Men's inclination to the marvellous has full opportunity to display itself....It is true; Lucian, passing by chance through Paphlagonia, had an opportunity of performing this good office. But, though much to be wished, it does not always happen, that every Alexander meets with a Lucian, ready to expose and detect his impostures.--David Hume, "Of Miracles."
I agreed with Art [Goldberger] that the Bell Curve was bad social science and ethically suspect as well. However, I wished that the book would just go away. Rather than make a large personal effort, along with many others, to debunk the Bell Curve, I would have preferred to write new papers and make positive contributions. Nevertheless, Art persuaded me that the challenge had to be met. So we both worked for several months to hone our arguments and write the JEL piece. In retrospect, I am proud of the result. I think we may have written the most careful and scientifically accurate critique that appeared during this sorry period for the social sciences. And I was happy to have coauthored with Art on a subject that he cared about perhaps more than any other.--Charles f. Manski "Arthur S. Goldberger 1930-2009: A Biographical Memoir" 2013.
There are genuine opportunity costs to engage with bad arguments, bogus science, impostures, and demagogues (as well as the self-deceived); it may also be very unpleasant to do so. Many of us, hard-working scholars and professors, skirt our duties to society in this respect. We should always be grateful to our peers who undertake this often thankless task. Without those peers, malicious and damaging falsehoods would go entirely unchecked. I want to use this occasion to salute Arthur Goldberger and Charles Manski for their beautiful and thorough (as well as devestating) review of The Bell Curve.*
A serious scientific book should be the culmination of a program of research that has been subjected to external scientific scrutiny, revised appropriately in the light of that scrutiny, and iteratively honed into a well-reasoned and credible final form. In this paradigm, research that purports to be scientific would first be reviewed on its scientific merits. Only if that review is passed successfully would society at large be concerned with the research.
HM and their publishers have done a disservice by circumventing peer review. The Bell Curve was sprung full blown without external external scientific scrutiny, but with beautifully orchestrated initial publicity. A vast stream of reactions in the general media followed immediately (e.g., New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994; Newsweek, October 24, 1994; Time, October 24, 1994; The New Republic, October 31, 1994).
Through essays like ours, a process of scientific review is now under way. But, given the process to date, peer review of The Bell Curve is now an exercise in damage control rather than prevention. (776)
There is no doubt that the "paradigm" they describe is increasingly evaporating not just through the actions of (always present) unscrupulous agents, but through the increasing encouragement on academics and scientists by grant agencies and scientific administrators to ensure public impact and relevance of (sponsored) research. Given that technological innovations have made it easier to bypass "external scientific scrutiny," demand for traveling Lucians will increase.
*I have discussed Manski in the past.