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June 18, 2005

PLOS update

After nearly 2 years I think PLOS has come really far. We link to their papers often, and some of their reviews by freelance journalists have been really informative. In any case, just so you know next month PLOS Genetics premiers. They have a preview of an interview with Dr. Neil Risch up. Risch is notable for two reasons, 1) he defends the idea of race as a genetically coherent concept (this is alluded to in the preview) and 2) he has put forward the standard model that diseases like Tay Sachs are the result of genetic drift cranked up due to extreme founder effect within Jewish populations.

Posted by razib at 02:16 PM | | TrackBack

An Emerging Media Consensus?

While the New York Times has been effectively race-realist for a while now, the domino-effect may be under way. Today Canada's own New York Times, the Globe and Mail, offered a five-inch headline: 'Race', and this article on The New Science of Race. The catalyst is once again Greg and Henry's paper but it also covers everything from Bidil to Science's Peering Under the Hood of Africa's Runners to Rushton and Jensen's new article in Psychology, Public Policy and Law and the Haplotype Map Project.

Encouraging stuff.

Update from Thras I have added a quotation from the New Science of Race article that I first saw on Sailer's website. Now who is the "hate site," I wonder, "that declared the HapMap would finally prove the biological basis of race?"

Dr. Scherer spent two days last August fielding media calls when the news first broke. He did most of the interviews by phone, but in a few cases it was easiest to respond by e-mail.

Then came a call from his Harvard collaborators informing him that one of those e-mail interviews had been with a writer who worked for a neo-Nazi website. The writer spun the news as scientific proof of genetic differences between races — without even misquoting or twisting Dr. Scherer's words.

“As a geneticist,” the 41-year-old Dr. Scherer said, “it's your worst nightmare.”

The HapMap's Tom Hudson in Montreal has had the same one. A colleague recently referred him to an Internet hate site that declared the HapMap would finally prove the biological basis of race.

“It made me queasy, because they actually name the name of my friend, my colleague in Boston. And they actually say, ‘He's going to prove us right.'

“I didn't understand what I was reading when I first read it,” Dr. Hudson said. “I never read something that was so disgusting.”

It wasn't an isolated incident.

Morris Foster, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma and one of the HapMap's leaders, said researchers are tracking racist sites for references to the HapMap, which logs 20,000 downloads a week from its public database. They have amassed quite a collection.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 12:31 PM | | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

Sheep + Goat


This might actually be more interesting than the article points out. According to this web site, previous 'geeps' were artificial chimeras. There are some pictures there.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 01:02 PM | | TrackBack

Metzenberg on Jews

Well, Howard Metzenberg has complained I don't link to his review of Greg and Henry's paper. Seeing as how I linked to it one of the posts that is always linked to on the front page, I don't think he has grounds, but also seeing as how he throws around minor insults here and there at Greg, I will see if I can get some goodwill from him by cutting and pasting his whole article below for GNXP readers. Now everyone play nice....

This article is a review of "The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence," by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending. The paper's publication was announced last week. The original article can be found at the authors' own website at the following URL:



Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending have presented a new paper, recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Biosocial Sciences, which argues that high Ashkenazi intelligence is the result of recent natural selection that occurred between 800 CE and 1700 CE, and is associated with a characteristic cluster of genetic disorders. The authors propose that these genetic disorders, which are autosomal and recessive, promote high intelligence when a single allele is present. Thus, their high frequency in an Ashkenazi population that concentrated in intellectual occupations during the Middle Ages is the result of natural selection, and reflects a dynamic equilibrium similar to the presence of sickle cell anemia in populations from malarial regions.

In this commentary, I will show that other factors, more cultural than biological, are probably responsible for the high measured IQs of European Jews. Although the Cochran-Harpending paper presents a hypothesis that is coherent, it reflects a Merchant of Venice view of Jewish history, in which the bulk of Jews were involved in usury and financial occupations. The actual occupations of Jews, especially before 1700, are poorly documented.

My commentary focuses not on the scientific plausibility of their argument, but on the concordance of their theory with the historical record. I will make the following points:

  1. Jews are a self-selected minority group, and their high intelligence is the result of self selection, not natural selection.
  2. Jewish intellectual achievement was already well established by 800 CE. Above average Jewish intelligence can be traced to the origins of rabbinical Judaism itself around the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
  3. Self-selection and group selection for religious scholarship created a distinct Jewish population with a higher than average IQ.
  4. Above average intelligence is characteristic not only of Ashkenazi Jews, but also of large portions of the Sephardic and Mizrahi (oriental) Jewish populations. Furthermore, the Jews living in urban centers of North Africa and the Middle East were concentrated in intellectual occupations just as the European Jews were.

Most Jewish history before the 19th century is intellectual history, and focuses on the development and interplay of ideas. Jewish scholarship is concerned primarily with Jewish law, not with the population dynamics or economic survival of Jews as a people. My interpretation of the transition between ancient and rabbinical Judaism is based on my study of other fields of history, and is not a mainstream view of Jewish history. In particular, my characterization of Jews as a “self-selected minority group” might be controversial to many Jews, although I don’t think it will be hurtful to anyone.

Jews are a self-selected minority group, and their high intelligence is the result of self selection, not natural selection.

The authors view the Jewish population as a relatively closed population in which high intelligence evolved endogenously through natural selection. But the actual mechanism that created a genetically distinct population with high intelligence was cultural, not biological. Jews have had many opportunities throughout history to not be Jewish.

It is often remarked that the Jewish people are a nation or tribe as well as a religion. The modern Jewish population is actually a heavily self-selected group, the result of several defining population events. The first of these occurred in the later years of the Roman Empire, when the bulk of the Jewish population in the Roman Empire was probably converted to Christianity. Those who remained Jewish were principally the Pharisees, a movement of activists and scholars. Thus, the development of a distinct Jewish population with a higher average IQ dates not to the Middle Ages, but to the Talmudic period many centuries earlier.

In the ancient world of Greece and Rome, Judaism was a proselytizing religion and took in many converts. It has been estimated that in the 1st and 2nd centuries, about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Jewish, and as many as 25% in the Greek speaking cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was for this largely Greek speaking population that the Septuagint (a Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures) was produced. And it was amongst this Greek speaking Jewish population that Paul of Tarsus traveled, proselytizing Christianity.

Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending remark that no commentary survives that would suggest that ancient Jewish populations were set off from other peoples by ability or intelligence. Of course, no such documentation exists for any other group, for there were no social scientists and modern concepts of intelligence did not exist in ancient times.

Even so, it is likely that Jews already had a distinctive occupational structure in the Roman Empire. Historical sources suggest that male literacy was already universal among Jews in Roman times, although it is hard to say what level of literacy was attained. Diaspora communities had been established for more than 500 years, and the dispersion of the Jewish people around the Roman and Parthian (Persian) empires, as well as universal literacy among them, facilitated long distance trade.

The peak of Jewish population as a share of world population probably dates to the Roman era. So what happened to all those Jews?

Partly, the answer is that the population of Europe and the Mediterranean region declined precipitously at the end of the Roman era. The Romans had presided over an era of prosperity, in which Western Europe became progressively Romanized, speaking a common language, with a network of roads and other infrastructure to promote economic growth and trade. With the decline of the Roman Empire, which actually began long before the sacking of Rome in 410 CE, populations collapsed throughout Western Europe. Invasions of so-called “barbarians” were a symptom as much as a cause of this decline. In the Greek-speaking east, the decline was postponed for a century or more, but was ultimately almost as severe. In the reign of the Emperor Justinian during the 6th Century, the entire empire was decimated by plague.

Thus, the collapse of Roman authority was an economic catastrophe for the ancient world. In many regions, literacy came to an end and the written record of civilization vanishes for hundreds of years. Jewish populations, like urban populations in general, declined to a tiny remnant. How many of the Jews died in plagues or famines, and how many converted to Christianity and later Islam, is undocumented. Those that remained, a self-conscious and self-selected minority, created a unique intellectual culture, and it is that culture that survives today as modern Judaism.

Jewish intellectual achievement was already well established by 800 CE. Above average Jewish intelligence can be traced to the origins of rabbinical Judaism itself around the time of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

High measured Jewish intelligence results not from the unusual occupational structure of Ashkenazi Jews in the Middle Ages, but from the origins of rabbinical Judaism hundreds of years earlier. At the beginning of the Christian Era, Judaism was deeply divided and in ferment between several competing religious factions, notably the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Both movements were elites. Although the Pharisees are best known outside of Judaism from Jesus’ rebuke in the Gospel of Matthew, there are other historical sources, from Josephus' History of the Jews to the Mishna, a compilation of Jewish law that was initiated by the Pharisees after the fall of Jerusalem.

Since they are history’s losers, we know about the Sadducees mostly from the negative viewpoint of the Pharisees, who survived the destruction of the Temple and went on to compile their oral tradition as the Talmud. The Sadducees had been the local ruling elite in Jerusalem and other urban centers prior to the destruction of the Temple. They favored the power and privileges of Judaism’s aristocracy and hereditary priesthood, and they accommodated rather than resisted the pressures of Hellenization (assimilation into the dominant Greek and Roman culture).

By contrast, the Pharisees were a democratizing movement that sought to redefine Jewish observance, promoting talent over birthright, and extending the rituals and laws of purity from the priesthood of the Temple to the general population. The consummate Pharisee was Hillel, a kind of “hero-scholar” who traveled to Palestine from Babylon and lived a simple and humble life in order to dedicate himself to the study of Torah. It was the Pharisees that maintained the study of ancient text in Hebrew, no longer the vernacular of the Jewish people, and promoted the ideal of scholarship.

