Behind The Bell Curve

If you think that The Bell Curve, a new book on the explosive subject of intelligence and race, is inflammatory, consider the conclusions of the scientists whose work figures in it. The Bell Curve merely frets that growing black and immigrant populations are lowering the average brain power of America. Psychologist J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario goes much further. Not only are blacks dumber, he argues, but they also sport oversized genitals and tend to engage in indiscriminate sex. Or consider the views of the late Nobel laureate William Shockley, who suggested that blacks should be paid to be voluntarily sterilized.

Rushton, Shockley, and a handful of other academic researchers share more than debatable opinions. They--and their most controversial work--all have been funded by an obscure New York City group called the Pioneer Fund Inc. Co-founded by some prominent eugenicists in 1937, the fund's stated purposes were to study human genetics and encourage reproduction of descendants of "white persons who settled in the original thirteen colonies."

Since then, the $5 million foundation has quietly handed out money for a wide range of studies on genetic differences. Only now is the Pioneer Fund "getting the exposure it should have gotten a long time ago," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. The catalyst for the scrutiny: The Bell Curve's use of the Pioneer-funded research of those scientists and a California proposition to limit the rights of illegal immigrants. Opponents say Pioneer helped fund the work of the co-author of the initiative.

To critics such as Cooper, even the $700,000 a year that Pioneer doles out has a dangerous impact. By funding dubious studies that wouldn't get support otherwise, "it gives a veneer of respectability to the research," he says. It also helps feed the fires of eugenics, the belief that selective breeding can improve populations, and the often-related concept that whites are superior.

"OFF THE WALL." Preposterous, counters Harry F. Weyher, the corporate tax lawyer who serves as the unpaid president of the Pioneer Fund, which is backed by five trustees, mostly lawyers and businessmen. "Ninety-nine percent of what you hear about the fund is off the wall," Weyher fumes. Pioneer hasn't backed the California immigration initiative, he says, or funded any eugenics research. Instead, he says, its main thrust is simply learning about human genetics to "conserve the population quality" of the U.S. And in 1985, he points out, Pioneer deleted the word "white" from its charter.

Weyher insists that the fund plays a crucial role by starting up research too controversial for any other organizations, such as a study at the University of Minnesota that searches for gene-caused similarities in twins who are raised apart. Weyher adds that only a few of Pioneer's projects touch on race.

That may be true. But those also are the studies that critics say fuel the worst prejudices in America.

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