IQ and National Wealth

Foreign Policy magazine has an interesting follow-up to the Derbyshire story, which becomes interesting once the author has finished clearing his throat of disdain.  It turns out that there's a very good argument against a lot of the IQ studies from Africa that people have been relying upon:  The quality of the data is very poor.

Lynn and Vanhanen even argue that IQ was correlated with incomes as far back as 1820 -- a neat trick given that the IQ test wasn't invented until a century later.
As that surprising finding might suggest, most of Lynn and Vanhanen's data is, in fact, made up. Of the 185 countries in their study, actual IQ estimates are available for only 81. The rest are "estimated" from neighboring countries. But even where there is data, it would be a stretch to call it high quality. A test of only 50 children ages 13 to 16 in Colombia and another of only 48 children ages 10 to 14 in Equatorial Guinea, for example, make it into their "nationally representative" dataset.
Psychologist Jelte Wicherts at the University of Amsterdam and colleagues trawled through Lynn and Vanhanen's data on Africa. They found once again that few of the recorded tests even attempted to be nationally representative (looking at "Zulus in primary schools near Durban" for example), that the data set excluded a number of studies that pointed to higher average IQs, and that some studies included dated as far back as 1948 and involved as few as 17 people. 

There is a great deal more on the second page of the article, which suggest further problems with the data.  Naturally I find this information to be a relief, but I know that Joe in particular has looked closely at the information and tends to support the conclusions; so, I thought I would post the link here and ask what he (and the rest of you) may think of it.

There's a more interesting genetics-related suggestion (than IQ) in the article as well:

Enrico Spolaore and Romain Wacziarg have gone even further back, arguing that "genetic distance" -- or the time since populations shared a common ancestor -- has a considerable role to play in the inequality of incomes worldwide. They estimate that variation in genetic distance may account for about 20 percent of the variation in income across countries. 
Spolaore and Wacziarg take pains to avoid suggesting that one line of genetic inheritance is superior to another, preferring instead an interpretation that argues genetic distance is related to cultural differences -- and thus a more complex diffusion of ideas: "the results are consistent with the view that the diffusion of technology, institutions and norms of behavior conducive to higher incomes, is affected by differences in vertically transmitted characteristics associated with genealogical relatedness.… these differences may stem in substantial part from cultural (rather than purely genetic) transmission of characteristics across generations," they write.

Now that argument seems intuitively plausible.  Economic success is largely the result of trade, and trade is most successful where communication is most easy.  That means that barriers to communication and common understanding would tend to complicate trade, and thus lower economic success.  These could be linguistic or cultural barriers, but a genuinely distinct genetic heritage might also affect sense perception and brain activity in interesting ways.  That could cause a long-separate population to have a different way of seeing the world, literally in some cases, which would be a kind of barrier to communication.  Thus, "genetic distance" might indeed raise barriers to economic success.

However, there's a very obvious counter-example:  the Japanese.  Few societies have been as successful historically at isolating themselves, culturally and genetically.  Even today they have a quite distinct culture and genetic heritage; but especially in the 19th century, when American gun boats finally forced their doors, they were as distinct as you could want a population to be.

Japan nevertheless rapidly industrialized and in only a few years was defeating Russia at war; a few years later it was challenging the United States as a naval power.  This was done by addressing cultural distance only:  the Japanese sent people abroad to study (as for example to Paris, where they studied the police department carefully, and then replicated it carefully in Tokyo).  There was no effort to intermarry with gaijin.

That would appear to recommend against a racial/genetic model even here.  Again, though, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject.


Eric Blair said...

Re: the Japanese--prior to the Edo period self-sequestering, the Japanese did trade (or raid, take your pick) across most of East Asia.

the Wo-Ku pirates that plagued China were mostly Japanese to begin with, and I shouldn't have to bring up Korea.

And even after the cutoff in the 17th century, the Japanese never stopped trading with themselves, across the Islands, and there still was an entry point at Nagasaki for some exclusive foreign trade with some favored Europeans.

I'd argue that the movers and shakers were well aware of what was going on in the rest of Asia, as their rapid industrialization demonstrates. (If you can't beat them, join them).

Eric Blair said...

As for the real argument, which basically comes down to "Black people are stupid", the legacy of slavery in the US still has a while yet to work itself out completely.

These things take time. A long time.

Grim said...

