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Correlation and Causation Regarding the Etiology of Lung Cancer in Regard to Smoking

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The etiology of the increase in lung cancer over the course of the 20th century has been a large area of debate. Was it smoking that caused cancer? Or was some other, unknown, factor the cause? Causation is multifactorial and multi-level—that is, causes of anything are numerous and these causes all interact with each other. But when it comes to smoking, it was erroneously argued that genotypic differences between individuals were the cause of both smoking and cancer. We know now that smoking is directly related to the incidence of lung cancer, but in the 20th century, there were researchers who were influenced and bribed to bring about favorable conclusions for the tobacco companies.

Psychologist Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) was a controversial psychologist researching many things, perhaps most controversially, racial differences in intelligence. It came out recently, though, that he published fraudulent papers with bad data (Smith, 2019). He, among other weird things, believed that smoking was not causal in regard to cancer. Now, why might Eysenck think that? Well, he was funded by many tobacco companies (Rose, 2010; Smith, 2019). He accepted money from tobacco companies to attempt to disprove the strong correlation between smoking and cancer. Between the 1977-1989, Eysenck accepted about 800,000 pounds from tobacco companies. He is not alone in holding erroneous beliefs such as this, however.

Biostatistician Ronald Fisher (1890-1962) (a pipe smoker himself), the inventor of many statistical techniques still used today, also held the erroneous belief that smoking was not causal in regard to cancer (Parascandola, 2004). Fisher (1957) argued in a letter to the British Medical Journal that while there was a correlation between smoking and the acquisition of lung cancer, “both [are] influenced by a common cause, in this case the individual genotype.” He went on to add that “Differentiation of genotype is not in itself an unreasonable possibility“, since it has been shown that genotypic differences in mice precede differences “in the frequency, age-incidence and type of the various kinds of cancer.

So, if we look at the chain it goes like this: people smoke; people smoking is related to incidences in cancer; but it does not follow that since people smoke that the smoking is the cause of cancer, since an unknown third factor could cause both the smoking and cancer. So now we have four hypotheses: (1) Smoking causes lung cancer; (2) Lung cancer causes smoking; (3) Both smoking and lung cancer are caused by an unknown third factor. In the case of (3), this “unknown third factor” would be the individual genotype; and (4) the relationship is spurious . Fisher was of the belief that “although lung cancer occurred in cigarette smokers it did not necessarily follow that the cancer was caused by cigarettes because there might have been something in the genetic make up of people destined to have lung cancer that made them addicted to cigarettes” (Cowen, 1999). Arguments of this type were popular in the 19th and 20th century—what I would term ‘genetic determinists’ arguments, in that genes dispose people to certain behaviors. In this case, genes disposed people to lung cancer which made them addicted to cigarettes.

Now, the argument is as follows: Smoking, while correlated to cancer is not causal in regard to cancer. Those who choose to smoke would have acquired cancer anyway, as they were predisposed to both smoke and acquire cancer at X age. We now know, of course, that such claims are ridiculous—no matter which “scientific authorities” they come from. Fisher’s idea was that differences in genotype caused differences in cancer acquisition and so along with it, caused people to either acquire the behavior of smoking or not. While at the time such an argument could have been seen as plausible, the mounting evidence against the argument did nothing to sway Fisher’s belief that smoking did not outright cause lung cancer.

The fact that smoking caused lung cancer was initially resisted by the mainstream press in America (Cowen, 1999). Cowen (1999) notes that Eysenck stated that, just because smoking and lung cancer were statistically associated, it did not follow that smoking caused lung cancer. Of course, when thinking about what causes, for example, an observed disease, we must look at similar habits they have. And if they have similar habits and it is likely that those with similar habits have the hypothesized outcome (smokers having a higher incidence of lung cancer, in this case), then it would not be erroneous to conclude that the habit in question was a driving factor behind the hypothesized disease.

