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April 20, 2003

McKibben celebrates stagnation

The Sydney Morning Herald today features an article byBill McKibben who celebrates and romanticises human imperfections and then uses his tastes to mount a *moral* argument against improvement through genetic engineering. Let me place a disclaimer here - I'm not trying to argue that genetic engineering should be compulsory, I'm not even trying to argue that it should anyone social obligation to improve the species through genetic engineering. All such matters are matters of taste - I watch with amusement colleagues who obsess over their diets and exercise regimens while I chomper away at American fastfood and spend most of my life sitting down - and I'm glad they're not trying to impose their puritanical versions of extropianism on me. However by the same token, bogus arguments which end up with policy conclusions proscribing 'designer babies' and which seem to be based on nothing more than the author's 'ugh' factor shouldn't be treated as if they were serious philosophical arguments. And every line when a 'why?' question comes up when I read McKibben, he doesn't answer my question, which suggests there isn't much of an argument, just a litany of the author's autobiographical details.

He writes:


the latest plans of Watson and his followers are monstrous in an entirely new way. They look forward to a world of catalogue children, who might spend their entire lives wondering which of their impulses are real and which the product of embryonic intervention. They replace the fate and the free will that have always been at the centre of human meaning with a kind of genetic predestination that will leave our children as semi-robots.

Firstly there's a lot of reason to suspect the concept of free will is meaningless and incapable of operationalisation. So discourse would be much improved by dumping the concept. And any discourse which makes use of the concept is equally meaningless. Think of it this way - say agent A reacts to a stimuli B by action C. Now, if action C was somehow dictated by a chain of cause and effect which originated in some biochemical processes at work since the beginning of agent A's life, perhaps this is what McKibben means by A lacking 'free will'. A lacks free will in the sense that his reactions were predetermined. But what is the alternative? Is the alternative that perhaps there was some random element to reaction C coming out instead of reaction D? Is introducing an element of randomness in the chain of cause and effect equivalent to introducing free will? But if that's so, then, all natural phenomena can be said to have free will owing to the fact that we know that strictly mechanistic linear models of cause-effect don't apply even to natural phenomena - the so called 'chaotic dynamics' picture of the world.

So I suppose what McKibben means is some reaction that isn't assimilable into some cause-effect chain. A bit like an unmoved mover. A bit like God actually. I think the concept of free will is a bit like the concept of God - at best one can be agnostic about its existence. And what the hell does he mean 'fate and free will' and how is that better than a genetic destiny that has been partly determined by a human choice? In fact isn't the latter fate which has been partly determined by human choice according to McKibben's own weird view of the world preferable to one that has been left to 'blind chance'? Or is he just turning the popular expression 'Shit happens' into some sort of Kantian imperative?

However ignoring all these considerations and taking McKibben's metaphysical verbiage as valid for the sake of argument, what does his claim boil down to? Say, if I happen to be a child of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who is born without Tay Sachs disease owing to concerted efforts by my community

Concerted efforts by Ashkenazi Jews to use genetic testing to screen for Tay-Sachs, devastating neurological disorder that was high risk for Askenazi Jews, has resulted in virtual elimination of Tay-Sachs; success has emboldened new effort to use screening to eliminate nine other genetic diseases from Ashkenazic population; some geneticist see effort as payoff of Human Genome Project, but others worry about how people will use sreening information and whether or not they should

Yeah I can imagine one day this child growing up into an adult and lamenting McKibben-style: "My state of well-being owing to lack of Tay-Sachs disease, I wonder, oh I wonder, if only my parents had let it be, whether I would not have had it anyway. How dare they deprive me of experiencing this possibility, how dare they? Better to be a puppet of mystical concepts of 'fate and free will' than a puppet of scientific endavours aimed at improving my well-being'.

Also, what is the difference between a woman deciding not to get pregnant at 50 because of the heightened risk of Down's Syndrome that comes with late pregnancy and a women who employs other state of the art methods of reducing the risk of disability in the child? What about a woman who decides not to smoke and drink during pregnancy? It seems to me that the degree of eugenics in these cases is indeed, as my formulation suggests, a difference in degree rather than in kind from the more ambitious attempts at voluntary eugenics (like the screening out of Tay Sachs disease) that some parents might choose to practice.


Hopes of enhancement and immortality are widely and superficially appealing, drawing on the overpowering love we feel for our children and on our weakness for technological consumerism.

Why isn't what we're doing now to stay alive - for instance, wearing a mask in the presence of a SARS sufferer, avoiding working in places filled with abestos, putting flouride in the water - why aren't all these things 'technological consumerism' relative to what our primate ancestors experienced, pray tell? It seems where we draw a line on this is a personal matter of our own internal trade off. For instance, I don't want to spend my life eating stuff which tastes like cardboard so I'm willing to shave a few years off my life in exchange for eating whatever I want, rather than eating what my health-obsessed colleagues eat.

It's all too easy to imagine that a society that celebrates botulism toxin injections to fight wrinkles might fall for gene injections that seemed to promise a ticket to Harvard, not to mention immortality. But they reflect the shallowest idea about human life - the sense that more is always better. In fact, it is in our limitations that we find our meaning. An eternal robot might be nifty, but it wouldn't be human

What the hell is this supposed to mean? How does wanting to be smarter or healthier or wanting to have healthy and smart children if possible have to do with 'more is better' other than in the sense of 'more well being is better'? If the latter, what exactly is wrong with that? And isn't the genuine sense of well-being that we experience come from overcoming our limitations rather than revelling in them? Is McKibben saying we won't have enough limitations to overcome if we're born too smart and healthy? What an optimistic man. Incidentally by McKibben's chain of logic, isn't Homo Sapiens to Homo Erectus as 'the eternal robot' is to Homo Sapiens? Perhaps McKibben would approve of genetic engineering back to our primate ancestors given the increased degree of personal authenticity to revel in our limitations that this will confer upon us.

Gregory Stock, director of the program in medicine, technology and society at UCLA, has written that "the human mind cannot be the highest summit of cognitive performance". Measured in computations per second, that is certainly true - heck, an executive at Advanced Cell Technology has predicted that scientists soon will be able to add 20 or 30 IQ points to an embryo.

But the human mind may nonetheless be the apex of thinking machinery simply because it is able to hold things in balance, to understand that more can be too much and that there are thresholds we don't need to cross

So not only is a higher IQ not a sufficient condition for wisdom (almost certainly true) but a higher IQ may be incompatible with the current levels of wisdom which have brought us the Holocaust, Hutu-Tutsi massacres, S11, etc? Declining returns of IQ to wisdom? Interesting concept. Either McKibben has a higher IQ than me which is why I can't understand why this should be so, or he has a lower IQ than me and therefore is conferred with an ineffable wisdom which renders greater insight into this curious relationship than I am capable of mustering.

Posted by jason_s at 06:51 PM




"Free-will" is a non-sensical term people like to use b/c they are ashamed to think of themselves as organic machines. There's enough interesting scientific research and philosophy behind this that it might make a fun blog... someday.

Ron Bailey just recently took on this absurd McKibben guy and his idea that free-will = ignorance and randomness. Some people really have strange ways of seeing the world.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at April 20, 2003 08:59 PM


The prospect of a twenty or thirty point boost in IQ through genetic engineering is tantalizing but the article begs some questions.

If the relationship between intellectual output and IQ is exponential like I suspect, an across the board increase of IQ through a constant value - say 20 points – would only exacerbate the difference in intellectual productivities of different races. It won’t be the great leveler that the folks at Gene Expression suggest it’ll be.

Only if the gain in intellectual output tapers off as IQ continuously increases – diminishing return of intellectual productivity to IQ - will genetic engineering correct the intellectual imbalance between races. Through genetic engineering, the intellectual outputs of all races would converge at a particular value, even though IQs would still show a nominal difference.

Between the two possibilities, the former is more appealing as it would imply that there’s no limit to the extent to which intellectual output can be increased.

Posted by: king kong at April 21, 2003 05:02 AM


If the relationship between intellectual output and IQ is exponential like I suspect, an across the board increase of IQ through a constant value - say 20 points – would only exacerbate the difference in intellectual productivities of different races. It won’t be the great leveler that the folks at Gene Expression suggest it’ll be.