Thus, the Jewish population that survived the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the plunder of Mesopotamia under Trajan, and the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolts (132-135 CE) was a self-selected remnant population of intellectuals. Of the religious movements that existed in the time of Jesus, it is the Pharisees that formed the basis of modern rabbinical Judaism.

Followers of the Sadducees, and the great mass of people that were not such partisan believers, probably assimilated in large numbers into Christian and Greek cultures and disappeared from Jewish history. But the Pharisees, conscious of themselves as scholars in exile, redoubled their efforts, compiling the works that form the basis of modern Jewish law. The Pharisees certainly had intellectual and verbal skills far beyond the level of the general population, and they are the progenitors in disproportionate numbers of modern Jewish populations.

Self-selection and group selection for religious scholarship created a distinct Jewish population with a higher than average IQ.

Judaism’s survival after the fall of Jerusalem reflects the intellectual achievement of the surviving Pharisees, whom I will henceforth refer to as “rabbis” with a lowercase “r”. In an intellectual effort that lasted hundreds of years, they compiled Jewish oral tradition into a series of tractates or volumes of encyclopedic scope, known collectively as the Talmud. It is through this written record that we know so much about ancient Judaism, at least about the Judaism of the Second Temple period.

Compilation of the Talmud began shortly after the fall of the Temple, with the founding of an academy at Yavneh in what is today modern Israel and the compilation of the Mishna or Palestinian Talmud. After the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-135 CE), such intellectual activity became impossible within the Roman Empire, and the remaining rabbis and their intellectual descendants relocated in the Parthian (Persian) empire, near modern Baghdad. Compilation of Talmudic learning and later commentary continues after conditions began to deteriorate in the Middle East, moving first to Spain and later to Northern and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages.

In the Judaism of the Second Temple period, Jews had supported a professional class of priests, who by tradition are descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Modern Judaism retains a few ceremonial roles for the descendants of priests, known as Kohanim, but it is unlikely that membership in the Jewish priesthood was a “sexually selected marker” after the fall of Jerusalem. To paraphrase the authors, rich families preferred to marry their daughters to men who excelled as scholars and intellectuals.

Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending find it implausible that Jewish scholarship as an occupational choice has contributed to high Jewish IQs. The authors seem to have concluded that this is implausible by taking the modern concentration of professional rabbis and Jewish scholars and projecting it backwards in time. They write, “Another theory suggests that there was selective breeding for Talmudic scholarship. This seems unlikely to have been an important selective factor, since there weren’t very many professional rabbis, certainly less than one percent of the population. A selective force that only affects a tiny fraction of the population can never be strong enough to cause important evolutionary change in tens of generations.”

Because they didn’t understand the structure of Medieval Jewish societies, which were in place until the 18th or 19th century throughout much of Europe and the Middle East, the authors dismiss the effect of Jewish scholarship on Jewish intellectual achievement. Until the Enlightenment and the grant of citizenship which followed the French Revolution, Jews lived in separate, self-governing communities and paid taxes to the ruling Christian aristocracy as a community rather than as individuals.

Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending assert, with absolutely no evidence, that less than one percent of the Jewish population was part of a professional class of rabbis and scholars. They seem to be imagining that Jewish rabbis have always functioned like Christian ministers, as professionals leading congregations, although the modern Jewish congregation was a product of the 19th and 20th centuries, and a reaction to the organization of Protestant Christianity.

Although no occupational or census information exists, religious scholarship was a vast enterprise within the Jewish community. The best evidence for this is that such a large body of scholarship survives, even from a period when there was no printing or reproduction technology.

This scholarship, and the class of scholars who produced it, preserved not only the written record itself, but also the two ancient languages in which most of it was written: Hebrew and Aramaic. Although real fluency and literacy in these languages was probably limited in Medieval Europe, ordinary Jews were required to learn them, not only for ritual in the synagogue, but also for ceremonies in the home.

Rabbinical scholarship did not just determine what direction to face while praying, or in what order to light the Chanukah candles. If a neighbor’s donkey damaged your shop, Jewish law determined his obligations to pay you damages. And if a tradesman died owing money, rabbinical law determined the obligations of his widow.

Jewish scholarship involved far more than the one percent of adult males suggested by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending. Indeed, every male in a traditional Jewish community is considered to have an obligation to study and learn Jewish law. Jewish scholarship was concerned not just with abstract, spiritual, and ceremonial manners, but also with civil law, administration, government, commerce, tax collection, social welfare, and the regulation of everyday life, including marriage and child rearing.

The rabbis whose discussions are preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, known as the Amoraim, were not professional rabbis. The academies of Pumedita and Sura where the Talmud was compiled, located near Babylon in modern Iraq, met during the off-season, and closed during the growing season so that their attendees could tend their crops.

Scholars and commentators of subsequent generations were also not professional rabbis. The two greatest scholars of the Middle Ages were Rashi and Maimonides. Rashi, whose 11th century commentary is traditionally printed near the spine on every page of Talmud, tended a vineyard in France. Maimonides, who might be considered the consummate Sephardic Jewish scholar, was a physician.

Of course, Jewish scholarship and literacy contributed to Jewish survival during the Middle Ages. Hebrew script came to be used not only for sacred writing, but for everyday spoken language as well, including the Yiddish spoken by Ashkenazi Jews and the Judeo-Spanish or Ladino spoken by Sephardic Jews. This ability to write and record information facilitated the development of international trading and financial networks through which Jews supported themselves as they moved into Europe. At a time when most Europeans were peasant farmers and literacy was confined primarily to religious orders, the Jewish community was an alternate source of commercial talent, capable of conducting long-distance financial transactions.

In both Medieval Europe and in the Caliphates and Sultanates of the Middle East, small numbers of Jewish intellectuals were hired as “court Jews,” offering their skills in finance, administration, and government as retainers for the Christian and Islamic royal elites. The success of this small and visible minority brought protection and prestige to the larger Jewish community, and reflects the survival of scholarship within that community.

Perhaps the ultimate testimony to the importance of religious scholarship among Jews is that Hebrew, an ancient language used only for religious purposes for nearly 2500 years, has been reborn as a modern language.

Above average intelligence is characteristic not only of Ashkenazi Jews, but also of large portions of the Sephardic and Mizrahi (oriental) Jewish populations. Furthermore, the Jews living in urban centers of North Africa and the Middle East were concentrated in intellectual occupations just as the European Jews were.

Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending cite several comparative studies of intelligence, achievement, and educational attainment by Ashkenazi versus Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Of course, these studies and the conclusions they reach are very controversial in Israel. This final point is central to their thesis, and my critique of it, because the authors claim that only Ashkenazi Jews have a higher mean IQ, and that only Ashkenazi Jews had the unique occupational structure which lead to natural selection for high IQ.

Because I wanted to respond very quickly to their paper, I am going to partially duck this issue. I have not personally read the studies these authors cite, though I do intend to when I can find them. (I'm confident that my many high IQ Sephardi and Mizrahi friends will move quickly to support me here!)

All of these sources were published before the Internet was available, and they are not available to me as abstracts. I do not have a university library at my disposal. I am admitting my prejudice here, but I believe even without having read these papers (the most recent of which was published in 1990) that further analysis will show that they are based on old data and old measurement concepts that are invalid, or that they simply don’t measure and support what Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending claim they measure.

The truth is that any evaluation of these papers today is at best an intellectual exercise, because the communities that they purport to measure no longer exist, and may never really have existed. The ethnic fabric of modern Israel is a complex tapestry of overlapping groups, some difficult to define. There would be no way to repeat the studies today with modern testing procedures because the groups themselves have started to assimilate into one another.

Two years ago, I was the guest of an Iraqi Jewish family at a Passover Seder in Israel. “Look at my beautiful family,” said the grandfather, pointing to his daughters and his grandchildren. “This one has married a Jew from Poland, that one a Jew from India, that one a Jew from Libya. I have the whole Diaspora in my family!”

Was it really an Iraqi Seder? His wife was born in Morocco, so the cuisine was actually Moroccan. But the Moroccan Jewish community itself is a mixture of Sephardim from Spain and the original Magrebi Jews who lived there before the Spanish Inquisition. In some parts of Morocco the two groups assimilated into each other, and in others they did not. It would never have occurred to me at the time to ask her which Moroccan community she came from.

Israel is the only place where Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi Jews have lived side-by-side. When the state of Israel was formed, about 900,000 Jews of Arab and North African countries were forced to flee. Most of them settled in Israel, but a disproportionate number from the professional elites chose the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, or France, especially those who were fluent in English or French. Thus, the refugee population that came to Israel after 1948 was also self selected, with a bias towards those with the fewest skills.

In the 1950s and 60s, Ashkenazi Jews were the mainstream culture of Israel, part of a Hebrew-speaking community that had been established since the 1920s or earlier. At that time, Mizrahi Jews were still newcomers, not fluent in the language, living in great poverty in tents or temporary housing. Israel was a poor country, where eggs, cheese, and milk were rationed. Its not surprising that non-Ashkenazi Jews scored poorly on the IQ tests of the time. Disadvantaged groups have always fared poorly on IQ tests. Since the 1960s, Israeli society has attained a standard of living comparable to European countries, and the gaps between Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews have narrowed.

Israeli data is based on national origin, not on a true ethnographic definition of peoples as being Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and so forth. The Mizrahi Jewish population is actually the most complex, for there were many small communities in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia that survived intact to modern times, perhaps as genetic isolates. It may be that these groups, which probably have remained in isolation since Roman times, did not experience the self-selection effects that characterized the birth of rabbinical Judaism.

