November 16, 2009

James J. Lee's review of Nisbett's "Intelligence and How to Get It"

Is now up in a gated version of Personality and Individual Differences. Here is the beginning and the end:
Abstract: Richard Nisbett’s intelligence and how to get it advances several interlocking claims: (1) the heritability of IQ is far lower than typically claimed by behavioral geneticists, (2) the IQ differences across social classes are largely environmental in origin, (3) the IQ differences across racial groups are entirely environmental in origin, and (4) these group differences can be narrowed substantially by interventions that social scientists have already discovered. In this review I show that Nisbett’s arguments are consistently overstated or unsound. ...

Conclusion: Continued research with the tools of genetic epidemiology, population genetics, psychometrics, and cognitive neuroscience is likely to settle many of the contentious issues raised in Nisbett’s book, even without a centralized effort toward any such narrow goal. Given that much of the critical research so clearly lies ahead, Nisbett’s certainty regarding his own premature conclusions is quite remarkable. Some of this may be owed to the disturbing possibilities raised by the alternatives. Even the prospect that current group differences might be eliminated by a combination of biological enhancement and environmental improvement will fail to put all observers at ease, since the prospect of biologically based remedies is itself frightening to many. For what it is worth, I believe that the possibilities regarding both the state of nature and our powers of control should leave us reasonably optimistic about what the future might hold. But I confess to less than total confidence in even this qualified remark, and I envy Nisbett his certitude.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Florida resident said...

From that book, Page1.
//R. Nisbett: I began having trouble with arithmetic in the fifth grade, after I missed school for a week just when my class took up fractions. For the rest of elementary school I never quite recovered from that setback. My parents were sympathetic, telling me that people in our family had never been very good at math. They viewed math skills as something that you either had or not, for reasons having mostly to do with heredity. //

So, whom will you trust more in dealing with statistical material, like correlation, standard deviation, regression analysis, etc.:

to this author, Dr. Richard Nisbett, who got these problems in fifth grade, his AB from Tufts U. and Ph.D. from Columbia U.,

or to the co-author of "The Bell Curve" Dr. Charles Murray, who got scholarship from Newton, Iowa, for undergraduate education at Harvard U., based on his SAT score, and got his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology ?

I do trust much more to Dr. Charles Murray (and, sure, to Steve Sailer, who is doing excellent job without honorifics !)

Anonymous said...

Review of Nisbett's book from the journal 'Intelligence' [NB the reviewer has his own book out in a couple of months, titled 'On Human Intelligence']:

Book review
A Must Read — Perhaps with Maalox

Review of: Richard Nisbett (2009) : Intelligence and How to Get it.

Richard Nisbett, a distinguished social psychologist, has written a book on human intelligence. It could have an impact on the general public as wide as Stephen J. Gould's Mismeasure of Man.

Fortunately, Nisbett's book is far better than Gould's. Unlike Gould, Nisbett does not attack the idea of
intelligence, nor does he discount the value of intelligence
testing, which he regards as an important, albeit not perfect,
indicator of an important trait, at least in industrial and post-
industrial societies. (I could not agree more, including agreeing with the quali

nooffensebut said...

This issue of Personality & Individual Differences also features a debate with papers by Rushton and Lynn.

keypusher said...

Nisbett's book is of a piece with Gladwell's silly article about drafting quarterbacks. Society wants to hear that there are no innate differences between races and no differences between individuals that can't be overcome with hard work and gumption. And social science responds.

Jimmy Crackedcorn said...

the IQ differences across racial groups are entirely environmental in origin, and (4) these group differences can be narrowed substantially by interventions that social scientists have already discovered.

Well then, we should know quite quickly for sure. The Obamessiah and His Democratic congress are throwing around money like Charlie Sheen at a strip club - literally billions of dollars to "poor" school districts (these "poor" school districts probably already spend more per student than my not-poor state does) with plans to improve educational outcomes. Massachusetts just got $250 million from the feds. As you might suspect, probably 99% of the billions set aside for this effort are in blue states or, at the very least, blue parts of red states.

Anonymous said...

