Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Canada's moral panic


Kamloops Indian Residential School, 1930 (Wikicommons, Archives Deschâtelets-NDC)



Last May, ground-penetrating radar revealed the existence of 215 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, apparently the remains of Indigenous children who had once lived there. A moral panic swept across Canada. How could so many children have died at a boarding school? The answer seemed obvious:


Turpel-Lafond also has questions about how these children died given the rampant sexual and physical abuse documented in residential schools.


"There may be reasons why they wouldn't record the deaths properly and that they weren't treated with dignity and respect because that was the whole purpose of the residential school ... to take total control of Indian children, to remove their culture, identity and connection to their family" (Dickson and Watson 2021)


The school had been run by a Catholic order, and the following weeks saw dozens of Catholic churches set afire across Western Canada, to the acclaim of tweets from journalists and lawyers — "Burn it all down!" The Prime Minister waited several days before saying that such destruction is "not the way to go."


Is the moral panic justified? To answer that question, let me break it down into two parts:


1. Were the children buried without "dignity and respect"? Were these "mass graves"? Were the graves "unmarked"?


2. Was the death rate at Kamloops Residential School abnormally high? How does it compare to the death rate of Canadian Indigenous people at that time and to Canadians in general at that time?


Burial without dignity?


Many news reports have used the term "mass graves" The reader is left with the impression that large numbers of bodies were hastily buried, as in Cambodia under Pol Pot … In reality, the children were buried over a long span of time, from the opening of the school in 1890 to its takeover by the federal government in 1969. Moreover, the initial estimate of 215 has since been revised downward to 200 "potential burial sites" (RCI 2021).


Just as inaccurate is the term "unmarked grave." When graves were found behind another residential school, one of its former pupils, Sophie Pierre, pointed out that the site had long been known to be an abandoned graveyard:


According to Pierre, wooden crosses that originally marked the gravesites had been burned or deteriorated over the years.  Using a wooden marker at a gravesite remains a practice that continues to this day in many Indigenous communities across Canada. (MacVicar 2021)

In the past, it was common to mark a grave with a wooden cross, especially if the deceased had left no money for the purchase of a stone marker. This was particularly true for Catholics, for whom cremation was not an option.


Abnormally high death rate?


The death rate at the Kamloops school, and at Indian residential schools in general, is said to have been abnormally high:


The deadliest years for Indian Residential Schools were from the 1870s to the 1920s. In the first six years after its 1884 opening, for instance, the Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School saw the deaths of more than 40 per cent of its students. Sacred Heart Residential School in Southern Alberta had an annual student death rate of one in 20.


But despite occasional efforts at reform, even as late as the 1940s the death rates within residential schools were up to five times higher than among Canadian children as a whole. (Hopper 2021)


The above figures come from a study by Jeff Rosenthal (2015). I haven't been able to locate it (it was not published in a journal), but I will attempt my own study. Did the Kamloops residential school have an unusually high death rate?


To answer that question, we need to know not only the total number of deaths (i.e., the 200 burials) but also the sum of the annual enrolments over the 80 years of the school's existence. The enrolment was published each year in the annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs until 1939. For that period, the total is 5,829 pupil-years. For the period from 1940 to the school's closure in 1969, we have to use guesswork. There were 345 pupils in 1939, and enrolment peaked at 500 in the early 1950s (Favrholdt 2020). If we assume an average of 400 pupils per year for 1940 to 1969, we get a total enrolment for the school's existence of 17,829 pupil-years. The annual death rate was therefore, on average, 1.1%.


That is much less than Rosenthal’s estimates. On the other hand, we know that the Canadian death rate fell dramatically during the twentieth century, initially through improvements in sanitation and then after the 1940s through the use of streptomycin and other new antibiotics. Would we get a higher death rate if we confined our calculations to the school's early years? This is, in fact, part of Rosenthal's argument: the death rate was high at residential schools before 1950, and not during their entire existence.


We know the death rate at the Kamloops school during its early years. The deaths were noted in the annual reports of the Department of Indian Affairs for the first twenty-four years of the school’s existence. The first nine years saw no deaths at all. Then from 1899 to 1913 there were 12, for an annual death rate of 1.34%. The causes of death were given as pneumonia (2), tuberculosis (1), consumption (1), pulmonary disease (1), hemoptysis (1), rheumatic fever (1), meningitis (1), “took place at her home” (1), heart disease (1), measles (1), and diarrhea (1). The first five were probably all tuberculosis. The deaths began to occur three years after a doubling of the enrolment, probably because of the higher risk of infection by other pupils.


