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Vygotsky’s Socio-Historical Theory of Learning and Development, Knowledge Social Class, and IQ
Three of the main concepts that Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky is known for is cultural and psychological tools, private speech, and the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between what a learner can do with and without help—the gap between actual and potential development. Vygotsky’s socio-historical theory of learning and development states that human development and learning take place in certain social and cultural contexts. When one thinks about how knowledge acquisition occurs, quite obviously, one can surmise that knowledge acquisition (learning) and human development take place in specific cultural and social contexts and so knowledge is culture-dependent (Richardson, 2002).
In this article, I will discuss the intersection of culture and Vygotsky’s concepts of private speech, cultural and psychological tools, and the zone of proximal development along with how these relate to IQ. Basically, the argument will be that what one is exposed to in childhood and during development will dictate how one performs on a test, and that the ZPD predicts school performance better than “IQ.”
What is culture and where does it come from?
This question is asked a lot by “HBDers” and I think it is a loaded question. It is a loaded question because they are fishing for a specific kind of answer—they want you to answer that culture derives from a people’s genetic constitution. This, though, fails. It fails because of how culture is conceptualized. Culture is simply what is socially transmitted by groups of people. It is physically visible (public) though the meaning of each cultural thing is invisible—it is private to the people who espouse the certain culture.
The basic source culture is values, beliefs, and norms. Cultures lay down strict norms of what is OK and what isn’t, like for example the foods they eat and along with it beliefs and attitudes shared by the social group. So a basic definition of culture would be: beliefs and ways of life that a social group shares—it is a human activity which is socially transmitted. Knowing this, we can see how learning and in some ways development, can be culturally-loaded. Since a culture dictates not only what is learned, but also how to think in a certain culture, we can then begin to see how different cultures lead people to think in different ways and along with it how different cultures lead to differences in not only knowledge but the acquisition of that knowledge.
UNESCO defines culture as “the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs” (UNESCO, 2001). (What is Culture?)
the term “culture” can refer to the set of norms, practices and values that characterize minority and majority groups (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Culture)
Material culture consists of tangible objects that people create: tools, toys, buildings, furniture, images, and even print and digital media—a seemingly endless list of items. … Non-material culture includes such things as: beliefs, values, norms, customs, traditions, and rituals (Culture as Thought and Action)
Since society consists of individuals who then become a group living in a certain region, then it stands to reason that learning and human development are due to these kinds of cultural and social interactions between individuals which make up a certain society and therefore culture. The types of things that allow me to survive, learn, and grow in one culture won’t allow me to survive, learn, and grow to the same degree in another culture.
Now that I’ve touched on what culture is, where does it come from? Why are there different cultures? Quite simply, cultures are different because people are different and although different cultures are comprised of individuals, these individuals themselves comprise a group. These groups of people live in different environments/ecologies (physical environment), and so considerations of these ecologies lead not only to a group to begin to construct a society that is necessarily in-tune with the environment, it also leads to “mental environments” between the people that comprise the group in question. So then we can say that culture comes from the way that groups of people live their lives.
If we think about culture as thought and action, then we can begin to get at what culture really is. Values and beliefs influence our thought, attitudes, and behavior. “Culture influences action…by...shaping a repertoire or “toolkit” of habits, skills, and styles from which people construct “strategies of action“” (Swidler, 1986). Action is distinct from behavior, in that action is future- or goal-directed whereas behavior is due to antecedent conditions. That is, actions are done for reasons, to actualize a goal of the agent that is performing the action. Crudely, culture can be then said to be what a group of people does. Culture is “human-created environment, artifacts, and practices” (Vasileva and Balyasnikova, 2019).
How culture, then, comes into play in Vygotsky’s socio-historical theory of learning and development is now clear—the ways that people interact with others in a specific culture then dictates the knowledge that they acquire which then shapes their mental abilities. This theory is a purely developmental theory. The socio-historical theory makes three claims: Social interaction plays a role in learning, knowledge acquisition, and development; language is an essential cultural/psychological tool in learning, and learning occurs within the zone of proximal development (ZPD). How that I have shown how I will be using the term “culture”, it is clear that what it means for Vygotsky’s theory of human learning and development is relevant. Now I will discuss cultural and psychological tools and then turn to those three aforementioned tenets that make up the theory.
Psychological and cultural tools
Psychological tools are symbols, signs, text and language, to name a few. They are internally oriented, but in their external appearance take their form in the aforementioned ways. Language and mathematics are two kind of psychological tools, but we can also rightly say they they are cultural tools as well (in the case of language).
Cultural tools are tools specific to a culture which allows an individual to navigate that culture. Cultural tools don’t determine thinking but they do constrain it, since the “information about the expected or appropriate actions in relation to a particular performance in a community. This is indirectly social in that it is not interpersonal, though it nevertheless stems from the social context” (Gauvain, 2001:129). Language can be seen as both a cultural and psychological tool; humans are born into culturally- and linguistically-mediated environments, and so they are immediately immersed in culture from the day they are born (Vasileva and Balyasnikova, 2019).
Cultural tools include historically evolved patterns of co-action; the informal and institutionalized rules and procedures governing them; the shared conceptual representations underlying them; styles of speech and other forms of communication; administrative, management and accounting tools; specific hardware and technological tools; as well as ideologies, belief systems, social values, and so on (Vygotsky, 1988).(Richardson, 2002: 288)
Robbins (2005: 146) writes:
Another important concept within sociocultural theory, which we can highlight through Rogoff’s (1995, 1998) contextual or community focus of analysis, is the use of cultural tools (both material and psychological) in the development of understanding. As Lemke (2001) points out, we grow and live within a range of different contexts, and our lives within these communities and institutions give us tools for making sense of, and to, those around us. Vygotsky described psychological tools as those that can be used to direct the mind and behaviour, while technical tools are used to bring about changes in other objects (Daniels, 2001). Commonly cited examples of cultural tools include language, different kinds of numbering and counting, writing schemes, mnemonic technical aids, algebraic symbol systems, art works, diagrams, maps, drawings, and all sorts of signs (John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996; Stetsenko, 1999).
So cultural tools, then, become “internalized in individuals as the dominant ‘psychological tools’” (Richardson, 2002: 288).
Social interaction plays a role in learning
This seems quite intuitive. As a human develops, they begin to take cues from their overall environment and those that are rearing them. They are immersed in a specific culture immediately from birth. They then begin to internalize certain aspects of the environment around them, and then begin to internalize the specific cultural and psychological tools inherent to that specific culture.
Tomasello (2019: 13) states that his theory is that “uniquely human forms of cognition and sociality emerge in human ontogeny through, and only through, species-unique forms of sociocultural activity” and so it is not only Vygotskian, but neo-Vygotskian. So children are in effect scaffolded by the culture they are immersed in, which is how “more knowledgeable others” (MKO) affect the learning trajectory of the child. A MKO is an individual who has a better understanding of, or a higher ability than, the learner. So MKOs aren’t merely for teaching children, they are strewn throughout the world teaching less knowledgeable others. These MKOs guide individuals in their ZPD, since the MKO would have greater access to certain knowledge that the LKO wouldn’t, they would then be able to guide the LKO in their learning, able to provide instruction to the LKO so they could then perform a certain task. Learning to play baseball, right a bike, lift weights, are but a few ways that MKOs guide the development and task-acquisition of children—these are perfect examples of the concept of “scaffolding.”
Although Vygotsky never used the term “scaffolding”, it’s a direct implication of his socio-historical theory of learning and development. The concept of scaffolding has been argued to be related to the ZPD, but see Shabani, Khatib, and Ebadi (2010) and Xi and Lantolf (2021) for criticism of this relationship. However, it has been experimentally shown that the concept of scaffolding along with the ZPD can be used to extend a student’s ZPD for critical thinking (Wass, Harland, and Mercer, 2011). That is, the students can better reach their potential and therefore become independent learners.
What this means is that culture is significant in learning, language is necessary for culture, and people learn from others in their communities. Interacting with other people while developing, and even after, are how humans develop. Since we are a social species, it stands to reason that these concepts like MKOs and the significance of the cultural context in the acquisition of certain skills and learning play a significant role in the development of all children and even adults. Thus, each stage of the development of a child builds upon a previous stage, and so, play could also be seen as a form of learning—a form of sociocultural learning. Imaginative play, then, allows the self-regulation of children and also challenges them just enough in their ZPD.
“Private speech” is when a child talks to themselves while they are performing a task (Alderson-Day and Fernyhough, 2015). It is one’s “inner speech”, their own “voice” in their heads. It is the act of talking to one’s self as they perform a task, and this is ubiquitous around the world, implying that it is a hallmark of human cognizing (Vissers, Tomas, and Law, 2020). This is basically the “voice” you head in your head as you live your daily life. It is, of course, a natural consequence of thinking and talking. Speech acts are a natural process of think acts, as Vygotsky argued, which is similar to Davidson’s (1982) argument against the possibility of animal mentality since for organisms to be thinking and rational they must be able to express numerous thoughts and interpret the speech of others. This kind of speech, furthermore, has been shown to been related to working memory and cognitive reflexivity (Skipper, 2022).
The zone of proximal development
The ZPD is what a learner can and cannot do without help. Vygotsky originally developed it to oppose the concept of “IQ” (Neugeurela, Garcia, and Buescher, 2015; Kazemi, Bagheri, and Rassei, 2020; Offori-Attah, 2021). This concept is perhaps the most-used and discussed concept that Vygotsky forwarded. Central to this concept, which is a part of Vygotsky’s overall theory of child development, is imitation. Imitation is a goal-directed activity, and so it is an action. There is intention behind the imitation because the imitator is copying what the MKO is doing. But Vygotsky was using “imitation” in a way that is not normally used. To be able to imitate, one has to be able to be able to do carry out the imitation of what they are seeing from the MKO. So Vygotsky’s concept of the ZPD is that a child can learn something that he doesn’t know how to do by imitating an MKO, having the MKO guide them through to complete the task. It has been argued that ZPD can improve a learner’s thinking ability, along with making learning more relevant and efficient to the learner since it gives the learner the ability to learn from instruction and having a MKO guide them to compete a task, which then becomes internalized (Abdurrahman, Abdullah, and Osman (2019).
So the ZPD indicates what a child can do independently, and then they are given harder, guided problems which they then imitate and further internalize. MKOs are able to recognize where a child is in their development and can help them then complete harder tasks. The ZPD is related to learning not only in school but also in play (Hakkarainen and Bredikyte, 2008). For instance, the Strong Museum of Play states that “Learners develop concepts and skills through meaningful play. Play supports physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development.” Children definitely learn from play, and this interactive kind of learning also has them better understand their body, since play is in part a physical activity (a guided, goal-directed, intention). Play is” developmentally beneficial (Eberle, 2014; UNICEF, 2018), and it is beneficial and related to the ZPD since a child can learn to do something either from a peer or coach that knows how to do the action they want to learn and then internalize. An individual that is playing is an active participant in their own learning. Play, in effect, creates the ZPD (Hakkarainen and Bredikyte, 2014). Though Vygotsky’s conception of “play” is different than used in common parlance. Play
is limited to the dramatic or make-believe play of preschoolers. Vygotsky’s play theory therefore differs from other play theories, which also include object-oriented exploration, constructional play, and games with rules. Real play activities, according to Vygotsky, include the following components: (a) creating an imaginary situation, (b) taking on and acting out roles, and (c) following a set of rules determined by specific roles (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). (Scharer, 2017: 63)
Further, “symbolic play may scaffold development because it facilitates infants’ communicative success by promoting them to ‘co-constructors of meaning’” (Creaghe and Kidd, 2022). “Play creates a zone of proximal development of the child. In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself” (Vygotsky, 1978, 102 quoted in Gray and Feldman, 2004: 113).
The scaffolding occurs due to the relationship between play, the ZPD and what an individual then internalizes and then becomes embedded in their muscle memory. This is where MKOs come into play. When one is first learning to work out, they may seek out a personal knowledgeable in the mechanics of the human body to learn how to lift weights. Through instruction, they then begin to learn and then internalize the movements in their heads, and then they can just perform the lift well after successive attempts of doing a certain motion. Or take baseball. Baseball coaches would be the MKOs, and they then teach children to play baseball and they learn how to hit pitches, catch balls, throw and how to be a part of a team. Through the action of play, then, one can reach their ZPD and even extend it.
ZPD and IQ
Further, Vygotsky showed that the whether or not one has a large or small ZPD better “predicts” performance than does “IQ” and he also noted that those who scored higher on IQ tests “did so at the cost of their zone of proximal development“, since they exhaust their ZPD earlier leaving a smaller ZPD.
Vygotsky reported that not only did the size of the children’s ZPD turn out to correlate well with their success in school (large ZPD children were more successful than small ZPD children) but that ZPD size was actually a better predictor of school performance than IQ. (Poehner, 2008: 35; cf Smirni and Smirni, 2022)
It has even been experimentally demonstrated that children with high IQs have a smaller ZPD, children with low IQs have a larger ZPD (Kusmaryono and Kusmaningsih, 2021). It has also been shown that those who received ZPD scaffolding instruction improved more and even outperformed the other group on subsequent IQ tests after a first test was administered (Stanford-Binet and Mensa) (Ghelot, 2021). The responsiveness to remediation, and not “IQ” was a better predictor of school performance (Amini, Hassaskhah, and Sibet, 2017) and the degree of responsiveness wasn’t related to high or low IQ, since some learners had a high responsiveness and low score while others had a high score but low responsiveness (Poehner, 2017: 156). Those who took a test in one year and did not get better in subsequent years, Vygotsky argued, merely meant that they were not pushed outside of what they already know. So children with large ZPD were more likely to be successful irrespective of IQ while children with small ZPD were less likely to be successful, irrespective of IQ. Though the concepts of ZPD and IQ are seen as not contradictory, but related (Modarresi and Jeddy, 2021), quite clearly since “IQ” isn’t a measure of learning ability it merely shows what one has learned and so has been exposed to while the ZPD shows how one would do into the future due to how large their ZPD is. It shows not only where someone has reached, but also shows where they can reach. Thus, instead of the (undeserved) emphasis of IQ, we should therefore put the ZPD in its place, since it is a dynamic (relational) assessment and not a standardized test (Din, 2017).
What’s class got to do with it?
Since children acquire knowledge and beliefs based on their class background (what they are exposed to in their daily lives as they grow), then it follows that children will be differentially prepared for taking certain kinds of tests. So if the content on the tests is biased toward a group, then it is biased against a group. It is biased against a group since they are not exposed to the relevant material and kinds of thinking needed to be able to perform the test in a sufficient manner. Knowing what we now know about the acquisition of cultural and psychological tools, we can state that “high IQ may simply be an accident of immersion in middle-class cultural tools (aspects of literacy, numeracy, cultural knowledge, and so on) … the environment is made up of socially structured devices and cultural tools, and in which development consists of the acquisition of such cultural tools” (Richardson: 1998: 163-164). It is due to these considerations that culture-fair IQ tests are an impossibility, since people are encompassed in different cultures (what amount to learning environments where they acquire knowledge and cultural and psychological tools) are therefore an impossibility since abilities are cultural devices—culture-free tests are therefore an illusion (Cole, 2002; Richardson, 2002).
So if there are different cultural groups, then they by definition have different cultures. If they have different cultures, then they have different experiences (of course), and so, they acquire different kinds of knowledge and along with it cultural and psychological tools. It is then we can then rightly state that therefore different cultural groups would then be differentially prepared for doing certain tasks. And so, if one’s culture is more dominant and if one culture’s way of thinking is more prevalent, then it follows that people will be prepared for a certain test at different stages of being able to perform the tasks or answer the questions. Social status, also, isn’t merely just related to material things, it also influences how we think and act (Richardson and Jones, 2019) and so emotional and motivational—affective—factors would therefore play a role in one’s test score, since they are constructed from a narrow range of test items, constructed to get the results that were a priori to the test constructors. So since one’s class is related to affective factors, since IQ tests reflect mere class-specific items, it follows that the “affective state is one of the most important aspects of learning” (Shelton-Strong and Maynard, 2018). It is then, by using the concepts of cultural and psychological tools (which occur in social relations) that we can then rightly state that IQ tests are best looked at as mere class surrogates.
Basically, “in order to understand the individual, one must first understand the social relations in which the individual exists” (Wertsch, 1985: 63). Vygotsky’s theory is one in which the mind is formed and constructed through social and cultural interactions with those who are already immersed in the culture that the individual’s mind is developing in. And so, by using the concepts of cultural and psychological tools, we can then see how and why different classes are differentially prepared for taking tests, which is then reflected in the score outcomes. Since growing individuals learn what they are exposed to and they learn from those who are already immersed in the culture at large, then it follows that individuals learn culturally-specific forms of learning and thusly acquire different “tool sets” in which they then navigate the social world they are in. The concepts of private speech, cultural and psychological tools, MKO, scaffolding and the ZPD all coalesce to a theory of learning and development in which the learner is an active participant in their development, and so, these things also combine to show how and why groups score differently on IQ tests.
Knowledge is the content of thought, and the ability to speak is how we convey thoughts to others and how we actualize the thoughts we have into action. Thus all higher human cognitive functioning is social in nature (van der Veer, 2009). Though it is wrongly claimed that IQ is shown to be a measure of learning potential, it is rightly said that the ZPD is social in nature (Khalid, 2015). IQ doesn’t show one’s learning potential, it merely shows what one was or was not exposed to in regard to the relevant test items (Lavin and Nakano, 2017). Culture is a fluid and dynamic experience (Rublik, 2017) in which one is engrossed in the culture they are born into, and so, by understanding this, we can then understand why different groups of people score differently on IQ tests, without the need for genes or biological processes.
Though there have been good criticisms of Vygotsky’s socio-historical theory of learning and development. Though much of Vygotsky’s theorizing has led to predictions and do have some empirical support (Morin, 2012). One argument against the ZPD is that it doesn’t explain development or how it really occurs. If you think about development from a Vygotskian perspective, we see that it is as much of a cultural and social activity than is mere individual learning. By learning from people more knowledgeable than themselves, they are then able to learn how to do something, and through repetition, able to do it on their own without the MKO.
