The Veeck Effect

Once upon a time, I wrote about the Veeck effect of the first kind.

I suppose that I owe the world an essay on the Veeck effect of the second kind, which corresponds to putting a midget up to bat.  I’ll think on it.


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Brain Wave

The standard view is that all human populations have the same average cognitive capabilities.  The world sure doesn’t look as if that’s the case, and that’s part of the reason that people insist that everyone do public obeisance to the notion: if it was obviously true, or even looked plausible,  you wouldn’t need to.

But if it were true? What if it became true at midnight tonight?  To be more specific, what if the IQ of every natural human population was bumped up enough to make their average IQ 100? In a group with an average IQ of 85, every individual would pick up 15 points.

I think the world would change in many ways.  I don’t think that billions of people would wake up tomorrow and immediately say to themselves “I’ve been stupid.”, as people do after eating their fill of tree-of-life root and turning Pak. Inpaktification gives you a lot more than 15 points, enough to be painfully obvious.  That, and your dick drops off.

I do think that a lot of people would feel that something funny was going on, even on the first day.  The crossword puzzle and the Sudoku would be easier.  A question or two that had bugged you for a long time would suddenly become clear – and that would continue to happen.

Kids from groups with low average IQ today would suddenly start doing better in school.  They wouldn’t know any more tomorrow morning than they do today,  but they would be able to do more with what they did know, and pick up new information more easily.  I think they’d immediately begin to catch up academically with kids from groups that already had average IQs of 100: not that it would happen instantly, but there would be lots of convergence in just a year or two. In the US,  the papers would give credit to whatever  useless educational panacea was currently fashionable – quite possibly if it hadn’t even been implemented yet! But some would begin to wonder,  even some of those who were formerly famously clueless. Malcolm Gladwell would suddenly find “igon values” easy to understand. He might even wonder why they hadn’t been before.

A few years after the change, the Ivy League would be utterly saturated with the currently preferred low-achieving minorities, because for a while, they’d get big advantages in admissions without getting low scores.  They’d be in like Flynn!  Probably this would not go on for too long, though:  true liberals would soon find these people unsatisfying.  Clearly, they would no longer be keeping it real.

It doesn’t mean that governments would instantly fall,  or institutions crumble in a moment (although some might).  If you lived in a kakistocracy, there’s no guarantee that government would instantly straighten out. Remember, the jerks at the top would have gotten smarter too.  Execution would improve, though: simple things would get done more efficiently, and you wouldn’t have the feeling that life was one long visit to the DMV.   Sheer friction would decrease. Planes in Africa would, after a few years, crash at rates closer to what we see in developed countries.

People would still hate each other and there would be still be wars, but they would be fought more cleverly.  Fewer machetes, more Enigma decoding. Deterrence might work better..

Violent crime would decline.  Birth rates would plunge, and more people would worry about low birth rates.

Right now, H1Bs work because there are some parts of the world where there are a fair number of people with high human capital and limited local opportunities. That pool would expand greatly, I think.  You’d be getting lots of H1B engineers from Indian scheduled castes –  from Bolivia, and Gabon.  From Egypt and Indonesia.  Even from PNG! For that matter, all sorts of countries that are not very competitive for factory labor today would become so, although that would also depend on the decisions of the local elites – elites that had become somewhat more prone to consider the long run.

In other words, it would in some ways be like the end of Communism in China, when a billion people stopped whopping themselves on the head with ball-peen hammers and sickles.  They ended artificial stupidity, which is easier than inventing artificial intelligence.

To an extent, smart populations today make money by having something that’s not over common.  As smarts became more common, the premium would go down.  On the other hand, if these newly-average populations produce a proportionate number of inventions and discoveries, technological progress would be faster, benefiting everyone.   Being an average country in a highly competent, rapidly advancing world might not be so bad.

Some countries that have historically been spear carriers, or used as footballs, might actually become players.  Nobody thinks much about Indonesia, but if they had German levels of human potential, maybe we would.  Maybe we’d have to.

Little wars against formerly dipshit countries would sometimes turn very unpleasant.  I’m not saying Iraq unpleasant, more like Winter War unpleasant. Embarrassing.

The US would gain relative to Iceland, since the Icelanders don’t even have minorities with low IQs (other than trolls) , but Mozambique would gain relative to both.

Science and technology would go like blazes, but it would be harder to make a living as a scientist.

The number of people capable of coming up with plausible or attractive bullshit would increase as much as eightfold.  More ideas, almost all of them wrong, would be flying around the net.

We’d live in interesting times.









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Kings of the Stone Age

The Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b is extremely common in Western Europe ( > 70%). At the same time, it doesn’t appear to be very old.

Which facts suggest two possibilities.  The first is that this particular Y-chromosome haplogroup confers some kind of fitness advantage. It’s moderately improbable, since  the Y chromosome doesn’t contain many genes, but it is possible. It’s more likely considering that ways of life have changed a lot in the Holocene, so an old version of the Y might not be very close to optimal, especially in any behavioral effects.

The other possibility is that there was a male lineage that prospered enormously in a way similar to the Golden Family, the direct male descendants of Genghis Khan. We know that reputation has lasted for about 800 years: as late as the 20th century, a huge fraction of the nobles in Mongolia were direct male-line descendants of the Master of Thrones and Crowns.  I could see this happening in the big population turnover about 5000 years ago: a leader of a wildly successful invasion might build an enduring reputation, such that even a long time later,  people would look to his descendants for leadership. I get the impression than in Mongolia,  you’d automatically expect one of these guys to organize your sock hop – nobody else would be worthy.

This could extend even to populations that were not really conquered or replaced  by the incoming troublemakers, like the Basque.  They too might have been susceptible to R1b glamor: people have certainly borrowed dynasties from other countries.

How to find evidence? Well, it would be difficult, but you might be able to show that graves full of expensive goodies were more likely to hold dead guys with R1b than poor graves, over a large area and for a long time.  If there was a fitness advantage,  you might be able to demonstrate some kind of difference in men with R1b, a difference that was plausibly beneficial in the past.  And no, I don’t mean sperm competition.





Posted in European Prehistory, Indo-European | 84 Comments

Publication Delays

Colin Renfrew (and others, like Peter Bellwood) have argued that the first farmers in Europe originated in Anatolia and spoke Indo-European languages, thus placing the Indo-European homeland in Anatolia.

I think that recent genetic results pretty clearly show that this hypothesis is wrong, but I would not call it at all crazy, at least not in its initial phase.  Today it looks as if the first farmers originated in the very heartland of Middle Eastern agriculture, along the Turkish-Syrian border where we find the wild ancestors of most of the first domesticated plants.  I don’t think that they went directly through Anatolia – it seems more likely that they settled  Cyprus and various Aegean islands, on their way to Europe. That makes sense, when you think about it – their next-door neighbors  probably weren’t far behind them, and it was easier to go around them and find areas that were either uninhabited or contained only hunter-gatherers, just as it was a lot easier for the Brits to conquer and settle North American and Australia than France.

Those early farmers probably spoke something distantly related to Basque.  By 4000 BC, they’d occupied all of southern Europe (including Mediterranean islands like Sicily and Sardinia) and the central and western parts of northern Europe, as far as southern Sweden and England.  If you had evaluated Renfrew’s hypothesis back then, you would have said that he was almost entirely correct.  The problem is probably publication delay – the thesis was fine when first submitted.

Starting around 4000 BC,  Old Europe suffered from new population movements that led to a huge population turnover in northern Europe and to lesser but still dramatic genetic and cultural changes in the south. Any turnover that big (at least 50% of the population in northern Europe is descended from people who hadn’t been there  before 4000 BC) is likely to introduce a new language, all the more so since the process seems to have been  ultra violent.

Anyhow, many people in the soft sciences are prone to be wrong because they’re crazy* – like those who know that there can’t have been conquests and migrations and ethnic cleansings in prehistory because the idea bothers them.  But some are basically respectable people who just happen to be wrong.  We’re all wrong some of the time.


* some are dumb, too, but that’s another story.

Posted in European Prehistory, Indo-European | 27 Comments

Ashkenazi Ancestry

I’m looking at abstracts on Ashkenazi genetics from ASHG 2013 and SMBE 2014 – by the same group, with Shai Carmi as the lead author.  They did 128 whole genomes, 50x deep.

They concluded Ashkenazi Jews were about 50% Middle Eastern and 50% European.  In the 2013 abstract, they were pretty specific: they estimated the European ancestry fraction at 55% , plus or minus 2%. ( In our book, we had a crude estimate of about 40% European ancestry.)  They estimated the split between Europeans and Middle Easterners at about 9000 BC: which sounds about the right date for the entry of the Sardinian-like farmers.  From other data (mtDNA) , and from the fact that you see almost zero WHG or ANE in  Ashkenazi autosomal genes, one can conclude that the European admixture was mostly Italian, with some southern French.  Very little German or Slavic – by that time serious endogamy had set in..

By looking at IBD segments, they conclude that there was indeed a bottleneck in Ashkenazi ancestry, ~350 individuals, followed by a rapid expansion. IBD analysis should pin this down quite accurately. They estimate that this was about 800 years ago, but I would bet money that it was a little earlier – more like 1100 years ago. In other words, the founding bottleneck, the time when the ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews moved from Italy into the Rhineland, not a later persecution bottleneck.   I don’t think the population ever dropped that low in the persecutions.  I say this because of what the history looks like to me, and because of certain things that suggest that our models of recombination may be a bit off.  350 isn’t a terribly tight bottleneck, as long as it doesn’t last long – and it’s hard to see how any bottleneck could generate several unusually deleterious recessives that concentrate in a few metabolic paths.  Or make you smart.

Many people looking at Jewish population history have boggled at the idea of a small group expanding to a few million in a thousand years or so, and have come up with various scenarios other than  Italy ->  Rhineland -> Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth model, such as Koestler’s Khazar theory  or Wexler’s idea that the Ashkenazi Jews came from the East. Koestler and Wexler are both wrong, by the way –  the genetic evidence is quite clear.

There was never anything particularly particularly improbable about the Ashkenazi population expansion. Moderate prosperity, which the Ashkenazim had for most of their sojourn in Europe, easily allows a family to average 3 surviving kids.  Given that rate of growth, a population increases by a factor of more than one million in 35 generations. Ask the French Canadians, or the Puritans, or the Boers.

But since anyone who can’t understand this by now never will, I look forward to the first revisionist history of the Amish.  Do you really believe that ~200 Mennonites landing in Pennsylvania in the 1700s could number a quarter of a million by 2010?  Doesn’t there have to be a deeper, more subtle explanation?  Where do you think Martin Bormann ended up, huh?


Posted in Ashkenazi Jews, Genetics | 80 Comments

More Than Human

When archaic hominids lived for a  long time in special environments, they naturally developed genetic adaptations to those environments, and since such adaptive alleles are easily transmitted, requiring only a smidgen of gene flow, it’s not surprising to see some of the beneficial archaic alleles in modern humans living in such environments. So archaic  altitude-adaptation alleles were likely in modern Tibetans, and have apparently been found. They likely exist in Ethiopians, particularly since their altitude adaptations work so well, as do those of Tibetans.

It looks as if there is a specific suite of changes that is favored when living in dense tropical jungles – being some kind of Pygmy. We know that this has happened repeatedly (Pygmies, various Negritos).   Perhaps archaic humans lived in and adapted to that niche – they certainly had plenty of time to do so.   If so, we may expect to find archaic-origin adaptive alleles in those groups. There are already indications of of gene flow into Pygmies (and Bushmen) from an unknown but highly divergent archaic lineage.  Perhaps there were Pygmy versions of Denisovans or advanced erectus in Sundaland, which could then have contributed alleles to modern Negrito groups.

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Diversity Galor

Quamrul Ashraf and Oded Galor argue that “the level of genetic diversity within a society is found to have a hump-shaped effect on development outcomes in both the pre-colonial and the modern era, reflecting the trade-off between the beneficial and the detrimental effects of diversity upon productivity.”  Africans have too much genetic variation, Amerindians too little, while Europe and East Asia are just right.

Of course, most genetic variation is neutral, having no significant effect on phenotypes, so the numbers they use are totally irrelevant to the question they’re addressing. One could imagine that it might be better to have more (or less) genetic variation in cognitive or personality traits, but we don’t know enough about the genetic architecture of those traits to say diddly about who has more or less.

Lots of people – not just Ashraf and Galor – seem to think that having more overall neutral variation implies more trait variation.  That isn’t the case.

A population with more total (mostly neutral) variation can easily have less variation in a particular trait.  For example, hair color and eye color ( both genetically controlled) are more variable in Europeans than in sub-Saharan Africa, even though African populations have more overall genetic variation.

There are particular populations in Africa that have extreme phenotypes – for example, Pygmies are shorter than anybody else – but that is a product of the special selective pressures they have experienced over a long time.  It is not as if the standard deviation of height is lots bigger in major African populations than elsewhere.

If we ‘re talking IQ, African-Americans pretty clearly have less trait variation: their standard deviation of IQ is about 12 points, rather than 15 in Europeans.

The difference in mean IQ is far more important – as it is globally.










Posted in Economics, Genetics | 65 Comments