Race and IQ: how can we dismiss the correlations?

Suppose you wanted to believe, as I do, that intelligence and vague ‘racial groups’ are, on the whole, unrelated from a long-run perspective. What would you then have to believe about genetics and IQ, as well as the long-run effects of socio-economic circumstances on IQ to rationalise the overwhelming evidence that there is a strong correlation between IQ and ‘race’? That evidence is extensively discussed in this excellent blog by Ken Parish, alluded to in several references on this wikipedia page into IQ heritability, and pushed hard in this book I co-reviewed recently? I will argue in the below that the main thing you must then dismiss is the hypothesis that a strong correlation between the outcomes befalling identical twins ‘demonstrates’ the importance of shared genes. In turn, that forces you to re-evaluate a lot of medical and biological studies in many other fields.

Consider the basic evidence that the ‘Bell Curve’ adherents have to argue their case: they argue that starting from the darkest places in Africa with IQs around 75 you move away from the equator and see an increase in both wealth and IQ, passing over the US with an IQ of 100, ending up with Japan and South Korea where average IQs are around 110 and health and wealth are concomitantly high. Within rich countries too, the basic empirical relation is that the whiter the ethnic group, the higher the IQ scores. And everything that is desirable is positively related with IQ, including length of life, wealth, low crime, etc. The ‘Bell Curve’ adherents point to all these correlations and say they are causal and that, furthermore, there is a genetic component to IQ since IQ is strongly heritable within families: the IQ of identical twins who were separated at birth turns out to be pretty close, usually taken as evidence of genetic causality.

So the mountain to climb is to rationalise all those correlations without buying into genetic causality at the level of ethnic groups, loosely labelled as ‘race’ (and yes, I know we are talking about clouds of genes here that vary more within than between!). Find below my best efforts, allowing for the fact that I am of course mainly a consumer of this literature, not a fully up-skilled producer!

The simplest put-down is to say that IQ is not intelligence but measures a culturally-specific skill that, quite naturally, would be higher in countries oriented towards teaching those skills and valuing them. This put-down can be further motivated by saying that IQ is really just defined by its measurement, and is thus defined as ‘the skills that predict school scores’, which does not by necessity capture anything that is fixed for a person or that is independent of culture. Indeed, it is basically impossible to measure intelligence free of culture since from our very earliest days we direct our learning towards that which is valued by our surroundings. Education is similarly not intended to be free of culture and so the thing that predicts it will also not be free of it. So the first put-down is that intelligence cannot be measured free of culture and hence that comparing across ethnicities or racial groups is impossible to start with.

This put-down, which you see a lot, is not really sustainable. For one, the notion of ‘intelligence free of culture’ is a form of ‘humans without humanity’: a contradiction in terms. Hence intelligence is also specific to cultures, meaning that there is no such thing as ‘equal intelligence outside cultures’ either, so whilst it is true that IQ measures ‘ability to do tests valued in the rich world’ , that does not mean that one cannot talk about the heritability of being able to do those ‘Western schooling calibrated tests’.

Moreover, it turns out that high IQ in one culture does not translate into low IQ in another, a point also pushed by the very politically-correct James Flynn in his recent book: people with higher IQs on average are better and can more quickly learn almost every mental task you want to throw at them. So IQ might be specific to a particular test but someone who is 30 points ahead in IQ probably beats someone else at their own mental game as well. Worse, ethnic groups and species with higher IQs do on average seem to have bigger brains, as you would expect. It really is hard to believe that bigger brains do not mean one is smarter on average (accounting for body size). Worst of all, even in societies where one can argue that there are no major current cultural differences between groups, such as the various groups that have lived in the US for over 100 years and that hence now all speak English and have been to school for 3 generations, still show these strong average IQ differences between the ethnic groups.

A similar unconvincing put-down is to say that IQ cannot possibly have causal effects on wealth, crime, etc. because other things than intelligence cause those. Simply by the fact that IQ is the ‘thing that predicts education’ one would thus have to argue that education has no causal effect on wealth, health, crime, etc., because higher IQ on average does cause better education (the higher your IQ the further you can rise through the stages of education). The put-down needs an extreme version of the ‘screening hypothesis’ and would imply that around the world governments are wasting enormous amounts of resources into education without overall pay-off. You now and then get the odd economist arguing it but not without blushing. So if we accept that education is good for you then IQ is also good for you and not having it is bad for you.

So the usual cheap shots at the Bell Curve idea are not sustainable, unfortunately.

A more promising avenue is to see IQ as itself the outcome of a process of investments and that the same investments also cause bigger brains and would help with health, income, etc. This is what Flynn is trying to say. Effectively one can argue that IQ is like being able to drive cars: you need to be rich to have a car, having a car makes you even richer, and it helps if your parents had a car for you to practise on, but this does not imply there is anything genetic about car-driving abilities at the level of racial groups.

Consider all the things you then need to buy into however. For one, you must then argue that those countries with low IQ, brain size, and wealth, are in that position by virtue of some set of historical circumstances that have less afflicted the ones further away from the equator. Plenty of historical stories that give this, so that might be doable but it still needs to be proven. Second, you must then argue that there are strong lock-in effects that make a low IQ-Wealth-Brain equilibrium very stable so that a few generations of wealth increase do not suffice to escape. Third, you must buy into the notion that the individuals who migrated (as slaves or otherwise) were so disadvantaged by their initial low IQ that neither they nor the ensuing generations really managed to escape the relative disadvantage.

