A response to Mooney & Sokal

By Razib Khan | February 13, 2007 10:15 am

My coblogger @ GNXP Ikwa has a measured response to Chris Mooney and Alan Soka’s notable op-ed about the conflict between the Right & science. Here’s the gist:

For example, I don’t think it’s obvious that fundamentalist Christian fears that Darwinism will lead to the death of morality and the collapse of civil society are less reasonable or strongly-believed than the fear that the discovery of a genetic or biological contribution to social inequalities will lead to death of empathy for the disadvantaged and the collapse of all progressive values. Parenthetically, I don’t think either inference is warranted as I actually believe both antecedents to be true without finding myself compelled to endorse either consequent.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics
  • http://magicdragon.com Jonathan Vos Post

    The measured response is right, so far as it goes. But you are writing as if this is a new problem. It is not. Please allow me to make a different (not so judiciously measured) response.
    I am not going to expound in detail on the history of this slowly developing crisis. The details are public record.
    (1) The USA had a de facto Science Advisor to the President since late Truman to early Eisenhower administrations.
    (2) Vannevar Bush was one such person.
    (3) Nixon had Lee DuBridge, former World War II head of the (MIT-affiliated) Rad Lab; former President of Caltech.
    (4) The office was folded into the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
    (5) OSTP, like the Science Advisor before it, was bottom-up. The scientists (National Science Council) and engineers (similar entity) fed their consensus views and dissident views and major analyses up to OSTP.
    (6) OSTP took the knowledge and recommendations and priorities of the science, engineering, technology communities and formulated poliy options.
    (7) These went to the White House, and other parts of the government, to educate, instruct, and inform as to what was believed (with evidence) to be true, what the options were in acting upon truth, and what the consequences of actions might be.
    (8) Starting under Ronald Reagan (now deified retroactively by the Press as was Gerald Ford) this was turned upside-down. Don’t ever forget that Reagan, who played an evolutionary biologist in “Bedtime for Bonzo” now openly stated that “evolution is only a theory” and dismissed environmental concerns, as the Apocalypse would render policy decisions moot. Don’t forget that Nancy “Just Say No” Reagan scheduled his appointments based on advice from her Astrologer.
    (9) Upside-down meaning that the “corridors of power” [C.P. Snow] were now run top-down. The President would declare policy in advance, based on ideology. The OSTP would send that down to the science, engineering, technology communities to to educate, instruct, and inform as to what was believed (without evidence) to be true, what the options were in acting upon revealed truth, and what the political consequences of actions might be.
    (10) Under the most ignorant and science-hostile President in history, the faith-based ahistorical incurious George W. Bush, the “reality-based” administration asserts that it creates its own reality. The OSTP is pressured to brainwash and strongarm the science, engineering, technology communities to fix their thoughts and speech to the pre-determined policy, and woe to he or she who dares to dissent in private or public.
    (11) This pseudopolicy is designed by certain corporations and their lobbyists who benefit mightily, such as those in the petroleum and weapon-system industries.
    (12) Very young, uneducated, political-activist and often faith-based goons are placed in every possible position to act as Commissars to enforce the top-down ignorance and corruption.
    (13) Whoops, 13 is an unlucky number. On the other hand, there werer 13 original states, 13 feathers on the tail of the eagle, who clutches 13 arrows and 13 leaves on an olive branch. But there is more profit in making a trillion dollars worth of arrows directed at Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else the President wants to go, based (as he openly admits) on what is in his “heart” and what his “higher father” a.k.a. “God” tells him to do.
    It’s all top-down, and has been for some time.
    God (in what is falsely claimed to be “a Christian nation”) creates the universe in 6 days, and/or 6000 years.
    Emperor Bush II, as the recipient of God’s direct advice, decides whther the Earth goes around the sun or vice versa, whether the globe is warming or cooling, whether a hydrogen transportation economy is a net benefit or net loss. and whether clearing brush at his ranch is a better use of his time than actually learning anything.
    Emperor Bush II is actually willing, once in a blue moon (and we’ll kill science missions in order to make it a Red White and Blue moon again) to ask a science question. When so, he makes an “ethical” or “moral” decision for policy, as he did for a grotesque Stem Cell policy.
    Clutching his stone tablets, the God-Emperor-Prophet lays down commandments to his minuions, and the nonsense trickles down.
    I’ve lost my objectivity. But, guys, don’t prtetend that this is new. It’s worse now, since we have the worst President ever. But we’ve been going down the slippery slope for at least two decades.
    Why was a PhD research Physicist, and former professor, head of Physics Policy at OSTP, yanked out the White House, and flung back to NASA HQ? He can’t tell you; he had to sign nondisclosure forms that prohibit him from divulging “political apppointee” tales, or mentioning the names of Cheney or Rove.
    Now that we have a Ph.D. Physicist in Congress, will things change? Now that we have a Mohammedan in Congress, will things change? Now that we have a Buddhist in Congress, will things change? Now that we have a Christian Scientist in Congress, will things change?
    My son now has 3 passports. My wife has 2. We are ready to leave, and go to a rational country before the invasion of Iran or whatever horrors are launched by the God-Emperor.
    I asked my son if Bush, with his Iraq lunacy, had made the worst policy decision in White House history.
    “I don’t know,” he said. “He hasn’t made his worst decison… YET!”

