Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Leaky Jonathan has discovered Nisbett

Jonathan Leake is the science writer for the London "Times" who can always be relied upon to draw the most politically correct conclusions -- no matter how much he has to distort the facts. Some of his global warming reports are classics of deliberate distortion. He has now discovered Nisbett's work on the flexibility of IQ and has taken Nisbett's determined optimism fully on board. Since I have already fisked a lot of Nisbett's assertions (See here and here), I won't say a lot here but a few comments are in order.

The more you know about a subject, the more laughable some of the assertions are. One of the recommendations for making your kid smarter, for instance, is to teach them delay of gratification. Yet my careful psychometric research on that subject (psychometrics is notoriously absent from delay of gratification research) showed that such a thing hardly exists. The popular tasks for assessing a kid's tendency to delay gratification correlate with one-another hardly at all. Delay of gratification is highly situational. It is not a stable trait like IQ is. Yet it is precisely the hope of those who recommend delay of gratification training that delay of gratification IS a stable and generalizable disposition.

I think you should already be getting the impression that the conclusions Leftists such as Leake and Nisbett come to are more driven by hope than facts. Much of the argument put by readers of Nisbett is a straw man argument. They seem blissfully unaware that nobody has ever claimed that IQ is solely determined by genetics. Everybody has always conceded that a good or bad environment can also make a difference. A good environment can help you make the most of what genetics has given you. The usual estimate is about two thirds of the determination of IQ is genetic while about one third is environmental. Nisbett himself concedes that. His only innovation is to make the split more equally. On rather specious grounds he reduces the causation to about 50/50 genetic/environment. So the upshot is that the small improvements in IQ that have been demonstrated by various environmental interventions are no surprise to anybody and upset no assumptions or generalizations.

Leake overstates the significance of the Flynn effect. Flynn found that average IQ rose through the 20th century. Yet from the beginning it was always held that an environment which is both visually and verbally stimulating was ideal for getting the best out of a child's genetic potential for intelligence. So what happened beginning in the second half of the 20th century? TV! And huge exposure of kids to TV -- which is a VERY rich source of verbal and visual stimulation. Much as the Leftist elite hate the thought, TV alone could potentially explain the rise in overall IQ. There is more to it than that but I think one can see from that alone that the Flynn effect disturbs no prior theory or generalization.

And we also see in the Leake article a rather unfortunate mention of the fact that the black/white IQ gap is small during childhood but is large during adulthood. That finding is held to support the view that blacks are made dumber because of their poorer educational experiences. There is however a simple biological explanation that requires no reference to education. It is HIGHLY politically incorrect, however, so I will just give the link here. It starts from the fact that baby chimps are just as smart as human infants.

Perhaps under the influence of Flynn, who seems quite obsessed with it, Leake also brings up the absurd Eyferth study, as proof of equal black/white genetic potential for intelligence. The study looked at mixed race children fathered by black U.S. servicemen in Germany after WWII. As the obvious implications of the study are a bit brutal, I will again simply refer readers to some prior comments of mine here and here

Perhaps I should take this opportunity for a comment on another publication by Nisbett -- one that seems at first crushing but which in fact suggests that Nisbett has not the faintest idea of what a correlation coefficient means. Rushton & Jensen commented on Nisbett's work by drawing attention to the overall correlation between IQ and head size -- which strongly suggests a significant genetic contribution to IQ, as nobody argues that head size can be influenced by better education etc.

Head size is however only one of the factors affecting IQ. There is absolutely no doubt that the causation of IQ is polygenetic and what some of the genes are is now emerging in medical research. A high degree of myelinization in the brain has, for instance, recently been found to be helpful. So it should be no surprise that head size and IQ correlate only moderately -- at around .40, implying only 16% of shared variance between the two variables. Head size is, in other words, only one of many physical influences on IQ. So a correlation as low as .40 allows for a large number of exceptions to the rule. Somebody with a small head but (say) good myelinization can still be quite smart.

So what does Nisbett do in response to the careful survey evidence summarized by Rushton & Jensen? He quotes a whole lot of exceptions to the rule as if that proved something! He answers overall generalizations with particular instances. He puts up an argument by example and such arguments can support anything. They are certainly no basis for generalizations. I suspect that Nisbett needs to do a course in the philosophy of science some time.


"Some of my best friends are Chinese"

As every regular reader of this blog knows, I regularly put up on a blog the latest thoughts from Chris Brand, whom every right-thinking person would identify as a "racist". I think he is just a realist but, even so, I don't agree with all that he says. Mostly I think that he should be heard. Stigmatizing some views as beyond the pale grates on me. I even think that epidemiological journals should continue to be published -- and considering the large amount of rubbish that appears in them, that is a large concession, I can tell you. Anyway, I thought I would put up the recent picture below.

It is of Chris and friends at a dinner at Edinburgh's Cafe Royal. Chris says that you may recognize the table he is at from the Oscar-winning film, 'Chariots of Fire.' In the middle of the picture is the equally wicked emeritus Prof. Richard Lynn with his wife. Chris is on the right and his beautiful Taiwanese wife, Shiou-yun, is on the left.

There is a famous measure of racism in the academic psychology literature -- the Bogardus scale -- that says that you are least racist if you would marry a person of another race.

There is a new lot of postings by Chris just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


Dems Lack Waterboarding Exit Strategy

Many Democrats in Congress have pushed for release of documents and the holding of hearings on waterboarding and other interrogation methods. Putting aside for now whether the release of such information should take place, it appears that Obama started the ball rolling down hill by releasing the interrogation memos. Barring active intervention by Obama, there will be some further level of document release, Congressional investigations, and public hearings.

This presents a problem mostly for Democrats. Republicans who were briefed on the interrogation methods at least will be consistent, for the most part, in maintaining that the methods were lawful and useful. No Republican is going to be harmed politically by the revelations because most Americans support these methods against people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If leaks of a Justice Department report are to be believed, there will be no prosecutions. Republicans are safe politically and legally.

For Democrats, however, the damage could be significant. Nancy Pelosi already has lost a great deal of credibility from her changing stories. Dozens of other Democrats, including such senior Senators as Jay Rockefeller, apparently also were briefed on the interrogation methods and either were silent, approved, or encouraged the policy.

The irony is that a full-blown investigation and hearings will turn mostly on what the Democrats knew, and when they knew it. The Republicans mostly couldn’t care less if they were “blamed” for keeping the country safe even if necessitated waterboarding the mastermind of 9/11 to prevent further attacks. When faced with sacrificing a city versus using harsh interrogation methods, most voters would opt for harsh interrogation.

That the Democrats have more to lose is demonstrated by the looming fight between Democrats in Congress and the CIA. The Democrats are complaining that the CIA is out to get them through selective leaks of documents. These are the same Democrats who cheered when the CIA leaked information damaging to Bush administration policies. So that complaining is going to go no where.

Where this seems to be heading is: (1) Republicans claim Democrats are damaging national security, thereby setting Democrats up for blame when there is a terrorist attack; (2) Republicans claim the mantle of putting the safety of the country ahead of politics; (3) Democrats claim the mantle of putting politics ahead of the safety of the country; (4) Democrats end up exposing Democratic Party leaders to be untruthful, misleading, deceptive and/or too smart by half; (5) the CIA fights as it always has for its institutional interests, in a battle politicians mostly lose; and (6) Democrats turn on each other.




There is another of these allegedly superior search engines out: http://www.wolframalpha.com/. It is supposed to allow natural language queries. I tried it with a query on the subject that I know most about: myself. I asked it "who is John Ray". I was told that I was born in 1627. Not impressed.

Did anybody wonder why I said yesterday that my comments about Tamils were risky? See here.

The age of debt: “Beware when politicians promise ‘fiscal responsibility.’ It’s pretty much a guarantee that every word that follows the phrase will be a lie. President Barack Obama’s first budget, entitled An Era of New Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promises, is no exception to this rule. Every page comes with a promise to end budget tricks and save money by reforming procurement and cutting various types of waste, but the actual plan boosts spending and deploys gimmicks galore. If this is a new era, it’s one made of debt.”

Obama picks a health dictator to head CDC: “In tapping New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama on Friday chose an official who has been on the front lines of the fight against swine flu. Frieden, 48, helped lead New York’s efforts over the last month to contain the spread of the disease, after the first concentrated outbreak in the U.S. was tied to a school in Queens. But Frieden may be known best in public health circles as an advocate of government action in preventive medicine, which many experts say is crucial to the health system overhaul envisioned by Obama and his congressional allies. In his 7 1/2 years leading New York’s public health department, Frieden led campaigns to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, expand labeling of unhealthful ingredients in food, and develop a network of electronic health records in doctors’ offices citywide.”

Russia still despises homosexuals: “Riot police broke up several gay-rights demonstrations in Moscow on Saturday, hauling away scores of protesters hours before the capital hosted a major international pop music competition. Activists had targeted Moscow, which was holding the finals of the Eurovision song contest, hoping to use the event’s global popularity to draw attention to their claims that Russia officially sanctions homophobia. Led by a mayor who describes homosexuality as ’satanic,’ city officials had warned they would not tolerate marches or rallies supporting the rights of gays and lesbians. Among those detained were British activist Peter Tatchell and American activist Andy Thayer of Chicago, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network.”

The stupidity of the trade war with Canada: “I am sorry to see the following development. Before 9/11, the trend was toward a mutually beneficial co-operation between the U.S and Canada; now, there is a death of goodwill in trade, at borders, in employment, in consumer preferences …. How does converting a friend into an enemy make either nation safer or more prosperous?… The xenophobia gripping the U.S. will almost guarantee that, in the near future, anyone who buys foreign goods or hires a foreign worker will be seen as unAmerican, unpatriotic … a traitor to decent hard-working folk who deserve his/her money and will use the force of law to make sure they get that entitlement.”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)



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Robert said...

The protectionism reported on in "The stupidity of the trade war with Canada" is another sign of the increasingly negative mood of these times. And I am again reminded of "When goods and services don't cross frontiers, armies will." War could easily break out around the low in social mood, but that's still a few years away. My guess is Iran and/or North Korea will be the enemy(ies) in that war.