“I regret studying social anthropology”

The best part of running a blog is the quality of many of the people who show up.  A recent customer, “A.J. West”, has a blog of his own here that our readers will surely enjoy.

Periodically on this blog Greg vents about anthropologists.  When I name the people in our own department to him he allows that they are all excellent but he insists that most of anthropology is a disgraceful wasteland.  He may be right: I pay little or no attention to anthropology any more.

Now on the West blog we have sad but funny confirmation of Greg’s point of view but without the outrage.  West went to Oxford to study social anthropology, with interests that many of us share, only to discover that his interests were regarded with disdain and outside the stream of social anthropology.  His story is that of a virgin finding himself in a bawdy house, or something like that.  That particular post is here and is a good read, along with a later post on obscurantism .

About these ads
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

107 Responses to “I regret studying social anthropology”

  1. Sisyphean says:

    Fascinating. I did my undergraduate work straddling between the biological anthropology and cultural anthropology departments at my school. I can still remember how disappointed my advisor (a cultural anthropologist) was when I said that I definitely wanted to earn a B.S. “A B.A. isn’t worth any less. There’s really no point.” she said. The people in the two departments were very different too. The cultural anthropology classes were taught by younger hipper people where the Biological courses were all taught by very old very tough men, but I couldn’t help but love it anyway.

    ~S

  2. Well, I read the West blog with interest, but I would have thought it obvious that anthropology always attracted some story tellers, and that the material ranged widely in quality because it was hard to falsify. I agree that effort justification is a likely explanation. Of course, my attitude may be a hangover from imperialism……..

    • JayMan says:

      Story tellers? I remember my exercises about deducing facts about people from garbage.

      I’ve thought for some time now that archeology in general was as much story telling than it was science…

  3. Flemur says:

    The Postmodernism Generator speaks:
    “Sexual identity is part of the meaninglessness of narrativity,” says Sartre; however, according to d’Erlette[5] , it is not so much sexual identity that is part of the meaninglessness of narrativity, but rather the fatal flaw of sexual identity. The submaterialist paradigm of discourse states that consensus comes from communication. Therefore, Hanfkopf[6] implies that we have to choose between the dialectic paradigm of reality and Baudrillardist simulacra.
    http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/
    Reload to get a new load.

  4. dearieme says:

    “the continental garbage side of things”: sound man. But I must say once that I had learnt that Margaret Mead was a fraud, I’d never have given a moment’s thought to Soc Anth.

    • It depends what you mean by Mead being a fraud. It is possible, but far from proven, that the Samoan work was fraudulent, and it at least depended on the words of informants (who may have later changed their minds). Certainly Mead’s theoretical contribution on the basis of the Samoan fieldwork, that adolescence is not a time of significant strife in non-industrial societies, has mostly been verified with examples from other societies throughout the world, so the whole furore should really be over, given that the debate it’s a part of has been concluded in large part.

      On the other hand, she was definitely wrong about the Mundugumor – a much less famous case than Coming of Age. She claimed, on the basis of only a few weeks’ fieldwork, that the Mundugumor people of New Guinea practiced a kind of descent system called ‘alternating descent’, whereby a man would inherit goods and duties from his mother and a girl would inherit goods and duties from her father. She called this the ‘rope’ system, claiming that this was the name for it in the Mundugumor language. This would have been unique in the world, by the way – unknown anywhere else and logically rather difficult to make sense of. Later fieldwork, corroborated by inspecting Mead’s own fieldnotes, showed that this definitely wasn’t the case: Mundugumor people apparently had patrilineal descent groups, and the word for ‘rope’ only meant, well, ‘rope’.

      She also said some insensitive things about her Omaha informants, and probably produced some sloppy work there, too.

      There’s a lot of good stuff in anthropology departments, by the way, especially if you want to understand ancient human societies. But then there’s stuff like this. I mean, wtf.

  5. victor says:

    well you’ve found your quarry what, implement to do you plan to use bow, rifle, shotgun, a pack of hounds.

  6. little spoon says:

    I wished I lived in an era with different priorities. I feel that my natural aptitudes are best suited for the humanities, but all such fields alienate me as I am not interested in there post modernist theories, which are clearly just an exercise in promoting denial.

    I would have liked to be an academic if academia was more welcoming to a perspective such as mine.

  7. dave chamberlin says:

    I really appreciated AJ West’s post on obscurantism. He nailed it. How people can further their academic careers by writing badly is amazing to me, but I know they do it. A good editor could easily clean up those godawful text books with clear English but it’s not allowed. I wasted six years studying psychology only to realize 1)the stench of bullshit was only getting stronger and 2) I couldn’t listen to whiners for a living. I hope AJ sticks around, he really added to the last two threads.

    • panjoomby says:

      @ dave c: i smiled to read that – you’re a few IQ points higher than i b/c you figured out psych was a sham sooner than i did:) the only legitimate part is stats/psychometrics/ability (“g”). any subject that spends half of its time trying to convince you it’s a science (coff – cargo cult), & spends a quarter of its time going over its history & the other 25% is all “ethical guidelines” (we have no substance so we’ll have “ethics”) mix it all together & cloak it in big words (GB Shaw: “all professions are conspiracies against the laity”) & voila – psychology-magical-thinking-ideology! psych won’t ever live up to the potential envisioned in its early halcyon years). its only hope is to glom onto actual science thru interdisciplinary studies (as in: “hey guys, i know stats, can i help?”:)

      owever, knowing psych helps me predict that cultural anthropology must also have a ton of “ethical guidelines/code of ethics” nonsense that inculcates a belief system afraid to notice reality :) hmm – so psych really does help us explain, predict & understand!

      • I get furious whenever I read psychology textbooks’ sections on intelligence.

      • panjoomby says:

        @ elijaharmstrong – you’re brave for reading them anyway – they make me too mad. those of you brave enough to read through the torturously PC laden arguments of those occam’s razor deniers are better equipped to defend against them.

  8. Ah, how did I miss this?

    “His story is that of a virgin finding himself in a bawdy house, or something like that.”

    Something like that, I suppose!

    I’ll try to stick around here, but what with work, language learning, and other commitments, it’s not always possible. Same with my blog – sometimes I just can’t find the time. But we’ll see.

    • Peter Lund says:

      I read yours and Mr. Kim’s discussion here with great interest:
      http://alwestmeditates.blogspot.dk/2013/01/guns-germs-and-steel-again.html

      How would you square what you wrote there with what you wrote in your obscurantism post?

      I am particularly interested in whether you now think you owe Mr. Kim an apology for writing this line (and in the song Hotshot City, which I found very good):

      “I’m sorry, but I don’t like racists to comment on my blog.”

      • What about that exchange do you find incommensurate with my objections to obscure and ridiculous writing and theories?

        And no, I don’t think I need to apologise for that. I didn’t say he couldn’t comment, only that I’d prefer it if the unsubstantiated racist hypotheses were kept to a minimum.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        A.J. West is intelligent and well-informed, and it was a pleasure reading his reasoned comments both here at West Hunter and at West’s Meditations. But he doesn’t come off as well in that exchange with Mr. Kim.

        I was particularly surprised to see Mr. West suggest that the ability to do higher mathematics was already widely present in AMHs in the Pleistocene (Is it widely present even today?), and that any aboriginal child brought up in England would do just as well as any other English child. He is willing to allow for differences in physical traits between humans, but not mental traits. Somehow intelligence is just different for him.

      • gcochran9 says:

        He’s wrong, of course. Noticing the psychometric evidence, or even mentioning the well-established differences in brain size between different populations, makes you an unemployable pariah. Probably the only between-population difference in intelligence that is mentionable in polite society (even then, somewhat controversial) is that between Ashkenazi Jews and general Europeans. That’s different, of course, partly because you’re saying that population A is on average smarter than population B – which is entirely different from saying that population B is on average dumber than population A – and because it flatters an influential group that is more averse to noticing or mentioning such differences than any other.

        These differences, of course, are more pronounced at the edge of the distribution, just like any other quantitative trait.

      • I think it’s rather difficult to eliminate literacy, nutrition, and wealth from the problem, and that the default view should be that these are the primary factors responsible for differences in human intellect. The children of upper class Ghanaians brought up in the UK do extremely well in schools, just as they do in the USA; the children of Jamaicans whose ancestors were slaves don’t do so well, probably because they’ve had several generations of less literate, less wealthy ancestors to build on. Jews, whose ancestors have been majority literate for nearly two thousand years, do extremely well, and their successes are probably due to their literacy and similar factors (see the Eckstein and Botticini book I cited in the comments there).