After 1913, we have to use guesswork. The death rate may have risen with further increases in enrolment during the late 1920s to eight times the original level. Nonetheless, it could not have risen much. If we assume a maximum death rate of 1.7% between 1926 and 1950, followed by a lower rate of 0.55%, we already get a total of 199 deaths—almost the same number as the number of graves behind the school:

Could we nudge up the maximum of 1.7% by nudging down the 0.55% death rate for 1950-1969? Not really. We have age-specific mortality of Alberta Indians for 1974-1978: an average of 0.38% for ages 5 to 14 (Millar 1982). For Indigenous Canadians as a whole the crude death rate fell from 10.9 in 1960 to 7.5 in 1970 (Piché and George 1973). If we extrapolate back in time by increasing the average of 0.38% by 45%, Indigenous children 5-14 years old in 1960 would have had an estimated death rate of 0.55%. The actual death rate was probably higher, since we are extrapolating back in time from 1970, and not from 1974-78.


A maximum death rate of 1.7% is far from Rosenthal’s estimates. Moreover, the total of 200 burials would include deaths from the Spanish flu of 1918-19, an event for which the school could hardly be held responsible. How many children died then? The Department of Indian Affairs stopped publishing health data on the Kamloops school after 1914, but the 1919 annual report did describe the ravages of the Spanish flu in British Columbia:


The most serious setback to the health of the Indians of British Columbia during the year was the epidemic of Spanish influenza which was particularly severe in the Kamloops and Lytton bands, the former having a death-roll of 194 up to the first week in December, 1918, and the latter of over 100 in the months of October and November. (Indian Affairs 1919, p. 52)


How does an annual death rate between 1.34 and 1.7% compare to the average annual death rate of Canadian children at that time? Before 1921, the government did not regularly publish age-specific mortality. We have that kind of data only from that year and from succeeding years, as well as from 1881:

The school's death rate of 1.34% from 1899 to 1913 seems to have been two to three times the Canadian average. This is, in fact, the same excess mortality we see for Canadian Indigenous people in general at that time. According to the 1906 annual report of the Department of Indian Affairs, "the Indian population of Canada has a mortality rate of more than double that of the whole population, and in some provinces more than three times" (Indian Affairs 1906, p. 275).


After 1913, the gap would have widened between the death rate at the Kamloops school and the Canadian average, perhaps because of an increase in the school’s death rate but much more so because of the sharp drop in the Canadian death rate. Death rates fell more slowly in Indigenous communities, and not just at residential schools. Chief Medical Officer Peter Bryce blamed a "lack of sanitary knowledge" among formerly nomadic peoples that previously had no need for such knowledge due to the small size of each band and its continual relocation from one place to another:


That the one dominating cause of the excessive mortality everywhere is this lack of sanitary knowledge or of how to live in houses, and that the death-rate is due to the same cause, tuberculosis, which has operated with the same fatal effect amongst all people living in the same stage of civilization when once introduced among them.


[T]he prevalence of tuberculosis amongst the bands is not due to insufficient food, though doubtless poorly preserved and badly cooked food may tend to lessen individual resistance; but it is due directly to infection introduced by one member of a family into a small, often crowded, house, and there, as dried sputum collects on filthy floors and walls, is spread from one to another so certainly and at times so rapidly that one consumptive has in a single winter infected all the members of a household as certainly and rapidly as if he had had small-pox.


[F]rom such houses infected children have been received into schools, notably the boarding and industrial schools, and in the school-room, but especially in the dormitories, frequently over-crowded and ill-ventilated, have been the agents of direct infection.


[C]hildren infected in the schools have been sent home when too ill to remain at school, or because of being a danger to the other scholars, and have conveyed the disease to houses previously free.


[O]wing to the simple habits of the Indian, common to all people at their stage, visiting from house to house is a chief feature of the day's occupation, and the sick, are visited or go visiting, and through their expectorations serve to steadily spread the infection. (Indian Affairs 1906, pp. 275-276)


I quote Peter Bryce at length because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission cited him as a source for its criticisms of the residential school system. Bryce's argument, however, was that the residential schools would not have become a secondary source of infection if the home communities had not been a primary source.




1. There was no "mass grave." The burials took place over a long period stretching from 1899 to the 1960s.


2. The graves are today "unmarked." At the time of burial, however, they probably had wooden markers, which have since decayed and disappeared.


3.  To account for the 200 graves, there is no need to assume the high annual death rates put forward in Jeff Rosenthal's study, certainly not one out of twenty pupils.


4. The school had no deaths at all during its first nine years. For the next fourteen years, it had an annual death rate of 1.34%—in line with the annual death rate of Canadian Indigenous people at that time. The gap between the school’s death rate and the Canadian average then widened. First, the school’s death rate may have risen to 1.7% because of the growth in enrolment and a corresponding growth in opportunities for infection. Second, and more importantly, the Canadian death rate fell dramatically during the early to mid-twentieth century. The gap then narrowed after the 1940s with the introduction of streptomycin and other antibiotics.


To reduce the school's death rate to a level below that of the pupils' home communities, the school would have had to impose medical screening on incoming students, particularly for tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. This was one of Peter Bryce's recommendations. However, a reliable test for latent TB would not be developed until the 1940s. Bryce also recommended increased ventilation of the dormitories, but that measure would have been possible only in summer. At that time, the most effective measures against TB were preventive: regular hand washing, daily bathing, no spitting, etc. Those measures took decades to inculcate into Euro-Canadians, and it would have taken just as long to incorporate them into Indigenous culture.


Yes, there was a vaccine against TB, but it did not enter widespread use until the late 1920s and did not prevent primary tuberculosis infection. In hindsight, the best preventive measure would have been to cap school enrolment at thirty pupils, in order to reduce the number of possible hosts for TB and other infectious pathogens.


The Kamloops Indian Residential School was not a death camp. The risk of death was about the same there as in the pupils' home communities. Nor was there a "mass grave." The burials took place over the eight decades of the school’s existence. The “unmarked graves” originally had wooden markers, which decomposed and disappeared over the years. The graveyard itself was abandoned with the closure of the school in 1969.


The residential school system was wrong but it was wrong for other reasons.




Canadian Human Mortality Database (2021). Department of Demography, Université de Montréal


Collection of Canadian Life Tables, 1801-2011


Dickson, C., and B. Watson (2021). Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says. CBC News, May 27


Favrholdt, K. (2020). Kamloops History: The dark and difficult legacy of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Kamloops This Week, October 7


Hopper, T. (2021). Why so many children died at Indian Residential Schools At some schools, annual death rates were as high as one in 20. National Post, May 29


Indian Affairs (1890-1969). Annual Report. Ottawa


MacVicar, A. (2021). 'We knew it was there': Former B.C. chief says unmarked graves near Cranbrook need more context. Global News, July 1


Malcolm, C. (2021). Six things the media got wrong about the graves found near Residential Schools. True North, July 12


Millar, W.J. (1982). Mortality patterns in a Canadian Indian population. Canadian Studies in Population 9: 17-31.



Piché, V., and M.V. George. (1973). Estimates of vital rates for the Canadian Indians, 1960-1970. Demography 10(3): 367-382.


RCI (2021). Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc release final report on unmarked graves at former Kamloops residential school. RCI, July 15


Residential Schools in Canada (2021). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from


Rosenthal, J.S. (2015). Statistical Analysis of Deaths at Residential Schools (282 pages including tables and graphs). Statistical analysis conducted on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, for their report "Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future"



Friday, July 9, 2021

Lewontin's legacy


Lewontin assumed that genetic diversity between populations is qualitatively similar to genetic diversity within populations. So comparing the two would be like comparing apples with apples. He was wrong. The second kind of diversity is less functionally significant.



The geneticist Richard Lewontin died last Sunday at the age of 92. He became prominent during the 1970s, particularly through his 1972 paper "The Apportionment of Human Diversity." Using data from blood groups, serum proteins, and red blood cell enzymes, he found far more genetic diversity within human populations than between them:


The results are quite remarkable. The mean proportion of the total species diversity that is contained within populations is 85.4%, with a maximum of 99.7% for the Xm gene, and a minimum of 63.6% for Duffy. Less than 15% of all human genetic diversity is accounted for by differences between human groups!