One of the reasons that the authors could find no evidence of a population bottleneck in the Ashkenazi Jewish population is that the Ashkenazi population has never been as distinct or isolated as they imagine. The original Ashkenazi population probably descends from Italian Jews who migrated north in the early Middle Ages. Genetic testing of Y-Chromosome phenotypes supports the theory that Ashkenzi Jewish males are closely related to the remnant community of Romaniote Jews, who by tradition are the descendants of Judeans brought to Italy and Greece as captives after the many religious wars and rebellions in the Middle East. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews of Europe were engaged in trade with the Middle East, and it was through those trade routes that Jewish scholarship from the Middle East entered Europe. Later on, there was considerable gene flow from Sephardic populations escaping the Inquisition into the Ashkenazi community, and this is reflected in language and surnames.

In fact, a considerable portion of the Jews that migrated to Israel from western European countries such as England, France, and Holland were of Sephardic origin. As evidence of high Ashkenazi intelligence, Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending cite IQ data from London schools in the early 20th century. But the wealthiest and most established Jews in London at that time were descendants of Sephardim who came to England in the 18th century, not of more recent Ashkenazi immigrants.

My point is really that there is no way to measure Ashkenazi versus Sephardic and Mizrahi intelligence today, and there probably never was. The original Sephardic and Mizrahi communities were dissolved before IQ tests could be administered, and there is no way to reassemble their inhabitants. Sephardic communities such as Sarajevo and Thessalonica were destroyed in the Holocaust, while Mizrahi and Sephardic communities in North Africa and the Middle East were forced to flee en masse after the founding of Israel in 1948.

One source of confusion in any discussion of the relative intellectual performance of different Jewish groups, is that the label “Sephardic” is sometimes attached to all non-Ashkenazi Jews, although some are more accurately labeled Mizrahi, and others such as the Ethiopians, are none of the above. There is actually a religious reason for this, because there are slight differences in religious practice between the two groups. For a religious Jew living in Israel (where most Jews are relatively secular), it is a matter of which rabbinical court has jurisdiction. An Ashkenazi Jew would go to an Ashkenazi religious court to settle a divorce matter, while a non-Ashkenazi Jew would go to a Sephardic court.

The best evidence is that Jews of the urban Sephardic and Mizrahi communities in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, and Iran were concentrated in intellectual occupations just as the European Jews were. If those countries had gone through an intellectual transformation like the Enlightenment in Europe, then their native Jewish populations would have flourished just as European Jews did before the Holocaust.

There is a considerable literature in Spanish, written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, about the Sephardic communities of the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. After the repeal of the Inquisition, philosemetic Spaniards rediscovered these communities in the late 1800s, and some advocated repatriating them and restoring their Spanish citizenship. They generally noted the high level of professional and occupational achievement of Sephardic Jews in their host societies. Unfortunately, the Sephardic communities of Greece and the Balkans were destroyed in the 1940s, before modern psychometric measurement techniques could be tried.

The Jews of Babylon and Persia, descendants of the rabbis who compiled the Talmud, were active throughout the Middle East as traders, often trading with India and China, where they established small communities that survived to modern times. Before the founding of Israel, when the Iraqi Jewish community was dissolved and 130,000 Jews were forced to flee, Jews formed much of the urban middle class in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending suggest that the Jews in Islamic countries were involved more in “dirty” occupations. In fact, they have chosen their evidence about Jewish occupations in these countries very selectively, while exaggerating the involvement of European Jews in finance and money lending. They might be surprised that the Jews of Europe also had to be their own butchers and bakers, because of Jewish dietary laws. And there may have been an even greater need for Jews to serve as money lenders in early Islamic societies, because Islamic law prohibits charging interest.


Although I disagree with the authors’ hypothesis that [Ashkenazi] Jewish intellectual achievement is the result of natural selection in a people that were restricted to a limited range of occupations, I welcome their paper. Even though their hypothesis is wrong, it is at least testable! It can be accepted or rejected on its own merits.

While I take for granted that there are innate differences between communities and ethnic groups, and that these may reflect biological as well as cultural differences, I personally fall more on the “nurture” side of the “nature versus nurture” debate when it comes to IQ and intelligence. Because the authors relied too heavily on biological explanations and mechanisms, they ignored cultural ones, and they failed to grasp that Jewish populations are actually open and partially self-selected. I have not even touched on any of the cultural or environmental reasons why Jews are high achievers.

I have characterized the Cochran-Harpending theory as being based on a Merchant of Venice view of Jewish history. If anyone reads this paper, that is surely the sound-bite they will take away, but I don’t mean this perjoratively. I don't want anyone who comments on my paper to say that I accused these authors of using stereotypes or caricatures of Jews.

This is my first entry in the “Blogosphere.” I am not writing this commentary to extract a pound of flesh from the authors. Although I don’t agree with them, I do applaud them for tackling a difficult subject that crosses many fields, and for daring to talk of issues that mainstream academia has ignored because of “political correctness.”

This paper is in the public domain. It can be reproduced anywhere without cost or special permission. I encourage people to copy it rather than linking to it here, if that suits them. Please cite me as a courtesy, and spell my name correctly.

Howard Metzenberg

Posted by razib at 12:59 PM | | TrackBack

Brain size and intelligence

This has been around for a few months, but I didn't catch it until now. Big-brained people are smarter: A meta-analysis of the relationship between in vivo brain volume and intelligence


The relationship between brain volume and intelligence has been a topic of a scientific debate since at least the 1830s. To address the debate, a meta-analysis of the relationship between in vivo brain volume and intelligence was conducted. Based on 37 samples across 1530 people, the population correlation was estimated at 0.33. The correlation is higher for females than males. It is also higher for adults than children. For all age and sex groups, it is clear that brain volume is positively correlated with intelligence.

The mean correlation for females appears to be .40. It's .41 for female adults. The other numbers are .38 for male adults, .37 for female children and .22 for male children.

Posted by Thrasymachus at 09:52 AM | | TrackBack

Medieval Jewish achievement

The following was written before I saw Razib's post below, but I will post it as drafted, as I think it complements Razib's data:

As there has been much discussion lately of Jewish intelligence and achievement, I was interested to see the following passage in Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment:

Jews make their first appearance in the annals of the arts and sciences during the centuries when the Middle East and Moorish Spain were at their cultural peak. When science historian George Sarton set out to enumerate the top scientists across the world, including East Asia, South Asia, the Arab World, and Christian Europe, from 1150 to 1300, he came up with 626 names, of whom 95 were Jews - 15 per cent of the total, produced by a group that at the time represented about half of one per cent of the world’s population that was in a position to produce scientists.

To support this Murray cites Sarton’s Introduction to the History of Science, 1927-48, volume 2, pp. 323-3, 533-41, and 808-18. I have checked this out, and Sarton gives some more detailed information. He aims to identify leading figures in ‘science and intellectual progress’, not just science in the narrow sense. He gives data for three 50-year periods: (1) 1150-1200, (2) 1200-1250, and (3) 1250-1300, which can be summarised as follows:




By my count there are 94, not 95, Jews, but this does not significantly affect their percentage of the total. Of course, compilations of this kind must be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. Almost certainly there are biases of available data and selection. Sarton was a great historian of science, but his book is old - for one thing it predates Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China - and a modern survey would probably include more East and South Asian figures. Nevertheless, the high proportion of Jewish figures is impressive. The fairest comparison is probably with Muslims, as in this period Jews were mainly living in Islamic countries. There are nearly three-quarters as many Jews as Muslims in the list, yet Jews can hardly have been a tenth of the population in these areas. Also note that the Jews were relatively more prominent in the west than in the east. This may reflect differences in numbers, in cultural circumstances, or both.

As the emphasis of recent discussion has been specifically on Ashkenazi Jews, it is worth noting that few of the Jews in Sarton’s list were Ashkenazim. Sarton does not give a breakdown into different ‘sects’ of Jews, but he does specify their countries of activity. Only 13 of the 94 came from countries north of the Alps (Germany, Northern France, Bohemia, and England). The largest number of ‘western’ Jews of course lived in Spain.

Following the completion of the reconquista, and ultimately the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews were scattered through Europe south and west of the Alps. It is my impression that the Sephardim remained more prominent in intellectual and cultural life than the Ashkenazim at least until the 17th century. The Ashkenazim produced relatively few intellectual notabilities until the second half of the 18th century [see Note], then exploded into extraordinary prominence in the 19th.

Note: There are of course some difficulties in deciding who is Jewish. For example, the astronomer Sir William Herschel is sometimes listed as Jewish, but it seems he was at most half-Jewish by ancestry. Some of those mentioned as Jewish by Charles Murray seem to be simply erroneous. I can find nothing to suggest that Johannes Herder was Jewish, not to mention the Nuremberg cobbler-poet Hans Sachs. Wagner must be spinning in his grave!

Added June 19

As I mentioned in comments on another thread, when Jews were allowed back into England in the 17th century, Sephardim (Jews of Spanish and Portuguese descent) were the first to arrive, and formed a cultural and economic elite. When Ashkenazim began to arrive in the 18th century, they were mostly poor and lower-class, and the Sephardi elite would have little to do with them. Only in the 19th century, when Sephardi numbers were depleted by apostasy and intermarriage with gentiles, did the barriers between Sephardim and Ashkenazim begin to break down. The wealth of successful Ashkenazim also made it difficult for the Sephardim to feel so superior. (I base these remarks on Cecil Roth’s books on the history of Jews in England.)

