May 9, 2009

Dept. of Unintended Humor

The Washington Post announces that the Obama Administration is close to being ready to virtually resume the Bush Administration's ploy of fabricating a largely invisible and more or less nonexistent border "fence:"
In announcing the resumption of a "virtual fence" on the U.S.-Mexican border yesterday, the Obama administration sent a powerful message of continuity with President George W. Bush, who included a pledge to secure the border as part of a 2006 effort to persuade Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.

Much as Bush aides did three years ago, administration officials in the Department of Homeland Security described a five-year, multibillion-dollar plan yesterday to link a chain of tower-mounted sensors and other surveillance equipment over most of the 2,000-mile southern frontier. ...

On Monday, U.S. officials began erecting 17 camera and radio towers on a 23-mile stretch near Tucson, and they expect this summer to add 36 others over 30 miles near Ajo, Ariz. If testing goes well and DHS approves, plans call for covering the 320-mile Arizona border by 2012 and the full border with Mexico -- except for a 200-mile stretch in southwestern Texas where it is difficult to cross and expensive to monitor -- by 2014.

The emperor has no fence.

The Spanish Housing Bubble

Whenever I write about the California-centric origins of our economic crash, I get comments saying to the effect of, "Hey, what about Spain? They had a huge Housing Bubble in Spain, too. Spain is totally different from California, yet the same thing happened there."

I was at a charity event held at Cal Tech yesterday and I got talking to a Spaniard from Andalusia in sunny southern Spain. I asked him about the Housing Bubble and Bust in Spain. He said that immigrant retirees from Northern Europe with big pensions bought up all the good land near the coast, so the locals started buying up houses on the bad land in the inland deserts on the logic that, hey, it was Spain, Spain is a Mediterranean country, so anywhere in Spain must have a Mediterranean climate, so the price of houses must go up forever everywhere in Spain, no matter how hot and dusty.

I said, that sounds a lot like the Bubble and Bust in California's Inland Empire.

He said, Yes, very much so.

He went on to say that Spaniards can deal with hard times better than Americans can. So much of the economy is off the books in Spain in good times or bad that you can always get by by moving in with your relatives and doing unreported odd jobs for your uncle or cousin-in-law, even if you are officially broke. American nuclear families aren't as resilient, he felt.

P.S., I don't know very much about the Florida Housing Bubble. Was there a big Northern Baby Boomer retiree aspect to what happened in Florida? (There wasn't in California, as far as I can tell -- only the rich retire to California anymore. The Arizona and Nevada Bubbles were driven by the California Bubble, with Californians cashing in their expensive houses and buying cheaper, but unfortunately still overpriced ones, in the inland desert states. Some of those Californians moving inland were retirees.)

Perhaps the Spanish Bubble was like a cross between the California and Florida Bubbles.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

David Brooks on "The Harlem Miracle"

David Brooks writes in the New York Times:
The Harlem Miracle

The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.

That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”

Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.

They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students.

Let me repeat that. It eliminated the black-white achievement gap. “The results changed my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes,” Fryer wrote in a subsequent e-mail. What Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone’s founder and president, has done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. It’s amazing. It should be celebrated. But it almost doesn’t matter if we stop there. We don’t have a way to replicate his cure, and we need one since so many of our kids are dying — literally and figuratively.”

These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate.

Not really.

If you stop and think, you'll notice that this experiment says less than David Brooks implies it says about the "black-white achievement gap" because there's no control group of white students in this study. Nobody bothered to check to see how much white students' scores would go up if a huge amount of money was given to a well-known superstar educator (in this case, Geoffrey Canada -- here's a more skeptical analysis of Canada's accomplishment in Slate in 2008).

It's not that hard to increase school achievement test scores. It's especially not hard to do it in a handful of schools. (It's hard to replicate a local success, though, just like it's hard to take a cool movie, like "The Matrix," and make it a cool series, or to take a cool movie like "The Manchurian Candidate" and come up with a cool remake. Sometimes with movie-making, all the pieces click, other times not. Much the same is true for schools.)

What's hard is to get rid of the racial gap.

More impressively, at great expense, the overall U.S. has improved math achievement test scores over the last quarter of a century or so, as measured by the federal NAEP test. Unfortunately, the "problem" is that white scores have gone up about as much as black and Hispanic scores have gone up. The No Child Left Behind act explicitly claims it is supposed to fix this "problem," which is how I got into this lengthy discussion among Saletan, McWhorter, Millman, and so forth.

Personally, I would describe the broad rise in math scores as less a "problem" than an "accomplishment," but mine is a minority view.

To solve The Problem, we could hit the white and Asian kids on the head with a ballpeen hammer, and that would keep the black and Hispanic kids from being left behind, but so far, we just haven't been willing to do what it takes.

Speaking of Roland Fryer, here's a fun article from 02381 called "A Million Little Writers" by Jacob Hale Russell on how many famous Harvard professors, such as longtime iSteve favorites Alan Dershowitz, Henry Louis Gates, and Roland Fryer, are more brand names and impresarios than they are the actual authors of the stuff churned out under their names. (And, getting completely off the topic, here's a comment to my blog from Charles Johnson, the high school student employed by Dershowitz as a ghostwriter, defending Dershowitz's use of a minor to write rough drafts for him.)

In 2005, when Dr. Fryer was promoting a theory that hypertension among blacks was caused by Darwinian selection on the Middle Passage, evolutionary theorist Greg Cochran offered to help him come up with a more mathematically realistic model of the evolution of African American hypertension, but Fryer refused all help from Cochran.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Good Grief, More Slate Saletan-Sailer-McWhorter Stuff!

Once again in Slate, William Saletan has an article about the Emmanuel Goldstein of 21st Century America:
Inequality Control: A conversation about race, genes, bias, and fairness.
Over the last week and a half, I've been having—and if you're reading along and commenting, you've been indirectly having—a conversation about race with John McWhorter and Steve Sailer. This wasn't an agreed-upon discussion. It just started up, and people joined in, as often happens on the Internet. Yesterday, Noah Millman of The American Scene weighed in. I'm calling this a conversation even though not everyone involved is enamored of, or even talking directly to, everyone else. And there's a good chance we'll drift back into silence at this point, as each of us moves on to other things. But it's worth summarizing a few points we've covered so far. ...

1. Sailer, the person in this conversation who most vigorously defends categorizing people by race in the course of assessing their worth to society, has offered to give up that practice. In exchange, he wants proponents of affirmative action to give up the converse practice of categorizing people by race in the course of trying to equalize opportunity or outcome. I'm inclined to take this deal. My impression so far is that McWhorter, despite his criticisms of affirmative action, wouldn't. But I'll leave that question to him.

By the way, this one post by Noah is unrepresentative of the usual high quality of his writing. So, don't hold this one against him.

