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Smart groups are (simply) groups of smart people.

Group discussion Few things attract more attention in the business world than new ways of making groups work well. As any fool knows, groups are a pain. They argue, dither, drift off course, waste time and resources, and produce loads of rubbish. Worse, all those participants draw salaries, so treasure is wasted. Surely, bosses think, any technique that promises to make groups productive will be better than what they have now: a dysfunctional collection of pointless individuals, wasting their time by rushing off in aimless directions? They reject the absurd notion that one person should do the job, and that the dysfunctional team should be disbanded. Leadership: that is what is required, they proclaim.

So, the poor hapless managers are sent off to Leadership courses, and come back with interesting theories which get nowhere, because the rest of the staff have not been sent off to Followership courses. Leaders always require followers. While everyone loves Leadership courses, being recommended for a Followership course would probably cause great offence. A pity. It is fatal to any enterprise when people can neither command nor obey.

While the supposed leaders have been away at an expensive hotel ,the remaining staff have sorted out the problem to their own satisfaction, sometimes with good effect, and most often by cobbling together a patch to protect their own interests. So, it is with grim satisfaction that one learns of Group Performance Enhancement Theory No 347, namely that people working in groups on complex problems:

“show a strong general-ability or IQ factor, with significant differences between groups on this factor. Surprisingly, group-IQ, or “collective intelligence” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

So, if I have understood this correctly, the individual IQs do not matter too much, so long as the group is socially sensitive, takes turns in speaking, and includes women. Personally, having heard this proposal I would have thought it unlikely. Bates and Gupta, however, are truer to the spirit of empiricism, and embody Carl Sagan’s injunction (my summary) that scientists should be kind to hypotheses and tough on proofs.

What is more, since the original study by Woolley et al in 2010 was cited over 700 times, this finding is likely to be the cornerstone of a myriad of training courses, as participants attempt to be sensitive, willing to wait their turn, and womanly. Bates and Gupta have bothered to find out if collective intelligence (group IQ) actually exists. They point out:

For some time, it has been known that work-groups whose team-members have higher IQ out-perform teams of less-able members (Devine & Philips, 2001). Against this background, Woolley et al. (2010) asked whether groups themselves exhibit a general-factor of intelligence, if this might be distinct from individual IQ, and, if so, what the origins of such a collective intelligence might be.

To assess group-IQ, subjects were allocated to small groups and performed tasks including brainstorming, matrix reasoning, moral reasoning, planning a shopping trip, and collaborative text editing. They did all this in 3 studies, so there is a lot of detail in the paper about the findings from their individual studies, and further work on the combined results, usually studies 2 and 3. Woolley et al. (2010) came to the conclusions described above, namely that it is the collective IQ which develops (due to sensitivity, turn taking in conversation, and women members) which is important, and not the IQ of the members of the group. Bates and Gupta sum up the findings of their replication thus:

What allows groups to behave intelligently? One suggestion is that groups exhibit a collective intelligence accounted for by number of women in the group, turn-taking and emotional empathizing, with group-IQ being only weakly-linked to individual IQ (Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, & Malone, 2010). Here we report tests of this model across three studies with 312 people. Contrary to prediction, individual IQ accounted for around 80% of group-IQ differences. Hypotheses that group-IQ increases with number of women in the group and with turn-taking were not supported. Reading the mind in the eyes (RME) performance was associated with individual IQ, and, in one study, with group-IQ factor scores. However, a well-fitting structural model combining data from studies 2 and 3 indicated that RME exerted no influence on the group-IQ latent factor (instead having a modest impact on a single group test). The experiments instead showed that higher individual IQ enhances group performance such that individual IQ determined 100% of latent group-IQ. Implications for future work on group-based achievement are examined.

After doing their 3 studies and re-analysing the results, they conclude: Smart groups are (simply) groups of smart people. By contrast, we found little to no evidence for two proposed causes of group-IQ: numbers of women in the group and turn-taking, and found evidence for a weak and specific impact of RME on one group task, but not on latent group-IQ.

Here is the relationship between the IQs of the individuals in the group, and the resultant group intelligence. If particular group IQs develop, then the group IQs will differ from the mere sum of the individual IQs. In fact, there is a close match.

Collective and individual IQ

Here are all their results summarised in a best fitting model.

Collective IQ depends on individual IQ

Individual’s IQs lead to the group average IQ, which explains the performance the group achieves on all of the tasks. On one task, Missing letters, the Mind in the Eyes task makes a small additional contribution. They add:

The present findings cast important doubt on any policy-style conclusions regarding gender composition changes cast as raising cognitive-efficiency.

Their findings should not be interpreted as meaning that groups are useless. On the contrary, given that the management of clever people is so important for success, care must be taken to let the best thinkers concentrate on the hardest problems. Also, it implies that organizations should pay close attention to the intelligence of their staff members, and very probably to pay more attention to the opinions of their brighter workers.

And there the silly story would end, but there is a sting in the tail. Not only was the original paper cited 700 times, but it was cited without the benefit of a replication. All researchers may be tempted to do that, particularly when a study buttresses a position they like. However, since so many psychological studies fail to replicate, there is now general agreement that replications should be given as much attention as the original claims. So, how did reviewers respond to Bates and Guptas’s replication? With considerable reservations, it appears.

While every paper has to run the gauntlet of reviewer criticism, this one seems to have experienced unusual opposition. In their discussion section the authors reply to the objections raised by unnamed reviewers. A reviewer complained about lack of statistical power, but the main analysis of studies 2 and 3 had a power of 95%. This is a technical discussion, but I think the reviewer got it wrong.

A reviewer judged that the replication was not a replication. Bates and Gupta used the same IQ tests, the same test of empathy, and those tests of successful team work which had best shown the effects which Woolley et al. claimed in the original research. Looks like a replication to me.

Turn-taking was measured by a simpler technique in the replication, but turn-taking was not shown to be independently predictive of group IQ, rendering the point moot.

An anonymous reviewer suggested that (paraphrasing) there clearly must be an unidentified moderator which accounts for why individual IQ and collective intelligence correlated so strongly. Readers should evaluate this claim for themselves. It is far from clear to us that an unidentified moderator “must” exist.

Bates and Gupta were polite, but they could have responded “You show us why you think there has to be a moderator. Evidence, please”.

A friend of the authors, speaking to me in a dark car park on condition of reviewer-type anonymity, said:

The back story is that this paper went through 4 revisions, in which one reviewer every time demanded 10, 20, or even 38 new changes, none of which involved a single new analysis. They demanded that Bates and Gupta remove study 2, remove variables, include a statement that they had not done a replication, and conclude that this area is vigorous and needs more research. They claimed the work was sloppy, error-filled, and so under-powered no one should publish it. They suggested that no peer-reviewed journal would ever publish such awful work. So, if you think science is an efficient hunt for the truth…Think again.

The impression I get is that the reviewers were being unreasonable, and even obstructive.

You might like to look at this link:

All this further silliness aside, in what I consider to be one of the most important findings about team work, the authors identify a crucial result:

It is interesting also that groups did not perform better than individuals – a genuine group-IQ might be expected to enable problem solving to scale linearly (or better) with number of subjects. In group-IQ tasks, coordination costs appear to prevent group problem-solving from rising even to the level of a single individual’s ability. This implicates not only unsolved coordination problems, which are well-known barriers to scale (Simon, 1997) but also reiterates the finding that the individual problem-solver remains the critical reservoir of creativity and novel problem solution (Shockley, 1957).

So, if you want a problem solved, don’t form a team. Find the brightest person and let them work on it. Placing them in a team will, on average, reduce their productivity. My advice would be: never form a team if there is one person who can sort out the problem.