  • http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/02/mooney-sokal-op-ed.php lwka

    i didn’t realize that left and right hate it each other so much.
    between the comments here and at gnxp classic, almost all have been directed at arguing that the left’s / right’s war on science is worse. what’s the point?
    Here’s what I wrote:
    Even granting the existence of a “Left’s war on science”, isn’t the “Republican war on science” much worse?
    I don’t know, and I’m not sure how one would measure this. No mere compilation of anecdotes would be sufficient to decide that issue and so I will not build one here. As Razib has pointed out, the sample space is so large that all but the most thoughtful and careful answers to that question is bound to be marred by sample biasing. Similarly, Will Wilkinson has pointed out in a similar context that confirmation bias is a problem in attempting to answer this kind of question.
    i think i’m standing by that

  • gcochran

    Why not hate them both?

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    …from the mouth of cochran’s….

  • Colugo

    Ikwa, cited by Razib: “the fear that the discovery of a genetic or biological contribution to social inequalities will lead to death of empathy for the empathy for the disadvantaged and the collapse of all progressive values.”
    At this point I will not discuss the disparity between the specific category of “genetic” and the very broad one of “biological” (which includes genetic factors, as well as environmental factors, interaction, and chance events) when it comes to social inequality. Suffice to say that these two descriptors ought not be conflated. I will not bother to bring up topics like reaction norms, embodiment, epigenetics, social inheritance etc. For purposes of discussion, the following sets those topic aside and assumes a naive paradigm of genetic determinism.
    Ikwa identifies a taboo area of research: “racial and ethnic group differences in socially-valued traits like intelligence and social-disvalued traits like propensity to criminal behavior, especially their causes”
    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/02/mooney-sokal-op-ed.php
    Razib in his earlier post on human origins: “That is, instead of monolithic populations hurtling through time or space who either displace or give way to other demes (e.g., 100 Northeast Africans 50,000 years ago conquering the world in 20,000 years), or perpetual demes (regional hominid varieties) shaped by constant low level gene flow, the reality is that our reticulated phylogenies have diverse histories shaped by manifold demographic and selective forces, and they will escape our attempt to straitjacket them into one basic verbal theoretical narrative.”
    http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2007/02/the_origin_of_humans.php#commentsArea
    You mean “basic verbal theoretical narratives” that “force all the data into their constrained boxes” such as “racial and ethnic differences” in intelligence and propensity for criminality? Although Razib was discussing the complexity of human origins, he may as well be talking about one of the fallacies of so-called “race realism.” Are genetically based individual differences the result of gene histories that thwart simple constructs or are such widely encompassing and problematic entities – due to reticulated phylogenies and manifold selective forces – nevertheless meaningful ways to categorize human difference?
    Razib may protest that the “constrained boxes” that he is talking about are two simplistic models, not constructs like race. But the problems are similar: the attempt to shoehorn complex genetic histories into neat constructs such as “monolitic populations” and “perpetual demes.” It could be argued that in some species these are discrete and readily investigated entities, but everyone agrees that human groups are highly wide-ranging, inter-breeding, and prone to dissolution and fusion.
    If we ought to be most interested in genetic histories, why the remarkable attention on a particular purported supra-demic entity – the continental population (“race”), perhaps the fuzziest and wispiest of posited levels of biological organization?

  • lwka

    Colugo, individual gene histories may be different than population histories, but that doesn’t mean that populations aren’t an appropriate unit of analysis for complex phenotypes.

  • TGGP

    That magicdragon dude really had me chuckling. Run for your life before Chimpy McHitlerburton gets you!
    Cochran has the right idea.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    If we ought to be most interested in genetic histories, why the remarkable attention on a particular purported supra-demic entity – the continental population (“race”), perhaps the fuzziest and wispiest of posited levels of biological organization?
    i’ve said this before, and i’ll say it again, a lot of it is purely reactive. race realists are not the only ones who say that “race matters.” when people make positive assertions about race based on social constructs which map onto to genetic correlations, that gets the ball rolling. finally, the quotation you are using has to be framed in the context of attempting to generate 100,000 year narratives. the fact that “race” is a fuzzy concept doesn’t, to me, deny that it is more realistic than tracing “human” lineages 4,000 generations. an analogy would be if people attempted to trace races back 20,000 years, a problem that does crop up, and which falls under the same pitfalls as the issues i was bringing up. on the other hand, genetic correlations in the present generation are broken down (in general) by only small levels of deme-to-deme genetic exchange in most regions (e.g., given a modest number of genetic loci discrete clusters quickly emerge by populations which we a priori accept as genetic races).