I'll try to straighten out Mr. Saletan's confusions in on Sunday evening. I realize that these are difficult, subtle topics, and that people who haven't put anywhere near as much time into studying these subjects as I have can't really be expected to summarize my views accurately -- even if they intend to be fair, they simply lack the depth of understanding to do a competent job -- but these mischaracterizations of my positions in Slate and, especially, in The New Republic, are getting silly.

In the meantime, if you want to know what I've actually said about race and IQ, I put together handy Frequently Asked Question lists back in 2007 (after Saletan got in so much trouble with his friends for doubting the wisdom of Watsoning Dr. Watson):


Race FAQ

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 8, 2009

Most awesome plaintiffs' names in the Ricci case

The lead plaintiff in the New Haven firemen's reverse discrimination case, Ricci et al v. DeStefano, is famously Frank Ricci. He was presumably picked out by their lawyers to be the face of the case because, I assume, he's a good guy with a good record and a human interest story about his being dyslexic. But I like some of the the other plaintiffs' names, especially the last two:
Brief for Petitioner Frank Ricci, Michael Blatchley, Greg Boivin, Gary Carbone, Michael Christoforo, Ryan Divito, Steven Durand, William Gambardella, Brian Jooss, James Kottage, Matthew Marcarelli, Thomas J. Michaels, Sean Patton, Christopher Parker, Edward Riordan, Kevin Roxbee, Timothy Scanlon, Benjamin Vargas, John Vendetto and Mark Vendetto

As a general rule of thumb, Mayor DeStefano, it's not a good idea to cheat out of what is rightfully their's anybody known as the Vendetto Brothers ...

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Today's Universal Preschool Conventional Wisdom

The conventional wisdom of the Obama Era appears to be that the solution to black underachievement is that we should take poor black children away from their mothers for as long as possible each day and turn them over to nice white people with liberal arts degrees for almost their entire waking hours.

Assuming that this isn't just a make-work program for nice white ladies with unmarketable soft degrees, hasn't anybody noticed that this is pretty much the same idea that motivated the Australian government in the 1920s and 1930s to take half-white / half-Aboriginal children away from their (frequently alcoholic) Aboriginal mothers and send them to taxpayer-supported boarding schools?

This practice is now denounced as "The Stolen Generation," and the Australian government recently engaged in an orgy of self-congratulation over apologizing for it.

Why is everybody so sure that taking black children away from their mothers and grandmothers will work out better in 21st Century America than it did in 20th Century Australia?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 7, 2009

"Il Divo"

Here's an excerpt from my review in The American Conservative:
Most movie critics are more concerned with film than with life, but my goal has been to help make movies, those pungent yet unreliable distillations of life, more compelling for the reader who is more interested in the world than in the cinema.

Consider “Il Divo,” a baroquely stylized biopic about Giulio Andreotti, seven times Prime Minister of Italy in the 1972-1992 era, and then a perpetual defendant in murder and Mafia trials in 1993-2003. Paolo Sorrentino’s “Il Divo” is clearly a film of aesthetic ambitions (the owlish politician inhabits a De Chirico Italy of sinisterly empty arcaded streets) and some historical significance.

Still, the labyrinthine “Il Divo” would be impenetrable to any American who hasn’t read up on Italy’s lurid recent past, in which Andreotti’s rival, ex-Prime Minister Aldo Moro, was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades, various Vatican-connected bankers died in fashions that would have amused the Borgias, a Masonic lodge served as a seeming government-in-waiting for a post-coup Italy, and brave magistrates investigating the Mafia blew up.

Italian politics, with its constantly collapsing governments, strikes Americans as a joke. Yet, the fundamental questions of Italy’s Cold War years were deadly serious: Would the unruly joys of Italian daily life succumb to the grayness of a Communist state, the Cuban tragedy writ large? Yet, just how many Machiavellian machinations in the name of saving Italy from the Reds could be borne?

As “Il Divo” demonstrates, Italy apparently needed to be led during those difficult decades by the least operatic politician imaginable, and can only now afford to revert to more stereotypically Italian showboats such as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Like a more cultivated, less bumptious version of the Daleys who have ruled Chicago for 41 of the last 54 years, Il Divo is not a diva. Andreotti doesn’t bluster from balconies, nor even bother to cut a stylish figure. He listens carefully, forgets nothing, and confines his own utterances to mordant witticisms: as if Dr. Evil were underplayed by Jack Benny.

Margaret Thatcher reminisced about Andreotti, “He seemed to have a positive aversion to principle, even a conviction that a man of principle was doomed to be a figure of fun.” “Il Divo’s” nightmarish depiction of Italian politics raises an unsettling point. In Andreotti’s defense, he at least was born into his system, while America is now led by a man who, with every opportunity in the world beckoning, carefully chose to make his career in our closest equivalent: Chicago politics.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Manny Being Manny

LA Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games after failing a test for performance enhancing drugs. My 92-year-old father asks, "So, will the Dodgers have to give back their league-leading 21 wins?" Ha, ha, the old guy's such a kidder.

That means baseball's two highest paid players, Alex Rodriguez and Ramirez, have both been exposed as drug cheaters in recent months.

I think we've really been looking at this from the wrong direction. The question should no longer be "Who's on the juice?" It should be "Which athletic hero isn't?"

Hmmhmmhm ... that's a good one ...

Phil Mickelson?

Charles Howell III?

I dunno ...

The basic problem is that spectator sports largely exist as exhibitions of masculinity, which can now be legally purchased without a prescription at any drugstore in the Dominican Republic.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Spengler comes out about being an ex-Larouchie

A reader pointed out to me a few years ago that the interesting but excitable Asia Times columnist Spengler was almost certainly David P. Goldman, an ex-acolyte of Lyndon LaRouche. I published the LaRouche connection, but kept Goldman's name a secret to protect his privacy.

Now, Goldman, in his new job at First Things, has come out of the closet about his eight years working for LaRouche:
In 1981 ... I ran the economics desk for LaRouche’s publications. Among my colleagues were several researchers who went on to distinguished careers. The Asia desk chief, for instance, was Dan Sneider, afterward a distinguished correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the San Francisco Mercury, and now director of a university research institute. European economics was handled by Laurent Murawiec, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute; the Middle East desk was headed by Bob Dreyfuss, now a regular contributor to the Nation, American Prospect, and New Republic; and the chief science writer was Jonathan Tennenbaum, a brilliant mathematician who had taught at the University of Copenhagen.

We were all about thirty, and most of us were Jewish. The question, of course, is what were a group of young Jews doing in the company of a cult leader with a paranoid view of the world and a thinly disguised anti-Semitic streak.

Here is one answer: We were all long-in-the-tooth student radicals. LaRouche’s organization was the flotsam washed up by the wave of the collective madness that had swept through the youth of the world in 1968 and left many of its participants maladapted to ordinary life for years afterward....

