Cover page of American Conservative, a megaphone for dubious science? (source)
My comments on Ron Unz’s article “Race, IQ, and Wealth” have led to further exchanges between myself and Ron. There seem to be two sticking points:
- Ron is more like a military strategist than an academic. In other words, the goal is already decided on, and all that remains is to work out the best strategy for reaching that goal. For him, the optimal strategy is to find the weakest point in the enemy’s defenses and to hammer away at it relentlessly. Once that soft spot is breached, the entire defense line will collapse.
- Ron sees only “perfect” evidence and “imperfect” evidence (which must be discarded). This may be just naiveté on his part. Actually, there is no such thing as perfect evidence. There is only evidence with varying degrees of imperfection, and a good academic should view all data with a wary eye, even “Gold Standard” stuff. By the same token, one should not dismiss data that have a high degree of “noise,” unless a better dataset is available. Such evidence is still useful for picking out general trends and formulating hypotheses for further study.
The following is our exchange of views:
Ron Unz here,
Let me focus upon a single experimental datapoint, of which there actually exist a considerable number. Lynn provides three Irish IQ samples: a 1972 sample of 3,466 yielding an IQ of 87, a 1993 sample of 1,361 yielding an IQ of 93, and another 1993 sample of 2,029 yielding an IQ of 91. These are all very large samples. There is also another minuscule 1979 sample of 75 which (unsurprisingly) yields an outlying value. All these results are Flynn-adjusted by Lynn.
[…] However, in America Irish these days have IQs slightly above the white average, and in Europe the recent PISA scores for Ireland are also right around those for Germany, France, and Britain.
Now my hypothesis is that the huge recent rise in Irish IQs is probably due to changes in urbanization and socio-economic factors. But perhaps I’m entirely wrong. So, then, what is the alternate hypothesis explaining these wildly different Irish IQ scores across just a 35 year period?
[Answer to question about how one defines “American Irish” ]
Being “Irish” is based on self-identification and reporting, so I’d certainly expect that most of the “American Irish” aren’t “pure Irish.”
But none of that makes a difference. If the Irish had an actual, innate, genetic IQ of 87, and this figure was not subject to rapid change under socio-economic influences, there would be *massive* evidence of this in American society.
For example, something like 15% of all the Irish in America would have IQs below 70, and would be subject to clinical mental retardation. Do you really believe that 15% of all American Irish are mentally retarded?
Okay, maybe lots of those Irish aren’t pure Irish, and are part German or Italian or something. Well, according to Lynn the (South) Italian IQ is around 89, so that wouldn’t really help much. But anyway, we’d still be seeing millions of mentally-retarded Irish-Americans. Do you believe that?
Here’s another point. During the 1970s, the Wordsum-IQ gap between rural whites and urban/suburban whites was almost exactly the same as the black/white gap. Again, that implies that something like 10% of all white farmboys during the 1970s were mentally retarded. Do you really believe that?
Finally, as I’ve pointed out, between the 1980s and the 2000s, roughly 61% of the Wordsum-IQ gap between white Americans and American-born Mex-Ams disappeared due to an enormous rise in the Wordsum-IQ of the latter group. These are hard, empirical facts. Perhaps my explanation is entirely wrong. But what is your alternate explanation?
You’re pointing at weak evidence as a way to undermine strong evidence. A single IQ test, even with a large sample, is at best a rough indication. The main problem is sample bias. Is the sample truly representative? If the sample comes from a school classroom, you have the problem of absenteeism. Truants tend to be problem students, so the higher the rate of absenteeism, the higher will be the IQ score.
Even if the sample is representative, there are other sources of bias: the amount of coaching for the test and the way the test is presented. These sources of bias may cancel each other out. Or maybe not. One thing is sure: they increase the amount of noise in the data. In your case, you had three data points: 87, 91, and 93. You focused on the lowest of the three figures. How come? Why not take an average? Even then, I would still be skeptical.
I am even more skeptical of your recent data on “Irish Americans.” There is no such population. There are simply a lot of people with varying amounts of Irish ancestry. “Irish Americans” are increasingly people who take an interest in Irish music, culture, and history, and such people tend to be more educated than average. Another factor is that people tend to identify with the branch of their family tree that has a stronger sense of ethnic identity. If a person is part English and part Irish, they tend to identify as Irish. But if a person has equal contributions of African and Irish ancestry (like Mariah Carey), they tend to identify as African American.
Finally, Wordsum is not IQ. It has a correlation of 71% with standard IQ tests, which in turn have a correlation of 50 to 75% with innate intelligence. So we are already two steps removed from any genetically transmitted factors.
This is a recurring problem with your line of argument. You present “A” and try to pass it off as “B”, hoping that no one will notice the difference.
Ron Unz here:
Don’t be ridiculous, Peter. Please do read my arguments more carefully.
(1) The PISA tests are very widely regarded as one of the best current means of estimating the IQs of European countries, certainly by my sharpest critics. If you look at the PISA scores for Ireland, they are almost exactly the same as those for Britain, Norway, Denmark, France, Sweden, and several other European countries. That almost certainly implies that Ireland’s current IQ is quite close to 100.
Now an enormous IQ sample provided by Lynn placed Ireland’s 1972 IQ at just 87, and Lynn has explicitly confirmed this by stating that his years of late 1960s personal research in Ireland convinced him that the Irish were a low-IQ people, whose only hope lay in a heavy eugenics program. So unless a huge sample and Lynn are both wrong, this is probably correct.
Therefore, some unknown factor—I strongly suspect urbanization—apparently caused a massive rise in Irish IQ between 1972 and today. Further evidence for this rise is shown by the fact that at the half-way point—the early 1990s—two additional huge IQ tests provided by Lynn placed the Irish IQ at around 92, exactly half-way between those two endpoint values.
