Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Racism Issue Dogs Bradley Foundation

Does foundation still support research on racial inferiority?

By - Jul 5th, 2016 12:14 pm
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Charles Murray. Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Murray. Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The recent news that Michael Grebe would not attend the Republican convention added yet another member of the party establishment who couldn’t stomach the idea of nominating Donald Trump as GOP candidate for president. Grebe is the outgoing president of the conservative Bradley Foundation, served as campaign chairman to Gov. Scott Walker‘s gubernatorial races and his unsuccessful presidential bid and has served in key roles in the national Republican Party.

Grebe’s decision came just before Trump was for the fifth time criticized for tweeting information or images from a white supremacist website. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan is among many party leaders who have criticized Trump for making racially-tinged criticisms of a Mexican-American judge.

But even as Grebe separated himself from Trump, he gave a huge embrace to conservative scholar Charles Murray, who was widely condemned for publishing a “racist” book, The Bell Curve. The foundation recently awarded Murray one of its annual, $250,000 Bradley Prizes, with Grebe showering Murray with praise. Yet for many years Grebe had done his best to distance the foundation from Murray.

Murray’s career was made by Grebe’s predecessor as Bradley Foundation leader, Michael Joyce. Murray was an unknown academic who started getting financial support from Joyce, then head of the Olin Foundation, in the early 1980s, and that support continued after he took over Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation in 1986. This helped Murray create his book, Losing Ground, which blamed government programs for creating a culture of dependance among the poor.

Joyce praised Murray as “one of the foremost social thinkers in the country,” and Murray’s 1994 book, The Bell Curve, received about $700,000 in Bradley funding (or $100,000 per year) while writing it. The book used IQ test data to argue that whites were more likely than blacks to be part of a cognitive elite and that genetic differences helped explain differences in intelligence.

The book was hack work of a particularly offensive kind, writer Eric Alterman has argued. He quotes Michael Nunley, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, who called the book “a fraud” that presents “a deliberate, self-conscious misrepresentation of the evidence.” The book, had it been submitted for peer review, “would not be accepted by an academic journal. It’s that bad,” said Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “But the footnotes in The Bell Curve raised even more troubling questions,” Alterman adds. “At least 17 researchers cited in the book’s bibliography, it turned out, were contributors to the racist journal Mankind Quarterly. Thirteen ‘scholars’ cited had received grants from the Pioneer Fund, established and run by Nazi sympathizers, eugenicists, and white supremacists.”

Joyce was accused of racism and the Bradley Foundation was embroiled in a national controversy. Joyce’s defense was that he simply funded Murray without tracking his research or where it was going. That, of course, contradicted the entire Joyce approach, which hand-picked soldier scholars to fight his “war of ideas,” as he once called it. In fact, in the forward to The Bell Curve, Murray credited Joyce as among a small group of people who read and critiqued Murray’s manuscript. By contrast, the Manhattan Institute had dropped Murray as a grantee when he was midway through the process of writing the book because it was uncomfortable with what Murray called “the genetic inferiority stuff.” And so Murray moved to the American Enterprise Institute and the Bradley Foundation’s funding moved along with him.

The controversy over The Bell Curve colored the rest of Joyce’s life and continued to shadow the reputation of the Bradley Foundation. “It was an indelible imprint on us,” he once told me.

After Grebe took over as president and CEO of the foundation, he conceded to me that the foundation had been embarrassed by its association with The Bell Curve. Clearly, the foundation wanted no more such embarrassments, and Grebe was the right man for the job. Joyce loved to bash the “liberal establishment” and court controversy in the media. Grebe by contrast, was almost invisible, operating as a kind of stealth warrior who promoted most of the same conservative thinkers and organizations Joyce had, but volunteered little about what his foundation was doing and handled media questions with a style that deftly downplayed and defused any possible issue.

The recent award to Murray makes it clear that Grebe’s difference with Joyce is not about substance, but simply about style. Grebe, if anything, is even more effusive than Joyce once was in praising Murray. His announcement of the prize lauded Murray as “an intellectual giant,” whose  “groundbreaking research has sparked debate and launched reform in a number of fields” and “a preeminent social scientist who has made monumental contributions to his chosen field.”

Yet the announcement makes no mention of The Bell Curve.

For decades, Republicans have used racially-tinged arguments, like the Willie Horton ads that helped elect George H.W. Bush, to win office. That approach has finally culminated in Donald Trump, who has made naked those coded comments with his blatantly racist comments.

Similarly, Murray gave the game away with The Bell Curve and Joyce made the mistake of defending the book. Yet the soldier scholar’s service to the conservative cause is nonetheless greatly appreciated by Grebe and the right-wing establishment. And so Charles Murray is now being showered with money and praise to help restore his reputation, while all that “genetic inferiority stuff” is discretely swept into the dustbin of history.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

6 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Racism Issue Dogs Bradley Foundation”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    I often wonder why Charles Murray isn’t more of a pariah, and why even a conservative foundation would associate with him in 2016. But how controversial is he really? His work is referenced all the time by media outlets, including in the New York Times Book Review just last month (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/books/review/what-do-this-seasons-political-books-tell-us-about-the-election.html). Often when he is referenced there is no mention of his racist views. I guess honoring him isn’t really likely to harm The Bradley Foundation.

  2. Let’s not forget Richard Herrnstein, the co-author of the book and whose “research” on which the wrong-headed genetic argument was based. I get the feeling the Murray might have gone along for the ride on this. Herrnstein was the one who had a substaintial scientific reputation (a Harvard Professor who worked with B.F. Skinner), and it was his ideas that were controversial. All the more so because he was a behaviorist who went over to the other side.

  3. M says:

    Thanks for recounting the tangled history, Bruce.

    Extreme “social engineers” such as the Bradley Foundation don’t seem all that worried about connotations of racism. etc. This award is a convenient way to sell more Murray books.

    Just because reputable scholars debunk a book does not mean it will lose cred among people who want to believe something. An even more insidious racism is the brand that says brown and black children don’t deserve an equal education and that if they do not have equity that it’s no big deal. That goes for class overcrowding, lack of basic supplies and computers as well as sufficient staff to deal with the needs of all learners.

  4. tim haering says:

    Actor of the low-high Q, let’s hear your view.
    Peek at the lines upon your sleeves since your memory won’t do.
    Tell me: how the baby’s graded, how the lady’s faded,
    why the old dogs howl with madness.

    There was a rush along the Fulham Road
    into the ever Passion Play.

    Has the hare again lost his spectacles?

  5. John says:

    There are still many who believe in the ‘master race’ and are spending money to prove it and to recruit followers.

  6. Seek says:

    There is nothing “racist” about publishing the results of a vast array of research. Some people can’t get over the fact that human intelligence, to a larger extent than we previously had suspected, is a function of race. Let them stew in their dogma. I happened to have read the whole book, footnotes included, and agree with a great deal of it.

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