Pharyngula

There are no marching morons

I was sent a link to this editorial by the science-fiction writer, Ben Bova. I like part of the sentiment, where he’s arguing that it’s worth the effort to try and change the world, but a substantial part of it bugs me.

The most prescient — and chilling — of all the science fiction stories ever written, though, is “The Marching Morons,” by Cyril M. Kornbluth, first published in 1951. It should be required reading in every school on Earth.

The point that Kornbluth makes is simple, and scary: dumbbells have more children than geniuses. In “The Marching Morons” he carries that idea to its extreme, but logical, conclusion.

Kornbluth tells of a future world that is overrun with dummies: men and women who don’t know anything beyond their own shallow personal interests. They don’t know how their society works, or who is running it. All they care about is their personal — and immediate — gratification.

I detest “The Marching Morons.”

Bova gives an accurate summary; it’s also the primary plot point of the movie Idiocracy. It’s also the premise behind eugenics and behind a lot of right-wing phony elitism. It’s wrong. It was a very popular story, but the reason isn’t complimentary: it fed into a strain of self-serving smugness in science-fiction fandom, the idea that people who read SF are special and brilliant and superior, we are the technological geniuses and far-seeing futurists, while the mundanes leech off our vision. The eugenics movement built on the same us-vs.-them mentality, that there are superiors and inferiors, and the inferiors breed like cockroaches.

The most troubling part of it all is the attempt to root the distinction in biology—it’s intrinsic. “They” are lesser beings than “us” because, while their gonads work marvelously well, their brains are inherently less capacious and their children are born with less ability. It’s the kind of unwarranted labeling of people that leads to decisions like “three generations of imbeciles are enough“—bigotry built on bad biology to justify suppression by class.

People, they are us.

There are no grounds to argue that there are distinct subpopulations of people with different potentials for intelligence. Genes flow fluidly — if you sneer at the underclass and think your line is superior, I suspect you won’t have to go back very many generations to find your stock comes out of that same seething mob. Do you have any Irish, or Jewish, or Italian, or Native American, or Asian, or whatever (literally—it’s hard to find any ethnic origin that wasn’t despised at some time) in your ancestry? Go back a hundred years or so, and your great- or great-great-grandparents were regarded as apes or subhumans or mentally deficient lackeys suitable only for menial labor.

Are you staring aghast at the latest cluster of immigrants in this country, are you fretting that they’re breeding like rabbits? That generation of children will be the people your kids grow up with, go to school with, date, and marry. It may take a while, but eventually, your line will merge with theirs. Presuming you propagate at all, your genes are destined to disperse into that great living pool of humanity. Get used to it.

Furthermore, intelligence is an incredibly plastic property of the brain. You can nurture it or you can squelch it — the marching morons will birth children with as much potential as a pair of science-fiction geeks, and all that will matter is how well that mind is encouraged to grow. Even a few centuries is not enough to breed stupidity into a natural population of humans — that brain power may lay fallow and undernourished, but there isn’t enough time nor enough pressure to make substantial changes in the overall genetics of the brain.

That’s where the Kornbluth story fails. It assumes the morons are unchangeably moronic, and treats the elite as unchangeably special. The only solution to their problem is to get rid of the morons, launching them into space to die. Bova’s editorial, while not as cynically eliminationist, still pretends that the only answer is perpetuation of a distinction that doesn’t exist biologically.

Here’s the real solution to the “marching moron” problem: teach them. Give them fair opportunities. Open the door to education for all. They have just as much potential as you do. Bova complains that people aren’t willing to work for change, but this is exactly where we can work to improve minds — but we won’t if we assume the mob is hopeless.

I have to confess to taking these kinds of stories personally. My family was probably what would be called the working poor nowadays, when I was growing up I was called white trash more than a few times, and yes, I come from a large family. My parents did not have the educational opportunities I did, but they were smart and self-taught and made sensible, practical choices in their life, and they cared to give all of their kids a chance. I can testify from personal experience that if there’s a problem, it’s not in ability — it’s in a culture that dismisses broad swathes of the population because of who their families are, or how much money they make, and perpetuates inequities of opportunity on the basis of bigotry and classism.


I knew this article would bring out the pseudoscientific advocates of facile genetics, and there they are, already babbling away in the comments.

I know there are constraints on intelligence; there is individual variation in capacity, and there are almost certainly some biological bases for that, and also for differences in the kind of intelligence individuals express. This isn’t about that. It’s about whether there are significant differences in the distribution of the genetic constraints on human intelligence between subpopulations, and whether we are justified in writing off segments of our population as incurable morons whose progeny are similarly tainted. I say no to both.

You’d be hard-pressed to argue that the diverse groups marked by ethnic and class distinctions in the U.S. even count as distinct populations in any biological sense. There are social barriers to breeding, but they are sufficiently porous that over the course of time needed to set up genetic differences that matter, they’re negligible.

The other premise of the marching morons scenario, that the underclass would sink deeper and deeper into stupidity, is completely absurd. There aren’t any human subcultures that don’t value problem-solving and cleverness, where apathy and dull-wittedness are desirable traits in a mate (again, there are individuals who are contrary, but we’re talking about populations here.) Growing up, I experienced that social pressure that makes getting good grades in school a problem for fitting in with a certain peer group — but that isn’t about despising intelligence, it’s about conforming to the trappings of your group and not adopting the markers of another class, especially when that class has a habit of treating you like dirt and talking abstractly about how to expunge you, your family, and your friends from the gene pool.

And no, eating brie, going to Harvard, and reading the Wall Street Journal are not indicators of ability — they are properties of class. Drinking beer, learning a trade, and reading Sports Illustrated doesn’t mean you’re dumber, or that there are genes driving your choices — it means you are the product of a particular environment. Yet we all practice this fallacy of judging someone’s intelligence by how they dress or their entertainment preferences, and society as a whole indulges in the self-fulfilling prophecy of doling out educational opportunities on the basis of economic status.

There are mobs of stupid people out there. Sterilizing them or shipping them off to Venus won’t change a thing, though, no matter how effective your elimination procedures are, because you’ll just breed more from the remaining elite stock. Similarly, lining up the elites against the wall won’t change the overall potential of the population — new elites will arise from the common stock. The answer is always going to be education and opportunity and mobility. That’s what’s galling about Kornbluth’s story, that it is so one-dimensional, and the proposed solution is a non-solution.

Comments

  1. #1 Inoculated Mind
    May 8, 2007

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  2. #2 Andrew Dalke
    May 8, 2007

    I quite enjoy science fiction but the “self-serving smugness in science-fiction fandom” is somewhat annoying. It’s been there almost since fandom started. The earliest example I know is from the early 1950s with the phrase “fans are slans” and it continues to be seen in terms like “mundanes” and “muggles” as terms to distinguish non-fandom from fandom.

  3. #3 Christian Burnham
    May 8, 2007

    I would like what PZ says to be true.

    There is certainly an enormous environmental component to intelligence. Smart people are the result of investment in the education of our children.

    It’s not so long ago that the Irish were treated as morons by the British. Even when I was growing up (I’m 34 and Irish) it was considered hilarious for British comedians to tell jokes about how stupid the Irish were. These jokes were just the smiling face of a real and very dangerous discrimination that is only now beginning to erode.

    But…

    Intelligence itself is heritable and we select for it like crazy. Most university graduates (I suspect) marry other university graduates, or at least people with similar intellectual and educational backgrounds. How can this not have a long term effect?

    I think that these questions will become largely moot when people start to genetically engineer the DNA of their children. It seems inevitable to me that the world will eventually be divided into those who can afford gene manipulation, and those who can’t. Then we’re really going to have problems.

    Also, I don’t agree that the brain is so ‘plastic’. Reading Steven Pinker’s ‘Blank Slate’ disabused me of that notion. Ultimately, education can only do so much- the best scientists, chess-players, musicians etc. were blessed with a combination of education and innate talent/genius. There’s no teacher on the planet who could turn me into a great opera singer- I just don’t have the talent.

    ————–
    Anyway, I agree that there is no such thing as a race of morons and I think PZ is dead right on that.

  4. #4 Melanie S.
    May 8, 2007

    I’m going to get this horribly wrong, but wasn’t there some statistical work done a couple of years ago that basically showed that for a given mostly-well-defined geographic area, about 80% of the people in about the year …was it 1100? 600? that’s broad, but something in that range… were ancestors of every person alive today, and the other 20% had no descendants?

    I mean, these kinds of statements presume not only a direct and rigid correlation between genetics and intelligence, but a rigid stratification of mating practices based upon such criteria.

  5. #5 Dianne
    May 8, 2007

    It’s not so long ago that the Irish were treated as morons by the British

    The joke’s on the brilliant British now. The Irish “morons” have a higher per capita GNP

  6. #6 Branedy
    May 8, 2007

    You would love ‘The Space Merchants’ with Fred Pohl.

  7. #7 Fernando Magyar
    May 8, 2007

    If given the choice I would rather spend my time with a group of kids with downs syndrome than a listen to a self proclaimed genius (idiot) such as Bova.

    While there is no such thing as a breeding population of intellectually inferior humans if one takes moron to mean deeply ignorant of and oblivious to the workings of the world around them, then the “future world that is overrun with dummies: men and women who don’t know anything beyond their own shallow personal interests. They don’t know how their society works, or who is running it. All they care about is their personal — and immediate — gratification.” comes very close to describing our current reality.

    So PZ has it exactly right the morons are us. As for educating the ignorant masses, when was the last time anyone convinced a creationist that evolution is indeed a fact. I guess overcoming that hurdle is a good measure of the level of difficulty involved in opening minds and making them receptive to knowledge.

  8. #8 Brandon Alspaugh
    May 8, 2007

    I almost wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Myers here – I remember reading ‘The Marching Morons’ and nodding through much of the beginning – the inanity, the idiocy – who couldn’t identify with it? This carries one through to the horrific end when you realize, completely without knowing, that you’ve walked down the same paths of thought that Hitler and Galston did.

    However, I do think the story is not as two-dimensional as that – coupled with the bad genetics is an excellent depiction the other component of “moron” – the active disdain for ‘elites’ or ‘smarties’ by the majority population in the story.

    This is something I doubt anyone could argue with. The most determinative factor in my experience of these sorts of things is whether there’s a hostility or respect towards learning (which is not the same thing as education). Those, as in Kornbluth’s story, who think their ignorance should carry equal weight as your knowledge, are the “morons” we should always hold in contempt.

    Family members who may not be educated can at least value education and pass on that value system to their children (which is how I imagine many families, certainly mine, emerged from the working poor). Morons may not be a genetic subgroup, but they’re certainly a distinct one.

  9. #9 Mike Haubrich
    May 8, 2007

    I get tired of science fiction writers for taking credit for the predictions that worked out, but they never mention in their self-praise all of the things that they got wrong in predicting technology. Heinlein had “predicted” a lot of things in his science fiction that were far off the mark. Remember “moving sidewalks” or “Drafting Dan?” Of course he couldn’t have foreseen the directions that technology would have taken that were tangential to his timelines.

    The best science fiction examined the sociological implications of burgeoning technology, and the best writers didn’t say “This is what is going to happen.” The best science fiction asked “What if?”

    And one of the major problems with society is not the innate intelligence of people in our society; it is the level of distraction and white noise presented by technology. Look at crap like “American Idol.” People get wrapped up in that show and live or die for who is booted off the show and who survives. Our local Fox affiliate sets aside a major portion of its morning news program for discussion of the show; while in the meantime there is no coverage of any real science.

    In Apollo 13 Lovell’s family learns that the liftoff is not even being televised because the prospect of traveling to the moon is by then passe and no longer draws ratings. The problem that is leading to ignorance is not a reflection of the gene pool, it is the entertainment that people choose over learning.

    I think that this is the biggest challenge that educators face. Yes, I would like to see people bring in chautauquas to their local communities in which people set aside special events for learning. Take the kids and learn about the latest advances in genetics and other exciting areas of research. Teach them Shakespeare, basic Latin and Greek, and teach them how to round out their lives; but face the fact that after an hour or two they are going to want to go back to TV and the Interwebs and their XBox 360′s.

    The “framing” that Nesbitt and Mooney need to figure out is how to make science competitive for our attention.

  10. #10 MorpheusPA
    May 8, 2007

    I feel your pain. My family has been farmers for centuries (some branches still, quite happily, are). My grandfather broke the mold on that, and it continued to this day to me (who has no descendants and is never going to, thank you so much).

    Even so, aren’t the vast majority/totality of the genes that made me conserved into my cousins, including the farmers? Perhaps they can’t program an object, but I certainly can’t ID a crop fungus on sight. They’re no less intelligent, per se, but the intelligence differs.

  11. #11 nacky
    May 8, 2007

    When faced with phrases such as ‘qualified psychic’, ‘certified astrologer’ or ‘calibrating earth rays’, I confess to having been often reminded of this story. While disliking the eugenic-related bit (they do get shot off into space to die), I found the ideas about how the people were kept placid interesting. I read the story ages ago, but wasn’t there something like a Doctorate of Stenography, and weren’t the cars’ speedometers riggged to make it seem as if great speeds were reached. Just keep the disinformed populace happy. I wonder if I don’t see things like that all the time. If I don’t watch out I’ll end up in conspiracy land.

    As far as brains and genetics go, there is another story. I have forgotten who the author is, but the premise is that all children upon reaching a certain age have to take a standard test (after having been given a sort of truth serum to insure no cheating); those who do too well are killed (that’s the reason for the serum, no intentional wrong answers). Thus is opposition to the government eliminated before it can form. Here smarts pop up despite the efforts of those in power, even if it doesn’t last long. There is still a heavy slant towards nature rather than nurture, but at least it’s not so disparaging of the ‘masses’.

  12. #12 John Rynne
    May 8, 2007

    I second Branedy’s motion. “The Space Merchants” is amazing. However, as far as I know, we don’t yet have the supreme marketing that Pohl and Kornbluth dreamed up: alkaloids in a particular brand of snack food that make you crave a particular brand of cigarette, which contains alkaloids that give you a craving for a particular brand of soda, which contains alkaloids that make you yearn for that particular brand of snack food, ad infinitum.

  13. #13 Zeno
    May 8, 2007

    Arthur Jensen of UC Berkeley is one of the most adamant exponents of the inherent genetic nature of “intelligence”, which he equated with IQ scores. (You may recall that he argued on the basis of IQ scores that black kids are doomed not to be as smart as white kids — although black kids with some white ancestors were superior to their 100% black cousins.) It’s sadly ironic that Dr. Jensen’s own daughter turned out to be congenitally handicapped in her cognitive functions. Could have happened to anyone, of course, which I think is the point.

  14. #14 Mike Fox
    May 8, 2007

    I feel the pain of people who support eugenics. It seems like such a wonderful idea until you learn about diversity, genetics and evolution. Even if one were to assume that the result of eugenics was “better” human individuals, a eugenic-ed population would become as fragile as today’s chetahs. No matter how you look at it, genetic uniformity in a population is not the best way to be.

    No, I have found the type of thinking that concludes favorably to eugenics is two dimensional and fundamentally lacks comprehensiveness.

    That said, I will bow to the squid people as my superiors when they arrive.

    Mike Fox

  15. #15 Jud
    May 8, 2007

    If people say atheists are immoral, I can direct them to this post.

    Thank you.

    “There are no grounds to argue that there are distinct subpopulations of people with different potentials for intelligence.” Yep. Meanwhile, Charles Murray was still spouting his “Bell Curve” nonsense in the Wall Street Journal as recently as this year (a 3-part series whose segments were among the most e-mailed Journal articles on the days they appeared; perhaps folks like feeling they richly deserve to be rich, eh?).

    Further reading for those interested: “The Mismeasure of Man,” by Stephen J. Gould; and “None of the Above,” by David Owen.

  16. #16 RickD
    May 8, 2007

    Have to agree with PZ here. There are “morons” all over my family tree. Neither of my grandfathers graduated from high school, much less went to high school. Doesn’t mean anything. Both of my parents have doctorates (one medical, the other “phony” :)

    The fear of the overbreeding underclass is not a new concept. There’s nothing new about it nor is there anything valid about it. Its scientific and mathematical premises are shoddy and, given the history of the past several thousand years, it simply doesn’t bear up under scrutiny.

