Guns, Germs, and Steel revisited

Jared Diamond’s thesis, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, is that regional differences in civilizational achievement are entirely caused by biogeographical factors, while regional differences in ability have had no effect. It isn’t that he believes that there are no such regional differences: he argues that the populations with the fewest achievements are the most intelligent !

In particular, Diamond argues that people in PNG (Papua New Guinea), are significantly smarter than the average bear. “in mental ability, New Guineans are probably genetically superior [my emphasis] to Westerners”: p21. “Modern ‘Stone Age’ peoples are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples. ” p 21.

This is sufficiently odd that readers of GGS often refuse to admit that Diamond ever said it. They’ll deny that it’s even in the book. They tend to replace this meme with another of their own device: you see, hunter-gatherers are innately better at hunting and gathering – at their own way of life – than developed peoples would be. Of course that doesn’t really work either, since innate superiority at obsolete tasks ( a born buggy-whip maker?) doesn’t necessarily translate to modern superiority, or even adequacy.

I’ve only seen this claim – PNG Über Alles – in one other place, ever. A character in a book by Poul Anderson said “The only true humans on earth, my friends, the main line of evolution, the masters of the future, are the lordly Melanesians. ”
Of course that character was feigning insanity, but still.

In arguing that the last actually are first – that populations that invented calculus and gunpowder and penicillin are duller than those that invented very little – Diamond dismisses the entire field of psychometrics. He mentions no evidence, doesn’t even bother to argue about it. It’s his personal impressions of the locals in PNG versus everybody from Alfred Binet to the College Board. The word “IQ” isn’t even in the book.

It’s a ballsy approach – implying that the whole field is just pointless crap, not even worth discussing. It’s how I would deal with astrology or gender studies. It’s how everybody should have dealt with Freudian analysis.

The problem with Diamond’s non-argument is that aptitude tests actually work. A one-hour paper-and-pencil test gives a reasonable estimate of a student’s general problem-solving ability, which is why everybody uses such tests. The Army find that the top scorers make much more accurate tank gunners – it’s hard to ignore a 120-millimeter DU shell.
Regional scores on IQ tests and other educational tests ( PISA, etc) do track regional differences in S&T achievements. Not perfectly – northeast Asians have the highest scores but have not made the largest contributions to the development of modern technology – but pretty well. Populations that have low average scores on such tests have contributed very little to the development of modern science and technology.

If there was some fatal flaw in our methods of testing academic aptitude, you’d see some people (or whole populations) that scored low ( say 80) but were still whizzes at electrical engineering or molecular biology. That doesn’t happen. To be fair, we do see many people with high scores embrace various forms of madness, everything from Koreshanity (Why, this is Pellucidar, nor are we out of it.) to Fomenko’s New Chronology (Gary Kasparov). But then they’re intelligence tests, not sanity tests.

If Diamond were right (and the tests wrong), there would be tremendous opportunities for arbitrage, just as sabermetrics let baseball managers identify undervalued players. For example, if people from PNG were indeed significantly smarter than the world average, UCLA could develop powerhouse departments, full of likely future Nobelists, at low cost. People would eventually try to look intelligent by putting a bone through their nose. Why hasn’t this happened? Pure stubbornness? Shouldn’t Harvard pre-emptively adopt this policy, in order to stay on top?

If Diamond were right, hunter-gatherers and other backward peoples should be able to catch up with the developed world rather easily, being smarter. In fact, they should be able to rapidly surpass us: even a moderately higher average IQ in a population greatly increases the fraction that scores above a high threshold. PNG should be shot with genius. Yet there’s no sign of it.
Diamond acknowledges as much. “We see in our daily lives that some of the conquered peoples continue to form an underclass, centuries after the conquests or slave imports took place. ” p 25. ” Yes, the transistor, invented at Bell Labs in the eastern United States in 1947, leapt 8,000 miles to launch an electronics industry in Japan – but it did not make the shorter leap to found new industries in Zaire or Paraguay. The nations rising to new power are still ones that were incorporated thousands of years ago into the old centers of dominance based on food production, or that have been repopulated by peoples from those centers.”
“Prospects for world dominance of sub-Saharan Africans, Aboriginal Australians, and Native Americans remain dim. The hand of history’s course at 8000 B.C. lies heavily on us.” p 417.

Why should that be so? If hunter-gatherers are ” probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples”, why doesn’t it show? Maybe they aren’t plugged into the old-boy networks, but why don’t they win the math contests and chess tournaments? Where’s their Paul Morphy, their Ramanujan, their George Green? Mathematicians, at least, would cheerfully hire a grizzly bear as long as it ate fewer undergraduates than it solved Hilbert problems.

Where are the practical payoffs? “Many of the living descendants of the Aborigines who survived the era of European colonization are now finding it difficult to succeed economically in white Australian society.” p 19. Again, if they’re so smart, why aren’t they rich? Why do they flunk algebra?

Perhaps we should consider dysgenic effects. Because of low birth rates among highly educated women, IQ is probably declining today in developed countries, at ~1 pt a generation. Probably this hasn’t been going on for very long. . But if it goes on long enough, a day may come when the minds of the men of the industrialized countries fail, leaving the inhabitants of Sentinel Island the smartest people on Earth.
But it is not this day.

Enough about the thesis: it’s a mess. Measurements don’t support it, and none of its implications have gone through the formality of actually happening. Back to the book itself, which is not all bad.

You see the idea that biogeographical circumstances shaped the rise of civilization and technology is not at all crazy. The mistake is assuming that that is the only factor, or that those circumstances never change the peoples exposed to them: never change them above the neck, that is. Diamond is happy enough to admit that selection for disease resistance changed Eurasians and Africans.

Diamond emphasizes the important of domestications of animals and crops, the big step towards civilization. This allowed vast increase in population size and social complexity: you can’t overemphasize its importance.

He discusses various ways in which parts of this big story support his thesis. Often they don’t really, but the discussion can still be interesting.

Most significant domestic animals were domesticated somewhere in Eurasia or North Africa, only a couple in South America (llamas and vicuna), nothing in the rest of the world. Diamond argues that this wasn’t because populations varied in their interest in or aptitude for domestication. Instead, the explanation is that only a few large animals were suitable for domestication.

He’s unconvincing. Sure, there were places where this was true: what were the Maori in New Zealand going to domesticate – weta? And Australia didn’t have a lot of large mammals, at least not after people wiped out its megafauna. But there are plenty of large animals in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet none were domesticated. He argues that zebras were wilder, more untameable than horses – but people have tamed zebras, while the wild ancestors of horses (tarpans, which survived into the 19th century) were usually described as untameable. The wild ancestors of cows (aurochsen, which survived into the 17th century) were big and mean. They enjoyed impaling people on their horns and flinging them for distance. The eland is a large African antelope, and by Diamond’s argument it must be untameable, since the locals never tamed it. But in fact it’s rather easy to tame, and there’s now a domesticated version.

The key here is that one can select for disposition, for tameness, as well as obvious physical features, and an animal can go from totally wild to cuddly in ten generations – remember the selection experiment with Siberian foxes. In the long run disposition is not a big obstacle. Selection fixes it – selection applied to above-neck traits.

Diamond makes a similar argument about domesticating plants as crops: only a few plants were suitable for domestication, and part of the reason that some populations never developed crops was a lack of suitable plant species. I’ll give him Eskimos. but that’s about it.

Here his argument is far weaker: there are a buttload of plants that could be domesticated and might be quite useful, yet have not been. Enthusiastic agronomists keep trying to get funding for domestication of jojoba, or buffalo gourd, or guayule – usually government interest runs out well before success.
The reason that a few crops account for the great preponderance of modern agriculture is that a bird in the hand – an already-domesticated, already- optimized crop – feeds your family/makes money right now, while a potentially useful yet undomesticated crop doesn’t. One successful domestication tends to inhibit others that could flourish in the same niche. Several crops were domesticated in the eastern United States, but with the advent of maize and beans ( from Mesoamerica) most were abandoned. Maybe if those Amerindians had continued to selectively breed sumpweed for a few thousand years, it could have been a contender: but nobody is quite that stubborn.
Teosinte was an unpromising weed: it’s hard to see why anyone bothered to try to domesticate it, and it took a long time to turn it into something like modern maize. If someone had brought wheat to Mexico six thousand years ago, likely the locals would have dropped maize like a hot potato. But maize ultimately had advantages: it’s a C4 plant, while wheat is C3: maize yields can be much higher.

Why didn’t people domesticate foxes, back in the day? Is it because foxes are solitary hunters, don’t have the right pack structure and thus can’t be domesticated, blah blah blah? No: they’re easy to domesticate. But we already had dogs: what was the point? You had to be crazy like a Russian.

One other factor has tended to suppress locally-domesticated plants – what you might call alien advantage. If you grow a crop near its origin, there will be local pests and pathogens that are adapted to it. It you try growing it in a distant land with a compatible climate, it often does very much better than in its own country. So… crops from Central and South America have done very well in Africa, or sometimes in Southeast Asia. Rubber tree plantations work fine in Malaysia and Liberia but fail in Brazil. Maize is the biggest crop in Africa, while manioc and peanuts are important. Most cocoa is grown in Africa: most coffee is grown in South America.

Sometimes, Diamond was wrong, but in a perfectly reasonable way, not in the devoted service of a flawed thesis, but just because the facts weren’t all in yet. We all need to worry about that.

He considered the disastrous impact of Eurasian and African diseases on the inhabitants of the New World, contrasted with a much smaller impact in the opposite direction, and concluded that a major factor had probably been transmission from domesticated animals. Eurasians domesticated quite a few animals, Amerindians not many – perhaps that was the explanation. In Guns, Germs, and Steel (p 207), he mentions measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), and falciparum malaria as likely cases of transmission from domesticated animals.

We know a lot more about this we did twenty years ago, since we’ve been sequencing the genes of everything in sight – and it appears that Diamond was mistaken about the most important members of that list. TB appears to be ancient in humans, smallpox probably came from some East African rodent, while falciparum malaria seems to have derived from a form of malaria carried by gorillas. Measles really does descend from rinderpest, a cattle plague, but then rinderpest (and mumps) probably descend from bat viruses. Domesticated animals do play a role in influenza, along with wild birds. I don’t think we know the origins of pertussis.

So why then was the Old World such a fount of infectious disease? Well, it’s bigger. Civilization was older, had had more time to pick up crowd diseases. Humans have close relatives in the Old World that carried important pathogens (chimps and gorillas), while Sasquatches are germ-free. Important pathogens, especially those with insect vectors like malaria, maybe couldn’t make it to the New World through ice-age Beringia. Transportation and trade were more advanced in the Old World, and spread disease more efficiently.

I don’t think that Diamond was making excuses for Amerindians in this, as he was when talking about domestication: having lots of plagues isn’t usually considered an accomplishment. Origination in livestock seemed like a reasonable idea at the time, considering the state of the art. It seemed so to others as well, like William McNeill. It’s not totally wrong – definitely true for measles – but it’s not a huge part of the explanation.

