Play the Man

Matt Ridley, like so many people, seems to think that, every so often,  you need to insert random bits of popular nonsense when skating close to the wind on unpopular topics.  For example, in his recent review of Nicholas Wade’s book, he said

The average IQ of a group, a team or a race matters little, if at all. What counts is how well they communicate, collaborate and exchange ideas. Give me a hundred thickos who talk to each other, rather than a hundred clever-clogs who don’t. This collaboration is surely the true secret of human achievement and the true reason that race does not count, not because we are all identical inside our skulls.”

Well,  accomplishment does build on past accomplishment, but having a bunch of ordinary people natter on and on doesn’t seem to contribute much. If it did, Facebook would already have resulted in flying cars and cancer cures.  I don’t believe that has happened.

Tell the truth. If nothing else, for the shock value.



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63 Responses to Play the Man

  1. c van carter says:

    If he really believes that he’s never been around genuine thickos.

  2. a very knowing American says:

    “Hell is a hundred thickos who talk to each other.”

    J P Sartre (amended)

  3. I know about sailing close to the wind, but “skating close to the wind”? Is that like sailing on thin ice?

    (And how did sailing close to the wind take on connotations of being risky, anyway? Mostly it’s just slow — I mean, if you try it in an actual sailing craft.)

    • marcel says:

      I’ve seen people sailing on thin ice. One warm winter day, 3-4 years ago,I was skating on a lake in NH and there were people in an ice sailing club up from Boston wizzing by. By noon, I was getting nervous about being out on the, well the top layer any way was slush, not sure what was underneath. But the boats kept wizzing by.

    • Gordo says:

      But when you sail too close to the wind you sail through a no-go zone and may be taken aback!

      Ridley for all his collective mind stuff knew enough about assortive mating to marry a PhD.

  4. I agree that collaboration is a wonderful, valuable thing, and perhaps a group with lots of it survives better than a group with lots of IQ, other things being equal. (I’m doubting it, but let’s grant it arguendo.) But someone has got to be in charge of that collaborative group of chums, and that small group, at least, needs to have more than bonhomie going for it. And you don’t tend to get a batch of leaders with intelligence without the group as a whole starting from a pretty good platform.

    • JayMan says:

      “Matt Ridley, like so many people, seems to think that, every so often, you need to insert random bits of popular nonsense when skating close to the wind on unpopular topics.”

      On that:

      “Squid Ink” | JayMan’s Blog

      A common piece of advice that I’ve heard with the release of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance is that in order to get people to accept the findings of HBD, you can’t be too honest and direct with the reality of the situation. That is, you can’t tell the full scope of the truth of what we know. Rather, you need to insert a bit of “squid ink” into the water to blur your actual claims. You need to say things that are somewhat untrue but might be a bit more palatable to apprehensive audiences. One example is Wade’s stress that the understanding of inherited differences between people and the effects of these on national outcomes is largely “speculative.” Another is the common behavioral genetics trope that the sources of human differences are “nature AND nurture,” being a 50-50 mix of each. Robert Plomin’s constant stress of the likelihood that “gene-environment correlations” are ultimately behind heritability estimates is yet another example.

      There is little to no truth in any of these claims.

      the advice is that if we want HBD to gain widespread acceptance, we can’t be too “hard” with our claims, regardless of how true they actually are. How would these people then receive the true realities of the situation then?

  5. Jerome says:

    “This collaboration is surely the true secret of human achievement and the true reason that race does not count, not because we are all identical inside our skulls.”

    I think this is progress. This means he is starting to realize that the absurd lie that are all identical inside our skulls is becoming untenable, and he is working on a fallback position.

  6. Julian says:

    I think Ridley did a pretty good job of wrapping up a subversive and unpopular message in a palatable way. It’s a shame the Times has a paywall which has turned away a lot of readers. By UK standards it was quite a reasonable review.

  7. unladen swallow says:

    He bailed on endorsing Nicholas Wade because he was afraid of the backlash, nothing he wrote prior to this would indicate he shared typical left wing views on biology and race. Ridley has always strayed as far from left wing opinion as he can without being labeled a bad person but no further. If he was caught endorsing Wade would have been a bridge too far him and people would have stopped being nice to him despite his right wing views.

