Bell Curve author Charles Murray speaks out after speech cut short by protests

Author of widely discredited study of intelligence says opponents of his lecture looked like they had come from ‘casting for a film of brownshirt rallies’

The controversial author of The Bell Curve, Charles Murray, has attacked violent protests that left one injured and shut down his speech at an elite US college as “straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies”, after a protest by students descended into aggressive confrontation.

In the two decades since Murray and his co-author Richard J Herrnstein wrote The Bell Curve, its linking of black and Latino genetics with intellectual inferiority has attracted vociferous condemnation. Writing for the New York Times when it came out in 1994, columnist Bob Herbert described the book as “a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship”, while the Southern Poverty Law Center accused Murray of being a “white nationalist” who used “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor”.

On Thursday, students at Middlebury College in Vermont, turned their backs and shouted protests including, “racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away!” at the social scientist when he took the stage at an event. The college then moved his talk to an undisclosed campus location, where it was live-streamed back to the original venue, but it could not be heard above protesters’ chants, feet-stamping and occasional smoke alarms.

When Murray and Professor Allison Stanger, who was hosting the event, tried to leave the building, the exit was blocked as students surged forward.

Writing on his blog, Murray said protesters surrounded a car used to take him from the venue. “So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that [the driver] had to inch forward lest he run over them,” he wrote. As they got in the car, a protester pulled Stanger’s hair, twisting her neck. She was treated at a hospital and released.

In a statement, college president Laurie L Patton condemned the student protesters for failing “to live up to our core values”. She added: “Today our community begins the process of addressing the deep and troubling divisions that were on display last night.”

Middlebury alumni had expressed disappointment and alarm that the conservative academic had been invited to the campus. Though they expressed their support for free speech in a letter to college authorities, they stated that they believed the principle did not apply to Murray because of what they described as the “questionable” quality of his research.

“The Bell Curve … has been roundly refuted and criticised by sociologists, psychologists and political scientists alike,” more than 450 alumni wrote. “Yet Dr Murray does not seem to be the kind of scholar who responds thoughtfully to criticism of his findings, biases or methodology. He has only continued to produce more work distinguished by the same disregard for basic standards of research and peer review.”

They added: “Since Dr Murray’s views are not worth engaging on these grounds, this can hardly be called an occasion for open, rigorous academic debate.”

In an article for the American Enterprise Institute, Murray rebutted his critics and claimed some protesters were “just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants”. However, he said: “Many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls.”


Danuta Kean

The GuardianTramp

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