It just so happens that we now have good sociological research on the foundations of smoking. Cockerham (2013: 13) cites Hughes’ (2003) Learning to Smoke: Tobacco Use in the West where he describes the five stages that smokers go through: “(1) becoming a smoker, (2) continued smoking, (3) regular smoking, (4) addicted smoking, and, for some, (5) stopping smoking.” Most people report their first few times smoking cigarettes as unpleasant, but power through it to become a part of the group. Smoking becomes somewhat of a social ritual for kids in high-school—with kids being taught how to light a cigarette and how to inhale properly. For many, starting smoking is a social thing that they do with their friends—it can be said to be similar to being social drinkers, they were social smokers. There is good evidence that, for many, their journey as smokers starts and is fully dependent on their social environment than actual physical addiction (Johnson et al, 2003; Haines, et al, 2009).

One individual interviewed in Johnson et al (2003: 1484) stated that “the social setting
of it all [smoking] is something that is somewhat addictive itself.” So, not only is the nicotine the addictive substance on the mind of the youth, so too is the social situation for the youth in which the smoking occurs. The need to fit in with their peers is one important driver for the beginning—and continuance—of the behavior of smoking. So we now have a causal chain in regard to smoking, the social, and disease: youths are influenced/pressured to smoke by their social group which then leads to addiction and then, eventually, health problems such as lung cancer.

The fact that the etiology of smoking is social leads us to a necessary conclusion: change the social network, change the behavior. Just as people begin smoking in social groups, so too, do people quit smoking in social groups (Christakis and Fowler, 2008). We can then state that, on the basis of the cited research, that the social is ultimately causal in the etiology of lung cancer—the vehicle of cancer-causation being the cigarettes pushed bu the social group.

Eysenck and Fisher, two pioneers of statistics and different methods in psychology, were blinded by self-interest. It is very clear with both Eysenck and Fisher, that their beliefs were driven by Big Tobacco and the money they acquired from them. Philosopher Donald Davidson famously stated that reasons are causes for actions (Davidson, 1963). Eysenck’s and Fisher’s “pro-belief” (in this case, the non-causation of smoking to lung cancer) would be their “pro-attitude” and their beliefs lead to their actions (taking money from Big Tobacco in an attempt to show that cigarettes do not cause cancer).

The etiology of lung cancer as brought on by smoking is multifactorial, multilevel, and complex. We do have ample research showing that the beginnings of smoking for a large majority of smokers are social in nature. They begin smoking in social groups, and their identity as a smoker is then refined by others in their social group who see them as “a smoker.” Since individuals both begin smoking in groups and quitting in groups, it then follows that the acquisition of lung cancer can be looked at as a social phenomenon as well, since most people start smoking in a peer group.

The lung cancer-smoking debate is one of the best examples of the dictum post hoc, ergo propter hoc—or, correlation does not equal causation (indeed, this is where the dictum first originated). While Fisher and Eysenck did hold to that view in regard to the etiology of lung cancer (they did not believe that since smokers were more likely to acquire lung cancer that smoking caused lung cancer), it does speak to the biases the two men had in their personal and professional lives. These beliefs were disproven by showing a dose-dependent relationship in regard to smoking and lung cancer: heavier smokers had more serious cancer incidences, which tapered down the less an individual smoked. Fisher’s belief, though, that differences in genotype caused both behavior that led to smoking and the lung cancer itself, while plausible at the time, was nothing more than a usual genetic determinist argument. We now know that genes are not causes on their own; they do not cause traits irrespective of their uses for the physiological system (Noble, 2012).

Everyone is biased—everyone. Now, this does not mean that objective science cannot be done. But what it does show is that “… scientific ideas did not develop in a vacuum but rather reflected underlying political or economic trends” (Hilliard, 2012: 85). This, and many more examples, speak to the biases of scientists. For reasons like this, though, is why science is about the reproduction of evidence. And, for that, the ideas of Eysenck and Fisher will be left in the dustbin of history.

African Neolithic Part 2: Misunderstandings Continue

Last time I’ve posted on this subject, it was dissecting the association between magical thinking and technological progress among Africans proposed by Rinderman. In general, I found it wanting of an up-to-date understanding of African anthropology, either in material culture or belief systems. This time, however, the central subject can’t be dismissed on the matter of ignorance. In fact, in a rather awkward way, his dismissal in on the grounds of how much he knows in bot his field and his own writings.

