The first logical way the American-invented cognitive game of Scrabble settles the score against radical hereditarians in the racial (Black-White) IQ gap debate is through a two step process: how do white female players compare to white male players in top-level elite Scrabble? Since many mainstream cognitive psychologists tell us that white women (like white men) have much higher tested intelligence than blacks, whether you measure this as “general intelligence” or you just limit it to visuospatial intelligence or mathematical ability, we should expect white women to perform better than black men in any activity that depends on these abilities (since a slight deficiency in such abilities is also the reason white women perform lower than white men, according to the same hereditarians). What we have in Scrabble is an emphatic refutation of this hereditarian expectation of Black cognitive under-performance, especially when the full picture of African achievement in such mental games is examined, as I attempt to do in this article. I also refute any suggestions that such games are insufficient for this analysis.
When I oppose “hereditarians,” I am really concerned with only one specific aspect that many self-described hereditarians seem to share: their intriguingly confident belief that they have already found some kind of proof for a genetic cognitive gap between racial groups that has a certain magnitude and direction, which consequently explains scholastic and IQ test score differences among different ethnic groups. I will call this the “racial hypothesis” in this article, even though it is officially called the “genetic hypothesis,” because I do not want to leave the impression that I reject any genetically transmitted differences in mental (or any other) ability between any two populations. (I have previously theorized that the American black-white IQ gap could simply be a reflection of a high incidence of functionally mild neurological disorders among native black Americans, which tend to affect many more males than females: such a gender IQ gap reversal is less acute in black Caribbeans than black Americans, and absent in Africans, which could suggest that the disorder may have been inherited from mating with similarly affected poor whites during the time of slavery; it has nothing to do with race or evolution per se.)
Although I am therefore also skeptical about a radical global “environmental hypothesis” as the universal explanation for every single time there are any significant performance differences between populations or genders, I think that it should be obvious that the drastically inferior environment of Africa, especially the learning or educational environment (the training factor), is a sufficient explanation for any inferior intellectual performance or IQ of Africans living in Africa (which is why African school children born in Western countries perform as well as white European children, if not better). This article tests that proposition by examining the performance of Sub-Saharan Africans on contests that are much less hindered by the artificial lack of educational (training) resources while simultaneously requiring the application of high natural cognitive resources.
Women in Mental Games
In the past, the paucity of women at the very top of cognitive games like chess has been attributed to common blame-game concepts like “stereotype threat” (men expected them to fail) or sexism (men wanted them to fail); the same environmental reasons given for black American under-performance on scholastic tests, when you just replace ‘sexism’ with ‘racism’ and ‘men’ with ‘whites’. This has supposedly led to the low female participation and motivation. The game of Scrabble perfectly refutes the “stereotype threat” or sexism theories for female under-performance because most people, including women, have always assumed that Scrabble is mainly just a spelling game, an activity where girls in fact appear to have a slight advantage on average. It is only in recent years, as the world of competitive Scrabble expertise has developed, that observers have noted the surprising abundance of math majors compared to language or literature majors at the top by far, and the gender disparity that this entails.
In fact, the college majors found for top Scrabble masters in the US and Canada can be predicted from a chart of average IQ and gender ratios for college subject majors; the most common professions of the top players are precisely the ones from the highest IQ segments:
Source: Randal Olson blog
In 2014, some cognitive researchers compared expert Scrabble players with top students at elite American colleges and found a significant cognitive advantage for the Scrabble experts; the students had SAT scores above 1400 (which approximately translates to an IQ above
143 138 for the students; and the Scrabble experts performed above such high-IQ students on all cognitive tests given).
This is not too far from what one insightful anonymous commenter independently calculated as the average IQ of the top ten American Scrabble players in comparison to other nations’ top 10 (as a comment on an article by hereditarian Professor James Thompson that was responding to my earlier comments on the subject):
I observe (from the table above) that the top 8 nations on this list (above Singapore) have all produced at least one world champion or finalist, and no one else has. Apparently, your top ten team has to have an average IQ of at least 135 to have a good probability of containing a world champion brain, perhaps from the IQ 150 plus range.
