“Why Steve Sailer is wrong”

by on May 29, 2009 at 7:06 am in Science | Permalink

That's a request I received and probably the reader is referring to IQ and race. 

Let me first say that I am not the Steve Sailer oracle.  On such a sensitive matter I don't wish to misrepresent anyone, so I'll simply tell you what I think of the issues, without suggesting that he or anyone else necessarily disagrees. 

There is a belief that progress in genetics will resurrect old, now-unpopular claims about race and IQ, namely that some races are intrinsically inferior in terms of IQ.  I very much expect that we will instead learn more about the importance of the individual genome and that variations within "groups" (whether defined in terms of race or not) are where the traction lies.  So I don't expect "old style eugenics views" to make a comeback as applied to race, quite the contrary.  On that point, here is more

I also think that IQ will be shown to be more multi-dimensional than we now think.  If you wish to understand the role
of IQ in human affairs, you would do better to study autism and ADHD than race (by the way, I discuss the importance of neurodiversity in much greater detail in my forthcoming book Create Your Own Economy.)

You may know that some nations — basically the wealthy ones — have higher IQs than the poor nations.  But IQ is endogenous to environment, as evidenced by the Flynn Effect, namely the general rise in IQ scores with each generation.  It is sometimes noted that some racial IQ gaps are not closing but I find it more significant that scores can continue to rise.  For instance it is quite possible that groups with higher measured IQs simply have been on an "improvement track" for a longer period of time.  More generally I think we should consider the Flynn Effect a bit of a mystery and that suggests an overall tone of caution on these issues rather than polemicism. 

Most importantly, there is a critical distinction between hypocritical discourse on race and racism itself.  Hypocritical discourse on race is harmful and often Sailer does a very good job skewering it.  But racism itself is far, far more harmful, whether in the course of previous history or still today.  It is fine if a given individual, for reasons of division of labor, spends his or her time attacking hypocritical discourse about race rather than attacking racism itself.  (For instance we shouldn't all focus on condemning Hitler and Stalin, simply because they were among the most evil men; there are other battles to fight.)  But I still wish that specified individual to ardently believe that racism is the far greater problem.  Insofar as that individual holds such a belief about racism, I am much happier than if not.

The comments section is for discussion of the issues in a mature way; if you want to attack any particular individual, that is for elsewhere.   

Addendum: If you are looking for another perspective, here is William Saletan on Steve Sailer.

1 raph May 29, 2009 at 7:41 am

I’m sorry but it seems for me, the point of your article is just to say “I’m not at ease with that subject”…

You don’t say mcuh, if anything.

The only thing I understand is that as “the subject is sensitive” you stay politically correct…

Youcould have, for instance, tackle the fact that even if races appear to have different IQs and even if IQs appear to be the best tool to understand intelligence, each individual is unique. This means that if statistically the most intelligent man has the greatest chances to be from one particlar race, he might not be, thus, as every man is deemed to be free, this pure stateement of fact is making any racist/ racialist/ racially driven (or anyother kind) policies very hard to be justified.

2 john fossella May 29, 2009 at 8:01 am

Very insightful remarks on genetics and IQ (I visit your site looking for insights on flows of capital through micro/macroeconomies – so was pleasantly surprised to read this!). Here is a link to address one minor point in your post – that genetic studies will not resurrect old eugenics arguments. It shows how a genetic variant (in this instance, both of its isoforms are rather common across all racial/ethnic groups in humans) influences activity of a part of the brain that is active when individuals carry out various IQ-measuring tasks. Research today seems more aimed at understanding how information flows through the brain’s structural elements (synapses & microcircuits) – rather than studies of differences across ethnic/racial groups per se.


Very much a fan of your blog!

3 Mike Doherty May 29, 2009 at 8:42 am

Analogous to the idea that some long dead economist continues to influence current policy through his writings, Thomas Sowell makes the same point about culture’s influence on IQ scores in his book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”. Of particular merit is his essay, with the sames title, on the continued influence of “cracker culture” (known today as indigenous ghetto culture) on black folk.

4 Neal May 29, 2009 at 8:56 am

I very much expect that we will instead learn more about the importance of the individual genome and that variations within “groups” (whether defined in terms of race or not) are where the traction lies.

Here’s an analogy about differences within groups. “Races” are basically defined in terms of skin color, which suggests that which “race” a person falls into is largely determined by a small set of genes – there’s a lot more going on under the hood, so to speak, that requires genetic attention. In the same way, you wouldn’t expect two cars with the same paint job and general chassis shape to have nearly identical schematics – the designs have a lot more to say about what goes on under the hood than about what meets the eye.

5 linda seebach May 29, 2009 at 9:10 am

I think you grievously underestimate the damage done by racial hypocrisy, especially in areas like education policy. Such policies as heterogeneous classes and group learning are all ineffective, and especially damaging to less able students, but are in the ascendance because they serve to disguise between-group differences. I would take as given that while racism is, in principle, capable of causing far greater harm than hypocrisy about racism, racism under current circumstances is not as significant a factor in determining educational policy as hypocrisy is. But the broader point is that in the absence of between-group differences, there would be no perceived need leading policy-makers to adopt hypocrisy.

6 Sean May 29, 2009 at 9:16 am

Look what we’ve done with dogs in a relatively short period of time. From a common ancestor, we’ve made some huge, some fast, some mean, some tiny, etc. If you take two dogs of the same breed and mate them, and two dogs from another breed and mate them, you will have an excellent idea about the relative differences between the two sets of pups.

So it should come as no surprise at all that if there are significant cultural barriers between groups (which there certainly are), and if these groups prize different characteristics in their mating habits (which is debatable but plausible), various differences between the groups will emerge and be measurable.