In reviewing my own missteps in life, I feel that temptation to represent myself as a monster in order to cover up something even more painful: I was a coward. I was afraid of being Jewish. Everything else is rationalization. My intellectual life really began only a quarter-century ago when I reconciled myself to being Jewish.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 6, 2009

Don't Worry, It's Just Malcolm Being Malcolm Again

It's easy to tell how good Michael Lewis's sports articles in the New York Times Magazine are by comparing them to Malcolm Gladwell's sports articles in The New Yorker.

Malcolm now has an enormous article up which, when you leave out his voluminous retelling of the little-known plot of an obscure movie called "Lawrence of Arabia" and an extended anecdote about some computer game that I didn't bother to read, consists of Malcolm arguing that basketball coaches are fools -- fools, I tell you -- for not using the full court press, which is, according to Malcolm, the best way for an underdog to defeat a superior team: by changing the rules! The article is based -- honest to God -- on a 12-year-old girls basketball team that had a lot of success full court pressing.
How David Beats Goliath
When underdogs break the rules.

When [Silicon Valley zillionaire] Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, ... Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good? ...

As often as not, the teams Redwood City was playing against simply couldn’t make the inbounds pass within the five-second limit. Or the inbounding player, panicked by the thought that her five seconds were about to be up, would throw the ball away. Or her pass would be intercepted by one of the Redwood City players. Ranadivé’s girls were maniacal.

The second deadline requires a team to advance the ball across mid-court, into its opponent’s end, within ten seconds, and if Redwood City’s opponents met the first deadline the girls would turn their attention to the second. They would descend on the girl who caught the inbounds pass and “trap” her. Anjali was the designated trapper. She’d sprint over and double-team the dribbler, stretching her long arms high and wide. Maybe she’d steal the ball. Maybe the other player would throw it away in a panic—or get bottled up and stalled, so that the ref would end up blowing the whistle.

The Redwood City players would jump ahead 4–0, 6–0, 8–0, 12–0. One time, they led 25–0. ...

The trouble for Redwood City started early in the regular season. The opposing coaches began to get angry. There was a sense that Redwood City wasn’t playing fair—that it wasn’t right to use the full-court press against twelve-year-old girls, who were just beginning to grasp the rudiments of the game. The point of basketball, the dissenting chorus said, was to learn basketball skills. Of course, you could as easily argue that in playing the press a twelve-year-old girl learned something much more valuable—that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.

More likely, the 12-year-old girls who found themselves losing 25-0 without ever getting a shot off learned a simpler lesson: I hate basketball. You'd have to be totally gay to like basketball. I'm never going to play any sport again. Hey, I just realized that my dad can't force me to play sports if I'm pregnant!

This reminds me of when my kid was in a baseball league for 9-year-olds at the local park and his genius manager came up with a foolproof strategy for winning: "Don't ever swing! Nine year old pitchers can't get the ball over the plate enough to get you out on called strikes, so you'll almost always get a walk as long as you never swing." So, his team would get seven or eight walks in a row. The little boy who was pitching for the other team would be reduced to tears. He's be replaced by another little boy who would soon be crying because the batters would just not swing.

One time my kid disobeyed orders and hit a hard foul ball. He was pretty excited because it was the only time he got his bat on the ball all year, and he was under the impression that hitting a ball with a stick was more or less the point of playing baseball, but his coach bawled him out for disobeying orders. (He turned out to be a decent hitter in later years.)

My kid's team had the best record that year, but the parents got together and decided not to let that guy coach anymore.

Then Malcolm goes off on a rant but how practically the only college basketball coach who was smart enough to understand how full court pressing allowed underdogs to win by "changing the rules" was Rick Pitino who won the 1996 NCAA at Kentucky:
College coaches of Pitino’s calibre typically have had numerous players who have gone on to be bona-fide all-stars at the professional level. In his many years of coaching, Pitino has had one, Antoine Walker. It doesn’t matter. Every year, he racks up more and more victories.

Uh, what about Jamal Mashburn? Don't they have fact-checkers at The New Yorker anymore?

Let's look at Pitino's 1996 U. of Kentucky line-up in terms of their subsequent NBA careers:

Derek Anderson - 11 years - $56 million in total salary
Ron Mercer - 8 years - $35 million
Tony Delk - 10 years - $20 million
Walter McCarty - 10 years - $15 million
Antoine Walker - 12 years - $99 million

Mark Pope - 6 years - $4 million
Jeff Sheppard - 1 year - 0.7 million
Anthony Epps - 0 years - $0 million
Nazr Mohammed - 11 years (so far) - $38 million

A total of 69 years in the NBA and over a quarter of a billion dollars in salary. Heck, I could have coached those guys to, say, the Regional finals.

And it's not a fluke that an athletically awesome team won by full court pressing. Traditionally in basketball, the full court press has not been the underdog's weapon, it's been the overdog's way to insure that their superiority is manifested in the final score. The biggest overdogs in college basketball history were John Wooden's UCLA teams that won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. They generally ran a 2-2-1 zone press with the 1 who played free safety often being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton, which helped a lot when the opponents would beat their press and get a fast break, only to run into an all-time shot-blocking legend.

Similarly, the Boston Celtics won 11 of 13 NBA titles with Bill Russell as centerfielder on their full court press.

In a book co-authored by Wooden and Swen Nater (who led both the NBA and ABA in rebounding despite never starting in college due to Walton), they write:
Why do teams use a pressing defense? At UCLA, we chose to use it for two primary reasons. One was to avoid getting stuck in a half-court game in which the opposition could dictate the pace and—even if outmanned—reduce the number of possessions to keep the score close. Two, we believed the press allowed us to exploit opponents who were not fundamentally sound in their spacing, cutting, passing, and dribbling.

In other words, UCLA had better players and a better coach, so they would contest every bit of the game to maximize the sample size by which the game was decided. In contrast, if you are an inferior team, the smart tactic is to slow the game down so that luck will play a larger role, as 11th seeded Villanova did in beating Patrick Ewing's #1 Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA final. Villanova only took ten shots in the second half, but happened to make nine of them, so they won.

In contrast, consider the spectacular 1983 NCAA semifinal game between#2 Louisville (The Doctors of Dunk) and #1 Houston (Phi Slamma Jamma). Louisville had a ferocious full court press, with excellent athletes, such as the McCray brothers, but Houston had great athletes, such as Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. In the second half, Houston repeatedly went over the Louisville press for spectacular fast break dunks in a 94-81 win.

I don't know my basketball history well enough to say this with any confidence, but that Phi Slamma Jamma game might have been the beginning of the end for the full court press. It had worked wonderfully for Red Auerbach and John Wooden in the old days, but Houston's sensational 1983 win showed conclusively how vulnerable the press was to a high-flying team.

In the boring 1983 Final game, an inferior North Carolina State team slowed down the tempo and packed the inside and dared Houston to make enough outside shots and enough free throws to beat them. This gave NC State just enough of a chance to win on a fluke final play.

Malcolm draws large conclusions:
David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact.