I find that there was a similar position in 17th century Holland: according to Simon Schama ‘by 1690, however, this delicate balancing act [between wealthy Sephardim and the Christian population] was threatened by the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews in much greater numbers. Of the 7,500 Jews in Amsterdam at that time, 5,000 were immigrants from Germany, Poland, Bohemia and Lithuania… They settled thickly in streets like Leprozenburgwal, the Nieuwe Kerkstraat and the Nieuwe Houtmarkt, which became known as the milieu of poor Jews… And they turned to the menial ‘ghetto’ trades disdained by the Sephardim like hawking, peddling, and old clothes dealing…’ (Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, p.594.)

I mention these points because some modern commentators tend to assume that the Ashkenazim are an elite and the Sephardim a kind of underclass! This is the reverse of the historical position.

In modern times the achievements of Sephardic Jews have been overshadowed by the Ashkenazim, but are not negligible. I find that at least 5 Nobel Prizes have gone to Sephardic Jews: Baruj Benacerraf, Salvador Luria and Rita Levi-Montalcini (all in Medicine), Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Physics), and Elias Canetti (Literature). This may not seem many compared with the Ashkenazi ‘score’ (over a hundred), but in relation to the small size of the Sephardic population - probably less than a million worldwide, if we interpret the term strictly as meaning Jews of Spanish and Portuguese descent - it is very respectable.

Posted by David B at 02:53 AM | | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

The Opportunity Costs of Affirmative Action

A new paper, ,"The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities," quantifies the effect that eliminating racial preferences would have on the demographics of elite universities. The advertised conclusions come as no surprise to me: (1) it would greatly reduce the number of black and Hispanic students and (2) it would not greatly increase the admit rate for white students. What blows me away is the effect on Asian admissions: 80% of the spaces taken by affirmative action would go to Asian students.

Disregarding race in college admissions would cause sharp drops in the number of black and Hispanic students at elite institutions, according to a new study by two researchers at Princeton University.

The study, described in an article published in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, also found that eliminating affirmative action would significantly raise the number of Asian-American students, while having little effect on white students.

If affirmative action were eliminated, the acceptance rates for black applicants would fall to 12.2 percent from 33.7 percent, while the acceptance rates for Hispanic applicants would drop to 12.9 percent from 26.8 percent, according to the study. Asian-American students would fill nearly 80 percent of the spaces not taken by black and Hispanic students, the researchers found, while the acceptance rate for white students would increase by less than 1 percent.

The researchers who conducted the study -- Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology, and Chang Y. Chung, a statistical programmer at Princeton's Office of Population Research -- looked at the race, sex, SAT scores, and legacy status, among other characteristics, of more than 124,000 applicants to elite colleges.

"The most important conclusion is the negative impact on African-American and Hispanic students if affirmative-action practices were eliminated," Mr. Espenshade said in a written statement.

Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, which opposes racial preferences in admissions, said the study's findings revealed that affirmative-action policies are "about discrimination."

"That it's Asian students who bear the brunt of affirmative-action policies at elite institutions strikes me as an interesting finding in and of itself," Mr. Balch said.

As a liberal white guy who's gone thru the elite college admissions process, I was generally okay with the idea of elite whites screwing a fraction of poor whites out of spots at the top schools. From a liberal point of view, this might be an acceptable trade-off. But what moral sense can be made of white elites screwing Asian students to pay the price of racial good-will? This should offend liberal sensibilities.

Posted by rikurzhen at 02:54 PM | | TrackBack

The history of the Jews...a very special people...sort of

I finally read Howard Metzenberg's paper in the totality. I really don't know what to say, he seems to think that his thesis somehow is a direct challenge to Greg and Henry's thesis, but re-reading the abstract and conclusion of Greg and Henry's paper there is no mention of Sephardic (or Mizrahi) Jews. Rather, the historical hypothesis is an important, but secondary (in my mind) to the genetic and physiological hypotheses they are putting forward, and the historical/sociological contentions are important in finding other groups that might have "Overclocking" genes (Parsis, Brahmins, some Chinese groups?). Ultimately the distinctions between the Jewish communities are less important than the mutations that Greg and Henry have fingered, mutations that are associated with groups that are putatively "Ashkenazi." Ultimately the people or the community are simply hosts for the alleles, who are the real leads in this show.

In any case, with all this talk about various types of Jews I have my copy of Raphael Patai's The Jewish Mind on hand now, and I will excise some passages with statistics....

Page 125:
...This gives for the entire 150-year period from 1150 to 1300 a total of eighty-five scientists, for whom thirty-five were Jewish, thirty Muslim, and twenty Christian, or about 41 percent Jewish, as against 35.3 percent Muslima nd 23.5 percent Christian....

...Using this higher estimate, which we modify only to the extent of including in it the Muslim-led Granadan corner of the peninsula, we find that Jews constituted 2.7 percent of the total population of Spain....

In other words, Jews were overrepresented in the sciences 25 times over what they were in the general population. This is very impressive. But, a few comments:

  1. As we have noted before, there is a distinction between the "non-Ashkenazi Jews" that many non-Israelis conflate with Sephardic Jews, and the Sephardic + Mizrahi Jews + Others (Ethiopians).

  2. After the expulsion from Spain from my reading it seems that in North Africa the Sephardic Jews assimilated the local pre-expulsion (that is, the 1492 expulsion from Castile and Aragon, and later Portugal) Jewish population. These "indigenous" Jews are Sephardic broadly speaking, but they assimilated to that ethnic identification later on than the period when Al-Andalus flowered.

  3. In the Ottoman state, which welcomed Sephardic Jews, there was still some separation between the newcomers and the resident Jewish communities, though also likely a great deal of admixture (likely with the higher status Sephardic identity being dominant). In Salonika in Greece, prior to their decimination due to the Nazis, the Sephardic and pre-Sephardic Hellenic Jews still maintained their separate identities.

Back to the relationship between Sephardic Jews and Henry and Greg's hypothesis. I think we have to be careful and not assume that all phenomena can be explained by one given hypothesis. In other words, "overclocking genes" might be a sufficient condition for the rise of a cogntive elite. But cultural biases and conditions might also be a sufficient condition. Neither might be necessary. Additionally, the two also have a dynamic feedback relationship to each other (with the cultural conditions likely being the initial variable).

One extra thing I would like to add from Patai's book. On page 93 he says:
...a few words at least must be said about those areas of Greek civilization from which the Hellenized Jews were conspicuously absent. There were two such areas: that of the sciences and that of language studies....

I simply point this out to assert that I tend to lean toward Greg and Henry's contention that classical Jews were not culturally exceptional in their production of non-religious thinkers, in sharp contrast to the Sephardic Jews of Al-Andalus or the Ashkenazi after the Haskala, the Jewish Englightenment. I had never thought greatly on this topic but it struck me as plausible in light of my reading of classical history (there was a separation in foci between Latin speaking intellectuals who excelled in rhetoric and law and Greek speakers who were known for more abstract or scientific interests. Of course, "Latin" and "Greek" are not necessarily ethnic identifiers in the same fashion as they are today, or were before the Roman Empire expanded).

Ultimately I see in Jews a small but prominent ethnic group that can elucidate some important historical and scientific questions. Though it is possible that Talmudic learning has played a role in there genetic and cultural predispositions I do not find in the Talmud or Hebrew Bible great intellectual profundities, at least in comparison to Sankara.

Actually, that was bullshit. I don't know if Sankara is more profound than Rashi, or Hsu Tzu a more rigorous thinker than Augustine. I can have opinions, but they are probably skewed by my biases, and here is where ethno-autism kicks in. Jews often think they are the Chosen People. Even non-religious Jews tend to have a bit of a attitude which I think comes from this religious idea. Indian Brahmins often seem to think they are "better" than other South Asians. The Chinese assume that everything was invented in China, at some point. Europeans wax on about the special nature of their people. Blacks think that all things come from Africa. And so on. I personally find these attitudes tiresome, but ubiquitous. Usually they emerge not from conscious chauvinism, but lack of knowledge of other peoples. I have had the repeated experience of both Jews and Hindus proudly declaring to me that their religion is the only religion where they do not attempt to convert others. I assume that Jews and Hindus are aware of each other, but when listing the bullet points of their own group's specialness they tend to forget about the constellation of religions and fix on those who are near and dear (and different and same), whether that be Muslims and Christians for Jews or Muslims for Hindus. Both groups also neglect East Asian religious traditions like Shinto that tend to keep to themselves.

My point is going down this road is that I have noticed that one common response to Greg and Henry's thesis is disbelief that such banal processes could drive Jews to being special as they are. Rather, the particular character of Jewish religious traditions, of utmost importance to Muslims and Christians as well, are what undergirds Jewish speciality. But from and Eastern perspective there is likely nothing particular amazing about the Hebraic religious tradition (aside from the fact that half of the world's population believes in it). Religious Jews of a certain sort will continue to believe that Jews as the Chosen People, so be it. Religious Christians and Muslims will give Jews special importance in the constellation of peoples because of the character of their religions. So be it. But for many (most?) on this weblog such assertions carry as much weight as appealing to the self-evident beauty of the Vedas, or the deep richness of the Upanishads, as "evidence" that South Asians can not have a median IQ of 80, or the spareness of the The Analects as a reason why the Chinese can not have IQs above 100. Such data points are not intelligible outside of a rich context of data and implicit models and natural biases that people bring to the table.

Posted by razib at 01:57 PM | | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

Bad science?

Howard Metzenberg has some strong words for Greg and Henry's paper. I wouldn't respond, but his objections/criticisms have been echoed in other places. I want to take a minute (literally) to address some of charges.