I think it is important to document these differences if/as they emerge. My hope is that such documentation will influence leaders within groups to attack cultural weaknesses that are encouraging measurably negative outcomes, and reduce segmentation in society. Of course, the fear is that such documentation could have the reverse effect, and lead advantaged groups to shun disadvantaged groups. But I’m an optimist.

7 Cliff May 29, 2009 at 9:30 am

Regarding the Flynn effect, from the link I provided:

“An additional popular argument is that the Flynn Effect, the observed rise in IQ scores over time, is evidence that African-Americans or African countries will eventually reach parity with white norms. This typically includes the premise that white intelligence in the recent past was even lower than modern black intelligence. A typical example:

US Blacks, with an average IQ today of 85, have the same IQ as US Whites with an IQ of 100 in 1957. If 1957 US Whites were not stupid, then neither are US Blacks today. It’s time to shut up about the “low Black IQ”, since by any reasonable standard, it is not really low at all.

These arguments are wrong for the simple fact that the Flynn Effect is not a gain in real g factor intelligence, while the differences between nations and ethnic groups are differences in g factor intelligence. These findings led a 2004 team to state:

It appears therefore that the nature of the Flynn effect is qualitatively different from the nature of B-W [Black-White] differences in the United States… [so] implications of the Flynn effect for B-W differences appear small…

James Flynn, namesake of the secular increase, reiterates (DOC) these points:

Factor analysis is a way of measuring this tendency of some people to do better or worse than average across the board; and it yields something called g (a sort of super-correlation coefficient), which psychologists call the general intelligence factor…

When you analyze IQ gains over time, you often find that they do not constitute enhancement of these latent traits — they do not seem to be general intelligence gains, or quantitative factor gains, or verbal factor gains (Wicherts et al, in press). In the language of factor analysis, this means that IQ gains over time tend to display ‘measurement artifacts or cultural bias’. For a second time, we are driven to the conclusion that massive IQ gains are not intelligence gains or, indeed, any kind of significant cognitive gains. (pp 27-28)

Flynn believes the secular increase represents important changes in specific narrow aspects of developed cognitive style, but not a rise in g intelligence.

It is therefore incorrect that 1945 US whites were less intelligent than 2007 US blacks. The Flynn Effect has little apparent bearing on racial intelligence gaps.”

8 dearieme May 29, 2009 at 9:37 am

It’s rather odd to discuss a scientific investigation in terms of what you suppose the results will be. Perhaps it’s a matter of what you hope they will be?

As for Sailer, I find him more interesting than any other journalist I’ve read lately. He avoids the taboos that make so much of journalism deadly dull, and shows much more quantitative grasp than most journalists. Of course, there is the problem that he reinforces the widespread and baleful stereotype of Swiss-Americans as stimulating company.

9 Lee May 29, 2009 at 9:40 am

Also, Tyler, I liked your post—in particular your Lewontin-like emphasis on within-group variability is a laudable example of rising above impoverished discussions about group means. But can’t we do even more to play down this entire line of discussion? Or will we invite counterproductive charges of “political correctness” that will only draw more attention to a vicious discussion and allow our opponents to style themselves hard-nosed truth-seekers? Better to bring the discussion to such a level of sophistication that it bores the crypto-racists out there?

Also, I think Matthew Yglesias has done a good job lately of describing the Right’s strange interest in fighting perceived discrimination against whites, while neglecting to ever draw attention to even the worst instances of anti-black racism. I think you are too charitable regarding the value of division of labor in that area. Marginal gains were exhausted long ago.

10 Floccina May 29, 2009 at 10:11 am

I had hoped for some comments on Sailer’s view of Mexican immigration.

11 Mike May 29, 2009 at 10:32 am

Weak critique. I’m reminded of your blogging headings discussion with Robin Hansen. This post is indeed an example of how becoming popular has made you boring!

That said, I agree with Paul re: Sailor’s racism. Sailor’s post on Michele Obama was another example:

I’m a white male, and there’s no way in hell I’d have gone to work in BigLaw. I guess that means my white self would have validated the Angry Black Woman stereotype? It’s Sailor’s bizarre posts that detract from his credibility.

In general, he makes some good points. Let’s discuss race honestly. If there are differences, let’s discuss them.

Your counter-point seems to be: “If there are differences, then people will misuse them. So let’s pretend like there aren’t differences!” That, indeed, seems to be the implicit point of your paragraph discussing race hypocrisy and racism.

If that is your point, make it. The average person is indeed stupid. So it might be a social good to continue the lie about racial differences. Whites with sub-100 IQs (iow, half of whites) won’t be able to grasp that you can’t judge a given black based on the group IQ of blacks. So let’s just keep saying there is no IQ gap.

The downside to that is you create a lot of anger and resentment. Which might be more destructive to racial relations and lead to more racism in the long term.

12 a_c May 29, 2009 at 10:41 am

Tyler, you are right that all things being equal, racism is worse than race hypocrisy. But as an economist you should realize that on the current margins, race hypocrisy is by far more prevalent than racism. The Ricci case, and a large part of the failure of our education system, stems from race hypocrisy; the worst racism has done of late is a few isolated antidiscrimination cases.

13 Tom West May 29, 2009 at 11:12 am

I don’t think ‘honest’ discussion is possible.

If we face reality, the vast majority of people use IQ as a standing for “worth as a human being”, barring any other information. It’s wrong and unpleasant, but it seems roughly true. If you murder mentally handicapped individual, you’re probably going to jail for a lot less time than if you murdered a generally acknowledged genius.

Since the ramifications of finding one easily identified segment of society as inferior are pretty wide-spread, we’re going to find few, if any, uninterested people doing the science, nor should we.

After all, would you trust someone who spent time trying to figure out how to engineer a disease to specifically kill white people just to find out ‘if it could be done’?