Henry Harpending, deceased, has been listed by the SPLC as a “white nationalist”, though it is the specific content of his quotes in regards to Africans, in light of his admittedly impressive contributions to SW African anthropology, is the major focus than classifying the nature of his bias. The claims in question are

  1. He has never meet an African who has a hobby, that is, one with the inclination to work.
  2.  Hunter Gatherers are impulsive, lazy, and violent.
  3. Africans are more interested in breeding than raising children.
  4. Africans, Baltimore Aframs, and PNG natives all share the same behavior in regard to points 2 and 3.
  5. Superstitions are pan-african and the only Herero he’s met that was an atheist had a ethnic German Father.

So Harpending seemingly has the edge given his background in Anthropology with specific experiences with Africans…this only makes the only more painful to articulate.

  1.  This will set the theme for the nature of my responses…his own work contradicts these assertions. The Herero refugee descent from Botswana, the main strain of Bantu-Speaking Africans he had studied,  were described and calculated as prosperous in regards to cattle per capita and ownership of rural homesteads that stand apart from typical Botswana farming infrastructure.

    Today, they are perceived as one of the wealthiest ethnic groups inBotswana and Namibia. They are known for their large herds, for theirs kill at managing cattle, and for their endogamy and staunch ethnicity even while participating fully in the developing economy and educational system of Botswana.

    His research even noted how age five is when Herero begin herding. A similar phenomenon is noted among the Dinka which prompted Dutton to review the literature of their intelligence scores.

  2.  Violence among the Khoi-San groups I’ll admit has been undermined. However, the Hadza, known for their discourage mean of conflict, express this through much lower rates of violent deaths compared to most others. The general consensus is that there is a mix, with the general trend towards higher rates but with cautious interpretation into the causes. On the charge of Laziness, however, is once again unfounded by his work on the lesser resources faced by mobile bands of foragers compared to sedentary ones on labor camps. The same link on the Hadza also pinpoints the hours spent in HG life working and accounts for the difficulty of those hours.
  3.  Harpending actually made a model of cads versus dads that he actually attributed to non-genetic factors. Otherwise, we are left with his work on the oddity of “Herero Households”.

    If women cannot provision themselves and their offspring without
    assistance, then the “cad/breeder” corner of Fig. 2 is not feasible, and we are left with “dad/feeder.” Draper and Harpending argue that this is true of the Ju/’hoansi, and other mobile foragers in marginal habitats. Among swidden agriculturalists, on the other hand, female labor is more productive, and men can afford to do less work. The theory thus predicts that such populations will be more likely to fall into the “cad/breeder” equilibrium, as in fact they seem to do. Although this theory is couched in Darwinian terms, Harpending and Draper do not see genetic evolution as the engine that accounts for variation within and among societies. Instead, they suggest a facultative adaptation: humans have “evolved the ability to sense household structure in infancy” and to alter their developmental trajectories in response to what is learned during this early critical period (1980, p. 63).

    There does not seem to be any durable group of associated individuals that we could usefully characterize as a household among the Herero. If forced we would say that the Herero have two parallel types of households. The “male household” is the homestead, consisting of an adult male, his wives, sisters, and other relatives, and it is defined by the herd and the kraals that he maintains for the herd. The “female household” is a woman and the children for whom she has responsibility, localized in a hut or hut cluster within a larger homestead. These aregynofocal households, rather than matrifocal households, since matrifocal implies mother and offspring while the Herero unit is a woman and children under the care of that woman. These children may be her own, her grandchildren, children of relatives, or even children leased from other tribes to work on the cattle. Men do not appear prominently in daily domestic life. They are gone at first light pursuing their own interests and careers with cattle, with hunting parties, or with other stereotyped male activities. Similarly, women are not prominently present at male areas like the wells where the cattle are watered. There is, then, not a Herero household, but rather there is a Herero male household that includes cattle and female households, and these females may be wives, or sisters, or other female relatives. The female households are the loci of domestic production and consumption. 

    However, it does not follow that the lack of interpersonal interaction means the lack of acknowledgement in parenthood within households. One is by association.

    We interviewed 161 adult Herero (112 females, 49 males) intensively about the residence of themselves, their siblings with whom they share a mother or a father and about their legal children (children born in marriage or children in whom they had purchased parental rights). None of the men we interviewed whose fathers were still alive (n = 10) considered his residence to be in a homestead different from his father’s. Only two of the men had sons with residences elsewhere –one was a child who had been purchased but was living with the mother and the other was a child borne by a wife from whom he was now divorced. We also heard of very few men ascertained in several hundred shorter demographic interviews that were residing in a homestead other than their fathers’. Most of the men(24/39) with deceased fathers had their own homesteads. Brothers who had both the same mother and father were more likely to stay together, however, than brothers who had different mothers. 

    The other comes from Harpending’s own blog post regarding his Herero friend who claims the children of his new wife as being of his household despite not actually conceiving them. Note, he also describes the man as “prosperous”.

  4. I sadly lack data on Bantu rates of violence, swearing I once found data showing it to be low compared to that of the Khoi-san. If anybody has quantified data like in the link regarding the Hadza then that would be appreciated. In regards to parenting however it doesn’t reflect that by comparing non-resident fathers. Regarding Africans, here’s a perspective from a female perspective.
  5. This point once again warrants the mention of superstitions still being quite common in non Western societies like China in regards to evil spirits and luck. Likewise, traditions are known to be modified or dropped among Herero in major urban centers. The Herero Harpending encountered that he labeled “employees” nonetheless grew up near the study areas.

Before I end this, I want to cover some further discrepancies by another author who refers to his work, Steve Sailer.

The small, yellow-brown Bushmen, hunters who mated more or less for life and put much effort into feeding their nuclear families, reminded Henry of his upstate New York neighbors. If fathers didn”€™t work, their children would go hungry.

In contrast, the Bantu Herero (distant relatives of American blacks) were full of surprises. In general, black African men seemed less concerned with bringing home the bacon to provision their children than did Bushmen dads.

This doesn’t deviate too far from what Harpending explains. That comes later.

In black African farming cultures, women do most of the work because agriculture involves light weeding with hoes rather than heavy plowing. Men are less expected to contribute functionally to their children’s upkeep, but are expected to be sexy.

So technically this is correct but only to a certain degree in regards to division of labor. It’s particular to farming schemes where root/tuber agriculture is done, and in those areas forest clearing is done by males.

One parallel is that Baumann views climatic and environmental factors as closely
associated with differences in the participation of the sexes in agriculture. He observes that the northern boundary of women’s predominance in agriculture is constrained by the limits of the tropical forest region, and that the boundary of female agriculture also tends to coincide with that between root crops and cereal grains. Baumann’s view of the economies of labor is also similar to our own. He emphasizes that land clearing is more difficult in the forest than in the savannah, and that males often perform clearing in the forest zones in spite of the predominance of female labor, whereas soil preparation is more difficult in the savannah than in the forest. He notes the higher male participation in agriculture in the savannah region of the Sudan than in the West African and Congo forest regions, and more generally, that women are much more likely to participate in root cultivation than in cereal cultivation.

Not mention other activities such as crafts and trading. Baumann’s old scheme as it is is still simplistic. More research shows that labor between sexes shift depending on circumstances. See this on Igbo yam farming or West African Cocoa farming. This trend of shifting continues into the modern day.

In many places in Africa, traditionally there has been a
strict division of labor by gender in agriculture. This
division of labor may be based on crop or task, and both
types of division of labor by gender may occur
simultaneously. Women may mobilize male labor for some
tasks involved in their crops and men frequently mobilize
women’s labor for crops that they control. These divisions
are not static and may change in response to new
economic opportunities.

Likewise, male development in connection to their father is represented in this early anthropological text through inheritance of property and apprenticeship. Collective Fatherhood through the extended family is also recognized, with actual absence being highly due to migrant labor in Southern African countries.

The “Sexy” part is rather presumptuous and absent from the text, where it is in fact the woman that is scrutinized uphold standards in the chapter of Ibo courtship, which seems to be widespread. The simple and lazy role reversal is obvious, as it assumes that female labor undermined the general trend of patriarchy since they weren’t always dependent on the male.

So with all this said, what is there to make of it?: As far as direct connections to the Herero go, Harpending didn’t show any particular malice. Any such was more towards western phenomenon that he draws parallels with. As far as his conference comments, obvious bias is just that. His blog posts don’t even read as such, clearly contradicting it comments of industry among Africans according to his experience for one matter.

