All Commentary
Wednesday, November 1, 1995

Race, Evolution, and Behavior

A Superior Alternative to The Bell Curve

The common reactions to Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve doubtless are familiar to most readers of The Freeman. No informed person should feel fully versed on the issues that The Bell Curve raises, however, until first reading J. Philippe Rushton’s Race, Evolution, and Behavior. There are several reasons why Professor Rushton, who teaches at the University of Western Ontario, is an even better source of scientific data on the topic of race and intelligence.

First, Rushton’s studies precede those of Herrnstein and Murray. He also has published more extensively on the subject than they have. As Rushton notes, he also began his studies of race-related differences in humans at the time that research of this nature still was welcomed.

Rushton’s Ph.D. studies were a deliberate amalgam of evolutional biology, behavioral genetics, psychometrics, neuroscience, and social learning theory. He brings a broader field of reference to the question of race and intelligence than do Herrnstein/Murray.

Rushton also explains better the equation of race and intelligence by stressing the concept of “aggregation” of data. Simply put, this means the more sources of information brought to bear on this issue, the better. Rushton thus examines comparative brain size, physiological maturation rates, personality, family stability, law abidingness, sociopolitical attitudes and organizations, reproductive anatomy and behavior, and health and longevity of three racial groups: Orientals, whites, and blacks.

Rushton proposes no public policy implications for the differences in intelligence between the races that he documents. His statement that “there are no necessary policies that flow from race research,” thus contrasts sharply with The Bell Curve, which argues otherwise.

As with The Bell Curve, however, Rushton’s book raises the question as to whether or not it is necessary or vital to publicize the information that black people on the average score a standard deviation (15 points) below the average score of whites (100) on the normal distribution curve of intelligence, and 21 points below the average score of Orientals (106). Rushton implies that his answer would be, “On what grounds is it proper to suppress this evidence? If the science of human characteristics is aimed at specifying the precise differences among humans (there would be no need for any such scientific investigation, of course, if humans all were the same in this regard), under what guise should we expurgate the evidence of racial differences in intelligence?” As an experienced scholar, Rushton does not shy away from this battle, however, since for him it “is over nothing less than how to conceptualize human nature.”

Rushton, along with the authors of The Bell Curve, found few social scientists today willing to accept the legitimacy of the scientific evidence on the relationship of race and intelligence, rejecting it out of hand as reactionary, or worse yet, as racist. In this regard, Rushton is accused, he reveals, of working “to justify existing social inequities.” He harbors a racist motive, it is said, for selecting race and intelligence as a topic of study.

Finally, the evidence that Rushton cites is not viewed by his detractors as enhancing the main goal most commonly given of modern social science and education, i.e., the promotion of such things as cultural and ethnic pluralism, feminism, relational ethics, affirmative action as an end to meritocracy, pacifism, and democratic socialism. Rushton would seem to sense this, but adds that “an ideology that tacitly appeals to biological equality as a condition for human emancipation corrupts the idea of freedom.” Liberty and individual differences are not mutually exclusive principles.

Decent men therefore must not tremble at the prospect of inconvenient findings emerging from scientific research—not even from studies of racial differences. This is perhaps the best reason one can find for defending the publication of controversial books such as his. Free societies have no option but to preserve science as a truly unfettered source of information. The unrestricted flow of facts is the lifeblood of their existence. []

Dr. Groff is Professor of Education Emeritus at San Diego State University.