No, it's not all that remarkable because countries will generally avoid war if they are highly likely to lose. For example, recall the 1994 war between America and Haiti. What? You don't recall that one? Well, that's because there wasn't a war. The Haitian government surrendered to the American invaders rather than fight. Similarly, Canada hasn't got into a war with America recently. But if it had, it wouldn't have a 28.5% chance of winning.

My off the top of my head guess would be that wars would be most likely to happen when the odds are about 60-40 in favor of one side. The overdog would tend to think it's going to win while the underdog think it has a fighting chance so it would be dishonorable to cave in without a struggle.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

TNR: Sailer Probably Right, But Still Evil

John McWhorter posts at The New Republic:
Saletan Responds: OK, Let's Try This

William Saletan has responded to my comment on his discomfort with No Child Left Behind data being tabulated by race.

I get where he's coming from. He makes many valid points. One of them is that while I argued that cultural differences determine why black people often don't do as well as white ones on tests, poor whites do significantly better than poor black ones, despite that we can assume that many of their cultural variables, such as a language culture focused on the oral rather than the printed page and direct-question exchanges like "What is the capital of South Dakota?", are similar to blacks'.

That question is not to be swatted away.

And to show that I mean it when I say that Saletan makes valid points, I am going to put my money where my mouth is.

Namely: I agree with Saletan that if it turns out that there are no genetic differences at all in intelligence between the races, it will be the unexpected case. At the very least, it is utterly plausible, given indisputable differences between races of other kinds, that intelligence may prove to be one of them. If intelligence is, even if only partly, traceable to configurations of neurons in the brain, then there is no a priori reason to suppose that those configurations are statistically identical between races while other physical configurations -- i.e. hair, color, etc. -- are not.

Yes, racial differences are a matter of probability--members will exhibit traits to varying degrees, a white individual may well be more X or Y than a black individual. Anyone reading this understands that. However, when issues such as this are brought up, this issue of statistics and probabilities is often brought to bear as if it somehow contradicted what I wrote in the previous paragraph. It does not.

The same goes for other facts such as that race is a squishy concept, that individuals within races differ genetically more than individuals of different races, and so on.

The fact remains that I have a certain complex of genetic factors that expresses itself as a degree of melanin, a kinkiness of hair, a nose shape, and so on, whose clustering typifies what we process as the black race, one which emerged in Africa.

Back to the point: sure, it may turn out that whites and/or Asians have higher intelligence than black people. It's not news I would love hearing, for all the same reasons few of us would. But it could happen.

However, to me, the evidence suggests that the difference in question, if it exists, would be quite small. Other factors are just as plausibly responsible for most or even all of the gap between poor white and poor black kids on tests like the NAEP.

Okay, but once again, what about the big differences nonpoor white and nonpoor black kids on the NAEP? What about that SAT study that found that whites in the lowest decile of family income outscored blacks in the top decile? Why do blacks about to graduate from college get an average score on the LSAT that would only fall at the 12th percentile of the white distribution?

Namely, education-wise, all evidence is that to be a poor white kid is different from being a poor black kid, and not just in the texture of your hair. Just for starters, most of us will spontaneously notice that the worst schools in the nation - the violent, understaffed, ramshackle inner-city disasters where little learning happens--don't have many white kids in them.

Yes, we must do better than that kind of impressionism, however, upon which: Poor black kids are routinely subject to less qualified teachers, who stick around for less time, than poor white kids. A classic study on the question by John Kain and Kraig Singleton addressed the situation in Texas.

Okay, but why do most of the better teachers do everything that can to eventually get themselves out of schools full of poor black kids? Could it have to do with the conduct of the kids? Could it have to do with their potential for learning? After all, the best teachers tend to like to teach the best students, the ones with the greatest capacity for learning. Nobody is surprised that the best golf swing instructors want to be hired by Tiger Woods rather than by me, even though they could shave more strokes off my average score than off Tiger's.

Or, the typical poor white child is surrounded by fewer poor people than the typical poor black child, and only about 1 in 20 poor white kids go to schools where almost all students are also poor (useful facts on this here).

Notice that I am not claiming (despite sources such as the one I linked because of its handy presentation of other data) that the problem is "segregation"--i.e. that poor black kids are done in by going to school with people the same color as them, a tragic distortion of the meaning and significance of the word segregation in our times which I deplore. "Segregated" KIPP academies are teaching poor black and brown kids brilliantly all over the country (which, itself, is further evidence that the problem is how such kids are taught more than how their brains are configured).

Okay, but how about the Shaker Heights Effect studied by John Ogbu -- all the affluent liberal integrated school districts across the country that got together in the early 2000s to study why blacks students from upper middle class homes performed poorly on average?

The issue is poverty rather than race, and the cultural baggage it often means kids are bringing to school--which the schools poor black kids attend are less adept at compensating for than those attended by the poor white kids. Plus, poor white kids are more likely to have more fortunate students around them to imitate and learn from.

We haven't seen yet whether addressing these things will close the gaps in question--or maybe narrow them to such an extent that whatever gap was left would be too small to interest anyone but obsessives of sinister motive.

"Obsessives of sinister motive" = citizens interested in finding out what the vast amount of data collected by the federal government for the purposes of enforcing affirmative action actually show.

McWhorter asserts "We haven't seen yet whether addressing these things will close the gaps in question." Look, these precise questions have been studied intensively for 45 years. The incentives for any social scientist to be the one who comes up with a breakthrough analytical idea making the race gap disappear are huge.

Now, I take it Saletan is still worried that just such people, such as Steve Sailer, are still a force to be feared. Respectfully, however, I am still not sure why.

Think about it: our public discourse is at a point where when Saletan even entertains the data that makes us so uncomfortable he is excoriated endlessly. Where is the space in this discourse for people like Sailer to acquire any kind of meaningful influence?

Indeed. Wielding Occam's Butterknife pays a lot better than Occam's Razor.

Really: we have to think about what we're proposing as a danger worthy of engagement. What legislation would have Steve Sailer's imprint? What steps can we imagine - and societal evolution happens generally in steps--via which we would get to a point where black people were routinely herded apart as mental deficients?

Because that is what I've routinely advocated? Where? When?

What I've routinely advocated are colorblind policies in contrast to the current race obsessed policies imposed by the government under the "disparate impact" theory.

Or whatever dystopian horror we are supposed to be worried about.

Other dystopian horrors I've advocated:

- Finally finishing the border fence, like Israel's border fence (just on our side of the border).

- Adopting a Canadian-style system for picking legal immigrants who will most benefit current American citizens as a whole.

- Paying unemployed illegal immigrants to go home.

- Eliminating the EEOC's four-fifths' rule.

The horror! The horror!

And if you have more imagination than I do, then specify: how would the steps to the scenario you envision initiate from the back-of-the-class mutterings of people like Steve Sailer, given the now deeply-rooted cultural revulsion towards open bigotry in our society?

Yes, it's still "out there"--but not to an extent that can keep a black man out of the White House, despite what I was repeatedly told all last year all the way up to the second Obama won the election. The issue is not "whether," but "how much" it's out there.

