Monday, April 19, 2021

More of My Next Book is Up for Comment

As I have mentioned here before, I am currently using the ideas from the past fifteen years of blog posts as the basis for a book or books covering, like this blog, a wide variety of topics. I am webbing the draft section by section and have just put up the fourth, a series of chapters on marriage, reproduction, and related issues. Here is the full list of chapters so far:

Ideas: A Book from Blogs


    Left Libertarianisms
    DDF vs BHL
    Libertarian Arguments for Income Redistribution
    Do Ends Justify Means?
    Moral Puzzles
    A Positive Account of Rights
  Concerning the Libertarian Movement

    Economics or Philosophy
    From Edith Efron to Peter Schwartz
    Wimps, Boors, Ron Paul and the Constitution
    Eugenics and Libertarianism
    Promoting Libertarianism
    The Rest of the World
    Anarchy vs Minarchy
    Arguments with Interesting Leftists
    My Response to Another faq


Reasons for Belief
What Do Believers Believe?
The View of the Religious from the Outside
Auto Accidents, AIDS, Contraception and the Pope
The Puzzle of Hell Solved


Marriage, Reproduction, and Genetics


Saturday, April 03, 2021

Race, Gender and IQ

In modern-day America, anyone arguing that the difference in average IQ between blacks and whites, or the difference in the distribution of IQ between men and women, at least partly explains the difference between average black and white income or between male and female numbers in some academic fields, risks being accused of racism or sexism. Striking examples of the possible consequence of such an accusation are provided by the cases of James Watson and Lawrence Summers. Watson, who received a Nobel prize for his role in the discovery of DNA, arguably the most important biological breakthrough of the century, was so careless as to tell the Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really". He was attacked ferociously for the statement, accused of prejudice, stripped of titles and positions.

Prejudice is belief held without evidence. Watson’s view might well have been mistaken —I now think it was, although at the time I did not — but there was evidence to support it, since the average measured IQ in African countries was strikingly below that in European countries. His attackers, so far as I could tell, had no evidence in their support and were acting on pure prejudice.

Summers, then president of Harvard, commenting in an academic talk on the small numbers of women in elite academic positions in fields such as mathematics, offered several possible explanations. One of them was that although the average IQ of men and women was about the same, female IQ had a tighter distribution than male IQ. That would imply fewer women than men far out on the upper tail of the distribution, where Harvard math and physics professors are located. Summers was fiercely attacked for mentioning that possibility, forced out of his position at least in part as a result. Again there was quite a lot of evidence for the claim, no evidence against.

The result of suppressing arguments for an unpopular view is that nobody honestly knows what conclusion would come out of an open debate, hence whether or not the view is true, although many people may find it prudent to pretend to. Until very recently, the only convincing argument I had seen against the claim of lower African genetic IQ was one offered by Thomas Sowell in his Ethnic America. He observed that the average family income of immigrants to the U.S. from the West Indies reached the U.S. average in one generation. West Indians are blacker than Afro-Americans in both their genes and their skin color, so if Afro-Americans did badly because of their African genes, West Indian immigrants should do worse, and similarly if the reason was discrimination. Sowell offered instead an explanation based on the different cultures produced by differences between West Indian and North American slavery.[1]

I have now found more and even better arguments against the hereditarian explanation of racial differences. Chanda Chisala is a Zambian immigrant who appears, like Sowell, happy to engage in arguments on unfashionable subjects. His main topic is not Afro-American IQ but African IQ. He offers several independent lines of evidence to show that its low measured value, variously claimed to be 70 or 80, must be due to African environment not African genes. His evidence is of two sorts: The academic performance of African immigrants in first world countries, where they are exposed to a first world educational environment, and the performance of Africans on two games, checkers and Scrabble.

U.K. data on student performance is available not merely for racial groups conventionally defined but for linguistic subgroups within those populations. Africans on average do not particularly well, but many of the African subgroups, including both the Igbo and the Yoruba, the two largest Nigerian tribes, substantially outperform the native English, in some cases East Asians as well.