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    to be clear, the search for regions of the genome which might control elevated intelligence has, for example, nothing to do with race fundamentally. and yet research into something like ‘criminality’ was squelched in large part because of concerns about racial implications due to possible different frequencies of allele distributions.

  • Colugo

    Iwka: “that doesn’t mean that populations aren’t an appropriate unit of analysis for complex phenotypes.”
    A “race,” however, isn’t just any population, it is the largest (purportedly) definable population below the species level. Why the impulse to characterize trait frequencies as being the feature of such a high level entity? At the level of a continental population, the roles of a variety of contributing factors is in danger of being hopelessly obscured.
    Razib: “when people make positive assertions about race based on social constructs which map onto to genetic correlations, that gets the ball rolling”
    That’s right; it can be the beginning of an analysis. Such observations and notions can provide preliminary suggestions towards a useful line of investigation. But if characterizing such differences – and coming up with “race”-level hypotheses to explain them – is the ultimate goal of investigation, then we are in danger of coming up with farcical and antiquated theories to explain alleged racial trait complexes.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    But if characterizing such differences – and coming up with “race”-level hypotheses to explain them – is the ultimate goal of investigation
    how do you determine “ultimate goals”? in any case, most scientists interested in race are probably not interested in the issue of race because they have an ontological fixation on this level of categorization, rather, they’re interested in how demographic history and selective forces play out in geographically localized demes. e.g., consider spencer wells, who has expressed an interest in morphological differences between populations. i hope one can assume he isn’t a white nationalist seeing as how his wife is south chinese.

  • Colugo

    “demographic history and selective forces play out in geographically localized demes”
    Such a project is, by itself, hardly Rushtonian. (I’m quite familiar with the writings of Rushton, Nyborg, and a number of the older books on race.)
    Are you using “deme” as a synonym for “race”?
    Incidentally, Spencer Wells, WSJ, June 16, 2006:
    “I think there is very little evidence of IQ differences between races.”

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    Are you using “deme” as a synonym for “race”?
    i think of race as just a mega-deme.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    also, to be clear, there is a distinction between the london school of differential psychology and its acolytes, whom you allude too, and the new genomicists and other assorted scientists who are interested in human evolution and interpopulation differences. the latter are pretty naive and innocent re: the various historical controversies and backstory (e.g., jensen’s famous 1969 paper). some of the london school types are obviously racial nationalists, and some are not. i doubt any of the genomicists are the former, or would even comprehend why anyone would care (not being social scientists they don’t give much thought to the application of their science aside from mild eugenicist sentiments [e.g., watson]).

  • Colugo

    “there is a distinction between the london school of differential psychology and … assorted scientists who are interested in human evolution and interpopulation differences.”
    Right.
    Scientists who study human population biology (human adaptation, human biological ecology), human genetics, evolutionary medicine, bioarchaeology etc. tend to reject the race concept or consider it irrelevant or not particularly useful. Those in the aforementioned groups who do use the race concept tend to merely use “race” as a term that has specific applications in evolutionary medicine or osteological or genetic identification. And most of those who do use the term “race” reject the notion of racial differences in intelligence and behavioral propensities.
    In addition, there are the various schools of thought that are rooted in evolutionary ecology (specifically, sociobiology): human behavioral ecology (Darwinian anthropology), evolutionary psychology, dual inheritance. These also do not find it particularly useful to consider continental populations since they are interested in either universal human cognitive and behavioral adaptations (evolutionary psychology) or the adaptations of groups and individuals (Darwinian anthropology) as a function of their environment. In addition, most of these researchers reject alleged racial differences in intelligence and behavioral propensities.
    The above researchers rarely intersect with the race-IQ school within psychology. To most of them, the view that there are genetically based differences in intelligence and behavioral propensities between “races” is an idea that was discarded long ago. There are a few exceptions, such as Sarich and Harpending.
    Both Gene Expression sites tend to discuss all of these schools of thought as if they were one big science of human evolutionary biology. For example, in the list of (Bio)Social Science books is The g Factor next to books like The Moral Animal. And you cited Spencer Wells’ research as a rejoinder to my criticism of racial-level analysis (which was initially in response to the taboo on supposedly worthwhile research on racial-ethnic differences in intelligence and criminality). Look, that’s your perspective and you’re entitled to it. But it’s a conflation – intentional or not – that I believe is to the benefit of neither human population biology (genetics, physiology, morphology, life history etc) nor mainstream human behavior evolution research. These overlap in theory and in practice with each other far more than either does with differential psychology/”race realism.”
    Who else tends to regard all of these research programs as one of a kind? The academic left, which views sociobiology and its intellectual descendants as another form of genetic determinism that is perhaps as bad as scientific racism (and eugenics and Social Darwinism). And some believe that even human population biology is suspect because they believe it is linked with older racialist anthropology or the marginal school of modern scientific racists like Rushton. Hence Gene Expression and its affiliates confirm to the academic left their view of “sociobiology” and, to some, the study of human population differences as well.
    In any case, I’m glad that you made it clear that these are decidedly separate research programs. Especially “differential psychology” (Jensenism, whatever one wants to call it) on the one hand and the mainstream schools of human population and behavior evolutionary on the other.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    Colugo,
    are the researchers you speak to so contemptuous of race and interpopulational differences privately? i’m sincerely curious.
    it’s late and i don’t have time to respond to your comment in full detail, though i’ve addressed fragments before. suffice to say that the accusation that i conflate psychometrics with more respectable disciplines is obviously correct, i think fundamentally all human psychology and biology are of one piece.