This is exacerbated by the fact that any such research will be in its infancy and easily subject to later revision or even reversal, and yet will be used to try and influence policy right now. What sort of reputable scientist would be willing to work under such conditions?

So, no, we’re not going to see any ‘honest’ discussion here.

[Preparing for an onslaught of people who claim that “science must advance regardless of the outcome”, and yes, we must adapt any findings as policy immediately.]

14 Giovanni May 29, 2009 at 11:17 am

“I also think that IQ will be shown to be more multi-dimensional than we now think.”

No one thinks that intelligence is accurately modeled by a simple IQ score. People use IQ scores so much because they are very useful in studying the causes/effects of intelligence. Eventually, science will have better understanding of intelligence and better models to use, but for now, people use what we have.

This post is frustratingly vague. I’d love to hear Tyler Cowen’s views on this fascinating subject, but I can’t extract much substance from this post.

15 mk May 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

I agree with everying Tyler said.

The measured IQ gap is interesting but sometimes it is good to put a bandage on a wound rather than expose it to the air.
Is the IQ gap a wound that will heal? Or is it time to take the bandage off? To me this is the relevant question.

Sailerians must admit that the propagation of the IQ gap idea does have real consequences, both for expectations and for the future achievement of minorities. For example, there is a risk of treating the IQ gap as fixed, as a fact to come to terms with rather than a challenge that can be surmounted.

We don’t know whether it’s fixed or surmountable. But we should be thinking through both possibilities, check on the evidence, and think through the moral and societal consequences of both potential situations.

16 Eric Rasmusen May 29, 2009 at 11:49 am

“Hypocritical discourse on race is harmful and often Sailer does a very good job skewering it. But racism itself is far, far more harmful, whether in the course of previous history or still today.”

Why do you think that, especially for today? The answer depends on what one means by “racism”, of course. If it is just the belief that blacks have lower IQ’s and higher crime rates than whites, I wonder whether that has ever caused harm. Slavery and other practices of past centuries (Brown v. Board is over 50 years old now!) caused great harm, to be sure, but isn’t the cause interest-group politics rather than ideology? I don’t think Southern whites would have given up their slaves or their anti-black segregation practices if they’d believed blacks were just as smart as whites. To the contrary, that would have made blacks all the more threatening, like the Chinese Malaysians vs. the Malay Malaysians. The problem was and is the tendency of governments to favor special interests.

17 JD May 29, 2009 at 11:56 am

Steve Sailer does say some things that make me nervous or uncomfortable with where he’s going. But at other times, he skewers current policymakers in a way that I can’t help laughing at:

On the high-minded surface, the idea is that since No Child Left Behind has failed to close the racial gaps by pushing K-12 education, then the problem must stem (must) with pre-K years. All other possibilities are unthinkable! Therefore, having logically proven that the racial gaps are caused by disparate treatment before outside of the K-12 experience, the only solution is to spend a lot of government money taking poor black children away from their crack-addict mothers and their moms’ knucklehead ex-con boyfriends and have them raised by nice white ladies for as much of each 24 hour cycle as possible.

Oops, did I say that out loud? You are only supposed to think that last part! You are supposed to say something about “offering society’s most vulnerable children an enriched learning experience,” and everybody will automatically get the message about taking the poor black children away from crack and abusive step-babydaddies and the rest.

18 josh May 29, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Sprinting ability is also quite “multidimensional” as is distance running. Want to guess which part of the world the ancestors of the next olympic 100m and 5000m gold medal winners will be from?

The fact that we label children with profiles that don’t fit the cognitive profile predicted by “g” theory as having disorders and learning disabilities, and the relative rarity of important forms of these conditions, shows that talking about a general intelligence is at least quite useful in the real world. Besides, even if IQ is multidimensional, the distributions of the dimensions that make it up will still vary across different populations that correspond what we call race. Those differences may be important in determining the differences in outcomes we observe when we categorize people by race. With which part of this do you disagree?

Also, didn’t the Flynn effect stop or reverse recently?

19 oldjacket May 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Andrew needs to read more Gavin Wright.

>More generally I think we should consider the Flynn Effect a bit of a mystery and >that suggests an overall tone of caution on these issues rather than polemicism.

Please everyone pay more attention to this sentence. The only non-crazy conclusion to draw from the Flynn effect is Socratic: we don’t know what causes it but it’s pretty safe to rule out genetic hardwiring.

20 Vernunft May 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Steve Sailer isn’t wrong. Easy!

If you didn’t want to discuss the issue, you shouldn’t have posted this. This weird ducking-but-noy-ducking is pretty weaksauce.

21 oldjacket May 29, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Sailer believes that IQ tests demonstrate that blacks are morally and intellectually inferior to whites.

What is racism, if not that?

22 Orly May 29, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I think the entire “race realist” movement is a natural consequence of blaming one group for anothers unequal achievements when there is a HUGE portion of this inequality that is easily explained by something far less sinister.

Emphasizing racism, as Tyler suggests, will only further require the existence of people like Sailer (who happens to have the facts on his side, uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge).

It’s like your neighbor blaming you for stealing his TV, when you’ve seen the mailman enter the house for years while he’s at work but never shared this with the husband.

But now that he’s accusing you, you may have to share his wife’s infidelity and that the mailman is always in his home (porking his wife and now probably stold the darn TV!)

You preferred to mind your business, but now you have to stand your ground and mention some uncomfortable stuff.

23 Ed May 29, 2009 at 1:01 pm

“I can’t figure out why I should care about this topic as I interact with people on an individual basis and not a group basis. That blacks are disproportionately represented in the NBA would not influence my drafting decisions were I an NBA GM.”

