BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Charles Murray, co-author of the book "The Bell Curve." Where does that title come from?
CHARLES MURRAY: Erwin Glikes, the editor at Free Press came to us one day and he said, "You know, the whole book is about this distribution and this change. What about "The Bell Curve" as the title?' And Dick Herrnstein and I heard it and it was one of those cases where we said, "Yeah, that's a wonderful title."
LAMB: What's does it mean?
MURRAY: It refers to that picture on the front of the book. It looks like a bell, and it's a phenomenon you see in all kinds of things in nature, whether it's height or weight or, in this case, IQ. Things distribute themselves so that you get most people in the middle and you get few people out on each end and the book is about the people on each end.
LAMB: In almost every article I read about this, there's never an explanation about who Richard Herrnstein is.
MURRAY: Oh, it just ...
LAMB: Who is he?
MURRAY: ... drives me crazy. Richard J. Herrnstein is one of the most important psychologists of his generation and one of the most highly respected psychologists of his generation. In my opinion, 100 years from now, his name will still be well-known, not for this book; it's going to be well-known for this other extremely original research he did. He was at Harvard University and was the holder of the chair that B.F. Skinner used to hold before his death last September.
LAMB: He's not alive?
MURRAY: He was...
LAMB: Well, how did he die?
MURRAY: We had finished the book -- if you look in the acknowledgement page, the date is June 3rd that we dated that, and it was that day that he got a diagnosis of terminal cancer and it had been completely unsuspected before. So he participated fully in the book, everything right through galleys. But he died a week before we saw the first bound copy.
LAMB: How long did he live once he got the diagnosis?
MURRAY: Just three months, June to September. It has, obviously changed ... I mean, I miss Dick in so many ways, partly, I wish he was here to help tell what the book is about, but also -- just that he was a great friend.
LAMB: And how did you meet him?
MURRAY: I met him 10 years ago when "Losing Ground" was just coming out. And Dick came to a conference about "Losing Ground."
LAMB: Wait a minute. Explain what "Losing Ground" is.
MURRAY: "Losing Ground" is a book I wrote about 10 years ago in 1984 about social policy. And when it was published, we had a conference where we gathered together a number of academics of different perspectives to talk about the book, and Dick came there and I met him for the first time then. I liked him a lot. We kept in touch over the years. I got increasingly interested in intelligence, and then in 1989 I had just about decided that I wanted to do a book about intelligence and social policy, but Dick had just published an article in The Atlantic Monthly on demography of fertility rates and I thought, "Gee, I bet Dick Herrnstein is already halfway through this book." Called him up, he said no, he wasn't, but in that phone call he said, "Let's do it together." And it took me about 10 seconds to think this was the best offer I'd been made in years.
LAMB: What's the premise of this? I mean, there are 845 pages here. Is there a way to summarize what this book is about, in your opinion?
MURRAY: I would really like to do it not in the sound bite fashion, because it doesn't lend itself to a sentence. Let me just talk for a minute. First point is, Dick Herrnstein and I came to this book saying, "Look, you have this concept called intelligence -- human intelligence, which has been a pariah in the world of ideas now for 30 years. You know, it's racist artifacts, statistical bungling, the tests don't really measure anything, we don't know how to define intelligence, etc., etc." That's sort of the conventional wisdom as understood by The New York Times.
And then within the profession, among the people who deal in this issue, intelligence is quite well understood. And there's a great deal of scientific consensus about a lot of these issues. So our first objective was to say, "Let's take this extremely important variable, this construct, and look at the way that social problems are affected by it." And we set out on the book with literally that as our objective. You know, people -- we'll get into some of this later -- but one of the allegations about the book is, "Oh, there's this political agenda," and they sort of fit the book to the political agenda. It was exactly the opposite. The simplest way of talking about how this book got written was that Dick Herrnstein and I thought this was utterly fascinating. And we were completely absorbed in looking at American society through this new lens.
Now having said that, Brian, there are a couple of arguments that summarize, in broad strokes, what the book says. The problem exists at the two tails of the distribution, the tails referring to those narrow segments out at each side. At the high end, this nation has undergone a revolution in the last 50 years whereby we have become extremely efficient, first, at sucking up from all around the country, from little towns, everywhere, the very brightest kids and shipping them off to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, etc. -- the elite colleges. Not all of them go there, obviously, but I'll give you an example. Of the kids who score over 700 in the SAT verbals, which is a very high score, something like 31 percent of them go to one of the top 10 elite schools. And that's just an example of what's going on.
Furthermore, you've got all these occupations that are rewarding brains a lot more than they used to. So you're much more efficient at identifying these kids, you're rewarding them much better, they do well in the marketplace and other people don't do well. And they also not only go to the same schools, they're socialized into the same folkways and all the ways in which -- if you sit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for four years, you were socialized in lots of way. Same with, in a way, with New Haven and the rest. This forms a cognitive elite. (Unintelligible).
LAMB: Can I ask you what the word ...
LAMB: ...because it's in the book probably more than any other word -- what does the word "cognitive" mean?
MURRAY: Cognitive refers to thinking. It refers, more specifically -- the thing that people have in mind is a kind of rational cognitive thinking as opposed to emotions or other kinds of things that come out of the brain. We refer to cognitive ability as a somewhat more neutral term than intelligence. But you're talking about the same general issue -- the ability of the human mind to manipulate abstract concepts, to manipulate information, to make calculations, that kind of stuff. So you got the cognitive elite, and a lot of the book is about the ways in which we get very worried about a society in which you have that kind of stratification replacing the old-fashioned socioeconomic stratification. We can talk more about that.
