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Chanda Chisala has written another piece on IQ and African immigrants to the UK:

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. […]. 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.

The correct term is not “regression to the mean.” It’s “non-inheritance of acquired characteristics.” In other words, each person has a single genotype and a range of possible phenotypes. A culture can push its members to either limit of this range, thus creating a phenotype unlike that of other people with the same genetic endowment. But this phenotype has to be recreated with each succeeding generation. For instance, there used to be a Chinese custom of binding a girl’s foot to make it four inches long and of limited use for walking. When the custom was outlawed, the next generation of women had normal feet. The phenotype bounced back to its initial form, so to speak, much like an elastic band when you stop stretching it (see note 1).

Regression to the mean is something else. It happens because ofgenetic change. For instance, a man with above-average IQ will likely marry a woman with above-average IQ. But only part of their above-averageness is genetic. The rest is due to favorable circumstances. Or simply luck. So their children’s IQ will likely be a bit closer to the mean of the overall population. That second generation will in turn marry people with similar IQs. And their children will likewise be closer still to the population mean. Eventually, several generations later, the descendants of that original couple will have a mean IQ that matches the population mean.

That’s regression to the mean. It’s a multigenerational genetic change. It’s not what happens when genes stay constant and culture changes.

Chanda is really talking about what happens when a culture stops pushing people to excel. The phenotype reverts to its usual state and the pressure to excel comes only from within. This is a legitimate argument, and it may have great explanatory value. When people from certain cultures move to Western countries, the second and third generations do a lot worse than the first generation over many indicators—academic achievement, crime rates, family stability, etc. This is a frequent outcome when people move from an environment where behavior is tightly controlled by family and community to one where behavior is much more self-controlled.

Such social atomization is less toxic for people of Northwest European descent because they have adapted to it over a longer time. For at least the past millennium, they have had weaker kinship ties and stronger tendencies toward individualism than any other human population. This cultural environment has favored individuals who rely less on external means of behavior control and more on internal means, specifically guilt proneness and affective empathy (Frost, 2014).

But that isn’t Chanda’s argument. That’s the argument he attributes to something called “the HBD position.” In reality, there are at least three HBD positions:

1. African immigrants to the UK perform better than whites academically because they are a select group, either because they have elite backgrounds or because they tend to be more motivated than the people who stay behind.

2. African immigrants perform better than whites academically, but this academic performance is weakly linked to the heritable component of IQ, especially in modern Britain. Teachers tend to “over-reward” black students who satisfy basic requirements (regular attendance, assignments turned in on time, non-disruptive behavior, etc.). African parents also invest in private tutoring to improve exam results.

3. Most African immigrants perform worse than whites academically. Only certain African groups excel, notably the Igbo of Nigeria. Igbo excellence is due to their specific evolutionary history and cannot be generalized to all sub-Saharan Africans.

Are African immigrants better than the Africans left behind?

Chanda attacks the first argument, saying that the average African immigrant is very average:

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)

He also points to the example of African American families. The children of middle-class and even upper-class African Americans do worse on IQ tests than the children of lower-class Euro-American families. So even if you select from the black elite, the next generation will still underperform whites.

One could counter that the African American middle class largely works for the government. In Africa, the middle class is more likely to be self-made men and women. Also, a selection effect may exist despite the averageness of most African immigrants to the UK. Even if most are average, it may be that fewer are below-average. Below a certain level of ability, many Africans may not bother to emigrate.

Fuerst (2014) has studied this question and found that black immigrants to the U.S. have a mean IQ that is one third of a standard deviation above the mean IQ of their home countries. So there is a selection effect. But it seems too weak to explain the difference in IQ—more than one standard deviation and possibly two—between African immigrants to the UK and Africans back home, unless one assumes that migration to the UK is a lot more selective than migration to the US.

What does the GCSE actually measure?

