Posts tagged ‘IQ’

Genetics, Race and IQ

Brink Lindsey has an great article discussing race, genetics and IQ.  It's hard to excerpt, but here is a bit of it:

A study of twins by psychologist Eric Turkheimer and colleagues that similarly tracked parents' education, occupation, and income yielded especially striking results. Specifically, they found that the "heritability" of IQ - the degree to which IQ variations can be explained by genes - varies dramatically by socioeconomic class. Heritability among high-SES (socioeconomic status) kids was 0.72; in other words, genetic factors accounted for 72 percent of the variations in IQ, while shared environment accounted for only 15 percent. For low-SES kids, on the other hand, the relative influence of genes and environment was inverted: Estimated heritability was only 0.10, while shared environment explained 58 percent of IQ variations.

Turkheimer's findings make perfect sense once you recognize that IQ scores reflect some varying combination of differences in native ability and differences in opportunities. Among rich kids, good opportunities for developing the relevant cognitive skills are plentiful, so IQ differences are driven primarily by genetic factors. For less advantaged kids, though, test scores say more about the environmental deficits they face than they do about native ability.

I have been struggling to articulate my issues with IQ for a long time.  I have always been frustrated with the nature vs. nurture arguments on intelligence, because I have always thought the answer is both.  But Brink's article get's me thinking along the lines of this simple model:

iq

In this model, intelligence is not a product that works straight out of the box, so to speak.  It's an engine with some inherent potential that requires a lot of fine-tuning and a long break-in period to reach that potential. Let's say in the US suburbs our kids have a development percentage of 0.9 (we have to leave room for future Flynn Effect -- it would be awesome if it turned out we were only at 0.5).  I assume education is an exponential rise to a limit, where early gains are easy but incremental gains at the margin are harder and harder to achieve.

development

If this is the case, then US suburban kids are probably pretty tightly clustered around that 0.9 (say from 0.88 to 0.92).  This cluster seems tight but again remember in an exponential rise to a limit, the effort and expense to take a kid from 0.88 to 0.92 might be very very large**.  In this situation, measured IQ is going to be driven mainly by genetics, with a wide bell curve in native intelligence dwarfing the effect of a much tighter bell curve around development.  Small improvements in educational development in this model both come at a high price and have little effect on measured IQ.

In a different sort of society, say in rural Mexico, kids might be much lower on the development scale, say around 0.6, due to cultural factors, educational opportunities, even diet.  In this case, large changes can occur in measured intelligence even from small changes in education (the steep part of the curve) and difference in education and development might be at least as important as the genetic contribution.

** Postscript:  Some may object that differences in education seem to be much larger than these in US schools, but we have to make sure we are talking about the same output.   Here we are solely talking about the ability to improve IQ as measured by IQ tests.  There are many other things education does than just polish native intelligence and cognitive ability.  It teaches skills.  For example, it teaches one to write.   I would agree that there are huge differences in schools in their ability to produce kids that can write good 5-paragraph essays, or complete a calculus problem, or understand how to analyze a historical document.

IQ Tests

I have never been convinced that IQ tests have really distinguished core intelligence from education.  I scored much better on IQ tests after I practiced and read about how to tackle certain types of problem.

It is for this reason that I have always assumed the Flynn effect to be due to education, not changes in native intelligence.

The Fed and Crony Capitalism

I will leave aside the issue of the recently revealed massive loans from the Fed to various banks.  It can be argued that being the provider of last resort for short-term liquidity in the banking system is a legal, even legitimate, role for the Fed.

But scan this list.  Here are some of the "banks" that got close near-interest-free money from the Fed

  • Verizon
  • Chrysler
  • Caterpillar
  • Harley-Davidson
  • Baxter International

I presume these loans were nominally for their financing arms, but what is the systematic-risk argument for backstopping manufacturer's credit operations?

When I was at McKinsey & Co, part of their relocation package was a $10,000 interest-free one year loan.  I had any number of new recruits say they did not need the loan.  I told them it was a business IQ test.  If you turned down the loan, we revoked your job offer (just kidding, of course).  I took the loan and dropped it into T-bills.

I wonder how many of these recipients really needed the money to survive or just got smart enough to claim dire need and took the money and just dropped it into something interest-bearing.

Missing the Point

One aspect of the TSA debate I find hilarious as a libertarian is that we get to see yet another example of partisans switching sides on an issues based on whose team is in the White House.  Since when have Republicans had this deeply held concern about liberty and privacy vs. security against terrorism.  And now leftie Kevin Drum steps up to say that all the extract screening makes sense (to my college roommate Brink Lindsey:  Sorry, but the whole liberaltarian thing is a myth.  When in power, they seem to act just as authoritarian on social and civil rights issues as Conservatives).

Anyway, Drum is certainly not full-bore backing the TSA, but he does write

I hate the TSA screening process. Everyone hates the TSA screening process. You'd be crazy not to. It's intrusive, annoying, and time-wasting. It treats us all like common criminals even though most of us are just ordinary schlubs trying to get on a plane and go somewhere.

But guess what? The fact that you personally are annoyed "” you! an educated white-collar professional! "” doesn't mean that the process is idiotic. I've heard it called "security theater" so many times I'd be rich if I had a nickel for each time it popped up in my browser, but although the anti-TSA rants are often cathartic and amusing, they've never made much sense to me. All the crap that TSA goes through actually seems pretty clearly directed at improving the security of air travel.

The point is not, as implied by Drum, that current TSA screening isn't protection against certain types of threats. Let's be generous and assume that the TSA's screening, generally concocted in a barn-door approach after someone tries a particular approach, is effective at catching the threats it is designed to catch.

The point is that nearly anyone with a room temperature IQ can think of 20 ways to attack an airplane that is not covered by the screening. If there are, say, a hundred imaginable threats, how much privacy do you want to give up to protect yourself from 35 of them?

For example, you know what is in the cargo hold below your seat? The US Mail. You know how much screening is performed on the US Mail? Zero. How hard would it be to wire up a package with a bomb and an altimeter, or perhaps just a noise sensor, and send it off airmail.  They screen the crap out of your bags and body and then throw them on the plane right next to a bunch of anonymous, unscrutinized cargo.  And that is just one example.

Great Moments in Government Process Innovation

I have noticed recently that the TSA has created split lines at many airport security screening posts - one for experienced travelers and one for "casual" travelers - i.e. noobs.

I have no problem with the basic idea.  Long ago I began advocating special lines for public electronic devices (airport boarding pass machines, supermarket self-checkout, ATM's) for people with IQ's over 90 because I always seemed to get behind the person who had never even seen a keyboard in their life.

But the actual execution of this concept in airports is laughable.  In the last 4 airports I have been in, the split between passengers who know what they are doing and those who don't is only through the screener who checks ID.  Even the lamest travel noobs are generally able to cough up an ID and boarding pass without too much trouble (though I will say I always seem to get behind the guy traveling on some bizarre 1930's-era League of Nations passport that seems to take forever to process).  However, after this ID screening the two lines come back together and everyone is mixed again.  Just in time to hit the x-ray screening station, where inexperienced travelers can hold up the line for hours.

We're Sorry, Larry

Larry Summers caught a lot of grief for a statement that has been oft-misreported:

"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability - there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means - which can be debated - there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population."

Carpe Diem brings this chart, visit the link for more explanation.

Personally, I don't have a lot of problems with the gender hypothesis, but I am skeptical of our ability to test intelligence.  I think most of us in the real world have enough experience to understand that the people we meet have a range of cognitive abilities, but I am not sure it is even possible to put a number on this, particularly since my experience is that there are many categories of intelligence and intelligence in one area is not intelligence in another.  Besides, I think most IQ tests are dominated by logic problems where one's ability to solve them improves with practice and training -- but this is counter to the idea we are somehow testing some property separate from education or training.

Update: As to the idea of different intelligences, I will offer myself as an example.  In my prime, I was pretty freaking good at advanced math, and later in life I got pretty good at deconstructing business problems that were pretty complex.  But I can't spell my way out of a paper bag, and I have a horrendous proof-reading ability (as all my readers will know by now).  I can stare at text over and over and still miss obvious errors.  I have a fabulous memory for concepts and problem-solving approaches, and I can recite the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory, but have almost no ability to retain a name, date, or phone number.

Government Picking Losers

I am done using the phrase "dangers of government trying to pick winners" because it implies that they sometimes might be successful.  They never are.  When governments choose, they choose losers.

I get a lot of pushback on this, because it seems to offend people's intuition.  They will say they know lots of good people they trust in government -- there is no way that all these smart, well-intentioned people are going to be so consistently wrong.

But the argument against government in this case (and in most other cases) is not based on the IQ or goodness of the individuals that populate it.  The argument is that even good people in groups make terrible decisions due to problems with their information and incentives.

The information problem is one that Hayek is famous for addressing.  In short, there is simply too much to know to make decisions for the entire economy.  In fact, folks with high IQ's often do especially poorly in this context, because they tend to overestimate their own knowledge and problem-solving ability.   And, even if one could be omniscient, it is still impossible to pick winners because 300 million people have different preferences and so one solution based on one set of idealized or mean preferences is going to sub-optimize for a lot of people  (remember this now that we all have to have health insurance plans on the exact same terms and coverage).

The incentives issue is perhaps an even more powerful problem.  We only have to look at the most recent health care bill and its progress through the legislative process to understand the power of incentives to shape rules and legislation in absurd ways.

Ethanol is a great illustration.  Scorned by scientists as both bad energy policy and bad environmental policy, ethanol mandates and subsidies do nothing but hurt the environment.  Ethanol generally takes more fossil fuels to produce than it replaces, it does almost nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, and it creates new environmental issues with land use as well as social issues from rising food prices.  If you listed a hundred potential legislative initiatives to improve the environment and energy policy, ethanol would likely be in the bottom 10.  But never-the-less, it is consistently the number 1 legislative solution adopted by western democracies, including the supposedly science-based Obama administration.

I used to say that if we could move the first Presidential primary out of Iowa, ethanol might go away, but obviously that understated the appeal of subsidizing the agricultural industry under the thin veneer of environmental policy, as demonstrated by these nutty large subsidies in Europe.  Via Carpe Diem:

Biofuels production in Europe is heavily subsidized. Support has also been increasing in the past years and today stand at approximately EUR4 billion ($5.76B). Another way to look at subsidies is that every litre of ethanol consumed in Europe gets 0.74 EUR (about $4 per gallon) and every litre of biodiesel 0.5 EUR ($2.72 per gallon). The effective rate of assistance to biofuels (taking account of all measures of support) adds up to more than 250% for ethanol (see chart above). Biodiesel, and especially rapeseed crops, have lower effective rates of assistance (up to approximately 60%).

This structure of support and protection is not economically sustainable. It is rather close to economic madness to pursue the sort of self-sufficiency or industrial policy ambitions that have guided EU policy towards biofuels. The total cost of every unit of biofuel becomes far too high, which slows down the readiness to shift away from fossil fuels.

The biofuels policy in the European Union is a classic example of "green protectionism" "“ protectionism that is not motivated for the benefit of the environment, but which uses environmental concerns to pursue non-environmental objectives. The European Union runs an extensive policy for subsidies to biofuel production. Border protection increases the level of subsidy by giving a market support from consumers to producers. Standards are used to favour domestically produced biofuels. It is difficult to escape the picture of a policy driven by industrial ambitions rather than environmental concerns. The intention and/or the effect of Europe's policy is associated with beliefs of self-sufficiency. Obviously, trade is not considered to be an integral part of an environmental ambition to shift from fossil fuels to biofuels.

On High Deductible Health Insurance

I wondered aloud last week at the fact that I when I raised my annual health care deductible to $2500, my annual premium savings were over $3000.   Which meant that from an economic standpoint, it was crazy to do anything but have a high-deductible health plan (even without considering the knock-on effects to the overall system of my now wanting to actually price shop for services).

TJIC offers one explanation that seems reasonable to me:

What kind of person is unwilling to pay the first $2,500 out of pocket? A person that intends to make lots of claims.

They know that they're going to use much of that first $2.5k.

Question: between one person who has no intention of going to the doctor for every little thing, and another person who does, let's assume that both get broken legs, which push them each to $5k in expenses "¦ which one is going to demand more follow up visits, cancel and reschedule more often, demand an extension on their course of painkillers, etc. ?

The one who was intending to use lots of service down at the low end, I'd wager my middle nut.

Three other possible explanations:

  • As alluded to above, it is in the insurance company's interest to get their customers to start actively price-shopping for some medical services, so they encourage high deductible policies.
  • Claims in the deductible range tend to be small and carry a disproportionately high overhead / processing cost as a percentage of the claim amount
  • It is an economic IQ test, with results somehow correlated to attractiveness as a customer

This latter theory results from my experience at McKinsey & Co, a management consultant.  When I joined, they offered a $5,000 one-year interest-free loan to cover relocation costs.  As I became more senior and was responsible for hiring new consultants, some of them would come to me and say "that's OK, I don't need the money."  I would look at them and respond, "we aim to hire the best young business minds in the country.  If you turn down an interest-free loan, we may have to rethink our hiring decision.  Go sock it in a 12-month CD like I did."  My personal theory was the offer was really an IQ test, not a benefit.

Freedom from Criticism

I have argued many times on this page that there is a dangerous new rights theory gaining traction in today's college campuses.  That theory holds that there exists a freedom (mostly for people in "protected" groups -- women, minorities, etc) from being offended or even being criticized, and that this trumps free speech. 

For years I have supported the legality of what is called hate speech -- not because I agreed with it, but because I thought its expression, no matter how contemptible, should be legal.  Free speech should have no content tests.  I also argued that there was a slippery slope.  If making racist remarks is illegal today, perhaps just criticizing a woman or an African American might be illegal tomorrow.

Enter Priya Venkatesan, former English teacher at Dartmouth.  Ms. Venkatesan was hired by Dartmouth to teach all kinds of odd (but always trendy) socialist eco-feminist babble.  Such courses seem to be a staple of colleges today.  I remember a number of such professors at Princeton, but it was no big deal as long as the course were clearly labeled and one could avoid them.  After all, if people really were attracted to such drivel, it just left more spots open for the rest of us in classes that actually prepared us for the real world. 

The problems began, though, when Ms. Venkatesan's students refused to blindly agree with her  (apparently, they did not attend the University of Delaware indoctrination course that explained why you are not allowed to criticize anyone but white males).

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to
"problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that
most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various
eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She
counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned
my knowledge in very inappropriate ways." Ms. Venkatesan, who is of
South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by
racism, though it is unclear why.

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came
while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in
part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave
women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so "“ actually,
empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms.
Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought
otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several
of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior
was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about
"intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the
pending litigation.

Litigation, exposure of the names behind anonymous course evaluations, and email threats from Ms. Venkatesan follow.  More from Lubos Motl.

Postscript:  By the way, it is just astounding to me that anyone with an over-room-temperature IQ could passionately believe that technological progress is bad for women.  One might argue that way society is organized still under-utilizes women and/or puts artificial roadblocks up to a woman's progress, but get some perspective!

Pre-modern life for women was horrible.  Because of the biological complexities of child-rearing alone, they died young far more often than men and their physical vulnerability caused them to be marginalized in virtually every society of every culture of the world until at least 1750 and really until 1900.  The whole women's movement is built on a platform of technology that only begins with the pill and encompasses a thousand things from automobiles to computers that reduce the importance of size and physical strength in getting ahead in the world. 

I Wish I Knew More of This Story

MaxedOutMamma, who has a very nice economics (and other stuff) blog, drops a few hints about having apparently dropped into a persistent vegetative state at some point in the past.  I wish I knew more of the story - maybe if I had been reading her blog longer.  I have read accounts from several people who have emerged from PVS, and I find them consistently some of the most terrifying stories I have read, though I don't think they are always meant that way when told.

In a really bizarre turn of
events, I came out of the drooling world smarter than when I went in.
No one seems to be able to explain this. I went in with about a 140-150
IQ, and I came out with 160-170. My guess is that I had so little
remaining functional brain left at my worst that I evolved an extremely
efficient method of using what I had, and that as I got more back, the
functionality of the method remained. I may have less working space
then I used to, but the way in which I use it is clearly more
efficient. I do not think in language at all. Everything is mapped into
P-Nat.

I Have Government Derangement Syndrome

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution makes a point I have been trying to communicate for some time now:

It's naive to only blame particular people (Bush, Cheney et al.) and
depressing when people at CT claim that if only "our guys" had been in
power everything would have been ok.  When you see the same behaviour
again and again you ought to look to systematic factors.  And even if
you do believe that it is all due to Bush, Cheney et al. it's not as if
these guys came to power randomly, they won twice.  The worst
get on top for a reason.  As a result, government ought to be designed
(on which see further below) so it works when the knaves are in power and not just when the angels govern.

I made a similar point in this post:

Over the past fifty years, a powerful driving force for statism in this
country has come from technocrats, mainly on the left, who felt that
the country would be better off if a few smart people (ie them) made
the important decisions and imposed them on the public at large, who
were too dumb to make quality decision for themselves.  People aren't
smart enough,they felt, to make medication risk trade-off decision for
themselves, so the FDA was created to tell them what procedures and
compounds they could and could not have access to.  People couldn't be
trusted to teach their kids the right things, so technocrats in the
left defended government-run schools and fought school choice at every
juncture.  People can't be trusted to save for their own retirement,
so  the government takes control with Social Security and the left
fights giving any control back to individuals.  The technocrats told us
what safety equipment our car had to have, what gas mileage it should
get, when we needed to where a helmet, what foods to eat, when we could
smoke, what wages we could and could not accept, what was and was not
acceptable speech on public college campuses, etc. etc....

the technocrats that built our regulatory state are starting to see the
danger of what they created.  A public school system was great as long
as it was teaching the right things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.

I am particularly amazed of late at the popular leftish criticism of Bush that he was too slow after 9/11 (spending 10 extra minutes with the school kids), too slow during Katrina, and too slow entering the diplomatic fray in Lebanon.  I can't remember who, but someone lately was quoted publicly saying that they were frustrated with Bush taking vacations and that they would never vote for someone with a ranch.  Is that really the dual criticisms that people have of Bush?  That 1) he is evil and an idiot and 2) they want him to get involved faster and more aggressively in more types of problems?

Here's something everyone should know, which I have embodied in Coyote's Second Law (here's the first) which states:

Any person elected to government office has their effective IQ cut in half

I don't know if politicians wake up from this fog when they leave office or not.  I can easily imagine Bill Clinton, a man who is supposed to have a high out-of-public-office IQ, slapping his head and saying "did I really go running into Somalia and running right back out after the first casualties?' or maybe even better "jeez, I can't believe I turned down the chance to take Bin Laden into custody -- what was I thinking".  Whichever the case, governments are always stupid, even those made up of people provably of high IQ in their private lives.  Tabarrok has this humorous but depressing observation:

The Pentagon is the Post Office with nuclear weapons

Like Tabarrok, I think the bar has to be pretty high to send our military into battle, and I never thought the situation in Iraq justified the excursion.  However, perhaps differing from Tabarrok, I am sensitive to historic precedent and thus doubt that defense can always just end at our borders.  While I think the Bush administration is overly optimistic to think that Iraq will become a shining beacon of democracy that will help rally the democratic forces in neighboring countries, I also think Bush opponents are overly optimistic when they say that terrorists and Middle Eastern fascists will leave us alone as long as we just keep our distance.  There are too many historical reminders that the latter is not true.  Sometimes you do have to go over there to kick their ass before they come over here.  Afghanistan probably met this criteria, but I don't think Iraq did - Iraq feels more like the Gulf of Tonkin, a war certain people in power wanted to fight and for which they needed a public excuse.

All this means that I think that the number of times we need to go out and fight wars overseas is greater than zero and less than what we actually do.  I'm not smart enough, I guess, to make a clearer policy statement, but I would be really interested to ask all those who think they would have prevented Israel and its neighbors from going to war for the 47th time if only they had been in office what their coherent policy statement would be.