  • http://www.gnxp.com p-ter

    Scientists who study human population biology (human adaptation, human biological ecology), human genetics, evolutionary medicine, bioarchaeology etc. tend to reject the race concept or consider it irrelevant or not particularly useful. Those in the aforementioned groups who do use the race concept tend to merely use “race” as a term that has specific applications in evolutionary medicine or osteological or genetic identification. And most of those who do use the term “race” reject the notion of racial differences in intelligence and behavioral propensities.
    most human geneticists do *not* reject the concept of race (they use it because it has specific applications. I’m not sure why you say “merely” specific application. it’s useful “merely” in medicine and genetics?). and like razib said, no one likes to say it out loud, but scientists tend to be fairly logical and see that, if there are biological differences between people in different populations, those differences could extend “above the neck”.

  • Colugo

    Yes, scientists (in fields like forensic anthropology, human biolgical ecology, life history theory etc.) have said to me that traditional notions of race, and ideas of genetically-based racial differences in intelligence, are obsolete or a hindrance to understanding. That does not even include those who have been publicly outspoken on the topic, like Tooby and Cosmides. I have had one or two scientists express curiosity about research on racial differences in cognition, but they were not closeted “race realists.”
    Some scientists use the word “race” the same way Einstein used the term “God” – in a different way than a lot of other people do, especially those who are especially invested in the concept. By “race” they simply mean “population” of varying size and geographic range – and definitely not quasi-species with distinct and genetically based evolutionary strategies.
    I used to be neutral on the term and concept of “race” myself, until I realized how “race realists” were comforted by any use of the term, as if it lent support to their own views. I once regarded the warnings of scientists like Jon Marks and Richard Lewontin about reifying race as overly ideological. And while I still disagree with many of their views, such as their attacks on the research program pioneered by Hamilton and Trivers, I now think they had a point on race. “Population” just doesn’t have the resonance of “race.” I was always skeptical about the racial psychometry (testing, twins, adoption) literature, and the more I read the less impressed I was.
    Sociobiologists, evolutionary psychologists, and Darwinian anthropologists were long demonized by their colleagues, unfairly associated with fascism, and lazily put in the same “biological determinist” category as scientific racists. “Race realists” joined their organizations and appropriated their concepts in an effort to enhance their respectability. Having been unjustly stigmatized within their own departments, Darwinian anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists were hardly prepared to purge the likes of Rushton and Kevin MacDonald from their ranks.
    You guys think that you are on the winning side of scientific history. Nothing personal, but I don’t believe that you are. The more that human genetics and developmental biology progresses, the more untenable these “race realist” notions will become. Will more genes related to individual differences in brain function be discovered? Of course. Will Rushton, Sailer, Nyborg, Murray, Lynn, Sarich, Cochran et al. be vindicated? I don’t think so.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    traditional notions of race
    depends on how you define “traditional.” second, “Darwinian anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists were hardly prepared to purge the likes of Rushton and Kevin MacDonald from their ranks.” you are focusing on rushton and macdonald, and i don’t wholly disagree with the problems with these two scholars. but like i said, they aren’t the ones you should be concerned about. look what happened to bruce lahn and U of C. or neil risch.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    to be clear, if you place lewontin at one end and rushton at the other, i would say most scientists are in the middle. they would disagree with rushton about the intergroup diff. in intelligence, but i doubt they find lewontin’s objections to ‘reification’ particularly objective. see the cavalli-sforza interview to the left and see what he has to say about the lewonton vs. a.w.f edwards debate.

  • Mencius

    colugo,
    The problem with your perspective is that you’ve set up the problem in a way that gives the answer you prefer the benefit of the doubt.
    You seem to have looked very carefully, thoroughly, and critically, at a large number of the scientists who have made the case for significant intergroup differences in mental factors. You clearly have scientific training or at least a scientific mindset. And your judgment is that the case is not, by the normal standards of good science, convincing.
    This is my judgment as well. And the answer you prefer is also the answer I prefer. That is, I would much rather live in a world in which there were no significant intergroup mental differences, than a world in which these differences existed. I think you would find it very hard to recruit anyone in the 21st century, or even the 20th, to disagree.
    But I am not as confident as you that this is the world we live in.
    Why is the egalitarian interpretation the default? Why is it that a small number of scientists have to risk ridicule and condemnation in order to challenge this interpretation? Why don’t people, such as yourself, who believe that there are no differences, bear the burden of proof?
    The answer is pretty simple. It’s that there was a war (or two), the winning side were egalitarians, and the losing side were racists. I am very grateful for this coincidence, as I’m sure the world is, on balance, a much better place because of it. But I don’t see much connection between military history and the pursuit of truth.
    I’d be very interested in seeing anyone present a case for the egalitarian interpretation that did not start from the perspective that it is true until proven false. If you have any links, etc, to writers that try to make this kind of case, I’d be very curious.

