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November 08, 2003


“The comparison of IQ scores of different nationalities is, at best, a hazardous enterprise, to be undertaken with caution and humility, and at worst, a nonsensical and mischievous waste of time” - N. J. Mackintosh.

From time to time writers on GNXP and elsewhere compare the IQ of populations in different countries, even those with widely different economic and cultural circumstances. As a notable example, Richard Lynn has produced a table setting out (alleged) comparative IQs for dozens of countries.

In comments on previous posts I have questioned these comparisons, but it may be useful to offer a more systematic critique for discussion. My main point is that differences in average IQ scores between developed and underdeveloped countries cannot be taken as reliably indicating any difference in innate capacity.

First, there are great technical difficulties in finding tests that are suitable for international comparisons. This should be obvious enough in the case of tests with a large verbal content, but is also true of non-verbal tests such as Raven’s Matrices. Such tests are highly artificial, and bear no resemblance to anything that the testees encounter in their daily life. In attempting to test illiterate or uneducated people (whether children or adults), it is often difficult to get them to see the point of the questions (Mackintosh, p.181-2, gives some amusing examples). Philip Vernon, who had huge experience of testing around the world, pointed out that sometimes ‘a sizeable proportion of the testees turn out to be ‘non-starters’... They are willing to try, and we have reason to believe that the test discriminates down to their level of ability, yet they just don’t get the hang of what they are supposed to do’ (Vernon, [1], p.101). Testees in this category either fail to answer the questions at all (in which case their zero scores will drag down the average), or they make random or near-random guesses. The latter is more dangerous, because in tests with multiple-choice format, and a scoring system that does not penalise wrong answers, even random guessing may produce an apparent IQ of 50 or 60. Jensen ([3], p.416), has pointed out that some African test results may be invalid for this reason. It is also well-known that ‘unsophisticated’ testees improve their scores substantially with greater test-familiarity. Vernon ([2], p24), concludes that ‘children (or adults) who are sophisticated or trained in tackling multiple-choice items, following instructions, and working at speed have on average about a 10-point advantage... over those who are unfamiliar with objective tests’.

However, even assuming that the technical difficulties can be overcome, my main point is that even a large difference (say, 20 points) in mean IQ between a developed country like the USA, and an underdeveloped country, cannot safely be taken as evidence of an innate, genetic difference.

Even the staunchest hereditarians do not deny that environment has some influence on IQ. Estimates of heritability (the proportion of total variance attributable to genetic factors) within modern western populations vary widely according to the methods used. In his recent survey Jensen ([3], p.446) concludes that reputable studies give estimates ‘that range mostly between .40 and .60 for children and adolescents, and between .60 and .80 for adults’. The evidence for higher heritability among adults is debatable (see Mackintosh, p.92-3), but for the sake of argument let us assume that after allowing for random error variance (correcting for attenuation) heritability is as high as .80, leaving environment to account for the remaining .20 of the variance. This still leaves room for a large influence of environment - larger than the figure of .20 may suggest to the unwary. If we conceptualise the quality of environment (QE) as a single continuous variable (which is admittedly somewhat artificial, but no more so than the IQ scale itself), the correlation between IQ and QE will be root-.20, or about .45. (See Jensen, [1], p.401, or [2], p.137.) This means that for every difference of one standard deviation in quality of environment, we will expect to find a difference of nearly 7 IQ points (assuming an IQ s.d. of 15 points), on purely environmental grounds. Thus, if we take a ‘very bad’ environment as 2 sigmas below the mean, and a ‘very good’ environment as 2 sigmas above the mean, then we will expect someone of average genetic quality, but a very bad environment, to have an IQ about 13 points below the population mean, and about 26 points below someone of equal genetic quality in a very good environment.

