It is sad to hear from Chandra Chisala that our double act will no longer be available for hire, denying us both the prospect of a lecture tour, but if this really is his last word, that is a pity, because debates generally reveal new sources of data, and although personal positions rarely change immediately, they can change as contrary data accumulates. Perhaps Chisala meant “last word” in the rock star sense, and we may yet get on the road for a farewell tour. In that hope, I have given up my earlier plan of just letting him have the last word, and after a delay I make these comments in the hope of tempting him back out of retirement.
My explanation for the slow pace of change in viewpoints in behavioural research is that the delay is mostly caused by effort justification. Reading papers, finding and assembling data, marshalling arguments and finding rejoinders to points raised by critics all require effort, and few people like to see their work wasted. They tend to defend their positions (If they have given public lectures on a topic, then defensiveness is boosted). Hence my standard question to researchers: “If you are just about to put finishing touches to your sandcastle, do you welcome the wave that destroys it?” The scientific ideal is that a wave of new findings is to be welcomed precisely because it overturns sandcastles built on shaky foundations (although they may have been the best available at the time). Easier said than done.
On the contrary, academic debates should not be determined by the amount of effort put in by the participants, but by the results of studies and the accumulation of observations. However, if this really is Chisala’s last word, then a recap is appropriate.
To summarize the general debate: under what circumstances do real world achievements call into question group tests of intellect? One answer is: when more of the group in question have real-life achievements above what would be expected from their measured average intelligence. In my view there should be no doubt that real world achievements are a better measure of intelligence than predictive assessments.
One straightforward approach is to follow a standard procedure. Take the average intelligence score for the nation; then take the best estimate of the nation’s total population; then calculate how many citizens are above a criterion, say Greenwich Mean Intelligence plus two standard deviations (IQ 130) and then compare that number of bright persons with the number of persons who win intellectual prizes. That last category could include a broad range of achievements: Chess, Go, Scrabble, Maths Olympiads and Field Medals, Nobel prizes in science, science publications in the best journals, patents, science based companies, and so on. For example, being employed in the research departments of companies working on artificial intelligence, on new computer chips, on new materials, on new drugs, and other breakthrough research. Given that companies will usually select the brightest persons, all this can provide us with another source of intellectual achievement rankings.
Naturally, any standard procedure has to overcome some difficulties. Are we studying nations, or racial groups, or both? For example, the South African maths team is composed of people with varying genetic backgrounds. Chisala makes the same point about the Canadian chess team. One could try to deduce these genetic backgrounds by surnames, not an error free procedure, or by looking at photos, which is better, but not always precise. It is for this reason that there is a choice about whether we should be counting the wins for national teams, or the wins for individuals, and then classifying the individuals by race. Individuals are most probably preferable.
For example, in a ranking of South African Maths contestants there is a “J.M. MacFie”. My first boss was John McFie and he was European. His wife was African. Should we look at the photos of each contestant, or better still their 23andMe results? The hereditarian viewpoint suggests that such genetic results are indeed required. Chisala takes me to task about whether to measure country team results or the individuals. Country teams is quicker, but looking at each individual would give better detail. I was hoping to be guided by photos in the individual cases, but I am happy with either countries or individuals, once one can agree a method which identifies genetic background.
An interesting point which arises from this is how detailed we should be about genetic groups. I have followed the practice of discussing Sub-Saharan Africans, because that is what the debate has focussed on, and because their intelligence test results are pretty much the same. North Africa gets somewhat higher scores, and tends to be left out of these discussions, but could certainly be included. More interestingly, how much granularity should one require about Sub-Saharan sub-groups? I would say that if we have data for genetic sub-groups it is essential to use it. For example, are there Yoruba, Igbo or other tribes who are cognitive elites? It would be fascinating to find them, and I have already speculated, in previous posts, about their likely characteristics.
Should our population calculations omit women and youngsters? I am against that. First, it would introduce contentious further calculations to take account of varying age structures in different populations. Worse, it would mean that the moment a woman or a 13-year-old becomes a Chess Grand Master or excels in any intellectual endeavour, we would have to re-do all our national calculations. There is already some doubt about the total populations anyway, particularly in any country where bureaucracy is weak. I suggest we keep things as simple as possible, and thus reduce error terms. However, if anyone wants to do an international men-only, adults-only calculation and update it every 5 years, that is their choice. I prefer to keep it simple, and do the same total calculations for all countries.
How far should the net be cast as regards intellectual achievements? I suggest as far and wide as possible, or it will be assumed that some results are being held back. I favour those achievements which are in a “universal language” like maths, science and chess. There will always be some doubt about whether people in poor countries have access to knowledge and training, though the spread of internet access goes a long way to dealing with this. (In fact, it should level the playing field in terms of access to knowledge). Poker, Bridge, Backgammon, and Mahjong could be added to the list, because there are international competitions and rankings. I am not suggesting anyone should take part in such activities. Live and let live.
In summary, any conclusions about group intelligence can be called into question if a significant number of that group have exceptional real-life achievements.
Now to go through some particulars.
Individual Chess rankings
My apologies regarding Kenny Solomon. FIDE does indeed rate him as a Grandmaster with a rating of 2412, and World Rank (all players) 2716, World Rank (active players) 1948. As far as I can see there are no Africans in the top 100 players at the moment. Once again, I have just glanced at the country names and their own individual names, and not looked at photos or biographies. Doing a genetic background analysis of the top 1000 players and their ratings would be instructive.
As regards Scrabble and other results, I think that although it is time consuming, it would be better to consider individual achievements rather than just country results, since immigrants may be contributing to country achievements.
Access to training. Chisala explains the relatively poor showing of Africans in Chess because of lack of books and training. I agree that this is a possibility, though I also assume that wider access to the internet is bringing more of that knowledge to Africa, and also giving Africans more chance to play games remotely.
Chisala makes a further argument:
Some hereditarians, including Thompson, also keep reminding me that their models already consider environment as part of explanation of variance, but this is an irrelevant distinction since they (should) believe that the only environmental factors that could have a significant effect on IQ work through biological means: eg making the brain smaller through lower nutrition etc, as Lynn et al suggests. They normally reject the large significance of things like training/teaching resources, given twin studies in America.
To be clear, I don’t doubt that access to resources and a chance to compete at international level can have an effect on chess performance. Also on Scrabble, Maths and other scholastic attainments. It will apply to other parts of the world as well, so it will affect contestants from other continents. Making Chess or Scrabble a national priority is also likely to have some effect. Factors like this influence all intellectual pursuits. As Jensen observed, if your opportunity to do something is zero, then your high ability and strong motivation will result in zero. A colour bar is a social impediment, not a biological one, but can certainly affect performance measures. I think that Chisala has made an incorrect assumption about my arguments.
Calculating the “smart fraction” for each nation (proportion above IQ 130) should, I suggest, be the common metric for our debates about whether performance at international competitions is better than expected. We can calculate other levels if required, but again we need to keep it simple so as to detect the general picture.
African Self Selection
Chisala makes an interesting argument about self-selected Africans doing well abroad, and I will try to summarize his main points:
Yes, immigrant self selection can affect the average, but not the top performance.
for extremely high elite performance (*at the top*), the average performance of their source population should continue to impose the limitation on the absolute numbers, particularly IF it has a biological cause. This statistical prediction can only be defied if very artificial environmental conditions of the two source populations were in fact the real cause of the difference in the original population averages.
Not only do my opponents give immigrant selection to explain why black Africans seem to outperform black Americans at the top, they incredibly even give that as the explanation for incidents when a black African student outperforms all white students in the UK. No, that gap (30 IQ points) is too large for any top honors to ever be affected by self-selection: you need some new rationalization to explain such common “miracles.” Self-selection may affect average performance, but not top performance, especially not in the first two generations.
It is good that a Black African student led the UK Honor Roll in 2010, and is now at Cambridge University. A more representative group is all Black Africans taking the test. On GCSE pass rates (for 2014) they are slightly above the White British average and, as already discussed, they are a very bimodal population, with as high a proportion of professionals as the local white population, but with many more unemployed persons. It would be better to look at, say, the top 100 or 500 performers, and over several years to get the general picture.
However, I don’t see why top performance should not sometimes be achieved by a person from a category who are generally of low achievement. A top performer coming from the lower ability group is far less likely, but not impossible, and does not of itself invalidate group test results. One cannot get a good estimate of the effect from single cases in single years. However, if top performers came regularly from the lower ability group that would indeed call into question the measures of ability. Another explanation is that it might identify a cognitive elite within that group, which so far is not proven. Either way, it requires explanation. Of course, it would have been interesting to have tested the star performer’s intelligence at 11. The general rule is that cognitive ability at age 11 predicts scholastic attainments age 16, with a correlation of 0.8
Differences between African American and Africans. I like this argument. African Americans should have more high-performing outliers than Africans, per head of population. When corrected for population size the pool of talent to be drawn from is 41 million African Americans and over 1 billion Sub-Saharan Africans (reportedly between 1,014 million and, from the World Population Review, 1023 million). Chisala has somewhat different figures, 46 million for African Americans and 800 million for Sub-Saharan Africa. He has said these are his last words so we cannot resolve these differences in discussion. If I take my figures for sub-Saharan Africa at 1014 million and African Americans at 41 million, and assume that African Americans at IQ 85 and Africans at IQ 70 and have to compete against each other for IQ 130 occupations, then there will be 167,124 African Americans against 55,345 Africans at that level, so I agree with Chisala that the former should predominate. If Africans do better than African Americans on a broad range of intellectual indicators in the US, this is an important anomaly. We can check this against a common standard school leaving examination in the US.
I have highlighted several failed logical and statistical predictions of the racial genetic hypothesis, and I have seen no explanation from the other side that does not borrow elements contradicting their own theoretical framework. They can’t explain the black African vs white children cognitive performance anomaly; or the black African men versus white women cognitive games performance anomaly; or the black African versus black American academic performance anomaly; or even the black African versus white “mental patients” performance anomaly.
Scientific propositions are not sustained by the fervency of hope and loyalty.
I agree that hope and loyalty should not be involved in the testing of propositions. We should agree a set of tests and common procedures, then see how the results come in on a broad range of indicators.
Are there African cognitive elites who can compete at world standard? There may well be, and finding them would be interesting in itself, and also a potential test of the genetic hypothesis. I certainly hope so. According to the UN by 2050 Africa’s population will increase enormously, and Nigeria will surpass the United States to become the world’s third-largest country by population, with roughly 400 million. We have to hope that either the current best estimate of Nigerian intelligence as IQ 70 is wrong, utterly wrong, or that the UN estimates are wrong, and Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, will quickly decide not increase its population, or not that fast.
A last word about Chisala: he is presenting anomalies to be explained, and that is always important. He sees his case as proved. I think that is premature. I see this line of research (comparing competition results and scholastic attainments at the highest level with group intelligence test results) as promising, and potentially able to challenge the usual explanations about group differences, but requiring more systematic examination.
There is a chance that, before too long, I will get a call from Chisala’s agent.