  8. Andrew says:

    Matt Ridley lost me when he came out with the Rational Optimist. When talking about his book he would show a picture of a stone hand tool next to a computer mouse and claim that the mouse is the result of modern cooperation and trade. Well yes, cooperation was important, but the big brained engineers were more essential.

  9. Space Ghost says:

    Even if you accept his premises (which I do not), surely it is not a dichotomy. I’ll take 100 “clever-cogs” who collaborate well, please. And maybe throw in some words about Putnam’s research into diversity and trust in communities.

  10. One very English reason for “IQ Denialism” was suggested by Ian Deary: “it is possible that clever people develop a kind of cognitive noblesse oblige; they kind of know they have won the lottery on a valuable trait, but they think it is bad form to acknowledge it.”
    On the larger issue of how to broach difficult subjects, such insights one can glean from attitude research suggest that although a gradualist approach is often effective at changing attitudes over a longish time, a bold and confident “extreme” claim can be even more effective, even if it is rejected by many initially.

    • Julian says:

      ***lthough a gradualist approach is often effective at changing attitudes over a longish time, a bold and confident “extreme” claim can be even more effective, even if it is rejected by many initially.***

      That’s interesting. Probably the first (and most jarring) HBD thing I read was an old Rushton essay which noted differences in hip width and head size. It was so simple, when I mentioned it to someone they dismissed it as phrenology. But it was hard to ignore.

      Later I came across more nuanced material which I passed onto the same person and this time they conceded there might be something to it.

      Jon Haidt has written about how people will tend to reject something if it threatens a sacred value. So if you can show that they don’t have to give up the sacred value it helps I suppose (eg. people might vary, but it doesn’t affect their individual rights/equality under the law).

    • laofmoonster says:

      Funny, I take just the opposite explanation. A denial of IQ puts them in the same playing field as other (non-NAM) people, so when they do succeed, they can have a sense of superiority without an accompanying sense of responsibility for those with less innate ability. The winners benefit most from pushing free will as an explanation rather than causes outside of one’s own control.

  11. reiner Tor says:

    Let’s just assume for a moment that IQ doesn’t matter the least bit, and that high IQ and good communications skills are mutually exclusive. Also, let’s just assume for a moment that there are group differences in that. The high-IQ group need not be successful, because it is a low-communications group.

    Well, maybe than Jared Diamond was right, after all, and New Guineans are really smarter than Europeans. They simply don’t communicate as well. No need for supremacism, except that… I mean… New Guineans are genetically less well adapted to modern societies (as well as smarter) than Europeans. But then there’s no need for invisible stereotype threat and what not.

    And, you see, I already assumed the highly implausible idea that IQ is negatively correlated to communications skills…

    • IC says:

      In Jared Diamond book, New Guineans are forever talking to each other without quiet moment. Ghetto people are quite verbal with each others. No quiet moment.

      • Anthony says:

        Ghetto people are quite verbal with each others.

        But not, if the IQ deniers are to be believed, with their kids. Or maybe they just use the same 25 words over and over. Does m*******er have that many conjugations?

      • Jim says:

        m********er is a noun so it is declined not conjugated.

  12. Methudist says:

    “This collaboration is surely the true secret of human achievement and the true reason that race does not count, not because we are all identical inside our skulls.”

    That “surely” is a good sign that Ridley knows he’s talking nonsense. He’s trying to convince himself. When Tony Blair answered a question, he liked saying “Frankly…” before he began lying or being evasive.

    One day soon psycholinguistics will be able to analyze spoken and written language and, based on syntax and word-choice, detect what people really believe, even if they’re saying the opposite.

    • That is standard behavior for lying. I work in emergency psych, with a fair number of criminals and manipulators, and the phrases “Can I be honest,” or “I’m being honest” are invariably followed by lies.

  13. dearieme says:

    Many years ago my rugby club fielded a side in a summer soccer league. One reason we so often won against people whose first sport was soccer was that we were, as far as I could tell, individually brighter and, without doubt, much more co-operative.

    Different point: why assume that the ability to co-operate is identical in all races? At the very least it will differ according to culture, which will in turn have at least some correlation with race. Even if race is just a social construct.

