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Student Leaders Debate Book

Four Campus Figures Square Off at IOP Over The Bell Curve

By Todd F. Braunstein

Four campus leaders went head-to-head last night in a fiery--and sometimes rancorous--debate on The Bell Curve, a controversial book which relates race and intelligence.

Representatives from the Black Students Association (BSA), the conservative Salient, the conservative Peninsula and the liberal monthly Perspective participated in the debate, which took place at the Institute of Politics' Arco Forum before an audience of about 100.

The Bell Curve, which was coauthored by political scientist Charles S. Murray '65 and late Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein, claims that intelligence, as measured by lQ scores, is strongly correlated with race.

In her opening remarks, BSA President Kristen M. Clarke '97 attacked the book's authors for "manipulating and thwarting information for their own benefit."

She compared the authors theories to those of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who, three decades ago, advocated the sterilization of humans with low lQs.

She said that Blacks have failed to achieve equality of opportunity in education, and added that books like The Bell Curve "only serve to perpetuate the cycle of underachieving."

Unlike Clarke, Salient President Whitney D. Pidot '96 said he agreed with the conclusions of The Bell Curve, but disputed the authors' premise that lQ scores can be used as a measure of intelligence.

"I think these tests will show different scores acroes different groups," said Pidot, who is white. "I don't think they measure cognitive ability."

But Pidot criticized those who reject the work a priori, and indirectly attacked Clarke as hypocritical.

"I'm curious as to how Murray and Herrnstein can be attacked for their efforts to promote discussion on the matter, and then have the most vocal critics turn around and make [claims] about [the superiority] of Blacks in terms of mental, physical and spiritual abilities," Pidot said, alluding to a letter Clarke wrote to The Crimson last month.

Perspective Senior Editor Derek T. Ho '96 said he too disputed the scientific grounding of The Bell Curve.

But Ho, who is Asian, said he also rejected the book's conclusions that Blacks are intellectually inferior.

Ho said the book's measure of general intelligence, G, is defined so that the IQs of men and women are equal. Ho said this normalization implicitly renders G a worthless statistic.

"If we can define away differences in IQ between genders, why can't we [do the same for races]," Ho asked.

Ho also rejected the book's claim that IQ differences are hereditary.

He questioned the accuracy of studies used by Murray and Herrnstein to make the case for inherited intelligence, and he enumerated several studies offering counter-examples.

The opinions of Peninsula's G. Brent McGuire '95 were the most controversial. In his opening remarks, McGuire lashed out at the "liberal" ideal of equality, which he termed "pernicious and rotten to the core."

McGuire, who is white, said that America's founders believed in a "spiritual equality."

"But modern liberals, of course, don't worship the god of the Founders," McGuire said. "They worship the god of egalitarianism. And liberals today are wailing, gnashing their teeth, staging demonstrations on the steps of Widener, all because Murray and Herrnstein dare to say that their god is dead."

The debate became heated during the audience question period, when the panelists debated back and forth on a number of occasions

Perspective Senior Editor Derek T. Ho '96 said he too disputed the scientific grounding of The Bell Curve.

But Ho, who is Asian, said he also rejected the book's conclusions that Blacks are intellectually inferior.

Ho said the book's measure of general intelligence, G, is defined so that the IQs of men and women are equal. Ho said this normalization implicitly renders G a worthless statistic.

"If we can define away differences in IQ between genders, why can't we [do the same for races]," Ho asked.

Ho also rejected the book's claim that IQ differences are hereditary.

He questioned the accuracy of studies used by Murray and Herrnstein to make the case for inherited intelligence, and he enumerated several studies offering counter-examples.

The opinions of Peninsula's G. Brent McGuire '95 were the most controversial. In his opening remarks, McGuire lashed out at the "liberal" ideal of equality, which he termed "pernicious and rotten to the core."

McGuire, who is white, said that America's founders believed in a "spiritual equality."

"But modern liberals, of course, don't worship the god of the Founders," McGuire said. "They worship the god of egalitarianism. And liberals today are wailing, gnashing their teeth, staging demonstrations on the steps of Widener, all because Murray and Herrnstein dare to say that their god is dead."

The debate became heated during the audience question period, when the panelists debated back and forth on a number of occasions

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