1) All theory, no research. W.D. Hamilton's work in the 1960s was done at his bedsit and in train stations. Biology can have theory, there is a Journal of Theoretical Biology. In Narrow Roads of Gene Land Hamilton claimed that his papers on kin selection were the most cited in the biological literature of the past generation, and they have led to an enormous field of empirical work in ethology. G.C. Williams work in the 1960s was also rather theoretical-philosophical, and stimulated others to rework their research programs on individual selectionist lines.

2) Other people's data. This happens all the time, social scientists do it, and Lewontin and Hubby's work with allozyme polymorphisms stimulated a lot of reworking of the theoretical foundations of evolutionary population genetics by the likes of Kimura (and the new field of molecular genetics).

3) "Provable." If Howard wants to wink at the Cult of Popper, he should say falsifiable, and that is something that Greg and Henry's work is.

4) Science is theoretical and empirical. But they don't have to be slapped together in the same scientist, or the same paper, or the same project.

5) I think in hindsight using the "Methods and Discussion" style format would have helped, but Greg and Henry have their own reasons I suppose.

6) Also, Howard says: 'He expects others to take on the hard work of analysis and proof, and credit his "brilliance" when they are finished.' I can't make transparent heads or tails of this, since "proof" is usually reserved for pure mathematics, and it seems one criticism of Greg and Henry's work is that it is theoretical analysis, but in any case, there is a long tradition of synthesizers who build on the work of others. Julian Huxley, and even more prominently E.O. Wilson, built their public reputations through synthetic tomes (The Modern Synthesis, Sociobiology) that distilled the scientific zeitgeist in their field to its raw essence and set the terms of debate for the next generation. Since scientific ideas are not bound by traditional property rights and reuse generally adds to the prestige of the originator of the ideas Huxley and Wilson are generally not reviled as thieves of the ideas of others.

I might have more to say later, but I think that gets to the crux of the major issues.

Update: I think there are two primary sources of the critiques of Greg and Henry's work. One some level many people have a visceral distaste for the mode of thinking, and the conclusions, that they have come to. So, they are trying to pick them apart on small (but numerous) points. Ultimately, it reminds me of the likes of Allison Gopnik simply dismissing any talk of heritability or the genetic underpinnings of behavior by noting that interactions between variables makes it difficult to parse the various factors, ergo, talk of such things is "incoherent." Of course, this would likely result in the dismissal of all forms of scholarship aside from mathematics and the most stringent of reducible physics as "incoherent." As a philosopher and psychologist I suspect Gopnik wouldn't go that far, but we know that "other fields are different." (I find it ironic how some wish to interpose the specter of epistasis into any discussion of human genetics so as to throw ink over any model that attempts predictivity, but feel free to make gross approximations for the sake of sociological models if those models support their normative values)

Then there is the media issue. This paper has gotten a lot of play for something isn't going to be in Nature or Science. But the fact is, the topic is sexy, it is about humans, it is about a "taboo" topic and it is backed by two people with reputations who have cobbled together a mathematical model that goes beyond impressionistic assertions (Henry is an NAS member). The concrete nature of what they assert, how they assert it, etc. not only makes them good targets to critique, but it is also something that will make good copy in the public press which likes nice digestable numbers and precise contentions that it can slot into a few paragraphs.

Posted by razib at 08:32 PM | | TrackBack

The Urban Sink

In Empirical flesh on logical bones I expressed caution at the free wheeling Darwinian logic of selection that some use when viewing historical trends. I focused in particular on the conjecture of a man I admire a great deal, R.A. Fisher, who surmised that the victory of Christianity and Islam over the classical world could be attributed to their pro-natalism. That is, while Christians and Muslims reproduced themselves, the pagans did not. Though this line of thinking has been more subtly extended by others (see Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity), I believe that the model is far too simple to explain the phenomenon it purports to explain.

Taking a natalist line of thinking one might wonder what the future of cosmopolitan bohemians might be? One explanation for the persistence of cosmopolitan bohemians who live for their art and fail to reproduce is to notice that Mormons are prone to a great deal of churn (conversions in and out). That brings me to something I have wondered of late: are people today far more prone to idealize country living because that is their natural preference? My reasoning is this: until the spread of vaccinations and antibiotics it seems plausible that evaluated over the course of history urban areas have maintained or increased their population through migration from the rural areas, not through growth from within through the fecundity of urbanites. Unless a peasant became Sargon of Akkad and sired dozens of sons it seems possible that migration to an urban area might have decreased their reproductive possibilities, and so the fitness of the alleles they carried. Could not a "stay away from the city" allele have proliferated in such a fashion throughout the vast swath of the Eurasian oikomene where cities have been a persistent feature of civilized life for ~4,000 years?

I offer the possibility not in great seriousness, but, I do wonder in the generality about the effect that "civilization," broadly speaking, has had on many peoples throughout Eurasia or Mesoamerica (civilization implying at the least literate urban-focused polities). More specifically, I am curious as to the validity of the impression I have that urban areas might have been population sinks which would likely as not lead to evolutionary extinction for alleles attracted to them.

Addendum: Variables...the selection coefficient, what is a greater danger, famine or plague, over the long term? Are cities truly insulated from famine because of better planning? It seems that the proportion of the population that was urban was rather small for most of human history, so that would weight against it being a significant force for selection. Time...varies by region, in Mesopotamia we are working with over 160 generations, and though gene flow between populations is certain, urbanization through the Fertile Crescent was ubiquitous (so how great an impact did the Guti, Kassites, Amorites and Arabs have on the indigenous substrate?).

Postscript: Some might wonder about this post and its relationship to the recent controversy over the "Jewish Question" (broadly speaking). I have stated in personal correspondence that much of what is "Jewish" might be the consequence of European Jews being urban for so long, that their behavorial tendencies are simply a reflection of a group of individuals totally shaped by urban mores for many generations. I also tend to agree with scholars who offer that without the special role given to Judaism in orthodox Christianity (a role the Marcionites rejected in the early Church) the Jewish religion (ergo, people) as we know it would not have persisted into the modern era in its robust and distinctive form (I will offer evidence from the Jews of China and India to back up this contention at a later point). Suffise to say that just as Christianity is contingent upon Judaism, I believe that Judaism in its own way is contingent upon Christianity, that it is to Yeshua (and Iraenus, Augustine of Hippo, etc.) Jews should look to as the source of the grace given their cultural-complex over the generations, and not Adonai.

Related: Some might find this recent essay in PLOS of interest: The Evolution of Norms (I think a more "cognitive" approach would be more fruitful than the one the essayists point to, that is, the human mind is a biased transmission vehicle and will canalize toward certain norms because of mental constraints and preferences above and aside from the norms' value in social or environmental contexts. This I think this is a better expalantion for "maladaptive" universal culture traits than many of the alternatives, at least as part of a synthetic approach).

Posted by razib at 03:18 PM | | TrackBack

Hard question for GNXP'ers

After the recent post, I notice that there still seems to be considerable debate on the Flynn effect, and I don't see any particular prevailing view among the participants here on GNXP.

So I'll ask this question flat out:

What makes you so sure (if you are sure) that IQ measurements of intelligence can be highly inaccurate across time but not across culture?

In the extended entry, I'm including a nicely succinct defense of IQ that appeared on Jerry Pournelle's site.

I'd appeal to data rather than analogies. Several kinds come to mind. The supporting data can be found in my articles and conference presentations with titles mentioning "life," "everyday life," "death," "practical," "why g matters," "health," and such. See also Herrnstein and Murray for number 1 below.


1. IQ (as long as it's a good measure of g) predicts a broad range of life outcomes better than does SES, from GPA to longevity. Corollary: You can wash out IQ's apparent predictive superiority only if you load your SES battery with additional surrogates for parents' or own g.

2. The phenotypic correlations between IQ and measures of social class (education, occupational prestige, income) are from a half to two-thirds genetic in origin.

3. SES cannot explain the big IQ differences among siblings growing up in the same household: They differ two-thirds as much in IQ, on the average (11-12 points), as do any two random strangers (~17 points). This is a glaring fact that SES enthusiasts have studiously ignored.

4. Adult functional literacy (e.g., see the fed's NALS survey) predicts life outcomes in exactly the same pattern as does IQ, though they won't tell you that. Functional literacy is measured by having subjects carry out everyday life tasks, such as using a menu to figure out the price for something. Persons scoring at levels 1-2 (out of 5) have been described as not having the ability to use their rights or meet their responsibilities in the modern world (40% of whites, 80% of blacks). Pick out a few NALS tasks at various levels and ask your critic what % of adults s/he thinks can perform them. They will be shocked and so will you when you see the data--go to my 1997 "Why g matters" article for NALS, or my 2002 "highly general and highly practical" chapter for health literacy items--e.g., on diabetes.

5. IQ predicts on-the-job performance better overall than any other single predictor (SES isn't even in the running), it predicts better when performance is objectively rather than subjectively measured, and when the tasks/occupations are more complex in what they require workers to do. At the same cognitive complexity level, IQ predicts job performance equally well in manual and non-manual jobs (e.g., trades vs. clerical. The exact same complexity pattern is found with functional literacy--the hardest items are the most complex (require more inference, are abstract rather than concrete, contain more distracting irrelevant information, etc.)

6. A large followup of Australian veterans found that IQ was the best predictor of death by age 40 (had 50+ predictors). Vehicle fatalities were the biggest cause (as is typical), and, compared to men with IQs of 100+, men of IQ85-100 had twice the rate and men IQ 80-85 had three times the rate. (Remember, SES could not explain this.) The US (and apparently Australia) forbid induction of persons below IQ 80 because they are not sufficiently trainable--found out the hard way.