Of course, heritability estimates derived from one population cannot be automatically extended to different populations, or to a combination or more than one population. However, as Jensen has cogently argued, it is possible to draw plausible inferences from within-group to between-group heritability (e.g. Jensen [2] p.133-148). It seems reasonable to suppose that whatever elements enter into ‘quality of environment’, the QE in underdeveloped countries (e.g. Africa or the illiterate rural populations of many countries in Asia and Latin America) is usually at least 2 sigmas below the mean of modern western countries. Certainly this would be the case if we take such indicators as income per head, life expectancy, infant mortality, nutrition, parasite infection, or parental education and literacy. As Jensen himself has said ([3], p. 460), ‘on a scale of environmental quality with respect to mental development, these adverse environmental conditions [in third-world countries] probably fall more than 2 sigma below the average environment experienced by the majority of whites and very many blacks in America’. On this basis, we would expect average IQ in a third-world country to be at least 13 points below the western average, even if the genetic endowment is equal. And of course this is assuming a high heritability estimate of .80. If we take a more modest estimate of .60 (which is more appropriate for children or adolescents, who are the usual test subjects in these comparisons), then the correlation between IQ and QE would be root-.40, or approximately .63. This would give an expected IQ difference of about 19 points for 2 sigmas difference in QE, which is close to the difference actually observed between western and most third-world populations.

If this seems a very tortuous argument, there is a simpler and more direct way of appreciating the possible effect of environment. It is well-known that average IQ in most western countries has been increasing at a rate of at least 3 points per decade for at least 5 decades (the so-called Flynn Effect). The cumulative increase since the 1930s is probably around 20 IQ points. It is also generally agreed that the causes underlying the increase are mainly environmental (I’m aware that increased heterosis may also have contributed, but this can’t have been a major factor). It also seems reasonable to suppose that environmental conditions in the US or Europe in the 1930s were already at least as good as in many third-world countries today. It follows that a difference of about 20 points can be accounted for by environmental circumstances.

Of course, none of this implies that differences in IQ (if they are genuine indicators of relative intelligence, and not just the results of inappropriate tests), are unimportant. If people are stupid, this has implications for politics, economics, and society, regardless of why they are stupid. But if the causes are primarily environmental, this does at least raise the hope that economic growth and wider education will improve the situation.


A. R. Jensen: [1] Educational Differences, 1973
A. R. Jensen: [2] Educability and Group Differences, 1973
A. R. Jensen: [3] The G Factor, 1998
N. J. Mackintosh: IQ and Human Intelligence, 1998
P. E. Vernon: [1] Intelligence and Cultural Environment, 1969
P. E. Vernon: [2] Intelligence: Heredity and Environment, 1979.

[Note: this is just a small selection of references. I have cited Jensen frequently because no-one, presumably, will argue that he is biased towards an 'environmentalist' position.]

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November 07, 2003

Left-Right convergence?

On idealistic stupidity that is... Standard tests for special ed draw fire

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to test students and report the scores to show that they are meeting high academic standards, nearly all special-education students have to take the same tests as others their age. And they are expected to score on par with their peers by 2013-14.
"The reality is that for too long, we haven't expected enough and we've made too many excuses that these kids cannot learn," said Robert Pasternack, the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary for special education.

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November 06, 2003

Income inequality in Latin America

Graph from The Economist:

Here is the full article.

Posted by razib at 10:03 PM | | TrackBack

What the government touches....

The New York Times reports that India is taking a more aggressive tack in population control. Much of it involves demanding elites (members of legislatures and village councils) to limit their procreation. I don't think that's the right way to go personally-and as the article points out, some states have had success limiting population growth, but more through economic development and social awareness than by government fiat. Finally, note the wide variance in population growth in the different states of India. One good thing about the current policies are that they are locally directed rather than a federal project.

China's one child policy has been a success-but China is an authoritarian state. Nations where freedom is a central principle of organization can not it seems enforce something as draconian as the one child policy-even in a diluted fashion, without undermining their values and debasing the legitimacy of the political system.

Posted by razib at 09:57 PM | | TrackBack

New change of clothes

Generic article about sex & evolution over @ Newsweek. The only thing of interest, they call some dude a "biopsychologist," another term for evolutionary psychologist & sociobiologist. Guess he needed to out-run Torquemada's on the look-out for evolutionary psychologists, next, it'll be psycho-biologists!

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Communication via anus

The frontiers of science keep expanding. New research indicates that bubbles observed coming out of a herring's anus produce a high pitched noise that may aid in keeping the shoals together after dark.

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At 12.20 UK time, MICHAEL HOWARD was announced as the new leader of the British Conservative Party.

