The Bell Curve

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The Bell Curve is a best-selling but controversial 1994 book by the late Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein and American Enterprise Institute political scientist Charles Murray. Its central argument is that intelligence is a better predictor of many personal dynamics, including financial income, job performance, chance of unwanted pregnancy, and involvement in crime than are an individual's parental socioeconomic status, or education level. The book also argues that those with high intelligence, the "cognitive elite", are becoming separated from those of average and below-average intelligence, and that this is a dangerous social trend.

Most of the controversy concerns Chapters 13 and 14, in which the authors wrote about racial differences in intelligence and discuss the implications of those differences. The authors were reported throughout the popular press as arguing that these IQ differences are genetic, and they did indeed write in chapter 13: "It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences." The introduction to the chapter more cautiously states, "The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved."

The book's title comes from the bell-shaped normal distribution of IQ scores. The normal distribution is the limiting distribution of a random quantity which is the sum of smaller, independent random phenomena. The message in the title is that IQ scores are normally distributed because a person's intelligence is the sum of many small random variations in genetic and environmental factors.[original research?]

Shortly after publication, many people rallied both in criticism and defense of the book. Some critics denounced the book and its authors as supporting scientific racism. A number of critical texts, including The Bell Curve Debate, were written in response to the book.


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