“Charles Murray (Thailand) Returns!”

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Jeanne Paul (Brazil 1964-66)


A review in the New York Times, February 13, 2020
by Parul Sehgal



Just when the world seems poised to boil over with political rancor and outrage, along comes Charles Murray — right on time — with a new book titled “Human Diversity.”

Yes, that Charles Murray, who in 1994 co-authored “The Bell Curve,” with Richard J. Herrnstein, arguing in two notorious chapters that I.Q. differences between the races were mostly innate and mostly intractable. (They allowed that environmental factors play a part in I.Q., but held that the “balance of the evidence” put a genetic factor of 60 percent “on the low side.”) Social programs like welfare or early education intervention ought to be scrapped not only because they were fruitless but because they encouraged women with low I.Q. (“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 alternate sources of esteem; they might, for example, console themselves with their athletic “dominance.”

In the years since its publication, the book has been roundly discredited on moral, political and scientific grounds. Reviewing “The Bell Curve” in The New Yorker, Stephen Jay Gould called attention to the authors’ questionable use of statistics and cherry-picked data. Peer reviews found shoddy reasoning and mathematical errors (all in service of the book’s thesis). There have been debates about what I.Q. really measures (other than the ability to take I.Q. tests), and whether an individual’s I.Q. is as relatively unchangeable as the authors claimed.

In The New York Review of Books, Charles Lane described the book’s “tainted sources.” The authors, he argued, were relying on fringe researchers, many of them supported by the Pioneer Fund, whose founding mandate was “race betterment,” achieved by promoting reproduction by the descendants of “white persons who settled in the original 13 colonies prior to the adoption of the Constitution and/or from related stocks.” Richard Lynn, for example, a self-described “scientific racist,” and J. Philippe Rushton, who maintained that black people were shaped by evolution to be less nurturing to their children than their white counterparts. (“Rushton’s work is not that of a crackpot or a bigot,” Murray and Herrnstein straightfacedly proclaimed.)

Outrage has been good to Charles Murray. Far from being the victim of “a modern witch burning,” as the neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris has described him, Murray has been able to cloak himself in the mantle of the embattled intellectual, the purveyor of forbidden knowledge, while comfortably ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, the influential think tank, for three decades. His previous book, “Coming Apart,” which examined a balkanized America through the lens not of I.Q. but “cultural differences” between wealthy and poor white Americans, was warmly received. “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important,” David Brooks wrote in his column in this newspaper. The violent actions of protesters when Murray appeared at Middlebury College in 2017 were widely deplored.

With “Human Diversity,” Murray tries to stoke some of the same controversy that powered “The Bell Curve” — which sold 400,000 copies in its first two months after publication — although more cautiously; “Human Diversity” is thick with reassurances to the reader, and caveats that individuals ought to be judged on their own merits. “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, 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.

Murray claims that the opposition to this orthodoxy is widespread, if covert and cowed by political correctness. “If you were to go onto a university campus and chat privately with faculty members whose research touches on issues of gender, race or class, you would find that many of them, perhaps a majority, have a more nuanced view than this. They accept that biology plays a role. Why then don’t they mention the evidence for a biological role in their lectures? Their writings? A common answer is that they fear that whatever they write will be misinterpreted and misused.”

Possibly, I’d hazard, by Murray himself. “Human Diversity” has all the bulk of

(photo-Peter Holden)

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 Murray — who lambastes the unwillingness of politically correct social scientists to look dispassionately at the data — publishes his books under such carefully controlled circumstances. Advance review copies of “The Bell Curve” were not distributed, as Nicholas Lemann has noted. Early readers were handpicked and, on one occasion, flown to Washington by the American Enterprise Institute and briefed by Murray himself. “Human Diversity,” too, appears to have been parsimoniously circulated; the earliest reviews have been found at sympathetic outlets like The National Review.

