Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cognition’

I am reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line from the classic film Commando (1985). As I recall, he was eating breakfast with a very young Alyssa Milano:

Why don’t they just call him Girl George? It would cut down on the confusion.

Wait, that’s not right.

The man is serious about cutting down on confusion.

No, he had just shot Sharon Stone in the head on Mars while trying to reach a telepathic mutant rebel leader to recover memories of a terraforming alien artifact while unwittingly acting out the plans of his evil pre-memory-wipe self:

Consider that a divorce.

Wait, that was the markedly superior Total Recall (1990).

Fans of the film will recognize this as one of former Governor Schwarzenegger's least ridiculous facial expressions.

Now I’ve got it: he was dangling a man over a cliff with the aid of a clearly visible wire.

Remember when I promised to kill you last?

I lied.

Remember when I promised to stop arguing with Stupid, Liberal, Anti-White Bigots?

I lied.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop you off a cliff. Yet.

I’m happy — no, that’s not right either. I’m angry to inform you that I am now restarting the destructive side of ‘Park operations. The constructive side, which includes our awesome flyers, will continue as planned; in fact, will probably accelerate, since our operations are powered by burning racial hatred, and arguing with race denialists is an excellent (and renewable) source of fuel.

Why am I doing this? Same reasons I’ve always done it. It’s fun. It’s relaxing. And I want more people to know we’re out there, we who don’t buy into the race-denialist BS. I want our enemies to know it, and I especially want our allies to know it.

Let us begin.

Attraction

Sofia — whose personal motto is not, but probably ought to be, “a lightning bolt of knowledge blowing out the fuse of ignorance in the shitty old house of our liberal dystopia” — has directed me to another great bastion of social-scientific liberal lunacy: Sociological Images. Recently I’ve been having a blast in the comments over there, and I wanted to let you know.

Sofiastry is your source for... I dunno, fingers? Slightly sticky fingers.

A recent article, “Race and the Problems with Measuring Beauty ‘Objectively'” (note the relativist scare quotes) is a predictable attack on evolutionary psychology Satoshi Kanazawa’s research on the inferior attractiveness of Black women. There are two components to this supposed counter-argument. The first is that Black women are only less attractive because of evil White men; specifically,

the global history of slavery, colonialism, and race-based systems of domination that make it impossible to separate out our perceptions of what is beautiful and sexually appealing from historical ideologies that insisted that non-White peoples were unattractive.

… Given that history, it’s not shocking that White women would be rated most attractive and Black women least… the outcome of constant, long-standing cultural messages about attractiveness that resulted from efforts to legitimize and justify social and political inequalities.

In other words — and I’m not going to set up a straw man; this is actually what they’re saying — in other words, you may think you find Black women less attractive than White and Asian women, but you don’t. You actually find them just as attractive. You love their skin tone and their hair texture — can’t get enough of it! However, we’re all the unwitting victims of an historical ideology (that’s a set of ideas about history) that insists that non-White women are unattractive — er, except Asians and Native Americans, who score much higher than Blacks and quite close to Whites. Hispanics too, probably. Somehow we avoided that part of the historical ideology.

It might not be an "historical legacy," but something is definitely turning me on right now.

The author, Gwen Sharp (a feminist pseudo-scientist at Nevada State College), leaves several things unexplained.

  1. Like many conspiracy theorists, she doesn’t explain who, exactly, is transmitting these “constant, long-standing cultural messages” — though it’s not hard to guess — or how they accomplish it.
  2. She doesn’t explain constant, long-standing pro-Black cultural messages, such as the “Black Is Beautiful” movement, which even has its own TV show now.
  3. She doesn’t explain why, when a qualified scientist actually attempts to transmit a cultural message about attractiveness that disfavors Black women (which happens to match the data), he sets off a “firestorm” (Huffington Post), an “international race row,” and “international outrage” (Daily Mail); the article is promptly removed (along with the author’s biography) and an apology issued by the publisher; his institution begins an internal investigation; and fellow academics call for his dismissal in the name of their “multi-ethnic, diverse and international institution” (Daily Mail again).
  4. She doesn’t explain the statistics on interracial marriage.

That last one isn’t really Sharp’s fault. We can hardly expect her to examine the world she inhabits (i.e., the “objective” “facts”) before blaming all our problems on (I can only assume) rich White heterosexual men. She’s not some nerd scientist, for crying out loud — she’s a radical social scientist! And she’s very busy with her extremely important work on — um…

She will soon begin a research project interviewing water diviners, and focus on the way diviners and government hydrologists use scientific/rational language to validate their belief systems while disparaging each other. [Source: Nevada State College.]

Sharp’s theories don’t deserve a rigorous rebuttal. They deserve to be briefly mocked and promptly forgotten. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to erase my memories of the last two days and replace them with a tropical vacation on Mars.

Race

Before that, I should discuss the second component.

[Kanazawa] treats race like a real, biological, meaningful entity. But race is socially constructed; there is no clear biological dividing line that would allow us to put every person on the planet into racial categories [claim #1], since societies differ in the racial categories they recognize [claim #2] and “race” doesn’t map along unique sets of genes [claim #3] — there is more genetic variation among members of a so-called race as there are between members of different races [claim #4].

This is radical pseudoscience, plain and simple, and any college professor who claims to buy into it is willfully ignorant, promoting a radical political agenda, or both. That’s why claim #2, that “societies differ in the racial categories they recognize,” is inane: societies are not made up of experts on race, and even the people society considers “experts on race,” like Gwen Sharp, aren’t experts on race.

It’s also why so many of my comments have disappeared in “moderation,” including my very first: a detailed, documented explanation of why race is biological, which thoroughly debunks claim #3. See sections 2 and 4 of “Black and White,” supplemented with two rebuttals of race denialism: “‘Scientific racism’ is actually valid science (part 2)” and “Debunking race denialism 2: Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.”

If you’d rather just read it here, I don’t mind repeating myself. (I know, I know: you’re tired of the same old links. I’ll dig up some new ones just as soon as someone actually argues against the ones I have.)

Let’s start with the basics. Human beings are scientifically divided up into races (and subraces) according to exactly one criterion: ancestral geography. Blacks (comprising more than one race) came from sub-Saharan Africa, Whites came from Europe (basically), Asians (also comprising more than one race) came from… I forget where, and so on.

Anyway, the races evolved in virtual reproductive isolation for tens of thousands of years, except possibly the last few hundred years. Put together four evolutionary forces — founder effects, genetic drift, random mutations, and adaptation — and what do you get? Genetic differences. That’s why you can tell someone’s self-reported race from their genes with 99.86 percent accuracy just from looking at a few hundred genetic markers (American Journal of Human Genetics).

I brought pictures. From Tishkoff et al.’s 2009 paper “The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans” (Science 324(5930) 1035–1044):

Genetic variation all around the world. See the races there?

From Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, and Piazza’s “The History and Geography of Human Genes” (1994):

Cavalli-Sforza's genetic map of the world. Clearly, races do not exist.

Claim #4 is simply wrong, as Chuck pointed out in the comments on “Black and White.” From Neven Sesardic’s 2010 “Race: a social destruction of a biological concept” (Biology and Philosophy 25:143–162), citing Witherspoon et al.’s 2007 “Genetic similarities within and between human populations” (Genetics 176: 351–359):

A good measure of the robustness of racial genetic differentiation is the answer to the following question: “How often does it happen that a pair of individuals from one population is genetically more dissimilar than two individuals chosen from two different populations?” In fact, if many thousands of loci are used as a basis for judging genetic similarity and when individuals are sampled from geographically separated populations, the correct answer, which many will probably find surprising, is: “Never.”

Any two White (i.e., European) people are always more similar genetically than any White person is to any Black (i.e., sub-Saharan African). Of course, thanks to miscegenation, there now exist people who are 50 percent Black (or White, or Asian…), 90 percent Black, 1 percent Black, and so on. Claim #1 demands a “clear biological dividing line,” but that’s fallacious reasoning that can also be used to “prove” that height doesn’t exist.

Go ahead, draw a clear dividing line (one nanometer thick, say) between short and tall. Try it with slow and fast, big and small, or food and poison. You can’t do it — at least, you can’t do it in a meaningful way. Do you nevertheless learn something useful from statements like the following?

  1. “The robbery suspect is tall.”
  2. “You’re driving too fast.”
  3. “The chances of decapitation are not small.”
  4. “I’ve replaced all the food with poison.”
  5. “Your new high school is full of Black kids.”

It gets worse. Sharp links another article for support, this one by Sociological Images co-author Lisa Wade (a feminist pseudo-scientist at Occidental College), entitled “A Simple Lesson on the Social Construction of Race.” A very simple lesson indeed: the entire article can be summed up as follows.

There are people of all different skin colors. Therefore race doesn’t exist.

That’s it. That’s all. These women have deluded themselves into thinking race is nothing more than the color of your skin. They should look up “Black albinos” sometime. (No, it’s not an oxymoron.) They should consult a forensic anthropologist like George Gill, who can determine the race of a skeleton (PBS Nova). They should ask a geneticist, a medical doctor, and a statistician why an “epidemiologic perspective” (that’s with regard to the spread of disease) “strongly supports the continued use of self-identified race and ethnicity” (Genome Biology). Since they’re so concerned with telling Blacks they’re beautiful, they should also check up on how acknowledging those fictitious “real, biological, meaningful” racial differences can help doctors treat patients. I think fatal cardiac arrest has been conclusively linked to low self-esteem.

Discussion

I mentioned I’ve been having fun in the comments at Sociological Images. In the beginning, I was quite polite and reasonable, but I began to lose patience around the time I posted the following, for reasons which will soon become obvious.

UNAMUSED: For anyone not keeping up with this (rather pathetic and off-topic) debate about race differences in intelligence, or just race differences period: my opponents are unable to cite even one source to back up their opinions about race differences in intelligence. There are also unwilling to read and understand my sources (see above).

Instead, they use insults (“troll,” “white supremacist”), accusations of “racism” (a word which is now meaningless, thanks to people like them), outright lies (like the claim that I haven’t cited my sources), unsubstantiated assertions (everywhere), appeals to emotion, appeals to popularity, and of course their perfect ignorance of intelligence research.

Don’t be fooled.

Please ask yourself: why would two reproductively isolated populations of an animal species, evolving independently for tens of thousands of years, subject to all the usual natural forces (founder effects, genetic drift, random mutations, and adaptation), somehow come out with
(a) different skin and hair,
(b) different bone structure,
(c) different blood antibodies,
(d) different disease susceptibilities,
(e) different athletic strengths and weaknesses (watch the Olympics), and yet
(f) IDENTICAL BRAINS?

Evolution does not stop at the neck. And science is not concerned with your hurt feelings nor with your “progressive” politics.

A representative response (note the total lack of substance):

JUAN: Tough to decide which is worst and unamusing from you: Your faulty rhetoric or your faulty science. Now, provide some real evidence and cited that isn’t debunked eugenics or pseudo-science.

UNAMUSED: It’s like… it’s like you see the words I’ve written, which are all true, and then your brain just rejects them. Graft versus host, only the graft is REAL SCIENCE.

From that point on, my new comments mostly disappeared into “moderation,” meaning my distinguished opponents’ nasty, ignorant, insubstantial, promptly approved remarks went unchallenged. This displeased me, with predictable results. (I am, after all, the most hateful man on the Internet.) In the end, the thought-crime spree got so out of control, the entire discussion had to be put on hold pending a purge of hate facts, including my first (and least confrontational) comment, which explained why race is biological, not social.

UPDATE 2: The comments section has largely devolved into a flame war with lots of insults flying around, so I’m closing comments since I won’t be around to moderate them [i.e., delete only the ones I don’t agree with] for the next week. I will go in and clean out the comments threads [ditto] when I get a chance.

Therefore I will reproduce some of my exchanges here, before they get deleted.

Statistics

SYD: Plus, what about those of us who ARE significantly and predominantly mixed race? I am half black and half white. I have some distinctly “black” features, and some distinctly “European” ones. Am I “objectively” only half attractive? Or am I just deluded because my black brain-failings have tricked me into thinking I’m any attractive at all?

UNAMUSED: Yes. That’s exactly right. You haven’t misinterpreted at all.

If the average Black woman is less attractive than the average White woman, that means all Black women everywhere are ugly. Thus you are objectively half beautiful, half ugly.

If the average Black person is less intelligent than the average White person (they are), that means all Black people are stupid. Thus you are stupid.

You must have aced Stats 101.

We continued in this vein for some time.

White Supremacy

LETA: I see you like to flaunt your white-supremacy flag. I don’t see you giving intelligence tests to populations that do better than the average white (like Asians).