As regards team work and collective intelligence, another idea bites the dust, at least until a new hypothesis comes along, claiming you can boost team productivity by a training in…(insert something warm and friendly).

No teams were assembled to write this post.

• Category: Science • Tags: group intelligence, IQ, team performance 

Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock in Star Trek. Photograph: Moviestore Collect

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?
1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Personally, after reading the above description, I have Linda in my mind’s eye, and I can just see her lecturing me on what sort of yoghurt I should eat. If I ever met her, I would not dream of admitting that I drive a diesel car, and that I have very recently taken up sketching nude women. Of course she is a feminist, and against nuclear weapons! That is obvious. (Actually, if Linda is very attractive, it might be worth my while telling her about my book against nuclear war).

“Linda” is the tricky question Kahneman and Tversky made famous. They implied that people who chose answer 2 were being irrational, because, wait for it, it is more likely from a statistical point of view that Linda is a bank teller (answer 1) than that she is a bank teller with a particular political interest (answer 2). This is because there will be at least some bank tellers who are not feminists, and even if there is only one such bank teller, then the category “bank teller and also feminist” will be smaller than the category “bank teller”. So, it is more likely that she is just a bank teller.

However, the introductory remarks have lead you into getting the sucker punch. The woman is SINGLE for God’s sake, despite being 31 years of age. Some problem there. Despite being a woman, she is OUTSPOKEN and VERY BRIGHT. She studied PHILOSOPHY which I can testify puts you on a hiding to nothing. She was DEEPLY CONCERNED with issues of DISCRIMINATION and SOCIAL JUSTICE. ANTI-NUCLEAR completes the picture. Answer 2 is the better match with the female of this species.

For many years some people have been asserting that tests of rationality show that IQ tests leave out an important aspect of mental ability. If you are clever, but screw up on the Linda Question, then that shows that you lack rationality. Like most things, this is an old debate, best presented by Peter Cathcart Wason, who started this horse running with his four card logic problem in 1966. I heard him lecture on it at The National Hospital, Queen Square, in 1968 or thereabouts, and he demurred when the neuro-surgeon introducing him said that he thought the problem “somehow unfair”. That comment caught the essence of the matter very well.

The other interpretation is that, far from being a test of rationality, whatever that is, the Linda Question is tricky, and teaches you more about the specific question form than about general human thinking processes. Question forms are interesting, and should be studied, particularly by those writing instruction manuals, government advice brochures, and examination questions. Confusing people is easy. Writing clearly and honestly is more difficult.

I have explained all this before, and will probably keep explaining it for ever, because many people, discouraged by clear evidence of their palpably limited intellects, would like a Get Out of Jail card from Multiple Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Practical Intelligence and now, Rational Intelligence.

As you will have seen if you read the second list, I wished the authors good luck in making their test, but was implying it would be difficult.

Stanovich, West and Toplak have now published their book: “The Rationality Quotient: Towards a test of rational thinking”. This is a “Towards” book, and we should not be too impatient, because scholarship takes time. However, it is a bit frustrating. The book gives an erudite account of the issues, but then only selected gems from the relevant work, much of it unpublished. What happened to the old-style test manuals? They had short introductions, a much longer section on standardization samples and general procedures, full instructions about how to administer and score each test, and then correlation matrixes, some factor analyses, and standard score conversion tables. You knew where you were with these manuals. You had to read them to understand what you were doing, and had to hang on to reliability and validity measures for dear life: without those the test was useless. Presumably, we will have to wait for that test manual. Daniel Kahneman, however has seen enough to aver that “it makes a compelling case for measuring rationality independently of intelligence”. Should we be compelled to that conclusion?

There is no a priori reason why a new test of rationality, or practical intelligence, or emotional intelligence or multiple intelligence should not supplant the current range of psychometric tests developed over the last 110 years. Improvements happen. All the new test has to show is that it is a better predictor of real life outcomes than the former test. In an instant, the old test is toast.

Why do the developers of CART, heavily trailed as reaching the reasoning zones that ordinary psychometric tests cannot reach, not bother with validity tests? I pondered this and decided that, prior to reading it, I would sketch out what validity tests would be required. I needed a real life measure of reason, and a strong motive for people to exercise their reason in attaining their goal. Finally, the answer struck me: most people work for a living, and most reasonable people save some money for long retirement. Would tests of rationality, I asked myself, be better predictors of investment strategies and outcomes than ordinary tests of intelligence?

No sooner do I pose the question than I find that Stuart Ritchie has already reviewed the book, and found out that the authors have not bothered with validity tests.

So, I no longer have to review the book. Ritchie has done the job, calmly, kindly, and lethally. He has lanced the pretensions of the “rationality tests are better than intelligence tests” by showing they have not yet provided any validity data, and in terms of their association with intelligence tests, they correlate 0.7 Here is an illustrative table.
Rationality and IQ

Naturally, the individual subtests vary considerably in their correlations with intelligence, but the final test result is closely linked with IQ. Indeed, from a psychometric viewpoint it is no more than a long-winded and very cumbersome intelligence subtest, and so it will remain, until validity data proves otherwise. However, these correlations are instructive, so make a mental note of the ones that most rely on intelligence, and then compare with my comments below.

Here are a few reflections as a post-script to Ritchie. If Rationality is a thing, it must hang together. Tests of rationality should correlate with each other because they have rationality in common. As a rule of thumb, subtest correlations should be better than 0.6, ideally 0.7 and above. Absent such correlations, the subtests would be no more than a hodge-podge of curiosities.


Rationality subtest correlations with total

Furthermore, inspection of the correlations between the subtests shows that many of the subtests are apparently not testing the same mental skill of rationality. Correlations of 0.28 hardly suggest a common factor. I think these are disparate tests, corralled under a one-size-fits-all banner. Wechsler subtests look pristine by comparison. From a psychometric point of view the following subtests (ordered by correlations including, and then excluding, the subtest in the total score) seem promising:

1 Probabilistic reasoning .78 .71
2 Scientific reasoning .78 .70
3 Reflection versus Intuition .77 .71
14 Financial literacy .72 .65
4 Syllogistic reasoning .68 .62
13 Probabilistic numeracy .67 .62

Is it just me, or do these have an IQ-like look to them? In fact, the ones that correlate which each other are ones which require intelligence as shown in the correlations with cognitive ability listed above. This is something of a crisis for any test of rationality. If they pick the best 6 sub-tests and drop all the others, they could get the whole test down to manageable proportions and quick enough to use. Currently, the full form is far too long, but this is part of the test development process. Neither subjects or test givers like long tests. There are many quick IQ tests against which a rationality test will have to compete. However, how much Rationality will reside in such a test? It will be just another IQ test. To stick true to their own mission they should reject the list above and concentrate on those tests which do not correlate with intelligence. This will be the pure rationality they seek. The fact that those tests don’t correlate with each other is a problem they will have to solve.

Validity measures must be proffered for this new test, or the whole thing will be no more than a burst bubble, a party balloon that popped.

I think that Kahneman has been premature in concluding that we should measure rationality independently of intelligence. Currently it is no more than a cumbersome subtest, with no demonstrated advantages.

What I cannot refute is that many show a deep desire to supplant tests of intelligence. Far from doing so, this “Towards” book has inadvertently done a good job of showing that Rationality is very probably not separate from Intelligence, and that the tests of a presumed common factor of rationality are a very mixed bunch. I suspect they are mostly a collection of tricky questions organized into general types. Refined down to the best subtests, and further refined down to the most discriminating items, it might be possible to construct a test which clinicians and researchers will use. That remains to be demonstrated, and depends validity measures. It would be good to see if a Rationality Quotient was a better predictor of long-term investment performance than an IQ test.

Grant proposal, someone?

• Category: Science • Tags: Mental Traits, Rationality 
Add fertilizer and yields are boosted, up to a plateau; ignore the quality of the seed and yields slowly decline.

dying plants Everyone knows about the Flynn Effect, but very few about the Woodley Effect.
When Woodley was working on his paper in 2013 “Were the Victorians cleverer than us? The decline in general intelligence estimated from a meta-analysis of the slowing of simple reaction time” I wrote to Charles Murray about his findings, and in his reply he asked: “So when are we going to get a reconciliation of the Flynn Effect and the Woodley Effect?” Thus, Murray has named both the apparent environmental rise in intelligence, and the possible fall in underlying genetic intelligence.

By analogy with agriculture, we could say that the Flynn Effect is about adding fertilizer to the soil, whereas the Woodley Effect is about noting the genetic quality of the plants. In my last post I described the current situation thus: The Flynn Effect co-exists with the Woodley Effect. Since roughly 1870 the Flynn Effect has been stronger, at an apparent 3 points per decade. The Woodley effect is weaker, at very roughly 1 point per decade. Think of Flynn as the soil fertilizer effect and Woodley as the plant genetics effect. The fertilizer effect seems to be fading away in rich countries, while continuing in poor countries, though not as fast as one would desire. The genetic effect seems to show a persistent gradual fall in underlying ability.

Woodley’s claim is based on a set of papers written since 2013, which have been recently reviewed by Sarraf.

The review is unusual, to say the least. It is rare to read so positive a judgment on a young researcher’s work, and it is extraordinary that one researcher has changed the debate about ability levels across generations, and all this in a few years since starting publishing in psychology.

The table in that review which summarizes the main findings is shown below. As you can see, the range of effects is very variable, so my rough estimate of 1 point per decade is a stab at calculating a median. It is certainly less than the Flynn Effect in the 20th Century, though it may now be part of the reason for the falling of that effect, now often referred to as a “negative Flynn effect”.

Woodley effect Sharraf

You can now see that calculating the rate of decline is somewhat difficult. Perhaps a median would be “less than 1 per decade”. The time spans vary, the measures also, though the latter variance is an advantage, in that it suggests a general underlying cause. However, the range of estimated decline is very large, from 0 to 4.8 per decade.

Here are the findings which I have arranged by generational decline (taken as 25 years).

  • Colour acuity, over 20 years (0.8 generation) 3.5 drop/decade.
  • 3D rotation ability, over 37 years (1.5 generations) 4.8 drop/decade.
  • Reaction times, females only, over 40 years (1.6 generations) 1.8 drop/decade.
  • Working memory, over 85 years (3.4 generations) 0.16 drop/decade.
  • Reaction times, over 120 years (4.8 generations) 0.57-1.21 drop/decade.
  • Fluctuating asymmetry, over 160 years (6.4 generations) 0.16 drop/decade.

Either the measures are considerably different, and do not tap the same underlying loss of mental ability, or the drop is unlikely to be caused by dysgenic decrements from one generation to another. Bar massive dying out of populations, changes do not come about so fast from one generation to the next. The drops in ability are real, but the reason for the falls are less clear. Gathering more data sets would probably clarify the picture, and there is certainly cause to argue that on various real measures there have been drops in ability. Whether this is dysgenics or some other insidious cause is not yet clear to me.

Sarraf ends on a glowing note:

Ultimately, I cannot give “Historical variability in heritable general intelligence” a higher recommendation. Not since The Bell Curve (Herrnstein &Murray, 1994) has a single work offered such immense psychometric revelations about advanced human societies and their pasts and futures.

My view is that whereas formerly the debate was only about the apparent rise in ability, discussions are now about the co-occurrence of two trends: the slowing down of the environmental gains and the apparent loss of genetic quality. In the way that James Flynn identified an environmental/cultural effect, Michael Woodley has identified a possible genetic effect, and certainly shown that on some measures we are doing less well than our ancestors.

How will they be reconciled? Time will tell, but here is a prediction. I think that the Flynn effect will fade in wealthy countries, persist with fading effect in poor countries, and that the Woodley effect will continue, though I do not know the cause of it.

• Category: Science • Tags: Flynn Effect, IQ, Woodley Effect 

It is good that people are discussing IQ. Fred Reed’s post has drawn many comments, too many for me to answer individually. Here I outline the main heads of his argument as I see them, and some of the relevant research.

My summary of Reed’s post is:

Intelligence is important; intelligence research is important and can influence social policy; American blacks, the Irish, and Mexicans have similar IQs but different outcomes; IQ scores for some countries have been revised considerably, suggesting that intelligence measures are unreliable; Maya Indians had cultural achievements out of all proportion to the low IQs of the current inhabitants; current research shows European intelligence both falling and rising, the latter because of the Flynn Effect, and this suggests the measures are unreliable; the ancient Greek thinkers were very bright, and not dull as the Flynn Effect might imply; the IQ of India cannot be 81 because of India’s cultural achievements; there is no visible difference in intelligence between Mexicans and Americans, nor also with the inhabitants of Taiwan, Vietnam, or Thailand; and what mean IQ is thought necessary to run the infrastructure of modernity?


The first topic to cover is correlation. Correlations are best understood by looking at scatterplots. Any correlation which is less than unity will have discrepant data points scattered along the trend line. Some countries will be outliers for different reasons, all of them worth debating. For example, the usual link between IQ and GDP is altered by two main artefacts: oil and tourism. However, there are other reasons, and it is certainly worth following up all outliers, and putting forward testable hypotheses about why this is so. Of course, these hypotheses need to be tested on the whole data set. Even when the correlation is strong, say 0.8 there will still be discrepant cases (large residuals, in statistical jargon).

A discrepant data point does not destroy a general correlation. If there are many discrepant results the correlation is lowered. If all results are discrepant there is no correlation to discuss. Individual instances do not refute general findings. A test of intelligence which is an excellent predictor of later success in life will not always identify the most successful individual. There will always be exceptions to be pointed to. Rindermann is a good person to read on the relevant research between country IQ and national achievements.


The Flynn Effect co-exists with the Woodley Effect. Since roughly 1870 the Flynn Effect has been stronger, at an apparent 3 points per decade. The Woodley effect is weaker, at very roughly 1 point per decade. Think of Flynn as the soil fertilizer effect and Woodley as the plant genetics effect. The fertilizer effect seems to be fading away in rich countries, while continuing in poor countries, though not as fast as one would desire. The genetic effect seems to show a persistent gradual fall in underlying ability. Intelligence tests are good at identifying skills with high predictive value for life success, but less good at doing historical comparisons, unless one concentrates on specific subtests. IQ percentile ranks hold up very well over six decades. There is much research on this issue. Jim Flynn works with many of the new researchers on the topic, like Elijah Armstrong. It is a somewhat technical field, but very interesting.

Country totals may appear to change, but that is to be expected if the initial samples were few and not properly representative. Well organized countries provide better data than less organized ones. As more data comes in the results should get to be more accurate. For that reason the whole Lynn database has been made public, and is being improved and extended. There is more work to be done, particularly adding in the cognitive estimates derived from maths and science examination results from international tests.

For the purposes of this discussion, it should be noted that the Lynn database for Mexico references only 3 studies, all of children, in the 6 to 13 year range, which you can see on the National IQ database, ranging from 80 to 88, for an overall mean IQ of 85. Adult data and more data would be better. However, a recent analysis of PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS data (1995 to 2012, N 93 nations) comes up with an IQ derived from those results of 88. The similarly derived IQ for the USA is 99.6.

Cognitive capitalism and high ability stem

Historical comparisons over several centuries are harder to carry out, but not impossible. Rindermann and I put in measures of historical cultural ancestors on two time spans: Nobels for the last century, and eminent scientists since 800 BC (the Ancient Greek effect) and showed that they both made a contribution to modern day economies. However, Greece is no longer the centre of the intellectual world, nor are the Mayas. Their accomplishments were real enough in their time. Their best thinkers are still rightly revered, but a nation’s current IQ is not always a good guide to the abilities of very distant ancestors. If populations move of their own volition or are displaced by new entrants, the general intellectual level can change. On the other hand, if selection on a settled population is hard enough then intellectual levels can rise in 8 to 16 generations. That is another interesting story.

The Indian mean IQ of 80 is based on 26 studies, so is well covered. Nevertheless, there is variability according to which province one measures, even more different than the States of the United States. The caste system creates differences. So does the rate of cousin marriage.


Naturally, you can have some bright people from all countries: is it the proportions which differ. Any big deviations from what you would expect from the country bell curve calls into question the stated average for that country.

“No visible difference in intelligence between Mexicans and Americans, nor also with the inhabitants of Taiwan, Vietnam, or Thailand.” Cannot really comment on that, except to say that in social interaction it is not always either possible or desirable to make intelligence estimates. More relevant is to look at technical innovation rates, patents, science publications and the like. However, it would be a valid point if there were no differences in the achievements of those countries and the functioning of their societies. If there were no differences on the above measures, then the associations between mental ability and social outcomes would be weakened, and eventually disconfirmed. However, the general link between national IQs and economic outcomes holds up pretty well.

What mean IQ is thought necessary to run the infrastructure of modernity?

This interesting question has been much discussed. Smart fraction research suggests that the impact of the brightest persons in a national economy has a disproportionately positive effect on GDP. Rindermann and I have argued, following others, that the brightest 5% of every country make the greatest contribution by far, though of course many others of lower ability are required to implement the discoveries and strategies of the brightest. There have been two supportive replications.

On this basis you might say that countries depend on those with IQs of 120 and above. These are the people who can follow “college format” education in which they read provided references and work out the implications for themselves, guided by tutor and test feedback. The USA can rely on 8% of their people to do such work, Mexico 2%. If countries can find such people, retain them, and deploy them properly, with a good pyramid of helpers below, then the country concerned has a good prospect of doing well. However, given global competition, countries need many people of IQ 130+ to really prosper, and such people tend to emigrate to the strongest economies, where they will earn most, so less able countries are often denuded of their brightest citizens. The USA can rely on 2% of their population to do such work, Mexico 0.3%.

However, a rule of thumb would be helpful in answering this, and the initial guesstimate was that a national IQ of 93 was required for a reasonable standard of living. I certainly agree that if the overall country data set shows no difference between countries of different intelligence levels, then the intelligence levels are called into question.

As economies globalize, the figure required for innovation and flourishing economies is probably being pushed upwards. At the same time, products are coming out which do many necessary things without requiring much intelligence from users. Mobile phones can perform functions which previously required high ability programing skills. Now, all users have to be able to do is point with their finger. Cars used to be complicated, and require careful maintenance. Now they are more reliable (though harder to service without computer guidance). Cash registers do everything based on pictograms, so a society can function to some extent on the problem solving of others. Good news all round.

Globalization may result in innovative countries being far richer than the countries which don’t innovate but just use the inventions, in the way that most of the world flies on wide body jets made in the USA and Europe. Skyscrapers were an innovation once, and are now commonplace. Nonetheless, the innovators will be the first to get the benefits of modernity, and are likely to retain most of the profits.

• Category: Science • Tags: IQ, Smart Fraction 

Freud and Pavlov


Steve Sailer posted an item on Freud, and my short comment in reply grew too long, so here it is as a very brief post.

Here are some quick reflections. I think that commentator Discordiax is right that the First World War is part of the explanation for the rise of Freudianism. “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” had a big impact. Freud was a good essayist, and gave an explanation of sorts for a catastrophic event. He linked sharp observation with an attractive, all purpose hydraulic system, in which pressure which did not come out of one pipe had to come out from another. Pavlov, on the other hand, who was a real experimentalist, used the telephone exchange analogy, which was far better.

So why is Pavlov nowhere in comparison? The answer was that he was a real scientist (Nobel for Physiology) and reading science is hard. You have to know stuff. Most of us read Einstein and then struggle somewhat, but we know it led to a bomb, and some other stuff (satnavs in part). He keeps being proved right.

With Marx and Freud you can go anywhere. They defy falsification.

The really interesting question is why New York, Chicago, Buenos Aires and one part of North London still worship the Freudian flame. More of that later.


Haier IQ diffs on meg activations

No story about the brain is simple; no one study is definitive; and it takes many years to sort out conflicting and inconsistent findings and establish a weight of evidence.

It is a fundamental truth that any researcher who can put a person in a scanner can publish a paper. Any researcher able to talk 20 undergraduates into being scanned, perhaps while being asked to imagine an ice cream cone, can announce that the brain centre for ice cream cones has been established, at least to the researcher’s satisfaction. Behind each aspiring researcher is a perspiring technician, who knows that the raw readout will not be understood by a researcher in too much of a hurry to become well known, so that instead the results will have to be shown as a brightly coloured picture. That picture will then be presented at a conference, and will show, beyond any dispute, that we now know a great deal about the neuroscience of imaginary confectionary. Privately, the technician will know that the same readout could have produced another picture, vaguely similar but different in important respects, and that his version of how to colour-in the results is different from other people’s interpretations, but he cannot make too much of this, because other researchers are clamouring for his assistance. The cavalcade of pretty pictures continues.

Here is some background on scanning the brain:

It was with this admittedly slightly sceptical frame of mind that I questioned Rex Jung at a conference about some results he and Rich Haier had obtained, and was reassured by being given details about how they tried to overcome such problems, not least by reliability checks and large sample sizes.

So, it was with keen anticipation that I turned to Rich Haier’s new tome “The Neuroscience of Intelligence”.

Tome it is. In the best American tradition of weighty volumes, it ploughs into a question which I rate as crucial: “Why are some people smarter than others? This book is about what neuroscience tells us about intelligence and the brain.

What We Know About Intelligence from the Weight of Studies

What is Intelligence? Do You Know It When You See It? Defining Intelligence for Empirical Research; The Structure of Mental Abilities and The g – Factor; Alternative Models; Focus on the g – Factor; Measuring Intelligence and IQ; Some Other Intelligence Tests; Myth: Intelligence Tests are Biased or Meaningless; The Key Problem for “Measuring” Intelligence; Four Kinds of Predictive Validity for Intelligence Tests; Intelligence Definitions and Me

Nature More than Nurture: The Impact of Genetics on Intelligence

The Evolving View of Genetics; Early Failures to Boost IQ; “Fraud” Fails to Stop Genetic Progress; Quantitative Genetic Findings also Support a Role for Environmental Factors; Molecular Genetics and the Hunt for Intelligence Genes; Seven Recent Noteworthy Studies of Molecular Genetic Progress

Peeking Inside the Living Brain: Neuroimaging is a Game- changer for Intelligence Research

The First PET Studies; Brain Efficiency; Not All Brains Work in the Same Way; What the Early PET Studies Revealed and What They Did Not; The First MRI Studies; Basic Structural MRI Findings; Improved MRI Analyses Yield Consistent and Inconsistent Results Imaging White Matter Tracts with Two Methods; Functional MRI (fMRI); The Parieto- frontal Integration Theory (PFIT); Einstein’s Brain

50 Shades of Gray Matter: A Brain Image of Intelligence is Worth a Thousand Words

Brain Networks and Intelligence; Functional Brain Effi ciency – is Seeing Believing? Predicting IQ From Brain Images; Are “Intelligence” and “Reasoning” Synonyms? Common Genes for Brain Structure and Intelligence; Brain Imaging and Molecular Genetics

The Holy Grail: Can Neuroscience Boost Intelligence?

Case 1: Mozart and the Brain; Case 2: You Must Remember This, and This, and This … Case 3: Can Computer Games for Children Raise IQ? Where are the IQ Pills? Magnetic Fields, Electric Shocks, and Cold Lasers Target Brain Processes; The Missing Weight of Evidence for Enhancement

As Neuroscience Advances, What’s Next for Intelligence Research?

From Psychometric Testing to Chronometric Testing; Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory and Super- Memory; Bridging Human and Animal Research with New Tools Neuron by Neuron; Bridging Human and Machine Intelligence Circuit by Circuit; Consciousness and Creativity; Neuro- poverty and Neuro- Social- Economic Status: Implications for Public Policy Based on the Neuroscience of Intelligence; Final Thoughts


The book tackles the definition of intelligence with flair and good sense. This is a fresh approach, and a welcome change from the usual one. If someone you know doubts intelligence differences, shown them the functional literacy data which Linda Gottfredson references:

Haier Gottfredson picture


That is right. Only 4% of the white population can do all the tasks in the list. 21% get to the 4th level but cannot do carpet cost type problems, and at the very bottom 14% have very simple skills, which do not include locating an intersection on a street map. For many of you reading this, the finding will seem incredible. It is incredible. Human differences are hard to believe, but they are matters to be demonstrated, beliefs notwithstanding.

Haier in his sweeping overview makes measured judgments about the major studies in psychometry, including The Bell Curve on the social consequences of different levels of ability; Terman’s work on genius (the first to show that high ability people were not puny, shambling wrecks; but extremely productive and successful, and happier and better-adjusted than controls), the Study for Mathematically Precocious Youth, point out among many other things that the “brighter you are the more you achieve” holds even at the highest levels of intellect “The upper quartile within the top 1% were 18 times more likely to get a STEM doctorate than the bottom quartile within the top 1%.”

g- factors derived from different test batteries correlate nearly perfectly with each other as long as each battery has a sufficient number of tests that sample a broad range of mental abilities and the tests are given to people sampled from the wide range of ability (Johnson et al ., 2004 , 2008b ). A recent study of 180 college students reported that a g -factor derived from their performance on a battery of video games correlated highly (0.93) with a g - factor extracted from their performance on a battery of cognitive tests (Ángeles Quiroga et al ., 2015)

Somewhat to my surprise, Haier believes that epigenetic research shows promise. This is not my field, but Robert Plomin, as far as I know, is doubtful that this will prove fruitful. We shall see.

In a large Dutch twin study (Posthuma et al ., 2003b ),the same identical twins were given mental test batteries repeatedly over time to assess general intelligence. The heritability estimate of general intelligence was 26% at age 5, 39% at age 7, 54% at age 10, 64% at age 12, and starting at age18 the estimate grew to over 80%. The increases could be due to several factors including more genes “turning on” with increasing age or gene– environment interactions.

In this context, a fascinating study of social class in Poland during its socialist years addressed this issue in an unusual way. This is an older study but quite illustrative ( Firkowska et al ., 1978 ). Here is the summary quoted directly from the published report: “The city of Warsaw was razed at the end of World War II and rebuilt under a socialist government whose policy was to allocate dwellings, schools, and health facilities without regard to social class. Of the 14,238 children born in 1963 and living in Warsaw, 96 percent were given the Raven’s Progressive Matrices Test and an arithmetic and a vocabulary test in March to June of 1974. Information was collected on the families of the children, and on characteristics of schools and city districts. Parental occupation and education were used to form a family factor, and the district data were collapsed into two factors, one relating to social marginality, and the other to distance from city center. Analysis showed that the initial assumption of even distribution of family, school, and district attributes was reasonable.6 Mental performance was unrelated either to school or district factors. It wasrelated to parental occupation and education in a strong and regular gradient.It is concluded that an egalitarian social policy executed over a generation failed to override the association of social and family factors with cognitive development that is characteristic of more traditional industrial societies.” In the context of this chapter, the confounding of genetic and SES factors leads to a possible alternative conclusion: Any influence of social policy on mental performance failed to override the influence of genetic factors. The same confounding is apparent in new studies that suggest that SES accounts for brain differences underlying cognitive/ achievement gaps, and we will detail them in Chapter 6.

Since the confounding of genetic effects with presumed social class effects is a bugbear of mine, I have copied out the main conclusions on the topic from Chapter 6 below:

Dr. David Lubinski has written a comprehensive review of the SES/ intelligence confounding issue (Lubinski, 2009 ). Although the context for his paper is Cognitive Epidemiology, the argument applies to all research using SES as a variable. Essentially, if a study incorporates measures of both SES and intelligence, statistical methods can help disentangle their respective effects. The interpretation of results from any study of SES cannot disentangle which factor is driving the result unless a measure of intelligence is included in the study. Studies of intelligence without considering SES are also problematic. When both variables are included in multivariate studies in large samples, the results typically show that general cognitive ability measures correlate with a particular variable of interest even after the effects of SES are statistically removed. For example, in a study of 641 Brazilian school children, SES did not predict scholastic achievement, but intelligence test scores did (Colom & Flores-Mendoza, 2007). An even larger classic study had data on 155,191 students from 41 American colleges and universities. Their analyses showed that SAT scores predicted academic performance about the same even after SES was controlled; that is, SES added no additional predictive power (Sackett et al ., 2009 ). Another study of 3,233 adolescents in Portugal found that parents’ level of education predicted intelligence in the children regardless of family income (Lemos et al ., 2011 ). These researchers stated their conclusion straightforwardly: “Adolescents from more affluent families tend to be brighter because their parents are brighter, not because they enjoy better family environments.”


The chapter goes on to make restrained criticism of the neuro-poverty interpretation placed on scanning results by Prof Noble, which I have discussed in detail before.

The neuropsychology results begin in Chapter 3. This goes into the history of scanning, and the early days of scanning subjects either trying to solve problems while being scanned, and/or comparing brain activity given knowledge of their ability scores.

In 1988 Haier published the first PET study of students taking the Raven’s Matices test, showing that the brains of such students differed in terms of areas activated from those students doing a simpler attention task. In a master-stroke he correlated the Raven’s scores with brain activity, showing that the brightest students showed less brain activity. That’s right: less activity. Hence my frequent advice to earnest people who want to use more of their brain, which is that they should be bright enough to use less of their brain. Why sweat the small stuff?


Haier and colleagues proposed the brain efficiency hypothesis of intelligence:higher intelligence requires less brainwork. As Detterman would say, bright people overcome the bottleneck effect of brain inefficiency which is the main cause of the g factor. After studying student who had practiced Tetris many times, brains of experienced players showed less activity than brains of naïve players. Their interpretation was that the brain learned what areas NOT to use and became more efficient with practice. They also noticed a trend in this study for the people with the highest intelligence test scores to show the greatest decreases in brain activity after practice (Haier et al., 1992a). This finding is generally true, but not the whole story. Brains differ in how they learn and operate, and for example men and women matched for equal Maths scores show different patterns of brain activation as they solve mathematical problems.

Intelligence test scores are related to brain glucose metabolism. This helps validate that the test scores were not meaningless numbers representing a statistical artifact. In fact, as neuroimaging studies of intelligence continue to increase, old criticisms about intelligence test scores having no meaning are less and less meaningful, if they were ever meaningful at all.

Haier argues that men and women’s brains must be analysed separately, just as different ages must be so analysed.

We found a nearly perfect linear relationship between the g – loading of each subtest of the WAIS and the amount of gray matter correlated to each subtest score (Colom et al .,2006a ). Thus, we come to another important observation. IQ tests have the advantages of a standardized test battery but the scores combine the general factor along with other specific factors. So the question of how intelligence correlates to brain structure and function depends on whether the question is about g or about more specific mental abilities. Inconsistent results among these early studies likely result from confusion on this issue as well as from issues about sampling and image analysis.

Haier is a good explainer. He introduces each new technique with a crisp account of how it works and what data it produces. The result is a kindly introduction to a complex subject, all too often accepted on trust, because the pictures are pretty. Here we get a sober account of what can and cannot be deduced.

Even though fMRI had been used in hundreds of cognitive studies by 2006, only 17 studies included any measure of intelligence or reasoning. Of these 17 fMRI studies, all but three had sample sizes of 16 or fewer and there were a variety of control tasks (or the lack of any control task in some studies) and a variety of intelligence/ reasoning measures. None of the measures in these early studies were based on a battery of tests to estimate the g – factor.

Hence, most of the studies are very probably neuro-bollocks.

Haier and his colleague Rex Jung are proponents of the PFIT model of brain organization. Haier says: Note that “Integration” emphasizes that communication among the salient areas was key to the model because we have always recognized that identifying specific brain areas was only the beginning of a useful brain model of intelligence. Understanding the temporal and sequential interactions among networks that link the areas would be key.

Haier P-FIT brain

In stage 1, information enters the back portions of the brain through sensory perception channels. In stage 2, the information then flows forward to association areas of the brain that integrate relevant memory, and in stage 3 all this continues forward to the frontal lobes that consider the integrated information, weigh options, and decide on any action, so in stage 4 motor or speech areas for action are engaged if required. This is unlikely to be a strictly sequential, one- way flow. Complex problems are likely to require multiple, parallel sequences back and forth among networks as the problem is worked in real time.

The basic idea is that the intelligent brain integrates sensory information in posterior areas, and then the information is further integrated to higher- level processing as it flows to anterior areas. The PFIT also suggests that any one person need not have all these areas engaged to be intelligent. Several combinations may produce the same level of general intelligence, but with different strengths and weaknesses for other cognitive factors. For example, two people might have the same IQ, or g level, but one excels in verbal reasoning, and the other in mathematical reasoning. They may both have some PFIT areas in common, but it is likely they will differ in other areas.

Our hypothesis is that individual differences in intelligence, whether the g – factor or other specific factors, are rooted both in the structural characteristics of the specific PFIT areas and in the way information flows around these areas. Some people will have more gray matter in important areas or more white matter fibers connecting areas and some people will have more efficient information flow around the PFIT areas. These brain features lead some individuals to score higher on intelligence and mental ability tests, and other individuals to be less effi cient, and less good at problem solving. How the salient brain features may develop is a separate issue for future longitudinal studies of children and adolescents. In the next chapter we will see newer imaging methods that show millisecond changes in information flow throughout the brain so hypotheses about efficient information flow and intelligence can be tested.

Frameworks like the original and revised PFIT have conceptual problems related to a reliance on correlations that are fundamentally not interpretable regarding cause and effect between brain measures and cognitive measures (Kievit et al .,2011 ). One promising possibility for addressing this limitation that might advance the study of “neuro- g ” may be the use of analyses based on multiple indicators and multiple causes (Kievit et al ., 2012 ).

We are identifying the individual instruments in the orchestra. Learning how they work together to create the symphony of intelligence is a new challenge that requires even better technology such as the magneto- encephalogram (MEG).

Overall, the weight of results across multiple studies provides considerable, if not overwhelming, support for the parietal– frontal distribution hypothesis (albeit with some modifications) and some tentative support for the efficiency hypothesis based on measures of brain connectivity.

On one hand, efficiency remains a popular concept for thinking about neural circuit activity and how it relates to complex cognition (Bassett et al ., 2015 ). On the other hand, the concept has been characterized as so vague as to be useless, although it still has potential explanatory power if better defined and measured (Poldrack, 2015 ).

Will college entry one day be done by a restful brain scan rather than a stressful exam? The IQ-predicting power of brain scans has recently improved considerably, so this might be feasible one day.

Genes influence brain networks and intelligence. Until specific genes and their expression are identified, we cannot distinguish directly whether genes influence brain morphometry, which then influences intelligence, or whether genes influence intelligence, which then influences brain morphometry. It is also possible that many genes influence both brain morphometry and intelligence (pleiotropy) and only some of them are common to both.


This is a good book at several levels. It has some good jokes scattered throughout the text, a great plus in my opinion. It gives a good introductory overview of intelligence research, and is another book to recommend to those who claim to have difficulty understanding the concept of intelligence as a measurable characteristic. It disposes of the popular memes of “boost your IQ by listening to Mozart/remembering numbers a few numbers back/eating special foods/doing crossword/playing computer games” which have to be countered at least once every 5 years. It also disposes of the view that a yet to be constructed test of “rationality” can replace tests of intelligence. It also succeeds in its intended purpose of giving a summary of the development of brain imaging and its application to understanding the link between brain functioning and intelligent behaviour. It hammers home a message about scientific progress: individual studies are unlikely to settle major questions, but a pattern of such studies may eventually lead to identifying general principles underlying the observed results. Results of individual studies confuse for at least two reasons. The first is about error: sample sizes are initially too small (though they are now getting larger), scanning techniques each have their peculiarities which lead errors; and the jumble of experimental tasks contribute noise. The second is about discovery: it may be necessary to study male and female brains separately, because they achieve fairly similar end products by different means; there may indeed be a P-FIT dance of brain messages, but different pathways may exist for bright and dull participants. P-FIT is still in the running, and a version of it may be refined and confirmed. At the moment, it is the leading theory for explaining intelligent brains. Eventually, a convergence of different scanning techniques, and a systematization of intellectual test conditions may lead to very big samples being gathered, sufficient to act as proper standardization samples for brain activity. That will push the whole field forwards from the cottage industry of small samples of restricted range of intelligence subjects doing disparate intellectual tasks to more broadly based collaborative studies using common methods of scanning and a core of agreed mental tasks.

Keep watching the scans.

• Category: Science • Tags: Brain Scans, Brain Size, Intelligence, IQ 

Scrabble whatever


I have never played Scrabble. I may have tried once, but certainly gave up very quickly, before even finishing the game. I like words, but I don’t particularly like games. I can’t see the point of Scrabble, and would prefer to read a book, in which the words are assembled to convey meaning. Unscrabble. I do not for a moment doubt that Scrabble requires intelligence. Players have to think of words and their spellings in terms of letter beginnings, middles and endings. I doubt I could do that with any diligence and flair, and congratulate those who can.

I presume it is less challenging than chess, which is in turn less challenging than Go. Scrabble has a random element in that the letters are drawn from a bag, but that is not a major complication for detecting a player’s ability in the long run. I don’t know how difficult it would be to create an artificial intelligence Scrabble player, but imagine it would be easier than for chess. Each letter combination would be checked against a dictionary, and rated for letter frequency points. Technically, it might be quite simple to get to a reasonable level of performance from an AI implementation. “Maven” is pretty simple, looking two moves ahead and “Quackle” is said to be the current front runner at championship level. As an outsider to the game, I note that Scrabble cannot be truly universal, because it is language based, and it is hard to gauge the equivalence of the different 29 language versions and their players. Unlike chess, there are definitional issues about words, and random allocations of letters, whereas in chess the rules are set, and there is no quibble about the win, lose or draw outcome.

I consider Chanda Chisala to be an African Hereditarian, championing the intellectual abilities of African elites, mostly in Nigeria, and I wish him the best of luck, because it would be good to find more intellectual elites, to trace their origins, and to compare them to the brightest groups from other continents. Every region of the world probably has intellectual elites (an Al-Rashidi privately claimed that to me, regarding the Arabian peninsula) and they will probably be commercially and academically successful, and very picky about who their children marry. Chisala argues that if many Africans are among the top players of Scrabble and other board games, Africans cannot be as dull as psychometric testing suggests. I think this is a promising line of argument, particularly when one doubts a set of measures, or it is difficult to get large and representative samples for psychometric testing.

La Griffe du Lion used chess tournament winners in Russia to estimate the intelligence of the sub-populations of Russia, and was able to show that Jewish origin Russians were over-represented among winners. He required that there should be equal access and motivation to play the game in question (which he assumed from the massive benefits which accrued to anyone who could play chess well in the Soviet Union), accurate data on winners and their racial/cultural backgrounds, and accurate measures of the base populations from which the winners are drawn. Any errors in those parameters creates bigger errors in the calculation of population intelligence levels. Here is the link to his full explanation:

1) A threshold of performance must be found that depends purely on cognitive ability.
2) The threshold must be unequivocally defined.
3) The rates at which the target group and the control group cross the threshold must be established.
4) Opportunity must exist for both groups to cross the threshold. That is, the target group cannot be restricted by political considerations from fair competition.
5) An overriding motive to cross the threshold must exist, being sufficiently strong that virtually all those capable of crossing the threshold do.

It can always be argued that poorer countries have more difficulty in practising for and taking part in international competitions, so on point 4 Africans could claim they do not yet have equal access. Also, I don’t know if there is strong encouragement to play Scrabble in Africa, but there must be some advantages for successful players. There is a case to be made that African success in Scrabble is an under-estimate. Anyway, it is worth considering the current results. If Africans are over-represented among winners of Scrabble tournaments, then Chisala is right that IQ estimates for Africa are called into question. One would have to make allowances for the fact that Scrabble is simpler than chess, but it would be interesting to estimate by how much, and also to make some allowance for individual countries deciding to encourage, pay and train Scrabble players, as Nigeria, Pakistan and Thailand reportedly do. Such training raises an interesting interpretative dilemma: if training makes some countries much better than others, then it could be argued that a) intellectual abilities can be trained and IQ can be boosted or b) training does nothing to boost intelligence, but siphons off the brightest people and boosts performance in a narrow domain by teaching them strategies.

Starting with Scrabble, the World Championship History 1991-2016 produces the following country totals: United States 7, England 6, Canada 5, Thailand 5, New Zealand 4, Australia 1, Malaysia 1, Nigeria 1.

My impression is that England and their descendants play this game well; that Thailand plays almost as well; that the big difference between Australia and genetically similar New Zealand suggests that whether the game is taken up at championship level is a bit random, and that Australia, Malaysia and Nigeria have shown promise. Frankly, although I do not go out of my way to defend the French, the universal English language is not yet universal enough to pass any judgement on nations, so one has to look separately at the French results. Chess is a far better test in that regard.

Bluntly, I think it would be difficult to argue that English people are bright on the basis of these results, nor to impute too much about what this means for national intelligence measures. Nigeria and Thailand give government sponsorship to the game, so the requirement of equal access is partially invalidated. However, sponsorship is also a measure of what can be achieved with encouragement, as the UK have found by their crafty gaming of Olympic medal totals (the concentrate on games which give many medals).

On Live Chess Rating the top 41 players list contains no Africans.

On the WESPA Scrabble rankings more Africans can be found on this list. I count 25 in the top 100, mostly from Nigeria.

Do good African results on Scrabble call into question the results of IQ testing? To my mind there is no question that they might do so. Real life success is the criterion; examination and intelligence test success only the potential predictor. Chess would be more informative, and a general pattern of elite performance in Maths and Science would be pretty convincing.

Estimating Nigerian ability is made a bit more difficult by a rapidly increasing population size: Nigeria has been ignoring the 1980s World Health Organisation posters which assured us that all the world was limiting family sizes. That same august organisation now guesses that Nigeria may have 1 billion people by 2060. The 2015 estimate is 182 million citizens, with a projected 262 million by 2030. Let us stick with 182 million. The Lynn database gives 70 for Nigeria (based on 16 studies, with the best sample by far being the 17th study, which is just about to appear so not included in that estimate). I will take Nigerian IQ70 as the estimate to be disproved, and the Rindermann estimate of African intelligence of IQ75 (which makes allowances for sample deficiencies) as the best estimate for Africa as a whole.

If Nigerian IQ is 70 there will be 5,764 Nigerians with an IQ of 130 and above. Some of them will play Scrabble. If really good Scrabble playing requires an IQ of 140, then there will be 278 Nigerians able to excel at this game.

If Nigerian IQ is in fact at the Rindermann estimate for Africa of 75, then there will be 22,362 Nigerians with an IQ of 130 and above, and 1,336 Nigerians with an IQ of 140.

The Economist magazine calculated that half of Africa’s intellectuals have left Africa. I presume most go to make their fortune, and succeed. Some then go back to assist Africa. They have probably paid more attention to banking than Scrabble or other board games, and go to catch the biggest game available in the financial districts of New York or London.

So, although I like the method, I think that Go and Chess rankings would be more informative than Scrabble. Scientific publications and patents would be a real clincher, as would international Maths and Nobel prizes in Science.

But not Peace Prizes. In 1978 Israeli Prime Minister Menahim Begin got the Nobel Prize for Peace, together with Anwar Sadat. Israelis celebrated thus:

Have you heard? Menahim Begin has got the Nobel Prize for Physics!

For Physics? Surely he got the Nobel Prize for Peace?

No, his qualifications in Physics were better.

• Category: Science • Tags: Africans, IQ, Race/IQ, Scrabble 

I do not have a regular place on the home page, but you can adapt your version of that page so as to provide one for me. Go to the central column of the home page, click on my name:

Unz columnist

And drag it to the top of the list of columnists.



Uruguay sea of eternity



It is possibly somewhat unusual for a columnist at to be taking orders for marihuana, but I am always open to new income streams, and the brave move of Uruguay on 10th December 2013 to become the first country to legalize marihuana should not go unrewarded.

For those of you who have not been following this story, or have been in too much of a haze for various unspecified reasons to remember the salient points, here is a quick recap.

In a dramatic acceptance of the reality of human nature, or in a craven acquiescence in the face of depravity, the left wing (Ample Front) Government decided at the end of 2013 to make the sale of marihuana legal, subject to some provisions. This innovative move received considerable international attention, particularly from those unused to Uruguayan ways. Things here do not happen in a rush. For example, the beach shower across the road, which had given good service to families for many years, was the subject of a routine municipal inspection last year. The truck full of officials drove into it with such force that it was cleanly fractured at the base, and toppled over. A lamentable mistake, I presume. The base is still there a year later, with the snapped off garden hose still clearly visible in the stub of the concrete pillar. Beach showers are functional objects, and a garden hose set in concrete does the job well enough. Admittedly, in the intervening year they have put up a new shower nearby, a proper wooden post with steel water pipes, but the damaged one has not been removed. At the same time, the noble monument to those lost on The Sea of Eternity was tottering on the cusp of an exposed sand dune for some weeks, and has now lurched downwards, sustained only by the garden hose leading to the new shower. This fate has been evident to bathers for the last few weeks. No sense in rushing things.

Why the delay in delivering State marihuana? The State moves slowly in these parts. Getting permission for something usually takes time, and involves a visit to a Government office, and joining a queue. In a recent interview, the President admitted to three problems regarding implementing their own law: how to register the users, how to protect the growers and how to protect the pharmacists. Pharmacists are held in high regard in Uruguay. Even during national holidays they take it in turns to provide 24 hour cover. They sell a wide range of medicines, including antibiotics, to a discerning public. Many important consultations take place at the prescription counter, and interiors are usually stylish places, with white marble, a disinfected atmosphere and sparkling cabinets of fashionable beauty products. Pharmacists have not taken kindly to the proposal that they should serve drugs to intoxicated and possibly violent users. These are people who settle their business accounts with gunfire. Pharmacists are in no rush to be the front-line troops in a social experiment. In addition to the usual dragging of feet of all officialdom, the pharmacists have dragged each toe in very slow motion. No sense in rushing things. Everything must be done properly, or the Government will be further castigated for encouraging drug use, which grievous aim they stoutly deny. They do not want to add to their troubles. State education, once revered, is now in a poor state. Although improved from previous levels, the PISA 2015 results are very low for what is substantially a European population, drawn from Spanish and Italian immigrants. The country is very far down the rankings. Despite all efforts the results are “Johnny could do better”, and the State system is criticised for favouring the producers, not the consumers, often the case in State monopolies. In contrast, the health system, largely insurance based though available to all, is less subject to criticism.

PISA 2015 ref Uruguay


Perhaps the main objective has already been achieved. Uruguay has achieved a world first, almost as notable as winning the first World Football Cup in 1950. They are the first country to legalise marihuana, and the fact that so far nothing has happened should not, in their view, be held against them. Indeed, this may be the ultimate form of government: a bold new policy is announced, widely applauded, and then quietly shelved. Gesture politics may be the best art form.

For the time being, dear readers, rather than sending me any requests, it may be better to stick with your local supplier. You will thus be able to extol the virtues of the free market, until the Uruguayan State manages to provide supplicants with their permitted 20 gram daily ration of State planted, State harvested, State delivered, fully supervised, controlled and subsidized Government weed. The President promises you will have something to smoke this year. If and when that happens, you won’t even notice that the monument to those who navigate the sea of eternity is about to topple into its own sea of eternity.


world in turmoil boatfull of people

What is the use of Psychology? Surely knowing some psychology should confer an advantage? I mean a real advantage, over and above being able to give complicated post-event commentaries?

How about this? If survival means avoiding premature death, then living is perpetual problem solving, and the better the solutions to problems, the better the standard of living among the survivors. Given that we intend to describe the whole world, a useful unit of account is the Country. Within each country there are common laws and customs, and statistics (of variable quality) regarding living standards and income. Yes, there are regional differences within countries, and yes some countries are alike and could be grouped into regional blocs, but let us make a start with countries. World politics involves relations between 195 countries. Some will have peaceful and prosperous trading relationships and others less so.

Most of the country data you can look up on international databases. These will give you many economic and social variables, and the PISA dataset, together with TIMSS and PIRLS, edge towards telling you how well people in those countries solve the problems of living. They measure scholastic attainment, which on the more difficult subjects like Maths and Science are good proxies for intelligence, but still subject to the effects of tuition.

There is another dataset, collected by one researcher in his book lined study, which aims to go further. It gathers together all intelligence test results and groups them by country. Some countries are missing; some have only a few relevant studies; some have studies based on proper, representative samples; and a few wealthy and diligent countries have many population based studies. As in real life, things vary. In one sense this database is a projective test. Population based statisticians (frequentists) always ask for more and better samples, and are quite right to do so. Bayesians know that if you are hunting a submarine then one radio location from a submarine broadcast is far, far better than nothing. For them, one study based at a school somewhere in the countryside stands as the first indicator of the intelligence of that country, until later and better indicators can be found. As a general rule the notion of calculating a country IQ is no sillier than the rest of behavioural science, in which universal rules of human behaviour are sought from studies conducted almost exclusively on university students of psychology, patients at local hospitals and such passers-by as can be bothered to stop and answer silly questions.

The Richard Lynn database on intelligence by countries is now being updated by David Becker and colleagues. It is in its Second Edition, and with your help many more editions will follow as we try to trace particular references, and add as yet uncatalogued studies. Here is a background post on the project:

Here is the link to the Second Edition. David Becker explains the new format:


I think the table is now in its final form, where it is much easier to add new material. Studies with more than one value are now differentiated, and absolutely all information necessary for traceability are now included.

Blue lines are already absolutely complete, others still have some “???” which must to be replaced from time to time. A special tab “CALCULATIONS” will make any additional necessary calculations transparent.

Where it was currently possible, IQs per source are now calculated automatically. My aim is to implement this for as many scores as possible, to avoid errors.

Look at the spreadsheet, find a country in Column B and the mean IQ in Column P and median IQ in Column Q. The nature of any adjustments for the Flynn effect are also shown, as is the full reference. Our aim is that everything should be traceable, and if there are any errors they can be corrected immediately for all to see. The more people who know about it, get involved in adding to it, and use it in their predictions about world affairs, the better.

In order to manage your expectations about world politics, I asked David Becker to estimate World IQ. He cautioned that we only had data from 148 nations with a total of 6,953,727,177 people, around 94.88% of world population. This will leave out poorer countries with less organised education systems.

By simple calculation IQ of the 148 nations is:
84.99 (using nation’s means)
85.02 (using nation’s medians)

If weighted for population size (newest data CIA-factbook):
88.44 (using nation’s means)
88.53 (using nations’ medians)

Allowing for the fact that some poorer countries have not been included, I think that World IQ is about 88. It is better not to use decimal points when our coverage of many countries is sparse. In contrast with The Man on the Clapham Omnibus, the gold standard for the average English person beloved of the judiciary, the man on the World Omnibusis at the 21st percentile compared to Greenwich Mean Intelligence. That means that if prestigious jobs requiring IQ 130 are allocated solely on the basis of intelligence, then in a fair contest between equal numbers of “Westerners” and “Rest of World people” the former will be 9 times more likely to get the best jobs. If no-one is really worth hiring in the world economy unless they are IQ 93 or above, then that cuts out 32% of Westerners and 63% of Rest of World-ers. This is likely to cause big problems.

The world is most like Brazil 87, Colombia 86, Costa Rica 88, Cuba 86, Dominican Republic 88, Kazakhstan 87, Kuwait 87, Lebanon 86, Moldova 89, Suriname 89, Tajikistan 89, Thailand 86, Tibet 86, Tonga 86, Trinidad 87, Tunisia 87, Venezuela 88. Leaving aside the income flows from Westerners wanting oil or tourism, prospects are not particularly good, though better than many sub-Saharan countries.

Looking at how those world average countries conduct themselves will give you a good guide as to what to expect in 2017, and and probably far beyond. You can also predict the direction of travel for those looking for a better life.

Happy 2017 to you all.

• Category: Science • Tags: IQ 
James Thompson
About James Thompson

James Thompson has lectured in Psychology at the University of London all his working life. His first publication and conference presentation was a critique of Jensen’s 1969 paper, with Arthur Jensen in the audience. He also taught Arthur how to use an English public telephone. Many topics have taken up his attention since then, but mostly he comments on intelligence research.