LAMB: Can I ask you what IQ means?
MURRAY: IQ -- intelligence quotient -- is the abbreviation for it. It refers generically to standardized mental tests that try to measure cognitive ability; try to measure the general mental ability to manipulate abstract material.
LAMB: When do you get this test in your life?
MURRAY: You can start giving -- they have different kinds of IQ tests that go down to the age of a few months old. I mean, they have fascinating things they're doing with watching pupil reaction of infants and correlating that later with stuff. That's all very tentative. IQ tests first start to become fairly stable at about age 6. Before that, you can give IQ tests that have some value, but boy, a child can be all over the lot in all those years. After 6, things stabilize. In the old days, I was given IQ tests -- and maybe you're the same general generation I am -- in eighth grade I think, all the kids were taken into a study hall and they were all given a group IQ test, which they never told us the results of.
LAMB: I've known those for ...
MURRAY: They told you your results?
LAMB: Yeah, I don't know why, I just -- I wanted to ask you that. Why do, and I was asking around here people, and some do and some don't. Should we know what our IQ is?
MURRAY: I don't think so.
LAMB: Where does it go -- where does that actual number go?
MURRAY: Into the guidance counselor's folder, and for that matter, into the school's folder in junior high school so that if you score real high that they have, then, a signal that maybe they ought to be pushing you in directions of, you know, more challenging courses. And if you score real low, maybe you need some kinds of special help. And I think that's the way it should be used. I think that the critics of IQ who say that number means too much are right. It means too much when people try to say, "That person has an IQ of 122, therefore ..." about that person. You can't do that.
LAMB: Do you know what your IQ is?
MURRAY: No, I don't. Dick Herrnstein knew and I tried to get him to tell me, and he wouldn't. I would make a guess that it was real high.
LAMB: What is a high IQ?
MURRAY: If 115 is what they think of as -- the mean is 100 -- the average is 100. That's scored that way.
LAMB: How many people in this country have 100 IQ?
MURRAY: Exactly 100?
LAMB: Or thereabouts. Right in that...
MURRAY: I mean, within one or two points? Oh, if I gave you a guess, I'd probably be wrong. You have 50 percent of the population, a cluster between 90 and 110 if memory serves me right. So you've got a great big bunch right there in the middle. Hundred and fifteen is the average IQ of kids who finish college.
LAMB: What's that again?
MURRAY: Kids who -- people who finish a BA.
LAMB: What is it?
MURRAY: Hundred and fifteen, about.
LAMB: Hundred and fifteen.
MURRAY: A hundred and -- that puts you in the top 16 percent of the population; 130 puts you in the top 2 percent of the population; 145 is real, real high.
LAMB: Do you happen to know anybody in history that had real high IQs -- high number?
MURRAY: See, they only have tests that give those kinds of numbers back to the early part of the century, and so, for example, we know John Kennedy's was about 117. You know, he's a smart guy. He wasn't -- he wasn't a genius in an IQ sense.
LAMB: I also saw a reference in a magazine that Muhammad Ali was 78.
MURRAY: Yeah, that's what he tested out on the Armed Forces qualification test.
LAMB: And then the remark was, "Well, he did quite well in life."
MURRAY: Oh, sure. He did. And that says a couple of things, I think. One of them is that IQ is not going to keep you from doing all kinds of things very successfully in life. And you don't have to go to somebody like Muhammad Ali. You know, somebody who has an IQ of 90, which is below average, could very well end up making a whole lot of money by parlaying energy, determination and common sense and charm into a business.
LAMB: Let me read you a quote from Newsweek magazine, and this is all about a cover story about your book. ""The Bell Curve" is the sort of book that educated people will buy and dutifully attempt to read, but about which their primary source of opinion is likely to be the journalist commentaries like this one."
MURRAY: Exactly right.
LAMB: But ...
MURRAY: And it drives me crazy. It would have driven Dick Herrnstein crazy.
LAMB: Why would this fellow -- his name's Wingert, Pat Wingert, I believe; W-I-N-G-E-R-T -- say something like that in this piece?
MURRAY: Because that's what happens with books like this. It is 850 pages long and what happens, even with much shorter books than that, is that the columns come up with a few headlines. And the trouble is, the headlines in this case are absolutely outrageous. I mean, the headlines in this case are, a) "This is a book about race." It is not; b) "Herrnstein and Murray are all hung up on genes." We are not. "Herrnstein and Murray say that you can't do anything to change IQ, therefore we ought to quit trying to help." Not true. But these are the kinds of things which -- you've got that stack over there -- I'd be willing to bet you'd go through the stack -- that's a fair summary of the characterizations of the book in the Op-Ed pages.
LAMB: On the back of your book, a quote from "The Bell Curve." It says, "This book is about differences in intellectual capacity among people in groups and what those differences mean for America's future. The relationships we will be discussing are among the most sensitive in contemporary America, so sensitive, that hardly anyone who writes or talks about them in public, it is not for lack of information, as you will see."
LAMB: You knew, then, before you even started this round of interviews that this was going to be sensitive.