Sometimes Diamond was right. He says that it’s a lot easier for crops to spread east and west than north and south, and he’s correct. Middle Eastern crops worked in much of Europe, especially southern Europe, and also were important in India and China. On the other hand maize had to adapt to shorter growing seasons as it spread into North America: this took time. Post-Columbian spread of maize in Africa was much faster.
Geographical barriers were major factors in slowing the spread of civilization. Although a few distressed mariners must have occasionally crossed the Pacific in ancient times, nothing significant (in terms of crops or ideas) seems to have made it across before Columbus. Amerindians had to develop everything themselves, while populations in the Old World were sharing seeds and ideas (and plagues). Having to invent everything from scratch is a disadvantage, no question.
The geography of the Americas greatly inhibited contact between Mesoamerica and the Andean civilization: even today the Pan-American highway doesn’t go all the way through. The Sahara was even worse, but most of the budding civilizations of Eurasia did manage some contact.

We could use more serious work on macrohistory and the rise of civilization: it’s an interesting and important subject. In particular I’d like to see a really smart and detailed comparison of the two totally independent births of civilization in the Old and New Worlds. But this book isn’t serious. The thesis is a joke, and most of the supporting arguments are forced ( i.e. wrong). Perhaps the most important thing we can learn from Guns, Germs, and Steel is that most people are suckers, eager to sign on to ridiculous theories as long as they have the right political implications.

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220 Responses to Guns, Germs, and Steel revisited

  1. deuce says:

    One of your best posts in awhile, Greg, and that’s saying something.

    I appreciate the Anderson and ERB shout-outs, BTW.

  2. I told you not bother, and now I take it all back. This is a great dissection, and should be sent to every reader of the mendacious volume. I knew he was lying by page 25 but carried on reading to learn more about geography, and flora and fauna. Your review has highlighted the good bits, and sunk the rest. As you say, most readers are suckers, and hope even one domesticated sucker gets to read your review.

  3. Enquiring Mind says:

    At times I thought that Diamond was trolling his readers. I expected to read about Atlantians in some chapter after the PNG appearance. Nonetheless, the book did lead me to look at the world slightly differently, and to discover websites such as Westhunter, so for that at least I am grateful.

  4. Revyen says:

    One way that the HBD sphere could contribute to demolishing disinformation is collect pieces like this one and self-publish a Guns Germs, and Steel Revisited with chapters from different authors. The more inquisitive students who sense some wrongdoing or who are naturally curious would be able to find the best critiques in one place.

    I read AJP Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War and like many young historians of past generations it made an impression but I benefited from reading The Origins of the Second World War Eevisited which came up when I searched on Google Books and Amazon.

    A systematic assault on the big influential books in the fields of psychology, anthropology, economics(Acemoglu’s Why Nations Fail),etc. is the way to go.

  5. Pingback: Stephen Broadberry’s “Accounting for the Great Divergence” | Entitled to an Opinion

  6. I thought the book nonsense except the part about geography. For example, if you look at the path of corn cultivation in New World, it seems to have taken hold where people needed a food source and had the weather to sustain it. That is, the coastal tribes of California and Florida never bothered, whereas the Southwestern Tribes relied heavily on it (and disappeared when the weather patterns made water to hard to get). Tribes that had ready supply to food sources didn’t bother. Tribes that needed to farm reached for the most productive grain. Domesticating animals was easier once the tribe wasn’t moving around, and so on.

    So it seemed to me that geography and available food source would play a part in whether or not a tribe turned purely to farming, and farming success played a part in whether or not they could specialize. Specialization led to more survival strategies for higher IQ people, and also made it more possible for them to have power, thus pushing IQs upwards.

    Maybe it’s obvious that successful farming communities led to higher IQ selection, but he never mentioned it. That was my takeaway, anyway–while I thought the book was feelgood nonsense, I’d never before then (this was 20 years ago or so) considered the move to farming as a cause of higher IQs rather than a symptom.

  7. OK, it says this went through but there’s nothing here. Reposting. Sorry if it appears twice.

    I thought the book nonsense except the part about geography. For example, if you look at the path of corn cultivation in New World, it seems to have taken hold where people needed a food source and had the weather to sustain it. That is, the coastal tribes of California and Florida never bothered, whereas the Southwestern Tribes relied heavily on it (and disappeared when the weather patterns made water to hard to get). Tribes that had ready supply to food sources didn’t bother. Tribes that needed to farm reached for the most productive grain. Domesticating animals was easier once the tribe wasn’t moving around, and so on.

    So it seemed to me that geography and available food source would play a part in whether or not a tribe turned purely to farming, and farming success played a part in whether or not they could specialize. Specialization led to more survival strategies for higher IQ people, and also made it more possible for them to have power, thus pushing IQs upwards.

    Maybe it’s obvious that successful farming communities led to higher IQ selection, but he never mentioned it. That was my takeaway, anyway–while I thought the book was feelgood nonsense, I’d never before then (this was 20 years ago or so) considered the move to farming as a cause of higher IQs rather than a symptom.

    • JW Bell says:

      There are a couple high IQ non-farmers, Mongolians and Eskimos.

      • High compared to Africans, NOT their own farming neighbours. BTW, The IQ and Wealth of Nations estimate for Mongolia is apparently done by averaging Russia and China.

        • MawBTS says:

          I’ve always wondered why Lynn did that. Well, I guess I know why. But why not be honest and say “I don’t have good data”?

          I can imagine times when interpolating data from neighbouring countries might make sense. Some tiny island state that’s of similar genetic stock to its neighbours – yeah, why not. Knowing the IQ of Tuvalu would give you a pretty good guess as to the IQ of Kiribati. But Mongolia is the 18th largest country in the world, running on a fault line of cultures and races. Seems like you’d miss out on a bit of data by just smashing the IQ of Russia and China together.

          Some studies have since come to light, giving a Mongolian IQ of about 101. But that was on children in inner Mongolia, where you would see interbreeding with the Han Chinese in the south. What’s the IQ of Mongolians who live further north?

          • Jim says:

            Lynn got a lot of criticism for that methodology. He stated in reply that when the estimated IQ’s were eliminated the correlations between IQ and economic development actually increased slightly.

          • Mongolia population is about 3 million, fairly small. Mongols are fairly close to Han Chinese genetically, rather than “fault line” –Uygurs, Atlai peoples are. For Mongols vs. Han Chinese, selection pressure is more of a difference.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Eskimos score higher than any other h-gs, but still lower than Europeans or Chinese. And they drink, universal problem of h-gs.

    • RCB says:

      “I thought the book nonsense except the part about geography.”
      That would be most of the book, no? Diamond is a geographer; his department at UCLA is Geography.

      • Charles W Abbott says:

        Diamond is a bird ecolologist or something along those lines,as he states in Guns Germs and Steel. He came to have an affiliation with geography, in part because some geographers came to him and said “Can’t you improve your maps???”.

        I heard him give a plenary session at the Association of American Geographers, it was a while ago, mehinks in LA in 2002.

        But really, he is not a geographer except by adoption.

        • Charles W Abbott says:

          Just for the record, Wikipedia says he was “professor of physiology at UCLA medical school” in 1968, with a “second parallel career in ornithology and ecology, specializing in New Guinea and nearby islands.” WIkipedia has further details.

          Geographers found his work interesting and provocative. Some liked it and some found it maddening and wrong-headed. All geographers rolled their eyes at the crudity of his geographical analysis–if I recall, there were a few maps with big black arrows showing that Eurasia was oriented East-West and the Western Hemisphere had a North-South axis.

          His crude maps made a certain amount of sense to me because I could imagine the East-West orientation of major biomes in Eurasia, driven by climatic zones. William McNeill discussed the role of the steppes and the “steppe gradient” in Rise of the West.

          One argument of his that I found persuasive was that modern Australia was developed with crops and technologies perfected elsewhere in the temperate world, either from Europe or from other “neo-Europes.”

          Many of the examples in the book I found provocative and enlightening. Since I know so little about New Guinea and Melanesia, it’s probably easy to mislead me.

  8. Cantman says:

    Please post this as an Amazon review.

  9. Omnipresent Viable Crop Domesticates? says:

    I’ll give him Eskimos. but that’s about it.

    I’m with you on the animals (intuitively and by the practical examples)… but I wonder more about this one. Did the WHG in Europe really have suitable candidate domesticate plants around? What about South India, another region without indigenous agriculture (and roughly as late occurring in full flow as in Northern Europe)?

    (Peter Turchin seemed to believe that the terrestrial plant threshold (TPT) occurring at Effective Temperatures of 12.75°C (4: Table 4.02 and figure 4.12) had a role in inhibiting northern early agriculture. I doubt this is the full story, given late agriculture elsewhere in Eurasia outside the early centres of the Middle East and East Asia, and other factors are present inhibiting grain agriculture. But in your view is there nothing to it entirely?).

    • gcochran9 says:

      Crabgrass can be domesticated [fonio]. For that matter, oats and rye are natives of Europe, started out as weeds in the wheat.

      • Omnipresent Viable Crop Domesticates? says:

        I believe that the thought is that rye and oats are weeds brought in with wheat during the Neolithic (hard to separate seeds, prevent taking root, etc. all along the Neolithic route). I suppose that doesn’t necessarily matter much if they were still there before the Neolithic though.

        Fonio I will have to let you have, as I don’t know whether it was a viable food source or domesticate, whether or not it was present.

  10. SealPup says:

    Is it possible, that European IQ was even higher before sedentism + farming?

    Because if brain size decreased in the Holocene, and also correlates to intelligence, any subsequent selection for IQ must be purely domain specific.

    • I’d rather think than non-IQ, purely domain specific parts of brain have been reduced (smell, dexterity etc.)

      • SealPup says:

        My reasoning is, that human cranial capacity decreased on a global scale with sedentism, as it did in domesticated livestock. This must have some negative cognitive effect if brain size correlates with intelligence, as it does. The idea man got more generally intelligent in the Holocene, must be at odds with the domestication theory unless you reduce it to specific skills like mathematics in trader groups and perhaps invoke pleiotropy.

        • Brain Mass says:

          You can probably find a good set of domesticated dogs that seem smarter than wolves (Border Collies…?). All things being equal, people today are probably less smart than other genetically equivalent versions of themselves with some set of mutations that increase brain mass without impairing performance. It’s not clear that our ancestors actually were that, though.

          Brain size is probably only interesting for between group variation today in that it tends to be higher in broad racial groups with higher levels of IQ.

          Take: Beals 1984 (

          British and Japs have lower brain size than continental comparisons, but no real deficit at all in tests. Southern Indians and Vietnamese have pretty low brain sizes, but clearly aren’t dumb (or at least, at a very large remove from neighbouring pops). Large variation in Amerinds seems unlikely to have anything much to do with IQ differences (I don’t know that large brained Canadian natives seem clearly smarter than small brain Southeastern US natives, at least from what we can find in culture).

          Brain-to-body mass doesn’t make this any easier. As Greg has said before, else, Nero Wolfe would be real dumb (and similarly you’d lose your IQ points for becoming a bodybuilder).

