Physics Today

I noticed an article in Physics Today, about educational techniques in physics. A couple of psychologists from Stanford were working with Carl Wieman,  talking about how to improve physics achievement in historically under-represented groups.  Seldom have have I seen such bullshit.  They explain that intelligence isn’t a fixed quantity – people aren’t ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’.  But if your teacher thinks that intelligence is ‘fixed’,  or if you do, you’ll do badly – but not if you’re a white or Asian male , who are somehow immune to these effects.  As an instructor, you have to careful not to let the under-represented know that you’re making special efforts on their behalf, because then they’ll think that you’re doing it because they’re dumb – and then they’ll be dumb, presumably because that collapses the wavefunction.   Somehow these educational techniques only work if the practitioners believe in them (really, REALLY believe in them).  Unlike penicillin or machine guns.

Carl Wieman is a smart guy, but on this subject, he’s pathetic. I have to wonder about how how wide his slice of life has been.  Has he never watched someone break his heart trying and failing to master some subject that others sailed through without breaking a sweat?  Has he ever actually known someone dumb? Even someone of average intelligence? Talked to them? Listened to them? Has he ever read a single book on psychometrics?  (that’s asking a lot, but after all, he IS a Nobelist.)

I am reminded of a couple of anecdotes concerning Richard Feynman. When his son was young, Feynman told him complicated stories  that, when finally understood, were set in some odd bur physically real environment – say in the microworld.  Those giant trees in the cavern were actually nose hairs, etc.  He tried this with his daughter, but she didn’t like it.  She wanted him to read the stories in the book, over and over, just as they were written.  He decided that people were just different – which is true. It is even more true when the son is the offspring of one of the smartest guys in the United States and the daughter adopted, and thus almost certainly NOT the biological offspring of one of the smartest people in the United States.

Brazil is another example.  Feynman visited and taught in Brazil.  The girls on the beach seemed right, but something else seemed wrong: ” So I tell them that one of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books. There are so many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it’s  amazing you don’t find many physicists in Brazil – why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it.”  I don’t believe that a huge fraction of Brazilian kids were studying physics, or for that  matter a higher fraction than in the US at the time.  But I do believe that the average IQ in Brazil at that time was a good deal lower than in the US, because that’s what every test (and life itself) shows.  And maybe that had something to do with Feynman’s observations.


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95 Responses to Physics Today

  1. ckp says:

    Is there any hard data at all about how well different teaching techniques work for people of different IQs? I’ve seen graphs with things saying things like people with lower IQs needing more hands-on instruction, and that you can let whizzes go off and do their own thing without much supervision; but I couldn’t find any concrete numbers on efficacy.

    Something like “for adolescents with IQs in the range 100 – 110, those taught by method A scored X many SAT points, method B produced Y, method C produced Z, etc.” and so on for the different IQ ranges.

  2. Xanadan says:

    A couple of minor comments:

    You say Feynman was one of the smartest guys in the US however, I believe, from many other blog sites on intelligence that when questioned he said he wouldn’t make it into Mensa. Perhaps that is why he was a great teacher – he had to work very hard to master the concepts he did (and there is plenty of evidence for that) – inventing his own interpretive language to explain them. I have also seen quotes saying he was cleverer than that, though no Dirac, Fermi or Von Neumann.

    Maybe Wiemann might have been talking about a growth mindset a la Carol Dweck – although intelligence may be a largely fixed quantity, if you believe it is then you tend to perform less well in an educational setting rather than those who believe intelligence can be cultivated. But that research applies equally to everyone.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “Feynman received the highest score in the country by a large margin on the notoriously difficult Putnam mathematics competition exam, although he joined the MIT team on short notice and did not prepare for the test. He also reportedly had the highest scores on record on the math/physics graduate admission exams at Princeton.” And one of the lowest scores on the non-math section that they had ever seen.

      Like Dirac or Fermi? probably. Wigner knew Dirac (his brother-in-law) and Feynman. He said of Feynman: “He is a second Dirac. Only this time human.”

      Like Von Neumann? Maybe not. . Wigner said ” I have known a great many intelligent people in my life. I knew Planck, von Laue and Heisenberg. Paul Dirac was my brother in law; Leo Szilard and Edward Teller have been among my closest friends; and Albert Einstein was a good friend, too. But none of them had a mind as quick and acute as Jansci [John] von Neumann. I have often remarked this in the presence of those men and no one ever disputed me.” Which is why we have to dig Von Neumann up and sequence him.

      IQ scores are somewhat correlated with accomplishment, and that is why they are useful. But accomplishment is 100% correlated with accomplishment.

      As for that growth mindset stuff applying equally to everyone, I certainly agree.

      • George says:

        Ok Greg, I’ve wondered this for a long time, but I’ll finally just ask:

        What’s the deal with your post and comment formatting? They always seem to have extra punctuation marks, broken smart quotes, malformed block quotation, and superfluous spacing at the end. Are you using some weird keyboard? Do you copy and paste markup text from some other editor? Do you browse the web like Richard Stallman, making raw POST requests from the command line with curl? Do you rely on Stephen Hawking-esque text to speech? Is your system font set to Linear A?