    The “Marching Moron” thesis is just another way to hide racism behind pseudoscientific language. Nor is it validated if the target is “white trash”.

  17. #17 MartinC
    May 8, 2007

    I think PZ is looking at things a little too much from a gene’e eye perspective. The reality that the majority of us live in is not one in which we fret about conserving particular segments of our genome but rather about how society, now and in the forseeable future (which in practice means the next sixty to seventy years), affects our family and friends. In that sense the change in gene frequency within the population at large is not at issue. Society can, however, change at a much quicker pace than gene frequency, indeed cultural change has probably more in common with Lamarckian than pure Darwinian evolution. If this is the case then the dumbing down of society as a whole is certainly a possibility, the likelihood of which is dependent simply on the advantage of such a strategy to the majority of the populace. Ask yourself if its easier to live in most modern societies as a non questioning religious woo believer rather than an active skeptic (for instance a scientific researcher). Society wont get dumbed down because the dumb genes take over. Most likely there will always be some smart guys (and girls) at the top but I question whether our current societal environment provides enough rewards to encourage the development of cultural intelligence. Why should a scientific training, probably similar in time and effort to that of a physician and certainly more than a lawyer, be more financially equivalent to working in a fast food restaurant chain – although without the job security? Its not a question of actively eliminating the Al Bundys of the world, we simply need to make the alternative better.

  18. #18 Bunjo
    May 8, 2007

    I first came across the ‘stupid breeders’ idea 40 years ago, while studying Biology at school. At first it worried me but then I asked myself “where is the evidence that we are less intelligent than our ancestors?”. I have not found any reliable evidence of this kind, although there does seem to be some evidence to the contrary – the *recent* increase in IQ scores per generation. (Please nod the debate about IQ and intelligence through to another thread if neccessary).

    My unconfirmed sweeping opinion is that, by and large, the really dumb and the really clever fail to contibute significantly to the next generation (by reason of early death or disinclination to breed). Everybody else breeds towards an average value of intelligence (suitable for the many cultural and environmental niches available) in an unplanned way. It is said that women try to have children by more successful/intelligent/taller men, and men try to have children by more physically attractive (showing ‘good genes’) women. If something like this was not been happening for the last half million years the human species would be markedly different or extinct.

    Now the tricky question – if the idea behind the ‘marching morons’ is not well founded in fact, do we *need* to do anything different to optimise the intellectual capability of our species? This is now a cultural question, rather than an evolutionary one. Our cultural choices will either work or fail, but since they tend to be short term (only a few generations) there is plenty of scope for self correction if we get them wrong (of course many people may suffer or die in the meantime). We can’t be sure yet if ‘agriculture’ or ‘city life’ are positve cultural choices.

    Who can say that ‘intelligence’ will be a valuable trait in the future? The most valuable traits might be ability to survive on little water, resistance to new viruses and bacteria, stunning physical perfection, or even a small healthy family vs a big diseased family (in a crowded world).

    My cultural viewpoint is that everyone should have the opportunity to make the best of themselves, and we should value ability and excellence across a broad spectrum of characteristics.

    We live in interesting times.

  19. #19 gg
    May 8, 2007

    I never interpreted Kornbluth’s story as an attempt to endorse eugenics as much as a lament of the general intellectual slide of humanity as people become more and more incurious and raise children who are in turn more incurious. One doesn’t need a biological connection to realize that if a person has absolutely no interest in learning or understanding the world around them, they are more likely to raise children with similar views (think creationists, or Fred Phelps).

    His criticism of the overall intellectual slide is more clear in “The Little Black Bag”, the ‘prequel’ to “The Marching Morons”. There, he seems eerily prescient, when he describes how the educational system ends up dumbing down its degrees to meet the needs of the students: “Masters in Shorthand” or “Ph.D. – card filing”. Considering yesterday had a post about including creationism as a physics class, Kornbluth doesn’t seem too far off.

  20. #20 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    Furthermore, intelligence is an incredibly plastic property of the brain.

    No, it’s not. It can be impaired, but causing it to develop further is essentially impossible. And this “there aren’t superior/inferior classes of people!” argument is bogus, because very few human traits breed true, and the superiority/inferiority is determined by whole classes of genes. It’s not a class of people but a class of traits that are the problem.

    This sort of thing is why biolgists shouldn’t post about psychology.

  21. #21 colin
    May 8, 2007

    I think it can be equally dangerous to assume that intelligence is completely “plastic” and environmentally determined. There is no question that people are simply born differently. On a personal level : I have a good brain (in most respects) but I’m also physically unattractive. I would pay money to have the two swapped around. My sister is the opposite – a stereotypical bubble-headed blonde. (Out of interest, we’re adopted and genetically unrelated). My (adoptive) parents are middle-of-the-road in both respects.

    I realise one can’t draw generalizations from anecdotal evidence, but this particular situation made me realise that what Steve Pinker was saying in “The Blank Slate” made perfect (if not quite-common-enough) sense.

    What is the point of telling everyone they have the same “potential” if they actually don’t? In an environment that favours people who have the ability to learn quickly, people who don’t (people who *can’t*) are going to suffer from discrimination BECAUSE it’s assumed they have the “same potential”. This applies to any other characteristic you care to name. Models are chosen for their looks rather than their intelligence. I’m *not* advocating treating anyone differently from anyone else (in a legal or a personal sense), merely suggesting we realise that each person has a different innate blend of good things and bad things about them and encouraging them to do well in an area in which they actually have a chance of success; anything else (e.g. any educational system at the moment) is designed for failure.

    PZ, as a teacher I can’t believe that you think all your students are equally equipped, mentally. You might *like* it to be true, but when you think about it, you will have to admit that some of them are just dumb.

    I’m not saying any of these attributes correspond to race or ethnic groupings. I’m saying every individual (and this is really what the word means) is good at some things and bad at others. The idea is that certain types of abilities might be genetically coded for – the further, somewhat obvious corollary, is that there is a differential spread of those abilities amongst individuals in a population. Like hair color. Or physical beauty (which, I agree, has a large embryonic component, but that’s essentially “genetic” at this level of discussion). Or being good at maths. Or being good at poetry. Or being good with people.

    The main argument against this (my) point of view, is that it justifies discrimination and racism. It certainly does – if you broadly ascribe lack of ability to a large population based on an entirely unrelated genetic marker (such as skin color). But to realize that biology – and not the child – is the father of the man is not the same as saying that the son of criminals is any more likely to be a criminal because of innate tendencies.

    I often summarize the innatist point of view as “Your genes have probably made you good at SOMETHING and it’s important to recognize what that something is, so you can be happy.”

    I really see nothing controversial in this idea.

    I’m commenting more on PZ’s comments than on the original article. One needn’t be a dyed-in-the-wool (ha) nurturist to realize that a “race of morons” is extremely unlikely to occur, and breeding for such a race – intentionally – would be very unlikely to succeed. So I agree with your criticism, but for different reasons.

  22. #22 Richard Harris, FCD
    May 8, 2007

    PZ, are you saying that intelligence (in humans) is not a quality that can be selected for?

    If it’s possible to select for it, then breeding habits within a population that favour people of lower intelligence with more descendants, will thereby lower the average IQ.

    For what it’s worth, I’m descsnded from the peasantry. And quite possibly from some kings as well. (It’s said that almost everyone of English descent is related to William the Conqueror.)

    Peole with superior intellects seem to crop up at random from ‘unlikely’ parentage – we must all know examples of this. So it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of someone’s parents. But talking averages is another thing. The gene pool for any heritable quality can in principle be improved or degraded. Genetic Engineering will probably be a factor in this, in the future.

  23. #23 colin
    May 8, 2007

    While I was typing my lengthy diatribe, Caledonian posted a succint few lines that carry the gist of my entire rambling message, and say it better. Well done, Caledonian.

  24. #24 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    I have not found any reliable evidence of this kind, although there does seem to be some evidence to the contrary – the *recent* increase in IQ scores per generation.

    No, IQ scores are normalized. It’s performance on IQ tests that is slowly improving – it’s called the Flynn Effect – not the attained scores.

    You know when evolution denialists get together and post long, self-congratulatory threads about how they’re not fooled by the difference between macroevolution and microevolution? You know how stupid they look to people who know even a little about the subject?

    You are those people. Right now, on this topic, you are making yourselves look as dumb as the creationists look to you.

  25. #25 xebecs
    May 8, 2007

    I generally figure that environmental factors cause at least 70% of variability in intelligence (insert hand waving definition of intelligence here).

    But can’t the Marching Morons concept still work even when environment is the dominant factor? Certainly such a trend could be derailed by better public health and education policies, fairer distribution of wealth, or changing patterns of family and community interaction, so it’s not inevitable.

    But is it really completely impossible? Could it not happen that a relatively small and subtle tendency toward lack of respect for education or intellectual endeavors drive functional intelligence down over multiple generations?

    I read the story many years ago, and don’t remember it well. I don’t associate it with the smugness that shows up in, oh, Robert Heinlein’s stories, or Jerry Pournelle’s. But given the era in which it was written, when Modern and Progress and Growth were the annointed buzzwords, maybe it was intended as a reminder that there is still a Down — that decadence is always an option.

    Maybe we should consider Marching Morons to be a warning, rather than a prophecy.

  26. #26 MartinC
    May 8, 2007

    Caledonian,
    Perhaps Ted said it best.
    “You do understand that this issue right here, of intellectual arrogance, is the reason why people like you have a difficult problem with people…. I don’t communicate an air of superiority over the people because I know so much more, and if you only read the books I know, and if you only knew the scientists I knew, then you would be great like me. Well, sir, there could be many things that you know well. There are other things that you don’t know well. As you age, you’ll find yourself wrong on some things, right on some other things. But please, in the process of it, don’t be arrogant.”

  27. #27 Ross
    May 8, 2007

    I agree with the points raised by Fernando and Brandon that ‘we’ are leaning towards the march of the morons not because of breeding ‘inferior genes’ but because of a failure to cultivate a love of learning. It’s always been hard to instill that particular virtue but modern culture seems to reward idiocy and parents and teachers are fighting against a strong tide.

    Our morons are like bonsai – not bred but stunted.

    Ross (from the country that thinks the phrase “Too clever by half” is an insult)

  28. #28 xebecs
    May 8, 2007

    Ross: Ditto. You said what I was trying to say, but shorter and better. It’s still early, and my Stylomatic 3000 takes a while to spin up.

  29. #29 DaveX
    May 8, 2007

    All of what PZ said is well and good, but it sort of eases around the fact that there really IS a “standing army” of morons currently out there. And like Bova said, they don’t want to know much of anything beyond how to get what they want, they’ll fight you tooth and nail to avoid learning anything (and half the time, to keep others from learning it), and they’ll generally F things up with all the problems that an attitude and lifestyle such as this can cause.

    Even while we acknowledge that their offspring have a chance for something better, you still have to ask– what do you do with these folks NOW?

  30. #30 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    But please, in the process of it, don’t be arrogant.

    Translation: don’t make people feel bad because they’re more ignorant than you are.

    Well, guess what? Having their ignorance publically pointed out and mocked is one of the few things that can somestimes shame people into learning and thinking. Anyone who makes pronouncements that people with even a rudimentary grasp of the subject can instantly see are inane OUGHT to be mocked.

    There’s nothing shameful about ignorance. Lecturing others about their errors while knowing nothing about the subject – that’s shameful. A point you don’t seem to have considered: it’s not arrogance if it’s correct.

  31. #31 Mike Nilsen
    May 8, 2007

    Hear! Hear! Well said.

    I think we should take all these damn elitists, sterilize them and put them in camps. :)

  32. #32 Bunjo
    May 8, 2007

    No, IQ scores are normalized. It’s performance on IQ tests that is slowly improving – it’s called the Flynn Effect – not the attained scores.

    Yes, thank you Caledonian, I was aware of that but didn’t want to hijack the thread for a debate about the details of IQ tests and intelligence.

  33. #33 daedalus2u
    May 8, 2007

    The Marching Morons is contrived and paints a reality that could never happen. 200 years ago most people were farmers because it took that many farmers to grow enough food for everyone to survive. How many people today would be considered “moronic farmers” because being a farmer wasn’t selected for?

    But just as people of reason are selecting mates like them, so are people of unreason. The “problem” isn’t that people of unreason are “morons”, the problem is that they are using their intelligence to produce and maintain their delusional world view and to force it on everyone else.

    I perceive the inability to solve the problems of the world as cultural, not genetic. A “problem” with eugenics is that it would be run by people, and the most powerful selection force would be for gaming that system. Once you put reproductive decisions in the hands of any group, that group becomes infinitely powerful. The first thing that power would be used for is maintaing power.

  34. #34 Dianne
    May 8, 2007

    PZ didn’t quote the bit of the editorial that is, IMHO, the most offensive. It follows:

    In Kornbluth’s story, the people who are actually working — slaving, really — to keep society from falling apart altogether are a small group of very bright men and woman who labor in secret. They are horrified by the world of the morons, but they strive valiantly to keep the dumbbells from destroying themselves…Sound familiar?

    No, it doesn’t sound in the least familiar…at least not as far as the “small group of very bright men and women” goes. Any number of people exist who have little interest in the big picture or much beyond their immediate lives. The current era exactly the same as past eras in this respect. But the secret, selfless cabal of brilliant people working tirelessly and without reward to save the morons? Please. There are any number of people who believe themselves to be part of such a group, but they’re really just more of the morons, marching along.

    (Disclosure: I’ve never read TMM and any negative comments on my intelligence level given that I’m critiquing a story I’ve never read are probably entirely justified…although I would like to point out that I’m really critiquing the editorial, which I have read.)

  35. #35 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    Yes, thank you Caledonian, I was aware of that but didn’t want to hijack the thread for a debate about the details of IQ tests and intelligence.

    If you didn’t want that to come up, you should have gotten it right the first time.

  36. #36 wintermute
    May 8, 2007

    By an amazing coincidence, I just found a thread about continuing human evolution on RichardDawkins.net which has brought out lots of commenters claiming that stupid people have lots of babies.

    I pointed them here.

  37. #37 Arnaud
    May 8, 2007

    PZ,
    I think Caledonian cannot accept your refutation of TMM because, you know, he likes calling people morons so much…

  38. #38 dorid
    May 8, 2007

    I both agree AND disagree with this…
    the point I’ll discuss in the BRIEF time I have this morning is this:

    Here’s the real solution to the “marching moron” problem: teach them. Give them fair opportunities. Open the door to education for all. They have just as much potential as you do. Bova complains that people aren’t willing to work for change, but this is exactly where we can work to improve minds — but we won’t if we assume the mob is hopeless.

    I agree that it isn’t all hopeless, that even the sons and daughters of Bush supporters can be educated. The problem though, is that they’re born in a society where stupidity is the norm. Educating people who live stupidity as though it were the culture they cling to is difficult. They have no motive to be educated, some actually abhor education, and want to believe whatever their home culture teaches them, be in religious nonsense, that being a good mechanic is better than learning all that highbrow stuff they teach you in school, “we’re just plain folk”, or the only way to make enough money to get out of the proj is by drugs or rap music. I’ve heard ALL of that from kids AND parents while I was teaching.

    Does that mean we give up? NO! But it means sometimes the ones we save are a lot fewer than the ones who hold tight to ignorance.

    I’m afraid I DO believe that there are marching morons. I think the last presidential election was a part of that. I think that the increasing religiosity in the US is part of that, and I think that statistics about the educated vs the uneducated and childbirth rates would confirm this.

  39. #39 Stacey C.
    May 8, 2007

    Thank you for this post. I come from a working class family as well. My parents didn’t have any higher education opportunities. My dad is still functionally illiterate because when he young he convinced himself he’d never be able to read well and no one ever tried to dissuade him from this idea. But he’s got the most ‘Yankee Ingenuity” of anyone I’ve ever met. He’s built rigs to do things that would normally require three people, using a tractor, some spare wood/metal, and his mind. He built my family’s home and has been told that his electrical work is better than contractors by building inspectors. My mom is a wiz with numbers and keeps all the family’s money together through an elaborate accounting system. I never had to want for anything because she always saw that all the bills were paid, food put on the table, clothing and extras purchased and still some put away for savings. I’m really lucky to have had such great role models in my life to remind me that just because someone doesn’t have an advanced degree doesn’t mean they are inherently stupid.