I think KT gets it. Suppose it were conclusively proven that 80% of one racial group were “worse” than 80% of some other on some metric (put in “Blacks”, “Whites” and “intelligence” if you want). So what? Any discriminatory laws against the “inferior” group would hit hard the 20% of that group that were ahead of the favored group, in order to privelege the backward 20% of the favored group. Leaving aside the ethics of discrimination, this alone would be stupid and unjust. Better to just deal with people as individuals.

Sailer is good at skewering political correctness and affirmative action, but you can think that most manifestations of these things are dumb without holding any preconceived notions about races and intelligence.

24 josh May 29, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I was commenting on Tyler’s surprisingly(?) obtuse post, not the opinions of Steve Sailer.

But to your point, throwing out the word “inferior”, do you believe that blacks are, on AVERAGE, intellectually IDENTICAL to whites? Or is the fact that different races have for as long as anyone has measured performed differently at all different kinds of tasks, and that these differences, whether in sprinting speed or abstract reasoning ability, tend to be stable over different generations (controlling for socioeconomic status, controlling for schools attended, etc, etc, ) evidence of SOMETHING?

I’m going to be candid here. I remember how difficult it was to come to this conclusion being raised a progressive (my father is an attorney for the Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division, for Pete’s sake). At some point though, racial differences in cognitive ability is just one of those things you have to accept on the preponderance of the evidence. It’s like becoming an atheist, only much, much harder and less socially acceptable (I’m even nervous about hitting post on this comment). It’s more like becoming an atheist one hundred years ago. But once your faith in human cognitive uniformity is gone, it just isn’t coming back, because frankly, it’s an idea based on faith that really just doesn’t make any sense at all. How do you reconcile how to believe in evolution, but not believe in differences between populations that you already can see have a cluster of correlated differences visible through basic observation?

25 a_c May 29, 2009 at 1:16 pm

“I can’t figure out why I should care about this topic as I interact with people on an individual basis and not a group basis. That blacks are disproportionately represented in the NBA would not influence my drafting decisions were I an NBA GM.”

What if the NBA had a policy requiring a fixed proportion of whites, Hispanics, and Asians on your team? What if you would be accused of racism because, as you say, “blacks are disproportionately represented in the NBA”?

You’re right, racial differences in IQ would not be important, IF NOT for government policies that pretended they did not exist, and treat any differences in outcome as though there must be some skinheads (and Asian-booster) in the hiring committees.

26 Rex Rhino May 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm

If IQ wasn’t completely worthless, most corporations competing in the free market would use it for their personnel decisions. Right now, you are far more likely to have to take a lie detector test (a rather dubious technology in itself, and rarely used) than have to take an IQ test for a job. Has anyone here ever had to take an IQ test for a non-government job (or a lie-detector for a non-government job, for that matter)?

IQ is the modern equivalent of Phrenology. The idea that you can objectively measure the complex neuro-biological processes in the brain in 40 minutes with a handful of puzzles and multiple choice questions is highly questionable. When someone is trying to make sweeping generalizations about whole groups of people, without any sort of genetic or evolutionary model to back it up, simply on the basis of a few mind-teasers, I am naturally going to be incredulous. I am even more incredulous when you try to classify people into vague groups like “white” and “black”, when in fact there is as much genetic diversity between different ethnicity of Europeans as there is between Europeans and Africans.

But even making the assumption that IQ isn’t complete crap and is a valid measure of intelligence, there are so many other factors besides genetics that could effect an IQ difference in races… What about the fact that blacks are more likely to live in urban areas than whites? Or blacks are more likely to grow up in a home with more siblings that whites? Or blacks are more likely to have both parents working than whites? Or grow up in single family homes? Or blacks are more likely to live in poverty than whites? As a layman I can think of 100 reasons other then genetics, right off the top of my head, to explain a black/white IQ gap… and when I bring these issues up, the only response is that I am “brainwashed by political correctness” (i.e., I am attacked for being a reverse-racist)? Tyler Cowen says we should not attack any individual (the implication is, of course, that calling certain folks a ‘racist’ is an attack)… but how obviously racist does someone have to be before we can call a spade a spade? Especially when they have made it a tactic to preemptively imply we are reverse-racist for questioning the serious holes in their theories?

27 bbartlog May 29, 2009 at 2:00 pm

If IQ wasn’t completely worthless, most corporations competing in the free market would use it for their personnel decisions.

You’re up on your libertarian free-market ideology, but your grasp of legal history is sorely lacking. Many companies did use IQ tests in hiring until 1972, at which point it became de facto illegal (Duke vs Griggs Power if I recall correctly) due to disparate impact.
Nowadays you have plenty of companies (especially software companies) that will have a large portion of the interview devoted to ‘problem solving ability’, in which interviewer will throw a bunch of (ostensibly programming-related) puzzles at the interviewee. I’ve been on both sides of this part of the interview. It’s an intelligence test, just less formal than an IQ test so as to avoid the legal hassles.

28 mulp May 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I think the problem lies with believing that intelligence and IQ somehow measure rational thought, much the same as mainstream economic theory argues that people make rational decisions in their own self interest.

As Predictably Irrational shows by bringing together lots of evidence that people don’t make rational decisions so the entire foundation of lots of economic theory is as solid as sand for a 1000 foot tower.

Rather, the crude evidence so far shows that certain seemingly similar stimuli trigger different response in the brain that exert the most effect on decision making.

So, a population in a region might be presumed to select for certain stimulus responses that are different from other regions. For someone in the first region, the people in the second region are reacting irrationally because it is differs from the norm in the first region.

Let’s say the environmental selection involves discriminating against things on the vertical because of living in forests, or against things on the horizontal because of living on the plain. Now in looking at a written exam, the horizontal vs vertical perception imprinting kicks in and for one person the vertical alignment isolates the multiple choices as unique and equal, while for the horizontal perception, the form of the words isolates one line as the horizon and focuses the mind on that one or perhaps two lines to the exclusion of the others. By engaging in the mental exercise of reading each silently to convert the visual into auditory, the correct choice can be made, but for the other person, that auditory process is not required and the correct answer can be determined more rapidly.

