Race and IQ

Some light morning reading for anyone who works/commutes/lives with someone made dumber by pseudoscientific racists like Charles Murray.

First, a long and thorough study knocking down the ‘hard IQ’ argument, which holds that IQ measures something fixed and heritable. This matters because people have a hard time linking race and intelligence if ‘IQ’ has no genetic basis. It turns out that cultural context explains the data better than where a person is ‘from’*.

Some support for a significant rural/urban factor behind IQ scores may be seen in the curiously inverted pattern of apparent ethnic success between Europe and America. In the recent past the highest European IQ scores were generally found in northern countries such as Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, while the lowest ones occurred in Ireland, Greece, Yugoslavia, and Southern Italy, and during the early 20th century this pattern was replicated among those same immigrant ethnic groups in America. Yet strangely enough, if we stratify the recent American GSS results by primary European ethnic origin, we find nearly the opposite result for Wordsum-IQ, years of education, and family income. Among the higher performing white American groups are the Irish, the Greeks, the Yugoslavs, and the Italians, while Americans of Dutch extraction are near the bottom for whites, as are oldstock Americans who no longer identify with any European country but are presumably British in main ancestry. Meanwhile, German-Americans are generally at or slightly below the white American average.

This pattern of apparently inverted white ethnic achievement in Europe and America becomes less mysterious when we discover it tracks quite well with the rural vs. urban divide. Two of the most heavily rural, least urbanized groups are the Dutch-Americans and Old Stock whites, which perform the worst, while the high-performing Italians, Greeks, and Yugoslavs are among the most heavily urbanized. German-Americans are slightly less urbanized than the average white and also tend to perform slightly below average. In fact, across all non-Hispanic American whites, the Wordsum-IQ gap between those who grew up on farms and those who grew up in cities or suburbs is nearly as large as the gap separating American blacks and whites, and even larger with regard to total years of education.

Second, a study from last year in the journal Science which shows that disadvantaged students have a hard time memorizing abstact lists of crap (the basic skill that most schools test for) but that the gap gets much smaller when you put that knowledge to work in real applications.

We show that a highly structured course design, based on daily and weekly practice with problem-solving, data analysis, and other higher-order cognitive skills, improved the performance of all students in a college-level introductory biology class and reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged students—without increased expenditures. These results support the Carnegie Hall hypothesis: Intensive practice, via active-learning exercises, has a disproportionate benefit for capable but poorly prepared students.

The take-home: if you teach then keep track of where you fall on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. Spend less time on basic knowledge (who is buried in Grant’s tomb?) and more on application, synthesis and evaluation, and disadvantaged students will do much better. However, one warning: although you probably already know this, it bears repeating that people hate to think. My 9th grade science teacher dropped us in Bloom’s deep end with zero warning. This inspired me in the best possible way, but most students hated him with the heat of a thousand suns. Thinking for yourself takes a bit of practice.

(*) One has to wonder about an average day at The American Conservative. On the one hand you have a staff of thoughtful writers who routinely put out some of the more readable stuff on the internet. On the other you have Pat Buchanan, an angry troll who I doubt entirely agrees with the point of the above piece. To put it mildly. I imagine staff meetings being something like the Algonquin Round Table plus Gilbert Gottfried reading from Fifty Shades of Grey.






48 replies
  1. 1
    Mnemosyne says:

    In the mood to chum the waters for trolls today, were we?

  2. 2
    geg6 says:

    Did my master’s thesis on teaching adults using techniques based on Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences.

    The idea of IQ is a joke. All you have to do is look at me. Based on multiple IQ tests, I am a genius!

    Based on reality, I’m really strong at logical/mathematical (as Gardner defined them) and linguistic tasks, which means I am naturally good at taking tests like the IQ tests, the SATs and the GRE and Miller’s Analogies. Gardner’s theory has its problems (most damning, that it is not verifiable. Yet.), but it has many practical uses in the classroom and in real life, especially with students who have had trouble learning in traditional classrooms.

  3. 3

    Most people do hate thinking. I’ve seen it in action, and it baffles me.

  4. 4
    Mike Furlan says:

    “Black”, or “White” have not yet been defined in any honest or scientifically useful way.

    The race/intelligence argument hits a dead end there.

  5. 5
    Someguy says:

    @Mike Furlan:

    Conservatives are remarkably stupid people though and Murray should have studied them. That much is known and has been shown by numerous studies, though few have brought up IQ.