    • Jim says:

      Von Neumann had a reputation as a terrible teacher. A story I heard once (no doubt apocryphal) relates how once when he was teaching a calculus class a student came up to him after class and asked for help with a certain problem in the textbook. Von Neumann glances at the problem, stares off into space for a few seconds and then says to the student – “e to the x”. The student replies that indeed that is the answer in the back of the book but that he doesn’t understand how it is arrived at. So Von Neumann stares down at his shoes for a few seconds and then looks up and says to the student again “e to the x”. But how do you get it asks the student. To which Von Newmann replies “Look kid, what do you expect me to do, I’ve shown you two ways to do it.”

    • gwern says:

      You say Feynman was one of the smartest guys in the US however, I believe, from many other blog sites on intelligence that when questioned he said he wouldn’t make it into Mensa.

      Feynman was very self-deprecatory and liked to mess with people. He wouldn’t necessarily be telling the truth, and quite aside from his professional accomplishments, do his books read like a relatively ordinary person wrote them? Unfortunately, the commonly cited IQ score for Feynman has a lot of problems for people who want to minimize Feynman’s talent: see my comments in

    • ckp says:

      Feynman reportedly didn’t think too highly of IQ tests (or psychology in general) so he probably put in the bare minimum of effort to get that oft-quoted 125 IQ.

      • dearieme says:

        Far more likely that he tried hard to fake his score downwards. Another possibility, though perhaps remote, is that many of the questions seemed so easy to him that he assumed they must have been trick questions and answered accordingly.

    • unladen swallow says:

      I think Steve Hsu has stated that the IQ test given to Feynman in high school may very well have maxed out at 140 ( The perfect score, so it had a low ceiling ) So he could have destroyed on the math portions and got less than perfect scores on the non-math section and that explains the 125 IQ reported. Feynman also reportedly blew away all the other high school seniors on some city wide NYC math test his high school senior year, but was still denied admission to Columbia because of the Jewish quota, so he went to MIT. I think he and another precocious undergraduate were taking graduate level physics by their sophomore years, and he published an important paper in molecular physics as a senior as well also becoming a Putnam Fellow, something only one other Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist has subsequently managed to do ( Kenneth Wilson in the 1950’s at Harvard ) So yes Feynman was pretty damned smart, and unlike Dirac he did not flame out by his mid-30’s, but continued to do important work after that age.

  3. Gerard Mason says:

    “The average IQ in Brazil at that time was a good deal lower than in the US, because that’s what every test (and life itself) shows” — interesting.

    Funnily enough, Scott Sumner has recently also noticed ( that there is something odd about Brazil, when comparing it to its BRIC cousin China whose GDP is growing about seven times as fast — and Scott can’t for the life of him think why:

    “Ethnic differences? Possibly, I’ve argued that for cultural reasons …” Wait, what? Ethnic = cultural now? Way to cut down the solution space, Scott — you’ve cut out all the solutions!

    He then goes on to confuse the issue even further by comparing the various population fractions of the U.S. statically at the present date. Nope, can’t see an explanation here either [and odd that an economist should miss the contribution of compound interest applied to “social capital”].

    He almost thinks a thought, but then recovers brilliantly: “Remember that Brazil is a sophisticated country that has been exporting products like commuter airliners to the US for many years. They have a huge internal market and a fabulous agricultural sector. Waterpower and lots of resources. Modern big cities. We aren’t talking about Lesotho or Laos.” I wonder if they also suffer from a shocking lack of diversity in their advanced industries, Scott? That makes their success even more inexplicable, right?

    He ends up with an old standby: “It’s a mystery to me. And it’s also a mystery as to why they get such a good press. Why aren’t they expected to grow like China? The soft bigotry of low expectations?” That’s right Scott, it was the bigotry of low expectations … in the parlour, with the candlestick.

    • ckp says:

      Someone points out the PISA rankings with the obvious insinuation of national intelligence differences, here is his response:

      “I’m a bit skeptical on education, for two reasons. One, Shanghai is not really representative of China. Second, I tend to think education is endogenous—why is education worse in Brazil? My hunch is that whatever causes the weak performance in education is the same thing that causes the weak performance in other sectors of the economy. So that X factor remains unexplained. And in terms of ethnicity, Brazil isn’t all that different from California.”

      So near yet so far …

    • brendan says:

      Scott’s a great blogger. Despite starting with zero prestige, he’s successfully pushed some big, true macro ideas in recent years- ideas that threaten both the Right and Left orthodoxy. He’s now widely read, yet still willing to defend Sailer on occasion. And you’ll notice on Brazil, he plays dumb, but he brings up the ethnic issue and doesn’t make any stupid assertions.

      He also criticized Piketty for ignoring the ethnic issue in his book on inequality.

      Sumner’s about as good as it gets among economists.

