Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The bell curve arguement. Gould vs Murray

In the interview, Murray refutes Gould's claims from The Mismeasure of Man and defends his work on The Bell Curve. Is Murray effective in defending his stance? Are there any other rhetorical devices that could be used to make Murray's standpoint more effective? Overall, whose argument prevails (Gould or Murray)? Why?


Murray is quite effective in his retort against Gould's claims. Although on a numerically statistical level I may not fully understand each claims, the method that Murray takes in order to build his arguments are clear. Despite not having the length to refute all of Gould's attacks, Murray discusses some of the larger concerns; political, data, and methodology. One interesting point that Frank Miele from the Skeptic makes in his introduction to Murray's interview is that "no one in the field disputes this difference", the 'this' being the "difference in mean IQ scores between the white European population... and the African-American population is probably attributable to genetic factors. The argument is over why". It seems that Gould would take issue over this point. In fact Gould's main argument is that intelligence is non quantifiable AND non genetic (p21). As to Murray's response, he takes on a seemingly open and upfront stance about some of the misgivings and his reasoning behind his ideas. Murray even states towards the end that his book, being able to "be used by both sides" goes against accusation of the types of political agenda's that have been attributed to him. Gould argues that Murray cannot "pretend that strongly stated claims about group differences have no political impact" (370). Here and in many places Gould seems to place an argument in Murray's mouth when it is distinctly different then what Murray himself states as his meanings. One of Gould's main arguments is that the Bell Curve makes Intelligence a single quantifiable number, yet when asked in the interview Murray states that this it is not a single number. Murray goes on to target some of these seeming discrepancies where Gould makes a claim that doesn't seem to exist in the first place. Gould argues that the Bell Curve is inherently wrong because it "doesn't help at all in judging any particular person" (369) yet Murray's discussion seems to advocate that much of what the intent of the study was on a larger broad scale, to look at the 'bigger picture' while Gould is making an argument that Murray is trying to focus these wider view onto a more narrow claim that isn't really there. Each of these cases of misrepresentation are clearly explained by Murray throughout the interview including his belief of what the multiple intelligences actually contribute to IQ as well as his own political standpoint.

Murray seems to rest most of his rhetorical usages on a calm tone that is deeply entrenched in his answers. His confidence in this aspect is further seen as he attempts to stay open about certain weaknesses or claims against him and although he mentions that this is his intent, by claiming this it doesn't seem to weaken the validity of how he uses this technique within the interview. Instead of the old adage that only a liar says 'trust me', when Murray states he is trying to be "explicit, open, candid", these claims are justified by his previous descriptions and explanations. Murray could have used other devices but by maintaining his tone and clarity he builds on his credibility rather than insulting his audience with obvious rhetorical tools.

When it comes to the issue of 'whose argument wins' a problem emerges: how can we judge Murray based simply on a book by Gould in comparison to Murray's interview response. Reasonably without reading the primary text, it is a one sided argument. Even Murray acknowledges this aspect as being a part of the "scathing attacks" relating it to "Clinton's health plan: no one will actually read it but everyone will form an opinion of it". In order to validly have a justifiable argument as to whose argument prevails, both texts would have to be looked at otherwise it's a hollow opinion. Basing an response as to which author has a better rhetorical superiority might be altogether something different. But that to doesn't qualify for who is right. Rhetoric is not equal to correctness. The word 'rhetoric' is used as part of the prompt but that is used in conjunction with making a standpoint more effective. A book argument attacking a primary text compared to an interview argument defending a primary text, typically (not always) gives the attacker more weight. It's hard to verify the articles claims about the primary text. There are claims that may be taken out of context (as could Gould's arguments but he has more room to justify these claims).


  1. A huge article, but a very interesting read. I do look forward to your next update and post because you have a unique writing style!

  2. Great post! It's really good =)