For those who care about such matters, Mr Howard is Welsh. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Transylvania (Hungary or Romania according to date) who moved to Britain in the 1930s. Michael Howard himself is said to attend a liberal synagogue on Jewish feast days and other special occasions.

I think this makes Mr Howard the first practising Jew to be leader of a major political party in Britain. Benjamin Disraeli, Tory Prime Minister in the 1860s, was Jewish by ancestry, but baptised as a Christian. Lord Rosebery, a Liberal Prime Minister in the 1890s, married a Rothschild heiress (always a smart move) but was not Jewish himself. Mr Howard is married to a blonde former fashion model, which is also a smart move (oops, I first typed model as mohel - which is a very Freudian slip!)

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November 05, 2003

Interesting Study about the Malleability of Peoples' Opinons

Little disgusts me more than the praising of the "swing voter" or "moderate," who is not "fair and balanced" (most of the time)*, but rather is ignorant of politics. Worst, because of peoples' malleability in areas they don't think about much (politics is often one of them), they are likely to have simply picked up the leftist beliefs they were taught in school and by the media. Part of the reason Bush is so leftist on domestic issues (ie being in support of large spending increases, pro-open borders, pro-affirmative action, anti-'racial profiling,' soft on gun control, etc) is because a significant number, if not the majority, of the vaunted "swing voters" and "middle Americans" are leftists themselves, due to a combination of ignorance and apathy about politics and a leftist school system and media.

Here is an article about the myth of the virtuousness of swing voters.

As to the political malleablity of the average person, who does not think about politics much, read this article excerpt (from "Verbal Reports on Mental Processes", Nisbett and Wilson, Psychological Review, 1977, p. 236). The study in the excerpt (Goethals and Reckman, 1973) shows that peoples' opinons can be easily changed on controversial issues (busing to force racial integration in the schools was a major controversial issue in 1973 when the study was done). Moreover, the study shows people do not even realize that their opinions have been changed.

"[I]nvestigators assessed the opinions of high school students on 30 social issues, including attitudes toward busing of schoolchildren to achieve racial integration. One to two weeks later, students were called and asked to participate in a group discussion of the busing issue. Each group was composed of three subjects whose pretest opinions indicated that they were all pro-busing or all anti-busing, plus one high school student confederate who was armed with a number of persuasive opinions and whose job it was to argue persistently against the opinion held by all other group members. He was highly successful in this task. Following the discussion, subjects indicated their opinions on the busing issue--on a scale different in form from the original measure. The original anti-busing subjects had their opinions sharply moderated in a pro-direction. Most of the pro-busing subjects were actually converted to an anti-busing position. Then Goethals and Reckman asked their subjects to recall, as best they could, what their original opinions on the busing question had been. Subjects were reminded that the experimenters were in possession of the original opinion scale and would check the accuracy of the subjects' recall. Control subjects were able to recall their original opinions with high accuracy. In contrast, among experimental subjects, the original anti-busing subjects "recalled" their opinions as having been much more pro-busing than they actually were, while the original pro-busing subjects actually recalled their original opinions as having been, on the average, anti-busing! In fact, the original pro-busing subjects recalled that they had been more anti-busing than the original anti-busing subjects recalled they had been."

*Yes, I know Godless is a "swing voter," but he is definintely a special case. Most "swing voters" are not sitting around studying h-bd issues and reading extensively about politics. Also (at least it seems to me), the reason (in addition to social/religous issues) that Godless is not in a hurry to vote straight-ticket Republican is that he sees the Republicans (especially GWB) as often being just as weak or weaker than the Dems on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and controlling the budget, which is a common 'right-wing' viewpoint.

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ParaPundit comments on the exhortations of a Norwegian Minister to Norwegian Muslims to assimilate Norwegian values. A thought that I had: Many European countries have small enough non-indigenous minorities that it is practical to "fix" their ethnic problems (via assimilation, reformed immigration policies, etc.), but they do not have the ideological tools/historical experiences (in the recent past). In contrast, the United States has (had) the tools, but the numbers of "visible minorities" may have reached a point where practical implementations of reformation are blocked by political realities.

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November 04, 2003

Neocon schmeocon

Some readers might find this long article on Neocons interesting (warning: they term Noam Chomsky a "paleocon"-I thought he was "libertarian socialist"? Yeah, you read that right....).