  • Colugo

    “Why is the egalitarian interpretation the default?”
    I can think of several reasons off the top of my head (to keep things simple, I’ll restrict my discussion to intelligence):
    1) Falsification: The null hypothesis is that there are no genetically based differences in intelligence potential between races. The alternative hypothesis is that there are such differences. (Note that the null does not state that all populations have the same frequencies of all of the alleles that have any effect on brain structure and function. It says that these genetic differences, such as they may exist, do not produce differences in intelligence potential. It also does not state that all populations have equal intelligence; there could be differences due to prenatal effects, toxins, diet, education, social environment, pathogens, injury etc.)
    But you probably expected me to write something like that. Here are better reasons:
    2. There is a mountain of incontrovertible evidence of racial and ethnic differences in intelligence (as measured by tests, socioeconomic accomplishment etc.) resulting from environmental factors (see SJ Gould, T Sowell), and very little evidence that is even supportive (rather than merely permissive “unknown factors”) of genetically based differences in intelligence between races. (What about heritability? Note: “between races.”) As for Lahn: Well, the controversial part is a speculation. Did they speculate several steps beyond what they data allowed? That’s an easy call. My biggest problem with Lahn’s study is that the results were terribly overhyped and trumpeted by “race realists” as being proof of genetic differences in cognitive potential.
    3. Archaeological evidence. In particular, Upper Paleolithic artifacts in Southern African that predate the European material. That’s pretty strong positive evidence of minimal cognitive capability, one that contradicts certain contemporary models of how races allegedly differ in intelligence. (I’m not all that impressed by negative evidence-based models of human intelligence like moronic Neandertals – and if they were that stupid they never would have survived in those regions – and especially, the ‘anatomically modern but cognitive archaic’ idea. But like I said, the Southern African material is positive evidence.)
    4. Linguistic evidence. Languages everywhere have similar structural principles (you don’t have to be a Chomskian to know that) and have equal complexity and richness. That is not what we would expect to observe if races differed in intelligence. In fact, I believe that is a prediction that the ‘races hereditarily differ in intelligence’ side made long ago, and it has failed. (Yes, there are differences in lexical size based on historical factors like recent linguistic hybridization, a fairly trivial difference.)
    These first four alone are more than enough reason why my side is the default. But there’s more.
    5. Ecological vs. social selective forces. Earlier models for the evolution of human intelligence focused on abiotic and biotic factors of the local environment – the putative relative ease or harshness of life in the rainforest, savannah, periglacial and so on. But more recent models of selective forces on human brain evolution (Machiavellian intelligence, ‘the mating mind,’ etc.) emphasize cooperation, gossip, social hierarchies, male-male competition, and mate choice. These factors are independent of ecological conditions, and create a Red Queen selective environment that is the same wherever human groups are found. (This is not to say that the initial increases in intelligence in hominid evolution, especially the regulatory changes that tripled relative brain size, were not the result of energetic factors like meat eating, marrow access due to tools, cooking, brain vs gut trade-off, provisioning, and hunting large prey…)
    6. Brain size and intelligence. The reason that there is any significant correlation between brain size and IQ is due to the abnormally small brains on the low end. So you can cite all of the differences in brain size between populations that you like, and it still won’t mean a whole lot. Human brain size has not increased in hundreds of thousands of years. Variation within populations is still large, and besides abnormally small brains, pretty much unrelated to intelligence. What does our knowledge of selection, combined with those observations, tell us about the significance of population differences in brain size?
    My position is not just the default assumption; it is the position most supported, in fact overdetermined, by evidence and theoretical models.
    In contrast to intelligence and the structure and functioning of the human brain, the craniofacial differences investigated by Spencer Wells, while interesting, are relatively developmentally, genetically, and selectively simple (probably a handful of genes influencing something like subtle differences in neural crest proliferation in the facial skeleton, with some prenatal and pubertal influences by steroids). In other words, a not very comparable trait.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    In particular, Upper Paleolithic artifacts in Southern African that predate the European material. That’s pretty strong positive evidence of minimal cognitive capability, one that contradicts certain contemporary models of how races allegedly differ in intelligence
    you know that i don’t believe that populations stand still? e.g., “europeans,” “africans” or “east asians” as we understand them didn’t exist during the upper paleolithic. rushton presented a rather simplified model, and along with the other realists back projects the the intergroup differences extremely far back in time based on the ice age or what not. if the differences exist i doubt they’re that deep in time and i doubt the ecotypes would have persisted so long.