7. Finally, if you succeed in describing g as a general learning and reasoning ability (one that gives high g people an increasing edge when tasks are more complex), then it is easy to show g's life and death relevance when you describe how health self-care and accident prevention are highly dependent on learning and reasoning. Consider what it takes to be an effective diabetic--lots and lots of judgment on a daily basis, or you're likely to lose your sight, your limbs, etc.

The more usual claim is that IQ is just an "academic ability," but it clearly is far more practical than that. It is far more practical than Sternberg's so-called "practical intelligence," whose existence rests solely on the chimerical evidence he conjures up.

You'll need a separate set of facts if the complaint is that IQ differences result mostly from nurture, not nature.

Linda S. Gottfredson
Professor, School of Education
University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716 USA

Posted by Thrasymachus at 02:00 PM | | TrackBack

Carl on Hobbits - Update

Carl Zimmer has the "latest" on the Hobbit-related controversies....

Posted by razib at 11:29 AM | | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

Lynn-Flynn Effect, R.I.P.

Teasdale & Owen and Sundet, Barlaugb, & Torjussen both have recent data from Northern Europe showing an end to the Lynn-Flynn Effect.

As a picture says 1000 words.....

Subdet et al got nationally representative (male) data from 1957 through 2002 on Norway's military's "IQ" instrument (r[WAIS FSIQ]=.73). If you use 1957 as the reference group, there was an initial LFE for all the subtests, but it stagnates around 1993 (Figure 1). If you make 1993 the reference, then Figures (think Raven's Matrices) stagnates, while Vocabulary and Math decline.

Figure 1.

Figure 2

Teasdale and Owen, in a to-be-published article, showed a similar effect in Denmark using a similar population as the Sundet group. If you use 1959 as the reference group, then there is an initial increase in IQ (actually the Børge Priens Prøve; r[WAIS FSIQ]=.82) (See Figure 3), but when you make 1993 the reference group, there is a brief stagnation, followed by a drop that shows no recovery.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

Now, lest we think this effect is only in Europe, I have data from the mathematics section of the American College
Basic Academic Subjects Examination
showing the same effect:

First, the Mathematics section was used becasue its substests load well on g:

CBASE Math Skill:

Geometrical calculations .711
2- & 3-Dimensional figures .687
Equations & Inequalities .658
Evaluating Expressions .636
Using Statistics .770
Properties & Notations .673
Practical Applications .736

Second, from 1996-2001, there has been the same reverse LFE, using Classical Test and Item Response Theory models:

CTT Standardized "True Score" Difference
IRT Scaled Latent Trait Difference
1996 36.214 10.219    
2001 34.393 10.929 -.178 -.222

The interpretation of the data is still up-for-grabs; I am in the Burt (1952) camp in thinking that the whole LFE (although, obviously, he didn't call it that) is just a psychometric artifact hiding a dysgenic trend1. Still no matter if Lynn et al. are correct and there really has been true rise, the effects appear to be leveling off or perhaps dissipating, at least in developed countries (in "still developing" countries the effect might still be going on).

Burt, C. L. (1952). Intelligence and fertility (2nd ed.). London: Eugenics Society.

1. As soon as my committee gives the thumbs up, I'll give the details of how this is quite possible.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 12:32 AM | | TrackBack

June 13, 2005


Anthropology: 1. The scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans.

Now, believe it or not, John Hawks and these guys/girls (an anthro group blog) are in the same discipline. Kind of weird. Savage Minds doesn't seem to have a physical/biological anthropologist on their roster. Then again, Crooked Timber doesn't seem to have a natural scientist on their long list of contributors. What was that about A Different Voice?

Posted by razib at 06:08 PM | | TrackBack

Toward a conception of a liberal ecology of ideas

I was going to comment on the reprint of the The Nation piece that showed up in YAHOO NEWS, but Randy beat me to the punch. Nevertheless, I would like to offer some extended thoughts on the "European culture war."

First, as an American, why is it relevant to me? What has Europe to do with America? A great deal. The march toward economic integration is a matter of magnitude and timing, not one of possibility. We don't live in a "Global Village" yet, but in some ways we will within my lifetime. "The pond" isn't wide enough to insulate the North American polities from goings on in the "Old World." And importantly, the cultures of Europe are more or less the mothers of the cultures of North America, whether that be that of the American South, New England, Quebec or my own heimat of Cascadia. Roman Catholics look to Rome as their spiritual font while American liberals always declare "but in Europe...." The idea of Europe, the history of Europe is important to all North Americans, and realistically, all the citizens of the world. Over the past five centuries Europe has remade the world in its own image, more or less (and the matter of "more or less" is the work of generations of scholars to clarify).

Second, let me state that I am skeptical of some of the more dire predictions of the Islamicization of Europe. It seems that in some fora the fact that 50% of the children of Rotterdam are Muslims becomes conflated with the possibility that 50% of the children in The Netherlands are Muslim. True, the 5% who identify as Muslim are waxing, but we must not project our models into the future based on fixed parameters extrapolated from the present. The "Muslim community" is not an idealized Platonic type, a bubble expanding into the universe of The Christian Netherlands, it is a seething mass of individuals nominally cohered under vague rubrics and ideas that are often subject to a great deal of personal interpretation. Additionally, it must be remembered that the Muslims of Europe form more or less an underclass, economically they are marginal or parasitic. My study of history makes me skeptical that from such a base a dominant culture could ever arise. Contrary to popular imagination the Christians of the pagan period of Rome were not slaves, but rather the aspiring urban "middle class." They imposed their will on the pagan masses and elites through the patronage of the Emperors and produced their own eloquent rhetoricians and philosophers, from Origen to Ambrose.1 The self-confidence of European Muslims is in my opinion nothing but bluster and bluff, in the face of the material inducements of the pagan West they shall wither, and their screams of monotheistic fire are nothing but the last gasps of a culture without defense. Nevertheless, unlike some liberal of Left intellectuals I do not view the "Muslim threat" with sanguinity. Their likely absorption and digestion into the mass of post-Christian Europe maybe a painful process. Most especially for the Muslim and post-Muslims themselves, who will have to make the trek between here and there, often without the aid of sympathetic family or the mainstream culture. They will live the "theory" and prescriptions propounded by the pundits. Even if the process of assimilation is inevitable, the length of time and the travails are variables, and I believe that the inducements and constraints that are the purview of government fiat can have great effect. I also believe that the attitude of the substrate culture can have a great influence on the process of assimilation.

One important point that I want to emphasize is that it is important to engage in population thinking, and move beyond types. The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims (in The Netherlands) is not cognate with the relationship between oil and water, that is, two liquids of such dissimilar character (non-polar vs. polar) they resist mixing without the aid of a powerful emulsifier. Rather, it is more like a drop of water soluble dye engaging with an H2O solution. Over time the dye loses its coherence as it melts into the water, changing the quality of the water only by a small difference of degree. Individuals like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are on the leading edge of the dye-water mixture, disappearing into the translucent liquid mass. The rate at which a dye diffuses into a solution is proportional to a variety of factors, and so with Muslims I suspect that a host of variables are at work resulting in their diffusion and absorption into the majority culture.

One of the main variables working against diffusion is religious distinctiveness. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I view the term "religion" with some suspicion because of its lack of full disclosure as to the richness and subtly of meaning inherent in it. Going back to populational thinking it is important to remember that within a subset of individuals who adhere to a given religion there are a wide range of opinions as to what characters cluster together to constitute that religion. There will be a modal value within the population, and there will be a verbally expressed coda, usually determined by a clerical caste or local elites, on top of the cognitive states, which further fix a particular relationship between that religion and the other religions in the local area. An assertion like "X has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with culture" for instance must be evaluated on multiple levels. Usually such an assertion presumes a Platonic conception where a religion can be thought of as a discrete and clear unit, when in fact few people would be able to agree on much besides the most basic of axioms outside of a socially mediated context (that is, consensus often emerges from a socially mediated process where the group decides on the rights and wrongs, rather than a reflective inner chain of logic where inferences are drawn from axioms). But one important fact is that Platonic perceptions can change, evolve and morph into wholly disparate states, while still holding emotional salience to the individuals in question. To give a specific example, many Roman Catholics have wondered why the liberal Gary Wills remains a Roman Catholic even though most of his prescriptions for change to the Roman Catholic Church seem to confirm that he is at heart a Protestant (even his love of St. Augustine echoes the orientation of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk). But Wills remains a Roman Catholic because of ineffable emotional attachments. These emotional attachments are important in emphasizing why even though cultural practice X does not necessarily follow from religion Y, its association with religion Y triggers cognitive states which give sanction to practice of X. That is, it is rather irrelevant that people "misuse" a religion to reinforce a particular cultural practice since that is to some extent the raison detre of public religion. If the cultural practice has no association with religion than usually its ability to withstand fads, fashions or changed circumstances is far less than it would be if it was associated with a religion. If one conceives of a religion as a Platonic entity of a few spare axioms than one can decouple religion and culture cleanly, but the reality is that religion is usually not a Platonic ideal as it is practiced in day to day life.2