His U.S. evidence is more anecdotal. One year, a single college applicant in the U.S. was accepted by all eight Ivy League schools. He was a Nigerian immigrant. Another Nigerian immigrant is a serial entrepreneur who invented a computer application, founded a company, and sold it to Apple for an estimated billion dollars.[2] Black students in elite universities are African or West Indian immigrants or their children in numbers far out of proportion to their share of the population.[3] In a number of cases where data happen to be available, black refugee immigrants, not native speakers of English, substantially outperform in school native Afro-Americans. That is the opposite of the result one would expect if Africans were genetically inferior in intelligence to whites, since Afro-Americans, unlike Africans, have significant white ancestry.

His second line of argument is that African performance in checkers and Scrabble competition would be impossible if African average IQ were anything like as low as the estimates. Both games are, at the high end, heavily g loaded. While success in Scrabble at low levels depends in part on vocabulary, the critical skill in high level plays is the ability to do the mental arithmetic needed to decide which of alternative plays will give the player the most points and his opponent the fewest. Top white players have very high IQ and many of them are mathematicians. Yet a substantial fraction of the world’s top players of checkers, including some at the very highest level, are African, and a substantial fraction of the top players of English language scrabble, including at least one world champion, are from Nigeria.

In 2015, of the ten top players in the French Scrabble championship, three were from France, three from Gabon, three more from other African countries. Gabon is an ex-French colony with a population of 1.7 million. If one believes Richard Lynn’s figures on its IQ average and standard deviation, there should not be a single person in the country close to the intelligence level required to be a top Scrabble player. Similar arguments make it very nearly impossible that Nigeria could have as many of the world’s top players of English Scrabble as it does if his estimates were close to correct.

Africans do not do nearly as well at chess, although they do not do noticeably worse than other racial groups. Chisala’s explanation is that for chess, unlike Scrabble or checkers, playing at the highest level requires extensive instruction in the literature of the game, so much so that Bobby Fisher found it necessary to learn Russian in order to read the Russian chess literature. Few Africans have the opportunity for that sort of training. Russia has dominated modern chess competition at the highest level not because Russians are smarter than other people but because the Soviet Union chose to put a lot of resources into subsidizing the training of its chess players for purposes of international prestige. They put resources into checkers for the same reason, only to find their dominance challenged by players from Africa.

The evidence Chisala offers does not tell us whether the average African genetic IQ is 95, 100, or 105, but it is clearly not 70 or even 80. That conclusion is one that those skeptical of the hereditarian position will be happy with. Other parts of his argument are not. In the process of arguing that Scrabble performance at the high end requires a high IQ, Chisala  takes on the issue of the effect of differences between the male and female IQ distribution, the same issue that got Lawrence Summers in trouble.

A possible explanation of why top physicists or mathematicians are almost all men is that women are culturally discouraged from entering such fields or discriminated against in them. That does not work for Scrabble, since more women than men play it and nearly half the qualifiers to the North American Scrabble championships are women. Yet only about 5% of the highest rated players are women and no woman yet has won the world championship. As Chisala puts it, “This rising gender disparity as you go higher in expert Scrabble is a big win for the hereditarian corner of the gender-and-intelligence debate.”