So, is the need to override the visual programming by converting to auditory a sign of inferior intelligence?

If fMRI technology takes a decade or two more to be able to see the difference in brain function, and then by that point in time the genetic mixing removes 50% of the correlation between skin color and facial features, will it be possible to really understand the differences in mental processes.

But it does come down to the question, if I must silently vocalize something I read to understand it, am I less intelligent than someone who can understand it by merely reading it?

And I think that certain conditions, autism and schizophrenia cause irrational behavior at the same time that certain key intellectual processes perform above normal. Is John Nash more intelligent than others, or less intelligent than others, because of his brain’s sometimes dominant irrational thought processes.

Or more simply: is a blind person less intelligent than a sighted person?

29 bbartlog May 29, 2009 at 2:29 pm

I think the problem lies with believing that intelligence and IQ somehow measure rational thought

IQ scores are strongly correlated with job performance on a wide variety of tasks, including jobs that are not normally viewed as particularly intellectual. In short, the concern with them has nothing to do with some abstract belief in a link between IQ and ‘rational thought’ – that’s a strawman that you cooked up, apparently as an excuse to wank on incoherently for a few paragrapphs.

30 jim May 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Ok, so Tyler simply punted on the issue. Understandable. I don’t know why he even brought it up.

Sailor has the facts on his side. Average black IQ is roughly a standard deviation lower than average white IQ. Once we admit this it explains most of the B-W achievement gap.

Similarly, the high IQ (higher than whites) of northeast Asian explains the “model minority” problem. Higher IQ people are, on average, more successful and more conscientious than lower IQ people.

The refusal to admit the existence of the IQ gap, and even more to deny the existence of IQ, just needlessly hobbles our understanding of the world.

All the anti-IQ people sound about as convincing as creationists — and just as evidence-dismissing.

31 pedro May 29, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I do think that people who strongly hold some of Sailer’s opinions ought to be stigmatized–not because of any illusions of racial superiority but because of shoddy thinking and lack of imagination. Anybody with an iota of understanding of the complexities of human life has no trouble seeing that essentialist arguments (whether those that privilege a few particular aspects of biology or culture) seeking to explain IQ differences among groups are very likely unsound. A minimally adequate understanding of the dynamics of human development and the impact of genetics and culture on IQ, intelligence(s) in general, and human achievement, must explain not just recent observed differences between ‘racial’ groups, but also past differences, the narrowing and widening of differences, the myriad observations in the IQ literature that Richard Nisbett makes reference to in his last book, etc. Sailer’s followers may or may not share his troubling opinions on matters of policy, but they do seem to share an outlook on race and IQ that is simplistic (and often comically self-serving), far removed from the spirit of scientific inquiry, in spite of their and his fondness for the word ‘science.’ They may be right when they decry the hypersensitivity of those who regard research on the matter as outside the bounds for respectability, but they are wrong to think that those of us who criticize their vehemence do so simply out of loyalty to certain politically correct pieties: many of us do so because the vehemence with which they embrace essentialist explanations of IQ score differences strike us as emphatically unwarranted by the evidence.

32 spaceland May 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm

“Races” are basically defined in terms of skin color…

That’s not true. Skin color IS used a simple and quick indicator of what racial group someone likely belongs to, but when someone like Sailer is talking about race, he’s talking about populations that largely evolved in genetic isolation.

The genes controlling skin color and appearance are merely the ones for which you can easily see a result. Why assume that the thousands of genes controlling what’s “under the hood” didn’t also undergo different paths of evolution like the “paint job” genes?

33 DeepThought May 29, 2009 at 3:57 pm

This is why the vast majority of economists missed the bigeest financial meltdown since the depression. Any one with common sense could have told you that giving mortgages to poor/non asian minorities would have led to greater default. Frankly your attack on Steve Sailer is another attempt at broadly smearing a man who has never written a racist article. The good thing about your blog is that atleast you can be proud of being politically correct. Personally, this will be the last time I visit this blog.

Half Sigma says it best.

“I think there’s a bigger issue here regarding economists who deny HBD. Economics is the study of a specific type of human behavior, and because human behavior is largely influenced by our genotypes, ignoring this important influence results in false economic theories. Even worse, most economists substitute the reality of human behavior for the ridiculous assumption that every person is a hyper-rational calculating machine when making economic decisions. Computer scientists refer to this as “garbage in, garbage out.”

Economists’ denial of human behavior tends to show up especially in their incorrect understanding of the relation between “human capital” and education.

34 Richard Hoste May 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm

“But I still wish that specified individual to ardently believe that racism is the far greater problem. Insofar as that individual holds such a belief about racism, I am much happier than if not.”

Care to define the term that you’ve declared the ultimate thought crime?

35 Stuart May 29, 2009 at 4:41 pm

As a friend of Marginal Revolution, I ask you to shut down this thread and delete it.

Watson’s career was destroyed and he was publicly denounced by his best friends just because he started down the path you are now on.

Think of what you are doing to yourself. Stop now

36 Zbicyclist May 29, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Why does Tyler have to have an informed opinion about everything? A person can only be broad.

Is Tyler likely to say something new about this badly overworked topic? Why not ask him how to bring together the pro-choice and pro-life camps?

37 adam May 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I am surprised, or maybe not, that Tyler or any commenter does not link this discussion to Clark’s ‘Farewell to Alms’, which was reviewed quite extensively by him when it first appeared. For those who didn’t read it or follow the review here, its thesis is that over a period of close to a thousand years, ‘something’ changed in the population of England that led to lower time preference, as well as many other changes, including lower propensity to violence. This change subsequently led to the Industrial Revolution.