Tejas,

The same genes that allow people in population 1 to have high mathematical ability also enable people in pop. 2 to have it.

we're dealing with the same genes just unequal distributions. The populations both contain individuals at every level of performance (except perhaps at the bell curve extremes- I'm not sure about that one)

Posted by: Jason Malloy at April 21, 2003 06:42 AM


As David Deutsch points out in 'The Fabric of Reality', free will is pretty much a given if his (and my) understanding of physics is even in the ball park. That a person is an organic 'machine' is self evident but hardly enlightening. It seems to me that free will is an emergent property of all that complex biochemical junk we use to think with, not something locked up in a specific code here or there: that would seem to be deterministic nonsense. The fact our genes clearly pre-dispose certain responses, simply by virtue of the fact genes give us the form of our biochemical junk with which we think and perceive, that does not mean we cannot transcend those pre-dispositions and limitations, so clearly 'free will' is not the issue here. My genes did not equip me with the ability to see infra red, yet I can conceive of infra red in all manner of ways. Of course our physical structure influences our thoughts and our 'free will'... I get grumpy when I feel ill for example, but that does not mean I will always be unable to prevent that from influencing my behaviour. What makes McKibben's article so bizarre is this notion that if genes, which is to say our bodies, are able to negate 'free will', which means our physical form is the only thing which determines what we think (rather than just the parameters of what we can conceive of) then what does it matter if genes and the bodies they lead to, are 'natural' or 'engineered'? It is a logical trap.

Posted by: Perry de Havilland at April 21, 2003 07:22 AM


Jason, I want to delve into the idea of “free will.” First, you write, “there's a lot of reason to suspect the concept of free will is meaningless and incapable of operationalisation. So discourse would be much improved by dumping the concept.”

But later you contrast McKibben’s idea of 'fate and free will' with “a genetic destiny that has been partly determined by a human choice.”

It seems that first you’re saying that the concept of fee will should be dumped and then you’re reintroducing it as ‘human choice.’

A couple questions: what do you mean ‘free will is meaningless and incapable of operationalisation?’ I understand, but don’t agree with the meaningless part, but what of operationalization? And, shouldn’t free will be defined as a physical phenomenon that can be investigated? Without clarifying what free will is, discussions of free will may indeed remain meaningless.

The problem with tackling the idea of free will from a purely philosophical perspective is that any discussion is bound to go around and around in circles. As you write “all natural phenomena can be said to have free will owing to the fact that we know that strictly mechanistic linear models of cause-effect don't apply even to natural phenomena - the so called 'chaotic dynamics' picture of the world.” This is where the notion of free will becomes an either/or paradox. Either every natural phenomenon exhibits free will or none do. Physicists posited the idea of ‘ether’ and then devised experiments (Michaelson-Morley) that disproved it. It would be equally useful to devise experiments to investigate ‘free will.’

I think free will is much more of a concrete notion than that of ‘God,’ probably more along the idea of ‘life.’ The boundaries and beginnings of life are vague, but life itself has concrete properties that distinguishes it from inanimate matter – life is different in kind, not only extent. Likewise, will has properties that distinguishes it from determinant action. Few people argue with Paley’s example of the watch being designed and built by a conscious, willful agent – only his drawing an analogy with nature in general. The question is, can a watch be explained only by physical laws, or does one need to explain a watch’s existence by invoking a conscious, willful agent? And if so, does the existence of a watch, this computer I’m typing into and what I’m typing prove the existence of will? In this I'm with Perry in thinking that 'free will is pretty much a given'

Posted by: justapolak at April 21, 2003 07:42 AM


Jason,

How do genetic engineers propose to enhance IQs? By replicating those genes responsible for superior cognitive abilities ? Would it be possible for people of different races to have exactly similar neural structures ?

Also, when the executive at Advanced Cell Technology claimed IQs could be augmented by 20 or 30 points, how did he/she arrive at that number?

If the procedure involves replacing/replicating certain genes wouldn't it imply variable changes in IQ for people from different races ? And if so, was the 20-30 point boost with reference to Caucasians ?

If the IQ increase talked about is an absolute number, constant across all races, my previous argument would hold water.

About the extreme high end of the bell curve, I think there's a preponderance of Caucasians and Jews there. If you look up any list of extremely high IQ individuals, you'll be hard pressed to find any East Asian, South Asian or African names. The much maligned David Duke had made the very same argument about whites having "many more geniuses" though East Asians had a higher median IQ.

Posted by: king kong at April 21, 2003 08:05 AM


I'll let jason speak for himself (an order of a magnitude more articulate than I, he is), but Perry you and I have been through this before.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at April 21, 2003 08:07 AM


Would it be possible for people of different races to have exactly similar neural structures ?

The same genes responsible for the intelligence in pop. 1 are responsible for intelligence in pop 2, otherwise there would be no overlap across the entire distribution curve (and even if the genes were different it wouldn't matter). Even if all the people in pop 1 didn't exist the requisite genes still are available in pop. 2.

. . .you'll be hard pressed to find any East Asian, South Asian or African names.

None?

The much maligned David Duke...blah blah..

Aw- poor david duke.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at April 21, 2003 08:19 AM


I attend a very diverse university. There are a lot of Orientals here, and while they do well and are productive members of the university community, from my perspective they are no more likely than whites to be endlessly fascinated by ideas, to crave knowledge hungrily and to find intellectual matters exciting and engrossing. Maybe that is simply a function of admissions policies that bring in the most similar whites and Asians, but very few of the Asians I know have what I call "intellectual personalities". Maybe they are just more laid back, and hence I don't notice their obsessions as much. I just don't know.

Posted by: duende at April 21, 2003 08:44 AM


Hereditary disease like Tay-Sachs shouldn't be controversial. Intelligence will be, but my guess is that it will prove to be hard to engineer, with undesirable side effects (e.g. schizophrenia, mania, and perhaps autism --earlier thread). There's not going to be a single intelligence gene, and getting the right mix will take awhile.

I keep using this example, but it took a long time to figure out hemophilia, which was known for sure to be hereditary. There are several different kinds, and in order to treat it you have to understand a system which is, by biological standards, only moderately complicated, but which by common-sense standards is too complicated to figure out in a hurry even now that the facts are all known. ALL of the projected hereditary-physiological explanations of intelligence, personality/temperament, and mental health which I have seen are far simpler and easier to understand than the well-grounded and factual explanations of hemostasis-coagulation that I have seen. Whereas you really would expect a more complex system.

This is not to say that this is impossible, but I think that it's a much bigger task than the promoters are telling us.

And of course, if you look at the history of plastic surgery, what genetic engineering will immediately give us will be natural blonds, Jewish girls with less-Jewish noses, and large, silicone-free, jiggly boobs. Those in the can-do area.

Posted by: zizka at April 21, 2003 09:19 AM


"large, silicone-free, jiggly boobs"

Now THAT'S a worthwhile use of genetic engineering!

Posted by: justapolak at April 21, 2003 09:56 AM


about the argument that there are very few east asians at the "high ends of the bell curve," i see this asserted here & there-but i looked the IQ distributions that are freely available in the united states reaggregated by race. the variance was the same for whites or asians-in other words, the asian bell curve didn't seem more bunched up. on the other hand i do think that culture has a strong influence on presenting/exploring risky ideas.

to give you a perspective on how cultures can change-frederick the great in the mid 18th century, king of prussia, preferred french because he considered his own people 'philistines' who were not particular intellectually luminous (leibniz and a few others excepted). in the late 18th & 19th century this obviously changed, kant, goethe, hegel, marx, etc. to name just a few world-changers.

Posted by: razib at April 21, 2003 10:28 AM


Are you suggesting that the cultures of East Asia are less conducive to the sort of independent minded, semi-autism that frequently accompanies great intellectual achievement?

Posted by: duende at April 21, 2003 10:35 AM


Are you suggesting that the cultures of East Asia are less conducive to the sort of independent minded, semi-autism that frequently accompanies great intellectual achievement?

Posted by: duende at April 21, 2003 10:35 AM


Razib, I'll stick to my guns. Variance isn't much of an indicator since we're talking about a very miniscule percentage of the sample space. From the statistics you give, if the variances of American Caucasians and East Asians are similar, i'd conclude that East Asians cluster around the higher end of the distribution curve to a greater extent than Caucasians but at the extremely high ends you'll find far more Caucasians than East Asians.

If you have the numbers try to find the percentage of East Asians above IQ 165 and compare that to the corresponding value for Caucasians. I'd be surprised if Caucasians didn't have a massive edge over East Asians there.

Posted by: king kong at April 21, 2003 12:36 PM


An increasingly high proportion of Nobel prize winners are people of East Asian descent (whether immigrants or not) educated in the US or Europe. To me that's a much better index than clustering of IQ test scores. IQ tests are an attempt to measure something else which is more meaningful -- a high IQ score is not in itself an accomplishment. For a variety of reasons, many high-IQ people accomplish little or nothing.