I'd much rather see how far we can get with addressing what kind of schools poor kids go to. My money is on poor black kids looking better decade by decade if we do the right things--but that will mean assessing how the kids are doing by race, and publishing the data for all to see including Big Bad Steve.

Well, you might want to start by looking at all the data that has already been published decade by decade...

As for the moral copout [huh] Sailer-types wait for, where we eliminate all efforts to help black people out of a conclusion that they are beyond assistance because of genetic inferiority, again, we'd have to spell out what kind of actual, plausible sociohistorical process we can imagine leading to it.

Yeah, right, because that's what I've always advocated, as opposed to advocating things like, when the fire truck pulls up at your house to save your loved ones' lives, the fire captain in charge should have been picked by a colorblind process.

And when we've done that, then we have to specify something else: why that rather studied possibility is more urgent for us to devote our mental energy to than, well, quite a few other more pressing matters in this world as we know it.

Well, clearly, John McWhorter hasn't been devoting much mental energy to this subject he keeps writing about, so he's got that going for him.

But certainly McWhorter is correct that one individual can hardly have much influence just by being right on the social science and by advocating commonsensical colorblind policies based on the social science, when he can be smeared as a "racist" and "bigot" precisely for being right on the social science?

Apparently, McWhorter's and Saletan's working definition of a "racist" is a pundit who knows what the hell he's talking about.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

John McWhorter on the Ricci case

John McWhorter writes at The New

Of course, the question we are not supposed to ask is whether the failure rate suggests that black people are less intelligent. However, there is no need to fear here. The reason black people of unaffluent origin tend not to do well on standardized tests is a matter of language and how it's used--and the issue is less about color than class, and in the global sense, about what it is to be human.

In countless American communities, flyers are routinely full of major misspellings, more than a few people are only fitfully comfortable with e-mail, and few read newspapers above the tabloid level. Life is fundamentally oral. People from places like this (which include Appalachia and the rural white South, as much as black and brown inner cities) get next to no reinforcement from home life in acquiring comfort with the written word beyond the utilitarian.

Reading is not the only cultural hurdle. In working-class and poor black culture as in many fundamentally oral ones, being asked point-blank questions--like, "When was the Declaration of Independence written?"--and answering clearly is not as central to normal communication as it is in mainstream culture. (Consult, for example, Shirley Brice Heath's Ways With Words.) Many black people of working-class or poor background mention how ticklish this kind of interaction felt when they first went to a decent school.

Direct questions as regular interaction are largely an epiphenomenon of the printed page. Most humans on earth lead fundamentally oral lives in the linguistic sense (only about 200 of the world's 6,000 languages are written in any serious way, for example), and need to adjust to direct questions. Middle class American kids inhale them at the kitchen table. Other kids learn how to deal with them in school; it takes practice, and because our public schools are so uneven, quite a few never get really good at it.

Thus if the black firefighters aren't at home with the format of the promotion test (reading passages and answering questions on what they mean), it is understandable and has nothing to do with their innate ability. After all, placing 16th in a pool of several dozen candidates is not too shabby in itself. The job, it would seem--say, to old-time Civil Rights leaders with a black pride that deserved the name--would be to enhance the innate ability. The black candidates need practice.

Plaintiff Frank Ricci understood this. He's dyslexic. Instead of doing poorly on the test and charging discrimination, he had textbooks read onto tape, worked with a study group, and practiced hard. He placed sixth out of 77. Any notion that this is too much to ask of someone with more melanin--or even with a different "racial history"--is nonsensical at best and gruesome at worst.

Still, we justify the rhetorical contortions that excuse black people from challenging examinations; in the end, it is based on a tacit sense that such things are antithetical to black authenticity, that it is somehow untoward to require this kind of concentrated scholarly exertion on black people.

Okay, that may (or may not) be "the reason black people of unaffluent origin tend not to do well on standardized tests," but what about black people of affluent origin? Why is the racial achievement gap similar for them?

I've heard it argued a million times that racial differences in achievement are caused by socioeconomic differences, but when we look at blacks of high socioeconomic status, we see only fair-to-middling achievement.

For example, black college graduates who take professional and grad school exams only score at an average level of the 10th to 18th percentile among whites (depending upon the exam).

Thousands of social scientists have tried to make the racial gap disappear by adjusting for socioeconomic differences and have and failed. A social scientist who found a group of affluent African-Americans who consistently scored as well as whites of similar affluence would be feted for the rest of his life. The incentive is there, but nobody has been able to deliver the goods in 45 years of searching.

If you are black and you grew up summering in one of the small upper class black communities on Martha's Vineyard, then, yes, you'll do pretty well on average. You might do better on average than whites who never heard the word "summer" used as a verb. But, Martha's Vineyard blacks don't do as well on the whole on tests or in the real world as Martha's Vineyard whites. And it works that way up and down the social ladder.

Which then suggests, using Occam's Razor, that the socioeconomic gap is more caused by the achievement gap than vice-versa. But Occam's Butterknife remains much more popular...

One interesting question that McWhorter alludes to is whether African Americans are relatively more skilled at learning from oral than from written instruction. I could well believe that African Americans are better, relative to IQ, than whites at persuasive speaking, but I can't recall any evidence that they're better, relatively, at learning from listening than learning from reading. Perhaps, though, there is. I'm sure the topic has been studied at length.

In general, African American culture seems more oriented toward learning how to persuade other people subjectively than toward learning objective knowledge.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 5, 2009

Slate cuts to the heart of the question: "Is Sailer a nice guy?"

In "The Case for Colorblindness in the Age of Genetics," William Saletan responds to a John McWhorter post in The New Republic entitled "Lions and Sailers and Bears, Oh My!--Why Saletan Thinks We Should Keep the Black-White Performance Gap Under Wraps."Saletan writes:
McWhorter casually dismisses the less-intelligence theory and its blogger-advocate Steve Sailer, with whom I tangled yesterday. Why? Because McWhorter is confident that his alternative theory, based on language, can explain racial gaps in test scores. In his commentary on the New Haven case, McWhorter lays out the theory: Working-class blacks and whites communicate orally rather than in writing, and they're unfamiliar with the art of answering direct questions. I'm sure there's truth in this theory. But McWhorter offers no quantitative evidence for it. Nor does it address some of the most difficult evidence presented by proponents of the genetic theory: whites outscoring blacks even when the class factor skews the other way. In his rebuttal to my original article on the NAEP data, for instance, Sailer notes:

Here's the 2007 8th grade Reading scores broken down by race and income. White kids whose parents are so poor that they are eligible for the National School Lunch Program outscore affluent black kids by four points and affluent Hispanic kids by one point. The gap between poor whites and poor blacks is 19 points, and the gap among not poor whites and not poor blacks is 21 points. That's what you normally get—sizable racial gaps anyway you slice it.