          • Most people using modern gadgets are BIRGing on intelligence they rarely muster. Even a simple magnet motor or RF circuit is beyond the comprehension of most iPhone addicts, yet they see themselves as smarter than their ancestors.

            The world would also be much quieter if today’s bass terrorists had to make their own audio gear from scratch, including raw electronic components. Same deal with the firearms they use indiscriminately in their hoods. Even a crude musket wouldn’t be attainable without foreknowledge.

            I think a lot of what’s called “racism” (combined with the power to abuse it) came from whichever group had the best gear, setting up long-term imbalances, now blamed on unique malice.

    • says:

      While trying to find regional variations that favor European but not for East Asian, this one pop up. rs4988235 allele A lactase persistence, EUR 51% EAS 0%

      PISA3 = +119.661*rs498A +409.265; # n=46; Rsq=0.4779; p=1.046e-07

      EUR getting smarter after consuming milk.

  11. A very good review.
    I enjoyed Guns, Germs, and Steel when I read it, but I read it selectively, paying more attention to some parts than others. In particular, the book came out when scholars in a variety of fields were really beginning to put together the story of major demic expansions and how they changed the world. These parts of the book – Speedboat to Polynesia, How Africa became black, Colliding hemispheres – were good popular science on a fascinating topic.
    But the attempt to answer Yali’s question – why do white people have so much cargo compared to New Guineans? – didn’t really work. Apart from the issues raised by Greg’s review, these are some things that struck me.
    1. One of the most basic facts about economic development is that it correlates with high latitude/low temperature. The outliers are pretty straightforward, poor communist and ex-communist countries, and rich petrostates. And there are all sorts of other correlates of latitude and climate: polygyny, women’s contribution to subsistence, unilinear descent groups. Once upon a time geographers (eg Ellsworth Huntington) couldn’t talk about much anything else. This helped make old-school geography unpopular, so we get to Diamond, who doesn’t address the topic.
    2. A big puzzle is why Europe specifically (not, say, China) took the lead in the revolutionary economic, political, and intellectual changes of the past 500 years. Unlike the development of agriculture, or the origin of the state, this only happened once, so it’s going to be hard to sort out what factors were most important. Diamond doesn’t really have much to say about this, other than noting that political fragmentation probably helped.

    • lymphomatron says:

      I thing cultural shifts alone explain the differences between China and the West in recent centures. China stagnated not just got left behind. So the two cultures or culture areas, broke with norms around the same time.

      The reason I said its culture is the Tebow book, which points out the social networks involved in scientific knowledge begun to spread in Europe, and to decline in China. These sorts of shifts aren’t biological though they naturally affect heredity in the long run.

    • benespen says:

      It is really hard to make a good explanation with an n=1. Geology had this problem, you had time series data, but only one running experiment. You couldn’t wind it all back up and see how sensitive it was to initial conditions. It was probably a great boon to geological models to be able to send probes to other planets/moons and see how they turned out.

      Unless we want to try to run civilization like the Moties did, we probably won’t be able to re-run this particular experiment and see whether there was something really different about Europe, or if it was just some random combination of luck factors that finally gelled. Thus we are mostly stuck with historical or philosophical approaches to try and answer the question. I’ve been interested in macrohistory for fifteen years, and I’ve read a lot of attempts to explain why Europe finally pulled ahead of China.

      A lot of them are interesting, but I’m not sure anyone has really nailed it yet either. It doesn’t help that the field of macrohistory is mostly out of fashion, so the seminal works in the field are mostly old, which means wholly innocent of any genetics or archaeology from the last half of the twentieth century, at best.

      • pyromancer76 says:

        It’s the DNA (or whatever) to protest authoritarianism. That only developed in “the West;” maybe it comes from IQ as well as an additional quality one might label grit. Individual thinkers with horizons beyond those permitted by human-deities, class, religion, military rank or whatever, became the greatest engine of ingenuity and entrepreneurialism. Amazing, but not easy to maintain. Maybe the children become “domesticated” and choose to be taken care of.

      • Thomas Bridgeland says:

        I go with written language as a big factor. Chinese is designed to exclude the unwashed. Greek/Latin letters were better for business and wide dispersal of information.

    • Chris says:

      The fragmentation of Europe was one of his major points: lots of little peninsulas and mountain ranges to make natural stable nations . Europe does look oddly detailed on the world map. What brought about the last stages of internal unification and hierarchy though… hard to decide cart and horse

      • Frau Katze says:

        It’s a huge factor. Different parts of Europe had different leaders. If Europe had been a huge state ruled by one government, a lot would be very different. Columbus likely wouldn’t have sailed. The Spanish monarchs were not up to date on things like the size of the world. The Portuguese (he approached them first) made the most sensible response because they knew more. But it turned out that even though Columbus failed to get to China, the Spanish won big time anyway.

        Another example was the Protestant Reformation. Luther was protected by his local leader. He wouldn’t have survived in China.

  12. I wonder why don’t you mention lower (much lower) genetic variation of Amerindians compared to Eurasians.

  13. Delighted to read this and have some of my ideas (soaked up from GG&S) corrected.

    A small point: I don’t think it’s really part of Diamond’s thesis that New Guineans are smarter. Yes, he said they were, and thought they were, but was willing to waive the point – and I think it functions more as a rhetorical bending-over-backwards. He’s basically saying: “Let’s allow that Europeans and Chinese are not only not smarter than primitive-lifestyle peoples but actually dumber; I can show how they could have come to conquer the world even so.” (I found Diamond’s reasoning about smarter primitive peoples easily the least persuasive part of his book; I also got the impression that so did he.)

    • gcochran9 says:

      He never says he was willing to wave the point, so how do you know that?

      Next, europeans and Chinese ( northeast Asians) test smarter than anyone else. Noticeably so. And they act it, more or less. kinda sorta. More complicated mistakes.

  14. Steve Sailer says:

    It’s pretty common for California farmers to keep a few ostriches.

    • dearieme says:

      Not only didn’t the blacks domesticate ostriches, neither did the Boers. But the British did, PDQ.

      • Feirich says:

        “Not only didn’t the blacks domesticate ostriches, neither did the Boers.”

        Ostriches are found as far north (today) as the southern margins of Egypt and the southern fringes of the Sahara. There is evidence of them being possibly partially domesticated in various places, even outside of Africa:

        “Ostriches were first kept in captivity during the Bronze Age, in a tamed and semi-domesticated state, in gardens of Babylon, Nineveh and Egypt, as well as later in Greece and Rome.”

        Plenty of civilizations have had contact with them and for a long time. Most don’t seem to have really bothered with them. The article notes they’re only partially domesticated even today. They just don’t seem like they’ve been worth it to most people.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Los Angeles’s main park, Griffith Park, was an ostrich ranch under Griffith Griffith in the 1880s.

      A lot of people have lost a lot of money in California ostriches over the last 130 years.

      • TWS says:

        You’d think specify would find a way to make money with them. They have ok meat an interesting hide, the feathers used to be worth something before synthetics but America hasn’t ever made money off them. Same with a lot of funky critters, alpacas, emus, camels, we don’t exploit them very well. They are niche pets and tulip bulbs.

        • zimriel says:

          Unsure about alpacas, but the llama family is heavily represented in sheep farms here in Colorado. Apparently the llama parental instincts are triggered and they like to herd the little woolly blighters.

          • TWS says:

            Extremely tough to make money on them. Even if a couple can help keep a herd together or stop coyotes. Most money is made by people selling to other suckers waiting for them to become the next big thing. Once the local canines become used to llamas they lose their deterrent. I’ve seen several killed by dogs let alone coyote.

            The problem with alpacas llamas etc is sheep. Sheep make llama and alpaca wool a hobby. Some can make money from their hobbies some can’t. Lots of llamas out our way get abandon. Alpaca are just a money sink so far.

  15. sainchuck says:

    I was introduced to the book while undergrad at economics…we spent a half semester of a course on it and I can say, it was one of the most important books of my education, also because in a couple of years later, it brought me here. I remember vividly being intrigued and a little insulted by the PPG geniuses but I am proud to say I didn’t buy it back them either. The book certainly has points for introducing me to ‘out of the box’ thinking. But just for amazon review sake, how many stars do you give it?

  16. P. K. Adithya says:

    Hi Dr. Cochran, just to pick up on one of your last sentences here – “two totally independent births of civilization in the Old and New Worlds”. Do you believe that there were only exactly two completely independent births of civilization in history? That is, the beginning of civilization in the Far East was influenced by the existing one in the Fertile Crescent? Just wondering about your opinion because it appears that there’s significant disagreement on this.

    • dearieme says:

      Non-Cochran here: since it was physically possible that the Fertile Crescent was the origin for all Old World civilisations it will be very hard indeed to prove that it wasn’t, because “prove” is a strong claim. How could you prove that ideas weren’t transmitted from one chap to another along a chain thousands of miles long? On the other hand, does it matter much? What turns on whether or not the Indus civilisation was an offspring of Sumer? Or that the Chinese learnt this or that from the West (meaning what we now call the Middle East)?

      The two great advances for man were (i) the agricultural revolution, and (ii) the industrial revolution. We know where and when the second happened, in one remote island over the course of a century or two. For the first all we know is where the oldest evidence has been found so far. That situation could change next week.

      • P. K. Adithya says:

        I don’t know that much hinges on it. In the book, Jared Diamond deals with the emergence of writing – he says it arose independently in the Fertile Crescent and Mesoamerica, but is uncertain about the Far East. I was wondering whether that was the current state of knowledge regarding civilization itself as well.

      • Patrice Ayme says:

        Industrial revolution only in one remote island, 20 miles off the coast of France? Anglocentrism at its best!

        England was not the one and only birth of whatever. “Newtonian” mechanics was started by Buridan in Paris, circa 1350 CE (330 years before Newton) and the steam engine was initially invented (with the steam propelled boat) by professor Denis Papin, a Frenchman in Germany, who taught engineering in Britain to the one lowly English who grabbed the fame (and money).

        Anglocentrism is imperial in nature: it pretends that something special and higher was going on in England, thus justifying Anglo-Saxon imperial supremacy. Indeed England and its colonies succeeded in dominating France financially, thus militarily, hence, in trade. However, the inventive dominance of France is clear. France could do without england, not vice versa!

  17. Victor Dvortsov says:

    This “review” reminds me of the articles in local newspapers that “destroy” mainstream climate science. Rude and arrogant in tone, and geared for an effect. Declaring a thoroughly researched thesis a joke based on a couple punchlines is not the way to conduct a scientific discussion.

  18. lujlp says:

    Perhaps his definition of ‘smart’ is in maximized leisure time.

    HG societies in high resource areas tend to do roughly 25 hours of work a week, throw in a mild climate with few dangerous animals like the majority of N America, and it can drop as low as 15.

    Course, that isnt smart so much as it is extraordinarily lucky

    • Maldo says:

      You seem to be saying the myth of primitive affluence. Needless to say, Marshall Sahlins’ ilk used a myopic definition of labor to push their narrative. Even Ted Kaczynski called them out for it.

  19. John Harvey says:

    “Perhaps we should consider dysgenic effects. Because of low birth rates among highly educated women, IQ is probably declining today in developed countries, at ~1 pt a generation. Probably this hasn’t been going on for very long. . But if it goes on long enough, a day may come when the minds of the men of the industrialized countries fail, leaving the inhabitants of Sentinel Island the smartest people on Earth.”

    Back in 2007 I ran a simple correlation exercise taking in most of the worlds countries. This compared mean national fertility rates taken from The CIA World Factbook with mean National IQ scores as listed by Lynn. This produced a figure of minus 0.73 !

  20. Anonymous says:

    Diamond has been debunked,Hannibal domesticated African elephants,teachers love the book because it’s all about Kumbaya,read why nation fail

  21. Zenit says:

    I had never been disturbed by the thesis of Papuan high intelligence – not only it is opposed to the main argument of the book, but seen in context, it is clearly meant seriously. Rather strange to dedicate half space of book review to two or three sentences in the book.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      It is only the most glaring example of Diamond’s tendentiousness and fundamental unseriousness.

    • RCB says:

      You mean not meant seriously?

      I mostly agree. Sure, Diamond mentions it near the beginning, and it reveals a lot about him. But it’s not really central to the thesis of the book, which is basically that geography is destiny (but not because of local selection). I wouldn’t summarize the thesis as “Diamond believes that Papuans are smarter than everyone else, but that geographical factors are holding them back.” Rather I’d say “Geographical features largely determined the inequality of national/continental wealth that we see today, via the effects on agriculture, trade, disease, etc.; genetics play no role.”

      • gcochran9 says:

        Then he should have said that. But the notion that every population is equally smart is one of those ideas contradicted by everything that has ever happened. And even Diamond does wonder why peoples with long experience in civilization can quickly pick on new developments like airplanes and electricity while backward populations don’t do very well at that. Well should he wonder.

        He talks about how sticking a pencil through your septum shows how smart PNG natives are. Really.

        It would be interesting to hear the story of someone’s journey from fervent belief in this nonsense to something approximating sanity.

        • Charles W Abbott says:

          When I heard Diamond speak at a plenary session at the AAG conference in 2002 he gave modern airplanes and airports (managed by PNG natives) as evidence that PNG natives were not obtuse or stupid, and that if you gave them modern technology they could make an international airport work just like anybody else.

          That’s an empirical question. I don’t know what an inspection of PNG airports would indicate.

        • RCB says:

          I wouldn’t say I was ever a fervent believer, but I was on the side of the angels once. Racial differences in intelligence always intrigued me (I remember finding some old books in school libraries), but being an anthro grad student practically requires compliance, if only publicly. I think there’s a sort of pluralistic ignorance in the field: I recall conversations about race and IQ where all parties were uncomfortable and eager to change the topic – perhaps because some secretly were guilty of crimethink.

          Things have changed now. I’ll even argue for racial differences on facebook – in full view of pretty much everyone I know. Anyhow, I don’t know what exactly caused the change for me, but this blog played a pretty big role. Hopefully that’s encouraging.

          • Frau Katze says:

            Facebook? Didn’t you know that new censorship rules are currently being developed at Facebook? YouTube also.

            The Left senses (correctly) that its leadership of our society is at threat. They’re fighting back with every tool they’ve got.

            But it’s really not a partisan issue. No politician of any party would ever admit it.

            The problem with IQ variations is that there is absolutely no solution.

          • RCB says:

            More reminiscence: I remember an undergrad paper where I tried to use a few anthropological theories to explain why the technology of the Yaghan (of Tierra del Fuego, and Voyage of the Beagle fame) was so much worse than that of the Aleut, despite (at least superficially) similar environments. There was an awkward, mostly unspoken rule that genetic differences between the populations were completely off the table. I remember thinking that the genetic hypothesis was totally plausible, but I was a good boy and didn’t touch it.

            • Frau Katze says:

              Excuse my ignorance but why would the Yaghan be less intelligent? I don’t know anything at all about them.

              • Inbreeding. Aleut are from much later wave from Eurasia.

              • RCB says:

                There wouldn’t have been much to say, I suppose. Maybe try to find IQ tests of Aleuts vs Fuegians, and suggest that this might be enough to explain technology differences: fuegians are just dumber. Wouldn’t have been a strong argument, but it wasn’t allowed anyway.

            • jb says:

              I always thought the people of Tierra del Fuego had lost the original Siberian cold weather technology during the passage through tropical America, and either hadn’t had time to reinvent it, or else had evolved a physiological tolerance to the cold that made it less necessary. I don’t really see any need to speculate about differences in intelligence — especially given that at one point their ancestors unquestionably did have effective cold weather technology.

              • JerryC says:

                You’d think re-inventing clothes would take a lot less time than evolving the ability to tolerate being naked in very cold weather.

              • Frau Katze says:

                I just did a quick check with Wikipedia. An 1888 photo says all you need to know: They look pathetic. Definitely way behind the Aleuts and Inuit.

                I guess if there were no animal from which they could fur there really wouldn’t be much to wear.

              • poster says:

                “You’d think re-inventing clothes would take a lot less time than evolving the ability to tolerate being naked in very cold weather.”

                Groups slightly north of the Yaghan like Selk’nam and Haush hunted and made clothes from guanacos(though they did seem to be similarly cold adapted as the Yaghans were). The Yaghan were more of a coastal people. How Fuegians came to be cold adapted in the ways they were I don’t know, but some of them produced clothing. It’s curious that the Yaghan did not.

          • Well it might be more due to you than milieu. Pavlov in his 70 years criticized Bolshevist regime and explicitly mentionted like “They might execute me for saying this, but I’m old and don’t care anymore so I am saying what I feel what I feel obliged to say”
            Революция застала меня почти в 70 лет. А в меня засело как-то твердое убеждение, что срок дельной человеческой жизни именно 70 лет. И потому я смело и открыто критиковал революцию. Я говорил себе: «чорт с ними! Пусть расстреляют. Все равно, жизнь кончена, а я сделаю то, что требовало от меня мое достоинство».

            • Frau Katze says:

              But did he think that his reputation would keep him safe? An awful lot of Russians did lose their lives, as I scarcely need to mention.

              I don’t think punishment for wrong thinking would be that bad in the here and now. You could certainly lose your job and become an “unperson” to the “progressives”. We saw that with just recently with that Google fellow, Damore.

              But some of the people brawling in the streets in parts of the US would just love to run punishment camps. Let’s hope they never get a chance.

  22. dave chamberlin says:

    Cochran is preaching to the choir here at West Hunter. I don’t know how he can reach a larger audience that still hold on to the Jared Diamond like beliefs that we are all equal and it’s racist to even look closer at reality.

    We are living in a time where a large section of the world (Africa and the Middle East) are quickly rolling towards a worst case scenario of the malthusian trap. The best population projections we have now guess that Africa will continue it’s crazy population growth from it’s present 1 billion to where ever the full effects of the malthusian trap halt further population growth by disease, starvation, and murder out of desperation. Meanwhile the rest of the world has come pretty close to stabilizing it’s population growth. Africa is a huge problem that will not be looked at and addressed because equality idealist deny that their is a problem.

    Racism is repugnant as well as ignorant. Each and every individual needs to be looked at as an individual rather than part of a larger group. But shifted bell shaped curves of human intelligence in different population groups are real, confirmed by repeated scientific studies. If we don’t admit that there is a problem in Africa than how in the world are we going to help these poor people from starving to death from over population.

    We aren’t. We won’t even give out free birth control to those exploding populations in need of them because of another set of ignorant beliefs. Idealistic believers in human equality are not just mistaken, they shun any talk that Africans are suffering because of IQ difference. We can’t talk about the growing underclasses in developed countries that are pushed further and further out of the middle class because of IQ difference. It’s all very sad.

    • Herr Mick says:

      Free contraception might work, supposing that the Africans would use it. Seems unlikely though.

      Cutting aid is probably cheaper.

      • Warren Notes says:

        Contraception or eugenics are often mentioned, but why not a “middle way” for areas like Sub-Saharan Africa? – namely, making free artificial insemination available. Consider – sperm donated by an American physics graduate student with an IQ of 130 is accepted by a woman with an IQ of 70. The result will be offspring with an IQ of 100. Over subsequent generations, the IQ can be raised even higher. These offspring can be expected to rise to leadership positions given the proper education. Their prestige and rank (and targeted propaganda) will cause the population to associate their physical characteristics with success, and they will want to emulate others who have accepted the “smart sperm.” As the IQ of the population rises, the population will decline. An alternative approach is to locate extreme high-IQ African-American outliers as donors in order to match the physical characteristics of the population as closely as possible. This would be a great West Hunter non-profit outreach project.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Interesting that in Diamond’s book “Collapse” he argues that overpopulation contributed to the Rwanda mass killings of the 1990’s. He said he faced a great deal of opposition.

      I’m not exactly sure why. Overpopulation is a known problem with a well known outcome.

      It seems that even mentioning birth rates is now almost as taboo as the IQ issue.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Since about 2008 or so, the commandment has been, “Thou Shalt Not Notice Anything Less than Complimentary About Africans, or Those Descended From Them”.

        This doesn’t just apply to white people, either. Blacks like Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, and Dave Chapelle have been pilloried for noticing that black people sometimes display less than optimal behavior.

        • Ursiform says:

          And it turned out that Bill Cosby knew this from personal experience …

          • Toddy Cat says:

            That’s very true, but don’t think for a minute that Cosby didn’t have lots of company when it came to that sort of behavior. Anyone who thinks that the black community turned on Cosby because he possibly date-raped a few white chicks, when they stuck up for O.J Simpson, isn’t thinking straight. Cosby thought that he was bullet-proof, and wouldn’t shut up about black misbehavior. Surprise!

      • zimriel says:

        And now Rwanda has stable birthrates among nations (like Burundi) which do not.

    • Korakys says:

      If you can’t even preach to the choir then you deserve to preach to the masses.

      I saw this through Pocket’s recommendation engine and as a Jared Diamond superfan and big believer in geographical determinism I decided to check it out.

      I find the first half of Cochran’s assessment of GGS to be basically worthless, however the bits on the suitability of various types of plants and animals for domestication is quite interesting. I’m not wholly convinced, but it is enough to get me to keep reading this blog.

      Putting some links on the about page to most popular posts would certainly help newcomers and would save me the effort of having to manipulate google into giving up the answers.

      I wouldn’t worry about Africa population by the way, as they get richer and healthier they will have less kids, just like everyone else. There will likely be one intermediate generation though, where people get healthy but still have quite a large family before they switch to smaller families.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Greg is negligent about links for some reason or other. He’s a bit eccentric and is apparently not actively trying to increase his readership. Everyone in the “choir” is used to him.

        I’m still worried about Africa. I’m afraid they’ll never get richer and healthier. The derivative is flat. No sign of change. (Admittedly some Caribbean Africans appear to be ahead in that area, indicating it might be cultural.)

        One thing that concerns me is that the world economy is static. It never recovered from 2008. Some economists believe the go-go years prior to 2008 were an anomaly, fuelled by the Ponzi scheme of granting mortgages to people who weren’t qualified.

        Other economists think the high growth in the 1950s was an anomoly too, related to the destruction in Europe while the US (and Canada, etc) still had fully functional industries.

        I find these arguments compelling. So how exactly would they become wealthier, if this is the case? Even the growth in China has slowed down markedly.

        And lots of people think the planet is at the limit regarding population. True, poor Africans don’t put the same stress on the environment as the wealthy nations. That implies that attempts for Africa to become wealthier would be an environmental disaster.

        The old order is changing (if one can call the years since the Industrial Revolution “old.”. They seem old to us but in reality are just a blip).

      • gcochran9 says:

        Free free to stop reading this bog. If you ever again say ” less ” when you mean ‘fewer’, I will ban you with joy in my heart.

  23. Chris says:

    Very interesting article. I was a bit shocked when I began to reread GGS, years later, to find the wise primitive stuff at the start. Obviously erased by the brilliant observations in the rest of the book. Now I find out the early stuff is a smoking gun indicating a certain amount of wishful thinking!
    However I’m not sure innate population-wide IQ is a better explanatory theory than suggesting that emigrAtion of the more intelligent and more original, or (in an authoritarian culture) suppression/punishment of independent thinkers, could keep a region stupid.

  24. S says:

    I’d like to point out a much better and more original book than Diamond’s, McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples from the mid-70s. McNeill was the originator of the “germ hypothesis” (the impact of infectious disease on the course of human history) and already mentioned that germs might have had some impact in his epic The Rise of the West from 1963 (among the best books ever written).

    In GG&S, Diamond does refer to McNeill but not Plagues and Peoples (probably intentionally).

    Read McNeill.

    • Bob says:

      McNeill’s The Pursuit of Power is good as well, and is a companion to Plagues focusing on the historical consequences of the development and evolution of military technology. Diamond may have just ripped off McNeill’s works on guns, germs, and steel and inserted his thesis, which McNeill never advanced.

  25. Archandsuperior says:

    “Sure, there were places where this was true: what were the Maori in New Zealand going to domesticate – weta?”

    Moa, obviously!

  26. Scott Locklin says:

    FWIIW he got the timeline wrong in the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. Diamond claims it was smallpox that made Cortes achievement possible. No, first the Spaniards conquered Mexico, then smallpox wiped many of the Aztecs out. We even know the name of the guy who was the original source of the infection (he wasn’t even a white guy; so much for that theory) and when it happened to within a week or two. Diamond’s not a big fan of facts.

    • MawBTS says:

      No, smallpox hit Tenochitlan in 1520, after the Spanish were thrown out of the city. It’s mentioned in the Aztec codices as huey ahuizotl (“great rash”). About 25% of the population died from it (including the emperor) and when Cortez returned in 1521 he found a greatly weakened city.

      Could he have conquered Tenochitlan without smallpox? Too many unknowns, I think. Worth remembering that smallpox would also have thinned the ranks of Cortez’s native allies, like the Tlaxcalans.

    • JerryC says:

      Nope. Diaz del Castillo talks about a big smallpox epidemic before the siege of Tenochtitlan. While they were building their war fleet, in fact. See Vol 1, Ch 84 of Diaz del Castillo’s memoirs.

      • Scott Locklin says:

        I’m basing my assertion on Castilo’s book, which I just read. They had basically conquered Mexico before the epidemic of 1520. In the same sense the Goths had conquered Rome before the city fell.

        Most of the deaths from disease which occurred in Mexico actually happened LONG after the conquest. Plague of 1545-1548 pretty much wiped out Mexico, and 1576-1578 most of what was left over. There’s strong evidence these were actually native hemmoragic fevers rather than anything Europeans brought over.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Your history is wrong. Read any book about Cortes in Mexico. He was effectively defeated and retreated to the coast, where he discovered that a smallpox outbreak was underway.

      • How does battle of Otumba fit is ‘defeated’? Most of Aztec leadership was already dead after 1st attack in Tenochtitlan.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I’ll have to double check. I had a bunch of dead tree books that I couldn’t keep when I downsized from a house to a condo a couple of years ago. The history of the Conquistadors were part of the lot that were given way. I wasn’t expecting I would need them again.

          Curiously, I bought them in order to intelligently debate someone (online) over the role of disease in the population crash. This man, a former history professor was of the opinion that the Conquistadors killed them in the manner of the Nazis killing Jews and there was no role for disease. I failed to convince him. But I learned a lot anyway.

          I believe that school of thought is taught at universities.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Here’s a timeline I got from Wikipedia. It starts at the retreat from Tenochtitlan.

          -1520 July 10 Spanish begin retreat from Tenochtitlan. Heavy losses. Called Night of Sorrows
          -1520 July 14 Battle of Otumba, Spanish get away with difficulty
          -1520 September Smallpox, kills many, including the new Aztec leader
          -post epidemic, Cortes and native allies advance again toward Tenochtitlan.
          -1521 August 14 Cortes and allies take Tenochtitlan.

          • zimriel says:

            Katze: how about if you are both right?
            Cortez failed, at first, to conquer the City Of The Mexica. He did, however, still have the loyalty of anti-Mexican tribes / nations, including Nahua-speaking nations. So in that sense he had conquered the Valley of Mexico already.

            • Frau Katze says:

              Yes, I’m thinking there’s not much to add. We don’t have detailed information about how many were killed by smallpox. It must have spread to distant hinterlands that the Spanish didn’t yet know about.

              It is interesting that native allies remained allies despite the smallpox. At this point, who knows what they thought.

              Out of curiosity I am planning to read some of the writings of the Cortes crew. He sent letters back to Spain from time to time. An English translation only cost 80 cents as an ebook.

              It was certainly a huge turning point in our history.

    • Patrice Ayme says:

      The smallpox epidemic struck Cortez allies, FIRST. The allies provided Cortez with 95% of its force (at least). Cortez recruited many of the ex-allies of the Aztecs to make a massive production of dozens of thousands of copper tipped bolts for the crossbows, made to exacting specifics.

      Thus the smallpox was no advantage. Cortez won because he was extremely smart and even more so his native wife (Cortez was known by the natives as her husband. She was Dona Marina, Malintzin, La Malinche, a princess from the Mexican coast). Also the Aztecs were hubristic, and underestimated the hatred other natives had for them.

      • Frau Katze says:

        While not disagreeing that Cortes was a savvy leader, nor that La Malinche was a considerable help (she became his translator plus she and the other women would have been able to give Cortes insight on how the Aztec society worked), smallpox couldn’t have been anything other than a massive plus factor.

        Were the women high status in their society? I can’t remember reading that, but maybe it’s true.

        I assumed that no group would give away high status women so they must have been at the other end of the scale. It’s hard for us to imagine how it worked since Europeans didn’t give away women to allies AFAIK. It just wasn’t done nor expected.

        The problem with high status women is that their male relatives might refuse to part with them. The area interests me, being a female. Maybe it was considered an honour?

        We do know that the women never attempted to escape. They stayed to the end. The books I read didn’t mention it, but the women apparently didn’t get smallpox themselves. This must have been because they had no contact with the sick.

        • Patrice Ayme says:

          After Cortez got to Mexico, he and his top “captains” were offered women. Some were “slaves”, or captives. Many were highest status princesses. Some of the later were remarkably ugly, that caused diplomatic problems, and the Spanish captains had to accept those unions with fortitude.

          However, many unions of Spaniards with Native women were genuine. Cortez’s union with La Malinche was of the latter sort. La Malinche came to be viewed in Mexico as a symbol of treachery to the Native American cause. She played a crucial role, for example in persuading other Mexican nations to join Cortez.

          One can imagine a completely different scenario, where Spanish captains had gone to the Mexican side, and taught them advanced technologies, while warning them of the danger Spain represented, both for the Aztecs, and their Native enemies.

          (Something like that happened in Japan; right, Japan was much more advanced than Mexico; however, Mexico had copper weapons, and Japan didn’t have firearms; Japan was able to suck European knowhow, without letting itself be psychologically invaded… Initially the Mexicans were mesmerized by Cortez and his men, and their horses)

          • Frau Katze says:

            Yes, I also read that La Malinche was not regarded well. In view of the catastrophic drop in population due to first smallpox, followed by two other epidemics (and that was just the 16th century), I can see their point of view.

            There was also some rather bad treatment by some of the Conquistadors. Pizzaro sounds like he was a psychopath.

            I can’t envision your other scenario. According to the books I’ve read, Cortes seemed very determined to convert the Aztecs to Christianity. I don’t know why he thought way.

            Even in the absence of a proselytizing religion like Christianity showing up, the human sacrifice would have repelled most Europeans.

            Who knows? Alternative histories are always interesting but who knows?

            • Citizen AllenM says:

              One of the most interesting things is Cortes brought pigs and other livestock- one does begin to wonder at the diseases that were on the ships with them…and how those diseases moved through the native population.

              The thought that one of disease waves was a variety of pig based diseases.

  27. HI says:

    Greg, OT question about your germ hypothesis for homosexuality. Have you considered the alternative that there might be a gene (or more than one) that provides an advantage in a single copy, but leads to homosexuality with two copies? We’ve been selecting for domestication for a while now by weeding out violent males, for example. Could a “tame-male” gene explain the genetic persistence in males? The fact that only 40% of males historically reproduced may or may not fit with the “tame-male gene” hypothesis, but “tame-male” is just one possibility. There could be others. The basic point is that your argument for ruling out selection pressure doesn’t seem entirely convincing.

  28. Patrice Ayme says:

    The supremacy of “Western civilization” did not arise from materialism, biologism or cretinism (!) (as Jared Diamond has it!). Instead it arose from a runaway mental competition in a enormous ensemble uniting the two largest continents, Africa and giant Eurasia.

    Western Europe made a breakthrough with what the Franks called the “translatio studii”, the translation of “studies” from Athens to Paris). The translatio studii accompanied the “translatio imperii”, the translation of command from Rome and Constantinople, to Paris. At that point, the Franks had correctly entangled studying, and commanding.

    In complete opposition to Diamond’s racist thesis, Western Civilization learned to become more clever, better, faster, and deeper, by putting studies in the forefront of society.

    This attitude changes the genetic environment. Thus it may well have had epigenetic consequences: if intelligence is more valued in a given civilization, it should be more valued by the parents, in said civilization. A society where parents chew qat all day long (as is done in Yemen), or let their children be educated, until the age of seven by cloistered, oppressed, subjugated and thus ignorant mothers, as is the case of most of the Muslim world, many Eurasian societies opted for studying foremost.

    And that not just because of better logic and brighter ideas, but FUNDAMENTALLY because of more powerful and more refined EMOTIONS to help make the Western mind with. Those emotions more friendly to thinking were the roots of European culture. Our minds are made of culture, part of it emotional.

    The “West” rose in the welcoming “MIDDLE EARTH”, which slashes broadly across temperate Africa and Eurasia. The Middle Earth was, per its position, the largest forum of ideas and emotions the planet could have, which made it foremost in elucidating the mind: HENCE its supremacy. To conceptualize it better, it should be named as it is, it’s “MEDITERRA”.

    Past elucidation of reason has spurned the EMOTIONAL CALCULUS. Philosophy all too long spoke as if one could, and should, leave emotion out of the engine of rational creation. Still the civilization of the West itself, when at its best (Crete, Greece, early Rome, Franks, Middle Ages, Renaissance) was aware that emotion leads logic: the civilizational leaps forward were EMOTIONAL.

    The European Middle Ages was superior to the Greeks, because its emotions were better grounded in the full human potential. (Western europe was also a much larger theater for debating and exchanging than the world of the Greeks.)

    The deliberate cultivation of appropriate emotional foundations gave reason an adaptability which underlies the Middle Earth’s powerful civilizational surges. Far from being the enemy of reason, better emotions fostered by the European culture led to better neuromorphogenesis, better logic, better brains, better institutions, better civilization.

  29. Peter Gerdes says:

    I’m sympathetic to the argument that absent other evidence to the contrary we should assume that those groups with the best test scores and most intellectual achievements are more likely to be genetically disposed to intellectual achievement. Indeed, it would require an odd set of circumstances for measured ability and achievement not to be evidence for greater genetic disposition to intellectual achievement.

    However, I think you overstate your case when you suggest that in order for Diamond to be right the field of psychometrics must be wrong. It is clear that IQ tests and other measures don’t purely measure innate ability and it is at least logically possible that the same factors which have prevented these cultural groups from producing more intellectual achievements also resulted in cultural factors which cause individuals from these groups to test worse and these cultural factors are difficult to rectify by later education (so letting them into Harvard absent being raised in an appropriate western environment wouldn’t be helpful)

    Ultimately, I’m not disagreeing with you. But I think the stronger argument would be to focus on why the culture factors can’t be strong enough to explain these results, e.g., point out examples of groups which seem to have started with similar cultural disadvantages but different genetic makeup have been overcome or to adoption studies. I feel that by adopting a little bit more charity toward the arguments that those who disagree with you might advance you could make your case stronger.

    • “However, I think you overstate your case when you suggest that in order for Diamond to be right the field of psychometrics must be wrong. It is clear that IQ tests and other measures don’t purely measure innate ability and it is at least logically possible that the same factors which have prevented these cultural groups from producing more intellectual achievements also resulted in cultural factors which cause individuals from these groups to test worse and these cultural factors are difficult to rectify by later education (so letting them into Harvard absent being raised in an appropriate western environment wouldn’t be helpful)” [My emphasis in bold.]

      Oh, but IQ tests do measure innate ability.

      Putting aside your hedge word “purely” – for what tests and experiments in the social sciences are ever pure? – IQ tests have been looked at a hundred different ways in regards to race, and 90 percent of the time the results are the same. In social science that’s pretty much unheard of. Especially when so many researchers would like the opposite result to be true.

      In fact, the results are so drearily predictable that most people who dislike the findings now just accept that race and IQ ought not to be a subject of legitimate scientific inquiry. Since they find it impossible to make the results go away, they think it best to make the science go away.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        “In fact the results are so drearily predictable that most people who dislike the findings now just accept that race and IQ ought not to be a subject of legitimate inquiry.”

        Very well said and completely true. Very few commentators leave comments at West Hunter trying to intellectually combat Cochran, even though his opinions are disdained by the mainstream. Your quote explains why, the few trouble makers that articulately point out all the evidence that contradicts the mainstream beliefs on these matters are shunned.

        My best guess is popular beliefs are not going to change very much until one key technological improvement is available . When genetics progresses to the point where IQ can be predicted from DNA one would think that would be the final nail in the coffin but it won’t be. Reality has been ignored, psychometrics has been ignored, why not genetics as well. When Africa keeps getting worse and worse will that be the tipping point? Probably not, just a little more reality to ignore. But give the normal Joe the option of his own child being cleaned of all the mutations that chip away at an optimal IQ and that child having his or her IQ bumped up substantially, then and only then will the nonsensical dogma go away and the blinders come off.

        Who knows when or even if that will happen but I don’t see any other way. I applaud and support Cochran’s efforts and find the whole subject area fascinating but my cynicism about the big dumb world out there has been confirmed too many times in too many ways.

        • Jim says:

          I think that when it comes to human behavior most people naturally think of it in a moralistic frame of reference rather than a naturalistic frame of reference. So although nearly everybody can understand that physical traits will vary between populations because they think of such traits naturalistically, they cannot see that the same is true of behavioral traits.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Nobody seems to have had any trouble noticing this in 1900, or for that matter in 2500 B. C.

            • dave chamberlin says:

              It has been accurately said that mistaken science goes through 3 stages of correction.
              1) you are wrong
              2) you might be right but it doesn’t matter
              3)I knew it all along

              Now this notion that we are all equal makes for lovely wishful thinking but shit poor science. Sooner or later the science community will get unwillingly shoved into stage 2.

            • Jim says:

              Belief in human equality doesn’t seem to have been a sacred belief in 1900 but now it is for large numbers of people. They react to any evidence that it’s not true like Ayatollah Khomeini would to any evidence that some statement in the Koran is not true.

              They don’t even consider the evidence but just denounce any doubts about the truth of their ideology as mortal sin.

  30. Peter Gerdes says:

    Also, its far from clear that just because educated women tend to have less children this leads to a selection against genes for greater intelligence. That depends a great deal on both how such genes work (do they only affect IQ in certain combinations or are they largely additive) and what is going on in the rest of society.

    For instance, once can easily imagine a model in which there is a long term negative correlation between having a really high number of genes increasing IQ and having a large number of offspring but there is still net selective pressure because for those genes because at lower socioeconomic brackets those with very few IQ positive genes do much worse in reproduction than those with a moderate number of such genes.

    I mean if it turns out that being smarter makes a big difference to the likelihood that one spends a large amount of time in prison (e.g. dumb drug dealers get caught) and thus to the likelihood of having children this could counteract any effect at the top end of the IQ spectrum.

  31. A. L. Scilo says:

    Isn’t it possible that you have mistaken Jared Diamond’s central thesis in the GG&S book? While I understand there is a popular culture distortion that his main thesis was that Papua New Guineans and other “sone age” peoples are likely even more intelligent on average than modern Westerners, I think you are among those taking such passages out of context.

    To my reading of the book it’s pretty clear that nothing substantial in it hinges upon such claims, and that instead this is used in context simply to introduce the actual thesis. It is offered as a response to the anecdote of JD trying to answer a Papua New Guinea person’s insightful question wondering “Why do you Western Europeans have so much ‘cargo’?” (where ‘cargo’ roughly translates to technological prowess).

    So rather than being an anti-Western screed, as your blog posts assumes and many commentators here seem to presume, it seems to me that JD instead takes the relative success of Western civilization as the basic fact to be explained. In the passages you cite, JD seems to be only suggesting that the question of differences in raw intelligence is not likely to be the most helpful explanation, given that there are other more significant variables resulting from geography, broadly defined.

    That last is what I take as the actual thesis of the book: how might geography broadly construed as including crops, disease, and proximal warfare explain the different technological prowess of cultures.

    In other words, it is because JD is interested in a different question is the reason why there is no psychometric data comparing different populations in GG&S. Why should anyone expect to see data to support a hypothesis JD isn’t advancing? It isn’t the case that he is “implying that the whole field is just pointless crap, not even worth discussing,” as you claim. Not everyone takes up a question the same way, and no scientific inquiry is ever exhaustive or so complete as to never to be subject to revision again nor approached again from another angle.

    And in the hallowed tradition of Western rational thought, we have a name for deliberately mistaking a side point for the main thesis–the Straw Man, a logical fallacy. Sadly, once you began by committing that fallacy, I found myself unable to trust your later claims re data that might (or might not) be counterexamples to some of JDs arguments about geography and crops, diseases and animal husbandry, and so forth. Framing your post within a logical fallacy made me consider this more of a rabble-rousing rant than an intelligent, credible critique.

    I find it ironic that whenever I read rants like these that propose to defend the Western scientific tradition of argumentative scientific inquiry, I find that they are actually serving to undermine the very foundation of careful objective disagreement on which it rests.

    • gcochran9 says:

      ” I understand there is a popular culture distortion” You understand wrong: that’s what he said, while the ‘popular distortion” is that he never said it.

      I don’t give a crap whether you trust me. My arguments rely on well-known data : if you are unfamiliar with it, that is just too bad.

      The alternative hypothesis is that population achievements depend, at at least to some extent, on their talents. Diamond say that backward peoples are smarter. That’s a lie. He says that there’s no substantial evidence proving population differences in IQ that track differences in achievement: but there is, megatons of it. These are fairly standard lies, of course, but they are still lies, and sometimes I tire of them.

      Regional differences in cognitive abilities explain what Diamond can’t: the persistence of these patterns even after backward populations have free access to information. Diamond mentions this persistence – even though it shouldn’t exist, according to his theory. Maybe he’s not showing all his cards. It wouldn’t be the first time: I know of people that publicly support equalitarian fictions while privately believing otherwise.

      • A. L. Scilo says:

        Poppycock. It is simply intellectually dishonest to pretend that a side point is in fact the main thesis.

        JD did not write a book supporting the claim “that the populations with the fewest achievements are the most intelligent” [as you wrote in the second sentence], whether ‘intelligence’ is measured anecdotally (as JD does) or by IQ (as you would prefer). Instead, he wrote a book suggesting that technological achievements are better explained by biogeographical forces, including proximity to and warring with other human subpopulations.

        Now perhaps JD didn’t spend enough time refuting the “megatons” of evidence from psychometrics for your taste–though I think if you knew anything significant about what you pretend to know, you’d know that cross-cultural psychometrics is at best controversial and more likely no better than a modern-day phrenology.

        But it simply wasn’t JDs project to refute psychometric studies concerning supposed differing genetic endowments of smarts; instead he provided an alternative explanation that might account for the differences technological prowess across human subpopulations. Field anthropologists researching cognition have done the former more than adequately for over 50 years now. Why fault JD for pursuing paradigm change, not endless psychometric puzzles investigating whether we can tell who is the smartest of them all?

        Nor are these alternative theories necessarily a binary either/or dichotomy, as you said in your reply to me. Elsewhere, and in your more rational moments, you even allow the possibility that such bioregional forces resulted in selection pressures which fostered a (though to my mind still highly dubious) connection between subspecies population genetics and cognitive “talent” (ie, smarts as measured by IQ). Cognitive cart, meet biogeographical horse.

        Yawn. I’ve never been keen on the myth of Rousseau’s noble savage either, but I possess enough clear eyesight to distinguish between JDs slightly dry, funny pokes at our self-centered, pre-Copernican beliefs that we Westerners are the smartest, best culture at the absolute center of the universe and a serious academic argument about why Westerners (and other less isolated human populations) have in fact technologically outstripped more isolated human populations. Or in other words: I can laugh at myself; can you?

        Your blog post would have been much better had you first responded to the earthquake and not the jibes about who is the smartest of them all. As the post currently stands your argumentation is infected with ideology, and fails to meet the unraised eyebrow test of objective thought.

        • “Poppycock. It is simply intellectually dishonest to pretend that a side point is in fact the main thesis.”

          You don’t put side points in your opening chapter as a way of explaining why you wrote a book. It’s “simply intellectually dishonest” to claim otherwise.

          “Instead, he wrote a book suggesting that technological achievements are better explained by biogeographical forces, including proximity to and warring with other human subpopulations.”

          But it is not a better explanation and one of the reasons we know it is not better is by how assiduously Diamond avoids mentioning the counter evidence.

        • Nope says:

          “Why should anyone expect to see data to support a hypothesis JD isn’t advancing?”

          If you saw a book which talked about psychometrics in explaining comparative human development today, and completely ignored geography and interactions between societies, would your response be “Oh, well, I shouldn’t expect the book to address those, as they simply aren’t the author’s favoured hypothesis”?

          In any case, Diamond’s book fails on its own terms. Firstly, the biogeographical factors that he claims limit domestication opportunities simply don’t (as Cochran argues). This does not automatically lead to an outcome where group differences in “talents” automatically lead to differences in time depth of domestication, and this leads to modern day inequalities. Secondly, differences in “cargo” that he even tries to linked to biogeography play very little role in explaining recent, modern divergences (which are where most differences in “cargo” come from). The whole thesis is a fail.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Gigatons. Why don’t you check out what important mathematics, science, and invention have been done by individuals from populations that have low average IQ scores? Over the last century, say?

          I remember discussing this once on a moderately high-powered list: most of the members simply didn’t know that much of the world is a zero in those areas. I assumed that everyone knew this, but boy was I wrong.

          Field anthropologists have done nothing concerning cognitive differences between peoples, other than deny their existence.

          “cross-cultural psychometrics is at best controversial” – is cross-cultural trigonometry controversial?

        • says:

          “I think if you knew anything significant about what you pretend to know, you’d know that cross-cultural psychometrics is at best controversial and more likely no better than a modern-day phrenology.”

          Oh dear, the ghost of SJ Gould appears to throw more beans in Morton’s skulls. 19th century phrenology still holds up reasonably well – far better than any purported demolition of 100+ years of IQ research. As Cochran stated above, there is no field that has withstood the replication crisis in social science better than psychmetrics.

    • Peter Gerdes says:

      Your argument is about women who have lower socioeconomic status which it is reasonable to assume are less intelligent than the most intelligent women in society (in a statistical sense). That doesn’t tell us if women who are at the mean IQ level are more likely to reproduce than those who are at the 20% IQ level (indeed your very argument about incentives suggests that those who are more responsive to those incentives will have more children).

      Moreover, even if your claims are true for women the conclusion still doesn’t follow. Suppose that those male criminals or drug dealers (or low wage workers if the reproductive costs of prison are too high) who are slightly smarter do much better in fathering children with these woman. That could be more than enough to counteract the effects described.

      Quite simply one can’t just intuit the genetic effects of various selective pressures. One needs to look at serious mathematical models to figure out what happens to various genes and I’m not seeing that here.

      • Peter Gerdes says:

        God damn’t…email reply button gave me the wrong post…ignore this will post to correct comment.

      • Peter Gerdes says:

        Please delete the above reply to wrong comment.

      • gcochran9 says:

        At this point we know that the variants that boost IQ are becoming less common, and how rapidly. Estimates based on known demographics gave similar estimates 60 years ago. You’re talking through your hat.

      • Frau Katze says:

        You’re likely responding to me. I have no data to back up the theory that less intelligent women have more children. I’m likely a bit jaded by a lot of reading news and stories about these women. It gets so tedious, story after story.

        I don’t think the women are thinking, “My welfare check will increase, so it’s time for more kids.” Rather, they feel protected by the welfare state and don’t bother to prevent</> having more children.

        I’ve got a personal story: my son and his wife carefully weigh the consequences of having a third child. They decide they can’t afford it. I’m sure they’re not the only ones.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Sorry about the italics. I don’t like the WordPress commenting system which allows no edit and also lacks a preview feature.

    • moscanarius says:

      So much in this pompous screed.

      To my reading of the book it’s pretty clear that nothing substantial in it hinges upon such claims, and that instead this is used in context simply to introduce the actual thesis

      Then you have not read it carefully. As has already been pointed out in this very comment session, Diamond’s thesis is a peculiar version of geographical determinism that excludes the possibility of geography changing anything about human intelligence or behaviour at the genetic level. Really, the book is written basically as a refutation of the population biological variation hypothesis – Diamond states this on the very first chapter, and then resumes to hand-wavily dismiss them in the subsequent paragraphs as “not sufficiently proved”.

      Why should anyone expect to see data to support a hypothesis JD isn’t advancing?

      Because these data happen to exist, and they support a more parsimonious hypothesis alternative to Diamond’s. I think we should expect whoever is advancing a new, complicated, (and actually meritous to some extent) thesis to at least justify why they believe the other people have gotten it all wrong – preferentially discussing the science involved. Instead, Diamond hand waves the whole discussion with some anedoctes and a bit of moralism.

      And in the hallowed tradition of Western rational thought, we have a name for deliberately mistaking a side point for the main thesis–the Straw Man, a logical fallacy.

      Actually, that’s you. You are reading something that Cochrane didn’t write. Our host was right to call Diamond out for dismissing psychometrics, because despite what you say that is exactly what Diamond did. When he refuses to discuss the data that could challenge his main thesis and calls them irrelevant, he is either dismissing the whole field or, worse, cherry picking only the data that agrees with his hypothesis. In the hallowed tradition of Western rational thought, we call that intellectual dishonesty.

    • Juvenal says:

      I think you are giving the book a quite charitable reading, and intentionally ignoring the main impact it had on the intellectual culture at large. While you are at least partially right about what JD intended, I think it was also pretty clearly his implicit, and perhaps explicit desire (haven’t read it in a long time) to “take the wind of the sails” of any argument that the west triumphed because it was “better”. And the political palatablilty of this message is why the book was so successful.

      It is clearly at pains to trivialize a roughly 2500 year or more technological/cultural/political advantage as “guns and steel” (compare Meso-American civilization to middle kingdom Egypt in terms of actual technologies). In doing so it really isn’t treating the topic fairly, and while European domination of the western hemisphere would have been different without the germs, it likely wouldn’t have been much different than it was over most of the rest of the primitive world during the 1800 and 1900s. Does a past 500 years where the western hemisphere looks less like it does now and more like sub-Saharan Africa really appeal to people? Because that seems to reasonable analogue if you take out the germs and are not trivializing the cultural/political/technological situation. I mean they didn’t even use carts a technology as old as Sumer. Sure jungles, mountains, lack of draft animals, whatever (I don’t find those excuses compelling). I refuse to believe that this would mean there was no need for a cart. Yes they had wheeled clay toys, but not carts? Spoked wheels are over 4000 years old. And that is just one thing.

      Just MO.

  32. RCB says:

    I agree that Cochran spent too much time on the question of PNG intelligence; it’s not central to the book’s thesis. On the other hand, Diamond does deserve criticism for entirely dismissing the elephant in the room – an idea so simple that people around the world have independently rediscovered it over and over for centuries: maybe some groups of people are just inherently dumber than others. That he did so with a rather ridiculous counterargument – “if anything, Papuans are even smarter than whites!” – demands even more criticism. I guess Cochran felt that this mistake was more egregious than any other in the book, hence the space devoted to it.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Diamond is arguing that where people ended up has nothing to do with differences in capabilities. That is central to his thesis. So he says that there’s no evidence for population differences in intelligence, which is a bare-faced lie. He says that backward peoples master modern tech – which is also a lie. They can’t even hack algebra. They can use an IPAD, but can they design one? Nope.

      In the service of this thesis, he fucks up basic questions of domestication. The idea that only a few special species of animals or plants have what it takes to be domesticated is nonsense. You can select on anything.

      He’s making excuses to support the thesis, not trying to make sense.

      Biogeographical forces matter, but unless you also believe that they have tilted selection on cognition in different directions in different regions (likely the case – certainly something did) they don’t explain why the backward stay backward, why they stay underclasses for hundreds of years, etc.

  33. Jim says:

    This whole controversy is so totally ridiculous. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice obvious differences in average level of intelligence between say US blacks, gentile whites and Ashkenazi Jews. Even Dr. Watson would have no trouble noticing them.

    The a priori probability of all the thousands of ethnic groups on Earth all having the same average intelligence is zero.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Certainly it’s ridiculous, and at some level everybody knows it. But unfortunately, the elites in the West have become totally invested in blank-slatism since WWII, and especially since the 1960’s, politically, economically, and socially. As time goes on, this mistake is becoming apparent to more and more people; hence the growing hysteria and repression on the blank-slate Left.

      it can’t endure, of course. But the lie dies hard.

  34. AMK says:

    I wish you had written this earlier and saved me the trouble of reading his book.

  35. Maldo says:

    Jared Diamond is just another Leftie in the vein of Sahlins, Gould, and Mead. He scorns Western Civilization, worships the mud, and embraces relativism. He peddles victimology for dysfunctional groups.

  36. Smithie says:

    One of the more recent evidences that I think really demolishes his argument is the idea that wild animals seem to be undergoing measurable natural selection for brain size in human environments. If the raccoons that raid your trash are getting smarter than the ones living out in the woods a mere 20 miles away, then that makes it hard to keep believing in the psychic unity of mankind.

  37. tublecane says:

    Couldn’t Diamond have just said Yali is more in tune with nature, better able to survive on his own, happier, and other things that aren’t strictly measurable? Then come up with a term–“Yaliness,” or whatever–to denote his superiority? Why being up intelligence?

    People have a decent understanding what intelligence means, and it’s not what Papa New Guineans possess. There’s an entire science dedicated to measuring it, and it probably stands up as well as many other scientific terms in the book. So why go through the trouble of redefining it without really redefining it? Redefining it by implication, as it were, without letting the reader in on your secret new definition. It’s just weird.

    Unless he doesn’t really mean it, and is using slight of hand. Diamond uses slight of hand often. For instance, he doesn’t tell us that the supposed hunter-gatherer societies he runs into aren’t actually hunter-gatherers, strictly speaking, and aren’t “pre-contact.” He has no direct line to the Stone Age,
    and can’t scientifically observe it.

    Nevertheless, he persistently invokes the name of Science, and compares his work favorably to other historians for lack of Science. As if they may as well be theologians or sci-fi writers.

  38. kn83 says:

    It seems the myth of the Noble Savage, despite being disproven multiple times, just won’t die.

  39. steve p says:

    The Maori word “moa” also means chicken, as in, “Now, that’s a chicken!”. The Polynesian ancestors of the Maori had chickens but upon settling in New Zealand didn’t bother to maintain a population, preferring the easy pickings of the giant chickens with no fear of humans.
    They failed of course to domesticate the moa, simply hunting them to extinction, by which time they had lost the ability to navigate back to their ancestral homelands for resupply.
    According to Tim Flannery, by the time of the arrival of the Europeans the Maori were facing population catastrophe (whence cannibalism).

    • dearieme says:

      More likely that the Maoris’ tropical chickens, like their tropical pigs and almost all of their crops, simply failed to thrive in temperate NZ. That would also explain why they didn’t go back home for more supplies of them.

      • steve p says:

        It’s true that the Maori were to some extent genuine victims of Diamond’s latitude barriers; their introduced kumara (sweet potato) for example took a lot of effort to cultivate including using piles of rotting vegetation to keep the plants warm, only to result in tubers the size of your little finger.

        I don’t know about chickens however, for example this paper makes no suggestion that the Maori chickens failed to survive specifically due to the climate:

        • dearieme says:

          Thanks for the link: I’ll read it. The abstract, however, makes it clear that there’s no evidence that the Maori colonisers introduced Polynesian chooks. How odd; why might that be?

          Suggestion: the Polynesian explorers who first landed (I conjecture) before going back home and returning with colonists, might already have found it hard to keep their chooks alive while sailing through temperate waters, so that they warned the colonisers not to bother with them.

          God knows how you’d test that but at least it’s an attempt at an explanation; if all the other colonising expeditions took chooks why on earth would the NZ expeditions not do so?

          How about stops on the way: Kermadec Islands, say? Any evidence of Polynesian chooks there?

  40. TomOlby says:

    Was this sped read? I believe you are a very fast reader. How long did it take?

  41. Dave chamberlin says:

    A book can and should be written by someone with the talents of one Greg Cochran on the implications of what shifted bell shaped curves of human intelligence means to various populations. It would refute the premise of GGS with loads of hard data. People need to be told what the ramifications are of a population where a tiny fraction of the public has an IQ of 115 or higher. People need to be told what it means to a persons job performance when they have an IQ that varies by 5 points. Hit them between the eyes with what a hard working person with an IQ of 85,90, 95, 100, 105, etc. ect.can be successful at. Show them how dramatically this percentage shifts as the bell shaped curve slides up and down the scale from a mean of 104 to 85.

    Greg Cochran was born to be a writer and a writer he should be. Make it speculation free, pick a subject with tons of hard data or you risk the fate of talking out your ass like Jared Diamond.

  42. Jim says:

    Assuming a standard deviation of 15 in IQ a decline in average population IQ from 100 to 96 will reduce the proportion or the population with IQ’s above 130 from about 2% to 1% of the population.
    Thus the number of people capable of very high level intellectual work will go down by about 50%.

    The same reduction will decrease the proportion of the population above an IQ of 115 from 16% to 12%. The ranks of the professional class are mostly drawn from individuals with IQ’s above 115.

    According to Linda Gottfredson individuals with IQ’s less than 75 are economically useless in a modern economy. A change from an average IQ of 100 to 96 as above will increase this part of the population from about 4% to 8%, basically doubling the underclass.

  43. jebby says:

    But you’re making a grand assumption that “progress” is intelligence. For all the great things advanced civilization has brought us it has also taken away from us, and if not us, someone else. Look at the poor in the western world, they have far worse lives than they would in a hunter/gatherer culture. The barrier for entry into a productive member of our society is much steeper, and the distractions like drugs and alcohol only make matters worse. Not to mention the levels of bureaucracy people are required to navigate to get assistance. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate modern life but I do question the “end-goal” of progress. Surely living life is more important than constantly trying to find solutions to problems we’ve created for ourselves. It’s a neverending battle with and struggle to reach something likely unattainable. Just one more breakthrough and all suffering will end. Perhaps we’re trying to create an artificial heaven since we know it doesn’t truly exist (yet).

    • Frau Katze says:

      That’s true, but the alternative is pretty bad: recurring famine, incessant tribal war and disease for which there is no remedy.

      I’ll take modern life in spite of those problems. We should be aware of the problem and try to do what we can.

      I’m not sure the disadvantaged in our society would necessarily be better off: they could quite likely be carried off by one Four Horsemen young.

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  47. Thiago Ribeiro says:

    “Yes, the transistor, invented at Bell Labs in the eastern United States in 1947, leapt 8,000 miles to launch an electronics industry in Japan – but it did not make the shorter leap to found new industries in Zaire or Paraguay.”
    Or in China until many decades later or North Korea ever. Interesting enough, we are told that it is because those countries have/had bad government systems. Well, so do have Africans and South Americans.

  48. Thiago Ribeiro says:

    “If Diamond were right (and the tests wrong), there would be tremendous opportunities for arbitrage, just as sabermetrics let baseball managers identify undervalued players. For example, if people from PNG were indeed significantly smarter than the world average, UCLA could develop powerhouse departments, full of likely future Nobelists, at low cost.”

    How exactly does it work? Don’t they have to be educated through K-12 first? Who will do that/pay for that? UCLA? Probably there are already enough cheap/undervalued youngsters much nearer in America (test people in ghettos and failing highschools for example even).
    “If Diamond were right, hunter-gatherers and other backward peoples should be able to catch up with the developed world rather easily, being smarter. In fact, they should be able to rapidly surpass us: even a moderately higher average IQ in a population greatly increases the fraction that scores above a high threshold. ”
    Are you sure? How much time the “gifted” did it took the Chinese to reverse their decadence and be able to challenge the West again? Centuries of humiliation.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “Probably there are already enough cheap/undervalued youngsters much nearer in America (test people in ghettos and failing highschools for example even).” Nope, such are very rare.

      Education doesn’t have to cost that much. Trust me, if people with an IQ of 150 were 20 times more common in PNG than the US ( a natural consequence of a 1-std advantage in mean IQ ) it would be worth mining them. But it doesn’t pay, because people in PNG are NOT smarter than people in the US.

      After Mao’s death, how long did it take for China to become an industrial/technical powerhouse? 30 years. It’s a question of political will, given the necessary human capital.

    • Thiago Ribeiro says:

      “Education doesn’t have to cost that much.”
      But in America it does. America made some choices and they limit what can be done, limit even what can be imagined and seriously acted upon.

      “Trust me, if people with an IQ of 150 were 20 times more common in PNG than the US ( a natural consequence of a 1-std advantage in mean IQ ) it would be worth mining them.”

      Fair enough, but it is a much bolder statement that just saying (I do not remember the book’s context) New Guineans may be more intelligent than Westerners. How many standard deviations are American Whites above Black Americans? Having said that, I don’t expect testing systematically the New Guineans were to yield amazing numbers. I wonder if there is anywhere in the world a reserve of untapped undervalued players. Independent of what is cause and what is consequence here, peoples who ace IQ tests tend to build good, universal basic education systems and put people to their most productive economic use through capitalism. Maybe Han China, outside the provinces who got rich first when capitalist modernization begun…

    • Thiago Ribeiro says:

      “After Mao’s death, how long did it take for China to become an industrial/technical powerhouse? 30 years.”

      It was not just Mao. By the time he died, China had already suffered centuries of decadence and humiliation. After centuries of weakness and bad decisions, it only changed when a group of pragmatic, cunning bastards took over. They were led by a cat of nine lives if one has ever existed, Deng, and had to crush Maoists, outmaneuver Hua’s centrists and destroy people calling for democracy (I doubt China would have had the same set of “good” policies promoting growth and strenghtening the nation at any price under a democratic regime, I do not know if it would even remain united). China got a functional dynasty of enlightened despots. One just has to look to Yeltsin-Putin’s Russia, with sclerosis succeeding chaos and gangsterism to see it didn’t have to be that way.

    • Thiago Ribeiro says:

      “It’s a question of political will, given the necessary human capital.”

      China lacked such political will under the Qing (just compare her handling of Western influences and modernization with Japan’s in he late 1800s), under the Nationalists/warlords and for 30 yeas the communists. Well, Angola, since independence, also has had a socialist tyrants/ civil war problem. Same for a good chunck of Africa. Who knows what Saudis would accomplish if they had no oil and were not under an autocracy? Yeah, the country could be dissolved, too, as happened wih the Soviet Union without authoritarianism.

  49. Pingback: Skulls for the Skull Throne! - The Daily Coin

  50. Brett Matthews says:

    Diamond makes no effort to claim that IQs in PNG are higher than IQs in the West; he simply claims that the population ‘may’ be more intelligent. That, as these authors should know, is a totally different claim. Earl Hunt in Human Intelligence defines intelligence as “… the collection of cognitive skills and knowledge required to achieve success in one’s society” (p. 449) and goes on to qualify IQ as the same for “modern industrial society.” It is clearly ridiculous to think that Stone Age people, regardless of their level of intelligence, can be arbitraged to “develop powerhouse departments, full of likely future Nobelists, at low cost” in the modern technological and economic context. And the fact that they cannot tells us nothing about Diamond’s claim, because he didn’t claim they had higher IQs than Westerners – he just claimed they might be more intelligent.

    Before slipping into this trap the authors appear to acknowledge the obvious when they remark: “innate superiority at obsolete tasks (a born buggy-whip maker?) doesn’t necessarily translate to modern superiority, or even adequacy.” I think Diamond is quite aware that a nation filled with mostly illiterate people are not going to do very well on a paper-and-pencil test, not matter how many hours it takes.

    But perhaps the authors are not?

    • Ian Dowsett says:

      exactly right. the author is hopelessly confused about the contribution of the surrounding culture to technological ability, while scoffing at members of technologically illiterate cultures who don’t have this exposure. technological culture evolves for complex cultural reasons. it is not a measure of the genetic genius of those pointless members who want to boast about the achievements of their predecessors, or cunce who use words like discourse to impress themselves

  51. Ian Dowsett says:

    i don’t have a defence for diamond’s ad hoc theories, but your ignorance of psychometric testing while bloviating about psychometric testing really chaps my nips. it’s well established that aptitude testing is totally poisoned by cultural influence. iow it’s certainly not a measure of genetically innate talent. and yet you pretend it is by bleating about its success in candidates who are old enough to be well and truly enculturated. IQ testing in general almost invariably measures a suite of learned skills. were you looking for an excuse to show off your knowledge of a big word like psychometric? you might as well be praising phrenology

    • gcochran9 says:

      The problem is, everything you say is wrong. Bring in some guys that are not super-enculturated, but that score high on IQ tests – say Koreans or Japanese or Chinese, and they do very well. Very well on real and quantifiable and important things, like learning math.

      While other groups, that on average do poorly, do poorly at math, here and everywhere else.

      People that study psychometric testing seem to think that I understand it at least moderately well. They may be right.

      Technology development is largely the product of a small smart fraction of the population. Some populations just don’t have many people like that.

      While people that think like you try interventions that never work, and make predictions that never come true.

  52. John Shade says:

    I would eagerly contribute to crowd funding for a long-form review by greg of guns, germs, and steel, or even better a book-length rebuttal.

    Diamond’s bias and intellectual dishonesty peak in chapter 13, when he surveys factors that affect different societies’ ability to invent and accept new technologies. There is no acknowledgement of variation in cognitive ability between groups. If diamond had more scientific integrity, he would have responded in some way to the demonstration in “10,000 year explosion” that agriculture and settled life selected for genes that specified entirely different cognitive and behavioral traits than hunting-gathering.

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