Friday, December 09, 2005

Jason on Seed on Pinker on Cochran on Jews   posted by Jason Malloy @ 12/09/2005 01:00:00 PM

Seed magazine has an article on Pinker's recent lecture at the Institute for Jewish Research, but the author recommends you listen to the podcast instead so you can hear her "authentic New York Jewish accent" which is vital to the piece, which doesn't discuss the theory so much as make fun of the audience (the article is sarcastically titled Jews on Jews: Jews are Great).

The author, (who is sympathetic enough to Pinker's presentation) is being light-hearted, but there is also a serious message:
And many [Jews] in attendance were there to hear that Jews are naturally smarter than everyone else.

So now they'll head out into the world, and spread the twisted word in their homes, at parties, in op-ed columns. And a paper that proposed an intriguing and plausible theory, and the man who eloquently analyzed it, will cause an impassioned backlash. Would that people were like genes and the deleterious ones weren't so darn dominant.

In reality though, a Jewish audience being open-minded for the "wrong" reasons and then heading to the media, is probably preferable (or at least more conducive to the scientific study of intelligence) than a Jewish audience being close-minded for the wrong reasons and heading to the media. Pinker and his audience are a welcome alternative to the vacuousness of much of Jennifer Senior's cover story for New York Metro a couple of months ago, where we were informed that, despite passing peer-review, Greg and Henry's paper is based on "exploit[ing] stereotypes" and does "not meet the standards of traditional scientific scholarship". The Metro article was chock full of helpful critiques such as "I'd actually call the study bullshit", along with de rigueur comparisons to cold fusion and Hitler (and Arthur Jensen's earlier attempts to "prove the racial inferiority" of blacks, etc.), and plenty of strategically cultivated misunderstandings (e.g. all Jews are smart).

Take as another example this op-ed last week in the Jerusalem Post. This author uses scare-quotes to describe the study as "scientific", and also suggests that most scientists think it's so much crankishness. Worse still the author goes on to tell us - "as an educator"; his professional opinion, of course - that we all have equal potential, and that "Psychologists maintain that the average person uses only 5-7% of that potential". It's doubtful from what I've read that any psychologists maintain this, and it sounds suspiciously like he's just parroting the sorry old wives' tale that "you only use 10% of your brain" (his number might come from pathological scientific fraud, Margaret Mead, who asserted we only use 6%).

In other words those who are being supportive, may or may not being doing so out of a self-serving feeling of "superiority", but at least they aren't slipping into absurd arguments or emotional bendings of the truth to do so, which is more than can be said for most people who have decided to take a "skeptical" [sic] stance.

Another problem for those that use bad arguments, is that they may not need to, and in fact may needlessly discredit their position with all of their tom-foolery. In fact a much bigger potential problem with the Ashkenazi theory isn't Jennifer Senior's "damning" condemnation of the paper's highly unscientific "lack of footnotes" [1], but may be with the psychometric data itself. As a new "In-Press" review of Richard Lynn's upcoming book Race Differences in Intelligence points out:
Another anomaly is that the IQ of Israel is only about 95, which although substantially higher than the median IQ of 85 found elsewhere in the region, is much lower than the IQ of Jews outside of Israel, estimated at between 108 and 115. Lynn breaks the Israeli IQ into three components: 40% Ashkenazim (European Jewish) with a mean IQ of 103; 40% Sephardim (Oriental Jewish) with a mean IQ of 91; and 20% Arab with a mean IQ of 86, which is virtually the same as that of Arabs elsewhere. Lynn suggests these differences could have arisen from selective migration (more intelligent Jews emigrated to Britain and the USA), intermarriage with different IQ populations (those in Europe versus those in North Africa), selective survival through persecution (European Jews were the most persecuted), and the inclusion of ethnic non Jews among the Ashkenazim in Israel as a result of the immigration of people from the former Soviet Bloc countries who posed as Jews.

103 is not appreciably different from the IQ of US whites (103 in the NLSY data, 102 in other datasets), and is noticeably lower than the area of Europe where Ashkenazi IQ was supposedly forged (e.g., the region of the Netherlands and Germany has IQs in the area of 106-107 [2]). Given that Lynn thinks this is an "anomaly" to be explained, he would seem to feel compelled by his data that Ashkenazi IQ in Israel is 103, rather than just manipulating a score he wants to see.

This would seem to pose a more significant problem for the Cochran-Harpending paper, than a lack of footnotes. I myself am skeptical of Lynn's numbers though, and await his book. Earlier reports of Ashkenazi IQ in Israel have been cited in Miles Storfer's Intelligence and Giftedness as 115 and higher, so it will be interesting to see Lynn's citations. And of course, there are other lines of evidence indicating a disproportionate amount of smart coming out of Israel.

Anyway, I'd rather skeptics exist but actually look skeptical in their criticisms, instead of, say, complaining about footnotes, misrepresenting the theory, or just using denial (e.g. asserting something was caused by genetic drift even after mathematical models point strongly against this).

[1] An ironic criticism, given that Charles Murray recently pointed out in How to Accuse the Other Guy of Lying with Statistics that many critics of The Bell Curve claimed that key bits of information were "buried" or "hidden" in footnotes - as if to deceive. Not sure how putting something in a footnote is "hiding" it, but just goes to show that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't with race and intelligence.

[2] According to Buj's European data at least. It is likely that these are biased upward with urban samples. Averaged across multiple studies and standardizations, these countries have IQs just like American whites - about 102-103.