American-educated South Asians are showing up more and more now; the reason they didn't so much earlier is mostly because of immigration patterns. (The reason either of them show up as much as they do is that the best schools for the successful classes in East and South Asia are geared toward American graduate schools. For all the pissing and moaning about failing American schools, American grad schools are the best in the world in most areas. And a lot of them are primarily state-funded).

"Exponential": In some areas the real range of ability is so wide that it's hard to measure. When my son's SAT scores came back I found out that about 10% of the people who took the harder math achievement test (there are two) got perfect scores. So in order to measure Math ability well all the way to the top you'd need at least four SAT tests -- i.e., Math Aptitude, Achievement I, Achievement II, and (new) Achievement III.

Posted by: zizka at April 21, 2003 01:08 PM


tejas-to follow up zizka, IQ beyond about 140 tends to be less predictive. jensen himself talks about the terman study (boys with IQs above 140) and two individuals that just barely missed the IQ cut-off but won science nobel prizes (while no one in the study did). so even if you are correct it doesn't follow that whites will have more "geniuses".

i think a far more likely difference is something that has to do with personality and a tendency toward risk-which might be genetic, who knows?

you ask a serious question though-and i'll address it in more detail later.

Posted by: razib at April 21, 2003 01:38 PM


I'm sure that a tendency toward obsessions is genetic. After all, I do look around the table at Thanksgiving dinner :) Could it be that Orientals do not have a high enough concentration of "obsession genes" to produce a lot of fire-in-the-gut intellectuals?

Posted by: duende at April 21, 2003 02:33 PM


Eliminating diseases will be a positive outcome of genetic engineering. Even in this case it's not a completely sure thing. Some genes that cause disease may also have some potentially effects. Tinkering with individual genes before it's certain how they fit in the overall functioning of a human being is not good, except for the obvious cases.

But, suppose that we identify genes for intelligence, hair/eye/skin color, personality traits, etc. I am sure that many people would jump at the opportunity to create children that have the optimum appearance/behavior predisposition - based on societal norms. Thus, we will be effectively diminishing the genetic diversity of Homo Sapiens based on short-term criteria.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 02:41 PM


>> At the level of tenured professor at the most selective American research universities, E/S Asians and Jews are disproportionately represented relative to Europeans.

There is a supply and demand issue here. Most of the supply of European talent is absorbed in Europe itself, which has many academic and research institutions.

If by Europeans was meant "European-Americans", then again I think that much of European American talent is diverted to other channels than academics, mainly for cultural reasons.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 02:58 PM


Whew! The comments facility has grown like topsy overnight. justapolak - good question, I'll try and do a post on my thoughts on free will later to answer it. Let me just say that when I used the word 'human choice' I was just trying to avoid using a philosophically loaded term that harked back to free will. Also recall I was using that term in the passage that for the sake of argument then went on to take McKibben's terms for granted.

Re East Asians and IQ I don't know about the minutiae of IQ distribution among the races to answer that. But I do agree that East Asians don't seem any more likely to be intellectual than Caucasians. Indians either, though the ones I've known are all very smart. Jewish people are the only people I know from my admittedly limited sample who are likely to be 'intellectuals'. I think culturally at least this can be explained very easily. A lot of East Asians do have a very instrumentalist view of education though the status of educated person is also much admired.

Posted by: Jason Soon at April 21, 2003 03:38 PM


(I accidentally posted this same comment to the wrong blog entry. I reposted it here becaues this is where it was intended to go.)

I have always said that resolving the free will debate either way won't change anything. Life will still go on as it has before.

I can't intellectually understand what is meant by "free will". The word "free" is commonly accompanied by the preposition "from" or "to" and I would like it if some of the free will proponents would attempt to complete the (sub)expression with a noun.

I don't mean to say that I have ceratainty that free will is not real. I can't understand the Buddhist concept of Nirvana but that doesn't mean its not real. However, I think that many of the people arguing vociferously for free will simply don't like reality. Some dumb people think they could be rocket scienticists if they excercised their free will sufficiently. Some smart people attribute their success to free will because the notion that they possessed inate ability makes them feel guilty.

I do believe in the importance of *will*. There are barriers that people have to overcome if they want to get anywhere in most endeavours. For instance it might be very hard to learn the basics of a language or get a foothold, but then having overcome that barrier someone could potentially become very skilled. It does take will to choose to do hard things, and most people probably hope to arrive at a point where they don't have to use it too much.

Posted by: Sporon at April 21, 2003 04:13 PM


>> disproportionately favors E/S Asians and Jews.

It's a very safe bet that foreign-born E/S Asians are over-represented over American born ones.

>> The income brackets of these groups are similarly above that of the American-born of European origin.

American-born of European origin is a very broad category.

>> The best European scientific talent tends to come to the states. There are pockets of excellence in Europe (Max Planck comes to mind), but American high-tech and American research universities attract the best from around the world, and Europe is no exception.

It is debateable if the "best" tends to come to the United States, but let's agree that it does. Still, a great fraction of European talent stays in Europe. Also, a good number of European scientists go back to Europe, while almost none of Chinese/Indians go back to their respective countries. Unlike e.g., Indians and Chinese that have a great benefit in terms of living conditions if they migrate to the US, for most Europeans there is little such incentive.

>> As just one example, there is a reason that the "German" Human Genome project had a prefix while the American one did not...it's just accepted that the frontiers of science and engineering will be pushed in the United States.

That is probably true, but says little about the relative merits of European Vs. native-born American Vs. S/E Asian talent.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 04:19 PM


Godless: Africa has finally raised its head.

Access to education has only recently been available to Africans and African-Americans. That's one of the things that the Civil Rights movement was all about. Before 1967 or so African-Americans did not have the right to education that immigrants took for granted.

Few African colonies educated the locals, and except in a few Muslim and Christian areas, there was no local tradition of literacy either. All of the African nations are struggling at the moment.

Much the same can be said of native Americans. The Indian schools were not intended to cultivate geniuses. Nothing about the reservation system was very favorable. There aren't a lot of pure or traditional Native Americans left anymore anyway, so the educated ones that there have been often end up being counted as white anyway.

Beyond lack of access, these peoples also suffered from rather recent political / military disasters which in most cases destroyed the local cultures and put most individuals of these culture in untenable situations (losing the old culture without gaining a new one).

So anyway, in the recent state of reality it's pretty hard to bracket out the socioculturalpolitical aspect. After that can be done I suppose that the genetic explanation will have to be considered.

Posted by: zizka at April 21, 2003 04:37 PM


godless made many of the points i would make-though of course he did with more gusto and affirmation than i would be liable too :)

one thing that i tended to point to earlier though with my example of "germans," different "white" groups excelled at different times. you look at the interval between 500 BCE and 500 CE and "greeks" are the ones who are the white intellectuals. 1500-1600 you see lots of italians. etc. etc. there is obviously potentional for genius in northwest eurasia.

but who can doubt that china has not had "geniuses" before the modern era, when europe exploded and left everyone in the dust? the eastern europeans are not that different genetically but were shut out because of history and geography from the western european explosion (unless you count russia's expansion east, but that wasn't an intellectual one).

i am open to genetic explanations obviously. but some of the stuff is easy to give alternative expalantions for without straining credulity.

a key indicator would be the prevelance of a well assimilated asian-american minority, like the japanese americans, in fields proportionate to their numbers-though even then, factors like japanese american concentration along the west coast and hawaii might skew the results.

also-these arguments can go both ways. dienekes posits that cultural predispositions point away from academica for european americans-but i feel that in fact american borns of asian descent get much more pressure from their parents to go into professions like medicine & law and stay away from high status but moderate pay fields like academia. who knows?

Posted by: razib at April 21, 2003 04:59 PM


>> also-these arguments can go both ways. dienekes posits that cultural predispositions point away from academica for european americans-but i feel that in fact american borns of asian descent get much more pressure from their parents to go into professions like medicine & law and stay away from high status but moderate pay fields like academia. who knows?

The most important difference is native/foreign born. Foreign-born academics in the US are a self-selected group whose decision to come to the US is based on various criteria. If someone can show that e.g., second- or third-generation S/E Asians are overrepresented in academia over other ethnic groups, then one can start discussing their relative merits compared to other ethnic groups.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 05:47 PM


which is why japanese americans are a good test case-very few are first generation, and almost none came after 1920....

Posted by: razib at April 21, 2003 06:17 PM


>>but i feel that in fact american borns of asian descent get much more pressure from their parents to go into professions like medicine & law and stay away from high status but moderate pay fields like academia. who knows?

exactly! this is the instrumentalist view i was referring to before. to be blunt, education is basically a high pay meal ticket for asians

Posted by: Jason Soon at April 21, 2003 06:42 PM


>> which is why japanese americans are a good test case-very few are first generation, and almost none came after 1920....