      • Gerard Mason says:

        I take the point about playing dumb, and some of the comments successfully pulled out the threads that perhaps he intended to reveal. His remark about Brazil spending too much on pensions and too little on infrastructure was also expanded very nicely by one of the comments into an attack on entrenched academia. [I guess in China academics have a harder time representing the government as the enemy of the people.]

  4. brendan says:

    Regardless of the altitude of the bubble Wieman’s lived in, how does someone that smart, who is intent on ‘revolutionizing science education’, not read up on psychometrics?

    Why does it seem like IQ explains only a small fraction of one’s tendency to self-deceive? What else explains the variation?

    I recall Feynman, in the same section of that book, attributing Jewish accomplishment to culture. Given his easy acceptance of Pick Up Artist Theory, it’d be surprising if he didn’t quietly suspect certain other taboo truths.

  5. Pincher Martin says:

    One physicist who did get IQ and its social implications was William Shockley. He was a rigorous and energetic truth teller, but he alienated many of his peers and colleagues with his lack of diplomacy. (In fairness to Shockley, changing tactics probably wouldn’t have worked, either. Many people are determined not to buy what you’re selling because they don’t like the product. Adopting a new sales pitch won’t help.)

    A recent biography of the physicist, Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age, written by the same fellow who published Terman’s Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up, has many details of how Shockley proselytized on behalf of eugenics. They sometimes make for hilarious reading.

    For example, Shockley once proposed giving a lie detector test to a few dozen Nobel laureates attending a conference about their views on race and IQ:

    hockley tried to convince delegates that a study of the genetic fate of humanity ought to be in science’s future, that it would be the most important topic the Nobel conference could take up, and that Alfred Nobel would have approved. They clearly did not agree. Every time Shockley tried to bring up the subject, he was ignored as if he had not spoken at all. If he asked a question, it went unanswered. The more he tried to sidetrack conversations – he would bring up eugenics in the middle of discussions on solar energy – the more irritated they grew, finally groaning aloud and glaring at him. He had been silently voted out of the conversation and the community of his peers. It must have been painful to watch.

    Anyone but Bill Shockley would have been at least disconcerted at this public humiliation by his confrères, but he showed no sign of it. Shockley by now perhaps was beyond embarrassment.

    And the suggestion they all take polygraph tests? Unsurprisingly, none of the 30 Nobelists volunteered. ‘An amusing exercise,’ said fellow Laureate Julian Schwinger, ‘but it’s irrelevant. It hardly matters how sincere you are if you are wrong.’

    Funny stuff. Reading about the interactions between Shockley and Arthur Jensen was also amusing.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Here is how the first meeting went between Shockley and Jensen:

      Jensen had never met a Nobel Laureate before, let alone had dinner at home with one…. Shockley wanted to talk about Jensen’s research and his interest in intelligence, and sent Jensen some material to read beforehand. Jensen was busy and didn’t have time to do more than look at it. Shockley began quizzing him over dinner about one of the papers he sent. Shockley was convinced the author had misused a statistical test called chi-squared. Jensen had to admit he had not read the paper very carefully. ‘Is that how you people in behavioral science do your homework?’ Shockley said. ‘No wonder you are in such a mess. I have better things to do than talk to you!’ He got up from the table and went into his study to work, leaving Jensen and Emmy [Shockley’s second wife] staring at each other. ‘Don’t worry Art,’ Emmy said. ‘He would do that to the president of Stanford.’ Next morning, Shockley called Jensen to suggest that maybe next time the psychologist would do his reading so they could have an intelligent conversation. Jensen went back to the Shockleys a few nights later – properly prepared.

      Funny stuff.

  6. Robert Ford says:
    probably most saw this one about interventions but i’ll post it anyway. smelled a little fishy to me.

  7. Patrick L. Boyle says:

    Greg, you have been blogging about intelligence to the exclusion of all other topics for it seems like months. That’s OK with me. To tell the truth I don’t give a rat’s ass – to use your happy expression – about Tibetan altitude adaptations. Everyone, however, is interested in brains.

    Why not try to do some original work in that field? There is a Nobel waiting for anyone who makes a conceptual break through there.

    I think the whole Nicolas Wade controversy explains why progress in the intelligence area has been so slow. Young men have to keep their head’s down for the sake of their careers. We have already had a ‘race is a social construct’ movement. That essentially means race isn’t real. Now you cite ‘education experts’ (oxymoron?) who want to maintain that intelligence isn’t real. You should be secure enough in the public’s apperception by now that you could withstand the slings and arrows that would come your way were you to tackle such a touchy topic as the genetics of intelligence.

    • gcochran9 says:

      No, I haven’t. Look again.

      If I think of something interesting and new to say about intelligence and genetics, I’ll say it. Or, maybe, bottle it and sell it from the back of a wagon drawn by two jug-eared Missouri mules.

      • Patrick L. Boyle says:

        I took your advice and looked again. I recommend the same exercise to you. I reread all your posts for the last three months. In more than half of them I found that you ‘explained’ why you disagreed with someone because they were stupid or that some profession was filled with stupid people. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you were obsessed with intelligence as an explanatory variable, but it does seem to rank high in your thinking.