MURRAY: Yes. Although, I'm not sure how accurately we understood it. Dick said to me, about a month after we decided to write the book, he said -- you know, both of us had been controversial in the past; I was controversial for "Losing Ground" and Dick Herrnstein was controversial from work he did back in the early 1970s about the heritability of IQ, and had gotten ... at that time, that was a very politically incorrect thing to say -- And Dick said to me, "We're the only two people in America who can write this book because they've already said everything about us that they can think of."
That turned out not to be true, actually. This summer, when Dick and I were talking about what was going to happen this fall -- which was given more poignancy because we were pretty sure Dick wasn't going to be here -- it was a very strange feeling, because we knew that there would be a reaction to the book and we didn't know what it was going to be. The two ends of the extreme, of the continuum were -- on the one hand people would be saying, "Well, it's about time that these two brave men finally have been willing to talk about issues that have been swept under the rug all these years." At the other extreme would be shrill screams that, "These two men are racist and shouldn't be allowed to publish this stuff." We've been a lot closer to this extreme than I think we thought we were going to be.
LAMB: I think it all started with the early October issue of The New York cover.
MURRAY: "The Most Dangerous Conservative." Looks like a serial killer to me.
LAMB: Jason DeParle wrote this.
MURRAY: No, I look like a serial killer ...
LAMB: No, I know, but ...
MURRAY: ... not Jason DeParle.
LAMB: ... he wrote the piece.
MURRAY: Jason DeParle wrote it, that's right.
LAMB: What do you think of what he said about you?
MURRAY: I kept saying to myself what a damn fool Charles Murray is.
LAMB: For what?
MURRAY: Jason followed me around for a long time, spent hours and hours, days and days with me. And it never occurred to me that Jason was going to pick out the 10 or 12 little data points from this huge amount of experience with Charles Murray to make the point he wanted to make.
LAMB: Where did he go with you?
MURRAY: He went first, and the thing that opens the article, first class on an airplane with me to Aspen, Colorado, where it turns out I am this heartless bon vivant who leers at women and sips champagne and talks cooly about the poor while sitting in first class. As it turns out, I was actually doing that on my frequent flier miles and Jason was also up there because of my frequent flier miles. But then once I read the first few paragraphs, I said, "Uh-oh, I'm in trouble," and I was.
LAMB: But didn't -- I mean, you've done this for years.
MURRAY: And I've never been punished like this before. This is why, you know, I I'm an idiot in terms of saying that I should have been smarter. The fact is, for 10 years I have had mostly contact with a critical press -- I mean, a press that doesn't agree with my opinions and I've actually been treated quite fairly. And so it has always been my experience that if you're open and so forth, it works out OK.
What I have found out this fall, and I'm not going to talk about this much more because all at once I can hear how I'm beginning to sound like a whiner. The rules are suspended for this book. I mean, what Dick Herrnstein and I have written is so awful in some people's opinion that anything goes in terms of what you can say -- things about the book that aren't true, you can make allegations about the authors that aren't true, but it's all doing the Lord's work because these guys are saying such awful things. That's my view of it right now.
LAMB: I do, though, want to ask you -- you say that you were up there in first class. As he opens he's got you drinking champagne and then having Chablis and then red wine or something like this.
MURRAY: Going to a wonderful dinner party, yeah.
LAMB: But how would he be up there in first class with your frequent flier miles?
MURRAY: Because he wanted to talk to me on the trip out and I'd used my frequent fliers to bump myself up and so I bumped him up, too, so we'd have a chance to talk.
LAMB: Did you ever talk to him about this piece after it came out?
MURRAY: No. I have had no communication with Jason, and I think that we had best go our separate ways in life.
LAMB: What kind of marks do you give the press, the media, television, magazines, newspapers, columnists after -- you know -- and you've been through this now for a couple of months?
MURRAY: There are -- it's a mixed bag. In the same Newsweek that you picked up there is an article about Geoff Cowley, about the current state of knowledge, about IQ, which is, I think, wonderful. It's not so much about the book as it is, sort of, I think, beginning a very straightforward statement of what we know. There have been various articles that I felt -- the news articles have been much better than the Op-Ed pieces. The Op-Ed pieces -- I think this book is a Rorschach test. That's my latest take on what's going on here. I'll give you an example. In this Newsweek article -- one of the other articles in Newsweek besides Geoff Cowley's, this book is called an angry book, and it's talked about as this political polemic. It's not an angry book, and the proof of that, I would ask people even who don't want to buy it, but when you're in a bookstore, pick it up, leaf through a few pages and read to see the tone, and see if you can find anything in this book that's angry. The book is in the Op-Ed pages, I think people are projecting onto the book a lot of their own deepest anxieties and fears, particularly involving race.
LAMB: What's the magic chapter, the one that everybody reads, the one that everybody writes about?
MURRAY: Chapter 13, Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability. The numbering was an accident.
LAMB: Did you know that this would be the chapter that everybody'd go to?