UNAMUSED: Yes, yes, white supremacy, “sieg heil” and such and such.

Anyway [table-drawing fail]:

group approx. mean IQ
European Jews 110
East Asians 105
Whites 100
Hispanics 90 ya they’re a race
Blacks 85 in America
70 in Africa

The Legend of Colonialism: Ocarina of Hatred

SIMONE LOVELACE: … Even if you could make a real case that certain features common in people of African descent were “objectively” unattractive (spoiler alert: you can’t!), culture bias is clearly a huge factor. …

UNAMUSED: Dark skin is a feature common in people of African descent which is “objectively” unattractive, in that all races prefer lighter skin, in general.

KJ: And might the legendary of colonialism have something to do with that?

UNAMUSED: Explain exactly what the “legacy” (I assume you meant that) of colonialism is, and precisely how it is causing e.g. Black Haitian girls to prefer White Barbie dolls to Black ones.

Or did you think you could just go “colonialism slavery imperialism white people did it lololz,” and everyone would just solemnly nod and go about their business?

MOLLY: Wait, you’re using *Haiti* as an example? … Because it’s not possible colonialism could’ve had ANY impact on Haiti (a nation founded when slaves rebelled against French colonial rule)? …

UNAMUSED: Listen to yourself: you’re claiming that centuries-old colonialism is making modern-day Haitian girls like White Barbie dolls better than Black Barbie dolls.

It’s just… retarded.

Concise

SCOTT: [a whole bunch of crap about the relationship between attraction, sex, reproduction, and evolution]

UNAMUSED: One big straw man argument. No point even addressing this nonsense.

Insecurity

ALIX: People who are insecure about their own intelligence/beauty/other factor always seem to want to demonstrate that some other group is inferior.

I’ve never really been sure why some people are so intent on proving that their group is *superior* to other groups (especially when those groups are more of a continuum than an actual delineated group). Life isn’t a football game. We all benefit if we are all appreciated for our contributions, and our strengths are utilized appropriately. By writing off an entire group, we are ALL weakened.

UNAMUSED: Gee, thank you for that amateur psychoanalysis.

Look, Alix: the reason why I think Blacks are innately less intelligent is because they score lower on intelligence tests, which are not culturally biased; and further research supports a 50–80% genetic explanation. I am not insecure about my own intelligence, and Kanazawa is not insecure about his attractiveness.

I might as well say “you’re only disagreeing with me because you’re agoraphobic.”

The tests are not culturally biased. [You] have no reason to believe they are — I mean, it’s not like you can find any ACTUAL examples of ACTUAL cultural bias on the WAIS. You’re just speculating because you don’t like the findings.

You don’t understand anything about statistics. No one is claiming IQ tests (or better yet g tests) predict your success in life with 100% accuracy (duh). They do, however, predict group outcomes. In particular, they predict Black failure.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I am so intent on proving that Whites are cognitively superior to Blacks is that (1) they are, and (2) shrieking harpies like the ones in the thread above can’t seem to grasp that simple fact, and their ignorance and bias are interesting to me.

We should be “writing off” Blacks as a group, because they are innately incapable of achieving the same success as other groups. That means stopping absurd discriminatory policies like AA and racial quotas.

This “writing off” is not discrimination. It has nothing to do with race. (Watch the race denialists fail to grasp this point.) It is a logical consequence of treating everyone as individuals without regard for race. Since Blacks are generally less intelligent, if you treat them like everyone else — as individuals — it’s going to look like discrimination.

PS Asians are cognitively superior to Whites.

Projection

An anonymous commenter succumbs to projection, but replacing “Unamused” by “a race denialist” yields perfection. I swear that wasn’t supposed to rhyme.

ANON: [A race denialist] will always double-down on the crazy, because he truly and solemnly believes in what he’s saying. A failure on his part to continue to believe in the truth of his and his sources claims will mean that he will have to do a full re-analysis of himself, his morals, his world-view, etc. in addition (most likely) to those of his friends and colleagues (and possibly his family and community members). It’s a truly scary thing to admit that something fundamental to how you perceive the world is absolutely wrong.

This is why you can’t reason with conspiracy theorists who believe what they do, and [a race denialist] is just like the conspiracy theorist whose life is consumed with uncovering the government plot that George W. Bush caused 9/11 or the other conspiracy theorist who believes that Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon.

Arguing with facts won’t help, either, since it’s likely that — like many conspiracy theorists — he’s incapable of understanding where his logic is faulty: conspiracy justification has become an unconscious reaction to dissonant stimuli that affects him at a level more basic than rational thought. Indeed, it hijacks rational thought and leads to rationalizing thought (of the type that either explains away the potential dissonance or builds a wall of denial against it), instead.

In short, he’s a person that doesn’t understand why the majority of people don’t understand the truth that is so clearly in front of them, and no amount of argumentation is going to change his mind about the truth he sees (let alone the intelligence of the people who can’t see it).

Other Highlights

  1. Commenter Bah wonders if I might be Kanazawa himself.
  2. Commenter Alix thinks Sofia and I are the same person. (We’re not… as far as I know.)
  3. No one — no one at all — bothers to address the information I presented. Oh well.

Anyway, I had a blast! Expect more. Now where did I put that memory modifier…

"Stop struggling. You're just making it worse." "Worse than getting my mind erased?" "Well... you're not helping!"

Read Full Post »

Today I begin a new series of short essays debunking race denialism. This series is distinguished by its eclectic approach: for each essay, I will analyze one major or recurring error, rather than picking apart every fabrication and fallacy in one text (as I did in this post, this post, and this post). This approach avoids a common annoyance in race denialist debunking: the constant need to point out the two most common errors, which are unsubstantiated assertions (claims without evidence or citation) and misrepresentations of the race realist position (straw man fallacies). A single text often contains dozens of these.

The subject of today’s essay will be familiar to many readers. I know I said you’d never see him on this blog again, but race denialist Zek J Evet’s latest attempt to refute race realism (ZSA, found here) is so dishonest and incompetent, I could not in good conscience ignore it. Furthermore, his post was written as a direct response to my criticisms; specifically, “in response to (certain criticisms) that [Zek has] not cited enough source material properly, particularly from experts in the field, nor engaged with sufficiently recent research contrary to the opposition’s position” (ZSA). This was indeed one of my criticisms. However, the problem persists in ZSA; two examples are sufficient.

Repeatability

Consider Zek’s claim that IQ measurements have low repeatability. For now, I will ignore all errors except the improper citing of sources.

Now, the assertion that IQ is overwhelmingly heritable is false. How do we know this? Because when measuring IQ we get different results with each test. Unlike when measuring someone’s height multiple times in a row, an IQ test score changes constantly. (It changes based on mood), (it changes based on diet). (it even changes when testing the same person twice in a row!) This leads to IQ having a low heritability when plugged into narrow-sense and broad-sense heritability equations due to having a low repeatability. Therefore, it is impossible to determine if it is heritable, and to what degree. [Source: ZSA]

Zek’s first source is a 1992 study in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, “Effects of major depression on estimates of intelligence.” The authors found that “depressed patients had a pronounced deficit in performance IQ” but “were equivalent in verbal IQ” to the control group. It is not clear how the effects of major depressive disorder support the claim that IQ “changes based on mood.” Nor is this study relevant to the repeatability of IQ, which refers to “whether or not a trait varies when it is measured multiple times,” according to Zek’s own source, Mielke, Konigsberg, and Relethford’s Human Biological Variation (HBV, p. 242).

Finally, the authors of the cited study clearly believe their results are valid, which requires their IQ tests to be accurate and reliable; otherwise, they could not conclude that major depression affects IQ. The authors even believe IQ scores measure intelligence!

Zek’s second source is a 2011 story in the Daily Mail, “Danger of a junk food diet for children.” The story refers to a study by Pauline Emmett and Kate Northstone in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. There are two obvious problems with the study. First, the subjects were tested at age eight. As children age, IQ heritability increases and the effects of shared environment (including home diet) decrease (easily verified in the literature). Second, although the authors claim the IQ difference is environmental, they did not account for the effects of genes. It is perfectly plausible that more intelligent parents feed their children more nutritious food, especially since IQ correlates with socioeconomic status (SES) and low-SES families tend to have less nutritious diets (both also easily verified in the literature).

Again, the story and the study it cites are not relevant to the repeatability of IQ measurements. Again, the authors of the study clearly believe their results are valid, which requires their IQ tests to be accurate and reliable; otherwise, they could not conclude that poor diet affects IQ. The Daily Mail story even identifies IQ with “brainpower”!

Zek’s third source is a 2001 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, “Stability and Change in Children’s Intelligence Quotient Scores: A Comparison of Two Socioeconomically Disparate Communities.” This is supposed to support the claim that IQ scores change “when testing the same person twice in a row.” This claim is not precise, nor is it relevant to IQ heritability. No race realist claims (or believes) that an intelligence test — or any other kind of test — is 100 percent repeatable, nor is 100 percent repeatability necessary to study IQ heritability. Even human body weight fluctuates measurably over the course of any given day; are we to believe our bathroom scale provides no information about our health?

The only relevant part of the study is the following statement: “repeated IQ testing during childhood reveals considerable change within individuals.” This does not support the claim that IQ tests have low repeatability, only that they do not have an unattainable 100 percent reliability. Again, the authors clearly believe IQ tests accurately and reliably measure something important: “[d]espite controversies about the meaning and nature of general intelligence, few would dispute the claim that scores on standardized intelligence quotient (IQ) tests are strong predictors of important outcomes for members of both majority and minority groups.”

Thus all of Zek’s sources contradict rather than support his argument.

Human Biological Variation

In the next paragraph, Zek cites Human Biological Variation (HBV), although he refers to it incorrectly as “Human Variation” and neglects to mention the third author, John H. Relethford. Again, I will ignore all errors except for improper citing of sources.

Where am I getting this from? James H Mielke, and Lyle Konigsberg, two bio-anthropologists who wrote (along with other scientists) a basic introductory textbook entitled (Human Variation) [sic]. (Among others) this text is used in virtually every physical anthropology class for undergraduate students in America, and all of them contain the same/similar information regarding heritability. Feel free to pick up a copy of the book and flip over to page 60-ish to read the section on this subject yourself if you’re curious. [Source: ZSA]

Only one edition of HBV, the first, has anything relevant to IQ or heritability on page 60. In that edition (HBV1), the only reference to IQ between pages 55 and 65 (inclusive) is the following sentence.

Assortative mating does to some extent occur for quantitative traits such as stature and intelligence quotient (IQ) (Spuhler 1968, Vandenberg 1972), but the evidence for assortative mating for simple genetic loci is less substantial. [Source: HBV1, p. 60]

There is no reference to heritability between pages 55 and 65. Page 60 itself belongs to a section on assortative mating, in which “genotypes are more (or less) likely to mate than we would expect at random” (HBV1, p. 59). Thus the sentence quoted from page 60 essentially states that higher-IQ people tend to mate with higher-IQ people. It is not clear how this is relevant to the heritability of IQ. (If tall, slender people were more likely to mate with tall, slender people, would that mean height and weight are less heritable?) The authors certainly do not claim it is (HBV1, pp. 343-344). In fact, their statements imply that IQ is a quantitative trait at least partly determined by genotype (HBV1, pp. 60-61).

Interestingly enough, HBV (“used in virtually every physical anthropology class for undergraduate students in America” according to ZSA) has the following to say about race differences in intelligence.

There is little debate over the average 15-point difference [in IQ] between American blacks and whites. What is less clear, and vigorously debated, is the meaning of this difference. Is the black-white difference genetic, environmental, or both? [Source: HBV1, p. 347]

The authors clearly believe that IQ tests are accurate and reliable enough that a 15-point IQ gap must be accounted for. They also state that “[t]he available evidence suggests that IQ, like many complex traits, is affected by both genetics and environment and that a simple debate over nature versus nurture is useless” (HBV, p. 347). This is entirely consistent with the race realist theory, since race realists do not claim (or believe) that IQ is 100 percent genetic.

Thus, again, Zek’s source contradicts rather than supports his argument. I conclude that Zek has not actually read the literature he cites. This makes some of his statements quite embarrassing for him.

… I’ve finally completed this final round of sources and citations regarding the heritability of IQ…

These scholars [including L. Konigsberg of HBV] will be my main sources for the following discussion, along with other articles from less preeminent researchers in the field. …

Where am I getting this [i.e., low repeatability and low heritability of IQ] from? … a basic introductory textbook entitled (Human Variation) [sic]. … Feel free to pick up a copy of the book and flip over to page 60-ish to read the section on this subject yourself if you’re curious.