  40. #40 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    that being a good mechanic is better than learning all that highbrow stuff they teach you in school,

    What kind of person thinks that being a good mechanic is less useful than having, let’s say, an education degree?

    Middle-class morons, mostly.

  41. #41 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 8, 2007

    Excellent article! There are many cases in which people have tried to co-opt scientific theories like evolutionary biology into the support of various reactionary political positions. This is nearly always based on misunderstandings of the science involved.

  42. #42 Jud
    May 8, 2007

    PZ said: “Are you staring aghast at the latest cluster of immigrants in this country, are you fretting that they’re breeding like rabbits? That generation of children will be the people your kids grow up with, go to school with, date, and marry. It may take a while, but eventually, your line will merge with theirs.”

    There’s an even more immediate and tangible connection. A Monday Wall Street Journal article had this to say, in part:

    “One of the challenges is that Americans don’t seem to be aware of the vital role the next generation will play. The predominantly white senior citizens and boomers, who account for the majority of the nation’s decision makers, often vote against measures to boost services or raise taxes for schools increasingly populated by Hispanics. That’s a problem, because better education is the ticket to prosperity for those on whose tax dollars boomers will rely.

    “Ron Crouch, director of Kentucky’s State Data Center at the University of Louisville, makes about 150 presentations a year to groups including educators, high-tech industry leaders and government officials to paint a picture of what the U.S. will look like as an aging white population converges with a growing population of immigrants and minority youth.

    “‘If I’m an old white person, I better be interested in how these young, Hispanic kids are doing,’ Mr. Crouch told an audience attending the National School Board Association conference in San Francisco last month.”

  43. #43 Chris O.
    May 8, 2007

    Cal: Mocking people is always arrogant. Don’t be a jerk.

  44. #44 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    The idea that imposing social consequences for harboring and spreading stupid ideas is wrong and bad helps dangerous memes to spread.

    We need more people who are willing to be “jerks”, not fewer.

  45. #45 roystgnr
    May 8, 2007

    Well, that clears things up nicely. I had apparently been under the false impression that intelligence was an evolved trait with heritable variation that might be subject to natural selection. But if even the evolutionists don’t believe that, I guess it’s time to go take another look at this “intelligent design” stuff after all! Thanks, PZ!

  46. #46 CCP
    May 8, 2007

    Please, rational people, get past the naive nature vs. nurture argument. Intelligence, it seems to me (and I am a zoologist, not a psychologist) is not a single “trait” like Mendel’s purple flowers. If it can be defined at all, it is only as a composite of many, many skills, aptitudes, and abilities, and each of those is both polygenic and (to varying degrees) developmentally plastic. It’s complex! It’s going to be determined not so much by specific alleles passed from parent to offspring, but more by combinations of various alleles that are always getting scrambled around through sexual recombination, PLUS a nontrivial influence of the developmental environment, both pre-and post-natally.

  47. #47 Maryanne Elliot
    May 8, 2007

    I think that everyone should read and be tested on
    The Genetical theory of Natural Selection.
    It’s a wonderful illustration of how a mathematician could beautifully restate the basic Natural Selection theory (indeed Fisher’s preface begins “Natural Selection is not Evolution.”), give it a thorough illustration with those special characters that show true particulate inheritance, and then get swamped in culturally begged questions when he launched into social engineering prescription of encouraging “fertility” in the “better” societies.

    Genes flow; nobody has any testable hypothesis for the phenomenon of the Flynn Effect but it’s as likely to be more people are getting more school as it is to be gene flow, there’s no way to test it; eugenics ( as if all outbreeding in people could be prevented – I love the fond hopes of genetic engineering fans) is line breeding and therefore as likely to fall flat on its face as produce a desired outcome (on any heritable character you care to name – just ask any cattle or dog breeder).
    Furthermore, the evidence is clear that Homo sapiens has much less variability than any other species on which comparisons of selectable ‘fitness’ could be made (for example Pan troglodytes), and so any attempt at line breeding for social excellence or “g” (or whatever you want to typify IQ as this month) is pretty likely to produce a bunch of ethically challenged parasites (qv the British monarchy and peerage) or peter out in the second generation with deleterious homozygous loads.

    Moron is as moron does and hubris is everywhere always.

  48. #48 David Marjanovi?
    May 8, 2007

    My unconfirmed sweeping opinion is that, by and large, the really dumb and the really clever fail to contibute significantly to the next generation (by reason of early death or disinclination to breed). Everybody else breeds towards an average value of intelligence (suitable for the many cultural and environmental niches available) in an unplanned way.

    Stabilizing selection! :-)

  49. #49 David Marjanovi?
    May 8, 2007

    My unconfirmed sweeping opinion is that, by and large, the really dumb and the really clever fail to contibute significantly to the next generation (by reason of early death or disinclination to breed). Everybody else breeds towards an average value of intelligence (suitable for the many cultural and environmental niches available) in an unplanned way.

    Stabilizing selection! :-)

  50. #50 Venyal
    May 8, 2007

    “I generally figure that environmental factors cause at least 70% of variability in intelligence”

    Actually, it is generally accepted in behavioral genetics that 70-80% of the variation in “IQ” is due to genetic factors.
    However, one major caveat is that these numbers assume some minimum degree of nurturing has been met. When we start talking about children reared in an abusive environment, or one where their basic nutrient needs aren’t met, we can assume that this percentage swings quickly to favor environmental factors.

  51. #51 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 8, 2007

    In comment #45, roystgnr says:

    Well, that clears things up nicely. I had apparently been under the false impression that intelligence was an evolved trait with heritable variation that might be subject to natural selection. But if even the evolutionists don’t believe that, I guess it’s time to go take another look at this “intelligent design” stuff after all! Thanks, PZ!

    No; the point is that heritable variation flows through the whole population. You can’t single out a class or subgroup that is inferior. Such social are transient and do not represent a long independent lineage, or any genetic superiority. The real genetic variation is between individuals, thoughout society, and it spreads through the whole society as time passes. PZ is not saying there’s no variation. He’s saying that variation is not lined up neatly along class divisions with “good” on one side and “bad” on the other.

    I have confidence that you are intelligent enough to reread his article and confirm this for yourself — no matter what class you belong to. Education is a valuable thing, for everyone.

  52. #52 RickD
    May 8, 2007

    Cal said:

    We need more people who are willing to be “jerks”, not fewer.

    Well isn’t that precious!

  53. #53 joeski
    May 8, 2007

    We biologists deride the social precept that religious arguments are immune from rational discussion, simply because they are “religious.” Yet when we debate the biology of human differences, it is considered off-limits as well to discuss the possibility of inherent differences in intelligence. As a teacher I would like the PC police to achieve Nirvana and have equal opportunities for all children, from conception (protection from smoking, drugs, alcohol)through childhood (nutrition, medical care, stimulation, love, security, and inclusion). The reality is that once this Nirvana is achieved, we will truly live in a eugenic society, a meritocracy based solely on innate genetic abilities since all the environmental variables have been optimized for all. Our social goal should not be to say that everyone has equal potential for “intelligence,” but that every child should reach his or her own potential as a human being without being saddled by self-fulfilling prophecies as to what that potential is.

    Joeski

  54. #54 Dianne
    May 8, 2007

    Actually, it is generally accepted in behavioral genetics that 70-80% of the variation in “IQ” is due to genetic factors.

    Based on what evidence? Not saying that you or behavioral geneticists are wrong, but I’d like more than an appeal to authority before accepting the statement.

  55. #55 Daniel Martin
    May 8, 2007

    Although anyone quoting TMM as prophesy nowadays needs to be given a wide berth, I tend to give Kornbluth himself a large amount of slack; he grew up in a time and a place of particularly virulent anti-intellectualism.

    As for the genes-as-intellectual-destiny argument: I see no reason to believe that intelligence is any more or less determined genetically than other physical abilities such as the ability to run a mile in under four minutes or the ability to maintain a BMI under 25. We seem to be able to accept that those abilities have both genetic and environmental dependencies; why is it that intelligence must be entirely one or the other?

    Also, we encourage everyone – even (perhaps especially) fatsos like me (BMI: 38.6) – to get out and exercise even though I could never run a four minute mile with the best training on the planet. Why is it then that knowledge of the inborn components of intelligence is so often coupled with what looks like concern trolling aimed at discouraging those with less innate ability from persuing intellectual tasks?

    I’ll hazard a guess: intelligence is in the modern world strongly tied to our sense of self-worth, in the way that some people in ages past (and, I suppose, now too) would tie their self-image to their religious identity and specifically to whether they’re getting into heaven. Although you’d think that a strong belief in religious predestination would lead to licentious, “anything goes” societies, (given that your destination is already determined) the societies formed by Calvinists are notorious for their strict regulations against actions deemed ungodly, and for their strong “watch thy neighbor” culture. That is, a belief that salvation was innate led to culture in which there was strong pressure to prove that one was one of the elect, and led to seeking out people not of the elect to shame.

    Working from the logical implications of their theology, one might offhand think that a society of believers in predestination would be more charitable toward the poor or those of ill repute than a society of strong free-will believers, but somehow that’s not the way it worked out in actual human societies.

    There was a study which I’ve heard of only annecdotally, so I’ll have to go and track down the source, that looked at the effect on schoolchildren of being told that intelligence was innate, or that it could be changed. First, candidates for the study were assessed as to whether they were already inclined to believe more strongly in the innate nature of intelligence or in its changeable/environmental nature, and the children were split into two groups. Each group then had its own prejudices reinforced. (I think by some authority figure coming in and presenting evidence for that view) Then, the groups were combined, the children were given some sort of general knowledge test, and the tests, with scores, were posted around the room and the children were given a chance to go look at others’ tests. The “intelligence is innate” group tended to locate and look at scores lower than their own, and to find answers that they had gotten right but some other kid had gotten wrong. The “intelligence is environmental” group tended to seek out the best scores, and find the answers to questions they had missed.

    I, personally, do not care to live in the type of society that human beings seem to form when possessed of a strong conviction of the innateness of whatever determines their self-worth. I see nothing wrong with admitting that some people have to work harder to master certain subjects than others, but I find concern trolling of the “we shouldn’t tell children they can be anything” strain odious.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    He’s saying that variation is not lined up neatly along class divisions with “good” on one side and “bad” on the other.

    Which is why his argument is a strawman, since “class” had no part in either the editorial or the story he’s decrying.

  57. #57 windy
    May 8, 2007

    Genes flow; nobody has any testable hypothesis for the phenomenon of the Flynn Effect but it’s as likely to be more people are getting more school as it is to be gene flow, there’s no way to test it…

    No, it’s not at all likely to be gene flow.

  58. #58 Zbu
    May 8, 2007

    What also gets me is the idea of intelligence. What exactly makes intelligence? In my profession of IT work, I’m proclaimed a genius on a daily basis simply because I have the experience to know a problem because I’ve seen it before. So not only is that whole ‘moron is hereditary’ thing stupid, it also assumes that intelligence can be defined by one method.

    Hell, I’m the only college graduate in my entire family (not IT) and my family is full of people who graduated high school but work at fairly menial jobs. And despite this, they are excellent troubleshooters. Just because they didn’t go to college means they’re morons? Nonsense! Their speciality is figuring stuff out by seeing how it works, and I feel glad that I had the upbringing they gave me on top of my college education. It made me a much more rounded person and gave me a second career outside of my college experience.

    I guess what I’m saying is the true tragedy of this mindset of ‘elites vs. morons’ is that it sets up a false dichotomy that wille eventually become one of class warfare not between the rich and everybody else, but of the college educated and everybody else. And not only is that petty, it’s dangerous. The last thing America needs now is to declare some sort of war on all education. Who needs an Idiocracy when you have people dismissing all forms of education as some elitist flight of fancy?

  59. #59 CalGeorge
    May 8, 2007

    Can we launch Bush into space?

    Please?

    The truly dangerous people are the exploiters of the mob. The politicians who appeal to people’s worst instincts. The fundies who dumb life down and stifle curiosity.

    Launch those folks into space.

  60. #60 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 8, 2007

    I’ve always liked Socrates’s take on genetics. The sons of great statesmen, he said, are usually worthless and good for nothing. (Just look at Themistocles and his offspring!)

    Do you have any Irish, or Jewish, or Italian, or Native American, or Asian, or whatever (literally—it’s hard to find any ethnic origin that wasn’t despised at some time) in your ancestry? Go back a hundred years or so, and your great- or great-great-grandparents were regarded as apes or subhumans or mentally deficient lackeys suitable only for menial labor.

    As for my own illustrious forebears, at least on my mother’s side, they came over just after the Mayflower. . . and spent the next three hundred years fleeing to the frontier, farming sand and rocks one county west of the law. Oh yes, and interbreedin’ with the natives. The only people who (probably) aren’t represented in my family tree are the Jews, and maybe the Vietnamese. (I’m making up for it the best I can: in our modern times, atheism is the new Judaism.)

    America, I love yeh.

  61. #61 llewelly
    May 8, 2007

    In the same vein, it should be remembered that some of us have parents who are creationists.

  62. #62 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    The truly dangerous people are the exploiters of the mob.

    And not the mob itself?

  63. #63 Cappy
    May 8, 2007

    The more prevalent threat I see is not the breeding, but as depicted in Idiocracy, the development of technology that is very durable, easy to use, and no one has any idea how it works. That, coupled with the demand for technology (iPods, TV/MP3/game phones, etc.) that fulfills the need for CONSTANT ENTERTAINMENT. I don’t see the problem as genetic so much as a culture that no longer sees learning and education as important or even necessary.

  64. #64 Venyal
    May 8, 2007

    Diane,
    “Based on what evidence?”

    The strongest behavioral genetics evidence comes from adoption and twin studies. Its the only real way that genetics and environment can ethically be controlled for. The results from these studies are used to rate “heritability” scores. IQ is a favorite topic in these studies, so there are lots of independent findings of that relative score.
    I don’t really want to go hunt down sources for you, however, a google search would probably give you some good resources to verify or falsify my claim.

  65. #65 j.t.delaney
    May 8, 2007

    Christian Burnham wrote:
    “…Intelligence itself is heritable and we select for it like crazy. Most university graduates (I suspect) marry other university graduates, or at least people with similar intellectual and educational backgrounds. How can this not have a long term effect?…”

    Ah, but this is the problem again, isn’t it? The thing is, all of us come from the same genetic pool selected for thousands of years to be successful in a society consisting of mostly farmers and day laborers. Prior to that, we were “bred” to be successful hunter-gatherers. Civilization itself has worked as an unintentional selective breeding program, yielding the current semi-domesticated H. sapiens sapiens; if this hasn’t managed to errode our species’ innate cognitive abilities, I doubt that a couple centuries of modern class stratification is going to do much of anything. Sure, some people may have some extra talent and maybe some of this can be attributed to genetics, but there’s no evidence that these traits are going extinct any time soon in the general population. Even if you can claim a pedigree of PhD’s on both sides of your family tree for the last hundred years, your bloodline is still predicated on a stock no more rarified than your average alley cat…

    Educated middle-class people marry other educated middle-class people, and have children who grow up to become educated and middle class: this is nothing new. I don’t think this is a reflection of a genetic trait, so much as conditioning. Our society is pretty far afield from a true meritocracy, and kids raised with the skill sets necessary to succeed in academia will have an easier time getting ahead. The reason that giftedness seem scarce is that only a small number of people are fortunate enough to be raised in environments that promote its development.

  66. #66 Mick
    May 8, 2007

    Cappy makes a damn fine point in #62; the greatest threat to human intelligence isn’t found in genes, it’s found in the growing anti-intellectualism of many people.
    Also, I’m amazed and a little offended by the thought that interests are a good indicator of intelligence. Having recently been to a family function, I found myself taken aback by the sheer volumes of sports trivia memorized by some people. The ability to calculate statistics quickly, accurately, mentally, is surely intelligent, whether it’s an RBI, MPG, PPM, WTFE. A master carpenter may not know the order of the planets, but could tell you the best types of paints, varnishes, seals, primers, and epoxies to use on hundreds of different kinds of wood. And so on.

  67. #67 windy
    May 8, 2007

    Another thing that was a bit off in Idiocracy: It’s more likely that our big brains evolved partly in order to understand nudge-nudge-wink-wink sex and fart jokes, not despite them.