The fact of the matter is, IQ tests aren’t as good as either teacher assessment (Kaufman, 2019) or the ZPD in predicting where a learner will end up. It is for these reasons (and more) we should stop using IQ tests and we should us the relational ZPD. (One can also look at the ZPD as related to considerations from relational developmental systems theory as well; Lerner, 2011, 2013; Lerner, Johnson, and Buckingham, 2015; Ettekal et al, 2017; Bell, 2019). It is for these reasons that standardized tests should not be used anymore, and we should use tests of dynamic assessment. The empirical research on the issue bears out this claim.
The Myth of “General Intelligence”
“General Intelligence” or g is championed as the hallmark “discovery” of psychology. First “discovered” by Charles Spearman in 1904, noting that schoolchildren who scored highly on one test scored highly on others and vice versa for lower-scoring children, he assumed that due to the correlation between tests, that there must be an underlying physiological basis to the correlation, which he posited to be some kind of “mental energy”, stating that the central nervous system (CNS) explained the correlation. He proclaimed that g really existed and that he had verified Galton’s claim of a unitary general ability (Richardson, 2017: 82-83). Psychometricians then claim, from these intercorrelations of scores, that what is hidden from us is then revealed, and that the correlations show that something exists and is driving the correlation in question. That’s the goal of psychometrics/psychology—to quantify and then measure psychological traits/mental abilities. However, I have argued at length that it is a conceptual impossibility—the goal of psychometrics is an impossibility since psychometrics isn’t measurement. Therefore, claims that IQ tests measure g is false.
First, I will discuss the reification of g and it’s relation to brain properties. I will argue that if g is a thing then it must have a biological basis, that is it must be a brain property. Reductionists like Jensen have said as much. But it’s due to the reification of g as a concrete, physical thing that has people hold such beliefs. Second, I will discuss Geary’s theory that g is identical with mitochondrial functioning. I will describe what mitochondria does, and what powers it, and then discuss the theory. I will have a negative view of it, due to the fact that he is attempting to co-opt real, actual functions of a bodily process and attempt to weave g theory into it. Third, I will discuss whether or not psychological traits are indeed quantifiable and measurable, and whether or not there is a definition psychometricians can use to ground their empirical investigations. I will argue negatively for all three. Fourth, I will discuss Herrnstein and Murray’s 6 claims in The Bell Curve about IQ and provide a response to each in turn. Fifth, I will discuss the real cause of score variation, which isn’t reduction to a so-called assumed existence of a biological process/mechanism, but which is due to affective factors and exposure to the specific type of knowledge items on the test. Lastly, I will conclude and give an argument for why g isn’t a thing and is therefore immeasurable.
On reifications and brain properties
Contrary to protestations from psychometricians, they in fact do reifiy correlations and then claim that there exists some unitary, general factor that pervades all mental tests. If reification is treating the abstract as something physical, and if psychometrics treat g as something physical, then they are reifying g based on mere intercorrelations between tests. I am aware that, try as they might, they do attempt to show that there is an underlying biology to g, but these claims are defeated by the myriad arguments I’ve raised against the reducibility of the mental to the physical. Another thing that Gould gets at is that psychometricians claim that they can rank people—this is where the psychometric assumption that because we can put a number to their reified thing, that there is something being measured.
Reification is “the propensity to convert an abstract concept (like intelligence) into a hard entity (like an amount of quantifiable brain stuff)” (Gould, 1996: 27). So g theorists treat g as a concrete, physical, thing, which then guides their empirical investigations. They basically posit that the mental has a material basis, and they claim that they can, by using correlations between different test batteries, we can elucidate the causal biological mechanisms/brain properties responsible for the correlation.
Spearman’s theory—and IQ—is a faculty theory (Nash, 1990). It is a theory in which it is claimed that the mind is separated into different faculties, where mental entities cause the intellectual performance. Such a theory needs to keep up the claim that a cognitive faculty is causally efficacious for information processing. But the claim that the mind is “separated” into different faculties fails, and it fails since the mind is a single sphere of consciousness, it is not a complicated arrangement of mental parts. Physicalists like Jensen and Spearman don’t even have a sound philosophical basis on which to ground their theories. Their psychology is inherently materialist/physicalist, but materialism/physicalism is false and so it follows that their claims do not hold any water. The fact of the matter is, Spearman saw what he wanted to see in his data (Schlinger, 2003).
I have already proven that since dualism is true, then the mental is irreducible to the physical and since psychometrics isn’t measurement, then what psychometricians claim to do just isn’t possible. I have further argued that science can’t study first-personal subjective states since science is third-personal and objective. The fact is the matter is, hereditarian psychologists are physicalist, but it is impossible for a purely physical thing to be able to think. Claims from psychometricians about their “mental tests” basically reduce to one singular claim: that g is a brain property. I have been saying this for years—if g exists, it has to be a brain property. But for it to be a brain property, one needs to provide defeaters for my arguments against the irreducibility of the mental and they also need to argue against the arguments that psychometrics isn’t measurement and that psychology isn’t quantifiable. They can assume all they want that it is quantifiable and that since they are giving tests, questionnaires, likert scales, and other kinds of “assessments” to people that they are really measuring something; but, ultimately, if they are actually measuring something, then that thing has to be physical.
Jensen (1999) made a suite of claims trying to argue for a physical basis for g,—to reduce g to biology—though, upon conceptual examination (which I have provided above) these claims outright fail:
g…[is] a biological [property], a property of the brain
The ultimate arbiter among various “theories of intelligence” must be the physical properties of the brain itself. The current frontier of g research is the investigation of the anatomical and physiological features of the brain that cause g.
…psychometric g has many physical correlates…[and it] is a biological phenomenon.
As can be seen, Jensen is quite obviously claiming that g is a biological brain property—and this is what I’ve been saying to IQ-ists for years: If g exists, then it MUST be a property of the brain. That is, it MUST have a physical basis. But for g proponents to show this is in fact reality, they need to attempt to discredit the arguments for dualism, that is, they need to show that the mental is reducible to the physical. Jensen is quite obviously saying that a form of mind-brain identity is true, and so my claim that it was inevitable for hereditarianism to become a form of mind-brain identity theory is quite obviously true. The fact of the matter is, Jensen’s beliefs are reliant upon an outmoded concept of the gene, and indeed even a biologically implausible heritability (Richardson, 1999; Burt and Simons, 2014, 2015).
But Jensen (1969) contradicted himself when it comes to g. On page 9, he writes that “We should not reify g as an entity, of course, since it is only a hypothetical construct intended to explain covariation am ong tests. It is a hypothetical source of variance (individual differences) in test scores.” But then 10 pages later on pages 19-20 he completely contradicts himself, writing that g is “a biological reality and not just a figment of social conventions.” That’s quite the contradiction: “Don’t reifiy X, but X is real.” Jensen then spent the rest of his career trying to reduce g to biology/the brain (brain properties), as we see above.
But we are now in the year 2023, and so of course there are new theoretical developments which attempt to show that Spearman’s hypothesized mental energy really does exist, and that it is the cause of variations in scores and of the positive manifold. This is now where we will turn.
g and mitochondrial functioning
In a series of papers, David Geary (2018, 2019, 2020, 2021) tries to argue that mitochondriaal functioning is the core component in g. At last, Spearman’s hypothetical construct has been found in the biology of our cells—or has it?
One of the main functions of mitochondria is to oxidative phosphorylation to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). All living cells use ATP as fuel, it acts as a signaling molecule, it is also involved in cellular differentiation and cell death (Khakh and Burnstock, 2009). The role of mitochondrial functioning in spurring disease states has been known for a while, such as with cardiovascular diseases such as cardiomyopathy (Murphy et al, 2016, Ramaccini at al, 2021).
So due to the positive manifold, where performance in one thing is correlated with a performance in another, Geary assumes—as Spearman and Jensen did before him—that there must be some underlying biological mechanism which then explains the correlation. Geary then uses established outcomes of irregular mitochondrial functioning to then argue that the mental energy that Spearman was looking for could be found in mitochondrial functioning. Basically, this mental energy is ATP. I don’t deny that mitochondriaal functioning plays a role in the acquisition of disease states, indeed this has been well known (eg, Gonzales et al, 2022). What I deny is Gary’s claim that mitochondrial functioning has identity with Spearman’s g.
His theory is, like all other hereditarian-type theories, merely correlative—just like g theory. He hasn’t shown any direct, causal, evidence of mitochondrial functioning in “intelligence” differences (nor for a given “chronological age). That as people age their bodies change which then has an effect on their functioning doesn’t mean that the powerhouse of the cell—ATP—is causing said individual differences and the intercorrelations between tests (Sternberg, 2020). Indeed, environmental pollutants affect mitochondrial functioning (Byun and Baccarelli, 2014; Lambertini and Byun, 2016). Indeed, most—if not all—of Geary’s hypotheses do not pass empirical investigation (Schubert and Hagemann, 2020). So while Geary’s theory is interesting and certainly novel, it fails in explaining what he set out to.
Quantifiable, measurable, definable, g?
The way that g is conceptualized is that there is a quantity of it—where one has “more of it” than other people, and this, then, explains how “intelligent” they are in comparison to others—so implicit in so-called psychometric theory is that whatever it is their tests are tests of, something is being quantified. But what does it mean to quantify something? Basically, what is quantification? Simply, it’s the act of giving a numerical value to a thing that is measured. Now we have come to an impasse—if it isn’t possible to measure what is immaterial, how can we quantify it? That’s the thing, we can’t. The g approach is inherently a biologically reductionist one. Biological reductionism is false. So the g approach is false.
Both Gottfredson (1998) and Plomin (1999) make similar claims to Jensen, where they talks about the “biology of g” and the “genetics of g“. Plomin (1999) claims that studies of twins show that g has a substantial heritability, while Gottfredson (1998) claims that heritability of IQ increases to up until adulthood where it “rises to 60 percent in adolescence and to 80 percent by late adulthood“, citing Bouchard’s MISTRA (Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart). (See Joseph 2022 for critique and for the claim that the heritability of IQ in that study is 0 percent.) They, being IQ-ists, of course assume a genetic component to this mystical g. However, there arguments are based on numerous false assumptions and studies with bad designs (and hidden results), and so they must be rejected.
If X is quantitative, then X is measurable. If X is measurable, then X has a physical basis. Psychological traits don’t have a physical basis. So psychological traits aren’t quantitative and therefore not measurable. Geary’s attempt at arguing for identity between g and mitochondrial functioning is an attempt at a specified measured object for g, though his theory just doesn’t hold. Stating truisms about a biological process and then attempting to liken the process with the construct g just doesn’t work; it’s just a post-hoc rationalization to attempt to liken g with an actual biological process.
Furthermore, if X is quantitative, then there is a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for X. But this is where things get rocky for g theorists and psychometricians. Psychometry is merely pseudo-measurement. Psychometricians cannot give a specified measured object, and if they can’t give a specified measured object they cannot give an object of measurement. They thusly also cannot construct a measurement unit. Therfore, “the necessary conditions for metrication do not exist” (Nash, 1990: 141). Even Haier (2014, 2018) admits that IQ test scores don’t have a unit that is like inches, liters, or grams. This is because those are ratio scales and IQ is ordinal. That is, there is no “0-point” for IQ, like there is for other actual, real measures like temperature. That’s the thing—if you have a thing to be measured, then you have a physical object and consequently a measument unit. But this is just not possible for psychometry. I then wonder why Haier doesn’t follow what he wrote to its logical conclusion—that the project of psychometrics is just not possible. Of course the concept of intelligence doesn’t have a referent, that is, it doesn’t name a property like height, weight, or temperature (Midgley, 2018:100-101). Even the most-cited definition of intelligence—Gottfredson’s—still fails, since she contradicts herself in her very definition.
Of course IQ “ranks” people by their performance—some people perform better on the test than others (which is an outcome of prior experience). So g theorists and IQ-ists assume that the IQ test is measuring some property that varies between groups which then leads to score differences on their psychometric tests. But as Roy Nash (1990: 134) wrote:
It is impossible to provide a satisfactory, that is non-circular, definition of the supposed ‘general cognitive ability’ IQ tests attempt to measure and without that definition IQ theory fails to meet the minimal conditions of measurement.
But Boeck and Kovas (2020) try to sidestep this issue with an extraordinary claim, “Perhaps we do not need a definition of intelligence to investigate intelligence.” How can we investigate something sans a definition of the object of investigation? How can we claim that a thing is measured if we have no definition, and no specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit, as IQ-ists seem to agree with? Again, IQ-ists don’t take these conclusions to their further logical conclusion—that we simply just cannot measure and quantify psychological traits.
Haier claims that PGS and “DNA profiles” may lead to “new definitions of intelligence” (however ridiculous a claim). He also, in 2009, had a negative outlook on identifying a “neuro g” since “g-scores derived from different test batteries do not necessarily have equivalent neuro-anatomical substrates, suggesting that identifying a “neuro-g” will be difficult” (Haier, 2009). But one more important reason exists, and it won’t just make it “difficult” to identify a neuro g, it makes it conceptually impossible. That is the fact that cognitive localizations are not possible, and that we reify a kind of average in brain activations when we look at brain scans using fMRI. The fact of the matter is, neuroreduction just isn’t possible, empirically (Uttal, 2001, 2014, 2012), nor is it possible conceptually.
Herrnstein and Murray’s 6 claims
Herrnstein and Murray (1994) make six claims about IQ (and also g):
(1) There is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive on which human beings differ.
Of course implicit in this claim is that it’s a brain property, and that people have this in different quantities. However, the discussion above puts this claim to bed since psychological traits aren’t quantitative. This, of course comes from the intercorrelations of test scores. But we will see that most of the source of variation isn’t even entirely cognitive and is largely affective and due to one’s life experiences (due to the nature of the item content).
(2) All standardized tests of academic aptitude or achievement measure this general factor to some degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately.
Of course Herrnstein and Murray are married to the idea that these tests are measures of something, that since they give different numbers due to one’s performance, there must be an underlying biology behind the differences. But of course, psychometry isn’t true measurement.
(3) IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart in ordinary language.
That’s because the tests are constructed to agree with prior assumptions on who is or is not “intelligent.” As Terman constructed his Stanford-Binet to agree with his own preconceived notions of who is or is not “intelligent”: “By developing an exclusion-inclusion criteria that favored the aforementioned groups, test developers created a norm “intelligent” (Gersh, 1987, p.166) population “to differentiate subjects of known superiority from subjects of known inferiority” (Terman, 1922, p. 656)” (Bazemoore-James, Shinaprayoon, and Martin 2017). Of course, since newer tests are “validated”(that is, correlated with) older, tests (Richardson, 1991, 2000, 2002, 2017; Howe, 1997), this assumption is still alive today.
(4) IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person’s life.
IQ test scores are malleable, and this of course would be due to the experience one has in their lives which would then have them ready to take a test. Even so, if this claim were true, it wouldn’t speak to the “biology” of g.
(5) Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups.
This claim is outright false and can be known quite simply: the items on IQ tests derive from specific classes, mainly the white middle-class. Since this is true, it would then follow that people who are not exposed to the item content and test structures wouldn’t be as prepared as those who are. Thus, IQ tests are biased against different groups, and if they are biased against different groups it also follows that they are biased for certain groups, mainly white Americans. (See here for considerations on Asians.)
(6) Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40 percent and no more than 80 percent.
It’s nonsense to claim that one can apportion heritability into genetic and environmental causes, due to the interaction between the two. IQ-ists may claim that twin, family, and adoption studies show that IQ is X amount heritable so there must thusly be a genetic component to differences in test scores. But the issue with heritability has been noted for decades (see Charney, 2012, 2016, 2022; Joseph, 2014, Moore and Shenk, 2016, Richardson, 2017) so this claim also fails. There is also the fact that behavioral genetics doesn’t have any “laws.” It’s simply fallacious to believe that nature and nurture, genes and environment, contribute additively to the phenotype, and that their relative contributions to the phenotype can be apportioned. But hereditarians need to keep that facade up, since it’s the only way their ideas can have a chance at working.
What explains the intercorrelations?
We still need an explanation of the intercorrelations between test scores. I have exhaustively argued that the usual explanations from hereditarianism outright fail—g isn’t a biological reality and IQ tests aren’t a measure at all because psychometrics isn’t measurement. So what explains the intercorrelations? We know that IQ tests are comprised of different items, whether knowledge items or more “abstract” items like the Raven. Therefore, we need to look to the fact that people aren’t exposed to certain things, and so if one comes across something novel that they’ve never been exposed to, they thusly won’t know how to answer it and their score will then be affected due to their ignorance of the relationship between the question and answer on the test. But there are other things irrespective of the relationship between one’s social class and the knowledge they’re exposed to, but social class would still then have an effect on the outcome.
IQ is, merely, numerical surrogates for class affiliation (Richardson, 1999; 2002; 2022). The fact of the matter is, all human cognizing takes place in specific cultural contexts in which cultural and psychological tools are used. This means, quite simply, that culture-fair tests are impossible and, therefore, that such tests are necessarily biased against certain groups, and so they are biased for certain groups. Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development and his concepts of psychological and cultural tools is apt here. This is wonderfully noted by Richardson (2002: 288):
IQ tests, the items of which are designed by members of a rather narrow social class, will tend to test for the acquisition of a rather particular set of cultural tools: in effect, to test, or screen, for individuals’ psychological proximity to that set per se, regardless of intellectual complexity or superiority as such.
