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Mind the Gap

John Ray responds to my post on IQ and other stuff by writing,

Jonathan Wilde has a reasonable article on black IQ which makes a point that I have been making for decades: That those who do not want to believe in the evidence simply set ever higher standards of proof -- so much so that you would never prove anything about anything if you consistently did that. They use the fact that all science is essentially probabilistic as a dishonest way of avoiding conclusions they do not like. One point that Wilde seems to miss is that blacks are the same species as whites. So if IQ has a strong genetic basis in whites (which is generally agreed on among scientists) to say that it is not genetically transmitted in blacks is really quite amazing racism.

I believe the argument here is as follows:

We know there is a strong genetic basis to individual intelligence. Thus, if you believe that the IQ of whites has a strong genetic basis, then it follows that the same is true of blacks. Thus, the differences we find in IQ between blacks and whites have a strong genetic basis.

I don't think one can make the conclusion in the last sentence.

In lieu of a 'stastistical' explanation by which readers' eyes will glaze over, I've tried to think of a thought experiment which clearly conveys why not, but I am having a hard time. So I'll just give the statistical explanation first, and then I'll provide the best thought experiment I can come up with.

Eye glaze-inducing statistical explanation

The recent discussion in the blogosphere after James Watson's comments was about the IQ gap between blacks and whites. Even if IQ is known to be genetically determined, and even if it is known that difference in IQ between individuals within a race is genetically determined, it does not follow the IQ gap between races is genetically determined. When comparing variables which are products of multiple factors, it is difficult to tell which factors give rise to differences between those variables.

Confusing thought excercise

Let's talk about height. We know that height is to a large part genetically determined.

Consider two ethnicities: American mutts and natives of a hypothetical impoverished third-world country called Persephone. Suppose we measure the heights of adult American mutt males. Then we fly to Persephone and measure the heights of adult Persephonite males. We find that American mutts are six inches taller than Persephonites.

Can we now conclude, "We know height has a strong genetic basis. If it has a strong genetic basis in American mutts, then surely it has a strong genetic basis in Persephonites, and thus, the gap in height between American mutts and Persephonites is genetic"? Surely not.

To continue the thought excercise, we measure the heights of 3rd-generation Persephonite-Americans, whose ancestors came to America in the early part of the last century. We find that these Persephonite-Americans are not significantly shorter than American mutts.

What would we conclude? We would conclude that the differences in height between American mutts and native Persephonites is mostly environmental. Yes, height has a strong genetic basis, but the gap is environmental.


The discussion since Watson's comments has been about the gap in IQ between whites and blacks. Even if IQ has a strong genetic basis, it does not follow that the gap is due to genetics.

Which is why the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study is so important: it's analogous to placing the Persephonites in America. I'll have a post on the MTAS in the future.


The bastard Constant has a better, simpler analogy:

"Let genetics be the seed, let environment be the fertilizer, and let IQ be the size of the plant. The size of the plant has a strong basis in the seed, but if blacks have smaller plants than whites, this does not mean that blacks have genetically inferior seeds than whites. It may be, instead, that blacks' seeds receive less fertilizer than whites' seeds."



Just ran across an interesting stat. Most wins in college football since 1993:

Ohio State - 149
Florida - 148
Florida State - 146
Nebraska - 146
Tennessee - 142
Virginia Tech - 142

What's the most important difference between VT and the other schools in the years since 1993?

IQ, Genes, Global Warming, and Prediction Markets

I view the blogosphere as a hyper-efficient idea-evaluating machine. As time passes, the ideas passing through this machine should become more refined. The good ideas should come to the forefront with the bad ones sinking to the murky depths. The discussion surrounding these ideas should become more intelligent. In my view this is what has happened over the past six years. The conversation is at a much higher level today than in the blogosphere's infancy.

I've been impressed with the discussion following James Watson's comments. People are writing about a difficult topic without calling each other names. Okay, maybe that isn't exactly true, but the fact that they're talking about it at all is impressive. A big part of the reason the discussion got off the ground is that some big names like Andrew Sullivan, Cato, and Will Saletan were brave enough to comment. Kudos to them.

The best commentary I've seen that's skeptical of the genetic explanation of racial IQ differences is from Jim Manzi at The American Scene. As he writes, the two ways to evalute the genetic hypothesis are to 1) find the mechanism that links genotype to phenotype or 2) what he calls the "econometric" technique, which basically means "do a controlled study" without necessarily knowing the mechanism behind any relationship that emerges.