To some extent the rise of literacy and mass communication has resulted in a greater coherency to the world religions, so that a transnational Islam and Christianity are rising to stake a genuine claim to being Platonic religions.3 But still for the vast majority of people transnational religion is something that one sees on the news or reads about in literature handed out at a rally, it is not their day to day life. Volkisch Xenophobes, multiculturalist liberals and European Muslim elites speak the vocabulary of the Platonic Islam, as if it can be easily characterized by a few spare sentences, or a short list encapsulated as bullet points. Though this does not reflect reality today, this perception might affect reality tomorrow. Note above that I asserted that the attitude and character of the mainstream culture can affect the dynamic of Muslim assimilation. The extreme racialism of late 19th century Europe led Theodor Herzl away from assimilationism and into the conception that Jews would only be accepted within their own nation. But it is an irony that even during the apogee of racialism the pioneers of the assimilative Reform movement were experiencing a demographic crisis due to their impending absorption into the German volk because of conversion and intermarriage (both to Christianity and bohemian confessionlesism). Herzl was I believe right in that the Jewish people were under threat in the non-Jewish liberal democratic states of the West (the orthodox rump notwithstanding), but that threat is to the identity of the people, not the well being of individuals, who enter into relationships with non-Jews and many of whose children pass into the gentile mainstream with only the most nominal relationship to a Jewish "identity."4

This all sets the stage for my main contention in this post: moving beyond a Platonic typology and toward a conception of populational thinking will allow us to more clearly and realistically model the ecology of ideas and people which characterizes the dynamic processes at work in the 21st century in many Western nations effected by immigration. "Muslims" are not an amorphous mass identical in their thinking. Most people would concede this, but you would not be sure from the rhetoric espoused by some. In the article above some, spokesmen for assimilated Muslims and multiculturalist Leftists, seem to assert that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's blasphemy is driving Muslims to more fundamentalism. In quantitative terms this might be generally true, but that neglects the minority of "Muslims" who feel free to shed their identity, reshape who they are, and be proud and vocal in their apostasy. Additionally, this neglects the crucial foci that Ayaan represents as an individual which can serve as a nexus around which to leverage a strategy of triangulation. Instead, we have the following soundbites:

She suspects that what the Dutch really fear is not Islamic fundamentalism but the prospect of having to deal with a new generation of highly educated young Muslims who demand a fair hearing for their values. "We are telling them, 'We have rights, too. You have to change your idea about freedom or face the consequences.'"

In How the Scots Invented the Modern World the author begins with the last trial and execution of a blasphemer in Scotland, a man who denied the God of the Calvinist Church. I think blasphemy is a good place to start with the boundary between the almost-modern and the modern. Some observers assert that Muslims wish to import into Europe their own values about the sancity of their faith and their prophet, but in reality they wish to restore the modus vivendi operative throughout much of European history, throughout world history. This attack on blasphemy predates Christianity, Anaxagorous was reviled for his atheism, the Christians were attacked for their lack of reverence to the household gods of the Roman state and the deified Emperor. The modern West is a special place partly because of its protection of blasphemy. This consensus is not universal, many religionists do wish their own religion to be protected from desecration. I recall William Donohue of The Catholic League in the United States espousing a position which would ban desecration of religions motifs and objects. When queried about what constituted desecration and what religions would fall under the sanction of the law Donohue was a bit fuzzy because he had few specifics in mind, but it does show that the sentiment does lay latent within the West itself.

This is why West must remain steadfast in its defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her hatred for her natal religion (hatred which is often modified or qualified upon further questioning). Tolerance of blasphemy is I think a the linchpin of Western tolerance for freedom of expression, because it goes to the heart of attacks against the most cherished ideas of a people. It is crucial witness to the character of a culture, might I even say its liberal maturity? A violent reaction on the part of the aggrieved seems to bespeak a lack of said maturity, so I wonder at the response of those who warn the blasphemer rather than educating the child who throws a fit. Is one admitting that a nasty child will always remain a nasty child, unreformable and uncivilizable? Or is nastiness a value which we now cherish in our post-liberal world?

But as I said above, the child in question is not a whole, but can be decomposed, portions hived off, elements invited to full congress with the mainstream culture. Though we are equal before the law in the liberal order individuals have their own personal hierarchy of affinity, usually determined by kith and kin, circles of like blood or fellow feeling. If one concedes that populational thinking must be paramount one will conclude that there is variation within the Muslim community. Certainly there are individuals who wish to return to the mythical ancien regime of their forefathers, but there are also those who wish to break free of unspoken bounds dictated by centuries of "custom" and "tradition." Is our sympathy to be dictated by numbers alone, or fellow feeling? Some "liberals" criticize Ayaan Hirsi Ali's assertions and characterizations as too tainted by her personal experience, but I am perplexed by this reaction because its seems that this lady's life experience is to some extent the apotheosis of the liberal quest for self-actualization in defiance of custom and tradition, a creation of one's own identity by pure force of will in the face of rather high odds. I will admit that these are the individuals with whom I sympathize, and those who retreat behind their veils or shout their tired Godly mantras leave me cold. As a human who believes in rule of law and freedom of conscience let all under heaven live as they wish so long as their wishes do not trangress the bounds of individual liberty, but as a human who feels with his heart I experience joy when others join my circle of fellow feeling.

Conceding to the "Muslim community" its unitary legitimacy, its identification as a whole with leaders who "speak for the community" is in my opinion a dangerous move in that it closes off the edges of the diffusion, it tightens the semipermeable membrane between the "mainstream" and the "community." "Community leaders" speak for the community, for the group identity, but they do not speak for the full range of individual feeling and opinion, and we should never confuse the two. As a matter of practicality a liberal society must deal with communities, with pillars, but as a matter of ideals it must always remember that these communities have no peculiar ineffable essence beyond the individuals who live and breath in this world. If it does recognize these communities by government fiat and through grants of monies and legitimacy in adjudicating intracommunity disputes than it serves to reinforce the strength of communal vs. individual identities (in the past few centuries whole identities have been created or destroyed by government fiat, see especially the Soviet Union and its relationship to various "Turkic" groups).

Those who appeal to the "practical" solutions needed for a multicultural society presuppose the inevitability of indefinite post-liberal multiculturality and propose solutions which actualize this inevitable multiculturality. They turn their back on the reality that the liberal Enlightenment project has to some extent been predicated on a denial of the "practical" past, and thousands of years of human custom and tradition, that the Enlightenment project has turned the world upside down by virtue of the single-minded will of individuals who would swim against any current to actualize their own vision of who they were. The society of 17th century Holland was predicated on the recognition of various communities, the dominant Reformed Calvinist faction, the Roman Catholics, Jews and other assorted Protestant nonconformists. But, at the boundaries and in the margins there existed a welter of variegated individuals who created their own relationship with God, and created their own Gods. Baruch Spinoza was "excommunicated" from the Jewish community, but he did not join a Christian community, but lived his life as a philosopher and glass grinder. The special character of Holland in the 17th century allowed this, in the Medieval period economic opportunities for self-sustainment and social contexts where one could meet intellectual fellow travelers through letters were more limited. In the 19th century in Germany the group termed "Confessionless" was by and large populated by Jews who had left their religion and community but had not embraced another.

I do not mean to assert that all individuals within a society will have such an ambivalent, even antagonistic, relationship to traditional communities based on faith or blood, but I do assert that the special place that liberal societies have for those who do prioritize abstract, rational and intellectual activities as opposed to the concrete bonds of kith and kin shaped by generations past in part defines a liberal society. My concern with the rise of group rights, whether for races, religions or even lifestyle coteries, is that the old norm of guilds and such corporate bodies will begin to erode the niche that the individualists have carved for themselves in the liberal society. I don't really think a liberal individual rights society is a particularly stable state for a society, rather, it is propped up by particular historical and political conditions which when shifted might result in a "reversion" back to a more modal social state. We do not have to use our imaginations to spin tales of what that "more modal social state" might be like, we need to look abroad in the "Third World," or read the sagas and testaments of the past.

I admit that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a witch who trangresses the respectable boundaries and defiles holy traditions and makes a mockery of the sacred. The question is, do we still live in the burning times?5

Addendum: One of the Muslim intellectuals in question asserts that the arson attacks against Muslims are quantifiably a far greater concern than the isolated political assassinations of Fortyun and Van Gogh. One might respond that the crimes that Muslim youths commit out of proportion to their numbers is of a far greater concern than the isolated arson attacks. When we leave the high ground of clear principles of reverence for individual freedom or respect for communal sancity than we play a game of statistics that leads us nowhere. An evaluation and affirmation (or assertion) of norms and values must precede any examination of the facts at hand.

Related: Daughter of the Enlightenment.

1 - European Muslim intellectuals like Tariq Ramadan seem to see in the modern post-Christian Europe a region ripe for Islamicization, but I strongly suspect that they are mistaken in their perception that the intellectual arguments put forward by Muslims will impress the European elites. As for the masses, I am skeptical of the possibility of them ever being the driving forces of history.

2 - To be clear, reducing Islam to the shahada or Christianity to acceptance of Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior in the reductio ad absurdum usually leads to antinomianism that most religionists reject.

3 - Consider the alliance between conservative American Episcopalians and African Episcopalians. This is a unity of common belief and axioms that spans cultures.

4 - Though a Jewish identity as a ethnic-group + religion might be dissolving in the West, the spread of Kabbalistic thinking and what not indicates to me that Jewish religious ideas still hold great attraction, both to gentiles and Jews and part-Jews. Ultimately the 21st century might see the transformation of Judaism from a peculiar ethnic religion to another denomination within the broad family of religions, at least in the West.

5 - I know that "the burning times" is to some extent a myth, in its extent if not its qualitative existence. Nevertheless, I think it illustrates the power of communal ostracism translated into the power of the state to enforce that rejection.

