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September 11, 2005

Group Characteristics 4

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here's a rousing passage from Charles Murray's recent Commentary essay, "The Inequality Taboo":

Let us start talking about group differences openly—all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and non-poor that could inform policy for reducing poverty.

Hear hear to that. And in that spirit, I've been citing rowdy, informal acknowledgments of group characteristics. Although in our public lives we're expected to play along with the PC dogma that we're all alike, on a day-to-day basis we know better --and we're often honest, friendly, and funny about our experience and our knowledge.

My latest find: a blog posting by Maloy, a young woman of Asian descent who has been spending time in Italy. Maloy writes a posting she calls "An Asian Girl's Guide to Dating Asian Men Overseas."

The prim are hereby forewarned: Maloy is one modern and verbally uninhibited gal. There are good reasons why she calls her blog "House of Whoreship."

Here's some of what I learned from Maloy's posting:

  • Australian Asians: "Usually have lots of hobbies and play at least one sport ... Has a pretty good idea of what the deal is in Asia, eg. you can only have sex in his parents' house and only if his parents are in Perth and it's the maid's day off ... They know how to kiss ass to your parents. Will immediately call them 'Auntie' and 'Uncle' and have the right kind of gift to give every time he sees them ..."

  • British-born Asians: "They usually cook, after all those years of working in their parents' takeaways ... Hardly any meals at restaurants. They'd rather cook for you, plus they know what the truth is behind restaurants and are probably too scared to ever eat out again."

  • Asian Canadians: "Are independent and fairly knowledgeable about other cultures, as well as being reliable. Willing to have sex in a karaoke joint. Cheap dates at local eateries. And you'll have to split the bill."

  • Asian Americans: "Sexually repressed due to their upbringing, and they usually look at a lot of porn ... Talks about money to you. God, the shame. The only time you should talk to an Asian girl about money is when you're telling her how much you're planning to give her ... PDA abusers. Be prepared to have your ass fondled in public."

Who knew? But now I do know, thanks to the "House of Whoreship" girl.

By the way, did you notice Nicholas Wade's latest NYTimes piece? Wade is the Times' evo-bio guy, and the Times deserves a lot of credit for keeping a good reporter hard at work on a dicey (by big-city leftie terms) beat. In his new piece, Wade reports on research indicating that -- despite what our elites have drilled into us for many decades -- humans have never stopped evolving, and that they continue to evolve.

To spell out one of the main implications of these findings: Since variety is implicit in evolution, and since we're evidently continuing to evolve, variety -- and not equality -- is the rule among humans today.

We aren't all alike. We come in a wide variety of flavors. And what's not cool about that, sez I? Despite the challenges, variety makes for a far better party than uniformity does.

I confess that the contention that humans stopped evolving sometime long ago -- circa 12,000 years ago? or was it circa 30,000 years ago? -- always flabbergasted me. It wasn't as though we were offered any convincing evidence. So even as a fluffy-headed lib-arts kid, I felt pretty sure I was smelling a rat; I suspected that there was an agenda being put over on us. What was it? Hmm. Let's see: Why on earth would anyone contend that humans had stopped evolving? ...

The only answer I could come with was that, if you could establish as fact that the human template was set once and for all before any humans left Africa, you'd have it: You'd be able to assert that -- beneath all the variation in hair, in skin color, in height, in temperament, and in culture -- we're all alike. And you'd be able to say that that ain't opinion, that's science.

It's one of those brain-warping arguments that leftie egalitarianism needs to make its cosmology hold together. Hey, an arty version of such a "progressive" argument: The importance of that date in architectural history -- the one midway through 1930, before which all of mankind was able to build traditional buildings and neighborhoods, and after which that became no longer possible. As of July 31, 1930: OK to build traditional. From August 1, 1930 on: You gotta build modernist.

Sometimes it seems as though the only sensible response to leftie progressivism is: "Huh? What the --? You're kidding, right?"

In any case: The research Wade writes about represents yet another powerful blow to Blank Slate-ism. Of course, perhaps the most amazing thing about Blank Slate-ism is the number of body blows it has shown itself capable of absorbing ...

