May 28, 2008

Are albinos smarter?

Sometimes appearance changes over the generations when behavior is being selected. For example, when Soviet classical geneticist Dmitri Belyaev lost his high ranking position due to Lysenkoism becoming Stalin's orthodoxy (Darwinism was seen as anti-social engineering), he began to quietly selectively breed Russian silver foxes to become pets. As they became more domesticated in behavior, their appearance became more dog-like, too.

It's been suggested that perhaps fair skin evolved among some human groups not because of huge advantages in fair skin (such as vitamin D) but because of selection pressure for some other trait. If so, albinos might have something to teach us about human evolution.

I don't see much evidence of albinos being smarter, but here's a New York Times article from 11 years ago from the good old days in Zimbabwe, when people had the time (and food and electricity) to worry about starting an Albino Rights movement.

February 9, 1997

Black, Yet White: A Hated Color in Zimbabwe

By DONALD G. MCNEIL JR.

John M. Makumbe is a professor of political science. Richard Nyathi is chief librarian for a Government ministry. Stanley S. Gunda is a senior financial officer in another ministry. Not so long ago, they might have been killed at birth. '

Messrs. Makumbe, Nyathi and Gunda are albinos. In Africa, far more than on any other continent, that is a lifelong curse. They lack the gene that codes the skin pigment melanin, and they are very nearsighted. As white-skinned men in a black society, they are shunned and feared as the products of witchcraft, taunted by children and drunks as ''peeled potatoes,'' ''monkeys'' and ''ghosts.''

There is a stereotype that all albinos are intelligent and accomplished, as these three men are. But Professor Makumbe said successful albinos were ''a teeny-weeny minute number.'' Most, he added, languish at home without education because they cannot see the blackboard at school or because their parents, told such children die young, will not pay for their schooling.

In the United States, about 1 person in 20,000 is an albino, according to doctors at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which has a clinic that studies the genetics of albinism. The condition is more common among blacks than among whites, and almost unknown among Asians.

In parts of Nigeria, as many as 1 in 1,100 are albino; in parts of South Africa the incidence is 1 in 1,800. It varies sharply from country to country and tribe to tribe, said Jennifer Kromberg, an expert on albinism at the South African Institute for Medical Research. For instance, in South Africa it is twice as high among Tswana as among Zulu, she said, because Tswana encourage marriage between cousins while Zulu forbid it.

… Albinism comes from a recessive gene and must be inherited from both parents. Not all children in affected families are albino. Mr. Nyathi, for example, has two albino siblings, while his parents and eight other siblings are black.

… Superstitions are strong in rural Zimbabwe. The practice of killing suspected witches survives, and albino children were once smothered at birth. The belief that adult albinos do not die, but simply vanish, is still widely held. …

Professor Kromberg said surveys she had done among young albino adults in Soweto, South Africa, found that they were rarely shunned on buses or in the classroom but did have much lower marriage rates and believed that they would have difficulty finding work. She said she had come across anecdotal evidence that black children were reluctant to share food with albino classmates. …

All three men did well in school, despite vision problems. The genetic differences that cause albinism also change the connections between the optic nerves and the brain. Many albinos have nystagmus -- ''dancing eyeballs'' -- and myopia that, even with thick glasses, can only be corrected to about 20-200.

''Albinos seem more intelligent because they try harder,'' Mr. Nyathi said. ''You have to get out of your seat, go up to the board, squint, write two sentences, go back, and still finish the test in the same time as the others.''

Dr. Kromberg said her intelligence studies had confirmed that. ''Albinos have normal I.Q.'s but a higher capability,'' she said. ''I think it's because they don't play in the sun all day. They stay inside and do their homework.''

So, are albinos smarter or just more bookish?

I can't find the names of too many high-achieving albinos in the West: just rock musicians Edgar and Johnny Winter (but Roy Orbison was not an albino), reggae star Yellowman, and, most interestingly, the famous Oxford don Rev. William Archibald Spooner, the Sam Goldwyn of Britain, for whom the term spoonerism is named:

At a naval review Spooner marveled at "this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers."

To a school official's secretary: "Is the bean dizzy?"

Visiting a friend's country cottage: "You have a nosy little cook here."

So, not much evidence for albinos being smarter than average.

Overall, it's a tough life being an albino.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

18 comments:

Bill said...

Fair skin must have a lot to do with vitamin D. I'm convinced that the great black migration from south to north was made possible by food irradiation, which became widespread in 1924.

Anonymous said...

Im sure I saw (maybe on isteve?) that this domestication of foxes is a nice blow against Jared Diamond's 'white people just got lucky' with their dogs and horses (useful animals).