Thinking is culturally embedded and contextually-specific (although irreducible to physical things), mediated by specific cultural tools (Richardson, 2002). This is because one is immersed in culture immediately from birth. But what is a cultural tool? Cultural tools include language (Weitzman, 2013) (it’s also a psychological tool), along with “different kinds of numbering and counting, writing schemes, mnemonic technical aids, algebraic symbol systems, art works, diagrams, maps, drawings, and all sorts of signs (John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996; Stetsenko, 1999)” (Robbins, 2005). Children are born into cultural environments, and also linguistically-mediated environments (Vasileva and Balyasnikova, 2019). But what are psychological tools? One psychological tool (which would also of course be cultural tools) would be words and symbols (Vallotton and Ayoub, 2012).
Vygotsky wrote: “In human behavior, we can observe a number of artificial means aimed at mastering one’s own psychological processes. These means can be conditionally called psychological tools or instruments… Psychological tools are artificial and intrinsically social, rather than natural and individual. They are aimed at controlling human behavior, no matter someone else’s or one’s own, just as technologies are aimed at controlling nature” (Vygotsky, 1982, vol. 1, p. 103, my translation). (Falikman, 2021).
The source of variation in IQ tests, after having argued that social class is a compound of the cultural tools one is exposed to. Furthermore, it has been shown that the language and numerical skills used on IQ tests are class-dependent (Brito, 2017). Thus, the compounded cultural tools of different classes and racial groups then coalesce to explain how and why they score the way they do. Richardson (2002: 287-288) writes
that the basic source of variation in IQ test scores is not entirely (or even mainly) cognitive, and what is cognitive is not general or unitary. It arises from a nexus of sociocognitive-affective factors determining individuals’ relative preparedness for the demands of the IQ test. These factors include (a) the extent to which people of different social classes and cultures have acquired a specific form of intelligence (or forms of knowledge and reasoning); (b) related variation in ‘academic orientation’ and ‘self-efficacy beliefs’; and (c) related variation in test anxiety, self-confidence, and so on, which affect performance in testing situations irrespective of actual ability.
Basically, what explains the intercorrelations of test scores—so-called g—are affective, non-cognitive factors (Richardson and Norgate, 2015). Being prepared for the tests, being exposed to the items on the tests (from which are drawn from the white middle-class) explains IQ score differences, not a mystical g that some have more of than others. That is, what explains IQ score variation is one’s “distance” from the middle-class—this follows due to the item content on the test. At the end of the day, IQ tests don’t measure the ability for complex cognition. (Richardson and Norgate, 2014). So one can see that differing acquisition of cultural tools by different cultures and classes would then explain how and why individuals of those groups then attain different knowledge. This, then, would license the claim that one’s IQ score is a mere outcome of their proximity to the certain cultural tools in use in the tests in question (Richardson, 2012).
The fact of the matter is, children do not enter school with the same degree of readiness (Richardson, 2022), and this is due to their social class and the types of things they are exposed to in virtue of their class membership (Richardson and Jones, 2019). Therefore, the explanation for these differences in scores need not be some kind of energy that people have in different quantities, it’s only the fact that from birth we are exposed to different cultures and therefore different cultural and psychological tools which then causes differences in the readiness of children for school. We don’t need to posit any supposed biological mechanism for that, when the answer is clear as day.
As can be seen from this discussion, it is clear that IQ-ist claims of g as a biological brain property fail. They fail because psychometrics isn’t measurement. They fail because psychometricians assume that what they are “measuring” (supposedly psychological traits) have a physical basis and have the necessary components for metrication. They fail because the proposed biology to back up g theory don’t work, and claiming identity between g and a biological process doesn’t mean that g has identity between that biological process. Merely describing facts about physiology and then attempting to liken it to g doesn’t work.
Psychologists try so very hard for psychology to be a respected science, even when what they are studying bares absolutely no relationship to the objects of scientific study. Their constructs are claimed to be natural kinds, but they are merely historically contingent. Due to the way these tests are constructed, is it any wonder why such score differences arise?
The so-called g factor is also an outcome of the way tests are constructed:
Subtests within a battery of intelligence tests are included n the basis of them showing a substantial correlation with the test as a whole, and tests which do not show such correlations are excluded. (Tyson, Jones, and Elcock, 2011: 67)
This is why there is a correlation between all subtests that comprise a test. Because it is an artificial creation of the test constructors, just like their normal curve. Of course if you pick and choose what you want in your battery or test, you can then coax it to get the results you want and then proclaim that what explains the correlations are some sort of unobserved, hidden variable that individuals have different quantities of. But the assumption that there is a quantity of course assumes that there is a physical basis to that thing. Physicalists like Jensen, Spearman, and then Haier of course presume that intelligence has a physical basis and is either driven by genes or can be reduced to neurophysiology. These claims don’t pass empirical and conceptual analysis. For these reasons and more, we should reject claims from hereditarian psychologists when they claim that they have discovered a genetic or neurophysiological underpinning to “intelligence.”
At the end of the day, the goal of psychometrics is clearly impossible. Try as they might, psychometricians will always fail. Their “science” will never be on the level of physics or chemistry, and that’s because they have no definition of intelligence, nor a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit. They know this, and they attempt to construct arguments to argue their way out of the logical conclusions of those facts, but it just doesn’t work. “General intelligence” doesn’t exist. It’s a mere creation of psychologists and how they make their tests, so it’s basically just like the bell curve. Intelligence as an essence or quality is a myth; just because we have a noun “intelligence” doesn’t mean that there really exists a thing called “intelligence” (Schlinger, 2003). The fact is the matter is, intelligence is simply not an explanatory concept (Howe, 1997).
IQ-ist ideas have been subject to an all-out conceptual and empirical assault for decades. The model of the gene they use is false, (DNA sequences have no privileged causal role in development), heritability estimates can’t do what they need them to do, how the estimates are derived rest on highly environmentally-confounded studies, the so-called “laws” of behavioral genetics are anything but, they lack definitions and specified measured objects, objects of measurement and measurement units. It is quite simply clear that hereditarian ideas are not only empirically false, but they are conceptually false too. They don’t even have their concepts in order nor have they articulated exactly WHAT it is they are doing, and it clearly shows. The reification of what they claim to be measuring is paramount to that claim.
This is yet another arrow in the quiver of the anti-hereditarian—their supposed mental energy, their brain property, simply does not, nor can it, exist. And if it doesn’t exist, then they aren’t measuring what they think they’re measuring. If they’re not measuring what they think they’re measuring, then they’re showing relationships between score outcomes and something else, which would be social class membership along with everything else that is related with social class, like exposure to the test items, along with other affective variables.
Now here is the argument (hypothetical syllogism):
P1: If g doesn’t exist, then psychometricians are showing other sources of variation for differences in test scores.
P2: If psychometricians are showing other sources of variation for differences in test scores and we know that the items on the tests are class-dependent, then IQ score differences are mere surrogates for social class.
C: Therefore, if g doesn’t exist, then IQ score differences are mere surrogates for social class.
On Asian Immigration to the United States, Hyper-Selectivity, and Hereditarian Musings on Asian Academic Success
Hereditarians champion Asians (specifically East Asians) as proof of their gene-centric worldview—that their genetic constitution allows their stellar performance in educational and life outcomes. However, scholars have noted for decades that Asians are a specially selected group—using what is known as “hyper-selectivity” or “educational selectivity.” Immigrants that are more likely to have a college degree compared to those in their native country and their host nation; they bring over different kinds of class tools that then help their progeny in the next generation. This selectivity gives the children of immigrants—whether it be 1.5 generation (children that emigrated during adolescence) or second generation children—a better “starting point”, and, along with the cultural tools, allows them to succeed in America. In this article, I will describe the process of immigration of certain Asian groups to America, and then I will argue that what explains their success today is not genes as hereditarians try to argue, but the selectivity of the population in question and then I will argue against the hereditarian position.
Although they seem dissimilar, educational and hyper-selectivity share some common ground. Immigrant selectivity describes the fact that those who emigrate are not a random sample of the population from which they derive, but they have better educational accolades than those that stayed behind (Borjas, 1987; Borjas, Kauppinen, and Poutvaara, 2018; Sporlein and Kristen, 2019). There is then the concept of negative selection, too (contrasted with positive selection, which is what educational and hyper-selectivity are). There is both a positive and negative selection occurring, and immigrants are indeed a self-selected group with selection also occurring for unobserved traits (Aydemir, 2003). Indeed, migrants to less equal countries like the US are positively selected (Parry et al, 2017) and those that do migrate are more skilled, ambitious, and motivated (Cattaneo, 2007). Immigrants are in general more educated than those who do not migrate, but this differs depending on country of origin (Feliciano, 2005) while economic migrants are favorably self-selected (Chiswick, 1999).
From immigrant yellow peril to model minority
Asian immigration to the United States has been occurring in large numbers since the 1860s. During that time, Chinese immigrants wanted to escape the horrid situation in China and try their luck in the California gold rush and they had aspirations to return to China after they had made some money. They mostly came from the Guangdong province in China (Jorae, 2009). This was the first wave of Asian immigration to America. Between 1882 and 1943 the US government severely restricted the immigration of the Chinese into America since they were emigrating to work on the transcontinental railroad, and they passed the legislation so native-born Americans could get the jobs (Zellar, 2003; Gates, 2017). (It’s also worth noting that immigrant labor between 1880s and 1920s was a necessary condition for the industrial revolution; Hirschman and Mogford, 2009.) The first exclusionary act was the act of May, 6 1882, and it had lasting negative effects until at least the 1940s (Long et al, 2022). Chinese immigrants then began a “revolving door system” where young workers replaced older workers (Chew, Leach, and Liu, 2018). In 1885, the first Chinese-only school was opened. So in 1892 the second piece of legislation—the Geary Act—was passed, which was a further exclusionary tactic. Porteus and Babcock (1926: 37) noted how by 1888 that the Chinese in Hawaii “had infiltrated every trade and occupation in the islands.” It was then in 1942 where FDR repealed these two legislations on the Chinese.
But perceptions on the Chinese began to change. From being known as “the yellow peril” in the late 19th to early 20th century, a Gallup poll in 1942 stated that the Chinese were “hardworking, honest, brave, religious, intelligent, and practical” while in that same poll, the Japanese were described as “treacherous, sly, cruel, and warlike.” This of course speaks to the xenophobic attitudes of Americans at the time, and further speaks to the kind of “villain of the week” mentality.
The second wave of Asian immigration was the Japanese and the became the new source of cheap labor after the Chinese in the early 20th century. They were treated as the Chinese were treated previously, and due to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Japan in America in 1908, Japan limited migration of Japanese to America to non-laborers (Hirschman and Wong, 1987: 6). But the immigration act of 1924—the Johnson Reed Act—even barred Asian immigration from countries from which it previously allowed. Nevertheless, previous attitudes on the Chinese and Japanese show one important thing—that racist ideals toward a group of people can and do change over the years.
When it comes to the Taiwanese, they had already secured a spot in America by having a large amount of Taiwanese immigrants that who had college degrees before 1965. After the Hart-Cellar act was passed they stayed in the country and then sponsored their highly educated family members to America, and so this is an explanation for why there is hyper-selectivity (Model, 2017).
From a “peril” and “treacherous and warlike” to “hardworking, honest and intelligent” in mere decades. Americans in the early 20th century, in fact, looked at Asians back then as blacks are looked at today, with similar claims made about genital and brain size to Asians back then.
Asians are said to be “model minorities” today, due to their educational attainment and higher incomes. Lee and Zhou (2015: 31-32) state three things about “model minority” status:
(1) It overlooks the fact that Asians aren’t a monolith and comprise many different ethnic groups that don’t have the same model outcomes.
(2) It has been used to claim that “race doesn’t matter” in America since Asians can apparently make it in America despite non-white status.
(3) It pits Asian Americans against other minorities.
It has been said that the model minority stereotype “masks a history of discrimination“, “holds Asian Americans back at work” and that it “hurts us all.” I will explain higher educational attainment below, but when it comes to higher incomes, Asian families are more likely to live in extended (auxiliary) families which contribute to the income of the household (Reyes, 2019). Asian American families have an average of 3.5 people, which makes them larger than the average US family. As Jennifer Lee notes:
High household incomes among Asian Americans can also be explained by “the fact that some live in multi-generational homes with more than one person earning an income,” said Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine, and co-author of the book “The Asian-American Achievement Paradox.” “You have parents, grandparents, an aunt, some children.”
Nevertheless, the history of Asians in America—whether it’s when they first arrived and the racism they faced or today being seen as “model minorities”, is suggestive as to why they are so successful in America today. They are so successful because it’s not merely any kind of people of the country in question that emigrate, it’s a specific kind of people with specific outlooks and qualifications. This, in effect, then explains the how and why of Asian academic achievement.
Hyper-selectivity and the Asian American experience
Hyper-selectivity refers to the “higher percentage of college graduates among immigrants compared to non-migrants from their country of origin, and a higher percentage of college graduates compared to the host country” (Lee and Zhou, 2015: 15). This selective process began in the 1960s, and the federal policies themselves select a particular kind of entrant into the country (Juun, 2007; Ho, 2017; Model, 2017). Asians in America can be said to be a “middleman minority” (Hirschman and Wong, 1987), where a “middleman minority” refers to “minority entrepreneurs who mediate between the dominant and subordinate group” (Douglas and Saenz, 2008; see also Bonacich, 1973). It is an occupational pattern rather than a status (Lou, 1988). Lee and Rong (1988) seek explanations of Asian educational success in terms of family structure, along with middleman and niche theories of migration.
Some would uphold a culturalist thesis—that what explains exceptional educational outcomes for Asians would be their culture. For example, Asian Americans study about one hour more per day than whites (Tang, 2021), though one 2011 analysis found that Asians spent more time studying and doing homework—Asians spent 13 hours per week studying while whites only studies for 5. Asian Americans spend significantly more time studying than other racial groups (Ramey and Shao, 2017). When it comes to homework, black students spent 36 minutes on homework, “Hispanic” students spent 50 minutes, white students spent 56 minutes, and Asians spent 2 hours and 14 minutes doing homework, while they also spent more time on other supplementary educational tasks (Dunachik and Park, 2022). Asian American parents were also more likely to spend 20 minutes with their children helping with their homework (Garcia, 2013).
Some would state that this is due to an “Asian culture”, but reality tells a different story. The hyper-selectivity of Asians explains this, and their successes cannot be reduced to their culture. Lee and Zhou (2017) state that “Asian immigrants to the United States are hyper-selected, which results in the transmission and recreation of middle-class specific cultural frames, institutions, and practices, including a strict success frame as well as an ethnic system of supplementary education to support the success frame for the second generation.” Yiu (2013) notes that Chinese in Spain have much lower educational attainment and ambitions in comparison to other ethnies in Spain. Merely twenty percent of Chinese youth were enrolled in post-secondary school, while 40 percent of all youths and 30 percent of all immigrants were (Yiu, 2013).
Context matters. And the ambitions of a group of people would then depend on national context. This is what Noam (2014) found for the Chinese in the Netherlands—where Chinese Americans accept the cultural values of high educational attainment, Chinese Dutch oppose them:
In the United States and
the Netherlands the second-generation Chinese approach their ethnocultural values regarding education in dissimilar ways—either accepting or opposing them—yet they both adjust them to their national context.
What is termed the “immigrant paradox” is stronger in Asian and African than other immigrants (Crosnoe and Turley, 2017). Tran et al (2018) note how likely a certain immigrant group would be to have a higher degree in comparison to those in their country of origin:
Among the population age twenty-five and older, first-generation immigrants reported significantly higher percentages of having a bachelor’s degree or higher than their nonmigrant counterparts in respective home countries. This achievement gap is most striking between Chinese nonmigrants and Chinese immigrants in the United States, but also substantial for the other three groups. Only 3.6 percent of nonmigrant Chinese reported having a college education, but 52.7 percent of immigrant Chinese held a bachelor’s degree. This hyper-selectivity ratio of 17:1 between immigrant and nonmigrant means that Chinese immigrants were disproportionately well educated relative to non-migrants. This ratio is about 8:1 for Asian Indians. This gap is also quite stark among Nigerians. Immigrant Nigerians (63.8 percent) were six times more likely than their nonmigrant counterparts to report having a bachelor’s degree or more (11.5 percent). Their hyper-selectivity ratio is about 6:1. Similarly, 23.5 percent of immigrant Cubans reported having a college degree relative to only 14.2 percent of nonmigrant Cubans, a gap of 9 percent. Among Armenians, the corresponding gap is about 10 percent.
Genetic and cultural hypotheses have been contrasted in an attempt to explain why Asian Americans excel over and above whites. Sue and Okazaki (1990) take a structuralist interpretation—they argue that Asians believe that education is paramount for social mobility. Lynn (1991) rejects Sue and Okazaki’s relative functionalism hypothesis, though it should be noted that hereditarian beliefs about genes and IQ are highly suspect and, frankly, do not work. There is also the fact that, as Sue and Okazaki (1990: 48), note that “Lynn failed to take into account the fact that the Japanese samples tended to have higher socioeconomic standing and a higher representation of urban than rural children than did the American samples from which the norms were constructed.” (Also see Sautman, 1994 and Yee, 1992: 111.) Sue and Okazaki showed that Asians differed from white Americans on one question—they were more likely than white Americans to believe that success in life was related to school success, and this is consistent with the Lee and Zhou account.
In Lynn’s (1991) reply to Sue and Okazaki, he notes that their relative functionalism hypothesis has to be dismissed, but he did not discount the role of motivation, staying longer in school and doing more homework. He then—in typical Lynn style—claims that these traits have high heritability and so a genetic hypothesis should not be discounted. Sue and Okazaki (1991) responded, discussing Lynn’s views on CWT, Asian adoptees, and what he says about their relative functionalism hypothesis. In any case, Lynn’s reply is in no way satisfactory, since his belief that genes contribute to IQ scores (that IQ is genetically mediated) is false. Nevertheless, Flynn showed that when IQ is held constant, that when compared with whites, that “Asian’s achievements exceed those of Whites by a huge amount.”
PumpkinPerson claims, using the Coleman report (Coleman, 1966) that “the incredible scores of Oriental Americans is not at all explained by selective immigration” and that he “decided to compare them in the first grade before environment has had much time to cause differences.” I will take both if these claims in turn.
(1) This is false. While selection wasn’t really a thing for Chinese immigrants, it has been noted that the children of Chinese immigrants during the Exclusion period had “greater human capital than those of unrestricted immigrants, despite restricted immigrants having lower skill” which “suggests particularly strong intergenerational transmission of skill among Chinese immigrants of the exclusion era” (Chen, 2015). It is a truism that the Chinese of this time period were not selected in the nature that Asian immigrants are today, but discrimination did lead to their assimilation (Chen and Xie, 2020). Indeed, second-generation Chinese Americans attending American schools had good schooling (Djang, 1935: 101). And for Japanese Americans, Hirschman and Wong (1986: 9) point out:
Another important feature of Asian immigration was the educational selectivity of different streams of immigrants. While the educational composition of recent Asian immigrants has been extraordinary (Chen 1977; North 1974; Pernia 1976), this was not always the case. Most of the early Asian immigrants to the United States, like their counterparts from Europe, arrived with only minimal educational qualifications. The important exception was early Japanese immigrants. Data from the 1960 Census show that Japanese immigrants, above age 65 in 1960, had a median eight years of schooling-comparable to the figure for the white population of the same age (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1963a, 1963c). This finding is corroborated by earlier studies which report a very selective pattern of Japanese immigration to the United States, particularly to the mainland (Ichihashi 1932; Kitano 1976; Petersen 1971; Strong  1970).
(2) The home environment before first-grade does have a large effect on outcomes (e.g., Brooks-Gunn et al, 1996). Of course exposure to different kinds of things in the household would explain certain outcomes later in life, such as test scores.
In the book Temperament and Race, Porteus and Babcock (1926: 119-120) discussed the racial rankings of grades by one researcher, with the following chart, showing similar findings to Coleman:
They also discussed the Thorndike Examination of High School Graduates in Hawaii from 1922-1923, that the Chinese and Japanese scored below whites but this could be seen as them not having full English proficiency. Chun (1940: 35) showed that “Anglo Saxons” has Binet IQs of 100, and IQs of 87 and 85 for the Chinese and Japanese respectively, and this is similar to what Porteus and Babcock (1926) showed for Chinese and Japanese too. This also could be due to low English proficiency. Chun (1940) also shows that there were a large amount of schools for the Chinese as well. Coupled with the fact that immigrants aren’t a random sample of the population from which they derive, selection therefore explains these values. It’s quite clear that the Chinese had good education since the 1880s with the introduction of Chinese schools on the mainland and in Hawaii, and along with the fact that Japanese immigrants had education on par with whites at the time, of course the selectivity of the population along with the education they got clearly mattered.
When it comes to Asian immigration post-1965, “The new preference system allowed highly skilled professionals, primarily doctors, nurses, and engineers from Asian countries, to immigrate and eventually to sponsor their families” (Hirschman 2015), while the Act resulted in a majority of nurses that came from Asia (Rockett et al, 1989; Masselink and Jones, 2015). Erika Lee notes in The Making of Asian America (2017: 287):
As in the past, Asian immigrants are highly regulated by immigration laws, but the emphasis of U. S. Laws in admitting family-sponsored immigrants and professional, highly skilled individuals has meant that the majority of New arrivals from to join family already here and bring a different set of educational and professional skills than earlier immigrants.”
Hsin and Xie (2014) showed that, rather than “cognitive ability” and sociodemographics, higher academic effort explains the Asian-White achievement gap. They argue that beliefs in academic effort along with immigrant status explains the relationship. Teachers have higher, more positive expectations for Asian students, and that such positive stereotypes will further influence their excelling, which is a pygmalion effect (Hsin and Xie, 2014). And so, the Asian-White achievement gap can be explained by higher academic effort, not IQ or SES, it’s driven by the Asian-White difference in academic effort. I don’t see an issue using teacher ratings, since teacher ratings have shown an even higher correlation between the accuracy of teacher’s assessments and IQ, at .65 as one study notes (Hoge and Coladarci, 1989) while a newer analysis showed a correlation of .80 (Kaufmann, 2019). Lee (2014) described why Asians have higher academic effort in comparison to Americans:
differences in the cultural frame and the resources used to support it help to explain why the children of some Asian immigrant groups get ahead, despite their socioeconomic disadvantage.
However, Hsin and Xie (2014) do note a suite of negative effects:
Studies show that Asian-American youth are less psychologically adjusted (32) and socially engaged (33) in school than their white peers. They may experience more conflict in relationships with parents because of the high educational expectations their parents place on them (32). Asian-American youth are under pressure to meet extraordinarily high standards because they consider other high achieving coethnics, rather than native-born whites, to be their reference group (7).
Even low-SES Asians have a high drive to succeed in academics, having work ethic similar to the white and Asian middle-class, and one attempted explanation is due to Confucian values (Liu, and Xie, 2016). Though Lee and Zhou (2020) have successfully argued against this claim, stating that second generation Chinese in Spain do not have such high educational attainment in Spain (Yiu, 2013), refuting the reduction of educational attainment to Confucian beliefs of Asians, since other Asian immigrants that do not share such Confucian beliefs are also hyper-selected. And while Asian American parents do hold higher educational expectations for their children in comparison to white American parents (Kao, 1995), this too is consistent with the Lee and Zhou account.
In a series of papers, Sakamoto (2017) and Sakamoto and Wang (2020) try to argue against the hyper-selectivity thesis. Sakamoto and Wang, I think, underestimate the importance of hyper-selectivity in explaining Asian educational achievements. They argue that cultural factors explain Asian American success, while Zhou and Lee (2017) argue that it’s due to selective migration patters that favor highly-able immigrants. Sakamoto and Wang claim that cultural factors explain the most about Asian achievement, but Zhou and Lee state that cultural factors alone cannot account for their achievement—cultural factors like Confucianism. While individual effort does play a role, as Hsin and Xie (2014) argue, of course cultural and structural factors also play a role, the argument given by Sakamoto and Wang can be refuted by the following argument:
(1) If selective migration is a significant factor in explaining the success of Asian Americans, then class background can’t be the sole explanation of their success. (2) Selective migration is a significant factor that explains the success of Asian Americans. (3) But Sakamoto and Wang claim that class background is basically the only reason for higher Asian American achievement. Since (3) contradicts (2) and (2) is true, then we can reject (3). Thus, the argument in Sakamoto and Wang does not refute the argument in Zhou and Lee.
Further, not all Asian immigrants enjoy the same level of success, since other Asian immigrants (like South Asians) are less likely to have selective migratory patterns than East Asians. Therefore, this shows that selective migration, and not culture, is paramount in explaining Asian American academic achievement. Hyper-selectivity on its own does not set the stage for Asian American achievement, but it does set the stage for the remaking of cultural practices which then forster educational success. Culture does matter, but not in the way that most conceptualize it. Sakamoto and Wang do not refute Zhou and Lee, since Zhou and Lee (2017: 8) provide evidence that “culture has structural roots and that cultural patterns emerge from structural circumstances of contemporary immigration.”
Hereditarian explanations of Asian educational achievement
For decades, hereditarians have argued that Asian educational achievements in contrast to whites’ are due to their “cognitive ability” (“IQ”), which is genetically mediated, on the basis of heritability estimates. For instance, hereditarians use data from transracial adoptees to try to argue that genetic differences cause differences in IQ between Asians and whites and then whites and blacks. However, this can be explained by adoptions’ beneficial effects for IQ and the Flynn effect (Thomas, 2017).
Hereditarians claim that since they argue for East Asian superiority, that they therefore are not racists. Sautman (1994: 80) noted how since hereditarians claim that they since they speak of East Asians being superior to whites, they therefore show a lack of bias in their assessment of racial differences:
In clustering East Asians and whites as genetically-favored and Africans, Southeast Asians and others as disfavored, Western race theorists use East Asians as a “racial wedge” against other non-whites. They argue that highlighting East Asian, not white, superiority shows an absence of bias. Thus, a criminologist who legs putatively higher crime rates of US blacks to r-strategy reproduction, underscores that he is “not a member of the least criminal racial group” (i.e. East Asians). A professor of management writes that whites will feel more comfortable in recognizing black inferiority if they know that East Asians outscore whites on IQ tests. a British journalist has queried “If they [East Asians] can be cleverer than we are, why can’t we be cleverer than some other group?”
This is just as Hilliard (2012: 86) remarks:
[Herrnstein, Murray and Rushton] used this representation of whites as more cognitively advanced than blacks but less than Asians to silence those critics who insisted that the race researchers’ findings were ethnically self-serving. Rushton thus posed the question, “If my work was motivated by racism, why would I want Asians to have bigger brains than whites?” … it became useful to tout the Asians’ cognitive superiority but only so long as whites remained above blacks in the cognitive hierarchy.
The phrase “Mongoloid idiot” was coined, due to supposed similarities between Asians and people with Down syndrome. Along with being a sexual danger to white women, this then corresponded with how they were perceived—race scientists concluded that they had smaller brains than whites. This is noted in Lieberman’s (2001) Table 1 on the ever-changing skull size differences between the races.
The hierarchy changed right as East Asia began to modernize and have an economic boom (Lieberman, 2001). So we go from racism against East Asians, naming syndromes after them, saying they have small brains and large penises, to model minorities, high IQ, larger brains, lower sexual drive and booming economies. This speaks to the contextual-dependence of such claims, and that attitudes toward certain groups do indeed change over time.
To attempt to explain IQ and other differences between races, Lynn proposed that the harshness of cold winters shaped the cognitive skills of Europeans and East Asians over millenia, and that this explains why Asians score higher than whites and whites over blacks (Lynn, 1991, 2006a: 135-136, 2019; Rushton, 1997: 228-230, 2012). Many issues with these just-so stories and evolutionary theories (r/K theory) have been levied, showing that they merely “explain” observations, with no novel predictions, nevermind the anthropological misunderstandings from Lynn, Rushton, Jensen, and Kanazawa. Lynn (1991) attempted to show that children from Hong Kong showed higher reaction times and had higher IQs than British children, which he interpreted as having a neurological basis. Though, due to omissions and misinterpretations of data, we cannot accept Lynn’s conclusions (Thomas, 2011).
Lynn (2006b) repeats the same claims he has since he started to collate studies on national “IQs” (see Richardson, 2004). Beginning in 2002, Lynn and Vanhanen attempted to collate a mass of IQ studies around the world and then show the “intelligence of nations” (Lynn and Vanhanen, 2002; Lynn and Becker, 2019). Though, ignoring the fact that Lynn cherry-picked Chinese IQ studies that fit his a priori beliefs, “‘National IQ’ datasets do not provide accurate, unbiased or comparable measures of cognitive ability worldwide” (Sear, 2022; also see Moreale and Levendis, 2012; Ebbeson, 2020).
On that same note, the Chinese are notorious for cheating on standardized tests, they are cheating on the SAT, GRE, and other examinations, and they pay up to $6000 to have people take tests for them. There was, also, a large UCLA cheating ring which was recently busted. There is also the fact that the OECD allows China to administer the PISA in select regions, so the claim cannot be made that PISA results are representative of China. There is also the fact that the Chinese have what is called a “hukuo system” which is a tool for controlling migration from rural to urban areas. And so, even though some children may for example attend school in Shanghai, when it comes to for hukuo, they must return to their province of origin. It’s clear that the Chinese game standardized tests. They are cheating the PISA system by being selective on the students they administer the test to in Shanghai by doing hukuo.
Lynn (2010) argued that it was unnecessary to contribute the success of East Asians to Confucian values (this is true), and that IQ explains East Asian success in math and science. Though, what does explain their success is their selectivity, not their IQ. Lynn (2006a: 89) claimed that “The Chinese and Japanese who emigrated to the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century were largely peasants who came to do unskilled work on the construction of the railways and other building work.” While this is true to a point, it’s irrelevant and skirts around the fact that, as Hirschman and Wong noted, Japanese immigrants had educational parity with whites before the 1960s and the fact that Chinese laborers were indeed selected and this also affected their children in a positive manner.
In a now-retracted paper, Rushton (1992) opined that one “theoretical possibility” to explain why Asians have more “K” traits compared to “r” traits (see Anderson, 1991 for critique), is that evolution is progressive and that Asians are “more “advanced”” than are other groups. But the fact of the matter is, evolution isn’t progressive. Nevertheless, Rushton (1995) attempted to defend his arguments from Yee (1992) by saying the same old, bringing up Lynn’s study on reaction time and IQ (refuted by Thomas) along with Jensen’s (refuted by Sautman). He brings up the “evidence” from transracial adoption studies (see Thomas, 2017). Rushton then brings up brain size, talking about the larger brains of Asians (see above from Lieberman on how this seems to change with the times). Rushton then discusses “other variables”, like his crime data (refuted by Cernovsky and Littman, 2019), testosterone, and twinning (see Allen et al, 1992). This is all beside the point that Gorey and Cryns (1995) showed that any behavioral differences between Rushton’s three races can be explained by environment while Peregrine, Ember, and Ember (2003) showed no cross-cultural statistical support for Rushton’s theory.
To the hereditarian, Asians are upheld to say that they are not racists, since why would a racist state that Asians are “better” than whites? This, though, gives hereditarians cover. Nevertheless, the arguments used by hereditarians for Asian academic achievement and IQ fail, since they rely on numerous false assumptions and arguments.
Immigration in the past was mixed between positive and negative selection, but today is largely positive (Abramitzky and Boustan, 2017). In recent years, Asian immigrants were more highly selected than non-Asian immigrants (Huang, 2022). Asians have been the largest percentage of immigrants since 2009 (National Academy of Science, 2018). Lynn (2006a: 97) claims that “environmentalists do not offer any explanation for the consistently high IQ of East Asians, and it is doubtful whether any credible environmental explanation can be found.” But this claim fails since hyper-selectivity explains Asian educational achievements over whites.
The study of race differences, then, is completely political (Jackson, 2006). Since science is a social activity, then one’s political leanings and values would influence the science they seek out to do (Barnes, Zieff, and Anderson, 1999). This is wonderfully illustrated by the claims of hereditarians about Asians who are just using them as a cover to peddle racist inferiority tropes about blacks.
I have described how Asians have come in waves to America over the past 150 years. I have also shown how most immigrants today, and specifically Asians, are positively selected. I have further described a process of selection in certain Asians during the early 1900s. The hyper-selectivity thesis explains Asian American achievement, due to what hyper-selectivity is and the processes that they go through. I then explained how hereditarians attempt to use Asians as a cover for their racism, but their arguments are invalid and rely on numerous false assumptions. Having said all of that, here are the arguments:
The hyper-selectivity thesis does not ignore challenges faced by working class and lower-income Asians, it merely highlights unique characters of the Asian American experience which allow them to overcome economic barriers and then achieve high levels of academic and economic success. It also does not ignore the role of racism and discrimination, but it suggests that even in the face of this, they have unique characteristics due to their selectivity that still enable them to highly achieve. And it is supported by a large body of empirical and theoretical evidence which shows the robustness of the phenomenon across different contexts and time periods. Thus, the thesis is of value to understanding the Asian American experience in the United States. Furthermore, we can reject the genetic hypothesis of Lynn, as Sue and Okazaki have successfully argued. Having said all that, I have formalized the arguments made in this article.
P1: If the unique cultural and socioeconomic resources of Asian American immigrants have allowed them to achieve high levels of success, then hyper-selectivity is true.
P2: Empirical evidence shows that Asian immigrants and their children have achieved high levels of success, outperforming other racial and ethnic groups in the US in education and income.
C: Thus, the hyper-selectivity thesis is true.
P1: If Asian American immigrants possess unique cultural and socioeconomic resources which allow them to receive high levels of success, then hyper-selectivity is true.
P2: If Asian American immigrants have achieved high levels of success in the US, then they possess unique cultural and socioeconomic resources.
C: Thus, if Asian American immigrants have high levels of success in the US, then hyper-selectivity is true.
Now let me connect these two arguments:
P1: If hyper-selectivity is true, then the academic achievements of Asian Americans is not due solely to socioeconomic Status.
P2: If the academic achievements of Asian Americans isn’t solely due to socioeconomic status, then the achievement gap between groups cannot be fully explained by socioeconomic status (but it can be explained by effort, not cognitive ability).
P3: Hyper-selectivity is true (see arguments above).
C: Thus the achievement gap between Asians and other races cannot be fully explained by socioeconomic status (1, 2, and 3)
P4: (Using addition) Overwhelming evidence shows that Asian Americans outperform other races in America, regardless of socioeconomic status.
C2: So hyper-selectivity remains the best explanation of Asian American academic success, despite critics who state it’s solely due to socioeconomic status (2, 3, and 4 using addition).
The Arbitrariness of “IQ/Intelligence”
…but the question “What is intelligence?” has only ever been answered by a shifting social consensus. So perhaps, lke the stuff of dreams and nightmares, it too belongs in the realm of mere appearances. (Goodey, 2011)
IQ groupings/cutoffs are arbitrary. What I mean by “arbitrary” is something without reason or justification; something that is not supported by facts or reasons. What is the reason/justification/facts/reasons for the groupings? The arbitrariness of IQ is also seen historically when we look at how score distributions were changed when different assumptions were had about the “nature” of “intelligence” (e.g., Terman, 1916; Hilliard, 2012). In this article, I will argue that IQ cutoffs are arbitrary with no rational justification for them; they just use them because they get the desired distributions they want.
The arbitrariness of such cutoffs and groupings have been known since the first tests were beginning to be created by American test constructors when Binet and Simon’s test was brought over from France by Goddard in 1910. (See here for a history of the testing movement and how they construct the test.) Terman (1916: 89) warned “That the boundary lines between such groups [feebleminded, dull, superior, genius etc.] are arbitrary.” It is also in this same book—The Measurment of Intelligence—that Terman adjusted the scores of men and women, adding and subtracting items that both men and women get right/wrong the most to even out their scores. This was done by Terman putting items on the test that men were good at (“arithmetical reasoning, giving differences between a president and a king, solving the form board, making change, reversing hands of a clock, finding similiarities, and solving “the induction test.”” [Terman, 1916: 81]) while he also put items on the test that women were good at (“drawing designs from memory, aesthetic comparison, comparing object from memory, answering the “comprehension questions”, repeating digits and sentences, tying a bow-knot, and finding rhymes” [Terman, 1916: 81]). This can also be seen in SAT differences between men and women, as Rosser (1989) points out. It is a matter of item selection/analysis and what the desired distribution of scores you want is.
Such arbitrary IQ cutoffs for these “groups” that Terman used value judgments on reflect the necessity of IQ-ists to attempt to conceptualize “intelligence” as normally distributed, with most falling in the middle and fewer on the tails—where “geniuses” and above are on the right and “mildly impaired and delayed”, per the 5th edition of the Stanford-Binet. But the normal distribution for “IQ” is a myth (Richardson, 2017: chapter 2). The construction of normally distributed IQ tests means that any and all “group distinctions” and “cutoffs” are arbitrary. The test was created first, AND THEN they attempt to deduce what it “measures” on the basis of correlations with other tests and of academic achievement. Further, even showing that there is a relationship between IQ scores and academic achievement is irrelevant, and this is because they are different versions of the same test—meaning that the item content is similar between the tests (Schwartz, 1975; Beaujean et al, 2018). It is a creation of the test’s constructors, not something that we just so happened to find when these tests were created.
Thus, the “bell curve” is an artifact, not a fact, of test construction (Simon, 1997). Items are added and removed on a sample population until the desired distribution is reached. And it is this artificial distribution that all IQ theorizing rests on and it is this artificial distribution that IQ-ists attempt to use for their cutoffs between different “grades” of “intelligence” between people. When it comes to the constructed bell curve, about 2.2% of people fall below 70, so the test was constructed to get this result. So, if the bell curve is an artificial production created by humans, then so is the classification system (“intelligence”). If the classification system is an artificial creation, then so too is the concept of “learning disability.” Bazemore, Shinaprayoon, and Martin write that:
By developing an exclusion-inclusion criteria that favored the aforementioned groups, test developers created a norm “intelligent” (Gersh, 1987, p.166) population “to differentiate subjects of known superiority from subjects of known inferiority” (Terman, 1922, p. 656).
So basically, test constructors had in mind—before they developed the test—who was or was not “intelligent” and then built the test to fit their desires. I can see someone saying “Why does this matter if it happened 100 years ago?” Well, it matters because there is no conceptual support for hereditarian thinking for psychological traits and if there is no support, then the only reason they persist is due to prejudice (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). Furthermore, newer IQ tests use similar items as older ones, and newer tests are “validated” against older tests (like the Stanford-Binet), and so, biases in those tests carry over, without conscious bias toward groups being an ultimate goal (Richardson, 2002: 287,
The arbitrariness of IQ can also be seen with the cutoff for learning disability—a cutoff of 70 or below is seen as the individual needing remedial help and so, the IQ test is a good instrument for these purposes. IQ tests are arbitrary in their use to reflect deficits in everyday functioning (Arvidsson and Granlund, 2016). Cutoffs for learning disabilities have fluctuated between IQ 70-85 over the years. Someone in the US is defined as “learning disabled” if there is a discrepancy between their academic achievement and their “intelligence” (i.e., IQ test score). But, is there any justification as either for a cutoff, where if one were under a certain magic number that they would then be “learning disabled”?
The answer is no, because IQ is irrelevant to the definition of learning disabilities (Siegel, 1988, 1989, 1993). It is absolutely unnnecessary to give IQ tests to identify the learning disabled and the existence of a discrepancy is not a necessary condition (Gunderson and Siegal, 2001). People under IQ 70 frequently do not need specialist services whereas people with IQs over 70 frequently do (Whitaker, 2004). Such tests only see WHAT a person has learned, they DO NOT estimate one’s intellectual “capability”; since IQ tests are tests of a certain type of knowledge, it then follows that exposure to the items on the test and test structure—along with other non-cognitive variables (Richardson, 2002)—explain test score differences and that these differences can be built into and out of the test based on certain a priori assumptions. It further follows that if one has a low score, they were not exposed to the item content and structure of the test and that it is not a “deficit of intelligence” like IQ-ists claim.
Webb and Whitaker (2012) describe the double think employed by many clinical psychologists, privately acknowledging the limitations of IQ tests and the arbitrary nature of the cut-off score of 70 IQ points that defines learning disability, whilst publicly and professionally talking about learning disabilities ‘as if it were a real, naturally occurring condition” (p. 440). Thus the diagnostic procedure involving IQ tests can be seen as a way of passing off culturally specific norms of competence (measured through arcane rituals of assessment) as if they were universal and incontrovertible. (Chinn, 2021: 137-138)
The arbitrariness of IQ 70 as the cutoff for mental disability also rears its head in the courtroom, when defendants are on trial for murder. In Atkins v. Virginia, SCOTUS rules that it was unconstitutional to execute intellectually disabled people. Then in Hall v. Florida, it was ruled that an IQ score by itself was not, by itself, useful in the justification of sentencing; they needed to use other medical/diagnostic criteria. Some people may cry something like “But IQ matters to people it does not matter to only when there is a defendant that has rumblings of being executed but he does not because it is found that he has an IQ below 70!” Nevermind the ethical debate on the death sentence, the arbitrary cutoff of 70 for mental retardation—which, as has been shown, does not hold—has numerous legal and societal consequences for the individual so unluckily deemed “disabled.”
Kanaya and Ceci (2007) argue that when an individual takes a test (whether or not they took it at the beginning or end of the test’s cycle) would have dictated whether or not they qualified for the arbitrary IQ 70 cutoff to not be executed. So the year in which a test is administered is literally a life or death issue. So the year in which a defendant on trial for murder was tested can determine whether or not they are put to death. Prosecutors in many US states have succesfully argued for “ethnic adjustments” for IQ. Sanger (2015) reviews many US cases in which prosecutors have done so. Arguing that “ethnic adjustments” for IQ are “logically, clinically, and unconstitutionally unsound”, he reviews studies that show that abuse, neglect, poverty, and trauma decrease test scores and that the abuse, neglect, poverty, and trauma can be epigenetically passed on through multiple generations. Sanger (2015: 148-149) concludes:
Furthermore, any correlations between the average IQ test scores of racial cohorts (or average scores of cohorts to the overall community norm) are not attributable to race and are heavily influenced by race-neutral environmental factors.397 Those raceneutral environmental factors include the effects of the environment of childhood abuse, stress, poverty, and trauma.398 Such adverse environmental (but race-neutral) factors likely result in phenotypic manifestations, which include epigenetic changes affecting intellectual ability and result in greater numbers of persons with intellectual disabilities within that population.399 The individuals whose intellectual ability is adversely affected by those harmful environmental factors are disproportionately represented by minority groups and among those facing the death penalty in the United States.400
Therefore, the actual recipients of death sentences—the people on death row—are poor, of color, and have disproportionately been subjected to stress, poverty, abuse, and trauma.401 These very people are likely to suffer from actual phenotypic/biological impairment in intellectual functioning that can be passed down by way of programmed epigenetic gene expression through generations.
Quite clearly, this arbitrary IQ 70 cutoff for “intellectual disability” has real-life implications for some people, and in some cases it is a life or death matter based on “ethnic adjustments” and when an individual took a specific test sometime in that test’s lifecycle before renorming. So Sanger showed that it is common that the IQ scores of blacks and “Hispanics” get adjusted upwards routinely, so they can face the death penalty. They push them above the “cutoff” so they can be executed.
In my view, such distinctions between “IQ groups” like that created by Terman—and even continuing into the present day—is an attempt at naturalizing “intellectual disability”; an attempt at saying that these are “natural kinds.” Though “intelligent people and intellectually disabled people are not natural kinds but historically contingent forms of human self-representation and social reciprocity, of relatively recent historical origin” (Goodey, 2011:13). So, intellectual disability, learning disability, intelligence—these are all social constructs (which do not denote natural kinds) and they change with the times.
But Herrnstein and Murray (1994: 1) argued that “the word intelligence describes something real and…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 words for saying that some people are smarter than others.” But unfortunately for Herrnstein and Murray, “Intelligence as currently and conventionally understood by psychologists is a brashly modern notion” (Daston, 1992: 211).
The arbitrariness of the designation of “intelligence” means that “IQ/intelligence” is not a “thing”, nor is a “natural kind”, but it is indeed a socially constructed historical notion (Goodey, 2011), as is the concept of “giftedness” (Borland, 1997). The creation of these tests and indeed the label “intellectually disabled” is completely racialized (Chinn, 2021). The arbitrariness and socially constructed notion of what “intelligence” is can be seen just by analyzing the test items—they are heavily classed and racialized, specifically white middle-class. When it comes to the death penalty and IQ, there are very serious issues, as when an individual was given a test may be the deciding factor between life or death, along with the fact that minorities are more likely to be on death row and they are also more likely to experience abuse, trauma, etc which can then be passed on generationally and then also influence test scores—along with test construction, which there is no justification for a certain set of items, just whatever gets the desired distribution is what is “right”; that’s why “IQ” is arbitrary.
We need to dispense with the idea that there is a “thing” called “intelligence” and that it is biological; we need to understand that what we do call “intelligence” is socially constructed as what psychologists all “intelligent” is answering items right and getting a higher score on a test which are heavily biased toward certain races/classes in America. Once we understand that this concept is socially constructed and is not biological, maybe we won’t repeat past mistakes, like sterilizing tens of thousands of people in the name of eugenics.
Reductionism, Natural Selection, and Hereditarianism
Assertions derived from genetic reductionist ideas also ignore the abundant and burgeoning evidence that genes are outcomes of evolutionary processes and not bases of them. (Lerner, 2021: 449)
Genetic reductionism places (social) problems “in the genes” and so if these problems are “in the genes” then we can either (1) use gene therapy, (2) reduce the frequency of “the bad genes” in the population (eugenics) or (3) just live with these genetically caused problems. Social groups differ materially and they also differ genetically. To the gene-determinists, social positioning is genetically determined and it is due to a genetically determined intelligence. (See here for arguments against the claim.)
On the basis of heritability estimates derived from flawed methodologies like twin and adoption studies (Richardson and Norgate, 2005; Joseph, 2014; Burt and Simons, 2015; Moore and Shenk, 2016), hereditarians claim that traits like “IQ” (“intelligence”) are strongly genetically determined and if a trait is strongly genetically determined, then environmental interventions are doomed to fail (Jensen, 1969). Since IQ is said to have a heritability of .8, it is then claimed by the reductionist that environmental interventions are useless or near useless. Indeed, this was the conclusion of Jensen’s (1969) (infamous) paper—compensatory education has failed (an environmental intervention) and so the differences are genetic in nature.
Arguments like those have been forwarded for the better part of 100 years—and the arguments are false because they rely on false assumptions. The false assumptions are (1) that natural selection has caused trait differences between populations and (2) that genes are active—not passive—causes. (1) and (2) here can be combined for (3): genes that cause differences between groups were naturally selected and eventually fixed in the populations. This article will review some hereditarian thinking on natural selection and human variation, show how the theorizing is false, show how the theory of natural selection itself cannot possibly be true (Fodor and Piatteli-Palmarini, 2010) and finally will show that by accepting genetic reductionism we cannot achieve social justice since the causes of the social problems reduce to genes.
The ultimate claim from hereditarians is that human behavior, social life, and development can be reduced to—and explained by—genes. Social inequities are the target for social justice. Inequities refer to differences between groups that are avoidable and unjust. So the hereditarian attempts to reduce social ills to genes, thereby getting around what social justice activists want. They just reduce it to genes leading to possibilities (1)-(3) above. This has the possibility of being disastrous, for if we can fix the problems the hereditarians deem as “genetic”, then countless lives will not be made better.
Hereditarianism and natural selection
The crucial selection pressure responsible for the evolution of race differences in intelligence is identified as the temperate and cold environments of the northern hemisphere, imposing greater cognitive demands for survival and acting as selection pressures for greater intelligence. (Lynn, 2006: 135)
Hereditarians are neo-Darwininans and since they are neo-Darwinians, they hold that natural selection is the most powerful “mechanism” of evolution, causing trait changes by culling organisms with “bad” traits which then decreaes the frequency of the genes that supposedly cause the trait. But (1) natural selection cannot possibly be a mechanism as there is no agent of selection (that is, no mind selecting organisms with fitness-enhancing traits for a certain environment), nor are there laws of selection for trait fixation that hold across all ecologies (Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010); and (2) genes aren’t causes of traits on their own—they are caused to give the information in them by and for the physiological system (Noble, 2011).
In his article Epistemological Objections to Materialism, in The Waning of Materialism, Koons (2010: 338) has an argument against natural selection with the same force as Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (2010):
The materialist must suppose that natural selection and operant conditioning work on a purely physical basis (without presupposing any prior designer or any prior intentionality of any kind). According to anti-Humean materialism, only microphysical properties can be causally efficacious. Nature cannot select a property unless that property is causally efficacious (in particular, it must causally contribute to survival and reproduction). However, few, if any, of the biological features that we all suppose to have functions (wings for flying, hearts for pumping bloods) constitute microphysical properties in a strict sense. All biological features (at least, all features above the molecular level) are physically realized in multiple ways (they consist of extensive disjunctions of exact physical properties). Such biological features, in the world of the anti-Humean materialist, don’t have effects—only their physical realizations do. Hence, the biological features can’t be selected. Since the exact physical realizations are rarely, if ever repeated in nature, they too cannot be selected. If the materialist responds by insisting that macrophysical properties can, in some loose and pragmatically useful way of speaking, be said to have real effects, the materialist has thereby returned to the Humean account, with the attendant difficulties described in the last sub-section. Hence, the materialist is caught in the dilemma.
We can grant that “nature” cannot select a trait if it isn’t causally efficacious. But combining Fodor’s argument with Koons’, if traits are linked then the fitness-enhancing trait cannot be directly selected-for since when you have one, you have the other. In any case, “natural selection” is part of the bedrock of hereditarian theorizing. It was natural selection—according to the hereditarian—that caused racial differences in behavior and “intelligence.” And so, if the hereditarian has no response to these two arguments against natural selection, then they cannot logically claim that the differences they describe are due to “natural selection.”
So the hereditarian theorist asserts that those with genes that conferred a fitness advantage had more children than those that didn’t which led to the selection of the genes that became fixed in certain populations. This is a familiar story—and the hereditarian uses this as a basis for the claim that racial differences in traits are the outcome of natural selection. These views are noted in Rushton (2000: 228-231), Jensen (1998: 170, 434-436) and Lynn (2006: Chapters 15, 16, and 17). But as Noble (2012) noted, there is no privileged level of causation—that is, before performing the relevant experiments, we cannot state that genes are causes of traits so this, too, refutes the hereditarian claim.
Rushton’s “Differential K” theory—where Mongoloids, Caucasians, and Africans differ on a suite of traits, which is influenced by their life histories and whether or not they are r- or K-strategists. Rushton (2000: 27) also claimed that “different environments cause, via natural selection, biological differences“, and by this he means that the environment acts as a filter. But the claim that the environment is the filter that causes variation in traits due to genes being “selected against” fails, too. When traits are correlated, the environmental filters (the mechanism by which selection theory purportedly works) cannot distinguish between causes of fitness and mere correlates of causes of fitness. So appealing to environments causing biological differences fails.
But unfortunately for hereditarians, a new analysis by Kevin Bird refutes the claim that natural selection is responsible for racial differences in “IQ” (Bird, 2021). So now, even assuming that genes can be selected-for their contribution to fitness and assuming that psychological traits can be genetically transmitted (which is false), hereditarianism still fails.
Hereditarianism and genetic reductionism
The ideology of IQ-ism is inherently reductionist. Behavioral geneticists, although they claim to be able to partition the relative contributions of genes and environment into nest little percentages, are also reductionists about “traits”—such as “IQ.” Further, if one is an IQ-ist then there is a good chance that they would fall into the reductionist camp of attempting to explain “intelligence” as being reducible to physiological brain states, and parts of the brain (such as Deary, 1996; Deary, Penke and Johnson, 2010; Jung and Haier, 2007; Haier, 2016; Deary, Cox, and Hill, 2021).
Reductionism can be simply stated as the parts have a sort of causal primacy over the whole. When it comes to psychological reduction, it is often assumed that genes would be the ultimate thing that it is reduced to, thereby, explaining how and why psychological traits differ between individuals—most importantly to the IQ-ist, “intelligence.” Behavioral geneticists have been reductionists since the field’s inception which has carried over to the present day (Panofsky, 2014). Even now, in the 3rd decade of the 2020s, reductionist accounts of behavior and psychology are still being pushed and the attempted reduction is reduction to genes. Now, this does not mean that environmental reduction has primacy—although we can and have identified environmental insults that do impede the ontogeny of certain traits.
Deary, Cox, and Hill (2021) argue for a “systems biology” approach to the study of “intelligence.” They review GWAS studies, neuroimaging studies and attempt a to lay the groundwork for a “mechanistic account” of intelligence, attempting to pick up where Jung and Haier (2007) left off. Unfortunately, the claims they make about GWAS fail (Richardson and Jones, 2020; Richardson, 2017b, 2021) and so do the claims they make about neuroreduction (Uttal, 2012).
This kind of genetic reductionism for psychological traits—along social ills such as addiction, violence, etc—then becomes ideological, in thinking that genes can explain how and why we have these kinds of problems. Indeed, this was why the first “IQ” tests were translated and brought to America—to screen and bar immigrants the IQ-ists saw as “feebleminded” (Richardson, 2003, 2011; Allen, 2006; Dolmage, 2018). Such tests were also used to sterilize people in the name of a eugenic ideology that was said to be for the betterment of society (Wilson, 2017). Thus, when such kinds of reductionism are applied to society and become an ideology, we definitely can see how such pseudoscientific beliefs can manifest itself in negative outcomes for the populace.