The science behind the mechanistic approach is still too much in its infancy to provide any answers. The econometric approach is what most of the discussion has centered around. Manzi concludes with,

Historically, researchers first began investigating the potential genetic basis of racial disparities in IQ scores by evaluating whether “degrees” of racial membership corresponded with degrees of IQ difference. This work led to no compelling results. In more recent decades, researchers have analyzed various natural experiments relevant to this question. The most famous of these is the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study in which various high-IQ white parents adopted biologically black, white and mixed race children. In theory, this should allow us to isolate the genetic influence on intelligence by evaluating the IQs of each group of children after they have all been raised in (approximately) equal environments. In fact, as opposing interpretations (pivoting on the potential confounding of age-of-adoption with racial group) demonstrate, it actually provides a good illustration of why it is so difficult to segregate genetic from environmental effects accurately by racial group – no natural experiment is sufficiently controlled to do this. Given our current datasets and analytical tools, when we use econometric methods to try to understand the causes of group differences in intelligence, we are like cavemen trying to figure out how a computer works by poking at it with sharpened sticks.

I sympathize with this point of view. It's very difficult to have true controls in sociological studies. Yet, the data from the MTAS are compelling to me, even after accounting for the shortcomings. The control group nullifies most of the confounding factors (environment) even if it doesn't completely isolate the independent variable (race).

If we similarly hold as skeptical a standard as Manzi's in other areas of science, we wouldn't be able to say much of anything on a lot of topics. As an example, I've argued in the past that the only way to truly prove that global warming is a man-made phenomenon is to have two Earths that are alike in every way except one has humans on it and the other does not, and then measure temperatures over time. That would be a truly controlled study. Of course, that's impossible so scientists have to use mechanistic techniques to make their best possible evaluations based on the available data. I don't know Manzi's views on global warming, but given his skepticism toward ever having appropriate controls in adoption studies, I would think he'd be even more skeptical about the possibility of ever proving anthropogenic global warming. Controls in adoptions studies are imperfect; a control to prove global warming is impossible.

I agree with Steve Sailer who in the GNXP comment thread linking to Manzi's post argues,

With any empirical question, all you can do is play the odds.

Personally, I've never been wholly convinced that the racial gaps in IQ have a genetic component (there's always the Flynn Effect to complicate matters). But I'd definitely offer five to one odds that at least half of the one standard deviation (15 point) black-white gap will turn out to be hereditary. I'd probably go as high as offering ten to one, but not, at present, to one hundred to one.

There are degrees of skepticism, degrees of plausibility. In the end, there's rarely ever a sure thing in questions like these. We deal in probabilities.

Wait a minute.... Did someone just say, "play the odds"? It's too bad there aren't prediction markets thriving today. I imagine a time in the future when anytime a blogosphere pundit makes an assertion about a controversial topic, he puts his money where his mouth is and bets a few bucks on his views. Next to the timestamp of his post, there would be a dollar amount linked to an online prediction market confirming the wager. The bloggers not willing to bet could be ignored. The signal-to-noise ratio in such a blogosphere would be far, far higher. "We'll fact-check your ass!" was just the beginning. As the blogosphere continues its evolution, the appropriate phrase will become, "We'll check your sorry ass's prediction market returns!"

Oprah and Obama

So Oprah is campaigning for Obama. I find this strange because I've never seen this amount of speech-making by one person on behalf of another person in a presidential race. Or maybe I'm just seeing it more in news clips because Oprah's such a big name? She just implicitly tooled Hillary Clinton about her 'experience' in Washington, daytime talkshow style. I half expected to see Clinton respond with a "Whateva! Whateva! It's my hot body! I'll do what I want!"

If I didn't know any better, I'd say Oprah has political ambitions of her own in the future.

BCS Blows Up

The BCS blew up tonight. Granted, one could see it coming a mile away. #1 Missouri and #2 WVU both lost. Did you expect any different this season? In other news, Virginia Tech won the ACC Championship today.

For now, let me just say two things:

This season has been the best season I can remember, not just as a VT fan, but as a college football fan.

There should be no playoff. Ever.

More later.