Doing something similar with Zebras in Africa would kick another prop away from Diamond.

beowulf said...

Bill,

Food irradiation wasn't approved by the FDA until the 1960's. Do you mean vitamin D fortified milk (around since the 1930's)?

Matt Parrott said...

Lighter skin is indicative of neoteny, and is universally correlated with feminine attractiveness. In fact, the word "fair" sums it all up.

The most successful (and intelligent) warlords like David, Solomon, Genghis Khan, and Niall of the Nine Hostages acquired the most attractive women for their harems. The offspring in those harems were more gracile, fair, and intelligent. Wash, rinse, and repeat a few times and you have White people.

I posit that lighter skin correlates with intelligence because intelligent warlords sought out and fornicated with lighter skinned females. I propose that if albinos are more intelligent, it's because their ancestors were more likely to have been selected for fornication by warlords in the past, not because of any pleiotropic effect of the albinism genes themselves.

rob said...

I don't have any evidence to back this up, but albinos of African descent seem healthier than white albinos. Maybe because they have more of other pigments, it seems many African albinos don't the extreme near-sightedness.

Lighter hair and eyes correlate with IQ, but it is an extrinsic correlation, at least within whites.

Myopia also correlates with IQ, but that is probably caused by IGF-1, which doesn't change in albinos.

Oh, also Africans rape albino women to cure themselves of AIDS. I doubt it works though.

Anonymous said...

Do parents of albinos have lighter skin colors, because of their recessive gene, o is their skin as dark as any other black?

Among blacks, lighter skin color is typically considered to be desireable. Lighter skin blacks are typically more successful (usually because they have a higher proportion of white genes). So if the lighter skin of a carrier of the gene were able to move in higher circles due to that gene, they might start accumulating a higher portion of genes that make them smarter.

That's just a thought.

The other is that in a non-bookish culture like Africa, albinos have more reason to stay inside and find something better to do with their time. Assuming they can afford really thick glasses, that is...

C. Van Carter said...

Tanzanian witch doctors have developed a potion that makes you rich. Albino body parts are a key ingredient.

dearieme said...

You have hissed my mystery lecture.

testing99 said...

Bill -- the great Black migration to the North was a result of manufacturers needing Black labor during WWI, and later wanting cheap labor to drive down unionized wages, coupled with cheap/efficient railroad transportation, and a relaxation of Jim Crow laws.

In the South, it was said you can get as close as you want, but never big. In the North, as big as you want, but never close. Blacks in the North were allowed separate space to build their own all-Black institutions, charitable societies, banks, schools, and so on. A black man or woman could live their entire life mostly insulated from white racism (which was constant and pernicious and threatening) inside that separate community. Only in New Orleans were those sorts of things built in the South by Blacks for Blacks.

What Steve and most posters focus on is "intelligence." That's probably defeating and myopic. Rather, cooperation which makes intelligence "fit" for the social environment is probably the key to understanding differences between groups or groups over time.

Example: Vikings were not that cooperative, in larger groups. The sagas and historical record are littered with blood feuds after blood feuds. Christianity allowed them to "civilize" and become more cooperative, with the result that 19th-20th Century Scandanavians are renowned for their cooperation among themselves. Whereas in the 11th Century they were hacking each other to bits or worse.

The Scots were a feuding people who accomplished little; after decisive English victories provided peace and enforced cooperation, you had the Scottish Enlightenment and the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

None of this took place with physical attributes, such as albinoism, and the time-span was amazingly short. Suggesting that tipping social environment towards cooperation can happen, very quickly, and change "fitness" to an environment from physical dominance to abstract tool making.

That's something to ponder.

It could in fact show Watson was completely wrong on Africa, but not for the reasons he suggests. If some force was able to force cooperation among Africans, change would come rapidly as in Scotland or Scandanavia.

Bill said...

beowulf said...
Bill,

Food irradiation wasn't approved by the FDA until the 1960's. Do you mean vitamin D fortified milk (around since the 1930's)?


Irradiation with UV was used to synthesize vitamin D in fats and oils (margarine, etc.) by the 1920s. It isn't the same as irradiation for sterilization purposes (what you're talking about), but it's still called "irradiation" (or was).

testing99 said...
Example: Vikings were not that cooperative, in larger groups. The sagas and historical record are littered with blood feuds after blood feuds. Christianity allowed them to "civilize" and become more cooperative, with the result that 19th-20th Century Scandanavians are renowned for their cooperation among themselves. Whereas in the 11th Century they were hacking each other to bits or worse.