… I know! So amazing! My references include actual books, than you can hold in your hands and turn the pages, instead of another URL to nowhere. …

READ A BOOK! It ain’t that hard… for most people. [Source: ZSA]

Indeed, reading a book is not that hard for most people. For Zek J Evets, it evidently is.

Update: I attempted to notify Zek of this rebuttal on his blog, but he chose to delete the comment rather than respond.

Read Full Post »

Highlights: in section 2, read why race is genetic. In section 13, read why intelligence tests are accurate and not culturally biased. In section 16, read why race denialism is politics, not science, in the words of a professional forensic anthropologist.

Tonight we take a break from the futility of arguing logically with feminists, and return to the equally thankless task of explaining to race denialists why they are so very, very wrong. Our subject, again, is hateful, ignorant, prejudiced blogger Zek J Evets. Last time I debunked every claim in his post, “21st Century Scientific Racism.” Today I will do the same with his even stupider follow-up, “Deconstructing Scientific Racism in the 21st Century.”

1. Introduction: Pots and kettles

So why did he need to follow up on the subject of “scientific racism,” anyway?

ZEK: [S]ome people have asked me — or challenged me — to discuss this issue from a more “scientific” perspective, as opposed to my more emotional responses.

Naturally, I called BS on those who pretend they’re objective to my subjective, because that’s an ad hominem dismissal being shoveled through a strawman argument, ignoring the fact that nobody is completely objective, and the so-called “race-realists” are just as influenced by their emotions as I am — only they refuse to admit it.

First of all, that’s not what “straw man argument” means. Second, it’s not an ad hominem fallacy, either. Zek’s opponents are right to point out that he did nothing but shriek insults, offering no rebuttal to the claims of race realists, some of which I outlined in my post. Here is the proof, in Zek’s own words: a summary of his first post.

ZEK: The debate is basically Us & Them. Race realist HBDers versus regular folks. … THEY ARE ALL FULL OF SHIT… fuckwits… racist douchebags… ignorance… idiocy… incapable of thinking outside the dogmatic little box they’ve dug their ostrich-like heads into… ignorant pseudo-science… fucking Regular Joe Shmoe… some bullshit diploma-factory degree in Armchair Academics… NONE OF THESE GUYS HAS ANY EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD! … all a bunch of bullshitters… neo-scientific racism… [citing sources] like Westboro Baptists recite homophobic slurs at military funerals… special brand of racist… dogmatic indoctrination… Steve Sailer needs to sit his racist ass down, and let the Grown-Ups talk. … Please, go find someone to sell a computer, since that’s what you actually do for a living. [Note: Zek is a college student.] … racists in-denial… listen here Stevie [Stephen Hsu]… YOU’RE NOT WHITE. Stop trying to be. And stop being a racist douchebag… hypocrisy is staggeringly blinding… smacks of the self-same arguments used by Creationists to foist “intelligent design” into classrooms… yelling, raving, that the establishment is trying to cover it up! They talk of conspiracy theories like a crazy person… some ancient McCarthyite resurrected from the depths of the 50’s Red Scare… Like a zombie, moaning for… BRAAAAAAAAAAIIIINNNSSSS!… they’re so full of racist shit, it’s hard to separate the hater from the hatred… pig-fuckers.

Third, Zek himself constantly commits straw man fallacies (that’s lying about what your opponent said — see my previous post and below) and ad hominem fallacies (that’s calling your opponent names — see above).

ZEK: … I am ready to go into the exact, bio-anthropological problems with HBD, “race-realism” and refute them at the scientific level.

Be warned, all ye who enter here: this is going to be a science lesson, so pay attention!

Be warned: everything Zek is about to say is politicized pseudoscience.

2. Race exists, and it is genetic

ZEK: First, let’s begin with the definition of Race.

There isn’t one. Genetically speaking, race cannot be traced. There is no “gene” (or group of genes) that codes for Blackness, or Whiteness, or any other ethnicity, at least, none that we know of.

Wrong. Just because no single gene codes for race, doesn’t mean race isn’t genetic. No single gene codes for height, yet height is 60 to 80 percent heritable. Zek’s argument is so flawed, you can use it to “prove” that Chinese people are just as tall as Norwegians. (They’re not.) And just because we haven’t identified all the genes that play a role in determining race, doesn’t mean race isn’t genetic. That’s true of practically every hereditary trait. (Turns out genetics is hard.) It doesn’t make those traits less hereditary.

ZEK: The International Human Genome Project confirmed this when their work showed that humans are 99.99% the same. Even people so unrelated as to be from completely opposite continents!

It’s really too bad Zek couldn’t be bothered to do any research. (That’s why he doesn’t cite any sources.) Let’s get a more accurate picture of human genetic variation from Nature Genetics:

The average proportion of nucleotide differences between a randomly chosen pair of humans… is consistently estimated to lie between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 1,500 [about seven to ten times higher than Zek claims]. … The [1 in 1,000] value for Homo sapiens can be put into perspective by considering that humans differ from chimpanzees at only 1 in 100 nucleotides, on average. Because there are approximately three billion nucleotide base pairs in the haploid human genome, each pair of humans differs, on average, by two to three million base pairs.

So the average difference from a human to a chimpanzee is only ten to fifteen times bigger than the average difference between two humans. That alone should tell you how little we learn about human genetic variation from throwing around numbers like “1 in 1,000.” Tiny genetic differences make a huge difference to us. (Unless that’s racist against chimpanzees?)

Of the 0.1% of DNA that varies among individuals, what proportion varies among main populations? Consider an apportionment of Old World populations into three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe), a grouping that corresponds to a common view of three of the ‘major races’. Approximately 85–90% of genetic variation is found within these continental groups, and only an additional 10–15% of variation is found between them…

It is tempting to conclude that race isn’t genetic, because the genetic variation within races is greater than the variation between races. However, this is a fallacy. Lewontin’s Fallacy, to be precise, identified by the statistician, geneticist, and evolutionary biologist A.W.F. Edwards. From that article:

it is nonetheless possible to classify individuals into different racial groups with an accuracy that approaches 100% when one takes into account the frequency of the alleles at several loci at the same time. This happens because differences in the frequency of alleles at different loci are correlated across populations — the alleles that are more frequent in a population at two or more loci are correlated when we consider the two populations simultaneously. Or in other words, the frequency of the alleles tends to cluster differently for different populations.

If you look at genetic clusters, instead of blindly comparing average genetic differences between people (recall that we are 99 percent similar to chimpanzees, according to that thinking), you find races. Edwards explains:

[t]here is nothing wrong with Lewontin’s statistical analysis of variation, only with the belief that it is relevant to classification. It is not true that “racial classification is… of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance”. It is not true, as Nature claimed, that “two random individuals from any one group are almost as different as any two random individuals from the entire world” and it is not true, as the New Scientist claimed, that “two individuals are different because they are individuals, not because they belong to different races” and that “you can’t predict someone’s race by their genes”.

Don’t take my word for it. You can actually look at the genetic clusters yourself. From Gene Expression at Discover Magazine, check out “Genetic variation within Africa (and the world)”. There’s a great graph from a 2009 paper by Tishkoff et al. in Science, entitled “The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans” (Figure 1 — click for larger version). It’s

a three dimensional PCA [principal components analysis] plot. It has the first, second and third principal components of variation. In other words, the three largest independent dimensions in terms of explanatory power of genetic variation. Panel A includes all world populations, and panel B just Africans.

Figure 1: Genetic variation between races. Source: Tishkoff et al. (2009).

I know, I know: it hardly stands up to Zek’s Microsoft Paint picture. I’m doing my best here.

Geneticists, medical doctors, and statisticians agree,

an epidemiologic perspective [studying health and disease on the population level] on the issue of human categorization in biomedical and genetic research… strongly supports the continued use of self-identified race and ethnicity. … [The authors] demonstrate here that from both an objective and scientific (genetic and epidemiologic) perspective there is great validity in racial/ethnic self-categorizations, both from the research and public policy points of view.

That’s why acknowledging the existence of biological race can help doctors treat patients.

The American Society of Human Genetics reports that

[g]enetic cluster analysis of the microsatellite markers [in a study of the genetics of hypertension] produced four major clusters, which showed near-perfect correspondence with the four self-reported race/ethnicity categories. Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity. On the other hand, we detected only modest genetic differentiation between different current geographic locales within each race/ethnicity group. Thus, ancient geographic ancestry, which is highly correlated with self-identified race/ethnicity—as opposed to current residence—is the major determinant of genetic structure in the U.S. population.

Again, that’s a 99.86 percent success rate, comparing gene clusters to self-reported race. Are you starting to feel a little cheated by the shallowness of Zek’s 99.99 percent “analysis”?

Why do I even need to prove this? Zek’s ideas contradict common sense. See Figure 2.

Figure 2: I wonder if race is a hereditary trait?

3. Racial stereotypes: it’s okay when he uses them

Well, that takes care of the first six sentences. Let’s move on.

ZEK: … even more importantly, the reason there is no biological or genetic definition for race in humans is because race in humans is not used in a biological or genetic sense.

Race is used as a sociocultural construct, to define and categorize people from different geographic areas based on morphological features (skin-color, nose shape, hair texture) and social stereotypes.

If you’re having trouble deciphering the logic here, that’s perfectly normal. You can’t actually conclude that race doesn’t have a genetic basis, just because ordinary people don’t use genetic analysis to tell what race someone is. Of course, if they did, they would get the same results exactly. (Remember that “near-perfect [99.86%] correspondence with the four self-reported race/ethnicity categories.”)

ZEK: When we think of “Black people” the stereotypes go: dark skin, kinky hair, but we also think of good dancers, musicians, aggressive, not smart, very poor, awesome at sports, and lots of other descriptions which have nothing to do with a person’s genes. Even features like dark skin and kinky hair are not unique to Black people; these characteristics could exist in various ethnic and racial groups. For instance, Sephardic Jews have dark skin and kinky hair, and so do Aboriginals. Good dancers could also mean Hispanic people, or Greeks, or Whirling Dervishes. These categories are not delineated enough for scientific experimentation — indeed, you cannot separate ANY of them from their cultural context — that is the environment that we find them in — to see which ones unique to certain populations. And equally important is that they can apply to any number of groups.

Notice how he simply declares that genes have nothing to do with athletic ability or aggression or intelligence. He is wrong, of course. He is obviously wrong about athletic ability. He is also wrong about aggression: genes are known to play a significant role, especially in adolescent delinquency and violence (remind you of any race in particular?). See Guo, Roettger, and Cai (2008), “The Integration of Genetic Propensities into Social-Control Models of Delinquency and Violence among Male Youths,” American Sociological Review, 73: 543–568. (See how easy that was, Zek? At least, it’s easy to cite sources when you have sources…)

We will look at intelligence in detail in sections 10–13. For now it is enough to note that he asserts there is absolutely no genetic component to six things (and unspecified “lots of other descriptions”) without presenting any evidence whatsoever. That is because there is no evidence for any of those claims, nor will there ever be. The first law of behavior genetics is that all human behavioral traits are heritable. (The first rule of Fight Club is… not relevant.)

He also seems to think that if Jews have the same hair as blacks (they don’t) and Hispanics are just as good at dancing as blacks (?), that means black people don’t exist. And yet he’s tacitly admitted that only black people have the specific combination of traits we use to identify them, such as skin color, hair texture, and bone structure (see section 9), all of which are genetic.

Of course, real scientists don’t consider dancing ability or poverty when they classify races. They consider genes, and the traits determined by those genes. Genes do not have a “cultural context,” and they do not “apply to any number of groups” (section 2), so Zek’s supposed cultural traits are all perfectly irrelevant.

4. Zek admits that race is genetic

ZEK: Yet we can, with a high degree of certainty, identity people of different races. How is this so? This reveals another important component of race: the link to geographic location. We tie race to human groups that exist in certain areas of the planet. Black people come from Africa. White people come from Europe. Hispanic people from the Americas, etc and so on.

This is why we can identify people of different races, because we can link their features to ancestral populations in certain geographic areas.

Wait, we can “link their features to ancestral populations”? So their features, which he says we use to identify their race, come from ancestral populations, which makes them hereditary. In other words: racial features are genetic.

5. Evolution I: Slow and steady creates the race

ZEK: But as the world changes, so do races. Today’s races are not the same as races a thousand years ago. Evolution is always occurring, according to Darwin, and as such, human variation is as much a factor in how we differ from each other today as we do from people who lived hundreds of years ago.

Yes, evolution is indeed always occurring. And Africans were reproductively isolated from Europeans for many thousands of years (because, essentially, cavemen didn’t drive cars). When sub-populations of a species (not to be confused with sub-species) are reproductively isolated, they begin to diverge, due to (1) founder effects, (2) genetic drift, (3) random mutations (note that gene flow is prevented by geographic separation), and (4) adaptation (sometimes called “survival of the fittest”). That Europeans and Africans remain genetically indistinguishable after that many generations apart is absurdly unlikely.

