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June 18, 2004

The Asian smart fraction

Griffe is arguing that overall IQ score overpredicts East Asian GDP because their verbal IQ is lower. The standard caveats on Lynn's data-sets apply. Also, a few other question marks:

1) Griffe looks at Ph.D.'s awarded to Asian Americans, and notes more in science and engineering, and fewer in other fields. He also notes the lower rate of passage of the bar among Asian Americans (after offering cautions about the clustering of various Asian groups together). My personal anecdotal impression is that the representation in fields like law among Asian American is directly proportional to the average length of residence of the immigrant group in the United States. That is, Japanese Americans are more well represented among lawyers than South Asian Americans or Taiwanese Americans because they are long term residents of the United States who are fully acculturated and have a full command of the all the basic idioms from a young age because of their parental & peer (native American) environment. In contrast, fields like engineering or medicine are more technical, so cultural fluency is less relevant.

2) Griffe offers a hypothesis about how Northeast Asians attained higher visuo-spatial IQs because of their hunter-gather environment. I have been skeptical of the idea that the IQs of modern day populations have origins at such a far remove from the present epoch before, so I won't repeat myself, but I find it curious that Northeast Asians excel in technical professionals when historically their cultures lionized literary intellectuals (more so Chinese and Koreans than the Japanese). That is, Confucian Mandarins attained their high status through passing examinations that were focused on interpretations of elements of the literary canon. Though the Chinese were a numerate people, my personal impression from reading history of science is that they were mathematically unoriginal in comparison to the Indians or Greeks, though their engineering feats have been noted. Richard Nisbett's Geography of Thought offers a tentative socio-cultural hypothesis for why East Asians do well on the visuo-spatial section of IQ tests (see my post).

3) I could bring up many quibbles with the specifics, but Griffe implies that the low verbal IQ (relatively) makes East Asians underperforming capitalists, but this only seems to apply in their homelands, as Chinese do well in southeast Asia, and in the United States, Korean shop-keepers abound (who are stereotypically not big talkers). Rather than verbal IQ, there seems to be strong socio-cultural constraints that prevent East Asian economies from going into over-drive generally (and there are always the specifics like Hong Kong, Singapore or Japan which might be pointers to the fully realized future).

It seems to me, assuming much of what Griffe says is accurate (and I think I have signalled my skepticism on the specifics), a society with both the technically proficient and verbally adept is optimal for the material well-being of all. In any case, I think the verbal IQ gap is small enough that Griffe's case is much weaker here than it was when he was analyzing Jews.

Posted by razib at 03:27 PM