Charles Murray (political scientist)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray speaking at the 2013 FreedomFest in Las Vegas
Born Charles Alan Murray
(1943-01-08) January 8, 1943
Newton, Iowa
Citizenship American
Fields Political science, Social Science, History of Science
Institutions American Enterprise Institute
Alma mater

B.A. Harvard University (history) 1965

Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (political science) 1974
Known for The Bell Curve, Losing Ground, Human Accomplishment, Coming Apart
Notable awards Irving Kristol Award (2009)
Kistler Prize (2011)
Spouse Suchart Dej-Udom 1966-08-19 (divorced, 1980)
Catherine Bly Cox (an English professor), 1983-07-29

Charles Alan Murray (born January 8, 1943) is an American libertarian political scientist, author, columnist, and pundit.

He became well known for his book Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950–1980 (1984), which discussed the American welfare system.[3] He is best 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 such as: income, job performance, pregnancy out of wedlock, and crime.[3] His other works include In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government (1988), What It Means to be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation (1996), Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (2003), In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (2006), and Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality (2008).[3]

Murray's articles have appeared in Commentary magazine, The New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC.[3]

Early life and education

Of Scotch-Irish ancestry,[5][6] 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.[7] He had an intellectual youth marked by a rebellious and pranksterish sensibility.[8] 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 burned a cross next to a police station.[9]

Murray credits the SAT with helping him get out of Newton and into Harvard.[10] "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.[10] "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."[10] 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".[11]

Murray obtained a B.A. in history from Harvard in 1965 and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974.[3]

Peace Corps

Murray left for the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1965, staying abroad for a formative six years.[12] 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."[8] Murray subsequently proposed by mail from Thailand, and their marriage began the following year, a move that Murray now considers youthful rebellion.[8] "I'm getting married to a one-handed Thai Buddhist," he said.[8] "This was not the daughter-in-law that would have normally presented itself to an Iowa couple."[8]

Murray credits his time in the Peace Corps in Thailand with his lifelong interest in Asia.[13] "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.[13] "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."[13]

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."[14]

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.[15][16]

Divorce and remarriage

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."[17]

Murray divorced Dej-Udom after fourteen years of marriage[8] and three years later married Catherine Bly Cox (born 1949, Newton, Iowa),[18] 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.[19] Murray attends and Cox is a member of a Quaker meeting in Virginia, and they live in Frederick County, Maryland near Washington, D.C.[20]

Murray has four children, two by each wife, and remains close with both families.[21]


Murray began research work at the American Institutes for Research (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.

From 1981 to 1990, he was a fellow with the conservative Manhattan Institute where he wrote Losing Ground, which heavily influenced the welfare reform debate in 1996, and In Pursuit.

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.[22]

Murray has received grants from the conservative Bradley Foundation to support his scholarship, including the writing of The Bell Curve.

Murray's Law

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.

Murray's Law:

  1. The Law of Imperfect Selection: Any objective rule that defines eligibility for a social transfer program will irrationally exclude some persons.
  2. The Law of Unintended Rewards: Any social transfer increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer.
  3. The Law of Net Harm: The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.

The Bell Curve

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) is a controversial bestseller that Charles Murray wrote with the Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein. Its central point 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?'"[23]

Much of the controversy erupted from Chapters 13 and 14, where the authors write about the enduring differences in race and intelligence and discuss implications of that difference. While the authors were reported throughout the popular press as arguing that these IQ differences are genetic, 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. The normal distribution is the limiting distribution of a random quantity which is the sum of smaller, independent random phenomena.

Shortly after publication, large numbers of people rallied both to criticize and defend the book. Some critics denounced the book and its authors as supporting scientific racism, and a number of books were written to rebut The Bell Curve. Those works included a revised edition of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, a collection of essays, The Bell Curve Wars, reacting to Murray and Herrnstein's commentary, and The Bell Curve Debate, 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.[24]

Citing assertions made by Murray in The Bell Curve, The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Murray a "white nationalist," charging that he has a long history of advocating discredited ideas that are rooted in eugenics.[25]

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."[27] He sees the law 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."[27]

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:

  1. Ability varies.
  2. Half of all children are below average.
  3. Too many people are going to college.
  4. America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.[28]

Human group differences

Murray's views on human group differences have been the most controversial.