Go ahead, ask Zek to explain exactly how he got from (a) “[t]oday’s races are not the same as races a thousand years ago,” and (b) “human variation is as much a factor in how we differ from each other today,” all the way to (c) “[g]enetically speaking, race cannot be traced.” Because I’m pretty sure he’s missing a few steps in there…

ZEK: Hold on, wait a second! I said above that we’re all 99.99% the same… How can there be variation then? Well, that’s the rub of it: we’re obviously the same species, because we can reproduce with one another, and we’re obviously not sub-species, because because all groups of humans interbreed naturally without needing to live in a crowded city. But we do exhibit variation: genetic variation and physical variation. We don’t all look the same, and the small percentage of our genes that don’t match also differ in some interesting ways.

None of this is disputed by race realists. All of it contradicts his earlier claims about human genetic variation.

ZEK: So while we haven’t evolved to the point of being too different, we do still change over time. This is based on Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium, which means that species tend to change only a little over time, and then in brief moments experience rapid evolutionary changes.

Gould was biased by his radical politics, but it’s not particularly important in light of the following: Zek simply declares, without supporting evidence, that although the races have been evolving in isolation, they were evolving too slowly to create any real differences between races… even though races show “genetic variation and physical variation”… even though “we can identify people of different races” by their ancestral features. Hm.

And how does he know they didn’t experience these “rapid evolutionary changes”? (The words “citation needed” spring constantly to mind.) And how does he reconcile this with genetic clusters? (Trick question: he doesn’t know what they are.)

6. Evolution II: Under selection pressure, or: I adapt to the rains down in Africa

ZEK: Variation is one of the keys to our species’ survival. It helped us survive disease, disaster, and even other animals. Natural selection constantly puts pressures on us that shape our physiology, and the mechanism in us that allows this is our genetics.

Race-realists and HBDers like to think that this means humans have evolved into biologically grounded, genetically distinct races, and that this affects traits like aggressiveness, and especially IQ.

Sadly, for them, this is not the case.

Indeed, for thousands of years, Africans have been subjected to the selection pressures of Africa, Europeans to the selection pressures of Europe, Asians to the selection pressures of Asia, and so on. Is it possible that’s why Africans have a genetic resistance to one kind of malaria — a tropical parasite — but Europeans don’t?

Not to worry, Zek has a funny picture of a narwhal to distract you from exactly this kind of inconvenient question.

7. Evolution III: Geographical separation anxiety

ZEK: Sure, we’ve evolved over time, and thus we are always changing. But race is not a “fixed” category. A Black person today has very little in common with a Black person a thousand years ago other than that they both belong to the same species. Why is this? Because of the same theory that HBDers and race-realists use to justify their claims: evolution.

How is comparing black people today to black people thousands of years ago, relevant to comparing black people today to white people today? Answer: it’s not. The race realist position, which happens to also be the consensus of mainstream evolutionary biologists, is that when the Europeans went to Europe, and the Africans went to (or stayed in) Africa, they were genetically very similar, but over the next few thousand years, they diverged. Of course people today are different from people in the past; that’s necessary for the race realist position, not contradictory to it.

ZEK: Remember! Race as we define it is not based on your genes, but on phenotypic and sociocultural factors.

Remember! He has failed to show that race is not based on genes, and he has never even tried to show that it’s sociocultural. (If that were true, you could literally turn black people into white people by treating them differently. Does this sound like a plausible description of the universe we live in?)

ZEK: [Race] is based on morphological/physiological/phenotypic characteristics, and geographic ancestry. (Which is still problematic, since all humans originated from Africa in the first place.)

And those morphological/physiological/phenotypic characteristics are known to have hereditary components. And if you inherit traits from your ancestors, then those traits are genetic.

ZEK: Ancestry is basically where you can trace certain markers in your DNA to. There are some genes which have a higher frequency in certain groups than in others, and are used to link you to various groups in human history.

Very good! Just replace “groups” by “races,” and you’ve got it!

ZEK: One of the most common methods of doing that is with Mitochondrial DNA.

Now, the problem with this is that by tracing ancestry, we can only point to where your ancestors came from — not what they looked like. We don’t really know. A good example of this is how humans are taller now than in previous generations ([Scientific American] has a great article) and this has a lot to do with access to better healthcare, nutrition, and other environmental factors.

Basically, tracing ancestry only gives you a location for a distant ancestor, and doesn’t inextricably link race to a gene, or genes. Nor does it help us at all in determining how races looked back then.

Again, race realists — and evolutionary biologists — believe that Europeans and Africans (to use the most relevant example) looked about the same when they separated geographically. Apparently, they diverged evolutionarily, because… wait for it… white people don’t look like black people, and their kids don’t look like black people’s kids. Nothing Zek wrote here contradicts anything I’ve written above.

ZEK: They could have looked just like different races do now, but that is unlikely, as we know for a fact that human physiology has been changing rapidly, even though genetically we’ve been rather slow to exhibit a wide spectrum of variation in our DNA.

If the various human races have been changing slowly genetically, but rapidly in physiology (our bodies), then that means that very small genetic differences can mean big differences in our bodies. So why, again, did his false 99.99 percent statistic prove human beings are all one big race?

8. Taxonomy, or: Goddamn it, now I’ve got Toto stuck in my head

ZEK: And so we’re back to the problem of: how do we define race?

Here he indulges in some rambling about insects. It is not relevant.

I bless the rains down in — oh, he’s back.

ZEK: Race is a taxonomic classification, meaning it is a theoretical construct too. The word “race” represents a category in a taxonomy, and so it’s essentially a made-up word that stands for what we believe a race is.

I’m pretty sure a “made-up word” in a “taxonomic classification” can’t make you more susceptible to diseases. But I’m also totally sure Zek can find some way to blame white people for black people getting Alzheimer’s disease.

There follows more irrelevant information about taxonomy.

9. Forensic anthropology, or: CSI Serengeti

ZEK: Race doesn’t match-up well over time, and even forensic anthropologists can’t determine what race a person was with any accuracy past a certain point in history, and the people they can identify the race of need to have only a minimum level of decomposition. And even then their accuracy is only 80%, and significantly less for people of mixed-race.

Interesting that he doesn’t cite any sources. I checked it out myself, and discovered that forensic anthropologists “can determine race (e.g. Asian, African, or European ancestry) from skeletal remains with a high degree of accuracy by conducting bone analysis.” The source is George W. Gill, a professional forensic anthropologist — not that I don’t trust Zek, a college student who doesn’t understand genetics or evolution (see above) or know what a correlation is (see below). It just pays to be careful.

I recommend that you read the whole thing. Gill (sadly, not Grissom) writes:

I happen to be one of those very few forensic physical anthropologists who actually does research on the particular traits used today in forensic racial identification (i.e., “assessing ancestry,” as it is generally termed today). … I have found that forensic anthropologists attain a high degree of accuracy in determining geographic racial affinities (white, black, American Indian, etc.) by utilizing both new and traditional methods of bone analysis. … No forensic anthropologist would make a racial assessment based upon just one of these methods, but in combination they can make very reliable assessments, just as in determining sex or age. …

… I have been able to prove to myself over the years, in actual legal cases, that I am more accurate at assessing race from skeletal remains than from looking at living people standing before me. So those of us in forensic anthropology know that the skeleton reflects race, whether “real” or not, just as well if not better than superficial soft tissue does. The idea that race is “only skin deep” is simply not true, as any experienced forensic anthropologist will affirm.

10. I still do not think that word means what you think it means

ZEK: So now that we’ve got our working definition of race, let’s start with disproving the scientific racist claims.

Philippe Rushton is a popular, and oft quoted scientist in the realm of scientific racism. He says that IQ is heritable at 0.8, which is basically 80%. This means that the bulk of a person’s intelligence is determined by the genes they inherit from their parents and ancestors.

I feel a little embarrassed on Zek’s behalf. That’s not what heritability is. It’s also not what Rushton says. He says (and the intelligence research agrees) that the heritability of IQ is 0.7 to 0.8 in adults. It increases as you age, which is why Zek’s own link says “[d]ifferent studies have measured the heritability of IQ to be anywhere from 40% to 80%.”

By the way, 0.8 is exactly 80 percent, by the definition of the word “percent.” Speaking of percentages, what’s your confidence in Zek’s science?

Anyway, what Rushton’s findings mean is that 70 to 80% of the difference between one adult’s intelligence and another adult’s intelligence is caused by the differences between their genes. Talking about “the bulk,” or 80 percent, “of a person’s intelligence” makes no sense.

11. Gloss

ZEK: [Heritability is a proportion] that describes phenotypic variation between a population that is due to genetic differences. This also includes environmental factors.

It is simply not true that heritability “includes environmental factors,” which Zek would know if he had actually read his own link. It’s rather like saying “even numbers are numbers that are divisible by two, and include odd numbers.” And “between a population” is grammatically incorrect, but I’m starting to feel guilty for pointing out all these errors.

However, Rushton makes his first mistake in that IQ is a trait with low repeatability. That is, IQ can be measured over and over again, and different results will occur. … You can test someone over and over again, in a relatively short time-span, and you’ll receive different results. This requires you to “gloss” these results into an average, which is then correlated to the individual’s IQ.

The problem is that a “gloss” doesn’t reflect true IQ, only how well someone can take a test over and over again.

I no longer feel guilty. Those are all blatant lies. To disprove them, all I had to do was type “repeatability, psychology” into Google and look at the first hit: an introductory psychology textbook. (I hope Zek studies harder for his exams than he does for these debates!) Psychologists calculate the “test-retest reliability” exactly so that they can compensate for the different results people get by taking the test over and over. What do they find?

The WISC, Stanford-Binet, Progressive Matrices, and other commonly used intelligence tests all have reliabilities above .9 [“basically” 90 percent].

IQ scores are reasonably stable over time for most individuals. Many studies have found correlations near .9 [still “basically” 90 percent] for people taking the same test at times 10 to 20 years apart.

10 to 20 years apart, with a 90% correlation — frankly, it’s hard to imagine how Zek could be any wronger about IQ tests.

Rushton is a psychology professor, and “an honest and capable researcher” according to the great biologist (and, coincidentally, entomologist) E.O. Wilson. He knows what repeatability is. You may have noticed that Zek doesn’t actually point to where Rushton fails to take repeatability into consideration. That’s because there’s no such place to point at.

What he calls a “gloss,” real scientists call a mean and ordinary people call an average. It’s not a racist trick: they really are just testing lots of people; getting very stable, reliable results; and averaging out those results over all those people to get an accurate average IQ score for that population.

12. Statistics is not his strong suit

ZEK: Correlations don’t represent causation; they’re scientific guesstimates.

Oh my God. He just called correlations (“one of the most common and most useful statistics”) scientific guesstimates. This moment from Zoolander was the first thing that came to mind.

ZEK: This low repeatability of IQ means it has a lower heritability, when processed through the equations. So Rushton is wrong about his 0.8.

As we’ve discussed, IQ tests are very reliable; psychologists, who know exactly what repeatability is, have established a 70 to 80 percent heritability for IQ in adults; Zek simply does not know what the “equations” are; and Rushton has got the right answer, or close enough for our purposes.

It’s not necessary, but I would also like to point out that you cannot get from “low repeatability of IQ” to “lower heritability,” no matter how many “equations” you “process” it through. The very best you could get from low repeatability is uncertain heritability. After all, if a test doesn’t reliably measure intelligence, that doesn’t tell you anything about where intelligence comes from. Genes or environment? Who knows. It just tells you that you don’t know. Of course, he’s wrong about repeatability in the first place. I just want you to see how bad he is at science.

13. “Some cultures find different things important. Like basket weaving. Or crafts.”

ZEK: … IQ is a culturally constructed label. What we deem “smart” is based on our culture. Why? Because testing has historically reflected cultural knowledge, from reading certain books, to knowing certain facts, and even the names for shapes. Different cultures value different types/forms of knowledge. The Yanamamo [sic] don’t value technological expertise as much as we do, but they do value the ability to find food in the Amazonian jungles. The Nuer value the ability to understand how to properly raise cattle, not read Huckleberry Finn.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. IQ tests measure intelligence, not cultural knowledge. They are not biased by language or literature. From the linked article, signed by fifty experts in intelligence research:

Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings — “catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.

Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well. They are among the most accurate (in technical terms, reliable and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments. They do not measure creativity, character personality, or other important differences among individuals, nor are they intended to.