He goes on to write:

However, as we have seen many times in this research, a big win for the hereditarian side comes with a hidden pact with the devil: a victory in the gender-and-intelligence debate logically implies a decisive loss in the race-and-intelligence debate (you truly can’t have your cake and eat it in this world). How is it that black Africans, who (on average) are supposed to be about 30 IQ points below white women and supposedly have lower visuospatial or mathematical intelligence and even lower variance in their intelligence distribution, can achieve what has been accepted as statistically impossible for white women – outperforming white men – …

Chisala’s evidence that the genetic IQ of Africans is comparable to that of whites raises the puzzle of why Afro-American IQ apparently is not. One obvious possibility is that, as in the African case, observed lower IQ is due to environment rather than genetics. Chisala rejects that explanation, in part on evidence that the children of wealthy American blacks do less well than the children of poor whites, despite what one would expect to be a more favorable environment, as well as on evidence that African refugees, from a much less favorable environment, outperform American blacks. He offers instead a genetic explanation. His conjecture[5] is that a feature of African genetics makes Africans more vulnerable than whites to unfavorable mutations and that such mutations were imported into the Afro-American gene pool early on by crosses with poor whites. I found his arguments for that conjecture less convincing than his arguments against the genetic inferiority of Africans, which leaves the puzzle of Afro-America IQ, for me, still unsolved.[5]

Part of what I like about Chisala is that he has taught me something I did not know — having read him I am now confident that African genetic IQ is not significantly lower than European. Another thing I like about him is his approach to arguing. He treats Lynn and Jensen, probably the two most prominent of the hereditarian scholars, not as wicked racists but as able scholars who have, for understandable reasons, reached mistaken conclusions. Even when he finds Jensen misstating evidence in a way that makes it appear to support his position, he treats it as a single mistake in the work of a generally careful and competent scholar.

This is connected with a related feature of his work that helps make it more persuasive than other attacks on the hereditarian view of racial IQ — he takes the other side’s arguments seriously. The usual attacks I see on the hereditarian position are ones such as the claim that some races cannot have a lower IQ than others because there is no such thing as race, true in some sense of “race” but irrelevant to questions about the average IQ and average outcomes of races as conventionally defined, or ones that provide some evidence against the position but not very strong evidence, the sort of arguments that might or might not stand up against obvious criticisms.[6]

Each of Chisala’s webbed essays is followed by a long thread of comments, many trying to explain away his evidence. He responds, usually in the next essay, by carefully examining the explanation and showing why it cannot be adequate. It is because he approaches the subject in that way that he does a more convincing job of rebutting hereditarian arguments on race than other critics.

The rebuttals are sometimes entertaining as well as convincing. Responding to the argument that Africans who decide to migrate to the U.K. are a select group, much more intelligent than the African average, he offers statistics showing that many are poor, few have high end careers. He also writes, responding to one critic:

I do not really know how it works in Jamaica, but I am quite confident that realizing that life is better in a very rich country than in your poor country is never exactly the most g-loaded epiphany among Africans.

[1] I gather that Sowell later modified the theory, still attributing the result to culture but with a different explanation of its origin.

[2] Chinedu Echureo, the inventor of HopStop.

[3] “While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them -- perhaps as many as two-thirds -- were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.” (Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?, NYT June 24, 2004)

[4] The series starts with and goes on through eight more essays.

[5] One tempting explanation for part of it is vitamin D deficiency. The same adaptation to a high sunlight environment by which blacks are commonly recognized, dark skin, also results in less conversion of sunlight to vitamin D, and there is evidence  linking vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women, to lower IQ of the children. I suspect that if the answer were that simple we would already know it, but it could be a partial explanation.

How might one combine that speculation with Chisala’s evidence on the academic performance of African immigrants to the U.K.? The answer may be that a large fraction of the immigrants were born in Africa in an environment where their mothers were exposed to the level of sunlight they were adapted to. If that is the whole story, it implies that the next generation may not do as well. The British diet appears to compare poorly with the American in that respect: “Unlike most other high latitude western countries, the UK does not fortify any staple food items with vitamin D, aside from a small amount added to margarine.”

[6] One used data on the illegitimate children of Afro-American servicemen stationed in Germany after the end of WWII — ignoring the fact that the fathers were not a random sample of Afro-American males. The other observed that differences in school performance between white and black students could be eliminated by a regression that controlled for differences in parental income, home environment, and the like — all of which are to some degree proxies for parental IQ.