MURRAY: In the first page of the chapter, there is a passage that says, in effect, "This is the reason why IQ tests are so controversial -- ethnic differences. The fact that many of you have turned first to this page indicates how sensitive the issue has become." Because we knew that we would have lots of readers who would flip through until they found this chapter. We crafted that chapter. I say that proudly. Dick and I had a very definite intention where we say to the reader, "Look, we are now entering into an area which is the most inflammatory, explosive topic probably in social science. What we are going to do is start at the beginning with the easiest questions, and we are going to progressively work our way into the harder questions, and we are going to tell you everything we know about this topic. For once in your life, you can be confident that the authors have not decided to censor themselves to protect you from information you shouldn't have. On the other hand" -- and this is what we wanted very badly to communicate -- "these two authors are approaching these data with maturity, with thoughtfulness. They know what they're doing technically and you can have confidence in it." I think -- self-serving statement -- I think we succeeded.
LAMB: You know, you can start at either end of this spectrum, but the various things that you bring up that are criticized are all the way at one end -- that Jews are the smartest people in the world or that Asians are the smartest people in the world, rather than -- and I'm looking at the page where you have a little box around it and it says, "Are Jews really smarter than anyone else?" Did you think that end of this discussion would be controversial?
MURRAY: I didn't think so, no. It turned out that I was the one who had to put that in, because I said to Dick at one point, "Gee, you know, we really ought to have a little discussion -- because people are always asking about, 'Are Jews really smarter than everybody else?' so let's put a box in there." And Dick himself was Jewish. And he had avoided doing that because he didn't want to sound like he was tooting his own horn. But I thought this was a case of -- it's a question in some people's minds. Why not tell them?
LAMB: Are Jews smarter than anyone else?
MURRAY: Yeah, as a group. This is something that I want everybody listening to be real sure about. We're talking about means; we're talking about distributions. So when I say Jews are smarter than anybody else, what I mean is that the center line going down through that bell curve is further over -- it looks different for Jews than it does for non-Jews, and it's further over to the right. You got huge overlap, so that you've got Jews who aren't very smart and you've got gentiles who are brilliant and they overlap, too, a lot. Are the means different. Nobody's quite sure how different, but everybody agrees quite a bit -- there's somewhere between seven and 15 IQ points separating the means of Ashkenazi Jews and non-Jews.
LAMB: How does that happen?
MURRAY: You can come up with all kinds of theories, but they're only theories. I mean, an obvious one is that over the centuries, that Jews have been viciously persecuted and out of this persecution -- and I'm putting it very crudely here -- but you had to be real smart to survive. But that's only a theory. Who knows?
LAMB: Were they born that way?
MURRAY: Here again, you get into the question of, "Well, are they born that way?" But also look at Jewish households and the way that education is emphasized so much, so that from the very beginning, everybody's expected to become highly educated. And trying to disentangle that gets very, very tough. And Dick Herrnstein and I don't -- certainly don't try to do it for Jews, and we also talk about how difficult it is to try to do it for anybody else.
LAMB: What about Asians as a group?
MURRAY: Asians, as a group -- if I were forced to make a guess, Dick and I said probably the overall IQ is maybe three points higher than Caucasians. There are people who say there's no difference, still. There's a fellow named Harold Stevenson who's a well-known scholar and very good, who says, "No, if you match carefully enough on all kinds of social and demographic variables, you can reduce the difference to zero." He has some good data. Dick and I take a look at the whole body of data and we say, "There's an awful lot which says that there's a higher mean." The big difference between Asians and non-Asians is fascinating, though. It's not just the mean, it's the profile.
In an IQ test, you've got verbal IQ and performance IQ. Performance is also more accurately described as visual-spatial. So if you've got very good visual-spatial skills, you'd probably be a good engineer, you'd have a lot of aptitude for the sciences, you're able to manipulate in three dimensions in your mind. Verbal is what it sounds like, you know? English majors have high verbal skills. It turns out that East Asians have conspicuously elevated visual-spatial skills compared to verbal and -- when you compare them to Caucasians. And this is true in Japan, it's true in China, it's true in Singapore, it's true among Asians who move to the United States, it's true among Korean babies adopted by Belgians at birth. So that's a very marked difference between Asians and non-Asians.
LAMB: Black Americans.
MURRAY: The mean is about, by most standard -- by most tests, it's about 15 points below the white mean. And that has created the huge controversy about IQ tests that persist. Again, take a look at the overlap. I mean, you've got lots and lots of blacks and whites in the same range. You also have tens of thousands of blacks at the very highest levels of IQ, which is another reason that insofar as we treat people as individuals in this society, the black-white difference should not cause a lot of anxiety.
LAMB: As you know, there's been lots of stuff written. We talked about that earlier. I've got some things here, I want to read it back to you and just get your response to it. E.J. Dionne Jr., in The Washington Post writes, "The Herrnstein-Murray book is not a scientific book at all, but a political argument offered by skilled polemicists aimed at defeating egalitarians." Let me stop there.
MURRAY: That is an outrageous statement. Again, the defense is the book itself. The science in "The Bell Curve" is meticulous because we knew that it was going to be attacked, and believe me, we took great pains to be extremely careful about not going out on limbs. But more than that, the science in "The Bell Curve" is very much in the mainstream of psychometrics, which is to say the kinds of things we say do not push the edge of what is known at any point. That kind of statement, and I'm sad to read it from E.J. Dionne because I like a lot of his other work -- that is simply without foundation. It's wrong. It's untrue.
LAMB: Back to Newsweek. Pat Wingate -- Wingert -- excuse me -- writes, "This is frightening stuff" -- this is after he talks about a lot of what your premise is. "It is partly based on an Atlantic Monthly article by Herrnstein, who wrote in 1989, in which he argued that dumb people are outbreeding smart people. The scientific term for such a trend is ..."