    These recent findings make it clear that, as conservatives themselves would point out if they were self-aware and capable of passing a Turing Test, “it’s about the culture.”

  6. 6
    jrg says:

    @Mnemosyne: Fuck it, I’ll bite. Does anyone else find it a little odd that this article muddies the waters with a bunch of different socioeconomic variables, then glosses over the strongest argument for heritable IQ (twin studies) with weak tea like “I do not have the solution, but it would seem a very worthwhile subject for further research, on both theoretical and practical grounds.”?

  7. 7
    Sly says:

    Second, a study from last year in the journal Science which shows that disadvantaged students have a hard time memorizing abstact lists of crap (the basic skill that most schools test for) but that the gap gets much smaller when you put that knowledge to work in real applications.

    More than likely due to the fact that “disadvantaged” (i.e. poor) students place a premium on knowledge with more “practical” applications, or that there has to be some “point,” or advantage found, in knowing something.

    Knowing, for example, that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 is mere trivia. But understanding how the application of technology affects things such as the price of goods and labor is not.

    However, one warning: although you probably already know this, it bears repeating that people hate to think. My 9th grade science teacher dropped us in Bloom’s deep end with zero warning. This inspired me in the best possible way, but most students hated him with the heat of a thousand suns. Thinking for yourself takes a bit of practice.

    This is because there are quite a few teachers, across all subjects, who see Bloom’s as a set of independent categories and not something more like a “ladder” of understanding. Or they may recognize the reality of the ladder, but have not internalized it to the point where it drives their lessons. I know this because I used to be one of them. It’s not so much spending “less time” on making students aware of basic facts or knowledge, but teaching them how to connect those basic facts together into a broader understanding.

    Some students may “get it” without active instruction, but only because they were taught how to “get it” at some earlier stage in their education, and probably without being conscious of it. This can, and often does, lead to the more deadly tendency among students who don’t “get it” to believe the ability to understand a subject, any subject, is a innate trait and not an acquired skill. If you’re bad at math, it’s because you were born bad at math and you probably won’t ever get better. This, in turn, fosters learned helplessness and works to self-fulfill the prophecy.

  8. 8
    ericblair says:

    Oh, no! Tim’s calling Her! The One of Many Names But One Topic of Conversation! Ia! Ia! IQ Crank fhtagn!

  9. 9
    Al says:

    So this “explains” two failed attempts at passing Freshman level Intro Chemistry while getting an A in Junior level Soils Chemistry. Makes sense to me now.

  10. 10
    The Moar You Know says:

    “abstact”

    Turn on the spellchecker. A word which my spellchecker insists is not spelled correctly.

  11. 11
    Sly says:

    @jrg:
    The studies showing a link between heritable traits and “intelligence” produce results that are often difficult to conceptualize. For example, the genetic variables for intelligence become more influential the older a person is, which is somewhat counter-intuitive. We are born neither as a lump of unshaped clay or a finished pot, but as a lump of clay roughly shaped into a primitive pot that non-uniformly hardens over the course of about two decades, during which it undergoes periods of intense plasticity.

  12. 12
    Al says:

    So this “explains” two failed attempts at passing Freshman level Intro Chemistry while getting an A in Junior level Soils Chemistry. Makes sense to me now.

  13. 13
    Sly says:

    @ericblair:

    Oh, no! Tim’s calling Her! The One of Many Names But One Topic of Conversation! Ia! Ia! IQ Crank fhtagn!

    In Tim’s defense, it has been quite a while since we’ve been graced with the presence of Hello Kitty Cyber Islam.

  14. 14
    JustMe says:

    These results support the Carnegie Hall hypothesis: Intensive practice, via active-learning exercises, has a disproportionate benefit for capable but poorly prepared students.

    Generally, I get the impression that teachers hate this stuff and students find it boring: it involves a lot of repetitive practice. There are some parents that insist that their kids focus on this and buckle down and accept the need to do that repetitive problem solving and mental weight-lifting, and these students end up showing rapid academic gains, but in general, this is the exact opposite of what students and teachers want to do.

  15. 15
    mattH says:

    Nice job sneaking that Gilbert Gottfried bit in there, made me laugh (and cringe) when I saw that a week or two ago.

  16. 16
    Trakker says:

    people hate to think

    This has baffled me all my life. Thinking and questioning is one of the most satisfying activities in life, especially now that so many facts and answers are available on the Internet.

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Sly:

    In Tim’s defense, it has been quite a while since we’ve been graced with the presence of Hello Kitty Cyber Islam.

    Yes, and my blood pressure has appreciated this situation.

  18. 18
    cathyx says:

    @Trakker: There are many families that discourage their children to think, and just do as they are told. That’s how the children are kept in line.

  19. 19
    Sly says:

    @JustMe:

    Generally, I get the impression that teachers hate this stuff and students find it boring: it involves a lot of repetitive practice. There are some parents that insist that their kids focus on this and buckle down and accept the need to do that repetitive problem solving and mental weight-lifting, and these students end up showing rapid academic gains, but in general, this is the exact opposite of what students and teachers want to do.

    There is a formula for active learning exercises but many possible applications. It doesn’t have to be a rote practice. Some teacher’s don’t want to do it because, well, it’s harder to do and presents certain immediate risks (i.e. the lesson fails), whereas lessons with more easily obtainable learning goals do not.

    And the tendency for parents to insist on a “just buckle down” approach is the result of different incentive sets. Parents have been through the educational process, have a sense of both where they may have made mistakes and how those mistakes had long-term consequences, and want to apply that knowledge on their children. But because is the product of direct experience, which their children only understand in abstract terms, it can often backfire by giving their children a sense that their parent’s cannot to relate to their difficulties.

  20. 20
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @cathyx:

    The Texas GOP has declared war on the teaching of critical thinking skills for precisely that reason.

    Their faith is so fragile that you cannot question it, ever.

  21. 21
    catclub says:

    “This pattern of apparently inverted white ethnic achievement in Europe and America becomes less mysterious when we discover it tracks quite well with the rural vs. urban divide”

    Note that it takes the write a while to get to stating which side of the divide has lower achievement.

    Unintended consequence of urban ghettos.

    This is NOT going to be popular (except with me).

  22. 22
    cathyx says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Something that bothers me about a lot of men is they think that women are just nosy when they want to know why someone acts a certain way or says a certain thing. That women always want to analyze everything. But to me, it’s just using critical thinking skills to figure things out. I don’t like to ignore and accept everything.

  23. 23
    Tim F. says:

    @cathyx: A famous study once looked at every possible factor that could influence whether someone in Europe collaborated with the Nazis or resisted them to help friends or strangers, at great risk to themselves. They found that one factor stood out above everything else: people whose parents taught them to do as they are told, did what they were told. People whose parents taught them to think for themselves tended to take a chance and resist.

    You can bet I will never tell a kid to take my word on authority alone.

  24. 24
    cathyx says:

    @Tim F.: Sounds like your average republican parents raising children.

  25. 25
  26. 26
    slim's tuna provider says:

    if you don’t memorize a lot of arbitrary crap, you will fail to understand shorthand. nobody, in life or in academia, analyzes in a vacuum.

  27. 27

    @JustMe:

    Generally, I get the impression that teachers hate this stuff and students find it boring: it involves a lot of repetitive practice. There are some parents that insist that their kids focus on this and buckle down and accept the need to do that repetitive problem solving and mental weight-lifting, and these students end up showing rapid academic gains, but in general, this is the exact opposite of what students and teachers want to do.

    Shorter: Do all the homework and you’ll ace the test.

  28. 28
    dj spellchecka says:

    i read the article on saturday in the dead tree magazine [going old school] and the whole time i kept asking myself…how is sully gonna respond??…i know he reads am-con ’cause he links to larison a lot

  29. 29
    Trakker says:

    @cathyx: Yes, I was brought up that way. Schools back in the 50s were also run that way. I began hating school in the 2nd grade and ended high school skipping 28 days my senior year. I was a loser. Then something amazing happened, I joined the military and left my small Bible-belt town forever. That’s when my brain finally engaged.

  30. 30
    liberal says:

    @Sly:

    For example, the genetic variables for intelligence become more influential the older a person is, which is somewhat counter-intuitive.

    Indeed, very counterintutive—see this for a plausible explanation.

  31. 31

    @slim’s tuna provider:

    if you don’t memorize a lot of arbitrary crap, you will fail to understand shorthand. nobody, in life or in academia, analyzes in a vacuum.