Ladner (2020:10) “constructed an economic analysis grounded in evolutionary biology.” Ladner claims that “Natural Selection is the main force that determines economic behavior.” Ladner claims that socialism will always fail since authoritarian regimes stifle our selfish proclivities while capitalism is grounded in selfishness and greed and so will always prevail over socialism. This is quite the unique argument… Of course Dawkins gets cited since Ladner is talking about selfishness, and these selfish genes are what cause the selfish behavior that allow capitalism to flourish. But the claim that genes are selfish is not a physiologically testable hypothesis (Noble, 2011) and DNA can’t be regarded as a replicator that’s independent from the cell (Noble, 2018). In any case, the argument in this book is that inequality is due to natural selection and there isn’t much we can do about capitalism since genes make us selfish and capitalism is all about selfishness. But being too selfish leads to such huge wealth inequalities we see in America today. The argument is pretty novel but it fails since it is a just-so story and the claims about “natural selection” are false.
(See Kampourakis, 2017 and Richardson, 2017a for a great overview on what genes are and what they really do.)
Hereditarianism and mind-brain identity
Pairing hereditarianism with physicalism about the brain is an implicit assumption of the theory. Ever since our the power of our neuroimaging methods have increased since the beginning of the new millennium, many studies have come out correlating different psychological traits with different brain states. Processes of the mind, to the mind-brain identity theorist, are identical to states and processes of the brain (Smart, 2000). And in the past two decades, studies correlating physiological brain states and psychological traits have increased in number.
The leading theorists here are Haier and Jung with their P-FIT model. P-FIT stands for the Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory which first proposed by Jung and Haier (2007) who analyzed 37 neuroimaging studies. This, they claim, will “articulate a biology of intelligence.” (Also see Colom et al, 2009.) Again, correlations are expected but we can’t then claim that the brain states cause the trait (in this case, “IQ.” (See Klein, 2009 for a primer on the philosophical issues in neuroimaging.)
But in 2012 psychologist William Uttal published his book Reliability in Cognitive Neuroscience: A Meta-meta Analysis where he argues that pooling these kinds of studies for a meta-analysis (exactly what Jung and Haier (2007) did) “could lead to grossly distorted interpretations that could deviate greatly from the actual biological function of an individual brain.” Pooling multiple studies from different individuals taken at different times of the day under different conditions would lead to a wide variation in physiologies, nevermind the fact that motion artifacts can influence neuroimages, and it emotion and cognition are intertwined (Richardson, 2017a: 193).
The point is, we cannot pool together these types of studies in attempt to localize cognitive processes to states of the brain. This is exactly what P-FIT does (or attempts to do). In any case, the correlations found by Jung and Haier (2007) can be explained by experience. IQ tests are experience-dependent (that is, one must be exposed to the knowledge on the test and they must be familiar with test-taking), and so too are parts of the brain that change based on what the person experiences. We cannot say that the physiological states are the cause of the IQ score—since the items on the test are more likely to be found in the middle-class, they would then be more prepared for test-taking.
Socially disastrous claims
Views from the likes of Robert Plomin—that there’s “not much we can do” about “environmental effects” (Plomin, 2018: 174)—are socially disastrous. If such ideas become mainstream then we may desist with programs that actually help people, on the basis that “it doesn’t work.” But this claim, that environmental effects are “unsystematic and unstable” are derived from conclusions based largely on twin studies. So whatever variance is left is attributed to the environment. (Do note, though, the Plomin’s claim that DNA is a blueprint is false.)
Hereditarians like Plomin then claim that environmental effects derive from one’s genotype so in actuality environmental effects are genetic effects—this is called “genetic nurture.” By using this new concept, the reductionist can skirt around environmental effects and claim that the effect itself is genetic even though it’s environmental in nature. Genes, in this concept, are active causes, actively causing parental behavior. So genes cause parental behavior which then influences how parents treat/parent their children. In this way, behavioral geneticists can claim that environmental effects are genetic effects too. (This is like Joseph’s (2014) Argument A in its circularity.)
By applying and accepting genetic reductionist claims, we rob people of certain life chances and we don’t commit ourselves to social justice. Of course, to the hereditarian, since the environment doesn’t matter then genes do. So we need to look at society from the gene-view. But this view betrays how and why our current social structures are the way they are. “IQ” tests were originally created to show that the current social hierarchy is the “right one” and the hereditarian believes to have shown that the hierarchy is “genetic” and so each group has their place on the social hierarchy on the basis of IQ scores which reduce to genes (Mensh and Mensh, 1991).
But humans are social creatures and although hereditarians attempt to reduce human social life to genes (in a circular manner), they fail. And their failing has led to the destruction of thousands of lives (see the sterilizations in America during the 1900s and around the world eg in Cohen, 2016 and Wilson, 2017). Reductionist attempts of social behavior to genes have been tried over the past 20 years (e.g., Jensen, 1998; Rushton, 2000, Lynn, 2006; Hart, 2007) but they all fail (Lerner, 2018, 2021). Social (environmental) changes cannot undo what the genes have “set” in individuals and so, we need not pour money into social programs.
For instance, many hereditarians and criminologists have espoused eugenic views, like Jensen’s claim that welfare could lead to the genetic enslavement of a part of the population (Jensen, 1969: 95) and that we can “estimate a person’s genetic standing on intelligence” based on their IQ score (Jensen, 1970: 13) to name two things. It is no surprise to me that people who hold such reductionist views of genes and society that they would also hold eugenic views like these. It is, in fact, a logical endpoint of hereditarianism—“phasing out” populations, as Lynn described in his review of Cattell’s Beyondism (see Tucker, 2009).
The answer to hereditarianism
Since we have to reject hereditarianism, then the answer to hereditarian dogma is relational developmental systems (RDS) theory which emphasizes the actions of all developmental resources, not reducing development to one primary developmental resource as hereditarians do. Similar things have been noted by other developmental systems theorists, most notably Oyama (1985/2000). What is selected aren’t genes, or behaviors. What is actually selected are the whole developmental system. Genes aren’t active causes. So if we look at development as a dance with music, as Noble (2006, 2016) does, there are no sufficient causes for development, but there are necessary causes of which genes are but one part of the whole system.
The answer to hereditarianism is to simply show that it fails conceptually, it’s “causal” framework for explaining the differences is unsound (“natural selection”) and to show that multiple interacting factors are responsible for human development in the womb and throughout the life course. “Theories derived from RDS meta-theory focus on the “rules,” the processes that govern, or regulate, exchanges between (the functioning of) individuals and their contexts” (Lerner, 2021: 457). Hereditarianism relies on gene-selectionism. But genes are not leaders in evolution; development is inherently holistic, not reductonist.
The hereditarian program has its beginnings with Francis Galton and then after the first “IQ” test was made (Binet’s), American eugenicists used it to “show” who was a “moron” (meaning, who had a low “IQ” meaning “intelligence”). Tens of thousands of sterilizations were soon carried out since the causes of these problems were in these people’s genes and so, negative eugenics needed to be practiced in order to cull the population of these genes that lead to socially undesirable traits.
The hereditarian hypothesis is, therefore, a racist hypothesis, contra Carl (2019) who argued the hereditarian hypothesis is not racist while citing many arguments from critics. I won’t get into that here, as I have many articles on the matter that Carl (2019) discusses. But what I will say is that the hereditarian hypothesis is racist in virtue of (1) not being logically plausible (reductionism about the mind and physicalism are both false) and (2) the hypothesis ranks races on a scale of “higher to lower” (that is, a hierarchy). Racism “is a system of ranking human beings for the purpose of gaining and justifying an unequal distribution of political and economic power” (Lovechik, 2018). Therefore, the hereditarian hypothesis is a racist hypothesis, contra Carl’s protestations. Hereditarians may claim that their claims are stifled in the public debate, but for behavioral genetics at large, this is false (see Kampourakis, 2017). Carl (2018) claims that “stifling” the debate around race, genes, and IQ can do harm but he is sadly mistaken! By believing that differences that can be changed are “genetic”, they are deemed to be unfixable and the groups who have a higher frequency of which ever genes that are causally efficacious (supposedly) for IQ will then be treated differently.
If neuroreduction (mind-brain reduction) is false, if genetic reduction is false, and if natural selection isn’t a mechanism, then hereditarianism cannot possibly be true, and if heritability . The arguments given here go well with my conceptual arguments against hereditarianism for more force against the hereditarian hypothesis. Just like with my argument to ban IQ tests, we must ban hereditarian research too, since the outcomes can be socially disastrous (Lerner, 2021 part VI, Developmental Theory and the Promotion of Social Justice). By now, these kinds of “theories” and claims have been refuted to hell and back, and so, the only reason to hold these kinds of beliefs is due to racist attitudes (combined with some mental gymnastics).
So for these, and many more, reasons, we must outright reject genetic reductionism (not least because these claims derive from flawed studies with false assumptions like twin studies) along with its partner “natural selection.” We therefore must commit ourselves to social justice to ameliorate the effects of racist attitudes and views.
Three Recent Environmentalist Books that Perpetuate the “IQ-As-A-Measure-of-Intelligence” Myth
The hereditarian-environmentalist debate has been ongoing for over 100 years. In this time frame, many theories have been forwarded to explain the disparity between individuals and groups. In one camp you have the hereditarians who claim that any non-zero heritability for IQ scores means that hereditarianism is true (eg Warne, 2020); while in the other camp you have the environmentalists who claim that differences in IQ are explained by environmental factors. This debate has been raging since the 1870s when Francis Galton coined the “nature-nurture” dichotomy still rages today. Unfortunately, the environmentalists lend credence to IQ-ist claims that, however imperfect, IQ tests are “measures” of intelligence.
Three recent books on the matter are A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and its Assault on the American Mind (Washington, 2019), Making Kids Cleverer: A Manifesto for Closing the Advantage Gap (Didau, 2019), and Young Minds Wasted: Reducing Poverty by Enhancing Intelligence in Known Ways (Schick, 2019). All three of these authors are clearly environmentalists and they accept the IQ-ist canard that IQ—however crudely—is a “measure” of “intelligence.”
There are, however, no sound arguments that IQ tests “measure” intelligence and there is no response to the Berka/Nash measurement objection for the claim that IQ tests are a “measure” since no hereditarian can articulate the specified measured object, the object of measurement and the measurement unit for IQ; there is, also, no accepted definition or theory of “intelligence”. So how can we say that some”thing” is being “measured” with a certain instrument if we have no satisfactorily defined what we claim to be measuring with a well-accepted theory of what we are measuring (Richardson and Norgate, 2015; Richardson, 2017), with a specified measured object, object of measurement, and measurement unit (Berka, 1983a, 1983b; Nash, 1990; Garrison, 2003, 2009) for the construct we want to measure?
But the point of this article is that environmentalists push the hereditarian canard that IQ is equal to, however crudely, intelligence. And though the authors do have great intentions and are pointing to things that we can do to attempt to ameliorate differences between individuals in different environments, they still lend credence to the hereditarian program.
A Terrible Thing to Waste
Washington (2019) discusses the detrimental effects (and possible effects of others) of lead, mercury and other metals that are more likely to be found in low-income black and “Hispanic” communities along with iodine deficiencies. These environmental exposures retard normal brain development. But, one is not justified in claiming that they are measures of “intelligence”—at best, as Washington (2019) argues, we can claim that they are indexes of environmental polluters on the brains of developing children.
Intelligence is a product of environment and experience that is forged, not inherited; it is malleable, not fixed. (Washington, 2019: 20)
While it is true, as Washington claims, that we can mitigate these problems from the toxic metals and lack of other pertinent nutrients for brain development by addressing the problems in these communities, it does not follow that IQ is a “biological” thing. Yes, IQ is malleable (contra hereditarian claims), and Headstart does work to improve life outcomes, even though such gains “fade out” after the child leaves the enriched environment. Lead poisoning, for example, has led to a decrease in 23 million IQ points per year (Washington, 2019: 15). But I am not worried about lost IQ points (even though by saving the IQ points from being lost, we would then be directly improving the environments that lead to such a decrease). I am worried about the detrimental effects of these toxic chemicals on the developing minds of children; lost IQ points are an outcome of this effect. At best, IQ tests can track cognitive damage due to pollutants in these communities (Washington, 2019) but they do NOT “measure” intelligence. (Also note that lead consumption is associated with higher rates of crime so this is yet another reason to reduce the consumption of lead in these communities.)
Speaking of “measuring intelligence”, Washington (2019: 29) noted that Jensen (1969: 5) stated that while “intelligence” is hard to define, it can be measured… But how does that make any sense? How can you measure what you can’t define? (See arguments (i), (ii), and (iii) here.)
Big Lead, though, “actively encouraged landlords to rent to families with vulnerable young children by offering financial incentives” (Washington, 2019: 55). This was in reference to the researchers who studied the deleterious effects of lead consumption on developing humans. “The participation of a medical researcher, who is ethically and legally responsible for protecting human subjects, changes the scenario from a tragedy to an abusive situation. Moreover, this exposure was undertaken to enrich landlords and benefit researchers at the detriment of children” (Washington, 2019: 55). We realized that lead had deleterious effects on development as early as the 1800s (Rabin, 2008), but Big Lead pushed back:
[Lead Industries Association’s] vigorous “educational” campaign sought to rehabilitate lead’s image, muddying the waters by extolling the supposed virtues of lead over other building materials. It published flooding guides and dispatched expert lecturers to tutor architects, water authorities, plumbers, and federal officials in the science of how to repair and “safely” install lead pipes. All the while the [Lead Industries Association] staff published books and papers nd gave lectures to architects and water authorities that downplayed lead’s dangers. 11 (Washington, 2019: 60)
In any case, Washington’s book is a good read into the effects of toxic metals on brain development, and while we must do what we can to ameliorate the effects of these metals in low-income communities, IQ increases are a side effect of ameliorating the toxic metals in these communities.
Making Kids Cleverer
Didau (2019: 86) outright claims that “intelligence is measured by IQ tests”—he is outright pushing the hereditarian view that IQ tests “measure intelligence.” (A strange claim since on pg 95-96 he says that IQ tests are “a measure of relative intelligence.”)
In the book, Didau accepts many hereditarian premises—like the claim IQ tests measure intelligence, that heritability can partition genetic and environmental variation. Further, Didau says in the Acknowledgements (pg 11) that Ritchie’s (2015) Intelligence: All That Matters “forms the backbone for much of the information in Chapters 3 and 5.” So we can see here how the hereditarian IQ-ist stance colors his view on the relationship between “IQ” and “intelligence.” He also makes the bald claims that “intelligence is a good candidate for being the best researched and best understood characteristic of the human brain” and that it’s “also probably the most stable construct in all psychology” (pg 81).
Didau takes the view that intelligence is both a way to acquire knowledge as well as what type of knowledge we know (pg 83)—basically, it’s what we know and what we do with what we know along with ways to acquire said knowledge. What one knows is obviously a product of the environment they find themselves growing up in, and what we do with the knowledge we have is similarly down to environmental factors. Didau states that “Possibly the strongest correlations [with IQ] are those with educational outcomes” (pg 92). But Didau, it seems, fails to realize that this strong correlation is built into the test since IQ tests and scholastic achievement tests are different versions of the same test (Schwartz, 1975, Richardson, 2017).
In one of the “myths of intelligence” (Myth 3: Intelligence cannot be increased, pg 102) he discusses, Didau uses a similar analogy as myself. In an article on “the fade-out effect“, I argued that if one goes to the gym, works out and gets bigger and then stops going, we can then say that going to the gym is useless since once they leave the enriched environment they lose their gains. The direct parallels to Headstart, then, is clear with my gym/muscle-building analogy.
In another myth (Myth 4: IQ tests are unfair), Didau claims that if you get a low IQ score then you are probably unintelligent, while if you get a high one, it means you know the answers to the questions—which is obviously true. Of course, to know the answers to the questions (and to be able to reason the answers for some of the questions), one must be exposed to the knowledge that is contained in that test, or they won’t score high.
We can reject the use of IQ scores by racists, he says, who would use it to justify the superiority of their own groups and the inferiority of “the other”, all while not rejecting that IQ tests are valid (where have they been validated?). “Something real and meaningful” is being measured by these tests, and we have chosen to call this “intelligence” (pg 107). But we can say this about anything. Imagine having a test Y for X. But we don’t really know what X is, nor that Y really measures it. But because it accords with our a priori biases and since we have constructed Y to get the results we think we should see, even though we have no idea what X is, we assume that we are measuring what we set out to all without the basic requirements of measurement.
While Didau does seem to agree with some of the criticisms I’ve levied on IQ tests over the years (cross-cultural testing is pointless, IQ scores can be changed), he is, obviously, pushing a hereditarian IQ-ist agenda, cloaked as an environmentalist. He contradicts himself by saying that intelligence is measured by IQ tests without then saying what he says later about them—and I don’t think one should assume that he meant they are an “imperfect measure” of intelligence. (Imagine an imperfect measure of length—would we still be using it to build houses if it was only somewhat accurate?) Didau also agrees with the g theorists, in that there is a “general cognitive ability”, as well. He also agrees with Ritchie and Tucker-Drob (2018) and Ceci (1996) that schooling can and does increase IQ scores (as summer vacations show that IQ scores do decrease without schooling) (see Didau, 2018: Chapter 5). So while he does agree that IQ isn’t static and that education can and does increase it, he is still pushing a hereditarian IQ-ist model of “intelligence”—even though, as he admits, the concept of “intelligence” has yet to be satisfactorily defined.
Young Minds Wasted
In the last book, Young Minds Wasted (Schick, 2019), while he does dispense with many hereditarian myths (such as the myth of the normal distribution, see here), he still—through an environmentalist lens—justifies the claims that IQ tests test intelligence. While he masterfully dispenses with the “IQ is normally distributed” claim (see discussion in pg 180-186), the tagline of the book is “reducing poverty by increasing intelligence, in known ways.”
The poor’s intelligence is wasted, he says, by an intelligence-depressing environment. We can see the parallels here with Washington’s (2019) A Terrible Thing to Waste. Schick claims that “the single most important and widespread cause of poverty is the environmental constraints on intelligence” (pg 12, Schick’s emphasis). Now, like Washington, Schick says that a whole slew of chemicals and toxins decrease IQ (a truism) and by identity, intelligence. Of course, living in a deprived environment where one is exposed to different kinds of toxins and chemicals can retard brain development and lead to deleterious life outcomes down the line. But this fact does not mean that intelligence is being measured by these tests; it only shows that there are environments that can impede brain development which then is mirrored in a decrease in IQ scores.
Schick says that as intelligence increases, societal problems decrease. But, as I have argued at length, this is due to the way the tests themselves are constructed, involving the a priori biases of the test’s constructors. If we can construct a test with any kind of distribution we want to, and if the items emerge arbitrarily from the heads of the test’s constructors who then try them out on a standardized sample (Jensen, 1980: 71) looking for the results they want and assume a priori, then we can make it so that what we accept as truisms regarding the relationship between IQ and life events can be turned on their head, with no logical reason to accept one set of items over another, other than that one set has a bias in which it upholds a test constructor’s previously-held biases.
Schick does agree that “intelligent behavior” can change throughout life, based on one’s life experiences. But “Human intelligence is based on several genetically determined capabilities such as cognitive functions” (pg 39). He also claims that genetic factors determine while environmental factors influence cognitve functions, memory, and universal grammar.
Along with his acceptance that genetic factors can influence IQ scores and other aspects of the mind, he also champions heritability estimates as being able to partition genetic and environmental variation in traits (even though it can do no such thing; Moore and Shenk, 2016). He—uncritically—accepts the 80/20 genetic environmental heritability from Bouchard and the 60/40 genetic environmental heritability from Jensen and Murray and Herrnstein. These “estimates”—drawn mostly from family, twin, and adoption studies (Joseph, 2015)—though, are invalid due to the false assumptions the researchers hold, neverminding the conceptual difficulties with the concept of heritability (Moore and Shenk, 2016).
While Washington and Schick both make important points—that those who live in poor environments are at-risk of being exposed to certain things that disrupt their development—they both, along with Didau, accept the hereditarian claim that IQ tests are tests of intelligence. While each author has their own specific caveats (some of which I agree with, and other I do not), they keep the hereditarian claim alive by lending credence to their arguments, but not looking at it through a genetic lens.
While the authors have good intentions in mind and while the research they discuss is extremely important and interesting (like the effects of toxins and metals on the development of the brain and the development of the child), they—like their intellectual environmentalist ancestors—unwittingly lend credence to hereditarian claims that IQ tests measure intelligence but they go about the causes of individual and group differences in completely different ways. These authors, with their assertions, then, accept the claim that certain groups are less “intelligent” than others. But it’s not genes that are the cause—it’s the differences in environment that cause it. And while that claim is true—that the deleterious effects Washington and Schick discuss can and do retard normal development—it, in no way shape or form, means that “intelligence” is being measured.
Normal (brain) development is indeed a terrible thing to waste; we can teach kids more by exposing them to more things, and young minds are wasted by poverty. But by accepting these premises, one does not need to accept the hereditarian dogma that IQ tests are measures of some undefined thing with no theory. That poverty and the environments that those in poverty live in impedes normal brain development which is then reflected in IQ scores, it does not follow that these tests are “measuring” intelligence—they, at best, show environmental challenges that change the brain of the individual taking the test.
One needs to be careful with the language they use, lest they lend credence to hereditarian pseudoscience.
Binet and Simon’s “Ideal City”
Ranking human worth on the basis of how well one compares in academic contests, with the effect that high ranks are associated with privilege, status, and power, does suggest that psychometry is best explored as a form of vertical classification and attending rankings of social value. (Garrison, 2009: 36)
Binet and Simon’s (1916) book The Development of Intelligence in Children is somewhat of a Bible for IQ-ists. The book chronicles the methods Binet and Simon used to construct their tests for children to identify those children who needed more help at school. In the book, they describe the anatomic measures they used. Indeed, before becoming a self-taught psychologist, Binet measured skulls and concluded that skull measurements did not correlate with teacher’s assessment of their students’ “intelligence” (Gould, 1995, chapter 5).
In any case, despite Binet’s protestations that Gould discusses, he wanted to use his tests to create what Binet and Simon (1916: 262) called an “ideal city.”
It now remains to explain the use of our measuring scale which we consider a standard of the child’s intelligence. Of what use is a measure of intelligence? Without doubt one could conceive many possible applications of the process, in dreaming of a future where the social sphere would be better organized than ours; where every one would work according to his own aptitudes in such a way that no particle force should be lost for society. That would be the ideal city. It is indeed far from us. But we have to remain among the sterner and matter-of-fact realities of life, since we here deal with practical experiments which are the most commonplace realities.
Binet disregarded his skull measurements as a correlate of ‘intelligence’ since they did not agree with teacher’s ratings. But then Binet and Simon (1916: 309) discuss how teachers assessed students (and gave an example). This is then how Binet made sure that the new psychological ‘measure’ that he devised related to how teachers assessed their students. Binet and Simon’s “theory” grouped certain children as “superior” and others as “inferior” in ‘intelligence’ (whatever that is), but did not pinpoint biology as the cause of the differences between the children. These groupings, though, corresponded to the social class of the children.
Thus, in effect, what Binet and Simon wanted to do was to organize society along a system of class social class lines while using his ‘intelligence tests’ to place the individual where they “belonged” on the hierarchy on the basis of their “intelligence”—whether or not this “intelligence” was “innate” or “learned.” Indeed, Binet and Simon did originally develop their scales to distinguish children who needed more help in school than others. They assumed that individuals had certain (intellectual) properties which then related to their class position. And that by using their scales, they can identify certain children and then place them into certain classes for remedial help. But a closer reading of Binet and Simon shows two hereditarians who wanted to use their tests for similar reasons that they were originally brought to America for!
Binet and Simon’s test was created to “separate natural intelligence and instruction” since they attempted to ‘measure’ the “natural intelligence” (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). Mensh and Mensh (1991: 23) continue:
Although Binet’s original aim was to construct an instrument for classifying unsuccessful school performers inferior in intelligence, it was impossible for him to create one that would do only that, i.e., function at only one extreme. Because his test was a projection of the relationship between concepts of inferiority and superiority—each of which requires the other—it was intrinsically a device for universal ranking according to alleged mental worth.
This “ideal city” that Binet and Simon imagine would have individuals work to their “known aptitudes”—meaning that individuals would work where their social class dictated they would work. This was, in fact, eerily similar to the uses of the test that Goddard translated and the test—the Stanford-Binet—that Terman developed in 1916.
Binet and Simon (1916: 92) also discuss further uses for their tests, irrespective of job placement for individuals:
When the work, which is here only begun, shall have taken its definite character, it will doubtless permit the solution of many pending questions, since we are aiming at nothing less than the measure of intelligence; one will this know how to compare the different intellectual levels not only according to age, but according to sex, social condition, and to race; applications of our method will be found useful to normal anthropology, and also to criminal anthropology, which touches closely upon the study of the subnormal, and will receive the principle conclusion of our study.
Binet, therefore, had similar views to Goddard and Terman, regarding “tests of intelligence” and Binet wanted to stratify society by ‘intelligence’ using his own tests (which were culturally biased against certain classes). Binet’s writings on the uses of his tests, ironically, mirrored what the creators of the Army Alpha and Beta tests believed. Binet believed that his tests could select individuals that were right for the role they would be designated to work. Binet, nevertheless, contradicted himself numerous times (Spring, 1972; Mensh and Mensh, 1991).
This dream of an “ideal city” was taken a step further when Binet’s test was brought and translated to America by Goddard and used for selecting military recruits (call it an “ideal country”). They would construct the test in order to “ensure” the right percentages of “the right” people who would be in their spot that was designated to them on the basis of their intelligence.
What Binet was attempting to do was to mark individual social value with his test. He claimed that we can use his (practical) test to select people for certain social roles. Thus, Binet’s dream for what his tests would do—and were then further developed by Goddard, Yerkes, Terman, et al—is inherent in what the IQ-ists of today want to do. They believe that there are “IQ cutoffs”, meaning that people with an IQ above or below a certain threshold won’t be able to do job X. However, the causal efficacy of IQ is what is in question along with the fact that IQ-ists have certain biases that they construct into their tests that they believe are ‘objective.’ But where Binet shifted from the IQ-ists of today and his contemporaries was that he believed that ‘intelligence’ is relative to one’s social situation (Binet and Simon, 1916: 266-267).
It is ironic that Gould believed that we could use Binet’s test (along with contemporary tests constructed and ‘validated’—correlated—with Terman’s Stanford-Binet test) for ‘good’; this is what Binet thought he would be done. But then, when the hereditarians had Binet’s test, they took Binet’s arguments to a logical conclusion. This also has to do with the fact that the test was constructed AND THEN they attempted to ‘see’ what was ‘measured’ with correlational studies. The ‘meaning’ of test scores, thusly, is seen after the fact with—wait for it—correlations with other tests that were ‘validated’ with other (unvalidated) tests.
This comes back to the claim that the mental can be ‘measured’ at all. If physicalism is false—and there are dozens of (a priori) arguments that establish this fact— and the mental is therefore irreducible to the physical, then psychological traits—and with it the mind—cannot be measured. It then follows that the mind cannot be measured. Further, rankings are not measures (Nash, 1990: 63), therefore, ability and achievement tests cannot be ‘measures’ of any property of individuals or groups—the object of measurement is the human and this was inherent in Binet’s original conception of his test that the IQ-ists in America attempted with their restrictions on immigration in the early 1900s.
This speaks to the fatalism that is inherent in IQ-ism—and was inherent since the creation of the first standardized tests (of which IQ tests are). These tests are—and have been since their inception—attempting to measure human worth and the differences and value between persons. The IQ-ist claims that “IQ tests must measure something.” And this ‘measurement’, it is claimed, is inherent in the fact that the tests have ‘predictive validity.’ But such claims of that a ‘property’ inherent in individuals and groups fails. The real ‘function’ of standardized testing is for assessment, and not measurement.
The “ideal city”, it seems, is just a city of IQ-ism—where one’s social roles are delegated by where they score on a test that is constructed to get the results the constructors want. Therefore, what Binet wanted his tests to do was (and some may ever argue it still is) being used to mark social worth (Garrison, 2004, 2009). Psychometry is therefore a political ring. It is inherently political and not “value-free.” Psychologists/psychometricians do not have an ‘objective science’, as the object of study (the human) can reflexively change their behavior when they know they are being studied. Their field is inherently political and they mark individuals and groups—whether they admit it or not. “Ideal cities” can lead to eugenic thinking, in any case, and to strive for “ideality” can lead to social harms—even if the intentions are ‘good.’
My Citation Count
I started this blog almost 5 years ago. Currently (excluding this one), there are 480 articles on this blog. Searching my blog name “notpoliticallycorrect.me” on Google Scholar leads to two citations—one on “IQ” and obesity and the other on inclusionism about race when it comes to medicine. These two cites pretty much perfectly show my views and their change in the past 5 years since the creation of this blog. I will discuss both papers that cited me in turn.
In the journal Social and Human Sciences. Domestic and Foreign Literature (a sociology journal), a 2016 article I published (back in my “HBD” days titled “Race, Obesity, Poverty, and IQ, writing:
income and education (which in the latter case presumably correlates with IQ levels). They have the highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes. In terms of ethnicity, overweight indicators are as follows: 67.3% for whites, 75.6% for African Americans and 77.9% for Latinos. Summing up all this, we obtain, in the words of the authors of the study, “politically incorrect conclusions”: African Americans and Hispanics are more at risk of living in poverty, have lower IQ, higher rates of obesity and a chance of developing diabetes; The main factor in these correlations is the IQ level (Race, obesity, poverty and IQ, 2016).
Almost four years later (after my views have undergone a significant change) I would draw different conclusions. Blacks are 51% more likely to be obese than whites (Lincoln, Abdou, and Lloyd, 2016) with the cause being a multitude of factors. Though it seems that black American men with more African ancestry may be protected against central adiposity (Klimentidis et al, 2016). Racial disparities in obesity are due to an interaction of a multitude of factors (Byrd, Toth, and Stanford, 2018). Interestingly, black kids with obesity don’t perceive themselves as obese (Lankarani and Assani, 2018), which, presumably, is due to higher rates of obesity in the black population. Black girls are more likely to have an earlier menarche than white giris (e.g., Freedman et al, 2000) and it is because black girls are more likely to be obese than white girls which is due to the effects of leptin being permissive for menarche, from the higher levels of body fat in black girls (Salsberry, Reagen, and Pajer, 2010).
We must look to social determinants of health to understand why certain non-white populations are more likely to be obese than others. Looking at “IQ” as causal for obesity—which I used to believe—obscures much more than it helps. We can look to epigenetic effects, for example, regarding biological explanations of obesity (Krueger and Reithner, 2016), for instance high BMI in black women being related to saliva-based DNA methylation, which is used as a marker for aging (Li et al, 2019). Even perceived racism (it does not have to be actual) can have physiologic effects on black women, heigtening cortisol levels, leading to a heigtened obesity risk (Mwendwa et al, 2016).
In any case, it’s cool that I got cited but uncool that it was something that I don’t believe anymore.
The second citation comes from Rossi (2020: 13) in the journal Social Science Information titled New avenues in epigenetic research about race: Online activism around reparations for slavery in the United States citing my article Race, Medicine, and Epigenetics: How the Social Becomes Biological:
Consequently, social scientists’ opinions about epigenetic research dealing with race and slavery have sometimes been scrutinized by blog authors. For example, the article untitled [sic] ‘Race, medicine, and epigenetics: How the social becomes biological’ published in 2019 on the blog Notpoliticallycorrect features a long discussion on whether race could be seen as a viable variable to discuss the epigenetics of trauma, especially relating to slavery in the US.14 After summarizing the views of legal scholar and sociologist Dorothy Roberts, who has argued repeatedly in her works against the use of the concept of race in biomedical sciences, the author sides with philosophers Michael Hardimon and Shannon Sullivan, who are both enthusiastic about the inclusion of race to discuss genetics and epigenetics:
Race and medicine is a tendentious topic. On one hand, you have people like sociologist Dorothy Roberts (2012) who argues against the use of race in a medical context, whereas philosopher of race Michael Hardimon thinks that we should not be exclusionists about race when it comes to medicine. If there are biological races, and there are salient genetic differences between them, then why should we disregard this when it comes to a medically relevant context? [. . .] So, we should not be exclusionists (like Roberts), we should be inclusionists (like Hardimon). [. . .] Furthermore, acknowledging the fact that the social dimensions of race can help us understand how racism manifests itself in biology (for a good intro to this see Sullivan’s (2015) book The Physiology of Racist and Sexist Oppression, for even if the ‘oppression’ is imagined, it can still have very real biological effects that could be passed onto the next generation – and it could particularly affect a developing fetus, too). It seems that there is a good argument that the effects of slavery could have been passed down through the generations manifesting itself in smaller bodies.
Relying also on Jasienska’s research, the author of this blog post therefore dismissed the idea that race should not be applied to the medical field, while using the words and legitimacy of humanities scholars such as Hardimon and Sullivan to back up their claims. These contributions show the way journalists and various blog authors write about epigenetics by mixing together scientific articles in various fields (the social sciences, philosophy, psychiatry, social work) in an effort to bring more legitimacy to the topic. This process highlights the ways in which lay circles produce new connections between various papers and texts dealing with epigenetics, no matter how different their fields of expertise may be.
This shows a very sharp contrast with my current views and my older views on race and obesity. Before, thinking that obesity was “determined” by IQ (e.g., Kanazawa, 2012; Kanazawa, 2014) was an error—people with low “IQs” are more likely to be in poverty and have less access to good foods, along with the abundance of fast food restaurants in areas with a higher concentration of blacks (James et al, 2014). Black women, for instance, have a lower RMR than white women (Gannon, DiPietro, and Poehlman, 2000)
These two articles of mine that were cited (on similar issues, no less) show the evolution of my views over the past four or so years in between the publication of the two articles on this blog. This is a good case study on how the one can view the aetiology of one thing completely different based on the types of views they previously held. The views of obesity and race I hold now are much more complex than the reductive “it’s genes/IQ” kind of guy that I used to be. A more holistic view of obesity disparities, factoring in access to food (food swamps/deserts), income, location etc is more informative than looking just to “IQ” or “genes for” obesity—because even if “genes for” obesity exist and even if “genes for” obesity are distributed unevenly across races, the predominant determinant of weight will be activity level/caloric consumption, which is based on SES and other factors—not “IQ” or “obesity genes.” The social does become biological, and it does have consequences for obesity disparities between and within races.
Davide Piffer on Italians
The other day on Twitter, Davide Piffer made the claim that North and South Italians are “two different races” and that the North is “governed by morons from the South.” What would make him say that North and South Italians “are two different races”? Well, a new study was just published which looked into the genetic divergence of North and South Italians. It seems that Piffer is saying that the fact that North and South Italians are genetically distinct means that they are races. But this is an error in reasoning—it is fallacious to believe that just because two groups are genetically distinct that they are therefore races.
Sazzini et al (2020) show evidence that North and South Italians genetically diverged after the last glacial maximum (LGM). They state that there was “adaptive evolution” at “insulin-related loci” from Italian regions with temperate climates. The state that climatic factors differentiated those from the North and those from the South. The “adaptations” that those in the North have protect them from:
… we proposed climate-related selective pressures as potential factors having influenced adaptive evolution at insulin-related genes especially in the ancestors of Northern Italians. By regulating glucose homeostasis, adiposity, and thermogenesis in response to high-calorie diets adopted to cope with energetically demanding environmental conditions, these adaptive events might have also contributed to make people from Northern Italy less prone to develop T2D and obesity despite the challenging nutritional context imposed by modern lifestyles. Conversely, possible adaptations against pathogens and modulation of melanogenesis in response to high UV radiation are supposed to have played a role in reduced susceptibility of people from Southern Italy respectively to immunoglobulin-A nephropathy and skin cancers. Finally, multiple adaptive processes evolved by the overall Italian population, but having resulted more pronounced in people from the southern regions of the peninsula, were found to have the potential to secondarily modulate the longevity phenotype. Therefore, by pinpointing genetic determinants underlying biological adaptation of Italian population clusters in response to locally diverging environmental contexts, the present study succeeded in disclosing also valuable biomedical implications of such evolutionary events.
