03 November 2007

What Good is it Knowing About Differences in Population Average IQ?

One relevant missing curve in the graphic above is the IQ distribution for Ashkenazi Jews. A recent afternoon event at AEI [see video] looked at the topic of Jewish IQ. Slate magazine covers that event here.

It is becoming clearer that population differences in average IQ exist, and may play an important role in differences in achievement. Recently, esteemed genetics Nobelist James Watson was forced to resign his post at Cold Spring Harbor, and had many public appearances canceled, as a result of his public statement expressing pessimism about the future of Africa as a result of low population average IQ there.

Many sensitive people fear the scientific study of population IQ differences, and try to discourage others from taking the idea seriously. Whether or not they believe it, they declare: "IQ tests are worthless" "intelligence is undefinable" "there is no such thing as 'race'" "this whole topic is racist" etc etc. Other persons perhaps less sensitive and more thoughtful ask: "what good is knowing that one group has higher average IQ than another group?"

The latter question is worth looking at. The reason scientists and others take the trouble to distinguish (discriminate) between one thing and another--to determine differences between things, classes, groups, people etc--is to explain things that are not explicable otherwise, and to more effectively plan future action. If society is ruled by liberal ideas such as "equality before the law" "equality of opportunity" etc. and is populated by people who generally wish to alleviate widespread hardship and suffering, the society will be better able to make policy to alleviate hardship and suffering with the benefit of better knowledge of reality.

Imagine a global government, based on the above liberal ideals, that is disturbed by the perpetual suffering and poverty in the nation of Haiti. For the government to institute a sustainable and effective policy of reducing poverty and suffering in Haiti, the global entity would require the very best information as to the reasons for the very long term poverty within Haiti. Clearly basing a policy on incorrect causes of Haiti's condition would almost certainly result in no sustained improvement in Haiti's condition, while at the same time wasting substantial global resources that might have gone toward solving problems.

Intentionally not studying a problem to understand its foundations, is a clear invitation to erroneous explanations, and wasteful faux "solutions." When science is manacled by political correctness and research censorship, nonsense explanations run rampant.

Wise administrators need the best information available to plan the optimal policies for their institutions and bureaucracies. While humane societies institute means to assure equal opportunities under the law, they also understand the importance of meritocracy in preserving the relative competitiveness and prosperity of their society. Humaneness is not a suicide pact. If well-meaning policies are later found to be based upon false premises, they should be discontinued in favour of policies based upon the best available scientific knowledge. Simply replacing societal policies of racial discrimination with other societal policies of discrimination--merely shuffling the favoured and disfavoured a bit--is an absurdist approach to achieving justice.

Trying to achieve proportional representation of a population group within a profession that is generally acknowledged to require an intellectual aptitude that eliminates almost all members of that population group from consideration, is obviously a futile project. Far better to allow each person to discover his/her own niche--independent of population/ethnic/gender grouping.

Understanding the aptitude distribution curves for each population group does not give any group an unfair advantage. But it does provide explanations for discrepancies in representation that are based upon falsifiable science, rather than ideological cant.

People who prefer to base policy upon ideological cant will obviously prefer not to look at these questions scientifically. They will use whatever rhetorical mechanisms within reach to close debate and declare their point of view the only possible POV worth considering. This type of person has controlled much of the academy, the media, and many government bureaucracies for decades now. How long these professional ideologues can maintain their disproportionate control of public discourse remains to be seen.

It is worth knowing about population mean aptitude differences to help explain differences in achievement of different population groups. There is no one metric that determines superiority or inferiority of groups--except in terms of that one metric. Different population groups excel at different things. Perhaps when society finally takes an honest look at population differences, it can at the same time look at the strengths of every population group.

Even children understand that most people have strengths and weaknesses. It is time that society acknowledged the same--taking account of statistical spread--about population groups.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

I agree that avoiding the subject for political and ideological reasons is wrong but as with other issues of the so called social sciences there is so much numerical soup of statistics without context that the entire field should spend more time acquiring information and observation instead of making "conclusions" about what should be despaired about.

Just looking at how a culture with a long record of civilization like India currently ranks poorly (not as poor as Africa) in IQ yet is undergoing rapid economic growth make one wonder:

a) Did the Indian people have a higher IQ a few thousand years ago?

b) Is their IQ suddenly rising? Is IQ a driver of, rather than an effect of, economic development?

c) Is it not more likely that IQ is strongly linked to environmental factors?

If c) is true the stereotype reinforcement effect (whereby teaching people that low performance results in a given area make a negative reflection on their race makes people more likely to do poorly in these areas) makes public debates about this topic irresponsible at this time given the current lack of long term information.

It is interesting to note that African economies (even oil importing nations) are finally beginning to show that, in the absence of military conflict and Marxist and nationalistic dictators, they are able to expand and grow. I am not sure how such trends fit comfortably with the idea that low IQ levels cause poverty rather than the reverse.

Sunday, 04 November, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

India is a caste-oriented multi-ethnic society where over 400 languages are spoken. India has multiple "populations" each with its own IQ distribution.

Economics is more than just IQ. India's huge population gives it more people within the "smart fraction"--the people who get things done. China has up to 10 times more people within the smart fraction, so that even with the detriment of a corrupt communist government, China's growth is much larger than India's currently.

If you compare South Korea and North Korea--with presumably very similar genetics--you see that governmental and other environmental problems have hampered N. Korea's economic growth in comparison with the South.

As for your questions:

a) no, not likely.

b) "India's IQ" is probably not rising very much as a result of economic development or anything else.

c) IQ is indeed linked to environmental factors such as nutrition, enriched mental environment (especially childhood IQ, but that advantage fades with age). The environment that is most important is the intra-uterine environment.

d) stereotype effect is vastly overrated and used to explain things it has nothing to do with. The scientific debate is fascinating and fairly accessible.

e) some African economies are expanding and some--such as Zimbabwe--are crashing and burning very badly.

Are you familiar with Amy Chua's concept of market dominant minorities? If so, you may be familiar with what happened to Uganda under Idi Amin and many other sad stories of expanded economies suddenly shriveling and crashing. What goes up can certainly come down.

I applaud your optimism, but suspect that if you stay tuned you may decide that sometimes one has to face some hard truths and do what can be done with them.

The amount of information and observation that has been done in this field of social science is phenomenally large--although poorly funded perhaps for political reasons. Unless you have spent significant energy hunting the research and poring over the data, you can be excused for underestimating what is known here.

Most people pay attention to the people who tell them what they want to hear. Curious persons seeks out people who are willing to tell them what they don't want to hear, and look hard enough at the issue to find out if they need to place the formerly decided issue into a state of suspended judgment. I do that all the time.

Sunday, 04 November, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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