“I have been doing business in China for decades, and I will tell you that yeah, the Chinese can take a test, but what they can’t do is innovate.” – Carly Fiorina, former HP CEO, 2015.
Discrimination that is based on hate is morally wrong. But not all discrimination is necessarily wrong or immoral. A doctor can rightly refuse to prescribe a certain popular drug that a man wants, based on how he will react to the drug – which can be based on his gender, or even his race.
A high profile lawsuit by East Asian (American) students claimed that Harvard, like other elite universities, discriminates against East Asian applicants in its admissions process. Although Asians are over-represented at these institutions (compared to their relative population in the U.S.), the evidence seems to suggest that there would have been even more Asians at Harvard if admittance was purely on high school academic records and test score performance.
Harvard will obviously never admit that they do consciously discriminate against fully qualified Asians, but there is every (statistical) reason to suspect that they probably do. They apparently do this by giving many of the Asians a low “personality” score, even when their academic record in high school is exceptionally good.
This may seem unfair at first sight, but what if there was a perfectly valid and fair reason to effectively discriminate against Asians? What if, in spite of Harvard’s misguided diversity goals, such discrimination actually offsets some other unmeritocratic advantage that Asians have? And no, I am not talking about Tiger moms or intense test preparation. I think the Asian kids are actually genuinely smarter than everyone at that age, with or without the extreme test preparations. So, why am I advocating some kind of objective discrimination against them in general?
In this article, I will argue that young East Asians develop their cognitive abilities faster than the young of every other population and thus reach their full mental capacity much earlier than everyone else. In adulthood, many other people from other groups — in this analysis I will particularly focus on white Americans since there are other complex issues with Blacks and Hispanics — catch up with or even overtake them. This early development gives East Asians an early cognitive edge which they naturally use to gain a practice advantage in all academic subjects and cognitive tests, and get into gifted schools and elite universities. Unfortunately, this test score superiority does not translate to intellectual leadership or dominance in adulthood after other people’s brains also fully mature and/pr continue to mature.
If this hypothesis is true, then the real problem with Harvard is not that they effectively discriminate against East Asian applicants, but rather that they do not do enough of it. They admit a large portion of high-scoring Asians, expecting them to be the next intellectual leaders of society, but they end up being almost just normal achievers in adulthood. Thus, an academic system that was designed to select the best of the best, the crème de la crème – the future guiding lights of society – ends up selecting for hard working followers with only slightly above-average intellectual contributions to society.
An analogy should help here. Imagine that country X decided to launch an ambitious basketball program that identifies future professional basketball players in their early ages and puts them on special training teams so that they can learn the skills of the game from an early age. The program would likely look at the tallest children in early age groups because these generally end up being the tallest adults and hence the best suited for super-elite basketball professions.
This would work well and fine until some new race of children migrates to country X from another country where children grow taller faster but reach their potential full height at age 14 or something, meaning that they end up shorter when the indigenous country X kids reach their full heights at age 21. The basketball program that reliably produced the best basketball players would now be filled with the wrong kids due to the wrong assumption that all people from everywhere develop their height at the same exact pace that ultimately correlates with adult height. By the time it is realized that these new kids do not actually grow into the tallest adults, it could be too late: the genuinely taller kids have not received the training needed to play pro basketball, and you can’t deny basketball jobs to the trained kids (without risking civil rights lawsuits).
Meritocracy Vs Diversity?
I should emphasize from the onset that I do not believe diversity should ever be the goal of any rational institution or society. It’s obvious why the best minds should be allowed to advance as high as their ability can take them in any field: we want the best possible neurosurgeons operating on our brains, not the ones who were hired for their race, gender, sexual orientation or some other trait that has nothing to with the ability to safely perform a retro-sigmoid craniotomy. We want the best pilots flying our planes, the best engineers building our self-driving cars; it doesn’t matter if 100 percent of them turn out to be Asian. It is irrational, and ultimately dangerous, to ever put “diversity” above true merit, at least for any job that is critically dependent on well-motivated natural competence.
However, this does not necessarily mean that every method of predicting the kinds and levels of that potential competence, especially among still-developing young students, is necessarily accurate, especially as demographics change radically.
The Virtue of Testing
One of the best things to happen to American society was the introduction of intelligence testing (SATs, ACTsetc) for selecting students to elite universities. This was really an inevitable result of the American spirit of meritocracy making its full break from the aristocratic heritage of Old Europe. Smart children from poor families had the chance of buying their own ticket to the highest classes of society by simply proving their God-given talents on these tests. As they held that paper and pen to compete on solving these abstract puzzles, their future was literally in their hands.
