November 18, 2010

Rindermann's "Smart Fraction" paper

I should have gotten around to posting on this before, but here, via Steve Hsu, is the 2009 paper The impact of smart fractions, cognitive ability of politicians and average competences of peoples on social development by Heiner Rindermann, Michael Sailer (no know relation), and James Thompson.

To test La Griffe du Lion's "smart fraction" theory, they first synthesize a large number of results from international school achievement tests (PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS), then convert them to an IQ-like scale where Britain has a mean of 100 and the standard deviation is 15. (They don't use Lynn and Vanhanen's database of IQ tests, but Rindermann previously showed strong correlations between L & V's numbers and performance on international school achievement tests. Just looking through this data from international school achievement tests, it's remarkable how few surprises there are if you are familiar with Lynn and Vanhanen's data from IQ tests.

The most notable difference that jumps out at me is that the Irish do fine on school achievement tests (100), where they've done mediocre on some IQ tests, which I never quite believed. It might be worth investigating this discordance. For some reason, I'm reminded of the story of the English traveler in County Kerry who asks the Irish stationmaster why the clock at the north end of the railway station platform says 12:00 and the clock at the south end of the platform says 12:10: "And what would we be needing two clocks for if they both told the same time?" says the Irishman.

There are big concerns about school achievement tests, such as clarity of translations. Or, what does it mean to test fourth graders? For example, Finland doesn't start kids at regular school until seven. And how do we know the tests are nationally representative? And how do we know how hard the kids worked on the tests? Rindermann's aware of these problems (see his 2007 paper) and he's given it a pretty good shot at working out adjustments. But, the point is that we shouldn't put too much weight on any single number. For example, the Kazakhstan score is based on a single test of a single grade for a single year. (Rindermann should try to come up with a way to summarize how many datapoints he has for each country.)

Since these tests report performance at the 5th and 95th percentiles, we can see not only the means but also the performance at the top and bottom by countries. Here, for example, is the last page of their results, Singapore to Yugoslavia/Serbia.

Singapore, a high-income high-cost, well-administered city-state, has the highest school achievement test scores in the world at their 95th percentile. It would be interesting to compare a metropolitan area, such as Silicon Valley, to Singapore. Judging by National Merit Scholar awards, the southern half of Silicon Valley would blow away even Singapore at the 95th percentile.

They write:
The highest values for the smart fractions are found in East Asia (1. Singapore IQ 127, 2. South Korea IQ 125, 3. Japan IQ 124, 5. Taiwan IQ 123, 9. Hong Kong IQ 122). A similar result was found in psychometric (average) intelligence or in student assessment studies (see Rindermann, 2007a). Different from the SAS, Scandinavia reaches in the cognitive elite not such a good rank (11. Finland IQ 121, 12. Estonia IQ 121 [the Baltics are added here], 16. Sweden IQ 120, 25. Denmark IQ 118, 34. Latvia IQ 117, 38. Lithuania IQ 116, 39. Iceland IQ 116, 41. Norway IQ 116). Maybe a homogenizing educational policy furthering weaker but disadvantaging high ability pupils leads to a smaller standard deviation and lower values for a gifted subgroup. Better are the traditional Commonwealth countries (5. New Zealand IQ 123, 7. Australia IQ 122 and 8. United Kingdom with IQ 122). They are followed by Western and Eastern European and North American countries, by South European countries, Arab or Muslim and Latin American countries and finally by sub-Saharan countries.

Most of the Gulf Arab countries do awful, but United Arab Emirates does quite well (mean 92).

The countries with the lowest results [at the 95th percentile] are 84. Botswana (IQ 96), 85. Saudi-Arabia (IQ 95), 86. Morocco (IQ 95), 87. Kyrgyzstan (IQ 94), 88. Belize (IQ 90), 89. Ghana (IQ 89) and 90. Yemen (IQ 84). Presumably many not participating countries would have lower values.

Some astonishing results are observable like the high level of Kazakhstan (6., IQ 122) and the comparatively low for Israel (31., IQ 118, mean 93).

You mean, we were lied to by the movie Borat?
For Kazakhstan we have only results from TIMSS 2007 (4th grade); Mullis et al. (2008, p. 34) describe sample anomalies, a correction would be necessary. Israel has participated in several studies, compared to older studies and [for?] Jews in the Western World the results are deteriorating (e.g. Lynn & Longley, 2006). Most probably multiple reasons are responsible and not only the 20% fraction of Arabs (a thorough analysis would be necessary).

Israel's score at the 95th percentile is ahead of Norway's, so it's not that bad, but Long Island would probably do better. Israel is a country where Zionist intellectuals designed a populist, non-intellectual culture, so smart kids don't get as much cultural backing in Israel as in other parts of the Jewish diaspora.

There are also characteristic differences between mean, upper and lower levels. For instance between Canada and USA there is no difference in the upper level (IQ 120 and 120), but in the lower level (IQ 80 and 75). The past history of slavery and a different immigration policy (or different success of migration policies and geographical distance to societies with lower mean abilities) may be reflected into this difference. A similar pattern could be found for Finland and Germany: The difference in the upper level is only 1.20 IQ-points (IQ 121 and 120), but at the lower level 9.60 IQ-points (IQ 85 and 76). Most likely different immigration histories are reflected here, furthermore differences in educational policy (age of tracking, in Germany between age 10 and 12, in Finland at age 16). Early tracking increases ability variance.

I presume Thilo Sarrazin was thinking about results like this? It would be fun to see Jurgen Habermas respond to Rindermann.

Using regression analysis (as predictors mean and lower level) the largest residual (standing for difference between upper level and the rest) is found in South Africa (with its heterogeneous population of European, Asian and African descent), inverted the largest residual (standing for difference between lower level and the rest) is found in Belgium (probably a result of immigration and educational policy).

A few other notes: Armenia has a low bottom but a decent high end, close to Norway and Belgium. Armenia scores better than Georgia. Oddly, Azerbaijan beats Armenia at the bottom but has a very poor top.

Ireland, which has lagged in some IQ tests in the past, does fine (99.9), almost exactly the same as the U.K. (by definition, 100.0).

Mexico does crummy (65, 85, 105). If you want to complain about teacher's unions, start with Mexico, where teachers have a hereditary right to pass their jobs down to their offspring! Mexico ought to be able to bump these numbers up. Brazil is another country with a weak high end (105).

China and India aren't on the list.

Estonia and Finland, neither of which has many immigrants, have about the narrowest 5th to 95th percentile gaps among smart countries: 36 points. In contrast, Japan, which we like to think of as homogeneous, is 41 points, Taiwan 41, South Korea 39, Hong Kong 38, and Singapore 48.

South Korea (106) has the highest mean and highest 5th percentile (86).

They go on to evaluate La Griffe's Smart Fraction theory. Also, here's Rindermann's 2007 paper, with responses.

November 17, 2010

"American Narcissus: The Vanity of Barack Obama"

Jonathan V.  Last had a good article a few weeks ago in The Weekly Standard demonstrating the size of the President's ego.

For example, he highlights this quote from a 2008 Ryan Lizza profile of Obama:
Obama said that he liked being surrounded by people who expressed strong opinions, but he also said, “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” 

If true, Obama should have hired better speechwriters, policy directors, and political directors ASAP.

Two points:
Does Obama have a sense of humor about his egomania? For example, 
Just a few weeks ago, Obama was giving a speech when the actual presidential seal fell from the rostrum. “That’s all right,” he quipped. “All of you know who I am.” 

Now, that's not a bad ad-lib. I'm sometimes surprised by Obama's wit because Dreams from My Father is so self-serious. Still, I'm left wondering about whether Obama makes many second order jokes about his ego? (I don't watch TV news so I can't say.) Or does he take himself that seriously? You can't expect a President to be humble, but you can hope he'll be self-aware about his ego. Some of Obama's more egregious lines in Last's compendium could be taken as Obama mocking his own ego, but I haven't noticed that he does that. But I could be wrong.

The second point is that Obama's Smartest-Guy-in-the-Room syndrome is directly related to his being constantly seen by his admirers (including his Admirer-in-Chief, the President) as the Living Refutation of The Bell Curve. It's not a coincidence that just about the only exercise in national journalism Obama indulged in during the 1990s was to deliver on NPR in 1994 a commentary on The Bell Curve

Much of David Remnick's hagiography The Bridge, for instance, consists of smart Jewish people raving about how smart Obama is. He was the one they'd been waiting for to hold up as an example of a smart black guy, which, in turn, in the "He who says A must say B, C, and D" reasoning that dominates American intellectual life today, could be read to also imply the really important lesson of all this: that Jews aren't naturally smarter on average (so put away those pitchforks). 

I know this web of subliminal logic seems ridiculous when exposed to the light of day, but that's how a lot of important people feel.

The problem with all this investment in Obama's smartness as more than just a personal characteristic is that for any of minions to say to him, "No, Mr. President, you don't understand" or "Let me try to explain that more simply" is not just a personal and political insult, but is also a racial insult.


Back in 2007, freshman UCLA basketball center Kevin Love -- whose father Stan played for awhile in the NBA and whose uncle Mike (and Kevin's more distant relatives, the Wilsons) were in the Beach Boys -- dominated the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament, only to look slow and short (he's 6-7.75 barefoot) and white against Memphis St.'s NBA-level athletes in the semifinals. 

My idea at the time was that rather than head immediately to the NBA, Kevin Love should announce he was going to stay all four years at UCLA. That would make him very popular in SoCal (which should pay off in the long run), attract numerous one-and-done superstar recruits to UCLA, and probably lead to one or two national titles. (The downside is that the NBA pays by check and college basketball chews up your knees -- e.g., Patrick Ewing's 4 years at Georgetown were more awesome defensively than his career with the Knicks.)

Love, however, thought he knew better than I did about just how good he was, so he went to the NBA.

It turns out: he was right. This year, at age 22, when he'd be a senior at UCLA under the Sailer Plan, Love is making like the second coming of Moses Malone, leading the NBA in rebounding following last week's game in which he became the first man since Moses in 1982 to have 30 points and 30 rebounds in one game. 

Last year, I though the same thing about running back Toby Gerhart of Stanford: he should announce he was passing up the NFL to try to lead Stanford to the national title in football, which would make him very popular in Silicon Valley, which can't be a terribly bad thing. But he went to the NFL, where he's gotten a couple of dozen carries as a backup for Adrian Peterson's in Minnesota, averaging 3.6 yards per carry, which is okay, but isn't exactly leading fans to demand Peterson be benched.

The funny thing is that Stanford just might have won the national title this year if Gerhart had returned for his last year of eligibility. This year, Stanford is 9-1 and #6 in the BCS rankings, with a terrific quarterback in Andrew Luck and an amazing story in Owen Marecic, who is starting at both fullback and middle linebacker. I remember when Tommy Nobis and Leroy Keyes started on both offense and defense in college in the mid-1960s, but not many since then. Marecic has scored four touchdowns rushing and one on an interception return (scoring on offense and defense on consecutive plays from scrimmage against Notre Dame.) 

Stanford's only loss was to #1 ranked Oregon, a game in which Stanford took a 21-3 lead. But, they didn't grind out the clock because they they failed to get the ball enough to Gerhart.

So, I've only been proven wrong in one of my two suggestions, at least so far.

November 16, 2010

"127 Hours"

From my movie review in Taki's Magazine:
The exuberant 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle’s first movie since winning the Best Picture Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, is surprisingly comparable to The Social Network.
While 127 Hours is shorter, slighter, and more upbeat, both films are deftly made reconstructions of famous 2003 events within young elite subcultures: Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg founding Facebook and alpinist Aron Ralston walking away from a solo canyoneering accident by amputating his own arm.
Both movies overcome their inherently static situations through showbiz razzmatazz. Aaron Sorkin enlivens a story of typing and giving depositions with snappy dialogue. Boyle employs flashbacks, hallucinations, alternative endings, and his zap-pow digital cinematography to juice up the tale of a man, his hand wedged to a canyon wall by a fallen boulder, contemplating his options: somehow survive in a crack in the Utah desert on a liter of water until somebody stumbles upon him; rig a pulley to lift the 800-pound rock; chip the boulder away; perform radical surgery on himself with a dull knife; or die. 

Read the rest there.

By the  way, here's the story of Leonid Rogozov (1934-2000), a Soviet surgeon wintering at a scientific station in Antarctica in 1961, who successfully performed a two-hour long appendectomy on himself using a mirror.

November 14, 2010

How could Obama earn re-election?

My new column:  "How Obama Could Earn Re-Election"
In an alternative universe in which John McCain had had the guts to take Obama to the mat over Rev. Wright, the Arizonan likely would have made a pretty miserable President. Yet one constructive thing McCain would have been politically well-positioned to do—if he so chose—would have been to use his reputation for bloodthirstiness to instead declare victory in the expensive war in Afghanistan and bring the troops home.

In contrast, Obama, hamstrung by his lack of military credibility, is now hinting that he’ll keep troops in Afghanistan past his announced withdrawal date of 2011, all the way to 2014.

So in what field does Obama have the personal credibility to declare victory and bring the troops home?

Where does he possess the personal authority to end a wasteful war, thus simultaneously improving the economy and getting himself re-elected by reassuring white voters? 

To find out the answer, read the whole thing here.

The NYT on Thilo Sarrazin, again

In the New York Times, Michael Slackman delivers yet another deeply researched, tremendously well-informed, empirical-minded news article on the complex subjects being currently discussed by one million book buyers in Germany:

The debate started off boring and slow with Thilo Sarrazin trying to bullshit everyone with a bunch of smart talk: 'Blah blah blah. You gotta believe me!' That part of the controversy sucked! But then the Chief J. just went off. He said, 'Man, whatever! The guy's guilty of being a Nazi! We all know that.' And he sentenced his ass to one night of rehabilitation

Corporations and Left Conspire in Australia

Australians have been deeply worried in this century about two problems: running out of water and potentially rising seas due to carbon emissions. As Jared Diamond pointed out in Collapse, one obvious step is to take the pedal off the metal when it comes to immigration to Australia. The more people in Australia, the less water per person. And the more people who move to Australia from Asia, the more people on Earth shift from public transport and motor scooters to roaring around like Mad Max, with an inevitable increase in carbon emissions. (Australia and Canada are right behind the U.S. in carbon emissions per capita.)

This logic is so obvious that it actually broke through to public consciousness in the last Australian election, with both parties calling for moderation on immigration. 

But now the election is over, with Labour (the left in Australia) winning a very narrow victory, so business interests are back to quietly shushing up this outbreak of common sense and potential majority rule. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Josh Gordon

November 14, 2010
JULIA GILLARD's election pitch to avoid a ''big Australia'' is to be abandoned after a Treasury warning that strong future immigration is ''probably inescapable''.

In another policy retreat, the government's population review has been delayed and ''recalibrated'' to focus on skills shortages and regional growth, rather than nominating population targets.

During the election campaign in August, Ms Gillard said Australia should not ''hurtle'' towards a big population. At the time, she said a Treasury projection that Australia would have a population of 36 million people by 2050 was excessive. ''I don't support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say … a 36 million-strong Australia,'' she said.

However, a Treasury briefing sent to Ms Gillard after the campaign suggests she could have no choice. The briefing warns that the prediction of 36 million people ''factors in a significant reduction'' in migration, from a recent peak of 300,000 to an annual average of 180,000.

It concludes that even if annual net migration was lowered to an unrealistically low 60,000 per annum, Australia's population would still reach 29 million by 2050.

''Given the powerful global forces driving the Australian economy, net immigration figures well in excess of that low number are probably inescapable,'' the briefing says.

''Strong population growth is not necessarily unsustainable. It need not adversely affect the environment, the liveability of cities, infrastructure and service delivery, provided the right plans and policies are put in place now in anticipation of it.''

I realize that a Treasury ministry can't be expected to keep up to date with all the breakthroughs in economic reasoning made between the Enlightenment and 1914, but there is this hot new idea around called "opportunity cost."
A senior Labor source said business groups had been pressuring the government to adopt a default position ''where the issue of specific targets is not addressed''.

''I believe the government has accepted the reality that it is not prepared to cut migration to the extent needed to significantly reduce population growth,'' the source said. ...

Days before the election was called in July, Mr Burke appointed three population panels to provide advice on demographic change and liveability, productivity and prosperity, and sustainable development.

Treasury's budget update released last week predicted that unemployment will fall to 4.5 per cent by June 2011, heightening concerns that skills shortages could re-emerge as a key issue.

Asked if it was prudent to be talking about immigration cuts at such a time, Treasurer Wayne Swan said the government had refocused the migration program on skills.

Unemployment could fall to 4.5%? The horror, the horror ...