True. That would indicate how a particular Asian-American group compared against other groups in this particular country. It would still not give definitive results for the European Vs. Asian Vs. XXX genetic groups though, since different immigrant groups are all biased samples (to some degree) of their home countries' populations.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 06:49 PM


Let me slap together a description of families (regardless of race and immigration status) whose kids succeed in the U.S.

1. Strong family: a. Kids respect (obey) their parents b. Parents plan their lives around the kids. (It helps if the mother is warm and affectionate, though the father rarely is).

2. Respect for education. Kids are expected to get A's. Even if the parents are illiterate, they can read report cards.

3. Work ethic for both parents and kids, but work for kids is defined by school. (Important: H. S. kids with part-time jobs often dead-end without going to college).

4. Understanding of saving, credit and debt. This actually defines survival regardless of education issues. It relates to planning for the future (including childrens' education) as opposed to living in the now.

This is simplistic, perhaps, but what's wrong with it? One of my points is that people who come from places where 1-4 are culturally already there do well. People who have lived by other rules do less well.

Many forms of multi-culturalism can be crippling for the immigrant or minority. So I am not a multiculturalist of that type.

At the same, pursuant to my liberalism, I doubt that any of my points 1-4 are hereditary. Poor Chinese peasant immigrants, for example, had been dealing with educational meritocracy and a cash economy for 2000 years before they came to the U.S. They knew the ropes.

Posted by: zizka at April 21, 2003 08:13 PM


Godless (simultaneous posts): None of the societies you mentioned was destroyed the way Native American societies were. African-Americans were ripped from their home societies and put in a slave culture where they were, often, forbidden to learn to read and had no legal rights at all. In both cases children were routinely taken from their families. From an American point of view, both groups were often denied access to rights and opportunities that immigrants automatically got (not just education, but equal protection of the laws, right to own property, and right to vote). Native Americans formally got their rights in the 30's, I understand, and African Americans got their rights formally with the 14th amednment, but in reality often only in 1967.

It really wasn't just a sort of incidental exclusion, either. Exclusion of slaves and Native Americans (and Mexicans to a degree) was a pretty integral part of the system for a long time.

Regarding Africa, see my previous post. Most of Africa did not have an indigenous literate tradition, and in most of Africa colonialism was more destructive and less constructive than it was in India or China.

Posted by: zizka at April 21, 2003 08:28 PM


Nigerian mathematician/computing genius
http://emeagwali.com/history/internet/

Posted by: Jason Soon at April 21, 2003 09:35 PM


>> So - to wrap up - US citizens of E/S Asian descent are overrepresented at every level of academia, from the number in honors/AP classes in high school to the number of tenured profs in research universities.

US citizen is not equivalent to native born American.

I would be willing to consider a possible genetic cause for Asian overrepresentation if it was shown that third-generation Asian Americans, i.e., those born in the US and raised by American parents noticeably outperform e.g., white Americans of similar geographical background.

With that said, it may still be the case that Asian Americans excel in academia. But, again, that wouldn't say much about Asian/white genetic differences inasmuch as Asian- and white-Americans are not random samples of Asian and white people in general.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 10:30 PM


>> The Chinese had the Cultural Revolution and communism, and were raped in WW2. So were the Eastern Europeans.

Many things (and people) suffered under communism, but education was not one of them. Literacy, for example, improved dramatically during the Soviet period.


Posted by: Dienekes at April 21, 2003 10:44 PM


>> but the education system was not *good*, as it was fraught with newspeak and doublethink.

Biology makes a tiny part of mandatory education. Most people don't end up using it anyway. It's obvious that basic literacy improved drastically in Soviet Russia. The industrialization, space program, nukes, ICBMs, submarines, MiG-29s etc. were obviously impressive technological achievements. Russians also were extremely important in theoretical science and mathematics.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 22, 2003 01:24 AM


>> US citizen is a more-than-decent proxy for American born when we're talking about those in graduate school and before, b/c comparatively few naturalize in high school/college (check ins.gov if you don't believe me). The NSF report I linked has stats on exactly that group.

That is correct. But many (most?) professors of Asian heritage are foreign-born.

>> Asians > whites academically in every country in which the two coexist [Australia, Britain, US, etc.]

In all these countries, Asians are fairly recent immigrants (a few generations) and are not random samples of their home countries' populations.

>> IQ tests

The differences are small. I don't know much about this subject to comment.

>> Also - not sure whether this is what you meant - but do you believe that "white Americans" aren't (genetically) fairly representative of Europeans in general?

They are neither genetically, nor culturally representative of Europeans in general. The same is true for Asians as well.

>> Now, I *suppose* that there could be a selection bias for the kind of individuality that would spur one to abandon Europe for the new country

There are many causes that cause migration. Let's take the case of Greece. City dwellers didn't migrate usually, but poor villagers did. People who owned lots of land stayed home and people who didn't own anything chose to migrate. The incentive was economical. But then again there are people who came to America for study and decided to stay. Then, different regions participated in immigration to different degrees.

For example Filipinos are over-educated in Canada. In Greece there are many Filipino immigrants that have jobs as nannies, gardeners, etc. Obviously different kinds of Filipinos came to Greece and to Canada.

>> My original point was that Tejas' theory that Euros predominate over other groups at the towering heights of academe might be correct if...

I already stated what a first test of whether there are potentially genetic differences between Euros and Asians would be. There may be some observable differences. To see if these are genetic, we must examine native-born whites/Asians, raised by native-born Americans, who live in the same part of the country.

In any case, a study of academia alone is not enough, as different groups might direct their efforts to different fields. For example, in all probability whites are overrepresented in fiction writing. Fiction writing is obviously an activity that requires intelligence.

All the studies trying to assess racial differences in intellectual ability have outcomes (e.g., IQ) as the starting point and try to abolish the non-genetic factor. I distrust them because modeling the non-genetic factor is not easy.

I am ready to be convinced for/against the existence of such racial differences once alleles conferring cognitive advantage are identified and their worldwide distribution becomes known. Until then, I am agnostic when it comes to racial differences in cognitive ability.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 22, 2003 02:02 AM


I've perused the comments section and I still can't find any statistic that would controvert my assertion on Caucasian dominance in the higher end of the Bell Curve.

Razib :

1. I've made a blunder by asking for a comparison of the percentages of East Asians and Caucasians of IQ 165 and above, within America. This won't give an accurate picture as a sizeable chunk of East Asians having IQs and above immigrate to America. The intellectual cream of a population of 2 billion being added to a base of 3 million will significantly distort this part of the statistic, even though it wouldn't drive up the average IQ of Asian-Americans as significantly.

2. A clearer picture on this particular statistic would emerge by comparing the percentages of IQ 165 and above Japanese in Japan and Caucasian Americans. Extensive tests have been done on the Japanese and the results are well documented, so this ought to give a definite answer.

3. "IQ beyond about 140 tends to be less predictive. jensen himself talks about the terman study (boys with IQs above 140) and two individuals that just barely missed the IQ cut-off but won science nobel prizes (while no one in the study did). so even if you are correct it doesn't follow that whites will have more geniuses"

Perhaps, but an alternative explanation would be that some extremely high IQ individuals don't have intellectual outputs commensurate with their intelligence. A case of underutilized genius more than the absence of true genius among some high IQ people.

I've also heard that Feynman had an IQ of 126. But i'd consider all of these aberrations.

Godless :

1. Some of the evidence you present is consistent with my assertion. In Arthur Hu's IQ spectrum he lists the average IQ of Whites and Asians in MIT at 138. Assuming most MIT students have IQs that range from 130 to 150, over representation of East Asians could be explained by arguing that :
a) It's a result of selective immigration
b) East Asians cluster at the high end of the Bell Curve - enough but not at the extremely high end. To substantiate this claim i'll quote from an article written by Norman Matloff.

"In other words, it is incorrect to attribute the major technological advances of the industry to immigrants. This can be seen in rough form, for example, in the awards given by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the nation's main computer science professional society. Of the 39 recipients of the ACM Software System Awards, only one has been an immigrant. Of the 17 recipients of the Eckert-Mauchly Award, given for advances in computer hardware, none has been an immigrant.