Unfortunately, the assumption behind these tests has always been that all human populations everywhere are basically the same, and therefore develop at the same “normal” “human” pace. When the tests were given to Americans at the beginning of the 20th century, they were pretty accurate at predicting which people would become the next leaders of society in just about every field, because these tended to be more cognitively developed relative to their age. The most elite colleges selected for the highest scorers on these scholastic and achievement tests because they were expected to produce the next thought leaders of industry, politics, academia, law, media etc: the American innovators.
What has not been realized, as immigration has grown progressively in America, is that these childhood achievements are not necessarily accurate predictors of relative intellectual leadership ability when people being tested together are very different. Some people from some of the newer immigrant groups may do better on these tests, not because they have the highest intellectual potential to be the next leaders of the world, but simply because they are able to outperform others in the pre-adult stages of life. Only because they have a different “normal” trajectory of growth, one that may ultimately end at odds with that earlier advantage, as they grow into their late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
The lawsuit against Harvard was not the only high profile anti-discrimination Asian lawsuit of recent years. In 2016, a group of Asian engineers sued a very selective (and very secretive) company in Silicon Valley called Palantir, founded by the iconoclastic investor, Peter Thiel. Although, like Harvard, Palantir has many Asians, the plaintiffs — the lawsuit was brought by the Department of Labor — had good reason to believe that Palantir would have hired many more of them if the selection was done purely on traditional “merit.” Asians, after all, are the best credentialed American subpopulation, especially with their large numbers graduating from elite universities like Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Caltech etc. Instead, Palantir apparently hired a few more whites with slightly less colorful credentials. They ultimately settled (without admission of guilt) and were forced to hire some of the Asians associated with the lawsuit, as part of the deal.
If Palantir follows anything close to Thiel’s personal philosophy on selecting the best minds, then it should not be surprising that they would essentially discriminate against some East Asians. One of the questions Thiel asks entrepreneurs who want his envied investment capital is, “tell me one opinion you strongly hold that other people tend to strongly oppose” (paraphrased). Thiel looks for a certain kind of independent thinking and originality in his prospective entrepreneurs; perhaps Palantir also wanted a bit of that imaginative creativity for some of its top engineering jobs, especially for overarching strategic suggestions involving more than just incremental coding abilities.
Many Asians now believe they are just victims of some kind of racial bias from white Americans (especially) that keeps them from these top decision-making jobs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. They call it “the bamboo ceiling,” and they believe that white employers are simply affected by the Asian stereotype of lack of creative leadership abilities, or that they may just want to promote fellow whites.
However, the East Asian creativity problem is even acknowledged by China itself, the largest East Asian country. Thus, although China now has many patents granted to its most “inventive” citizens, Chinese government officials themselves have constantly decried the lack of true originality contained in most of these uninspiring patents. It is doubtful that the Chinese government is just being influenced by the same old Asian stereotypes!
The Asian disconnect between test score prowess in school and subsequent intellectual achievement is not limited to the tech industry. Asians now complain about the bamboo ceiling in the entertainment industry, the legal profession, the advertising industry, and so on. But it is very unlikely that there is a coordinated conspiracy to keep them down in all these areas where ascendance is predicated on distinguishing oneself through constant initiative. When one sees bamboos everywhere, it may be time to question if the bamboos are not just convenient apparitions in one’s own head!
What is more likely is that Asian intelligence develops faster than everyone else and takes many Asians through elite programs that grant them exceptional credentials, but that cognitive advantage disappears in adulthood as others also reach full development (while missing similar elite credentials sometimes), which leads to an awkward social paradox. Only the truly best of the best Asians remain dominant at these older ages; but the numbers are only a fraction of those who passed through these selective elite programs and received their accreditation of presumptive genius!
The common approach to the East Asian creativity problem has been to suggest that something in Asian culture or Asian education system just stifles their creativity. But the fact that the pattern holds even for Asians born and bred in the West, including those adopted by white families, points to a more robust feature.
Others suggest that Asians have superior intelligence with inferior creativity because the two are not related. However, research in these fields increasingly suggests that the two cannot really be decoupled, especially for intellectual achievement.
It appears that the simplest answer is that the universally superior Asian intelligence found by white hereditarians, who were too eager to tout a higher IQ group that would show that they were not racists, is a myth, at least in adulthood.
Hereditarian IQ expert, J Phillippe Rushton, seemed to suggest that East Asians actually develop slower than everyone else, biologically, which would imply that even their cognitive ability develops more slowly.