Bear in mind, that all of these Irish results are about as “Gold Standard” as you can find anywhere—huge IQ samples, Lynn’s years of personal research, and PISA. None of it has anything to do with partial Irish ancestry or Wordsum. But the fact that these Ireland Irish results are totally consistent with the separate Irish-American Wordsum results certainly doesn’t weaken my case.
(2) Here’s another example: Poland. The 1989 Polish IQ results quoted by Lynn are based on the largest sample he’s found anywhere, over 4000 individuals. The Flynn-adjusted Polish IQ was 92. Yet just 20 years later, Poland had precisely the same PISA scores as Britain, France, Norway, Sweden, etc, all which Lynn claims have IQs of around 100. How do you explain this?
(3) Essentially, your perspective seems to be that we should just throw away all the Lynn/Vanhanen IQ tests which you don’t like—many of which tend to be the largest ones—and keep the ones you do. Or perhaps you’re just suggesting we should bite the bullet and throw away ALL of the Lynn/Vanhanen data, and therefore base all our estimates of European IQs on “personal intuition.” If that’s not what you’re saying, please do clarify.
A PISA test suffers from the same problem I pointed out earlier. It’s based on students in a classroom. It excludes those students who weren’t around on the day of the test. I’m not talking about a small proportion of the youth population either.
And a PISA test is not an IQ test. Like WordSum, its results correlate with those of IQ tests, which in turn correlate with genetic factors that influence human intelligence. Again, you’re trying to pass off “C” as “A” by using the argument that C correlates with B and B correlates with A.
The IQ data compiled by Lynn provide weak evidence for heritability of IQ. There is a lot of noise in that kind of data. And much of that noise will not be squeezed out by large sample sizes. If there is a bias in participant recruitment, that bias will distort a big sample as surely as it will distort a small one.
With respect to the Polish data, we have the same phenomenon that we see with the East German data. IQ scores were lower during the Communist era than they are today. The most likely explanatory factor is truancy. It is much easier for problem students to skip classes today than it was back then. During the communist era, truants were sent to detention centres that were little more than prisons. No one wanted to go to those places. If you were a pretty boy, you would have to become a “wife” for one of the alpha males.
You ask me:
Your perspective seems to be that we should just throw away all the Lynn/Vanhanen IQ tests which you don’t like—many of which tend to be the largest ones—and keep the ones you do. Or perhaps you’re just suggesting we should bite the bullet and throw away ALL of the Lynn/Vanhanen data, and therefore base all our estimates of European IQs on “personal intuition.” If that’s not what you’re saying, please do clarify.
Gladly. Lynn’s IQ data are useful for picking out general trends that should be confirmed by more controlled studies. Unlike certain people, I don’t ignore evidence that doesn’t fit my preconceived ideas. I try to explain it as best I can, or I simply describe it as an unresolved problem.
As I said earlier, I view Lynn’s work with some caution. This doesn’t mean I reject it out of hand. Nor do I accept it uncritically. I do the sort of things that most academics do. I check the sources, I look at related studies by other authors, and I examine the data from as many angles as possible.
Ron Unz here:
Look, Peter. I don’t claim to be an IQ expert. I’m just someone who looks at the data reported by the people who supposedly ARE IQ experts and then applies a little common sense and pattern-recognition.
Everyone seems to say that Lynn is one of the biggest IQ experts, and his book is filled with IQ studies. Perhaps the ones with tiny sample sizes shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the Irish and Polish ones are among the *largest* studies he reports. If I can’t believe any of his large IQ studies, or what he concluded from his years of personal research in Ireland, then maybe I should just throw away all his books and say that IQ obviously doesn’t exist.
Well, you say I shouldn’t trust any of Lynn’s IQ studies. Fine, so then I’ll look at the Wordsum-IQ data from the GSS. But then you say I shouldn’t use Wordsum, because it’s not really IQ, just (supposedly) has a 0.71 correlation with IQ. Everyone else discussing IQ tends to use Wordsum as a rough proxy, but you say I shouldn’t.
Okay, then maybe I’ll use the international PISA results. Volkmar Weiss, who’s supposedly another very big IQ expert, wrote a whole article in which he discussed PISA scores as useful proxies for IQ:
But you say I shouldn’t use PISA.
So now I can’t use Lynn’s IQ studies, I can’t use Wordsum in the U.S., and I can’t use PISA worldwide. Then what’s left? Suppose I ask you the simple question “What’s the estimated IQ of Ireland?”—how would YOU figure out the answer…
I would answer: “I don’t know.” I would also point out that none of the existing data on Irish IQ involve twin or adoption studies. All we have is data from classroom IQ tests and more distal sources like PISA. The existing evidence is nonetheless interesting and I would like to see more controlled studies done.
In any argument, there will always be weaker evidence and stronger evidence. A common debating tactic is to focus on the weaker evidence and create the impression that it is somehow central to the entire argument. With enough hand-waving, one might win the debate. This was, in fact, your line of attack in the American Conservative article:
Yet an objective review of the Lynn/Vanhanen data almost completely discredit the Lynn/Vanhanen “Strong IQ Hypothesis.” If so many genetically-indistinguishable European populations—of roughly similar cultural and historical background and without severe nutritional difficulties—can display such huge variances in tested IQ across different decades and locations, we should be extremely cautious about assuming that other ethnic IQ differences are innate rather than environmental, especially since these may involve populations separated by far wider cultural or nutritional gaps.
In my opinion, this kind of debating strategy is unworthy of you. We’re not here to engage in courtroom theatrics. We’re here to find out the truth.
Unz, R. (2012). Race, IQ, and Wealth, The American Conservative, July 18. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/race-iq-and-wealth/