was not developing a full-blown theory, he was just reacting to his limited interaction with the subjects of the testing and expressing his perplexity at finding to reason to believe these people to be less intelligent as a group than any other group. Murray could only rely on more paper work.

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