        I used to be a management consultant. Every consultant experiences the phenomenon that organizational disputes are always at first attributed to intelligence differences. One side ‘explains’ their viewpoint as a result of the other side being stupid – and vice versa.

        I’m not complaining. In fact I would welcome some real columns on the genetics of IQ. But I’m wary of IQ differences as the default explanation that you seem to falling back onto lately. For example the most relevant characteristic in much of these issues seems to me to be courage not brains. A hundred anthropologists recently wrote a letter excoriating Wade’s recent book. It seems improbable, that all of them are stupid, but they do seem to be a bit callow and cowardly.

        Maybe you resent a reader trying to direct your research directions. I can understand that. But IQ keeps popping up in many of your posts. Trust me, there is an audience for some serious new thinking about intelligence.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Most of my posts were about topics other than IQ. European prehistory, Tibet, the Mitanni, infectious disease over history, origin of oats and rye, cystic fibrosis, various things you’re not interested in. That was my point.

          As for intelligence differences explaining why some people say ridiculous things, sure, that’s part of it. Are some professions full of people that aren’t smart enough to do a good job if they tried? sure. Are other factors important ? sure, and I’m well aware of them.

  8. Feynman, if you watch him being interviewed, seems to have been able to tell the story about the different abilities of his son vs his adopted daughter without discussing her adoption, or the obvious causal genetic difference. A naive listener would have been convinced that “people are different” and required different teaching styles, for adventitious reasons. He can’t have been fooled. Perhaps he was being loyal to his wife.

  9. dearieme says:

    But even your own children can be quite different – it’s part of the lottery aspect of genetics: it’s all a gamble, it’s just that the odds aren’t the same for everyone.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There must be couples that have unusually high IQs that are almost entirely due to additive genetic factors: good genes, but average luck. Their children would not, on average, regress to the mean. Obviously they’re not common, but some must exist.

      • Anonymous says:

        The way to find people whose genes won’t regress from their IQ is to choose them without using their IQs. For example, take children of pairs of smart people. They won’t be as smart as their parents, but the grandchildren should be as smart as the children.

        Say, look for children of second-generation physicists. Then I remembered I met someone like that, who said that the jury was clearly dismayed by each additional witness’s announcement of his profession as physicist.

        • Jim says:

          There are several examples of heredity among mathematicians. Elie and Henri Cartan, Max and Emmy Noether, Emil and Michael Artin, the whole Novikoff family. There are the Bohr brothers – Niels and Harold. Emmy Noether’s brother I think was a physicist of some note. Hopf’s brother was a physicist of some distinction. The chess player and mathematician Emanual Lasker had a brother Berthold who was a mathematician whose work is mentioned in Polya/Szego. Markov’s grandson was a noted mathematician.

          An interesting story I heard about Harold Bohr was that in his youth he was one of Denmark’s leading professional soccer players. At his dissertation defense his entire soccer team attended to lend moral support.

        • Jim says:

          Both of Voevodsky’s parents had Phd’s, one in physics and one im mathematics. Maybe Perelman is the end of assortative mating. He’s so weird he probably won’t reproduce.

        • Jim says:

          Oh, I should also mention the Whittaker family but as to G. N. Watson and G. L. Watson I don’t think they were related.

          • Jim says:

            Oh of course there was J.H.C. Whitehead who was the nephew of A. N. Whitehead. Also Hassler Whitney was the grandson of Simon Newcomb.

      • JayMan says:

        My wife and I are both the smartest kids in our respective sibships, so it’s probably not us. Both dads seem to have been similar.

    • I have five sons: two natural, two adopted from Romania, and one who is a nephew of my wife. The genetic difference in ability is so obvious that I can’t imagine it not being noticed. One can even tell that the two Transylvanians clearly had different fathers. But no one notices. I suppose there are many obvious things that I miss as well. I am increasingly convinced that facts, reasoning, and data are less than 10% of why people believe things. Jonathan Haidt is uncovering some uncomfortable truths.

  10. Jasper says:

    My high school age daughter was assigned summer reading: “Mindset” by Stanford’s Carol Dweck — it is Dweck’s soft-headed theorizing which informs the Physics Today article.

    Dweck has identified the cause of non-Asian minority under-representation in challenging academic fields: these folks have the wrong “fixed” mindset – they mistakenly believe that their failure is related to being “dumb”. Because of this false view, these kids get discouraged and quit trying to learn, which as you see, becomes a self-fulfilling process.

    What these youngsters need is to adopt the “growth” mindset whereby each difficulty in the classroom is just another exciting challenge, never a reflection of differential cognitive ability. And because intellectual talent is spread evenly amongst human groups (a fact so self-evident it remains unaddressed), it follows that the differential outcomes we witness must be due to “mindsets”, never to the actual minds themselves. To suggest otherwise would be to let in the Shadows.