Off topic [although not by much]:

Corpse Believed to Be School Chief Michael Scott
Updated 8:49 AM CST, Mon, Nov 16, 2009

A body discovered floating in the Chicago River near Merchandise Mart this morning is believed to be that of Chicago Public Schools Board President Michael Scott, police said.

Police have not positively identified the man, but Scott's Cadillac was found nearby and Scott's family had reported him missing earlier in the day...

Recently, Scott made news when he was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury looking into the admissions practices of Chicago's elite schools.

Scott was also under scrutiny in the past few months over Olympics-related real estate dealings.

A key member of Mayor Daley's Olympic committee, Scott also served as a consultant to a major condominium developer who proposed to build near the Olympic Village site.

Anonymous said...

This is like AIDS research, what will happen first?

Will research find a cure/vaccine before the virus mutates till it is harmless?

Will races integrate to the point they are indistinguishable before research can find the genetic basis for intelligence?

Thras said...

Great paper. Here's my quick outline of the main points of the review:

1.1 Twin studies
1.1.1 Selective placement
Nisbett's evidence is cherry-picked.

1.1.2 Biometrical models
Nisbett forgot that IQ heritability (like weight heritability, etc.) increases with age.

1.1.3 Genetic effects mediated by physical appearance
Nisbett thinks that twins raised apart have similar IQ because they look the same and people therefore treat them similarly. A study looking for correlation between physical attraction and IQ does not bear this out. And even if Nisbett is right on this, it would still leave IQ out of our control since we can't make people (much) prettier.

1.1.4 Non-additive gene action
It's almost all additive though...

1.2 Adoption Studies
1.2.1 Restriction of range
Nisbett claims that poorer families are inadequately sampled in adoption studies. Actually looking at the data for evidence of this effect comes up dry.

1.2.2 Adoption studies in France
Nisbett likes a particular group of studies that give him the answer he wants. Once again, he ignores the point that IQ heritability increases with age.

1.3 The relation between heritability and malleability
1.3.1 Environmental engineering
Sure, we could make IQ higher with the right environment. Just like we could cure Alzheimer's or cancer with the right environment. It would help if we knew how though...

1.3.2 Genetic engineering
Nisbett says we can't do this because it would take too long.

2 Racial differences
2.1 Stereotype threat
Stereotype threat evidence, despite all the theory, continues to be soft and wishy-washy.

2.2 Secular trends
The Flynn Effect could explain everything about the black-white IQ difference. But the closer we look, the less it appears to have to do with it.

2.3 Black and biracial children reared by European parents
Nisbett cherry-picks data from an ambiguous crowd of studies. He ignores data from studies that he uses when it contradicts his points.

2.4 "Direct" evidence of association between African ancestry and IQ
Nisbett uses unreliable studies for his evidence. Doesn't matter, because before long we'll have direct SNP evidence on this point, which will settle things one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

His point #3 is either wishful thinking or a bald-faced lie.

Anonymous said...

A refutation of Nisbett's book by Rushton and Jensen can be found here:

David said...

keypusher said

> Society wants to hear that there are no innate differences between races and no differences between individuals that can't be overcome with hard work and gumption. And social science responds. <

Don't knock the "hard work and gumption are the basis for everything that happens" philosophy. Without it, how would we damn and hate low-achieving people (e.g., for laziness and "poor choices")?

What would become of small-p puritanism - and morality in general - if the reason a 60-IQ individual isn't an investment banker is not that he's immoral but that he has a 60-IQ? I submit that morality would collapse, and the Horatio Alger stories would no longer be read.

Ban HBD! A world of sinners and saints, heaven and hell, is preferable to me. After all, My Kid Is on the Honor Roll at Mucus Middle School.

M Stein said...

Nice to see someone from Harvard contributing to this debate.

Here is Richwine's review also.

Anonymous said...

Miles here gents, with a question....

I wonder if prenatal vitamins or particular nutritional factors during a woman's pregnancy (or her getting moderate excercise in the pregnancy or taking certain herbal supplements) might be able to have a positive effect on the baby's mental, physical, or cosmetic development in any way?

