Recently a paper by Justin Sandefur came up with a way of calibrating the results of a math test taken by a number of African countries that don’t participate in PISA and other international assessments – from overlapping questions, and from a few countries that took both. So now we have fairly good estimates of the math proficiency of those poorly-reported African countries [Mauritius, Kenya, Seychelles, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Botswana, Uganda, South Africa, Zanzibar, Lesotho, Malawi,Zambia, and Namibia]
Average pupils score below the fifth percentile for most developed countries.
Neil Turok is a theoretical physicist from South Africa, currently at (and running) the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. He’s a smart cookie, well thought of: he won the Maxwell Medal in 1992, and took the chair of mathematical physics in Cambridge in 1997.
He gives TED talks (ominous already!) about the search for an African Einstein. from Wired: “Turok, 54, sees conditions in Africa today as comparative to those of eastern Europe 100 years ago: then, ambitious young Jews were suddenly granted access to education, and went on to make significant discoveries and advances in science.
Now it is the turn of Africans. “Einstein came from a very disadvantaged community, which had been completely excluded from university until the second half of the 19th century,” he says in his office in Ontario, Canada, where he runs the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. “But once they got into university, that first generation, you start having Jacobi, Einstein, Bohr, Pauli.
This group completely revolutionised physics.”
He founded, and convinced Bill Gates to fund, AIMS – the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. How’s that search for African Einsteins going?
I mentioned that he was a smart guy. He’s also crazy. He thinks that sub-Saharan Africans today are analogous to Ashkenazi Jews in 1850 or so – ready to explode into the intellectual world and tear it a new asshole.
Wanna bet? With African math scores at the 5th percentile? With their IQ scores two standard deviations below those of Europeans, three below the Askenazim? That low average tremendously suppresses the fraction above a high threshold. With every event in life its own self consistent with those statistics – not just in Africa, but everywhere in the African diaspora?
And he has no excuse [other than his commie family history]. He grew up in South Africa: there are plenty of things he would have seen if this picture of the world were true, and he’s never seen any of them. Did black kids out-argue him, beat him at chess, win the math competitions even though their parents were poor as synagogue mice? No sirree.
Of course Bill Gates is also a smart guy, but he’s crazy too. His craziness has had negative impact on the success of the Gates Foundation, which is too bad. If you compare Gates Foundation achievements with those of the Rockefeller Foundation in its youth [defeat of hookworm, elucidation of the composition of DNA, many other things] it’s downright embarrassing. Sometimes they’ve been crazy ( everything they’ve touched in educational reform), sometimes perhaps too ambitious [ malaria vaccine – technically hard. Maybe too hard?]. Probably Warren Buffet should have put his charitable money elsewhere.
That craziness is not rare among people smart enough to do theoretical physics, or even write a Basic interpreter. Dumb people don’t originate much, smart people are susceptible to all kinds of ideological craziness. Oh, what a world.