As with “The Bell Curve,” we will have to wait for peer reviews to carefully sift through the science. Early indications might indicate some trouble for Murray. Last month, the psychologists Michelle N. Meyer, Patrick Turley and Daniel J. Benjamin issued a sharp rebuke to his use of their research on polygenic scores in his piece for The Wall Street Journal teasing the new book. He characterized polygenic scores as providing decisive insight into I.Q. that was “impervious to racism and other forms of prejudice.” In fact, the psychologists assert in response, “polygenic scores can and do reflect racism, sexism or other prejudices, as well as more benign environmental factors.”

Murray serenely rolls out his propositions, assuring us on occasion that it is all “consensus,” “securely known.” And yet several claims are plainly contentious, even to the lay reader. Take Murray’’s description of male brains as “systemizers” and female brains as “empathizers,” drawing on work of the psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. Men are drawn to things, in other words, and women to people. (You’ll recognize this terminology from James Damore’s diversity letter to Google.) This rubric becomes an organizing principle in the book, explaining the typically gendered vocations for men and women (Things Jobs and People Jobs). What Murray avoids discussing are the profound questions surrounding one of the studies that scaffold his thinking.

In 2000, Baron-Cohen and colleagues published a study of day-old babies that found that boys looked at mobiles longer (hence “systemizers”) and girls at faces (“empathizers”). This study has never been replicated, not even by Baron-Cohen. It was also poorly designed: for one, some of the newborns were propped up; their gaze might have been mediated by how they were held. 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 Murray’s interpretation of why women haven’t branched into more male-dominated fields over the last 30 years. Once again, he finds an explanation in the female preoccupation with people and emotion as opposed to the male orientation toward things and abstract thought. Sexism cannot be the culprit, he claims. Now that 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 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.

Why doesn’t Murray attend more thoroughly to the role of the environment, to history — even if to decisively repudiate their impact? On genetics, too, he dismisses aspects that might dilute the strength of his argument that outside interventions are limited in their effects on personality and social behavior. Developments in epigenetics, for example — outside mechanisms that effectively turn genes “on” or “off” — are waved away as “hype.”

Stranger still are the inconsistencies. “Race is a construct” is among the tenets 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.” There is no genetic basis for race. It is a social and legal definition — a young, crude one at that, overlaid on the tangled realities of ancestral heredity. “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.” Murray appears to want it both ways: to gesture at a more nuanced and precise formulation but also to harness, when he chooses, the raw rhetorical power of railing against woke dogmas about race.

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 Murray’s concern. Despite its blizzard of statistics, the book’s most astonishing (and telling) 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…”

Now that we’re alone. This book is for the believers. Rigorous readers, skeptics, 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.

Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class
by Charles Murray (Thailand 1965-67)
Twelve Publisher
508 pages
January 2020
$31.50 (hardback); $16.99 (Kindle)





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  • Wikipedia has a biography on Charles Murray. Wikipedia does encourage corrections to its information. However, I feel it is okay to post this about Murray which Wikipedia cites

    “Recalling his time in Thailand in a 2014 episode of “Conversations with Bill Kristol,” Murray noted that his worldview was fundamentally shaped by his time there. “Essentially, most of what you read in my books I learned in Thai villages.” He went on, “I suddenly was struck first by the enormous discrepancy between what Bangkok thought was important to the villagers and what the villagers wanted out of government. And the second thing I got out of it was that when the government change agent showed up, the village went to hell in terms of its internal governance.”[18]

    Murray’s work in the Peace Corps and subsequent social research in Thailand for research firms associated with the US government led to the subject of his doctoral thesis in political science at M.I.T., in which he argued against bureaucratic intervention in the lives of Thai villagers”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Murray_(political_scientist)“>

  • Thought I’d share what I know about Charles Murray. I believe he served in the Peace Corps from 1965 until 1967 after which he was part of a seven man American team which administrated a research project for the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Thailand which was funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the Department of Defense. He did that from 1968 until 1971. Then he went back to the States and returned to Thailand, and, using methods he’d learned on his AIR job, did research interviews for his MIT Doctorate from August of 1972 until February of 1973. After finishing his doctorate, he was employed by AIR again, this time in the States, before moving onto think tanks. (In Think Tanks in America, Thomas Medvetz refers to him as being the prototypical public policy think tank expert.)