Furthermore, the ACM awards contradict immigration commentator Francis Fukuyama's claim that the computer industry depends particularly on ethnic Chinese. Of the 56 award winners, there are no foreign-born Chinese and only one Chinese-American. Similarly, in spite of the large numbers of Chinese foreign students who use U.S. graduate study as a route to immigration, of the 35 ACM awards for outstanding Ph.D. dissertations, none of the recipients has been of Chinese ethnicity.

footnote: Five recipients have been foreign students from India, five from Israel and Europe, and the remaining 20 have been U.S. natives."


Matloff further exlains this phenomenon by saying the reasons are cultural.

"The rote-memory approach to learning which is prevalent in Chinese and other East Asian cultures (called tian yazi, ``stuff the duck'' by the Chinese) simply is not conducive to technical innovation.
footnote: Physicst C.N. Yang at SUNY Stony Brook went into the problem in great detail in his television interview with Bill Moyers. (Available in book form in Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas, Doubleday, 1989.)"

I would tend to disgree with Matloff on the reasons being cultural. The evidence that the highest echelons of the academia/intelligentsia, the most rarified regions of thought, are overwhelmingly white is compelling. Which would also explain why a vast majority of scientific and mathematical breakthroughs are made by Whites.

2. David Duke is quite the incorrigible bigot but some of the evidence he presents deserves further scrutiny. In some ways Gene Expression's assertions are similar to David Duke's, sans the political agenda and demogoguery. Of course, racial realism is healthy !!

Zizka :

East Asians might be gaining ground on Whites in terms of Nobels, but the base is too small to predict any definite trend. Australia and Japan have a similar number of Nobel Laureates though Japan is seven times more populous and has a higher degree of affluence.

Also, don't worry about me being a racist. I'm also of South Asian descent though that won't prevent me from levelling charges of South Asian intellectual ineptitude.


Jason Soon:

I've always tended to play down cultural influences while discussing such matters. Only after all possible reasons are exhausted do I consider the cultural factor. I acknowledge that it's a paremeter that influences intellectual output but not to such an extent that an entire argument may be predicated on it.

Posted by: king kong at April 22, 2003 05:32 AM


Tejas -- as I said, I think that IQ tests are useful as measures of something else, the way medical tests are useful as indicators of health and disease. But if someone has good labs but they're sick, or bad labs but they're healthy, it shows you the limitations of the tests. Health is the real thing, and the test is an attempt to measure that.

In a ballpark way, if you have a group of people with IQ's of 80, 100, 120, 140, and 160, you're going to have a pretty good idea what to expect from them. But given a 140 and a 160, you really have to look at their accomplishments to compare them. You know that one has more of the brightness the tests measure, but at this level you have to ask whether the things the tests are measuring are the most important ones.

In short, I think that you're mistaking the map for the territory.

Nobody has refuted your conjecture that Asians are lacking at the highest end of the IQ scale, but the ball is really in your court to prove it. With the evidence available and the various demographics and cultural factors involved, I think that that would be hard to do even with quite an extensive study.

Posted by: zizka at April 22, 2003 09:46 AM


I'm sorry I missed this thread which was ostensibly on free-will but "somehow" (*cough* tejas *cough*) turned into a thread about the nurture and nature of racial differences in intelligence (actually it was about the difference in measured distributed pattern [and so could have been solved with one unprovided link or reference], but turned back on the genetic thing.

Ironically, we talk very little about this lately, even though it is one of the foundational ideas of the blog (it was discussed much more in the blogspot days with godless).

After Jan. we had meant to make an FAQ that would outline our assumptions on psychometrics, heredity, and race, which could then be referenced and discussed/challenged. Perhaps, time permitting, we still will do so, or perhaps I'll just do a series outlining how I see this question as it's looked at within science (as I see it :)).

Of course the question will never be solved for certain until we can demonstrate the genes etc., but we can make good-faith common sense assumptions based on the current body of literature too, that rise above the level of "hunch".

Until then here's a pretty good link about the puzzle pieces of race and heredity as looked at by someone from the "London school". (PDF)

Posted by: Jason Malloy at April 22, 2003 11:08 AM


>> 2. A clearer picture on this particular statistic would emerge by comparing the percentages of IQ 165 and above Japanese in Japan and Caucasian Americans. Extensive tests have been done on the Japanese and the results are well documented, so this ought to give a definite answer.

Actually, I have seen countless studies that give the means of various population samples, some that give the standard deviation, but I have rarely seen something as simple as a histogram of the results, or better still the raw IQ scores of the Ss.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 22, 2003 11:25 AM


I remain skeptical that biology has changed drastically in the intervening years, though some (like Howard Bloom) believe this.

godless, how do you expalin the prevelance of myopia among chinese & jews and the lack of among african americans if you reject that "higher" literate civilizations did not increase the relative fitness of that gene? perhaps environmental (looking at books all the time)-but can it explain the differential???

i was just talking to a friend today about the fact that my family has been "gentry" for a non-trivial number of generations probably reduced infant mortality compared to our tenants who didn't eat as well and had no medical assistance.

Posted by: razib at April 22, 2003 01:57 PM


godless i agree with your skepticism and general point. but on the specific, check this out on the history of eyeglasses. seems they were "invented" circa 1300 and became popular in europe during the renaissance. i'm not saying the argument is strong or there is a causal connection-one variable explanations for european success are stupid, but interest isn't it? europeans develop eyeglasses, they become popular, and voila, an intellectual explosion. someone could write a book on this for the credulous :)

Posted by: razib at April 22, 2003 02:18 PM


>> Has anyone read Asimov's Foundation books? The idea of predicting the fall of a civilization from the time derivative of a biological variable strikes me as exactly the sort of thing one could provide the "foundations" for the psychohistory found in Foundation.

Predicting the behavior of complex systems is inherently difficult. Both because human beings are inherently unpredictable, and because the interactions between human beings are unpredictable. Also, because the fall of civilization often occurs because of external stimulus, e.g., disease.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 22, 2003 03:32 PM


I've been away for the last few days, so I've had some catching up to do. Fascinating exchange! This is a great blog Razib, congratulations! Since I'm just a trade lawyer (with little in terms of a scientific background), some of the above was hard for me to fully follow. However, a couple of points that I wish to make. No one will dispute that fact that Western cultures have produced the most extensive list of ethnically/genetically European geniuses in every field of science and art, from Pythagoras and Aristotle down to Voltaire, Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, etc., etc., etc., even as they vastly expanded their numbers and the territory controlled by their race by conquering and dominating less advanced races. The scientific, cultural, literary, political, philosphical, musical (the genius of classical music is a purely European invention) etc. contributions of Europeans is so immense and total as to utterly dwarf by comparison East/South Asians. Now, I'll briefly turn to Razib's original discussion of eugenics. Eugenics as advocated by its pioneer, Sir Francis Galton or Dean Inge, was simply the notion that the useful and intelligent should be allowed, indeed encouraged, to breed, and the murderous idiots who are never going to contribute anything except misery to themselves and others should be strongly discouraged (with the help of the law). The eugenic case is made simply by looking at the genetic pedigrees of the criminals who appear in court, and contrasting them with those of the judges and lawyers. The overwhelming number of judges and lawyers come from intelligent, hard-working, decent families, and the overwhelming number of criminal animals come from stock that is violent, stupid, lazy, and more often than not prone to alcohol/drug addiction. Rather than building yet another prison and/or drug centre, our political elites should institute a system in which, after a murder, rape, mugging, or armed robbery, the criminal animal is permanently sterilised and done away with (and I don't necessarily mean killed; although, that's also an option that we, civilzed and productive members of society, should have at our eventual disposal). Such a genetic revolution is the only thing which could make life in our overcrowded, crime-ridden hell-holes (i.e., large North American cities) viable. P.S. I found zizka's apologia (the intellectual casuistry would have made a Jesuit proud) of African underachievement most amusing and enjoyable. Hence, I propose to rename him our "p.c. priest". What do you say?

Posted by: nietzsche at April 22, 2003 05:47 PM


No one will dispute that fact that Western cultures have produced the most extensive list of ethnically/genetically European geniuses in every field of science and art, from Pythagoras and Aristotle down to Voltaire, Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, etc., etc., etc., even as they vastly expanded their numbers and the territory controlled by their race by conquering and dominating less advanced races. The scientific, cultural, literary, political, philosphical, musical (the genius of classical music is a purely European invention) etc. contributions of Europeans is so immense and total as to utterly dwarf by comparison East/South Asians.
well-i hope that most western intellectuals are of european extraction :) western culture has only been picked up by non-europeans recently (immigration & exportation). additionally, you neglected to add the qualifier "now" when comparing europeans with east & south asians. in fact, i have talked before that there are three real civilizations-western, that includes the middle east, indian and chinese. all other civilizations are really partially derivatives or combinations.

some of what is crucial to "western" european culture is borrowed. today christianity is a white man's religion-but we all know it comes from the middle east (the hebraic core + greek philosophy + roman structure + germanic medeival context), which many people would not consider white. similarly much of the early forms of post-classical math came via the arabs from india. would couldn't the brilliants of northern europe use their minds to create this de novo rather than picking it up from dim svarts? i think you get my point.

as t->infinite we're all dead-and soon this accounting of "my race acheived more than your race" will be sophomoric. i am seeing the chinese are starting at it again....