Consider this last point more carefully: to rationalise that even for communities that have lived in other countries for generations IQ is still lower and that IQ does correlate strongly between the generations, one must buy into the notion that kids will already very early on have acquired some of the lower IQ from their parents. Indeed, considering the high degree of correlation between separated twins, one must buy into the notion that the womb itself is a place where a lot of the disadvantages of the mother get conveyed onto the children before they are born.

There are mechanisms that fit this kind of hypothesis, including the notion that a wealthy and well-fed mother makes a better womb. Also there is the idea that genes can be turned ‘on’ and ‘off’ depending on circumstances and that genes get passed on set in an ‘on’ or ‘off’ stage. The finding that identical twins are much more similar than non-identical twins could then be due to a shared epigenetics: the identical twins’ on-off switches are synchronised in the womb, whilst this does not hold for the on-off switches of the non-identical twins for whom the same womb produces a different epigenetic effect. I have no idea as to the nitty-gritty of this, but can see how it might happen in principle.

If this is true then initial disadvantages between ethnic groups would then still get washed out as accidental ‘on-off’ switches occur each generation, but would disappear over the course of centuries. For any two or three generations you would then still see a lot of persistence in low IQ and its associated outcomes, but no true long-run genetic causality. To buy into this kind of story means one rejects the notion that heritability inevitably means genetic causality, something that would mean large changes in how genetic effects are inferred throughout the social sciences.

A great example of just the kind of mechanism we would be thinking of is given by height, which is quite heritable. People nowadays are much taller on average than they were in centuries gone past and the amazing thing is that the increase has been quite gradual for several generations, even though a lot of the most obvious ‘benefits of civilisation’ were achieved early on. Thus, at the start of the European height boom in the 19th century, people were perhaps a feet smaller than now but you saw the advent of better hygiene and the demise of infectious diseases. So the first generation was a bit taller. With better nutrition, less hard work and less other sick people to infect the general population, the next generation again was taller. This meant better wombs and richer parents for yet another generation who were fed and looked after even better. We are now talking about the 1930s when families were still huge and hence one couldn’t argue that life was easy yet. Yet, 3 generations on from that one and the Europeans are still getting taller, even in places where they have been traditionally tall already, such as the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

The story of height is hence very much one of an obvious co-movement of increases in health, wealth, and inputs into the next generations. And you can still see very short and very white people in Northern India where the genetic background to the Indo-Europeans is similar but wealth and health are still at the bottom of the scales, which translates into low IQs (and small brains).

The implications of this thinking go further though than just buying into the notion of quite persistent effects that take generations to wash out: it leads to the thought that there is (almost) nothing genetic about IQ at all, even within societies.

That kind of radical counterpoint comes with its own questions though. If there is no long-run genetic marker for intelligence, where does IQ variation within societies come from?

Some would come from the economic position of the parents, ensuring that wealth and health advantages that might be accidentally obtained in one generations get passed on (well-fed wombs again, but also the ongoing effects of being in a confident and positive environment on the ongoing development of the brain). Yet, if that were the only source of variation then societies and families should diverge as advantages get accumulated. This is not the case, because in general the next generation reverts back to the population mean, showing that there must be a strong other source of variation such that the persistence effects of parents helping their young ones are ineffectual against a long-run regression-to-the-mean force because of this ‘other’ source of variation.

What could this wealth-independent source of variation be? Perhaps it is as simple as the embryo and the young baby being lucky enough to get just enough and not too much of everything. A little bit how young sapling trees get to be tall because of accidental circumstances in the forest (more light available and the demise of competitors), so too could it be true that minute differences in the womb and very early childhood could ‘deliver’ very smart and not-so-smart new humans. And the ‘just enough’ factor matters: too much water or sunshine kills off the sapling just as much as too little and when there is the presence of other trees, streams, and other ‘genetically unforeseeable’ circumstances, there is no way to guarantee that the sapling will be ‘most fit’ for each circumstance, meaning that even the ‘perfect tree gene’ needs to be in the lucky position of having a ‘perfect accident’ of adjacent trees, water, etc. So too could it be with humans and intelligence due to accidents in the womb, the very process of egg fertilisation, and very early on in childhood: if intelligence is the outcome of many finely-tuned circumstances which are not under full control and of which the womb can only ‘make an educated guess’ from an ex-ante genetic point of view then more or less accidental circumstances will lead to a large variation in the intelligence of the young kid.

So, if you want, like I do, to hope that IQ and race are truly not causally linked via a genetic and thus somewhat unalterable mechanism, then you will find yourself nudging towards accepting a quite strong version of class-theory (many current disadvantages are perpetuated by the investments of the previous generation), the rejection of heritability as an indicator of genetic causality, willing to accept that there is almost no genetic cause of IQ even within populations, and wondering what the complex underlying source of variation in intelligence really is. That kind of thinking puts you outside of the mindset of most of the biologists and medics working on this, who are wedded to the genetic paradigm and who thus have only a minimalist sophistry standing between them and the Bell Curve  …

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50 Responses to Race and IQ: how can we dismiss the correlations?

  1. conrad says:

    Paul, I think there probably are genetic influences in IQ (even if just due to random variation), but that trying to look at differences in mean IQs is essentially impossible due to cultural factors (I seem to remember France and Italy differ quite a bit despite being essentially genetically identical, just to show how crazy this is).

