Saturday, July 28, 2012

More on Race, IQ, and Wealth

Cover page of American Conservative, a megaphone for dubious science? (source)

My comments on Ron Unz’s article “Race, IQ, and Wealth” have led to further exchanges between myself and Ron. There seem to be two sticking points:

  1. Ron is more like a military strategist than an academic. In other words, the goal is already decided on, and all that remains is to work out the best strategy for reaching that goal. For him, the optimal strategy is to find the weakest point in the enemy’s defenses and to hammer away at it relentlessly. Once that soft spot is breached, the entire defense line will collapse.

  1. Ron sees only “perfect” evidence and “imperfect” evidence (which must be discarded).  This may be just naiveté on his part. Actually, there is no such thing as perfect evidence. There is only evidence with varying degrees of imperfection, and a good academic should view all data with a wary eye, even "Gold Standard" stuff. By the same token, one should not dismiss data that have a high degree of “noise,” unless a better dataset is available.  Such evidence is still useful for picking out general trends and formulating hypotheses for further study.

The following is our exchange of views:

Ron Unz here,

Let me focus upon a single experimental datapoint, of which there actually exist a considerable number. Lynn provides three Irish IQ samples: a 1972 sample of 3,466 yielding an IQ of 87, a 1993 sample of 1,361 yielding an IQ of 93, and another 1993 sample of 2,029 yielding an IQ of 91. These are all very large samples. There is also another minuscule 1979 sample of 75 which (unsurprisingly) yields an outlying value. All these results are Flynn-adjusted by Lynn.

[…] However, in America Irish these days have IQs slightly above the white average, and in Europe the recent PISA scores for Ireland are also right around those for Germany, France, and Britain.

Now my hypothesis is that the huge recent rise in Irish IQs is probably due to changes in urbanization and socio-economic factors. But perhaps I'm entirely wrong. So, then, what is the alternate hypothesis explaining these wildly different Irish IQ scores across  just a 35 year period?

[Answer to question about how one defines “American Irish” ]

Being "Irish" is based on self-identification and reporting, so I'd certainly expect that most of the "American Irish" aren't "pure Irish."

But none of that makes a difference. If the Irish had an actual, innate, genetic IQ of 87, and this figure was not subject to rapid change under socio-economic influences, there would be *massive* evidence of this in American society.

For example, something like 15% of all the Irish in America would have IQs below 70, and would be subject to clinical mental retardation. Do you really believe that 15% of all American Irish are mentally retarded?

Okay, maybe lots of those Irish aren't pure Irish, and are part German or Italian or something. Well, according to Lynn the (South) Italian IQ is around 89, so that wouldn't really help much. But anyway, we'd still be seeing millions of mentally-retarded Irish-Americans. Do you believe that?

Here's another point. During the 1970s, the Wordsum-IQ gap between rural whites and urban/suburban whites was almost exactly the same as the black/white gap. Again, that implies that something like 10% of all white farmboys during the 1970s were mentally retarded. Do you really believe that?

Finally, as I've pointed out, between the 1980s and the 2000s, roughly 61% of the Wordsum-IQ gap between white Americans and American-born Mex-Ams disappeared due to an enormous rise in the Wordsum-IQ of the latter group. These are hard, empirical facts. Perhaps my explanation is entirely wrong. But what is your alternate explanation?


You're pointing at weak evidence as a way to undermine strong evidence. A single IQ test, even with a large sample, is at best a rough indication. The main problem is sample bias. Is the sample truly representative? If the sample comes from a school classroom, you have the problem of absenteeism. Truants tend to be problem students, so the higher the rate of absenteeism, the higher will be the IQ score.

Even if the sample is representative, there are other sources of bias: the amount of coaching for the test and the way the test is presented. These sources of bias may cancel each other out. Or maybe not. One thing is sure: they increase the amount of noise in the data. In your case, you had three data points: 87, 91, and 93. You focused on the lowest of the three figures. How come? Why not take an average? Even then, I would still be skeptical.

I am even more skeptical of your recent data on "Irish Americans." There is no such population. There are simply a lot of people with varying amounts of Irish ancestry. "Irish Americans" are increasingly people who take an interest in Irish music, culture, and history, and such people tend to be more educated than average. Another factor is that people tend to identify with the branch of their family tree that has a stronger sense of ethnic identity. If a person is part English and part Irish, they tend to identify as Irish. But if a person has equal contributions of African and Irish ancestry (like Mariah Carey), they tend to identify as African American.