To confirm the conclusion that top Scrabble players are highly intelligent individuals with exceptional mathematical talents, I looked at some academic backgrounds of the top players in Western countries (where the developed educational environment supports a much higher academic achievement correlation with such abilities). I indeed found that a disproportionately large number of the very top players have a background in math or computer science and not much in language or literature, especially as the organized competitiveness of the game has grown over the years. Economists are also quite well-represented, probably due to its heavier math component compared to the other social sciences.
The highest rated American Scrabble player, David Wiegand, was a math major in college, and he comes from an incredibly mathematical family pedigree. His father and mother are highly distinguished math professors, as were his maternal grandparents and even his great-grandparents!
The surprise 2016 North American Scrabble winner, David Gibson, who won the championship again after winning it twenty-two years earlier, is also a math professor.
Joe Edley, the first person to win the American national championship three times, majored in mathematics and philosophy. Even Mack Meller, the youngest top Scrabble expert in the US, also just happened to win the national championship for the mathematical game, KenKen. Meller has been a student of a super-selective gifted program by Stanford University.
Mack Meller, 16, became the youngest Scrabble expert in the world in 2011 at age 11.
Outside the US, the highest rated Canadian player, Adam Logan, a former world champion, is also a mathematician. He received his first degree in mathematics from Princeton and his PhD from Harvard. He was a two-time Putnam Fellow – the most distinguished mathematical achievement for undergraduate students in North American universities.
Craig Beevers, a former world champion British player and one of the highest rated players in the world, is not a mathematician, but that’s only because he dropped out of his math program at university. His story reveals a profound level of natural giftedness in math: he could solve long multiplication problems in his head when he was still too young to start school!
Where are all the Girls?
Although there are more women than men who play Scrabble, the game is dominated more and more by men as you go higher in level of expertise. Girls in schools are initially attracted to the game because they have a strong ability in spelling. Spelling bee contests have been won more by girls than boys (46 to 41, respectively, as of 2013). Although girls do well in school Scrabble, the highest awards even at that level go to boys, and this disparity continues all the way to adult club level play, especially the World Championship level.
Women make up as high as 45% of qualifiers to the North American Scrabble championships. This just so happens to be the same gender distribution for majoring in mathematics itself in the US. But in the division of the highest rated players, there are only about 5% women, a pattern that is similar to gender imbalance as you go higher in mathematical achievement.
I also looked at the current (2016) WESPA ratings of the top elite players in the world and could identify only 5 names that were clearly female out of the top 100 players, which is only a bit better than chess (there were 2 female chess players in the top 100 in 2015, including the retired Judit Polgar; at the time of this writing in 2016, there is zero), despite the much larger participation of women in Scrabble. No woman has yet won the World Championship of Scrabble, one woman has won the highest award in mathematics (the Field’s Medal) and one woman has won the North American Scrabble championship (the late Rita Norr, a computer scientist, in 1987).
This rising gender disparity as you go higher in expert Scrabble is a big win for the hereditarian corner of the gender-and-intelligence debate, as it is very difficult for any of the environmentalist models to explain this consistent pattern in all cognitive games or professions, especially given the high participation rates of women in Scrabble. However, as we have seen many times in this research, a big win for the hereditarian side comes with a hidden pact with the devil: a victory in the gender-and-intelligence debate logically implies a decisive loss in the race-and-intelligence debate (you truly can’t have your cake and eat it in this world). How is it that black Africans, who (on average) are supposed to be about 30 IQ points below white women and supposedly have lower visuospatial or mathematical intelligence and even lower variance in their intelligence distribution, can achieve what has been accepted as statistically impossible for white women – outperforming white men – due to their slight cognitive disadvantage against white males?
|Total||Top 100||Top 200|
Besides Nigeria, countries like Kenya, Ghana and Uganda also contribute players to the world top 100.
An even more astonishing picture of African performance unfolds when we look beyond the English-speaking African countries.
Scrabble in French?
In 2015, Nigel Richards, an English-speaking professional Scrabble player from New Zealand, confirmed his reputation as perhaps the greatest Scrabble player in history by winning the French World Scrabble Championship, after memorizing the French dictionary in nine weeks. His goal in 2015 was apparently to hold both the English and French world championships simultaneously. He was robbed of his full glory by the Nigerian Wellington Jighere in the English version, but managed to pull off a more phenomenal victory in the language he does not speak!