        I certainly don’t think genetic changes had much at all to do with the industrial revolution, which is what that Kim fellow was arguing.

        Anyway, it’s not all that interesting to me. It’s hard to measure intelligence and it seems to me that most human populations, on aggregate, barely differ in their potential at birth, as evidenced by human achievement around the globe.

      • gcochran9 says:

        You’re a funny guy.

      • Peter Lund says:

        “It’s hard to measure intelligence and it seems to me that most human populations, on aggregate, barely differ in their potential at birth, as evidenced by human achievement around the globe.”

        Have you taken a look at Somali achievements around the globe?

        Are you seriously trying to say that if only their grand parents had been literate, things would be completely different?

        I wonder if they teach Lamarckianism at Oxford? Have they been doing it for enough generations, I wonder?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        West, you said what you said. Lying about it just makes you look like fool.

      • Somali achievement is an interesting thing to bring up, for several reasons. Somalia has poor land and doesn’t have quite the easy ride western Europe has. It was also subject to both British and Italian colonisation, with the latter barely investing in education or infrastructure (it is notable that the worst parts of Somalia were formerly in the Italian parts). Somali is an Afroasiatic language, like Hebrew, and Somalis share some genetic material with other, much less poor, Near Eastern populations – why should they be such a poor and benighted population if genetics is behind it?

        “Are you seriously trying to say that if only their grand parents had been literate, things would be completely different?”

        Yes. That’s not Lamarckism – I’m not expecting there to be a genetic change. Children are always better at reading and writing if their parents help and encourage them and if they’re surrounded by books when they’re growing up, and the same is true of mathematics, debates at the dinner table, and so on. This is a difficult environment to sustain if you’re poor and can’t read very well, and it’s more likely that you’ll be poor and not be able to read very well if your parents were poor and couldn’t read very well.

        As The Chosen Few shows with a bucketload of evidence and a strong mathematical model, Jews went from being a small, concentrated population of mostly-illiterate farmers to being a widely spread mostly-literate population of lawyers, money-lenders, doctors, philosophers, and writers in a very short period of time. They needed to learn to read and write in the wake of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, for religious reasons, and this gave them an edge in a variety of professions. There’s little need to invoke much else to explain the difference in achievement.

        And as for proposed genetic causes of the Industrial Revolution, I have to say that I do find the idea prima facie absurd, largely because there’s no mechanism for it – unless you believe that there’s no need for any selective pressures to fix traits in a population. I called Mr Kim a racist because his comments were racially motivated, and he failed to examine his own arguments properly (e.g., absence of selective pressure, European achievement in the last 500 years as more probably caused by massive influx of wealth, etc) as a result.

        It is entirely possible that there are differences in intelligence between populations. But it is difficult to show this as there are always other factors involved, and the people espousing the idea very often point to statistics they’ve invented (cf. Duchesne, Mr Kim) showing that African achievement would count for very little.

      • Peter Lund says:

        Ok, let’s say it’s not a variant of Lamarckianism.

        It sounds like you believe in strong SES. Is it a good default hypothesis that biology plays no role in the inheritance of SES? Is it a good default hypothesis that intelligence doesn’t affect SES?

        And how on Earth do you manage to believe that there was no selective pressure?! Don’t you know /any/ history?

      • You believe that there was selective pressure for upper class men to know higher mathematics? Interesting claim…

  9. I’ve never regretted majoring in Math/Physics. Even in high school, it was clear to me that the arts (even history!) were just too subject to the teacher’s opinion. I did not pursue grad school, which, I regret, but I decide to have a family instead, which I don’t regret. ( No, you can’t have everything).

    Worked as a computer programmer until retirement. As I got more time (as the kids grew up) I became interested in languages and linguistics. Fascinating. It has an almost mathematical feel to it.

    I’ve read very little “obscurantist” writing: life is much too short. But I do like reading HBD Chick on kin and family structures. This seems to be a key in understanding how some societies are different than ours. Much over-looked! I follow her carefully (don’t really have time to read much on my own, I seem busier than ever).

    Anthropology would seem ideal for such studies, but it seems it had fallen out of favour. Pity.

  10. Sandgroper says:

    For clarity, please define ‘ours’ in this context, Mrs Cat. Some of us may not be as us as others of us.

  11. Bruce says:

    He feels the need to emphasize that he’s not politically conservative/on-the-right and that he doesn’t oppose the political/social goals of anthropology departments but if you think we live in a soft-core leftist tyranny then according to some people you’re a nut-job.

    • Inane Rambler says:

      It’s an interesting position heterodox liberals find themselves in but I’m not sure if I feel bad for them for putting themselves in that position. Also anthropology for populations that already have sociologists studying them makes no sense to me.

      • Bruce says:

        I remember years ago seeing a pretty detailed website (one which obviously took a lot of work) by a young post-doc (CalTech – computational biochemistry/physics) in which he exposed some of The Bell Curve’s critics in academia as liars and frauds and presented evidence in support of Hernnstein and Murray’s ideas. Interspersed throughout the site were out-of-place declarations about the importance of “social justice” and how it would be better served by what he was doing at the website.
        Then the website completely disappeared and he’s since become a full professor at another university.
        Maybe this anecdote is out of place but it seemed interesting.

    • The whole thing has become so politicised that it is necessary to tell these people that, or else they’ll dismiss any criticism as a result of political bias. It’s regrettable that this is the case, but it is, so it’s a necessary caveat.

      • harpend says:

        In that exchange with Kim you stated as fact some astonishing things that I find hard to believe. How many Hottentot children are there in the UK plugging away at calculus for example. Would not surprise me if there were a few I suppose.

        You also said it was obvious that prosperity generates IQ, citing the Flynn effect, which seems to be a sideshow and to have reversed in Scandinavia.

        And why call Kim a racist?? Nobody, so far, has called you a nasty name, like for example a liberal. Kim cited real studies and real literature while you do seem to me to resort to astonishment: it is “obvious” kind of statements.

      • misdreavus says:

        I distinctly remember Ricardo Duchesne calling him an abundance of nasty names.

      • Sandgroper says:

        write properly. Overwhelmingly these are people of British/Irish ancestry (Indo-European speaking, if I dare even mention that with Duchesne lurking around), on the face of it no different to people of the same ancestral background in Mainland Australia, where the proportion of adults who cannot read and write properly is only 30% (still worryingly high, but not as worrying as Tasmania). In looking at the educational systems and throwing more massive amounts of money to try to somehow fix this, heritability of intelligence seems like something that needs to be accounted for, because otherwise it could be a massive confound, and they are getting absolutely nowhere. There are some odd things, like the teacher to student ratio is far higher in Tasmania than on the Mainland. One thing they have tried there is amalgamating schools to reduce the teacher to student ratio, to see if somehow perversely that helps – like maybe it’s the quality of teaching, and by reducing the ratio they can get rid of the less good teachers. It doesn’t help, not at all.

        Unfortunately, if someone even dared breathe the idea that heritability of intelligence might be playing some part in this problem, the response would be absolute political outrage, and whoever suggested it would instantly become a social pariah, if not actually getting physically beaten up. Whether it is or not, I have no idea – it seems possible, but no one can even suggest to gather and analyse data. What is clear is that a lot of very ernest, well intentioned people are struggling to address this problem, governments continue to throw large amounts of money at it, and they are getting absolutely nowhere. But everyone is so politicised, ‘mobilised’ and emotional about it, that attempting a rational, objective discussion of the problem is simply impossible.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Cr*p. First part – 50% of adults living in Tasmania cannot read and write properly

      • gcochran9 says:

        In any discussion like this, one needs a well-specified definition of whatever threshold people are not achieving. And. although you haven’t mentioned it, you need actual, well-characterized measurements of past performance before you can talk about achievement getting better or worse.

        It may well be that you have thought about this carefully- but people usually don’t.

      • Well I did kind of call him a liberal indirectly but that was a term he himself used.

  12. Pincher Martin says:

    A.J. West,

    I think it’s rather difficult to eliminate literacy, nutrition, and wealth from the problem, and that the default view should be that these are the primary factors responsible for differences in human intellect.

