The concept of intelligence and its perception in society at large has often been at odds with the state of scientific knowledge on the issue. This can be seen from perusal of popular literature on the topic, including even such reputable works as Scientific American. This argument was brought to the forefront of public debate by the 1994 publication of the controversial best seller The Bell Curve. Shortly after the publication of The Bell Curve, many attempts were made to refute the findings and even the scientific basis of the book. (The most notable of these was Stephen Jay Gould's scathing review of the book in The New Yorker.)
The vast majority of these reviews and attacks were based on "knowledge" that was and is contradictory to the knowledge of the scientific community on these topics. This upset many leaders in the fields of psychology, who are normally reclusive from the public eye. Fifty-two experts in psychology and "allied fields" wrote and signed a statement entitled "Mainstream Science on Intelligence", which was published in The Wall Street Journal on December 13, 1994. This statement provided a full endorsement of every major finding of The Bell Curve, including its controversial six assertions in the book's introduction. The work is in the public domain and is reprinted here for the reader's convenience.
Since the publication of "The Bell Curve," many commentators have offered
opinions about human intelligence that misstate current scientific evidence.
Some conclusions dismissed in the media as discredited are actually firmly
This statement outlines conclusions regarded as mainstream among researchers
on intelligence, in particular, on the nature, origins, and practical
consequences of individual and group differences in intelligence. Its aim is
to promote more reasoned discussion of the vexing phenomenon that the
research has revealed in recent decades. The following conclusions are fully
described in the major textbooks, professional journals and encyclopedias in
The Meaning and Measurement of Intelligence
1. Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other
things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think
abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from
experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or
test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability
for comprehending our surroundings--"catching on," "making sense" of
things, or "figuring out" what to do.
2. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests
measure it well. They are among the most accurate (in technical terms,
reliable and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments. They do
not measure creativity, character personality, or other important
differences among individuals, nor are they intended to.
3. While there are different types of intelligence tests, they all measure
the same intelligence. Some use words or numbers and require specific
cultural knowledge (like vocabulary). Others do not, and instead use
shapes or designs and require knowledge of only simple, universal
concepts (many/few, open/closed, up/down).
4. The spread of people along the IQ continuum, from low to high, can be
represented well by the bell curve (in statistical jargon, the "normal
curve"). Most people cluster around the average (IQ 100). Few are
either very bright or very dull: About 3% of Americans score above IQ
130 (often considered the threshold for "giftedness"), with about the
same percentage below IQ 70 (IQ 70-75 often being considered the
threshold for mental retardation).
5. Intelligence tests are not culturally biased against American blacks or
other native-born, English-speaking peoples in the U.S. Rather, IQ
scores predict equally accurately for all such Americans, regardless of
race and social class. Individuals who do not understand English well
can be given either a nonverbal test or one in their native language.
6. The brain processes underlying intelligence are still little
understood. Current research looks, for example, at speed of neural
transmission, glucose (energy) uptake, and electrical activity of the
brain, uptake, and electrical activity of the brain.
7. Members of all racial-ethnic groups can be found at every IQ level. The
bell curves of different groups overlap considerably, but groups often
differ in where their members tend to cluster along the IQ line. The
bell curves for some groups (Jews and East Asians) are centered
somewhat higher than for whites in general. Other groups (blacks and
Hispanics) ale centered somewhat lower than non-Hispanic whites.
8. The bell curve for whites is centered roughly around IQ 100; the bell
curve for American blacks roughly around 85; and those for different
subgroups of Hispanics roughly midway between those for whites and
blacks. The evidence is less definitive for exactly where above IQ 100
the bell curves for Jews and Asians are centered.
9. IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any other single
measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational,
economic, and social outcomes. Its relation to the welfare and
performance of individuals is very strong in some arenas in life
(education, military training), moderate but robust in others (social
competence), and modest but consistent in others (law-abidingness).
Whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and social
10. A high IQ is an advantage in life because virtually all activities
require some reasoning and decision-making. Conversely, a low IQ is
often a disadvantage, especially in disorganized environments. Of
course, a high IQ no more guarantees success than a low IQ guarantees
failure in life. There are many exceptions, but the odds for success in
our society greatly favor individuals with higher IQs.
11. The practical advantages of having a higher IQ increase as life
settings become more complex (novel, ambiguous, changing,
unpredictable, or multifaceted). For example, a high IQ is generally
necessary to perform well in highly complex or fluid jobs (the
professions, management): it is a considerable advantage in moderately
complex jobs (crafts, clerical and police work); but it provides less
advantage in settings that require only routine decision making or
simple problem solving (unskilled work).
12. Differences in intelligence certainly are not the only factor affecting
performance in education, training, and highly complex jobs (no one
claims they are), but intelligence is often the most important. When
individuals have already been selected for high (or low) intelligence
and so do not differ as much in IQ, as in graduate school (or special
education), other influences on performance loom larger in comparison.
13. Certain personality traits, special talents, aptitudes, physical
capabilities, experience, and the like are important (sometimes
essential) for successful performance in many jobs, but they have
narrower (or unknown) applicability or "transferability" across tasks
and settings compared with general intelligence. Some scholars choose
to refer to these other human traits as other "intelligences."
Source and Stability of Within-Group Differences
14. Individuals differ in intelligence due to differences in both their
environments and genetic heritage. Heritability estimates range from
0.4 to 0.8 (on a scale from 0 to 1), most thereby indicating that
genetics plays a bigger role than does environment in creating IQ
differences among individuals. (Heritability is the squared correlation
of phenotype with genotype.) If all environments were to become equal
for everyone, heritability would rise to 100% because all remaining
differences in IQ would necessarily be genetic in origin.
15. Members of the same family also tend to differ substantially in
intelligence (by an average of about 12 IQ points) for both genetic and
environmental reasons. They differ genetically because biological
brothers and sisters share exactly half their genes with each parent
and, on the average, only half with each other. They also differ in IQ
because they experience different environments within the same family.
16. That IQ may be highly heritable does not mean that it is not affected
by the environment. Individuals are not born with fixed, unchangeable
levels of intelligence (no one claims they are). IQs do gradually
stabilize during childhood, however, and generally change little
17. Although the environment is important in creating IQ differences, we do
not know yet how to manipulate it to raise low IQs permanently. Whether
recent attempts show promise is still a matter of considerable
18. Genetically caused differences are not necessarily irremediable
(consider diabetes, poor vision, and phenal keton uria), nor are
environmentally caused ones necessarily remediable (consider injuries,
poisons, severe neglect, and some diseases). Both may be preventable to
Source and Stability of Between-Group Differences
19. There is no persuasive evidence that the IQ bell curves for different
racial-ethnic groups are converging. Surveys in some years show that
gaps in academic achievement have narrowed a bit for some races, ages,
school subjects and skill levels, but this picture seems too mixed to
reflect a general shift in IQ levels themselves.
20. Racial-ethnic differences in IQ bell curves are essentially the same
when youngsters leave high school as when they enter first grade.
However, because bright youngsters learn faster than slow learners,
these same IQ differences lead to growing disparities in amount learned
as youngsters progress from grades one to 12. As large national surveys
continue to show, black 17- year-olds perform, on the average, more
like white 13-year-olds in reading, math, and science, with Hispanics
21. The reasons that blacks differ among themselves in intelligence appear
to be basically the same as those for why whites (or Asians or
Hispanics) differ among themselves. Both environment and genetic
heredity are involved.
22. There is no definitive answer to why IQ bell curves differ across
racial-ethnic groups. The reasons for these IQ differences between
groups may be markedly different from the reasons for why individuals
differ among themselves within any particular group (whites or blacks
or Asians). In fact, it is wrong to assume, as many do, that the reason
why some individuals in a population have high IQs but others have low
IQs must be the same reason why some populations contain more such high
(or low) IQ individuals than others. Most experts believe that
environment is important in pushing the bell curves apart, but that
genetics could be involved too.
23. Racial-ethnic differences are somewhat smaller but still substantial
for individuals from the same socioeconomic backgrounds. To illustrate,
black students from prosperous families tend to score higher in IQ than
blacks from poor families, but they score no higher, on average, than
whites from poor families.
24. Almost all Americans who identify themselves as black have white
ancestors-the white admixture is about 20%, on average--and many
self-designated whites, Hispanics, and others likewise have mixed
ancestry. Because research on intelligence relies on self-
classification into distinct racial categories, as does most other
social-science research, its findings likewise relate to some unclear
mixture of social and biological distinctions among groups (no one
Implications for Social Policy
25. The research findings neither dictate nor preclude any particular
social policy, because they can never determine our goals. They can,
however, help us estimate the likely success and side effects of
pursuing those goals via different means.
The following professors-all experts in intelligence and allied fields-have
signed this statement:
Richard D. Arvey, University of Minnesota
Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr., University of Minnesota
John B. Carroll, U.N.C. at Chapel Hill
Raymond B. Cattell, University of Hawaii
David B. Cohen, U.T. at Austin
Rene W. Dawis, University of Minnesota
Douglas K. Detterman, Case Western Reserve U.
Marvin Dunnette, University of Minnesota
Hans Eysenck, University of London
Jack Feldman, Georgia Institute of Technology
Edwin A. Fleishman, George Mason University
Grover C. Gilmore, Case Western Reserve U.
Robert A. Gordon, Johns Hopkins University
Linda S. Gottfredsen, University of Delaware
Richard J. Haier, U.C. Irvine
Garrett Hardin, U.C. Berkeley
Robert Hogan, University of Tulsa
Joseph M. Horn, U.T. at Austin
Lloyd G. Humphreys, U.Ill. at Champaign-Urbana
John E. Hunter, Michigan State University
Seymour W. Itzkoff, Smith College
Douglas N. Jackson, U. of Western Ontario
James J. Jenkins, U. of South Florida
Arthur R. Jensen, U.C. Berkeley
Alan S. Kaufman, University of Alabama
Nadeen L. Kaufman, Cal. School of Prof. Pshch., S.D.
Timothy Z. Keith, Alfred University
Nadine Lambert, U.C. Berkeley
John C. Loehlin, U.T. at Austin
David Lubinski, Iowa State University
David T. Lykken, University of Minnesota
Richard Lynn, University of Ulster at Coleraine
Paul E. Meehl, University of Minnesota
R. Travis Osborne, University of Georgia
Robert Perloff, University of Pittsburg
Robert Plomin, Institute of Psychiatry, London
Cecil R. Reynolds Texas A&M University
David C. Rowe University of Arizona
J. Philippe Rushton U. of Western Ontario
Vincent Sarich, U.C. Berkeley
Sandra Scarr, University of Virginia
Frank L. Schmidt University of Iowa
Lyle F. Schoenfeldt, Texas A&M University
James C. Sharf, George Washington University
Julian C. Stanley, Johns Hopkins University
Del Theissen, U.T. at Austin
Lee A. Thompson, Case Western Reserve U.
Robert M. Thorndike, Western Washington University
Philip Anthony Vernon, U. of Western Ontario
Lee Willerman, U.T. at Austin
It is important to note that while referring to a statement such as this could be called an appeal to authority, or some other logical fallacy, in reality, all people must rely, at least in part, on the research of scientific professionals in their chosen fields. If we as society choose to reject the findings of legitimate science (such as this paper) based on our feelings or beliefs, we risk a return to the Dark Ages. That is something I doubt any of us desire.
Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray.
The Bell Curve.
New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
"Mainstream Science on Intelligence."
The Wall Street Journal.
New York City: Dow Jones & Company, 1994. (Public Domain Work.)
http://www.mugu.com/cgi-bin/Upstream/Issues/bell-curve/support-bell-curve.html. Accessed: 11/24/02.