Since I’m still preoccupied with my new software project, I’m republishing my major Race/IQ article from a few years ago.
It provoked an enormous outpouring of responses all across the Internet, perhaps 99% of those hostile, often intensely so, but after over a dozen follow-up columns and responses, I believe I was proven correct in almost every particular.
At the end of April, Charles Kenny, a former World Bank economist specializing in international development, published a blistering attack in Foreign Policy entitled “Dumb and Dumber,” with the accusatory subtitle “Are development experts becoming racists?” Kenny charged that a growing number of development economists were turning towards genetic and other intrinsic human traits as a central explanation of national economic progress, often elevating these above the investment and regulatory issues that have long been the focus of international agencies.
Although Kenny suggested that many of his targets had been circumspect in how they raised these highly controversial ideas, he singled out IQ and the Wealth of Nations, published in 2001 by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen, as a particularly extreme and hateful example of this trend. These authors explicitly argue that IQ scores for different populations are largely fixed and hereditary, and that these—rather than economic or governmental structures—tend to determine the long-term wealth of a given country.
Kenny claimed that such IQ theories were not merely racist and deeply offensive but had also long been debunked by scientific experts—notably the prominent biologist Stephen Jay Gould in his 1980 book The Mismeasure of Man.
As Kenny soon discovered from the responses to his online article, he had seriously erred in quoting the authority of Gould, whose fraud on race and brain-size issues, presumably in service to his self-proclaimed Marxist beliefs, last year received further coverage in the New York Times. Science largely runs on the honor system, and once simple statements of fact—in Gould’s case, the physical volume of human skulls—are found to be false, we cannot trust more complex claims made by the particular scholar.
Despite Kenny’s obvious lack of familiarity with the technical questions he raised, these issues remain important ones to explore, given today’s globalized world. After all, it is generally acknowledged that some people are smarter than other people, and this almost syllogistically raises the possibility that some peoples may be smarter than other peoples.
Most nations prefer material wealth to poverty, and it seems plausible that smarter people might be better at generating the productivity needed to achieve this goal. We should hardly be surprised that this possible factor behind economic advancement has attracted the interest of the development experts criticized by Kenny, and just as he alleges, IQ and the Wealth of Nations ranks as perhaps the most extreme academic example of this analysis.
Although “intelligence” may be difficult to define precisely, most people have accepted that IQ scores seem to constitute a rough and measurable proxy for this trait, so Lynn and Vanhanen have collected a vast number of national IQ scores from the last 50 or 60 years and compared these to income levels and economic growth rates. Since experts have discovered that nominal IQ scores over the last century or so have tended to rise at a seemingly constant rate—the so-called “Flynn Effect”—the authors adjusted their raw scores accordingly. Having done so, they found a strong correlation of around 0.50–0.75 between the Flynn-adjusted IQ of a nation’s population and its real per capita GDP over the last few decades, seemingly indicating that smarter peoples tend to be wealthier and more successful.
From this statistical fact, Lynn and Vanhanen draw the conclusion that intelligence leads to economic success and—since they argue that intelligence itself is largely innate and genetic—that the relative development ranking of the long list of nations they analyze is unlikely to change much over time, nor will the economic standing of the various groups within ethnically mixed countries, including the United States.
Now this hypothesis might indeed be correct, but it is not necessarily warranted by the empirical data that Lynn and Vanhanen have gathered. After all, if high national IQ scores are correlated with economic success, perhaps the high IQs cause the success, but it seems just as possible that the success might be driving the high IQs, or that both might be due to some third factor. Correlation does not imply causality, let alone the particular direction of the causal arrow. A traditional liberal model positing that socio-economic factors strongly influence performance on academic ability tests would predict exactly the same distribution of international results found by Lynn and Vanhanen.
Fortunately, a careful examination of the wealth of empirical data they have gathered provides some important evidence on the relative plausibility of these conflicting hypotheses, allowing us to draw useful conclusions in this extremely taboo subject.
The Distribution of European Intelligence
Critics have often suggested, not without some plausibility, that when Western-designed IQ tests are applied to Third World peoples, the results may be distorted by hidden cultural bias. There is also the possible impact of malnutrition and other forms of extreme deprivation, or even practical difficulties in administering tests in desperately impoverished nations, as Kenny emphasized in his critique.
In order to minimize these extraneous factors, let us restrict our initial examination to the 60-odd IQ datapoints Lynn and Vanhanen obtained from European countries and their overseas offshoots over the last half-century. Obviously, some of these countries have at times been far poorer than others, but almost none have suffered the extreme poverty found in much of the Third World.
What we immediately notice is a long list of enormous variations in the tested IQs of genetically indistinguishable European peoples across temporal, geographical, and political lines, variations so large as to raise severe doubts about the strongly genetic-deterministic model of IQ favored by Lynn and Vanhanen and perhaps also quietly held by many others. (Unless otherwise indicated, all the IQ data that follow are drawn from their work and incorporate their Flynn adjustments.)
Consider, for example, the results from Germany obtained prior to its 1991 reunification. Lynn and Vanhanen present four separate IQ studies from the former West Germany, all quite sizable, which indicate mean IQs in the range 99–107, with the oldest 1970 sample providing the low end of that range. Meanwhile, a 1967 sample of East German children produced a score of just 90, while two later East German studies in 1978 and 1984 came in at 97–99, much closer to the West German numbers.