You raise some good points, but remember that the Edo period lasted two hundred years -- how many other cultures have abstained from foreign trade on any scale for that long? Maybe some Pacific Islanders? Trade is a pretty ordinary human practice, so finding an example of isolation that compares to the Japanese example is not easy.

However, taking your point on board given that objection, I still think it argues against genetic as opposed to cultural distance. Korea and Japan share some genetic similarity, but the Japanese are still distinct: and further more, the same period at which they were working hard to close cultural distance was a period in which they were increasingly interested in genetic purity. This included a eugenics movement to increase, not decrease, what we would now be calling genetic distance.

Tom said...

Trading and raiding probably had very little effect on the genetic makeup of the Japanese population. After about 800, genetically speaking, the Japanese were pretty isolated until the the late 19th / early 20th century.

Yes, a few Koreans and Chinese made their way to Japan to settle during that time, and Japanese emissaries, traders, and presumably raiders, sometimes brought home foreign wives, but compared to the total population these were probably pretty small.

I guess one exception might have been Hideyoshi's invasions of Korea in the late 16th century. I have no idea how many Japanese troops might have brought home Korean wives.

Even when Perry forced Japan open, the number of foreigners who actually went to Japan was tiny, the number who lived there for any time longer than a port call was smaller, and the number who would have had children with Japanese women was even smaller. This would have been true until Japan annexed Korea in the late 19th century.

Once the Japanese began modernizing, they did invite a few thousand foreign experts to Japan, but they only let most of them stay a few years and they ended the program as soon as the programs could be duplicated with Japanese experts. A small number of them, like Lafcadio Hearn, did remain in Japan for life and marry Japanese. However, these imported foreigners would have had almost no effect on the genetic makeup of the Japanese population.

So, I agree with Grim that Japan seems to make at least an exception to the genetic argument.

Tom said...

That said, Spolaore and Wacziarg do point out that successful characteristics can be substantially culturally transmitted:

"… these differences may stem in substantial part from cultural (rather than purely genetic) transmission of characteristics across generations."

Grim said...

Of course, I suppose the IQ faction would make the counterargument: "Well, of course the Japanese did well without modifying their genetics. They're genetically predisposed for very high IQ."

So maybe we're back to looking for improved data; it sounds like one of the core problems is trying to extrapolate from a very suspect data pool.

Tom said...

Eric, I was confused by 'Wo-Ku.' Is that the Chinese pronunciation? I'm more familiar with the Japanese 'wako.'

Tom said...

In the FP article, the argument that the studies have the cause and effect backwards, that in fact low levels of development cause low IQ through malnutrition, etc., fairly persuasive.

Grim said...

Well, that's true: it could be even better data would leave us with the correlation/causation problem.

It might not, though: it could be that better IQ data from Africa would show something unexpected. We might find some groups with sky high IQs and low development levels, for example.

E Hines said...

...the Edo period lasted two hundred years....

That certainly argues against much genetic isolation--200 years is only about 6 generations. But I think it also argues against much in the way of cultural isolation, too: 200 years is only about 6 generations. Today's grandchildren are well aware of the doings and thinkings of their grandfathers' grandfathers. [OK, maybe not so much today's American grandchildren, but many cultures do a better job with their written--and oral--histories.]

After about 800, genetically speaking, the Japanese were pretty isolated.... Yes, a few Koreans and Chinese made their way....

But it doesn't take much to blow up the genetic isolation. We're apparently still carrying around Neanderthal DNA from isolated interbreeding all those...years...ago.

A lot comes down to a workable definition of "isolation," whether we're talking about genetics or culture. Distinct isn't the same as isolated, and the one isn't needed to achieve the other.

...the studies have the cause and effect backwards, that in fact low levels of development cause low IQ through malnutrition....

But this impacts what might be termed (by me, anyway, who's unfamiliar with technical terms) a culturally determined IQ, rather than a genetically determined one. The babies born to malnourished mothers, assuming not so malnourished that sufficient nutrients can't be passed through the placenta, will be born with the same range of "IQs" (do we even have tests that can measure actual intelligence, as opposed to Intelligence Quotients?) as those born to healthy mothers, if the range might be skewed by that short-term environmental condition.

It also tacitly assumes that the two are the only players in the relationship. There could be a third factor impacting both. Economics, for instance, plays a major role in determining culture. And vice versa. And the successes of the varying cultures alters the environments in varying ways, and it's these environments that create the pressures that impact genetics.

In the end, I don't think the two can be isolated from each other. Genetics provides the framework, and culture provides the execution. With a feedback loop.

douglas said...

First, there is always the question of even if there is a differential in I.Q., is it big enough to have a significant functional effect over the scale of a large population? I mean, how many geniuses does a society need to prosper? How many idiots can it tolerate? Does a variation in the I.Q. of the general populous really matter all that much (especially in a top down control culture, which is historically prevalant)? If it does matter, how much of a variation before it matters?

I think there is a lot more here that needs to be studied before we can start drawing meaningful conclusions, and that day is probably a long way off, as no one want to ask the questions for fear they'll find out there are differences.

As for the Japanese, Grim is correct about the I.Q. factions counter argument, and 200 years isn't very long, in terms of culture. We still use idioms that have their roots in things that have passed from our culture centuries ago. Train tracks are approximately the width of Roman Era Carts. Cultures change slowly, although we've seen accelerated change in more recent times, particularly in more technologically advanced places. That would tend to lend credence to the idea that communication and technology speed cultural change. I don't say development, because I don' think it's preordained that it's positive change.

Tom said...

To fix a minor point, the Edo period was actually about 270 years (roughly 1600-1868). This doesn't matter so much for our discussion; official isolation only lasted something like 1630-1860, though practical isolation was a bit longer.

What does matter is that, while isolation was official policy during that time, practically the Japanese were genetically isolated for about 1,000 years.

Eric's right that we need a better definition of isolation. Comparatively, the Japanese were genetically very isolated from roughly 800 - 1890. Is the tiny amount of Korean and Chinese mixture from 800-1600 relevant? Beats me. We probably need to ask an evolutionary biologist.

Culturally, 200 years can be very short, or it can be very long. From 1870-1895 the Japanese went from a pre-industrial, quasi-feudal society which posed no threat to Western powers to an industrialized military power capable of defeating China and annexing Korea. Ten years later they defeated Russia both at sea and on land.

Men who fought as samurai with swords and spears in the 1868 revolution commanded modern naval fleets (frigates, cruisers, dreads, etc.) and rifle divisions with supporting artillery in 1895.

As for malnutrition, I believe that would be counted a biological factor, not a cultural one.

Anyway, I agree with Douglas that there is just too much research we don't have to really decide this issue.

Eric Blair said...

I think Wo-ku is the Chinese version.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

IQ is merely one useful trait out of many, but it's the one that generates the most heat...

First. IQ goes back to the dawn to mankind. It wasn't "invented" 100 years ago. Measuring it is recent. So Kenny's sneer is dishonest bullshit right out of the box. He knows better. He is running a PR campaign for his preference, not a scientific discussion.

Second. All the "cultural" factors of genetic distance - trade, communication, perception, cultural habits - are not easily separable from IQ. To say that some people aren't "really" taller, they just have longer tibias and spinal columns, is not enlightening.

(However, diseases and getting knocked on the head do tend to depress IQ, so some of the gap in poorer or violent societies may be increased because greater numbers of children have taken blows to the head or have diseases which sap overall energy for years on end, such as malaria. The attempts to control for these haven't shown that, but it remains possible.)

Third. Some of the data, especially for Africa and other locales remote from cities and formal education are indeed scanty and not worth much. But a lot of Lynn and Vanhanen's data is abundant, and excellent. The overall sample size is in the millions. That some studies are old is also irrelevant - and Kenny knows that too.

Fourth. While IQ can go through some pretty rapid selection to kick a group up a few points in a few centuries, (Ashkenazic Jews being the most common example) we are generally talking about thousands of years. The Japanese example of isolation would then be largely irrelevant. Northeast Asians score very well generally.

Fifth. Studies of IQ in interracial adoption are also part of this data base. They show remarkably similar scores, even though cultural aspects should be operating at full weight.

Where the data points to sucks, but that doesn't change it. I am hopeful that adaptability, personal energy/determination, and something in the charisma/cooperation range (which are all already pretty valuable), will increasingly be qualities more important than IQ, knocking the latter down to 3rd place or so in influencing the wealth of nations - or groups. But wishing doesn't make it so.

BillT said...

CAGW is a rapidly sinking ship -- all those climate scientists formerly intuiting paleotemperatures from tree stumps have to find new areas in which to fail.