Is Sailer a nice guy? No. Does he display an unhealthy interest in categorizing people by race or ethnicity? Yes. But the problem here isn't Sailer, James Watson, Charles Murray, or anybody else you feel like dismissing as a racist. [Whew! I dodged a bullet there. For a moment I thought he was going to lump me in with not only Charles Murray and James D. Watson, but also with Francis Crick, Arthur Jensen, William D. Hamilton, Ronald A. Fisher, Francis Galton, and Charles Darwin. Please don't throw me in that briar patch!] The problem is the evidence these people quote. Condemnation won't make it go away.

Don't get me wrong. Genetic and environmental explanations aren't mutually exclusive. In the case of IQ, everybody accepts environmental factors, and there's plenty of evidence and argument against the hereditarian view. But that's just one battle in a larger war. Beyond the march of test scores, there's the onslaught of genetic research. We've already identified genes that correlate with traits and vary in prevalence between ethnic groups. Are you confident that intelligence will turn out to be exempt from this list? Confident enough to leave no backup plan, no understanding of equality that can withstand a partial role for heredity? Confident enough to keep tallying and reporting test scores by race? And if intelligence turns out not to vary genetically between groups, do you imagine that we'll get just as lucky with every other significant mental trait?

If you want to know why I keep writing about this subject, Mr. McWhorter, there's your answer. No, I don't care about the merit badge. I'm staring over your shoulder at an oncoming train. It starts with genomic differentiation of populations around the world, and that's just the locomotive. If you turn around and look, you'll see that the first few cars are already in view: genes that affect mental traits, genes that affect abilities, and variations between populations in the prevalence of these genes. No genetically distinguishable population will be spared. We're sitting in the path of this train, tied to the tracks by a literalist conception of equality that can't accept hereditary differences between group averages. I suggest we free ourselves.

Under these circumstances, do I think gaps between average white and black test scores should "shed less than positive light on black people"? No, I don't. Each of us should be judged by his own performance, not by a stereotype. Genetic variation between averages doesn't alter that moral truth. Nor does it give anyone an excuse.

Okay, but that's not how Barack Obama thinks, nor is it how the federal government think. For decades, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has enforced the Four-Fifths Rule:

"A selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths (4/5) (or eighty percent) of the rate for the group with the highest rate will generally be regarded by the Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact, while a greater than four-fifths rate will generally not be regarded by Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact."

In other words, if 50 percent of whites pass the test, 40 percent or more of each minority group must pass the test, or the burden of proof is on the employer to vindicate the selection process. This can be so expensive and uncertain that many employers just impose hiring and promotion quotas upon themselves.

The four-fifths rule is as the heart of the Ricci fireman's case.

Really, Mr. Saletan should take up his argument with Mr. Obama.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

George Will almost gets it

George Will writes:
California is exporting talent while importing Mexico's poverty. The latter is not California's fault; the former is.

But the rest of his column doesn't acheive that level of insight.

I think there could be a case made that a high level of Mexican immigration is only manageable under a Texas Republican-style system of low government spending, low taxes, and low environmental regulation. But there are a couple of problems with that. It assumes a Texas-size supply of habitable land so that land prices don't go through the roof and there will be enough resource extraction jobs, which California really doesn't have even before all the environmental regulations that the beauty of California inspires. And it assumes that there will be enough Republican voters to keep voting against the new poor people's urge to vote for tax and spend programs. And how much longer will Texas have that?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 4, 2009

Slate on Sailer

From Slate:
Mental Segregation
Inequality, racism, and framing.
by William Saletan
May 4, 2009

People vary in their abilities based in part on genetic differences. Suppose these differences at the individual level sometimes add up to differences in average ability between people of one race and people of another. Should we say so?

Here are three perspectives on the question. On Wednesday, the New York Times ran the following story:
'No Child' Law Is Not Closing a Racial Gap ...

On Thursday, I raised a question about the Times story:
Why categorize and measure students by race? Aren't there better ways to organize the data? … [Parts of the test report] organize the data by factors that can help us target and adjust educational policy: kids with low scores, kids in public school, kids in high school, kids whose parents didn't graduate. … But race? Does that category really help? And what message does it send to kids when headlines assert a persistent "racial gap"?

On Friday, Steve Sailer, the founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute, responded to my question. He argued that I was wrong to propose to "stop counting" scores by race:
The reason people all over the world and of all different ideologies can't help but be interested in race is [that] a racial group is, fundamentally, an extended family. So, race is about who your relatives are, which is an inherently interesting topic.

Saletan has been arguing that we should just group people by looking at one gene at a time. (Of course, on average, individual gene differences will tend to follow racial lines.) But, more fundamentally, what he doesn't get is that racial groups have an existence independent of genetics. They are fundamentally genealogical entities—who begat whom. Unsurprisingly, when you stop and think about it, the genes tag along with the begats.

Sailer, like the Times, is embracing racial averaging of test scores. But unlike the Times, he's doing so in the belief that differences in the resulting averages are in large part genetic. He's arguing not just that some people do better than others based on inherited ability (the genetic question) and that this ability is more prevalent among people of one race than among people of another (the distribution question), but that this is how the data should be aggregated, averaged, and compared (the framing question).

To be precise, I am arguing that this is how the data is aggregated, averaged, and compared ... by law. The No Child Left Behind legislation godfathered by Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush is explicitly concerned with narrowing racial achievement gaps.

More generally, that mainstay of the civil rights industry, the concept of "disparate impact" -- as exemplified by the EEOC's four-fifths rule, which, in the Supreme Court's Ricci case was cited by the city of New Haven to justify throwing out a firefighter promotional test that no blacks passed -- requires the government to maintain vast statical offices for sorting employees by race. Similarly, the Community Reinvestment Act requires millions of mortgages to be sorted by race in the government's giant Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database in order to lean on the mortgage industry to lend more money to minorities. (How's that working out for us lately?)

Should the government count by race? In 2002, I endorsed and voted for Ward Connerly's California initiative that the state government should stop counting by race. I reasoned by analogy to religion. In the 1950s, the Census Bureau proposed adding a religion question to the Census, but Jewish groups protested, so the Census doesn't count people by religion. And that makes it very hard to file a disparate impact lawsuit over purported religious discrimination based on statistical differences. There simply aren't any government statistics on religion today, so religious discrimination cases require direct evidence of discrimination, so there are fewer lawsuits over religious discrimination than over racial discrimination, and so employers seldom impose religious quotas on themselves.

But, Connerly's initiative to eliminate data collection by race went down to defeat badly, and I haven't expressed much of an opinion on the subject of whether or not the government should collect data by race since. But if the government's going to collect collossal amounts of data by race and impose legal differences by race, then I think it's my duty as a citizen to look at the government's numbers and see what they say.