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This is important: Genetics to reveal if you should eat your broccoli.

Nutrigenomics would help people tailor their diets to emphasize certain nutrients and food combinations in a more personalized way than the standard food pyramid.

I have often wondered if America's obesity epidemic is partially due to the diverse mixture of various peoples and culinary traditions-and the tendency to sample various dishes and national cuisines.

Posted by razib at 04:32 PM | | TrackBack

A decadent age

Some evangelical Christian pollsters have an interesting survey on morality online. The general conclusion? Morality Continues to Decay. A few other points:

  • There is a big gap in social conservatism between the general "Born Again" and "Evangelical" categories. Many general interest magazines trumpet conservative American Christianity by citing the 30-40% "Born Again" figure, but many of these individuals aren't that religiously conservative. Those who identify themselves as Evangelical though are in fact far more conservative than the typical American, and the Barna survey notes that non-evangelical Born Again Christians are more similar in their views to the general public than they are to Evangelical Born Again Christians. In a similar vein, Bainbridge and Stark in The Future of Religion note that liberal and moderate American Christians are socially clustered with the non-religious rather than conservative Christians (for example, what movies you watch). One problem that the general public has is that they often conflate Born Again, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. The latter are the loudest, and so their views are projected to the larger clusters in which they are embedded. For instance, the conception that Evangelicals are all Creationists is belied by the existance of The American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Evangelical scientists who reject Creationism.
  • Moral permissiveness is negatively correlated with age. In other words, the young are more tolerant of various behaviors than the old. This flies in the face of idiotic sociological pronouncements asserting that the gen-Y and gen-X cohorts have recoiled from the free & liberated ways of their baby boomer parents, in fact, baby boomers are more conservative than gen-Y and gen-X (though yes, the boomers might have become more conservative as they age-nevertheless, attitudes toward homosexuality are probably more tolerant among the young today than in the 1960s).

Posted by razib at 04:15 PM | | TrackBack

Checking in from Houston

Dear readers,

Been busy recently-business trip to Houston, etc. So as you see, I haven't been blogging much (additionally, I also make behind-the-scenes-changes on this blog technically, so sometimes you don't notice what I do). But, I have read some books, had some thoughts, etc. which I will elaborate, summate, etc. when I get back to Imbler in a few days.

On the flight out I read Adam Bellow's In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History. The first 2/3 of the book, ranging from evolutionary biology to cultural history, will interest readers of this blog (something I didn't know: the medieval Catholic Church campaigned against adoption), though I suspect the last 1/3 that focuses on modern day socio-political dynasties and current affairs will be less illuminating (you can get much of this material in high-brow newspapers & magazines). Overall, a pretty good book-ignore the low-ball rating from Amazon, people are attacking Bellow's normative conclusions & assertions, not his scholarship.

I also re-read Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. I'm more politically conservative than when I first read this book (more honestly, skimmed back then), so I suspect that is one reason I was more infuriated by the descriptions of Bobo pretentiousness. Overall, you could probably get the gist from Brooks' pieces scattered across various magazines, but the book rolls it all into one. I have to be honest and say that I kind of hate the fakery of Bobo culture, but I am one too.... (sigh)

Finally, just purchased Human Accomplishment by Charles Murray. Plan to read it on the flight out back to Imbler-will report in detail when done.


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Definitional issues

A recent Harris Poll found that 4% of atheists/agnostics are absolutely certain that there is a God. What about the term atheist or agnostic don't they get? Of course, 4% of Catholics and 2% of Protestants are certain that there is no God. Please read The Nicene Creed.

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November 03, 2003

Guns & demographics

Richard Poe has an article titled Guns and Demography over @ Lew Rockwell.

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November 02, 2003

Texas textbooks & evolution....

Textbooks at center of evolution debate. Of course, this is national news because it's Texas, which serves as a limiting reagent nationally because it buys in such bulk.

Posted by razib at 10:08 PM | | TrackBack

Neoconservative shaman for our age

Vic Hanson has a new piece in City Journal, Why History Has No End, that ranges widely over foreign affairs and the European-American relationship. Two things that caught my eye. First:

Europeans say that sober reflection on their own checkered past has taught them to reject wars of the nation-state, to mediate, not deter, and to trust in Enlightenment rationality instead of primitive emotions surrounding God and country.

