Fighting the Bell Curve: Why Affirmative Action is an inevitable disaster

Kevin MacDonald


Affirmative Action (AA) started out as a well-intentioned effort to increase the representation of black, then other minorities and women, at the higher levels of the American educational system. Well-intentioned, but ill-founded because it was based on the article of faith that the only reason there were fewer blacks in colleges, universities, and professional schools is the legacy of racism and discrimination.

Initially AA was first defined as making every effort to find qualified minority members. The search was expanded to include even the “potentially qualified,” but when that failed, the program transmogrified into one of “goals and timetables” — a euphemism for quotas based on race, etc. This is the antithesis of the supposed objective of the Civil Rights movement, namely judging on “the content of character.”

Well, AA could have benefited from some advice from the other AA — Alcoholics Anonymous, one of whose admonitions to family members of recidivist abusers is “you didn’t make ‘em that way, you can’t fix ‘em.”

While fair-minded commentators and the public at large  have had their fill of reverse discrimination, ethnic activists continue to make every effort to enforce more and more AA until some critical mass of minorities inhabits every desirable sector of American society.  

In California, citizens led by former University of California Regent Ward Connerly (who happens to be African American) passed Proposition 209, which banned “preferential treatment” of race, sex or ethnicity in admissions to California’s public universities. The box score: by fall 2006, only 250 of the 12,189 students admitted to UCLA’s freshman class were African American, roughly 2%. This is the lowest number since at least 1973 — results that could have been predicted right out of the tables and graphs in The Bell Curve.

The Bell Curve, the outstanding tome by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, shows that African Americans have a mean IQ of 85, one whole standard deviation below the white mean of 100. Even more disconcerting to AA advocates is that Richard Lynn has summarized findings that sub-Saharan Africans have a mean closer to 70.

And the devil in the bell curve is not only in the details but in the tails of the curve. The normal or bell curve describes continuous biological variation that is the result of many genes. The classic case is height, but IQ is almost the same: Most individuals fall at the middle or closely around it. The further one goes either up or down from the average, the fewer the number of individuals. The further out one goes, the greater the effect.

And this applies with a vengeance when two groups differ in their average score. The further out you go in either direction — up or down, good or bad — the greater the differences between the groups. What this means in terms of education is that as one goes from high school to junior college to college to graduate/professional school, the percentage of qualified blacks goes steadily and increasingly down. And the ratio of qualified whites to qualified blacks goes up dramatically.

The figure shows what happens if you have two IQ distributions that differ by a standard deviation — whites on top, blacks on the bottom. If the test is made so that 50% of whites pass, then 16% of blacks will pass. This would mean that if we consider a population of 1000 people taking the test in a population that is 10% black and 90% white, then 16 blacks would qualify, compared to 450 whites—a ratio of around 28 to 1 — much higher than the population ratio of 9 to 1.

The 28 to 1 ratio is pretty steep — exactly the sort of thing that gives the affirmative action industry fits. And it explains why even tests for fire fighters and policemen — which are geared for the middle of the IQ distribution — have to have lower standards for blacks. Here’s a case where white firefighters who scored high on an employment test successfully sued the city of Boston for favoring lower-scoring blacks.

But if the test is made more difficult, it gets way worse. The figure shows what happens when only 16% of whites pass. (This would make the test more like a law school admissions test.) In that case, only 2% of the blacks pass. This means that if we consider a population of 1000 people, 10% black and 90% white, only 2 blacks of the 1000 would qualify, compared to 144 whites—a ratio of over 70 to 1. Hence the desperate need for affirmative action.

And imagine what happens when one adopts the standards of an elite law school like Harvard where the average of successful white applicants approaches the 99th percentile. Finding a black that can compete on the basis of mental ability in a situation like that is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Which reminds us, we’d love to see Barack Obama’s grades and test scores at Harvard Law. In fact, Stanford Law Professor Richard Sanford has already shown that black lawyers have no difficulty being hired by elite firms but are much more likely to leave these firms without making partner. Just recently he filed suit to obtain the records of the Bar Exam of California to replicate previous findings that black law school grads are over 6 times more likely to fail the bar exam even after multiple attempts than whites. His thesis is that blacks are being set up for failure: They are admitted into schools where they cannot hope to compete with those admitted on the basis of intellectual ability.

Maybe that’s why Obama became a “community organizer” instead of trying to compete in the world of big time law.

But Affirmative Action advocates and ethnic minority activists rarely allow fact to disturb their attempts at social engineering. In a recent article, we compared advocates of the No Child Left Behind law to King Canute commanding the tides to behave. It’s the same here. The realities of the two different racial bell curves are such that any would-be affirmative action King Canute who commands that blacks be admitted to law school at the same level as their percentage of the population would have to override not just the tide, but a tsunami tidal wave.

Not that that will stop them. They remain undeterred, seated in their thrones, or at least in their endowed academic chairs.