While there are different types of intelligence tests, they all measure the same intelligence. Some use words or numbers and require specific cultural knowledge (like vocabulary). Others do not, and instead use shapes or designs and require knowledge of only simple, universal concepts (many/few, open/closed, up/down).

… Intelligence tests are not culturally biased against American blacks or other native-born, English-speaking peoples in the U.S. Rather, IQ scores predict equally accurately for all such Americans, regardless of race and social class. Individuals who do not understand English well can be given either a nonverbal test or one in their native language.

The Yanomamo (spelling words correctly is a sign of intelligence) are indeed good at surviving in the Amazon rain forest, but that is not intelligence. It is a skill — a survival skill, to be precise — learned from your experiences (i.e., practice) and your culture. Learned survival skills (which I suppose we call “wisdom” in old people and “street smarts” in black urban people) are useful things to have — and we, with our technological expertise, surely have learned survival skills for the environment we live in. (“Environment” doesn’t just mean rocks and trees.)

However, those skills are not themselves intelligence. Having a rifle (good old Western technological expertise) probably helps you survive in the Amazon rain forest too, but guns are not intelligence. Having a book called Yanomamo Survival Tactics For Dummies would definitely help me out, but books are not intelligence either. Intelligence is what you use to learn; to acquire new skills; to solve problems you’ve never solved before.

It’s (obviously) not that the Yanomamo don’t value technology that would enable them to shoot dangerous predators from a safe distance. They just never invented guns.

ZEK: There are different kinds of intelligence, from the Triarchic theory to Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences. There’s emotional intelligence, kinetic intelligence, and others. Shoot, intelligence has more flavors than Baskin-Robbins!

Wrong. Emotional intelligence has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s just a deceptive name for social skills. “Kinetic intelligence,” intelligence of the body, is what normal people — people who aren’t committed to the hopelessly irrational notion that intelligence isn’t real — would call athleticism, flexibility, motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and so on.

You can’t proclaim that being good at X is now to be known as “X intelligence” and revolutionize intelligence research, any more than you can proclaim that cows are now a kind of plant and revolutionize botany (not to mention vegetarianism). Being good at whistling is not “whistling intelligence.” We already have a name for it: being good at whistling. We also already have a name for “the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience”: intelligence.

This is essentially the reason why Gardner’s theory failed. On the other hand, the Triarchic theory simply doesn’t say much of anything about anything. Thus Zek is neither explaining intelligence research nor arguing for a competing theory. He is merely listing words with some connection to the subject and hoping you won’t bother to read what they mean.

ZEK: Another fundamental flaw in IQ testing is that these tests only prove how well someone knows how to take a test in the end. This is obvious when you attempt to test people who’ve created the test they’re taking. If it truly measured intelligence, they’d score at their actual IQ, but they don’t. They get near-perfect to perfect scores.

Wrong, and also… wow. He thinks that because IQ tests don’t accurately measure intelligence when you already know all the answers because you just created the test and you’re giving it to yourself, that means IQ tests don’t measure intelligence. Good grief — as if all white people were cheating to get a higher average score than black people. (The truth is rather different.)

Zek finally attempts to cite sources, by throwing three links our way without further discussion. I have already refuted his environmental explanations for the IQ gap; Stephen Jay Gould was hopelessly biased and his ideas about IQ have since been discredited; and I have also already dealt with “refutations” of The Bell Curve (which, being about 17 years old, is hardly representative of modern intelligence research).

14. Behavior genetics is also not his strong suit

ZEK: Another popular HBD and race-realist myth is that genes can determine your behavior! This is also known as sociobiology, and its phoenix-like reincarnation: evolutionary psychology.

I will again refer the interested reader to the Three Laws of Behavior Genetics, the first of which is that all human behavioral traits are heritable. The second law is that the effect of being raised in the same family (your shared environment) is smaller than the effect of genes (the heritability).

The third law… you must discover on your own. Good luck on your quest! Take this sword. You’ll probably need it for something.

ZEK: Advocates from this position tend to be more respectable, and tend to have a legitimate grounding in biology, genetics, or other related fields. Some of the famous personas are Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. They’re mainstream, legitimate scientists who are at the cutting edge of ground-breaking research.

No kidding. Why don’t you ask Steven Pinker — the “mainstream, legitimate scientist… at the cutting edge of ground-breaking research” — what he thinks about race differences in intelligence. Hint: if Zek did, he would start crying a word that starts with R.

ZEK: One major flaw in these fields is that they tend to be prescriptive instead of descriptive. That is, they don’t merely describe the way the world IS, but the way it OUGHT to be. And these prescriptions tend to revolve around dismantling welfare, affirmative action, as well as other policies to address the historical inequality of People of Color.

No, sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists don’t do that. That’s why he can’t cite even a single source. Did he think we wouldn’t notice?

ZEK: … they treat abstract behaviors as real traits. Some examples include IQ, aggression, laziness, technological proficiency, etc. These characteristics are culturally defined, and not concrete — that is you can’t measure them with any reliability or repeatability as heritable traits — and are therefore not genetically-based.

We’ve already shown that IQ scores reliably measure intelligence, which is not culturally defined, and is up to 80 percent heritable in adults.

Zek believes that aggression, laziness, and the ability to use technology (e.g., being able to dig a well) are “abstract” and “culturally defined.” Hm. Does this agree with experience?

15. I’m bored

At this point, he lists three issues he has with sociobiology. He cites no sources and provides no examples, because none exist. He’s just making stuff up. Frankly, I’ve lost patience for it.

ZEK: However race is also used incorrectly, by scientists, by the layperson, and most definitely by scientific racists like HBD and race-realists who attempt to ascribe negative cultural qualities to People of Color through a distorted interpretation of modern genetics. They mistake correlation for causation, and utilize methodologically flawed measurements to support these correlations.

I think someone who doesn’t know what correlation is, shouldn’t be lecturing professional psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, sociobiologists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, statisticians, and medical doctors about mistaking it for causation. Ditto “methodologically flawed measurements.”

ZEK: Human variation is not a Dues [sic] Ex Machina. You cannot cry racism and then point to the DNA saying, “He did it!” That is not science. That is Essentialism.

And that is a straw man argument.

ZEK: The reality is that genetic and cultural factors work “in tandem” to produce human variation. No race is predisposed to being smarter than another — whatever smarter means — and no behavior, from aggressiveness to laziness can be attributed only to genes.

Genes and environment work in tandem — except when it’s inconvenient for him; that’s why it must be a “myth” that “genes can determine your behavior.” (It’s not.)

He asserts, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that there are no race differences in intelligence. But there are. There really are. And you can’t escape it.

ZEK: Racism, both structural and personal, from micro-aggressions to entire socio-political movements are [sic] a powerful instrument in the disparity between the various races [so they do exist?] of human beings on this planet.

Citation needed.

ZEK: And I’m not the only one saying these things. My evidence comes from a long roster of social scientists, bio-anthropologists, academic disciplines, sub-disciplines, specialists, forensic anthropologists, geneticists, linguists, paleoanthropologists, psychologists, as well as academics of all colors, creeds, genders, and classes.

That’s rather interesting, considering that the last time he posted on the subject, he had the following to say about a journalist, a political economist, a political scientist, an astrophysicist, and three psychologists (emphasis, and foaming at the mouth, in original):

ZEK: NONE OF THESE GUYS HAS ANY EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD!

But now he’s happy to take the advice of Paula S. Rothenberg, a racism lecturer; “Jarred” Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology; Noam Chomsky, a linguist and radical activist; Richard Lewontin, who actually has a race-related fallacy named after him; Cornel West, who has no scientific credentials; Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist; James Baldwin, a novelist; Tim Wise, a fanatical anti-white bigot who believes that family is a social construct; and dozens more. Hypocrisy or brain damage — who can say for sure? As a final insult to science, Zek cites Charles Darwin himself. I can only sigh.

At this point, I think it goes without saying that Zek never tells us what these people said or wrote or did that counts as evidence in his favor.

16. Fin

Well, that about wraps it up. I look forward to never reading any of Zek’s hateful, ignorant, prejudiced garbage ever again. Hurray!

"I hear you speaking French. When are you going to pay attention to me?"

I’ll leave you with the words of Charles Gill, forensic anthropologist extraordinaire:

Those who believe that the concept of race is valid do not discredit the [race denialist] notion of clines, however. Yet those with the clinal perspective who believe that races are not real do try to discredit the evidence of skeletal biology. Why this bias from the “race denial” faction? This bias seems to stem largely from socio-political motivation and not science at all. For the time being at least, the people in “race denial” are in “reality denial” as well. Their motivation (a positive one) is that they have come to believe that the race concept is socially dangerous. In other words, they have convinced themselves that race promotes racism. Therefore, they have pushed the politically correct agenda that human races are not biologically real, no matter what the evidence. …

In my experience, minority students almost invariably have been the strongest supporters of a “racial perspective” on human variation in the classroom. The first-ever black student in my human variation class several years ago came to me at the end of the course and said, “Dr. Gill, I really want to thank you for changing my life with this course.” He went on to explain that, “My whole life I have wondered about why I am black, and if that is good or bad. Now I know the reasons why I am the way I am and that these traits are useful and good.”

A human-variation course with another perspective would probably have accomplished the same for this student if he had ever noticed it. The truth is, innocuous contemporary human-variation classes with their politically correct titles and course descriptions do not attract the attention of minorities or those other students who could most benefit. Furthermore, the politically correct “race denial” perspective in society as a whole suppresses dialogue, allowing ignorance to replace knowledge and suspicion to replace familiarity. This encourages ethnocentrism and racism more than it discourages it.

Thank you and good night.

Read Full Post »

One of the peculiarities of our decadent age is the ongoing undeclared War on Hate. That it is a war waged against an emotion — often a useful and appropriate one — is not its most ludicrous feature. No, more ludicrous by far is that it is being waged by the most hateful and malicious elements of our society. They are the worst hypocrites in the world, and for failing to recognize their hypocrisy, they are also idiots. Here are some of these hypocritical idiots:

  • feminists (second and later waves), who hate men
  • anti-racists (“anti”-racists would be better), who hate whites (but include many of them)
  • liberals, who hate values (traditional or otherwise)
  • socialists in any guise (communists, Marxists, Democrats, etc.), who hate success
  • deviants of all shapes and sizes (e.g., some but not all atheists and some but not all gays/lesbians/bisexuals/other weird shit), who hate a society that rejects them

Hatred is a five-part documentary on their struggle.

Their stupid, useless, confused, evil struggle.

John Derbyshire Redux

I’ll start at the beginning — of this blog, that is, when I discussed John Derbyshire’s attempt to explain black cognitive inferiority at a panel discussion, organized by the Black Law Students Association of the University of Pennsylvania, on how to eliminate the persistent achievement gap between blacks and whites.

You can’t. Race differences in intelligence are largely genetic. Derbyshire knows this, so he pointed out that

  1. reproductively isolated populations diverge genetically over time (for example, Africans and Europeans),
  2. there are race differences in various traits (with an appeal to athletic ability, which favors blacks and is therefore much less embarrassing to liberals than mental ability, which favors whites), and
  3. everyone should just relax, because after all we don’t cry over individual differences, so why all the angst over these abstract, average, group differences?

The aftermath, according to Derbyshire:

This was followed by a sort of stunned silence, into which Madame Moderator interjected the remark that “Mr. Derbyshire is here as a private guest of Prof. Wax [of the law school], not at the invitation of the BLSA.” This was not true. …

Mingling for refreshments afterwards, I found the BLSA students a friendly bunch. The only rancor was from some older guy, either a mature student or an academic, who said that my ideas were “old” and my remarks “hurtful.” Apparently he thought that one or other, or both, of these observations invalidated the truth content of what I had said. Everyone else was either pleasant, or just ignored me.

Not bad at all. I mean, if you acted this way toward a black professor of some made-up bullshit subject like Africana Studies who was spouting some farcical white-hating social theory of black failure, you would be expelled/fired/sued/investigated by Congress/shot at dawn. But given that conservatives are not a designated victim group, and can therefore be freely discriminated against, it’s not a bad reaction at all.

On the other hand, we have this article, “John Derbyshire tells black law students they are inferior,” whose author Downeastdem, safely ensconced in the liberal fortress Daily Kos, is free to lob malice and rage at the conservative Derbyshire without fear of reprisal (i.e., embarrassing rebuttal of his stupid ideas).

The Daily Kos article is almost 100% lies, starting with the first sentence, which calls Derbyshire a “white supremacist,” and continuing with the second, which calls his remarks a “‘Racism 101’ lecture.” The following quote is singled out as particular abhorrent: “racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races.” Note that this is a true statement.

