Archive for the ‘Intelligence’ Category

The shameful vilification of James Watson

December 12, 2014

In a recent post about the Nobel ceremony I observed that James Watson who had sold his Nobel medal had it returned to him by the purchaser. Apart from his recognition along with Crick and Wilkins for their DNA work, he has been and still is one of the most important evolutionary biologists of our time. But he has become persona non grata now with the self-appointed guardians of public morality and the prevailing “political correctness” which disallows “intelligence” – however it may be defined – from being in any way dependent upon the genetic variations between different human populations. His vilification and downfall was a rapid business in 2007, even though, everything Watson got in trouble for saying was entirely correct” as Gene Expression pointed out in October 2007:

It’s difficult to name many more important living figures in 20th century biology than James Watson. He ushered in the current age of molecular biology with his achievements in 1953, he built up one of the world’s greatest biological research facilities from damn near scratch, and he is a former head of the Human Genome Project.
Given such an august curriculum vitae, you would think that this man perhaps understands just a few things about genetics. But given only the condescending media coverage, you’d think this eminent geneticist was somehow “out of his depth” on this one.
In his interview with the Times on Oct. 14th, we learned that:

… [Watson] is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address.

These thoughts were a continuation of an important theme in his book Avoid Boring People:

… there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.

Although Watson’s book had already been out for a month with these more euphemistic, but still obvious, comments on race and intelligence, no one expressed any outrage. In fact the reviews were reverential and universally positive.
The explicit reference to intelligence and people of African heritage in his interview was clearly a violation of a much more formidable taboo. Still I am not aware of there being much noise about it until Oct. 17th when the Independent caused an immediate stir by calling attention to the remarks: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners says DNA pioneer.
There’s no point in rehashing the rapid sequence of events in detail: several of Watson’s sold-out speaking engagements were cancelled, many critical articles appeared in the British press, trailed by the American press a few days later, hundreds of blogs were fuming with negative commentary, including ones by the editors of Scientific American and Wired Magazine, a number of associations issued statements condemning his words, and soon he was suspended from his chancellorship at Cold Spring Harbor. Watson cancelled his already ruined book tour and flew home to tend to the destruction. It was too late; the eminent biologist retired in disgrace on Oct. 26th. 
One thing, though, was conspicuously missing from this whole irritating denouement: any semblance of factual refutation. There is good reason for this: everything Watson got in trouble for saying was entirely correct!

Gene Expression goes on to show that the data support what James Watson said.

Unfortunately our esteemed band of sputtering media scientists forgot to provide, in all of these instances, any of their allegedly voluminous citations to the contrary. Allow me, then, to take a different position, with the added benefit of evidence: ………

………. 65 psychometric intelligence study citations for sub-Saharan Africa, collected in IQ & Global Inequality, Race Differences in Intelligence, and IQ & the Wealth of Nations. The citations cover 47% of SS African countries or 78% of the people by national population numbers. The studies vary in quality, sample size, and representativeness, but broadly agree in their findings. Representative studies of the school age population with large sample sizes do not exhibit higher scores, much less scores that approach anything like European norms. …..

….. Thus typical African IQ scores of 70 and below can still be taken as a reliable finding. It is not simply the manufactured data of racialist researchers, or a byproduct of inadequate testing procedures. And, more importantly from the standpoint of the Watson controversy, certainly no reliable body of evidence has shown anything like parity with typical European scores.

The entire episode and shameful treatment meted out to Watson by an unscrupulous and sensationalist media and by politically correct but cowardly members of the scientific community was based, I think, on

  • the intellectual laziness in defining what “race” is, and the sloppy way in which the term is used, and 
  • a fear of confronting the ideological notion that some meaningless, diffuse “equality” of all humans transcends and overrides the real genetic variations due to ancestry

We use the term “race” colloquially and loosely and for convenience. There is no firm scientific definition of what constitutes a “race”. Often it is taken – wrongly – to be just a difference of skin colour. The politically correct brigade claim that race is a “social construct” but this is just nonsense. An “African-American” carries genes from his African ancestry and not any particular social behaviour from his ancestors. But “race” is also a dynamic term and shifts with the generations of man. The races we recognise and classify humans into today, is based on the prevailing groupings of populations that are convenient today. Fifty generations ago the “races” of that time would have been quite different. And fifty generations from now they will be quite different to the “races” we recognise today. The classification is about ancestry and is based on (or should be based on) the separate packages of genetic characteristics (some visible and some not) which are discernible and allow the grouping and classification of populations.

It seems perfectly logical, and is highly probable, that humans, though they may have originated from just a few relatively small populations out of Africarabia, have then over the next 5,000 generations, continued evolving in situ, giving the genetic diversity and the consequent physical diversity that we see today. The geographical populations we observe today are the result both of evolution in situ and a plethora of admixtures as people have migrated and mixed over the last 100,000 years. There were no “African-Americans” 50 generations ago. But already “African-Americans” today are different to “Africans” and both continue to evolve and develop in situ. It is quite unlikely that “African-American” or “Asian-British” or “Turkish-Germans” or “Chinese-Indonesian” will be classifications of race or ethnicity that will be used 50 generations from now. This geographically evolved and still evolving diversity, already shows up as genetic differences not only of skin, eye and hair colour but also as differences in disease resistance, physical characteristics, athletic capabilities, behaviour and surely many more invisible (including mental) characteristics.

We have no difficulty in accepting that different populations (effectively different races in colloquial usage) have differences of physical characteristics due to their genetic ancestry. There is no great outrage now that recent studies point to some genetic differences that Tibetans have which may give them an advantage in absorbing oxygen at high altitudes. Similarly there are no screams when other genetic studies suggest that East Africans (Kenyans and Ethiopians in the main) have some genes – or combination of genes – which give them better endurance and therefore – given good nourishment – lead to better performance as long distance runners. West Africans, or those of West African descent, it seems may have some genetic advantages which make them the fastest sprinters over short distances. African genes also seem to give a lower fat content in body mass – which is genetic – and may be one explanation why their performance as swimmers is less than exceptional. That Indians are more prone to Type 2 diabetes than other “races” is not indignantly opposed but just taken for the observation it is. Indian-Americans (3 generations) are already exhibiting lower rates than their Indian ancestry would indicate. Japanese have very low rates of heart disease but already (in less than 6 generations) Japanese-Hawaiians have heart disease rates that are 2 -3 times higher.

It is illogical to assume that these genetic variations between different geographic populations ( colloquially “races”) have only manifested themselves as physical variations. It is highly probable and probably inevitable that these genetic developments will also have affected the brain, its functioning and behaviour. And intelligence.

“Intelligence” is many things to many people and – by most definitions – more than just an IQ test. The IQ test only really measures the ability to do the test. Nevertheless the IQ test results do seem to correlate well to whatever we may choose to call intelligence. There is without doubt a genetic component to both intelligence and IQ test results. IQ test measurements do show that results are significantly lower – for whatever reason –  among sub-Saharan African populations – on average. If intelligence has a genetic component and the colloquial use of the term “race” refers to an identifiable population exhibiting a certain package of genetic characteristics, then it is quite likely that the different genetic packages lead to some differences of intelligence.

If it is acceptable – and not racist – to observe that there are genetic differences in physical characteristics between the “races” of today, then it is just as acceptable and no more racist to observe that there are genetic differences of intelligence between the “races” of today.

That is all that Watson said.

(What “intelligence” actually is or may be is another story for another day).

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More spying, less intelligence?

June 13, 2014

The level of blanket spying by the US agencies (aided and abetted by so-called intelligence agencies of friendly countries), apparently on anyone and everything, as revealed by Edward Snowden, was amazing but not particularly shocking. It is not just enemies abroad who have been monitored. Even US citizens and organisations  have been subject to eavesdropping, hacking, entrapment and plain theft. The NSA has even targeted the conversations of heads of friendly countries in their insatiable quest for information. The volume of information gathered and still being collected is truly staggering. All kinds of information is collected across every conceivable field. It covers law enforcement interests, foreign policy and industrial espionage. It ranges from financial matters related to tax evasion or money laundering, to the plans of terrorist groups, to the criminal activities of international gangs to industrial espionage of benefit to US corporations.

Of course converting information into intelligence takes much analysis which requires the application of mind. Then converting intelligence into actions requires the will and the ability to act upon the intelligence. In spite of the huge amount of information that has been gathered, I have a clear perception that both the conversion of raw information into intelligence and the translation of intelligence into actions have been conspicuous by their absence.

The events in Iraq over the last week are just one of a long line of instances where either the intelligence services have been caught napping or there is an extraordinary sequence of political failures to act upon available intelligence. Probably it is a combination of both.

By the nature of spying, cases of successful intelligence analysis may never be known. But the number of apparent failures gives no confidence that the extensive spying is leading to any better intelligence. The massive gathering of information has certainly not managed to anticipate or prevent a very large number of unpleasant happenings – both domestically in the US and abroad.

  • 74 school shootings in the US since the start of 2013
  • bank scandals in the last 10 years where raw information was around but was not properly analysed
  • the Boston marathon bombing
  • the Arab Spring and especially the revolution in Egypt and the return of the military more recently
  • the premeditated attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi
  • the consequence of supporting the rebels in Syria and the rise of the jihadists (including ISIS),
  • the return of the Taliban in Afghanstan
  • the rise of ISIS in Iraq and the collapse of the regular, US-trained, Iraqi troops

Of course some of the failures to act may well have been due to a lack of political action rather than a failure of intelligence. Barack Obama is so risk-averse that he generally overthinks every issue and then always chooses the “do nothing” option. In Iraq now, all that was ever supposedly gained during the war there is threatened and crumbling. Even so, in the face of this “urgent emergency” (is there any other kind?) he stated cautiously yesterday that all options were still on the table and that he is considering every option. But he may not actually order anything beyond a few drone strikes in support of  Nouri al-Maliki. And once again – as in the case of Syria – he may find that the US has helped create a monster for the future. And he may find himself reluctantly allied with Iran.

NYTimes:

The possibility of coming to Iraq’s rescue raises a host of thorny questions for Mr. Obama, who has steadfastly resisted being drawn into sectarian strife in Iraq or its neighbor, Syria. Republican lawmakers accused him of being caught flat-footed by the crisis and of hastening this outcome by not leaving an adequate American force behind after 2011.

Reports that Iran has sent its paramilitary Quds Force to help the struggling Iraqi Army battle the militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, raised the awkward possibility that the United States could find itself allied with Iran in shoring up an unpopular Shiite government in Baghdad. The White House said it was aware of the reports, but did not confirm them.

Mr. Obama insisted he had been monitoring the threat from Sunni militant groups for several months. The United States, he said, had supplied Iraq with military equipment and intelligence. 

The Washington Post writes that “despite years of training and billions of dollars in U.S. time and equipment, Iraq’s military is still a “checkpoint Army,” more interested in manning roadblocks than developing intelligence and engaging in counterinsurgency missions”.

Saddam Hussain was no doubt one of the “bad guys”. But under his regime no mad jihadist leader or an ISIS army would have been allowed to establish itself, grow and then expand as Nouri al-Maliki’s government with US military support has permitted.

Chinese back doors and mincing rascals from the US!

May 21, 2014

The United States on Monday charged  five Chinese military officers and accused them of hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets, ratcheting up tensions between the two world powers over cyber espionage.

Washington is playing the victim of cyber-espionage when in fact it is the world’s top intelligence power, a Chinese state-run newspaper has said in a sharply worded editorial after US authorities levelled criminal hacking charges at China’s army. “Regarding the issue of network security, the US is such a mincing rascal that we must stop developing any illusions about it,” wrote the Global Times, which is close to the ruling Communist party.

Meanwhile we learn from the Snowden affair that the US Government turned Silicon Valley into a surveillance partner. The second part of the United States of Secrets is to be broadcast by PBS tonight.

Increasingly industrial systems have their hardware  and/or their control systems equipped, at the time of manufacture, with “backdoors” to allow remote access at some future time. Inevitably the backdoors” are associated with embedded software very often with features to make it undetectable. These include power plants and their components, industrial control systems, access control systems, network appliances, surveillance systems, communication devices and even commercial aircraft.

In the US not only the software giants (Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook…), but even hardware manufacturers such as Boeing and GE and IBM and even automotive companies have been involved with installing “backdoors” and their associated software (malware) into their products.  Many US companies have regularly utilised their security services for industrial espionage and it is not very surprising that they feel beholden. Intelligence agencies in the US and Australia and the UK are not permitted to use Chinese Lenovo hardware because they are suspected of containing hidden  “backdoors”. Lenovo isn’t unique. Chinese firms accused of espionage in the past include Huawei and ZTE. Chinese government organisations in their turn are not permitted to use Microsoft products and Windows 8 is especially suspected for its many hidden, built-in vulnerabilities.

There is much active research in designing and hiding “backdoors” and in detecting and disabling them.

Hardware backdooring is practical, Jonathan Brossard, Blackhat Briefings and Defcon Conferences, Las Vegas, 2012

(We) will demonstrate that permanent backdooring of hardware is practical. We have built a generi proof of concept malware for the Intel architecture, Rakshasa, capable of infecting more than a hundred dierent motherboards. The net effect of Rakshasa is to disable NX permanently…. resulting in permanent lowering of the security of the backdoored computer, even after complete erasing of hard disks and re-installation of a new operating system. We shall also demonstrate that preexisting work on …. subversions such as bootkiting and preboot authentication software, brute-force or faking can be embedded in Rakshasa with little effort.

Silencing Hardware Backdoors, Adam Waksman and Simha Sethumadhavan, SP ’11 Proceedings of the 2011 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy,Pages 49-63

Hardware components can contain hidden backdoors, which can be enabled with catastrophic effects or for ill-gotten profit. These backdoors can be inserted by a malicious insider on the design team or a third-party IP provider. In this paper, we propose techniques that allow us to build trustworthy hardware systems from components designed by untrusted designers or procured from untrusted third-party IP providers. We present the first solution for disabling digital, design-level hardware backdoors. The principle is that rather than try to discover the malicious logic in the design–an extremely hard problem–we make the backdoor design problem itself intractable to the attacker. The key idea is to scramble inputs that are supplied to the hardware units at runtime, making it infeasible for malicious components to acquire the information they need to perform malicious actions.

The US accusing China is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. But the black methods now surely being used by the Chinese were all invented first in the US and probably under State sponsorship.

There are many Big Brothers out there.

Are IQ tests fundamentally flawed?

December 20, 2012

The issue is not measurement – for measurements made properly do not lie.

But the interpretation of what they measure and how they may be related to what we choose to call “intelligence” is controversial. The uncertainty is exacerbated by the varying definitions of what “intelligence” is. Where is the boundary between native intelligence and that dependent upon some measure of knowledge? Is there intelligence without memory or artificial intelligence without data storage? Is intelligence just processing power or is it processing with purpose? Does judgement matter? Or the speed of learning? Can there be wisdom without intelligence?

Nevertheless “well-constructed IQ tests are generally accepted as an accurate measure of intelligence by the scientific community”.

IQ scores are used as predictors of educational achievement, special needs, job performance and income. They are also used to study IQ distributions in populations and the correlations between IQ and other variables. The average IQ scores for many populations have been rising at an average rate of three points per decade since the early 20th century, a phenomenon called the Flynn effect. It is disputed whether these changes in scores reflect real changes in intellectual abilities.

Science Daily reports on a new paper : “After conducting the largest online intelligence study on record, a Western University-led research team has concluded that the notion of measuring one’s intelligence quotient or IQ by a singular, standardized test is highly misleading.”

Fractionating Human Intelligence by Adam Hampshire, Roger R. Highfield, Beth L. Parkin and Adrian M. Owen, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.06.022

(A pdf version of the paper is available here).

Summary

What makes one person more intellectually able than another? Can the entire distribution of human intelligence be accounted for by just one general factor? Is intelligence supported by a single neural system? Here, we provide a perspective on human intelligence that takes into account how general abilities or “factors” reflect the functional organization of the brain. By comparing factor models of individual differences in performance with factor models of brain functional organization, we demonstrate that different components of intelligence have their analogs in distinct brain networks. Using simulations based on neuroimaging data, we show that the higher-order factor “g” is accounted for by cognitive tasks corecruiting multiple networks. Finally, we confirm the independence of these components of intelligence by dissociating them using questionnaire variables. We propose that intelligence is an emergent property of anatomically distinct cognitive systems, each of which has its own capacity. 

Highlights

  •  We propose that human intelligence is composed of multiple independent components
  •  Each behavioral component is associated with a distinct functional brain network
  •  The higher-order “g” factor is an artifact of tasks recruiting multiple networks
  •  The components of intelligence dissociate when correlated with demographic variables
While this paper adds weight to the view that the standard IQ test is much too simplistic, I tend to accept that IQ tests do measure some diffuse thing which is connected to whatever can be said to constitute intelligence. But in over 30 years of recruiting I have never found it particularly decisive as a selection criterion. While it has been sometimes helpful in screening a large number of applicants, I cannot recall a single instance where an IQ score has been the deciding factor for my making a selection.

“Selection” lies in the begetting and evolution is just a result

November 19, 2012

Recently I posted about two  papers by Gerald Crabtree who suggested that perhaps human intelligence peaked as hunter-gatherers, and

“that we are losing our intellectual and emotional capabilities because the intricate web of genes endowing us with our brain power is particularly susceptible to mutations and that these mutations are not being selected against in our modern society”.

Apparently it is not politically correct to suggest that humanity might be on a “degenerative” evolutionary path for intelligence and Crabtree’s speculations have been the subject of indignant criticism:

Why Gerald Crabtree’s speculations about declining human intelligence are wrong: ….  But like Sanford, Crabtree fails to analyse the problem correctly. In particular, neither show any understanding of quantitative genetics (this is the area of genetics that deals with lots of genes acting on a trait). But unlike young earth creationist Sanford, Crabtree doesn’t even bother to present any data to indicate that an intellectual decline has actually happened.

Discussions and arguments about “intelligence and race” or the “future evolution of intelligence”  or “what intelligence is” or whether “intelligence is selected by natural selection” are fascinating but – in evolutionary terms – are largely irrelevant. Evolution is not a force of change. It is the consequences of a response to change, a result – a report-card of what has happened before.

What counts for evolution – both for what has happened before and for what will happen in the future –  is which inheritable traits lead to the most begetting. It is in the begetting of offspring that all “selection” lies. This applies both with natural and with artificial selection. All other traits which happen to be present in the individual organisms being reproduced and which are inheritable are only carried along with the ride.

(more…)

Is human intelligence declining?

November 13, 2012

There is as yet no evidence, no hard data, no way of testing his speculation but Gerald Crabtree, a genetics Professor at Stanford University, believes that human evolution no longer selects for or favours intelligence. Our intelligence may have peaked as hunter-gatherers.

He has a point.

The intricacies of modern, “civilised”, human society where “weak” members of society are cared for by others, are such that many genetic characteristics have effectively been decoupled from survival and reproduction. “Intelligence” as one such genetic charateristic is no longer something that affects survival or reproduction. In fact from the fertility rates around the world today it is already apparent that the greater the wealth (GDP) the lower the reproduction rate. I am not sure if it can be shown explicitly but I suspect that a similar relationship may apply and that the greater the “intelligence” the lower the reproduction rate.

Crabtree has published 2 papers in Trends in Genetics

  1. Gerald R. Crabtree. Our fragile intellect. Part ITrends in Genetics, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2012.10.002
  2. Gerald R. Crabtree. Our fragile intellect. Part IITrends in Genetics, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2012.10.003

Science Daily: 

Human intelligence and behavior require optimal functioning of a large number of genes, which requires enormous evolutionary pressures to maintain. A provocative hypothesis … suggests that we are losing our intellectual and emotional capabilities because the intricate web of genes endowing us with our brain power is particularly susceptible to mutations and that these mutations are not being selected against in our modern society.

“The development of our intellectual abilities and the optimization of thousands of intelligence genes probably occurred in relatively non-verbal, dispersed groups of peoples before our ancestors emerged from Africa,” says the papers’ author, Dr. Gerald Crabtree, of Stanford University. In this environment, intelligence was critical for survival, and there was likely to be immense selective pressure acting on the genes required for intellectual development, leading to a peak in human intelligence.

From that point, it’s likely that we began to slowly lose ground. With the development of agriculture, came urbanization, which may have weakened the power of selection to weed out mutations leading to intellectual disabilities. Based on calculations of the frequency with which deleterious mutations appear in the human genome and the assumption that 2000 to 5000 genes are required for intellectual ability, Dr. Crabtree estimates that within 3000 years (about 120 generations) we have all sustained two or more mutations harmful to our intellectual or emotional stability. Moreover, recent findings from neuroscience suggest that genes involved in brain function are uniquely susceptible to mutations. Dr. Crabtree argues that the combination of less selective pressure and the large number of easily affected genes is eroding our intellectual and emotional capabilities.

If “intelligence” is an inherited characteristic – as it seems at least partially to be –  then it is only a matter of simple arithmetic that unless the “more intelligent” reproduce at a higher rate than those of “less intelligence” then the “average intelligence” of the population will inevitably decrease.

Related:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysgenics

Where Dysgenics Goes Wrong:


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