Case in point: one Darnell M. Hunt, professor of sociology at UCLA and director of the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.Pontificating in a recent LA Times OpEd, he decries the effects of Prop 209, while heaping praise and hosannas upon a new “holistic” admission policy implemented at UCLA which considers applicants’ grades and test scores more fully in the context of their life experiences.

Technically, admissions officers would not consider race, gender or ethnicity as a plus, which remains illegal under Prop 209. But they do consider “all available information about a student.” Whereas previously the files of applicants were divided into academic and personal areas and read by separate reviewers, reviewers now consider “the total package.” Although racial preferences per se remain forbidden, “socioeconomic and other factors” can be taken into account. Race by any other name…. (Remember those bad old days when prospective students were required to submit a photograph?)

Prof. Hunt is wholly happy with the results of the “holistic method.” The number of African American freshmen admitted to UCLA in 2007 climbed to 407, and this year it climbed again to 453 — nearly double the 2006 number. He expresses no concern that many of these holistic admissions will either drop out or graduate with meaningless degrees in subjects devoid of market value. To Hunt, that smells like, “important progress”!

While African American activists like Prof. Hunt are gloating about these results, others are not even mildly impressed. Just the opposite. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear have noted that this increase in the relatively small number of African American freshmen admitted constitutes clear evidence of “illegal admissions practices.”

Anti-affirmative action crusader Ward Connerly, for example, called a spade a spade, accusing the university of trying to “rig the system,” while political science professor Tim Groseclose resigned from the UCLA’s admissions oversight committee. Groseclose declared that UCLA is “cheating” on admissions and is engaging in a “cover-up” to keep it from being discovered.

Either outraged by the candor of Connerly and Groseclose or willfully ignorant of the totality of scientific evidence, Prof. Hunt offered up the usual litany of anti-testing mantras (e.g., “test scores are not objective,”), all of which have been tested and disproven, tried and failed. We’d love to see Prof. Hunt make a serious attempt to dispute Arthur Jensen’s massive data on the validity of IQ tests.

Over 100 years of research in mental testing and genetics has established that IQ is measurable and predicts not only academic, but other life outcomes that are critically important to maintaining a complex, technological society. IQ is heritable, culturally fair, and not tractable to any significant degree.

Fortunately, Heather MacDonald has provided readers of the LA Times with the lowdown on the low down machinations of the AA activists.

Ms. MacDonald tells it as it truly is: “The University of California has tried to engineer admissions systems that would replicate the effect of explicit racial quotas while appearing color-blind.”

She then makes public the dirty laundry dumped out of the AA hamper by Prof. Groseclose. In somewhat Stalinist tactics, the university has refused to give him access to the data that would prove the point, thus causing his resignation.

Despite the stonewalling, enough info has leaked out to establish not only the facts, but the motive. When Prop 209 reduced the number of unqualified African Americans admitted to campuses across the state, UC officials resorted to a bit of academic chicanery to sneak underqualified blacks and Latinos back into the system’s most demanding campuses, and they did it without officially “making race a factor.” Rather than race, they introduced a preference for low-income students. But alas, they were hoist on their own petard: Rather than blacks and Hispanics, poor whites (especially Eastern Europeans) and Vietnamese filled up the slots — not the sort of diversity the university had in mind.

This is because whites outperform blacks at every social class level (once again showing that the black/white IQ gap is not caused by social class.)

Administrators cut the low-income preferences in half and went back to the drawing board.

One scheme was to reduce the weight given to academic qualifications in ranking students. For example, in 2002, the law school at UC-Berkeley admitted only 5% of white students in a low academic rank, but it admitted 75% of black applicants in the same range. At UCLA, from 1998 to 2001, black applicants were 3.6 times as likely to be admitted to its undergraduate college as whites, and Latinos 1.8 times as likely, even after controlling for economic status and school ranking, according to an unpublished study by statistician Richard Berk.

The next finagle factor introduced to subvert the will of the people and simple fairness was what is euphemistically termed a “comprehensive review” which, it is claimed, “broadens the conception of merit.” Translation: Students’ academic qualifications are cranked up or knocked down based on their “life situation.” (Guess what that means.)

Even that didn’t do the trick. UCLA still had a dearth of qualified black students. You just can’t beat the bell curve if you take any objective and valid measure into account. Enter acting Chancellor Norman Abrams and the more radical — “holistic” review, so beloved by Darnell Hunt.

But even that’s not enough. UCLA’s Associate Vice Provost for Student Diversity (doubtless a well-paid sinecure for a person with appropriate non-white skin tone) also decreed the admissions committee must increase the number of blacks who read and rate student applications. This resulted in a 25% black representation among readers, which is three times the percentage of blacks in California’s population! Presumably this is a hope that ethnic favoritism will succeed where all else has failed. They’re probably right.

Those interested in the entire sad saga of the UC “Educational” system and the courageous efforts of Prof. Groseclose to restore it should consult Heather MacDonald’s wonderful summary. Suffice it to say the future of the Golden State, once praised as the high tech center of the globe and with the best kindergarten to college educational system in the  nation, is being sacrificed to the gods of political correctness.

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