It may sadly suggest the type of filter scene through experience in this “field”.

“Definitions” of ‘Intelligence’ and its ‘Measurement’

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What ‘intelligence’ is and how, and if, we can measure it has puzzled us for the better part of 100 years. A few surveys have been done on what ‘intelligence’ is, and there has been little agreement on what it is and even if IQ tests measure ‘intelligence.’ Richardson (2002: 284) noted that:

Of the 25 attributes of intelligence mentioned, only 3 were mentioned by 25 per cent or more of respondents (half of the respondents mentioned ‘higher level components’; 25 per cent mentioned ‘executive processes’; and 29 per cent mentioned ‘that which is valued by culture’). Over a third of the attributes were mentioned by less than 10 per cent of respondents (only 8 per cent of the 1986 respondents mentioned ‘ability to learn’).

As can be seen, even IQ-ists today cannot agree upon a definition—indeed, even Ian Deary admits that “There is no such thing as a theory of human intelligence differences—not in the way that grown-up sciences like physics or chemistry have theories” (quoted in Richardson, 2012). (Also note that attempts of validity are circular, relying on correlations with other, similar tests; Richardson and Norgate, 2015; Richardson, 2017b.)

Linda Gottfredson, University of Delaware sociologist and well-known hereditarian, is a staunch defender of JP Rushton (Gottfredson, 2013) and the hereditarian hypothesis (Gottfredson, 2005, 2009). Her ‘definition’ of intelligence is one of the most-oft cited ones, eg, Gottfredson et al (1993: 13) notes that (my emphasis):

Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings-“catching on,” “ making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.

So ‘intelligence’ is “a very general mental capability”, its main ‘measure’ IQ tests (knowledge tests), but ‘intelligence’ “is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts.” Here’s some more hereditarian “reasoning” (which you can contrast with the hereditarian “reasoning” on race—just assume it exists). Gottfredson also argues that ‘intelligence’ or ‘g’ is learning ability. But, as Richardson (2017a: 100) notes, “it will always be quite impossible to measure ability with an instrument that depends on learning in one particular culture“—which he terms “the g paradox, or a general measurement paradox.

Gottfredson (1997) also argues that the “active ingredient” in IQ testing is the “complexity” of the items—what makes one item more difficult than another, such as a 3×3 matrix item being more complex than a 2×2 matrix item and giving some examples of analogies which she believes to show a type of higher, more complex cognition in order to figure out the answer to the problem. (Also see Richardson and Norgate, 2014 for further critiques of Gottfredson.)

The trouble with this argument is that IQ test items are remarkably simple in their cognitive demands compared with, say, the cognitive demands of ordinary social life and other activities that the vast majority of children and adults can meet adequately every day.

For example, many test items demand little more than rote reproduction of factual knowledge most likely acquired from experience at home or by being taught in school. Opportunities and pressures for acquiring such valued pieces of information, from books in the home to parents’ interests and educational level, are more likely to be found in middle-class than in working-class homes. So the causes of differences could be causes in opportunities for such learning.

The same could be said about other frequently used items, such as “vocabulary” (or word definitions); “similarities” (describing how two things are the same); “comprehension” (explaining common phenomena, such as why doctors need more training). This helps explain why differences in home background correlate so highly with school performance—a common finding. In effect, such items could simply reflect the specific learning demanded by the items, rather than a more general cognitive strength. (Richardson, 2017a: 91)

IQ-ists, of course, would then state that there is utility in such “simple-looking” test items, but we have to remember that items on IQ tests are not selected based on a theoretical cognitive model, but are selected to give the desired distributions that the test constructors want (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). “… those items in IQ tests have been selected because they help produce the expected pattern of scores. A mere assertion of complexity about IQ test items is not good enough” (Richardson, 2017a: 93). “The items selected for inclusion [on Binet’s test] were those that in the judgment of the teachers distinguished bright from dull students” (Castles, 2012: 88). It seems that all hereditarians do is “assert” or “assume” things—like the equal environments assumption (EEA), the existence of race, and now, the existence of “intelligence”. Just presuppose what you want and, unsurprisingly, you get what you wanted. The IQ-ist then triumphs that the test did its job—sorting high- and low-quality thinkers on the basis of their IQ scores. But that’s exactly the problem: prior assumptions on the nature of ‘intelligence’ and its distribution dictate the construction of the tests in question.

Mensh and Mensh (1991: 30) state that “The [IQ] tests do what their construction dictates; they correlate a group’s mental worth with its place in the social hierarchy.” That is, who is or is not “intelligent” is already presupposed. There has been ample admission of such presumptions affecting the distribution of scores, as some critics have documented (e.g., Hilliard, 2012’s documentation of test norming for two different white cultural groups in South Africa and that Terman equalized scores on his 1937 revision of the Stanford-Binet).

Herrnstein and Murray (1994: 1) write that:

That the word intelligence describes something real and that it varies from person to person is as universal and ancient as any understanding about the state of being human. Literate cultures everywhere and throughout history have had words for saying that some people are smarter than others. Given the survival value of intelligence, the concept must be still older than that. Gossip about who in the tribe is cleverest has probably been a topic of conversation around the fire since fires, and conversation, were invented.

Castles (2012: 83) responds to these assertions stating that “the concept of intelligence is indeed a “brashing modern notion.” 1” Herrnstein and Murray, of course, are in the “Of COURSE intelligence exists!” camp, for, to them, it conferred survival advantages and so, it must exist and we can, therefore, measure it in humans.

Howe (1997), in his book IQ in Question, asks us to imagine someone asking to construct a vanity test. Vanity, like ‘intelligence’, has no agreed-upon definition which states how it should be measured nor anything that makes it possible to check that we are measuring the supposed construct correctly. So the one who wants to assess vanity needs to construct a test with questions he presumes tests vanity. So if the questions he asks relates to how others perceive vanity, then the ‘vanity test’ has been successfully constructed and the test constructor can then believe that he’s measuring “differences in” vanity. But, of course, selecting items on a test is a subjective matter; there is no objective way for this to occur. We can say, with length for instance, that line A is twice as long as line B. But we could not, then, state that person A is twice as vain as person B—nor could we say that person A is twice as intelligent as person B (on the basis of IQ scores)—for what would it mean for someone to be twice as vain as someone else, just like what would it mean for someone to be twice as intelligent as someone else?

Howe (1997: 6) writes:

The measurement of intelligence is bedeviled by the same problems that make it virtually impossible to measure vanity. It is of course possible to construct intelligence tests, and the tests can be useful in a number of ways for assessing human mental abilities, but it is wrong to assume that such tests have the capability of measuring an underlying quality of intelligence, if by ‘measuring’ we have in mind the same operations that are involved in the measurement of a physical quality such as length. A psychological test score is no more than an indication of how well someone has performed at a number of questions that have been chosen for largely practical reasons. Nothing is genuinely being measured.

But if “A psychological test score is no more an indication of how well someone has performed at a number of questions that have been chosen largely for practical reasons”, then it follows that knowledge exposure explains outcomes in psychological test scores. Richardson (1998: 127) writes:

The most reasonable answer to the question “What is being measured?”, then, is ‘degree of cultural affiliation’: to the culture of test constructors, school teachers and school curricula. It is (unconsciously) to conceal this that all the manipulations of item selection, evasions about test validities, and searches for post hoc theoretical underpinning seem to be about. What is being measured is certainly not genetically constrained complexity of general reasoning ability as such,

Mensh and Mensh (1991: 73) note that “In reality — which is precisely the opposite of what Jensen claims it to be — test discrimination among individuals within any group is the incidental by-product of tests constructed to discriminate between groups. Because the tests’ class and racial bias ensures that some groups will be higher and others lower in the scoring hierarchy, the status of an individual member of a group is as a rule predetermined by the status of that group.

In sum, what these tests test is what the test constructors presume—mainly, class and racial bias—so they get what they want to see. If the test does not match their presuppositions, the test gets discarded or reconstructed to fit with their biases. Thus, definitions of ‘intelligence’ will always be, as Castles (2012: 29), “intelligence is a cultural construct, specific to a certain time and place.” The definition from Gottfredson doesn’t make sense, as the “test-taking smarts” is the main “measure” of ‘intelligence’, and so intelligence’s “main measure” is the IQ test—which presupposes the distribution of scores as developed by the test constructors (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). Herrnstein and Murray’s definition does not make sense either, as the concept of “intelligence” is a modern notion.

At best, IQ test scores measure the degree of cultural acquisition of knowledge; they do not, nor can they, measure ‘intelligence’—which is a cultural concept which changes with the times. The tests are inherently biased against certain groups; looking at the history and construction of IQ testing will make that clear. The tests are middle-class knowledge tests; not tests of ‘intelligence.’

The “World’s Smartest Man” Christopher Langan on Koko the Gorilla’s IQ

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Christopher Langan is purported to have the highest IQ in the world, at 195—though comparisons to Wittgenstein (“estimated IQ” of 190), da Vinci, and Descartes on their “IQs” are unfounded. He and others are responsible for starting the high IQ society the Mega foundation for people with IQs of 164 or above. For a man with one of the highest IQs in the world, he lived on a poverty wage at less than $10,000 per year in 2001. He has also been a bouncer for the past twenty years.

Koko is one of the world’s most famous gorillas, most-known for crying when she was told her cat got hit by a car and being friends with Robin Williams, also apparently expressing sadness upon learning of his death. Koko’s IQ, as measured by an infant IQ test, was said to be on-par or higher than some of the (shoddy) national IQ scores from Richard Lynn (Richardson, 2004; Morse, 2008). This then prompted white nationalist/alt-right groups to compare Koko’s IQ scores with that of certain nationalities and proclaim that Koko was more ‘intelligent’ than those nationalities on the basis of her IQ score. But, unfortunately for them, the claims do not hold up.

The “World’s Smartest Man” Christopher Langan is one who falls prey to this kind of thinking. He was “banned from” Facebook for writing a post comparing Koko’s IQ scores to  that of Somalians, asking why we don’t admit gorillas into our civilization if we are letting Somalian refugees into the West:

“According to the “30 point rule” of psychometrics (as proposed by pioneering psychometrician Leta S. Holingsworth), Koko’s elevated level of thought would have been all but incomprehensible to nearly half the population of Somalia (average IQ 68). Yet the nation’s of Europe and North America are being flooded with millions of unvetted Somalian refugees who are not (initially) kept in cages despite what appears to be the world’s highest rate of violent crime.

Obviously, this raises the question: Why is Western Civilization not admitting gorillas? They too are from Africa, and probably have a group mean IQ at least equal to that of Somalia. In addition, they have peaceful and environmentally friendly cultures, commit far less violent crime than Somalians…”

I presume that Langan is working off the assumption that Koko’s IQ is 95. I also presume that he has seen memes such as this one floating around:


There are a few problems with Langan’s claims, however. (1) The notion of a “30-point IQ point communication” rule—that one’s own IQ, plus or minus 30 points, denotes where two people can understand each other; and (2) bringing up Koko’s IQ and the comparing it to “Somalians.”

It seems intuitive to the IQ-ist that a large, 2 SD gap in IQ between people will mean that more often than not there will be little understanding between them if they talk, as well as the kinds of interests they have. Neuroskeptic looked into the origins of the claim of the communication gap in IQ, found it to be attributed to Leta Hollingworth and elucidated by Grady Towers. Towers noted that “a leadership pattern will not form—or it will break up—when a discrepancy of more than about 30 points comes to exist between leader and lead.Neuroskeptic comments:

This seems to me a significant logical leap. Hollingworth was writing specifically about leadership, and in childen [sic], but Towers extrapolates the point to claim that any kind of ‘genuine’ communication is impossible across a 30 IQ point gap.

It is worth noting that although Hollingworth was an academic psychologist, her remark about leadership does not seem to have been stated as a scientific conclusion from research, but simply as an ‘observation’.


So as far as I can see the ‘communication range’ is just an idea someone came up with. It’s not based on data. The reference to specific numbers (“+/- 2 standard deviations, 30 points”) gives the illusion of scientific precision, but these numbers were plucked from the air.

The notion that Koko had an “elevated level of thought [that] would have been all but incomprehensible to nearly half the population of Somalia (average IQ 68)” (Langan) is therefore laughable, not only for the reason that a so-called communication gap is false, but for the simple fact that Koko’s IQ was tested using the Cattell Infant Intelligence Scales (CIIS) (Patterson and Linden,1981: 100). It seems to me that Langan has not read the book that Koko’s handlers wrote about her—The Education of Koko (Patterson and Linden, 1981)—since they describe why Koko’s score should not be compared with human infants, so it follows that her score cannot be compared with human adults.

The CIIS was developed “to a downward extension of the Stanford-Binet” (Hooper, Conner, and Umansky, 1986), and so, it must correlate highly with the Stanford-Binet in order to be “valid” (the psychometric benchmark for validity—correlating a new test with the most up-to-date test which had assumed validity; Richardson, 1991, 2000, 2017; Howe, 1997). Hooper, Conner, and Umansky (1986: 160) note in their review of the CIIS, “Given these few strengths and numerous shortcomings, salvaging the Cattell would be a major undertaking with questionable yield. . . . Nonetheless, without more research investigating this instrument, and with the advent of psychometrically superior measures of infant development, the Cattell may be relegated to the role of an historical antecedent.” Items selected for the CIIS—like all IQ tests—“followed a quasi-statistical approach with many items being accepted and rejected subjectively.” They state that many of the items on the CIIS need to be updated with “objective” item analysis—but, as Jensen notes, items emerge arbitrarily from the heads of the test’s constructors.

Patterson—the woman who raised Koko—notes that she “tried to gauge [Koko’s]
performance by every available yardstick, and this meant administering infant IQ tests
” (Patterson and Linden, 1981: 96). Patterson and Linden (1981: 100) note that Koko did better than human counterparts of her age in certain tasks over others, for example “her ability to complete logical progressions like the Ravens Progressive Matrices test” since she pointed to the answer with no hesitation.

Koko generally performed worse than children when a verbal rather than a pointing response was required. When tasks involved detailed drawings, such as penciling a path through a maze, or precise coordination, such as fitting puzzle pieces together. Koko’s performance was distinctly inferior to that of children.


It is hard to draw any firm conclusions about the gorilla’s intelligence as compared to that of the human child. Because infant intelligence tests have so much to do with motor control, results tend to get skewed. Gorillas and chimps seem to gain general control over their bodies earlier than humans, although ultimately children far outpace both in the fine coordination required in drawing or writing. In problems involving more abstract reasoning, Koko, when she is willing to play the game, is capable of solving relatively complex problems. If nothing else, the increase in Koko’s mental age shows that she is capable of understanding a number of the principles that are the foundation of what we call abstract thought. (Patterson and Linden, 1981: 100-101)

They conclude that “it is specious to compare her IQ directly with that of a human infant” since gorillas develop motor skills earlier than human infants. So if it is “specious” to compare Koko’s IQ with an infant, then it is “specious” to compare Koko’s IQ with the average Somalian—as Langan does.

There have been many critics of Koko, and similar apes, of course. One criticism was that Koko was coaxed into signing the word she signed by asking Koko certain questions, to Robert Sapolsky stating that Patterson corrected Koko’s signs. She, therefore, would not actually know what she was signing, she was just doing what she was told. Of course, caregivers of primates with the supposed extraordinary ability for complex (humanlike) cognition will defend their interpretations of their observations since they are emotionally invested in the interpretations. Patterson’s Ph.D. research was on Koko and her supposed capabilities for language, too.

Perhaps the strongest criticism of these kinds of interpretations of Koko comes from Terrace et al (1979). Terrace et al (1979: 899) write:

The Nova film, which also shows Ally (Nim’s full brother) and Koko, reveals a similar tendency for the teacher to sign before the ape signs. Ninety-two percent of Ally’s, and all of Koko’s, signs were signed by the teacher immediately before Ally and Koko signed.

It seems that Langan has never done any kind of reading on Koko, the tests she was administered, nor the problems in comparing them to humans (infants). The fact that Koko seemed to be influenced by her handlers to “sign” what they wanted her to sign, too, makes interpretations of her IQ scores problematic. For if Koko were influenced what to sign, then we, therefore, cannot trust her scores on the CIIS. The false claims of Langan are laughable knowing the truth about Koko’s IQ, what her handlers said about her IQ, and knowing what critics have said about Koko and her sign language. In any case, Langan did not show his “high IQ” with such idiotic statements.