I mean, we seem to think that smoking during the pregnancy is bad, and openly admit excessive alcohol or drug usage during the pregnancy will have a negative effect on the child's development. I wonder if "healthy" things done by the mother might be able to make the child a bit smarter, larger, or just better looking by increasing the expression of the desirable genes or suppressing the expression of the more unfortunate genes. It would be wonderful if it were so, but I dont know if a great deal of thorough research has been done to this effect or not.

Any of the plentiful smart guys and gals who read Sailer here have knowledge of someone looking into this possibility? Has it been conclusively disproven, etc?

kudzu bob said...

Miles/anonymous, the use of nutritional supplements to boost childrens' a few IQ points hasn't been *conclusively* proven, but certainly some pretty suggestive evidence exists that vitamins and especially fish oil might be helpful.

No reason to think that that strategy would eliminate cognitive differences between groups, however, assuming that everybody has equal access to supplementation.

(And I seem to recall some experiment a few years back in which various nutrients were fed to pregnant rats, thereby altering the fur color of their offspring.)

Anonymous said...


The Spartans answered this qustion 2,600yrs ago. From Plutarch's Lives on Lycurgus, founder of Sparta:

"Girls were required to run and exercise so that their babies would grow in strong and healthy mothers. To make them brave, Lycurgus ordered that occasionally the girls had to dance and sing naked in front of all the young men. Therefore the girls were ashamed to be fat or weak, and they were happy to display their beauty to such an appreciative audience. In their songs, the girls praised the men who were brave and strong, and they made fun of those who were weak and cowardly, so they sharpened the men's love of glory and fear of shame. Thus the women of Sparta got a taste of higher feelings, being in this way admitted to the field of action."

Middletown Girl said...

The point that Nisbett is making has much merit. We've all heard of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Effort does matter. If Michaal Jordon had been a couchpotato all his life and did little more than eat junk food and watch TV, he wouldn't have been much good at basketball. And, even a geeky guy can work out and become reasonably strong and somewhat impressive: Yukio Mishima.

The vast middle would do well to follow Nisbett's advice. The average person isn't so dumb that he's totally hopeless nor is he so smart that he can rely mainly on natural smarts. For most of us in the middle, effort makes all the difference--between being a C student and an B student, between being a B student or an A student, between 100-200 pts on the SAT.

The problem with Nisbett's argument arises when some people turn it into an ideological agenda where just about ANYBODY can succeed by dint of hard work. While EVERYONE can boost his or her IQ through hard work, the fact is a lot of dummies will remain on bottom despite their best efforts. So, while I respect Nisbett's advice, I reject Nisbett-ISM.
Similarly, there's a difference between telling all kids to exercise and be healthy and telling them that they can become Carl Lewises or Muhammad Alis if they only train hard enough. Sure!

But, people who tend to favor the biological basis of intelligence should never ever discount the environmental factor in intelligence. While there is a thing called natural intelligence, it has to be nurtured and trained. It's like some seeds are genetically predisoposed to sprout bigger plants than other seeds but may wield only puny plants if it's not given enough water and light.

Middletown Girl said...

"the IQ differences across racial groups are entirely environmental in origin"

I would agree with this though not in the way that Nisbett meant it. Nisbett focuses only on the enviromental effect within single lifetimes, but I would consider the impact over many many generations. If one takes such panoramic view, Nisbett is right. Certain environments naturally select for higher intelligence, and more intelligent people are likely to survive and mate with other intelligent people. So, the nature/nurture argument shouldn't necessarily be either/or.

Consider the Ashkenazi Jews. There is a theory that says the socio-cultural environment of Jews through the ages favored mental ability. Since Jews were middle-men, they had to be quick-witted and good with numbers. Also, Jewish culture had great respect for scholarship. So, the Jewish social environment encouraged the kids to be good at business or scholarship. Those who happened to excel at either tended to be more successful and had more children than the dumb Jews who weren't good at moneymaking or Talmudic scholarship. Over time, the Jewish social environment led to smart Jews having more kids than dumb Jews. Over time, the environment of the Jew led to the higher intelligence of the Jew. So, one could say that higher Jewish natural intelligence is the product of the Jewish social environment.

