Skip to main content

Four comments onThe Bell Curve


This paper first analyzes the central claim ofThe Bell Curve, to wit, that intelligence is declining in the United States. (Race is the inflammatory issue in the book, but is said to be only a side issue by the authors.) Part II of the paper then discusses how in principle one could determine whether race affects IQ, and how the difficulty of doing so in practice may explain the wildly different conclusions people arrive at in this area. Part III then points out how the assumption that the attribute under discussion is properly portrayed with a ‘bell curve’ itself is a misunderstanding; the Normal distribution is a sign that a piece of research has allowed for all the relevant variables, rather than a description of a characteristic as found in nature. And Part IV reminds us of how IQ test scores come to resemble a bell curve — entirely an artifact of the test makers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Arvey, R.D. & 52 others, December 13; 1994. Mainstream Science on Intelligence. The Wall Street Journal, A18.

  2. Boring, E.G., 1920. The logic of the normal law of error in mental measurement. American Journal of Psychology 31: 1–33.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bouchard, T.J., Jr. & M. McGue, 29 May 1981. Familial studies of intelligence: A review. Science 212: 1055–1059.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Duncan, O.D., Aug 1952. Is the intelligence of the general population declining? American Sociological Review 17: 401–407, Reprinted in Joseph J. Spengler and O.D. Duncan, 1956 Demographic Analysis: Selected readings pp. 577–583. Free Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Goldberger, A.S., November 1979. Heritability. Economica 46: 327–347.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Goldberger, A.S., & C.F. Manski, June, 1995. Review article:The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray. Journal of Economic Literature XXXIII: 762–776.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Gould, S.J., 1981. The Mismeasure Of Man. Norton, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Heckman, J., October, 1995. Lessons from the bell curve. Journal of Political Economy 103: 1091–1120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Herrnstein, R.J., and E.G. Boring, 1965. Eds. A Source Book in the History of Psychology. Harvard UP, Cambridge.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Herrnstein, R.J. & C. Murray, 1994a. The Bell Curve. The Free Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Herrnstein, R.J. & C. Murray, October 10, 1994b. The Aristocracy of Intelligence. The Wall Street Journal, A12.

  12. Kamin, L., 1974. The Science and Politics of I.Q. Lawrence Erlbaum-Wiley, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Lykken, D.T., M. McGue, A. Tellegen & T.J. Bouchard, Jr., December 1992. Emergenesis—genetic traits that may not run in families. American Psychologist 47: 1565–77.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. McGuire, T.R. & J. Hirsch, 1977. General Intelligence (g) and Heritability (H2, h2), pp. 25–71 in The Structuring of Experience, edited by I.C. Uzgiris and F. Weizmann. Plenum Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Pedersen, N.L., R. Plomin, J.R. Nesselroade & G.E. McClearn, November 1992. A quantitative genetic analysis of cognitive abilities during the second half of the life span. Psychological Science 3: 346–53.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Retherford, R.D., and Wm. H. Sewell, Spring-Summer 1988. Intelligence and family size reconsidered. Reprinted with permission from Social Biology 35: no. 1–2, reprint no. 234. East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.

  17. Simon, J.L., July–August, 1968. What does the normal curve ‘mean’? Journal of Educational Research 61: 435–438.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Terman, L.M., 1976. The Great Conspiracy. First published in 1922, republished, pp. 30–38 in The IQ controversy, edited by N.J. Block and G. Dworkin, Pantheon Books, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Thucydides, 1934 The complete writings of Thucydides, the unabridged Crawley translation with an introduction by Joseph Gavorse. The Modern Library, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Vining, D.R. Jr., 1982. On the possibility of the reemergence of a dysgenic trend with respect to intelligence in American fertility differentials. Intelligence 6: 241–264.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Simon, J.L. Four comments onThe Bell Curve . Genetica 99, 199–205 (1997).

Download citation

Key words

  • intelligence
  • normal distribution