Nigel Richards is said to have an authentic photographic memory.
What caught my eye in all the frenzied media reports was the name of the person Richards defeated in the finals (I was fully expecting a French name): Schelick Rekawe. An African (from Gabon) had reached the finals of the French world championships? How?
When I looked into the history of the French Scrabble World Championships, I was stunned to find that Francophone African countries have been even more dominant in French Scrabble, and over a longer period, than Nigerians have become in English Scrabble, despite a very active expert Scrabble club culture in France and other native French-speaking countries.
The full list of the top players in the 2015 French Scrabble championship that Richards won gives a clear picture of this African dominance:
A look at Gabon’s demographics makes the Scrabble achievement of Gabon impossible to explain under the present racial hypothesis.
Gabon has a population of 1.7 million and a reported national IQ of 64.
If the world champion needs an IQ of just 140 (it should probably be higher than that, given the level of gender disparity at the very top), then there is statistically no one in Gabon who should ever come anywhere close to the world championship. Three made it to the top 10 in 2015.
Note that the strongest version of the genetic hypothesis is contradicted even before you do the math: the very existence of such high interest in a mathematical game can not be predicted from a genetic theory that claims heritability of (cognitive or other) human interests, if it is indeed true that Africans have the lowest genetic endowment in mathematical (or even verbal) ability.
Is French Scrabble perhaps less mathematical than English Scrabble? Not at all. The very fact that someone could successfully cross from English Scrabble to French Scrabble (Nigel Richards) should indicate that it requires similar cognitive skills. But I still looked at some profiles of the top French Scrabble players in Europe just to make sure, and found clear signs to confirm this. For example, the French Wikipedia entry on France’s best player (the last French player to keep the French World Championship from Africans, and the only one to have won it twice) says:
Christian Coustillas, professeur agrégé et génie des mathématiques, est un joueur français de Scrabble.
I do not know any French, but I can bet that there is the word ‘mathematics’ somewhere in there and perhaps even an academic career in it!
In 2016, Nigel Richards returned to defend his World Championship title and this time the Africans vowed to keep the crown from him. Like the year before Richards stole the French championship, the two finalists in 2016 were both Africans again; Richards was fourth, behind three Africans. The French math professor and former world champion, Christian Coustillas, could not make it to the top ten as more Africans dominated the chart:
Notice that the names of the 2016 top Gabonese players are different from the ones in 2015, which defies the probability projections from their population and national IQ even further. Senegal (population 13 million, IQ 76), which has probably had the most success at the world championships historically, achieved this with a literacy rate of only 40%!
Something Special about Scrabble for Africans Perhaps?
The man who won the French World Scrabble championship in 2014, Julien Affaton from Benin, also happens to be a top master draughts (checkers) player in his country. This should immediately suggest that whatever he is using to win his Scrabble games probably has something in common with what is needed to be a master in checkers, because it is highly improbable to be that exceptional in two different areas that require unrelated skills.
The question can then be asked: if this is true, then why aren’t Africans also very good in checkers at the world level, just as they are with Scrabble? Isn’t checkers an even more natural field for Africans since it is cheaper to make a checkers set?
Meet Baba Sy.
Back in 1960, a draughts expert from France was visiting the French colony of Senegal when he decided to watch some of the street games in poor communities after the French settlers had introduced the game to the black natives. He could not believe the accuracy and speed of their calculations, despite their lack of exposure to theory, and he decided to expose one of the stronger players to his homeland of France where there was a strong checkers club culture among the mathematically-inclined elites. To the utter shock of everyone in France, the young Senegalese player, Baba Sy, defeated every single expert in France and instantly achieved national fame by becoming the national champion of France!
France had once been the most dominant nation in the world of international draughts, before the Netherlands (briefly) and then the Soviet Union (permanently) took this honor from them through the latter’s state-sponsored program of monetarily professionalizing chess and checkers careers. With the phenomenal rise of Baba Sy, the French thought they had the chance of recapturing the World Championship from the Soviets by using this brilliant talent from one of their colonies.
Baba Sy participated in the 1960 World Championship tournament and shocked the Soviets by coming second in the world, in a variant of draughts he had just been introduced to that was different from his Senegalese one. Sy was not convinced that there was a human who was better than him at any form of checkers, so he decided to challenge the world champion in a more decisive one-on-one World Championship match instead of an open tournament of cumulative points against different players. But by the time this match was supposed to happen, Baba Sy had gained enough mastery of this standard variant to convincingly demolish the best of the Soviets, including their reigning champion and best match play genius at the time, Iser Kuperman. This made the Soviet government reluctant to allow the official World Championship match to take place, apparently for fear of the international embarrassment this title loss would cause, given their heavy investment in the game (they had the same fears over Bobby Fischer in chess). On the day of the match, the Soviet champion simply did not show up, and thus began a long contentious diplomatic standoff between the governments of the Soviet Union and Senegal, as the world of international draughts hotly debated who the rightful champion of the world was for many years. It was only fully resolved posthumously for Baba Sy.
Again, a person like Sy should not exist outside the realm of science fiction if the racial hypothesis is correct. In 1960, Senegal’s population was 3 million, and IQ 76. The population of France was 47 million, and the population of Russia was 120 million, with national IQs of 98 and 97, respectively.
It should be impossible for a Senegalese champion to beat just the high school champions of either France or the Soviet Union. The reason we have never seen a child become world champion in checkers or Scrabble (or anything) is probably because their brains are not fully developed (brain development continues to 25 years of age); and yet the racial hypothesis tells us that the fully developed African brains are on average the mental age equivalent of the white 12 year olds. So why do (the smartest of) Africans produce world champion level players and the smartest of the white 12 year olds (or even the much more “superior” 18/19 year olds) never do?
Baba Sy was not some freakish anomaly in African draughts. Former African colonies of France have continued to offer the biggest challenge to Russia’s traditional dominance of the game, even though, like Scrabble players, most of them still have little access to international tournaments to raise their ratings (the fact that many of them come from lower income communities even by African standards makes it harder for them to obtain travel visas.) In 2015, Jean Marc Ndjofang, a Cameroonian player who has migrated to Europe, managed to qualify as the challenger to the Russian world champion (by defeating everyone else, including other Russians), and only came short of ending the iron grip of the Russians on the world title through a tie-break, as the two failed to beat each other after seven games of normal classical match play.
Americans play a different variant of draughts called English checkers or American checkers; the different variants mainly differ on the number of squares on the board. Although the game is mostly popular with children in the US, there is a whole world of professional checkers players who also have a clear endowment in mathematical ability. Thus, the most famous world champion in the history of American checkers was a distinguished math professor, Marion Tinsley. (There are now two variants of Anglo-American checkers: the normal Go-As-You-Play or GAYP and one called 3-move, in which the first three moves are pre-chosen, to prevent memorized opening plays that increase probabilities of draws).
After Tinsley’s indomitable reign, the most dominant English-checkers player in the world became the appropriately named Ron King, who won American championships and 12 world championships. At the height of his dominance, Ron King faced the biggest challenge of his career from an unknown player named Lubabalo Kondlo. King was able to retain the title after a grueling match that was later made into a documentary. Kondlo happens to be a black man from a very poor area in South Africa. Ron King is also black, from Barbados, and he is known as the Muhammad Ali of checkers for his “trash talking.” At the height of his career, King entered the Guinness Book of World Records for playing an unbelievable 350 simultaneous games and winning them all!
Ron King successfully defended his World Championship against strong Russian players who had shifted to the Anglo-Saxon checkers, including Alexander Moiseyev, a grandmaster in three variants of the game. Moiseyev, a computer programmer, finally snatched the crown from King in the 3-move variant in 2003.
Incredibly, Ron King held on to the World Championship of the GAYP variant until 2014, when he forfeited it to an Italian grandmaster, Sergio Scarpetta, when he failed to show up for the last four games of the World Championship match. South Africa’s Kondlo has continued his quest for the world title; he qualified again to play the World Championship match in 2015 in 3-move checkers (after defeating a strong field including Scarpetta), but lost the match to the world champion, Italian Michele Borghetti.
Canada also has its variant of checkers. The 2015 Canadian Champion is a Senegalese immigrant, Souleymane Keita. He defended his title against (a-Russian-immigrant-sounding name) Vladimir Lubarsky.
In summary, a player from sub-Saharan Africa was the finalist or world champion of 2015, in International Draughts, American checkers, Canadian checkers, English Scrabble and French Scrabble.
Why aren’t Africans also dominant in chess?
The simple reason seems to be that, unlike Scrabble and Checkers, master level chess requires access to a very large body of ever-growing literature in chess theory (even ignoring the difficulty of making homemade chess pieces); it’s no longer possible to teach yourself grand master level chess, without memorizing these long chess openings. Africans do not have this access to chess materials (which now includes computer programs) for the same reason that they have no access to mathematics text books and other educational materials in schools or public (I would be surprised if even 1 percent of Africans have ever seen the word “library” on a building anywhere; they simply don’t exist). Chess has become more resource-demanding than any school subject.
Fischer himself decried the increasingly heavy reliance of top-level chess on familiarity with professionally analyzed theoretical opening lines that the Soviet chess machine engendered (Fischer had to learn Russian just to keep up with the countless Russian opening analyses), and he ultimately invented a variant of chess (called Fischer Random chess) that basically rearranges the pieces at the start of a game. But standard chess continues to be the most popular in the world and Africans continue facing a training deficit for as long as there are no books there.
Thus when the New York Times reported on the incredible Grandmaster achievement of an amateur Zambian chess player in 2007, their article was revealingly titled “Zambian with Little Training Stands Poised to Make History.” (By contrast, re women in chess, a 1992 book about the best chess playing female trio in history, was skeptically titled “The Polgar Sisters: Genius or Training?”).
The resource disadvantage of Africa in chess still does not mean, as some racial hypothesis bloggers seem to constantly suggest, that African chess teams relatively perform at a level that “confirms” their low national IQ scores. On the contrary, Zambia has a stronger national chess team than either Japan or South Korea, for example. Thus, Zambia (population 15 million, national IQ 78) quite easily defeated South Korea (population 50 million, national IQ 106) last time they met at the Chess Olympiads, with the former not even featuring its grandmaster. (China, on the other hand, is now an East Asian chess powerhouse, although it should be mentioned that they achieved this through a semi-Soviet-style professionalization program dubbed “Big Dragon Project”, initiated by an Asian billionaire in collaboration with Chinese officials, with the explicit aim of raising East Asian chess performance).
Even within some historically multiracial countries, you can find some hints of anomalies to the racial hypothesis: South Africa has produced only one chess grandmaster in its history, and he happens to come from the black community. The fact that the black population of South Africa is larger shouldn’t really matter; after all, the top swimmers in South Africa are all white (for likely genetic reasons), and the fastest runners in white majority multiracial societies are black.
What about American blacks?
The vast majority of observations that have led to the conclusions of the racial hypothesis are based on the intellectual performance of blacks in America, where a historical IQ gap of one standard deviation seems to be intractable.
Indeed the game of expert Scrabble itself appears to confirm the ethnic conclusions of Jensen et al within America because black Americans perform (on Scrabble) exactly as predicted by IQ data. Top black American experts generally perform lower than white American women at the top expert level.
The best male native black American Scrabble player, Marlon Hill, has apparently made it his open mission to beat whites at Scrabble, a story that has not escaped Rush Limbaugh‘s amusement. He has so far failed to convincingly establish his racial “superiority.” His rating does not appear on the top 1000 players of the world (WESPA) or even on the top 100 rated players in North America (NASPA). (By contrast, Marlon Hill’s old training partner, Sammy Okosagah, a Nigerian immigrant, has been ranked as high as number one in North America at his peak in 2004, and was one of the highest performing American duo, with David Weigand, at the 2013 World Championships when he came third in the world.)
Quite surprisingly, there are some signs that the well-known gender reversal of intelligence that has been observed in black Americans may be slightly confirmed in Scrabble. A female black expert, Lisa Odom, does not appear on the recent international WESPA ratings list (although she has qualified in the past to play at the world championships) but she appears on the North American top 100 NASPA list. She is presently 59th on that list (it changes frequently), which makes her not only the highest ranked native black American, but also one of the highest ranked women of any race in North America. (Incidentally, the third highest ranked player on the entire North American list at the time of this writing is a Kenyan immigrant, Patrick Gitonga Nderitu, who is ranked just above the Stanford wonderkid, Mack Meller.)
A Jewish Rule?
One simple informal test of the “g-loadedness” or cognitive intensity of any intellectual field is the presence of Jewish over-representation at the very top of the game, so to speak. This rule seems to work for the game of Scrabble.
One of the highest rated Scrabble players in the world, second only to the great Nigel Richards in official rating at the time of this writing, is an Australian player named David Eldar. Eldar attended a special school called King David High School, whose Wikipedia description sounds like it was exclusively formed to serve the Australian Jewish community. Ashkenazi Jews are only 0.5% of that country. Although Eldar has not yet won the world championship, the odds are highly in his favor, as the second highest rated player in the world.
Someone who has won the World Championship is Joel Sherman, who is one of only three Americans to have held the coveted title. Even without digging further for more Jews on the long list of highly rated players in North America, these examples are already sufficient to establish Jewish statistical over-representation on Scrabble super-achievement. And we have a strong reason to believe that there are even more. In a 2005 interview where he was asked to confirm his Jewish roots after he appeared on a list of Jewish sports figures, Sherman disclosed:
… Several other North American Scrabble ®Champs have been Jewish and they’re not listed, presumably because the Wikipedia contributor who compiled that list found my Jewishness mentioned in “Word Freak” and the same info is not readily available about them. I won’t “out” them because I don’t know how they would feel to share that listing as well. My own feeling is ambivalent: it’s nice to be noted, but I’d rather my born religion was not the criterion for my inclusion, as I have been an atheist since even before my Bar Mitzvah…
Seven years before Sherman’s statement, a 1998 New York Times report on computers playing Scrabble against human experts, contained a revealing sentence in the long article: “The leading Scrabble players, many of whom are Jewish, …”
The over-representation of Ashkenazi Jews at the top of such cognitively demanding games might also put in doubt any suggestions of steep declines in real Jewish IQ in the 20th century.
The game of checkers does not escape this Jewish rule (no pun intended). I found that the greatest checkers match player in the Soviet Union at the height of Soviet sponsorship of the game, the man the Soviets were apparently shielding from Senegal’s Baba Sy, Iser Kuperman, was Jewish. This means that the two Russians who held the World Championship in chess and checkers at this time of Soviet dominance were both Jewish (the great Mikhail Botvinik was the chess world champion at this time in the early 1960s).
It is said that this ambitious Soviet promotion and glorification of chess and checkers was originally instituted by Stalin to keep the most intelligent elites of his country, especially the Jews, occupied with something that would keep them from meddling in politics (in more recent years, Gary Kasparov, an Ashkenazi Jew, has indeed become quite troublesome for the Russian government after retiring from chess). It was of course also later used for propaganda purposes to convey the intellectual “superiority” of the Soviet system internally and internationally.
Jewish brilliance has not left the world of checkers to this day. Alexander Moiseyev, the Russian who ended the World Championship reign (in 3-move American checkers) of the Barbadian Ron King, is of Jewish descent. (The 2015 finalist against Senegalese Souleymane Keita in Canadian checkers, Vladimir Lubarsky, is also almost certainly Jewish.)
The bottom line is that if the cognitive hierarchy under the racial hypothesis was true, there should be no single popular intellectual activity in the world in which Africans and Ashkenazi Jews are both over-represented at the top (just as there is no single world athletic activity requiring high speed, in which the slowest populations and the fastest populations are both over-represented at the top). Scrabble and Checkers are in violation of that logical axiom.
Jewish over-representation at the top of such games (checkers, scrabble, chess, etc) also puts in doubt any conclusions that the male advantage over females has to do specifically with visuospatial abilities, as Jews are not exceptional in that regard. It would seem that the advantage has to just do with general intelligence.
No East Asians in Scrabble?
East Asians have the reputation of being good at math in school and college, but their dominance does not extend to the highest award in math (the Field’s Medal), so it is not an anomaly for Scrabble that they are not over-represented at the world championships (especially those born in English-speaking nations). The question still is: why aren’t they good at Scrabble in school, since they are so conspicuously good in math at that stage? Does their failure at this stage pose a problem for Scrabble as a math game?
Actually, they do quite as well at Scrabble as they do in school mathematics.
It appears that there has been an East Asian name among the winners of the highly competitive National School Scrabble Championships in four of the last six years! (They are only 6% of the US population). Notice that only one female name has appeared (Aune Mitchell, 2007) even at this stage. I did not investigate the Jewishness of the other names, but it would not be surprising if there were a few.
“For expert players, the game requires the simultaneous interplay of verbal, visuospatial, and mathematical abilities under speeded conditions. There are no other games that require the simultaneous, rapid use of all of these abilities.” Halpern and Wai, The World of Competitive Scrabble, Psychology Today.
Spearman’s hypothesis, an idea used by Arthur Jensen to demonstrate the biological nature of the black-white performance gap, predicts that the gap should expand the more you use a test that relies on more raw brain power or ‘g’. Scrabble involves much more mental manipulations than the simpler well-known “WordSum” Vocabulary test and the latter shows a wide gap between blacks and whites (in America). This gap does indeed appear to grow even further when you replace WordSum test with Scrabble, but only when you limit “black” to native black Americans. The gap appears to reduce and even reverse when you introduce black Africans, which is an anomaly for the racial hypothesis. The fact that we are talking about the most elite players should actually make it even more impossible for this to happen since the black-white gap should be even more conspicuous (in favor of whites) at higher ends of cognitive performance.
In the same vein, the game of draughts (especially its speeded up form, called “blitz draughts”) is much more g-loaded than a simple “Reaction Time” test that is used by cognitive psychologists to test natural brain power differences by comparing how long it takes one to react to certain simple stimuli. Blitz draughts does not only demand your quick reaction to the move of your opponent, it includes the added mental challenge of calculating your reaction move based on assessing a constantly changing position. Besides playing the World Championship match in the slow classical draughts, an African player reached the top two slots of the super-elite world championships in blitz draughts for both 2015 and 2016.
If Africans are doing well on these games because of some special environmental reason, then that contradicts the genetic racial hypothesis. If Africans in Africa are outperforming others due to some environmental reason, then black American performance on Scrabble can also be raised by environmental methods; if black American Scrabble performance can be raised to equal whites, then black American math performance can also be raised by environmental intervention. If it can’t, then the fallacy of the hereditarian position has been to assume that native black Americans are cognitively representative of blacks everywhere.
The global racial hypothesis is therefore not just contradicted by these findings, it is logically refuted. Under this hypothesis, there should not be even one single cognitive field where the top blacks are equal or more over-represented than the top whites, especially when white participation in such fields is elite enough to result in a wide gender performance gap in favor of males even with relatively high numbers of female participants. The additional presence of Jewish over-representation at the top of a field should only reinforce the impossibility of black dominance or equality under that hypothesis. You have the opposite empirical result in Scrabble and checkers since you get increasing African over-representation with rising cognitive selectivity, suggesting a reversal of the gap, if anything.
The falsifiable part of the racial hypothesis is duly falsified.
- Downie, J. (2011). Why are Most Scrabble Champions Male? New Republic
- Fatsis, S. (2002). Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. Penguin.
- Frydman, M., Lynn, R. (1992). The general intelligence and spatial abilities of gifted young Belgian chess players British Journal of Psychology. Vol. 83. issue 2. p 233-385
- Halpern, D., Wai, J. (2007) The World of Competitive Scrabble: Novice and Expert Differences in Visuospatial and Verbal Abilities. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 2007, vol.13 no.2 79-94
- Lynn, Richard (1994). “Sex differences in intelligence and brain size: A paradox resolved”.Personality and Individual Differences. 17 (2): 257–71
- Pinker, S. (2009). The sexual paradox: Men, women and the real gender gap. Simon and Schuster.
- Rukmini Callimachi (2008). For some Africans, Scrabble more than just a Game. USA Today
- Steven Moss (August 6, 2014). I’ve Got a Word for Scrabble Champions: Mathematicians The Guardian
- Tierney, J. (2005). The Urge to Win. New York Times
- Toma M., Halpern D. F., and Berger D. E. (2014), Cognitive Abilities of Elite Nationally Ranked SCRABBLE and Crossword Experts. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 28, pages 727–737
- Ugander, J. (2016). What do Games tell us about human intelligence? On measuring human intelligence from comparisons. Medium.com
- Williams, J. (2015). Word Nerd: Dispatches from the Games, Grammar, and Geek Underground. Liveright.