Now, there are three important points to consider.

1. This is not what racism sounds like

A “‘Racism 101’ lecture” by a “white supremacist” does not sound like that. It sounds more like this:

end of the [black] race

Im have wondered this, I have even meditaded about this so much suffering has been cause by this race of demons, they are as ungodly as they are ugly, for instance they ar responsible for most or ALL of the worlds evil…

There is no reason to let them keep on living they just hate and hate and hate, they know nothing but hate and hell, they need to go back to hell where they come from, those [black] babies need to burn in hell with their evil satanist parents. … they are guilty of massive crimes against humanity, they are the greatest perpetrators of evil EVER, they are the most evil force to have ever existed. The are murderous, callous and inhuman both in your words and deeds. Where EVER these people go, murder and depravity follow. I have never seen such casual bloodlust.

This is actually the work of black supremacist blogger BLACKPHANTOMX; I’ve simply replaced the original targets, whites, with blacks. (I won’t link his blog, because (1) it’s not worth reading and (2) I know it will infuriate him, as he does not understand the difference between quoting and plagiarizing.)

2. Anti-racists are stupid

Willfully, perhaps, but stupid nonetheless. Here is a particularly stupid quote from the aforementioned particularly stupid Daily Kos author Downeastdem:

Derbyshire then goes on to explain to the black students at one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation the scientific foundation of their inferior intellectual abilities…

Blacks have inferior intellectual abilities on average. The existence of black people smart enough to get into law school at the University of Pennsylvania does not contradict this fact. In fact, the theory of race differences in intelligence, with its infamous bell curves, requires that some black people be smarter than the average white person.

3. Anti-racists are hateful and malicious

Which I have previously mentioned, but I don’t mind repeating myself.

When Downeastdem writes that “Derbyshire was treated with far more civility… than he deserved” (emphasis mine), I wonder: just how little civility did he deserve, for daring to politely point out some uncomfortable truths?

What would constitute a sufficient level of incivility? Should the law students have stormed the stage, seized his microphone, and poured a jug of ice water over his head? Or just waited for him in the parking lot? How is the reader supposed to interpret that remark? If someone disagrees with you about race, they deserve to be treated badly. So much for “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (Evelyn Beatrice Hall).

Contrast Derbyshire’s closing remarks:

Group differences are statistical truths. They exist in an abstract realm quite far removed from our everyday personal experience. They tell you nothing about the person you just met.

Group differences are, for example, one degree more abstract than individual differences. We all acknowledge individual differences all the time: she’s fat, he’s thin, she’s shy, he’s outgoing, she’s smart, he’s dumb. …

And yet — look! We don’t lose sleep over this. We don’t sink into rage and frustration at our own individual differences, or agitate for politicians to put balm on our psychic wounds. We accept our individual shortcomings with remarkable equanimity, playing the cards we’ve been dealt as best we can. That is the attitude of a healthy human being. To do otherwise would, most of us I’m sure would agree, be un-healthy. How much more unhealthy, then, to fret and rage and agitate about mere statistical abstractions?

Remind me: who’s on what side of the War on Hate?

Read Full Post »

In discussing matters political, I occasionally test the limits of sportsmanlike behavior — insisting on absurd handicaps, for instance, like — oh, I don’t know, rebutting my opponents in song form? But I always exercise caution, and so should you.

There’s an art and a science to being an arrogant bastard: how you argue, and what you argue about. Style and substance, if you will. No one, least of all me, can teach you style — how to please your supporters and infuriate your detractors at the same time (preferably while balancing something on your head). As for substance — well, if you’re going to act like you’re the smartest person in the room/world/universe, you’d better have a handle on the facts.

Substance is where our next subject goes horribly wrong.

2. “Irrefutable”

Over at abagond‘s place again, my badly wounded Research Assistants uncovered a Valentine’s Day gem: a guest post entitled Mephisto on race & IQ.

Too many “Arm Chair Internet Geneticists” and “Know Nothing HBDers” (redundant, I know) like to use the same drivel, that is almost effortlessly debunked with irrefutable (and even entry level) facts:

Mephisto is right, of course — if by “almost effortlessly debunked” he means “I couldn’t be bothered to put in any effort,” and also all the other words mean different things too. What, pray tell, are these irrefutable facts?

Two or three years after “The Bell Curve” came out, Myerson, Rank, Raines & Schnitzler at Washington University in Saint Louis, looked at the VERY SAME longitudinal database that Murray and Herrnstein used to demonstrate this persistent IQ gap between whites and blacks. They found something Murray and Herrnstein didn’t mention.

What they discovered was that when African Americans in the US go to college, they raise their IQ FOUR TIMES FASTER than whites who go to college, and in the process close the average IQ gap between whites and blacks in half in just 4 years. This would not be possible if IQ was fundamentally related to biology, and yet it was EXACTLY (going by the very database that Murray and Herrnstein used) actually demonstrated: [broken link]

So there goes the entire argument of the book, and every single related study.

The link is broken, but fortunately the study* was not hard to find. Downloading the short (four-page) paper through my university library afforded me an opportunity apparently denied Mephisto: the opportunity to actually read the damn thing before I open my big mouth.

[*Myerson, Rank, Raines, and Schnitzler. “Race and general cognitive ability: The myth of diminishing returns to education.” Psychological Science, 9, 139–142 (1997).]

Critical thinking

From the study, we learn that indeed “it was the black college students who made the largest gains between the end of high school and college graduation, with their test scores increasing more than four times as much as those of white college students.” Thus the test score gap shrank by about half from one standard deviation.

Well, that’s still a gap, and there’s no apparent reason it couldn’t be “fundamentally related to biology,” especially given that we already know that intelligence is at least 50–70% heritable, from studies that actually control for genes. Myerson et al.’s study doesn’t even consider genes, so it has nothing to tell us about their role in IQ differences.

But the gap definitely shrank, right? Well, consider the following:

  • The relative effects of shared environment versus genes. Not only does the heritability of IQ increase as we age, “[t]he effects of shared environment [on human behavioral traits] are small (less than 10 percent of the variance), often not statistically significant, often not replicated in other studies, and often a big fat zero” (Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, p. 379). This alone makes it highly unlikely that a college environment could really be smartening up the kids.

    Raising their IQs, that is. It probably is teaching them stuff they didn’t know before, like how to make a bong out of an apple.

  • Obvious sample bias: college students. The black students making the supposed large gains were all smart enough to get into college. Therefore they were smarter than the majority of American blacks.
  • Less obvious sample bias: neglecting dropouts. “To control for attrition [dropping out] during the education process,” the authors write, “we compared the scores of individuals who ultimately attained the same level of education…” In fact, their analysis of college students only “examined the data from individuals who ultimately graduated from college.” They admit, “[i]t is certainly true that there is greater attrition among black college students than among white college students in general, as well as among [participants in the study].”

    Even though more black students than white drop out of college, their scores simply weren’t counted. If dropouts tend to have lower than average test scores (a safe assumption), then the authors’ methods artificially inflate the average black score.

The authors even admit the sample bias and dropout problem in the discussion, but declare — as if it had any relevance to those methodological issues — that “this fact [that black college students are more likely to drop out and not be counted] only makes the failure to profit from high school by the highly select group of black future college graduates [my emphasis] all the more remarkable, and raises the possibility that the increases they showed in college resulted from the removal of whatever may have been handicapping them during high school” (p. 141). Pure speculation. They didn’t study “whatever may have been handicapping them during high school.”

Further reading

Unfortunately, we’re still not done. (Effort alert! Academic integrity is such a drag.) We’ve got to compare this study’s findings to all the other studies out there. There’s a substantial 2003 study** by Flowers and Pascarella, for instance:

The data revealed overwhelmingly that the negative cognitive disadvantages for African American [college] students remained consistent throughout the study, even when statistical controls were introduced for all of the variables in the regression model (i.e., direct effects equation). …

The average percentile point advantage [for Caucasian students] across all of the end-of-first-year cognitive outcomes was 9.2. The average percentile point advantage across all of the end-of-second-year cognitive outcomes was 17.2. The average percentile point advantage across all of the end-of-third-year cognitive outcomes was 15.3. Taken as a whole, the average percentile point advantage (for Caucasian students) across all of the end-of-first-year, end-of-second-year, and end-of-third-year cognitive outcomes was 13.2.

[**Flowers and Pascarella. “Cognitive effects of college: Differences between African American and Caucasian students.” Research in Higher Education, 44, 21–49 (2003).]

Incidentally, Dr. Flowers is black.

That makes one for me, one for you, Mephisto. (Unlike the archangel Michael, I’m not afraid to throw down with the Devil.)

It’s been fourteen years since Myerson and friends made their contribution to politicized science. There’s a whole new world of research, a new fantastic point of view on race differences in intelligence! No one can tell us no, or where to go, or say we’re only dreaming. I’m like a shooting star: I’ve come so far, I can’t go back to where I used to be. With respect to behavior genetics, that is.

Sincerest apologies to Walt Disney.

Anyway, there are hundreds of studies to choose from, but it seems like your typical race denialist is only interested in one: the first, or perhaps the only one he found that, through dubious methodology and liberal*** use of statistical “corrections,” reaches a conclusion he finds politically palatable. His is a shallow, uncritical analysis, motivated not by an honest desire to learn, but by slavish devotion to an article of faith:

Human skin cells and muscle cells and heart cells may have been evolving ever since our species first walked out of Africa, but human brain cells haven’t.

No amount of blustering is going to make that true.

[***Pun: always intended.]

Read Full Post »

Read the comments to learn about high school teachers and the achievement gap.

Commenter Cinnamon has an excellent question:

One of the arguments I’ve encountered against a racial basis for IQ is that of income: the claim is that the achievement gap between whites and blacks disappears when income is held constant (at least for US populations). Do you have any resources that refute or support this claim?

We’ll focus on the IQ gap because it’s much easier to quantify than the so-called achievement gap. IQ stands for “intelligence quotient,” and your score on an IQ test measures your intelligence. For our purposes, the IQ gap means the 15-point difference between the average white American’s IQ (about 100) and the average black American’s IQ (about 85). That’s a big difference. For more information, read Steve Sailer’s articles here and here.

As long as people have known about the IQ gap, they’ve been blaming the environment. Not shrubs and ferns and snails: your environment is everything that’s not in your genes/DNA. (Your family is an especially important example.) However, environmental theories tend to fall apart under close inspection. That’s why us race realists are still around.

Today we’ll restrict ourselves to the socioeconomic status (SES) argument, which acknowledges the existence of the IQ gap, but claims that most or all of it is caused by the environment—specifically, SES. It’s a question of nature versus nurture: how much of your IQ is a product of your genes, and how much is a product of your environment? Actually, the real, scientific question is: what percentage of individual differences in IQ is caused by genes, and what percentage by the environment?

To be precise, SES is part of a child’s shared environment. Your shared environment is the part of your environment that affects you and your siblings equally, which clearly includes socioeconomic status. Your unique environment is everything else, like catching the flu or breaking your leg as a child, winning the lottery, or getting in a freak zeppelin accident (after winning the lottery). Much more on this later.

Un-eliminating the gap (easy mode)

Without a specific, Cinnamon-y example of the SES argument, I did my own research, which I hate, and found this essay about this press release about an actual but difficult-to-find peer-reviewed paper called “Ethnic Differences in Children’s Intelligence Test Scores: Role of Economic Deprivation, Home Environment, and Maternal Characteristics” (here’s a summary), which seems to be what Cinnamon had in mind. From the press release:

Contrary to “The Bell Curve” findings, a new study by researchers at Columbia and Northwestern Universities suggests that poverty and early learning opportunities—not race—account for the gap in IQ scores between blacks and whites. . . .

Adjustments for socioeconomic conditions almost completely eliminate differences in IQ scores between black and white children, according to the study’s co-investigators. . . .

As in many other studies, the black children in the study had IQ scores a full 15 points lower than their white counterparts. Poverty alone, the researchers found, accounted for 52 percent of that difference, cutting it to 7 points. Controlling for the children’s home environment reduced the difference by another 28 percent, to a statistically insignificant 3 points—in essence, eliminating the gap altogether.

Sounds good. Very encouraging. So how exactly did they adjust for SES?

The study includes data from birth to age 5 on 800 black and white children who were born premature and with a low birth weight. Collected from eight health care sites around the country, it is the only data set that combines high-quality measurement of developmental outcomes (i.e., full-scale IQ tests) with longitudinal data on family economic status, neighborhood conditions, family structure and home environment. Because the study looks at very young children, the subjects’ IQ measures cannot be attributed to such non-family influences as schooling or work.