    • Julian says:

      Yes, well Peter Frost has discussed on his blog the transition of societies where you largely only trust those in your tribe, to larger state societies with universal laws and where you had to trust strangers. Wade touched on this in an NY Times article (which cites Greg Cochran).

      “The political scientist Francis Fukuyama has distinguished between high-trust and low-trust societies, arguing that trust is a basis for prosperity. Since his 1995 book on the subject, researchers have found that oxytocin, a chemical active in the brain, increases the level of trust, at least in psychological experiments. Oxytocin levels are known to be under genetic control in other mammals like voles.

      It is easy to imagine that in societies where trust pays off, generation after generation, the more trusting individuals would have more progeny and the oxytocin-promoting genes would become more common in the population. If conditions should then change, and the society be engulfed by strife and civil warfare for generations, oxytocin levels might fall as the paranoid produced more progeny.

      Napoleon Chagnon for many decades studied the Yanomamo, a warlike people who live in the forests of Brazil and Venezuela. He found that men who had killed in battle had three times as many children as those who had not. Since personality is heritable, this would be a mechanism for Yanomamo nature to evolve and become fiercer than usual.”

  14. Jim says:

    For sheer stupidit Ridley’s statement doesn’t quite compete with Fuentes statement that genes play a minor role in evolution but it comes close. How can people say such self-evidently idiotic statements?

    • Toddy Cat says:

      I’d say that the difference is that Ridley doesn’t actually believe what he said, whereas Fuentes might just be stupid and deluded enough. Although actually, the level of vitriol that has greeted Wade’s book is really pretty mild compared to the toxic lies that were spewed at “The Bell Curve” twenty years ago. Progress, or do most people just not read anymore?

  15. Jim says:

    So we could have selected a hundred or so thickos for the Manhattan Project and done just as well. The Three Stooges could have got us to the Moon as long as they talked to each other.

  16. Bumface says:

    At least Ridley’s now acknowledging that there racial differences. That’s half way there.

  17. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    This collaboration is surely the true secret of human achievement and the true reason that race does not count, not because we are all identical inside our skulls.

    Perhaps he has never worked in teams where there are some not-so-clever people on the team.

    I have worked in many multi-racial teams (Chinese and Indians and Viets etc.) It can be lots of fun.

    However, I have also worked on teams where there are some not-so-clever people. These people were likely above average in intelligence (possibly as high as 115) but were simply not smart enough to understand the stuff we were doing. In one instance, on a number of occasions I had to redo their work and on one occasion I almost got to the point of shouting at that individual because he kept wanting to do something the simple, but wrong, way.

    What chance does a team of even average IQ have with really complex problems? Often, they simply lack the ability to even come up with abstractions to simplify the problem.

    • melendwyr says:

      “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
      A group is only as smart as its dumbest member.

      • Raeb says:

        A group is only as smart as its dumbest member.


      • ursiform says:

        Modern management approaches are often designed to assure a group is only as smart as its dumbest member. Have you ever been forced to endure facilitated brainstorming? It’s the opposite of the real thing. Each member’s contribution has to be weighted equally so that slower members don’t have their contributions overlooked.

  18. Jim says:

    Obviously a team of people of say IQ 100 would have zero ability to comprehend even the simplest aspects of something like the Manhattan project.

  19. Chris B says:

    Ridley obviously dosen’t want to share the same fate as his namesake and Hugh Latimer.

  20. little spoon says:

    Blacks are fine at socially communicating. Why don’t we look at what 60,000 years of communication in Africa got them to. No written language. Almost no lasting architecture. But they can play team sports and fight in armies because indeed, they are capable of collaboration.

    Thus, collaboration ability is at best necessary but not sufficient to produce civilizational accomplishments.

    • Raeb says:

      Well, they did get around to inventing proto-writing …

      • little spoon says:

        I give them credit for that then. To be fair, when ancient romans first came upon scotland, it seemed not to look much more advanced than africa did when europeans explored into it. But they picked up new ideas well.

      • Ian says:

        … predated by Vinca symbols, by the maligned clever-clogs, by a handful of millennia. It seems that thickos’ communications take some time. That’s the problem with hip-hop: noisy, low bandwidth communication.