To put it in another way, suppose we randomly split a population in two. One group is put on an island which is hot and filled with wild animals. It is an environment where one must be fast, strong, and alert to survive. Suppose the athletic types are favored over the slow or reflective types.

Suppose the other group is placed in an environment with fewer dangerous animals but where the weather is cold and people must work together and make clothes, shelter, and various gadgets to survive. Suppose this environment favors the creative and inventive.

Over time, group A will tend to have a lot of strong people who may not be too smart since high intelligence wasn't one of the qualities favored by the environment. Over time, group B will tend to have smarter people since smarter people were better able to make clothes and build complex shelters for survival.

So, the differences in IQ--and other traits--between the two groups would indeed have been ENVIRONMENTAL IN ORIGIN, but over time, the different environments would have permanently changed the prevailing genetic traits of both groups(which had started from the more or less the same random set of genes).

Nisbett is right about the environmental factor behind IQ differences among races, but he is wrong to limit the environmental factor to a single lifetime. Over 10,000s of yrs, environment does indeed change the biology. The environment turned the brown bear into a polar bear. Not in the single lifetime of a brown bear but over generations where only brown bears suited to arctic conditions survived and bred with other such bears, eventually becoming a separate species of bears. So yes, it is ALL environmentally induced, even genetic transformations.

So, I would argue there is an environmental way to boost black IQ: create an artifical social program where smart blacks are mated with smart blacks while dumb blacks are discouragerd from mating. Such socio-environmental policy will wield have a permanent change on overall black IQ. And upon the program's success, we can say that the higher black IQ is indeed the product of environmental factors: an environment that favored the mating of smart blacks over that of dumb blacks.

Anonymous said...

Miles here,

Kudzu Bob and Anonymous, Thank you much. Very interesting stuff. I hope this can be researched. If it can alter rat's fur color.......then hopefully certain superfoods (resveratrol, particular veggies, curcumoids, various vitamins and antioxidants) might be able to suppress the expression of undesirable genes without negative side effects. I know this kind of research would likely be pretty slow (waiting on rodents or apes to be concieved and get older, etc), but it might -really- be worth it. It would seem to me that this is the time when things are forming the fastest, and when small positive tweaks might yield bigger helpful results. Maybe its just me hoping though, I must admit. Cheers and thanks gents, M

Anonymous said...

Spartans, the original eugenicists (under Lycurgus):

" Jealousy was forbidden. If two men liked the same woman, it was a reason for them to be friends, not enemies. With certain limitations against irresponsible passion, Lycurgus made it honorable for a man to lend his wife to another man so as to get good seed from him. He wanted the children of Sparta to be produced by the best men, so that their good qualities might be passed on. In Lycurgus' opinion, children were not the property of their parents but members of the society. The laws of other nations about children seemed absurd and inconsistent to him. Why should a man be so careful about the breeding of his dogs and his horses, and even pay stud fees to get good offspring, but insist on his wife having children only by himself? Obviously, the bad qualities of this father would be passed on to his children and he would be their first victim, whereas children of good men would be a blessing rather than a curse to the man who gave them a home.

Whenever a child was born, it was taken to a council of elders for examination. If the baby was in any way defective, the elders dropped it into a chasm. Such a child, in the opinion of the Spartans, should not be permitted to live. New-born children were washed with wine so they would be strong. They grew up free and active, and without any sort of cry-baby ways. Spartan children were not afraid of the dark, or finicky about their food."

Raises an controversial but interesting theoretical question about how many generations of selective breeding in humans it takes to see visible changes in human traits.

douchbag said...


Your sense of prenatal nutrition/environment is right on target.

This is not a new idea. If you want to look at more stuff like this, I suggest you read "Nutrition and physical degeneration" by weston price.(also, pottinger's cat may be englightening)

You can find both on

The book(published in 1939) is by a dentist who did an ethnographic study of people all over the world(the guy took lots of photos of primitives and traveled the world). He was trying to see the connections between nutrition and malformed dental arches/teeth.

His idea was that nutrition was the reason why people had malformed dental arches and health problems.

Here are some interesting chapters from his book.

