Charles Alan Murray (//; born January 8, 1943) is an American libertarian political scientist, author, and columnist. His book Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980 (1984), which discussed the American welfare system, was widely read and discussed, and influenced subsequent government policy. He became well-known for his controversial book The Bell Curve (1994), written with Richard Herrnstein, in which he argues that intelligence is a better predictor than parental socio-economic status or education level of many individual outcomes including income, job performance, pregnancy out of wedlock, and crime, and that social welfare programs and education efforts to improve social outcomes for the disadvantaged are largely wasted.
Murray's most successful subsequent books have been Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (2003) and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (2012). Over his career he has published dozens of books and articles. His work has drawn accusations of scientific racism.
Of Scotch-Irish ancestry, Murray was born in Newton, Iowa, and raised in a Republican, "Norman Rockwell kind of family" that stressed moral responsibility. He is the son of Frances B. (née Patrick) and Alan B. Murray, a Maytag Company executive. His youth was marked by a rebellious and pranksterish sensibility. As a teen, he played pool at a hangout for juvenile delinquents, developed debating skills, espoused labor unionism (to his parents' annoyance), and on one occasion lit fireworks that were attached to a cross that he put next to a police station.
Murray credits the SAT with helping him get out of Newton and into Harvard. "Back in 1961, the test helped get me into Harvard from a small Iowa town by giving me a way to show that I could compete with applicants from Exeter and Andover," wrote Murray. "Ever since, I have seen the SAT as the friend of the little guy, just as James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard, said it would be when he urged the SAT upon the nation in the 1940s." However, in an op-ed published in the New York Times on March 8, 2012, Murray suggested removing the SAT's role in college admissions, noting that the SAT "has become a symbol of new-upper-class privilege, as people assume (albeit wrongly) that high scores are purchased through the resources of private schools and expensive test preparation programs".
Murray left for the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1965, staying abroad for a formative six years. At the beginning of this period, the young Murray kindled a romance with his Thai Buddhist language instructor (in Hawaii), Suchart Dej-Udom, the daughter of a wealthy Thai businessman, who was "born with one hand and a mind sharp enough to outscore the rest of the country on the college entrance exam." Murray subsequently proposed by mail from Thailand, and their marriage began the following year, a move that Murray now considers youthful rebellion. "I'm getting married to a one-handed Thai Buddhist," he said. "This was not the daughter-in-law that would have normally presented itself to an Iowa couple."
Murray credits his time in the Peace Corps in Thailand with his lifelong interest in Asia. "There are aspects of Asian culture as it is lived that I still prefer to Western culture, 30 years after I last lived in Thailand," says Murray. "Two of my children are half-Asian. Apart from those personal aspects, I have always thought that the Chinese and Japanese civilizations had elements that represented the apex of human accomplishment in certain domains."
His tenure with the Peace Corps ended in 1968, and during the remainder of his time in Thailand he worked on an American Institutes for Research (AIR) covert counter-insurgency program for the US military in cooperation with the CIA.
Recalling his time in Thailand in a 2014 episode of "Conversations with Bill Kristol," Murray noted that his worldview was fundamentally shaped by his time there. "Essentially, most of what you read in my books I learned in Thai villages." He went on, "I suddenly was struck first by the enormous discrepancy between what Bangkok thought was important to the villagers and what the villagers wanted out of government. And the second thing I got out of it was that when the government change agent showed up, the village went to hell in terms of its internal governance."
Murray's work in the Peace Corps and subsequent social research in Thailand for research firms associated with the US government led to the subject of his statistical doctoral thesis in political science at M.I.T., in which he argued against bureaucratic intervention in the lives of the Thai villagers.
By the 1980s, his marriage to Suchart Dej-Udom had been unhappy for years, but "his childhood lessons on the importance of responsibility brought him slowly to the idea that divorce was an honorable alternative, especially with young children involved."
Murray divorced Dej-Udom after fourteen years of marriage and three years later married Catherine Bly Cox (born 1949, Newton, Iowa), an English literature instructor at Rutgers University. Cox was initially dubious when she saw his conservative reading choices, and she spent long hours "trying to reconcile his shocking views with what she saw as his deep decency." In 1989, Murray and Cox co-authored a book on the Apollo program, Apollo: Race to the Moon. Murray attends and Cox is a member of a Quaker meeting in Virginia, and they live in Frederick County, Maryland near Washington, D.C.
Murray continued research work at AIR, one of the largest of the private social science research organizations, upon his return to the US. From 1974 to 1981, Murray worked for the AIR eventually becoming chief political scientist. While at AIR, Murray supervised evaluations in the fields of urban education, welfare services, daycare, adolescent pregnancy, services for the elderly, and criminal justice.
He has been a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute since 1990 and was a frequent contributor to The Public Interest, a journal of conservative politics and culture. In March 2009, he received AEI's highest honor, the Irving Kristol Award. He has also received a doctorate honoris causa from Universidad Francisco Marroquín.
Murray has received grants from the conservative Bradley Foundation to support his scholarship, including the writing of The Bell Curve.
Murray's law is a set of conclusions derived by Charles Murray in his book Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980. Essentially, it states that all social welfare programs are doomed to effect a net harm on society, and actually hurt the very people those programs are trying to help. In the end, he concludes that all social welfare programs cannot be successful and should ultimately be eliminated altogether.
|Booknotes interview with Murray on The Bell Curve, December 4, 1994, C-SPAN|
The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) is a controversial bestseller that Charles Murray wrote with Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein. Its central thesis is that intelligence is a better predictor of many factors including financial income, job performance, unwed pregnancy, and crime than one's parents' socio-economic status or education level. Also, the book argued that those with high intelligence (the "cognitive elite") are becoming separated from the general population of those with average and below-average intelligence, and that this was a dangerous social trend. Murray expanded on this theme in his 2012 book Coming Apart.
Of the book's origins, Murray has said,
I got interested in IQ and its relationship to social problems. And by 1989, I had decided I was going to write a book about it, but then Dick Herrnstein, a professor at Harvard who had written on IQ in the past had an article in the Atlantic Monthly which led me to think, "Ah, Herrnstein is already doing this." So I called him up. I had met him before. We'd been friendly. And I said, "If you’re doing a book on this, I'm not going to try to compete with you." And Dick said to me, "No, I'm not." And he paused and he said, "Why don't we do it together?"
Much of the controversy stemmed from Chapters 13 and 14, where the authors write about the enduring differences in race and intelligence and discuss implications of that difference. They write in the introduction to Chapter 13 that "The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved," and "It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences."
The book's title comes from the bell-shaped normal distribution of IQ scores.
After its publication, various commentators criticized and defended the book. Some critics said it supported scientific racism and a number of books were written to rebut The Bell Curve. Those works included a 1996 edition of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man; a collection of essays, The Bell Curve Wars (1995), reacting to Murray and Herrnstein's commentary; and The Bell Curve Debate (1995), whose essays similarly respond to issues raised in The Bell Curve. Arthur S. Goldberger and Charles F. Manski critique the empirical methods supporting the book's hypotheses.
Citing assertions made by Murray in The Bell Curve, The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled him a "white nationalist," charging his ideas were rooted in eugenics. Murray eventually responded in a point-by-point rebuttal.
In 2000, Murray authored a policy study for AEI on the same subject matter as The Bell Curve in which he wrote:
Try to imagine a GOP presidential candidate saying in front of the cameras, "One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy." You cannot imagine it because that kind of thing cannot be said. And yet this unimaginable statement merely implies that when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.
Murray has been critical of the No Child Left Behind law, arguing that it "set a goal that was devoid of any contact with reality.... The United States Congress, acting with large bipartisan majorities, at the urging of the President, enacted as the law of the land that all children are to be above average." He sees the law as an example of "Educational romanticism [which] asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top."
Challenging "educational romanticism," he wrote Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality. His "four simple truths" are as follows:
Murray has attracted controversy for his views on differences between gender and racial groups. In a paper published in 2005 titled "Where Are the Female Einsteins?", Murray stated, among other things, that "no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world's great philosophical traditions. In the sciences, the most abstract field is mathematics, where the number of great female mathematicians is approximately two (Emmy Noether definitely, Sonya Kovalevskaya maybe). In the other hard sciences, the contributions of great women have usually been empirical rather than theoretical, with leading cases in point being Henrietta Leavitt, Dorothy Hodgkin, Lise Meitner, Irene Joliot-Curie and Marie Curie herself." Asked about this in 2014, he stated he could only recall one important female philosopher, "and she was not a significant thinker in the estimation of historians of philosophy," adding "So, yeah, I still stick with that. Until somebody gives me evidence to the contrary, I’ll stick with that statement."
In 2007, Murray wrote a back cover blurb for James R. Flynn's book What Is Intelligence?: "This book is a gold mine of pointers to interesting work, much of which was new to me. All of us who wrestle with the extraordinarily difficult questions about intelligence that Flynn discusses are in his debt."
In 2014, a speech that Murray was scheduled to give at Azusa Pacific University was "postponed" due to Murray's research on human group differences. Murray responded to the institution by pointing out that it was a disservice to the students and faculty to dismiss research because of its controversial nature rather than the evidence. Murray also urged the university to consider his works as they are and reach conclusions for themselves, rather than relying on sources that "specialize in libeling people."
Murray has published opinion pieces in The New Republic, Commentary, The Public Interest, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Washington Post. He has been a witness before United States House and Senate committees and a consultant to senior Republican government officials in the United States and other conservative officials in the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
In the April 2007 issue of Commentary magazine, Murray wrote on the disproportionate representation of Jews in the ranks of outstanding achievers and says that one of the reasons is that they "have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested." His article concludes with the assertion: "At this point, I take sanctuary in my remaining hypothesis, uniquely parsimonious and happily irrefutable. The Jews are God's chosen people."
In the July/August 2007 issue of The American, a magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute, Murray says he has changed his mind about SAT tests and says they should be scrapped: "Perhaps the SAT had made an important independent contribution to predicting college performance in earlier years, but by the time research was conducted in the last half of the 1990s, the test had already been ruined by political correctness." Murray advocates replacing the traditional SAT with the College Board's subject achievement tests: "The surprising empirical reality is that the SAT is redundant if students are required to take achievement tests."
On March 2, 2017, Murray was shouted down at Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vermont) by students and others not connected with the school, and prevented from speaking at the original location on campus. The speech was moved to another location and a closed circuit broadcast showed him being interviewed by professor Allison Stanger. After the interview, there was a violent confrontation between protesters and Murray, Vice President for Communications Bill Burger, and Stanger (who was hospitalized with a neck injury and concussion) as they left the McCullough Student Center. Middlebury students claimed that Middlebury Public Safety officers instigated and escalated violence against nonviolent protesters and that administrator Bill Burger assaulted protesters with a car. Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton responded after the event, saying the school would respond to "the clear violations of Middlebury College policy that occurred inside and outside Wilson Hall." The school took disciplinary action against 67 students for their involvement in the incident.
Charles Murray talked about his book, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality (Crown Forum; August 19, 2008). The book takes a critical look at the education system in America and proposes ways to improve it. Among Dr. Murray's assertions are that too many people are going to college. Following his remarks, Dr. Murray responded to questions from the audience.
Hcrrnstcin and Murray were swiftly and widely denounced as ‘attempting to revive scientific racism’
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