The less intelligent and uneducated really don’t tolerate unpopular views

When looking at the General Social Survey one of the most striking things is how much more the more educated and intelligent are in terms of accepting unpopular views. Since 2008 and the SPKMSLM variable has asked about anti-American hatred preached by Muslim clerics in the United States:

… consider a Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States.

If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

The ideological breakdown is what you’d expect it to be, and tolerance for this sort of speech is low, at about 40% of Americans.


In case you are wondering, the impact of intelligence still matters after you correct for education. I ran a quick & dirty logistic regression, and you can see that below (in case you care, being a woman is associated with less tolerance for free speech here, and political ideology doesn’t matter much once you take into account religiosity):

Most liberals and smart people want racists to be allowed to speak

Over the past year or so there have been many worries that liberals are backing off from their support for free speech. Even mainstream figures such as Howard Dean have started to chant the mantra “hate speech is not free speech”. And then you have op-eds from professors such as When ‘free speech’ becomes a political weapon.

But whenever I look at the General Social Survey I see no great change in support for free speech in terms of the patterns. Perhaps something has changed in the year 2017, but I think what we are seeing are vocal and motivated minorities who are drowning out liberal (in the classical sense) majorities.

The GSS has a variable, SPKRAC, which asks:

…consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

The plot at the top of this posts shows that the GSS sample respondents exhibit almost no change year to year on this question.

The GSS also has a variable, SPKMSLM, which asks:

Now consider a Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States.

If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

This question has been asked since 2008, and only a minority would allow this person to speak, 41-43 percent.

Let’s break this down by ideology and intelligence from the year 2008 onward. The GSS has a variable, WORDSUM, which is a vocabulary test. Respondents receive a score from 0 to 10 (correct). I combined 0-4 as “not smart”, 5-6 as “average”, 7-8 as “above average,” and finally 9-10 as “smart.”

Also I limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites to compare “peaches to peaches.”

What the above plot shows is that liberals support free speech for both racists and Muslim radicals. Conservatives are more skeptical of free speech for both groups, but especially the Muslims. You might be curious why moderates seem so skeptical of free speech. That’s because on average moderates are less intelligent than people at the ideological poles, and the less intelligent are generally less supportive of heterodox speech (I suspect it’s because they are too dumb ever to come up with an original and transgressive idea).

But don’t take my word for it.


It’s a very robust pattern that the less intelligent are skeptical of deviant thought. I think it’s partly because they can’t empathize since they don’t have many thoughts.

Below is a table which does a cross-tab of views on speech for racists and Muslims (again, for non-Hispanic whites after the year 2008). You can see ideological and intelligence distribution for various positions. Conservative anti-Islamic and liberal philo-Muslim tendencies are on display. The less intelligent are overrepresented among the censorious.

  Extremely liberal Liberal Slightly liberal Moderate Slightly conserv Conserv Extremely conserv
Full sample 4 12 10 36 16 18 4
Allow both to speak 5 15 12 32 15 17 4
Allow Muslim to speak, not racist 7 18 15 32 15 12 2
Allow racist to speak, not Muslim 2 9 8 39 15 22 5
Ban both from speaking 2 9 9 42 13 21 5
  Not smart Average Above average Smart      
Full sample 13 40 33 13      
Allow both to speak 7 34 39 20      
Allow Muslim to speak, not racist 6 40 40 13      
Allow racist to speak, not Muslim 19 46 26 9      
Ban both from speaking 14 48 34 4    

Pain 100% hot sauce; 1000% pain!

While I was up in Missouri chasing the eclipse I met up with a long-time reader of this weblog. He was kind enough to gift me with several hot sauces. So I took the Pain 100% Hot Sauce into the office, and the verdict is that this is a very spicy sauce indeed (grown men running to the fridge!).

It’s somewhat curious, because the label says that it has habanero pepper. Not some crazy scorpion or bhut jolokia. Going by the ingredient label list there’s no way that Pain 100% should be as hot as Rapture, but it is.

How can this be? I’d say it has to do with simplicity. The Rapture has a relatively subtle and complex flavor profile. It’s a ninja, silent and deadly. In contrast Pain 100% comes at you straight-up like a samurai; a strong kick of salt quickly fades, and the simple but potent spicy builds up within a minute and starts pounding at your palette..

Pain 100% is very spicy and simple. It’s the meat & potatoes of hot sauce. You know what you’re going to get, and you can describe the taste in a few sentences.