  11. Jerome says:

    “But none of them had a mind as quick and acute as Jansci [John] von Neumann.”

    Von Neumann had the ability to be right very quickly. But Einstein had the ability to be wrong, for as long as necessary. “Do not worry about your mathematical difficulties. I assure you mine are much worse.”

    • Mark Pontin says:

      ‘Von Neumann had the ability to be right very quickly. But Einstein had the ability to be wrong, for as long as necessary.’

      Yes. The difference between the two kinds of intelligence is fascinating.

      By accounts, von Neumann could be a little patronizing about Einstein — not particularly in a malicious, vain way, but more like a mental shrug of ‘what’s going on with that guy.’ And you could see why he might feel that way.

      Nor was it the case that von Neumann was some unimaginative mentat. To the contrary, one of the most striking features of his super-brilliance is how he was prepared to be deeply unconventional and imaginative. As with the von Neumann interpretation of QM, where he was quite prepared to accord the consciousness of an observer the ultimate role (he was wrong, but no way to know that before the discovery of entanglement, quantum information theory, etc.) There are lots of other instances, like von Neumann’s late thinking on cellular automata.

      And yet Einstein had the ability to ferret out relativity and light-speed invariance, which I personally find far more counter-intuitive than QM.

      • gwern says:

        To be fair, von Neumann (b.1903) couldn’t start publishing until 1921, by which point Einstein had published his most important research & won his Nobel.

  12. ” Somehow these educational techniques only work if the practitioners believe in them (really, REALLY believe in them).” I am reminded of Bohrs with the horseshoe over his door and his tongue in his cheek: “I’m told it works even if you don’t believe in it.”

  13. norkuat says:

    It is true that Brazil in the fifties, at the time where Feynman spent an academic year there, had science in a very underdeveloped state. This means that also the teaching of physics was in an abyss. In the same book from where you get the story he, IMO concludes correctly that the problem is the teaching method.
    It is true that Brazilian iq is lower than USA but I think it is not correct to use Feynman´s anecdote to assert this fact since:
    1 the sample from where Feynman obtained his observations where middle and upper middle class students at Rio that where being prepared to become teachers. This is essentially translated as a white college educated populated in USA standards, but with a twist. The twist is that since they where going to be future teachers they probably weren´t the brightest bulbs of their respective cohorts. This is a fact almost anywhere, so they probably had iqs around 110 or lower, very low compared with the assumed IQ of Feynman´s ex-classmates and colleagues in college (MIT, Caltech, Harvard ) of probably around 140 that I believe he was comparing to.
    2 There is a clear pattern and counterexamples that the way of teaching physics was very bad in Brazil. Feynman gives examples in the chapter where the story is taken.

    So the picture is in fact more blurred .
    I presume that if you compare south and southeast Brazil you should get Mediterranean iq scores. Maybe someone has already datamined that stuff from PISA. In the last decades physics has grown a lot in Brazil. Two years ago they openened a very cool theoretical physics institute in Sao Paolo and lately there has been some non trivial results in strings in that area.

    • Jerome says:

      There are no “non trivial results in strings”.

      • dearieme says:

        Do strings present knotty problems?

        My ignorance about strings is complete. My instinct that the whole thing is so much baloney is therefore not based on evidence: I blame it on my evolutionary past.

      • norkuat says:

        hahah that may be “true” but whatever is the case, you need a lot of horsepower to tackle the problems in the field, My point was to just give an example of the capabilities of doing high level abstract research, at least in that subregion of Brazil. Another example is this week´s brand new Fields medallist, Artur Avila.

    • Toad says:

      Study finds that 99% of Brazilian diplomats and federal university professors are white
      The University of São Paulo … employs 4,700 professors. Of them, the number of blacks does not reach 10, or only 0.2%.

      University of São Paulo: Wikis
      76.9% reported to be White, 12.8% Asian, 7% Pardo (brown), 1.2% Black, 0.4% indigenous, and 1.7% did not answer the question.

      90% students white + asian.

    • Feynman’s examples, for example, polarized light and sea waves in sunshine concentrated on his student’s inability to generalize from first principles. Of course, this is what happens with lower intelligence: each insight remains encapsulated in the textbook and cannot be utilized as a stepping stone to other insights. I am glad to hear that the quality of physics students has improved, but once again he was being an intelligent man who was fooling himself, as Greg suggests.

  14. dearieme says:

    At school I was taught physics by (i) a chemist, and (ii) a mathematician. I can warmly recommend the latter as the better bet. At university I was taught physics by physicists. I could still recommend (ii).

  15. Off topic, but does anyone here know whether “broad heritability” includes gene-environment interactions? A commenter on my blog insists it does not so I provided him with a quote from Jensen explaining that it does but he just insists Jensen is mistaken & that virtually the entire behavioral genetics community is too dumb to comprehend the subtlety of this concept.

    • JayMan says:


      The effect of gene-environment interactions (i.e., GxE) would show up in the unshared environment term. So by definition it’s not included in heredity.

      That is, if they existed.

  16. Cplusk says:

    This situation is really annoying. People think that they are being nice and fight against the evil racists by rejecting the differences between ethnic groups but in reality they are just prolonging the sufferings of ethnic groups with relatively lower iqs. Make only the most intelligent 10% – 15% Iraqis have children for just one time and Iraq will be as developed as Germany in 50 years.

    • dearieme says:

      Iraq had the first civilisations while my ancestors were probably head-hunting in the woods. I grant that there’s been ample time for evolution since, but personally I’d like to see evidence for the evolutionary explanation of why they are now in the mire and we are not (yet).

      • Borrowing from ideas in the book The 10,000 year explosion I attempted to provide an explanation for the rise & fall of the middle east:

        • Patrick L. Boyle says:

          I’m not happy with the ‘cold winters make you smarter’ theory. I suppose it could be true but it seems perilously close to being just an unfalsifiable post-hoc story. Maybe it is that being in the tropics makes you stupid? Maybe when our ancestors escaped Africa they blossomed intellectually. I don’t really believe that, but I don’t see much to choose between the two explanations. Both are too evidence-free for my tastes.

          • dave chamberlin says:

            Hello Patrick. There are clines all over the world showing gradual increases in IQ as we head towards the cold. I might add that this repetitive information of IQ increase that seems to happen in colder environments makes lots and lot of people “not happy.” I don’t know, but I am curious about why the information we have interprets the way it does. My best guess is fairly simple and (one would think) pretty obvious. Evolution works on us just like it works on every other life form. You put enough people for enough generations in an environment that allows the intelligent to reproduce at a slightly higher rate than the stupid and IQ or G or whatever you want to call it goes up. You release this pressure and it doesn’t and it may regress. On one island off the coast of Ireland they stopped culling the herd of sheep, killing the smallest ones. It was a great mystery to a few why in the hell the sheep were getting smaller. Animal husbandry being released from the bonds of wishful thinking unlike human breeding patterns, they soon figured it out.

      • Cplusk says:

        Non-Muslim Middle Eastern groups do well. Maronite avg iq for example seems higher than 100. It looks like something happened during the Islamic Golden Age and lowered the average iq of Muslim Middle Easterners. Maybe the Middle Easterners/North Africans with lower iqs had higher reproductive success under Islamic rule?

        • anon says:

          I recall a DNA study of Yemeni Muslims verses Yemeni Jews. The Muslims had significant SSA ancestry which was attributed to the Islamic slave trade. The Jews, not.

        • Maciano says:

          It’s true today, back then not so much. Medieval ME Christianity =\= Roman Catholicism w/ Aquinas-like admiration for art/science.

          Maronites, Assyrians & Copts are descendents of elite groups who could afford (flee, withstand policies) to remain Christian. The rest converted because of discrimination, sword, and a more attractive future as a muslim.

          Also, Christianity is sometimes a proxy for ethnicity like Armenians in Ottoman empire/modern Turkey.

          • gcochran9 says:

            “descendents of elite groups”
            The Maronites were tough farmers that lived up in the hills and were hard to root out. “As one advances into the deep-cut valley of Kannoubine, one is surrounded by mountains towering over the gorge, leaving only a patch of the sky visible overhead. If one looks down from the shoulder of one of the great mountains into the three-thousand-foot depths of the gorge below, one is overwhelmed by a sense of power, and one wants to seize some twisted tree- trunk or jutting crag so as not go falling into the vast space between plunging cliffs. One European traveler recounted how the Patriarch, like a second Moses risen from the pages of the Old Testament, guided his people from his austere retreat among the rocks. Our Lady of Kannoubine was the seat of 24 Patriarchs between 1440 and 1823.”

            a traveler who visited Kannoubine in 1475: ”The Maronite nation has lived under occupation enduring continuous oppression and tyranny. All over Lebanon one finds ruin, tears, and terror. Under the pretext of gathering a certain tax called the ”Gezia”, the authorities strip the peasants of all their belongings and beat them with sticks, and torture them in order to extract from them all that they possess. Many would have perished had not their aged patriarch, Peter son of Hassan, come to their rescue. Terrified by the perils that threatened his people, the Patriarch gave away all the revenues of the Church to satisfy the rapacity of the tyrants. “The door of the patriarchal monastery was sealed, and the Patriarch sometimes had to hide in caves as did Popes Urban and Sylvester.”

            The Copts got a lot of administrative jobs, but many were and are farmers in little villages along the Nile. The Assyrian Christians lived in little villages up in the hills of northern Iraq: odd place for an elite to hang out.

            Then we might considers the Alawites, despised, heretical peasants living up in the hills – but with enough moxie to take over Syria while making up maybe 15% of the population.

            All of these groups were endogamous, disconnected from the main currents of Moslem society. Whatever happened to the general population of the Middle East didn’t happen to them.

        • teageegeepea says:

          Could polygamy resulting in older fathers accumulating more mutations be involved?

      • Jasper says:

        Cousin marriage.

      • Toad says:

        my ancestors were probably head-hunting in the woods.

        Your ancesters hadn’t migrated to the woods yet. They might have been on the steppe herding cows with their lactose tolerence.

        Ancient Egypt mummies had r1b DNA, same as modern British:

        Secrets of the Egyptian Tombs Badly in Need of Espionage
        More than 55 bone biopsies were used to elucidate the individual relationships of 18th-dynasty individuals,
        … The Whit Athey algorithm clearly predicts haplogroup R1b at a probability of 100%.

        … the haplotype most of all mirrors the Western European R1b-ht15 subclades

        There were people headhunting in the woods, but they weren’t your ancesters:

        Cheddar Man
        … 7150 BC
        … Gough’s Cave was used for cannibalism, trophy display
        … Cheddar Man was determined to have belonged to Haplogroup U5,
        … 10% of Europeans belong to Haplogroup U5

      • Toad says:

        my ancestors were probably head-hunting in the woods.

        Your ancesters hadn’t migrated to the woods yet. They might have been on the steppe herding cows with their lactose tolerence.

        Ancient Egypt mummies had r1b DNA, same as modern British:

        Secrets of the Egyptian Tombs Badly in Need of Espionage
        More than 55 bone biopsies were used to elucidate the individual relationships of 18th-dynasty individuals,
        … The Whit Athey algorithm clearly predicts haplogroup R1b at a probability of 100%.

        … the haplotype most of all mirrors the Western European R1b-ht15 subclades

        There were people headhunting in the woods, but they weren’t your ancesters:

        Cheddar Man
        … 7150 BC
        … Gough’s Cave was used for cannibalism, trophy display
        … Cheddar Man was determined to have belonged to Haplogroup U5,
        … 10% of Europeans belong to Haplogroup U5

        • dearieme says:

          Oh all right; 10% of my ancestors were head-hunting in the woods and 90% were head-hunting on the steppes.

        • Patrick L. Boyle says:

          I used to be a head hunter. In fact I had a whole company of headhunters.

          It was a small company (only four in total) and we were just IT recruiters – universally called head hunters. It drew a company logo that showed a literal headhunter but our black guy objected. He said it was racist. So I did some research and showed him that lots of peoples including my Irish ancestors were headhunters at one time or the other. He wasn’t mollified.

          I’m reading a biography of Washington this week. I was surprised to read that the Hessians were also headhunters. Some of the Americans who surrendered at Brooklyn Heights had their heads cut off and stuck on pikes.

          I think head hunting is still a part of the Isis playbook.

  17. magusjanus says:

    I’d be curious as to Greg’s take on Argentina far more than Brazil. A real headscratcher. I’d have guessed from their ethnic origins:

    that they’d be similar socially/economically to Australia or white South Africa, or even the poorer states in the US. Maybe even southern Italy. Instead, it’s a total chaos of a third world country mired in populistic governments, military coups, economic cataclysms, etc. Brazil recently passed them in gdp per capita.

    I don’t get it. Maybe the inherited Spanish institutions were very dysfunctional. Maybe it’s just an outlier and will gradually “revert to mean” and grow. Or maybe it’s something else; I’d welcome ideas.

    • Anonymous says:

      Deep ethnical differences.

      • B&B says:

        These ‘deep ethnical differences’ between white Argentinians are no worse than those between white Americans. And its not so long ago German American activists tried and bombed the tomb of Father Coughlin for being Catholic Irish. So your explanation doesn’t work very well.

        • Anonymous says:

          We have different perception of depth in ethnical differences, i see. USA population was, until last century, for majority Britanic in origin. That was not enough to avoid conflict between Southerns of Scots-Irish descendance and Northerns of English derivation. Argentina is mostly split between Italian and Spanish products, with a little but determinant Austro/german minority. Spain and Italy are both PIIGS, thus economically underperforming and generally unefficent and all three populations are know for their flirts with dictatorship. In conclusion, Argentina is cursed by the very same problem that wrecked and actually slow down and sometime paralyze European Union.

    • Toad says:

      total chaos of a third world country

      List of countries by intentional homicide rate
      UNODC murder rates most recent year
      Colombia 30.8
      Brazil 25.2
      Argentina 5.5
      Oklahoma 5.7

      • dearieme says:

        UK 1.0. But it won’t remain there long.

      • magusjanus says:

        I agree, the homicide rate is subdued likely due to ethnicity. I meant more on a macro level the fact that relative to most other “western” white nations/white settler nations it seems way worse than others. Its political history seems far more populistic than other European nations, and its gdp per capita of 11k roughly is about half that of the poorest Western European nation, Portugal.

        And unlike Portugal or Spain, it was actually pretty rich in early 20th century and doing quite well, on par with Australia/South Africa/Canada I believe.

        I guess I just don’t get it.

  18. Argentina had the benefit of British railway builders, but lacked a British Constitution. Argentina never had smallholders like USA, but ran the country with 200 families of grand landowners who swapped power among themselves. Finally, someone came up with a proposition which the common folk could understand and vote for: Italian opera. Peron and Evita set a template which has lasted, with a few interruptions of rapacious dictators and moderately effective centrist governments in between. Every Argentine leader who wants to survive has to distribute booty from the back of a lorry to grateful weeping orphans. Even now, have reneged on their debts they are blaming those who lent them money for wanting it paid back. Across the River Plate Italians and Spaniards with the same genetics prefer less theatre and a shade more honesty. For once, I would argue that there is a cultural difference between Argentina and Uruguay which happened to have José Batlle y Ordóñez who adopted a Swiss model which has, more or less, worked.

    • dearieme says:

      The Peronist set of policies should be familiar to everyone of a certain age in Britain – they are essentially Old Labour’s: nationalise stuff, hand power to the unions, and talk sentimental tripe about The Workers.

      • magusjanus says:

        that’s my point. the UK/australia/etc. all went through a “nationalize everything, power to the unions, etc.” moment. so why was it that said moment crippled Argentina so much more (and more longterm) relative to other white nations? Even Italy and Spain and Portugal are far richer than Argentina despite all their woes.

  19. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    This just in.

    LANDMARK Adelaide research showing that sperm and eggs appear to carry genetic memories of events well before conception, may force a rethink of the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, scientists say.

    It also suggests the bad habits developed through a parent’s lifetime could be passed on genetically to their children.The University of Adelaide research, published internationally today, shows that babies may be prone to their parents’ youthful behaviour, from gorging as obese teenagers to a preference for fruit or even dislike of smells.

    From here:

    It refers to an article in Science that I can’t get to at the moment.


  20. Ears Thyrel says:

    Just to defend the psychiatrists for a second: of course some groups are smarter than others, genetics, etc.
    But perhaps there are better ways to educate and coax more out of lower iq populations. I think it’s worthwhile to see.

    • Sideways says:

      Everyone agrees about that. Which is why no one is talking about it here.

    • EarlyToRise says:

      Frankly I think we already expend too many resources on the bottom half for rather little gain, all in the name of equalizing outcome. I suspect identifying and providing our brightest kids (especially those in the white rural hinterland who have little access to special schools) with more resources/mentors/opportunity would result in a much greater bang for one’s buck.

  21. Back in October, Noah Smith made a big hooha claiming that the only difference between kids who learned math and kids who don’t is effort. The piece got a lot of attention, and Steve Sailer said (accurately) that the problem with people like Smith (and Wieman) is restriction of range–they simply have no experience with even mid-IQ populations. I’ve just been attending a fascinating series of professional development classes run by a top-tier math scholar determined to fix math education in this country. The classes were great; I learned a lot (as did the other teachers) that will change how I introduce some key math topics. But then he said “Kids will learn it properly, and then never forget.” and we all laughed at him.

    Anyway, back to Smith–in making his case, he overreached. He said he’d been successful teaching kids with 70 IQ to learn algebra, kids “dumb as a box of rocks”. I wrote about it here:

    He has deleted all his tweets, although not his comments, after our conversation.

    The problem is, most of them aren’t stupid enough to bring up specific IQs.

    Anyway. Wieman’s objective interests me, but for entirely different reasons. I think teaching approaches can help, but not in the sense of “90 IQ person understanding college-level physics” but “90 IQ person grasping a few algebra abstractions that….” what? Allow them to engage in more cognitively demanding work, whether or not it involves algebra? Makes them better employees? Gives them a better grasp of problem solving? Not sure. But we do no research on teaching low IQ students.

    And when I do mention this, someone always says, dismissively, no, we’ve done that. You can see it above: ckp asks if teaching methods would help, James Thompson answers with Gottfredson. Gottfredson has nothing to do with the question.

    It may be that when all is said and done, that Gottfredson’s data won’t change. But we don’t know that yet. The problem is, since all of this is unthinkable, we can’t even try.

  22. James K says:

    The gender angle is equally disappointing, even though the mean IQ of men and women from the same national/ethnic group is the same.

    Women’s under-representation in STEM can be explained by the differing suitability for STEM of different Myers-Briggs personality types, and the prevalence of these types in men and women.

    (if there are more extensive or peer-reviewed studies in this vein, it would be interesting to see them)

    In other words, men’s personalities are more likely to confer an aptitude for and interest in “nuts and bolts” activities; women’s personalities are more likely to give them aptitude/interest in activities with a social dimension.

    Nobody worries if women are under-represented in model railway clubs, steam preservation societies, or in lathe ownership. Nobody would be foolish enough to suggest that there is a sexist conspiracy to exclude women from these activities. The underlying mechanism is the same for participation in STEM education and careers. Yet the feminists who wish to set public policy appear to believe in the “sexist conspiracy” theory.

  23. Galtonian says:

    A nice young lady who is in the Biology Dept at UNC-Chapel Hill has just discovered how to make Blacks succeed in STEM coursework. Has published a paper proving that her hands on classes technique really works….

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