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I had been meaning to post about this for a long time. Better late than never, I suppose.

The TIMSS and PIRLS are international assessments of academic ability in math, science and literacy that are conducted once every four years. They are similar to the PISA tests, although the latter are less purely academically focused and more a test of pure IQ.

Here are the results of TIMSS/PIRLS (h/t North Asian). And here are the results of PISA from 2009 for comparison.

As can be expected, they are highly correlated (r > 0.8 to be precise). This however makes the few differences all the more interesting. The gap between the East Asian countries and European countries, though substantial in PISA, is significantly greater in TIMSS/PIRLS. And most strikingly, both Russia and Israel go from being laggards in the OECD group to being at the forefront of the class.

Math (PISA) Math (TIMSS)
Korea 539 613
Sweden 494 484
Russia 468 539
Israel 447 516

From performing more poorly than Turkey in the PISA reading test, Russia soars to take second global position in the PIRLS.

Reading (PISA) Reading (PIRLS)
HK 533 571
Sweden 497 542
Russia 459 568
Israel 474 541

Meanwhile, some European countries, especially Sweden and Norway, plummet quite substantially.

What explains all this?

There are two possibilities. First, the TIMSS/PIRLS tests may have poorer samples than the PISA. For instance, we know from the latter that Moscow has a 10-point IQ lead over the rest of the country. If Muscovite pupils are over-sampled, then it’s quite feasible for the consequent result to be closer to say Hong Kong or Korea than to Greece or Turkey.

However, a second possibility is that the PISA-TIMSS/PIRLS gap is a proxy for differences in the quality of educational systems. It is more feasible to prepare for the TIMSS/PIRLS than it is for PISA, which is closer to an IQ test and is, as such, more difficult to improve through policy interventions. It is nowadays fashionable to lambast the ex-Soviet and East Asian school systems for “rote learning,” “stifling creativity,” and whatnot. However, the data shows that under these systems, pupils perform well above the levels they “should” as indicated by their underlying IQ levels. Meanwhile, in places where “creativity” and “self-expression” are given full bloom, where science lessons focus on the evils of plastic bags in between sermons on LGBT appreciation and the progressiveness of Islamic civilization, academic performance is somewhat less than what might expect based on the local students’ apparent IQ levels.

This all makes sense, I suppose. To be truly “creative” you first have to acquire a ton of skills and knowledge via the old method of applied hard work. Without that, “creativity” simply boils down to a sea of PoMo-waffling curmudgeons and MacBook-toting hipsters. And whoever needs that?

(Republished from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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It is not a secret to longtime readers of this blog that I rate India’s prospects far more pessimistically than I do China’s. My main reason is I do not share the delusion that democracy is a panacea and that whatever advantage in this sphere India has is more than outweighed by China’s lead in any number of other areas ranging from infrastructure and fiscal sustainability to child malnutrition and corruption. However, one of the biggest and certainly most critical gaps is in educational attainment, which is the most important component of human capital – the key factor underlying all productivity increases and longterm economic growth. China’s literacy rate is 96%, whereas Indian literacy is still far from universal at just 74%.

Many people claim that China’s educational success is superficial, arguing that although it has achieved good literacy figures, standards – especially in the poor rural areas that have been neglected by the state during the reform period – are very low. This is not a minority view. The problem is that for proof they cite figures such as the average number of years of schooling or secondary enrollment ratios – which are still substantially inferior to those of developed nations – and assume that they directly correlate to the human capital generated among Chinese youth. This is a flawed approach because it doesn’t take into account the quality of schooling. Though not without its problems, by far the most objective method of assessing that is to look at international standardized tests in literacy, numeracy, and science. The most comprehensive such study is PISA, and it tells a radically different story.

The big problem, until recently, was that there was no internationalized student testing data for either China or India. (There was data for cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, but it was not very useful because they are hardly representative of China). An alternative approach was to compare national IQ’s, in which China usually scored 100-105 and India scored in the low 80′s. But this method has methodological flaws because the IQ tests aren’t consistent across countries. (This, incidentally, also makes this approach a punching bag for PC enforcers who can’t bear to entertain the possibility of differing IQ’s across national and ethnic groups).

In contrast, the PISA tests are standardized, and – barring a few quibbles – largely free of the consistency and sampling problems that tend to plague international IQ comparisons. And they confirm what the IQ data has long hinted at: At least among schoolchildren close to graduation, the Chinese are simply far, far smarter than their Indian counterparts (necessary caveat: As measured by these tests).

I already covered China, so I will simply quote in extenso from an older post. I emphasize the most important part in bold.

“As regular blog readers know, I think that educational capital and more broadly average IQ levels are one of the key – and frequently under-appreciated due to political correctness – determinants of economic development and whether or not convergence to developed country levels is even possible. Its much higher educational capital is one of the key reasons why I think China will continue doing much better than India in development, regardless of its “democratic deficit.” However, many people argue that China’s human capital must actually be quite low, because it doesn’t spend much on education, resources are bare in the provinces, statistical fudging under unaccountable governors, etc.

The recent results from the international standardized PISA tests in math, reading and science will make this an increasingly untenable position. Shanghai got by far the best results out of all the OECD countries (never mind the developing ones). Now while you might (rightly) argue Shanghai draws much of the elite of the Yangtze river delta, the Financial Times has more: “Citing further, as-yet unpublished OECD research, Mr Schleicher said: “We have actually done Pisa in 12 of the provinces in China. Even in some of the very poor areas you get performance close to the OECD average.””

Since countries like the US and France get scores “close to the OECD average”, this means that the workforces soon to be entering China’s economy, even from its poorest regions, will be no less skilled than those of leading Western economies (note too that the numbers of Chinese university graduates are soaring). And with China’s massive population, four times bigger than America’s, its road to superpowerdom must be all but guaranteed. [AK adds: I.e., because under market economies, development - as proxied by GDP per capita - tends to converge to a level commensurate with the human capital level of the country in question].”

Also in December 2011, but unnoticed by myself until now, PISA released additional information on nine countries*. Critically, this included two Indian provinces, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh. How did they do relative to China?

On math proficiency, Tamil Nadu scored 351 and Himachal Pradesh scored 338. On science, they scored 348 and 325, respectively. In both cases, they were at ROCK BOTTOM of the league table of the 74 sampled countries together with Kyrgyzstan. Literally no other country did worse.

In comparison, even the poorest Chinese regions performed close to the OECD average of about 500, putting them in the same rank as the bottom half of the industrialized countries such as Russia, Italy, or the United States (high 400′s); but well above other prominent developing states such as Brazil, Mexico, and Malaysia (high 300′s-low 400′s). The better off Chinese regions will have presumably done better, perhaps similar to Australia or Japan, while the most developed Chinese region, Shanghai, blew every other country out of the water with a mean score of 600 in math and 575 in science.

Note that Tamil Nadu is fairly developed by Indian standards, while Himachal Pradesh is about average. One simply shudders to imagine what the results would be in a poor state such as Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. China and India are both truly exceptional in educational attainment for dynamically developing emerging markets, but only the former is exceptional in a good way.

Many Indians like to see themselves as equal competitors to China, and are encouraged in their endeavour by gushing Western editorials and Tom Friedman drones who praise their few islands of programming prowess – in reality, much of which is actually pretty low-level stuff – and widespread knowledge of the English language (which makes India a good destination for call centers but not much else), while ignoring the various aspects of Indian life – the caste system, malnutrition, stupendously bad schools – that are holding them back. The low quality of Indians human capital reveals the “demographic dividend” that India is supposed to enjoy in the coming decades as the wild fantasies of what Sailer rightly calls “Davos Man craziness at its craziest.” A large cohort of young people is worse than useless when most of them are functionally illiterate and innumerate; instead of fostering well-compensated jobs that drive productivity forwards, they will form reservoirs of poverty and potential instability.

Instead of buying into their own rhetoric of a “India shining”, Indians would be better served by focusing on the nitty gritty of bringing childhood malnutrition DOWN to Sub-Saharan African levels, achieving the life expectancy of late Maoist China, and moving up at least to the level of a Mexico or Moldova in numeracy and science skills. Because as long as India’s human capital remains at the bottom of the global league tables so will the prosperity of its citizens.

* One other thing I noted in amusement is Georgia’s horrendous performance on the PISA: 379 in math, 373 in science. From being one of the most literate and urbane nationalities in the USSR to hanging out with Indonesia and Panama near the bottom of the international numeracy league tables, Georgians have sure come a long way under Saakashvili.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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My recent post on demographic myths unleashed a lively discussion on the issue of race and IQ in the comments section. I’m not too interested in wading into it: not out of any misplaced respect for political correctness, of course, but simply because though I think there are good arguments for both sides, it misses the largest issue. On the one hand, that there exist differences in measured IQ between races in the US and between nations is beyond dispute, and there is strong evidence to suggest that IQ is a strongly hereditary trait. On the other hand, one must also keep in mind that culture plays an indelible role on the formation and very definition of IQ. One striking demonstration of this is a “similarities test” administered by Michael Cole on members of the Kpelle tribe in Liberia, in which they were asked to group objects into categories such as food, tools, etc. They chose functional pairings – e.g. knife and potato, because a knife could not not cut a spoon – because a “Wise man could do such-and-such”. It was only when the researchers asked “How would a fool do it” that the tribesmen rearranged the items into their “correct” categories. So can the Kpelle really be called dumb? Isn’t their form of intelligence, though demented in the eyes of industrial man, actually eminently suited for their natural environment?

However, once upon a time, European peoples too had this psychology. Throughout the world the illiterate peasant tended to be dull, uninquisitive, childlike. (In stark contrast to the slick, lettered, cosmopolitan city-dweller). For instance, in an earlier post I mentioned the article Reconsidering Weber: Literacy and the Spirit of Capitalism by Russian sociologist Andrey Korotayev.

Literacy does not simply facilitate the process of perceiving innovation by an individual. It also changes her or his cognition to a certain extent. [A study by Soviet psychologists on Central Asians during the 1930's] shows that education has a fundamental effect on the formation of cognitive processes (perception, memory, cognition). The researchers found out that illiterate respondents, unlike literate ones, preferred concrete names for colors to abstract ones, and situative groupings of items to categorical ones (note that abstract thinking is based on category cognition). Furthermore, illiterate respondents could not solve syllogistic problems like the following one – “Precious metals do not get rust. Gold is a precious metal. Can gold get rust or not?”. These syllogistic problems did not make any sense to illiterate respondents because they were out of the sphere of their practical experience. Literate respondents who had at least minimal formal education solved the suggested syllogistic problems easily (Luria 1974, 1976, 1982: 47–69).

Therefore, literate workers, soldiers, inventors and so on turn out to be more effective than illiterate ones not only due to their ability to read instructions, manuals, and textbooks, but also because of the developed skills of abstract thinking…

So, 1970′s Kpelle = 1930′s Central Asians? Now fast forward to today. Many Central Asians are Turkic, and their level of social development – if not economic development (due to an adverse geography and a socialist legacy) – is similar to Turkey’s. The Turks are estimated to have a national IQ of 85-90; not retarded, but substantially less intelligent than average Europeans and East Asians. For instance, the IQ of the US is estimated to be around 10 points higher. But if American children during the 1930′s had taken the IQ tests of the 1990′s, it is estimated they’d have performed about 20-25 points lower (that’s like today’s India or Brazil, or 10 points lower than Turks)! This is explained by the rapid secular rise in intelligence during the past century called the Flynn Effect.

iq-world-map

[Map of world IQ (Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen, 2002). Click to enlarge.]

Such an increase is beyond the power of genetics. According to Flynn – and I find this to be convincing – his effect can be ascribed to the environmental changes produced by modernization and the industrial system. He cites the following example: in response to the question “What do a dog and a rabbit have in common?”, whereas a modern respondent would say they are both mammals (abstract answer), someone from a century ago might say that one would catch rabbits with dogs (a concrete or functional answer). It would appear that it’s not so much general IQ that has improved – though probably it did too thanks to better nutrition – but the specialized IQ (abstract, categorizing) that is needed to sustain an industrial system.

But I’d prefer to imagine it in the following way. Think of the brain as hardware. Just as human races* possess various skin colors and physiologies that have evolved over eons in their environments, so it is likely that there appeared subtle racial variations in the genetic component of intelligence. To take a (very idealized) example, it would seem intuitive that someone descended from “hunters” would have a predilection for motor skills (to chuck spears at prey), while someone whose distant ancestors were “gatherers” would be relatively more adept at pattern recognition (to notice berries and be able to tell which are poisonous and which are not).

Nonetheless, three factors would mitigate these differences. First, the human species is very mixed and interbred; apart from small groups that spent a long time in isolation (such as the Tasmanian aborigines), inter-racial distinctions are unlikely to be very sharp. Second, the brain’s hardware works much more effectively if properly maintained; to that end, improvements in nutrition would have the effect of raising IQ levels, especially from the lower end of the scale (as indeed happened in the US during the 20th century). Third, and most importantly, the actual software of intelligence – the intangible of culture and memetics, which is a product of an (ever-changing) environment – has been evolving far, far faster than the hardware. Whatever their racial differences, a Gaelic office worker has far more in common with an ethnic !Kung physicist living in Ireland (mentally, psychologically) than with his own ancestors of a mere century ago.

Peasants and hunter-gatherers may not have much skill in abstract thinking, but they do tend to be intimately aware of the world around them and cognizant of things that will help them get food on the table or cure a sickness. Today’s Arabs in the Middle East may score low on IQ tests and have the lowest literacy rates outside sub-Saharan Africa – even bin Laden complained that more books are translated into Spanish every year than have ever been translated into Arabic! – but many of them are phenomenal mentats who can recite the Koran from cover to cover (if not necessarily actually read the script!). Very impressive, but not that useful for building an industrial base, let alone an innovation economy. As for the typical Westerner, unlike a few decades ago – or unlike today’s Russians, for that matter, who still memorize Pushkin and Lermontov by heart at school – he or she can’t recite a single classical poem. But Westerners are unparalleled at creating and inventing new products and services in the unfolding Information Age…

Why have some human societies been much more successful at industrializing and modernizing than others? The roots are unlikely to be racial differences in IQ. The work of people like David Landes or Jared Diamond explains this better…

Furthermore, the link between modernization and IQ is not one way. The main determinant of long-term economic growth is a country’s human capital (see 1, 2, 3), which for the most part consists of the educational attainment of its population, which in turn is strongly correlated with its level of national IQ**.

 education-capital

[In my old post Education as the Elixir of Growth, I worked out a Human Capital Index for a range of countries - based on things such as literacy, international standardized test scores (which are closely correlated with national IQ) and tertiary enrollment - and plotted them against their levels of GDP per capita. Red dots are countries with a socialist legacy and are below the level they are expected to be at; green dots are countries propelled into being upper outliers by virtue of resource windfalls, such as Saudi Arabia. Cyan dots are all other outliers. Click to enlarge.]

education-growth

[Countries are marked by GDP / capita growth rates from 1997 to 2007. The colors go as follows: white (1.0-1.9%); yellow (2.0-2.9%); orange (3.0-3.9%); red (4.0-5.9%); dark red (6.0%-7.9%) and black (8.0%-14.9%). GDP per capita figures (on the y-axis) are for 1997 – this is because what we are interested in is the influence of education levels on future growth, which we know for the period from 1997 up until today. Unfortunately, educational stats for 1997 are much less comprehensive (PISA and TIMMS embraced much fewer countries then), plus it would take a lot of time digging them up – hence I made a rough assumption that they were the same as for 2007 (which is fairly accurate - it is impossible to radically change a country's human capital profile within the space of a single decade). Note how almost all the fastest-growing countries were well below the logical level dictated by their human capital potential. Click to enlarge.]

This, incidentally, explains my fundamental optimism about the long-term prospects of China and Russia (1, 2) – and my pessimism on India and Brazil. (Amongst the Economist-reading class which thinks liberal democracy is a panacea the impression tends to be the inverse). In summary:

  • China is the biggest creditor and set to become the world’s biggest manufacturer in 2011; though its level of tertiary attainment is still low, it has good basic education and a high national IQ. Russia has superb human capital, energy windfall and fiscal firepower. Similar things can be said for most of the rest of Eastern Europe, East Asia and Eurasia.
  • Many Indians remain functionally illiterate; though Brazil has progressed further, international standardized tests confirm its woeful educational standards. Similar things can be said about most of the rest of Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. These regions are unlikely to converge to developed levels anytime soon.
  • In the West itself, the Flynn Effect has stalled and may even have gone into slow retreat – in any case, human capital development is no longer a driver of growth. Meanwhile, it faces many challenges, such as fiscal (un)sustainability and aging populations. It will remain near the theoretical upper boundaries of development, but these boundaries are likely to start contracting in the years ahead under the pressures of energy depletion.

None of this is due to the fact that Estonians or Chinese are “superior” to Indians or Germans. These are deep structural factors we’re talking about. Quite simply, unlike Mexicans, the former have the type of culture, education, IQ (call it what you will) that will enable them to sustain a developed techno-industrial base. According to the results of the PISA 2006 standardized tests in science, only 15% of Brazilians, 11% of Indonesians, 18% of Mexicans and 22% of Turks possessed skills beyond those needed for purely linear problem-solving, in contrast to 40% of Israelis, 48% of Russians, 51% of Americans, and 68% of Koreans. In other words, the latter nations have about 2-5x as many cadres capable of moving into hi-tech and high added-value manufacturing or services as the former. Is it really a logical leap then to consider their long-term development prospects that much brighter?

Likewise, the reason that Russians and Chinese will gain on Germans and Americans is also simple – the former have the capacity to absorb modern productivity-enhancing technologies, whereas the latter are already developed. This is just catch-up growth. Interestingly, I suspect that their catch-up will be very rapid in historical perspective due to 1) the economic waning of the Western world due to unsustainable fiscal policies, debt and rising costs of energy inputs and 2) the unprecedented ease of technology transfer (and theft!) bequeathed by the Internet.

In the near future, there will appear definite limits to further growth of the global techno-industrial base. Consequently, in a globalized world in which capital resources flow to where they can produce the greatest returns, we can expect nations like China to expand their share of global manufacturing to levels commensurate with their skilled industrial workforces. In fact, this seems to have been the case in the oil shock-induced crisis of 2008-2009: for instance, whereas global vehicle production fell by 14%, it expanded by a blistering 48% (!) in China, which now accounts for nearly a quarter of world output.

* Yes, I realize some scientists deny race and prefer to talk of genotypes, phenotypes and clines. For the sake of clarity, I’ll use the term “race” with the understanding that it is highly qualified.

** See my first post Education as the Elixir of Growth for the original argument. I didn’t bother connecting education with national IQ there, though I was familiar with their close relation, because I didn’t want to incite controversy. (Now I realize that’s a bad idea for a popular blogger!). In the last comment Steve Sailer made the connection explicit.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.