we’re more dumberer than the victorians (part 4)

michael woodley and co. have discovered a bit of modern research on reaction times very (but not exactly) like galton’s late nineteenth century research in london which they feel supports their claims that western iqs have gone down by 14.1 points since the victorian era.


it’s a VERY interesting study, but i’m still not 100% convinced. if the study and its findings are replicated, i might be! (^_^)

i left a comment over there @dr. james thompson’s blog, but, as of the writing of this post, it hadn’t been approved, so i reproduce below.

look forward to more research into this question! neat (and important!) stuff!

“cool study! thanks for drawing it to everyone’s attention, and … yes, i agree … the design of this study seems to be much closer to galton’s original study, so yeah … lots of little red flags should be raised! (^_^)

“personally, i’m still not 100% convinced, though, because i dislike the fact that we have to use *indirect* means to check that the samples are similar — for example, having to rely on eckstein and feist to tell us who, *in general* british museum goers are. i wish wilkinson and allison would’ve just told us *directly* who their participants were! and as for the ethnicity question — that the subjects were white is not enough. they need to be white *brits*. if, for instance, they had too many southern italians or southern spaniards or even irish folks in their study, etc., etc., that might again have dragged down (or up, rather) the scores … *somewhat*.

“(wrt to question of paying for admission, we’ve got indirect evidence for that here as well. a quick email to wilkinson or allison should be able to answer that question. keep in mind, too, that presumably only *some* of galton’s subjects paid a museum entrance fee since on three or four days a week [don’t recall which it was] admission was free to the museum.)

“nevertheless, these are some very interesting results. what would be great, of course, would be to see this study *repeated* and the results *replicated*. if i were to design such a study, i’d make sure that it was in every way possible identical to galton’s, that way there’d be no questions about the sampling, etc. it’d also be cool to test the same individuals’ reaction times on *both* an old, galton-type machine AND a modern one to see exactly how the machines compare.

“in lieu of such a study (or better yet, in conjunction with it), i really think you guys should delve into that 1984-85 health & lifestyle study from the u.k., because they recorded ethnicity and, presumably, ses, so you could get at a sample like galton’s that way. of course, then you’d be left with a modern machine in that instance. i leave the reliability of the machines discussions up to other folks. (and the correlation of rts to iq discussion, too.)

“thanks again, guys!”

previously: we’re dumber than the victorians and btw, about those victorians… and a response to a response to two critical commentaries on woodley, te nijenhuis & murphy (2013)

(note: comments do not require an email. idiocracy – von dem macher von “beavis und butt-head”!)

hbd fallout

here’s a very thoughtful comment from jayman from the other day that you may or may not have seen (thanks, jayman!) [highlights added by me]:

“One might imagine that Europeans and Americans might realize the danger of immigration, especially from unstable parts of the world after events like these. But they, by in large, won’t. Certain forces will see to that. Why? Here’s something to consider: what would having a conversation about this topic entail? Even to make a justified argument against immigration from certain violent corners of the world mean acknowledging group differences. And if some groups can be more violent, less intelligent, less altruistic than others on average, etc, etc… The whole topic will come out. We’d like to think that this would happen in an organized manner, spearheaded by more cool-headed rational folks, but look at the record of how public commenters handle easily bungled truths.

“Back when groups differences weren’t so taboo in Western society, and one could talk about them openly, society was *also* more racist (this was pre-Civil Rights here in America). It is possible that in order for society to be aware of the reality of HBD, it must be actually be *racist*.

“Think of all the simmering resentment in Whites that are the victims of these crimes (as a Black man, I wouldn’t talk to this soldier’s family about now). And on top of that, imagine all the Whites that are not necessarily so politically correct about race. How would they react? (Here’s an example: Far-right extremists in eastern Germany quietly building a town for neo-Nazis.) And to be sure, folks like those here who simply view HBD as just another set of facts of nature don’t seem to be the majority of the people who do believe this stuff (judging from posters and commenters on the matter in the blogosphere). Sane, moderate thinkers seem to avoid this stuff like the plague. (Of course, this could just be the disaffected voices speaking loudest, but that is the appearance anyway.)

It could be that open knowledge of HBD will lead to racial violence – two-sided racial violence. (Indeed, oddly that might be predicted by Peter Turchin’s cliodynamics). It was remarked to me that certain elites might be well aware (or aware enough) of group biological differences but keep a lid on it because they fear what the result of open knowledge would be.

“Whether or not that’s a wise strategy, or whether or not you feel the truth being out there is more important – as I do – that is the probable mentality behind such things. I suspect that that is why the elite voices are quick to put the kibosh on any discussion of group realities when events like these occur, as they are sure to do. And perhaps it is with ‘justification’.

“Tribalism – even for Westerners – is big. Can you have a multiracial society in one that is honest about group differences? Europe kinda has a choice on that, but we here in America don’t. Will people *really* run with the understanding that differences *on average* don’t apply to every last individual, or will group solidarity rule the day? How will intelligent and completely inoffensive Blacks, for example, be treated by Whites then? The example of Chechens challenges the notion of treating people as individuals, because arguably they are so tribal and violent on average that even a modest number of them can cause problems (there are only 200 in America). But if they pose a problem in that way, what about other groups?

In the end, it might not matter because the pressure of immigration and problems like these might bring the issue to forefront anyway. But what if there is no way of avoiding that? What if releasing knowledge of HBD will just hasten this reckoning?

“These are important questions to consider. I can’t say I have answers for them.”

i agree — these are important questions. and i don’t have any answers either.

i am pretty sure about two things though:

1) hbd knowledge is coming down the pipeline … fast! … whether anyone likes it or not, and we’d better get prepared for it — maybe that responsibility should fall especially on the shoulders of those of us who, for whatever reasons, happen to be aware of hbd before most of the crowd; and…

2) humans s*ck.

we really do. just read a little history!

and, so, yes — it might very well get ugly and more tribal once all this hbd knowledge gets out there, but given that i’m pretty sure that’s inevitable, we’d better brace ourselves as best we can.

most ordinary mortals can’t handle the truth, but i’m actually a little (a very little) optimistic that a lot of people actually can grasp a basic understanding of “average,” and that they already apply that understanding in their daily lives wrt other people(s). i said it before, there is a sort-of “folk statistics” out there — most people “get” why yao ming is so interesting (’cause he’s an exception that proves the rule) — they even find the fact that a chinese guy is so tall kinda funny. and that’s an indication that they understand he doesn’t fit into the usual pattern that most chinese people on average are fairly short. it’s the contradiction that makes them giggle (no one laughs ’cause michael jordan is tall).

i think most people even manage this when they’re racist or bigoted against some group. i grew up amongst working class whites, and let me tell you something you’d never have guessed — PLENTY of racism/bigotry there! and not just about blacks or hispanics — italians don’t like the irish who don’t like the poles who don’t like the germans, etc., etc. BUT, there’s always “joe” down at work who’s ok. he’s not violent or lazy or corrupt or a drunk or stupid or dour. joe’s alright!

THIS is what should be drilled into kids in school — work with (what i think is) their natural aptitude for “folk statistics,” and get them to understand that, while there are averages when it comes to groups, they have to take each individual as they come. it should be possible to teach this (the truth! — which most people instinctively get) — i mean, they’ve managed to teach an untruth (that everyone is just the same) for the past … how many decades?

they also need to teach evolution more in school — a LOT more. evolution by natural selection. ’cause then everyone would understand that, yeah, while the chechens on average might be, comparatively speaking, a bit crazy violent, that’s just ’cause of their evolutionary history which they can’t be blamed for.

as for the rest? dunno. one thing’s for sure — continued mass immigration of unlike groups to the u.s. and europe is NOT going to make it all work out better in the future! =/

(note: comments do not require an email. keep calm and…)

a response to a response to two critical commentaries on woodley, te nijenhuis & murphy (2013)

first of all, thanks to michael woodley, jan te nijenhuis, and raegan murphy for their response to my (here and here) and scott alexander’s comments on their recent iq paper (Were the Victorians cleverer than us?). thanks, too, to dr. james thompson for hosting their response!

just to refresh everybody’s memory, woodley et al., concluded from their recent research that 1) iqs have decreased in the western world 14.1 points since the victorian period (1889), and 2) that this decrease is due to dysgenics. scott alexander and i both questioned the sampling techniques used in various of the studies looked at by woodley and co. — both in the victorian period and in the modern (see our previous posts linked to above for details).

what is at issue here is whether or not woodley et al. have looked at the same sort of population at both ends of their research. if they’re trying to figure out whether or not iqs have decreased over time in the western world, then the subjects sampled in the past and in the present need to be representative of the two populations, and the two populations need to be of the same sort. unless i’m very much mistaken, sampling issues are considered to be of extreme importance in scientific endeavors (i.e. to get your sampling right). it also simply makes logical sense.

so, we need to know a few things: 1) were the samples taken in the victorian period representative of victorians, 2) were the samples taken in modern times representative of modern populations, and 3) are all of these samples from like populations?

1) were the samples taken in the victorian period representative of victorians?


the victorian samples came from two sources: galton and thompson. (see also here about some other victorian rts data sets.)

thompson’s samples came from university of chicago students in 1898-1900, so they’re unlikely to be representative of victorian americans on the whole. these were probably mostly pretty smart individuals primarily drawn from the elite classes. (see previous post.)

galton’s sample consisted of museum visitors who had paid to take galton’s test (and, in some amount of cases, had probably paid to enter the museum as well). scott alexander superbly analyzed this sample further by combing through the info in johnson et al.’s “Galton’s data a century later.” scott found that galton’s sample was not representative of victorian brits — in fact, it leans heavily towards the middle- and upper-classes. this is not surprising when you think about who, in those days, would’ve been able to afford the costs of taking the test and possibly the museum fee as well.

here’s what scott had to say:

“Tables 10 and 11 turn out to be a gold mine – I worried the records of exactly who took the tests would be lost, but as you might expect of someone who basically invented statistics single-handedly and then beat Darwin in a debate about evolution as an encore, Galton was *very good* at keeping careful data.

This site tells me that about 3% of Victorians were “professionals” of one sort or another. But about 16% of Galton’s non-student visitors identified as that group. These students themselves (Galton calls them ‘students and scholars’, I don’t know what the distinction is) made up 44% of the sample – because the data was limited to those 16+, I believe these were mostly college students – aka once again the top few percent of society. Unskilled laborers, who made up 75% of Victorian society, made up less than four percent of Galton’s sample!”

a very kind person very kindly sent met the johnson et al. paper (thank you very kind person!), so i’ve cut-and-pasted tables 10 and 11 here for you to see for yourselves [click on tables for LARGER views]:

galton's measures - males

galton's measures - females

so galton’s sample is not representative of the victorian british population — it was unbalanced in that it did not include enough subjects from the lower classes.

furthermore, the subjects in galton’s study self-selected themselves. these were individuals who, first of all, chose to go to the south kensington museum (now the victoria and albert museum) to start with (except maybe for the “students and scholars”), AND then they further chose to take galton’s funny little test. this is NOT a good sampling technique. if gallup or pew were to use such a technique, they’d be laughed out of the polling business.

modern studies, of course, try to make sure that data from a representative sample of a population are gathered, otherwise your data might be skewed. which is exactly what scott found with regard to galton’s data. i mean, imagine what sort of person from the lower classes in victorian england first bothered to go to the south kensington museum AND then was interested in taking galton’s test. knowing what i know about the working classes (and i come right out of that class — more like the peasant class, in fact), those that want to go to a boring museum are the exceptions to the rule.

in woodley et al.’s response to our questions about these sampling issues, they point to a study by silverman — Simple reaction time: It is not what it used to be — which i haven’t seen, because i don’t have access to it (and i’m too cheap to pay for it (~_^) ). they say that silverman compensated for these victorian sampling errors by looking at reaction time (rt) data from similar socio-economic sub-groups from more modern eras. sounds like a good idea:

“One advantage of Silverman’s care and meticulous attention to detail is that it permits us to make like for like comparisons with specific socioeconomic and occupational groups in Galton’s data, thus we can directly test the claims of Alexander (2013). Concerning the post-Galton studies Silverman included five student samples, two of which date from the 1940s (Seashore et al. 1941), and the remaining three of which date from the 1970s to the 2000s (mean testing year = 1993; Brice & Smith, 2002; Lefcourt & Siegel, 1970; Reed et al., 2004)…. The difference between the 19th century and the ‘modern’ male students is very similar to the meta-regression-weighted increase in RT latency between 1889 and 2004, estimated on the basis of all samples included in the meta-analysis (81.41 ms). Silverman also included data from other socioeconomic groups. For example the study of Anger et al. (1993) included a combined male + female sample of 220 postal, hospital and insurance workers from three different US cities. These occupations clearly fall into the Clerical/Semiskilled and Semiprofessional groups identified in Galton’s study.”

i’m not going to look through all of these studies to check for sampling irregularities because, again, it’s not my research, so it’s not my job. but let’s take a quick look at the first one i highlighted above: seashore et al. 1941. i don’t have access to this paper either, and, no, i’m not gonna pay for it, so i’ll have to assume going by another of r.h. seashore’s papers that these rt data were drawn from american students (possibly northwestern university where seashore worked — correct me if i’m wrong), and going by the publication date (1941) that the samples were collected in the 1930s or 1940-41.

woodley et al. say that, in comparing the nineteenth century vs. 1940s-era students, there is a +16.8ms (183.2-200 ms respectively) difference between the two groups, and thus a decrease in average iq from the victorian period to the 1940s.

my question is: what makes silverman, or woodley et al., confident that the samples from an american university in the 1930s-40s are comparable to thompson’s university of chicago samples or galton’s samples from the 1800s? as shown above, both of those victorian studies were done on elite victorian groups, while, on the other hand, it is well know that already by the 1940s at least, the “college bubble” had started in the u.s. in which nearly anybody is admitted to university. when the average college grad shifts over time from having been drawn from the upper classes to the middle and even the lower, it’s not surprising that their average iqs drop!

even within galton’s self-selected group of male museum goers (see table 10 above), rts (iq) varied between the classes, with the upper classes having lower rts (indicative of higher iqs): ages 14-26: gentleman=.170, professional=.173, semiprofessional=.182, merchant/tradesperson=.190, clerical/semiskilled=.187, unskilled=.195. why, then, shouldn’t rts/iqs vary between college students of the late-1800s vs. the 1940s when more middle- and lower-class individuals attended college in the 1940s than in the late-1800s?

as for the second study i’ve highlighted above — anger et al. (1993) — which included “a combined male + female sample of 220 postal, hospital and insurance workers from three different US cities….” postal workers? seriously? comparing 1990s american postal workers to galton’s middle- and upper-class museum goers? really?

2) were the samples taken in modern times representative of modern populations?

yes and no.

some of the studies used by woodley et al. are probably better (i.e. more representative of modern populations) than others. as i pointed out in my first post on this study, i would imagine, although i haven’t actually checked it, that the sampling in the 1984–85 U.K. Health and Lifestyle Survey is probably fine, and so the rts representative of the whole of britiain. on the other hand, the 2002 study from the university of bristol may have included at least 10% minority individuals if not more in the study. since only ca. 8% of the u.k.’s population in 2001 was non-white, this bristol study may not have been representative of the nation’s population. hard to know without knowing the demographics of who was included in the study.

3) are all of these samples from like populations?


the victorian samples were drawn from mainly the middle- and upper-classes, not to mention a large group of self-selected individuals who were specifically interested in taking part in such a study, while the more modern studies have included greater numbers of middle- and lower-class individuals as well as a certain percentage of non-whites.

about that latter point, woodley et al. responded:

“Substantial changes in terms of the ethnic composition of test-takers would however be needed in order for the magnitude of change to be *solely* or even *substantially* a consequence of this process.”

i never said so. i only said that it’s not possible to compare apples to apples+oranges when looking for changes in just apples over time. apples vs. apples+oranges are likely to produce different results since two such groups are different. i never said, or even suggested, anything about the extent of those differences. (i wish people would read more closely. *sigh*)

so, again, i think that there are quite a few sampling issues in this study, and that the presence of these means that the researchers’ findings are not as reliable as they think that they are.

could there have been a decline in western iqs since the victorian period due to dysgenic factors? of course.

does the fact that there are sampling issues in the woodley et al. (and silverman, for that matter) paper prove that there hasn’t been a drop in iq since the victorian period? no. obviously not.

most importantly, though, the population geneticists say that such a severe drop in genotypic iqs could not have happened in such a relatively short space of time without some really severe selection pressures (see here, too). i believe ’em. perhaps if all of the sampling issues were cleared away from this study, woodley et al. would be left with a decline that was more realistic/believable. if such a decline happened at all, that is. (which it could have! or maybe it didn’t…. (~_^) )

again, like i said before, this is a really neat study from woodley et al.! i hope they continue investigating along these lines, because it would obviously be important to know if average iqs are declining in the western world.

p.s. – before bruce charlton shows up and gets all inquisitional on me (repent, or be damned to hellfire for eternity!), yes, i ALWAYS get all picky about sampling (see here and here and here and here for just a few examples). if you don’t get the fundamentals right, everything else will inevitably be wrong!

previously: we’re dumber than the victorians and btw, about those victorians…

(note: comments do not require an email. i never expected the spanish inquisition!)

linkfest – 05/26/13

Diabetes’ genetic underpinnings can vary based on ethnic background, Stanford studies say – the researchers “found a clear geographic pattern in the genetics behind type-2 diabetes. The genetic risk is highest for Africans and drops along the trajectory the first humans took when migrating out of Africa toward East Asia (primarily Japan, China and Korea), where diabetes-linked genes appear to be more protective. Based solely on what is currently known about type-2 diabetes genetics, native Africans would appear to be at higher risk for diabetes, while East Asians would appear to be protected.” – see also genetic risk world map|diabetes.

Skin color affects ability to empathize with pain“Humans are hardwired to feel another person’s pain. But they may feel less innate empathy if the other person’s skin color doesn’t match their own, a new study suggests.”

Motion quotient“A brief visual task can predict IQ, according to a new study. This surprisingly simple exercise measures the brain’s unconscious ability to filter out visual movement. The study shows that individuals whose brains are better at automatically suppressing background motion perform better on standard measures of intelligence.”

Yikes! Cockroaches Evolved to Avoid Sugary Baits – natural selection is really a nuisance!

Face Blindness – greg cochran on prosopagnosia. also: Is Brad Pitt’s Face Blindness For Real?

The Italian Invasion of American Culture – from steve sailer!

A response to two critical commentaries on Woodley, te Nijenhuis & Murphy (2013) – from woodley, te nijenhuis, & murphy @dr. james thompson’s blog. see also: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” – with respect to the claim of intelligence decline since Victorian times – from bruce charlton. (ftr, i never said either that woodley, et al., made an entirely “extraordinary claim,” or that i require any extraordinary evidence.) see previous posts here and here.

More population structure in the Netherlands (Lao et al. 2013)“Clinal distribution of human genomic diversity across the Netherlands despite archaeological evidence for genetic discontinuities in Dutch population history.” – from dienekes.

New Theory Claims Humans Hunted, Ate Neanderthals

Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behavior“Study 1 shows that as combat became more frightening, the percentage of soldiers who reported praying rose from 42% to 72%.”

Marketing to the Big Data Inside Us“In your DNA are clues to your health, your ancestry, and maybe even your purchasing preferences.” – h/t charles!

Heroes of the Dark Enlightenment @radish magazine!

Liberal Race Realism – A Brief Definition – from robert lindsay – h/t hbd bibliography!

Fight Clubs: On Napoleon Chagnon“One anthropologist’s place in his field’s ongoing battle over questions of power, means and ends.”

A Brief History of Mental Illness in Art.

New ‘atheist map’ of the world dominated by China where half the country’s population describes themselves as non-believers

Syphilis, sex and fear: How the French disease conquered the world“Researching the Borgias, Sarah Dunant learnt how syphilis took Europe by storm during the 1490s, and the far reaching effects it’s had ever since.” – previously: stds and miiiind control.

bonus: Genuinely, unironically, shocked – from mr. mangan.

bonus bonus: Viruses and mucus team up to ward off bacteria“Phages may play unforeseen role in immune protection.”

bonus bonus bonus: Dog sniffs out grammar“A border collie takes command of sentence rules.”

bonus bonus bonus bonus: 2-Child Limit for Muslims in Parts of Myanmar – burmese eugenics.

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: The Multiple Origins of Wine Grapes

bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus bonus: What the heck is this strange red rectangle doing in our galaxy?

(note: comments do not require an email. ATTACK!)