"19. Physical, mental, moral deterioration"

"27. Nutritional programs for race regeneration"

"17. Prenatal nutritional deficiencies and disease types"

Certainly some topics that today's authors/writers would shy away from.

Price really believed that nutritional deficiency not only caused malformed dental arches, but also low IQ and moral decay.

If had to put my money on someone, I would bet on him.

But this is a book I think most istevers would dislike. The whole idea that IQ differences between races are caused by nutritional factors rather than some imaginary sequence of DNA, must be hard on the ego.

Yago2046 said...

Well Sparta lost to Thebes in the end so theirs was no race of superhumans.

just sayin

David said...

middletown girl said

> the prevailing genetic traits of both groups (which had started from the more or less the same random set of genes). <

That's an assumption for simplicity and convenience, of course.

Curvaceous Carbon-based Life Form said...

"So, I would argue there is an environmental way to boost black IQ: create an artifical social program where smart blacks are mated with smart blacks while dumb blacks are discouragerd from mating. Such socio-environmental policy will wield have a permanent change on overall black IQ. And upon the program's success, we can say that the higher black IQ is indeed the product of environmental factors: an environment that favored the mating of smart blacks over that of dumb blacks."
You do realize, Middletown Girl, that the eugenics program you are advocating is exactly the kind of thing that will cause you to be denounced as a Nazi, with the comcomitant drop in your social status?

kudzu bob said...

In previous post should have written "children's," not "childrens'" Must take more fish oil...

P Klein said...

douchbag said...

***But this is a book I think most istevers would dislike. The whole idea that IQ differences between races are caused by nutritional factors rather than some imaginary sequence of DNA, must be hard on the ego.***

The B-W IQ gap is larger at the highest level of SES than at the lowest. Data shows that black students from high-SES homes (earning $70k plus) still have cognitive test scores that are lower than white students from low-SES homes (less than $20k).

Likewise, the children of white parents who have only a HS education outperform on the SAT the children of black parents who have a graduate degree.

This result is readily explainable by hereditarian theory (involves genetic population differences and regression to the population mean which is a well known phenomenon in population genetics) but is a big problem for environmental theory.

In the Minnessota Transracial Adoption study the adopted children reached adult IQs that were equal to their biological peers and which had no correlation with their adoptive families. Transracial studies were not limited to Blacks adopted by Whites but included Asians adopted by Whites. The Blacks ended up with lower IQs than their adoptive families and the Asians ended up with IQs higher than their adoptive families.

Rushton, J.P. and Jensen, A.R. (2005). Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 11, No. 2, 235-294.

Anonymous said...

Yago2046 said...

Well Sparta lost to Thebes in the end so theirs was no race of superhumans.

There is an end to all empires. Sparta's rising 500yr history until the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC is an excellent track record in the extremely fragmented world of ancient Greece.

Thebes also went into permanent decline only 33yrs later when Phillip II of Macedonia conquered them (father of Alexander the Great).

The more salient point is that eugenic cultures and tribes thrive while dysgenic ones don't (eventually). Plutarch says that Sparta fell because they violated Lycurgus' founding principles and became decadent:

"For five hundred years, Sparta kept the laws of Lycurgus and was the strongest and most famous city in Greece. But eventually gold and silver were allowed in, and along with them came all of the evils spawned by the love of money. Lysander must take the blame, because he brought home rich spoils from the wars.

Although not corrupt himself, Lysander infected Sparta with greed and luxury, and thus subverted the laws of Lycurgus."

This shows that dysgenic/eugenic effect of culture can easily and quickly swamp those of genetics. And in the longterm, culture determines the direction of genetics.

Sparta is interesting because eugenics rarely manifest itself in along strict nation-state boarders. Unlike Sparta, eugenics are rarely explicitedly and agressively promoted in cultures. Instead, cultures focus on success, tribal purity, social unity and class status perservation in the face of hostile competition resulting in eugenic effects only as an unintended consequence.

Anonymous said...

Does Nisbett e-dialogue or otherwise enter into civil and direct disputation with is critics?
If so, where? If not, why not? Four months ago, I could locate no evidence he did.