      • little spoon says:

        Is vinca and nsibidi related? They look oddly similar. If you put them together on a sheet, I wouldn’t be able to tell there were two languages. You couldn’t say the same for ancient egyptian and Mayan, for example. I could easily tell those apart.

      • Toad says:

        To be fair, when ancient romans first came upon scotland, it seemed not to look much more advanced than africa did when europeans explored into it. But they picked up new ideas well.

        They were your typical run-of-the-mill Celtic Indo-Europeans (The Deskford Carynx). Iron tools and weapons. Chariots. Horses. Cattle herds. Could wield a unified army and guerrilla war against the Romans. They could even fight a pitched battle. They were not conquered by the Romans who built a wall instead.

      • Ian says:

        Is vinca and nsibidi related?
        Not at all. Any similarities are probably due, on one hand, to the fact they are both are pictograms: there are not so many ways to draw an egg or a cow head, for instance. And, on the other hand, to the drawing technique, the kinds of materials they were written on, etc.

    • little spoon says:

      Why is Ridley making the point anyway? Is there some evidence that IQ is inversely related to collaboration ability?

      IQ is less essential than collaboration? OK. You know what else? High IQ is a whole lot less essential than a functioning cardiovascular system. But that doesn’t mean that race doesn’t matter.

  21. Asher says:

    Just a note: saying “let me be honest” is a tell but it can have several implications. For example, if I’m discussing something and use that phrase what I mean is that I think the person is a total idiot but that I’m just too polite to come out and tell them that.

  22. ursiform says:

    Newton didn’t play well with others, but we don’t study A Hundred Thickos’ Laws in school.

  23. JayMan says:

    Apropos, and a sequel to your post “Zones of Thought”:

    • Anthony says:

      It would be interesting to see the equivalent for country of origin of the researcher. I expect there are a lot of Indian and Chinese researchers who work elsewhere.

      • johnny says:

        High iq mutations must appear between so many million people who are borned in China and India. But they are Western imitation societies, so the number of researchers in these places shouldn´t be to high, cause it never was before. The chinese media of iq 105 must surely be a standard block inside the population, with few individuals with higher iq as compared to their mass of over a billion.

  24. Couple of IQ related points. I cannot find the reference, but 5 or 6 years ago someone did the interesting experiment of putting one very bright person into a management team and measured their performance on a problem-solving task. Later they took the bright person out, and re-tested the team on other similar tasks. As I recall it, there was no transfer effect.
    Just recently, there has just been a replication of Rindermann and my findings on the smart fraction:

  25. Pingback: Roundup of Book Reviews of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance | Occam's Razor

  26. Patrick L. Boyle says:

    It immediately occurred to me that Matt Ridley had probably never met much less lived near any really stupid people. I have, but only because I am old enough to have been in the Army. Since the draft was abolished this critical life experience has been lost to almost all educated people.

    I thought that I had known stupid people before I went into the Army – but I was wrong. You have to be locked up in the same barracks day and night with the kind of people that you had always avoided, in order to fully comprehend the left side of the curve.

    I was lucky I had two twin brothers (fraternal) in my barracks. They had, like me, been college students before enlistment. I had someone to talk to. But I met smart guys from other barracks who been imprisoned alone with the dummies. They were like starving men – desperate for contact with anyone who could think.

    This is a common problem today. People who have been separated from the stupid people all their lives, think they understand humanity because they once read a book about it. Trust me. My barracks, like all barracks, was a model of group cooperation. That’s the essence of close order drill. Everyone moves together in sync. The troops all cooperate and collaborate but you would not be much impressed by the quality of the ideas they develop.

    If you haven’t been through Basic Training you are naïve. You are over estimating average humans.

    • gcochran9 says:

      The Army, by law, didn’t take the bottom 10%. Although there were short-lived exceptions, like McNamara’s Moron Corps.

      They’re there in a public high school, at least until age 16. I met & knew them. My kids met them. It’s not a rare experience.

      Thinking more about it, it might be that Matt Ridley wasn’t being cowardly. He might actually believe what he said (in other words, be addled). It’s along the line of a recent book of his.

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