The Scots were a feuding people who accomplished little; after decisive English victories provided peace and enforced cooperation, you had the Scottish Enlightenment and the birth of the Industrial Revolution.


Tell me about it. My family is Celtic and Norwegian (from Trondelag -- they aren't as tame and Swede-like as Oslo types); feuding and uncooperative behavior are no strangers to me. Throw some whiskey in the mix and things can get downright explosive.

Bill said...

Citation on vitamin D fortification

Without this process, Black children would have a very high rate of rickets above roughly the middle latitude of the US.

People underestimate environmental factors in racial settlement patterns. Look, for example at the electoral maps from 2004. The lowlands and river valleys of the south are blue (African heritage), whereas the hills and less swampy areas are red (European heritage). Read Mark Twain's description of the white settlers along the Mississippi: they were consistently plagued with fevers that tropically-adapted Africans could better tolerate.

That these patterns persist so strongly today suggests to me that environmental factors still exert some influence.

Anonymous said...

YouTube has several videos on albino Africans. Pretty interesting Day In the Life type stuff.

Testing, interesting theory on cooperation. One caveat: vikings were basically criminal raiders, not necessarily representative of the Scandinavians who stayed home.

Cooperation has a lot to do with interpersonal compatibility. Many iStevers will hold there is a big genetic component to that compatibility---a necessary level of in-group homogeneity, and they might be onto something.

Another theory of cooperation could be strong/superior leadership. Back to Smart Fraction theory. Get the right people running the show, and all the otherwise unruly folk stand in line and behave productively. Societies might be full of reasonably competent followers, but without some efficient leaders they aren't worth much.

Back to the other thread, Spain might be an interesting case in point.

carlos said...

Matt Parrot ignores the influence of a celestial object which, judging from his photograph, he has had little experience of.

"Read Mark Twain's description of the white settlers along the Mississippi: they were consistently plagued with fevers that tropically-adapted Africans could better tolerate. "

Has there been any measurable adaption amongst southern whites who have been there for generations?

rob said...

First anon said,

domestication of foxes is a nice blow against Jared Diamond's 'white people just got lucky' with their dogs and horses

That was disproved when whites domesticated the ostrich, which Africans had never done.

Matt Parrott said...

carlos,

I agree with your contention that I don't get out much. But I must say that the case for differential sunshine is weak, a classic "just so" story. Australian Aboriginals, including Tasmanian Aboriginals, have been away from equatorial rays for millennia, yet remain as dark as can be. Eskimo, Saami, and Mongols are all kinda swarthy, despite being adapted for the sub-Arctic tundra. The Somalian immigrants to Scandinavia are proving quite fertile.

This environmental adaptation hypothesis has become received knowledge, despite there being NO SIGNIFICANT EVIDENCE whatsoever of a significant environmental pressure for light skin. Archaeologically and anthropologically there is a ton of evidence of endemic warfare throughout Eurasia, yet nobody wants to explore the potential selective effects of it. Nobody has any evidence of a single one of our ancestors dying of vitamin D deficiency, yet it receives priority.

I know I must sound like a wacko, and I know that I must be wrong on some level or somebody would entertain my point, but I would really appreciate it if somebody bothered to offer some explanation for WHY endemic warfare is off the table as a potential driver of recent human evolution.

I would be able to move on with my life. I might even get past this obsession, get out, and acquire a tan.

beowulf said...

Bill,

Thanks for the info. To follow up on Testing99' point, the 40 years between 1925 and 1965 saw the mechanization of farming (which meant a lot fewer farm hands were needed), the World War II industrial boom and most importantly, strict immigration laws.
The latter two factors led to a shortage of labor in Northern factories, while the first factor provided the supply of black labor available to fill the demand.

carlos said...

parrott,

yes, you are a crank if you believe australia is not hot, and eskimos don't have an outdoor lifestyle.

if lighter skin came about purely via selective warfare, then you would expect native americans to very dark, since the smaller population would mean less fighting. on the contrary, asian indians are dark, and native americans lighter.

"if albinos are more intelligent, it's because their ancestors were more likely to have been selected for fornication by warlords in the past"
do you think albinos come from a long line of albinos?

Matt Parrott said...

carlos,

Albinos are more likely than the general population to have albino ancestors.

What human population didn't have an outdoor lifestyle up until very recently?

The Native American skin is intermediate, though lighter in parts of South America and darkest in the most sparsely inhabited regions of North and Central America. Their varying shades, I believe, imply a greater correlation with ancestral population density than with Vitamin D deficiency.