Finally, Wordsum is not IQ. It has a correlation of 71% with standard IQ tests, which in turn have a correlation of 50 to 75% with innate intelligence. So we are already two steps removed from any genetically transmitted factors.

This is a recurring problem with your line of argument. You present "A" and try to pass it off as "B", hoping that no one will notice the difference.

Ron Unz here:

Don't be ridiculous, Peter. Please do read my arguments more carefully.

(1) The PISA tests are very widely regarded as one of the best current means of estimating the IQs of European countries, certainly by my sharpest critics. If you look at the PISA scores for Ireland, they are almost exactly the same as those for Britain, Norway, Denmark, France, Sweden, and several other European countries. That almost certainly implies that Ireland's current IQ is quite close to 100.

Now an enormous IQ sample provided by Lynn placed Ireland's 1972 IQ at just 87, and Lynn has explicitly confirmed this by stating that his years of late 1960s personal research in Ireland convinced him that the Irish were a low-IQ people, whose only hope lay in a heavy eugenics program. So unless a huge sample and Lynn are both wrong, this is probably correct.

Therefore, some unknown factor—I strongly suspect urbanization—apparently caused a massive rise in Irish IQ between 1972 and today. Further evidence for this rise is shown by the fact that at the half-way point—the early 1990s—two additional huge IQ tests provided by Lynn placed the Irish IQ at around 92, exactly half-way between those two endpoint values.

Bear in mind, that all of these Irish results are about as "Gold Standard" as you can find anywhere—huge IQ samples, Lynn's years of personal research, and PISA. None of it has anything to do with partial Irish ancestry or Wordsum. But the fact that these Ireland Irish results are totally consistent with the separate Irish-American Wordsum results certainly doesn't weaken my case.

(2) Here's another example: Poland. The 1989 Polish IQ results quoted by Lynn are based on the largest sample he's found anywhere, over 4000 individuals. The Flynn-adjusted Polish IQ was 92. Yet just 20 years later, Poland had precisely the same PISA scores as Britain, France, Norway, Sweden, etc, all which Lynn claims have IQs of around 100. How do you explain this?

(3) Essentially, your perspective seems to be that we should just throw away all the Lynn/Vanhanen IQ tests which you don't like---many of which tend to be the largest ones---and keep the ones you do. Or perhaps you're just suggesting we should bite the bullet and throw away ALL of the Lynn/Vanhanen data, and therefore base all our estimates of European IQs on "personal intuition." If that's not what you're saying, please do clarify.


A PISA test suffers from the same problem I pointed out earlier. It's based  on students in a classroom. It excludes those students who weren't around on the day of the test. I'm not talking about a small proportion of the youth population either.

And a PISA test is not an IQ test. Like WordSum, its results correlate with those of IQ tests, which in turn correlate with genetic factors that influence human intelligence. Again, you're trying to pass off "C" as "A" by using the argument that C correlates with B and B correlates with A.

The IQ data compiled by Lynn provide weak evidence for heritability of IQ.  There is a lot of noise in that kind of data.  And much of that noise will not be squeezed out by large sample sizes. If there is a bias in participant recruitment, that bias will distort a big sample as surely as it will distort a small one.

With respect to the Polish data, we have the same phenomenon that we see with the East German data. IQ scores were lower during the Communist era than they are today. The most likely explanatory factor is truancy. It is much easier for problem students to skip classes today than it was back then. During the communist era, truants were sent to detention centres that were little more than prisons. No one wanted to go to those places. If you were a pretty boy, you would have to become a "wife" for one of the alpha males.

You ask me:

Your perspective seems to be that we should just throw away all the Lynn/Vanhanen IQ tests which you don't like---many of which tend to be the largest ones---and keep the ones you do. Or perhaps you're just suggesting we should bite the bullet and throw away ALL of the Lynn/Vanhanen data, and therefore base all our estimates of European IQs on "personal intuition." If that's not what you're saying, please do clarify.

Gladly. Lynn's IQ data are useful for picking out general trends that should be confirmed by more controlled studies. Unlike certain people, I don't ignore evidence that doesn't fit my preconceived ideas. I try to explain it as best I can, or I simply describe it as an unresolved problem.

As I said earlier, I view Lynn's work with some caution. This doesn't mean I reject it out of hand. Nor do I accept it uncritically. I do the sort of things that most academics do. I check the sources, I look at related studies by other authors, and I examine the data from as many angles as possible.

Ron Unz here:

Look, Peter. I don't claim to be an IQ expert. I'm just someone who looks at the data reported by the people who supposedly ARE IQ experts and then applies a little common sense and pattern-recognition.

Everyone seems to say that Lynn is one of the biggest IQ experts, and his book is filled with IQ studies.  Perhaps the ones with tiny sample sizes shouldn't be taken seriously, but the Irish and Polish ones are among the *largest* studies he reports.  If I can't believe any of his large IQ studies, or what he concluded from his years of personal research in Ireland, then maybe I should just throw away all his books and say that IQ obviously doesn't exist.

Well, you say I shouldn't trust any of Lynn's IQ studies.  Fine, so then I'll look at the Wordsum-IQ data from the GSS.  But then you say I shouldn't use Wordsum, because it's not really IQ, just (supposedly) has a 0.71 correlation with IQ.  Everyone else discussing IQ tends to use Wordsum as a rough proxy, but you say I shouldn't.

Okay, then maybe I'll use the international PISA results. Volkmar Weiss, who's supposedly another very big IQ expert, wrote a whole article in which he discussed PISA scores as useful proxies for IQ:

But you say I shouldn't use PISA.

So now I can't use Lynn's IQ studies, I can't use Wordsum in the U.S., and I can't use PISA worldwide.  Then what's left?  Suppose I ask you the simple question "What's the estimated IQ of Ireland?"---how would YOU figure out the answer...


I would answer: "I don't know." I would also point out that none of the existing data on Irish IQ involve twin or adoption studies. All we have is data from classroom IQ tests and more distal sources like PISA. The existing evidence is nonetheless interesting and I would like to see more controlled studies done.

In any argument, there will always be weaker evidence and stronger evidence. A common debating tactic is to focus on the weaker evidence and create the impression that it is somehow central to the entire argument. With enough hand-waving, one might win the debate. This was, in fact, your line of attack in the American Conservative article:

Yet an objective review of the Lynn/Vanhanen data almost completely discredit the Lynn/Vanhanen "Strong IQ Hypothesis." If so many genetically-indistinguishable European populations—of roughly similar cultural and historical background and without severe nutritional difficulties—can display such huge variances in tested IQ across different decades and locations, we should be extremely cautious about assuming that other ethnic IQ differences are innate rather than environmental, especially since these may involve populations separated by far wider cultural or nutritional gaps.

In my opinion, this kind of debating strategy is unworthy of you. We're not here to engage in courtroom theatrics. We're here to find out the truth.


Unz, R. (2012). Race, IQ, and Wealth, The American Conservative, July 18.


Anonymous said...

I think Ron makes some good points.

I'd be interested about his take on the black-white gap. Blacks are not a rural population by any means and as you've indicated we have adoption studies for them.

Shawn said...

It would be interesting to see twin adoption studies with Mexicans. I am not sure if they exist however.

Sean said...

Nathaniel Weyl gives the three states having the highest white failure rate on the Armed Forces Qualification Test of 1968 as - Kentucky (14.8 %), Tennessee (14.2 %), and West Virginia (13.4 %). Some of the founder stock of these areas derives from runaway Irish slaves and indentured labourers. Are these the most rural states?

It seems to me that there are states which are far more rural but had lower white failure rates. By the way, Weyl blamed (highly rural) Maine's failure rate (8.8 %) on French Canadian immigrants!

Heterozygosity for Tay-Sachs disease in non-Jewish Americans with ancestry from Ireland or Great Britain."

Average Joe said...

Nathaniel Weyl gives the three states having the highest white failure rate on the Armed Forces Qualification Test of 1968 as - Kentucky (14.8 %), Tennessee (14.2 %), and West Virginia (13.4 %). Some of the founder stock of these areas derives from runaway Irish slaves and indentured labourers.

Actually these people are more likely to be "Scots-Irish" than Irish Catholic. Irish Catholics are more commonly found in places such as Massachusetts, New York and other parts of the northeast.

Sean said...

Average Joe, The earliest population in mountainous parts of the three stupidest states was the Melungeons. They originated from the mating of white women, often Irish, and Africans on Virginia plantations.

The immigration into Appalachia from Ulster (ethnically north British) was later, from about 1700.

Peter Fros_ said...


In his article, Ron says that the black-white gap may be due to the same factors that cause differences in European IQ (which he attributes to differences in nutrition and the Flynn effect).