    Not at all. This is the point of stepping higher on Bloom’s taxonomy. Lists of arbitrary, unconnected facts are really hard. Connected facts that are part of a more comprehensive story are much, much easier to learn because each one is reinforced by the other ones. Connected facts that you use to solve problems are even easier to learn.

  32. 32
    Gin says:

    The separated-identical-twin studies actually provide evidence for genes being the strongest of many factors determining IQ. See this about the Minnesota twin study and this review for a book about the study.

    From the first link: “Monozygotic twins raised apart are more similar in IQ (74%) than dizygotic (fraternal) twins raised together (60%) and much more than parent-children pairs (42%); half-siblings (31%); adoptive siblings (29%-34%); virtual twins, or similarly aged but unrelated children raised together (28%); adoptive parent-child pairs (19%) and cousins (15%).” As surprising as it is, the data are the data, and it really does seem that genes must therefore be the most important factor in determining IQ.

    I think there may be a way out of this conclusion. Again from the first link:, “as Drs. Bouchard and Segal have been at pains to point out from the start, this high heritability of intelligence mainly applies to nonpoor families.” I wonder what the cutoff criteria for poor vs. nonpoor is here. Depending on who is considered poor or nonpoor for determining a threshold for heritability, and if mainly the poor are those for whom IQ is heritable, then the question is: how many people or how many Americans do the results of this study apply to?

  33. 33
    Spatula says:

    @cathyx:

    Something that bothers me about a lot of men is they think that women are just nosy when they want to know why someone acts a certain way or says a certain thing. That women always want to analyze everything. But to me, it’s just using critical thinking skills to figure things out. I don’t like to ignore and accept everything.

    I agree with this, but would change your first sentence to read “straight” men. I’m gay and I think gay men and women have this in common to a large degree; we are more inclined to be EMOTIONALLY/INTERPERSONALLY/PSYCHOLOGICALLY curious and analytical, while straight men generally just want to know why and how the engine runs or the universe expands.

  34. 34
    cathyx says:

    @Roger Moore: I used to be a checker at a grocery store and we had to memorize the 4 digit code of every fruit and vegetable that was sold. But there was no pattern to the coding, just randomly assigned numbers to each one. So therefore it was impossible to learn it any way but straight up memorization. I always contended that this was a type of torture that the store enjoyed putting everyone through by setting the coding up this way and then test your ability to come up with the correct code in the shortest amount of time. And if you fail the test, then you get fired.

  35. 35

    @geg6: The best answer I’ve ever read to the question “what is IQ?” is this: “it’s what an IQ test measures.”

    Different people have different aptitudes, talents and skills: trying to quantify them is something we can’t quite do, yet.

    IQ might quantify something, but until we can better understand the components and differences between, say, mathematical ability, linguistic ability, persuasiveness, etc., there’s no good way to map an IQ test score to those qualities.

    And this is coming from a Mensan who occasionally forgets what the heck I was just about to do when I walk into a room, but that’s a topic for another day.

  36. 36
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    As surprising as it is, the data are the data, and it really does seem that genes must therefore be the most important factor in determining IQ.

    You’re assuming that hereditability is a fixed variable. However, as the variation of environment goes down, then the hereditability of IQ goes up, not because of any fundamental changes in biology, but because the source of variation between individuals increasingly becomes their genetics and epigenetics.

    Also, some of the findings of the Minnesota study have been superseded: for instance, comparison of fraternal twins raised apart show stronger correlation of IQ than non-twin siblings raised apart. IIRC, the results indicated the interuterine environment very strong; almost as strong a determinant as genetics alone.

  37. 37
    Mike Furlan says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger:

    Epigenetics:

    “Marcus Pembrey, a Professor of Clinical Genetics at the Institute of Child Health in London, in collaboration with Swedish researcher Lars Olov Bygren, has found evidence in these records of an environmental effect being passed down the generations. They have shown that a famine at critical times in the lives of the grandparents can affect the life expectancy of the grandchildren. This is the first evidence that an environmental effect can be inherited in humans.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradi.....enes.shtml

    Grandparent to grandchild.

  38. 38
    Gin says:

    Bad typo – it should read “if mainly the NONpoor are those for whom IQ is heritable.”