Wilbon on Sean Taylor

From a WaPo chat with sports writer Michael Wilbon:


Dulles, Va.: Michael, what our your thoughts on pro athletes' need to protect themselves? Or any celeb for that matter? If you make this kind of money, shouldn't you employ security for protection and chauffeur for driving? I keep seeing celebs getting into altercations that should have been handled by someone else, or getting arrested for drunk driving. What's up?

Michael Wilbon: I don't know that professional football players, who aren't even recognized by 95 percent of the general public, are obvious targets outside of their own communities, though this is a very good question. Actors, people in the music industry, TV personalities and basketball stars are instantly recognized...and I mean instantly. Football players, other than a handful of quarterbacks and star running backs or wide receivers ... not so much. I've seen Sean Taylor walk into places in D.C. and hardly anybody knows who he is ... same with Clinton Portis, who is on TV without his helmet much more than Taylor. Still, I'm no expert on what people should do to protect themselves, their homes and families. I will share that growing up in Chicago, in a middle-class home on the South Side of Chicago, my dad had a gun and was very specific with no wiggle room on how my brother and I should treat it and any use of it. So much of this and how people feel about it depends on where you live, how you grew up. My dad was a Southerner, very used to guns and rifles. But my feelings are colored, like most people, by what my dad did and felt about it.

Despite the constant discussion about how much money professional athletes make, most outside the NBA and MLB do not make enough money to have 'round-the-clock security without soon going broke. More should have chauffeurs, in my opinion, especially if planning to drink ... agents and leagues should insist on it, even help arrange it. But don't hold your breath. Most have no need for either. But the cases of misbehavior are so public and often so spectacular we tend to think "most" athletes are involved in this kind of stuff, when the vast majority have no need for any of it.


McLean, Va.: Will your opinion of Taylor change if this does not turn out to be a random incident (e.g. home invasion)?

Michael Wilbon: No ... people's opinions are shaped by the way they've grown up, the way they see the world, what they know about the world the person in question grew up in, etc. Sean Taylor isn't the only guy I know who fits his general profile. I've known guys like Taylor all my life, grew up with some. They still have shades of gray and shouldn't be painted in black and white...I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn't surprising in the least, not to me. Whether this incident is or isn't random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it. He ain't the first and won't be the last. We have no idea what happened, or if what we know now will be revised later. It's sad, yes, but hardly surprising.


Herndon, Va.: Mike, there probably is no sportswriter who has written more extensively or thoughtfully on the larger societal issues that surround and affect the sports world than you. On that note, is it possible to consider the horrible Taylor shooting without thinking about why it is that young black athletes in particular seem to have such a hard time leaving the "street" behind when they become successful and wealthy? Or is race and culture just a red herring in what really is a personal or random tragedy?

Michael Wilbon: It's too complex, too big an issue with too many subtleties and nuances to simply label as anything. The ones who do have a hard time leaving the "streets" struggle because it's leaving home...for the same reasons the sons of rich families don't want to leave the country club or the beach house in Delaware. It's comfortable. Most know nothing else. They don't travel, don't go visit Martha's Vineyard for a week every summer. Some have no problem getting the hell away ... I know dozens of kids who took the first plane out the moment they could and never looked back. Forget what Isaiah Thomas has done lately as a coach/executive -- he's one who rejected the life from the moment he left the west side of Chicago for Indiana University and said "that's it, I'm out." Thousands do exactly why he did, a couple of dozen cities in the U.S. Some, increasingly, romanticize it, or are addicted to it, or find it irresistible. ... Some take awhile to divorce themselves from it ... think Allen Iverson, who after years of living dangerously, seems pretty far removed from that life now. Everybody's circumstance is different. But it always seemed to me that Sean Taylor loves his life and the way he's living and has no instinct to change...


I think this difficulty in leaving the life you know behind was exactly the downfall of Michael Vick. Plenty of people from the 'other world', including Frank Beamer, had told him to ditch the company he grew up with. Vick couldn't, and those same people served as witnesses against him in the trial that sent him to jail.

North Korean Public Execution

In a stadium, no less:

Public executions had declined since 2000 amid international criticism but have been increasing, targeting officials accused of drug trafficking, embezzlement and other crimes, the Good Friends aid agency said in a report on the North's human rights.

In October, the North executed the head of a factory in South Pyongan province for making international calls on 13 phones he installed in a factory basement, the aid group said. He was executed by a firing squad in a stadium before a crowd of 150,000.