Posted by: razib at April 22, 2003 06:21 PM


Very sharp intellectual response, Nietzsche, well worthy of Nietzsche's brother-in-law, at least.

Posted by: zizka at April 22, 2003 06:46 PM


Cheap shot!

Yes I know, Africans constitute a great race of inventors and philosophers.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 22, 2003 06:54 PM


godless: "Your beliefs seem perilously close to the belief that the Europeans - by virtue of being white - will necessarily dominate all in their path. I think that's empirically unsustainable by the only metric that (in the end) really matters for the survival of a civilization: military dominance. Continental Europe itself is in eclipse and China is waxing."

Europe might be in eclipse (in large measure because of demographics, something which can be reversed), but that's immaterial to my argument. Europeans opened up trade routes, spread Christianity, civilized savages, introduced parliamentary democracy and the constitutional monarchy, spread the European idea of "private property". All of the above (and more) would have been impossible without the genius of Europeans. How has China contributed to civilization in comparison, and what can we expect from it in the future?

Posted by: nietzsche at April 22, 2003 08:05 PM


Nietzsche: Before 1800 or so the Finns had contributed nothing much to civilization. The Mordvins (white) still haven't. (As far as that goes, no one respected the Germans much before about 1750 at the earliest). There are historical reasons for this kind of thing. You actually didn't respond at all to the points I was making. (Before about 1900 the intellectual accomplishments of Black Africa were mostly within Islam, but you don't recognise Islam either, or China, so what's the use?)

A lot of your stuff is pretty close to the "My big brother can whip your big brother" level. The dominance of Western civilization is a well-known fact, though it's neither so total nor so old as you apparently believe. The discussion on this thread is about whether or not the reasons for this dominance are racial, and whether there's a general inferiority of non-European peoples. I'm arguing that the reasons are not racial.

A lot of this is about what we can expect in the world of 2100, 2200 and so on. Simple extrapolation from the past won't answer that question.

Posted by: zizka at April 22, 2003 08:49 PM


Nigerian mathematician/computing genius
http://emeagwali.com/history/internet/

Posted by Jason Soon at April 21, 2003 09:35 PM
-----------------------------------------------

oh no ! :( not HIM ! This guy IS smart indeed. I don't think any dumb person could have won that Gordon bell prize. But he's guilty of some of the worst examples of self-agrandizing and shameless self promotion that i've ever seen ! He has this HUGE website that he claims is the oldest on the internet, he claims to be the " bill gates of africa" (like that means anything!), claims that Euclid was black, that Fibonacci was black, that he 's one of the fathers of the internet, that he's a world renowned genius, etc . He's a poor man's Stephen Wolfram, so to speak.
The problem i have with him is that he accomplished something major once (1988 Gordon Bell Supercomputing prize, i think) but has been riding on that ever since ! He doesnt seem to be in academia anymore and has basically been doing nothing but self promoting ever since !

Posted by: ogunsiron at April 22, 2003 11:10 PM


>> Now - yeah - Europeans ruled the world after the Renaissance, but if you really think that Europeans were always on top, you just don't know world history. Asia had great civilizations before Europe did - that is a fact.

The earliest civilizations were created by Caucasoids. Several civilizatins flourished among Caucasoids. If we want to be technical and speak only about European Caucasoids, then obviously European Caucasoids, namely the Minoans had writing and civilization before any East Asians.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 22, 2003 11:30 PM


>> Dienekes - the Sumerians had writing before anyone else. They were not in Europe.

That is debateable, since the Vinca culture in modern Romania had writing much earlier. In any case, the artificial division of the Caucasoid world into European/Asian is wholly without justification. The Sumerians belonged to Western civilization, and they were Caucasoids.

>> Let me rephrase: before the modern Europe which nietzsche (justifiably) celebrates, there were great civilizations in Asia that were *more powerful* - bigger economy, more technologically advanced, etc. - than their contemporary civilizations in Europe.

The Chinese invented a few things first. Caucasoids invented other things before the Chinese. Also, I repeat that the distinction should not be made between Asia and Europe, but between the West and the East. That is the only distinction which matches the two cultural spheres of Eurasian civilization.

>> The arrival of the Renaissance put Europe on top, but there was a long interregnum between the ancient Greeks & Romans and modern Europe.

There was cultural decline in Western Europe. There has never been a break in the _Western_ tradition.

>> Also, Dienekes, I don't think nietszche includes Arabs or Indians as "Europeans". He didn't say Caucasoid. Of course, if you take the far more expansive "Caucasoid", then every cultural achievement from England to the subcontinent is credited to the same group.

If we speak only about Europeans, then I will agree with you. But, "European-ness" is a historically recent invention and does not alter the fact that the Western world is the provenance of the Caucasoid race, and a self-contained cultural sphere that did not interact (significantly) with other cultural spheres for the greater part of its development.

>> Nowadays, nations as different as India, Iraq, and England have different levels of economic, military, etc. development, and it's meaningless to talk about the state of the "Caucasoids". They occupy every niche, from first world to third.

This has always been the case throughout Caucasoid history. The same is true for Mongoloids.

>> In any case, if you count the ancient civilizations of the Arabian peninsula as a credit to "Europeans", certainly you need to count its current backwardness as a demerit. The accounting of "Caucasoid dominance" then becomes a bit complicated...

The center of cultural dominance within the Caucasoid world has shifted, from Mesopotamia, to Greece, to Rome, to Constantinople, to Baghdad, to Italy, to England, ... The backwardness of present-day Middle East does not take away from Caucasoid pre-eminence any more than the backwardness of northern Europeans took from Caucasoid pre-eminence during Antiquity.

>> Oh yeah - I haven't responded to every point brought up in this thread - but Dienekes, you do agree that education in China, Cambodia, and most other communist countries was damaged by communism?

I don't know about East Asian educational standards. In Europe, the situation was not uniform in either way.

>> And that the Soviet Union was an exception, and that only math/physics/chemistry teaching was relatively untouched by ideology/indoctrination?

The matter of education under communism was initially raised to contrast African suffering with European suffering under communism:


The Chinese had the Cultural Revolution and communism, and were raped in WW2. So were the Eastern Europeans. The Indians had socialism and colonialism. These are fairly recent political/military disasters. Yet these three regions still produce large numbers of mathematically savvy expatriates.

I have already explained that despite its ills, communism most definitely did not negatively affect education, but actually promoted it. The children of many pre-communist illiterates received free state education under communism. They also received some indoctrination, plus some faulty science, like Lysenkoism. But, overall, education cannot be said to have suffered under communism, if it is contrasted with the previous state of affairs. One cannot say that in spite the communist disaster, Eastern Europe continues to produce mathematical talent, because communism was not a disaster for mathematical learning.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 23, 2003 12:27 AM


Zizka and Razib :

"jensen himself talks about the terman study (boys with IQs above 140) and two individuals that just barely missed the IQ cut-off but won science nobel prizes (while no one in the study did)."

"In a ballpark way, if you have a group of people with IQ's of 80, 100, 120, 140, and 160, you're going to have a pretty good idea what to expect from them. But given a 140 and a 160, you really have to look at their accomplishments to compare them"


I disagree, though I don't completely rule out the possibility of IQ tests becoming an erratic indicator of comparative ability after a certain point.

1. The general tendency is to look at absolute numbers while ignoring the base and that is where this line of thought falters. The proportion of Nobel Laureates among those having IQs in the range 130-140 is far less that the proportion of Nobel Laureates among those having IQs in the range 140-150 even though the base of the former is much bigger. Get my drift ? To elaborate with the help of a numerical example, consider two populations A and B. Population A has 100,000 people with IQs ranging between 140 & 150. Population B has 1,000 people with IQs in the range 160-170. Population A also has 20 Nobel Laureates amongst its ranks while Population B has a paltry two. It obviously wouldn't be appropriate to conclude that IQs above 140 cease to matter, for the simple reason that Population B has a higher proportion of Nobel Laureates while operating on a much smaller base.

2. Pick any quantitative metric you desire and you'll definitely see it correlating positively with IQ, once the disparities in the sizes of the bases are neutralized. So, I don't buy the theory that after a certain point the validity of IQ tests as a definitive indicator of intellect decreases.