LAMB: "...dysgenesis," he said. "Murray and Herrnstein take it very seriously." What's your reaction to "This is frightening stuff"? I mean, were you ever frightened about the material that you wrote about?
MURRAY: Frightened is not the right word. There were lots of things that we wrote about that we didn't have any good answers for. Let's take this dysgenesis as an example, because it illustrates several important points about the book. Dysgenesis refers to the fact that if you have people with low IQs having more babies than people with high IQs, or having them at younger ages, you end up with a downward pressure on what you could call the human capital of the country. And this is the kind of argument that was made by eugenicists in the past and was used as the justification for all kinds of elaborate schemes to encourage smart women to have babies and discourage not-so-smart women from having babies. Dick and I say, "OK, let's look at the data" -- this is chapter 15 if I remember correctly, "We will look now at the data on dysgenesis." And what we say is, "Well, there is downward pressure."
There's been an awful lot of scientific work done on this. That seems to be the fact of the matter. On the other hand, you have things pushing it in the other direction as well -- better nutrition helps, better education helps, a variety of other things. We say, "So the net result is it's not that we're going to be a nation of dummies in another three generations or anything like that, but it is downward pressure." This is something -- this is a kind of scientific finding, and it's good science, which people ought to be aware of. That does not mean that you must, therefore, start advocating eugenic schemes. A great deal of the material in this book is not only not driven by policy considerations, a lot of it is the kind of thing where we say, "Look, in a world of reason to discourse and attempts to understand what's going on, this material should be out in the open." And that's all we say.
LAMB: What was your reaction to all the fuss over this in The New Republic?
MURRAY: The New Republic piece, for those who haven't seen it, is a long -- very long excerpt from the book, plus new material that Dick and I prepared about race. And what was it -- 13, 15, sev -- 19? -- a whole bunch of commentaries. The first reaction is that Andrew Sullivan, who is the editor, and Marty Peretz, who is the publisher, are brave men. They were under enormous pressure not to do this. Second reaction is, that the pieces proceeding ours, all of these reactions, are mostly hysterical. There is lots of name calling, lots of slipshod statements, lots of -- well, I felt that we actually probably came out pretty good in The New Republic, because if people read the reactions with all of their characterizations of us, and then came to our article, which I think is rather calm and reasoned, that's to our advantage.
LAMB: Mickey Kaus, in that writing in the TRB column in that issue, which is dated October the 31st wrote this. "The dishonest book he has co-authored and the even more disingenuous article this magazine has now published, reveal that he is not" -- and earlier they said, "Murray is a reliable guide when it comes to exploring this possibility." I'm mixing all this up.
MURRAY: Yeah, I know.
LAMB: I wanted to, basically, pass on to you and get your response to Mickey Kaus calling this a dishonest book.
MURRAY: Brian, I am -- you know, you can only go so far in saying to people, "Go out and read the book," because you know that a lot of people simply aren't going to do it.
LAMB: Although, the last time I checked and it was -- when this runs it'll be a couple weeks later -- but it was, like, four on the best-seller list of the Publisher's Weekly.
MURRAY: It's selling a lot of copies. However, I'm trying to say say -- "What do you say to a viewer who is not going to read the book and they hear that kind of allegation?" Not only -- as long as we're talking, this is an allegation by a man who knows me.
LAMB: How well?
MURRAY: Not a social friend, but we certainly encountered each other a lot, discussed each other a lot. He's read my work in the past. Knowing that it is not a dishonest book, knowing that, indeed, Dick Herrnstein and I went to enormous pains to make it as transparently honest as we could, I ask myself, "What is Mickey Kaus thinking when we writes those sentences? Does he really believe them?" And here is just -- it's an interesting experience to be an author of this kind of book, because I've not been in this situation before. A lot of your assumptions about human relationships are thrown off track by reactions like that. You don't really want to believe that Mickey Kaus wrote those sentences saying, "I know I'm lying, but I'm doing the Lord's work." You also don't want to think that Mickey Kaus read the book and actually, somehow, came away with that impression. So you ask what my reaction is? I'm befuddled by it. I don't know what to make of it.
LAMB: Here's another quote from another article. I think this was in The Washington Times and it's from a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the religion journal First Things. Do you know him?
LAMB: He says, "Are we supposed to sit around and mourn the fact that blacks aren't as smart as whites and there's nothing we can do about it?" Father Neuhaus asks. "That's a dumb question and an inflammatory question, and there are very good reasons for not having it."
MURRAY: And it bears no relation to anything we said in the book. Look, not only do we not say that we'll have to sit around and mourn this, we go to great lengths -- notice we're talking about race more than we probably should relative to what's in the book -- but we say very explicitly, "You can face all the facts on ethnic differences and IQ and not run screaming from the room." And that's a direct quote form the book. What we mean by that is that a lot of people's fears out there about what all this means are simply not true. Don't know where else to take the statement with that.
LAMB: It's on the best-seller list. It has been. And I noticed -- I just wrote some things down. There are 110 pages of appendices, there are 108 pages of notes -- source notes, there are 12 pages of index, there are 845 pages total, there are 94 illustrations and 14 tables.
MURRAY: Obviously calculated to be a best seller.
