Kinds of evidence

Some people ( like Amy Harmon, but not her alone) have been saying that we don’t have genetic evidence for average differences in intelligence between different human races. Harmon tries to imply that this means that there are no such genetic factors – but she is mistaken.  It does not.

We know something ( info that explains 10-15% of the variance) about genetic factors  that influence intelligence differences within Europeans.  That knowledge was acquired very recently: we didn’t have it ten years ago. For technical reasons, those polygenic scores do not work very well on  genetically distant populations.  Probably we are, to a large extent, detecting SNPs that are linked to the true causal loci, and the linkage pattern is different in sub-Saharan Africans.

Ten years ago we couldn’t detect any of the many alleles that influence intelligence in Europeans, but that sure didn’t imply that there weren’t any:  now we’ve found  a fair number of them.

A relevant fact: we don’t know which alleles make humans smarter than chimpanzees. That does not imply that there are no such alleles.

Why does Amy Harmon push this false implication?   It might be due to the fact that she doesn’t know very much about genetics ( or math).

She also suggests that you don’t have to be really smart to be a top-flight mathematician, but that’s just ludicrous.  Math is hard.





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Chasing Amy

Amy Harmon keeps making mistakes.  Right now she thinks that the math establishment  must be out to get black mathematicians, since there so few of them.  But with an IQ gap, the fraction of a low-scoring group that scores over a high threshold will be significantly lower than the fraction of an IQ-100 group that does so.  As you raise the threshold, this disparity becomes larger and larger. While the threshold IQ for being a professional mathematician is about as high as it gets for any profession.  Even higher than the threshold IQ for being a reporter.

To be fair, not many people to seem to understand this point. I talked about it some time ago, here.

Reminds me of the school where the math faculty was hiring Argentine Jews to satisfy their Hispanic quota.



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Beating the Spooks

Back in 2002, I was sure that Iraq didn’t have a nuclear program (and  said so) , but the nation’s intelligence agencies ( along with the Administration, Congress, the press and the pundits) thought otherwise.  I was right.

How did this happen?

I knew that there were, effectively, only four ways to develop fissionable materials: gaseous diffusion, calutrons, centrifuges and breeder reactors ( the plutonium path).  All were technically difficult, expensive,  and in many cases had signatures that we would have noticed using our ‘national technical means’, such as spy satellites, aerial reconnaissance, etc.

Gaseous diffusion requires enormous facilities, which were not seen.  It also requires knowledge of obscure materials properties and huge electricity usage, also not seen. Scratch gaseous diffusion.

The Iraqis had  made a gram or so of enriched material back in 1990 with calutrons, surprising because calutrons  are incredibly inefficient ( as Lawrence showed in the Manhattan Project). Couldn’t have been resumed with using vast amount of power, which wasn’t happening – we would have noticed. Also pretty difficult under sanctions – you couldn’t buy the parts anymore from competent countries. Scratch calutrons.

Centrifuges are tough engineering, take a big facility ( for the thousands of centrifuges).  Without imports ( or money), Iraq would have had to use their native talents. But the Kurds were in revolt, the Shi’ites had recently revolted.  Can’t hire them. The country was half illiterate, and had an average IQ in the 80s – and performed accordingly.  In other words, Iraq was not Germany.  This was apparently unknown to the intelligence agencies. Scratch the centrifuges.

Breeder reactors leak odd noble gas isotopes.  Detectable, but not detected. Scratch breeder reactors and plutonium.

Some loon suggested that the Iraqis had perhaps mastered laser isotope separation – when, at the time, nobody else on Earth had managed to do, in spite of vast efforts involving thousands of physicists in the US, France, and the Soviet Union.  This when nobody in Iraq ( or anywhere else in the Moslem world) had invented or discovered anything in seven hundred years.

Parenthetically, North Korea managed  a nuclear program, without a lot of outside help or money.  But A. Koreans are smart, B.  North Korea didn’t have ~80% of the country in rebellion, and C. much of their effort was detected by our ‘national technical means’ – they didn’t manage to keep it invisible. That’s hard.

In order to achieve  what the Bush Administration alleged,  Iraq would have to create an undetectable-by-the-US Manhattan project, with no money, even though they’re not technically skilled,  and with most of the population unusable because disloyal ( and poorly educated morons).

Speaking of: someone once said that doubting the Iraqi capacity to pull off a secret invisible, undetectable nuclear program was racist. Indeed.

Money: oil exports were allowed under the Oil-For-Food program, but those monies could only be spent on approved imports.  Approved by the US.  We would take our time approving pencils.

It was pretty easy to observe  & control their oil exports, with only one port (Basra).

Iraq got a little money from kickbacks and truck smuggling.  I estimated around a billion a year ( from press reports) . Barely enough to pay for air conditioning the palaces.

So where and how did the intelligence agencies go wrong?

First, they had to please the boss: I didn’t. They told Bush II what he wanted to hear. Second, on technical issues, very few people in intelligence actually know anything.  This was demonstrated again later, when the CIA and DIA concluded that we had found ‘mobile biological labs’ in Iraq.  Which were actually vans with portable hydrogen generators – hydrogen for  balloons intended to measure high-altitude winds, for increasing the accuracy of artillery. Pinheads.

I’ve heard that the CIA had one guy that knew enough to do the capacity analysis I’ve outlined, and he was working on something else.

There were guys at DOE that knew everything there is to know about the nuclear production cycle, including centrifuges – but they were ignored. The CIA found its own ‘expert’ – a mechanical engineer that had worked on the stable platform for a centrifuge project at Oak Ridge  – not the centrifuges themselves.  Laid off, he became the CIA’s  centrifuge oracle, even though he knew little about the subject.

On technical issues, what do Administration political appointees, Congress, the press, and the pundits know?  Nothing.  Don’t know much about biology, don’t know much about history. They certainly don’t know jack about the nuclear production cycle.

But maybe the CIA is good at humint?  No: arguably worse than any other intelligence agency in history.

Have things gotten any better?  No.






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An extra sense


Eric Turkheimer


Dumb (but real and research-related) question:

Y1 = aX^2 + bX + c
Y2 = dX^2 + eX + f

What is Y1 in terms of Y2?

r/t if you know a good high school math teacher >

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A World of Their Own

There’s an interesting related  question: for a given country or geographic region, what would happen if the the rest of the world vanished?  How would they do on their own?

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There are countries where many people have cellphones, but where neither cell phones or any of their complex components are produced or designed.

More generally, there are countries that manage to implement some of the infrastructure and institutions of the industrial and scientific revolutions, but show no sign that they could have originated them. They don’t invent anything and don’t contribute to scientific progress. Sometimes a few of their natives emigrate and contribute while living in more advanced countries, but their numbers are small – in some cases close to zero.

Of course there are edge cases – countries that have contributed a few inventions and discoveries, but not very many, and few per-capita.

Considering these cases should tell us something about the necessary conditions  – especially the minimum human capital requirements –  for the industrial and scientific revolutions.  So, after looking at PRS trends in ancient DNA…



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Nulls and Norms

The neutral theory of evolution  assumes that allele frequencies change stochastically: population sizes over time matter, but there’s nothing special about any particular allele. All chance.  It can be used to develop evidence for selection: if you see results that are very different from those predicted by the neutral model, you may have a good case that some allele or alleles have been favored by natural selection.  The null model assumes zero selection.

It sound ridiculous [ and is ridiculous] , but a lot of people took this null model to be the surprise-free model, that pattern of events that happens most of the time,  like sunny days in the Atacama Desert. Not just for a single noncoding allele, but for     adaptation in general !

I remember Svante Paabo making a similar mistake: he thought that probably none of the Neanderthal alleles we picked up were adaptive: the odds were against any particular archaic allele being adaptive, but it was almost certain that some would be , for example ones that protected against regional diseases.

Move a species into a new environment, one that is survivable but noticeably different from where it originated.  What’s the probability of significant adaptive change?  100% !

One of the more amusing aspects of this weird confusion was that believing that nothing in biology made any sense was a mark of sophistication:  adaptationists were rubes. Country boys like Bill Hamilton or George Williams.

Theories in which the surprise-free prediction is something that has never, ever happened are fairly common in the softer sciences.








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