And right there it all falls apart. Why? Because the researchers did not control for the effects of genes. In other words, they neglected family influences. From the article summary (emphasis mine):

Brooks-Gunn and Klebanov state that there are several limitations to their study. They make it clear that none of their analyses have anything to do with heritability and the genetic components of IQ difference between ethnicities. This analysis would have to be done with twins and they did not include any twin studies in this paper.

Epic sociological fail. Without controlling for the effects of genes, they could not possibly measure the effects of socioeconomic status or any other component of environment. Sure, the researchers proved that poorer children have lower IQ scores. But we already know that parental IQ correlates with income. In Race Differences in Intelligence, Richard Lynn cites Jencks (1972) and Murray (1998) for correlations* of 0.35 and 0.37, respectively. We also know there’s a genetic link between parental IQ and child IQ. In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker cites studies which suggest a heritability of 50–70% for IQ, meaning 50–70% of the difference in IQ between two people is caused by their different genes.

So how can you say low family income (of blacks compared to whites) causes low child IQ—the socioeconomic explanation for the IQ gap? Why couldn’t low parental IQ be causing both low family income (because smart people get better jobs) and low child IQ (because children inherit their parents’ genes)? The conclusion that “ethnicity has nothing to do with the differences found on IQ tests between black and white children” and “socioeconomic factors almost completely account for most of the differences” is totally unjustified, given that ethnicity has everything to do with genes.

We’re even told “the study measured other factors associated with poverty that are more common in minority children. They include characteristics related to family structure and resources: single parents, parents with low educational levels and low literary scores, unemployed parents and young parents.” (Emphasis mine.) Gee, I wonder if they discovered that low literary scores in parents correlate with low IQs in their children. Must be low literary scores causing poverty causing low IQs, right? Couldn’t possibly be a more direct connection . . .

There really is no way to separate the effects of genes from the effects of shared environment (on any human behavioral trait) when you don’t already know the effects of genes. There are three (simplified) ways to accomplish this (The Blank Slate):

  • Twin studies. “[I]dentical twins are alike (measured by the correlation) because of their shared genes (measured by the heritability) and their shared environment, so the effects of the shared environment can be estimated by subtracting the heritability from the correlation.” In other words: shared genes plus shared environment equals twin similarity, so twin similarity minus shared genes must equal shared environment. This depends on knowing that identical twins have the same genes.
  • Adoption studies. We know that adoptive siblings don’t share genes, so any similarity between them must be caused by their shared environment. Just measure the correlation and you’re done.
  • Comparisons of “the correlation [similarity] between siblings reared together (who share genes and a home environment) with the correlation between siblings reared apart (who share only genes).” Again, we needed to know what’s going on in the genes to figure out what effects the shared environment is having.

(There are also ways of measuring the effects of genes, separately from shared or unique environment, and ways of measuring the effects of unique environment separately from shared environment and genes.)

The American psychologist Eric Turkheimer, in his article “Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean” (available here) has identified, or at least popularized, three laws of behavior genetics:

  • First Law: All human behavioral traits are heritable.”
  • Second Law: The effect of being in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.”
  • Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.”

These laws are central to Pinker’s thesis. The Second Law, which is most relevant to the SES argument regarding the IQ gap, is actually an understatement: in first world countries** “[t]he effects of shared environment are small (less than 10 percent of the variance), often not statistically significant, often not replicated in other studies, and often a big fat zero” (The Blank Slate, p. 379).

Un-eliminating the gap (hard mode)

We’ve seen a useless article on the effects of socioeconomic status on child IQ. How about a really good one? Remember Eric Turkheimer? He has another paper, “Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children” (described here and available there).

“We found that for the poorest [7-year-old] twins, IQ seemed to be determined almost exclusively by their socioeconomic status, which is to say their impoverished environment. Yet, for the best-off families, genes are the most important factor to determining IQ, with environment playing a much less important role,” Turkheimer explained. . . .

The study results show that in the most impoverished families, hereditability [sic] of IQ is essentially zero, with [shared] environment accounting for almost 60 percent of the differences in IQ among individuals. The impact of [shared] environment declines as socioeconomic level improves, playing a nominal role in the most affluent families, for which virtually all variability in IQ is attributed to genes.

The study suggests that specific minimal environmental conditions are necessary for a person’s genetic potential to be expressed.

He even replicated the study with a different twin sample. Outstanding. But does it address the IQ gap? (Neither Turkheimer’s paper nor the Oscar article claims that it does, but I’m sure someone thinks so.)

It certainly demonstrates that socioeconomic status determines IQ for the poorest twins, but the IQ gap persists among middle-class and wealthy children—and this according to a man (Jack O’Connell) who blames the problem on “cultural ignorance” in schools! Furthermore, Turkheimer studied 7-year-olds, but the IQ gap exists among adults too, and the heritability of intelligence “increases over the lifespan, and can be as high as .8 late in life” (The Blank Slate—yes, I really liked that book).

So far I haven’t even addressed the implicit assumption that blacks are more likely than whites to belong to these “most impoverished families.” According to researchers at the The Heritage Foundation (a conservative American think tank), “[r]ace per se is not a factor in producing child poverty; race alone does not directly increase or decrease the probability that a child will be poor;” nevertheless, “[b]lack American children are more likely to live in poverty than are white children, primarily because black children are far more likely to live in single-parent families and to be on welfare.” Alright, so that settles it—

—unless you dispute the definition of poverty:

As a group, America’s poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels. . . .

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs.

The question is, how many black children living in poverty—according to the above definition—actually lack the “specific minimal environmental conditions” that are “necessary for a person’s genetic potential to be expressed,” and would fixing this be enough to significantly reduce the IQ gap among children (never mind adults)? Turkheimer’s findings notwithstanding, the answer to the second question is a clear no.

Six out of seven meaningless studies agree: no IQ gap!

Let’s go back to the essay, which claims that “[a]lmost all studies show the black/white IQ gap is environmental,” and take a closer look at the studies. There are seven.

  1. “After World War II, many American GI’s (both white and black) fathered children by German women; these children were then raised in German society. The children fathered by black GI’s had an average IQ of 96.5, and the children fathered by white GI’s had an average IQ of 97—a statistically insignificant difference.”

    Meaningless because of sample bias. Take it away, Steve Sailer:

    The brain power of those accepted [to the Army] is impressive. Moskos and Sibley found that in 1994

    “83 percent of white recruits scored in the upper half of the mental aptitude test (compared with 61 percent of white youths in the national population), while 59 percent of black recruits scored in the upper half (compared with 14 percent of the black youths nationwide).”

    In other words, the Army’s black enlisted personnel score just as well on the general aptitude test as the average white American. (African-American officers average even better, of course.)

  2. “In another study of children raised in residential institutions, black, white and racially mixed children who were raised in the same enriched environment were given IQ tests. At four years of age, the white children had an average IQ of 103, the blacks had an average IQ of 108, and the racially mixed children had an average IQ of 106.”

    Unfortunately, I could not find this study, so I’ll assume the essay describes it accurately. Disregarding the possible sample bias with children raised in residential institutions, note that all the children were tested at age four, but the heritability of IQ increases with age. Nevertheless, the study’s findings must be taken into account—

    —meaning they must be weighed against the overwhelming counterevidence that blacks have an average IQ of about 85 (see below).

  3. “Another study measured the IQ’s of children from black-white unions.”

    I’m pretty sure a study where all the subjects are half white and half black can’t tell us much about race and IQ. There is probably a sample bias, too. Could black men who marry white women be smarter than average? Dumber? Who knows?

  4. “A genetic study . . . of 288 young blacks found almost no relationship between Europeanness and intelligence: the correlation was a trivial and nonsignificant .05.”

    Here is the first page of the study. The first paragraph directly contradicts the essayist’s conclusion. Aagain, I’m pretty sure a study where all the subjects are the same race can’t tell us much about race and IQ.

  5. “Another genetic study examined the correlation between IQ and European blood groups (as opposed to the estimated Europeanness [sic] of individuals based on blood groups).”

    Here is the first page of the study (with tiny sample sizes of 40 and 44), which explains that “[t]his result may not, however, be a very strong test of the genetic basis of the between-group IQ difference, because of independent assortment of blood group and ability genes over a number of generations among U.S. Negroes.”

  6. “Another study tested the hypothesis that if IQ were both hereditary and favored in Europeans, then blacks with high IQs should have several times the level of Europeanness than the black population in general.”

    The study considered only high-IQ black children, with an average IQ of 148.9 (sample bias much?), and measured Europeanness “based on self-reports on their ancestries.” How much, really, does this tell us about the effect of genes versus shared environment on IQ?

  7. The last study supports the theory that the IQ gap has a significant genetic component: “the Scarr-Weinberg study . . . examined the IQs of children from different races who were adopted by white parents. White adoptees turned out to have higher IQs than mixed-race adoptees, who had higher IQs than black adoptees.” It also has faults, which are described in the essay.

So those are the seven studies. (The claim, again, was that “[a]lmost all studies show the black/white IQ gap is environmental.”) Like me, the essayist notes that

[t]here are statistical difficulties with all the above studies. . . . The IQs of the parents were not known, and there is a possibility that the study samples were nonrepresentative of the population being studied.

No kidding. Nevertheless, apparently

the fact that the environmental results outnumbered the genetic results six-to-one makes [the suggestion—by the authors of The Bell Curve—that “the black/white IQ gap is largely genetically caused,”] completely indefensible.

Well, how about these results?

  • There are a total of 620 IQ studies in Race Differences in Intelligence, with a combined sample size of 814,778;
  • they show a 14- to 16-point IQ gap for American blacks (compared to American whites or whites in general), similar gaps for people of sub-Saharan African descent living in the Netherlands and Britain, and larger gaps for African and Caribbean blacks (with malnourishment a major contributor to this increase);
  • IQ is highly heritable; and
  • the effects of the shared environment on IQ scores are small (0-10%) in America.

Does that make it six to two, or six to six hundred twenty-one, or what? Can someone please calculate that for me? My head hurts.

Endnotes

*Outrageously oversimplified explanation of correlation: the correlation between two things measures how closely those things “match up” or “go together,” on a scale from 0 to 1. A correlation of 1 means they always show up together; a correlation of 0 means that they come and go totally independently of each other. (Yes, I know, it’s awful. Sorry.)

**Why have I restricted these statements to first world countries? Mainly because malnutrition impairs brain development (which I mention again later on). This significantly lowers the average IQ of people living in impoverished third world countries (though it does not eliminate race differences in intelligence). However, American blacks, and Americans in general, are not malnourished to the extent that it could significantly affect IQ scores—notwithstanding our love of junk food. (See Race Differences in Intelligence, pp. 182–186.) This discussion is restricted to the effects of shared environment in America today (family in particular, including socioeconomic status), and that’s also the IQ gap we’re interested in.

Read Full Post »

I use WordPress.com’s Tag Surfer feature the way sharks use the lateral line. The way the Predator used infrared vision.

No, not to eat fish. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger. To find prey. (And sometimes, accidentally, people I agree with.)

Disparate impact

Random black guy Perry Redd wonders: do you feel American?

I have to ask myself, like any other American, do I feel American? One thing I know, is that if I voice that I don’t, I may get attacked by the Right as not being so. So I better be careful of what I say…naw, I don’t think so! I don’t feel American; and there’s a damned good reason why.

And what is that “damned good reason”? (Dramatic music . . .) Disparate impact.

I’ve said in several of my commentaries past that “[blacks are] under attack.” . . . What we know is that there’s a disconnect that hinders Blacks from evenly competing in American society. The perks and the work must come at the same rate for all races. If it doesn’t, then we, Black people, fall behind.

You couldn’t ask for a more perfect illustration of the disparate impact fallacy. “We know there’s a ‘disconnect’ hindering blacks, because obviously everyone is equal, so if blacks aren’t getting the same perks and the same work, it must be discrimination!”

What am I talking about? Since Blacks have been shown to “underperform” on standardized tests and graduation rates, getting to the root causes of the “underperformance” is crucial. What we know is that all human beings have pretty much equal potential from birth [emphasis mine; idiocy his]. The environmental circumstances dictate how well a person may or may not do.

I felt compelled to respond to that remark: “That is completely false, which I will now prove.

“Human potential varies wildly from person to person, and from group to group, because of genetic differences. For example, the heritability of human height is 60–80%, which means only 20–40% is environmental. If your parents are both five foot five, sorry, you’re not getting into the NBA.

“The heritability of intelligence, as measured by IQ, is about 0.75, according to the best available data: twin studies (Steven Pinker). Furthermore, IQ tests of over 800,000 people, all over the world, show significant race differences in average IQ, the most significant example for our purposes being: white people 99, sub-Saharan Africans 67 (80 after accounting for environmental factors).