    I don’t want to rehash all the IQ studies which have controlled for basic environmental factors and still found substantive differences between groups of people. I also don’t want to get into the fact that many of your specific anecdotes against the validity of IQ and its applications to population groups – “The children of upper class Ghanaians brought up in the UK do extremely well in schools, just as they do in the USA,” “I’d also note that neither Newton nor Leibniz ever married,” etc. – are easily countered.

    My main complaint about the exchange between you and Mr Kim is that you acted in atypical fashion. In your other writings, you stress that science and not ideology should be the driving factor in analysis. I couldn’t agree more. And for the most part, you appear to live up to that standard. Many of your comments have been first rate.

    But in that brief exchange, it was Mr. Kim who kept the empirical pressure on you, so to speak, before you finally decided to let ideology determine your analysis.

    I certainly don’t think genetic changes had much at all to do with the industrial revolution, which is what that Kim fellow was arguing.

    You were more emphatic than that: “The idea that the industrial revolution was even remotely caused by genetics is an absurdity.”

    Mr Kim’s response, on the other hand, was informed and balanced. He did not claim that genetics caused the industrial revolution. He simply said, “…there’s no good reason why we should ignore [the role of genetics] entirely,” whereas you discounted the role of genetics as prima facie absurd.

    I think it’s a shame that someone as bright and well-informed as you obviously are about so many subjects still has this huge blind spot preventing him from fully appreciating why some people might be different from other people.

    • “Mr Kim’s response, on the other hand, was informed and balanced.”

      You must have been reading a different thread. He said things like this:

      “The collective achievements of Sub Saharan Africans and their progeny could be summarized in a fragment of a sentence. These aren’t politically correct things to say, but facts are facts.”

      For a start, it’s not true. Ironworking was independently developed in Africa. Lots of plants were domesticated there, including cotton, yams, and several gourds. Lots of cities developed, people became literate, and they responded in the same ways to the same pressures.

      But perhaps more importantly, Mr Kim avoided the far more probable roots of the comparative lack of African achievement on the world stage (aside from Egypt and Nubia, which are always set apart for some reason…), likely out of bias. Africa has always had a low population density, large swathes of it are desert, it is largely cut off from (much larger, much more densely populated) Eurasia, and it has tsetse flies, ebola, and a large number of other endemic diseases (malaria, for example) that make it unwise to develop large settlements.

      Imagine if, writing in 100 CE, a Roman writer said that the Germans had contributed almost nothing to civilisation, and that all of science and philosophy had come from Greece, Babylon, Persia, and Egypt. ‘Look at the last five hundred years – almost no German scientists or philosophers! They can be educated to be a bit like Romans, but look at Arminius – they’re never fully civilised, these Germans. Stupid but strong.’ Right?

      “it was Mr. Kim who kept the empirical pressure on you, so to speak”

      I hope you will note that Mr Kim did not keep up any empirical pressure.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “Africa has always had a low population density, large swathes of it are desert, it is largely cut off from (much larger, much more densely populated) Eurasia, and it has tsetse flies, ebola, and a large number of other endemic diseases (malaria, for example) that make it unwise to develop large settlements.”

        All of which have genetic consequences.

        .

        “Imagine if, writing in 100 CE, a Roman writer said that the Germans had contributed almost nothing to civilisation, and that all of science and philosophy had come from Greece, Babylon, Persia, and Egypt.”

        They’d have been right at the time.

        .

        “The idea that the industrial revolution was even remotely caused by genetics is an absurdity.”

        It’s obviously not absurd – even if you want to discount IQ there’s dozens of other ways in which genetics could have been and almost certainly were a factor.

      • gcochran9 says:

        If you consider psychometric results, American blacks score about a standard deviation lower than whites, while sub-Saharan Africans score lower yet.

        These tests predict performance on complex tasks moderately well. You do not see people with sub-average scores doing well in, or even passing, difficult subjects like engineering, mathematics, or the natural sciences.

        Their predictive value is about the same for blacks and whites ( and other groups).

        If the tests didn’t predict performance -if people with low scores excelled, the tests would be worthless. But that doesn’t happen.

        A moderate difference in means between two populations makes a big difference in the fraction that exceeds a high threshold: that’s just a consequence of the shape of the distribution, which falls off more and more rapidly as you get farther from the mean. So the difference in the mean between two groups has many implications. For one thing, it implies that between-population differences become much larger at the highest levels of ability. For example, Ashkenazi Jews make up 30-40% of the top 1000 mathematicians of the 20th century, even though their average IQ is a little less than 1 std higher than the general population of western Europe. But considering the differences in distributions, and the high cognitive threshold for professional mathematicians, that 30-40% is just what you would expect !

        When the SMPY (study of mathematically precocious youth) looked for US kids that scored over 700 on the math SAT in middle school, an extremely high threshold, you would expect that about half their sample would be Ashkenazi, from the distributions. Even though they’re only 2% of the population.

        And that was so.

        Since blacks in the US score about one standard deviation lower in IQ than whites, you would expect to see differences in representation that varied according to the intelligence threshold requires for the particular job or field – and there are such thresholds. And that’s what you see. You could assume that the more difficult the field of study, the more racist those running the show are – so that mathematics faculty are considerably more racist than business or psych professors, But that would be unparsimonious.

        As for wealth or income driving IQ differences – it’s simply not the case. People have looked.

      • syon says:

        A.J. West:”But perhaps more importantly, Mr Kim avoided the far more probable roots of the comparative lack of African achievement on the world stage (aside from Egypt and Nubia, which are always set apart for some reason…),”

        Probably because he was talking about Sub-Saharan Africa and not about North Africa (“The collective achievements of Sub Saharan Africans and their progeny could be summarized in a fragment of a sentence. These aren’t politically correct things to say, but facts are facts.”).

        There are, after all, substantial genetic differences between the populations of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa……

      • “They’d have been right at the time.”

        Yes, they would. And yet Germans nowadays do very well on IQ tests – because perhaps, perhaps, human achievement is primarily related to social and cultural processes. Would Tacitus have been able to predict Beethoven?

        “All of which have genetic consequences.”

        They also have social consequences – no large towns in most areas means fewer specialised trades, fewer economic transactions, and fewer resulting technological developments. Just as the absence of horses and camels probably had more to do with the relative lack of large-scale migration in the Americas, so the social consequences of African bio-geography were probably more important than the genetic ones. And I defy you to show that this is wrong.

        The point is that all of this talk about what particular human groups have or have not achieved is based on recent history, and I believe that unless there are no reasonable socio-cultural explanations for such things, genetic explanations are superfluous. Mayan speakers have done bugger all in the last five hundred years, but before Europeans arrived they were doing rather well. There are historical reasons for this – social and cultural ones.

        “It’s obviously not absurd – even if you want to discount IQ there’s dozens of other ways in which genetics could have been and almost certainly were a factor.”

        There doesn’t seem to be a plausible means by which higher mathematical ability constituted enhanced reproductive advantage in early modern England. As for other genetic explanations, an example would be nice. I’d say that tea and printing were more important factors than any genetic change in the early modern English population, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

        “Ashkenazi Jews make up 30-40% of the top 1000 mathematicians of the 20th century”

        And men make up over ninety percent. While I wouldn’t necessarily accuse contemporary mathematics departments of racism or sexism, I might suggest that there are some social and cultural aspects to this disparity. Especially when you look at the case of, say, Philippa Fawcett, who got the highest score in the Cambridge mathematics tripos without being awarded the title of Senior Wrangler (as she was a woman).

        Ashkenazim sometimes attend yeshivot when they’re young, where they learn exactly the elements required to do well in logical and mathematical problems, and their parents are (of course) more likely to be in higher status, higher-paying, and more intellectual professions than other ethnic groups. Their parents are also much more likely to be mathematicians, meaning that separating the genetic and cultural elements in the explanation is rather hard to do.

        Jewish achievement (as well as, say, Tamil Brahman achievement) has a lot to do with high expectations, high literacy, and an intellectual culture that simply doesn’t exist in African-American society. It’s not just about money. It’s about money and culture.

        British-Pakistanis and British-Indians do very differently in IQ, in school exams, and in life, and I doubt there is a big genetic difference between the two populations, especially as most British-Indians are north Indian (mostly Punjabi and Gujarati, even). Might not these different outcomes have something to do with class, background, literacy, and intellectual culture?

        I’m not doubting the IQ scores. I’m doubting a wholly genetic explanation of them. There may indeed be some genetic differences in intelligence between human populations, but I’m not yet convinced, and many of the arguments are politicised and of frankly dubious origin.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Women don’t make up 1% of the top 1000 mathematicians of the 20th Century. Who knows, if all prejudice was erased, it might have been 5%. Maybe. I think it’s a combination of differences in talent and interests, almost entirely.

        The Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated to the US (the main emigration, from Poland and Russia) were tailors and such: they were broke, and they didn’t speak English. Yet their children started showing up at Harvard in such numbers that Harvard, and the other Ivy League schools (this was back in the 1920s) changed their admission rules to keep their numbers low. Previously kids had been admitted on various measures of academic merit – the Ivy League decided that it needed ‘well-rounded’ students, i.e. not Jewish. Parenthetically, S.J. Gould argued that immigration restriction passed in 1924 in the US was in part based upon a general impression that European Jews were dumb, based on early attempts at IQ tests. That was not true – there was no such impression. The opposite, among those that had had any contact with them at all. Sheesh, it’s not a secret – Mark Twain wrote about it.

        And Ashkenazi Jews that were high achievers were unlikely to attend yeshivot. I can only think of one or two Jewish nobelists who did. In the US, they went to places like Far Rockaway High school. Or, later, Stuy and the Bronx High School of Science (both examination-admission schools)

        There is no reason to think that expectations – mine, yours, or anyone else’s – have much influence. Again, an illustrative Jewish example. There were lots of Jews living in the Arab world – in Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, various other places. When the state of Israel was established, almost all were expelled and most of those moved to Israel (over a period of years). Their social niche varied from place to place, but it was always pretty different from that occupied by Ashkenazi Jews in Europe. In Yemen, they had been low-status: at the high end, blacksmiths.

        The Ashkenazim running Israel figured that after immersion in their educational system, the Yemeni Jews would catch up, do just as well. But that hasn’t happened. They speak Hebrew, sure, but as far as I can tell, their IQ scores (about 15 points lower than the Ashkenazi average) haven’t budged, and their educational achievement still runs far behind that of the the Ashkenazi Jews. At this point we’re talking third generation.

        In Malaysia, Malays score about 1 standard deviation lower than Chinese. This is a general phenomenon – same in Indonesia & Philippines, etc. The majority Malays run the country and make it quite clear that they’re always going to run the country but they can’t compete (academically or commercially) with the Chinese, who make up about a quarter of the population, and who arrived as illiterate tin miners. The Chinese do all the engineering, run all the electronics manufacturing, etc.

        You see between-group differences of this magnitude in many places. Virtually everybody thinks that they must be environmental – but no one has succeeded in substantially changing them. In the US, there is a legal mandate to eliminate those gaps – but nobody knows how to do it. Instead you have endless scandals in which educators are caught cooking the books to try to satisfy the NCLB mandate. You can hide low-scoring kids from the tests, you can hand out the answers, you can stay up late with an eraser and correct the answers.. You can gradually make your local tests easier and call that progress. I know of massive scandals of this sort in almost every major city in the US.

        That said, environmental effects can make a difference, but there is not much evidence that the usual suspects, the factors that people think ought to make a difference, have much effect. Iodine makes a difference.
        Real starvation might plausibly make a difference, but there’s not much evidence to support that ( although prenatal starvation clearly increases schizophrenia). Disease load could make a difference. School attended doesn’t have much effect, nor does school spending (over the range in the US). I am fairly unusual in actually believing in those results, enough to send my kids to the local mostly-minority public high school, which this year had the lowest graduation rate in the city. They’ve done fine anyway. You saw the same thing in London, and Washington: some liberals put their kids in the public schools (which in the case of Washington have abysmally low average test scores) – and their kids do just fine.

        Politicized? Sure. But on the whole, in which direction?

      • Peter Lund says:

        So why don’t we just teach intelligence into the kids in school? I hear that works really well with SAT scores.

      • JayMan says:

        @A. J. West:

        Look, I’ve been seeing you spin the same tired old sociological explanations here. While there seems to be quite a bit of merit in some of your comments, I’ve finally had enough of this yarn, and I need to say something:

        “Yes, they would. And yet Germans nowadays do very well on IQ tests – because perhaps, perhaps, human achievement is primarily related to social and cultural processes. Would Tacitus have been able to predict Beethoven?”

        This is a strawman. (If you need a refresher on fallacious reasoning, check out “Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit” at my blog). Tacitus was a long time ago. Average IQs were different then. If you’ve read Dr. Cochran’s and Dr. Harpending’s book (The 10,000 Year Explosion), you’ll get an idea at the pace that average IQ changes over time in response to selection.

        The idea is that modern levels of average IQ, especially in the now developed world, arose over the past millennium or so, especially in the past few centuries.

        “They also have social consequences – no large towns in most areas means fewer specialised trades, fewer economic transactions, and fewer resulting technological developments. Just as the absence of horses and camels probably had more to do with the relative lack of large-scale migration in the Americas, so the social consequences of African bio-geography were probably more important than the genetic ones.”

        The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Social and geographic factors affect selective pressures, which affects genes, which affects culture, which affect selective pressures, and so on (gene-culture co-evolution). There is plenty of evidence for a genetic role in all this. The true challenge is for you to craft an explanation that doesn’t involve genes that explains all the evidence (good luck).

        “The point is that all of this talk about what particular human groups have or have not achieved is based on recent history, and I believe that unless there are no reasonable socio-cultural explanations for such things”

        What does that even mean? Allow me to quote hbd* chick: where does culture come from?. You can come up with “socio-cultural explanations”, but that would just be passing the buck. At the end of the day, you have no explanation for why these “socio-cultural” forces went the way they did. In other words, you wouldn’t really add anything explanatory.

        “Mayan speakers have done bugger all in the last five hundred years, but before Europeans arrived they were doing rather well. There are historical reasons for this – social and cultural ones.”

        I’m sure there are. I’d ask to hear all these just-so stories, and the different ones for different corners of the globe, but I definitely don’t have the time. And then, you probably wouldn’t want me to sic hbd chick on any that remained plausible in face of the evidence (because the first question she’d ask is “why”?)

        “There doesn’t seem to be a plausible means by which higher mathematical ability constituted enhanced reproductive advantage in early modern England.”

        I would suggest reading Gregory Clark some time.

        “And men make up over ninety percent. While I wouldn’t necessarily accuse contemporary mathematics departments of racism or sexism, I might suggest that there are some social and cultural aspects to this disparity.”

        Why? Are men and women genetically, behaviorally, or cognitively identical? (No.)

        “Ashkenazim sometimes attend yeshivot when they’re young, where they learn exactly the elements required to do well in logical and mathematical problems, and their parents are (of course) more likely to be in higher status, higher-paying, and more intellectual professions than other ethnic groups. Their parents are also much more likely to be mathematicians, meaning that separating the genetic and cultural elements in the explanation is rather hard to do.”

        It is a bit difficult. But it’s been done. Heredity wins.

        “British-Pakistanis and British-Indians do very differently in IQ, in school exams, and in life, and I doubt there is a big genetic difference between the two populations, especially as most British-Indians are north Indian (mostly Punjabi and Gujarati, even).”

        Right, because we all know selective migration doesn’t happen.

        “I’m not doubting the IQ scores. I’m doubting a wholly genetic explanation of them. There may indeed be some genetic differences in intelligence between human populations, but I’m not yet convinced”

        There’s a lot about the matter that you apparently don’t know, and that may be the reason you’re not convinced. Fortunately, I collected a lot of the basic evidences for these in one place. I would recommend check it out (all of it), and perhaps have an informed opinion?

        HBD Fundamentals | JayMan’s Blog

        As I said in a recent tweet, evolution explains history.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        A.J. West,

        For a start, it’s not true ["the collective achievements of Sub Saharan Africans and their progeny could be summarized in a fragment of a sentence"]. Ironworking was independently developed in Africa. Lots of plants were domesticated there, including cotton, yams, and several gourds. Lots of cities developed, people became literate, and they responded in the same ways to the same pressures.

        I think you misunderstood Mr. Kim. Reread his previous paragraph, and the context of his remark will be clear. He was talking about what would happen if we were to write a “thousand page encyclopedia summarizing important discoveries in science, mathematics, and engineering over the past five hundred years.” [My emphasis in bold.]

        Steelmaking among the Haya and the domestication of plants would not make it into such a volume.

        Even if we use your definition of “World Civilization,” in which beneficial discoveries in one area eventually make their way across vast geographical distances to cross-pollinate and improve the accomplishments of other regional civilizations, the sub-Saharan Africans would’ve contributed very little to it. Steelmaking didn’t begin in Africa. Nor as far as we know was it necessary to anywhere else on the planet that steelmaking even existed among the Haya.

        That’s not to say that primitive peoples couldn’t do extraordinary things. You mention somewhere the Austronesian expansion, an incredible migration of people across vast areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Accomplishing such a feat required extraordinary skill, technology, and derring-do. Even today, when contemplating the distances involved between some of the islands, it’s hard to believe how they did it.

        But that’s not a contribution to “World Civilization” in the way you have defined it. We don’t require that Austronesian technology, skill or courage to get around the world’s oceans today.

        But perhaps more importantly, Mr Kim avoided the far more probable roots of the comparative lack of African achievement on the world stage (aside from Egypt and Nubia, which are always set apart for some reason…)

        That parenthetical comment caught my eye. You’re not a believer in Martin Bernal’s Afrocentric theories, are you?

        Africa has always had a low population density, large swathes of it are desert, it is largely cut off from (much larger, much more densely populated) Eurasia, and it has tsetse flies, ebola, and a large number of other endemic diseases (malaria, for example) that make it unwise to develop large settlements.

        Some of what you say has merit, but it doesn’t conflict with anything you would read here. The relative value of a group’s genes is shaped by the environment, and so it’s important to acknowledge that Europeans and East Asians have higher IQs than sub-Saharan Africans today not because of any inherent greatness they possess as individuals, but because their genetic histories were shaped by very different forces for thousands of years than those found in Africa.

        So your theory loses empirical power when it assumes that the geographical forces acting on people are trivial, and that you can simply remove sub-Saharan Africans from a limited environment of disease and low population density, and they will immediately begin to perform and prosper to anywhere near the same degree as non-Africans.

        Imagine if, writing in 100 CE, a Roman writer said that the Germans had contributed almost nothing to civilisation, and that all of science and philosophy had come from Greece, Babylon, Persia, and Egypt. ‘Look at the last five hundred years – almost no German scientists or philosophers! They can be educated to be a bit like Romans, but look at Arminius – they’re never fully civilised, these Germans. Stupid but strong.’ Right?

        Of course there is no evidence that any of the several foundations needed civilization – cities, literacy, agriculture, etc. – required high-IQ populations to invent and sustain them. A certain level of IQ is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for accomplishing anything. But starting up a civilization doesn’t appear to have required much in the way of intelligence – at least in the way we moderns would understand it. Still, it was apparently more than most sub-Saharan Africans could handle.

        *****

        You refuse to consider intelligence a factor at all for any kind of civilization, ancient or modern. And you do so not for empirical reasons but because of an ideology which assumes every group of people must be equal in their mental talents despite tens of thousands of years of independent evolutionary development.

      • I’m going to reply more fully tomorrow, but as I’m ill I’m afraid I’m going to have an early night. However, I had never heard of the Haya until you mentioned them; I was referring to the much better substantiated claim that ironworking began in Africa independently from its invention in Anatolia, several thousand years ago. Not relatively modern Tanzanian steel, but ancient African iron.

        Also, African domesticates have been important on the world stage: the sorghum and cotton grown by the Indus Valley civilization came from Africa.

        “We don’t require that Austronesian technology, skill or courage to get around the world’s oceans today.”

        True, but outriggers are key to modern sailing vessels and, more importantly, that Austronesian technology was vital in holding the pre-16th century Indian Ocean together in trade. The contribution was very important indeed to the development of world civilization, and without Austronesian-speaking sailors travelling from eastern Indonesia to Africa, China, and India, the spice market would never have developed and neither Columbus nor da Gama would have gone off in search of it.

        “You’re not a believer in Martin Bernal’s Afrocentric theories, are you?”

        Of course not. But it is remarkable how Africa is defined so as to remove even Nubia, and sometimes Ethiopia, from consideration. (By the way, Bernal is far from the craziest Afrocentrist out there…)

      • Pincher Martin says:

        A.J. West,

        I’m going to reply more fully tomorrow, but as I’m ill I’m afraid I’m going to have an early night.

        No problem. Rest up and get well.

        I was referring to the much better substantiated claim that ironworking began in Africa independently from its invention in Anatolia, several thousand years ago. Not relatively modern Tanzanian steel, but ancient African iron.

        I see. Well, keep in mind the two different contexts I mentioned earlier.

        The first is that Mr Kim’s point was confined to the scientific, technological, and engineering achievements of the last five hundred years. Clearly, ancient African iron works don’t fit in that category. (Remember this back-and-forth began because you accused Mr Kim of not being empirically accurate in his description of sub-Saharan African achievements.)

        The second context was your definition of “World Civilization,” which assumed some cross-pollination between regional civilizations. I’m less clear whether ancient African iron meets this criterion.

        True, but outriggers are key to modern sailing vessels and, more importantly, that Austronesian technology was vital in holding the pre-16th century Indian Ocean together in trade. The contribution was very important indeed to the development of world civilization, and without Austronesian-speaking sailors travelling from eastern Indonesia to Africa, China, and India, the spice market would never have developed and neither Columbus nor da Gama would have gone off in search of it.

        That’s news to me. I’d always assumed it was the end of the Pax Mongolica that disrupted Eurasian trade and caused numerous European adventurers to dream of seeking glory and riches by finding another way to Marco Polo’s China.

  13. Toddy Cat says:

    “There doesn’t seem to be a plausible means by which higher mathematical ability constituted enhanced reproductive advantage in early modern England”

    But higher intelligence certainly did, and the two are correlated…

    “The Mayans were doing alright”

    They were practicing human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism while living in the Stone Age. I suppose when you set the bar that low, we’re all doing OK.

    “I’m doubting a wholly genetic explanation of them”

    No one here is putting forth a wholly genetic explanation. Rather, you seem to be verging on putting forth a wholly environmental one, which is absurd.

    “And I defy you to show that this is wrong.”

    I defy you to show that genetics played no role in the Industrial Revolution. trying to prove anything wrong in the social sciences is very difficult, as you well know.Can you prove that your Diamond-esque theory is right? Besides, those are pretty combative words for someone who is supposedly an open-minded empiricist.

    “but I’m willing to be proven wrong.”

    People have shown you this over and over again. You just refuse to accept the evidence, always reaching for some other social variable not controlled for, or replying with some anecdotal evidence about some brilliant woman or minority kept down by the Man in 1881.

    You may actually be right, Mr. West, in the same way that believing Jews, Christians, or Muslims may be right; but like their beliefs, yours are essentially religious. Nothing wrong with religions, we all have one. But it’s best to recognize them for what they are.

    • “They were practicing human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism while living in the Stone Age. I suppose when you set the bar that low, we’re all doing OK.”

      If you do nothing else this year, please buy a book on the ancient Maya that sets you right.

      “Besides, those are pretty combative words for someone who is supposedly an open-minded empiricist.”

      Combative, maybe, but not hostile – if you have evidence, take up the gauntlet and show it. The only evidence I’ve seen amounts to combining two facts: IQ scores are low in sub-Saharan African populations, and notable African achievements are apparently thin on the ground. But if they spring from the same source, then I don’t think we really need to overturn the socio-cultural view of African history.

  14. JayMan says:

    Apparently my recent comment to A.J. West (#22421) landed in spam (I use italics a lot and it’s long). Could one of you guys please fish it out? ;) Thanks!

  15. syon says:

    West:”Of course not. But it is remarkable how Africa is defined so as to remove even Nubia, and sometimes Ethiopia, from consideration. (By the way, Bernal is far from the craziest Afrocentrist out there…)”

    Why so remarkable? Nubia and Ethiopia are rather ….different in terms of genetics from Sub-Saharan Africa.

    • Since they are, in fact, sub-Saharan regions of Africa, that doesn’t really make sense. It is especially nonsensical when you consider that sub-Saharan Africa is a very genetically diverse region indeed. It’s just an excuse for Afrophobes to be able to claim that Africans have never achieved very much, when they clearly have. Linguistically, Ethiopia is rather close to South Arabia, but genetically it’s rather closer to east Africa.