    Alternatively, more fun is trying to explain the interactions. The best one of these doesn’t come from the controversial groups, and isn’t much talked about since most of the stuff comes from blacks vs. whites (I think it does get a quick mention in the Bell Curve if I remember correctly from when I read it when it came out ages ago) — this being that if you look at East Asian populations vs. Caucasian ones, then you almost always get an interaction where East Asians have a bigger difference between visuo-spatial vs. verbal skills compared to Caucasians. This apparently occurs even for East Asian groups that have been adopted early in life and live in white-guy countries (there is data on Koreans in Belgium if I remember correctly — not that I’d believe or place too much faith in any of this data given how political it is). I don’t see how one explains this without genetics, although of course I can think of ad-hoc suggestions.

    I don’t think this gets mentioned much, but the no-heritablity crowd obviously don’t like it, and the IQ is all genetic crowd are often white racists, and if you believe that you would also have to concede that East Asians are smarter than Caucasians (since you would then probably believe IQ is a true marker, thus forcing you to accept overall differences too). You will see some crazy stories explaining this from some of these guys (generally ignoring all the overseas adoption data), although I think some are willing to conceded it (I used to work with one. Hans Eysenck I believe was another, as is that crazy BNP leader guy).

    Also, your example of height is poor — I’m under the impression that there are quite decent genetic constraints on height (and morphology), so, for example, we’ll never see 3rd generation Vietnamese looking like Tongans (you could compare differences in growth rates from countries with low bases too test this. This could even be done within countries like China where you have reasonable morphological variation). Also, if you look at populations that haven’t had food problems, then all this stuff about brain size is BS, although some people would disagree and suggest there is some weak correlation if you take the ratio of brain-size/body morphology into account.

    • Paul Frijters says:

      Hi Conrad,

      thanks for the reply. Informative, as usual.

      The height analogy is not perfect as I agree that the case for a genetic component to body types is stronger (musculature), but the analogy is meant to demonstrate how it is possible that it can take many generations for improvements in aggregate circumstances to work its way through the actual average height of the population.
      And, though I didnt mention it, height also is an example of particular genetic mechanisms whose effects work only in particular environments. In casu, being lactose tolerant helps growing tall because of all the nutrients and calcium in milk, but there are of course other ways to get the same nutrients without being lactose tolerant so the genetic advantage of lactose tolerance is only ‘causally’ related to height in particular circumstances.

      This epigenetic stuff creates the possibility of lags that last several generations, so all the studies based on people from one environment who happen to get raised in another (Korean kids in Belgium) also wont necessarily pick up anything genetic.

      • conrad says:

        That difference is found with any number of different groups. It’s generally explained as “working harder”, “motivational difference” etc. . But the reality is you have Korean peasants going to Belgium and showing the same pattern as rich Japanese moving to America, and no doubt we’ll find out that the children of mainland Chinese will show the same pattern as their rich HK relatives also. So I’m not sure that epigenetics can be used as a magic explanation here, even without the evidence, since there is no obvious similarity in the environments of these groups. The other problem with all the epigenetics stuff is that you really need the evidence otherwise people will default to most likely possibility with caveats, which I think is probably genetic.

  2. Julie Thomas says:

    Paul There is a new study on twins and IQ that is very interesting.

    From the WSJ


    “When psychologists first started studying twins, they found identical twins much more likely to have similar IQs than fraternal ones. They concluded that IQ was highly “heritable”—that is, due to genetic differences. But those were all high SES twins. Erik Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and his colleagues discovered that the picture was very different for poor, low-SES twins. For these children, there was very little difference between identical and fraternal twins: IQ was hardly heritable at all. Differences in the environment, like whether you lucked out with a good teacher, seemed to be much more important.

    In the new study, the Bates team found this was even true when those children grew up. IQ was much less heritable for people who had grown up poor. This might seem paradoxical: After all, your DNA stays the same no matter how you are raised. The explanation is that IQ is influenced by education. Historically, absolute IQ scores have risen substantially as we’ve changed our environment so that more people go to school longer.

    Richer children have similarly good educational opportunities, so genetic differences among them become more apparent. And since richer children have more educational choice, they (or their parents) can choose environments that accentuate and amplify their particular skills. A child who has genetic abilities that make her just slightly better at math may be more likely to take a math class, so she becomes even better at math.

    But for poor children, haphazard differences in educational opportunity swamp genetic differences. Ending up in a terrible school or one a bit better can make a big difference. And poor children have fewer opportunities to tailor their education to their particular strengths. …”

    Get it?

    • Paul Frijters says:

      Hi Julie,

      yes, I get it. Indeed, though i hadnt seen this article, I was/am aware of the newer studies questioning the IQ-gene link, particularly via epigenetics.

      The article you link to exemplifies to me though that the authors do not quite know what to make of their own findings: they dont want to let go of the idea that if you find identical twins separated at birth growing up in rich families doing almost the same, then you have somehow proven a genetic causality. So having accepted that genes ‘must be involved’ in IQ, this leaves them a little bit at a loss to explain why heritability is much lower in a certain group, ie the poor. They then end up arguing something quite implausible, which is that for poor people education is almost pure chance. We know from the aggregate that this is not quite true: yes, many more rich kids go to university in the US, but there are still around 10% or so from low SES going to uni, more than enough to get a decent correlation for twins.