    Half of the research Murray did for his MIT dissertation was conducted in Nakhon Phanom Province while I was stationed there as a Peace Corps Civil engineer. But of course I didn’t know it. I never met Charles Murray, and what he was doing was kind of secret. Dr. Robert E. Krug, the Deputy Director of the AIR program in Thailand, and Murray’s immediate supervisor, had been Peace Corps’ Director of Research from 1965 until 1967. Dr. Paul A. Schwartz, the Director of the AIR International Division was the project Director. Schultz had an office in the Embassy and reported directly to Ambassador Leonard Unger.

    AIR was involved with Peace Corps from the very beginning vetting volunteers, and after leaving AIR and working for Peace Corps for three years, Krug returned to AIR which then sent him to Thailand as part of this research project which was called “Counter-insurgency in Thailand, The Impact of Economic, Social, and Political Action Programs.”

    According to Eric Wakin, the author of Anthropology at War, who was kind enough to send me a copy of this AIR proposal, the sixties were a time a time when academics (and apparently also ex-Peace Corps people) were doing defense related work. Murray claims he didn’t work for the CIA, and I’m sure he didn’t. As nearly as I can tell, the AIR project was a Project AGILE program. In any case, the AIR project in Thailand was exposed in the Student Mobilizer magazine in April, I believe, of 1970, and later in the New York Times Review of Books, I believe, in December of that year. After that, or maybe even before that, the sponsorship of the AIR program in Thailand was changed to USOM.

    In March of 1973, the month after Murray left with his research interview data to write his thesis at MIT, every district where I had projects was designated red. In January of 1974, the month after I was pressured to leave the Peace Corps by Sakhon Nakhon volunteers who said I was dragging everybody else down, a CIA operation intended to give the Communists more autonomy in Sakhon Nakhon, the province adjoining Nakhon Phanom, was exposed by Thai journalists who published the name of the Chief of Station, Hugh Tover in The Nation, I believe it was, an English language daily. Then Ambassador William Kintner, who’d just arrived, was forced to send most of Thailand’s 150 CIA operatives back to the States. No one seemed to know why the CIA would have wanted to give the Communist more autonomy. The Embassy said the forged letter was written by an operative who’d gone rogue, and Thai intellectuals believe that the CIA sought to magnify the Communist threat to keep the Thais from evicting the Air Force which they did, but two years later.

    When I hear Murray talk on YouTube, he reminds me former Vice President Dick Casey, because he talks as if he knows, and expects his audience to know, that he speaks from a great reservoir of wisdom, even when he’s just BSing. He’s made a name for himself by lambasting government change agents in Thailand, and then transferring what he learned in Thailand to the States. But if he thought government change agents were wrecking Thailand, then what did he think he was when he was supervising a team of four Thai interviewers in the villages of Nakhon Phanom trying to learn what made the villagers tick? Did he really believe his presence there was benign? I think he probably did, just as I heard Margaret Mead did in the Philippines or wherever she was. But I think I know what made Murray tick. Or at least I can guess. He liked what he was doing in Thailand and thought it had value because it was interesting and very lucrative work. In a way, he was almost playing God, deciding what was the truth and what was not. What bothers me is how he puts out the idea that he was becoming a self-made man in Thailand, like as if he believes he got where he is because he was so willing to take risks and go out on his own. And that wasn’t true. He had the same safety net in Peace Corps as everyone else.

    If anyone cares to see how he describes his Peace Corps experience, check out the YouTube talk he made upon the publication of his 2014 book, The Curmudgeons Guide to Getting Ahead, the long version of which was filmed at the American Enterprise Institute and posted on April 17th of 2014, especially the part where he compares the Peace Corps experience and the military experience between minute 23 and minute 28. He’s urging kids to join the military to gain resilience even though he was never in the military. And he’s lying about the Peace Corps. And no one seems to know. In fact, the students are lapping it up just hoping to be as successful one day as he is.

    I already wrote to Charles Murray, a couple of times, but he never responded.

    So was that a good Charles Murray rant or what?

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