& then:

The Founders saw the café theorizing of Continental elites and French philosophers as a danger to good government, which requires not some grand, all-encompassing blueprint but rather institutional checks and balances and a citizenry of perennially vigilant individual citizens.

On the first point, I find it ironic that Victor Davis Hanson sneers at the Enlightenment. His philo-Hellenism and relative neglect of Rome and unified Catholic Christendom in the formation of our civilization falls into the classic pattern of historians like Will Durant who conceived the history of the West as a great Dark Age after the decline of Greece (specifically Democratic Athens) and before the 18th century Enlightenment. Secondly, the system of checks & balances that the founders enacted owes much to the French political philosopher Montesquieu. I assume Vic Hanson knew this-but couldn't resist the one-liner. From what I can see, even if Victor Davis Hanson is a sage whom conservatives look to to justify their policies (though he remains a registered Democrat), he certainly lacks a conservative temperament and espouses the views of mid-20th century liberal historians.

Posted by razib at 08:56 PM | | TrackBack

The two methods

A few weeks ago I read an old review (PDF format) of several books (Race, Evolution and Behavior, Human Biodiversity, The Bell Curve and The Evolution of Racism) by occasional Gene Expression reader & anthropologist Henry Harpending. This section caught my attention:

Two polar ways of understanding the world are induction and deduction. Induction, generalizing from data to principles, is the foundation of scholarship and of most social science. Deduction, the formulation of models and the attempt to falsify them by comparing the prediction of models to what is observed, is the foundation of natural science. Natural science is an aesthetically barren way of understanding but it has led us to bridges that stand up and airplanes that stay in the air. Induction and scholarship on the other hand hardly ever lead to new understandings about the world. We can defend the claim that twentieth century natural science is better than nineteenth century natural science but there is little basis to claim that twentieth century art criticism, history and social science are better than their nineteenth century counterparts.
Imagine, for example, that we were to approach chemistry by social science techniques. We would spend a lot of money measuring anyting measurable about substances and materials around us. With modern computers we would create a huge database, and modern software would make any patterns readily apparent. We would discover, for example, that there was a correlation between "conducts electricity" and "shininess." In the jargon we would say that "shininess" is a determinant of conducting electricity. Another group would find that "density" is also a determinant of conducting electricity. Papers would appear discussing whether density is a determinant of shininess or shininess of density. None of this would get us close to the periodic table or anywhere near modern chemistry. Meanwhile policy experts would advocate polishing household machinery, to make it shinier, so it would be more efficient. Universities would be plagued with workshops on shining things up. All these applications of empirical knowledge would follow from the linguistic sleight of mind equating "determinant" with "cause."

(originally published in Evolutionary Anthropology, my emphasis)

Now, Henry makes a few broad sweeps and generalizations (to get to the point of making a model, obviously scientists using induction to note patterns)[1]. But:

  • His conception of inductive chemistry is very funny
  • And somewhat similar to the sort of "science" that some non-Western or classical cultures practice(d)
  • Has served as the spark for some recent thoughts by me on the relationship between science, scholarship and the uses of both which I will elaborate later on when I have more time

I also emphasized the point that Henry makes that science is aesthetically barren. We can all imagine the typical college educated person curling up with a thousand page book on the Russian Revolution-but it is a stretch of the imagination to imagine them wiling away holiday hours on the beach with a Calculus text[2]. Why is this? I think it is obvious that some of our aesthetic sensibility is shaped by our evolution, so some of us are pre-disposed to find history, social science and the liberal arts, interesting and accessible in a way that technical modern science is not and has never been to the vast majority of the human race. And if we have an evolutionary predisposition to something, it implies that whatever that thing is, has been around for a long time, ergo, history, social science, fiction, etc. have been around for a long time, what I refer to as "storytelling." In contrast, modern science is a new thing, and it tends to jar our sensibilities and fly in the face of intuition.

More later....

fn1. I was also told in freshmen chemistry by my professor that Mendeleev's Periodic Table was created mostly through induction.

fn2. We all laughed when candidate Bush asserted that he was reading a biography of Dean Acheson. Nevertheless, we would really have thought it was weird if he said he was reading an organic chemistry text.

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