We now come to the second explanation. It is assumed in this debate that the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is a good proxy for IQ, which in turn is a proxy for the heritable component of intelligence. Is this true? Or does the GCSE largely measure something that is culturally acquired rather than heritable? Perhaps something as simple as showing up for class, doing one’s assignments, or having a private tutor. This point is raised by one commenter:

[…] black Africans in London, even if poor and living in social housing, hire private tutors for their children. White British do not, especially the working class. This much better explains the GCSE results, a very tuition friendly test […]

Furthermore, many African immigrants may be targeting those exams they can do best on and avoiding those they are less sure about:

[…] one needs to know how many children from each racial group take the exams. For example, the pass rate for Higher Mathematics is very high, not because the exams are easy, but because they are hard, and frighten off most applicants.

Interestingly, Chanda replies to this GCSE skepticism by pointing out that the same “Nigerians” (Igbos) who do well on the GCSE also do well in Nigeria:

For example, the subgroups within the Nigerian group that are the best in Nigeria or even in the US etc are also the best on the GCSEs. Also, the Traveller white (or whatever precise race) groups are placed by the GCSEs exactly where you would expect to find them.

The Igbo factor

This brings us to the third explanation. It’s the one I favor, although the other two probably play a role. African excellence in the UK seems largely driven by a single high-performing people: the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria. Let’s begin with the example of Harold Ekeh, whom Chanda describes in glowing terms:

Harold Ekeh showing off his acceptance letters to all 8 Ivy League Schools. He was born in Nigeria and migrated with his parents at age 8.

Ekeh is an Igbo name, and the Igbo (formerly known as Ibo) have a long history of academic success within Nigeria (Frost, 2015). Chanda himself referred to this success in his first article:

The superior Igbo achievement on GCSEs is not new and has been noted in studies that came before the recent media discovery of African performance. A 2007 report on “case study” model schools in Lambeth also included a rare disclosure of specified Igbo performance (recorded as Ibo in the table below) and it confirms that Igbos have been performing exceptionally well for a long time (5 + A*-C GCSEs); in fact, it is difficult to find a time when they ever performed below British whites. (Chisala, 2015a)

This superior achievement was widely known in Nigeria by the time of independence:

All over Nigeria, Ibos filled urban jobs at every level far out of proportion to their numbers, as laborers and domestic servants, as bureaucrats, corporate managers, and technicians. Two-thirds of the senior jobs in the Nigerian Railway Corporation were held by Ibos. Three-quarters of Nigeria’s diplomats came from the Eastern Region. So did almost half of the 4,500 students graduating from Nigerian universities in 1966. The Ibos became known as the “Jews of Africa,” despised—and envied—for their achievements and acquisitiveness. (Baker, 1980)

The term “Jews of Africa” recurs often in the literature. Henry Kissinger used it back in the 1960s:

The Ibos are the wandering Jews of West Africa — gifted, aggressive, Westernized; at best envied and resented, but mostly despised by the mass of their neighbors in the Federation.(Kissinger, 1969)

To what degree is African success Igbo success? If we go back to Chanda’s first article, we see that high African achievers are overwhelmingly “Nigerians” (Chisala, 2015a). This is evident in a chart that lists mean % difference from the mean English GCSE score in 2010-2011 by ethnicity:

Nigerian: +21.8

Ghanaian: +5.5
Sierra Leone: +1.4
Somali: -23.7
Congolese: -35.3

Clearly, high academic achievement is due to something that is very much present in Nigeria, a little bit in Ghana, and not at all in Somalia and Congo. Could this something be the Igbo? The Igbo make up 18% of Nigeria’s population and form a large diaspora elsewhere in West Africa and farther afield. In fact, they seem to be disproportionately represented in overseas Nigerian communities, making up most of the Nigerian community in Japan and a large portion of China’s Nigerian community (Wikipedia, 2015). Statistics are unfortunately lacking for the UK.


What happens when we remove Igbo students from the GCSE results? How well do the other Africans do? To some degree, Chanda answered that question in his first article. African excellence seems to be overwhelmingly Igbo excellence.

So why doesn’t he speak of Igbo excellence? Probably because he assumes that all sub-Saharan Africans are fundamentally the same. Or maybe he assumes that all humans are fundamentally the same. Both assumptions are wrong, and neither can be construed as an “HBD position.”