Six people were crushed to death and 34 others injured in an apparent stampede as they left the stadium, the aid group said.

Most North Koreans are banned from communicating with the outside world, part of the regime's authoritarian policies seeking to prevent any challenge to the iron-fisted rule of Kim Jong Il.

One Saturday in November

It's that time again. Once again Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia will battle for the Commonwealth Cup tomorrow. Though not quite reaching the importance of the 2004 game, tomorrow's contest has far reaching implications. If they Hokies win, they're likely going to a BCS bowl. Here's a post I wrote before the 2004 game on one role sports play in society:

A War To End All Wars

Edit: A pretty good article in USA Today on the rivalry:

"It's split down the middle pretty good in Virginia on whose side you're on," UVA senior defensive end Chris Long says. "I grew up in Charlottesville a big UVA fan. But I have a lot of friends at Tech."

That's not unusual. Sometimes students at one campus have romantic interests at the other. Newman, the ardent Tech fan, dates Adrienne Miller, who goes you know where.

"It's a classic love-hate relationship," Newman says. "I love Adrienne — and I hate UVA."

Such splits are common across the state among siblings, best friends, even faculty with joint appointments. These affinities and connections explain not only the rivalry but why UVA emerged as Tech's greatest supporter in its moment of greatest grief.

"Our families overlap," Virginia President John T. Casteen III writes in an e-mail. "The differences are small stuff. Bonds of mutual purposes, overlapping populations and mutual respect for the work that people do in both places are the more important bonds."

Tech President Charles W. Steger (also responding by e-mail) refers to mutual respect as well. "The University of Virginia, by most measures, and I would concur, is the finest public university in the nation," he writes.

What — no trash talk? Isn't this rivalry week?

"The chief theoreticians behind the modern athletics rivalry are sports writers and people who sell T-shirts," Casteen writes. "Among persons with less obvious motives, and with more important things on their minds, this athletics rivalry is more jocular than serious."

"Oh, it's serious," says Long, 0-3 against Tech in his career. "You try not to make it too big. You just want to get the W." That's why he is expected to play, even with a nasty case of strep throat.

Edit: VT beats UVA. All is right with the world.

Black Friday getting crazier every year

Right now, there are people all across America camping out at Best Buy's and Circuit City's for the early morning Black Friday deals. My almost 70 year old father went to sleep early tonight so that he can get up at 4AM to get his hands on that Toshiba laptop. I told him it ain't gonna happen unless he's willing to camp out in the cold. Every year it gets more and more intense. What's interesting is that it's no longer necessarily about the sales, but rather, about a new tradition. Pulling all-nighters is now something as essential to the holiday as Turkey and yams.

Shirley you jest!

Ilya Somin on whether Ron Paul's candidacy is "good for libertarianism":

As the Club for Growth describes here, Ron Paul has opposed virtually all free trade agreements. Few ideas are more fundamental to libertarianism than free trade. As the Club has documented, Paul also has opposed school voucher programs. In both of these cases, in fairness, Paul claims that his position is based on the idea that some other approach - unilateral free trade or home schooling - is even more libertarian than what he opposes. Even if he is correct on these points, I see no libertarian virtue in supporting the far less libertarian status quo against free trade agreements and school vouchers respectively. Even if trade agreements and vouchers are not the optimal libertarian policies, they are surely superior to the status quo of tariffs and government monopoly schooling.

Surely superior? I'm not as certain as Somin. There is a legitimate argument to be made that introducing school vouchers would bring under government control what today are private schools - "Your voucher can't be used at this school because it isn't licensed by the authorities". For those of us who favor true diversity in education, Paul's position is reasonable. It's a question of strategy: take what you can now with both positive or negative potential consequences in the future, or hold out until you get the jackpot. There is a real debate among libertarians about vouchers.

Similarly with free trade. The US could do a lot of good for itself and the world by unilaterally dropping all trade barriers.

Paul's positions on these issues don't make him any less libertarian.


Do Indian parents not care about their children?

Amit Varma on child labor:

Working children are all around us: at the office canteen, the Udupi restaurant, the neighbourhood grocer’s, the traffic signal. It is so ubiquitous that most of us don’t even notice it when we shout, “Chhotu, ek chai la.” Nobody in his right mind can condone it—there are few thefts as appalling as that of someone’s childhood.

For the sake of these children, I have a request to make to the activists and journalists behind all these recent exposés: six months from now, in May 2008, do a follow-up on all these kids who have been ‘rescued’ and tell us how they’re doing. Are they going to school? Are they having a normal, happy childhood? Indeed, tell us in just one word: are they better off?

My guess is that most of the kids will be employed in similar jobs—or worse. There are studies to back my fears. Oxfam once reported on a situation in Bangladesh where international outrage forced factories to lay off 30,000 child workers. Many of those kids starved to death; many became prostitutes. A 1995 Unicef study described how an international boycott of carpets made in Nepal using child labour led to between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepali girls turning to prostitution because a better option was now denied to them.

It is common sense that if these kids could have a better life, their parents would make sure they got it. Parents in poor countries are no different from parents in rich ones. They want their children to be free from the cares of the world, to go to school, to not have to worry about their next meal. Like all other parents, they must be tormented by the thought of their child having to sweat it out for a living. Why do they make their child work then? Because poverty leaves them with no other choice.

In a 1997 paper titled The Economics of Child Labor, Kaushik Basu and Pham Hoang Van showed that “child labour as a mass phenomenon occurs not because of parental selfishness but because of the parents’ concern for the household’s survival”. Basu and Van set out the Luxury Axiom: “A family will send the children to the labour market only if the family’s income from non-child-labour sources drops very low.” This is why, they stated, “the children of the non-poor seldom work even in very poor countries… In other words, children’s leisure or, more precisely, non-work is a luxury good in the household’s consumption in the sense that a poor household cannot afford to consume this good, but it does so as soon as the household income rises sufficiently.”

This is how I've thought of child labor: a phenomenon of underdevloped economies. Economic maturity brings about its end.

In another universe, my name is Dave Attell

An informal poll among my co-bloggers once revealed that nearly all of us are insomniacs. This led to us wondering whether insomnia correlates with advocacy of limited government.

For my own part, insomnia is how I cope with too few hours to do too many things (which may disqualify the label "insomnia"). I've accepted it as a part of my life. For those who haven't, an article in the NY Times says the solution is relatively simple.

The behavioral strategies for better sleep are deceptively simple, and that’s one reason why many people don’t believe they can make a difference. One of the most effective methods is stimulus control. This means not watching television, eating or reading in bed. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Get up at the same time every day, and don’t nap during the day. If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed after 15 minutes and do something relaxing, but avoid stimulating activity and thoughts.

So-called sleep hygiene is also part of sleep therapy. This includes regular exercise, adding light-proof blinds to your bedroom to keep it dark and making sure the bed and room temperatures are comfortable. Eat regular meals, don’t go to bed hungry and limit beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime.

But what does Beyonce think?

Jay-Z is bearish on the dollar:

But it wasn’t sex, drugs, violence or explicit language that shocked my conscience.

It was the Euros.

The Jay-Z video flashed large stacks of €500 Euros.

When I start seeing rap stars flashing euros instead of U.S. dollars, I know our economy is in trouble.

Interesting Phenomenon

On the heels of the big fundraising day, I've noticed that a lot of people I know are declaring themselves Ron Paul supporters. Many of them are not just not libertarian. If anything, they're big government advocates. They justify their support with vague statements like, "He's shifting the landscape" or "The system needs to be shaken up". I don't think they have any idea what Paul actually stands for.

Useful Idiots

Anne Applebaum in Slate on the love heaped on Chavez by Hollywood stars:

As for Venezuelan politics, or the Venezuelan people, they don't matter at all. The country is simply playing a role filled in the past by Russia, Cuba, and Nicaragua—a role to which it is, at the moment, uniquely suited. Clearly, Venezuela is easier to idealize than Iran and North Korea, the former's attitude to women being not conducive to fashion models, the latter being downright hostile to Hollywood. Venezuela is also warm, relatively close, and a country of beautiful waterfalls.

Most of all, Venezuela's leader not only dislikes the American president—so do most other heads of state—but refers to him as "the devil," a "dictator," a "madman," and a "killer." Who cares what Chávez actually does when Sean Penn isn't looking? Ninety years after the tragedy of the Russian revolution, Venezuela has become the "kingdom more bright than any heaven had to offer" for a whole new generation of fellow-travelers. As long as the oil lasts.