      What kind of alternative stories to the ‘education is pure chance’ are there then for their findings? Think of the possibilities that this epigenetics allows you: perhaps what is passed through in the womb within low SES children are traits that are not genetic but that make it almost irrelevant what the educational opportunities are. Perhaps we are simply thinking of a whole set of learning and exploring genes being turned off, perhaps we are talking about some form of impatience and anxiety. Perhaps the epigenetics of those types of mechanisms are more streightforward (on-off in all types of twins) than for pro-learning epigenetics. Effectively, the epigenetics angle gives one a whole degree of freedom to spin theories with. I expect this literature to throw up and test lots of theories!

      • conrad says:

        “The article you link to exemplifies to me though that the authors do not quite know what to make of their own findings”

        Having worked in the same hallway as the first author some years ago, I imagine the reason is that he’s a hardcore genetics is it kind of guy (he did his post-doc with Eysenck), and these results basically go against his harder view. That being said, he published it anyway, so he’s clearly not politically biased (he could have just not published the data).

        • Julie Thomas says:


          “these results basically go against his harder view.”

          Yes, hardline genetics believers are having a hard time coping with the new knowledge that does not support their simplistic view that ‘breeding’ is what is needed to raise the IQ of the human species.

          I check out some of the ‘HBD’ (human biodiversity – oh damn I forgot what the D stands for) blogs and the comments and the major problem it seems to me is their ignorance about the ‘intelligence’ of traditional societies.

          So many people seem stuck on the idea that if a group of people didn’t invent the wheel, didn’t aim to ‘get ahead’ and build ever bigger houses, ‘they’ must be less intelligent than ‘us’.

        • Patrick says:

          I dunno Julie. Maybe they are just “stuck on the idea that if a group of people didn’t invent the wheelinvent life-saving technologies, didn’t aim to ‘get ahead’make life longer and more fulfilling and build ever bigger housesdreams, ‘they’ must be less intelligent than ‘us’.”


        • John Donkey says:

          Whenever the topic of IQ and traditional societies is brought up I can’t help but remember this anecdote from Ben Franklin http://www.wampumchronicles.com/benfranklin.html

          Traditional societies don’t do poorly on IQ tests because they are dumb, they do poorly because the intelligence measured on IQ tests has little to nothing to do with “getting ahead” or even surviving in their world. A “dumb” farmer from Afghanistan will be able to survive and thrive in Afghanistan while you, I or other “intelligent” people will starve, freeze or step on a land mine (This last one is obviously not a hallmark of traditional societies. None the less, from my experience there, the locals have a much better learned avoidance of them than Westerners).

          The bottom line is, IQ tests test what is advantageous in a certain society and that to correlate it with raw intelligence or what is advantageous in all societies is folly.

  3. Julie Thomas says:

    Hi Paul

    I am sure that there is a ‘correlation’ between race and IQ ….but the differences between ‘races’ would be negligible if every child was raised in a culture where each child had the same opportunities to develop their particular variety of ‘intelligence’ and in which the full range of human abilities and not just one sub-set of them, were valuable.

    IQ is not ‘intelligence’ and the IQ tests themselves are problematic. Do you know much about the ‘tests’ that are used and/or the ability of the majority of ‘testers’ to administer them properly? Do you have much faith in the social sciences to be accurately measuring and predicting human abilities? :(

    As you explain, there are many reasons that other ‘races’, who are often people with a co-operative, not a competitive worldview, would not do well on an IQ test in which they are expected to compete like a white man. I have heard the story that one participant asked the tester why she had to work this out by herself when there were other people in the tribe who could do it better. And I realise now that the ability to recognize others abilities is not measured on any IQ test but is an intelligent thing to be able to do.

    But absolutely, I agree that epigenetics is one of the ways we are going to work out how we work.

    Yes, anxiety for sure and I think the idea of some form of ‘impatience’ is on the right track for characterizing the attitude in people that produces ‘failure’ and lack of self-esteem; all the things that make intelligent people appear to deliberately choose to be stupid and lazy.

    The idea of there being a general factor (g) of IQ seems quite robust and I thought this was a reasonable conceptualization of what g could be

    “Various researchers have suggested that g may be simply an index of a general fitness factor – an indirect measure of the mutational load of an organism. The idea is that, while we all carry hundreds of deleterious mutations, some of us carry more than others, or ones with more severe effects. These effects in combination can degrade the biological systems of development and physiology in a general way, rendering them less robust and less able to generate our Platonic, ideal phenotype.”


    There are other blogs on epigenetics at this site.

  4. Matt B says:

    Thanks for a richly thought provoking post. A few responses follow:

    An admittedly simplistic response brings things back to an individual level and the history of discovery in medicine. We’ve learnt a lot from when things go wrong. An individual mutation in an individual gene can cause profound intellectual disability, so to my mind, intellectual capability is absolutely a function of ones genetic make up. Of course, mutations that produce things like phenylketonuria have a strong environmental relationship, but I don’t think this erodes a proposition that genes are important. Moving from individuals to group, races and generations, things are obviously more complex than our current knowledge base can manage, but I don’t think we can throw the genetics out of the window.