Give us your huddled scientists, yearning to innovate free

In regards to immigration policy I generally favor a shift toward the Anglo-Canadian solution: a points based system. From what I am to understand the immigration reforms proposed by Tom Cotton are dead on arrival in the Senate, but I think they are a step in the right direction. Representative democratic nation-states can adapt and evolve, but they are not stable with lots of demographic change.

A contrasting strategy would be to allow guest workers to arrive without extensive screening, but ban them from all the right (and duties) of citizenship. Imagine something like the ancient Athenian system with metics. Unfortunately for various psychological and cultural reasons this sort of system, with large number of second class individuals, doesn’t seem to be palatable today in the West (it is what you see in the Persian Gulf). A nation-state simply isn’t reducible to a system for mediating economic transactions between consenting adults.

If we are going to have a points system we need to think about what we prioritize in potential migrants. Recently on Twitter the prominent public intellectual and astrophysicist Sean Carroll expressed this opinion:

The idea that a science degree should count more than a humanities degree toward being allowed to immigrate is dopey. -Signed, a scientist.

As of this writing that tweet received 150+ retweets and 500+ likes. It’s a popular view. I also disagree with it. That is, I think those with legitimate STEM educational and professional backgrounds should definitely get preference over those with non-STEM backgrounds, and in particular those with humanities degrees. There are two primary reasons I will give for this.

First, STEM degrees confers upon the degree holder culture-neutral portable skills. My cousins who complete a degree in engineering often work abroad, usually in the Persian Gulf, in the occupational roles they were trained for. In contrast, those who studied Bengali literature have fewer options. Often they find menial work in the Persian Gulf, because their educational background is totally uninteresting to people doing the hiring outside of Bangladesh.

The example I used on Twitter made the contrast stark: a Saudi trained in chemical engineering has useful skills that transfer to the United States. A Saudi trained in Islamic studies, which is equivalent to humanities, has fewer transferrable skills. A non-Muslim analogy would be an Israeli with a technical degree from a secular institution, as opposed to a Haredi Jew who was steeped in Torah-learning from a prominent Yeshiva.

Second, in much of the developing world the stronger students pursue STEM as opposed to ‘softer’ disciplines. Therefore, having a degree in STEM is a good proxy for cognitive skills more generally. In Race And Culture: A World View Thomas Sowell points out that in Sri Lanka Tamils tended to be over-represented in STEM in comparison to the majority Sinhalese, resulting in resentment due to greater representation in professions such as medicine and engineering.

In the United States humanities graduates do relatively well, especially compared to some pre-professional majors. But a lot of this has to do with the fact that humanities degrees are emphasized at very selective and prestigious universities. Many of these institutions serve as finishing schools for the American elite, and these students are not focused on their immediate economic prospects because they intend to pursue post-graduate work (e.g., law school), or their social connections will probably suffice to land them good positions (also, affluent students can afford years of unpaid internships to position themselves).

Finally, an observation about the humanities. I think they are important. Knowing history and literature important. They are common touchstones that bind us, give richness and meaning to our lives. There is also variation in the humanities. People trained in analytic philosophy do learn genuinely portable skills in relation to analysis and decomposition of problems. In contrast, the majors influenced by Critical Theory produce ideological parrots.

When I was in college a religious studies graduate student once told me that having a background in the humanities was useful in the business world because you could talk to people about things and make yourself interesting. That is true, but I have a background in biochemistry and genetics and I have no problem in making myself interesting to talk to. All you need to do is read a lot, and I do do that.

Scientifically trained individuals would benefit from reading more widely in other disciplines. Scientists tend to be especially blind to the domain specificity of their ability to analyze and decompose problems, because their tools within-field are so powerful.

But that is neither here nor there when it comes to immigration. Ultimately it’s about values, and your vision for what your society should be. If we are going to limit immigration, and it seems like we will, then I believe that filtering for the “best and the brightest” is optimal, because these individuals, particular in STEM, will be innovators who generate positive externalities by ramping up productivity.

Addendum: Some people extoll the ability of the liberal arts to broaden your horizons and thinking critically about a wide variety of issues. My personal experience is that most people who study liberal arts are lazy, and the smart ones are pretty good at writing beautiful dense essays in short bursts. There are exceptions. People who go to “Great Books” schools, like St. John’s, for example, seem to exemplify what a liberal arts education should be about. But they are exceptions.

Arab Islamic science was not Arab Muslim

Someone stupid who follows me on Twitter said “It seems @razibkhan forgot the Arabs gave us algebra and many other scientific/mathematical advances.” The history of algebra is actually somewhat more antique than the Arabs, as outlined in Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra. But the origin of the word is Arabic. From Wikipedia:

The word algebra comes from the Arabic الجبر (al-jabr lit. “the reunion of broken parts”) from the title of the book Ilm al-jabr wa’l-muḳābala by Persian mathematician and astronomer al-Khwarizmi.