It's important to separate these three questions. We know that genes influence many abilities. We also know that some of these genes vary considerably in prevalence between ethnic groups. One example is the RR variant of ACTN3, a gene that affects fast generation of muscular force and correlates with excellence at speed and power sports. The opposite variant of the gene is called XX. Tests indicate that the ratio of people with RR to people with XX is 1 to 1 among Asians, 2 to 1 among European whites, and more than 4 to 1 among African-Americans.

We shouldn't overstate the case. Genes don't determine everything, and most genes don't vary significantly between populations. But research is constantly finding new gene-trait correlations and group differences. If your faith in equality depends on an ethnically or racially even distribution of all ability-influencing genes, you're in trouble.

That's why the framing question matters. People of your race may be on average faster, smarter, or more volatile than people of my race. But the opposite pattern may turn up if you and I are classified in some other way. My dad was black, my mom was white, I was born in Hawaii, I was raised in a broken home, I grew up in Indonesia, I went to private school, I played basketball, I used drugs, my grades were unspectacular, and I went to Harvard Law. Guess my IQ.

Rather than focus on an exotic such as the President, who wrote a 460-page book (helpfully subtitled A Story of Race and Inheritance so that you don't miss the point) justifying to himself that he was "black enough" to be a leader of blacks, I think it's more helpful to state what I've often pointed out: "Somewhere around eleven million Hispanics and seven million African Americans have higher IQs than the average white American."

I put a lot of effort a decade ago into trying to come up with broad evidence for Saletan's argument that the government's system of asking people to check off little race and ethnicity boxes is too error-prone and illogical to work, but I eventually had to admit to myself that, on the whole, it was good enough for government work. Sure, there are more than a few exotics like Tiger Woods (who came up with 1 word to describe himself: "Caublinasian") and Barack Obama (who came up with 150,000 words in Dreams from My Father to rationalize his claim to being "black enough"), but most of the time, the government's system kind of sort of works.

The distribution question doesn't settle the framing question, because race is just one way in which ability can be unevenly distributed. To answer the framing question in the affirmative, you have to show something more. You have to show that classifying and comparing by race, rather than using some other classification system or judging each person as an individual, does more good than harm.

It's Ward Connerly's view that the government classifying people by race does more harm than good. Judging from the Obama Administration's amicus curiae brief in the Ricci case, it's definitely not Barack Obama's view. Perhaps Mr. Saletan should take up his argument with the President of the United States rather than with me.

Sailer's argument is that racial classification is natural—that we "can't help but be interested in race" because we tend to define others as in or out of our extended family. I think he's right about that. We're prone to tribalism. But that's not a reason to encourage racial classification. It's a reason to beware it.

In other words, Steve Sailer will more or less win on the scientific grounds any debate over race he choose to engage in seriously, so it's best not to debate the topic at all.

Fine. But can we first get rid of all the government's laws, institutions, and regulations that not only count by race but then discriminate by race, such as the EEOC, the four-fifths rule, the CRA, and so forth?

Saletan continues:

Consider Sailer's views on immigration. A few months ago, he wrote:

Typically, the two most important factors influencing the long-term success of an organization are the quantity and quality of people involved. … This is particularly true for a country. Yet there has been barely any discussion in the U.S. prestige press on the implications of the demographic change imposed by immigration. … Is adding 100 million Latinos to the U.S. population a good idea? …

And there has been little change in the racial disparities in crime rates. Racial and ethnic differences of all kinds have been strikingly stable since the 1970s. In particular, the word that best sums up Latino America is inertia. Things just sort of keep on keeping on in the general direction that they were already moving. What we do know is that all of these troubles are exacerbated by the mass immigration of people with low human capital.

This is what can happen when you constantly look for racial angles in data on crime, IQ, and other measures of the "quality of people." You start aiming policies at ethnic groups. But I don't think this kind of racism is a product of uneven distribution. It's a product of bad framing.

In other words, Sailer has all the government data on his side, but that just makes it worse!

By this point poor old kicked-around Saletan has finally collapsed into just plain pointing and sputtering about how I, and anybody else who notices the massive demographic changes brought about by our Establishment's immigration policy, is some kind of evil racist.


(I will admit that it's also possible that Saletan has come around to agreeing 100% with me and he's just picking a fight with me to give my sensible views more publicity.)

Read the rest of Saletan's article here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

May 3, 2009

Geoffrey Miller on IQ

From Spent:
The irony about general intelligence is that ordinary folks of average intelligence recognize its variance across people, its generality across domains, and its importance in life. Yet educated elites meanwhile often remain implacably opposed to the very concept of general intelligence, and deny its variance, generality, and importance. Professors and students at elite universities are especially prone to this pseudohumility. They socialize only with other people of extraordinarily high intelligence, so the width of the whole bell curve lies outside their frame of reference. I have met theoretical physicists who claimed that any human could understand superstring theory and quantum mechanics if only he or she was given the right educational opportunities. Of course, such scientists talk only with other physicists with IQs above 140, and seem to forget that their janitors, barbers, and car mechanics are in fact real humans too, so they can rest comfortably in the envy-deflecting delusion that there are no significant differences in general intelligence.

Even within my own field, evolutionary psychologists tend to misunderstand general intelligence as a psychological adaptation in its own right, often misconstruing it as a specific mental organ, module, brain area, or faculty. However, it is not viewed that way by most intelligence researchers who, instead, regard general intelligence as an individual-differences construct—like the constructs “health,” “beauty,” or “status.” Health is not a bodily organ; it is an abstract construct or “latent variable” that emerges when one statistically analyzes the functional efficiencies of many different organs. Because good genes, diet, and exercise tend to produce good hearts, lungs, and antibodies, the vital efficiencies of circulatory, pulmonary, and immune systems tend to positively correlate, yielding a general “health” factor. Likewise, beauty is not a single sexual ornament like a peacock’s tail; it is a latent variable that emerges when one analyzes the attractiveness of many different sexual ornaments throughout the face and body (such as eyes, lips, skin, hair, chest, buttocks, and legs, plus general skin quality, hair condition, muscle tone, and optimal amount and distribution of fat). Similarly, general intelligence is not a mental organ, but a latent variable that emerges when one analyzes the functional efficiencies of many different mental organs (such as memory, language ability, social perceptiveness, speed at learning practical skills, and musical aptitude). ...

In the 1970s, critics of intelligence research such as Leon Kamin and Stephen Jay Gould wrote many diatribes insisting that general intelligence had none of these correlations with other biological traits such as height, physical health, mental health, brain size, or nerve conduction speed. Mountains of research since then have shown that they were wrong, and today general intelligence dwells comfortably at the center of a whole web of empirical associations stretching from genetics through neuroscience to creativity research. Still, the anti-intelligence dogma continues unabated, and a conspicuous contempt for IQ remains, among the liberal elite, a fashionable indicator of one’s agreeableness and openness.