Godless:

1. "I want to take a look at the list of IEEE Third Millennium winners - there are 3000 of them - and see how many are of Asian ancestry."

That wouldn't be a fair enough observation because you'd be overlooking some crucial reasons behind the statistic. I'll have to repeat the point I made in an earlier comment :

a> I'm sure a few South Asians would figure on the list. But would anyone consider South Asian Americans a proxy for South Asians ? Definitely not. Similarly, East Asian Americans aren't a fair approximation of East Asians in general. The statistic would be meaningless unless the base was expanded. The cream of the intellectual elite of both India and China head to America so any such statistic would be misleading.

b> I'll again make use of a numerical example to explain this bit. Assume Place X has 5000 people with an IQ of 170 or more, out of a total population of 500 million. 4000 of them immigrate to Place Y which has a population of 50 million. The Xs are over represented among award winners and academia in Place Y owing to their small but selective population. But more importantly, even if ALL the people in place X immigrated to place Y, the increase in the number of award recipients wouldn't be commensurate with the increase in population of the immigrants. In fact, the increase would probably be quite small. And a far higher number of Ys would belong in that exclusive intellectual band if the necessary adjustment were made.

The direct conclusion is that the award winners are the cream of 3 billion Asians and not just the 4-5 million Asian Americans. This again would support my hypothesis of more Caucasian geniuses, since the base would be around 200 million as opposed to most of Asia.

2. "The thing is that the stat that Matloff pulled strikes me as selective...why pick this award, rather than the representation of foreign born academics at elite American universities, the number of early career awards to Asians, etc.?"

Here are the details on the following awards.

1. Fields Medals: 43 recipients - 39 Whites, 4 East Asians, 0 South Asians
2. The Rolf Nevanlinna Prize: 5 Whites, 1 South Asian.
3. National Medal(s) of Science: Of the 73 Tau Bate among the 401 recipients there are exactly 2 East Asians and 0 South Asians. Assuming America had critical mass of Asian scientists by 1980, the statistic reduces to 37 medals awarded Post 1980, with 2 East Asian recipients.

I could cite more examples but these are sufficient to demonstrate that the pattern fits well with my hypothesis.

Dienekes:

"Actually, I have seen countless studies that give the means of various population samples, some that give the standard deviation, but I have rarely seen something as simple as a histogram of the results, or better still the raw IQ scores of the Ss."

Are you sure? I have a strong hunch i'm correct but if I can't back my theory up with data I guess i'll have to rest my case.


Posted by: king kong at April 23, 2003 08:35 AM


Zizka: "A lot of your stuff is pretty close to the "My big brother can whip your big brother" level.""

Surely you must feel then the same way about all those deafening chants of “South/East Asians, South/East Asians über alles, über alles in der Welt!”? (see above).

I'll comment further tonight.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 23, 2003 09:07 AM


Boy, you hit a nerve here!
First of all, the guy is a "environmental scholar". I really think you have to be educated so that you can use the word cloning and know what you're talking about to be able to make an insightful contribution to the discussion of genetic engineering of humans. Artists and environmentalists can opine at length, and in fact I had a discussion with one, but beyond just making observations that cause people who know the meaning(s) of the word "cloning" to snort in derision, they got nothin'.

How do you make the jump from preventing an inherited disease, or even changing, for example, muscle cell differentiation signals, to behavior. Chaos theory aside(and it's a great point), we don't know of any endogenous proteins that cause any behavior. So we all NEED genetic engineering, just so we can understand what's going on in the world again. There's too much information for one person to grasp. We can't help sounding like idiots when we stray beyond our subspecialty. We could be on the cusp of the renaissance of the renaissance man...if we want to be.

Grady

Posted by: Grady at April 23, 2003 10:43 AM


I think that the reification of IQ test results verges on the ludicrous. I doubt that even the test writers themselves would take them quite that seriously. So I'll repeat, IQ tests are useful to the extent that they are the accurate measure of something else more important. Their primary use is to spot bright kids and or dull kids who need special attention. I really doubt that they were designed to differentiate between 140-160-180-200 IQs.


Comparing test results over many decades and across the Pacific is also pretty conjectural. You're not always even talking about the same test. Some people have language problems, some people test better than others (my guess is that Feynman just didn't give a shit), and the testwriters (multicultural quibbles aside) of necessity have certain biasses as to what they're going to measure -- just simple things like how much verbal vs. how much math, how much geometrical vs how much quantitative math, etc. The bias is not to complain about -- whichever choice is made is arbitrary.

For a somewhat libertarian site, the communal orientation is most peculiar. I am an American of Northern European descent, but my successes and failures are mine. And if some Finn whips my ass (politically correct example) it won't help me to whip out data about how stupid the Finns were a century or two ago.

Accomplishment mostly comes from individuals who are members of families and cultures which actively foster accomplishment. Certainly 1500-1900 western Europe had an enormous advantage, but it was basically competing against people who weren't even playing the game. East and South Asia are now definitely in the game -- except for Japan, mostly only in the last generation or two. So the answer to the big question on the board here will become clear as performance is known.

The degree of dependency of US grad schools and research on South and East Asian personnel has got to tell us something. But it might only tell us that native-born Americans listen to too much Madonna and rap and drink and screw too much. Or that there's more money in finance than science and that's where smart Americans go.

Posted by: zizka at April 23, 2003 02:45 PM


>> I don't think the division is artificial. Just look at the crusades, the colonization of India, etc.

The crusades were religious conflicts within the West. Islam and Christianity are antithetical within the context of the West, but both of them are closely related when compared with the East.

I don't consider India part of the West, BTW. India is partially Caucasoid and has been its own separate cultural sphere, occasionally touched by invaders, and occasionally radiating its culture to both East and West.

>> certainly Arabs then or now would not agree that postulating the existence of a racially related gap between them and whites is "without justification".

Well, Arabs might postulate the existence of such a gap. But such a gap pales in comparison with the gap between Arabs-Europeans and non-Caucasoids. And, in any case, Caucasoid peoples have always been conscious of intra-Caucasoid racial differences, and the main perceived difference has not always been between white Europeans and Middle-Easterners.

>> That's not to say that Arabs are not Caucasoids, but rather that your conflation of "Western civilization" with "the creations of Caucasoids" gives a defintion of "Western" so broad as to render meaningless the term itself.

That is a standard interpretation of the meaning of Western Vs. Eastern. It can be found in the groupings of cultures in Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God to cite but a single example.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 23, 2003 02:53 PM


zizka: "Before about 1900 the intellectual accomplishments of Black Africa were mostly within Islam..."

???

I must be stating the obvious to the majority of contributors to this site: Nobel Prize winner in physics for his invention of the transistor, Prof. William Shockley made a major study of I.Q. differences between races, and found that Blacks scored an average of 15 points less than Whites on every test. His conclusion was “The major deficit in Negro intellectual performance must be primarily of hereditary origin and thus relatively irremediable by any practical improvements in the environment.” The recent study by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, published as “The Bell Curve” (The Free Press, London, 1994), came up with an identical disparity between Black and White I.Q. scores, and argued that I.Q. is largely genetic and hereditary.
As an indication of incapacity, prior to the entry of the Whites to Africa, Blacks had no written languages (Africans had an “oral tradition”), no conception of numerals, no ploughs and no wheels. English historian Arnold J. Toynbee in his monumental masterpiece A Study of History (Oxford University Press, 1957), said in summary “The Black race alone has not contributed positively to any civilization.” The British Association for the Advancement of Science concurred in its 1961 statement: “No contribution to the arts of civilization has come from Africa, which has produced nothing but destruction and ruinous exploitation of its natural resources.” Show me one successful African country! The U.S. has done some extraordinary things for Black people; there is simply nowhere else in the world where people with an African background are better-off in every sense of the word.

Zizka and the Finns:

The Finns are one of the most sophisticated people in the world. Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995, and with only 5.2 million inhabitants Finland has an extremely advanced industrial economy: the metal, engineering and electronics industries account for 50 % of export revenues. Finland is also one of the leading countries in Internet use. Today, there are more mobile phone than fixed network subscriptions (as to their contribution to "History" see Online: http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/facteng.html).

Posted by: nietzsche at April 23, 2003 03:06 PM


"That's not to say that Arabs are not Caucasoids, but rather that your conflation of "Western civilization" with "the creations of Caucasoids" gives a defintion of "Western" so broad as to render meaningless the term itself. Is the civilization of the Arabian peninsula, and the Indian subcontinent to be considered "Western Civilization", then? "

&

"nor (Dienekes style :) ) believers in a mythic unified Caucaso-Western civilization."