  • gcochran

    Nonsense. There is of course significant correlation between IQ and brain volume in the normal range: you think that we have a lot of microcephalic university students in the MRI studies? Anyhow there has to be: if function was independent of volume, we’d all have brains the size of an apple: metabolically cheaper and far lower birth risk.
    And frankly, everything else colugo said was just as clueless. Every result in behavioral genetics shows that the effects of between-family differences on IQ – the kind of environmetal effects everyone reaches for – are weak.
    As for the idea that all human populations have extremely similar distributions of cognitive and personality traits: all those traits are heritable enough that’d you’d expect to see differences emerge rapidly given different environents with different selective pressures – and people have been exposed to extremely different social and ecological environments for time enough to see plenty of divergence. And that’s what the results of psychometrics show.
    No point in arguing with me about it – go argue with
    Fisher and Falconer.

  • Mencius

    Colugo,
    Thanks for your interesting response. I asked the question not because I wanted to convince you of anything, but because I wanted to hear your answer. I hope you’ll take my followups in the same spirit.
    I actually have a considerable dislike of the term “intelligence.” I think it brings in all of the nasty historical associations one would hope to avoid in such a discussion. I suspect we agree that “intelligence” does not make one person “better” or “more human” than another, in the same way that “strength” or “height” do not affect the way we value individuals. But it is hard to avoid such associations when we use the word.
    An IQ test is a test of a human’s ability to solve little cognitive puzzles. So we can describe the quality it measures as “cognitive puzzle-solving ability.” This is a mouthful, so perhaps we can say “cognitive dexterity.” Call it CD.
    I’ll assume that you agree that (a) CD varies between individuals, (b) human CD variability is partly or largely determined by currently-unknown genetic factors, (c) general education (as opposed to training for specific tests – any puzzle-solving test will give inaccurate results on a subject who has practiced on that puzzle) has a limited effect on CD, and (d) present-day humans evolved from hominid and ultimately simian populations with lower CD.
    If you disagree on any of these four points, I don’t think we’ll be able to understand each other, as my perspective is that they are pretty well-established. But certainly any information you may have would be interesting.
    If you agree with these points, it seems to me that the only logical implication is that, if it were practical to rear humans in uniform environments as we do lab mice, we could construct a formal function that would map from genetic sequence to some value gCD, that is, genetically determined CD for the given environment and puzzle set. Absurdly hypothetical, of course, but it seems certain that when large-scale genetic sequencing becomes available, again assuming (a) through (d), it will be possible to construct some approximation of gCD. Again, please let me know if you don’t agree with this.
    Now we have two alternative hypotheses for point (e). Hypothesis (e1) is that the distribution of gCD among human populations, using the clustering definition of Risch et al, is invariant or varies only negligibly. Hypothesis (e2) is that the variation is significant and bears some resemblance to the results of Lynn et al.
    Personally, if I had to bet on either, I would bet on (e2). However, because of the difficulty of separating genetics from environment, I don’t consider (e2) very well-substantiated at all, by the general standards of scientific “proof.” I would rather not bet at all.
    What I don’t see is any strong reason for believing (e1), which is why a “preponderance of the evidence” test makes me lean toward (e2). It is hard for me to avoid the conclusion that our society has stacked a very large number of chips on the (e1) slot, which is why this issue concerns me.
    Here are the reasons you give for favoring (e1).
    (1) (e1) is the “null hypothesis.” Well, if we are trying to show (e2), (e1) is the “null hypothesis.” But if we are trying to show (e1), the reverse applies.
    Imagine yourself living in a world where military events had gone differently, and you were trying to explain (e1) to an intellectual community convinced as strongly of (e2) as today’s is of (e1).
    (2) Gould and Sowell. I’ve read and admire both these writers, but as far as I know neither of them did any primary research on the topic, so I’m not quite sure what results you mean. Separating environmental from genetic causes is just as much of a bugbear for (e1) as it is for (e2) – be careful to apply the same level of criticism to (e1) arguments that you obviously do to the (e2) ones.
    (3) stone tools. Note Razib’s point, and note also that it is not clear that you need an IQ of 130 to make stone tools of any type. My guess is that all Paleolithic populations were pretty dense by modern standards.
    (4) languages. It is certainly the case that low-CD individuals have no trouble learning very, very complex languages (I am very fond of John McWhorter’s writing on this). But all this means is that language learning – at least, primary learning in childhood – does not depend on the same cognitive mechanisms that CD tests measure.
    (5) prehistoric selection. First, you are considering only selective pressures in presedentary cultures. If it does turn out that (e2) is correct, Holocene evolution probably plays a big part.
    And furthermore, extreme seasonality (harsh winters) imposes a cognitive planning task that has no obvious parallels in the tropics. If you read Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, you’ll agree that hunter-gatherer life is by no means easy or simple, but it does not seem to involve a lot of long-term planning.
    (6) brain size. Your argument that brain size and IQ correlations are biased by the low end is interesting and I’d love to see a pointer – especially where it comes to differences between populations. However, its bearing on (e1) is unclear to me. It still seems to me as if you are trying to disprove an argument for (e2).
    Overall, I would say these arguments, to a culture convinced of (e2), would be about as convincing as the old “where is the African Michelangelo?” is to our (e1)-educated ears. What I would really like to hear is a good reason for believing that (e2) is just plain implausible, and so far I have not seen it.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    And furthermore, extreme seasonality (harsh winters) imposes a cognitive planning task that has no obvious parallels in the tropics.
    drought? seasons can vary as a function of temperature (outside of the tropics) or precipitation. i assume that oz aboriginals needed to plant and retrieve caches to survive in the deep desert, but they aren’t considered cognitively exceptional (aside from visuo-spatial). i say look to the neolithic revolution and mass cultures.