    On the intelligence front, I’m attracted to descriptions of knowledge which portray our brains as processing engines par excellence. Knowledge in this context is a dynamic process of interaction between genes, neurones, environment and experience. Little wonder if this is the case that we see differences in how individuals/ groups/ races/ generations respond to the particular environmental stimulus of the IQ test. The significance of the magnitude of these differences are more striking in modern economies – but in some respects these are marginal when one considers the cognitive ability of those even with “low IQ” in terms of what the brain does when it acquires language, learns body control etc.

  5. Julie Thomas says:

    Patrick, you are assuming that ‘they’ didn’t ‘invent’ their own ‘life-saving technologies’. I am assuming that you, like the white men who took the land they were not using, are unable to ‘see’ or recognise traditional technology as ‘real’ technology.

    There was a tv programme on recently in which evidence about the ‘true state’ of longevity and health, and quality of life that the traditional Australians enjoyed – before we came to give them the wheel lol – was provided. This evidence, including film of ‘real’ blackfellas in their natural state – dirty but look at those awesomely healthy and fit bodies – debunk all the old ideas – the received wisdom – that people have about traditional hunter-gatherer life being nasty brutal and short.

    It was called “First Australians”.

    Could you watch that show – 3 episodes I think – particularly the bit where the anthropologists discuss a fossil site containing footprints of a group of blackfellas, men women and children. They have casts of these footprints and bio-mechanical analysis that shows the men are running as fast as U. Bolt.

    • John Donkey says:

      hehe, as I like to say, all those “life saving technologies” would be unnecessary if they didn’t invent “cheap carbohydrates” in the first place! But I digress!

  6. conrad says:

    “But absolutely, I agree that epigenetics is one of the ways we are going to work out how we work.”

    I think we know so little about how genes at a single time-point predict any type of meaningfully complex behavior, this is way way into the future.

    At present, most of the work now gets done looking at single tasks (e.g., genetics involved in short memory), and it turns out to be brutally complex and all we really know about is correlations (versus how one goes from genes to behavior).

    It’s worthwhile noting too that, despite people’s pontifications, it’s actually very easy to think of ways and why different racial groups would have different IQs based on a-priori agreed and known differences.

    For example, most people agree that the reason Southern Chinese don’t drink much is because they can’t and that’s genetic. So boozing isn’t a thrilling part of their culture, unlike many other groups. You just don’t go out and expect to drink most of the time. Now let’s just say there are no other differences at all between them and another group apart from that. Now if we assume that the long term negative affect of alcohol is, say, 6 IQ points, you now have two groups who are genetically different and this interacts with environment and causes quite a meaningful difference between groups.

  7. Paul Frijters says:

    Conrad, Julie,

    yes, I think we are on the same line on this one in that we hope for the same thing and agree its bloody complex: my limited reading of the new stuff also suggests to me that it is incredibly complicated and that these biologists might end up doing what we economists already do, which is to make simplistic representations of what goes on that somewhat fits broader patterns whilst being wrong as soon as they make it precise.

    Still, as a background storyline, the epigenetics (and other womb influences) stuff offers an ‘escape’ of the otherwise classic emphasis on selective breeding to get particular traits. Whether it is true? I dont know. I am hopeful that something like this is true though, simply because Flynn tells me countries make huge strides in IQ when education increases, and the increase ‘somehow’ gets amplified over a few generations.

    Julie, the one thing we might disagree on is the comparability of intelligence. I really don’t think it matters all that much how you define it and what kind of cultural loading you give it: once one is talking about a difference of around 30 IQ points one is talking about an advantage that would surely show up on any mental test you want (giving the participants enough time to prepare, of course!). So whilst I would like to believe that high IQ is not indicative of an inter-cultural comparable intelligence advantage, I actually believe it is indicative.

    • conrad says:

      The Flynn effect is reversing in some places (the US) and flat in others, so I don’t see anymore great gains as likely.

    • John Donkey says:

      I am still convinced that the “Flynn effect” simply measures how much societies improve in intelligence related to IQ rather than raw intelligence. You or I may have an IQ of an early 20th century genius, but that genius probably could build a fire, butcher a hog or deliver a baby better than any of us, skills which IQ does not measure but which would have been pretty important in the early 20th century.

  8. Julie Thomas says:

    I am interested in the epigenetic possibilities since I learned that the egg that created each individual was formed in the mother’s fetus while she was inside the grandmother’s womb.

    The growing complexity and the corresponding detail that will be required to ‘understand’ – or grok if anyone knows that term – this new stuff is awesome and puts me in mind of the ‘meme’ that each PhD discovers more and more about less and less.

    But I am thinking that it is a really good thing to do, to be awed and even daunted by the complexity of it all, rather than thinking we already know it all.

    I agree that there are genetic differences between ‘races’; but I don’t think they are important in understanding why some groups do badly when required to compete against other groups with a different ‘philosophy’ or set of expectations about how a good/intelligent person behaves.

    I’m really sure that the emphasis on co-operation or competition skews personality – and intelligence – in ways that are significant. A more ‘co-operative’ attitude is still the go in some poor families, you know, when possessions are few you have to teach the kids the skills of sharing and co-operating.

    Does IQ explain the difference between the New Guinea groups who developed agriculture and the Australians who did not, even though they were well aware of these methods? Same climate etc in north Qld and New Guinea.

    Is it possible to think that the Australian blackfellas might have actually chosen the sort of ‘agriculture’ they did do – and they did do a version of deliberate agriculture – as a ‘better’ way of living, rather than it being the case that they were less intelligent and unable to see the benefits of the type of agriculture that was being developed in New Guinea, the sort of agriculture that underpinned Western progress?

  9. Mel says:


    I think it is fairly well accepted that many hunter-gatherers new they could engage in agriculture but chose not to since the back-breaking work, problems with pests and plant disease, poorer nutrition and health problems associated with large settlements (sanitation for instance) etc associated with agricultural societies wasn’t much of an incentive.

    Of course in the long run this meant early agricultural people could build up in numbers and easily overrun the H-G land, so as a long term strategy failing to advance wasn’t much chop.

    • John Donkey says:

      I always like to look to this, as the reason why people quit hunting and gathering and began to settle! https://vimeo.com/23278902

      But whether you agree or not, the indigenous aboriginals were sorta ****** when it came with competing with Europeans tech wise; European technology was not exclusively developed by some nordics, it was an amalgamation of European, African, Arab and Asian knowledge which resulted in the guns and steel of the Europeans. Add in some European germs and you have a practical recipe for world dominance. Meanwhile the Aboriginals and other traditional societies had only their own people to rely on, ranging from one twentieth to less than a one hundredth of the amalgamation of the previously mentioned Europeans, Africans, Arabs and Asians. It’s like Tyrion Lannister Battling Hulk Hogan.

  10. Julie Thomas says:

    For sure Mel that is one way of explaining their choice. But perhaps someone like me with a more ‘sympathetic’ understanding and appreciation of their culture might have an alternative explanation.

    I think they clearly had a commitment to a co-operative way of life and had ‘proven’ to themselves over the thousands of years they lived here without any ‘warfare’ that co-operation was the way to live well and prosper.

    And lets get that straight also; they did not make ‘war’ on each other or anyone else. There were high levels of inter-personal violence – they wacked each other, and the kids were raised to respond to personal insults with physical violence – but they did not go to war to compete with other groups.

    There was no warfare in their culture and warfare is when we need alpha males and have a reason to put up with their bullshit.

  11. Mel says:


    “And lets get that straight also; they did not make ‘war’ on each other or anyone else. ”

    Not sure why you would say that Julie since I think it is pretty well established that warfare was almost constant in indig Australia (and probably most other societies until fairly recently), for instance A raiding B for women and payback. Many of the old animosities still live on and sometimes boil over into violence.

    I’m very sympathetic to the plight of indig Australians as well but you can’t understand their plight or have insight into how it might improve if you obliterate the facts.

  12. Julie Thomas says:


    Over my little tantrum this morning and don’t really care whether you stick to your interpretation of the ‘facts’ or what ‘warfare’ is. Raiding of women can of course be called ‘war’ if you are a boy and like that sort of thing. I’d just like to call it interpersonal violence and leave the war word for intergroup violence when real ‘property’ was at stake.

    I think it is a white male :) thing to believe that all humans everywhere until now, thought of women as ‘property’. Women anthropologists have a different idea about the original culture being male dominated but some people think that women anthropologists do not find ‘real’ facts and that I am in denial; just a hopeless female romanticising the reality of it all.

    But if you read around – read a woman anthropologist – you might be able to put a different spin on the woman stealing. As I understand it they could come back if they didn’t like being stolen.

    Not suggesting that it was a nice easy life, or it was a preferable life – that is such a stereotype that people like me want to go back and live like that. I do think there was a lot of very very intelligent things they did to raise people who enjoyed co-operating. All those carefully structured initiation rituals – totally meant to weed out the difficult people and ensure they maintained the status quo.

    Just for you on this Sunday arvo – hope you like jazz. Main thing is to check out the bass player.


  13. Mel says:

    Julie T:

    ” As I understand it they could come back if they didn’t like being stolen.”

    Good Lord. Aboriginal women were chattels forced into marriage almost always at a young age with older men. It was only a couple of years ago that a judge let an Aboriginal Elder off with nothing more than a warning after he stuck his cock in the anus of a child promised to him in marriage and claimed (correctly) that this was customary behavior. That decision was overturned on appeal, you may recall.

    Indigenous women were routinely battered and raped prior to colonisation and still are, with indig women over 30 times more likely than other women to be hospitalised after an assault.

    The are hundreds of accounts in the historical record such as this, quoted by Nowra in Bad Dreaming:

    The warriors turned their murderous attention to the women and older children and either clubbed or speared them to death. Finally, according to the grim custom of warriors and avengers they broke the limbs of the infants, leaving them to die ‘natural deaths’. The final number of the dead could well have reached the high figure of 80 to 100 men, women and children.

    Many other reports from dozens of different authors commenting on customs from Cape York to Tasmania detail how very few indigenous tribal women were without extensive head injuries occasioned by bashings with waddies etc..

    There is nothing controversial about this extensively and exhaustively documented finding.

  14. Julie Thomas says:

    Good Grief Mel you are a racist old fart.

  15. Mel says:

    Nope. Obviously you are too immature and unstable to have an adult conversation so I’ll leave things there.

  16. Julie Thomas says:

    Mel, And an insightful older man like yourself would of course have no issues with ‘sex’ and women? But, unfortunately, there are many older blokes out there who were raised in sexually repressive times by sexually repressed people in a sexually repressed culture who have really weird ideas about women and sex and particularly about black men and their sexuality.

    So Watkins Tench saw women with scars on their heads. I have a scar on my head that came from a white man’s hand. 3 stitches. Then, you can read this for an idea of the level of white man violence in our superior society.

    ” every week a woman is murdered by her partner or ex-partner.”


    Like I said earlier, you need to read a lot of stuff to get an idea of what it was ‘really’ like, of the complexity of the Aboriginal culture and the intelligent creative ways that these people dealt with the problems of human nature and the creation of a stable and satisfying society.

    There are many many eye-witness accounts that show that your selections of gross sexual violence against women were not the norm and were more likely to be manifestations of the dysfunctional ‘culture’ that developed after the destruction of the original functional society.

    The fact that you believe these negative stories without question and interpret them as being evidence that the blackfellas were stupid and their culture less than worthless is racist to my mind. Your insistence that this aspect of their previous culture is the basis of their troubles today is really racist and conveniently absolves you of any responsibility.

    There is no doubt that the levels of inter-personal violence were high and are not something that anyone would choose if they knew there was a choice. My original point was about warfare type violence.

    So there is just one eye witness account from a collection of letters and stories by various travellers on the Darling Downs in the late 1800’s.

    Thomas Hall (1844-1928), was a settler who had attended the university of Aberdeen, who made friends with the local blackfellas. In his chapter after describing ‘The Bora’ as he calls it, the final ceremony in the initiation procedure through which the boys become men, he writes:

    “This was the proudest day of their lives for the simple reason that they could call themselves men, and now had the privilege of getting married if a woman chose to ask them, on completion of the tribal mark and tattooing. No man ever proposed marriage. ……….”

    “As far as I could learn from (Darby) the king there was an equally strict test carried out by the female councillors of this tribe, ragarding the duties of the females from woman hood. More than this I never knew.”

    Does that sound like any of the scenarios you choose to think are normal hunter-gatherer ways of apportioning women? You need to read outside your comfort zone. Go to the library and find books with the Aboriginal flag on the spine. Read any of them and don’t read anything by Windschuttle.


  17. Mel says:

    I’ll ignore the troll.

    The owner of the American Conservative magazine, Ron Unz, wrote a book called Race, IQ and Wealth last year that caused quite a stir. Unz looks at how certain European groups, such as the Irish, were once considered almost subhumanly stupid and how they scored poorly in IQ tests. The situation was such that the learned American broadsheets a century and a half ago run articles on whether letting the Irish etc in would pollute the gene pool. At the time of course, the Irish were mostly dirt poor and poorly educated.

    Unz also challenges much of Richard Lynn’s research.

    I think Unz is correct; races are in essence extended familial groups and they may differ a bit on this and that on for genetic reasons but culture and environment broadly defined are probably much more important at the group level. I can’t help but note for example how some of my Australian born Vietnamese nephews are six foot one or two with fathers more like five foot eight or nine.

    My pet theory is that that violence and fear in early life, including the family violence that was universally common until very recently (see Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature for instance) may have impacted cognitive development and surprise IQ.

  18. Mel says:

    oops, I meant – suppressed IQ

  19. Gummo Trotsky says:

    Suppose you wanted to believe, as I do, that intelligence and vague ‘racial groups’ are, on the whole, unrelated from a long-run perspective.

    Paul – here are a few suggestions from someone who firmly believes the same thing you want to believe and wants to maintain that belief. I’ve no idea of how many there will be, so I’ll number them as I go along:

    1. Don’t compromise your position with a wimpy title: this is blogging, not refereed academic publication. You’re allowed to declare a position in the your title. You’re allowed to do a lot of other things too – such as being a bit of a smart arse. Make contact with your inner sub-editor. IMHO This post’s title should have read ‘Race and IQ: how can we refute the so-called correlations?’
    2. Don’t compromise your position by belittling your possible counter arguments: as in they’re not ‘put-downs’. They’re arguments. Or – since this is blogging – slap downs or any really impressively violent WWE manouvre you can think of at the time of writing.
    3. Carpe Jugulum (i.e ‘Go for the throat’). Of course first you have to identify where the throat is but then you can do some serious throttling, ripping out of with the teeth – whatever takes your fancy.
    So, where is the throat when it comes to race and IQ?
    Consider this – I’m (me writing quite personally and directly) no more interested in discussing the relation between genetics and IQ than I am in discussing the causes of the fabled correlation between deaths by dr9owning and ice cream sales. Why not? Because the normal distribution of IQ scores is a deliberately created statistical artifact. That’s an opinion that I can defend, it’s also an opinion that can be refuted.
    Where’s my defence?
    Well, what method, other than IQ tests, do we have for measuring IQ? If you can’t repeat the results of an IQ test with another, completely different method but only another IQ test, IQ test results are not repeatable except by other IQ tests. There’s a very obvious problem there, ain’t there?

    I’ll skip the other comments that might be considered offensively normative.

    • Paul frijters says:

      Thanks for the advice, Gummo, but I don’t blog to be a journalist, nor am I able to just dismiss ideas I don’t want to be true as easily as you can. I truly do agonise over such puzzles and keep umming and ahing about them until I arrive at a synthesis I can believe in. We thus differ, which doesn’t bother me much.

  20. Mel says:

    Gummo T:

    “Because the normal distribution of IQ scores is a deliberately created statistical artifact. ”


    I’m thinking stats was not your strong point at school, Gummo. I imagine the cause of your error is bewilderment occasioned by the calibration of IQ tests to a mean of 100.

  21. Gummo Trotsky says:

    I imagine the cause of your error is bewilderment occasioned by the calibration of IQ tests to a mean of 100.