LAMB: I mean, are you -- it's a $30 book.
LAMB: Are you surprised?
MURRAY: I'm astonished. I had "Losing Ground" published in '84, which got a lot of ink at that time, an awful lot of press. In its own way, it was a cause celebre, too. It sold a total of 30,000 books in hardback. And Dick and I thought this book would be in that same ballpark. When Free Press had as its initial press run, 50,000 copies, my reaction was, "They're never going to sell all those." So to that extent, this is a big surprise. The good news is that we got secondary reports that people are actually reading the book, and so on the one hand, you have the reactions in the press, which are shrill and, I think extremely inaccurate; on the other hand, as far as we can tell, people who are reading the book are understanding what we mean. They are not upset by it. They don't consider this as a basis for racism. They are focusing on the main themes of the book, which have nothing to do with race and which talk about the ways in which this society is undergoing enormous stress because of what's going on at the two extremes of intelligence.
LAMB: Now when you wrote the book -- and you tell us in the introduction -- you do three things. I mean, you allow three different levels of involvement in this book. For instance -- I mean, I'll hold it up here and you can see it if you want to, you can just read this, the italicized version, which is only several paragraphs leading off every chapter.
LAMB: Why did you do this?
MURRAY: Because the book was just too big to ask people to start at page one and go through to the end without some way of picking and choosing. My wife likes to say that this book is full of stuff and it really is. There's just an awful lot of material in here. So if you go through and you read those chapter summaries first, you can get an idea of which kinds of topics interest you. And there's a vast array of topics. I mean, you're talking -- we have long discussions of education. We have long discussions of how occupations have been changed by IQ. We have discussions of preschool programs. I mean, there's all sorts of stuff. So you can use the summaries to get an overview of where the book is. Then you can read the main text, then we've got boxes which we put in there, which are additional material. You can skip it if you want to, but a lot of it's pretty interesting. And then the specialists, who want to check out the science of this book, have extensive documentation and the notes and the appendices.
LAMB: Where is your home originally?
MURRAY: I grew up in Iowa, Newton, Iowa.
LAMB: Did Mr. DeParle, in The New York Times, go back to Iowa with you?
MURRAY: Yes, he went to Iowa and talks to all sorts of folks.
LAMB: He talked to some people that weren't -- they remembered you differently then you remembered yourself, as I remember.
MURRAY: Yeah, he talked to -- he talked to lots of people. I don't know if you've ever been profiled. It's always an interesting experience. In this case, I think that anybody who tries to figure out what I'm like on the basis of that article is going to have a hard time.
LAMB: That article came out before everything else?
MURRAY: Yeah, it came out -- it was the first thing that came out. It came out at the beginning of October.
LAMB: Was it something that set the pace for everyone else when they read it? I mean, that, the cover copy, `The Most Dangerous Conservative.'
MURRAY: Yeah, it did a couple of things. One is, it helped people forget Richard Herrnstein. You know, when people talk about the science in this book, it's a lot harder to make the claims that they make if they have to say, "By the way, the first listed author in this book is one of the most respected psychologists of his generation, a man who was entrusted by his peers with the editorship of the psychological bulletin," which is sort of the cathedral of psychological journals, and the editorship of which only goes to that person who psychologists are convinced are utterly scrupulous scholars. So in the one sense you had this book then written by "the most dangerous conservative" and you can ignore the fact it's also written by one of the most respected academic psychologists. And the second thing that it did was that it set the stage for thinking about this book as driven by a political agenda. So in that sense, I think that a lot of the coverage that followed found it very easy to piggyback on those themes.
LAMB: Mr. DeParle wrote this. "Though much of official Washington regards him as a menace, Murray's influence is still on the rise both as the enemy of the social programs and the champion of the two-parent family."
MURRAY: I would say that any statement that my political influence on the rise is outdated.
LAMB: Outdated by what, this article?
MURRAY: Outdated by the book. I would -- point number one is, if you look at my career, I have not sought political influence; point number two is, you could not write this book and expect to retain any. I said to some of my friends who are in politics -- over the summer, I said, "Well, you've got about another two months that you can still admit that you know me," because Dick and I knew that once this book came out, it would be absolute poison for any politician to say, "Oh, yes, Charlie Murray's a buddy of mine."
LAMB: Would you do this over again?
MURRAY: Oh, sure. In fact, point number one is, this book was the peak professional experience of my life. The collaboration with Dick Herrnstein was something that should be celebrated in story and song. It was a wonderful collaboration.
LAMB: How did you split the writing in the book?
MURRAY: We had a two-person computer network. He's in Cambridge, I'm in my hometown, the place I live, which is in western Maryland. And we would pass draft back and forth. Each of us would start at different chapters, so they represent, initially, one of our drafts. But instead of commenting on each other's draft, we would simply change it. So Dick would send me a draft; I would simply rewrite it in the way I wanted to, send it back to Dick, Dick would then see the changes I'd made and if he didn't like them he'd put back stuff that was originally there. But we'd keep passing them back and forth until, by the end, I found it very hard to remember which sentences are whose in the final version.
But beyond that, it was this -- you have to know Dick Herrnstein to know how wonderful it is, because any time you were talking about any issue involving data -- oh, Mickey Kaus, you should have overheard those conversations. You talk to Dick about things and here's this encyclopedic knowledge and then anytime you start to push the data too hard, anytime we had a finding which was out on the edge in any way, Dick would say, "Well, you know, I don't like to make the data say anything that they do not happily give up." And so the conversation would go back and forth, pruning and cutting to make sure that we got it right. And it was just wonderful fun. It was. I'm immensely proud of this book, and I'd do it again in a shot.
LAMB: Do you have any idea, when it's all over, how many actual books it'll -- guess how many it will sell?
MURRAY: Oh, I don't know. I don't even know if we're going to sell the ones that are in print.
LAMB: How many did they print, first off?
MURRAY: They started out with 50,000 and I think, as we talk, they're up to 300,000. But, of course, those aren't all sold. They're being distributed. I think with this book, you will see an enormous change in perception of it over the course of the next couple of years, because the book that actually exists is so radically different from the book that has been portrayed. The word is going to get out -- I also assume that there is going to be a second wave of people who say, "Actually, the book is quite different than it's been portrayed." But a couple of years from now, it'll be seen much differently than it is now.
LAMB: One of the gentleman that has appeared on shows with you is a black doctor by the name of Alvin Poussaint of the Harvard Medical School. And I'm looking at a Washington Post article in which he says, "It's hurtful. For the next month there's going to be newspaper articles, television shows. What black child or black person wants to hear people arguing their genetic inferiority?"
MURRAY: Well, they won't hear me arguing it. We didn't in the book and we aren't going to argue it -- I've argued against that kind of thing every time I've appeared.
LAMB: Why are people like Alvin Poussaint taking it that way then, in your opinion?
MURRAY: If we were rewriting that chapter, I don't know what we'd write differently to keep them from doing it. It's not just that we say things clearly, we put some of these things in italics, you know. Sometimes we will call the reader's attention to it saying, "We want to emphasize the following," then we put it in italics, then repeat it again -- such things as the difference in blacks and between blacks and whites -- a) nobody knows the extent to which it's environmental vs. genetic, and b) it doesn't make much difference. And we emphasize it again and again.
LAMB: When you went about talking about this on programs, would they insist that there be somebody there with you of another point of view?
MURRAY: Usually. There have been a couple where that's not been the case. As far as I'm concerned, my main consideration now is that I have a chance to talk in long chunks of time without anybody editing it, because I've had some really unhappy experiences with what happens when people can edit.
LAMB: Do you have a rule that you now have if somebody calls and says ...
MURRAY: I just simply won't do anything where they're going to edit it, you know. If you want to talk to me, fine, we can talk like this. However, Brian, I want to -- I don't know how long we've been talking now, but I would imagine that two-thirds of it's been talking about the race issue at this point. And I think that somehow we've got to get away from that, not just because race is not -- it's a very small part of the book, tucked away in the middle, but I think it lets people off the hook too easily. The problems that we're talking about, Dick and I, that involve low intelligence, we analyze with regard to whites. And when we talk about the future and the ways in which the underclass is going to grow, we're talking about whites. And somehow that's got to get out.
LAMB: So if it gets out, then what happens?
MURRAY: The critics are right in one respect when they talk about this book having political implications. It's not that it has political implications for next year's Congress, but it does fundamentally challenge what I think is a kind of flacid, lazy thinking that's gone on for 30 years on the part of both the left and the right -- that human beings are malleable and all you have to do is get the political structure right and everybody's going to go out and be successful.
On the left, this has been done -- this has been said in terms of, "Oh, if you want to get people the right opportunities and provide them with sufficient training programs and provide them with the right social services they'll do OK." But on the right, you also have people saying, "Oh, if only we'd get a sufficient number of enterprise zones and tax incentives and this, that and the other thing, you'll also get rid of all sorts of problems." Until 30 years ago, nobody really thought that way, because people took for granted that a lot of what goes on in human life is determined by what people bring to the table, not just intelligence, but their energy and other personal qualities, and that there were limits to what can be done to make everybody equal, whether it's by a rising tide raising all boats from the conservative point of view, or whether it's egalitarianism from the liberal point of view.
Dick Herrnstein and I are saying in some very large sense, "It's time to get serious." If you want to have a successful society, it's got to be a society that is constructed so that people of a very wide range of abilities, including a whole bunch who are never going to be real successful in monetary terms or others -- ordinary measures of success, it has to be a society where people of these widely ranging abilities can live together harmoniously and where people who are on the low end of the distribution, by the luck of the draw, can, nonetheless, live satisfying lives. That is a fundamental challenge to the prevailing way of wanting to think about social policy for 30 years, and insofar as this book is taken seriously, it does indeed have political implications.
LAMB: Take what you know from your book, and all of a sudden somebody makes you the czar in this country to do whatever you want to do to improve this society, and to deal with -- and you write about it -- citizenship and crime and poverty and all the subjects that your chapter headings -- welfare dependency. What would you do? What would you do, given what you know about IQ and cognitive ability?
MURRAY: Even though I'm the czar, I'm smart enough to realize that certain things aren't going to work unless there's a broad public acceptance of them. You can't jam things down people's throat. So the first thing I start to do is by giving the states lots more options to run their own affairs than they've had for decades. And I give them these options not because I think that everybody's going to take me up on them right away, but because I'm pretty confident there are certain states out there where people will want to return to, for want of a better word, a Jeffersonian model. And by that I mean that they will want to reorganize their political institutions, their educational institutions, law enforcement, criminal justice, their neighborhoods, their social services, on much more decentralized ways than we have right now. And I want to get that process started. The reason I want to get it started is not to cut the federal budget, it is because -- for reasons that Dick and I describe in detail toward the end of the book. We think it's only in that highly decentralized society that you create the kind of places, niches, where folks of a wide range of ability can live satisfying lives.