  • http://www.chetsnicker.com chet snicker

    Sirs,
    May I say bravo! Good show on engaging in the gentlemanly sport of conversation with the grace and civility that comes with good breeding and traing.
    Yours,
    C.V. Snicker

  • Mencius

    If you read Thomas, life in the Kalahari is basically extraordinarily difficult all the time. I assume in Australia, which is also on the dry side, it was similar. But it’s a very different kind of seasonality from that found in the Nordic bogs. Thomas does not mention caching as far as I recall, but a little caching is not so hard – birds do it. Systematic long-term storage of vegetable and animal products is harder.
    Granted, if the suspected differences were in the other direction, you could make up a “just so story” either way. All I’m saying is that the two are different, and it is not implausible that these differences had cognitive effects. As evidence for (e2), this argument is lame, but such was not my point – I was rebutting the argument that (e2) is implausible on account of uniformity of selective pressures.
    I too would look to the neolithic revolution etc, but it can’t hurt to have some plausible explanation of why it happened where and when it did.

  • http://www.gnxp.com p-ter

    re: brain volume and intelligence
    this paper puts the correlation at ~0.25 for grey matter and g, from twin studies.
    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v5/n2/full/nn0202-83.html#B1

  • http://magicdragon.com Jonathan Vos Post

    TGGP:
    I’ll take you comment: “That magicdragon dude really had me chuckling. Run for your life before Chimpy McHitlerburton gets you!” as a compliment. Black Humor is a plausible response to the mess we’re in.
    “Cochran has the right idea” — i.e., “Why not hate them both?” [Left and Right, politically].
    But the problem does not reduce to the 1-dimensional Left-Right spectrum any more than intelligence reduces to the 1-dimensional IQ (as discussed) or race to black-white (as discussed).
    The political crisis FOR SCIENCE cuts across parties. One needs at least 2 dimensions to begin to chart it. There has long since been published (I heard from a far-Right gentleman whom I respect, Dr. Jerry Pournelle) that one should use these axes:
    1) Rights of the State versus Rights of the Individual;
    2) Rational versus Irrational means to ends.
    Blocking Science is, almost by definition, as Irrational as is suicide bombing.
    The right of the State, in the balancing act of a tricameral government, include issues of National Defense, which is strongly coupled to science funding.
    Think: chemistry of poison gas and fuel for reciprocating engines, metallurgy of steel for tanks and battleships, aerodynamics of the first military planes, all in World War I. Think: Physics of aerodynamics (faster planes), radar, and ultimately nuclear fission in World War II.
    Now that we’ve survived World War III (after WW II ended, this includes Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War) and World War IV (Gulf War I under Bush 41), we’re deep in a trillion dollar World War V. And not much useful Science is being done in this World War (a.k.a. GWOT). Homeland Security hands out roughly $5 billion annually for “R&D” but it seems to be almost all “pet projects of friends of Halliburton” — according to the scientists and engineers I talk to at “Terrorism” tracks at international conferences.
    Hey, there are some Science things the State has traditionally done in the USA. NASA is an example, or was until it became yet another welfare system for defense contractors, at the cost of killing actual Science Missions. Maybe Alan Stern can turn things around there.
    The Superconducting Supercollider was killed for political reasons. Now we’ll depend on the LHC in Europe. China wants to host its successor.
    Yeah, right. Let’s help the Science/Government coalition in China, which wants to displace us and become the #1 global power before the end of the 21st century, and who recently put lots of satellites at serious risk with their antisatellite weapons test, and is bulding their army and navy and air force and space forceat a remarkable rate. Do you want India and China slugging it out to run thre world of our grandchildren?
    1) Rights of the State versus Rights of the Individual;
    2) Rational versus Irrational means to ends.
    I lean towards a centrist position on (1), and a radically Rational position of #2. That’s my bias.
    Emperor Bush II leans heavily towards absolute Statism (as extreme as Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia) and extreme Irrationalism, coupled with lies and coverups.
    That makes him much worse, to me, than a Chimp president would be. The chimp, with a million minions on a million typewriters, could hardly come up with a worse way to waste a trillion bucks.
    Hey, for what we’ve spent (when the bills are all paid) in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia etcetera, we could have put a city on the moon, a nunch of people at a Mars base, tripled the budgets of every scientist in the USA, and covered my cable Modem expenses for the next billion years.
    Science = Rational, okay? Trust in God as a source of strategic and tactical military doctrine = Irrational.
    How is Bush’s God different from Thor (answer: Thor is a lawful God in Norse mythology), or Zeus (answer: Bush doesn’tr get laid as often as Zeus, but likes thunderbolts as much).
    Glad I got you chuckling. My wife (a Physics professor) and I, with some other scientist and engi8neer friends, will be at the Ice House comedy club in Pasadena, California tonight to see the act of MIT graduate Software Engineer Joey Friedman. Maybe the greatest “geek comic” performing today. Google him for his web site. His wife was U.S. Women’s Chess Champion. Chess playing is “rational” compared to Emperor Bush II, who preferred to play “Risk” in college, and was well-known for being absurdly aggressive in that parker Brothers’ “Game of World Domination.” Rolling 3 dice for offense, while defenders can only roll 2 dice. But tie goes to the defender. Tie goes to the Baathists, insurgents, and others in Iraq. Time to change games.
    Over 3,000 dead American troops, and 100,000+ civilians, is not just a bunch of captured pawns.
    Science Budget eviscerated to pay for the slaughter is not just a fianchetto Bishop. Bush is not King. Laura is not Queen. Jerry Falwell is not Bishop. Cheney’s Undisclosed Location is not a Castle.
    There hasn’t been a scientist President in the USA since Jefferson. Carter used Laplace Transforms in his Naval Postgraduate School Command Thesis. Bush-43 thinks that the Periodic Table is where menstruating women serve potato chips and beer to the men watching the Dallas Cowboys or Texas Rangers on TV.

  • Colugo

    “time enough to see plenty of divergence.”
    Yes, and there has also been enough time for allele frequencies (including novel alleles arising in one population) at a given locus to become very similar across populations worldwide through selection and gene flow if the intensity of selection for those alleles is similar.
    Posthuma et al., Nature Neuroscience: that looks pretty solid. However, it’s still a small correlation.

  • Mencius

    Colugo,
    That’s a lot of ifs, especially when you count the gene flow. History is not a blender.
    Neither of these points, for example, seems very convincing when you compare European farmers or city dwellers to, say, native Australians or New Guinean highlanders.

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    andaman islanders tend to die when they cohabitate with indian immigrants to their islands. usually it is an unexplained/unknown pathogen which indians are presumably immune to. one of the major tribes on the ‘great andaman’ islands have ‘bounced back’ from a few dozen people after being moved to an isolated island by the indian gov. in the 1960s for their own ‘protection.’

  • Colugo

    Due to selective forces and other factors, there can be marked inter-population differences in allele frequencies for particular genes that contribute to various morphological and physiological differences, especially in the case of the immune system (e.g. HLA haplotype). However, that fact by itself does not lend support to the existence of alleged genetically based intelligence differences between races any more than does Spencer Wells’ research on population differences in craniofacial morphology.
    Another important factor influencing the immune system and other traits is developmental programming.
    Prenatal undernutrition, postnatal environments, and antibody response to vaccination in adolescence
    http://tinyurl.com/3baypm
    Wheezing and eczema in relation to infant anthropometry
    http://tinyurl.com/2o82em
    Infection, inflammation, height, and longevity
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/103/2/498.pdf
    Early growth and cognitive development
    http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/30/1/72

  • Colugo

    Much of gene expression only makes sense in the light of developmental programming.
    (developmental ecology, epigenetic programming, developmental plasticity, fetal origins)
    Another interesting developmental programming study:
    Mother’s rows in pregnancy ‘affects IQ of baby’
    http://tinyurl.com/2j7chf

  • http://www.gnxp.com p-ter

    colugo–
    there are many factors involved in IQ, that much we can agree on. it’s just that some of those factors are genetic. Here’s a recent review, which also touches on the topic of race and intelligence:
    http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/IQ/NRN2004_IQ.html

  • Colugo

    Gray and Thompson 2004 is an interesting study. Certainly, genetic differences may contribute to individual differences in intelligence. Such genes may include those that enhance buffering from stress during development.
    Recent research suggests that g is an indicator of developmental stability. Differences in g may be reflective of degree of environmental stress during development, and/or canalization or plastic responses in the presence of developmental stress.
    For example, see TC Bates: Fluctuating asymmetry and intelligence
    http://tinyurl.com/3dsfmn
    Another phenomenon to consider: the relationship between SES and the heritability of cognitive/behavioral traits.
    Heritability of intelligence increases with socioeconomic class: Turkheimer et al. 2003
    http://tinyurl.com/2e3hx4
    2006 replication
    http://tinyurl.com/2gcoe4
    So does heritability of antisocial behavior: Tuvblad et al. 2006
    http://tinyurl.com/yua49z
    What are the lessons of the “race realist” interpretations of the microcephalin and ASPM data in 2005?
    Dienekes’ post on the recent results of microcephalin and ASPM research.
    http://tinyurl.com/2grpu4
    ABC News Online: ‘Researchers bust head size-intelligence link’
    http://tinyurl.com/2py4jl

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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