History – discoveries, revolutions, innovations – has always been made by the select few: The extraordinarily intelligent, and the extraordinarily driven and curious.
It is easy to proxy the former (IQ tests), but quantifying the latter is more difficult.
My suggestion: Look at the demographic composition of the “out of left field” groups whose equivalents would have met up at the 18th century coffee salons of London and Paris to discuss the separation of powers and the settlement of the Americas.
I did this for six such major communities:
- Occupy Wall Street 2011: Online n=5,006 survey of visitors to occupywallst.org in October 21-22, 2011.
- Black Rock City Census 2014: Online n=11,707 survey (that’s 1/5.5 of total participants that year).
- Transhumanists 2012: Online n=818 poll of people in people who frequent transhumanist forums and communities organized by Hank Pellissier (whom I thank for giving me access to the data).
- LessWrong 2014: Online n=1,503 survey of the LessWrong rationalist community.
- LessWrong 2016: Online n=3,083 survey of the LessWrong “diaspora” (now to a significant extent Scott Alexander’s readers). My demographic analysis of this community.
- Effective Altruism 2017: Ongoing n=2,147 survey since 2014.
- Slate Star Codex 2018: Online n=8,077 survey of Scott Alexander’s blog readers.
|US Census 2010||72.4%||4.8%||12.6%||16.3%||~2.0%||~1.0%|
|Occupy Wall Street 2011||81.2%||2.8%||1.6%||6.8%||7.6%|
|Burning Man 2014||87.0%||5.7%||1.3%||6.3%||6.3%+||0.4%+||4.9%|
|Slate Star Codex 2018||88.0%||3.6%||0.5%||2.0%||~9.8%||2.4%||2.8%|
Before we go further, I would argue that the H+/EA/LW-sphere are actually less conformist than both OWS and Burning Man. One is a standard Leftist protest movement, and not a particularly radical one at that, and while it was once countercultural, Burning Man has long been suborned by… well, The Man. To the contrary, discussing the efficacy of different nootropics, trying to quantify the conscious experience of a parakeet, and analyzing the different takeoff scenarios for superintelligence really is quite… eccentric, in the best sense of that very English word, not to mention a great deal more g-loaded than camping out in Central Park or the Nevada desert. I would wager that these people are some of the likeliest to achieve major successes in culture, science, and technology on a per capita basis.
The first thing that jumps out is the substantial underrepresentation of Hispanics, the severe underrepresentation of Blacks, and the astounding overrepresentation of Jews – a pattern present across all groups, but particularly extreme in the Rationalism sphere. This is no puzzle for non-IQ deniers, so I will leave this without further comment.
The second notable thing is the relative underrepresentation of Asians, and the overrepresentation of Whites; a pattern that holds even when you subtract Jews from Whites. This is especially puzzling when you consider that Asian-Americans (median age – 36) are considerably younger than American Whites (median age – 43), though perhaps this is counterbalanced by some fraction of them hiding out in the “Other” and/or multiracial categories.
It is however less of a puzzle to those aware of the “Asian Paradox” in HBD discussions – the tendency for East Asian nations to outperform White ones on IQ tests, but to underperform them on scientific output (e.g. Japan produces less elite science than either Germany or the UK, despite a higher average national IQ and a much bigger population of 127 million versus 82 million and 65 million, respectively) and even on economic productivity. 52 million South Koreans produce about as much elite science as 8 million Swiss, as proxied by the number of annual publications in Nature. This is despite Japan having no NAMs to drag its average down, as in the US and much of Europe.
This general pattern pertains to Asian Americans as well, which suggests that not only cultural/national factors are involved. Although they score substantially higher than American Whites on IQ tests, and are vastly overrepresented amongst elite college enrollments – around 40% at Caltech, and 15% at other colleges where they are discriminated against by affirmative action, according to the numbers compiled by Ron Unz – non-boring accomplishment tend to trail off after that point. For instance, (the Japanese researcher) Kenya Kura notes: “Among undergrads, 40% or more are Asians, but graduate students are something like 20% (depending on departments). Faculty members are well less than 10%.” (This is not a difference that can be wholly or even mostly ascribed to the different age structure of the White and East Asian population). On the other hand, they do go on to make a lot more money than Whites (something that SJW propagandists of “white privilege” studiously ignore). This suggests East Asians in particular have a proclivity towards taking the safe, conformist, socially respectable, path in life.
Incidentally, I would also note that the one “out of left field” group in which East Asians are slightly overrepresented is Burning Man (though this vanishes when you consider that many of its participants come from the West Coast). However, it has long ceased to be any sort of particularly subversive and countercultural undercurrent – certainly by 2014, which is when the cited survey was taken. Over the past several years, Burning Man has been trending its way into the Californian SWPL memeplex, complete with corporate endorsements, luxury camps for Silicon Valley oligarchs, and police crackdowns on its old freewheeling drugs and nudist culture. Can’t get much more straight-laced than that.
Tries hard to make a feminist point, but sort of makes the opposite one.
|Occupy Wall Street 2011||61.0%||37.5%|
|Burning Man 2014||58.2%||40.6%|
|Effective Altruism 2017||70%||26%|
|Slate Star Codex 2018||89.9%||10.1%|
Women don’t differ much from men in terms of IQ (serious estimates range from equality to a 5 point disadvantage), though they do have thinner tails, so there are significantly fewer very intelligent women than there are very intelligent men and this starts to become an increasingly important factor from around IQ=130 or so. Moreover, women are marginally superior in terms of verbal IQ, which tends to correlate best with worldly success. However, as is well known, sex differences in human accomplishment is where pure IQ reductionism – despite its general successes – fails most thoroughly and consistently, regardless of 20th century feminist achievements (women accounted for 4% of Nobel Prize winners in literature and the sciences in 1900-1950, and 3% in 1950-2000).
Women have near parity in Burning Man participation and Occupy Wall Street. Neither are principally anti-systemic, both have a sort of a cool/fun factor to which ordinary people are drawn to, and OWS in particular has a marked Leftist tilt (politically, relative to men, women are conformist Leftists). However, the female share falls to around 10% in the rationalist-sphere, which is much more g-loaded (average IQ is at least 2 S.D. above the average), and where you can only really have fun if you have a very specific personality type (rational, open-minded, abstract, data-centric). If we are to assume that membership/participation in them can be considered a proxy for curiosity as well as IQ, and bearing in mind that the discovery threshold for major new scientific discoveries is perhaps another S.D. or two higher than for participating in those communities, then the lingering paucity of female achievement in those areas to this day becomes more intuitively understandable.
The Effective Altruism community is basically a less abstract/more practical extension of the rationalist community, with strongly charitably overtones, so women are more prevalent within it.
1. Sociological concepts like “structural oppression” has never explained anything well, so why should the “bamboo ceiling” be an exception? As opposed to qualities such as curiosity actually being important for management and CEO positions?
2. Maybe, just maybe – as John Derbyshire seems to have intuited – elite college discrimination against Asians actually serves a purpose?
At least if your goal is not fairness, or pure meritocracy, or increasing the supply of quality doctors and lawyers and engineers… but maximizing the rate of innovation.
3. There doesn’t seem to be any reason the above argument can’t be extended to women.