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."[29] 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."[30]

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."[31]

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.[32] 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."[33]


Murray supports gay marriage.[34]

Selected bibliography

Op-ed writings

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.[36] 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.[36]

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."[37]

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."[10]

See also


  1. Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2008. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008. Document Number: H1000118555
  2. "Book Discussion on Real Education". C-SPAN. July 12, 2008. Retrieved April 25, 2015. 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.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Charles Murray AEI Scholar". American Enterprise Institute website. American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  4. "Biography of Murray, Charles A." (fee). Current Biography. HW Wilson. 1986. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  7. Google Books
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jason DeParle; (October 9, 1994). "New York Times. " Daring Research or 'Social Science Pornography'?: Charles Murray" by Jason Deparle. October 9, 1994". New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  9. DeParle 1994, pp. 3–4. DeParle's biographical article finds throughout Murray's life the persona of a high-school prankster who "only [learns] later what the fuss [is] all about" (p. 12). Some critics have found particularly revealing DeParle's discussion of the cross-burning incident and Murray's subsequent failure to mention it. Murray and his chums had formed a kind of good guys' gang, "the Mallows," whose very name, a truncation of the word "marshmallows", was a self-deprecating allusion to their own softness. In the fall of 1960, during their senior year, they nailed some scrap wood into a cross, adorned it with fireworks, and set it ablaze on a hill beside the police station, with scattered marshmallows as a calling card.
    Rutledge [a social worker and former juvenile delinquent] who was still hanging around the pool hall [and considers some of Murray's other memories to be idealized] recalls his astonishment the next day when the talk turned to racial persecution in a town with two black families. "There wouldn't have been a racist thought in our simple-minded minds," he says. "That's how unaware we were."
    A long pause follows when Murray is reminded of the event. "Incredibly, incredibly dumb," he says. "But it never crossed our minds that this had any larger significance. And I look back on that and say, 'How on earth could we be so oblivious?' I guess it says something about that day and age that it didn't cross our minds" (p. 4).
  10. 1 2 3 4 "The American. "Abolish the SAT" by Charles Murray. July/August 2007 Issue". The American (magazine). July–August 2007. Archived from the original on January 1, 2011. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  11. "Narrowing the New Class Divide". Retrieved March 8, 2012.
  12. DeParle, pp. 4–5.
  13. 1 2 3 "UPI. "Q&A with Charles Murray on Human Accomplishment" by Steve Sailer. October 16, 2003". October 16, 2003. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  14. Murray, Charles. (July 14, 2014) Retrieved on 2014-09-18.
  15. De Parle 1994.
  16. McIntosh 2006: "My epiphany came in Thailand in the 1960s, when I first came to understand how badly bureaucracies dealt with human problems in the villages, and how well (with qualifications) villagers dealt with their own problems given certain conditions." Gene Expression: 10 questions for Charles Murray
  17. DeParle, p. 7.
  18. "Cox, Catherine Bly, 1949– . Papers, 1962–1967: A Finding Aid". Radcliffe College. January 1986. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  19. Nasa Symposium on Forty Years of Human Spaceflight (2001). The book was well reviewed: "Rich, densely packed and beautifully told.... Filled with cliffhangers, suspense and spine-tingling adventure." -Charles Sheffield, Washington Post Book World, July 9, 1989. "Heart-gripping.... So brilliantly told one can almost smell the perspiration in Houston Mission Control." -Charles Petit, San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 1989:
  20. Quaker meeting: The Quaker Economist #82 – The Bell Curve; current location: DeParle p. 8.
  21. Two children from each marriage: DeParle, pp. 7–8.
  22. "Doctorado Honorífico durante el Acto de Graduación, Charles Murray" (in Spanish). Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  24. Arthur S. Goldberger & Charles F. Manski, 1995. "The Bell Curve: Review Article," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(2), pages 762–776, June.
  25. "Profiles: Charles Murray". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  26. Muray, Charles. "Deeper into the Brain". American Enterprise Institute. American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  27. 1 2 Murray, Charles (May 1, 2008). "Articles & Commentary: The Age of Educational Romanticism". Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  28. Murray, Charles (August 19, 2008). "Real Education". AEI. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  31. Murray, Charles (2009). "Back Cover Review". What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect (expanded paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. back cover. ISBN 978-0-521-74147-7. Retrieved October 6, 2014. Lay summary (October 6, 2014).
  32. "Charles Murray Questions Azusa Pacific". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  33. Murray, Charles. "Charles Murray: An open letter to the students of Azusa Pacific University". AEI Ideas. American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  34. "Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both".
  35. Lozado, Carlos (May 6, 2015). "The case for conservative civil disobedience". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  36. 1 2 National Review Cruise. "Speaker's Biography of Charles Murray." May 2, 2008.
  37. "Jewish Genius". Retrieved January 9, 2012.

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