Posts Tagged ‘Intelligence’

Why I am an optimist

March 16, 2017

From a talk I gave on 15th March

Sometimes, I’ve noticed, I irritate people around me who would rather be sad. I wondered why I was an optimist and always saw the glass half full. 

This example came to mind. 

It is perhaps not widely known that the world is facing a new crisis. It is an inescapable conclusion if two assumptions are correct. First, that intelligence – however it is defined – is hereditary. Second, that more intelligent people have fewer children. If intelligence is inherited and the intelligent have fewer children, it does not take an Einstein to realise that the world is getting dumber every day. 

We know that intelligence is at least partly hereditary. Furthermore, all over the world, the number of children the intelligent have has fallen sharply. It is simple arithmetic that generation after generation, the world must be dumbing down. Or rather, generation after generation, children of the world must have dumber parents. 

This reasoning has a few  flaws. Intelligence is not just hereditary. It also depends on nutrition, education and the environment the child grows up in. Knowledge is also not the same as intelligence, and measurement of intelligence cannot avoid including some influence of knowledge. It has been calculated that even if we do know that knowledge is increasing, and has increased continuously, human intelligence peaked when we were still hunter-gatherers about 15,000 years ago. So although human intelligence has probably reduced, it has done so very slowly and is partly compensated for by the increase of knowledge. What is clear, however, is that intelligence is not increasing at the rate it would if it were a survival factor for natural selection. 

In any case, if and when an intelligence problem becomes a crisis, we can always solve it with the right choice of  tax system. As you all and every politician knows, no problem exists that cannot be solved by an appropriate tax system. So, in the event of a crisis, my solution would be very simple. Income tax would be scrapped and replaced by a tax on intelligence. The tax would increase with intelligence, but those with higher intelligence than the average would have their tax rate reduced for each child, while those who were below average would have their rate increased with every child. 

The world would be a very boring place without problems to solve. 

Perhaps it is so that fiddling with the tax system is not the solution to every problem, but in my worldview, problems exist to be solved. Not a problem in every challenge, but a challenge in every problem.

And that is why I am an optimist.

source unknown


Gene mixing promotes height and intelligence – but is this an evolutionary benefit?

July 2, 2015

A new international study of the genetic make up and physical characteristics of 350,000 people indicates that greater genetic diversity leads to an increase of height and cognitive skills. But – somewhat surprisingly – lower genetic diversity did not lead to any visible increase in complex diseases. Genetic diversity was found to have no effect on blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

But I question the assumption that increased height and faster thinking are of “evolutionary advantage”. Evolutionary advantage must lead to an individual having a greater number of offspring than one without the advantage. Previous work has indicated that both child nourishment and genetics determine height.

And so I wonder what evolutionary advantage height may have in modern society? Does the ability to think faster lead to a greater number of surviving descendants? Richer and “more intelligent” groups tend to have much lower fertility rates than poorer, “less intelligent” groups.

Using the criterion of greatest surviving descendants indicating evolutionary advantage, leads to the conclusion that populations in Africa with the highest population increase rates must also have the greatest evolutionary advantages!

Peter K. Joshi et al. Directional dominance on stature and cognition in diverse human populations. Nature, 2015 DOI: 10.1038/nature14618

Abstract: Homozygosity has long been associated with rare, often devastating, Mendelian disorders, and Darwin was one of the first to recognize that inbreeding reduces evolutionary fitness. However, the effect of the more distant parental relatedness that is common in modern human populations is less well understood. Genomic data now allow us to investigate the effects of homozygosity on traits of public health importance by observing contiguous homozygous segments (runs of homozygosity), which are inferred to be homozygous along their complete length. Given the low levels of genome-wide homozygosity prevalent in most human populations, information is required on very large numbers of people to provide sufficient power. Here we use runs of homozygosity to study 16 health-related quantitative traits in 354,224 individuals from 102 cohorts, and find statistically significant associations between summed runs of homozygosity and four complex traits: height, forced expiratory lung volume in one second, general cognitive ability and educational attainment (P < 1 × 10−300, 2.1 × 10−6, 2.5 × 10−10 and 1.8 × 10−10, respectively).

University of Edinburgh Press Release:

People have evolved to be smarter and taller than their predecessors, a study of populations around the world suggests. Those who are born to parents from diverse genetic backgrounds tend to be taller and have sharper thinking skills than others, the major international study has found. Researchers analysed health and genetic information from more than 100 studies carried out around the world. These included details on more than 350,000 people from urban and rural communities.

The team found that greater genetic diversity is linked to increased height. It is also associated with better cognitive skills, as well as higher levels of education. However, genetic diversity had no effect on factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, which affect a person’s chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and other complex conditions.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh examined individuals’ entire genetic make-up.

They pinpointed instances in which people had inherited identical copies of genes from both their mother and their father – an indicator that their ancestors were related. Where few instances of this occur in a person’s genes, it indicates greater genetic diversity in their heritage and the two sides of their family are unlikely to be distantly related. It had been thought that close family ties would raise a person’s risk of complex diseases but the researchers found this not to be the case.

The only traits they found to be affected by genetic diversity are height and the ability to think quickly.


Warm snow

April 17, 2015

Protesting Global Warming at the University of Colorado.

ffcu facebook page

ffcu facebook page

Daily Caller:

Global warming activists should probably start planning their protests for the summer because the second climate rally — within just days of a major one in Canada — has been buried in snow.

Student activists with Fossil Free CU have camped out the University of Colorado, staging a “sit in” meant to show the Board of Regents the group’s commitment to getting the school to divest its endowment of fossil fuel holdings.

The group’s Facebook page shows students braving the elements to convince the Board of Regents to ditch fossil fuels to fight global warming. Unfortunately for them, the “Gore effect” has kicked in and may blunt their arguments that the world is catastrophically warming.

The “Gore effect” has made its mark this year on several protests, including a major one last week in Quebec City where thousands of demonstrators marched through snow and frigid weather. Earlier this year, a divestment protest at Yale University was cancelled due to “unfavorable weather conditions and other logistical issues,” according to organizers.

That AGW is a religion and a matter of faith – which ignores reality – is apparent. Alarmism and the antics of the unthinking acolytes indicates that there is something to be said for the notion that evolution is causing the dumbing-down of the human race. Alarmism is quite simply the subordination of actions to fear – which is my definition of cowardice. We probably reached peak intelligence as hunter-gatherers and the modern “welfare state” is most likely accelerating the decline.

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.

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).

Breeding for intelligence?

August 8, 2014

I take intelligence to be a capability – a potential. For every human it is – by my definition – genetic. Knowledge, not intelligence, is what is acquired. No matter how we define it, intelligence is a composite consequence of many genes. Epigenetics suggests that some of these genes may be switched on or not depending upon nurture but the existence of the relevant genes must surely be inherited (nature). The supremely idiotic goings-on in Iraq and Syria and Gaza and Africa and in all the instances of barbarism and mayhem around the world are all consequent to a lack of intelligence. They only convince me that human intelligence is not on the increase and- clearly – is not a trait that is being selected for.

But it should be.

Though intelligence does seem to be positively correlated with survival to reproduction age, it seems that it leads to a lower reproduction rate which more than negates the effects of the increased survival. Assuming that IQ is at least a partial measure of intelligence, fertility rate seems to reduce with increasing intelligence. If the lower reproductive rate is actually a consequence of the higher intelligence, then the human race – without intervention – is doomed to remaining where it is on the scale of intelligence and its proportion of idiots. The paradox is that there is nobody who does not want to be more intelligent – but it does not seem to be an evolutionary trait.

IQ and fertility: A cross-national study

Many studies have found a small to moderate negative correlation between IQ and fertility rates. However, these studies have been limited to the United States and some European countries. The present study was a between-nation study using national IQ scores and national fertility rates. There were strong negative correlations found between national IQ and three national indicators of fertility.

“Evolution” is actually just the result of the those who failed to reproduce. So while intelligence may be a survival trait it does not seem to result in increasing reproduction and is therefore not an evolutionary trait.

Demographically then the human race – without human intervention – is condemned to a  “dumbing down”.

Is human intelligence declining?

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.

There is little doubt that there is a connection between intelligence and brain size. But brain size alone is not a measure of intelligence. Intelligence was probably selected for (and therefore an evolutionary trait) during the period when the size of the human brain was increasing. Possibly at some point the collateral genetic cost of increasing intelligence led to a leveling off. There could well have been trade-offs during the period when – simultaneously – food supply was more secure, human brain size was increasing, intelligence increased, language was evolving and social interaction was increasing. Quite possibly there is an optimum combination of these (and possibly other) traits for any given set of prevailing environmental conditions.

Brain size does not seem to have increased for anatomically modern humans (AMH) and that means for around 100,000 years – perhaps 200,000. But during this time the physical differences between the various “races” of humans have evolved. Possibly these physical changes have occurred fastest during the last 20,000 years since the end of the last glacial period. But even coping with this massive change of environmental surroundings has not led to the further development of brain size and – apparently – intelligence. There is some suggestion that intelligence peaked with the hunter-gatherers. Intelligence has not been a decisive factor for survival and subsequent reproduction. Perhaps human intelligence cannot increase unless the conditions first exist which lead to an increase of brain size? Or perhaps brain size increases only as a consequence of intelligence being selected for?

The question is whether we should now explicitly be trying to increase the intelligence of humankind?

We are now within a paradigm where “natural selection” by the prevailing environment has been decoupled from survival and subsequent reproduction. Natural selection is apparently obsolete and of no great value for the further development of humankind.  Social factors rather than the surrounding environment control fertility. The welfare state has seen to it that physical disabilities after birth generally do not act as a de-selector. “Artificial selection” does not yet dominate but is of increasing importance in determining who survives to subsequently reproduce. Abortion (25 -30% of all conceptions) de-selects for some serious, detectable, physical disabilities but is also often for the social convenience of the mother.  Surrogacy and IVF are driven by social needs and are providing the possibility of selecting for specific characteristics – though the “selection” is still largely hit-and-miss. I am not sure that IQ is necessarily the best measure of intelligence, but it seems ridiculous that where we do use “artificial selection”, intelligence is not also a criterion for selection.

Humans have learned to overcome the limitations of the surrounding “natural” environment. We cannot predict – let alone control – earthquakes and volcanoes, but we do build houses which make the vagaries of most weather irrelevant. We breed other species to suit our needs. We overturn the natural order of things by protecting the weak and healing the sick and caring for the old.  Modern living is fundamentally “unnatural” in that it is dominated by human intervention to mitigate “natural” effects. The many deficiencies we still have – poverty and gratuitous violence and famine and rape and genocide and intolerance and religious insanities – can all be put down to insufficiency of intelligence.

There is nothing wrong with eugenics. It is the methods by which it is applied which can be ethical or unethical.It is inevitable that we try and achieve a growth of intelligence. And perhaps it has already started – in China.

iO9: Chinese parents will be able to engage in what’s called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in order to select the most “intelligent” babies. It’s not genetic engineering — instead, doctors look at the DNA of several zygotes and choose the most promising one for implantation. Put this reproductive technology in the hands of enough parents, and the next generation of Chinese citizens could start to exhibit rates of intelligence five to 15 IQ points higher than what’s typically seen today.

China passed its so-called “Eugenics Law” in 1994, what it formally calls the “Maternal and Infant Health Care Law”:

This law regulates support for maternal and child health and also requires physicians to recommend a postponement of marriage if either member of a couple has an infectious, contagious disease or an active mental disorder. If one member of a couple has a serious hereditary disease, the couple may only marry if they agree to use longterm contraception or to undergo sterilization. If prenatal tests reveal that a fetus has a serious hereditary disease or serious deformity, the physician must advise the pregnant woman to have an abortion, and the law states that the pregnant woman “should” follow this recommendation.

The introduction of novel biotechnologies could allow the communist government to take its eugenic-like policies to the next level (though it’s not clear at this time if China will insist that PGD be enforced in this way). But rather than just screen for a “serious deformity,” the Chinese may eventually designate any kind of “deleterious” trait — like low IQ — as something that can and should be eliminated from the gene pool (with “low” IQ being a potentially normative and scalable characteristic).

Put that together with the Chinese Genetic Program:

Vice: At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles which determine human intelligence. Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and potentially bump up every generation’s intelligence by five to 15 IQ points. 

Related: On birth rates, abortions and “eugenics by default”

Strange are the ways of man

October 22, 2013
  1. If a woman is drunk and is raped she is responsible for inviting the rape.
  2. If a man is drunk and rapes he is not responsible for his actions!
  3. Discrimination is bad. Reverse discrimination is good.
  4. Discrimination is unfair. Reverse discrimination is unfair to others (but who don’t deserve fairness).
  5. Discernment is good, discrimination is bad.
  6. Being intelligent is good. To choose intelligent people is discrimination.
  7. If you are born intelligent it is luck and not to your credit.
  8. If you are born stupid it’s your parents’ fault.
  9. To judge people is wrong. Not to judge people is irresponsible.
  10. If you are having fun you are being irresponsible.
  11. The ability to discriminate is good, to discriminate is bad.
  12. If it’s in your genes it’s not your fault. All deviant behaviour is genetic. Ergo – it’s nobody’s fault
  13. The sins of the parents excuse any sins of the children.
  14. There is no God except mine and I am one of my God’s preferred people.
  15. MY God does not report to any superior God. Your God is therefore subordinate to my God.
  16. To kill for God is a good thing.
  17. Just as there is no sound when a tree falls and there is no brain to hear, cheating without being detected can not be cheating.
  18. What is true can be determined by a vote. 
  19. Scientific truth is determined by a consensus.
  20. Results from expensive research are more true than results from inexpensive research.
  21. Biological gender difference can be eliminated by legislation.
  22. There are more than two genders.
  23. As long as I stick to to my constitution, my democracy allows that my majority can oppress your minority.
  24. Immigration from Africa to Europe is bad. European expatriates in Africa are good.
  25. I know best what is good for you.
  26. I also know best what is for the common good.
  27. If it tastes good it’s bad for you.
  28. Normality is a myth. If you think you are normal it’s a bad thing.
  29. Everybody is mentally sick (according to DSM 5)
  30. All mental illness can be treated by expensive medication.

The quality of “intelligence” is not strain’d

July 3, 2013

“Intelligence” in the political sense is knowledge. But when “knowledge” is created or moulded or invented to suit a political purpose it loses its intelligence. Constrained intelligence is bad intelligence.

Following the Bard,

The quality of intelligence is not strain’d,
It may not be shaped or created or invented
to suit a man’s convenience. It is twice cursed:
It curses him who invents and curses the fool who believes.

The shameful subservience of European countries and their political classes to US “intelligence” when going to war in Iraq is now history. Of course Tony Blair was not merely subservient, he also helped to constrain the “intelligence” even further.

Reading this story about France and Portugal and Austria kowtowing to demands made – no doubt – by US “intelligence” while forcing down the Bolivian President’s plane yesterday, suggests that this subservience of their European counterparts still continues. The quality of the US “intelligence” that Snowden was on the plane was clearly very “strain’d”. The “constraining” of intelligence” to suit a political purpose will be with us for a long time and the poodle-like behaviour of the European countries is sometimes embarrassing to observe.

BBCBolivian President Evo Morales’s plane had to be diverted to Austria amid suspicion that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board, the Bolivian foreign minister has said.

Officials in both Austria and Bolivia said Mr Snowden was not on the plane.

France and Portugal reportedly refused to allow the Bolivia-bound flight to cross their airspace. Mr Snowden is reportedly seeking asylum in Bolivia and 20 other countries to avoid extradition to the US. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters on Tuesday that France and Portugal had closed their airspace over the “huge lie” that Mr Snowden, 30, was on board.

“We don’t know who invented this lie, but we want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,” he said.

Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg said Mr Snowden was not on board the Bolivian leader’s aircraft. The Bolivian defence minister, also on the flight, pilloried the US after the unscheduled landing. “This is a hostile act by the United States state department which has used various European governments,” Ruben Saavedra said.

The Falcon aircraft was reportedly allowed to refuel in Spain before the jet went on to Vienna. President Morales was said to be at the airport in Vienna discussing his return route to Bolivia early on Wednesday.


“Bearing children has largely become the province of the lower classes”

May 2, 2013

The Daily Mail runs an article today about why the middle class are not breeding any more. It is not difficult to get a faint whiff of eugenics. But I can’t help feeling that some level of eugenics is not necessarily all bad as we move from natural selection to a world where artificial selection (IVF, surrogacy, sperm banks etc.) is increasing. And of course, even the availability of abortion on demand is in itself a form of selection.

  • Educated women deferring motherhood for so long they’re no longer fertile
  • Bearing children ‘has largely become the province of the lower classes’ 
  • TV historian Dr Lucy Worsley is poster girl for intentionally childless women

…. as author and demographic expert Jonathan Last observes in his controversial book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting:

‘The bearing and raising of children has largely become the province of the lower classes. It’s a kind of reverse Darwinism where the traditional markers of success make one less likely to reproduce.’

If “lower class” were a genetic trait then the middle and higher classes should fear extinction in due course. Fortunately “class” is just relative and subjective so no matter what the demographics are, distinctions of class will be introduced into any population that exists. But what is more interesting to consider is the fact that women with a higher level of education (which says nothing about native intelligence) have fewer children. This seems to be a global phenomenon. Data from 2010 in the extract below.

The full table is here. Primary School Enrollment and Total Fertility Rates, Latest Year (2000-2010)

Primary School Enrollment and Total Fertility Rates for Selected Countries, Latest Year 2000 – 2010

Rank Country

Primary School Enrollment

Total Fertility Rate


Number of children
per woman

1 Japan



2 Spain



3 Iran



4 Georgia



5 United Kingdom



181 Equitorial Guinea



182 Guinea-Bissau



183 Djibouti



184 Sudan



185 Eritrea



Note: Rankings are based on a list of 185 countries for which primary enrollment data are available.
Source: EPI from UNESCO

Fertility rates tend to be highest in the world’s least developed countries. When mortality rates decline quickly but fertility rates fail to follow, countries can find it harder to reduce poverty. Poverty, in turn, increases the likelihood of having many children, trapping families and countries in a vicious cycle. Conversely, countries that quickly slow population growth can receive a “demographic bonus”: the economic and social rewards that come from a smaller number of young dependents relative to the number of working adults.

For longer term population stability the goal is to reach replacement-level fertility, which is close to 2 children per woman in places where mortality rates are low. Industrial countries as a group have moved below this level. Some developing countries have made progress in reducing fertility, but fertility rates in the least developed countries as a group remain above 4 children per woman.

The trends with secondary education are also very clear:
Female Secondary Education and Total Fertility Rates

Of course the level of development in a country dominates and fertility rates around the world are reducing and converging. Whether this trend will continue even when all female children enjoy secondary education remains to be seen. The UK case where nearly all children do get secondary education would suggest that those with higher (university) education continue to show a declining fertility. But the real test of this hypothesis will only come when education levels around the world have equalised and fertility rates all lie around the same level.

So is the human population “dumbing down”? Not really. Education level is not intelligence. To what extent intelligence is a hereditary trait is uncertain. While it would seem that evolution should favour increasing intelligence, even this is not crystal clear. It is certainly a perception I have that “successful” people tend to be more intelligent but high intelligence does not ensure success. And success in life correlates with wealth but not so well with number of offspring.  “Success”, however we define it,  is not a genetic trait. There have been some suggestions that there may be some optimum level of intelligence for the genetic success of the species and that hunter-gatherers were actually somewhat more intelligent than we are now. Perhaps humans can be “too clever by half”!

But for some time to come, as the developing world catches up with the developed world, we can surely conclude that less-educated parents will have the higher fertility. Whatever that may mean for the long term evolution of humans, and that will be the result of the level to which we intentionally apply genetic selection.

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

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,

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


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. 


  •  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.


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