Scott Alexander talks about our paper, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. He thinks it a good explanation of a burst of contributions by Ashkenazi Jews in the exact sciences in the early 20th century. His guys then comment extensively, if not always particularly wisely.

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The struggle for truth

Milton said ‘who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? ‘ – but he was wrong. I’ve seen it put to the worse time and time again. A major fraction of western universities are dominated by various kinds of lunatics – much more so than 50 years ago – and the situation is deteriorating. Sometimes the bad guys win the arguments, not least because there are a million lies for every truth, and it’s not surprising that some of those lies are more attractive. People aren’t logic machines.

Searching for truth via open debate works sometimes, on some subjects, with some people. But on many topics falsehoods prevail. In war, though, there is a systematic bias towards truth. It helps you win. A tendency, one that can often be overwhelmed by disparities in material or population, or by chance events, but is nonetheless real.

When one side is really crazy – drastically misaligned with reality – even big numerical advantages are sometimes not enough.

Being the strongest power gives you more latitude to indulge your fantasies. Women aren’t ever going to make useful Army Rangers: if we were fighting a war of survival, one in which that kind of infantry combat was key and against a foe with comparable resources, we would either shed that delusion or lose. War, serious war, keeps your head on straight [or chops it off] . That’s one reason that governments in Europe generally didn’t get as goofy as sometimes happened in China , late in a dynasty. Not for long.

The South didn’t want to use black soldiers- if they were effective, it would be a strike against their whole social theory. But winners are interested in winning, not some silly proposition.

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Interview: Mostly Sealing Wax

Part II of my recent interview with James Miller is now up.

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Nothing else matters

Average IQ scores have gone up a lot over the years, although they seem to be plateauing.

Do I think that people really got smarter over that period? Based on real-world accomplishments? Not one bit. Probably they’ve gotten a bit dumber, from selection, and more than a bit dumber, from demographic change.

Most importantly, math subscores haven’t changed much. “There is a subtest of the Wechsler called Arithmetic. A typical question: If a widget costs 18 cents, and if you buy 3 widgets and give the clerk 1 dollar, how much change should you get back? This is one of the subtests showing the smallest Flynn effect. Over 50 years it showed 0.23-SD increase in adults, whereas Raven’s Matrices showed a 2.39-SD increase. ”

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Bell beakers – or, the birth of Britain

The Beaker culture is an archaeological culture that existed in the late Copper Age and early Bronze age in western Europe, characterized by a particular style of pottery drinking vessels, but also by developments in copper metallurgy, archery, etc.

It looks as if the culture – a set of ideas and techniques – originated in Spain and spread widely – but then, some of its spread happened by groups that had adopted that culture expanding.

It looks as if people in western Germany picked up these ideas – of course we have a radically imperfect idea of what those ideas were – and then settled Britain. Before all this Britain was populated by a kindof-Sardinian population (with some hunter-gatherer mixed in) that had probably came from Spain. Afterwards they were almost indistinguishable from people of that era living in the Netherlands, who had a lot of steppe ancestry. 93% replacement, minimum. Some Anglo-Saxon ancestry was added about 1400 years ago but A. they’re not very different from the Brits B. most British ancestry today still goes back to the Bell Beaker conquest.

This probably happened through war and massacre. If you think otherwise, you reject the historical record – have a fundamentally false notion of human nature. Disease is not too plausible as a causal factor, since the proto-Brits were not a long-isolated population like the Amerindians or Polynesians, while for that matter some of the most potent crowd diseases, smallpox for example, weren’t even around yet.

Pastoralists are usually warlike and they have often supplanted farmers, even when greatly outnumbered.

I’m wondering if this population replacement was preceded by a long period of piracy and raids, something like Europe in 900 AD.

For a long time archaeologists, not least British ones, have for some reason been viscerally uncomfortable with explanations of prehistory leaning heavily on war & volkerwanderungs. They were wrong: and they were, are, the sort of people that want to be wrong, will be wrong unless someone holds a gun to their head. They need to be replaced, by hook or by crook.
Assuming that we want information.

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Differences, within and without

Suppose that the narrow-sense heritability of IQ is 0.7 [ in typical western circumstances: no ball-peen hammers), and the non-genetic variation is almost all caused by mysterious unshared-environment effects – not the school you go to or the books in the house, but something essentially random, like somatic mutation, or randomness in development.

Then while a big fraction of variance in IQ is caused by genetic differences, quite a bit is not.

But now look at the difference between two groups. It’s entirely possible that those random forces – somatic mutation, noise in development, etc – are close to the same in both groups.

If so, the difference in the averages of the two groups would be almost entirely genetic, since the non-genetic factors would average out.

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Chinese innovations

I’m interested in hearing about significant innovations out of contemporary China. Good ones. Ideas, inventions, devices, dreams. Throw in Outer China (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore).

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