GNXP and Steve Sailer comment on Nicholas Wade's piece.



posted by Michael at September 11, 2005


It's apparent that you are angry at somebody, but I could not figure who it was. The closest I could figure is "progressives", but that's pretty open territory and includes millions.

"We aren't all alike." Does not that border on the banal?

Go to the back of the class even if you are one of the darlings of Blogland.

Sincerely, Lynn

Posted by: Lynn on September 12, 2005 2:30 AM

Nic Duquette comments on this issue, too: 'it may be true, but it shouldn't be, and anyhow it is too dangerous to let it loose'. and Matthew Yglesias said something on the lines of 'I know we're not supposed to link to Steve Sailer...'

Posted by: dave s on September 12, 2005 6:14 AM

Lynn -- You didn't find Maloy's guide fun? You weren't interested to learn about the research Wade reported on? Why not? In any case, I've been sitting at the back of the classroom since the day I started school.

Dave -- Thanks for the link. That's a beautiful example of "this information is too dangerous for us to let it get out" reasoning. (Fun -- and typical -- to notice that Duquette, in the right-hand column, has a screed about how kids need to learn about evolution. How does he expect them to do that without running into some uncomfortable facts along the way?) I dunno. In my view, it's far more dangerous to suppress this kind of info. Besides, common wisdom and experience casually accept it everyday that groups differ. If they didn't, they wouldn't be groups. And I find it bizarre that people like Duquette make the assumption that denial-of-the-obvious is the normal state of things, and that people who'd like acknowlegment of differences to be a bit more open are weird. Where these matters are concerned, most cultures assume there are diffferences between population groups. It's only a tiny fraction of people who maintain that there are none.

I do have a small beef with some of the more IQ-fundamentalist types. (I don't think Charles Murray is one of them, and that's why I quoted the passage of his that I did.) I'd love to see it said just as often that average IQ's differ that other qualities and talents differ too -- phyiscal abilities, visual abilities, relationship abilities, etc. (I rather like the Howard Gardner "7 Kinds of intelligence" thing, although I'd substitute the word "talent" for "intelligence." In my view, talents aren't varieties of "intelligence." Instead, IQ-style intelligence is one many talents. If there's one thing a life in the arts teaches you, it's that artistic talent and brainpower have almost nothing to do with each other.) The point Murray makes about IQ is merely that in an information economy, IQ seems to play an important role in who succeeds, and thus it becomes important. But there are others who seem to see IQ as fundamental to just about everything, and who can't let go of it as a topic. Oddly enough, these people tend to have very high IQs ... How do you react to the more IQ-fundamentalist types? I don't think most of them are dangerous by any means, I just find them a bit blinkered.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 12, 2005 8:28 AM


Upon a second reading, I did find Maloy's guide fun. Go to the head of the class. I'll take your seat in the back.

Posted by: lynn on September 12, 2005 10:03 AM

I think long after good, hard science dispensed with "blank-slate-ism" (for starters, most parents know it's bull, and for seconders, if blank slate were true, then animals wouldn't be able to do practically anything - yes, the parent(s) teach them how to hunt, but the drive to hunt is built-in), post modern philosophy was still utterly devoted to everything being fungible, when in reality a lot of stuff is, but there are some absolutes, basic instincts, and irrefutable facts the pomo crowd just doesn't want to face.

It's kinda like the situation where 95% of all biology majors are atheist because since evolution is apparently true, they continue to the conclusion that there is no God because maybe there didn't have to be. Meanwhile, over in the physics and astronomy depts., only half are atheists, because the ones who aren't allow that there's a lot of stuff out there that is so completely unexplainable given the current level or our understanding, that culling a designer out of the possibilities of origin isn't currently supported by the facts (either way). (For instance, it appears that the object that existed seconds before the big bang was pretty organized, which means it was either an occurrence unexplainable given the sheer odds against that level of organization simply happening unto itself, or something made it that organized.)

I think the fear of reopening the public debate on regional and genetic differences is that the still-smoldering zombie of eugenics always tries to crash the party, and since we can now manipulate genetic structures enough, the evil nightmares of eugenics are more possible than ever.

To me that just means we simply ensure that eugenics stays buried, and we acknowledge differences primarily for the common good. You can't reasonably discuss something if you start out purposely ignoring several known facts.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on September 12, 2005 10:31 AM

My experience with discussions about human behavior and evolution (I took a class on evolutionary psychology while in college two years ago) was that the blank-slaters claimed that we as humans had transcended evolution at some point in the past thirty thousand years--that all of the things that made us human were now culturally determined and passed on through learning rather than genes. They weren't really interested in the question of whether or not humans were evolving physically, because they didn't see it as affecting human behavior.

By contrast, it was the proponents of evolutionary psychology who claimed that human evolution had "stopped" about 30,000 years ago, or rather that the degree of evolution which had occured in that time was an insignificant force in shaping human behavior. Personally, I found this insistance that humans have not responded evolutionarily to civilization to be one of the weakest points of the EP argument.

There are equations that one can use to determine how long it would take, given selective advantage, population size, and generation length, for a mutation to become fixed in the population (what people usually mean by "evolved"). However, I've not seen a single piece of EP literature that made any sort of rigorous argument in support of the claim that human evolution since the advent of civilization is indeed insignificant. This is a doubly significant omission since we have very good working estimates for population size and generation length for the relevant periods.

Posted by: Amy on September 12, 2005 10:47 AM

It's good to see that better sense is beginning to prevail, but if you want a shot of 1994-style egalitarian fulmination, check out the following exchange on a community blog where I recently made the mistake of proffering a very moderate defense of The Bell Curve, only to be scolded into exile:

I suppose I should have known better. But it reminds me that we may have a long way to go before the kind of open discussion Murray encourages becomes a practical reality.

Posted by: Chip Smith on September 12, 2005 4:38 PM

I'd have thought that systematic, statistically significant, and well-documented differences between the measured mean IQ of Ashkenazi Jews and the rest of the population would have been sufficient to show a 12,000 year or 30,000 year evolution hiatus extraordinarily unlikely. None of the reasons that I've seen postulated for that difference has a time horizon even close to 10 kyears.

If evolutionary pressure has been observed to cause significant differences in the last 1000-2000 years, that would pretty much imply that evolution didn't stop 12,000 years ago.

In other breaking news, my car weighs more than any of my son's Matchbox cars. "After controlling for local gravitational anomalies, variable air-pressure transients, and scale vibration, scientists have shown ...."

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on September 12, 2005 5:18 PM

Couldn't resist:

You've got feathers, I've got skin, but both our outsides hold us in...
I've got hooves, you've got webbed feet, but we both stand up to eat!
'Cause we've got lots in common where it really counts.
Where it really counts, we've got large amounts.
What we look like doesn't count an ounce.
We've got lots in common where it really counts!

Posted by: J. Goard on September 13, 2005 2:38 PM

The Bell Curve is in fact scientifically worthless. If you want to know why read this polite, respectful, but thorough demolition of the book by Jim Heckman in Reason magazine:

The fact that so many of the book's errors are systematically in the direction of supporting old racist stereotypes does lead me to suspect the motivations of the authors at least somewhat.

Very good point on IQ fundamentalism above. When other talents, social background, and life experience are reasonably controlled for IQ has a pretty small effect on life outcomes. It is one factor, or talent, among many, that is a good way to think about it. Interesting too that so many IQ fundamentalists seem so invested in the belief that IQ differences are mainly genetic (as opposed to, say, a genetics / environment interaction).

Doug, it is unclear to me that high IQ among Ashkenazi Jews is caused by evolution (differential births or survival) as opposed to selection (differentials in who stayed within the Ashkenazi community as opposed to who converted to Christianity). These are different explanations, it would be easy to raise IQ among a community by creating pressures to leave for those who were not particularly attached to ferociously detail-oriented textual analysis.

Posted by: MQ on September 13, 2005 4:12 PM

Another point: an overemphasis on supposedly immutable genetic differences between communities is as destructive of genuinely rich appreciation of human diversity as a simplistic "blank state" one-generation nurture argument is. Cultures grow gradually, over centuries, as a shared system of values, and are always changing. They also interact with genetic gifts. We are only at the beginning of understanding how that process works. Slighting the cultural angle in favor of slotting different groups in genetic boxes does a lot of violence to diversity as well. For example, the romantic behavior differences among Asians that Maloy points to in her blog are a great and entertaining picture of different cultural patterns among a population that is probably not all that diverse genetically. Imagine the diversity that would be lost by just stereotyping Asians as 'smart, geeky' due to some genetic factor.

Posted by: MQ on September 13, 2005 4:17 PM

Another fun topic.

I have been fascinated with human evolution topics since stumbling into an anthropology course at Yale University in the 70s. You can't get much more elitist than that, but between then and now, the only other "elitists" that I have seen who have a problem with the idea that humans are still evolving have been religious conservatives who try to deny evolution altogether and the liberal arts ignorati who just don't seem to understand what science is and how it works (and to this extent are much like the creationists and other fundamentalists who think that the Bible and Darwin are somehow two sides of a conversation. I never met a single scientist, including some who were actively investigating some of the hottest human fossil sites, who gave blank-slate absolutists the slightest attention.

Oh yes, and the other group who have a problem with evolution have been the evolutionary psychologists, who have this weird fetish about some magical moment when homo sapiens became hunter gatherers, which somehow is supposed to be the essential template for humanity. Of course, they tend to ignore or misunderstand the more recent research suggesting that early humans spent a lot of time as opportunistic scavengers, among other issues.

But apart from this, I don't try not to get too hung up in whether PC or un-PC ideas are supposedly getting in the way of understanding human variation and diversity. Plain fact, it seems to me, is that it is hard for humans to study themselves because ego and vanity often get in the way. Some people seem to need for evolution to bless some social or political outcome that they personally approve, or to be leading to some high goal or purpose. Others seem to think that evolution is some mystical call to accept some narrow and essentialist version of human nature, which is more philosophy than science. None of this seems quite right, or even necessary, in my view.

For a while, my unofficial test of people who claimed to understand evolution was this question, "Do you accept Darwin's notion of 'survival of the fittest?' " Since Darwin never said this, whenever someone says "Yes," then I figure that I'm dealing with an evolution dilletante. Darwin's ideas about "the struggle for existence," is more subtle, and also is a nice slap at the eugenics crowd, who don't seem to understand that even if an organism is a weak parasite, that organism wins the evolution derby if he or she (or it) thrives and reproduces. And "improving" offspring or a species doesn't mean much of anything if a significant change in the environment suddenly confers an evolutionary advantage on another, upstart group.

Posted by: Alec on September 13, 2005 8:06 PM

"But there are others who seem to see IQ as fundamental to just about everything, and who can't let go of it as a topic."

calling Godlesscapitalist at GNXP...

Posted by: Seth on September 13, 2005 8:48 PM

If you want to know why read this polite, respectful, but thorough demolition of the book by Jim Heckman in Reason magazine

That was Heckman in 1995. You should listen to Heckman on IQ in 2003:

Ever since his review of the Bell Curve, Nobel Laureate Jim Heckman has made a second career out of trying to close those ability gaps:
What little is known indicates that ability--or IQ--is not a fixed trait for the young (persons up to age 8 or so). Herrnstein noted this in IQ and the Meritocracy. Sustained high-intensity investments in the education of young children, including such parental activities as reading and responding to children, stimulate learning and further education. Good environments promote learning for young children at all levels of ability. In this sense, there is fragmentary evidence that enriched education can be a good investment even for children of low initial ability...

Future research should focus on growth and development in measured ability prior to age 15 (the age of the youngest person in the Murray-Herrnstein sample), because existing research indicates that values are formed and cognition is developed prior to that age.

So Heckman made a research recommendation, and today he has made a second career out of seeing what can be done to boost intelligence in the young. His conclusion? Here's Heckman on IQ from 2003:

Another continuing blind spot in the vision of most educational planners and policy makers is a preoccupation with achievement tests and measures of cognitive skill as indicators of the success of an educational intervention. By narrowly focusing on cognition, they ignore the full array of socially and economically valuable non-cognitive skills and motivation produced by schools, families and other institutions. This emphasis also critically affects the way certain early intervention programs have been evaluated. For example, while enriched early intervention programs do not substantially alter IQ, they do substantially raise the non-cognitive skills and social competence of participants.”...

An important lesson to draw from the entire literature on successful early interventions is that it is the social skills and motivation of the child that are more easily altered— not IQ. These social and emotional skills affect performance in school and in the workplace. We too often have a bias toward believing that only cognitive skills are of fundamental importance to success in life.”

Note that:

1. he grants that IQ is a measure of cognitive ability
2. in fact, he uses IQ interchangeably with cognition and cognitive skill
3. he grants that IQ is not easily altered
4. he grants that it is important

His new tack: raise non-cognitive abilities. A laudable goal, but not what he set out to do one decade back. Remember, he set out this research program himself as the best hope for taking on the conclusions of Murray and Herrnstein. (read his review yourself if you want the context), though he granted many of their specific points (e.g. "Their empirical work substantiates the role of IQ in accounting for a considerable portion of ethnic differences in socioeconomic outcomes").
(live links in original)

Posted by: gc on September 15, 2005 9:50 AM

"But there are others who seem to see IQ as fundamental to just about everything, and who can't let go of it as a topic."

Gravity isn't the only one of the fundamental forces, but if you ignore it in the circumstances in which it's relevant you will get poor predictions.

Anyway, the brain is fundamental to just about everything...and IQ is fundamentally linked to the brain:

General human intelligence appears to be based on the volume of gray matter tissue in certain regions of the brain, UC Irvine College of Medicine researchers have found in the most comprehensive structural brain-scan study of intelligence to date.

Previous research had shown that larger brains are weakly related to higher IQ, but this study is the first to demonstrate that gray matter in specific regions in the brain is more related to IQ than is overall size. Multiple brain areas are related to IQ, the UCI and UNM researchers have found, and various combinations of these areas can similarly account for IQ scores. Therefore, it is likely that a person’s mental strengths and weaknesses depend in large part on the individual pattern of gray matter across his or her brain.

“This may be why one person is quite good at mathematics and not so good at spelling, and another person, with the same IQ, has the opposite pattern of abilities,” Haier said.

there are dozens of references on this topic within the last few years; quite a few are collected here:

a focus on IQ must seem as odd to some as newton's focus on gravity did to his contemporaries. But when we have things like "No Child Left Behind", it is clear that there is not *too much* focus on IQ but rather *too little*.

Posted by: gc on September 15, 2005 9:57 AM

How do you react to the more IQ-fundamentalist types? I don't think most of them are dangerous by any means, I just find them a bit blinkered.

Argue from references and you can bring me round.

Gardiner has been debunked repeatedly; in short, all of his "intelligences" correlate with IQ and are not statistically independent. He has never done any quantitative or emprical tests of his theories.

that is not to say that unitary intelligence is the entirety of the picture; after the primary g-factor, there are secondary, statistically independent factors which correlate with other abilities. far from ignoring these things, we've blogged them at gnxp (again with plenty of cites):

in general, most people who are talented at something abstract have an above average (more than 100) IQ. The more abstract, the higher the threshold to clear. Gottfredson's review article should give some idea of what people of different levels are capable of; perhaps one should ask whether or not these ostensibly dumb artists were high school dropouts who struggle with bus schedules.

Great picture here:

Note all the correlates below the axis. IQ correlates with all kinds of things that you'd never expect that a 2 hour pen and paper test could measure. Soon we'll move to MRI imaging of brains entirely, and dismissing the correlations will be even more difficult. It will be one thing to say IQ doesn't cause any real life consequences; it will be quite another to claim that measurable, obvious differences in brain architecure have no consequences.

Full article here:

Posted by: gc on September 15, 2005 10:08 AM

GC, Thanks for links, etc. I'm of course all for investigating IQ, brainpower, etc. Why not? It's important. On the other hand, I'm all for keeping the brainpower thing in perspective.

We've been around about the art-and-culture thing before, and no need to rehearse it again.

But I think you've hit on the key point: the question of abstraction. Much of art and culture is anything but abstract; it's by and large concerned with hyper-concrete things. It's more like bricklaying than it is like working on a math problem.

And many of the people who are good at the creating-art-and-culture thing are not gifted in the juggling-abstractions sort. If they were gifted in the juggling-abstractions way, they probably wouldn't have become artists. Why would they? It's generally an awful life, and brainpower gives access to much more reliable and agreeable ways of making it through life: law, science, medicine, business ... Many artists are, to be honest, real slowpokes in the brainpower sense. Yet they're often wonderfully creative and productive people.

Yes yes yes, there are a few artists who are brainiacs, and there's some art that is high in the complex-and-abstract sense. But it's a small percentage of art. Most art and culture isn't complex in an abstract sense -- think the blues, think magazine design, think cooking, think solo rock guitar, think acting: This is stuff that's super here-and-now, and it comes out of a part of the personality that is much more related to craft and sport -- to instinct and handiwork, to senses-and-body-based talents -- than it is to anything cerebral, let alone to the doing-well-on-a-test part of you. A woman who's a good seamstress or a guy who has a knack for carpentry is much more akin to the artist type than is the smart kid in class. Art's much more like handicraft than it is like thinking.

The simple fact is that most artists aren't terribly bright in an IQ sense. Many of them feel hurt about this, by the way. They know they have gifts, yet they've always been told over and over that they aren't bright. (And, in the solving-a-mental-problem sense, they usually aren't bright.) Their gifts simply don't show up on tests. But they can draw, they can cook, they can sing, they can make cool clothes ...

The people in the arts who are bright in a measurable-testing sense usually wind up as non-artists, as editors, producers, administrators -- in positions where they can really use their brains. Some of them are bitter about this, by the way. They think that their brains should entitle them to being a star, and being "creative" in the artsy sense. But they've had to learn, over and over, that brains, while nice, have no necesary relationship to creative talent in the arts.

But cooks, guitarists, actors, designers, painters, dancers ... You'd be amazed by 1) How talented many of them are, and 2) How not-very-bright in a testable sense most of them are. Think about your own experience: the stoner idiot who turned out to be a terrific guitarist, or the girl who's been baking cookies since she was younger than you can remember, or the other dingaling who just happened to have an amazing voice -- losers all in a test-score sense, and incapable of thinking their way out of a paper bag. Yet these are the kids who become artists. The brainiacs do other things.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 15, 2005 11:27 AM

The fact is that Heckman continues to believe that early intervention can and does raise IQ. You correctly point out that he is not an IQ fundamentalist, he believes (as Michael implies) that there are many other brain-related abilities that improve life outcomes and that we don't pay enough attention to them. A large amount of research supports him there. This is not a "fallback" position because of some failure of a research program, it is an attempt to turn peoples attention to an understudied area.

Of course Heckman admits that IQ is an important and stable psychometric construct that is related to outcomes. Few serious scholars don't understand that, unless they have some kind of political ax to grind. (I would say that people who compare IQ to the theory of gravity might have one as well).

The fact that Heckman is not a PC political type is one of the things that gives his demolition of The Bell Curve (which still stands today) additional credibility. You point out that he agrees that cognitive skill gaps relate to ethnic outcome gaps -- true, the literature shows that, he is giving a polite nod to the literature review performed by Herrnstein and Murray. But his review absolutely demolishes the original research using the NLSY in the Bell Curve, which was so bad and so amateurish that it would have had problems passing muster as an undergrad econometrics paper.

Posted by: MQ on September 15, 2005 7:49 PM

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