    Some more digging turned up a Discover Magazine blog post about “when genes matter for intelligence.” If you look at the second graph (labelled “fig 3” as it was in the paper they got it from), there is a very striking difference in IQ heritability depending on socioeconomic status. I don’t have the article that they got the graph from, so it’s pretty frustrating that I don’t know what the SES x-axis scale corresponds to in more tangible terms, e.g. income.

    The discussion of how heritability of IQ depends on both SES and age is very interesting. The data suggest that early intervention during the more plastic years (even before preschool) is key to having later intervention make a difference.

  39. 39
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    This is the first evidence that an environmental effect can be inherited in humans.

    Not that surprising, though, given that similar results had been found in guinea pigs.

  40. 40
    Mike Furlan says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger:

    Not surprising to you or me, but I’m sure this concept is inconcievable for CM.

    Because, by itself it shoots the Bell Curve theory all to hell, as if it didn’t already have enough fatal wounds.

  41. 41
    Corner Stone says:

    @cathyx:

    Something that bothers me about a lot of men is they think that women are just nosy when they want to know why someone acts a certain way or says a certain thing. That women always want to analyze everything. But to me, it’s just using critical thinking skills to figure things out. I don’t like to ignore and accept everything.

    This has nothing to do with critical thinking skills.

    A couple main scenarios here, either a)I don’t care enough about situation to expend any energy into why the things just happened, or b)I already know why they said that thing or acted that way. And if *I* know why that happened then I am 100% sure the woman I am with also knows exactly why Suzie made comment X or stuck her dick in the mashed taters at Small Social Gathering X.
    So it has less to do with solving a puzzle, and more to do with talking about what happened. And that quickly becomes too meta to care anymore about so we shift our energy expenditure to something that matters, like how badly Texas A&M is going to get their ever lovin’ ass stomped in the SEC West this next NCAA Football year.
    The frackin’ SEC West for FSM sake! They have like 6 guaranteed losses before they ever take the field!
    It’s gonna be brutal.

  42. 42
    Corner Stone says:

    @eegeg6:

    The idea of IQ is a joke. All you have to do is look at me

    Agreed, but I’d rather not.

  43. 43
    slag says:

    Dead thread, but I wanted to say…More like this please, Tim! I’m always interested in epistemology as well as learning, in general, and I haven’t had good luck finding people who can talk about it at a level that both interests and makes sense to me.

    @Sly:

    There is a formula for active learning exercises but many possible applications. It doesn’t have to be a rote practice. Some teacher’s don’t want to do it because, well, it’s harder to do and presents certain immediate risks (i.e. the lesson fails), whereas lessons with more easily obtainable learning goals do not.

    Do you have any resource suggestions for good and interesting active learning exercises, by chance?

  44. 44

    […] at Balloon Juice, Tim F. discussed an article in Pat Buchanan’s stopped watch of a publication, The American […]

  45. 45
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    Because, by itself it shoots the Bell Curve theory all to hell, as if it didn’t already have enough fatal wounds.

    A striking paragraph in the Bell Curve was when Murray and Herrenstein discuss the mathematical definition of hereditability. They did a little crowing that if liberals/social democrats got their way, then the level of IQ heritability would go up, as the level of variation in the environment would go down. Having made that little dig at liberals by admitting that hereditability is a fluid variable, then in the rest of the book they treated hereditability as Graven In Stone.

    The fact we know now that nature and nurture aren’t independent variables – that deprivation can change gene expression in your offspring – puts a further boot into the Bell Curve’s theses. But at a profound level, Murray and Herrenstein didn’t understand what they were measuring even at the level genetics was at when they wrote.

  46. 46

    […] when I have examined the comment-threads of the tiny number of left-liberal websites which have discussed my article, I’ve obviously been gratified by the supportive atmosphere and friendly remarks, but […]

  47. 47

    […] when I have examined the comment-threads of the tiny number of left-liberal websites which have discussed my article, I’ve obviously been gratified by the supportive atmosphere and friendly remarks, but […]

  48. 48
    TGGP says:

    Heritability is a technical term, and measured IQ has been found to be heritable to a significant degree. But just what means isn’t obvious, there are norms of reaction and sample scope limitations. Interestingly, we don’t have to just rely on twin-adoption studies any more. Ian Deary had a GWAS that looked at the actual variation in genetic similarity among siblings and how that correlated with differences in IQ. The lower bound of heritability was quite significant there as well.

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