December 3, 2009

Why I'm Steve

Malcolm Gladwell begins his latest tussle with Steven Pinker with these confidence-inducing words:
In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Stephen Pinker responds to my description of him as occupying the “lonely ice floe of IQ fundamentalism”:

If you're going to wrestle with Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker over who is a more credible authority on cognitive science, you should probably try to learn how to spell his first name, especially after the "igon values" fiasco.

By the way, that reminds me of why I'm going to go to my grave still using the adolescent-sounding name of "Steve." I noticed when I was a kid that it was hard for other people to remember whether my name was spelled "Steven" or "Stephen." For some reason, they just didn't care about the matter as much as I did. So, I eventually chose "Steve" to simplify matters for everybody.

Similarly, few can remember what the vowels in my last name are: Sailor? Saylor? Seiler? So when choosing my email address way back in 1996, I just left out the vowels from my last name: SteveSlr.

That's the kind of guy I am: just trying to be helpful.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Difference Maker said...

That's the kind of guy I am: just trying to be helpful.

And it's much appreciated, good sir!

John Craig said...

I'm guessing another reason you're just plain "Steve" is because you're not a pretentious Lefty. And "Steve," btw, does not sound eternally adolescent. "Stevie" and "Steve-arino" sound like teenagers.
"Steve" just sounds like a guy you can depend on (to tell the truth, in this case).

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

two quick notes...

First, Gladwell is reading what he wants to read into the two papers he contrasts. The "Intelligence Knowns and Unknowns" piece says almost exactly the same thing as the "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" piece if you actually understand what they are saying. They differ mostly in the level of detail presented or in the emphasis they put on different points.

For example, both papers agree that all IQ tests measure g, that heritabilty is >=50% in adults, that the Black-White IQ gap is about 1 SD, and that socioeconomic factors are not the explanation for this gap.

So what is Gladwell going on about?

Second, over at Gladwell's blog, someone named Kedar wrote in the comments:

"Simply r square those correlation coefficients (multiply times itself, then by 100) and you get the following:


r squaring .75 is about 55%. The majority of twin studies converge around that figure. That's the majority consensus in the behavior genetics field. Hereditarianism is largely a fringe view, contrary to what it's legions of followers on the internet will tell you."

you don't square the MZA correlations in order to estimate heritability -- the correlation itself is the h^2 parameter estimate. He would know this if he actually read and understood what he qas quoting (from the text he quoted in the same post): "The correlation between MZ twins reared apart, which directly estimates h2".

Like Gladwell, Kedar too can't understand the plain text of these papers!

The obvious explanation is, as is pointed out in the preface of "Intelligence Knowns and Unknowns":

"The debate was characterized by strong assertions as well as by strong feelings. Unfortunately, those assertions often revealed serious misunderstandings of what has (and has not) been demonstrated by scientific research in this field."

More than a decade later people still aren't paying attention to what's been demonstrated by scientific research in the field.

Anonymous said...

How does Gladwell define "IQ fundamentalism"? Is it the belief that IQ actually indicates something significant?

Anonymous said...

Malcolm has misread the texts he summarizes. In fact, both reports present essentially the same conclusions, including those that Malcolm regards are worthy of scorn.

See if you can tell which paper these conclusions come from:

1. "Differences in genetic endowment contribute substantially to individual differences in (psychometric) intelligence."

2. "Individuals are not born with fixed, unchangeable levels of intelligence (no one claims they are)."

3. "The differential between the mean intelligence test scores of Blacks and Whites (about one standard deviation, although it may be diminishing) does not result from any obvious biases in test construction and administration, nor does it simply reflect differences in socio-economic status."

4. "There is no definitive answer to why IQ bell curves differ across racial-ethnic groups. The reasons for these IQ differences between groups may be markedly different from the reasons for why individuals differ among themselves within any particular group (whites or blacks or Asians). In fact, it is wrong to assume, as many do, that the reason why some individuals in a population have high IQs but others have low IQs must be the same reason why some populations contain more such high (or low) IQ individuals than others."

5. "The living conditions of children result in part from the accomplishments of their parents: if the skills measured by psychometric tests actually matter for those accomplishments. intelligence is affecting SES rather than the other way around."

6. "These findings suggest that differences in the life styles of families whatever their importance may be for many aspects of children's lives make little long-term difference for the skills measured by intelligence tests."

7. "The research findings neither dictate nor preclude any particular social policy, because they can never determine our goals. They can, however, help us estimate the likely success and side-effects of pursuing those goals via different means."

8. "Children who participate in "Head Start" and similar programs are exposed to various school-related materials and experiences for one or two years. Their test scores often go up during the course of the program, but these gains fade with time. By the end of elementary school, there are usually no significant IQ or achievement-test differences between children who have been in such programs and controls who have not."

answer: 2,4,7 are from the paper Malcolm condemns and 1,3,5,6,8 are from the paper Malcolm praises.

Black Sea said...

Gladwell made the same mistake in a previous post regarding Pinker, but then again, Shakespeare reputedly spelled his name in various ways, so maybe its an Elizabethan thing, and we wouldn't understand.

Stephen Sailer said...

I know! People are always getting, you and I, confused!

Henry Canaday said...

Thanks for the simplification. It sounds like the way Yiddish was invented. Bag all those umlauts and jaw-breaking chains of consonants, speak as you spell and vice versa, and we all save a lot of time.

I tell people my last name was the original form of Kennedy, until the Irish first mispronounced it, then started misspelling it.

OneSTDV said...

I was wondering why you were still using an AOL e-mail. I guess you just can't let go of it.

I too was an early AOL member (late 1996).

Anonymous said...

Pretty incredible just how stupid the Gladwell atack on Pinker was.

The point of Pinker bringing up the letter signed by the 52 leading scientists was to show that Pinker is NOT on a lonely ice floe.

AndAnd yet Gladwell acts like it refutes Pinker’s point to show that not everyone in the relevant field agrees with Pinker.

Pinker may not have everyone agreeing with him, but he sure as s--t isn’t lonely; which shows how full of it Gladwell was to say he was on lonely ice floe.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I lived in LA and the Chinese manager at the post office in Burbank wouldn't give me a package they were holding for me because it was addressed to Bill and my license said William. It took me forever and I only convinced him after using then-President Clinton as an example.

DCThrowback said...

Steven Saylor: Man of the people.

Anonymous said...

Heh, the steve impersonator/hater is pretty funny.

The pie races. What are they? Why are we so focused on them? and the ultimate rule... WE MUST FIGHT THE BROWNING OF ALL THE PIES!!!

I know this sounds harsh, but it's just what (looks over shoulder) *they* have been doing all along for their own. You know what I'm talking about... Letting in all the dark pies into the store... All the previous bakers (a bunch of brown pie lovers) support this. They think that brown pies sell well and are cheaper then the other pies. Humph.

Just remember that the light pie is the most advanced of all the other pies. Any idiot can brown a pie, back in early history all pies were brown until pie evolution turned the pie (as we know it) into the advanced stage that it is in now! The light pie is a work of art. Made by a true artist.

We must all fight for the light pie's existence.

David said...

> the Chinese manager at the post office in Burbank wouldn't give me a package they were holding for me because it was addressed to Bill and my license said William. It took me forever <

Diversity is our strength.

Anonymous said...

Do you ever get confused with Steven Saylor, the mystery writer who specializes in tales of murder and intrigue during the late Roman Republic period?

Galtonian said...

It does seem that Malcolm Gladwell makes a habit of misspelling first names.

From Gladwell's recent post:

"For those who have not heard about the Pioneer Fund, here is a brief description of its history from “The Pioneer Fund: Bankrolling the Professors of Hate,” by the historian Adam Miller:

In 1937 the Pioneer Fund was founded by Wiclife Draper, whose New England textile fortune started the fund's endowment and helps finance it today."

But the article by Adam Miller available here( spells the name Wickliffe Draper correctly.

Anonymous said...

There was a Steve Sailor where I grew up in the SF-Bay Area. His daughter was the best-looking girl in our school.

dearieme said...

If he wanted to sound more Caribbean, he should call himself Gladwell Malcolm.

Prime said...

Misspelling an enemy's first name is likely to be a passive-aggressive signal of disrespect.

King Rollo said...

Steve has been cool ever since Steve Austin (the Bionic Man, not the wrestler).

tommy said...

There should be one standard spelling for each name. I'm damn tired of seeing perfectly good names like 'Cindy' spelled 'Cindi' or 'Cyndy.'

Kylie said...

"Why I'm Steve"

I thought it was because you're a reductionist.

"That's the kind of guy I am: just trying to be helpful."

Trying and succeeding. Your writing is consistently educational and entertaining, so much so that I deleted my bookmarks to the blogs you link to that I read. Now I just go straight to iSteve and proceed from there.

Stephen said...

Stephen is an older and much, much cooler spelling than "Steven."

Always pronounced with the "v" consonant, though.

Black Sea said...


This seems like a sort of open topic thread, so I'm going to mention that I just read Thomas Friedman's latest opinion piece in The NY Times, and, I might add, its currently most emailed article, titled "This I Believe."

In "This I Believe," (nice archaic inversion, don't you think?) he goes seeking answers as to why "there are so many frustrated and angry people in the Arab-Muslim world, lashing out first at their own governments and secondarily at us — and volunteering for 'martyrdom,'” and concludes, based on the U.N.’s Arab Human Development reports, that one of the three principal reasons is "a deficit of women’s empowerment."

Betcha' didn't know that, did you?

He then goes on to say -- while unveiling various other foreign policy insights -- that the real reason for the Iraq war was "to see if we could partner with Iraqis to help them build something that does not exist in the modern Arab world: a state, a context, where the constituent communities — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — write their own social contract for how to live together without an iron fist from above."

Uh, that's an interesting notion of "partnering" he's got there. We'll invade your country, overthrow your government, instruct you on how to re-write your social contract (assuming we approve of the terms), then scratch our heads when it doesn't quite pan out the way we planned it back in Rumsfeld's sandbox.

Several posts ago -- in the midst of the Gladwell thing -- there was a commenter who wondered why people like me tee-off on Friedman, while treating Gladwell as foible-prone but fairly harmless nerd.

Mystery solved.

Anonymous said...

Have you moved your stuff out of blogger yet?

Outland said...

I don't get IQ sceptics. Just look at the daily news, the world is filled with fools up to the highest office -- and fools are not smart.

What's there to be sceptic about?

Anonymous said...

anon said "Heh, the steve impersonator/hater is pretty funny."

ummmm, no it isn't- in fact it is brutally unfunny.

Reading that was like watching a stand up comedian bomb- painful

anon quit trying to promote your misguided and most importantly, unfunny blog here

ricpic said...

Everybody thinks about his name all life long. It's a very personal matter which means the world to him and nothing to the world. Luckiest are those who are not only reconciled to their names but actually come to like their names. But almost everyone thinks his name could be improved upon. In other words everyone has an ideal name. Seth Grant. That's my ideal name.

Eric said...


I don't think your name sounds any more juvenile than "Stephen".

Truth said...

"Seth Grant. That's my ideal name."

Really sexy, sounds like a Jewish podiatrist named Seth Gildercrantz who changed his name to get accepted to Pebble Beach.

Honestly Steve, you should think about embracing your rather nebulous European Heritage and going with Stephan or Steffan Sailer. The panty-wetter black leather jacket pose won't work anymore, but I can see you in Tweed Herringbone with suede elbow patches and a fluffy white turtleneck. Your IQ will increase by 15 points overnight as well.

Middletown Girl said...

Why I'm the Middletown Girl.

Uptown is too classy, downtown is too crassy.

blue said...

Awwww, you are so cute and sweet!

SGOTI said...

"There should be one standard spelling for each name. I'm damn tired of seeing perfectly good names like 'Cindy' spelled 'Cindi' or 'Cyndy.'"

Sindi works for me though. ;-)

BTW: Seth either sounds too Jewish or too beat-my-ass-and-take-my-lunch-moneyish for me.

Anonymous said...

Misspelling an enemy's first name is likely to be a passive-aggressive signal of disrespect.

That may be why T99 resolutely insists on spelling Buchanan as 'Buchanon'.

Ive seen other Scots-Irish commenters do the same on other sites.

Ive just done a search 'buchanon' - 879,000.

'buchanan' - 62.5 million.

One name is 71 times more commonly cited than the other, why would one consistently pick the lesser of the two?

Mr. Anon said...

The Steve abides.

Anonymous said...

Another Steve here. Only my mother calls me Stephen. I use the shortened form partly for the same reason as you. Unfortunately, it still gets messed up fairly often, especially it seems on wedding invitations. I don't take it as a personal affront, but it does seem careless.

rob said...

Why I'm the Middletown Girl.

Uptown is too classy, downtown is too crassy.

You'll always be "Andrea" Beavis Butthead interracial rape fetishist to me.

Michael said...

Everyone knows that Max Power is the Cadillac of names.

No other names compare.

You don't cuddle with Max Power, you strap yourself in and feel the Gs!

Ronduck said...

Have you moved your stuff out of blogger yet?

I have to agree, at least back up your blog on a free Wordpress account, in case you get deleted like Mangan did. That way if you do get deleted you can simply proceed over to the backup without losing several years of hard work in your archives.

SF said...

If you stick with Steve, you don't have to get into as many fights with jocks who want to call you a faggot by pronouncing it "Steffen."

Truth said...

Does this happen with...forty-six year old men?

Evil Sandmich said...

I use Steve where I can, but it seems the tendency is to use 'Stephen' (like Stephen King), but I remember reading many (many) years ago that the 'ph' version is derived from French while the 'v' variety from...somewhere else I can't recall; so I'm quick to correct those using the 'ph' that mine is 'v'.

To each his own though.