But a cursory analysis of Rushton’s own reported data shows that the opposite trend is much more plausible, at least in the area of cognitive development. In one of his most famous articles, co-authored with Arthur Jensen, Rushton reports on the incredibly high IQs of young East Asian children, many of them coming from low socioeconomic conditions before being adopted into white American families:
“Three studies of East Asian children adopted by White families support the hereditarian hypothesis. In the first, 25 four-year-olds from Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, and Thailand, all adopted into White American homes prior to 3 years of age, excelled in academic ability with a mean IQ score of 120, compared with the U.S. norm of 100 (Clark & Hanisee, 1982). Prior to placement, half of the babies had required hospitalization for malnutrition.
In the second study, Winick, Meyer, and Harris (1975) found 141 Korean children adopted as infants by American families exceeded the national average in both IQ and achievement scores when they reached 10 years of age. The principal interest of the investigators was on the possible effects of severe malnutrition on later intelligence, and many of these Korean children had been malnourished in infancy. When tested, those who had been severely malnourished as infants obtained a mean IQ of 102; a moderately well-nourished group obtained a mean IQ of 106; and an adequately nourished group obtained a mean IQ of 112.
A study by Frydman and Lynn (1989) examined 19 Korean infants adopted by families in Belgium. At about 10 years of age, their mean IQ was 119, the verbal IQ was 111, and the performance IQ was 124. Even correcting the Belgian norms upward to 109 to account for the increase in IQ scores over time (about 3 IQ points a decade; see Section 13), the Korean children still had a statistically significant 10-point advantage in mean IQ over indigenous Belgian children.”
If these children are scoring as high as 120 on average at the age of four (despite being hospitalized for malnourishment) and 110 to 112 at the age of ten, it is implausible that their IQ goes up as they grow older, and neither is it likely that it stays the same. If we accept that Asian adult IQ is 104 to 106 as Rushton and others suggest, then even by their own data, it is more likely than not that Asian IQ goes downwards as they grow older. Your IQ, after all, is only about how you perform compared to people in your age group. If they begin to catch up or overtake you, this will show a decline in your IQ even without you necessarily becoming less “smart.”
Rushton was not the only psychologist to report such high scores for East Asian children. Another IQ researcher, Jason Malloy, later published some interesting scores from a long-lost study of Korean adoptees:
“The Wechsler norms used for the raw score conversion were from 1974, so 5 points should be deducted from the full-scale IQ of 122 (!!) to account for 16 years of norm inflation. This leaves us with a not much less intimidating average IQ of 117 for 43 transracially adopted Korean children. ” [His emphasis]
Although there have been reports of Asian children’s IQs that are significantly lower than this within East Asian countries (but still above 100), this could probably be because they are much less Westernized. When the same children move to the West, their figures show a higher IQ, particularly after learning the language. But if that’s true, why aren’t the IQs of children in Japan higher than those of children in the other Asian nations since Japan is putatively more Westernized?
Actually, in 1975, Professor Richard Lynn found that children in Japan were now scoring at 111 on an IQ test. He thought that this indicated a growing gap in real IQ between Japan and the West, but it was more likely just a reflection of the growing Westernization of Japanese culture, which reduces the cultural bias of the tests, and reveals the superior IQ of these children compared to European children. We know this because even Korean and Chinese children adopted to the West score as high as that, if not higher.
Hereditarian IQ experts have always used the fact that children in East Asia scored slightly higher than white children in the West as evidence that there was absolutely no cultural bias in the tests. But this is obviously a logical fallacy: they forgot to consider the possibility that Asian children were in fact scoring lower than they would without the cultural bias factor!
The bottom line is that East Asian children have extremely high IQs in those younger ages, but stagnate in older age, relatively speaking.
So imagine the folly of using the same selection standards for Asians as for other children when choosing which child to be put in the gifted programs around the U.S. In some school districts, a score that’s above 1 standard deviation over the mean is supposedly sufficient to be considered for the “gifted” class, so just about any average Asian child could qualify to such a program, which defies the very concept of ‘giftedness.’ We know, from their intellectual performance in adulthood, that they obviously do not have that many gifted people among them!
Caltech vs Stuyvesant
This downward trend in Asian cognitive dominance is probably demonstrated through a comparison between selective elite programs at different age groups.
The most test-based meritocratic university in America is arguably the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. It also happens to have one of the highest populations of East Asians at 43 % (incidentally, internal memos released in the Harvard case revealed that Asians would be exactly 43% of Harvard if only academics were considered!).
43 percent sounds very impressive until you compare it to Asian over-representation at an even younger age. Stuyvesant High School in New York City famously uses nothing but test scores to admit the best students in the city. Although Asians are only 15 percent of New York’s population, they are an astounding 74% of Stuyvesant!
This pattern is repeated all over the country where competitive gifted programs are offered in wealthy or powerful multiethnic cities.