At that time, the discussion coyly mostly stayed away on what that ‘something’ might be, suggesting ‘culture’. But this snippet of a review in the New York Review of Books, shows what is at stake to many: “Right or wrong, or perhaps somewhere in between, Clark’s is about as stimulating an account of world economic history as one is likely to find. Let’s hope that the human traits to which he attributes economic progress are acquired, not genetic[…] Alternatively, we can simply hope he’s wrong.”

Neuroscience evidence is trickling in that the ‘something’ may be genetic and can be located in the brain, and thus that the ‘hoped for’ science fails to materialize (for example google this J Neuroscience paper, becasue I cannot put in the URL content/abstract/29/18/5985; response to framing effect is related to time preference).

Right now, this IQ vs genetics discussion is hanging in mid-air, and commenters are starting to ask why it matters at all. But if IQ genetics influence economic development, possibly more than just at the margin, then it should matter a great deal to readers of this blog.

Many believe in God, and many believe that ‘all men are created equal’. Both of these beliefs have a lack of proof, but have led to many good and beautiful things. There is no need to throw out such beliefs because of a lack of facts – that is why they are beliefs after all. But it is healthy to differentiate between facts and beliefs.

And I agree this thread should be shut down.

38 Steve Sailer May 29, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I’d like to thank the many commenters who have responded insightfully.

If anybody is interested in what I’ve actually said about IQ and race, I put together Frequently Asked Question lists in 2007 in the wake of the James D. Watson brouhaha.

IQ: http://www.vdare.com/sailer/071203_iq.htm

Race: http://www.vdare.com/Sailer/071216_race_faq.htm

39 Richard Hoste May 29, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I have a recent book review up on the cost and unfairness of the Affirmative Action system.

Affirmative Action in Modern America

My argument goes something like this. If there’s a chance, even a remote one, that there are major differences in IQ why even take the chance and continue with third world immigration? See Richard Lynn’s IQ and the wealth of nations. Let’s at least get proof on the equality of the races before we try this experiment. The burden of proof should be on those that want to change the ethnic makeup of the West. Unintended consequences and all that.

40 Orly May 29, 2009 at 5:46 pm

“I mean, when two black surgeons marry and have kids, the kids on average have a lower IQ than when two white janitors marry.”

Yeah, that sounds flat out wrong.

41 Steve Sailer May 29, 2009 at 5:59 pm

“I mean, when two black surgeons marry and have kids, the kids on average have a lower IQ than when two white janitors marry.”

That would be unlikely to be true on average.

Regression toward the mean is an important phenomenon regarding IQ, but the typical regression toward the mean among children is only in the range of 40% to 50% of the gap between the parents’ IQ and the weighted average of their ancestors.

42 mulp May 29, 2009 at 6:04 pm

bbartlog writes: “IQ scores are strongly correlated with job performance on a wide variety of tasks, including jobs that are not normally viewed as particularly intellectual. In short, the concern with them has nothing to do with some abstract belief in a link between IQ and ‘rational thought’ – that’s a strawman that you cooked up, apparently as an excuse to wank on incoherently for a few paragrapphs.”

Let me see if I can clarify my thought and restate. I think it is clear that environment selects for genetics, eg, genes useful for fighting malaria are more common in non-European groups. So the question is whether European culture would develop to favor European genetic evolution. Is culture not an environmental factor, and is European culture optimal for all world populations, or most optimal for Europeans. Perhaps Asian culture evolved from Asian genetic evolved from Asian environment and provides some superior traits in test taking. For example, perhaps the repetitive requirements of planting rice selected for genetics that favor drill in learning.

So, an Asian might be well adapted to rote learning, but on the other hand, the more diverse demands on Europeans selected for risk taking and trying new things. Indications of the difference might be the innovation in car styles in the US with an emphasis on racing, while the higher quality but boring styles of Asian cars reflect the risk taking and repetitive rote drill respectively.

Now if a test for selecting people for an auto design program were being developed, which “IQ” factors would predict the group that would design the highly reliable cars and what would predict the exciting and unique race cars. Or to put it another way, why aren’t American cars iconically reliable and Asian cars the iconic leaders in racing?

If IQ predicts performance in a profession, do US race car designers have lower or higher IQs than Asian race car designers, and the same for manufacturing quality quality engineers?

It is obvious that human environment complements the population’s genetic, in that populations that are short build building with low doorways, so I suspect that the knowledge environment complements the population genetics as well.

43 Richard Hoste May 29, 2009 at 6:27 pm

“Back this up or piss off. I’m well aware of how regression to the mean works; now if you’d like to show us where or how you got figures for the average IQ of black surgeons and/or white janitors, we can do the math. I’d be quite skeptical that regression to the mean is powerful enough to bridge the divide – but more to the point, you’re making claims that we can already guess you have no data for. Stick to the facts.”

The guy was exaggerating, but the kids of the poorest whites do do better than the kids of the wealthiest blacks.

“The extent to which NAMs (Non-Asian minorities) need affirmative action is quite striking. In 2002 the average SAT score of whites whose parents had no more than a high school diploma was 985. The score of a black who had a parent with a post-baccalaureate degree was 954. The average math scores for whites and Asians whose parents earned less than $10,000 a year were 497 and 518 respectively. For blacks living in homes earing over $100,000 a year it was 490. That’s why prefacing any discussion of racial differences by saying ‘some blacks are smarter than some whites’ does nothing but obscure their extent. While black physicists might be smarter than white criminals, what’s more interesting and relevant for policy is that the lowest white social classes are smarter than the highest black ones and have the lowest incomes relative to their IQs. In other words, poor whites are the truly “disadvantaged† and blacks the most privileged members of American society. “

44 Be Honest May 29, 2009 at 6:43 pm

The Flynn Effect shows that increasing nutrition to undernourished groups can help increase their IQ. It has not been demonstrated that this necessarily decreases the black-white gap. Yet decreasing the B-W gap is a goal DISTINCT from the goal of increasing IQs in general.

Do you support the goal of decreasing the B-W gap per se? If so, would you support the deliberate undernourishment of white kids as a way of facilitating this goal?

45 Steve Sailer May 29, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Richard Hoste writes:

“what’s more interesting and relevant for policy is that the lowest white social classes are smarter than the highest black ones”

To be accurate, we should say that high social class black adults tend to be smarter than low social class whites, but that the smartness of the children of these two classes are similar, and the white children might even be ahead. This is known as the Shaker Heights Effect after the consortium of high income mixed race schools in liberal suburbs that hired sociologist John Ogbu to study the low performance of affluent black children.

46 Steve Sailer May 29, 2009 at 7:22 pm

One way to raise average IQs in the Third World is to fortify staples such as salt and flour with the micronutrients iodine and iron. This has been done in the U.S. since before WWII, and has proven hugely cost effective.

Kiwanis International is the main charitable supporter of iodine supplementation in poor countries.

I’ve been writing about this need since 2004:


47 Dynalink May 29, 2009 at 7:35 pm

“If we face reality, the vast majority of people use IQ as a standing for “worth as a human being”, barring any other information. It’s wrong and unpleasant, but it seems roughly true.”

Oh geepers. High IQ individuals are commonly derided as “geeks” and “nerds” in contemporary society. Certainly, high IQ is a requirement to reach the highest Ivy echelons of the totem pole, but in the larger society IQ is hardly the be-all, end-all status marker. Most people, after all, have average IQ.

Nor is there much reason to get all obsessed about the average IQ of whatever group you belong to. There is usually some other group or sub-group that will top you. But hey, if you are an ashkenazi, feel free to gloat all you want.

48 Glaivester May 29, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I very much expect that we will instead learn more about the importance of the individual genome and that variations within “groups” (whether defined in terms of race or not) are where the traction lies.

By the same token, we will realize that global warming is a silly thing to worry about, because the amount that the climate will warm is much smaller than the day-to-day variation in temperature in any particular place.

49 Derek May 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm

anti semetism is a separate issue. Leave it for another thread

We are talking about the average IQ of different races here.

Hundreds of academic studies have shown that inside the USA the different races have dramatically different IQs

The Chinese that moved here 120 years ago overwhelmingly have offspring that earn above average incomes and pay above average taxes. These folks have far above average IQs

the latin americans that moved here 120 years ago overwhelmingly have offspring that earn below average incomes and pay below average taxes. These folks have far below average IQs

Does it really matter whether the low IQs of the latin americans living in america for 120 years are due to genetics or culture or what? I put forth that it doesn’t matter.

We as a nation have a clear simple track record of turning Chinese immigrants in to successes.

If the powers that be in this country demand 20 million new immigrants who will work for low wages, and the feminist professors that share the faculty lounge with Tyler insist on millions of new immigrants willing to work as nannies and house cleaners for low wages (and they do, for obvious reasons) then there is no way that anyone can win an argument against immigration. Don’t fight a battle you can’t win.

The fix is in – there is a concensus of the powerful in America, both left and right, Democrat and Republican, that there will be a massive inflow of cheap immigrant workers.

The only question is, where will those cheap immigrant workers come from? If we as a nation import 20 millino impoverished North Chinese peasants, the powerful folks in America will get their cheap nannies, gardeners, and cleaning women. But the children of these Chinese will eventually go to medical school and engineering school, and they will NOT be a burden on our welfare system

If instead we import 20 million impoverished latin americans, we get generation after generation of high school dropouts and people who take more in government services than they pay in taxes.

This has nothing at all to do with african americans. Speaking as an african american man, I just can’t understand why the people who understand the truth about race and iq are bothering with african americans. I mean there is no debate – there is no group arguing for 20 million more blacks to move to america. The IQ of african americans is just not relevant.

What is relevant is, powerful whites want 20 million cheap servants. The powerful whites WILL get what they want. It is in the interest of black american citizens and of white american citizens to make sure that the 20 million new immigrants come from China and not from latin america.

All of us, black and white, are on the same side here. Or we should be on the same side. This is our country, we built it together. We can’t fight the powerful in their desire for 20 million cheap servants. Let’s not even try. But let’s make sure the 20 million new americans are chinese peasants and not latin peasants

50 TangoMan May 29, 2009 at 8:25 pm

“I can’t figure out why I should care about this topic as I interact with people on an individual basis and not a group basis. That blacks are disproportionately represented in the NBA would not influence my drafting decisions were I an NBA GM.”

You may interact with people on an individual basis but far too often government policies mandate action to be taken based on group level characteristics. That’s why you should care because, what you see as improper group labeling, is the basis for a good many “rules in society.”

Some examples:


1.) Racial wage discrimination. Government looks at income levels by race and gender, notes a disparity, controls for a few obvious variables, but none which are politically sensitive, and on the basis of the remaining income variance presumes unmeasurable discrimination to be the culprit and then institutes legal and administrative remedies. However, this inconvenient fact is always overlooked:

The analyses of the General Social Survey data from 1974 to 2000 replicate earlier findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth that racial disparity in earnings disappears once cognitive ability is controlled for. The results are robust across many alternative specifications, and further show that blacks receive significantly greater returns to their cognitive ability than nonblacks. The trend data show that there was no sign of racial discrimination in the United States as early as 1970s. The analyses call into question the necessity of and justification for preferential treatment of ethnic minorities.