What they did was select 39 unrelated genomes, representative of the known genetic differences in Italian the Italian population, and then compare the differences 35 populations from all over Europe. They found divergence between the two occurred between 12 and 19 kya—they presume that the so-called “adaptations” for North Italians, being “adapted” to lower temperatures and higher-kcal food, and the so-called “adaptations” for South Italians being adapted to warmer climes, so they have “genes to protect against” skin cancer and pathogens—while gene variants ‘related’ to longer life were also showed changes in those genes.
The press release, though, cautions against adaptive conclusions:
The authors caution that although correlations may be drawn between evolutionary adaptations and current disease prevalence among populations, they are unable to prove causation, or rule out the possibility that more recent gene flow from populations exposed to diverse environmental conditions outside of Italy may have also contributed to the different genetic signatures seen between northern and southern Italians today.
While this is an interesting study (and it does need to reign back its ‘adaptive conclusions’), it does not show that North and South Italians are different races. If they are different races, how does it go? Is there a single North Italian race and a single South Italian race? Or are North Italians Caucasian, while South Italians would be African? Are there 5, 6, or 7 races in Piffer’s racial schema?
Like all hereditarians, he just assumes the existence of race—if this and that population are genetically distinct, then they must be races. Wow, how compelling an argument to show that races exist. But if North and South Italians are a different race on the basis of genetic differentiation, then so are East and West Germans (Nelis et al, 2009), North and South Germans (Heath et al, 2008), Southeast and Northwest Dutch (Lao et al, 2013), North and South Dutch (Byrne et al, 2020), Northern and Southern Swedes (Humphreys et al, 2011), East and West Fins (Kerminen et al, 2017), etc. Using genetic differentiation as a basis to show which population is or is not a race logically leads one down this path. Why not 7 billion races? Each individual is unique? Oh, wait: He would say something about “breeding populations” probably—and that’d be good because he would then be stating conditions for racehood, not just assuming their existence on the basis of genetic differentiation. Though, the claim would still fail.
Piffer has let his mask slip before—back in March he called immigrants to Italy “gorillas”, then saying that “Gorillas are nobler” because they would not take beds from the sick, since this was when Corona was really heating up in Italy. This is similar to what the “World’s Smartest Man” Christopher Langan said about gorillas and immigration. There seems to be a relationship between idiotic sayings about gorillas and immigration and racism… hmm…
In any case, the fact that North and South Italians are genetically distinct populations in no way, shape, or form, is evidence that they are different races. For if it is, then there are many, many races—even in countries with the same group of people, if we are to understand race how Piffer seems to understand it (any type of genomic differentiation between populations makes them races). So is each family on earth a different race? This is the kind of conclusion that Piffer’s lazy thinking leads to. Piffer is just like Murray—if populations cluster in genomic analyses then those population clusters are races. Two hereditarians—two assumptions that fail, since if we take them to their logical conclusion, there are more races than is traditionally stated. Piffer, it seems, just sees a group he is clearly biased agains (South Italians), sees they are distinct genomically from the North, and then says “Aha! these morons from the South who are governing us are just a different race than we are!” Clinal differences in skin color, too, don’t ‘prove’ that North and South Italians are a different race.
Too bad for Piffer, reality is different than in his own biased world. Italy is over two thousand years old—and the people in the North and the South belong to the same race. Piffer’s ‘research’ into the “IQs” of North and South Italians (Lynn, 2010; Piffer and Lynn, 2014; see Cornoldi et al, 2010; D’Amico et al, 2011; Robinson, Saggino, and Tommasi, 2011; Danielle and Malanima, 2011; Cornoldi, Giofre, and Martini, 2013; in any case, is (and has been) suspect—but now we know that he has other motivations than just iScience!
(Note: The Italianthro blog has a ton of information on Italy, its peopling, “IQ”, and other things. Check the blog out.)
Chinese IQ, Cheating, Immigrant Hyper-Selectivity and East Asian “Genetic Superiority”
The East Asian race has been held up as what a high “IQ” population can do and, along with the correlation between IQ and standardized testing, “HBDers” claim that this is proof that East Asians are more “intelligent” than Europeans and Africans. Lynn (2006: 114) states that the average IQ of China is 103. There are many problems with such a claim, though. Not least because of the many reports of Chinese cheating on standardized tests. East Asians are claimed to be “genetically superior” to other races as regards IQ, but this claim fails.
Chinese IQ and cheating
Differences in IQ scores have been noted all over China (Lynn and Cheng, 2013), but generally, the consensus is, as a country, that Chinese IQ is 105 while in Singapore and Hong Kong it is 103 and 107 respectively (Lynn, 2006: 118). To explain the patterns of racial IQ scores, Lynn has proposed the Cold Winters theory (of which a considerable response has been mounted against it) which proposes that the harshness of the environment in the ice age selected-for higher ‘general intelligence’ in East Asian and European populations; such a hypothesis is valid to hereditarians since East Asian (“Mongoloids” as Lynn and Rushton call them) consistently score higher on IQ tests than Europeans (eg Lynn and Dzobion, 1979; Lynn, 1991; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994). In a recent editorial in Psych, Lynn (2019) criticizes this claim from Flynn (2019):
While northern Chinese may have been north of the Himalayas during the last Ice Age, the southern Chinese took a coastal route from Africa to China. They went along the Southern coast of the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia before they arrived at the Yangzi. They never were subject to extreme cold.
In response, Lynn cites Frost’s (2019) article where he claims that “mean intelligence seems to have risen during recorded history at temperate latitudes in Europe and East Asia.” Just-so storytelling about how and why such “abilities” were “selected-for”, the Chinese score higher on standardized tests than whites and blacks, and this deserves an explanation (the Cold Winters Theory fails; it’s a just-so story).
Before continuing, something must be noted about Lynn and his Chinese IQ data. Lynn ignores numerous studies on Chinese IQ—Lynn would presumably say that he wants to test those in good conditions and so disregards those parts of China with bad environmental conditions (as he did with African IQs). Here is a collection of forty studies that Lynn did not refer to—some showing that, even in regions in China with optimum living conditions, IQs below 90 are found (Qian et al, 2005). How could Lynn miss so many of these studies if he has been reading into the matter and, presumably, keeping up with the latest findings in the field? The only answer to the question is that Richard Lynn is dishonest. (I can see PumpkinPerson claiming that “Lynn is old! It’s hard to search through and read every study!” to defend this.)
Although the Chinese are currently trying to stop cheating on standardized testing (even a possible seven-year prison sentence, if caught cheating, does not deter cheating), cheating on standardized tests in China and by the Chinese in America is rampant. The following is but a sample of what could be found doing a cursory search on the matter.
One of the most popular ways of cheating on standardized tests is to have another person take the exam for you—which is rampant in China. In one story, as reported by The Atlantic, students can hire “gunmen” to sit-in on tests for them, though measures are being taken to fight back against that such as voice recognition and finger-printing. It is well-known that much of the cheating on such tests are being done by international students.
Even on the PISA—which is used as an “IQ” proxy since they correlate highly (.89) (Lynn and Mikk, 2009)—though, there is cheating. For the PISA, each country is to select, at random, 5,000 of their 15-year-old children around the country and administer the PISA—they chose their biggest provinces which are packed with universities. Further, score flucuations attract attention which indicates dishonesty. In 2000, more than 2000 people protested outside of a university to protest a new law which banned cheating on tests.
The rift amounted to this: Metal detectors had been installed in schools to route out students carrying hearing or transmitting devices. More invigilators were hired to monitor the college entrance exam and patrol campus for people transmitting answers to students. Female students were patted down. In response, angry parents and students championed their right to cheat. Not cheating, they said, would put them at a disadvantage in a country where student cheating has become standard practice. “We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat,” they chanted. (Chinese students and their parents fight for the right to cheat)
Surely, with rampant cheating on standardized tests in China (and for Chinese Americans), we can trust the Chinese IQ numbers in light of the news that there is a culture of cheating on tests in China and in America.
“Genetic superiority” and immigrant hyper-selectivity
Strangely, some proponents of the concept of “genetic superiority” and “progressive evolution” still exist. PumpkinPerson is one of those proponents, writing articles with titles like “Genetically superior: Are East Asians more socially intelligent too?, More evidence that East Asians are genetically superior, Oriental populations: Genetically superior, even referring to a fictional character on a TV show as a “genetic superior.” Such fantastical delusions come from Rushton’s ridiculous claim that evolution may be progressive and that some populations are, therefore, “more evolved” than others:
One theoretical possibility is that evolution is progressive and that some populations are more “advanced” than others. Rushton, 1992
Such notions of “evolutionary progress” and “superiority“—even back in my “HBD” days—never passed the smell test to me. In any case, how can East Asians be said to be “genetically superior”? What do “superior genes” or a “superior genome” look like? This has been outright stated by, for example, Lynn (1977) who prolcaims—for the Japanese—that his “findings indicate a genuine superiority of the Japanese in general intelligence.” This claim, though, is refuted by the empirical data—what explains East Asian educational achievement is not “superior genes”, but the belief that education is paramount for upward social mobility, and so, to preempt discrimination, this would then be why East Asians overperform in school (Sue and Okazaki, 1990).
Furthermore, the academic achievement of Asian cannot be reduced to Asian culture—the fact that they are hyper-selected is why social class matters less for Asian Americans (Lee and Zhou, 2017).
These counterfactuals illustrate that there is nothing essential about Chinese or Asian culture that promotes exceptional educational outcomes, but, rather, is the result of a circular process unique to Asian immigrants in the United States. Asian immigrants to the United States are hyper-selected, which results in the transmission and recreation of middle-class specific cultural frames, institutions, and practices, including a strict success frame as well as an ethnic system of supplementary education to support the success frame for the second generation. Moreover, because of the hyper-selectivity of East Asian immigrants and the racialisation of Asians in the United States, stereotypes of Asian-American students are positive, leading to ‘stereotype promise’, which also boosts academic outcomes
Inequalities reproduce at both ends of the educational spectrum. Some students are assumed to be low-achievers and undeserving, tracked into remedial classes, and then ‘prove’ their low achievement. On the other hand, others are assumed to be high-achievers and deserving of meeting their potential (regardless of actual performance); they are tracked into high-level classes, offered help with their coursework, encouraged to set their sights on the most competitive four-year universities, and then rise to the occasion, thus ‘proving’ the initial presumption of their ability. These are the spill-over effects and social psychological consequences of the hyper-selectivity of contemporary Asian immigration to the United States. Combined with the direct effects, these explain why class matters less for Asian-Americans and help to produce exceptional academic outcomes. (Lee and Zhou, 2017)
The success of second-generation Chinese Americans has, too, been held up as more evidence that the Chinese are ‘superior’ in their mental abilities—being deemed ‘model minorities’ in America. However, in Spain, the story is different. First- and second-generation Chinese immigrants score lower than the native Spanish population on standardized tests. The ‘types’ of immigrants that have emigrated has been forwarded as an explanation for why there are differences in attainments of Asian populations. For example, Yiu (2013: 574) writes:
Yet, on the other side of the Atlantic, a strikingly different story about Chinese immigrants and their offspring – a vastly understudied group – emerges. Findings from this study show that Chinese youth in Spain have substantially lower educational ambitions and attainment than youth from every other nationality. This is corroborated by recently published statistics which show that only 20 percent of Chinese youth are enrolled in post-compulsory secondary education, the prerequisite level of schooling for university education, compared to 40 percent of the entire adolescent population and 30 percent of the immigrant youth population in Catalonia, a major immigrant destination in Spain (Generalitat de Catalunyan, 2010).
… but results from this study show that compositional differences across immigrant groups by class origins and education backgrounds, while substantial, do not fully account for why some groups have higher ambitions than others. Moreover, existing studies have pointed out that even among Chinese American youth from humble, working-class origins, their drive for academic success is still strong, most likely due to their parents’ and even co-ethnic communities’ high expectations for them (e.g., Kao, 1995; Louie, 2004; Kasinitz et al., 2008).
The Chinese in Spain believe that education is a closed opportunity and so, they allocate their energy elsewhere—into entrepreneurship (Yiu, 2013). So, instead of Asian parents pushing for education, they push for entrepreneurship. What this shows is that what the Chinese do is based on context and how they perceive how they will be looked at in the society that they emigrate to. US-born Chinese immigrants are shuttled toward higher education whereas in the Netherlands, the second-generation Chinese have lower educational attainment and the differences come down to national context (Noam, 2014). The Chinese in the U.S. are hyper-selected whereas the Chinese in Spain are not and this shows—the Chinese in the US have a high educational attainment whereas they have a low educational attainment in Spain and the Netherlands—in fact, the Chinese in Spain show lower educational attainment than other ethnic groups (Central Americans, Dominicans, Morrocans; Lee and Zhou, 2017: 2236) which, to Americans would be seen as a surprise
Second-generation Chinese parents match their intergenerational transmission of their ethnocultural emphasis on education to the needs of their national surroundings, which, naturally, affects their third-generation children differently. In the U.S., adaptation implies that parents accept the part of their ethnoculture that stresses educational achievement. (Noam, 2014: 53)
So what explains the higher educational attainment of Asians? A mixture of culture and immigrant (hyper-) selectivity along with the belief that education is paramount for upward mobility (Sue and Okazaki, 1990; Hsin and Xie, 2014; Lee and Zhou, 2017) and the fact that what a Chinese immigrant chooses to do is based on national context (Noam, 2014; Lee and Zhou, 2017). Poor Asians do indeed perform better on scholastic achievement tests than poor whites and poor ‘Hispanics’ (Hsin and Xie, 2014; Liu and Xie, 2016). Teachers even favor Asian American students, perceiving them to be brighter than other students. But what are assumed to be cultural values are actually class values which is due to the hyper-selectivity of Asian immigrants to America (Hsin, 2016).
The fact that the term “Mongoloid idiot” was coined for those with Down syndrome because they looked Asian is very telling (see Hilliard, 2012 for discussion). But, the IQ-ists switched from talking about Caucasian superiority to Asian superiority right as the East began their economic boom (Liberman, 2001). The fact that there were disparate “estimates” of skulls in these centuries points to the fact such “scientific observations” are painted with a cultural brush. See eg table 1 from Lieberman (2001):
This tells us, again, that our “scientific objectivity” is clouded by political and economic prejudices of the time. This allows Rushton to proclaim “If my work was motivated by racism, why would I want Asians to have bigger brains than whites?” Indeed, what a good question. The answer is that the whole point of “HBD race realism” is to denigrate blacks, so as long as whites are above blacks in their little self-made “hierarchy” no such problem exists for them (Hilliard, 2012).
Note how Rushton’s long debunked- r/K selection theory (Anderson, 1991; Graves, 2002) used the current hierarchy and placed dozens of traits on a hierarchy where it was M > C > N (Mongoloids, Caucasoids, and Negroids respectively, to use Rushton’s outdated terminology). It is a political statement to put the ‘Mongoloids’ at the top of the racial hierarchy; the goal of ‘HBD’ is to denigrate blacks. But, do note that in the late 19th to early 20th century that East Asians were deemed to have small brains, large penises, and that Japanese men, for instance, would “debauch their [white] female classmates” (quoted in Hilliard, 2012: 91).
The “IQ” of China (along with scores on other standardized tests such as TIMMS and PISA), in light of the scandals occurring regarding standardized testing should be suspect. Richard Lynn has failed to report dozens of studies that show low IQ scores for China, thusly inflating their scores. This is, yet again, another nail in the coffin for the ‘Cold Winter Theory’, since the story is formulated on the basis of cherry-picked IQ scores of children. I have noted that if we have different assumptions that we would have different evolutionary stories. Thus, if the other data were provided and, say, Chinese IQ were found to be lower, we would just create a story to justify the score. This is illustrated wonderfully by Flynn (2019):
I will only say that I am suspicious of these because none of us can go back and really evaluate environment and mating patterns. Given free reign, I can supply an evolutionary scenario for almost any pattern of current IQ scores. If blacks had a mean IQ above other races I could posit something like this: they benefitted from exposure to the most rigorous environmental conditions possible, namely, competition from other people. Thanks to greater population pressures on resources, blacks would have benefitted more from this than any of those who left at least for a long time. Those who left eventually became Europeans and East Asians.
The hereditarians point to the academic success of East Asians in America as proof that IQ tests ‘measure’ intelligence, but East Asians in America are a hyper-selected sample. As the references I have provided show, second-generation Chinese immigrants show lower educational attainments than other ethnies (the opposite is true in America) and this is explained by the context that the immigrant family finds themselves in—where do you allocate your energy? Education or entrepreneurship? Such choices seem to be class-based due to the fact education is championed by the Chinese in America and not in Spain and the Netherlands—then dictate, and they also refute any claims of ‘genetic superiority’—they also refute, for that matter, the claim that genes matter for educational attainment (and therefore IQ)—although we did not need to know this to know that IQ is a bunk ‘measure’.
So if Chinese cheat on standardized tests, then we should not accept their IQ scores; the fact that they, for example, provide non-random children from large provinces speaks to their dishonesty. They are like Lynn, in a way, avoiding the evidence that IQ scores are not what they seem—both Lynn and the Chinese government are dishonest cherry-pickers. The ‘fact’ that East Asian educational attainment can be attributed to genes is false; it is attributed to hyper-selectivity and notions of class and what constitutes ‘success’ in the country they emigrate to—so what they attempt is based on (environmental) context.