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A hardcore evolutionary psychologist and avowed enemy of "political correctness" and other recent cultural brainwashing afflicting modern society, Satoshi Kanazawa is no stranger to controversy. In his latest book, he again takes the reader on the journey of blunt and unapologetic evolutionary reality. The latest social question he tackles is, What is intelligence, and why did it evolve?
Intuitively, we all know who intelligent people are, and their likely behaviors. On paper, they are high achievers, who rise to the top ranks of modern society thanks to their academic talents and aptitude; but upon closer examination, these seemingly successful people are socially awkward, lack common sense, and often hold bizarre, unrealistic beliefs. "More intelligent people are more likely to be 'stupid' (lacking common sense), whereas less intelligent people are more likely to be 'smart' (possessing functional common sense)," Kanazawa writes, noting the paradox.
Where does the paradox come from? Kanazawa's thesis is that the majority of people (who, by definition, are not intelligent), are good at "Evolutionarily-Familiar" tasks. "Evolutionarily-Familiar" problems ("EF") are those that have always existed throughout evolutionary history. "Mating, parenting, social exchange, and personal relationships" are, according to Kanazawa, some of these ultra-familiar, ultra-prominent "EF" problems that all social animals have always had to deal with. Humans and other primates have always mated, raised children, made alliances, related to others, sought out nutritious food, and avoided predators.
A fraction of people, however, are very good at "Evolutionarily-Novel" tasks ("EN"). These are new, unusual domains of life which have never before existed in our evolutionary past. As Kanazawa notes tongue-in-cheek, "There is no common sense about how to boot up a Macintosh computer or how to fly an airplane." But it is precisely these people, defined as "intelligent" based on a series of objective tests, who excel at such new, academic, high-level "EN" tasks.
So intelligent people are those who are very good at adapting to unusual, new situations. "Stupid"/non-intelligent people are those who are very good at familiar, ancient tasks. That is the distinction, and several interesting predictions result from it:
- Liberalism/Marxism/Left-wing values: The idea of supporting others who are not related to you, is "unusual" in evolutionary terms, because it is contrary to traditional tribalism. Thus, intelligent people, who lean in the "EN" direction, are likely to espouse unusual, idealistic beliefs such as liberalism, multiculturalism, and egalitarianism. (As a matter of fact, the very word "idealistic" signals something contrary to what is evolutionarily familiar.)
- Vegetarianism: The idea of not eating animal protein is "unsual" in evolutionary terms, because it is contrary to ancient survival mechanisms. Thus, intelligent people, with their "EN" tendencies, are more likely to be vegetarians.
- Sexual Exclusivity: The idea of marriage and sexual exclusivity may be contrary to "natural" promiscuity (for men). Men who strongly uphold sexual exclusivity and monogamy may, in some respects, be unusual and have "EN" tendencies; thus, they are more likely to be intelligent.
There are many other conclusions and patterns noted in the book, a few of which are debatable, but most are very plausible and accurate. Despite Kanazawa's blunt and in-your-face writing style, his and similar books on evolutionary psychology are a welcome break from the sociological, liberal propaganda constantly shoved down people's throats in today's society. (By the way, this in itself is no coincidence: "Liberals control most institutions... because they are on average more intelligent than conservatives," Kanazawa notes: "Liberals control most organizations in most areas of life, even though the American population in general is mostly conservative.")
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Graham H. Seibert
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People who do the kind of research Kanazawa does often cannot get published. The get fired from their jobs at conservative as well as liberal think tanks. They have a hard time getting tenure at universities. There is little freedom of inquiry left in the realms in which Kanazawa works. For that reason alone it is delightful to see him publish such a politically incorrect work as this.
In his preface Kanazawa credits the giants who preceded him. Robert Trivers, Arthur Jensen, Philippe Rushton, just to name three. What I hoped in reading this book was to find a worthy successor to these, the latter two of whom died just last year. My hopes remain somewhat unfulfilled. While Kanazawa has the courage to beard any lion in its den, he has some shortcomings when it comes to structure and research.
The introduction to the book is a delight. It is a defense of academic freedom, the right of an academic, indeed, the obligation of an academic, to pursue the truth wherever it takes him. Quite specifically, this pursuit of truth should not be constrained by concerns about what the implications might be of the truths that are found. He talks about the great fallacies, the naturalistic fallacy and the moralistic fallacy. These are worth repeating right here in this this review, because they are so pervasive and academics today.
"The naturalistic fallacy, which was coined by the English philosopher George Edward Moore in the early 20th century, though first identified much earlier by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, is the leap from is to ought--that is, the tendency to believe that what is natural is good; that what is, ought to be. For example, one might commit the error of the naturalistic fallacy and say, "Because different groups of people are genetically different and endowed with different innate abilities and talents, they ought to be treated differently."
"The moralistic fallacy, coined by the Harvard microbiologist Bernard Davis in the 1970s, is the opposite of the naturalistic fallacy. It refers to the leap from ought to is, the claim that the way things ought to be is the way they are. This is the tendency to believe that what is good is natural; that what ought to be, is. For example, one might commit the error of the moralistic fallacy and say, "Because everybody ought to be treated equally, there are no innate genetic differences between groups of people." The science writer extraordinaire Matt Ridley calls it the reverse naturalistic fallacy."
The scientist cannot afford to be blinded by any of this. However, the frightening thing is that the vast number of them are. Read my review of "Race Decoded" for an example. Stephen Jay Gould's "Mismeasure of Man" is a classic example of a political screed masquerading as science. Its specious arguments still sway liberal-arts majors by the thousands.
Kanazawa depends vary greatly on statistical techniques, especially factor analysis. For a work that depends so heavily on statistics, he does very little to explain his statistical methods. He sometimes assumes that the reader knows nothing, and at others a great deal. On the nothing side, talking about intelligence distribution, he says that 5% of the population is very bright (IQ>125) and 20% bright (110-125). No statistical terms whatsoever. Elsewhere, however, he uses the statistical terms of mean and standard deviation, without a background as to how the latter is an expression of how the Gaussian distribution (bell curve) indicates how rare or common a given IQ score is. Here is the title of one of his graphs: "Figure 4.1 Partial association between lifetime number of sex partners and number of children among the less intelligent." The plot shows an upward slanting line amid a sea of dots. The index for children runs from -4 to 8; for sex partners from -100 to 300 (Wilt Chamberlain wasn't one of the dots.) A reasonable person might wonder how it is possible to have a negative number of either children or sex partners. It would help to provide said reasonable person with a discussion of "partialing out" variables in multiple linear regression. Without this help, the average reader will simply say, "Huh?"
Elsewhere, he sometimes normalizes his variables to a mean mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. That's well and good for statisticians, but he is writing a book with a real world audience. The topics he chooses, why homosexuals may be smarter than straight people, why and chosen people are not having children, are aimed to the general audience. He is expecting a higher level of understanding of statistics then he has any right to assume.
Kanazawa's intro says that "Most of the empirical analyses that are summarized in this book use three different data sets: General Social Surveys (GSS) in the US, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) in the US, and the National Child Development Study (NCDS) in the UK." These are long term surveys. The GSS surveys 1500 people (3000 every other year) on a large number of topics. Add Health is a longitudinal survey - it follows 20,000 school children who were selected in 1994-95 through life. The NCDS follows all children born in Great Britain during one week in 1958 (17,000) through life. Each of the surveys includes an IQ component, or a good enough proxy for IQ to satisfy Kanazawa's purposes. As is usually the case in social science, he can be thankful to others' extensive labor in compiling what he got, but has to be mindful of the limitations. Each survey is constrained by the way the questions are worded and the questions that were asked. In each survey participants drop out in non-random ways. The surveys are culture-bound (US and UK) and bound in the case of longitudinal studies to late Baby Boomers (Great Britain) and late Gen X (United States). Societies change over time, and he has chosen cohorts each of which represents only one point on a time continuum. Most significantly, he generalizes from the US and UK to Europe, which might work, and to Asia, which probably does not. He could be accused of being influenced by the "streetlight effect," about which Wikipedia says "The streetlight effect is a type of observational bias where people only look for whatever they are searching by looking where it is easiest.
Surveys are by their nature are imperfect instruments. They generally ask the respondent to answer on a scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 7, from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" or something similar. How the question is worded affects the answer. The respondent may be culturally inclined to avoid - or to take- extreme positions. Survey designers usually include several related questions, so they can compose aggregate answers which are more telling than the individual ones. Still, it is an imperfect art.
Kanawawa's overarching theme is that intelligence correlates highly with a love of novelty, and that our love of novelty often takes us in evolutionarily unsuccessful directions. It is pitched towards a fairly general audience - liberal arts majors. Therefore, the level of statistical understanding that he expects exceeds what can be expected of the type of audience he wants to attract.
The novel things he says we do include among other things homosexual practices, getting a university education, embrace the kinds of universal altruism represented by liberal dogmas, and using drugs and alcohol. To me the point seems a little bit of a stretch. I think that he is at least in part conflating trends which are taken place within American society, or all of Western society over the last century, with with his thesis of novelty.
Classic liberalism was not what we moderns would call liberal: more like libertarianism. The eugenics movement of a century ago was certainly what one would call conservative movement that was led by Victorian intellectuals. Fascism and communism were broad extensions of government, but certainly not consistent with modern liberalism. So to say that liberals are the ones who seek novelty, and are thus intelligent, is a somewhat shaky thesis. Novelty seekers have not always been liberal. An alternative thesis (America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats)) would note that since liberals claimed control of the American campuses worldwide campuses about the 1960s and haven't let it go. Therefore everybody experiencing a university education in the West is brainwashed with an inordinate degree of liberal thought. The question is not why many of them turn out to be liberal, but how some of them manage to survive a college education these days and remain conservative. In other words, it should not attributed merely to the novelty of liberalism.
One observation I will make which Kanazawa should is that there are far more people of exceptional intelligence among North Asian populations than there are among Caucasians. Just by brute numbers, the Chinese and the Koreans and Japanese together number about time and a half the worldwide Caucasian population. As Kanazawa notes, they have a higher average intelligence. Put the two facts together, and the higher up you go in intelligence, 125 would be his cutoff, the greater the proportion of North Asians. By my rough statistics, about three times as many North Asians should have an IQ over 125 as Caucasians. In Excel, =1.5*(1-NORMDIST(125,105,15,TRUE))/(1-NORMDIST(125,100,15,TRUE)). Orientals don't display the same kind of liberalism, and they have a markedly different intellectual history than we do in the West. His thesis certainly should be tested against what's happening in the lands of his ancestors.
I found the book's treatment of homosexuality to be quite interesting. Kanazawa found some sources that I had not seen before, and his percentage attribution of homosexuality to genetics, environment in utero, and the environment in which a child grows up I found to be reasonably credible. He also had a useful four-way division of the definition of homosexuality. How people define themselves, what they do, their reports of the kind of erotic response they feel when exposed same-sex images, and objectively measured response to sexual stimuli. In other words not everybody's going to agree on who is a homosexual who is not. It's a question both of definite feelings and actions, and latent characteristics that may or may not be expressed. All that said, the differences he finds in intelligence between gays and straights seems to be seems to be fairly high. Again, one wonders what he would find in different societies.
One strength of his discussions about homosexuality is his reference to ethnographic literature citing homosexuality in 1500 societies around the world. Basically, it was not much noticed by anthropologists, and he defends the anthropologist's ability to notice these things. I would agree with them that homosexuality is much more evident today than it was even during my childhood 60 years ago. This may be a function of simply revealing latent traits that were there all along, but I suspected it also involves a greater element of choice than the homosexual community would like to admit.
The statistics he presents on the marked difference in intelligence between liberals and conservatives is quite surprising. I could believe this among white populations. Although he does not say which populations he is dealing with, his text reads as if he's talking about white people. However, although this book does not dwell on it, Kanazawa recognizes in his introduction that that black and Hispanic populations are significantly below the whites in average intelligence, and their voting is certainly what a modern would call liberal. Therefore if he is talking about all populations in the United States or in Western Europe, I would be suspicious of his case that liberals are more intelligent. Being conservative is contrary to the interests of less intelligent people. Nobody disputes that less intelligent people benefit more from government largess in government handouts, and most people are at least smart enough to vote their economic self-interest.
I conclude that at the top end of the intelligence distribution he is probably right. The collegiate liberals are people who feel they can be magnanimous with other people's money, and even some of their own. Father down the intelligence and income distribution I think he's got it wrong.
Kanazawa's treatment of religion seems to be quite simplistic. He says that the religious are less intelligent than atheists. I would quibble on several points. First of all, a great many people who claim not to believe in any identified religion cling religiously and without any intellectual curiosity to elements of their liberal dogma. Environmentalism is one of these things, vegetarianism, belief in holistic medicines, bottled water and the evils of circumcision - the list goes on. And they're adamant, as adamant as a fundamentalist with his rattlesnakes.
I pose a philosopher's question, what is religion? Another question would be about religion within cultures. Islam, Hasidic Judaism, and Christian fundamentalism are all quite different. The religion is part and parcel of the culture. I would bet that Mormons and Hasidic Jews are smarter than the average white person. So to generalize about religious belief I think glosses over some pretty important aspects of culture which are associated with religion. Simply to say that atheism is novel is nothing new. Again, there would be a lot to be gained by a discussion of North Asians. The Chinese and Japanese do not have religions in the same sense as people in the West. There is certainly no belief in the divinity of a person such as Christ or the status of a person such as Mohammed. There, religious leaders are regarded as teachers and seldom much more. So one follows the teachers, but one doesn't believe in their divinity. I would call them atheists. Any discussion of religion that doesn't include what the North Asians believe, is kind of off the track. One might well also include Indians, who have a vast number of beliefs, but are not points of belief in divinity in the same way that Christians Jews and Muslims, people of the book, believe in their God.
Certainly more intelligent people led the drug revolution in the US in the `60s. I was there - Berkeley. However, I note that where I now live in Ukraine, the 20-somethings from the top universities with whom I associate have no experience with drugs. Here, as in Brazilian favelas, it is the dead-enders in the lower rungs of society who do drugs. They sniff glue and do needle drugs. For them it is not novelty - it is culture.
As far as sexual experimentation goes, that too changes quite rapidly. I witnessed it go from quite prudish in the `50s, when knocking a girl up was a disaster, to very loose during the sexual revolution of the 60s, to increasingly guarded, first when herpes became widespread, then AIDS. Culture also played a part, especially changing, unpredictable feminist notions of what they wanted men to be. Whether and how a guy got sex changed like lady's fashions - because it was in part a fashion concern. The novel thing is the swiftness with which it changes - for everybody.
In conclusion, I would like to say that what this field of evolutionary biology needs is more people like Kanazawa. Specifically, Kanazawa needs more people against whom he can bounce his ideas. A lot of these ideas are kind of off the wall. They would have benefited by being polished by a larger number of associates with similar views. Unfortunately, the academy the universities absolutely discourage people think and talk about these subjects, and therefore the number who are bold enough to work in this field is quite limited. Kanazawa must feel like he is the last of the Mohicans, the Lone Ranger. I hope his bravado inspires others to stand up against the tyranny of political correctness and join him in doing real science. He has put forth ideas which merit deeper study. Hope somebody rises to the challenge, and helps Kanazawa polish his theses.
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This book is a paradox. It poses as truth-telling science, but it is really an exercise in selective citation of statistics to build a political argument. Its pugnacious style makes for easy reading (thus the two stars not the one or zero the content deserves), but it should be read closely and carefully to spot where the author is trying to cover up cracks in his arguments.
Satoshi Kanazawa is a quantitative psychologist from the same tradition as Jensen, Herrnstein and Murray, the latter two of “The Bell Curve” fame. These writers believe that IQ is measurable, heritable and differs on average across races and sexes. It's no wonder, these authors claim, that African-Americans achieve less success in society, because they are (supposedly) less intelligent. But like the phrenologists of the 19th century, the Bell Curve crowd have had to regroup and modify their arguments because their preferred measure of IQ turned out to correlate with some ideologically inconvenient characteristics, like liberal politics and homosexuality. The right-wing types who liked the Bell Curve’s conclusions about race would not have been happy about these newer conclusions, so the message had to be modified. (Sure you religious conservatives are less intelligent, but that doesn't make you worth less as a person! And anyway, those intelligent people are pretty stupid and don't have enough kids, so you're actually worth more!)
Kanazawa’s argument is summarized succinctly is the conclusion: “...intelligent people fail (or at least are no more successful than less intelligent people) in the most important things in life... Intelligent people - especially intelligent women - make the worst kind of parents, simply because they are less likely to be parents. And intelligent people lack common sense and have stupid ideas.” But where is the evidence for some of these assertions? You will not find anywhere in the book evidence showing intelligent people have fewer or lower-quality friendships. You will not find evidence that intelligent men have fewer children. And the claim in Chapter 5 that intelligent people lack common sense is pure polemic with no evidence: “why are liberals ...so much more likely than conservatives to say and do stupid things and hold incredulous beliefs and ideas that stretch credibility?” He never says what those ideas are, and in the age of the Birther movement, he needs to work a lot harder if he is going to claim liberals are more credulous than right-wingers.
All of these assertions are just pandering to the right-wing religious conservatives at whom the book seems to have been targeted, much like the author’s personal declaration that he hates classical music and likes TV.
Like too many evolutionary psychologists, Kanazawa has shoehorned reams of data to fit a hypothesis based on a false premise. That premise is that the ancestral environment was basically unchanging savannah and that dealing with novelty was not an adaptive trait. Whatever the savannah environment of prior species might have been, the environment of early Homo sapiens - the most relevant one for the development of human intellect - was one of profound instability and change: there was the slight matter of those Ice Ages. Climate change in prehistory didn't always occur in the course of a generation. But sometimes it did, and you can bet that the capacity to deal with it through behavioral innovation was highly adaptive.
A related false premise is that “the ancestral environment”, the Savannah, determined all our natural traits and that the last 10,000 years of sedentary agricultural / civilized existence has exerted no selective pressures. But 10,000 years is at least 300 generations - not enough to evolve intelligence, but enough to turn a 1% per generation advantage - the difference between 2 and 2.02 surviving children per woman - into a factor of 20 difference in population size.
This calculation exposes a logical error in Kanazawa’s argument. If intelligence conveyed no survival advantage in “the” ancestral environment but led to a reproductive disadvantage, it would have been bred out millennia ago. And if any advantage in the modern environment was outweighed by the reproductive disadvantage, again, high intelligence would have declined in prevalence over the recent centuries.
A third false premise of the book’s argument is that a capacity to adapt to change implies a taste for novelty even if that novelty conveys no advantages. Thus the higher average IQ of British (but not American) vegetarians is interpreted as foolish novelty-seeking, rather than an intelligent and common-sense response to the mad cow disease risks in the late 1990s in the UK but not the US (the relevant survey was in 2000). The same intelligent behavioral response to health information also explains the cross-country differences in smoking, too, which Kanazawa’s Intelligence Paradox cannot.
Even if intelligent people are currently less likely to reproduce - and the evidence cited in the book is actually weaker than the Conclusion and the chapter headings make out - this does not mean that this was the case at all times in the past: Kanazawa’s only evidence is from surveys in the past couple of decades. Perhaps more intelligent people are just more likely to respond to recent fears about overpopulation in their individual behaviour.
A fourth false premise is that evolution selects only for those traits that aid survival of one's own children or those of one's direct kin. But as is well known, that makes the evolution of sex and the incest taboo hard to explain (why throw away half your genes?). It also doesn't allow for the fact that humans live and survive only in larger societies, not just small groups of direct relatives sharing at least 1/16 of their genes. In hunter-gatherer societies, groups of at least 150 seemed to be the norm. Kanazawa's argument ignores that it doesn't matter how well adapted you and your kids are, if your group dies out, so do you. So some degree of concern for unrelated or distantly related members of your group actually improves fitness.
Consider then an alternative hypothesis which I am not particularly wedded to, but in my view fits Kurazawa’s own data better than his Intelligence Paradox does. Start from the Ice Age ancestral environment where extreme climate change required adapting to novel situations at least some of the time. Recall that individual survival is contigent on group survival. Bear in mind that exogamous human groups imply that the relevant population group for survival is at least a couple of hundred, not all of whom are close kin. Those conditions would convey an advantage on groups that had at least a few members whose superior reasoning and problem-solving skills allowed them to adapt their behaviour to new situations. The group advantage would be even stronger if those intelligent individuals were concerned about the whole group, not just their own direct kin.
If this is a better set of premises than Kanazawa’s, then it follows that it could be entirely adaptive and natural for successful human groups to contain some people - but not all of them - who are highly intelligent and not narrowly concerned with themselves and their own kin - in other words, liberals rather than conservatives. A slightly weaker tendency to reproduce would be consistent with that broader scope of concern and would explain the correlation between homosexuality and intelligence as well. This point about group fitness highlights another false premise in the work of evolutionary psychologists like Kanazawa. They think that there is a single “right” way to maximize evolutionary fitness, which is to ensure that you and your siblings have the maximum number of babies. Actually, on many dimensions, survival of our genes require some diversity: think immune systems. Intelligence might be an example of this. Nobody can be good at everything, but a sufficiently diverse group can be.
To sum up, this is a polemical book designed to appeal to the prejudices of conservative Americans while rationalizing recent findings of this field in ways that audience will find comforting. It is probably also intended to get sales by stirring up controversy amongst liberals, including by labeling intelligent liberals as “the ultimate losers in life” and “stupid”. I haven't even gotten into the methodology and the odd choices of “experts” cited. The book is a political fairy tale. Fortunately if one is intelligent enough, one can see through the false premises and illogical arguments it contains.