      • gcochran9 says:

        You are mistaken. Highland Ethiopians are about half non-African by ancestry: see here. This gene flow is estimated to have occurred about three thousand years ago. The African component is split between a component similar to East Africans and one that is local to Ethiopia, presumably old-fashioned hunter-gatherer groups. The Ethiopian altitude adaptations surely came from those hunter-gatherers: they work too well to be recent. They might be very old indeed.

        The non-African gene flow is from some population similar to those in the Levant today. Which you can say about southern Europe, by the way.

      • That’s to be expected, given the linguistic (and, for that matter, historical) evidence of movement from South Arabia about three thousand years ago. I didn’t know there was so much gene flow, but it makes sense.

      • gcochran9 says:

        The funny thing is that the population that moved into Ethiopia is fairly different genetically from the people living in South Arabia today, more like the early farmers that settled Europe. In fact, some of that gene flow entered pastoral groups that moved a long ways through eastern Africa and eventually reached southern Africa – you can see a little in the Bushmen, no lie. That I would not have guessed.

        Take that three thousand year estimate with a grain of salt. There are some subtle uncertainties involved, questions about regional variation in recombination rates.

      • Thinking about it, I would. Definitely before three thousand years ago, though. The distribution you describe matches the spread of the Cushitic branch of Afroasiatic. Christopher Ehret – whose linguistic claims are hit and miss, frankly, but some of whose work is good – has shown a considerable degree of cultural and linguistic mixing in east Africa among Cushitic, Nilo-Saharan, Khoesan, and Niger-Congo speakers. So I’m not so surprised, honestly, assuming Afroasiatic originated in the Near East (far from certain, but…).

      • Glad I saw this old thread.

        Culturally – and therefore in terms of the selection pressures created by society – the horn of Africa is clearly a western Eurasian region and not closer to, say, the Central African forests. I don’t see why its latitude would change that and in any case, since the Sahara is historically a more important barrier to genes and cultural interchange than is the Mediterranean, Egypt etc are very justifiably separated in the public mind from ‘real’ Africa (the Afrotropical faunal realm.)

  16. Greying Wanderer says:

    @AJ West

    “They also have social consequences – no large towns in most areas means fewer specialised trades”

    Sure, and no specialized trades means no competition for those trades and no selective pressure to be good at those specialized trades. Social consequences -> genetic consequences.

    .

    “so the social consequences of African bio-geography were probably more important than the genetic ones. And I defy you to show that this is wrong.”

    Historically speaking you can say “came before” = “more important.” However African bio-geography is not directly relevant to Detroit today, only the genetic consequences of historical African bio-geography are.

    .

    “genetic explanations are superfluous.”

    Social explanations all have genetic consequences.

    .

    “There doesn’t seem to be a plausible means by which higher mathematical ability constituted enhanced reproductive advantage in early modern England.”

    You provided it yourself. If a society develops to the point where there are lots of specialist trades and the niche provided by those trades provide a reproductive advantage and IQ provides an advantage in competing for those trades – even if higher IQ doesn’t directly help with the trade itself – then competition for those trades will lead to higher average IQ. Higher mathematical ability would simply be a side-effect of that competition.

    .

    “As for other genetic explanations, an example would be nice.”

    Iodine is beneficial in early brain development. Genes that improve the amount of iodine a mother can absorb or generate and genes that impart or improve the ability to pass that onto a baby via breast feeding would be one simple example.

    (And in reverse a population that had those advantages which saw a drop in breast-feeding might see a drop in average IQ.)

    (Which if that population was used as the baseline might lead to other populations appearing to be getting smarter?)

    • “However African bio-geography is not directly relevant to Detroit today, only the genetic consequences of historical African bio-geography are.”

      Only the genetic consequences? So you don’t think the socio-cultural consequences of African history are relevant? The fact that African states didn’t develop the naval or military power to repel European invaders and instead sold them slaves?

    • “If a society develops to the point where there are lots of specialist trades and the niche provided by those trades provide a reproductive advantage and IQ provides an advantage in competing for those trades – even if higher IQ doesn’t directly help with the trade itself – then competition for those trades will lead to higher average IQ.”

      Only if that constitutes a reproductive advantage. Pirates, glovemakers, and playwrights all had lucrative careers in early modern England – indeed, some of the most lucrative of all. Are English people genetically piratical and poetical? Hereditary office was also incredibly important in early modern England, far more important than any competition for accountancy positions (and lots of trades were inherited, in fact, not competed for).

      You seem to be assuming that ancient cities and states operated like modern markets, but they didn’t. If you want a good, clear, slightly exotic book on early cities, you could have a look at Gideon Sjoberg’s old classic, The Preindustrial City.

  17. Greying Wanderer says:

    “As for other genetic explanations, an example would be nice.”

    Iodine is beneficial in early brain development. Genes that improve the amount of iodine a mother can absorb or generate and genes that impart or improve the ability to pass that onto a baby via breast feeding would be one simple example.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      And in reverse if a population had those advantages and experienced a decrease in breast-feeding they might experience a decrease in average IQ also.

      (Also if that population was used as a baseline for testing then might it appear other populations were getting smarter?)

  18. Jim says:

    A. J. West – Both human sacrifice and cannibalism among the Maya are describe in Sharer – The Ancient Maya 5th edition. The Maya did make use of copper, gold and mercury. I agree that a description of them as “Stone Age” is very misleading.
    I wonder who you would consider as the ten best female mathematicians of the 20th century?

  19. Jim says:

    I forgot to mention that the Maya also used silver.

  20. Jim says:

    While I’m dissing the Maya I might mention that they were extremely warlike and practiced slavery. Nevertheless much of their art and architecture is astonishing.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Personally, I respect any culture in which the rich and powerful stand up in front of everybody and run a obsidian prismatic blade or cactus spine through their penis.

      We could learn from them.

    • Their art and architecture is indeed astonishing, and it would be special pleading to claim that demonstrable Mayan achievements in these fields is invalidated by their penchant for sacrifice. Europeans were quite happy to have people hanged, beheaded, mutilated, cut open, and broken on the wheel before their very eyes until the late eighteenth century. They devised extraordinarily brutal methods of torture and execution, and don’t forget other religious phenomena, like auto da fe, flagellation, and witch burning, all of which are arguably quite similar to pre-Columbian Mesoamerican practices.

      People everywhere have been horrible and vicious, but that doesn’t overrule the achievements of some in the same society.

      • Jim says:

        I’m not at all saying that the Maya were uniquely cruel but your comment above about them seemed to be saying that they didn’t practice cannibalism and human sacrifice. They did. Also the gruesome punishments you mention among Europeans were inflicted on people who were at least believed to have committed some act regarded as a crime. Human sacrifice among the Maya and other Meso-Americans had no connection whatever to any supposed wrong-doing or moral failing of the victims.

      • Jim says:

        I never said anything about the Maya practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism “invalidating” their artistic and architectural accomplishments.

      • The phrase ‘value judgement’ springs to mind whenever people dismiss the Mayas or Aztecs. The arguments against their achievements are non sequitur in nature.

  21. Jim says:

    According to Wikipedia Fawcett received the highest score in the Cambridge Tripos of 1890. The title of Senior Wrangler was only awarded to men but Fawcett’s achievement was officially recognized and received wide publicity. As far as I know she never did any original work of any note in mathematics.

    • You’re right – she didn’t. But clearly she could have. She became an administrator when she clearly had the nous to do something different.

      Would anyone like to carry on with the claim that Nobels and Fields Medals are representative of the people who could have achieved had there been no social impediments?

      • gcochran9 says:

        I guess you must be right, which is why the distribution is changing so nowadays. Except that it’s not.

      • Jim says:

        I have no idea whether she could have done important work in mathematics. According to your views non-Jewish Europeans must have been prevented by social impediments from achieving in mamthematics at any thing like the rate at which Ashkenazi Jews achieved.

      • Jim says:

        Grothendieck’s father died in Auscwitz and Grothendieck grew up in France as a “hidden Jew”. Israel Glfand was raised in abysmal poverty. When he was 12 he asked his father to buy him a high school algebra text. His father told him that he could not possibly afford to buy it.. Sometime later Israel developed appendicitis and he needed to be transported to another city for treatment. He refused to go unless his father promised to buy him the algebra textbook, He would rather have died if he could not get the algebra book he desired. His father agreed and true to his word afterwards scraped together the money necessary to purchase the book.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        The only difference I would expect the future to bring to the backgrounds of Nobel Prize and Fields Medal winners is that we’ll start to see a few more East Asian faces.

  22. “That’s news to me. I’d always assumed it was the end of the Pax Mongolica that disrupted Eurasian trade and caused numerous European adventurers to dream of seeking glory and riches by finding another way to Marco Polo’s China.”

    The trade in spices from ‘the Indies’ was the explicit motivation of almost all of the fifteenth century explorers, perhaps motivated and encouraged by Venetian investment in the Indian Ocean. When Francisco de Almeida went into the Indian Ocean and fought the battle of Diu in 1509, his opponents were a coalition of Gujarati, Ottoman, Mamluk, Kozhikode, Ragusan (Croatians) and Venetian vessels hoping to fight off a Portuguese monopoly on the spice trade. Indian Ocean trade in the fifteenth century was, by a considerable margin, the richest in the world.

    “Clearly, ancient African iron works don’t fit in that category.”

    This is true. However, the idea that Africans contributed nothing to the world is simply wrong. Aside from the indigenous ironworking tradition, which enabled Bantu speakers to dominate southern Africa (and not coincidentally wipe out a column of British troops at Isandlwana), African cities were important markets for trans-Saharan and trans-Indian Ocean trade.

    It may well be that there were genetic consequences to Africa’s lack of development in the pre-colonial period. But there were also plenty of rather developed places in Africa in the pre-colonial period – it wasn’t wall to wall underdevelopment and deprivation.

    The places where savanna met rainforest in west Africa were (and still are) jam-packed with people involved in many highly specialised trades, including bronze- and iron-working at a high level. On the east African coast, lots of cities – including some of the most deprived parts of Africa, like Mogadishu – were involved in extensive long-distance trade, had strong states, and were literate in their own languages and Arabic. Ibn Battuta called Kilwa, in what is now Tanzania, the finest city he had ever seen. The same is true of the population-dense Great Lakes (Victoria, etc), which were the home of many large states and which saw the comings and goings of plenty of different cultural groups (Cushitic [Afroasiatic] speakers, Nilo-Saharan speakers, Bantu speakers, Khoesan speakers). These places only really suffered in the colonial period.

    If the genetic claim is true, these places should have higher IQs than other parts of the African interior, should they not?

    • Pincher Martin says:

      A.J. West,

      I almost missed this post.

      The trade in spices from ‘the Indies’ was the explicit motivation of almost all of the fifteenth century explorers, perhaps motivated and encouraged by Venetian investment in the Indian Ocean. When Francisco de Almeida went into the Indian Ocean and fought the battle of Diu in 1509, his opponents were a coalition of Gujarati, Ottoman, Mamluk, Kozhikode, Ragusan (Croatians) and Venetian vessels hoping to fight off a Portuguese monopoly on the spice trade. Indian Ocean trade in the fifteenth century was, by a considerable margin, the richest in the world.

      Your point is that this trade in the Indies was dominated by “Austronesian-speaking sailors” and Austronesian sailing technology in such a way as to be crucial to the pivot in Western history that opened up the Age of Discovery? Your chain of thought is literally that if there were no Austronesian technology and peoples, then there is no European Age of Discovery. No outrigger? Then no Columbus?

      Well, I must confess that I’ve never heard it put that way before. I’d always assumed it was Arab sailors and overland routes that provided the silk and spice trade. I’ll hold off comment until I know more. What book provides the best account of the centrality of Austronesian peoples and technology to this trade?

      However, the idea that Africans contributed nothing to the world is simply wrong. Aside from the indigenous ironworking tradition, which enabled Bantu speakers to dominate southern Africa (and not coincidentally wipe out a column of British troops at Isandlwana), African cities were important markets for trans-Saharan and trans-Indian Ocean trade.

      That sub-Saharan Africans lived and traded was certainly of importance to them and to the people they traded with, but that is not a contribution to the growth of civilization. I mean, it was also important that African slaves were brought to the southern United States and many other parts of the Americas, but we don’t consider that an advance of civilization. It’s nothing we care to build upon.

      What we’ve been talking about are genuine accomplishments that others have needed or used to advance their own civilization. The Chinese, for example, invented porcelain, printing, and paper, and these discoveries eventually made it to the West where they were either improved upon or widely utilized. The Islamic world made other important contributions to the West. When I play a Blu-ray disc, I’m using a technology perfected in Japan. But sub-Saharan Africa? Building a city and trading is not sufficient to merit inclusion to this list.

      African cities were important markets…. But there were also plenty of rather developed places in Africa in the pre-colonial period…. The places where savanna met rainforest in west Africa were (and still are) jam-packed with people involved in many highly specialized trades…. On the east African coast, lots of cities…. The same is true of the population-dense Great Lakes (Victoria, etc), which were the home of many large states….

      Look, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t simultaneously argue that Africa never had sufficient population density to do anything of note because of disease and then claim that parts of the continent were dense with cities and “large states.” You can’t argue that Africa’s geography prevented it from developing and then argue that “jam-packed” sub-Saharan populations were doing all kinds of “specialized” trades centuries ago and then come up with static excuses for why they fail to perform at even a marginal level today.

      It’s one or the other.

      • Peter Lund says:

        I would like to add that Roman merchants were perfectly capable of sailing to India and back. They did not, to my knowledge, use outrigger canoes for that.

  23. “As I said in a recent tweet, evolution explains history.”

    No, it doesn’t.

    Here’s a conundrum for you: for nearly two thousand years, people in the European peninsula have burned witches, executed heretics, and committed religiously-justified atrocities. They were incredibly superstitious. There was strong selective pressure to be religious, and not just religious, but orthodox in religious practice. You could literally be killed, with your family, for practicing the wrong form of religion in almost all of Europe, and there was considerable pressure to join in the persecution, too, for fear that you would be targeted yourself. This is all demonstrable stuff – pre-modern Europe was a frightening and terrible place, as Steven Pinker documented so brilliantly in his latest opus, and you’d only be able to survive and prosper if you joined in.

    Given that there was considerable long-term pressure selecting for superstition, orthodox religiosity, and brutal religion-inspired murder, why is it that Europe is the one of the least superstitious, religious, and murderous places on the planet today?

    I follow Pinker’s explanation, based on advancing literacy, a growing economy, trade, reason, and hygiene. This is a socio-cultural explanation that privileges the human ability to change culturally without significant genetic change.

    How do you explain it?

  24. Paul says:

    “This is a socio-cultural explanation that privileges the human ability to change culturally without significant genetic change.”

    Touché!

    HBD-types love to think everything in history and its mom is CAUSED only by changes in genetic distribution in a society, which is a very slow process (but faster than “humanity hasn’t changed in the last several thousand years” types think).

    Can you explain England the fundamental changes in England circa 1760 vs. England 2014 by this crude method? No, you cannot.

    But what you really must understand, A. J. West, is that both phenomena can go hand in hand. Agricultural,hierarchical societies will slowly select the meek, in the long term. So, is it really surprising that people of European and Asiatic descent are better at it than the grandsons of hunter-gatherers?

    Evolution. Is. ***Not*** Supposed. To. ***Stop*** At. The. ***Neck***.

    Got it?

    • “Agricultural,hierarchical societies will slowly select the meek, in the long term.”

      Why? I get that evolution doesn’t stop at the neck and intelligence could certainly be inherited in part. But what basis is there for this claim? Agriculturalists are far more adventurous and warlike than (nomadic) foragers (sedentary foragers are perhaps a different matter, e.g. Lepenski Vir, etc). Agricultural societies, at least those with descent groups and not states, seem more conducive to the development of tit-for-tat violence. And pre-industrial states seem conducive to the development of a penchant for total war, if anything.

      • Paul says:

        A. J. West: “Why?”

        It seems there is a positive correlation between how long a lineage have been proliferating in agricultural societies and success in a modern society. Gregory Clark synthesized it well in a reponse to a bunch of critics of his penultimate book, A Farewell to Alms. By the way, his main thesis in that book — namely, that the Industrial Revolution was caused by genetically capitalistic entrepreneurs is crazy — “bourgeois dignity” (McCloskey) and “modern growth” seem to be too easilly replicated to be genetic –, but he is right on several other colletaral points.

        (Also, he quotes approvingly our hosts, Cochran and Harpend in this response — and his style has cochranian trolliness, rectius, incisiviness at times: “Dogs, cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens all were transformed from wild animals to domesticated servants of humanity. (…) Until recently, however, the one creature in the modern farmyard that was believed to be unchanged from Paleolithic times was man himself.”).

        But see for yourself.

        http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/Farewell%20to%20Alms/EREH%20response%20-%20revised.pdf

        McCloskey citing the review of the book by Robert Solow, argues that the experience of countries like India and China recently, and of immigrants to the US, shows that the idea that there are deep seated cultural or genetic differences in peoples’ ability to succeed economically, which stem from the long histories of these societies, is unsupportable. On the contrary, I think that there is a lot of modern evidence that is supportive of this possibility. What is emphasized in A Farewell to Alms is that the processes identified for England occurred in all settled pre-industrial agrarian societies, though perhaps with different force. That suggests that if we want to find the maximum possible cultural and genetic difference between groups in the modern world we should contrast the people from long settled agrarian societies with those from hunter-gatherer societies that never experienced settled institutionally stable agricultural systems. Can McCloskey point to a single hunter-gatherer group that has successfully and quickly adapted to modern capitalist economies? Australian Aboriginals? The Hmong here in the USA?

        Also can he explain why when Chinese and Indian indentured laborers were exported to various parts of South America, Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific in the colonial period they have tended to do very well economically? Unlike white settlers, these were unskilled laborers with no capital and no political advantage as the overlords of these societies. Yet in societies like Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya, Uganda, the Philippines, Peru, and Suriname they have succeeded economically much better than the indigenous population. Why are there persistent income gaps between the indigenous population in most countries of the Americas and immigrants from Europe or Asia? Why is income per capita in the America’s in part predictable from the share of the population which is indigenous? Why do indigenous groups emigrating to the US from Mexico and Gautemala tend to do poorly economically?

        Clearly the long histories of societies are not the only thing influencing current income levels and growth rates. But I think there is absolutely no cause to be confident that these things do not matter.

      • Paul says:

        “Agricultural societies”.

        You are doing it wrong… You have to contrast hunter gathererers with agriculturalists; as this last group is so much bigger, it would be cool to contrast old agricultralists (v.g.: europeans/east-asians) with recent agriculturalists (amerindians). Generally, you would expect the former to be “more adapted” to a sedentary, tedious, carb-rich, hierarchical, disease-ridden way of life. And they are…

  25. Flinders Petrie says:

    @ A.J. West:

    Can you provide a source for your claim for independent iron working in Africa several thousand years ago? I was under the impression that iron technology first appeared south of the Sahara about 700 B.C., and that it was introduced to the region.

    It seems that the claim for early invention of iron in Africa was first widely disseminated by Franz Boas in an attempt to discredit “scientific racism” by providing evidence for Africa’s contribution to civilization, but that decades of research have not provided any compelling evidence for early or independent invention of iron metallurgy in Africa. The latest articles I’ve read have backed off the independent discovery hypothesis entirely (e.g., http://www.ironsmelting.net/www/smelting/ARC-MetMines-Rehren.pdf).

    South of the Sahara (I assume you’re not claiming this for North Africa?), the evidence suggests that iron was introduced to Stone Age cultures with no previous metal technology of copper or bronze. Given the complex nature of iron, the apparent lack of any metallurgical tradition preceding the use of iron in sub-Saharan Africa has been a major obstacle to the independent discovery hypothesis.

    All the evidence I’ve seen indicates that iron technology was introduced to sub-Saharan Africans in the 1st millennium BC by Phoenician and Greek colonies on the North African coast (West Africa), or from Egypt and Nubia to the lakes region. The minority dissenters make claims for independent invention based on dubious claims that iron could have been accidentally discovered during firing of pottery (ignoring the obvious differences in pyrotechnologies for iron vs. ceramic production).

    After iron technology was introduced to sub-Saharan Africa, there is evidence for diversification and indigenous development of the smelting process, but to my knowledge there is still no good evidence for in-situ invention.

    • Paul says:

      “Can you provide a source for your claim for independent iron working in Africa several thousand years ago?”

      Please dude. Where’s your due dilligence? Please, Google-scholar it first, or at least do a Wikipedia search before asking for some random guy you doesn’t really know to relieve you from your ignorance…

      http://www.sciencemag.org/content/201/4361/1085

      • Flinders Petrie says:

        @ Paul

        Before trying to “relieve me from my ignorance” please first insert your foot squarely in your mouth.

        Try actually reading the study you cite. What exactly do you see in Schmidt and Avery’s (1968) article corroborating A.J. West’s claim that ironworking began in Africa independently? (Not to mention that 2000 years is not ‘several thousand’.)

        I have the full article – not just the abstract which you clearly don’t understand. The authors are not concerned with the first iron smelting in Africa; they are speaking of its development AFTER it was introduced. As I said above, there is evidence for diversification and indigenous development after its introduction…but that’s not the point A.J. was making.

        But don’t take my word for it. Try using your Google Scholar skills to find more relevant (and recent) studies, such as this one by McIntosh and McIntosh in Journal of World Prehistory (1988):

        “Although a strong case currently exists for the introduction of copper and iron to West Africa from the north in the mid-first millennium B.C., the subsequent development of metallurgy was strongly innovative in different parts of the subcontinent.”

        Or this study from Van der Merwe and Avery (1982) in American Science:

        “It is difficult to support the idea that iron smelting may have been independently invented in sub-Saharan Africa, since there was no tradition of pyrotechnology, other than that of low-temperature ceramic firing, on which such an invention could have been based.”

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Paul,

        If you read upthread, you’ll see A.J. West talks about much earlier claims than Tanzania.

      • Paul says:

        @ Petrie: “Before trying to “relieve me from my ignorance” please first insert your foot squarely in your mouth.”

        I’m sorry, I came late to the party and will have to eat crow.

    • Flinders Petrie says:

      Thanks for owning-up Paul…no hard feelings.

      I did get my hands on a couple of more recent articles about sub-Saharan iron metallurgy, such as this one:

      http://www.mae.u-paris10.fr/prehistoire/IMG/pdf/Early_West_African_Metallurgies.pdf

      It presents some interesting new data for iron kiln dates at Oboui in Central Africa and Lejja in Nigeria, possibly stretching back to the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium BC.

      It also refutes the claim I cited above that there were no pyrotechnical skills before the appearance of iron technology, with possible evidence for copper metallurgy in Nigeria stretching back as early as 2200 BC (although I can’t find the original data making this claim [Grebenart 1985]).

      The author (Holl) is fairly aggressive in attacking the majority opinion that iron technology was introduced to sub-Saharan Africa rather than being invented there. But he stops short of saying that there is conclusive evidence either way.

      It’s an interesting article, and it certainly raises the possibility for independent invention of iron in Africa. But it’s far from being a substantiated claim.

      Anyway, maybe A.J. West is referring to other evidence…

      • Certain mythemes are thought to have been introduced into subsaharan Africa from Eurasia alongside iron technology, in particular beliefs relating to Ogun seem late and Eurasian in nature.

  26. Luke Lea says:

    Henry, FWIW, back in the early 1960′s, when I was in college (Reed college) I got quite interested in social anthropology. A lot of my friends were
    majoring in the subject, U. of Chicago’s department was the val halla (sp?) back then. Anyway, I read Malinowski’s book on the Trobriand Islanders, loved it, then read everything else he wrote, plus lots of other stuff that was popular back then. Based on this limited experience and my friends and the anthro teachers at Reed I used to quip (a la Will Rogers) that I never met an anthropologist I didn’t like.

    Apparently the field has changed a great deal since then.

    In fact, as I recall, the first hint I got of the new winds blowing was a second-hand report (while I was in the Height-Ashbury, where I fancied myself an anthropologist studying hippies) of an academic exchange in Gail Kelly’s intro anthro class. She introduced the term “right thinking?” “Right thinking!” I remember exclaiming. “There is no such thing as right thinking. There’s only good thinking and bad thinking.” That would be in 1967.

    • rob says:

      Reed? Who were the anthro profs? Were Collins/Brightman there? If there had been a single physical anthropologist or anyone who thought biology was real I might’ve been an anthro major…

  27. Greying Wanderer says:

    Another thought on iodine production, breast-feeding, light skin, UV, IQ and the industrial revolution – might the switch to working in factories out of the sun reduce the iodine production itself as well as the ability to breast-feed?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s