    And, in the same spirit, I’m thinking that English – particularly English comprehension – wasn’t your strongpoint at school. IQ tests are not calibrated to a mean of 100: they are scaled or standardised to produce a mean of 100 with around 95% of the population within two standard deviations of the mean. Can’t be bothered what that makes the standard deviation.

    Anyway either:

    The scaling is a pragmatic methodological measure to enable the use of parametric statistics to test hypotheses about the distribution of IQ scores within the population. In which case all this Bell Curve bullshit is just that – bullshit;

    The scaling is based on an untested a priori assumption that the aggregation of cognitive skills measured by the test scores is, as an aggregation, normally distributed within the population.

    Either way your comment is vacuous – it’s just obvious and gratuitous boot sinking with no content that has any worthwhile logical truth value.

  22. conrad says:

    Gummo, if you bumped into someone with an IQ of 80 and compared that to someone with an IQ of 120, you would surely notice the difference, so there is some validity to the measures (and if they had a verbal IQ of 80, you wouldn’t be here discussing it with them). To me, they are also very useful for some things, even at the group level. If your country was doing poorly on the visual-spatial part of the scale (say everyone averaged 80), you would have a very hard time sustaining engineering, IT and other such industries unless you could get immigrants to do these things, and you want to think long and hard about they way and what you were teaching your kids.

  23. perplexed says:

    A great post. Intrigued by your comment on “a very politically correct James Flynn”.
    I had Jim as a lecturer in political studies way..way back. Hugely inspirational. Can still ‘hear’ his commendations of Nietzsche, Hobbes, Rousseau..
    But I doubt even the current US Obama administration could buy his leanings as politically correct, but I understand your reference in this context. To me Flynn is way up there with Karl Popper as ikons of political tolerance that NZ can be proud of though it was probably accidental.

    • Paul Frijters says:

      yes, I met Flynn at a NZ conference a few years back in which he was clearly agonising desperately over this Bell Curve argument (whose authors he took very seriously). You could tell he really wanted to find the ‘flaw’ in their arguments but was having a hard time convincing the scientific part of his nature to do it. That is indeed why I would label him politically correct: even more so than me, I think he really really wants to believe there is nothing racial about intelligence because there is an inevitable slide towards ‘selective breeding’ choices by individuals and groups if there is.

  24. Mel says:


    IQ tests are not calibrated to a mean of 100: they are scaled or standardised to produce a mean of 100 with around 95% of the population within two standard deviations of the mean.


    Calibrate: To check, adjust, or determine by comparison with a standard (FreeDictionary)

    The standardisation, calibration or whatever you want to call it does not have any relationship to what percentage of the population fall within a standard deviation of the mean. Come on mate, this is Year 9 stats.

  25. john r walker says:

    Paul We are on the road heading for the far west , wilcannia and the like, will be brief. My quibble is that ‘race’ with a few exceptions is a very artificial construct. People have been mass migrating for thousands of years, the Huns the Visigoths, the mongols, are simply some of the better known examples. There are a few places such as Australia and parts of africa , prior to C18, that had relatively little mixing but they are not exactly the norm. Therefore I question the idea that there is a clear enough separation between the groups , genetically, to allow definite conclusions to be made.

  26. conrad says:

    It basically says that you can categorize people in terms of differing genetics, and these categories are not too far removed from people’s stereotypes. That being said, it doesn’t tell you anything about what the differences do, and since things like physical characteristics are believed to change much faster than other things (most of which have almost no pressure on them to change), it doesn’t tell you whether there are any differences in genetics that play a role in thought.

    • john walker says:

      obviously a difference of 25 IQ points does have consequences, however in the case of measurable differences between ‘races’, how many points are we talking about….

      • conrad says:

        There are huge differences between countries (some poor countries have an average less than 80). It represents an interesting challenge for these countries — how to get a decent education system going with few well educated people. Some of this is a social problem — how to stop gross sexism which stops women getting educated and all the consequences that emerge from that.

        • john walker says:

          A “country” with a IQ averaging 80 (ps what is the median?)does suggest that IQ is measuring something that is not, simply a inheritable genetic trait…. much of culture and thus intelligence is in the complex web of ‘things’ external to us, no?

          PS Today saw the fossil tracks of a giant sea scorpion, wonder what it would make of us.

        • John Donkey says:

          Have you tried living in one of these “low IQ” countries? I’m sure someone of your “high IQ” would have no trouble at all not only surviving but thriving in them. Or maybe not, because what is needed in these “low IQ” societies might be a teeny, weeny bit different that what it takes to do well in a “high IQ” society like your own. For example abstract thinking might be quite important in Sydney, but not nearly as important as knowing which berries are poisonous in rural Papua New Guinea.

  27. conrad says:

    I don’t think anyone denies it is complex and genetics is just part of it — probably the part that gets focused on far too much. For example, if you look at Caucasian groups who have much the same genetics, there are countries over 100 and countries in the low 80s.

    If you’re looking at the lower countries, you’re basically seeing the effect of very poor education systems, and systems where women never get a good education yet are still responsible for most early learning activities with children. Combine these two and you get a population that never achieves anything like its potential.

  28. john walker says:

    curious, in countries where the average IQ is “80” what is the median?

  29. aidan says:

    Poverty is a greater malign influence than gestational exposure to crack cocaine


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