I don't think either factor is responsible for the inter-European differences. The lower IQ of communist era regimes is probably due to lower truancy rates (and hence a more representative sample of the student population). The other differences seem to be just "noise." They're distributed randomly and probably represent differences in the kind of IQ test used, the kind of language used (a significant factor in many European countries where the written language and the spoken language are quite different), and the amount of prior coaching.

What is unnerving about Unz's article, is that he presents his findings as having earth-shaking implications. In fact the high level of noise in the data is fully in line with what one would expect.

Kiwiguy said...

Chuck has looked at more data on this debate.

"I looked at the performance of third generation Hispanics in the NLSY 97. Below, ASVAB is the AFQT and PIAT is the Peabody Individual Achievement Test, which was given to different waves in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. I aggregated the PIAT scores across years. The race/ethnic and generation scores are normed on those of Whites (in italics). For both tests, the White-Hispanic gap dropped to 0.5 SD by the third generation. It appears that Ron Unz’s mysterious “prominent rightwing blogger” was not in error, at least if discussion is restricted to the relative performance of 3rd generation Hispanics. (I defined “3rd generation” as noted below.) Search variables and sources are noted. (Lest you ask, the large reduction in numbers going from the full sample (“ALL”) to the 3rd generation sample was largely due to missing information.)"

Hispanics, the NLSY 97

Also, TIMMS, PISA, & Age Health data Hispanic Performance by Generation

Beyond Anon said...

I don't think Ron Unz is interested in the truth. Rather, he is interested in the convenient "truth."

It is very clear that Mexicans and African Americans are no where near as intelligent, on average, as whites and East Asians.

More over, Mexicans have nutrition level that are similar to those of Americans, so it is hard to claim that they will make large gains.

Beyond Anon said...

Heh, heh.

I work in Silicon Valley.

We see lots of Chinese, Indians (some very dark) and Caucasians.

We see very few African Americans and Mexicans. They are just not cut out for it.

Doesn't bother me. I speak Chinese well enough that I can move to China to follows the jobs.

Sean said...

Ron said, "Do you really believe that 15% of all American Irish are mentally retarded?"

The average white with an IQ below 70 has bearing and behavior that is abnormal. In other populations those with IQ's below 70 seem more normal and even 'bright'. The army test requirements initially rejected Muhammad Ali (whose great grandfather was Irish) because he had an IQ of 78. Ali represented himself well and could talk!

Jensen noted that teachers refused to believe African Americans' IQ correctly reflected their intelligence because they were personable and bright (eg could learn the names of everyone in the school in a remarkable short time). Wikipedia says: "Level I, or associative learning, may be defined as retention of input and rote memorization of simple facts and skills. Level II, or conceptual learning, is roughly equivalent to the ability to manipulate and transform inputs, that is, the ability to solve problems. Jensen concluded that Level I abilities were distributed equally among members of all races, but that Level II occurred with significantly greater frequency among whites and Asian-Americans than among African-Americans and Mexican-Americans."

Irish of very low IQ may well seem more normal than they are because they have a full share of Level I (and blarney).

Lets look at the other side of Ron's question. If Irish Americans have similar IQs to Scottish Americans they should have a similar number of geniuses. They don't. Moreover many eminent 'Irish Americans' were nothing of the kind; Henry Ford for example had nary a drop of Irish blood.

And another thing, if rural living leads to low IQ there should be a shortage of super brains who grew up on a farm. There isn't. 'Many Bell Labs scientists, including Brattain, Kelly and the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles H. Townes, who helped develop the principles of the laser, grew up on farms or in small towns, which Dr. Townes argued were the perfect “training grounds for experimental physics.” Such childhoods, he contended, taught a person how to “pay attention to the natural world, to work with machinery and to know how to solve practical problems and fix things innovatively, with what is on hand.”'

Peter Fros_ said...


This is an apples and oranges comparison. In New York City, third-generation hispanics are overwhelmingly Puerto Rican with some Cuban exiles. First-generation hispanics are much more Dominican and Mexican.

So the data could reflect the effects of assimilation. Or it could be an ethnic difference. Impossible to tell.

Anonymous said...

"And another thing, if rural living leads to low IQ there should be a shortage of super brains who grew up on a farm."

If it's environmental. However if it's a side-effect of a low breeding population then it will vary with the size of the breeding population.

Xu said...

As someone said on an email list:

"You don't get it, do you? Unz is not in the disinterested pursuit of truth business. He's in the magazine / shaping public opinion business. You could provide him with 2 mountains of data showing all his his assertions are wrong and he'd keep writing the same nonsense. He's more missionary than scholar and, although not a Zionist per se, he has the same fanatical zeal for his causes (such as flooding the US with mestizos)."

Anonymous said...

questions for Unz might be:

why the spectacular absence of Hispanics who could conceivably be regarded as intellectually brilliant? Or even a passable version thereof with sufficient media distortion (who is the Mexican-American Cornel West? Sonia Sotomayor is startlingly dull)

And: why does Unz avoid the topic of black IQ with a 10 foot pole?

Assuming societal changes in Ireland did in fact lead to rapidly rising IQ, then why have the spectacular upheavals affecting blacks worldwide over the past century – and especially in the US – not made more than a small dent in low black IQ?

Is it possible that as a result of the enormous efforts and inputs of the past 50 years, African Americans have ALREADY peaked, i.e. achieved everything there IQ potential makes possible?

Is it possible that A) societal factors may suppress cognitive ability, but that at the same time, B) the “ceilings” respectively for different populations are very different?

Isn't distribution incredibly important? After all, men and women have the same average IQ, but at the upper reaches of IQ, men outnumber women by as much as 8:1.

Assuming spectacular efforts do successfully result in Mexican-American IQ averages in the 90s, must this necessarily result in a significant number of Mexican-Americans having IQs above 120?

Sean said...

On his website Ron characterizes the debate as between Lynnists and Gouldians. Wikipedia says Gould was "one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation". (Gould appeared on the Simpsons 'The episode received very positive reviews and is often considered one of the best episodes in the history of the series') No one in the mainstream has never heard of Lynn. Moreover it is not obvious Lynn takes the extreme position implied by Ron, as Professor Pinker pointed out saying that he was "basically assuming that Lynn is either an idiot or a fanatical ideologue." and "Also, I have never, ever, ever seen anyone claim that the heritability of IQ is 1.0 – have you? Yet that is the position you are calling the “Strong IQ” hypothesis.

"GDP-generating city life might prime us for “the strongly abstract and analytical thinking required on an IQ test.”"(favorable article in Boston Globe)

Do urban dwellers have better nutrition (including pre natal nutrition from mother) than rural dwellers? People on farms eat well. (Pre famine, the Irish were taller than the English). Urban dwellers are more likely to get diseases too. I doubt watching TV improves tested IQ. Reading something complex that requires effort to 'follow the thread' is more likely to improve tested IQ I think.

Anonymous said...

"Do urban dwellers have better nutrition (including pre natal nutrition from mother) than rural dwellers? People on farms eat well. (Pre famine, the Irish were taller than the English). Urban dwellers are more likely to get diseases too."

Yes, i think this may have flipped over time.

Assume for the sake of argument inbreeding depression is one factor and general healthiness is another then at one point "rural" might have meant healthy but inbred and "urban" outbred but unhealthy - for the poor if not the prosperous - switching as time went on and the unhealthiness of the towns was reduced.

Sean said...

The Amish don't score low on IQ tests. They are more rural and inbred than any other population in the US.

Sarah said...

Unz blown out of the water:

It's a shame that pixels had to be wasted to refute Unz's ridiculously shallow essay.

Anonymous said...

"The Amish don't score low on IQ tests. They are more rural and inbred than any other population in the US."

Then their marriage pattern would be very interesting.

Anonymous said...

The Amish forbid first cousin marriage, fwiw.

Anonymous said...

"The Amish forbid first cousin marriage, fwiw."

Yes, a quick google shows they have an exogamous (personal choice based) marriage pattern within the endogamous limits of their religion which i think minimizes the effect of a low total population.

When i said

"However if it's a side-effect of a low breeding population then it will vary with the size of the breeding population."

I should have said it's a combination of population size and marriage culture.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Ron has responded to Lynn and Nyborg

Anonymous said...

Henry Ford was Irish-American. Why would someone suggest otherwise unless they hold an anti-Irish bias.

Anonymous said...

I believe that using detailed DNA analysis in combination with IQ and other intelligence studies would give even deeper insight into the genetic roots of intelligence. I find the Irish case very interesting. Irish test results have improved dramatically. Over the decades Ireland itself has made enormous gains in every facet of life, including income, quality of life, standard of living etc...ranking Ireland up there with other countries that share a close genetic ancestry. These countries include Britain and other Western European nations, which also share similar results in intelligence scores. Ultimately Ireland simply caught up to their close genetic relatives. They are reaching their genetic potential. This does not mean that all genetic populations of people have the same genetic potential. I think the evidence is that they don't.