Yet this overt contempt for the concept of intelligence has never undermined our universal worship of the intelligence-based meritocracy that drives capitalist educational and occupational aspirations. All parents glow with pride when their children score well on standardized tests, get into elite universities that require high test scores, and pursue careers that require elite university degrees. The anti-intelligence dogma has not deterred liberal elites from sulking and ranting about the embarrassing stupidity of certain politicians, the inhumanity of inflicting capital punishment on murderers with subnormal IQs, or the IQ-harming effects of lead paint or prenatal alcoholism. Whenever policy issues are important enough, we turn to the concept of general intelligence as a crucial explanatory variable or measure of cognitive health, despite our Gould-tutored discomfort with the idea.

You’ve probably heard that IQ tests are now widely considered outdated, biased, and useless, and that there’s more to cognitive ability than general intelligence—there are also traits like social intelligence, practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, creativity, and wisdom. Strikingly, these claims originate mostly from psychology professors at Harvard and Yale. Harvard is home to Howard Gardner, advocate of eight “multiple intelligences” (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist). Yale is home to Peter Salovey, advocate of emotional intelligence, and was, until recently, home to Robert Sternberg, advocate of three intelligences (academic, social, and practical). (To be fair, I think the notions of interpersonal, social, and emotional intelligence do have some merit, but they seem more like socially desired combinations of general intelligence, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and/or extraversion, than distinctive dimensions that extend beyond the Central Six.)

Is it an accident that researchers at the most expensive, elite, IQ-screening universities tend to be most skeptical of IQ tests? I think not. Universities offer a costly, slow, unreliable intelligence-indicating product that competes directly with cheap, fast, more-reliable IQ tests. They are now in the business of educational credentialism. Harvard and Yale sell nicely printed sheets of paper called degrees that cost about $160,000 ($40,000 for tuition, room, board, and books per year for four years). To obtain the degree, one must demonstrate a decent level of conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness in one’s coursework, but above all, one must have the intelligence to get admitted, based on SAT scores and high school grades. Thus, the Harvard degree is basically an IQ guarantee.

Elite universities do not want to be undercut by competitors. They do not want their expensive IQ-warranties to suffer competition from cheap, fast IQ tests, which would commodify the intelligence-display market and drive down costs. Therefore, elite universities have a hypocritical, love-hate relationship with intelligence tests. They use the IQ-type tests (such as the SAT) to select students, to ensure that their IQ-warranties have validity and credibility. Yet, they seem to agree with the claim by Educational Testing Service that the SAT is not an IQ test, and they vehemently deny that their degrees could be replaced by IQ tests in the competition for social status, sexual attractiveness, and employment. Alumni of such schools also work very hard to maintain the social norm that, in casual conversation, it is acceptable to mention where one went to college, but not to mention one’s SAT or IQ scores. If I say on a second date that “the sugar maples in Harvard Yard were so beautiful every fall term,” I am basically saying “my SAT scores were sufficiently high (roughly 720 out of 800) that I could get admitted, so my IQ is above 135, and I had sufficient conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellectual openness to pass my classes. Plus, I can recognize a tree.” The information content is the same, but while the former sounds poetic, the latter sounds boorish.

There are vested interests at work here, including not just the universities but the testing services. The most important U.S. intelligence-testing institution is the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, and GRE tests. ETS is a private organization with about 2,500 employees, including 250 Ph.D.s. It apparently functions as an unregulated monopoly, accountable only to its Board of Trustees. Although nominally dedicated to the highest standards of test validity, ETS is also under intense legal pressure to create tests that “are free of racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, and other forms of bias.” This means, in practice, that ETS must attempt the impossible. It must develop tests that accurately predict university performance by assessing general intelligence, since general intelligence remains by far the best predictor of academic achievement. Yet, since intelligence testing remains such a politically incendiary topic in the United States, it is crucial for ETS to take the position that its “aptitude” and “achievement” tests are not tests of general intelligence. Further, its tests must avoid charges of bias by yielding precisely equal distributions of scores across different ethnic groups, sexes, and classes—even when those groups do have somewhat different distributions of general intelligence. So, the more accurate the tests are as indexes of general intelligence, the more biased they look across groups, and the more flack ETS gets from political activists. On the other hand, the more equal the test outcomes are across groups, the less accurate the tests are as indexes of general intelligence, the less well they predict university performance, and the more flack ETS gets from universities trying to select the best students. ETS may be doing the best it can, given the hypocrisies, taboos, and legal constraints of the American cognitive meritocracy. However, it may be useful for outsiders to understand its role in higher education not just as a gate keeper but as a flack absorber [should be "flak catcher"]. ETS throws itself on the hand grenade of the IQ test controversy to protect its platoon mates (elite universities) from the shrapnel.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

South Korea branding itself

The LA Times reports:
In a campaign that has many scratching their heads, South Korea is convinced that it must match the efforts of companies such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung to promote its public identity. So it's taking part in an international ranking system to compete against other nations on first impressions of outsiders.

Early results are not encouraging. According to one recent Nation Brands Index, South Korea ranked 33rd among 50 nations -- behind countries that officials here whisper are lesser than their own, including Poland and the Czech Republic.

The United States ranked seventh. Germany was No. 1.

President Lee Myung-bak has formed a Presidential Council on Nation Branding and has announced the goal of moving to 15th place by 2013.

"Korea is the world's 13th-largest economy with some $20,000 in per capita income but ranks only 33rd in the global brand index," reporters here quoted Lee as saying. "This is a big problem."

Some find it refreshing that the nation cares about what others think about it. Others hint that it's a bit neurotic.

"Korea's problem is that it doesn't have an Eiffel Tower. Paris doesn't need a slogan -- it's Paris," said public relations executive Phillip Raskin, a branding committee advisor.

"Paris would be attractive even if its slogan was 'Go to hell.' In fact, it might actually be that."

... But the ambitious Lee wants to change that, introducing programs to promote the South Korean martial art tae kwon do and pitching the nation as an environmentally friendly "Green Korea." The centerpiece of his agenda is food. The government has announced a plan to globalize Korean cuisine, vowing to put it among the world's top five by 2017.

Every day, newspapers carry articles about image boosting: Should the nation build a robotics museum and compete with Japan in that emerging field? How about building some of the world's tallest skyscrapers, or opening a nude beach on a popular island?

The branding czar talks of a new volunteer program modeled after the U.S. Peace Corps and of "Rainbow Korea," a catchphrase for the nation's so-called expanding multiculturalism.

Perhaps South Korea should promote that they have the world's largest and best organized riots. Their amazing riots feature well-drilled protesters, with their color-coordinated cop-whacking sticks, and their myriad riot policeman in Orc-like gear. South Korean riot police are conscripts, so there is no shortage of them. As one reader explained to me, in most countries, the job of the riot police is to stop riots. In South Korea, in contrast, the job of the riot police is to confront the rioters and Do Battle.

P.J. O'Rourke once compared South Koreans to Northern Irishmen. The South Koreans don't have Northern Ireland's fundamental ethnic division, so their riots tend to be organized around more ad hoc pretexts, but what shines through is their mutual love of a good donnybrook.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer