Thick and thin

There is a spectrum of problem-solving, ranging from, at one extreme, simplicity  and clear chains of logical reasoning (sometimes long chains) and, at the other,  building a picture by sifting through a vast mass of evidence of  varying quality.  I will give some examples. Just the other day, when I was conferring, conversing and otherwise hobnobbing with my fellow physicists, I mentioned high-altitude lighting, sprites and elves and blue jets.   I said that you could think of a thundercloud as a vertical dipole,  with an electric field that decreased as the cube of altitude, while the breakdown voltage varied with air pressure, which declines exponentially with altitude. At which point the prof I was talking to said ” and so the curves must cross!”.  That’s how physicists think, and it can be very effective. The amount of information required to solve the problem is not very large. I call this a ‘thin’ problem’.

At the other extreme,  consider Darwin gathering and pondering on a vast amount of natural-history information, eventually coming up with natural selection as the explanation.   Some of the information in the literature  wasn’t correct, and much  key information that would have greatly aided his  quest, such as basic genetics, was still unknown.   That didn’t stop him, anymore than not knowing the cause of continental drift stopped Wegener.

In another example at the messy end of the spectrum, Joe Rochefort, running Hypo in the spring of 1942,  needed to figure out Japanese plans. He had an an ever-growing mass of Japanese radio intercepts, some of which were partially decrypted – say, one word of five, with luck.   He had data from radio direction-finding; his people were beginning to be able to recognize particular Japanese radio operators by their ‘fist’.  He’d studied in Japan, knew the Japanese well.  He had plenty of Navy experience – knew what was possible. I would call this a classic ‘thick’ problem, one in which an analyst needs to deal with an enormous amount of data of varying quality.  Being smart is necessary but not sufficient: you also need to know lots of  stuff.

At this point he was utterly saturated with information about the Japanese Navy.  He’d been  living and breathing JN-25 for months. The Japanese were aimed somewhere,  that somewhere designated by an untranslated codegroup – ‘AF’.  Rochefort thought it meant Midway, based on many clues, plausibility, etc.  OP-20-G, back in Washington,  thought otherwise. They thought the main attack might be against Alaska, or Port Moresby, or even the West Coast.

Nimitz believed Rochefort – who was correct.  Because of that, we managed to prevail at Midway, losing one carrier and one destroyer while the the Japanese lost four carriers and a heavy cruiser*.  As so often happens, OP-20-G won the bureaucratic war:  Rochefort embarrassed them by proving them wrong, and they kicked him out of Hawaii, assigning him to a floating drydock.

The usual explanation of Joe Rochefort’s fall argues that John Redman’s ( head of OP-20-G, the Navy’s main signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group) geographical proximity to Navy headquarters  was a key factor in winning the bureaucratic struggle, along with his brother’s influence (Rear Admiral Joseph Redman).  That and being a shameless liar.

Personally, I wonder if part of the problem is the great difficulty of explaining the analysis of a thick problem to someone without a similar depth of knowledge.  At best, they believe you because you’ve  been right in the past.  Or, sometimes, once you have developed the answer, there is a ‘thin’ way of confirming your answer – as when Rochefort took Jasper Holmes’s suggestion and had Midway broadcast an uncoded complaint about the failure of their distillation system – soon followed by a Japanese report that ‘AF’ was short of water.

Most problems in the social sciences are ‘thick’, and unfortunately, almost all of the researchers are as well. There are a lot more Redmans than Rocheforts.




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54 Responses to Thick and thin

  1. bgc says:

    “consider Darwin gathering and pondering on a vast amount of natural-history information, eventually coming up with natural selection as the explanation.”

    My sense is that it didn’t really happen like that. Darwin had seen adaptation for himself – in selective breeding. He then asserted that this process (but with the selection done by ‘nature) could explain the diversity of *forms* (species).

    But he had never seen this happen, nor has anyone since. Natural selection therefore explains the origin of species, but only if one already has in place the assumption that natural selection CAN explain the origin of species.

    (As well as selective breeding, the other clear cut and common sense instance of natural selection in action in terms of adaptation is demographic change. Interestingly, this – and other types of adaptation in humans – is denied by Leftists.)

    I think for Darwin it was more a matter of discarding the ancient (and, I think, necessarily correct) metaphysical assumption that forms are prior to creation of novel forms and qualitative change of forms. Of putting that metaphysical assumption aside and instead working *within* a new simplifying metaphysical assumption.

  2. Julian O'Dea says:

    As a biologist, it has always seemed to me that physics problems have cleaner, often fewer, data, but complex solutions. Biology problems have more and messier data, but simpler solutions conceptually. Physics is analysis: biology synthesis.

    Also, physics seems strange to a biologist because physicists seem to check results against theory, whereas biologists reach for a theory more slowly.

    I used to work professionally as a regulatory toxicologist, in which there was an immensity of data, which might hide something significant. Intuiting where to look and spotting anomalies was of the essence. Typical biology really – an excess of data.

    I agree that social scientists seem to be poor theorists. It is partly their preference for diversity of observation rather than unity of theory. Good sociologists, like Erving Goffman or Peter Berger, show how well it can be done. But most sociologists seem dim to me. Good subject, lousy practitioners.

  3. JayMan says:

    Reminds me of this observation by Jason Malloy a few years back:

    The generally listed “peak” age for scientific creativity and productivity is around the surprisingly young age range of 30-40, but the same exact age doesn’t apply to all scientific disciplines. The peak in fields that demand greater doses of pure reasoning, such as mathematics, theoretical physics, and molecular biology, appears to be somewhere in the twenties. So, for instance, James Watson discovered the double helix at 25 and then dropped off the radar as anything but a nerd celebrity. In contrast are fields such as evolutionary biology, where years of collecting and assimilating large amounts of data can be required for original analysis. So, for example, Charles Darwin was 50 years old when he published his landmark The Origin of Species, not to mention 62 for The Descent of Man and 63 for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. What’s true for evo-bio may also be true for the often belittled field of psychometrics, or the measurement and analysis of human intelligence, and for much the same reasons. So, to take some more obvious examples, we find that John B. Carroll published his seminal work, Human Cognitive Abilities, at the age of 77, while Arthur Jensen was similarly 75 when he published The g Factor in 1998 (This spring, in fact, Jensen releases his treatise on mental chronometry, Clocking the Mind, at 83).

    Julian, I agree. The problems in the life sciences tend to be conceptually much simpler than those in physics, it’s just that it often takes massive amounts of data to get the answers to those problems in the life sciences. To solve such problems, I often just inhale as much information as I can, and then just sleep on it. Sometimes, the answer then comes to me. 😉

    • Matt says:

      I wonder how many “thin” problems are problems where purely “thin” reasoning of a higher caliber was needed vs problems where there was a good deal of “thick” preparation but the final steps required a powerful “thin” reasoning – where there are possibly older professors (or whatever) who’ve sifted and sorted and cross checked through a large dataset, but can’t for the devil of it conceive the final reasoning steps, until they present it to a younger colleague or student, who….

  4. Julian O'Dea says:

    JayMan, yes, and biologists seem to like collecting facts, on the principle that they might come in handy. EO Wilson and Darwin both seem or seemed to actually enjoy the minutiae of taxonomy. Wilson says he reads compendia of data on species for fun. I can imagine eventually reading all of The Evolution of Insects by Grimaldi and Engel for fun.

    Rutherford reportedly said that there is nothing but physics and stamp collecting, which might have been fairer in his day. But chemistry, geology and biology have all developed good bodies of theory since then. I will say, though, that biology, especially in areas like animal behaviour and evolutionary biology, has developed a lot more theory since I studied at undergraduate level in the 1970s. But this has depended on the collation of a new mass of data. A book like Burt and Trivers “Genes in Conflict” would have been unthinkable in its sophistication a few decades ago.

  5. SwampOwl says:

    But aren’t “thick” problems made of single step, “thinner” ones? Do you think that Rochefort, and specially Darwin had a single big Eureka moment from looking at a mountain of data, or that they solved a chain of simpler problems and only then the big picture emerged? If you are right wouldnt Biologists, Physicians and the like be able to breeze through many problems in physics? (provided a minimum knoledge of the field if course). This doesn’t seem to be the case in my experience. Probably Julian can correct me on this as a biologist.

  6. Julian O'Dea says:

    I think, from my own modest experience, and from what I know of cases like JD Watson, that biologists do have eureka moments. Suddenly the whole complex scene snaps into focus. For example, I was reading up on mammals that had retia mirabilia in their limbs, and I suddenly realised that they were all divers, burrowers or clingers. I remember telling my wife. A good idea in biology explains a lot of otherwise messy detail.

    As for biologists solving physics problems, I think we are limited by not having the exquisitely high IQs that physicists have. The problems in physics are just too hard computationally. What a good biologist CAN do is apply sound logic to a great mass of data to find the often simple pattern hidden somewhere. I have to say though that they often don’t think with ruthless logic. Otherwise good biologists do silly things, like assuming that a population has some collective interest in staying genetically unadulterated. I think the logic of Darwinism is not necessarily followed, even by people who would claim to be doing so.

  7. mathlogic says:

    It is just pure fun to figure out equation to describe physical world. But such thin thinking depends on full comprehension existing theory intuitively.
    Thick thinking demands a lot of memorization and pattern recognition (connecting dots).

  8. That Guy says:


    Interesting post as usual.

    I would love to see you comment on the “Global Warming” debate, or AGW if you like. I consider it a “thick” problem, but based on my own knowledge, consider the hypothesis false.

    What’s your take?

  9. Part of the issue in the social sciences is it is difficult to divest ourselves of our own innate biases, to view the matter impartially. We tend to be a K-selected species, so as a population we inevitably tend to view things like promiscuity among the very young with a negative bias. Yet r-selected organisms, like rabbits carry no such bias, since the r-strategy favors early sexual actiivty beginning as young as possible. When we see this in rabbits, we think it’s normal. When we see it in Hippies, we don’t, even though the Hippie, is in many ways just a human r-strategist, avoiding of competition, embracing of promiscuity, open to single parenting, and prone to early mating.

    As you branch out into areas like rearing strategies or politics, this becomes more apparent, as Liberal researchers particularly, bend over backwards to tell us we shouldn’t judge any particular strategy as bad (such as the r-type mating strategy traits of Belsky, Steinburg, and Draper’s work), at the same time other researchers are embarking on a mission of pathologizing Conservatism’s sexual “hang ups,” which are actually more in line with our K-selected species’ norms.

    I don’t think the problem in the Social Sciences is one of Thick or Thin, but rather one of shedding bias, and viewing the world as a simple mechanism, with direct parallels to mechanisms we see elsewhere. Whether hubris making us want to believe we are different, or ideology making us view one mechanism as better than another (when both just are), we are so close to the issue that we are actually inside it, so we have difficulty viewing it impartially.

    On thick or thin, many issues can be thick or thin. Just as physics may have a complicated way to prove something with a roundabout math proof, or an elegant and simple way, so too can many other things in biological Social Science. It’s just that in biological Social Science, the final Social Science product is so far from its foundation that simple proofs rely on analogy to other complex systems. Since the complexity makes it diffuclt to judge whether or not they are identical, this can foster doubt of veracity. Meanwhile, proof from the foundational components, though less prone to doubt, ends up dizzyingly complex, and will lose most who aren’t familiar with the core concepts.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      “the Hippie, is in many ways just a human r-strategist”


      I’m currently reading up on the cultural roots of the hippie movement in America, and the most persuasive theory I’ve seen so far argues for late 19th Century German origins: sun worship, hiking, health foods, etc.

      Any thoughts on how that could fit in with your r/K perspective?

      • I’ve got a paper which touches on the Hippies, and lays out the underlying premise of this work at

        I also have a chapter from a book which deals exclusively with Hippies at

        Under the r/K paradigm, Hippies have always been with us, since our early evolution. Each new incarnation, from sun worshippers, to hikers, to health-food types were simply finding ways to satisfy deeper r-type urges which were imbued within them during eons of Darwinian selection. You cannot understand any transient incarnation of the psychology, without seeing the adaptive purpose of the deeper urges they are satisfying. And you cannot understand that (or understand anything else in politics) without understanding r/K Selection Theory.

        r/K Theory says that an environment will either have limitless resources per individual, which will favor reproducing very fast, to out-reproduce peers (r-selection), or the environment will have limited resources, and only those who produce the fittest offspring survive (K-selection), since only those fitter offspring win the competition for resources.

        If resources are limitless (r-selection), individuals will avoid conflict and competition. Since resources are limitless, it is better to avoid conflict and seek resources elsewhere, rather than risk getting injured or killed. Since those who win, by Darwin’s metric, are those who produce the most offspring, this will also result in cursory inspections of mate fitness, and frequent promiscuity, to maximize reproductive rates. Rearing will be low-investment single parent rearing, again to maximize offspring output. And sexual activity beginning as early as possible is favored, to maximize numbers of total offspring. Producing fit offspring is not a priority, as any idiot who can eat and produce a lot of kids is just fine by Darwin’s metric, since he will have plenty of resources. This is actually the Idiocracy effect, in real life, and it is particularly apparent when you see it in a petri dish (google BCG culture).

        If resources are limited, then only the fit can get them, and those individuals who see their gene lines persist are those who focus all of their effort on both, competing themselves and producing fitness for competition in their offspring. This favors aggression/competitiveness, so these individuals will go out and defeat others in the competition for resources. Here, pacifists die. It also favors careful selection of the fittest mate possible, as well as competitive monopolization of the mate’s fitness, to prevent others from benefiting from it, ie, monogamy. It also favors high investment, two parent rearing, both to protect the child from the competitive environment, and to maximize his competitiveness through careful training and preparation. Finally, it will favor abstinence until monogamy. The K-selected competition for mates can be violent, and those who try to get a mating opportunity before they are fully mature can end up dead, so evolution favors waiting until maturity. Finally, K-selection often ends up with a group of competitors competing together. Once this happens, it becomes the dominant form of competition, due to it’s superiority, and at that point, K-selection will also favor loyalty to in-group.

        When we first overpopulated our initial home territory, it became fiercely K-selective, due to the limited resources and high population numbers. Those who survived were the individuals who tended towards the four initial K-type traits, and the fifth later evolving one of loyalty. Competitiveness/aggression, monogamy, two-parent rearing, and abstinence until monogamy are all the main foundational traits of K-selection, and they are the basis of every Conservative political urge. Indeed, the Conservative psychology is merely an intellectual manifestation of a Darwinian psychology that is designed to compete for limited resources in a K-selective environment. The fifth trait, namely loyalty to in-group, emerges once K-selection produces group competition, at which point you either exhibit loyalty to group or you (and your entire group) is culled.

        As battles for limited resources began to emerge in this home territory, a small group adopted a different Darwinian strategy. They fled the home territory to avoid the violence. They may have simply wanted to go where resources were freely available. Or maybe they wanted to see a new, novel environment. Or maybe they were bored by familiarity. However they may have ended up fleeing, they landed in a new, untapped environment of free resource availability. Free resource availability means no competition for resources, and no advantage to exhibiting fitness. That is r-selection, and it favors four main traits. Aversion to competition (to avoid enduring risks of injury for no gain), promiscuity, single parent rearing, and earlier age at first intercourse. Since r-selection never turns into group competition, r-strategists tend to not exhibit loyalty – they have no reason to evolve it. Additionally, lack of loyalty will facilitate fleeing.

        As time went on, this group evolved to be driven to pursue a strategy of fleeing the gradually increasing competition behind them for the free resource availability in the new territories ahead of them. They are probably the reason our species covered the globe. Each time they fled, these pre-Liberal flee-ers were further r-selected, which enhanced all of these r-type traits, and enhanced their desire to avoid competition and conflict. Today, Liberals show high degrees of preference for novelty seeking and preference for novel environments, they exhibit diminished loyalty to in-group (courtesy of Jost), and the gene associated with formation of a Liberal ideology (DRD4 7r) is found in large numbers in migratory populations (Chen 1999, I believe, see my paper).

        As each new territory became overpopulated, the K-types emerged, and made the populations great through their embrace of competitive selection of the fit. Today, obviously, we are overwhelmingly K-selected for this reason, though Liberals are trying to change this through governmental action.

        Today, Conservatives embody every K-type trait. It is why they want competitive economic models where the fit thrive and the less fit don’t, it’s why they support war when threatened, it’s why they want to carry guns and shoot it out with muggers. It’s why Dan Quale felt the need to dump on Murphy Brown for single mom’ing it, and it’s why they push for abstinence until monogamy, and view the traditional family unit as so important.

        Conversely Liberals support every aspect of the r-strategy, from seeking a government which will take money from the rich, to provide everyone with free resources they don’t need to compete for (and in the process, create an r-selected environment devoid of competition for resources, by force), to avoiding war with out-groups at all cost, to supporting promiscuity and single parenting, to rolling into a classroom filled with five year old’s in Britain, breaking out condoms and bananas, and showing the little kids what goes where, and how to do it, “right.”

        Hippies just emerged to the degree they did because of the extent of r-selection (or more accurately, anti K-selection) which went on between 1942 and 1946. The urge was always there. What changed was how many of them were produced, as a percentage, within the population, and how they fed off each other to create such a bizarre zeitgeist.

        You know, numnuts, I have emailed you about my work a number of times, but got no response, so I assumed you gave it a once over, and felt it was too easy, so it must be wrong. Rather than haunt you and use your territory to pimp my work, I moved on to try and promote this in other areas. Now I’m guessing you never saw it. Read your emails already. You never know what gems might be in there.

        Seriously, I need help getting this out there. Now that I have your ear, please take a look, and see if maybe you see something and might have some advice or counsel. Notice, I showed up here at a blog post by Charles Murray, and easily explained everything he wrote about in the context of r/K Selection Theory.

        Every Conservative and independent I talk with about this, is blown away once they look it over closely, and every Liberal goes catatonic. Liberals can’t argue about the fundamental premise of Left being r in every aspect, and right being K on every aspect. r/K explains everything, and yet it was all created decades ago by non-partisan biologists looking at simple organisms, who were wholly blind to the fact they were describing our political divide to the letter.

        I feel like I’m sitting on a powderkeg which could change everything about how we view politics, if only I could find the right people to take a look at it, and say it had merit. I’m great at biological mechanisms. Maneuvering this to the forefront of the political debate, not so much, though.

        PS – if you want a free pdf copy of the book, email me and post here, to let me know you emailed me (I’m not entirely sure all of my e-mails are getting where I send them, or that I’m getting everything sent to me.) Just please don’t forward the pdf around freely.

      • Laurent says:

        Your perspective is interesting, Anonymous Conservative. But how does this fit with conservatives having more offspring than liberals, and conservative ideology in other ways appearing to be correlated with various key (if not outright defining) r traits?

      • The biological drive of an r-selected organism is to maxmize mating investments, and minimize rearing investments. In the natural environment, this will increase offspring production. Humans, howeer have birthcontrol, abortion, and other ways to satisfy the desire to minimize offspring rearing investments. Essentially, we are now a species in which offspring rearign is entirely voluntary, and wholly detached from sexual activity.

        To me, it’s not surprisng that a psychology which is designed to minimize rearing while maximize mating would show up in Congress saying that birth control is as essential as food, and should be provided free of charge.

        Nor is it surprising that 50 million abortions (the ultimate form of low-investment rearing), most of which would be Liberals – combined with how many times that in avoided preganacies through birth control, would cut into Liberal reproductive rates.

        Take away birth control and abortion, and put us back in a state of nature, and Libs would be promiscuous single parenters, and it would show in the numebrs, as with any r-selected population.

      • JayMan says:

        @Anonymous Conservative:

        Your ideas are very interesting, and are in line with what I’ve talked about. Except that you have it exactly backwards. Modern conservatives are the result of the evolutionary forces that occur during population expansions. I wouldn’t call them r-strategists per se, but “fast breeders.” Population expansions in modern times, such as in North America (and places such as Russian Siberia), weren’t free-for-alls in the slightest. Land and cheap living were abundant, but pioneer life was rough and demanded considerable paternal investment. While the age of the onset of reproduction for conservatives tends to be lower, monogamous marriage and “strong family values” are favored (to encourage marriage and early breeding). And indeed, this is what the evidence seems to show. People in areas on the edge of population expansions tend to be more conservative than those who have inhabited their lands for many generations.

        See here: Lberalism, HBD, Population, and Solutions for the Future | JayMan’s Blog.

      • Laurent says:

        @Jay: I had similar thoughts.

        It’s a fairly useful model. I also think that where it breaks down is the connection between K and warrior-tribalism. It’s not at all clear to me that warrior ethic is *less* expressed in the frontier situations where humans move into a new area, and where high offspring rates are advantageous. I’d definitely think the opposite, though I can’t think of a way to measure this.

        To the contrary, it also seems that K emerges in environments with low degrees of clannish tribalism / risk.

        Also, in line with what I described before, US Conservative men have higher, self-reported promiscuity, besides their offspring rates. They might not be representative, of course.

        That said, I still think your ideas are interesting.

        @AC, I’d be interested in your opinion on HBDchicks theories on group selection:

      • jayman417 says:

        US Conservative men have higher, self-reported promiscuity, besides their offspring rates.

        Not surprising. On the whole, sex drive will increase among frontier peoples, along with many other personality traits designed to boost fecundity. The complex ethos that apparently evolved in conservatives alongside these traits probably did so to balance these more sexually aggressive characteristics out. Indeed, religiosity appears to be negatively correlated with sex drive. I would posit that complex moral rules about sex and sexuality appear in a culture where ever reproductive rates are high but paternal investment is also high. We see that with Muslims and with Irish Travellers, to name a few. The cultural mores around sex is necessary to contain the high-fertility drives of people in these groups.

        By contrast, in groups where male paternal investment is low, sexual attitudes tend to be a bit more lax. As well, where breeding rates are low, sexual attitudes again liberate, as the need to curb sexual behavior is lower. It is this force that produces the liberal-mindset that AC describes.

      • jayman417 says:

        I will add that the liberated sexual attitudes among the slow-breeding liberals of NW European extraction are also a function of the highly outbred nature of this group. In highly inbred, clannish societies, sex is tightly regulated in part because there are strict rules on who can mate with whom. In an outbred society, on the other hand, where anyone of the opposite sex who is encountered can be a potential mate (and such was encouraged for a long time), a degree of loosening of sexual taboos is favored.

      • @ Jayman

        I disagree, vehemently, but see where the confusion lies. In looking at areas where Humans were inching in competitively against other tribes of humans (who out-numbered them), sometimes using combat, you are looking at an area where things were all K-selected. Liberals wouldn’t last one minute on the frontier, because as docile r-strategists, it would be like putting a bunny rabbit up against a wolf. So that population expansion was not into an r-selective environment of freely available resources, but rather it was a competitive penetration into an area where another violent, territorial specimen was trying to drive us out. Of course K would be favored there. Dennis Kucinich on the frontier, wielding a six shooter against a bunch of hostile indians? When K’s are rampaging, r’s are not going to be able to compete against them.

        I have no doubt that in a harsh environment which offers some means by which to favor fitness, only K’s will gradually edge their way into it, due to their superior fitness and aggression. It is likely that frontiersmen were in a K-selected battle for disputed resources with indigenous peoples, and this favored K. Probably Indians were more K than Liberals of the time, so it would have taken K’s to grab the land by force. I can’t say every single instance in our history comports perfectly with every aspect of my work. The world gets really complicated. But on the whole, my work is solid. I suspect what you may mean is that in a world where people are everywhere, only K-types and Conservatives have the fitness and aggression to penetrate an inhabited environment, and take it over from another group. I won’t argue with that.

        But I am not sure that the idea that K’s are an expanding strategy is wholly accurate, and that analysis has the same problem you see frequently in evo-psych, which is they never look at r or K. Here, this analysis just looks at expansion or contraction. Expansion into a utopia of free food and no mortality? Expansion into free food and overwhelming, random mortality? Expansion into free food and fitness-favoring mortality? Without looking at the evolutionary stresses, and how they would effect us pre-1960’s birth control, you will jumble r and K environments together, and confuse everything.

        I should note, r’s migrate towards resource availability, which has become the more productive areas in cities, now that the carrying capacity of a human environment is no longer determined by our environment, but rather by our productivity. I suspect this is why r’s head for cities – less competitive selections for fitness, greater perceived wealth and opportunity, and more novelty compared to a small town. Today, cities are the anticompetitive utopias of resource-acquiring opportunity which uninhabited lands used to be, when our home territory was overpopulated and violent.

        In general, earlier mating and promiscuity go hand in hand among r-type organisms, just as later pairing and monogamy go hand in hand among K’s. So technically, from an r or K perspective, those who mate later should tend towards monogamy, while those who mate earlier should tend towards promiscuity. In politics, those who support promiscuity also support early sex education for all children (without any judgementalism fo pre-teen sex), while those who support monogamy favor teaching abstinence until monogamy to children, and they will tend to view pre-teen sex as wrong somehow.

        One more thing on Conservatives being the psychology designed to favor population expansion. I think you only have to look at any nation which exhibits copious resource availability, from the Roman Empire, to the Swedish Empire, to the US today, to see the difference between an expansion into r and an expansion into K. All of those nations had/have excess resources available for expansion (resources which reduced the need to compete for resources to survive and reproduce, ie. welfare), and the effect on society is a gradual increase in Liberalism concurrent with the societal expansion, as well as increases in social spending, and reductions in competitiveness, aggression, military virtue, and loyalty to the nation. All these societies then gradually head towards a collapse, as their r-type Liberalism increases, and the government expands to impossible proportions. See Taintor’s “Collapse of Complex Societies.”

        To my eye, it is exactly the same as when r-selection gradually reduces a population’s aggressiveness, and competitiveness, and makes it more pacifistic and less aggressive, seen in nature from rabbits to antelope – all of which, as r-type species, I think are good psychological analogies for Liberals. As this “r-ification” occurs, the r-types multiply up and eventually collapse the ecosystem. This is just as the rapidly increasing number of non-contributing welfarites in America are going to collapse our nation’s fiscal ecosystem back into K-selection, and survival of the fittest (inevitable since resources can’t be limitless forever, the way the Liberal tries to make it). Of course, as the collapse occurs, the r-types are driven out to freer resources (or killed), by the K-selective environment of governmental collapse, and population’s turn competitive and K-type again. So K-types are good in population contractions too, provided the contraction is one which culls the less fit and able, and rewards aggression, competitiveness, loyalty to in-group, etc.

        After all, it’s not Conservatives in that 50% who pay no taxes today, and are having ten kids per pop, all single-parented, without a dad in sight. Those are Obama fans. And they are the future of r and the Democratic Party, now that intelligent Liberals have figured out how to eliminate offspring rearing investments all together with abortion and birth control. Idiocracy and President Camacho, here we come.

        In the end, if we agree that the four traits I listed are associated with r and K in other species (and they undoubtedly are), then I am right about the r/K aspects of our argument. If, competitiveness/aggression, monogamy, two-parent rearing, and later age at first intercourse are all known as K traits, (they are) then only one political party is based wholly upon all of those traits. If loyalty to in-group arises in K, then Conservatives are the only party I see who would favor killing our enemies, and taking their stuff, to benefit Americans. All of that is Conservative, and K. Unless r and K are different in humans than every other species, Conservatives are seeking a K-society. Even Liberals deride the Conservative survival of the fittest mentality with the epithet Social Darwinism. (Which is really Social K-selection, to which Liberals propose Social r-selection, courtesy of the state, where everyone has free resource availability.)

        And if docility, promiscuity, single parenting, and earlier age of sexualization are all r (they are), there is only one political party favoring all of that. Every issue. And they even show diminished loyalty to in-group, as demonstrated by John Jost, himself a Liberal, and as predicted by r/K Theory.

        Finally, notice that when you look at the genetics of politics, the gene associated with the formation of a Liberal ideology (DRD4 7r) is found in high numbers in migratory populations. Long form DRD4 polymorphisms are also associated with promiscuity/infidelity, low-investment parenting, and novelty seeking, as exhibited by Liberals (jost), and those would all motivate a migration and rapid expansion (provided there was no competitive culling of the less fit).

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Okay, but to come back to the American hippie phenomenon of the 1960s, it didn’t emerge among r-selected populations such as Mississippi blacks, it emerged among white Californians, typically of German, English, or Ashkenazi backgrounds.

      • @Laurent

        “Also, in line with what I described before, US Conservative men have higher, self-reported promiscuity, besides their offspring rates. They might not be representative, of course. “

        I would be interested in a cite on that, to see the sampling (sometimes those are just surveys of 30 students at a college in Berkeley, so I’ve learned to be cautious). GSS data, and Gallup data both are clear that nationally Conservatives (GSS), and Republicans (including leaners via Gallup) both have less tolerance for promiscuity and infidelity than Liberals and (Democrats+leaners) respectively. GSS data was actually pretty shocking in the degree, if I remember clearly. I think two thirds of Liberals said it was fine to cheat on your wife.

        Also, the Conservative movement clearly is not the movement promoting promiscuity or free sex, only Libs are seeking to have birth control be a human right’s issue. I find it hard to believe Conservatives are having the promiscuous sex, and yet are so opposed to it publicly, while Libs support it, yet don’t partake. Even DRD4 long form polymorphs tend to be promiscuous novelty seekers, and a similar 7r long form polymorph is the only gene associated with the formation of a Liberal ideology, which is itself associated with novelty seeking.

        And all of this ignores the association between the selectively bred Hippies, who showed high levels of an actual “Anti-monogamous” sex drive combined with Liberalism (and the novelty seeking common to Liberals). This was as compared to their successors, the kids from the WWII vets, who actually turned the cultural clock back, sexually – something I would never have predicted could happen. This wasn’t religiosity or culture, it would appear to be breeding and rearing.

        Again, if you are looking at where Liberalism came from, and view it through r/K, only one ideology has every r-trait inherent to it. If r is about exploiting free resources, and limited competitiveness, then Liberals were designed for the r-environment, as they are driven to every r-trait. It may not work out that way today, with birth control allowing an artificial diminution in rearing investment, and the absence of a truly non-competitive environment now that our migration has been over for so long, but I believe that is clearly where they must have come from evolutionarily.

        Unless our two ideologies just happen to support every r and K trait by chance, which seems unlikely.

        One question. Suppose resources here were limited, and the choice was band together, and kill others, to take their resources by force, or die. Would Conservatives survive any better than Liberals in that environment? Do Conservatives show any traits which might lend them advantage in that scenario? Are more Conservatives in the military, where they have actively sought out just that life? (see the Military Times Poll)

        And I’m not talking the Conservative pretenders in office, who run for the microphones. I’m talking grassroots, American Conservatives vs Liberals. Who would form violent groups successfully, have the psychology to take from others by force in free competition (even killing their competition), to get the resources to survive, and who would die, if resources were limited? No state interference, just primitive, banding together and killing.

        Now, suppose everybody had free resources they didn’t need to do anything to acquire, but there was no birth control or abortion. Would a promiscuous Hippie, who denigrated monogamy, and mated with everyone five times a day, have any advantage over a less promiscuous, K-strategist, who took one girl, and had a few kids?

        Like I always say, this doesn’t work on every individual. But zoom out, and look at the two groups, where everyone coalesces.

        Conservatism is a psychology designed to embrace competitive tests of fitness, and meting resources out to the most fit, according to fitness. That is K-selected, and K-selected is not a psychology of rapid expansion. And it has every K-trait inherent to the ideology.

        Liberalism is a psychology which produces less capable fitness (by the violent, ruthless, group competitive measure of our past), and it is a psychology which will maximize reproductive rates in a state of nature only when competition for resources doesn’t exist. That is pure r.

        If r and K exist in humans, politics is where they manifest. It’s why people say Conservatives think like Lions, and Liberals think like lambs. Lions are K, and Sheep are r. And it shows in their natures.

        I’ll check HBDchick’s theory of group selection later, but mine is simple. if limited resources will only let some survive, and individuals are self assorting into groups, selection will favor guys who successfully self assort into functional groups. It will favor individuals who successfully vet peers for all the prosocial aspects which favor group functionality, and who exhibit all those traits themselves, so as to get into the group.

        I think people fail to grasp the effects of K on group competition (not selection) in humans (namely that non-functional groups get wiped out), and they fail to grasp most young males self assort into groups unrelated to where they grew up, be it a Marine platoon, a business they join, or a primitve squad of close knit friends joining together in primitve gang warfare ages ago. So I don’t think group selection favors groups, as much as it favors a bunch of individuals who succesfully navigated their way into a successful group. I think it’s an individual selection pressure, which favors a sort of self-assembling trait that spontaneously forms groups successfully.

      • Laurent says:

        @AC: Rather than type a long and repetitive explanation of your thesis, you might spend your interlude more profitably by simply googling for data.

        Be careful with basing your thesis on what people “preach”.

        Regardless, I fear that I shall incur more of what greg calls long-winded nonsense, and I don’t find it fitting for the tone of the blog, so I graciously bow out, and hope you will google for more data on your own. Hold your theory up to the crucible of falsifiability, you’ll get more interest – good luck.

      • @ GeoCochran

        It seems bad form to invite people to your scientific forum, and then when they start debating, tell one to stop, especially when others are still asking questions, and I have conflicting research. May I ask what it is you object to?

        My argument is that r/K revolves around five traits, (aggressiveness/docility, monogamy/promiscuity, two-parent rearing/single parent rearing, abstinence until monogamy/early sexualization of youth, and high loyalty to in-group/ low loyalty to in-group). Ideology revolves around the exact same traits, in the exact same way. If you see that as wrong somehow, please show me where. I respect your scientific cantankerousness, and would be interested to see your unvarnished opinion on that specific thesis.

        I can’t see any logical reason Conservatives push for abstinence until monogamy in teens, when there is birth control and treatment for most STDs. It is an emotional urge, which comes from somewhere. (Note, I am instinctually Libertarian, so I am not pushing a social program I am driven towards by emotion, under a false scientific umbrella. Instinctually, I could have cared less about abstinence and promiscuity when I started this. I now support social Conservatism, but only intellectually, because I feel it will keep the nanny state at bay. I still find myself emotionally driven towards Libertarianism, though I now view that as dangerous to a country’s greatness. Note, my name is solely to avoid people claiming I am hiding bias, as I genuinely do oppose big government Liberalism.)

        I can’t see how promiscuity relates to gun control. Or a free, unregulated economy, or war, or welfare. Unless r/K is linking them all. Likewise, everything else in ideology. These are disparate emotional urges linked by something, creating two camps.

        I’ll finish with my reply to Sailer, and then anyone who want’s to talk further will have to E-mail me.

        @Steve Sailer –

        First, I have you beat. Cochran is actually kicking me off, because he doesn’t like my posts. So eat that.

        Black Hippies – I don’t know the deployment rates for Blacks in WWII, but I do know all I seem to have seen in the old tapes were whites for some reason. I’d be interested in the relative numbers recruited first. There was a lot of discrimination, so I am not sure how recruited Black Americans were, or how deployed they were, or how removed from the US gene pool they were. If recruitment didn’t draw a lot of Blacks, or if many who were recruited stayed stateside due to discrimination, that might have an effect.

        A lot of your white Hippies were born of migrant parentage. Migrants have high numbers of DRD4 7r allleles which are associated with formation of political Liberalism. Blacks were not self-selected migrant psychologies (they were obviously brought here against their will), so they may have had fewer DRD4 7r’s to start. I’d like to know DRD4 7r percentages among your German, English, or Ashkenazi races, compared to Black Americans of the time.

        Sorry I can’t be of more help, though I do think American Blacks are less political. They may support Obama, but it is more of an in-group loyalty thing, which is more K, rather than a ideological Liberal desire to see everyone tied down to an equal level. They did, after all, reject John Kerry, who was quite Liberal. I don’t know if it’s significant, but if they have less aggressive, ideological Liberalism to start with, it will be more difficult to select for it to get a Hippie population.

        If you ever read the paper, and could drop me a line with your thoughts on it I’d appreciate it. I’d be curious about your opinions/ criticisms.

      • JayMan says:


        Indeed, religiosity appears to be negatively correlated with sex drive.

        I meant to say that religiosity appears to be positively correlated with sex drive.

      • Matt says:

        I’m a little hesistant to post this given that Greg has stepped quite heavily on this tangent, but…

        Isn’t mating vs parenting somewhat orthogonal to r vs K?

        Mating effort, I think, has more to do with trying to “spread bet” along partners (spreading risk through a diverse portfolio).

        Mating effort is in competition with parenting effort (i.e. the more you spending on mating, the less free you have for parenting), yes, but an organism which mates once then squeezes out hundreds of offspring, with little investment in each, with that mate is obviously r selected vs an organism that mates a few times but with different mates and invests quite a bit in each offspring which is the K selected partner.

        The ultimate (platonic) r strategist would spend neither on mating nor parenting, but simply more on churning out more and more offspring, that is reproduction.

        Those subcultures of humans who are most focused on reproduction and least on both mating and parenting are probably the purest r strategists subcultures amongst humans.

      • @gcochran

        I’ll assume since you’re still posting here to me, you want to banter.

        “”that 50% who pay no taxes today” A lie, of course. There must be some use for liars. fertilizer?”

        Here even a Liberal site agrees.

        Why is it Libs always accuse people of being liars, if they think something is wrong? If what I sad was wrong (and I actually believe Heritage’s analysis here over other sources, so I don’t believe it is incorrect), but if it was, why immediately assume I know it’s wrong and I am just saying a lie to obfuscate?

        It’s a very peculiar phenomenon, and it prevents any rational debate.

        • gcochran9 says:

          ‘no income tax’ is hardly the same as ‘no tax’. The average Joe often pays more FICA than income tax: it’s much harder to get out of, unless you live by clipping coupons. Then there’s sales tax, property tax, etc. etc. Now, maybe you’ve never heard of taxes other than income tax. Maybe you’ve never filed a return. Maybe you’re brain-damaged. But considering that this is a fairly standard lie used by movement conservatives and their bottom-feeding followers, maybe not. Now, just how much enthusiasm do I have for current movement conservatism? If they were devoured by lions, I would worry about the lions. They would risk catching some disgusting disease.

          And your long screed was stupid. This blog does not benefit from injections of stupidity, with rare exceptions that happen to be funny. You fail on all counts.


  10. dearieme says:

    “James Watson discovered the double helix at 25 and then dropped off the radar as anything but a nerd celebrity.” Perhaps: but didn’t Crick stay active?

  11. Julian O'Dea says:

    Crick stayed active, did a lot of work on the genetic code and the role of RNA, and then wandered into neurobiology. Watson was, if nothing else, a highly successful scientific administrator and textbook writer. Reading between the lines, I think Watson was motivated by worldly success and Crick by a love of solving problem after problem.

    Prior to the double helix, Watson had a solid record of achievement. Crick less so. And yet it was Crick who continued slogging away after the double helix.

  12. AG says:

    In which languages are internet passwords easiest to crack?

    Thick or thin thinking need for correction answer?

    • That Guy says:


      I would think it depends on your assumed language of the victim…

      For instance, I worked with a Russian in New York, and he would – using the ALT + Keypad – insert Cyrillic characters into his passwords, now an English-based Dictionary attack is almost certainly not going to crack a partly Cyrillic password!

  13. Andrew says:

    The problems that the social sciences encounter tend to be high entropy and persons may see different patterns based on their learning and values much like a Rorschach test. Our education system is too much of a cookie cutter and filters out persons who question to prevailing dogma.

    I found an interesting discussion between Jon Haidt and David Sloan Wilson on a similar topic.

  14. brendan says:

    I think the contrast between the economists Friedrich Hayek and Paul Samuelson is relevant to the thin/thick issue.

    Samuelson represents the “thin” side; mathematically oriented, spectacular theorist. One of the most cited economists of all-time. And spectacularly wrong about several big issues. Was bullish on the Soviet economy well into the 1980’s. Though inflation was endemic to capitalism as late as 1979.

    Hayek is thick. Grew up surrounded by biologists. Disdained the false precision of mathematical economics. Verbally oriented synthesizer. Not much of a theorist. But was right about the big issues Samuelson missed on.

    Not sure what else to add, other than these two seem like polar opposites on the thick/thin spectrum, operating in same field, in same era.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I doubt if either had any predictive value.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        I want to make the quibble that the term “predictive value” can be misleading, since the kind of things people are most interested in predictions about are those that are hardest to predict.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Take a look at your posting on education. As you say, it’s pretty easy to predict test scores for important groups of students. How much demand is there for accurate predictions in education, where it’s easy, versus demand for accurate predictions in sports, where the systems are set up to make it hard to predict?

      • albatross says:


        Another reason people like some kinds of explanations is because they seem to make sense of a complicated picture–they seem to turn a thick problem into a thin problem. My sense is that a lot of social science works like that–it may or may not help you predict anything, but it kind of helps you make sense of something too complicated to understand. And a lot of the time, this works rather like the journalists who always have an explanation for whatever the market did today, without having any hope of outguessing the market. More broadly, most pundits do this wrt just about everything.

        Theories that seem like they make sense of the world are judged on whether or not people find them satisfying, rather than whether they can predict anything.

      • Pincher Martin says:


        “Theories that seem like they make sense of the world are judged on whether or not people find them satisfying, rather than whether they can predict anything.”

        Yes, these theories are descriptive, not predictive. At least they aren’t immediately predictive. (As in the case of Neanderthals mating with Homo sapiens, sometimes science catches up to the speculation.) Instead, as you say, these conceptual frameworks help us make sense of what we think we know about the world. And they’re often discarded or altered when they no longer fit the known facts.

        I would think Greg would appreciate this more than most here at this blog. Didn’t he recently puzzle over why so many archeologists and paleontologists are skeptical of the theory that many species of megafauna in the Americas were killed off by human hunters at the beginning of the Holocene? How is informed speculation about the economy any different? Can’t we say there are better and worse theories to account for what we know about the economy, and that there is some value – probably more value than we will ever get from knowing what exactly happened to the now-extinct megafauna – in working out which is which?

        So much of what we care about, and argue over, has no predictive value.

      • Laurent says:


        IMHO, AC’s idea was moderately interesting insofar as it was predictive, rather than (longwindedly…) descriptive. This is why I immediately checked whether it aligned with the data, since number of offspring and male promiscuity seem pretty definitive to r/K.

        AC himself seemed quite uninterested in prediction or falsifiability, but that’s his loss.

      • Pincher Martin says:


        I was directing my comment less towards the recent discussion about r/K, which like Greg I didn’t find that interesting, and more towards economic theory, which Brendan narrowly references above.

      • anonymous says:

        I hate to continue the r/K thing, but have to add one point. Kanazawa’s study didn’t say liberals were monogamous. It said the intelligent were monogamous. It also said liberals had a 9 point IQ advantage, but that is clearly not the same, and it doesn’t mean liberals were the ones in the intelligent group supporting monogamy. It also said the liberals in the intelligent group tended to think government taxed the rich too much (?), though liberals overall thought the inverse.

        Given the black girl prettiness study, and it’s outcome I say we don’t quote Kanazawa, ever again.

      • Laurent says:

        In fairness, I had a similar thought to anon, but was too lazy to google further. But, now I’ve done it, and I believe that better quality data (albeit with smaller n’s) invalidates the thesis that conservative males have more partners:

  15. Steve Sailer says:

    Another aspect is that it helps to know a lot about a separate field that you can draw upon as analogies. For example, Greg knows an insane amount of military history, which turns out to be highly suggestive for evolutionary theory and medicine. (E.g., how is chemotherapy like trench warfare in WWI?)

  16. Julian O'Dea says:


    The process you note is really identification by naming. A lot of progress in social science seems to come from naming something, which then allows its identification thereafter. This is a way of reducing thick to thin. The same applies in economics. It is a verbal shorthand akin to mathematics. Concepts like “opportunity cost”, “comparative advantage”, “verstehen”, “ethnocentricity”, “moral hazard”, “role distance”, “the Matthew Effect” and so on are all useful in getting a handle on social reality.

  17. whatever says:

    D-r Harpending and d-r Cochran revitalized social sciences and several areas of anthropology with their works, which gives them a status of world celebrities, by partially undoing what thick thinker as Boas did to the anthropology. With them aboard the social sciences and even anthropology starts to look as a scientific discipline again, as it was once, in pre-boasian times; they rewound SS back to where it all started – with Spenser and Durkheim. Durkheim employed and introduced the thin approach in the field. Gratitude to Harpending and Cochran and best of good luck.
    However, it is not only about thick and thin. It is also about things like decency. In an rather old and obscured interview EO Wilson once (70-es) qualified certain sections and theories – still in power – of social sciences as the “soft p**n of the US academia” and his opinion might have been substantiated. Cochran and Harpending turned the wind somehow, at least partially and brought in some scientific decency, among other things.
    No offence to Boasian thinkers, which are still in power.

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