It is clear that our perception of relatively large differences between human races and subgroups, as compared to the variation within these groups, is indeed a biased perception and that, based on randomly chosen genetic differences, human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals.


His reasoning seems sound. It ignores, however, two aspects of population genetics:


1. Genetic differences between populations are qualitatively different from genetic differences within populations. A population boundary is usually a boundary between different environments, either natural environments or cultural environments. It is thus a boundary between different pressures of natural selection and, hence differences in adaptation. An allele may work just fine on one side of the boundary, but not so well on the other side. Conversely, genetic diversity within a population is less meaningful because the end result tends to be the same. Everyone is adapting to the same environment. Genetic differences are less likely to produce real functional differences.


2. Genetic differences vary considerably in their functional significance, with the overwhelming majority having little or none. Many of these differences are found in junk DNA.


Lewontin discovered the obvious. Most genetic differences have little or no functional significance, and such differences account for most of the diversity within human populations. The more a genetic difference has real consequences, the less likely it will be found within a population because that is where the pressures of selection are uniform. It will more likely be found at a population boundary where the pressures of selection are different.


We see this, for example, in dog breeds. Although they differ considerably in anatomy and behavior, they are barely discernable in the genetic data. There is much more diversity within breeds than between them:


... genetic and biochemical methods ... have shown domestic dogs to be virtually identical in many respects to other members of the genus. ... Greater mtDNA differences appeared within the single breeds of Doberman pinscher or poodle than between dogs and wolves. ... there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves, and coyotes than there is between the various ethnic groups of human beings, which are recognized as a single species. (Coppinger & Schneider 1995)


Well, dog breeds have been created through human-directed selection. What about subspecies that have arisen through natural selection? We see the same fuzziness, not only between subspecies but also between many sibling species that are anatomically distinct. In the deer family, genetic diversity is greater within some species than between some genera (Cronin 1991). Some masked shrew populations are genetically closer to prairie shrews than they are to other masked shrews (Stewart et al. 1993). Only a minority of mallards cluster together on an mtDNA tree, the rest being scattered among black ducks (Avise et al. 1990). All six species of Darwin's ground finches seem to form a genetically homogeneous genus while showing very little concordance between mtDNA, nuclear DNA, and morphology (Freeland & Boag 1999). In terms of genetic distance, redpoll finches from the same species are not significantly closer to each other than they are to sibling species (Seutin et al. 1995). Different species of haplochromine cichlids cannot be easily told apart by means of nuclear or mitochondrial genes, yet they are well differentiated morphologically and behaviorally (Klein et al., 1998). Neither mtDNA nor allozyme alleles can distinguish the various species of Lycaedis butterflies, despite clear differences in morphology (Nice & Shapiro 1999). An extreme example is a dog tumor that spreads through sexual contact: canine transmissible venereal sarcoma. It looks and acts like an infectious pathogen, yet its genes would show it to be a canid, and some beagles may be genetically more similar to it than they are to Great Danes (Yang 1996; see Frost 2011 for a full discussion).


When populations diverge under the impact of divergent pressures of natural selection, changes initially occur only within a fraction of the genome. Later, with the passage of time, the two populations will drift apart over the rest of the genome. But the human species is still young. The genetic split between Africans and non-Africans goes back only 60,000 years, and other splits are younger still.


This doesn't mean that genetic diversity between human populations is trivial. In fact, almost the opposite is true. It is the diversity within populations that is largely trivial.





Avise, J.C., C.D. Ankney, and W.S. Nelson. (1990). Mitochondrial gene trees and the evolutionary relationship of mallard and black ducks. Evolution 44: 1109-1119.


Coppinger, R. and R. Schneider (1995). Evolution of working dogs. In: J. Serpell (ed.) The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 21-47.


Cronin, M. (1991). Mitochondrial-DNA phylogeny of deer (Cervidae). Journal of Mammalogy 72: 533-566.


Freeland, J.R. and P.T. Boag. (1999). The mitochondrial and nuclear genetic homogeneity of the phenotypically diverse Darwin's ground finches. Evolution 53: 1553-1563.


Frost, P. (2011). Human nature or human natures? Futures 43: 740-748.  


Klein, J., A. Sato, S. Nagl, and C. O'hUigin. (1998). Molecular trans-species polymorphism. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29: 1-21.


Lewontin, R.C. (1972). The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology 6: 381-398.


Nice, C.C. and A.M. Shapiro. (1999). Molecular and morphological divergence in the butterfly genus Lycaeides (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) in North America: evidence of recent speciation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 12: 936-950.


Seutin, G., L.M. Ratcliffe, and P.T. Boag. (1995). Mitochondrial DNA homogeneity in the phenotypically diverse redpoll finch complex (Aves: Carduelinae: Carduelis flammea-hornemanni). Evolution 49: 962-973.


Stewart, D.T., A.J. Baker, and S.P. Hindocha. (1993). Genetic differentiation and population structure in Sorex Haydeni and S. Cinereus. Journal of Mammalogy 74: 21-32.


Yang, T.J. (1996). Parasitic protist of metazoan origin. Evolutionary Theory 11: 99-103.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

American Indians in decline


After three decades of sharp decline, American Indians now have the lowest fertility rate of all ethnic groups in the U.S. The trend is real and is not due to sub-fertile Whites self-identifying as American Indians.



The pandemic has reduced the American birth rate. According to data from 2020 and early 2021, almost all ethnic groups have taken a hit, but the magnitude has been greater for some than for others.


Asian Americans took the biggest hit. At first thought, this makes sense. Asians, especially East Asians (who make up a majority of Asian Americans) tend to take infectious diseases more seriously. They are generally more willing to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands, and it seems logical that they would also be more willing to postpone childbearing.

But that's not the whole story. The pandemic has accelerated an ongoing fertility decline among East Asians at home and abroad. With the exception of North Korea, East Asia was already a zone of ultra-low fertility—about one child per woman. When the pandemic is over, I predict that East Asian fertility will not return to pre-pandemic levels. The decline will continue. The pandemic has merely acted as a social accelerant (Frost 2020).


This view is strengthened if we return to the above graph and look at the group that took the second-biggest hit: American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Their fertility rate has likewise been declining. It was still high in the 1980s, but sometime around 1990 it began to plummet, falling below the fertility rate of any other ethnic group in the U.S. by the early 2000s.

What's going on? Is the decline real? Or is it a statistical fluke? Perhaps sub-fertile Whites are self-identifying as American Indians in growing numbers. This hypothesis was tested by Cannon and Percheski (2017):


Concurrent with this decline in estimated TFRs, the self-identified AI/AN population enumerated in the decennial US Census increased in size, largely because of changes in the racial categories and in the wording of racial identity items on the census forms.


The increase in the census counts of the American Indian population means that there are several possible explanations for the decline in American Indian fertility rates published by Vital Statistics. First, the decline could be a mechanical artifact of differential changes in racial identification between the two data systems Vital Statistics used to calculate fertility rates. Second, the decline could be driven by compositional changes in who identifies as American Indian. Third, there may be real changes infertility behavior that are unrelated to changes in who identifies as American Indian.


To control for these differences in definition and self-identification, Cannon and Percheski (2017) used a single data system (the American Community Survey) for the period 1980 to 2010. They also examined the fertility decline on the basis of three definitions of American Indian/Alaskan native: 1) women who identify as AI/AN only, 2) any woman who identifies as AI/AN, whether identifying one or more races, and 3) women who list a specific tribe or American Indian for the ancestry question. The second definition seems to be the one most vulnerable to "ethnic reassignment."


Cannon and Percheski (2017) found that all three definitions showed a fertility decline, particularly the first one. The decline was steepest among younger women. However, there was no indication that lower fertility at younger ages was being offset by higher fertility at older ages. The authors concluded: "This finding of declining TFRs estimated within a single data system is evidence against the explanation that fertility declines are merely artifacts of data collection changes or incongruences."


So what is the explanation? The main cause seems to be the declining marriage rate: "fertility rates among married and unmarried women have remained fairly stable, while the share of women ever married has declined across birth cohorts. Thus declines in fertility rates seem to be linked with changes in marriage for this population."


In this respect, American Indians are more vulnerable than most other ethnic groups in the U.S. Their women seem to prefer having children when a man is in the home. As the authors note, "other population subgroups in the United States who have experienced substantial declines in marriage have not experienced such drastic declines in fertility levels" (Cannon and Percheski 2017, pp. 8-9). 


Anthropologists have long noted that the Indigenous peoples of the Americas still retain many "Arctic" adaptations in their anatomy. Could the same be true for their behavioral predispositions? Some 12,000 years ago, their ancestors lived in northeast Asia and Beringia. In that environment, women had almost no food autonomy and could not raise children on their own. Perhaps their female descendants are still making a half-conscious link between having a baby and having a male provider.



Cannon, S., and C. Percheski. (2017). Fertility change in the American Indian and Alaska Native population, 1980-2010. Demographic Research 37: 1-12.


Frost, P. (2020). An Accelerant of Social Change? The Spanish Flu of 1918-19. International Political Anthropology Journal 13(2): 123-133.


Hamilton, B.E., M.J.K. Osterman, and J.A. Martin. (2021). Declines in births by month: United States, 2020. NVSS Vital Statistics Rapid Release. Report no. 14, June

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Getting the message


Gaps between perceived and actual crime rates, by immigrant group in the Netherlands. Dutch people underestimate the crime rate of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean while overestimating the crime rate of lighter-skinned immigrants, including Roma, Turks, and Chinese. The latter don’t benefit from the messaging of modern culture.



The crime news is unfair to Negroes, on the one hand, in that it emphasizes individual cases instead of statistical proportions [...] and, on the other hand, in that all other aspects of Negro life are neglected in the white press which gives the unfavorable crime news an undue weight. Sometimes the white press "creates" a Negro crime wave where none actually exists. (Myrdal 1944, pp. 655-656)


Gunnar Myrdal wrote An American Dilemma during the early years of the civil rights movement. He won over many young educated people, particularly when he argued that prejudice was making Black American criminality seem worse than it really was:


The popular belief that all Negroes are inherently criminal operates to increase arrests, and the Negro's lack of political power prevents a white policeman from worrying about how many Negro arrests he makes. Some white criminals have made use of these prejudices to divert suspicion away from themselves onto Negroes: for example, there are many documented cases of white robbers blackening their faces when committing crimes. (Myrdal 1944, p. 968)


The theme of the "framed Black man" would be central to a work of fiction, To Kill a Mockingbird. Since its publication in 1960 it has never been out of print. In 2006, it was the book most often mentioned when British librarians were asked: "Which book should every adult read before they die?" (Pauli 2006). Thus, for at least six decades, there has been a social norm of downplaying Black crime.


This norm has spread not only within the United States but also to all countries where English is widely used, particularly among the university-educated. In fact, it has spread to countries that never had black slavery or Jim Crow, or even a substantial African minority until recent times.


Perceptions and realities of crime in the Netherlands


One such country is the Netherlands. In a recent survey, 615 Dutch adults were given the following instructions:


There are many different immigrant groups in the Netherlands. For each of the groups, adjust the slider to your estimation of the crime rate relative to Dutch natives. This means you should adjust the slider to two (2) if you think the crime rate of this group is twice that of natives. (Kirkegaard and Gerritsen 2021, p. 4)


The actual crime rate of each immigrant group is known from public data published by the government. It was thus possible to measure how much the survey respondents overestimated or underestimated the criminality of each immigrant group. The respondents were chosen by two polling firms. A little over two-thirds of them came from a firm that tended to select younger and more university-educated people.


The findings are shown in the above graph. On the y-axis, the crime rate is overestimated at values higher than zero and underestimated at values lower than zero. The x-axis shows the percentage of Muslims in the immigrants' home country.


Kirkegaard and Gerritsen (2021, pp. 12-17) argue that the results show a pro-Muslim bias: the respondents tended to underestimate the crime rate of Muslim immigrants. But the bias was not favorable toward all Muslims. In fact, the crime rate was overestimated for immigrants from Indonesia, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan and more or less correctly estimated for those from Egypt, Iran, and Iraq. In addition, the respondents showed much larger gaps between perception and reality when estimating the crime rates of different non-Muslim groups.


For source countries less than 25% Muslim, the crime rate was greatly underestimated (by a factor of 1 or more) for people from Congo, Angola, Cape Verde, the Netherlands Antilles, and the Dominican Republic. Conversely, it was greatly overestimated for people from Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Mexico.


Do you see a pattern? The respondents were underestimating the crime rate of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. Their pro-Black bias was much stronger than their supposed pro-Muslim bias. In fact, it was so strong that it affected their perceptions of different Muslim groups. The respondents perceived North Africans and Somalis as being better than they really are, while perceiving Turks as being worse than they really are.


It looks like people in the Netherlands, and probably throughout the West, are being conditioned to view the Black African phenotype positively and the White European phenotype negatively. This bias caused the respondents to overestimate the arrest rate not only of European immigrants but also of any group that deviates too far from the Black African phenotype, including Chinese, Mexicans and, apparently, Roma.(1)


What about the respondents who voted for Nationalist parties? You know, the “far right.” Although Nationalist voters were more inclined to overestimate the crime rate of Muslim immigrants, they were just as inclined to underestimate the crime rate of sub-Saharan African and Caribbean immigrants. The pro-Black bias seems very pervasive.





1. Roma in Western Europe identify themselves to the authorities by their country of origin, not by their ethnicity. The Dutch respondents greatly overestimated the crime rate of immigrants from Romania, and the recent wave of Romanian migrants is widely perceived to be mostly Roma:


In these figures, the number relating to the Roma is indeterminate since the ethnicity of asylum seekers is not recorded. Nonetheless, the assumption is that the majority of these applications were made by Roma. Certainly, the press is of this view. Articles discussing Czech or Romanian asylum seekers refer frequently to the Roma. As a result, it is easy for the ordinary member of the public to assume that such groups of applicants are of Roma extraction (Stevens 2003, p. 440)





Kirkegaard, E.O.W., and A. Gerritsen. (2021). A study of stereotype accuracy in the Netherlands: immigrant crime, occupational sex distribution, and provincial income inequality. OpenPsych, June 14


Myrdal, G. (1944). An American Dilemma. The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.


Pauli, M. (2006). Harper Lee tops librarians' must-read list. The Guardian, March 2  


Stevens, D.E. (2003). The Migration of the Romanian Roma to the UK: A Contextual Study. European Journal of Migration and Law 5(4): 439-461.  



Friday, May 14, 2021

Damunwha in South Korea


Graffiti in Ansan (Wikicommons – Piotrus)


I've published a paper on the Damunwha children of South Korea. In that country, foreign brides, mainly from Southeast Asia, produce almost 6% of births. These children do poorly at school, ostensibly because of discrimination and imperfect learning of spoken Korean from their mothers. Yet they actually do well in subjects that emphasize social interaction and spoken language. Their learning deficit is in subjects that require abstraction and memorization, such as mathematics.


This is the abstract:


In South Korea, over 10% of new couples involve a foreign bride. Most come from Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia), and others from East Asia (China, Japan). Such couples now produce almost 6% of births. Their children tend to do badly at school and many drop out, the commonly cited reason being the child's poor acquisition of language skills from a foreign mother. In reality, Damunwha ("multicultural children") have no trouble with spoken Korean. Their deficiency is in written Korean, particularly in literary and specialized vocabulary that is largely learned at school. They actually do well in subjects that emphasize the spoken language and social interaction, like music, painting, and physical education. They do badly only in those subjects that require abstraction and memorization, like mathematics and social studies. Damunwha children are also more prone to hyperactivity, impulsivity, and non-compliance with rules. These divergences in cognition and behavior seem confined to children of Southeast Asian mothers, since children of Chinese or Japanese mothers perform as well as those of unmixed Korean parentage. It looks as if the country's social norms, particularly those of Confucianism, favored the spread of certain cognitive and behavioral traits within the Korean population, and more broadly among East Asians. These traits include not only high cognitive ability but also a high capacity to obey rules, to defer gratification, and to control impulsive behavior.




Frost, P. (2021). Damunwha in South Korea: A case study of divergences in cognition and behavior. Advances in Anthropology 11(2): 153-162.




Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Polygenic scores and Black Americans


Sunday Morning in Virginia (1877), by Winslow Homer. 

The ability to acquire language may be the mental domain where people of sub-Saharan African descent have undergone the most cognitive evolution since their separation from other humans.




If we look at SNP alleles associated with educational attainment, we see differences between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans. In a previous post I asked whether the cause was genetic drift or natural selection (Frost 2021).


That post brought a comment on Twitter:


Or maybe the fact that educational attainment is based on whiteness and familial wealth in the USA but not in Africa? And familial wealth tends to be concentrated in specific closed groupings of people who only breed with each other?


I don’t think so. First, the alleles were identified in subjects from the Netherlands Twin Registry, the Finnish Twin Cohort, the Swedish Twin Registry, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, the UK Biobank and 23andme. Of those sources, only 23andme had American subjects.


Second, let's suppose that those alleles are incidentally related to educational attainment. Maybe they are just something that wealthy Europeans share with each other through inbreeding, a bit like the Habsburg jaw. Those alleles should therefore be useless for predicting educational attainment in other populations. Are they?


Let me answer that question by discussing two recent studies:



The Guo et al. study


Guo et al. (2019) used the same alleles to predict success on a cognitive test (verbal ability) by 8,078 Americans of different ethnic backgrounds. Two polygenic scores were calculated: one based on alleles associated with educational attainment (education PGS) and the other based on alleles associated with IQ (IQ PGS).


The polygenic scores significantly correlated with test results for all major ethnic backgrounds, except one:


The education PGS was significantly predictive of verbal ability in all estimated models and its coefficients were similar in size except for the black sample in which the coefficient was much smaller. The IQ PGS significantly predicted verbal ability in all samples except the black sample. (Guo et al. 2019)


[...] The incremental R2 s or the R2 s of "pure" PGS effects were 1.8%, 0.1%, 1%, 1.8%, 1.7%, and 1% for whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanic whites, the combined sample and the overall sample, respectively.


The literature is showing a consistent trend: polygenic scores have much less power to predict cognitive ability in people of sub-Saharan African descent than in people of European or Asian descent. In this case, the polygenic scores were ten to eighteen times worse at predicting verbal ability in Black Americans than they were at predicting verbal ability in White, Asian, and Hispanic White Americans.


Why? The reason may be that Eurasians and sub-Saharan Africans have different gene pools. Some alleles for higher cognitive ability are available in one gene pool but not in the other. There is undoubtedly overlap between the two, but not total overlap. Intelligent Nigerians, for instance, may owe their intelligence to alleles that exist only in sub-Saharan Africa.


To return to the Twitter comment, it seems clear that polygenic scores are predicting something that correlates with cognitive ability, and that "something" is not an artefact of wealthy people being related to each other and sharing the same genes. It's already a stretch to believe that close family ties are shared by high achievers throughout the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland. Does the same family clique also include high achievers of Asian American origin? 



The Rabinowitz et al. study


Rabinowitz et al. (2019) used an education PGS to predict cognitive ability in Black American participants, specifically three cohorts from first grade to young adulthood (at which point their DNA was collected and analyzed).


The results? The PGS significantly correlated with pursuit of postsecondary education. The correlation was weak or insignificant, however, for performance on school tests. The PGS did not predict performance on a standardized reading test for any of the three cohorts, and it predicted performance on a standardized math test for only one of them. In addition, the PGS negatively correlated with having a criminal record (but only in the male subjects).


A problem here may be the young age of the participants. Cognitive ability seems to become less malleable and more hardwired with age. We can help children do better on IQ tests, but the improvement tends to disappear by adulthood (Frost 2008). Consequently, academic success in childhood may be too clouded by environmental factors to show a significant correlation with genetic factors.


On the other hand, the PGS did predict some things better than others. It predicted general academic success (pursuit of postsecondary education) and compliance with rules (absence of a criminal record). For actual school tests, it had some power to predict success on the math test but none at all on the reading test. The ability to acquire language may be the mental domain where people of sub-Saharan African descent have undergone the most cognitive evolution since their separation from other humans. The PGS cannot predict superior reading ability among Black Americans because too many of the relevant alleles are exclusive to the sub-Saharan African gene pool and remain to be identified by scientific studies.


The take-home message? At present, we can create polygenic scores that provide a rough idea of cognitive ability in people of sub-Saharan African descent. To get more than a rough idea, we need to identify the relevant alleles specific to that population.





Frost, P. (2008). IQ: Interaction between race and age. The Unz Review, May 20


Frost, P. (2021). The mismeasure of genetic differentiation. Evo and Proud, April 13


Guo, G., Lin, M.J., and K.M. Harris. (2019). Socioeconomic and Genomic Roots of Verbal Ability. bioRxiv, 544411.


Rabinowitz, J.A., S.I.C. Kuo, W. Felder, R.J. Musci, A. Bettencourt, K. Benke, ... and A. Kouzis. (2019). Associations between an educational attainment polygenic score with educational attainment in an African American sample. Genes, Brain and Behavior, e12558.