June 21, 2006

WASP accounting professor not descended from Genghis Khan after all

You probably heard the story of how Bryan Sykes's genealogical DNA testing firm Oxford Associates had declared mild-mannered accounting professor Thomas R. Robinson to be the direct male-line descendent of Genghis Khan. It was pretty amusing because in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy there was a Mr. Prosser who was "a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan, though intervening generations and racial mixing had so juggled his genes that he had no discernible Mongoloid characteristics, and the only vestiges left in Mr. L. Prosser of his mighty ancestry were a pronounced stoutness about the tum and a predilection for little fur hats."

Although I'd beaten Nicholas Wade of the NYT in breaking the original story of Genghis as the World's Greatest Lover back in 2003, I didn't mention it here because it seemed pretty trivial and because Sykes is a showman and self-promoter, as I pointed out in VDARE in my review of his Seven Daughters of Eve. So I wasn't sure I trusted his result.

The story of Dr. Robinson led to a lot of the usual comments about how this shows that anybody could be descended from anybody. Well, it turns out Sykes did shoddy work and Dr. Robinson isn't a direct descendant of the Mighty Manslayer after all. Nicholas Wade has the story.

This story reminds me of a more general misunderstanding. I often see these days the statement that talking about genetics or IQ or even the genetics of IQ is indeed scientific -- but only in relation to individuals. Talking about genetics or IQ or the genetics of IQ is pure pseudoscience in relation to groups.

In reality, the opposite is closer to being true. The margin for error is so large in individuals that it's hard to say much with confidence. In contrast, when groups differ on politically incorrect ways, that will have reasonably predictable consequences.

Consider IQ. An important thing to keep in mind is that when measured at the individual level, the importance of IQ, while worth studying, is limited. Human behavior is hugely complicated, and any one measure can explain only a small part of it. Thus the r-squared correlation between IQ and income is somewhere in the range of 10%. That's actually a pretty large number relative to other measurable factors, but obviously the glass is only 10% full and 90% empty here.

On the other hand, when looking at two groups that differ in average IQ, IQ is hugely important. For example, if you look at the graduates of the 20 highest IQ colleges in the country and compare them to the graduates of the 20 lowest IQ colleges in the country on current income, I would bet that at least 19 of the higher IQ colleges, and probably all 20, came out above the lower IQ colleges in income per graduate.

So, IQ has more to say about the fates of groups than of individuals, which is rather disturbing.

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

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