Godless, it is not unusual or outside of mainstream historical opinion to consider the middle-east part of Western civilization. Razib and Dienekes are actually in agreement (from this very thread):

"i have talked before that there are three real civilizations-western, that includes the middle east, indian and chinese. all other civilizations are really partially derivatives or combinations."

Posted by: Jason Malloy at April 23, 2003 03:26 PM


I would like to ad that I consider the Jewish people as basically European. The Jews have always been members of Western civilization, and their cintribution to it has been significant. As a matter of fact, I consider the Jews a European race.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 23, 2003 03:55 PM


>> We are not Hindutva advocates, nor Chinese nationalists, nor Afrocentrist, nor (Dienekes style :) ) believers in a mythic unified Caucaso-Western civilization.

As there is a hierarchy of relatedness in terms of genes, there is a hierarchy of relatedness in terms of civilization. The Caucasoid peoples are most related to each other in terms of both genes and culture than they are to non-Caucasoids (except of course when Caucasoid culture was adopted by non-Caucasoids, as e.g., in the case of African Americans).

Sure, we can further subdivide Caucasoids both in terms of genes (although their similarities are greater than the differences, compared to other races), and in terms of cultural aspects.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 23, 2003 04:09 PM


godless: "I didn't mean to come across as presenting a brief on East/South Asian "superiority". First of all, we avoid that sort of language here (b/c it's dumb - we're generally comparing vectors, not scalars)."

Even if you did, so what? As long as it's done in the pursuit of scientific and historic truth, I don't have a problem with it. The fact is, something, somewhere will always offend someone's delicate sensibilities. If we followed p.c. commissars' reasoning to its logical conclusion we would stop all inquiry into a host of issues because the findings might cause "racial tensions" or they might have a negative impact on someone's "self-esteem". It is psychologically primitive p.c. people like comrade Mac Diva who are a real threat to science and learning. They are just unable to handle opinions and research that conflicts with your pre-conceived, dogmatic world-view.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 23, 2003 04:47 PM


i am going to post on the blog that will hopefully draw away some of the comments so a new thread will start. we have gone off topic for this topic.

Posted by: razib at April 23, 2003 04:57 PM


My point about the Finns was historical. From the point of view of 1700 or even 1800 the Finns had contributed nothing much to civilization. They were a lowly peasant people in a backward area. The Finns' present success was my motive for mentioning that they haven't been on the scene very long.

So what about the Mordvins.

Posted by: zizka at April 23, 2003 06:56 PM


"My point about the Finns was historical. From the point of view of 1700 or even 1800 the Finns had contributed nothing much to civilization.

As to Finns contribution to "History" see Online: http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/facteng.html). When you take into consideration their relatively small numbers, the Finns have contributed in a significant way to Western civilization. But anyway, the accomplishments of Europeans really speak for themselves.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 23, 2003 07:27 PM


Tejas wrote:

"The proportion of Nobel Laureates among those having IQs in the range 130-140 is far less that the proportion of Nobel Laureates among those having IQs in the range 140-150 even though the base of the former is much bigger. Get my drift ?"

Tejas, are you referring here to an actual survey of the IQs of Nobel Laureates or are you just speaking hypothetically?

Posted by: Jesse M. at April 23, 2003 07:57 PM


godless: "In any event, nietzsche's contention that no significant contributions to civilization originated outside of Europe is incorrect."

When did I say that, i.e., that *only* Europeans contributed anything to civilization? This is what I actually wrote: "No one will dispute that fact that Western cultures have produced the most extensive list of ethnically/genetically European geniuses in every field of science and art, from Pythagoras and Aristotle down to Voltaire, Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, etc., etc., etc., even as they vastly expanded their numbers and the territory controlled by their race by conquering and dominating less advanced races. The scientific, cultural, literary, political, philosphical, musical (the genius of classical music is a purely European invention) etc. contributions of Europeans is so immense and total as to utterly dwarf by comparison East/South Asians." And I stand by that statement.

Posted by: nietzsche at April 24, 2003 12:16 AM


I'm pretty suspicious of counting the number of "geniuses" an ethnic group has produced and assuming that reflects something about their genetics. For example, look at the geniuses in science from Newton's time on to the late 19th century--pretty much all white europeans from Christian cultures. An observer at the time might have said that the Jews had a high intelligence for things like calculations and verbal arguments, but very little real "genius." But then compare with the twentieth century, where suddenly you have an explosion of Jewish scientific geniuses. Surely nothing genetic had changed--I think this just shows the overriding importance of cultural factors in the question of which groups are most likely to produce geniuses at a given point in history.

Posted by: Jesse M. at April 24, 2003 09:35 AM


Godless:

Whew ! Finally someone agrees with me. A few minor quibbles ...

1. "I'm not aware of a definitive study that shows a lower variance for East Asian IQ "

I'll make use of a numerical example again to demonstrate why variance is irrelevant to this discourse. I know this isn't the ideal way to illustrate my ideas and is probably pretty annoying but I find it simpler than explaining it non-mathematically. This is an oversimplified model but should do the trick.

Consider two populations A and B having the same population, say 1 million. They also have almost identical mean IQs that i've approximated at 100.

The distribution of population A is as follows:
500,000 have IQs of 55
499,990 have IQs of 145
10 have IQs of 200

The distribution of population B is as follows:
500,000 have IQs of 60
499,500 have IQs of 140
500 have IQs of 200

Population A will have a higher variance than population B though the latter has the bulk of the geniuses.

So, even if two populations have similar mean IQs and similar variances it won't tell us anything about the extreme right end of the Bell Curve.


2."The favorable reference to David Duke ..."

Yikes !! I'll repeat i'm no fan of David Duke. I find his ideas on miscegenation and the tacit approval of the Indian caste system particularly abhorrent. Still, it makes no sense to dismiss everything he says as the rantings of a white-supremacist bigot.

3. "There are three Asians among them (Chu, Tsui, Koshiba) and at least three or four Jews (probably more)."

That's still an under-representation. Since the Chinese and Japanese are genetically similar to a great degree, the scenario I expect for East Asians in the future is that the entire lot wins Nobels at the same per-capita rate as the Japanese. I'll admit there's an upward trend for the Japanese but the lower median IQ of China negates the possible positives of that trend.

Jesse:

Those numbers were hypothetical, I was only trying to drive home my point by taking a numerical example.

I'll however try to corroborate my theory using actual numbers on Nobel Laureates.

Posted by: king kong at April 24, 2003 09:53 AM


I've lived in the US and in Costa Rica, and have spent time in Jamaica and Bermuda. Although I will accept Neitzsche's claim that African Americans are better off than African Africans, IMHO Afro-Carribians have a better overall lifestyle, expecially level of education, articulation, and amiability than African Americans have. Africans in Bermuda have a higher median income and to me a much "better" culture than those in the US. African Americans also have shorter life-expectancies than Africans in the Carribean and in Bermuda.

Posted by: michaelvassar at April 24, 2003 10:00 AM


Tejas wrote:

"Those numbers were hypothetical, I was only trying to drive home my point by taking a numerical example.

I'll however try to corroborate my theory using actual numbers on Nobel Laureates."

Thanks, I'd be interested to see any data that's out there about the IQ of Nobel Laureates (or any other group whose achievements mark them as 'geniuses'). Since I am skeptical that differences between IQ scores above 140 or so are very meaningful, I would not necessarily predict that the relative proportion of, say, 150-160 IQs vs 140-150 IQs among Nobel Laureates is much higher than in the general population.

Posted by: Jesse M. at April 24, 2003 10:29 AM


An example of a "cultural" what I would call "institutional" effect on accomplishment.

The French are not very athletic. Except in soccer and bicycling, they ahve virtually no impact, and their champion soccer team had a lot of North Africans on it.

Is this genetic? I doubt it. There have been two French Olympic winners in track in modern history that I know of, Jazy and Dru. It turns out that they came from one small blue-collar neighborhood (outside Paris, I think), and that Dru idealized Jazy all his life. Is this area genetically different, or is it a place which is an exception to France's general indifference to sports?

Geniusses in classical music mostly come from places where everybody is involved in music, there are lots of teachers, promising students get free lessons, there are concerts everywhere, instruments are easy to get, etc. The English have a very, very weak classical tradition. Why? Probably because of the anti-musical direction of the English Reformation: the non-conformists were opposed to music, and the Anglicans did not give music the emphasis that Germans (Catholic, Lutheran, or Jewish) did.

Posted by: zizka at April 24, 2003 10:32 AM