Though Wikipedia says that al-Khwarizmi is Persian, it is more accurate to say he was Iranian-speaking, because as his name attests his origins were in Khwarezm, which is in Central Asia. It is accurate to say that Arab Islamic civilization was intellectually productive in the centuries before 1000 A.D., but it is not accurate to say that Muslim Arab scholars were responsible for this.

A huge number of these scholars were not ethnic Arabs. In the early years a substantial number were not Muslim. Though it is often said that many were Persian, as recounted in Lost Enlightenment many of the “Persians” were not from Persia proper, but from Iranian regions of Central Asia which over the centuries have now become Turkified.

Why is this important? The multicultural nature of early Muslim (and later Ottoman) polities might inform us as to the future of this sort of diverse society. Second, it’s preferable that you don’t seem like an idiot if you want me to listen to anything you say.

Bringing back street kids

Just spent some time with a friend. He lives in a safe neighborhood, so I asked if there were any kids for his kids (they’re young) to play with. Apparently not really.

In this country today we have problems with racial and wealth inequality. There are huge debates about how we address these issues. And they don’t seem like they are going away any time soon.

But huge numbers of Americans adults grew up on the mean streets of the 1980s. We know there is a solution to childhood social isolation, because many of us grew up playing on streets, rather than being shepherded on ‘play dates.’ This is also an issue which most people agree on as a problem. We can solve this.

Totality, 2017

We saw totality in Independence, Missouri. It was a pretty long car trip with the kids, all of whom are under school age (though just barely in the case of the eldest). We had a big fright because there was a massive thunderstorm in the morning…but it cleared out for a few hours. And that was when the total eclipse occurred.

Really words don’t do the experience justice.

Chase a total eclipse if you get a chance.

Open Thread, 08/20/27

I’ve been off the map for a bit because I’m eclipse chasing. #TotalityOrBust as they say. The whole family has been converging on zone of totality, and now we’re there. Obviously I’m excited.

There are lots of things going on in the world. One thing though that I’m beginning to think is that people would benefit reading more cognition science. I know I certainly did years ago. The main issue is that we’re not rational in the way we think we’re rational, and that leads to a lot of confusions why other people behave the way they do. Check out Enigma of Reason (I came upon a lot of this literature through the study of the cognition of religion).

Complex Patterns of Admixture across the Indonesian Archipelago. Someone who knows archaeology should read this….

The genetic history of Ice Age Europe. This was published last year. But it should be re-read. Closely.

Blogging on an island as opposed to an archipelago

On a Twitter conversation it came up yesterday that a lot of people know each other from blogging in the 2000s. It was a different world back then, and the pond was much smaller. To my knowledge Derek Lowe is the only continuously active science blogger who has been at this longer than me (there are some, such as Dave Appell, who began blogging before me, but stopped for a while before starting up again). I’ve seen a lot of changes. Some good. Some perhaps not so good.

One major aspect is that blogging is no longer a conversation with many nodes. Rather, it’s a platform for individuals or networks to speak to their particular audience. I’m obviously part of this. I don’t subscribe to many blogs in my RSS feed. Basically I use Twitter to find blog posts. There are a few blogs I subscribe to, like Why Evolution Is True, but mostly I just wait until content shows up in my timeline.

And I’m not the only one. I have Google Analytics that go back very far. Below are referrals by site for equivalent periods in 2007, 2012, and 2017. I’ve standardized the top referral source (in pageviews) to 100.

2017, June – Aug
1 twitter 100
2 mobile facebook 38
3 36
4 facebook 33
5 20
6 19
7 11
8 9
9 9
10 6
2012, June – Aug
1 100
2 60
3 49
4 34
5 31
6 31
7 pulsenews 21
8 twitter 13
9 12
10 10
2007, June – Aug
1 100
2 38
3 20
4 19
5 17
6 11
7 6
8 4
9 4
10 3

I removed stuff like organic Google search, which I get a fair amount of. Additionally, I bolded all the sites where I am somehow involved in driving the traffic. So in 2017 I bolded Twitter because I have a big Twitter footprint that drives a lot of the traffic. I did not bold Facebook because I don’t use Facebook much to promote this website. Other people are sharing my posts. I separated mobile and non-mobile Facebook to show you that in 2017 mobile really matters.

You can see that over the years I’ve had to drive more and more of the traffic. I never posted my posts to Reddit. But for Twitter I push all my own content.