LAMB: Let's say you ran one of the states, then. I mean, you've got to deal with ...
MURRAY: OK, let's say I'm the czar...
LAMB: You're the czar of the state, you're the governor.
MURRAY: ...I'm the czar of Montana, OK?
LAMB: Yeah. But you can do anything you want to do.
MURRAY: OK. In Montana, then, where I think, probably I'd find a lot of support for this, I would, for example, return control of social services to the individual cities. I would...
LAMB: Let me jump one more step, then here. You're now the czar of the city. I mean, you've ...
MURRAY: Then I'm...
LAMB: And by the way, forget Montana for a moment.
LAMB: Talk about Chicago...
MURRAY: OK, I'm sorry.
LAMB: ...and you've got a black population of 50 percent.
MURRAY: Now here you've given me a different problem, and the reason you've given me a different problem is because in Chicago, you have a whole lot less latitude right now in what you can do. Let me give you an example. Suppose I'm in Montana, and suppose I say that we are going to end welfare, to take an issue with which I've been identified. I don't think there's any problem with ending welfare in Montana. I think you can end it altogether a year from now, substitute for that all kinds of ways in which you facilitate adoption of children, and ways in which you facilitate other kinds of care of children, but without supporting the mothers that would work.
Suppose we turned over education to a voucher system in Montana, or in other ways, gave parents a lot more control. I think it'd work there. Talk about the south side of Chicago where social and political institutions have been ravaged in the last 30 or 40 years, there you have a much greater potential for social chaos if you try to do things all at once than in Montana. So in a place like Chicago, I think I would start under the principle that you let individuals have as much control over their lives as they want to take. So, for example, let's talk about education. In Chicago, what would I do? I would keep the public schools open, but I would also vastly increase the options for black parents on the South Side of Chicago to say, `No, I want to opt out of the public school system and take a voucher and go send my child to a private school.' So if you have some people who aren't ready to cope with the voucher system, fine. We'll have the public schools for them, but I'll give an option. Similarly, I would give options for a variety of other things where some kinds of neighborhoods might be ready to take on this kind of decentralization and others aren't. I have to say, though, that in all of this, a great deal depends first on changing the public's perception of what is the right thing to do.
LAMB: Let me jump in, though, and ask you about IQ. Let's assume, for a moment, that there are two parents, and the parents' IQ -- each of them have an IQ of 80. What does that say about any child they're going to have, from what you know for the rest of that -- does it pass down through the generations?
MURRAY: The odds are that child will have an IQ a little bit above 80 because of a phenomenon known as regression of the mean, but it'll still be quite low. That's the odds. There will occasionally be an exception, but those are the odds. It also means that those two parents can very possibly -- now here's a tough thing. They can be good parents. There's no reason why two parents with IQs of 80 can't have a warm, nurturing home for their child. It is also true that that child is at statistically much higher risk of certain kinds of problems. The obvious example is an infant with parents with IQs of 80, all right? Every parent who's listening to this show knows that there are times in an infant's life where it helps to be smart. You don't have to be a genius, but you have to know that the diarrhea has gone on for 36 hours now; this isn't just normal diarrhea; I really ought to get this baby to a doctor. To childproof a home requires thinking ahead and understanding what children could do. All of these things are harder to do if you have an IQ of 80.
LAMB: But -- and we're almost out of time -- you say most people don't know what their IQ is.
LAMB: Based on what you're saying, should they know? In other words, if IQ ...
LAMB: ... from your studies, means so much about what your ability is, you shouldn't know?
MURRAY: No, because people do attach too much importance to it. I think people should constantly be getting feedback that's accurate about how they're doing. And if they're getting accurate feedback and they're trying to be a cabinet worker and the feedback is, "Boy, you're a terrific cabinet worker," who cares what their IQ score is. I think that knowing that number is harmful to individuals in general, even though for social scientists working with large numbers it's very useful.
LAMB: But again, taking up what Dr. Poussaint would say, that the fact that it's known from this book that 15 percent -- I mean, that on an average, black people have 15 percent lower IQs and they don't know what their IQ is, maybe -- they may be walking around with a genius IQ, and if they knew that it would make them feel good.
MURRAY: Boy, I'll tell you, I don't like to throw around the phrase racist, because I've been hit with it so often, but that's kind of a racist statement. Children see themselves as part of a complex world, but most of all, as we're growing up as children, we look and see how we're doing. The responsibility of society is not to say, "Oh, you're black, you must, therefore, not be smart;" the responsibility of society is to give that child a fair shot to make whatever that child can of what that child brings to the table. And what that child should be experiencing constantly are people giving him a chance to be everything he can be. That's the way you get around what are group differences in all kinds of characteristics. It's the way in which you leave behind a notion of thinking in this country as groups and go back to a notion of thinking of this country as individuals.
LAMB: We only have 30 seconds. Any major difference between men and women?
MURRAY: The distribution for men is wider, so that you have more who are real, real smart, and you have more who are real, real dumb.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.