One of the most prestigious high schools in the United States is the Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia. It has been ranked the best high school in the nation several times by Newsweek and other publications. The school has been funded by the Department of Defense itself, probably because they want to nurture gifted young brains that will contribute to the wild breakthrough inventions that the DOD has historically been famous for.
TJHS takes its students from Fairfax and nearby cities like Loudon. Fairfax and Loudon are the two wealthiest counties in the entire United States and they have similar demographics (68 percent white and only 18 percent Asian.) But the school, named in honor of the most verbally gifted American founding father, is 74% Asian in its class of 2018-2019! (This is particularly astonishing when you consider that this is in one of the top states for white IQ in the whole country!)
Unfortunately, the DOD will probably not see the cognitive return on its investment because Asians are simply not known for wild, breakthrough inventions, as both the Chinese and Japanese governments have lamented.
Apparently, as you go from meritocratic high school to meritocratic college, Asian dominance starts dissipating a bit. And when you go beyond college, it starts approaching normal, before moving into reverse, until a “bamboo ceiling” starts showing up everywhere. At Caltech itself, the ratio of East Asian professors is much less than the Asian ratio of undergraduate students.
I looked at the department most likely to favor Asian numbers due to their strengths in quantitative fields, the Department of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. I counted only about 8 East Asians out of 74 professors. At 10.8 %, this is still high for a group that is only 5 % of the American population, but it is nowhere near its 43% Caltech student population or its unbelievable 74% at Stuyvesant and other gifted schools.
At older ages, Asians struggle to keep their edge. Professorships come at older ages than national merit finals, Fields Medals in mathematics come at older ages than math olympiads. Most executive positions in the corporate world come at even older ages.
Thus, although Asians are 12 percent of American professionals, they are only 5% percent of the executives. This means that the group that was vastly overrepresented at meritocratic schools and colleges are now almost exactly the same as their ratio to the rest of the US population (5 percent) when it comes to positions where gifted adults are most likely to thrive. In short, they literally regress to the average.
Conclusion and Suggestion
It may seem impossible that East Asians just happen to lose their large childhood IQ advantage in adulthood, but it is not so implausible if you think about it. For example, psychologists say that general intelligence can be subdivided into two parts: fluid and crystallized. They say that crystallized intelligence (which correlates with verbal intelligence etc) does not stop growing until quite late in adulthood, whereas fluid intelligence (which correlates with quantitative reasoning etc), starts declining after age 20.
Asians are apparently strong on fluid intelligence, or at least the quantitative factor in it (hence their math prowess), but count verbal intelligence as their biggest Achilles’ heel. Given the trajectories of these two aspects of intelligence in adulthood, it should not be completely implausible to expect an average Asian decline in total cognitive ability relative to groups that are stronger in verbal intelligence. (This may possibly explain why Ashkenazi Jews have the opposite reputation in adulthood since verbal intelligence, their strongest endowment, is apparently the new competitive landscape in cognitive adulthood).
But even if my “cognitive crossover” explanation of why Asians dominate at young ages but not at older ages is quickly falsified, the fact that they do not maintain the same level of “giftedness” in adulthood is incontrovertible (one group of researchers led by a Japanese scholar even published a paper suggesting that East Asians may just be lacking in some creativity genes!) It should therefore follow that the gifted programs and elite universities in the United States are grossly over-selecting for Asians who will not ultimately possess the distinguished intellectual potential presumed on them.
Many liberals would love to abolish the entire testing system and get rid of the gifted schools altogether, which will only punish those who are genuinely gifted and truly precocious (including the genuinely gifted Asians). Conservatives, on the other hand, want to “conserve” whatever worked in the past, without asking if it really does still work as originally intended, especially when demographics have radically changed. The rational answer must be somewhere in the middle.
My proposal is not to make the testing standards for gifted programs and elite institutions easier in order to reduce Asian representation. Rather, I am suggesting that they should be made harder – much harder.
Truly gifted children not only score above their peers on tests, they also show signs of a higher character of independent thinking and creativity; they tend to march to the beat of their own drum, without losing their mind (usually). Besides the regular tests, a real test of creative independence should be included in the selection process.
By asking his prospective entrepreneurs to describe any opinion they hold that sets them apart from (and against) their smart circles of friends, Peter Thiel has designed a simple formula for identifying the truly gifted from among those who likely also have test smarts. A similar idea should be used in the gifted education system at every level, to ferret out the independent creatives from among those with relatively high test scores: if your creativity does not align with your high academic score, you should be automatically disqualified. Your “personality” should not matter.
This will separate those who are precocious due to genuine giftedness from those whose precocity is merely a function of a faster route to the average.