Posted by razib at 03:53 PM | | TrackBack

Pale and dark

Steve's new column is a must read, titled "Blondes Have Deeper Roots," it surveys the evidence that males prefer lighter-skinned females. But the most interesting part to me is when Steve asked which of these faces is male or female:

Well, the one of the left looked female and the one on the right male, to me...but Steve says the only difference between the two is coloring! One note, in the comments, please be careful to distinguish between your personal preferences and human universals, when it comes to aesthetics there is an annoying tendency for everyone to assume that their own introspective conclusions and impressions are the human modal value.

Note: In Survival of the Prettiest Nancy Etcoff asserts that there is a positive correlation between high estrogen levels (ergo, fertility) and light skin in females. This has obvious implications for male selectivity within a population.

Posted by razib at 12:59 PM | | TrackBack

A piece of empirical evidence

Just wanted to lift this one out of comments:
(thanks for the link Liv!)

should be an interesting link for anyone interested in just how competitive a polygamous society can be, as well as for those who doubt the utility of (serial) monogamy.

Posted by dobeln at 09:02 AM | | TrackBack

June 12, 2005

The Nation on a European Culture War

Yahoo! News has reproduced Deborah Scoggins' article from The Nation, "The Dutch-Muslim Culture War". Starting from the person of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Scoggins goes on to examine the wider role of Islam on some of Europe's more conservative communities.

Moors and others don't dispute the existence of the social problems Hirsi Ali identifies. Many Dutch Muslim women do live in segregated "parallel cities" where Islamic social codes are enforced. Muslims make up only 5.5 percent of the Dutch population, but they account for more than half the women in battered women's shelters and more than half of those seeking abortions. Muslim girls have far higher suicide rates than non-Muslim girls. Some Muslim girls, mostly African, are genitally mutilated. But in putting all the blame on Islam, they say, Hirsi Ali ignores the influence of patriarchal custom as well as the work of a generation of Muslim feminists.

A custom phrased in terms of religious necessity is, in fact, a religious custom. Trying to disclaim responsibility for the less savoury elements of a religious culture because, well, they're not really part of the religion is a classic response by cornered reactionaries. It's a risible response, of course, tailored. Compare the allegations of some Western communists that Stalin's regime wasn't really Communist, or that genocidal anti-Semitism has nothing to do with traditional Christian proscriptions against the Jews.

Scoggins goes on to argue that Islamist misogyny is a higher-profile issue in western Europe than in the United States, owing to the former's greater social liberalism and secularism. Partly because of this European cultural tendencies, partly because of the growth of radical feminism among Muslim women, and partly because recent events in the Netherlands and elsewhere have caused a shift in policies towards immigrant minorities, she hints that this misogyny likely doesn't have much of a future.

Posted by randymac at 08:21 PM | | TrackBack

Genes and Atheist Radio Fun

Just a heads-up - after the Tim Wise post, Reggie over at the Infidel Guy Show asked me if I wanted to come on the show and discuss issues of race and evolution. So I asked Razib to jump on board, and we're going to be on tonight at 8 pm (eastern).

I'm sorry to say, that I don't know if listening to it takes money, a subscription or what.

Posted by Jason Malloy at 12:58 PM | | TrackBack

Altruistic Punishment: part 2

I posted recently on altruistic punishment. My attention has been drawn to another study showing that altruism can be favoured by individual selection:

A. Sanchez and J. Cuesta: ‘Altruism may arise from individual selection’, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 21 July 2005 (forthcoming), 235, 233-40.

Abstract: The fact that humans cooperate with non-kin in large groups, or with people they will never meet again, is a long-standing evolutionary puzzle. Altruism, the capacity to perform costly acts that confer benefits on others, is at the core of cooperative behavior. Behavioral experiments show that humans have a predisposition to cooperate with others and to punish non-cooperators at personal cost (so-called strong reciprocity) which, according to standard evolutionary game theory arguments, cannot arise from selection acting on individuals. This has led to the suggestion of group and cultural selection as the only mechanisms that can explain the evolutionary origin of human altruism. We introduce an agent-based model inspired on the Ultimatum Game, that allows us to go beyond the limitations of standard evolutionary game theory and show that individual selection can indeed give rise to strong reciprocity. Our results are consistent with the existence of neural correlates of fairness and in good agreement with observations on humans and monkeys.

The full text requires subscription, but a substantially similar text is available as a free pdf here. I won’t comment in detail, but the model presented in this paper is rather simpler than the one in J. Fowler’s paper.

As I said in my previous post, I am sceptical about much of this game-theoretical work. It starts from the false assumption that (in Fowler’s words) ‘Human beings frequently cooperate with genetically unrelated strangers whom they will never meet again, even when such cooperation is individually costly’.

In support of such statements the theorists cite results of experimental economics which show that in games like Ultimatum people seldom follow a rationally self-interested strategy. But the setting for these experiments is quite artificial, and tells us little or nothing about the circumstances in which altruistic behaviour evolved. As Robert Trivers has put it, ‘It’s absurd - and I use the word advisedly - to imagine that we’ve evolved to respond to the specific situations these economists put us in, with complete anonymity and no chance to interact with partners a second time’ (Science, 303, 2/2/2004, 1131).

I don’t think that statements like Fowler’s are true even in modern societies, but that doesn’t really concern me. Many human traits are maladaptive in modern circumstances. To understand the evolution of any species-wide human trait, what matters is what happened in 100,000 years or so of paleolithic times. During this period all humans were hunter-gatherers.

The behaviour of hunter-gatherers in modern times is not a safe guide to their behaviour in the paleolithic - for one thing, modern hunter-gatherers are confined to marginal habitats like deserts and deep jungle - but it is the best guide we have. Based on studies of modern hunter-gatherers (see references below for a selection), I would make the following generalisations:

1. Hunter-gatherers usually live in small bands of between 20 and 50 individuals. There are seldom more than about 12 adult males in a band. Bands have an established territory with rights recognised by other groups.

2. Most if not all of the individuals in a band are related to each other by blood or marriage. There is usually a core group of siblings (see e.g. Lee p.51).

3. A number of bands make up a tribe of between a few hundred and a few thousand individuals. Bands within the same tribe have much the same language, customs and kinship system.

4. Marriage is usually between members of different bands within the same tribe. It is regulated by rules of exogamy and endogamy, though these seem to have been stricter and more elaborate among the Australian aborigines than elsewhere. Marriage between people of different tribes is less common but does occur, especially when the tribes are small (see e.g. Elkin p.79) Most hunter-gatherers are moderately polygamous, with the older or more successful men having more than one wife. Among the aborigines women are monopolised by the older men (Maddock p.57-60).

5. Individuals often stay in the same band for life, except that members of one sex will move to another band when married. However, it is possible for individuals or families to move from one band to another, or even to another tribe, provided this is approved by the receiving group (e.g. Spencer and Gillen, p.68). Bands as a whole may split up or merge in response to fluctuations of population or resources.

6. Day-to-day contacts are mainly within the same band. Members of different bands will sometimes visit, e.g. to meet relatives or to discuss marriage arrangements. This seems especially common among the Bushmen (Lee p.259) There may also be collective meetings between bands, such as the famous aboriginal corroborees (Elkin p.61).

7. Within a band, there is usually a good deal of cooperation, such as food-sharing. Band society has been described as ‘egalitarian’ (Boehm) but this should not be exaggerated. Individuals may differ greatly in prestige, influence, and number of relations. There are also differences in number of wives and reproductive success.

8. Relations between different bands range from friendly to hostile. Disputes can arise over territory, access to water or seasonal surpluses of food, and over women. Belief in witchcraft is also a major source of trouble. Disputes can lead to prolonged feuds and a series of tit-for-tat killings.

9. The cardinal principle of relations between bands is reciprocity (see e.g. Lee p.335-7). Reciprocity is a means of sharing fluctuating resources in a harsh environment. If a band is e.g. allowed access to another band’s territory to hunt, they will be expected to return the favour in due course.

10. Contrary to some assumptions, different hunter-gatherer tribes are not always in a state of hostility with each other. Tribes do not act as political or military units, so most bands will not have much contact with other tribes unless their territories border each other. Neighbouring bands from different tribes have relations ranging from friendly to hostile just like bands within the same tribe. People in border areas are often bilingual or have a common ‘pidgin’ dialect, and there is often trade and intermarriage between the tribes.

From these points I think it will be clear that the claim that ‘human beings frequently cooperate with genetically unrelated strangers whom they will never meet again’ is simply not true for hunter-gatherers. Within the band, cooperation is between individuals who are usually related, and never strangers. Between bands or tribes, cooperation is based on customary expectations of reciprocity. Failure to meet these expectations will result in withdrawal of cooperation or more active reprisals.

This is the background against which human behaviour has evolved. To the limited extent that behaviour is really altruistic, I see no reasons to appeal to evolutionary mechanisms other than inclusive fitness, reciprocal altruism (Trivers), or simple tit-for-tat cooperation (Axelrod and Hamilton). As to ‘altruistic punishment’, I doubt that there is much of that in hunter-gatherer societies, but I may come back to that.


C. Boehm: Hierarchy in the Forest, 2001
A. P. Elkin: The Australian Aborigines, 1964
L. Hobhouse, G. Wheeler, M. Ginsberg: The Material Culture and Social Institutions of the Simpler Peoples, 1915/1965
E. Leacock and R. Lee (eds): Politics and History in Band Societies, 1982
R. B. Lee: The !Kung San, 1979
K. Maddock: The Australian Aborigines, 1973
B. Spencer and F. Gillen: The Native Tribes of Central Australia, 1899
E. Westermarck: The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas, 1924

Posted by David B at 02:49 AM | | TrackBack