2.) Between group comparisons are sometimes deemed out of bounds, as in matters related to cognition, but other times are deemed to be of foundational importance to public policy, such as between group income differences. The favorite rhetorical tactic to shut down debate on cognitive differences is to wheel out Lewontin’s adage (fallacy) about there being greater cognitive differences within groups than between groups, so the between group differences are really of little consequence. Well, the same within-group and between-group differences apply to income metrics:


It is important to recognize that most wage inequality occurs within and not between groups. The unweighted average Gini coefficient across all race, gender, and education groups was 0.256 in 1995, over 80 percent of the total Gini. Put another way, if all groups had identical mean wage rates (for example, black male dropouts had the same average wages as white male college graduates) but wages differed within groups as they do today, nearly all the inequality in wage rates would remain.

If between group cognitive differences don’t matter in public policy because within group differences are larger, then why doesn’t the same standard apply to measures like income variance?

IQ like ether, alchemy, and perpetual motion machines is discredited on its own merits. We don’t have a good definition of intelligence so all current ways of “measuring” it is wishful thinking.


Studies carried out in the US on the level of prediction of intelligence tests indicate that they are valuable instruments: “psychometric tests are the best predictors of success in school and in the world of work. And what’s more, they are no mean predictors of failure in everyday life, such as falling into poverty or dependence on the state (†¦). To say that other things are important, apart from intelligence, is not really a challenge until you say precisely what those other things are” (Hunt, 1997, pp. 539-540). According to the APA, standardised measures of intelligence correlate at levels of .50 with school performance, .55 with years of schooling, .54 with work performance, and –.19 with juvenile delinquency. No other psychological variable is capable of producing these correlations (Neisser et al., 1996).

If IQ is a discredited concept then why does it have real world implications, I mean, can you point to anything related to alchemy which has predictive value to people? IQ and the world of work:


The evidence is overwhelming. Take tank gunners. You wouldn’t think intelligence would have much effect on the ability to shoot straight, but apparently it does. Replacing a gunner who’d scored Category IV on the aptitude test (ranking in the 10-30 percentile) with one who’d scored Category IIIA (50-64 percentile) improved the chances of hitting targets by 34 percent. (For more on the meaning of the test scores, click here.)

In another study cited by the RAND report, 84 three-man teams from the Army’s active-duty signal battalions were given the task of making a communications system operational. Teams consisting of Category IIIA personnel had a 67 percent chance of succeeding. Those consisting of Category IIIB (who’d ranked in the 31-49 percentile on the aptitude test) had a 47 percent chance. Those with Category IV personnel had only a 29 percent chance.

The same study of signal battalions took soldiers who had just taken advanced individual training courses and asked them to troubleshoot a faulty piece of communications gear. They passed if they were able to identify at least two technical problems. Smarts trumped training. Among those who had scored Category I on the aptitude test (in the 93-99 percentile), 97 percent passed. Among those who’d scored Category II (in the 65-92 percentile), 78 percent passed. Category IIIA: 60 percent passed. Category IIIB: 43 percent passed. Category IV: a mere 25 percent passed.

The pattern is clear: The higher the score on the aptitude test, the better the performance in the field. This is true for individual soldiers and for units. Moreover, the study showed that adding one high-scoring soldier to a three-man signals team boosted its chance of success by 8 percent (meaning that adding one low-scoring soldier boosts its chance of failure by a similar margin).

Smarter also turns out to be cheaper. One study examined how many Patriot missiles various Army air-defense units had to fire in order to destroy 10 targets. Units with Category I personnel had to fire 20 missiles. Those with Category II had to fire 21 missiles. Category IIIA: 22. Category IIIB: 23. Category IV: 24 missiles. In other words, to perform the same task, Category IV units chewed up 20 percent more hardware than Category I units. For this particular task, since each Patriot missile costs about $2 million, they also chewed up $8 million more of the Army’s procurement budget.

51 Josh May 29, 2009 at 8:53 pm


That piece you linked by Cosma Shalizi ‘g is a statistical myth’ is incorrect.

The main thrusts of his argument is that test data do not statistically support a g-factor. Gould tried to discredit g but his argument argument was statistically incompetent (for a statistican’s critique see Measuring intelligence: facts and fallacies by David J. Bartholomew, 2004). Shalizi’s criticism is incredibly sophisticated, but likewise incorrect. In a nutshell, Shalizi is trying to argue around the positive correlations between test batteries. If those correlations didn’t exist, his argument would be meaningful. However, these intercorrelations are one of the best documented patterns in the social sciences.

Cosma Shalizi misrepresented Spearman and his two factor model. The author tried to present Spearman as ignorant of group factors (he should have called them out as such or noted that they are from the second stratum). The fact is that Spearman gave up on the two factor model and accepted group factors. The fact beyond that is that the predictive validity of group factors typically appears in the range from (and including) zero to about 4%. In other words, the two factor model is not rigorously correct, but it captures virtually all of the practical validity of any test.

52 LL May 29, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I’m a high IQ Black male and a consistent reader of Sailer’s blog. I stumbled upon Sailer’s writing after reading Stephen Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” because I was searching for criticisms of some of the facts Pinker posted.

Honestly, I think Sailer is right on the facts of IQ, and I’m fairly sure that he is not a racist. However, I think that Sailer might underestimate the degree to which people tie individual value to intelligence and how people might care less for others if they felt that the facts of the IQ issue were true. I get this impression because when I defend the racial gap on its merits, I get insulted with all kinds and manner of ad hominem insults, including unprintable ones. I’m a Black man, so I can still be a humanitarian towards Blacks who are not as lucky as myself. Will Whites still be so if they believe with conviction that Blacks have lower IQs, which many of them consider to be a synonymous statement with the claim that Blacks are inferior (and no, Sailer is not one of those Whites – Sailer’s thought is far more nuanced and intelligent).

Anyways, I hope that people like Tyler Cowen are taking the right path. America as a country is dying slowly because people are unable to see what is right in front of them and make intelligent policy decisions on that basis.

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