“I [almost] forgot to mention these fifty experts who agree with all of the above.” Five days One month later, my comment is still awaiting moderation. (I don’t know what I thought would happen . . .)

Mr. Redd’s also got some specific thoughts on our education system.

Blacks (and the Supreme Court) have learned that a lack of resources, lack of exposure and/or a lack of proper teaching methods can hinder a student from attaining superior results. When this happens, its not accidental.

A Pennsylvania high school has scrapped a mentoring program, which allowed students to be taught by instructors of their same race for a few minutes each day. What followed was a storm of criticism over the initiative. Why the criticism?

Maybe because it wasn’t quite as benign as allowing “students to be taught by instructors of their same race for a few minutes each day.” Or I guess it could be evil white racists keeping Negroes down? Let’s find out.

McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, instituted what it described as a pilot program meant to enrich “students’ experiences through mentoring” and was derived from research “that shows grouping black students by gender with a strong role model can help boost their academic achievement and self esteem,” according to a school statement. The junior class at McCaskey East voluntarily divided themselves “by gender, race and/or language.” The groups met for six minutes each day and for 20 minutes twice a month.

Educators at the school said they initially “noticed strong bonds being formed between all students and mentor teachers,” according to a statement.

So in this case, the myth that blacks learn better from other blacks lead directly to a school instituting (self-)re-segregation. Here is the whole story. It’s not a completely terrible idea: get black girls together once a day to talk about black girl issues, and the same for black boys, and all the other race/gender combinations. It’s a little unsavory—I mean, why can’t white kids be around while blacks are talking about black issues? Wouldn’t every race and gender benefit from an open discussion of the unique failings of black boys and girls? And then there’s the principle of the matter:

Though the principal of the school defended the policy, some analysts—critics—said the experiment was misguided. . . . A 1954 Supreme Court case ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, overturning an earlier ruling in a decision that determined “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The critics used Brown v. Board to undergird their argument.

. . . These critics are the epitome of attacking black (and minority) men. Unfortunately, corporate mainstream media giant, CNN, reported the story I refer to, and thus failed to identify the critics. That’s sort of like, the Klu Klux Klan [sic]: you know someone opposes you, but their hood keeps them anonymous.

Yes, failing to identify by name those who dare to cite Brown v. Board of Education in opposition to school segregation based on the the myth of black learning styles is certainly “sort of like” the “Klu Klux Klan.”

How subtle this institutional racism really is: you can’t even see it.

Diversity

Samantha Peterson is reflecting on diversity education.

My assignment for this week is to reflect on what I would present to a group of professionals if I had five minutes to discuss the issue of diversity. . . . Our goal as educators is first and foremost to develop children into respectful, productive members of society. We want each and every child to realize his/her potential and create a meaningful existence. We also strive to help children develop into good, moral, and virtuous individuals. To help every child reach these goals we need to be not only aware but also active about recognizing the differences that exist within our classrooms and in our society as a whole. These differences are what make each student unique and special, but are also what challenge us as educators.

I’m with her so far.

How do we address so many differences in our teaching practice? To be successful in teaching a diverse student body we as educators must become culturally competent. Cultural competence means “(1) creating a nurturing classroom that honors and incorporates the cultural and linguistic heritages of all student members, (2) making connections with students as individuals and understanding how context influences their interactions with others, (3) providing structured communal learning opportunities, (4) using dynamic instructional techniques combined with positive and corrective feedback, (5) monitoring at-risk students frequently, (6) maintaining high expectations and affirming learning for all students, and (7) providing necessary services for students such as ELL” (Banks, J., 2009). All of these factors are components of a multicultural education.

Aha—here, I believe, is a problem. She (or rather, Banks 2009) snuck it in right before all the good stuff. This whole “creating a nurturing classroom that honors and incorporates the cultural and linguistic heritages of all student members” business sounds just swell . . . until you take a hard look at what those cultural heritages really are. Yes, I know, it’s terribly unfashionable to be a cultural absolutist, or whatever the opposite of a cultural relativist is, but there’s a whole big bag of things you could reasonably consider a part of black culture, say, or Middle Eastern culture, that have no place in an American classroom. Where do you draw the line?

Similarly, where does incorporating linguistic heritages (whatever that means) stop, and simply teaching every first-generation American in their native language begin?

This may seem like a minor detail, considering that I agree with just about everything else Ms. Peterson writes, but it’s actually crucial. At what point should a teacher tell her students, “that’s not how we do things in this country”—”that’s not how we speak in America”? Who decides that? You’ll get very different answers from an education theorist than from the average American white (who is still more or less the average American).

What are practical ways that I can apply a transformative multicultural education? The goals of a multicultural education are to effectively reduce prejudice against oppressed groups and to work toward social justice for all groups so that all students can achieve academically. Multicultural education is transformative because the major goal is to “change variables in the school such as, – its culture, its power relationships, the curriculum and materials, and the attitudes and beliefs of the staff – so that educational equality from diverse groups is promoted” (Banks, J., 2009). To achieve these goals teachers can implement differentiated instruction.

Unfortunately, even in the total absence of prejudice against these allegedly oppressed groups, no amount of social justice (which, in my little fantasy world, means equality under the law) is going to close the black-white(-Asian-Hispanic-Native American-etc.) achievement gap. Not even social injustice is going to work! Here I’m talking about affirmative action, racial quotas, and all the other flotsam and jetsam swept in by the tide of diversity. The gap is in our genes.

Only by acknowledging our differences and sharing our unique perspectives will students learn to effectively interact in a diverse environment.

Amen to that. Acknowledging our differences is what I do best.

Racial categorization

Blogger (possible superheroine?) Incognito Mom says enough with the racial categorization!

It started out innocently enough. The question had to do with race. “Please check all that apply.” Okay, I have no problem with that. I’ll be checking Asian and White because, well, that’s what Shorty is. I understand the logic behind allowing people to choose more than one race as we now have so many who come from more than one racial background.

But then I read this: “Please number in the order you would like them entered.” (Them being the race(s) checked off.) So, I now have to choose whether I consider my son more Asian or more white. Excuse my language but … WHAT THE FUCK?!!! . . . Why this need then on this form to force parents to number the race they want to be listed first? Is it because the computer program being used won’t make exceptions and insists on ordering things? (Then change the program being used please.) Is it because somewhere down the line if my child should qualify for scholarships or some other program he will only qualify if one or the other race is listed as his first race? [Emphasis mine.] Or is it just that this stupid world of ours still can’t accept that people don’t always fit nicely into categories but some people can’t accept that and insist we choose a category anyway?

Gotta make sure the right people get the right special treatment! Heaven forbid a white/Asian child should get a scholarship over an Asian/white child. I guess if you want to really cash in on the diversity sweepstakes, you should say your child is a black/black/black/gay/crippled/black hermaphrodite.

Kid’s gonna get teased some.

Okay, so I’m not actually arguing with Incognito Mom. Or Ms. Peterson, for that matter. I guess should have called this series “Unamused wanders around the internet picking blogs at random to talk about and maybe trying to start some shit.” Oh well.

Regarding the First Lady’s badonkadonk . . .

Unamusement Park: your source for pointless, whimsical, knee-jerk black/female solidarity.

First lady Michelle Obama, like alot of other black women are thick and curvacious, we are not all pencil thin. However, first lady Michelle exemplifies a confident black woman, who is extremely ‘comfortable in the hips that she’s in’.

So they Obama haters, need to back-up off her and stop examining her plate!

You go, girl.

Read Full Post »

I (posting as Unamused) am in two dialogues—the first about radioactive decay, the second about alien intelligence—with dissention in his comment sections. I’m interested to see where he’s going to take this with his upcoming weekend post. Aside: I think arguing is fun.

On an unrelated note: there’s an insightful guest post over at In Mala Fide. The post is by Freedom Twenty-Five, who’s also writing what looks like a great first novel.

Read Full Post »

Until about 2 am this morning, this blog was supposed to be about human biodiversity (specifically, race), the education system (including the universities), and conservative politics—a not uncommon intersection of subjects, in certain corners of the internet. I had no intention of wandering off that well illuminated path into the dark woods and canyons and . . . bogs, I suppose, into which I have now become metaphorically stuck, and—now I’ve lost my train of thought. Oh well, let’s just get this over with.

The hypothesis of quantum consciousness is ridiculous, and should be treated as such, i.e. ridiculed. (If you want to know why, ask Max Tegmark.) In this video, an American anesthesiologist named Stuart Hameroff makes a series of more or less totally unconvincing arguments that our consciousness is explained, and can only be explained, by some kind of quantum computing going on in the cytoskeleton (the girders, essentially) of neurons (brain cells). Let us examine just one of his claims in detail.

Neurons, Dr. Hameroff says, cannot be the fundamental units of consciousness, i.e. the human mind:

For example, consider . . . a single cell, like a paramecium—a single-celled organism. It swims around, it finds food, it learns: you suck it into a capillary tube, it escapes; if you do it again, it gets out quicker and quicker each time. So it can learn . . . I’m not sure if it’s conscious or not, that’s a little bit—but it’s certainly intelligent, and it does complex things . . .

He goes on to claim that the paramecium must have a brain of its own—specifically, its cytoskeleton—operating on quantum mechanical principles. So paramecia, as well as the neurons in our brains, each have their own quantum-mechanical brain, in a part of the cell that most biologists consider to be merely structural in nature, much like the aforementioned girders in a skyscraper.

There have been many studies of paramecium learning. The capillary tube experiment has not been consistently replicated. However, a 2006 paper, Discrimination learning in paramecia (P. caudatum), found that “paramecia can learn a brightness discrimination based on reinforcement.” So I will assume that paramecia can indeed learn—depending, of course, on what we mean by learn: paramecia learn, but not in the sense associated with consciousness, which Dr. Hameroff admits at 3:57, or even (non-negligible) intelligence, whatever that term means, if not “consciousness” or “learning” or both. Therefore we need not posit any “paramecium brain.”

We usually think of learning as something like what goes on at school. However, paramecia evidently do not sit down in lecture halls and absorb knowledge—pond water perhaps, but not knowledge. Being single-celled organisms, they do not have any of the neural architecture (brain stuff) required to participate in, say, a college-level algebra class (though admittedly neither do many college algebra students, and in my experience paramecia have them beat on pond water absorption, too). In what sense, then, do paramecia learn? Our definition of learning has to be very broad and quite technical; “long-term changes in a system’s behavior caused by the system’s experiences, i.e. interactions with its environment” seems appropriate. This kind of learning, which paramecia apparently do (at least to the extent that they distinguish light from dark), is not evidence of intelligence as we usually conceive of it.

Consider a toy car which has been programmed to drive forward six inches every ten seconds. I hope we can agree that this system is not intelligent. Suppose that every time the car drives forward, I (the environment) whack it with a hammer. Eventually, it stops moving—its wheels have fallen off, its axles are bent, and so on. Clearly the system’s interactions with its environment (getting hit by my hammer) have caused long-term changes in its behaviour (it stops moving). Thus the car has learned not to move, lest it be hit by my hammer, and therefore the car is intelligent. The fallacy is obvious: I switched from the broad, technical definition of learning to the everyday meaning when I wrote “lest it be hit by my hammer,” attributing intent and self-awareness (are these, then, intelligence?) to the car—

—as Dr. Hameroff seems to have done to the paramecium, making one of its daring escapes from a capillary tube or—somewhat less dramatically—swimming about in light and dark Petri dishes. Shining light on a paramecium (whacking the car) produces persistent changes within the cell (bending the axles), so the organism’s behavior—the way the (unthinking, unfeeling) chemicals inside the cell react to its environment—also changes in a relatively permanent way. This is indeed learning. At this level, though, it is not really what we would call intelligence.

How weaselly these words are: “at this level, though,” “not really what we would call intelligence,” “(non-negligible) intelligence, whatever that term means”—shameful. Let us rectify the situation: of course, everyday learning is just very complicated and advanced technical learning, and there is no sharp line between the two. And if we supplied a broad, technical definition of intelligence, which I suspect would have to look suspiciously like the one for learning (or consciousness, which I won’t even attempt to start to define), we would probably discover that the intelligence of the car is approximately zero, that the intelligence of the paramecium is slightly higher but also negligible compared to human intelligence, and that the intelligence of college algebra students is significantly higher—at least as high as a chimpanzee or dolphin, I suspect. There; the weasels have been rounded up and ousted from the metaphorical bog.

Unfortunately, now I feel like I have wasted an hour stating the obvious, in a post that may never be read—and it also occurs to me that, as an application of the anthropic principle, there is absolutely no point whatsoever to saying “this post may never be read.” Oh well.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: