Although I was not surprised that my article (The IQ Gap is no Longer a Black and White Issue) attracted a lot of interest, I was actually shocked that it also impressed the Google Search algorithms. It became a top “authority” not only on topical searches like “black white IQ gap”, but even on very generic short search terms like “black IQ” or “white IQ”, proving once and for all that Google is indeed the wisest search engine!
In that article, I proposed that the academic performance of black immigrant children should have already sealed the debate on the black-white tested IQ gap in America, particularly on the question of whether it is a function of global racial evolution (Sub-Saharan African genes versus European genes), as most hereditarians believe, especially those who identify with the Human Biodiversity or HBD intellectual movement (generally known as “scientific racism” in academic circles, but we are avoiding such unkind terms). After going through many of the readers’ comments and all the response articles, I believe I have identified where the misunderstandings were (there were also a lot of educative comments). I will address the reactions (both from the comments and the articles) in a two or three part series of articles before giving my final position on what I believe is the true explanation of the mysterious black-white IQ gap in the US (I disagree with both environmentalist and hereditarian conclusions as presently conceived).
WHICH MEAN DO WE MEAN?
One of the biggest problems I had with the commenters were readers who apparently were only exposed to the statistical concept of Regression to the Mean from outside the IQ debate. Perhaps because they do not know exactly how it has been used as an empirical tool in hereditarian arguments, they understood my argument as being as follows: “Black African immigrants to the UK and the US are supposed to have children who have the same average IQ as everyone else in Africa through Regression to the (African) Mean; since they do not, I have just falsified all of hereditarian science since Francis Galton.” This made them immediately think it was an easy task to correct me by simply explaining (repetitively) that “that’s not how regression works,” or “those immigrants are not representative”, and so on, until they beat the poor straw man to its grave.
My actual argument was a bit less simplistic than that (and my goal was specifically to falsify the hereditarian conclusions on the question of the cognitive potential of blacks globally – it was not to “disprove” the validity of heredity or human population genetics as such; I’m not a “blank slatist”). The problem is not that the black immigrant children were not regressing to the point of equaling their source population mean IQ (that’s also not what hereditarians predict either), but that they were clearly not even moving (or being pulled) towards that extremely low IQ, as hereditarians predict. If the parents only barely survived the UK cognitive environment because they were a highly select group, then any such expected steep regression towards the black or African mean would ensure that their children would absolutely fail to survive in that complex environment, but it appears they do just as well as white children, if not better. Which means that either the regression to the mean principle has suddenly stopped working, or their source population genetic IQ potential average is much higher than what has been estimated by hereditarians; and these “impressive” parents were in fact not far above that average to begin with, which falsifies the models that led to such low genetic estimates.
The data indicates that the mysterious cognitive gap between blacks and whites in America would persist even if the whites were replaced with black Africans.
BLACK AMERICAN REGRESSION
Psychologist Arthur Jensen’s genetic hypothesis predicted that children of black elites with good incomes and attending fairly good schools would have a much lower mean IQ than children of white elites of equal IQ because the former come from a population with an IQ that is depressed by genes rather than just environment, relative to whites (after all, such high-income educated black elites are unlikely to provide a very harmful environment to their children).
The academic performance of American blacks indeed seemed to bear Jensen out. The children of high income black elites were scoring even lower than children of low IQ, poor whites on academic tests!
And this wasn’t just “racist” Arthur Jensen lying for some secret eugenicist cause. His reports have been confirmed in more recent times by none other than the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE) and their data is probably even more damning than Jensen’s, even though their aims for reporting these astronomical gaps were obviously different.
This table is so disturbing that every IQ environmentalist should have been honest enough to acknowledge that it was a very strong point for the Jensen side, no matter what their motives may be. It does indeed appear as if black children are regressing toward a mysterious lower mean intelligence when a child of black parents making 200,000 dollars a year scores lower than a white child from a less than 20,000 dollars a year home – probably living in much worse neighborhoods and going to much worse schools. Almost all the excuses I have seen for this strange pattern do not hold up under scrutiny. The fact that a black family at 200,000 dollars income has less total wealth than a white family at the same income level is not a convincing explanation to me for this extreme SAT score gap. Africans in the UK who have both low income and low wealth have children performing at the white average or even above (and as I will definitively prove in part 2, this is certainly true of African immigrants in America too).
Neither is the supposed pervasive white racism argument too convincing. It’s just hard for me to see how racism can make black children of over 200,000 dollar income parents perform below 20,000 dollar whites (what’s that about?). The fact that these high income blacks live in good neighborhoods with high quality schools should have indicated to policy makers that the solution for black children underachievement is not more spending on education or taking poor blacks to schools in better neighborhoods (since the ones already living in good neighborhoods still perform badly); it is not even about improving their incomes, clearly. But that would be in a world where policy is driven by cold logic and data rather than hot sentiments and ideology (from the left or the right).
Instead of arguing directly against Jensen or rejecting his data (after I saw such numbers), my task was simply to show that these trends are not quite true for black African immigrants anywhere in the developed world, which means that hereditarians are also wrong on at least the racial factor in their explanation of black American underachievement. Hereditarian literature is full of extrapolations of these American social “experiments” to the whole world of blacks, which has led to the development of a number of evolutionary models on global racial intellectual potential differences that are creative but empirically indefensible, as our data is clearly showing when properly understood.
I actually know that the average African immigrants to the UK from any nation or tribe are not from the African elite class, economically or intellectually (even if there is a small segment from the super-professional class), as many people on both sides of the debate assume, but even if we granted that they are elites in this analysis, it can not be denied that their children do not “experience” anything close to the regression observed in children of confirmed black American elites in the US, regardless of parental income or wealth.
To make this totally clear, we can perform a short thought experiment. Let’s say we took a number of black American elites to the UK as expatriate workers, selected only from those professionals who make 200,000 dollars a year in their homes. Would their children perform significantly above the white average in the UK on academic tests? No. It is the same children who perform below the poor white children in America; a plane ride would not suddenly make them smart. This means that there will also be a gap between black American children and black African children (especially the English-speaking ones) in the UK that is similar to (or even larger than) the persistent gap between blacks and whites in America, thus confirming that their regression in America has nothing to do with racial IQ genetic potentials (it’s not a black and white issue).
If, on the other hand, these children of expatriate black American elites did somehow perform as well as children of black Africans (thus also closing the gap with whites), unlike their regressed performance in America, then the racial hereditarian case would still be falsified: it would point to something in the American environment that specifically affects native blacks rather than a simple genetic issue. Either result falsifies the HBD case: it’s one of those rare genuine cases of heads I win, tails you lose!
What this says is that it does not even matter if it is assumed that the black immigrants from Africa are highly select elites – even as highly select as the 200,000 dollar a year native blacks – because the performance of their children still defies the Jensen prediction of strong regression by performing way above where children of highly select black American elites perform.
This means that the genetic hypothesis is empirically falsified by black Africans even if it was validated by black Americans, despite the fact that the latter are supposed to even be helped by the presence of more white genes in them, as the same hereditarians have always argued!
Does this make sense so far?
THE BREEDER’S EQUATION
HBD blogger Jayman-from-Jamaica introduced the Breeder’s Equation counterargument into the discussion, which he apparently learnt from geneticist Gregory Cochran, as a model that he believes explains away all this data very easily. The basic idea is that the black immigrants are not only a highly select group, but that they basically form a new “breed” of people by marrying among themselves, rather than taking partners from the source population. This means that the children of such immigrants ultimately do not regress toward the mean IQ of the source population, but rather to the mean of the new higher-IQ parental sub-population, and it should thus easily explain away our “mystery.”
Not so fast. The regression to a higher bred population does not start with the first offspring population, according to the same Cochran article that Jayman linked to. These first ones should still regress toward the mean of the source population where their parents came from, and my article made clear that these were the main subject of our analysis, especially since substantial African immigration is a relatively new phenomenon. It is only their children (the grandchildren of the original immigrant parents) who would possibly stop regressing toward the source population mean if they married exclusively among fellow immigrants.
Jayman’s argument would probably be valid if this discussion was limited to the academic performance of multigenerational descendants of immigrants. But it applies to new immigrants (as stated in the article). For example, those children who speak African languages were likely born in Africa themselves before their parents migrated; they were certainly not born to UK-born parents. In fact, my examples of super-achieving Jamaican children like those at the gifted school in New York, were also actually born in Jamaica. Similarly, among the black African children who have been making news for their impressive school scores, all of them were either born in Africa before their parents migrated or they were born to recently migrated parents. The principle to remember (again) is that a plane ride does not change genes.
Interestingly, Jayman decided to quote some of the words of Cochran in a suspiciously selective fashion. He wanted to demonstrate that, contrary to my assertion, regression among self selected immigrants should only be “slight” or “a bit”, and therefore there is no “mystery” with our failure to observe a steep regression. In order to show this, he decided to quote Cochran’s words with an example that was actually inapplicable to our context and curiously omitted Cochran’s example that precisely confirmed my argument.
From Jayman in the comments section:
Now let’s look at the source link to see what words from Cochran’s article he replaced with those first three dots (see the omitted second paragraph, beginning “Do the same thing…”):
Cochran’s original post, in short, shows that there should indeed be a large regression for blacks (whether immigrants or not), at least in that first offspring generation. Jayman conveniently left out the only relevant example and Cochran’s words explicitly confirming that the regression from a population of IQ 85 should “regress to a lower mean” – as I said. It should regress even lower for those from Africa.
He further omitted a few more words that again emphasized how steep this regression should be and introduced another three dots at the precise point where Cochran explicitly states this, which indicates that he was probably doing this quite intentionally (see omitted second sentence below, beginning “The 120-IQ parents…”):
The sentence indicating that they “drop 17.5 points” is missing from Jayman’s quote above. This is apparently because he was preparing to say that his black immigrant family from Jamaica regressed from the migrating parents only “a bit,” as the Breeder’s Equation supposedly predicts. Except that if he truly believes that he is black (which is what our discussion is about), then the example with the 100 IQ mean population that he selected is obviously the wrong one since that is the IQ for white populations from Europe, not blacks from Jamaica. The much more appropriate example, using a population mean IQ of 85, had a regression amount that absolutely contradicts his claims of a slight regression. In short, Jayman’s own family life history, if it’s true that he is black and that his family regressed only “a bit lower,” is a data point that precisely refutes the empirically untenable HBD positions that he has apparently chosen to defend by any means necessary – including prevarication.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt at first, I assumed that Jayman just hadn’t read my article before rushing to comment and I told him as much. But after I noticed his selective pasting of Cochran and later, his comments on Karlin’s response article, I realized that the problem may be a bit bigger than that: The reason many of the super-confident pseudonymous HBD bloggers find reasonably complex issues to be “not a mystery” or “too easy” to explain, is probably because they do not understand them enough to appreciate their complexity or implications.
Anatoly Karlin’s response article, which Jayman praised for confirming that black immigrant IQ should be just “slightly regressed” (like his family’s), was actually built on a conceptual misunderstanding of the breeder’s equation. Karlin produced a breeder’s table showing how much African immigrants will regress to the mean before stopping to regress, thus forming a sub-population that is effectively white (like Jayman’s family!).
Putting aside the glaringly obvious fact that these regressions are anything but “slight” (from the 115 IQ parent), the fatal mistake in Karlin’s calculations is that he is working with “genotypic” IQs. These are IQs sans the “luck,” in Cochran’s formulation of regression to the mean through the breeder’s equation. The parental averages of such “real” IQs would have to be passed on to the offspring without any downward regression, contrary to Karlin’s calculations and Jayman’s endorsements.
The reason Karlin found himself in this conceptual trap was that, unlike Jayman, he understood that any calculation that puts the black immigrants at around 3 standard deviations above their source population mean is completely unrealistic (120 IQ immigrants in Jayman’s Cochran example would be over 3 SD above the African mean!). He found a creative way of going round this problem by proposing that they were only 2 standard deviations selected (which is actually also very unrealistic, as I later explain), but that they were robbed of 15 IQ points by their environment. It solves that one problem, but it is a Pyrrhic victory because you can’t regress after you declare a genotypic IQ. In short, his calculations without that conceptual mistake would show that these economic migrants would intellectually be like Jews or like the high-IQ Indian immigrants, a conclusion that he explicitly rejects.
Karlin also acknowledged the special insight of another HBD blogger, Pumpkinperson, who also confidently asserted that “it is very easy” to explain away all this data, before twisting himself in all kinds of conceptual problems.
The thrust of Pumpkin’s counter depended on an assumption that is astonishingly misguided. Whereas most experts find it quite difficult to estimate the quantity or even direction of immigrant selection, Pumpkin believes he has found the easy way to do this: you can merely compare the incomes of the immigrants in their rich host country with the average incomes in their poverty-stricken source populations and you have an IQ differential that tells you how select the immigrants were since IQ and income are correlated!
No matter how much I pointed out to him that there is no logical correlation between nominal individual incomes of people from such vastly different economies with IQ (no one has even claimed that), Pumpkin insisted that he had a useful tool that solves the problem. In short, he sincerely believes that African nurses who migrate to the UK have a higher real IQ than African surgeons who remain in Africa since such nurses are getting much more money in the UK compared to the surgeons!
I also have doubts on his mathematical application of “the parent-child IQ correlation” in these calculations, which looks like a non sequitur since that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply that the children should have a lower IQ than the parents. If this is what he is using for regression to the mean, it is very confused, not to mention that Karlin or Jayman should have jumped on him for contradicting the breeder’s equation since this is being applied after “several generations” of immigration, when regression should have already stopped.
At the end, Pumpkinperson even threatens to add more points to the immigrants’ estimated IQ since there are many other social benefits of being in the UK besides their nominal incomes (he already factored in their education levels in the UK after “several generations”, also compared between vastly different environments with incomparable educational opportunities).
With such liberally adjustable estimates of important quantitative variables available for your calculations, without the need to be firmly grounded in reality, you have the makings of a pseudoscience, in the truest Popperian sense: you can never be wrong no matter what the data says!
THE “WILLINGNESS TO MIGRATE” INSIGHT
How about the now-common argument that immigrants have higher intelligence since they have a willingness to migrate to a rich country? Both Pumpkinperson and Jayman had this idea in their arsenal of easy explanations. In Jayman’s words: “at the very least, there’s usually going to be selection for willingness to migrate vs. staying put ”.
I do not really know how it works in Jamaica, but I am quite confident that realizing that life is better in a very rich country than in your poor country is never exactly the most g-loaded epiphany among Africans. The immigration problem exists in Western countries precisely because just about everyone in the poor world has that “willingness to migrate” virtue; it is why there are no open borders. And if you know anything about the popularity of things like the green card lottery, you would probably suspect that it is not just a select few people at the top who possess this special insight.
In fact, as I claimed before, this sort of argument wasn’t always a hereditarian argument. But don’t take my word for it. We can quote from a book that is not generally considered a liberal environmentalist screed:
How about the idea that people who are willing to pack up and move to a strange place in search of a better life are self-selected for desirable qualities such as initiative, determination, energy, and perhaps intelligence as well? Given this plausible expectation, why not assume that the mean for immigrants is significantly higher than average for their ethnic groups? Here, the NLSY provides a snapshot of the effects on the distribution of intelligence of the people coming across our borders, insofar as we may compare the IQs of those who were born abroad with those who were born in the United States…
Think back to the immigrant at the turn of the century. America was the Land of Opportunity – but that was all. There were no guarantees, no safety nets. One way or another, an immigrant had to make it on his own. Add to that the wrench of tearing himself and family away from a place where his people might have lived for centuries, the terrors of having to learn a new language and culture, often the prospect of working at jobs he had never tried before, a dozen other reasons for apprehension, and the United States had going for it a crackerjack self-selection mechanism for attracting immigrants who were brave, hard-working, imaginative, self-starting-and probably smart. Immigration can still select for those qualities, but it does not have to. Someone who comes here because his cousin offers him a job, a free airplane ticket, and a place to stay is not necessarily self-selected for those qualities. On the contrary, immigrating to America can be for that person a much easier option than staying where he is.
From The Bell Curve, p 360 – 361.
Notice how rightly cautious scientists like Murray and Hernstein are about their claims here. They can not say for sure that intelligence was selected for even at the time in the past when it was extremely challenging for an immigrant to settle in the US. They knew that even then it was merely a plausible proposition (unlike more sure traits like initiative, determination, energy, bravery etc). Contrast this with the new intellectuals who are fully certain that intelligence is obviously being highly selected for today (among immigrants from everywhere), despite the fact that the challenging obstacles that would have made this claim merely plausible have largely dissipated, especially with the growth of the welfare state.
The bottom line is that all those extra intelligence points being thrown at the black migrants (to explain why their children are so smart) have very little basis in reality. There is probably more evidence for a negative selection than a positive one (generally), as the Bell Curve itself implied. There is certainly no evidence for the extremely high selection estimates from Africa asserted by the new HBD hereditarians.
Their common mistake of comparing the number of university degree holders in the immigrant group with those in the source population as a way of estimating selection is also based on faulty reasoning. We already know the IQ of students at an “elite” African university to be 85 or 1 standard deviation above the environmentally depressed African mean (according to the same hereditarian scholars like Rushton and Lynn). So, how can your calculations tell you that the immigrants are 2 or 3 standard deviations above the mean when they even have a much smaller number of university graduates? How can a full sample of university students be lower in intelligence than a sample containing only 20 per cent university degree holders or 50 per cent in the best cases (I even have reason to doubt this high degree-holder estimate for some African country migrants)? It would be remarkable if these largely uneducated migrants (25 percent of whom migrated through the green card lottery in the case of the US) just equaled the selection of a full sample of elite university students by also being as high as a full standard deviation above the African mean. And yet most HBD bloggers estimate them at twice that level of selection or more!
HBD blogger and scholar, Chuck, apparently knew that such estimations of immigrant selection were unrealistic about three years ago (according to a link to his defunct WordPress blog that he shared with me), and it appears he was actually on the verge of falsifying the HBD position himself despite calling his blog “occidental ascent”. Instead of searching for more decisive data on the matter, his biases apparently finally got the better of him and he instead found some clearly weak counter-data that only worked to rationalize his faith in the guiding tenets of racial HBD. But apparently he also now wants to have his cake and eat it:
[Chuck]: “...But I think that it’s reasonable to posit that Black Africans are at least 1 SD selected in IQ .. Nigerian/African emigrants fall around at least the 84% percentile in cognitive ability relative to the Nigerian/African mean.”
“Generally, assuming that emigrant Black Africans are at least 1 SD selected relative to the mean and assuming that the h2 (narrow heritability) + c2 (shared environment) in Africa is ~0.6, the data is consistent with a proposed African “genotypic IQ” — a confused concept, but one everyone seems to employ — of 85.
This is precisely what I deduced 3.5 years ago!”
Understood. But is this what he “precisely” deduced 3.5 years ago? No. He actually rejected what he is now arguing for in the comments section to my article, because he resolutely believed (correctly) that it was not so reasonable to have such high estimates of African immigrant selection.
Let’s paste his precise words from 3.5 years ago, from the same link he gave me:
“A more reasonable scenario, to my mind, is that they [African immigrants] represent no more than the 70th percentile of the g distribution or are no more than 0.55 SD above the phenotypic mean.”
So, only 3.5 years ago, it was “more reasonable” to estimate that the immigrants were “no more than 0.55 SD” selected, but now “it’s reasonable to posit” that they are “at least 1 SD selected” and those deductions are “precisely” the same?
As I said, this ability to adjust your “selection” estimates means that even if the African immigrant children scored a standard deviation above the white mean IQ, this would not be empirical proof of anything since these HBD intellectuals can just retroactively push up that immigrant self selection estimate until the math can work, which makes the science unfalsifiable by empirical means.
My analysis on this issue has no political agenda, not even on the immigration question. If anything, I too do not believe that the current US or UK immigration system mostly selects for the best people from places like Africa (as it probably used to do very long ago). So, I am actually with the right wingers on this. The problem is that the right wingers are not with themselves. They want to have their cake and eat it. They say the immigration system is so broken that it does not select for the best. When the topic changes to the question of intelligence and it is pointed out that the immigrants’ children appear to be very smart, then suddenly many of the same people start saying “oh, what do you expect when Africa is just sending their PhD’s and doctors and engineers?”
Accepting that their children are smart would mean rejecting the idea that they are genetically lower since they are not regressing as expected; so, it must be that their parents are just super-selected. But accepting that their parents are super-selected means accepting that the immigration system is still working just fine. Which is it?
It is very important to remember that my argument does not actually depend on immigrant selection being absent or negative (it is the hereditarian defence that depends on it being absurdly high, just to have any chance of surviving the cruel data). The racial hereditarian case is so weak that even if we grant that these immigrants are highly selected for intelligence, all the way up to something as ridiculous as 2 standard deviations above the African mean (because that’s what you supposedly need to realize that the UK is better than Nigeria and to borrow some air ticket money from family and friends already there), the hereditarian predictions are still even then defied.
Remember our reason: the African children do not perform anywhere near as badly as the children of much more highly selected black American elites (the 200,000 dollar family income kind – all degree holders from Western universities) relative to white children, when hereditarians predict that they should perform much worse or similarly bad, at best. Their actual performance is so opposite of that prediction that there is now even a discussion of whether some of the African ethnicities in the UK have sometimes beaten the infamously “testocratic” Chinese students themselves on average (see part 2 for more convincing data on that question) when the discussion should really have been on whether they can beat the Irish Travelers who, according to hereditarian estimates, are supposed to have a higher average IQ than the elites of Africa!
That’s as falsified as a system of models can get, and if you think it is super easy to explain all this away without contradiction or concession, trust me: it is because you do not understand it. Yet.
Chanda Chisala, originally from Zambia, has been a John S. Knight Visiting Fellow at Stanford University, a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a Reagan-Fascell Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy.