Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Response to "IQ: A Skeptic’s View"

       I generally like the stuff that Fred Reed writes. Even if I don't agree with him, he typically presents a thoughtful and cogent argument. But I've observed a blind spot in his writings when it comes to anyone or anything that denigrates his adopted home country, Mexico, and its inhabitants (see, e.g., his attack on Ann Coulter). Mostly this has to do with the native intelligence or abilities of Mexicans. Reed is convinced of the general intellectual superiority of the Chinese (see, e.g., this piece by him), and the general intellectual inferiority of blacks (see, e.g., here). Yet, although I'm sure he relies on I.Q. to buttress his opinion that Chinese are of higher intelligence, in his recent post entitled "IQ: A Skeptic's View," he rejects the notion of I.Q. actually measuring anything that is related to intelligence, presumably because IQ studies of other countries would suggest that Mexicans are not as capable as white Americans (or Europeans).
       Reed makes three basic arguments. The first is to compare the I.Q. ratings of different populations which have similar IQs but different levels of accomplishments. Thus, he notes that "American blacks, the Irish, and Mexicans had IQs accepted by the list as being 85, 86, and 87 respectively—almost identical." Yet, he contends, the accomplishments of blacks in no way match that of Mexico, an up-and-coming developing country, or Ireland, a first-world country (although I would note that, rightly or wrongly, the British, for most of their history, have regarded the Irish as brutes). I question his sources; the information I found indicated that the average I.Q. in Ireland is 92while that of Mexico is 88. The average I.Q. of American blacks range from the mid-70's to the mid-80's depending on the source. (Sub-Saharan African I.Q.s vary, but many such countries have average I.Q.s in the 60's). Thus, the I.Q.'s of the populations in question are not similar. 
       Reed's second argument seems even weaker, pointing to the public works and other accomplishments of Mexico and other Latin American countries. Essentially, this argument is the mirror of the one presented above: that similar accomplishments must indicate similar intelligence notwithstanding different mean IQ scores. For instance, after showing a photograph of Cartagena, Colombia (see below), he asks: "Do you really believe that this city was designed and built by people with a mean IQ of 84?" 

This is a silly argument. I can make the opposite argument with a photograph of a different portion of Cartagena: 
Do you believe that the photograph immediately above depicts buildings and streets that could have been designed and built by people with an average I.Q. of 84 or even less? 
       I can do the same thing with other ethnic groups. Detroit has a population that is 83% black. Below is a photograph of downtown Detroit:
Maybe you think that is unfair. Okay. How about Mozambique with an average I.Q. of 64? Not too bad looking from this perspective.
       The flaw with Reed's second argument is that Mexico, Columbia, and Mozambique didn't invent the technologies they are using (it always easier to use a technology than to develop it), and we do not know to what extent they relied on engineers, construction or project managers, skilled labor, etc., from other countries. It also ignores the fact that we are only talking about mean or average I.Q.s, which doesn't represent the higher ends of the spectrum, or that such countries may have an elite possessing overall higher I.Q.s. Mexico, I assume, has portions of its population that are purely European Caucasian, or nearly so, other strata with varying degrees of admixture with native populations, and yet other groups that are nearly pure natives or an admixture of other groups. Moreover, given their populations, all of the countries above are going to have a substantial absolute number of high I.Q. individuals, even if high I.Q. individuals are statistically more scarce than in China or the United States.
       Reed also uses the Flynn effect to attack I.Q. The Flynn effect is an observation that those organizations that produce and market I.Q. tests have regularly increased the difficulty of tests to keep average scores at 100. Some researchers have taken the Flynn effect as evidence that the general I.Q. has been steadily increasing, but even that is debated. According to Reed, if the Flynn effect does represent an increase in I.Q., then the average I.Q. of blacks today would be equal to that of white Americans in the 1960's, which Reed says is impossible. 
       The Flynn effect would suggest that I.Q. is environmental rather than genetic, except that, notwithstanding the Flynn effect, the difference between white and black mean I.Q.s remains the same: average I.Q. of black Americans is at least a full standard deviation less than white I.Q.s. Moreover, Reed overstates the Flynn effect. According to James Flynn's observations, I.Q. scores rose 3 points in the U.S. between 1930 and 1980, but more recent observations seem to indicate that average I.Q. has declined. (In point of fact, some research indicates that overall I.Q. in the West declined precipitously over the last century, although this arguably may be due to immigration from the Third World). In any event, even if there is a Flynn effect, it seems marginal and variable; not a straight line extrapolation upward as Reed has characterized it. (See also "Is Our Collective IQ Increasing?" from the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science; and for an in-depth look at intelligence and argument that I.Q. measures intelligence or something correlated with intelligence, see Why Race Matters by Michael Levin). Also, some of the explanations for the Flynn effect do not require any increase in intelligence, such as that it simply represents that children spend more time in schools, and therefore are more skilled at taking tests.

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