We are all genetically different, even within our own families. So why the surprise that different African peoples are … different? The Igbo have for a long time specialized in a trading lifestyle that favors a certain mental toolkit: future time orientation; numeracy, and abstract reasoning. This is gene-culture coevolution. When circumstances push people to excel in a certain way, there will be selection for people who can naturally excel in that way, without the prodding of circumstances. And it doesn’t take eons of time for such evolution to work.

Will we hear more about the Igbo in this debate? Probably not. There is a strong desire, especially in the United Kingdom, to show that blacks are converging toward white norms of behavior, including academic performance. There is indeed some convergence, but almost all of it can be traced to the growing numbers of high-performing “Nigerians” (Igbos) and the growing numbers of biracial children (the census now has a mixed-race category, but most biracial people still self-identify as “black”). In the UK, 55% of Black Caribbean men and 40% of Black Caribbean women have a partner from another ethnic background. It’s very likely that half of all “black” children in the UK are at least half-white by ancestry (Platt, 2009, p. 7).

Nor is it likely that we’ll hear more about the Igbo from Chanda. As he sees it, the debate should be over. The academic excellence of Igbo students proves that the black/white IQ gap in the U.S. cannot have a genetic basis:

[It is not] 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).

Thank you, Chanda, for avoiding unkind terms. Well, I know a bit about HBD. The term was coined by Steve Sailer in the late 1990s for an email discussion group that included myself and various academics who may or may not want their names disclosed. It’s hard to generalize but we were all influenced by findings that genetic evolution didn’t slow down as cultural evolution speeded up in our species. In fact, the two seemed to feed into each other. This is why genetic evolution accelerated over 100-fold about 10,000 years ago when humans began to abandon hunting and gathering for farming, which in turn led to ever more diverse societies. Our ancestors thus adapted much more to their cultural environments than to their natural environments. These findings were already circulating within our discussion group before being written up in a paper by Hawks et al. (2007) and later in a book by Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending (2009).

Yes, previously it was thought that genetic evolution slowed to a crawl with the advent of culture. Therefore, groups like the Igbo couldn’t possibly differ genetically from other sub-Saharan Africans, at least not for anything culture-related. But that kind of thinking wasn’t HBD or even racialist. It was simply the old anthropological narrative, and it’s still accepted by many anthropologists, most of whom aren’t “scientific racists.”

Oh sorry, I forgot we promised to avoid that term.


(1) Of course, if the cultural pressure is maintained long enough, there may be selection for individuals who naturally produce the new phenotype—with no prodding and pushing. Let’s suppose that foot binding had never been outlawed in China. Through chance mutations, some Chinese women might be born with tiny feet, and their descendants would become more and more numerous because of their better life prospects. So what began as a new phenotype could end up becoming a new genotype. Culture pushes the limits of phenotypic plasticity, and then favors genotypes that don’t have to be pushed. That’s gene-culture coevolution.


Baker, P.H. (1980). Lurching toward unity, The Wilson Quarterly,4, 70-80

Chisala, C. (2015b). Closing the Black-White IQ gap debate. Part I,The Unz Review, October 5

Chisala, C. (2015a). The IQ gap is no longer a black and white issue, The Unz Review, June 25

Cochran, G. and H. Harpending. (2009). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilizations Accelerated Human Evolution, Basic Books, New York.

Frost, P. (2015). The Jews of West Africa? Evo and Proud, July 4

Frost, P. (2014). How universal is empathy? Evo and Proud, June 28

Fuerst, J. (2014). Ethnic/race differences in aptitude by generation in the United States: An exploratory meta-analysis, June 29, Open Differential Psychology

Hawks, J., E.T. Wang, G.M. Cochran, H.C. Harpending, and R.K. Moyzis. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution,Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 104, 20753-20758.

Kissinger, H.A. (1969). Memorandum, January 28. U.S. Department of State Archive

Platt, L. (2009). Ethnicity and family. Relationships within and between ethnic groups: An analysis using the Labour Force Survey. Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Wikipedia (2015). Igbo people

(Republished from Evo and Proud by permission of author or representative)
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