    Even if we are selecting for “marching morons” that care about little besides sex, getting food on the table and the antics of high-status individuals, what’s so different from the last few million years?

  68. #68 Chuck
    May 8, 2007

    Bravo, Dr. Myers. Might I add that virtually all of the genetic variation in the human species is represented in a few East African tribes; wipe all of humanity off the planet and allow them to repopulate it, and within a few tens of thousands of years, the world will once again be teeming with elitists, nabobs, rationalists, educated people, uneducated people, poor, and rich. In a proper context, with means of transport and intercommunication restricted to levels seen in preliterate cultures, and it will likely even be teeming once gain with pinkish people, black people, and all shades between. Man, I hate social Darwinists; they give much succour to creationists complaining that Darwin was responsible for Nazism.

  69. #69 Uber
    May 8, 2007

    let’s say, an education degree?

    Middle-class morons, mostly

    I don’t think that is very accurate in most cases.

  70. #70 Kseniya
    May 8, 2007

    Re: The following.

    that being a good mechanic is better than learning all that highbrow stuff they teach you in school

    What kind of person thinks that being a good mechanic is less useful than having, let’s say, an education degree? Middle-class morons, mostly.

    I don’t see how Cal is mocking Dorid. He’s obviously extending her statement in a non-contradictory way. Dorid criticizes the notion that being a good mechanic is better than book-larnin’. Nowhere does she state or imply that the converse is true. Clearly, being a good mechanic is as useful as being a good [whatever], and both Dorid and Caledonian recognize this. The only explanation that supports the view of Cal mocking Dorid would be that Cal simply misapprehended Dorid’s meaning, but given that Cal is never wrong, this could not possibly have happened.

    Re: Kornbluth.

    Young Cyril certainly had a dark view of humanity. “The Marching Morons” is, among other things, very much an indictment of 20th century man and his genocidal “solutions.”

    “The Little Black Bag” (one of my favorites from that era) is another thing entirely. Though it springs from the same future as TMM, and though it’s a very different story with a much smaller scope, it is no less disheartening – for in the end, greed triumphs over altruism and personal redemption, at no small cost. A sad tale indeed.

  71. #71 Kseniya
    May 8, 2007

    Cappy makes a damn fine point in #62; the greatest threat to human intelligence isn’t found in genes, it’s found in the growing anti-intellectualism of many people.

    Yup. We haven’t bred ourselves into decline or extinction just yet. Empires don’t fall for genetic reasons. Cultures decay and collapse. I don’t think biology plays much of a role in that.

  72. #72 Stephanie
    May 8, 2007

    It occurred to me while reading this thread (and, based on the comments, I thought someone here might have some familiarity with the subject) are there studies on variation in phenotypic plasticity in populations and how plasticity itself can be selected for/against? They don’t even have to be human int studies, though that would certainly be interesting.

  73. #73 roger
    May 8, 2007

    check this out. anecdotal evidence of moronity. the morons are us and our gov’t.

    http://thevanitypress.blogspot.com/2007/05/its-just-coin-eh.html

  74. #74 Venyal
    May 8, 2007

    Chuck,
    Awesome post.

  75. #75 Pierce R. Butler
    May 8, 2007

    Kornbluth’s thesis can also be considered as a form of early backlash against the spread of contraception in the educated classes – not “too many of them“, but “not enough of us“. From another perspective, he was just re-working the Morlock/Eloi class-struggle parable from H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine.

    One could now write a counter-story starting from the idea that the current “explosion” in autism & Asperger’s Syndrome is due to increased reproduction among suddenly-prosperous nerds & geeks: “The Withdrawn Whiz-kids”, maybe.

    Or, you could point to the failure of elite breeding programs such as the mating of G.H.W. Bush & B. Pierce. ‘Nuff said!

  76. #76 N.Wells
    May 8, 2007

    We have elites in our society, and they do tend to self-perpetuate, and we aren’t short on cultural (rather than genetic) “marching morons”, but I don’t see us heading to Kornbluth’s dystopia.

    In particular, I don’t see that membership in elite and powerful groups ever correlates particularly well with intelligence. For example, I’m pretty sure that Bush, Rove, Cheney, Gonzales, Wolfowitz, Feith, et al. would consider Kornbluth’s description (“the people who are actually working — slaving, really — to keep society from falling apart altogether are a small group of very bright men and woman who labor [selflessly] in secret”) as being a perfect description of themselves. (That’s partly why I distrust elites.) As another example of low correlation between the elites and intelligence, pick almost any royal family.

    If and when we maximize everyone’s potential to be educated, we may indeed face some issues of basic biological differences. (I also agree with Christian Burnham up-thread that society will face a major problem when if vast wealth alone is ever able to buy tremendous genetic improvements that are unavailable to the rest of us.) However, the important point is that we seem to be a long way from those situations, so they don’t seem worth worrying about. Until then, we can get far more social mileage out of maximizing education (Albert Wiggam: “Intelligence will help you get along without an education; education will help you get along without intelligence”).

    Kornbluth’s fears also seem to be negated by the fact that, given a reasonably meritocratic and open society, bright people appear and “bubble up” in society all the time, from all social ranks and all genetic backgrounds. We just need to engineer societies to offer education and subsequent opportunities, particularly where family background is unsupportive. (America is pretty good at upward mobility, whereas Indian caste society is particularly bad at it.)

    Also note that membership in elite groups tends to self-destructive (“from shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations”). Admittedly, this varies a lot: four or five generations may be more typical, and there are some impressive exceptions (notably some European aristocratic families) that have lasted much longer. Nonetheless, the combination of hubris, greed, gambling opportunities, trophy wives, and whatever word best fits Paris Hilton exert strong downward pressure. So I’m not sure that either the marching morons or the brainy elite are stable and preordained entities.

    Less seriously, the day that breasts develop secondary concentrations of neurons (and the number of neurons correlates with breast size) is when humans will start experiencing serious selection for intelligence. (But even then, cosmetic surgeons stand ready to step in and help save us from that terrible fate.)

  77. #77 TTT
    May 8, 2007

    Re: the “smugness and elitism of sci-fi fans”: At many (if not most) of the events hosted by my Ivy League college’s sci-fi club, there would be a ritualistic reading of Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s “Music-Makers and Dreamers of Dreams” poem. It was also a regular motif in fan artwork, posters, t-shirt design…. and it’s all about how only we have any brains and creativity and everybody else is a stinky gas pumper guy. There’s a HUGE element of lifelong intellectual revenge on school bullies amongst fans, it seems…..

  78. #78 Venyal
    May 8, 2007

    Chuck,
    Awesome post.

  79. #79 MKinsella
    May 8, 2007

    Thought the link to “three generations of imbeciles is enough” would take me to a genealogy of the current US monarchy.

  80. #80 Maryanne Elliot
    May 8, 2007

    and within a few tens of thousands of years, the world will once again be teeming with elitists, nabobs, rationalists, educated people, uneducated people, poor, and rich. In a proper context, with means of transport and intercommunication restricted to levels seen in preliterate cultures, and it will likely even be teeming once gain with pinkish people, black people, and all shades between.

    Aye! That is, if H sapiens gets really really lucky again and the originating group delivers enough variation for derived populations to just squeeze through epidemics like they did the Black Death – whatever it was.

    And ow, windy, I have no excuse for my bad proofing. Read a poor attempt at irony in my intended cultural flow for that second gene flow.

    And isn’t any stock breeding program a directed attempt to reduce phenotypic plasticity? To ‘fix’ traits in a population?

  81. #81 Stanton
    May 8, 2007

    Caledonian said:

    The idea that imposing social consequences for harboring and spreading stupid ideas is wrong and bad helps dangerous memes to spread.

    We need more people who are willing to be “jerks”, not fewer.

    I recommend reading the fable “The Sun and the North Wind.” Do realize that if you insist on simply being antagonistic about confronting a person’s ignorance/stupidity, that person will simply cling to their ignorance/stupidity harder.

  82. #82 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    Education has always been the gateway to opportunity and success.

    That our educational system is neglected just shows lack of foresight and appreciation of that fact.

  83. #83 brian t
    May 8, 2007

    The idea that intelligence has any genetic or racial correlation is a difficult one, and liable to be misused by unscrupulous racists, but there’s some evidence out there to back it up. The example I’m most aware of is G. Cochran’s research into Ashkenazi Jews: “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence”. There’s the paper itself, and a NY Times Article on it.

    It’s worth noting that in their case there is a genetic price to pay for intelligence, increased susceptibility to Tay-Sachs disease that could be the result of inbreeding.

    The authors are aware of the danger in publishing such research; but they chose to do so, rather than flat-out deny the possibility of racial differences in intelligence, or explain it away as testing artefacts, in the interests of political correctness. There’s not much there for racists to use, in my opinion – no evidence of “superiority” (however they define it) to boost their egos.

  84. #84 Cheri
    May 8, 2007

    Intelligence has little to do with masses being “content to let you run the country any way you choose.” When our leadership hauled us into a war that now most people despise, the intelligent elitists stood behind them. We live in an individualistic society, yet most people still prefer to shut up and do what they’re told. It makes life easier when you don’t have to spend so much time thinking for yourself. That holds true whether you are young or old, pretty or ugly, rich or poor, intelligent or not.

    Our children learn to read, write and add in school, but no one is teaching them to think.
    Teachers expect conformity. Their classrooms are models of dictatorships, democracy is detested. Children teach each other how to socialize on the playgrounds, whether they come from the welfare rolls or the Rolls Royce. The children who are socially competent get to make the rules, and those rules seldom embrace individual thought.

    Manipulating genetic codes will not impact how we socialize. Humans have been arrogant enough to think they know more than nature from the beginning. How is that working for us now? Our planet is changing rapidly into a place that will not be hospitable to humans. When we manipulate genes, we will reduce the genetic variability that has allowed us to adapt well enough to be on top of the food chain. Yes, it is genetic variability and not intelligence or universities that have made humans so powerful.

    A college education is not a sign of intelligence or superiority. Obtaining a quality education still has more to do with cost than ability, and many who are fortunate enough to go are not motivated to learn and think. But then, elitists like the idea that the average citizen is willing to work quietly, accepting the rules as they come down the pike. That’s where the money is!

  85. #85 cm
    May 8, 2007

    No, it’s not. [Intelligence] can be impaired, but causing it to develop further is essentially impossible….This sort of thing is why biolgists shouldn’t post about psychology.

    And you know this because all possible attempts to increase intelligence using our current understanding of psychology and neuroscience have been exhausted, right? And of course we completely understand all aspects of cognitive neuroscience at this point, so we can state this with certainty as you did. Yep, case closed. Nothing to see here. Pack up your fMRIs and electrodes, folks: we’re done.

  86. #86 Phila
    May 8, 2007

    Thank you! Possibly the best single post I’ve ever read here.

  87. #87 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    I’m not sure what that was a rant about…

    society? education? humanity? elitism?

  88. #88 Mark Atwood
    May 8, 2007

    “eugenics and … right-wing phony elitism”

    Compulsory eugenics, in the form of sterilization of the “feeble-minded” and similar schemes, is sometimes blamed on Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinism, hence on laissez-faire beliefs, hence on libertarianism. … That is almost precisely backwards. Spencer was indeed concerned about human eugenics but, as a believer in laissez-faire, he did not propose using government to improve them. Compulsory eugenics originated with Galton and was rapidly taken up by the British LEFT, with supporters including Shaw, Wells, Keynes, Laski and the Webbs. link

  89. #89 natural cynic
    May 8, 2007

    For a proper perspective of breeding, one should watch Monty Python’s skit “Upper Class Twit of the Year”.

  90. #90 Jonquil
    May 8, 2007

    ::holds up lighter::

    My grandfather, the son of railroad workers, was the first in his family to go to college, and all his life was taunted with “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” (He taught high school in the Depression.) My parents do genealogy, and they’ve found quite a few of their working-class forebears were illiterate, based on cross marks on legal papers.

    In 1850, my ancestors would have officially been part of the problem.

  91. #91 Mark Borok
    May 8, 2007

    I never thought of “Marching Morons” as being about genetically inherited stupidity (although maybe I wasn’t paying attention), I just assumed it was about inherited attitudes.

    Be that as it may, you’d think that the group of super-intelligent people who ran the world would have thought of a way to either breed more intelligence into the easily-manipulated population of “morons” or incite them to educate themselves.

    Wasn’t a phrase from that story, “I’ll buy that for a dollar,” used in the movie “Robocop” as an example of a joke that only stupid people would laugh at?

    Anyway, this will all seem rather quaint when the morlocks take over.

  92. #92 Bob O'H
    May 8, 2007

    The point that Kornbluth makes is simple, and scary: dumbbells have more children than geniuses.

    *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

    That’s better. Or will be once my head stops throbbing.

    Maryanne Elliot has already mention The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. One point that Fisher make early on is that fitness isn’t the same as number of offspring produced. They have to survive as well. I think it’s pretty well established that both the number of children produced and survival are both correlated with economic class, so it’s not so clear that the poorer are any fitter anyway (i.e. they produce more children, who tend to die earlier). Add to that the high gene flow across classes (as PZ is pointing out), and a heritability that is not huge (wiki cites a study that concludes that the average heritability is around 0.5), there is probably little trend: everything just gets mixed together.

    My own conclusion is then the same as PZ’s (smarm, smarm): we should give everyone the opportunities to improve themselves: good education, healthcare etc.

    Bob

  93. #93 Troublesome Frog
    May 8, 2007

    Yes, thank you Caledonian, I was aware of that but didn’t want to hijack the thread for a debate about the details of IQ tests and intelligence.

    What you were unfortunately unaware of is that Caledonian has no such hang-ups about hijacking a thread, especially if it seems like a good opportunity to correct people on issues that aren’t central to topic.

  94. #94 Drugmonkey
    May 8, 2007

    Oi.

    First of all, PZ, for shame. arguing from anecdote like a creationist? I know you know better…

    Second of all, as pointed out by Developing Intelligence psychology is beset by armchair experts, naturally enough. everyone is an “expert” in human behavior, doncha know. this ticks off people like caledonian who have spent way too much time with the intelligence literature, apparently.

    okay, fresh point: The usual heat in the intelligence/genetic/environment discussion comes up because of poor understanding of what the descriptive statistics tell us. (once we get beyond theological-think with respect to ‘I know we are all the same so anything that says otherwise is flawed science’). There are some things that are just too dang common in reasonable literature to deny. People differ in “smarts”. These differences have a large genetic source. These differences are modifiable by environmental factors, sure, but this does not refute the initial genetic component. These differences are reflected in performance of a whole host of measures, no there is nothing inherently “wrong” with IQ or any other “smarts” tests. the idea of “multiple intelligences” is bunk, but in fact this is an untestable hypothesis until we come up with better monkey analogues of symphony composer, anyway. subgroups of people differ in group mean “smarts”.

    here’s the problem though. the right-winger perspective goes on to suggest that we can tell something about the “smarts” of the person in front of us because of one such group membership (say race, gender, southern accent). the left-winger position says that because we can’t reliably predict the “smarts” of the person in front of us because of said group membership (i.e., it is a lousy predictor individually)that therefore the group-based findings are somehow flawed.

    both positions are silly.

    I can’t do much about the right-wingy position, they are beyond hope. but for you left-wingy ranters, please. abandon theology (we are all equal therefore IQ science must be bad). abandon the anecdotal denial of the science (i made it out of appalachia/compton to succeed at Harvard so the group stats must be wrong)

  95. #95 Randy
    May 8, 2007

    “If given the choice I would rather spend my time
    with a group of kids with downs syndrome than a
    listen to a self proclaimed genius (idiot) such
    as Bova.”

    If given the choice, *I* would rather spend my
    time with a group of kids with Down’s Syndrome
    than just about any other group of people I can
    think of!

    I’m a Special Olympics coach. Whenever I spend
    time with those kids I become energized by how
    people really can spend time together and genuinely
    root for each other without playing political
    games and having their own little cliques.

  96. #96 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    I get the feeling PZ won’t agree with you at all.

  97. #97 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    I meant drugmonkey not randy.

  98. #98 grendelkhan
    May 8, 2007

    I wonder if it’s a coincidence that this week appears to be Eugenics Week over at Telic Thoughts. (“As scientists advance technology with things such as human cloning and embryonic stem cells, are they opening the door to a new world of neo-eugenics?”)

    The Marching Morons idea, of course, sounds fantastic (the Morons, are, of course, Other People) until you give it a bit of thought. My moment of clarity was Gould’s short people/tall people example in The Mismeasure of Man (the cause of variation within groups tells you nothing about the cause of variation between groups).

    TTT makes a good point about elitism in dorky groups. It’s very easy to fall into, and it’s not just an excuse to rag on nerds–it really does exist, not always, but it’s endemic to the setting. I’m ashamed that I enjoyed Ender’s Game so much when I was in middle school; it’s one long revenge fantasy where the more the hero murders, the more oppressed and heroic he becomes, until he commits genocide and essentially is canonized as a saint. It’s fucked up.

    This post reminded me of an episode of Beauty and the Geek I saw on YouTube. (Commence your mockery of reality TV after I make my point, please.) I got the feeling that the women had internalized their self-deprecation habits to the point where they believed that they were inherently stupid, which really didn’t seem to be the case–just stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance, which is all the more tragic.

    Relevant to the idea of inherent stupidity, one of the men (Ankur, I think) mentions how he doesn’t want to be paired up with a moron. Great attitude, there.

    This idea of inherent inferiority has cast its own shadow on me personally; my significant other is starting over in school, while I’ve finished it at this point. She keeps on thinking that taking basic courses in math and science means that she’s stupid, but I keep telling her it’s not stupidity, it’s ignorance, and everyone starts out ignorant. (Except I don’t say it like that, because that sounds mean. I used some word other than “ignorance”.)

  99. #99 RickD
    May 8, 2007

    Cheri:

    When our leadership hauled us into a war that now most people despise, the intelligent elitists stood behind them.

    Well, that’s just plain wrong. Or, to put it another way: the people usually accused of being “elitist” were against the war the whole time. The people who were in favor of the war were the financial elite, who regularly launch the accusation of “elitist” at the academic elite.

    brian t:
    The paper you cite is fairly dismissive of the cultural impact on intelligence. While, ultimately, intelligence is a function of genetics, we still do not have a rigorous demonstration that variation in intelligence is genetic as opposed to resulting from cultural factors. This kind of comment is fairly funny:

    The authors are aware of the danger in publishing such research; but they chose to do so, rather than flat-out deny the possibility of racial differences in intelligence, or explain it away as testing artefacts, in the interests of political correctness.

    The usage of the phrase “political correctness” should be a red flag. It is a phrase that is always used as a straw man. As other bloggers have said, “poiltical correctness” is a great tool for doubling down: one gets to say something offensive, and then get a double benefit by acting aggrieved at the possibility that somebody might take offense.

    “Political incorrectness” is a wildly popular attitude to take in today’s society. Why, then, would anybody think there would be a “danger” is publishing a paper that is “politically incorrect”. After all, the paper got mentioned in the NY Times! I wonder how many papers with contradictory viewpoints or conclusions got that kind of treatment!

  100. #100 grendelkhan
    May 8, 2007

    I’m surprised that Jews made the list you posted. Not that Jews haven’t been historically hated, but usually they’re labeled as shifty, evil, drinking the blood of babies, but stupid? That’s a new one on me. Rabid anti-Semites may hate the Jews, but they tend to hold in common a high opinion of their smarts.

    Of course, the flip side of the Ashkenazi intelligence idea is the stupid $MINORITY idea. If you don’t want to connect the dots, Charles “Bell Curve” Murray will even do it for you.

  101. #101 Casey
    May 8, 2007

    Firstly, I think Colin’s post (#21) hits the nail right on the head. To pretend that environment is the only shaping factor is actually more abusive to individuals. Because folks who aren’t as successful can be thought of as being lazy, apathetic, etc. when in actuality it is due to inate genetic differences (as numerous replicated twin studies have shown). This viewpoint that the poor are lazy, is something that I hear from my right-wing grandparents all the time. Now this doesn’t mean that creating educational opportunities for all and limiting child abuse, won’t pick up many stragglers, but ethically we have to face the fact that there are genetic differences. But do we value a person based on how well he does on an IQ test, based on how much money he makes. Hopefully, we value the humanity of every single person independently, based on their morals and their actions.

    Going back to PZ’s post, I agree with the gist of the article about there not being segregated sub-cultures. In addition, the variance in traits (IQ, work ethic) amongst any sub-culture is large enough, that even if there are average differences, it would be irrational to treat any ‘one’ individual from the sub-culture any differently. But if there is some segregation, then out-breeding of these sub-cultures is frequent enough to defeat this. I think I remember a study that indicated that only one jew in a given region needs to outbreed per generation to maintain some sort of genetic heterozygosity (I’m sorry I don’t have the details). Anecdotally, think of how many “intelligent” men and wealthy men who marry younger beautiful women who are lacking in the brain department (I imagine the reverse is sometimes true but it doesn’t seem like it occurs as often except in the movie “Little Children”).

  102. #102 K
    May 8, 2007

    “I have to confess to taking these kinds of stories personally. My family was probably what would be called the working poor nowadays, when I was growing up I was called white trash more than a few times, and yes, I come from a large family.”
    The problem here is that you’ve made this story about YOU when it really isn’t. It’s not about poor people. It’s about morons, the medical term, people with low IQs who aren’t EVER going to learn no matter how many opportunities you give them.
    And here’s the truth, our planet is overpopulated and most of the people using resources aren’t worth a damn. Myself included. I am not as smart as I’d like to be. I can feel the limitations in my brain, things I just can’t grasp, paths my brain can’t follow when someone more intelligent speaks. I know that I’m not worth a damn. I have not invented anything, probably won’t ever. Any strengths I have are in creativity, arts, but I’m no artist. I will give no pleasure to anyone’s soul, I am worth little. Technically, I’m a drain on society. I’ve bred but was that really a good idea? My son is very smart, but he has his own limitations. He will, most likely, not invent anything, nor push mankind forward in anyway, he will just become another breeding human. We aren’t worth a damn. It’s not about money, it’s about brains. Worse yet, there are people who are even dumber and less worthy than me and if I’m not worth a damn, then they’re damaging society by their existence-the dumbing down of schools as a prime example. You know what made me laugh the most about that story? In the letters attempting to convince other morons to take that trip to Venus, there were not enough spelling and grammatical errors. Compare those morons to a what you’d see in any typical fundy post. I guess the author couldn’t grasp just how low IQs could drop.

  103. #103 RedMolly
    May 8, 2007

    Our morons are like bonsai – not bred but stunted.

    Ross, this is pure pithy genius–may I borrow it?

    Isn’t it likely that the overall proportion of people unconcerned with anything beyond their own immediate needs has remained steady over time? Most of my peasant farmer ancestors were probably completely absorbed by getting the harvest in on time and who the parish priest had been diddling lately–they probably had neither the time nor the inclination to pursue higher education or create great art. I think we’re just more aware now than in previous generations of what people who don’t live next door or in the next village are up to. We have the tools to communicate and satisfy our curiosity, and with that power comes a certain disdain for people who seem to have those same avenues available and don’t choose to explore them.

    (That said, I will admit to occasionally having evil worrying thoughts about the numbers of children I see the fundie families around me popping out. Especially because so many of them are openly proud of producing “soldiers for the Lord’s Army.” All I can do is hope that the god-bothering trait doesn’t breed true…)

  104. #104 K. Signal Eingang
    May 8, 2007

    I guess I’ve got to throw in on this one as long as everybody else is.

    I’d like to see a more direct response from PZ to colin at #21, because I agree with pretty much everything he’s saying. Intelligence is biologically determined to a highly significant degree, is heritable, and you can’t put five gallons in a three-quart jug. Pretending that we all have equal potential does a disservice to the people on either end of the bell curve, because it makes those on the low end look lazy, and discourages those who lucked out in the brain lottery from recognizing that it is not only okay, but incumbent on them to exercise that potential because not everybody out there has it. “With great power comes great responsibility…” to put it in the most painfully geeky terms possible.

    My point of view is that whatever the gap between the guy with the 98 IQ and the gal packing 137 upstairs, first of all, they’re still both operating within a very narrow band – consider by comparison the gap between humanity and the next-smartest species. That secondly, class and wealth are not markers for intelligence, nor vice-versa; it’s no more difficult to find a college-educated idiot than it is to find a brilliant forklift operator. In a mostly-integrated, caste-free society like the one most of us here find ourselves in, the “porosity” PZ speaks of smooths out the biological gaps, and the critical differentiator becomes educational opportunity and motivation. It’s been shown that the heritability of IQ increases as you move up the income ladder, which says to me that the problem isn’t a gene gap, it’s an opportunity gap. The solution isn’t to convince the “marching morons” to stop breeding, the problem is how to provide them with every educational opportunity society can make available, and convince them that intellectual development is worth the effort.

    Bova seems like kind of a smug jackass, but he does touch on an area of concern that I think many of us here share. I believe that the question “is humanity smart enough to survive?” is one we are going to find out the answer to before the 21st century has run its course.

  105. #105 Tulse
    May 8, 2007

    What is the empirically measured connection between intelligence and material success? Not much. Who contributes more to society, the average nurse or the the person with the world’s highest IQ? (Hint: the main claim to fame of the latter is that she writes a column for the magazine Parade.)

    Intelligence is simply one factor that can be involved in a person’s benefit to society. There are plenty of other factors, including motivation (I knew a ton of lazy grad students) and ethics (I’ve read about plenty of unethical stock brokers and doctors). I’d much prefer a society of moderately bright motivated altruists to a society of genuis lazy psychopaths.

  106. #106 Blake Stacey
    May 8, 2007

    grendelkhan:

    TTT makes a good point about elitism in dorky groups. It’s very easy to fall into, and it’s not just an excuse to rag on nerds–it really does exist, not always, but it’s endemic to the setting. I’m ashamed that I enjoyed Ender’s Game so much when I was in middle school; it’s one long revenge fantasy where the more the hero murders, the more oppressed and heroic he becomes, until he commits genocide and essentially is canonized as a saint. It’s fucked up.

    This is one reason why I’m willing to forgive Asimov his long stretches of indifferent or merely-functional prose, of which the prototypical example is the Foundation series. It starts off like the supreme example of nerd wish fulfillment: the geeks on Terminus will be the saviors of the Galactic Empire! All humanity’s future depends upon Hari Seldon’s ability to carry the two correctly. What could be better than that?

    Well, what if you were a nerd rejected by all society, until you discovered your superpower — the ability to influence human emotion, zapping anyone nearby with telepathic juju so potent that they can’t help but love you? What could be a more appealing figure than the Mule?

    Well, what if you weren’t just a single mutant telepath (SF fan), but instead a member of a whole society of telepaths (an SF convention)? Enter the Second Foundation!

    And, after all that, after he built an entire nerd-power mythology, Asimov had to go back and show that the only way to survive is to join a hive mind! No wonder Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth have received so few rave reviews compared to the original three. . . .

  107. #107 Tom
    May 8, 2007

    Assuming this problem would arise at all, it seems it would easily be solved by, ahem, regularly injecting suitable quantities of high-intelligence material into the pool of morons. I’m sure the smart few could come up with some plausible excuse.

  108. #108 Frac
    May 8, 2007

    The movie “Idiocracy” had the same general plot-line. It’s a comedy. I haven’t seen it yet, but my cow-orkers give it rave reviews.

  109. #109 Jud
    May 8, 2007

    Caledonian commented on the following quote: “The truly dangerous people are the exploiters of the mob.”

    By saying: “And not the mob itself?”

    Unless you have a way to avoid group imitative (a/k/a “mob”) behavior in humans, I think the point about exploiters is undeniable. It’s the exploiters who in part decide where the mob will be led – will they be football fans or storm troopers?

    The exploiters decide only in part, of course, because history, economics, culture, etc., all have influence. Without Luther and Weimar, among other influences, Schickelgruber is quite possibly just a crank struggling watercolorist without a mob of followers. Nevertheless, it seems rather important, at least to me, that Schickelgruber in particular became the exploiter of the early-20th-century German mobs.

  110. #110 Chaoswes
    May 8, 2007

    My primary concern is that most of the posters on this thread seem to be unable to separate “intelligence” with “knowledge”. Knowing information is NOT intelligence. Being able to comprehend and expand upon information is intelligence. The genetic information that allows for intelligence will, as PZ states, take forever to remove from humanity. However, the social concept of knowledge being important could be lost in a few generations.

  111. #111 Chaoswes
    May 8, 2007

    My primary concern is that most of the posters on this thread seem to be unable to separate “intelligence” with “knowledge”. Knowing information is NOT intelligence. Being able to comprehend and expand upon information is intelligence. The genetic information that allows for intelligence will, as PZ states, take forever to remove from humanity. However, the social concept of knowledge being important could be lost in a few generations.

  112. #112 Chaoswes
    May 8, 2007

    Sorry about the double post. My computer is a moron.

  113. #113 Tulse
    May 8, 2007

    The genetic information that allows for intelligence will, as PZ states, take forever to remove from humanity. However, the social concept of knowledge being important could be lost in a few generations.

    Right, but that makes this issue a socio-cultural one, and not a biological one. Whatever the actual heritability of potential intelligence, the environmental factors that impact on it are far more mutable — the child with the greatest potential for intelligence will languish without proper education, or if raised in a culture that does not value smarts, or if not given proper nutrition, or is abused, or…

    This is why I think the whole issue of the genetic bases of intelligence is vastly overblown. Heritability is, at best, about the degree to which maximal potential is constrained by genetics. But few people are ever in an environment, or have other dispositional factors, that cause them to reach their maximal potential.

    PZ is right — you want to get rid of the Marching Morons? Teach them. Ensure good upbringing, with solid education and proper development. Instill belief in the value of being smart. Ensure that intelligence is in fact valued in society, instead of celebrity or family background. Once you’ve done all that, and only then, can you really begin to worry about the impact of genetic intelligence factors on society. Until then, genetics is just a smokescreen for those who are smug, cynical, and lazy.

  114. #114 Steviepinhead
    May 8, 2007

    PZ has dealt with aspects of this “marching morons” contention before. And the topic comes up, and elicits similar responses, over and over on the blogs I visit, and probably on other blogs that many of you visit.

    So this isn’t a “new” issue. But PZ’s handling of the issue here is, in my view, one of his best, most heart-felt, and most important posts ever.

    He brings the real science powerfully to bear on a powerful and pestiliferant polemical standby, but he also eloquently brings to bear his own life history–and our own, if not this generation, then within a few generations back.

    Just excellent, PZ. Folks, if you don’t get this, read it again. Especially the parts about class, permeable sub-populations, and nurturing intelligence, rather than “sequestering” it.

    I will be recommending this post every time this topic rears its ugly little head for quite a while to come.

    And, if there’s any justice, this post ought to be in line for some prestigious awards.

    Thanks, Paul.

  115. #115 pablo
    May 8, 2007

    Not only is there a streak of smug superiority in SF fandom, but there has long been a streak of facism in SF authors. At least there used to be. i haven’t read much modern SF. I always preferred the hard stuff, and now the bookstore shelves are filled with fantasy novels that are part of a series. I now refuse to read anything with the word “dragon” in the title, anything based on a TV show or video game.

    On class and intelligence: part of the problem is nutrition. A few years ago i was saving up for a new car so i took a night job as a cashier at a Safeway in Baltimore. It was an interesting neighborhood because it was in the process of being gentrified, so we had upper and lower classes shopping at the same location. There was also a large population of immgrants from El Salvador. I couldn’t help but notice that the poor whites and blacks bought mostly processed foods and empty calories, the poor immigrants and the upper income people bought mostly staples and produce; with the exception of the middle-easterners who seemed to have a real sweet-tooth, and bought a lot of cakes and pasteries.

    You know that with that sort of diet the children of lower economic status people are going to have an increased preponderence of developmental problems.

  116. #116 CalGeorge
    May 8, 2007

    Here’s the real solution to the “marching moron” problem: teach them. Give them fair opportunities. Open the door to education for all. They have just as much potential as you do. Bova complains that people aren’t willing to work for change, but this is exactly where we can work to improve minds — but we won’t if we assume the mob is hopeless.

    I agree with PZ’s sentiments 100%.

    It’s not about brain power, it’s about realizing potential. It’s the people who have been around the block helping people who have led more sheltered lives. It’s exposing people to opportunites for growth and challenging them to see the world and themselves differently. Every day.

    That’s education, and it works for the poor, the rich, the genius and the cognitively challenged.

    We are all in this thing together. Sounds very Kumbaya, but there you have it.

    Train and pay teachers well. Make schools smaller, eliminate bloated school bureaucracies, invest in school infrastracture (it seems as though our country’s educational system has failed to keep up the booming population growth of the last 40 years).

    Keep working at it.

  117. #117 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    What is the impact of environment on the very young in terms of learning potential later on? Kids are like sponges and very resilient, is there a critical time when early hardships are difficult to recover from? Or is there more evidence that under the right educational environment almost any child can flourish?

    Why isn’t our public school system better?

  118. #118 steppen wolf
    May 8, 2007

    I think there is some confusion in a few posts about intelligence being hereditary vs. a product of the environment. By now, we should all be aware that the answer, if in the future we ever find it, is not going to be one or the other.

    Also, intelligence and class do not necessarily match. And that is why PZ is talking about equal opportunities for all. For the longest time, education was a privilege of the upper classes. Now, with rising university costs, and dumbing down of public schools across North America, it seems like our society (not our genes) are going backwards.

    Moreover: have you ever realized that, even among a “selected” population, all “classes” re-emerge spontaneously? Try pick the brightest, the smartest, the most compassionate, etc, and put them all in the same place. In no time, you will start getting morons, bullies, drunks, etc. That is because there are not only genetic, but psycological mechanisms at work.

    One more reason why looking at genes only does not give the necessary support to eugenetics – because we select/are selected by our mates because of a complex expression, interaction, and combination of phenotypes (this last affected by the environment, penetrance, etc.) created by those genes – not because we have gene A and B.

    Preserving and defending access to equal opportunities for all remains the only logical (and moral) strategy.

  119. #119 xebecs
    May 8, 2007

    Casey:

    This viewpoint that the poor are lazy, is something that I hear from my right-wing grandparents all the time.

    Unfortunately, the right-wingers “win” either way. If social/environmental causes predominate, the out group is inferior and unworthy. If physiological causes predominate, the out group is inferior and unworthy. Tails they win, etc.

  120. #120 tbell
    May 8, 2007

    doesn’t the turkheimer study (Psychol Sci. 2003 Nov;14(6):623-8. Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children.) cause problems for those who insist that environment isn’t relevant for discussions of IQ?

    Further, there are several newer and older lines of research suggesting that IQ, and various other measures thought to be related to g such as WM and attention can be affected by experience (negatively through various traumas, positively through interventions). Of course the fact that one can improve cognitive function through intervention does not change the fact of strong genetic contribution. However this does have enormous consequences for debates about education and prosocial goals.

  121. #121 grendelkhan
    May 8, 2007

    steppen wolf #117: I’m reminded of an almost certainly apocryphal story about $PRESTIGIOUS_UNIVERSITY admitting only ‘A’ students. Because they found themselves spread out on a curve, students who had always been at the top of their class found themselves average or below-average, and hung themselves from the common room with alarming regularity. As a solution, the school began to admit some ‘B’ and ‘C’ students so that the ‘A’ students wouldn’t have to deal with their fragile egos being shattered, and all was right at the university.

  122. #122 Sarcastro
    May 8, 2007

    “The powers that be, that make up all these TV shows, are under this weird misconception that we’re stupid. They think you’re *dumb*, they think I’m *dumb*– that’s just so much bullshit. No one’s *dumb*, man. They just get dumb media. This being 1998 in this country, you can’t be dumb– if you’re dumb you’re dead. You just can’t even hack it if you’re stupid. You know? You can be *stupid*, but you’re gonna be reeeal tough, to still be alive. If you’ve done eight years working Burger King, you may be a dumb motherfucker, but you’re one tough sonuvabitch.” – Henry Rollins

  123. #123 Casey
    May 8, 2007

    Xebecs, I don’t agree that the right-wingers win either way. I guess it involves a more nuanced position, that doesn’t make societal decisions based on averages but variances. There are still huge inequalities in society, particularly among minorities that need to be rectified, this justifies social programs to help the poor, minorities and creating a level playing field. As some other posters have indicated, wealth is not a good indicator of IQ, or I would add worth to society, this in my mind justifies progressive taxation, among other justifications, to fund things that benefit the society as a whole.

  124. #124 xebecs
    May 8, 2007

    Casey: Sorry, I used shorthand since I’m posting from work and brevity is the soul of not getting caught.

    What I meant was, the right-wingers will *think* their position is justified, either way. In fact, decent people will always want to extend a hand of friendship and support to those who have fallen behind — to me, it is almost the sine qua non of civilization.

    Is that something you can agree with?

  125. #125 Gelf
    May 8, 2007

    I look at this two ways.

    If I’m feeling dispassionate and scientific, it occurs to me that if indeed “stupid,” however defined, leads to greater individual and species-wide suitability for survival, then where do we get off criticizing such stupidity? Higher intelligence is not without its downsides. It could turn out that our species’ experimentation with big fat brains is a rather dubious experiment in the long run, not unlike recently reported “enhancements” to the reproductive physiognomy of certain ducks.

    At the “science fiction” end of the purported gene pool, those big brains have certain of us convinced that our survival as a species is ultimately contingent upon violating a certain inviolable constant of the Universe. Suppose there’s not some trick for getting to the stars waiting to be discovered. How much time will the “dreamers of dreams” have wasted on a quixotic goal that, more often than not, simply represents a desire for a means to escape the “marching morons,” when they could have spent that time improving our ability to thrive in the one environment we already have?

    Also, if those bigger brains lead some of us to think that willfully reducing the genetic diversity in our own gene pool is good for the long-term health of the species, then that’s another point in favor of “stupid.”

    On the other hand, if I’m feeling selfish and egotistical I tend to remind myself of one point often overlooked by science fiction elitists: If you did manage to fire everybody stupider than yourself into the sun, then who would end up being the stupidest person on Earth?

  126. #126 grendelkhan
    May 8, 2007

    Gelf #124: I think we have other values than simple survivability, which is why (picking the first example that comes to mind) Philip K. Dick’s “The Golden Man” is so horrifying–it’s centered around a mutant who’s inferior to baseline humanity in every way except for being essentially designed to escape and outbreed us, and that because of that, the things we value will (in the story) disappear by being outbred by shiny golden men.

    Hey, I guess that’s another iteration of the Marching Morons Meme, isn’t it?

  127. #127 Brian Thompson
    May 8, 2007

    Thanks PZ, good food for thought!

  128. #128 roystgnr
    May 8, 2007

    “It starts off like the supreme example of nerd wish fulfillment: the geeks on Terminus will be the saviors of the Galactic Empire!”

    Don’t you hate those ludicrous stories, where a few geeks’ discoveries change the situation of all of humanity for the better? I’d love to spend more time on this global computer network expounding on how ridiculous that fantasy is, but I’m afraid I’m running late with my plowing this spring. Times have been tough on the subsistance farm ever since the ox broke a leg before the last smallpox outbreak.

  129. #129 Leon
    May 8, 2007

    Bravo, PZ. Well said.

  130. #130 Kseniya
    May 8, 2007

    Roystgnr – heh.

  131. #131 Colugo
    May 8, 2007

    Those who have superior contempt for those whom they view as genetic untermenschen are not just on the right. Clearly these are atavistic specimens, depicted by the cartoonist with ape-like features: “gap-toothed, missing link, troglodytes.”

    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0447,sutton,58615,9.html

  132. #132 jbark
    May 8, 2007

    That addendum was great PZ. A perfect summary of the distinction that so often seems to get lost when this subject is debated.

  133. #133 tikistitch
    May 8, 2007

    Ya know, there are reasons why I love me some PZ (sqiddy goodness yay!). And then there are reasons why I LOVE me some PZ. This post is one of them. We have met the mob, and they is us.

  134. #134 Logicel
    May 8, 2007

    cm reply to Caldongian: And you know this because all possible attempts to increase intelligence using our current understanding of psychology and neuroscience have been exhausted, right? And of course we completely understand all aspects of cognitive neuroscience at this point, so we can state this with certainty as you did. Yep, case closed. Nothing to see here. Pack up your fMRIs and electrodes, folks: we’re done.
    _____

    Thanks for writing what is a very obvious comment but someone had to do it. Thanks again.

  135. #135 Azkyroth
    May 8, 2007

    While I’ve occasionally argued the virtues of simply taking the warning labels off of everything that’s obviously dangerous and letting the problem solve itself, I agree with you. The world is infested with morons, true, but these are people who are defective not genetically but memetically, and memes, unlike genes, are changeable within a single organism. I remember thinking at one point that “idiot” is better conceptualized as a sort of larval stage than as a separation population…

  136. #136 Will Von Wizzlepig
    May 8, 2007

    Quite definitely, the morons are us. Lazy Morons.

    In general, we’re all born with potential to be smarter.

    I see the big picture as a constantly-existing pool of average intelligence people who have used their potential more in the ‘having kids’ department and less in the ‘smarter’ department.

    Naturally, in the main pool, some geniuses are born as well as people who just decide not to have kids (and thus have more spare potential to use on their smartness, or maybe just to stay up all night playing World of Warcraft).

    This creates a second, smaller pool of smart people, who have less kids, but whose kids I suspect have a higher chance of being smart.

    It’s extremely tempting to call the main pool morons, but definitely not fair. We think far too much of ourselves when we blame other people for not knowing what is so obvious to us, and we think far too much of the abilities of mankind when we despair at never having learned from history’s lessons.

    Like that movie said- what if this- the mediocrity of the overall state of human affairs in the world- is as good as it gets?

  137. #137 Gelf
    May 8, 2007

    grendelkhan: I think we have other values than simple survivability [...]

    And I’m inclined to agree on a personal level; however, dismissing that position that is a part of the exercise of looking at things dispassionately. Just the simple capacity to have abstract values at all may end up being the only broad stroke human evolution has uniquely innovated within the animal kingdom. The question is, does it objectively benefit us? I certainly think a principled existence is preferable, but then I would, being human and all. Other species might not agree. Funny thing, though, neither would they disagree, since they don’t have the capacity to form principles.

    It is certainly not inconceivable that, as highly as we regard them, our human values will eventually destroy us. They may lead us to purge ourselves of exactly that which is necessary for our species to adapt and survive an unforeseen change in our environment. Which is more horrible, the “golden man” human offshoot outliving us and thriving, or eliminating all “golden men” only to discover too late that, say, they could have survived an unexpected increase in solar activity where we cannot?

    Nature won’t care what we prefer, or what we value. That’s part of what makes it so scary to religious types. Nature isn’t conscious, much less human. It doesn’t care if you’ve been bad or good. It won’t respect you for living up to an ideal. It won’t reward you for your intentions. That frightens people. They want a Universe they can bargain with, one that awards points for having the right answer and deducts them for having the wrong one. They want the Universe to behave that way because that’s how humans expect to be able to deal with one another.

    I am reminded, by way of contrast, of the paradox of extreme environmentalism. Some fringe cases latch onto the idea that the world would be “better off” if humanity committed species-wide suicide. Aside from the fact that would constitute an environmental catastrophe all by itself, you’re left with the problem of determining by whose standards the world is better off if there are no humans left.

    Having big brains and abstract values seems good. It’s what we are and we should roll with it, but we should be very careful about automatically calling it “superior.” The irony is that those traits that give us the ability to second-guess nature might themselves be less than optimal survival strategies. They’ve worked okay for a few thousand years, but the jury box is stacked with sharks, crocodiles, cockroaches, ferns and bacteria, and they’re still deliberating.

  138. #138 Suzanne
    May 8, 2007

    Looks like I’ve missed the bus here, but what the hell…

    This is a complex issue. Let’s break it down. And just to be perfectly clear, I agree with PZ’s conclusion, but not his reasoning.

    Do dumb people exist? Yes. There’s clear inequality in one or more traits we collectively call intelligence. IQ tests aren’t perfect, but they do seem to measure something.

    Is intelligence heritable? Yes, numerous well-controlled adoption and twin studies show this.

    Assuming dumb people breed faster, does that mean average human intelligence will decline? Yes. That’s what natural selection means. You don’t have to have definable subgroups for natural selection to work, you just need a trait to be correlated with reproductive success. No matter how much environmental variance influences trait expression – as long as additive genetic variance also plays a role, the trait will respond to selection. Sorry.

    Do dumb people breed faster? Almost certainly NOT! It’s true that in developed countries, educated women have fewer kids, and education correlates with intelligence. BUT male reproductive success is positively correlated with intelligence. Women worship witty, perceptive, well-connected, materially successful men, and those traits correlate with IQ. Not necessarily at the tail of the IQ distribution, but well above the mean. And male reproductive success varies more than female. There’s a decent argument, in fact, that our intelligence evolved in response to sexual selection. If that’s correct, then we’ll get even smarter as technology liberates us from material concerns.

    Should we get rid of dumb people to make society smarter? Of course not. The idea is utterly, fundamentally morally repugnant. Committing immoral acts for the good of society is not okay, and wiping out one segment of the population to advantage the rest is clearly immoral.

  139. #139 Mrs Tilton
    May 8, 2007

    Well said, PZ. In some ways, your best post since that moving Fathers’ Day tribute to your dad.

    Bonus trivia point: Kornbluth never cleaned his teeth.

  140. #140 Kseniya
    May 8, 2007

    In the interest of clearing up any confusion that may exist about the story itself:

    1. The Morons of the Kornbluth story are indeed very, very stupid.

    These are not people of average intelligence who are simply lazy and/or uneducated. They are slow like Patagonian molasses, dense like lead. Cognitively challenged to the extent of being unable to tell the difference between a very fast car and a slow car rigged up with shoddy effects intended to convey the illusion of speed, they are dumber than a bag of rocks, times several billion.

    2. The “elite” in the story do not rule the world, or even control it. (They are too few, and too tired, to do either.)

    They maintain it.

    They are slaves to their committment to keep it all going for the sake of their brothers and sisters around the world. They know that without their efforts, the infrastructure of civilization will fail, and billions will die. And so they hopelessly toil – that is, until 20th Century Guy awakens from his unintentionally long cryogenic sleep, correctly assesses the situation, and presents them with… a solution.

    3. The story by no means promotes the inevitable rightness of the solution. Nor does it even primarily concern itself with the Morons or the processes that created them.

    IMO, it’s a story about the corrupting influence of evil, and of man’s appalling capacity and willingness to embrace great evil in the name of expedience, and to perpetrate it against a group of people that has been characterized as being other.

    If anything, it’s a Holocaust analog, not eugenics propaganda.

    On that level, the story does not fail.

    With that said, the premise – the marching morons premise – is hardly insignificant, and clearly is, for many people, the focus of the story. And for that very reason, the viability of the premise needs to be addressed. The premise fails for the reasons PZ presented and which have been discussed here at length.

    Kornbluth may have been cynical and pessimistic enough to believe in the literal possibility of his Marching Morons premise, but perhaps it was a conceit (built upon the observable tendency for people to take the path of least resistance with regard to education and ambition) upon which he could base his Holocaust analogy. Bova may see it the same way but, if his shallow and elitist piece is any indication, he fails even to consider that. Kornbluth’s view of humanity was not necessarily as dark as “The Marching Morons” suggests. Altrusim and redemption (cf “The Little Black Bag”) also had a place in his world-view. Kornbluth may have been too young to be truly wise, but I’d never accuse him of being shallow.

  141. #141 Jonah
    May 8, 2007

    I disagree with PZ on this one. There are a number of comments I have about this:

    “Bova gives an accurate summary; it’s also the primary plot point of the movie Idiocracy.”

    The movie Idiocracy actually leans towards the *social* explanation for the existence of morons. The lead character tells people to “read more books” in the movie. If being a moron were simply a biological reality, “read more books” would have no effect.

    I know there are constraints on intelligence; there is individual variation in capacity, and there are almost certainly some biological bases for that, and also for differences in the kind of intelligence individuals express. This isn’t about that. It’s about whether there are significant differences in the distribution of the genetic constraints on human intelligence between subpopulations, and whether we are justified in writing off segments of our population as incurable morons whose progeny are similarly tainted. I say no to both.

    Completely wrong again. It’s not about, “whether there are significant differences in the distribution of the genetic constraints on human intelligence between subpopulations”. There are variations within any subpopulation. The variations that produce the most children go on to dominate the gene pool in subsequent generations. *IF* lower intelligence is correlated with more children, and *IF* intelligence is at least *partially* genetic, then we can expect a lowering of the genetically-based intelligence factors over time. What to do about it is an *ENTIRELY* different question, and trying to twist the conversation into “whether there are significant differences in … human intelligence between subpopulations” is an attempt to “reframe” the issue into something different – something easier to make a judgment about: racism.

    “a eugenic-ed population would become as fragile as today’s chetahs”
    Wrong. That would be true if you narrowed the human race down to too few individuals, but that is clearly not true in general. As someone else pointed out, you could wipe out 99% of humanity, saving 1% of the population anywhere in the world, and there will still be enough variation in humanity to repopulate the race without too much genetic loss. (They said this as an argument that “races” aren’t really so genetically different, which is largely true, but also cuts against the “loss of genetic diversity” argument.)

    Third, a major problem with any sort of program to “improve” population genetics is that people and entire societies tend to be biased in their choices. The Germans wanted to wipe out Jews – despite the fact that Jews tended to be better educated, have more Nobel prizes on average, etc. You can see this kind of anti-Jew bias hundreds of years earlier in the writings of Martin Luther (who recommended burning down Jews’ property and driving them out of the country). The Nazi hatred of Jews was inherited. There is an additional problem of defining subpopulations as inferior (Blacks, Irish, etc) which are likely due entirely to cultural and historical factors (rather than genetic ones). Those subpopulations are likely to have a larger portion of their population (and perhaps all of it) defined as “inferior” even if, from a genetic standpoint, they have the same makeup as any other population. Even the Northern Europeans were defined as “the barbarians” by the Romans two thousand years ago. Obviously, northern europeans were not somehow intrinsically inferior (ironically, thousands of years later, it was the northern europeans saying that southern europeans were inferior), but it had to do with the social, cultural, and historical factors. Sometimes, groups of people need some time to show that they are just as capable as everyone else.

    As for the degrading of the whole population due to higher birthrates of lower intelligence people *within* a subpopulation, it could very well be the case that this is happening. It could be that our current civilization has inadvertently setup conditions that favor this kind of regression. While this is disturbing, I’m not going to try to sugar-coat it or twist it into some fake “it’s all about racism” framing that makes everyone blind to the facts. The only thing I can offer in opposition to this is the Flynn Effect (which is the observed increase in IQs over time). The Flynn Effect might be due entirely to environmental factors (better education, better culture, better nutrition, etc), and there may even be a lowering of genetically based intelligence that is overwhelmed by the environmental factors. But, I’m certainly not going to try to delude anyone into thinking that the problem only exists in the minds of those evil racists (as, apparently, some people think).

  142. #142 ompus
    May 8, 2007

    The issues raised are unrelated. Whether we are incidentally breeding smarter/dumber people is irrelevant to how we treat smarter/dumber people.

    When Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” he knew, absolutely, that the world was filled with rich and poor, smart and dumb, educated and otherwise. He recognized that morally, it mattered not.

  143. #143 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 8, 2007

    Jonah you make the mistake of claiming a large subgroup has a lower intelligence AND have more children.

    Also there’s no evidence that 3 or 4 generations of subgroup breeding would have any effect on the “intelligence” of that group.

    Is there a genetic test for intelligence?

  144. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge 1872

  145. #145 KevinD
    May 8, 2007

    Great post. Much of the discussion has focused on population structure and the lack of long term stability of social groups. This is definitely true but I think the problem with eugenics is much more fundamental. Genetics is not all that easy at the best of times. The genetics of complex traits is downright difficult. The genetics of complex traits in organisms like humans in which controlled experimentation is impossible is harder still. The genetics of highly labile, environmentally sensitive traits such as intelligence are the most problematic of all. So I believe that a certain conservatism is called for in interpretation.

    Adoption studies do not adequately control for environmental factors. Identical twin studies greatly inflate the effects of genetics because they are looking at the effects of entire genomes with all the dominance and epistatic effects intact. These effects are not inherited (unless we start cloning people).

    And even then, if we were to accept the heritability of intelligence at face value it still tells us nothing about any genetic differences in intelligence between populations.

    Also the proposition has been made that

    Jerk = being assertive in arguing against wrong views

    I propose a new equation

    Jerk = being certain of your own correctness and failing to consider the arguments of other

  146. #146 Emma
    May 8, 2007

    Myself included. I am not as smart as I’d like to be. I can feel the limitations in my brain, things I just can’t grasp, paths my brain can’t follow when someone more intelligent speaks. I know that I’m not worth a damn. I have not invented anything, probably won’t ever. Any strengths I have are in creativity, arts, but I’m no artist. I will give no pleasure to anyone’s soul, I am worth little. Technically, I’m a drain on society. I’ve bred but was that really a good idea? My son is very smart, but he has his own limitations. He will, most likely, not invent anything, nor push mankind forward in anyway, he will just become another breeding human. We aren’t worth a damn. It’s not about money, it’s about brains. Worse yet, there are people who are even dumber and less worthy than me and if I’m not worth a damn, then they’re damaging society by their existence-the dumbing down of schools as a prime example.

    Sorry to call bullshit on the self-pity party, but this is an utter crock. If only geniuses were “worth a damn” the MAJORITY of the people posting here would be soylent green, myself included.There are levels and layers to intelligence and how it reveals itself in each individual, and each of us brings something to the table.

    And don’t talk down your son. You don’t know anything about what he might become, from murderer to policeman, from farmer to pope (ok, PZ would think that a waste :-) ).

  147. #147 Ron Hager
    May 8, 2007

    PZ, thanks and high praise for a great post. I have added it to my personal list of recommended posts.

  148. #148 Jonah
    May 8, 2007

    Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD:
    Jonah you make the mistake of claiming a large subgroup has a lower intelligence AND have more children.

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t say “a large subgroup” – any size subgroup will do. More importantly, I said, “*IF* lower intelligence is correlated with more children”. It’s possible this is true – that people with lower intelligence have more children, and it’s also possible that this trend does not happen in modern society. (I certainly don’t subscribe to Bova’s view that there is already a large subgroup of intellectually inferior humans around us.)

    Is there a genetic test for intelligence?

    No, there isn’t. And that’s the point I was bringing up in my post. Any measured IQ is based on a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The result is that any eugenics program would unnecessarily penalize large numbers of people because they “happened” to have cultures, histories, or environments that didn’t enable them to fulfill their real intellectual capacity. My argument is that this trend towards genetic decline might be happening, but I’m not sure if humans can actually make decisions about who is inferior/superior without lots of bias that miscategorizes people as “inferior” when they aren’t.

  149. #149 Kagehi
    May 8, 2007

    I think both sides of the issue have some blind spots. I mean, purely practically, its real easy to see someone having something like Down Syndrome, but how the heck do you make a valid determination of if someone is 10% less effective at the type of logic required for complex math?

    To use an example from my own life. I had a friend who tended to be somewhat better than me at repairing things, but he would have never made a good harmonica player, never mind composer or concert pianist. Why? Because he didn’t *get* music. To him is was vaguely pleasant noise that people sometimes stuck in movies and TV programs to adjust the mood, but he would have been just as happy to watch them without the music, because he, “Just didn’t emotionally understand it.” Hell yes this is not “normal” by any standard. Its also blindingly obviously a major developmental difference for which we have no name, no diagnosis and no treatment. Its just not considered “important” enough to bother studying. On the other end of the spectrum are people that see rainbows, flower fields, summer rain, etc. when listening to some famous composer. I consider these people to be totally fracking nuts, because **I** can’t perceive music on that level, any more than my friend could on mine. Which is “normal”, the “I see flowers!” people, the, “That sounds nice, but what the hell are you talking about.”, people or the, “Why do they add that noise into everything?”, ones?

    Its damn obvious to me that such variation exists in “all” human endevors and that its usually only the massive and undeniable lack of multiple aspects of human ranges that gets “noticed”. Its not enough to think music is noise, you have to also be anti-social and scared of being touched, or some other huge disparity, on top of the existing one, for it to be noticed.

    Here is another interesting example:

    http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/070406_past_lives.html

    This implies to me that when some sculptor, for example, says that they “see” the finished statue, and just remove the parts that don’t fit, they *mean* it. The same memory error is showing them what should be there, and they are literally just removing what doesn’t fit that perception. I on the other hand couldn’t envision the coffee cup on my own desk without getting a fuzzy picture of it in my head, never mind “see” it in a block of clay or stone. My mind just doesn’t, and can’t, work that way. But both me and the guy that can do that are considered “normal”. Why? And which is better? I mean, isn’t it clearly possible that in the case of needing to remember “exact” details, I would tend to be slightly better, since I don’t imagine things having happened the prior day, based on something I read five minutes before the test in a news paper? But, if on the other hand, my life depended on closing my eyes, “seeing” something I had only seen one time the day before and they drawing it, I would be dead meat. 90% of the jobs people have don’t require “either” of those extremes. We can do well enough not knowing that X happened to someone else four weeks ago, instead of ourselves, and we can do damn well without being able to “see” things clearly in our own heads. It just doesn’t matter. Elitism is mostly due to being one of the people that are on those extremes and ironically thinking that either, “people that see things are stupid”, or, “people that don’t see things are stupid”. Both are, from the perspective of someone firmly in the middle, a bit strange… Some of them are downright dangerous, precisely because they can’t imagine anyone else “lacking” the capacity to be like them and imagine the problem to be some magic formula for education, which doesn’t exist, or some magic fairy that the other person didn’t clap hard enough to bring back to life (To use a Peter Pan analogy).

    In reality, the “magic formula” ones are almost right. The problem is, they are trying to, to use another analogy, to grow fracking cactus, bananas and pine trees in a swamp. None of which do well, if they survive at all, in swamps. What is needed is to cater to the individual nature of the students. And that causes a new problem. How the heck do you do that when the tests available are all BS like IQ tests or new age crap, that have no basis in either biology or neuroscience? Well, you don’t. So you either mess things up even more with stupider magic formulas, or you revert to a teaching practice that didn’t work 100% of the time even when the amount of information one needed to learn was 50 times smaller, the skill levels needed for “high end” jobs where 20 times lower and the minor variations **where** less critical. Not they are critical, and we either don’t know what to do about it at all, or we deny they exist, because that’s easier than admitting we don’t know what they hell we are doing, and sadly, probably had it wrong all along.

  150. #150 David Marjanovi?
    May 8, 2007
    The truly dangerous people are the exploiters of the mob.

    And not the mob itself?

    The truly dangerous people are those who turn a crowd into a mob. That’s easy, but it doesn’t quite seem to happen on its own.

  151. #151 David Marjanovi?
    May 8, 2007
    The truly dangerous people are the exploiters of the mob.

    And not the mob itself?

    The truly dangerous people are those who turn a crowd into a mob. That’s easy, but it doesn’t quite seem to happen on its own.

  152. #152 Gelf
    May 8, 2007

    On a more down-to-earth note than my last post, I’d like to point out, particularly to “K,” whose self-disrespecting post I didn’t notice before, it is a huge mistake to assume that intelligence is correlated with success, or “making a difference” or what have you.

    I’ve met people so smart they can’t tie their own shoes, and there is absolutely no hyperbole in that statement. Vastly increased intellectual capacity frequently comes coupled with side-effects that drastically reduce the practical effectiveness of the individual. Psychological disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, are highly overrepresented as intelligence increases. Working with geniuses can be all but impossible because they frequently lack the discipline others must learn so as to be effective. Genius sounds great, but the reality of it tends to strongly reinforce the value of just plain folks. They get things done. A super-genius may invent a new type of mathematics as easily as you or I chew gum, but most times somebody else is going to have to figure out what good it is, to mediate between the genius and the world — somebody “dumber.” That somebody is no less necessary to change the world than the genius himself.

    Just statistically speaking most of us, genius or not, will not be working for the ages, but it’s not the case that you can’t just because there’s somebody smarter than you. You do what you can with what you’ve got, which is, you may be pleased to know, what “ordinary” people do better than anyone.

  153. #153 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    And you know this because all possible attempts to increase intelligence using our current understanding of psychology and neuroscience have been exhausted, right?

    With our current understanding? Yes, they have.

    And of course we completely understand all aspects of cognitive neuroscience at this point, so we can state this with certainty as you did. Yep, case closed. Nothing to see here. Pack up your fMRIs and electrodes, folks: we’re done.

    All existing data points to the simple conclusion that environment can only stunt, not further develop, those traits we call ‘intelligence’. If you’d care to offer some new evidence on the matter, do so.

  154. #154 LauraJMixon
    May 8, 2007

    Science fiction predicts the future like a shotgun kills a duck.

  155. #155 gg
    May 8, 2007

    #139 Kseniya: Well put, on all counts; obviously you’ve read a lot of CMK!

    “These are not people of average intelligence who are simply lazy and/or uneducated.”

    Indeed. People who read into this story some sort of slander against the working class are reading way too much into this. From what I’ve read about CMK, he was most likely irritated by the same sort of things that we who post on the scienceblogs are irritated by: people who are not only ignorant, but willfully ignorant and dragging down lots of others with them (e.g. creationists). His choice of genetic issues as the origin was flawed, but not a really major point of the story.

    “The story by no means promotes the inevitable rightness of the solution.”

    I find it a story which has no moral or good characters. It is worth noting that the person who proposes the ‘final solution’ is not one of the highly evolved intellectuals, but a 20th century man. In fact, the intellectuals could not even comprehend of such a solution. It was almost certainly a holocaust analogy, and perhaps a dark view of the path the U.S. was taking at the time – the story was written in 1951, at the height of the ‘Red Scare’.
    My feeling is that Cyril genuinely HATED wickedness. The bad guys in his stories often meet with some of the most horrifying ends. The 20th century man who derives the ‘solution’ in ‘The Marching Morons’ meets, at the end of the story, a most horrific end and one he had developed for the morons. Read ‘The Little Black Bag’ for one of the most deserving and macabre demises of a wicked character ever.

    Anyway, it seems clear that Cyril’s premise of genetic influences on intelligence is too simple. I have arguments with a colleague about ‘inherent intelligence’ all the time, and point out that we have little data to support such a view, if for no other reason than so few people seem to actually try to use their brains to their fullest potential (e.g. creationists again). But demonizing Cyril for his flawed premise, and ascribing some sort of intellectual elitism to him is unfair. In “The Little Black Bag”, the ‘idiots’ in the future are the doctors and scientists who have been given meaningless educations, and the ‘geniuses’ are working menial jobs.

  156. #156 Rob the Lurker
    May 8, 2007

    Neither of my parents graduated high-school (my dad eventually got his GED while serving in the army). Their youngest son has a PhD.

    Anecdotal, I know, but it’s enough evidence for me.

  157. #157 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    The simplest way to predict the future is to create it.

    As for going out there and creating it, there are some of you that I think would rather approve of this science-fiction future projection.

  158. #158 Caledonian
    May 8, 2007

    Neither of my parents graduated high-school (my dad eventually got his GED while serving in the army). Their youngest son has a PhD.

    Anecdotal, I know, but it’s enough evidence for me.

    Evidence of what?

  159. #159 frog
    May 8, 2007

    One of my favorite tales about intelligence is in Diamond’s The Collapse of Civilizations. He anecdotally points out how his friends from New Guinea show more individual sparkle than his own countrymen. It’s not about education or genes – but a cultural deadening to solving problems.

  160. #160 windy
    May 8, 2007

    All existing data points to the simple conclusion that environment can only stunt, not further develop, those traits we call ‘intelligence’.

    Develop further from where? It rather depends on where you put the baseline, doesn’t it?

  161. #161 gg
    May 8, 2007

    #157: “It’s not about education or genes – but a cultural deadening to solving problems.”

    That’s kind of how I view it. For those who seem to think that this would never happen, and such behavior would be ‘selected out’, one only has to look at the current U.S. administration. Sure, they’re collapsing under their own weight NOW, but in the meantime they’ll have dragged the rest of us down with them, potentially to the point of collapse. Bush’s problem is not that he’s biologically stupid (though I love to call him ‘stupid’, and nobody’s taking that away from me!) but he has a genuine disdain for people who try and reason and understand.

  162. #162 frog
    May 8, 2007

    Caledonian, you shouldn’t take the state of the art in neuroscience or psychology too seriously. Without a theory, all the data points in the world are at best suggestive. In terms of understanding intelligence or personality, we’re at about the same position as physics was back in the 15th century. Sometimes we do actually know that we don’t know and suggesting otherwise is, well, kinda stupid.

  163. #163 PaulC
    May 8, 2007

    Caledonian:

    All existing data points to the simple conclusion that environment can only stunt, not further develop, those traits we call ‘intelligence’. If you’d care to offer some new evidence on the matter, do so.

    I don’t see how you can reach a simple conclusion when the assertion isn’t even well-defined.

    If “intelligence” is defined by the upper limits of some individual’s capability, then it is trivially true that environmental factors can only prevent its realization.

    If “intelligence” is defined by how the same individual actually performs, then it is likewise trivially true that environment enhances capabilities. E.g., one’s recognition of the letters of the alphabet is greatly enhanced by being taught. Even just the raw ability to recognize symbolic abstraction is enhanced by the environment.

    I would assume, for instance, that I was born with the ability to learn to read Chinese, and in the process gain a form of visual analysis and symbolic memory that I now lack. Am I stunted, or did I just not develop a capacity?

    Given identical twins with different levels of environmental stimuli, one will seem smarter than the other. So is one “stunted” or is the other one “further developed”? If the smarter one has attained a high level of education, then it’s likely that their analytical skills are more highly developed than if they had been raised in some kind of historically average environment (if you could define such a thing). It seems reasonable to me to say that the twin with the PhD in particle physics has been further developed in intelligence, rather than that their millworker sibling has been stunted–not to knock either career choice or anybody’s human dignity. (The millworker will also probably be smarter about some things than the particle physicist, but I don’t think you have to be a snob to hold that the latter career has a steeper learning curve.)

    Obviously, no environmental factors will cause one’s brain to perform beyond its potential, since that would be a logical contradiction. But I don’t really understand the point you’re making here.

    BTW, I don’t think PZ ever claimed that everyone has the same intellectual capacity, just that the genetics are not nearly as deterministic as the “marching morons” premise would suggest.

  164. #164 David Marjanovi?
    May 8, 2007

    As for going out there and creating it, there are some of you that I think would rather approve of this science-fiction future projection.

    I’m losing more and more respect of you. The Nave Leftie Utopia is about bringing everyone up, not down, to the same level. You don’t even get the strawman right. You are so precise on terms and concepts elsewhere… :-/

    (though I love to call him ‘stupid’, and nobody’s taking that away from me!)

    With that alcohol intake, not to mention the cocaine, I have a hard time imagining he hasn’t got some lasting damage by now.

  165. #165 David Marjanovi?
    May 8, 2007

    As for going out there and creating it, there are some of you that I think would rather approve of this science-fiction future projection.

    I’m losing more and more respect of you. The Nave Leftie Utopia is about bringing everyone up, not down, to the same level. You don’t even get the strawman right. You are so precise on terms and concepts elsewhere… :-/

    (though I love to call him ‘stupid’, and nobody’s taking that away from me!)

    With that alcohol intake, not to mention the cocaine, I have a hard time imagining he hasn’t got some lasting damage by now.

  166. #166 MrGronk
    May 8, 2007

    Idiocy isn’t genetic. It’s memetic. If your family and neighbours act like morons, have risible value systems, and an indifference or contempt towards learning and curiosity, it’s more than likely you’ll consider such traits the norm and in turn pass them on to your kids, no matter how much latent intelligence you may have. And in my years of way too much proximity to the British underclass, I couldn’t help but notice that subcultural idiocy seemed to coincide with a higher birthrate. Put it down to boredom, inability to consider consequences, whatever.
    Unfortunately educational opportunity alone never seems enough to change things. A teacher trying to inspire an intelligent pupil from that sort of background has to somehow get through a wall of negative sub-culture. Respect to those who can do that, but what a battle it is.

  167. #167 Murph
    May 8, 2007

    “There are no grounds to argue that there are distinct subpopulations of people with different potentials for intelligence”

    There’s considerable evidence, you should ask some biologists at real universities to point you in the right direction. You complain about religious people refusing to accept evolution and yet you refuse to accept all of the implications of evolution yourself, and you ignore scientific evidence which clashes with your political views. Pathetic.

  168. #168 Fernando Magyar
    May 8, 2007

    Re: 94.
    Randy, first let me apologize for my incorrect spelling of “Down’s Syndrome”, that, together with the misplaced insertion of the indefinite article, underscores how close to being a moron, I myself, actually am. However after rereading your quote of my comment it occurred to me that it just might have been misinterpreted by some as being somewhat facetious. I meant it with wholehearted sincerity. I couldn’t agree more with your point of view, all of us conceited “Normals” could learn a whole hell of a lot from those kids!

  169. #169 Pygmy Loris
    May 8, 2007

    Murph,

    You’re wrong here. Ask a biological anthropologist about that since human biological variation is one of our main foci. There is absolutely NO evidence of biological sub-groups (races) of H. sapiens.

    As for the genetic basis of intelligence and twin/adoption studies, there are numerous fundamental flaws in twin studies that fail rule out environmental factors, including the fact that twins (in the same placenta) share nearly the exact same prenatal environment, tend to be adopted into middle to upper-class families with similar opportunities for education, etc, etc, etc. There is some genetic component to what we term intelligence (though the concept itself is fluid and does not necessarily reflect practical abilities), but that genetic component is swamped by environmental noise.

    That environmental noise is also not (in most cases) of the individual’s making. Structural aspects of society ensure that the poor, who live in poor neighborhoods, attend poor schools, have poor nutrition, have uneducated parents and so on have lower IQs than the “elites” who design IQ tests.

    If you go by standard population results for IQ tests, the average Ethiopian is mildly retarded. Funny how if you give someone an IQ test in a second language, couched in all sorts of cultural terminology with attendant cultural ideas, they do poorly. Furthermore, many Africans seem to do poorly on IQ tests. I would argue that the severe malnutrition seen in many African populations has much more to do with low IQ scores than innate aptitude does. This could also be applied to other populations of people (think the lower-class who tend to eat crappy foods, you can be obese and malnourished).

    Also, about the poor/stupid outbreeding the elite/intelligent, those with few resources tend to have more children, investing less in each child while hoping some will survive to be successful. Those who have more resources are likely to have fewer children in whom many resources are invested to improve the liklihood that those few children will be successful.

  170. #170 Pygmy Loris
    May 8, 2007

    I’d just like to say that Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome or Down’s syndrome) has nothing to do with inherited intelligence. You could have the smartest genes in the world, but that extra 21st chromosome ensures that you will be mentally retarded. There are varying degrees of retardation that are associated with Trisomy 21 obviously, but the condition is not a genetic disease in the same way that Cystic Fibrosis or Tay Sachs are.

  171. #171 dorid
    May 8, 2007

    WOW, I wish I hadn’t been away from the computer most of the day… I have a LOT of response to this… let me just hit a couple points since at this late time I’m probably coming in to an empty room…

    First: I don’t think that being a mechanic is worse than being a physicist. I DO HOPE that people who make this choice at an early age (like the HS freshman who had a job lined up with his uncle’s work in NASCAR and was only coming to school to “be there” until he was old enough to drop out) also continue reading and developing themselves in some way.

    Second, I think we also have to realize that in the education system we’ve developed a pretty warped view of “at risk kids”. That is to say instead of changing the way we educate in general, we try to make exceptions for kids who have factors that are “identified with performance deficits” These factors include poverty, single parent households, parental education, and race. Frankly, that’s all nonsense. Those aren’t correlated with ABILITY, they’re correlated with PERFORMANCE, and there are PLENTY of reasons why the two aren’t the same thing. ONE reason which has come under a lot of fire recently is racial bias in testing.

    Unfortunately I find that a majority of the kids and parents who I’ve encountered are more interested in success measured by monetary gains in future jobs than in becoming a knowledgeable, well rounded individual. Many school districts have high schools focused on narrow vocational goals rather than general enrichment (which we find in some honors schools) In the last 5 years or so, I’ve seen schools reducing their science and social studies programs and cutting class time to half or a quarter of the hours previously spent in those classes in order to hold double period classes in English and Math.

    Learning for personal growth isn’t encouraged. Passing the state standards exam is. But this isn’t just a failure of the education system, it’s a failure in society. Sure, we expect that kind of thing in inner cities where the stereotypes are of kids who think that intelligence is “nerdy” or “uncool”… a stereotype that isn’t ENTIRELY accurate… but we also see parents who are concerned with their kid’s future encouraging them to aim lower so they can support themselves and some future family.

    Back in the day, we were always told to have a “fall back”. Now a days the fall back is the goal.

    The other part of this is that there are strong local movements (and a lot of my experience has been with Christian movements) which undermine education. Many kids are told in their homes and churches that teachers are subversive (ok, some of us are) and will harm their futures (either in heaven or on earth) When I began a teaching job in Atlanta, we were actually told that the school must act as a church (one of the 5 pillars of the children’s life that are missing as a result of their family poverty). Of course, they mean CHRISTIAN church, because a lot of what the children were allowed to read was determined by parents and administrators motivated by their religious beliefs.

    My understanding of statistical evidence is that women who have higher education have lower birthrates. While I’m not aware of many studies correlating male education and birthrate, we also have to remember that it is very often WOMEN who raise the children, and statistically (at least with literacy) it’s MATERNAL investment that is the greatest indicator of future success.

    Again, we’ve gotten into the nature vs nurture argument, because a child can have high inherited ABILITY and not perform because he’s hampered by an environment that doesn’t support educational growth.

    Finally, I want to point out that individuals with lower ABILITY may not be in the ranks of the Marching Morons, because hard work and adaptation may allow for a higher performance compared to a more able student who has little interest in learning.

    Wow, having said that all, I guess I could have summed it all up in a quote from Forrest Gump:

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  172. #172 Pygmy Loris
    May 8, 2007

    dorid,

    You’re absolutely right that ability and performance are not the same thing. I think anyone who spends a significant amount of time in education should know this.

    I would say that encouraging your child to take the path to a material reward, enabling them to successfully raise children is not bad. I’m one of the people who thinks a well-rounded education is important, but at the heart of a human being is a primate, and primates (like most/all? biological creatures) are largely concerned with reproduction and food acquisition. Therefore, those who have the genes that drive them to choose a path that allows them to acquire food and reproduce (if there are such things) are actually selected for.

    There is a myth out there that intelligence makes us more fit (or at least that it should). As a biological anthropologist I fundamentally disagree with that idea. Humanity should not be concerned with attaching value to particular traits. Natural selection, that thoughtless mechanism driving evolution, gets to pick which traits are important regardless of how we feel about it.

    In some parts of Africa, resistance to HIV would probably be one of the most important traits a person could have, especially if that resistance is genetic. If the gene that makes you resistant happens to also cause low average IQ scores, well that’s not really a problem as long as that level of intelligence enables you to procure food and reproduce.

    When we attach values to some traits we should remember: the cockroach is an incredibly successful animal whose success is not tied to intelligence. After all, I would argue that most people are indeed smarter than cockroaches.

  173. #173 Pygmy Loris
    May 8, 2007

    In case anyone didn’t catch it, I’m against eugenics on both philosophical and moral grounds. It’s wrong to kill people (especially because of something out of their control) and anything that reduces the overall variation in the gene pool is probably not a good idea. Even Sickle-Cell Anemia and Cystic Fibrosis have been found to have positive effects for the heterozygote.

  174. #174 Fernando Magyar
    May 8, 2007

    Re 167,

    Pygmy Loris, I don’t believe any of the references to Down’s Syndrome in the comments above implied that this was an inheritable trait or a genetic disease so I’m not sure what your point is? Though due to the sheer volume of comments on this post I guess the original intent would have been easy to miss.

  175. #175 dorid
    May 8, 2007

    Reading some of the comments through again, I think a few of people have confused “fitness” in the biological sense with “worthiness” in a social sense… something I think happens often.

  176. #176 Pygmy Loris
    May 8, 2007

    Fernando,

    You’re right. The topic came up in a post that referenced eugenics. I just don’t want people thinking that eliminating mental retardation is a matter of getting rid of the “bad” genes. Perfectly health, intelligent people can have children with problems that have nothing to do with the parents carrying “bad” alleles.

  177. #177 Pygmy Loris
    May 8, 2007

    dorid,

    again, you’re right! I think the general public also confuses worthiness (social) vs fitness (biological) (at least for some traits).

  178. #178 frog
    May 8, 2007

    Pygmy Loris,

    Also useful to point out is how much of our genetic material is either “Junk DNA”, which is appearing more and more to be regulatory sequences that we don’t understand and which may be much more pliable than standard alleles, or methylation of genetic sequences, which is only indirectly inheritable and much less stable. On top of that, RNA transmission of traits has already been found for plants – how long till someone finds it in mammalian genetics?

    Evolutionary research still has a way to work out the all the kinks. The field isn’t quite ready for putting it in the category of “done that” quite yet.

    What does this imply about the inheritance of complex traits? That we barely are beginning to learn what we even need to research, much less give pat answers. When there is a lack of knowledge, the wise withhold judgment.

  179. #179 Fernando Magyar
    May 8, 2007

    Re: 173 and 174, As a parent of a highly intelligent child with Aspergers, I know only too well the issues relating to prejudices regarding what is considered “normal behavior”, in the social sense.

  180. #180 ImAMoron2
    May 8, 2007

    The irony of this editorial is how much time PZ Meyers spends denigrating the ID and Libertarian morons who disagree with him.

  181. #181 Bert
    May 8, 2007

    Exhibit 1. Bill Clinton. Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that he is a first class mind. There are no Nobel laureates in his background
    Exhibit 2 My kids. One a Microsoft code monkey. The other about to finish her medical degree. Their parents? A shoemaker and farm girl. Surly eugenics would have had us sterilized.
    Exhibit 3 G.W. Bush. Son of a President, grandson of a powerful senator. Still a breeding dolt.

  182. #182 gg
    May 8, 2007

    #174: “again, you’re right! I think the general public also confuses worthiness (social) vs fitness (biological) (at least for some traits).”

    Someone else has probably said this at some point, but it seems to me that the strength of society is that it protects those who are perhaps individually biologically ‘unfit’ (i.e. unable to survive without aid), but allows those people to make positive contributions to society. In other words, society gets more benefit per person than an unaffiliated collection of people.

  183. #183 ImAMoron2
    May 8, 2007

    See, I _am_ a moron.

    If I’m going to talk about smack about someone, I ought to spell their name right.

    My bad for that.

  184. #184 Steve_C
    May 8, 2007

    We love when PZ denigrates ignorant arrogant assholes. No irony here.

  185. #185 ImAMoron2
    May 8, 2007

    That’s the irony: People you don’t like are just ignorant morons.

  186. #186 murph
    May 9, 2007

    Pygmy said – “If you go by standard population results for IQ tests, the average Ethiopian is mildly retarded.”

    You should go to Ethiopia sometime.

    “Funny how if you give someone an IQ test in a second language, couched in all sorts of cultural terminology with attendant cultural ideas, they do poorly.”

    It’s obvious from your comment you don’t know the slightest about this subject.

    “Furthermore, many Africans seem to do poorly on IQ tests. I would argue that the severe malnutrition seen in many African populations has much more to do with low IQ scores than innate aptitude does”

    Malnutrition is why the Ethiopian average IQ is lower than the African American average IQ. But if you believe IQ tests are bogus it’s strange to turn around and claim they measure environmental effects.

  187. #187 windy
    May 9, 2007

    If “intelligence” is defined by the upper limits of some individual’s capability, then it is trivially true that environmental factors can only prevent its realization.

    Yep. And if we define the “natural” height of redwood trees as >360 feet, we can conclude that the environment can only stunt, not promote, the growth of redwood trees.

  188. #188 Brian Macker
    May 9, 2007

    “Heinlein had ‘predicted’ a lot of things in his science fiction that were far off the mark. Remember ‘moving sidewalks’ or ‘Drafting Dan?’”

    Those are examples that were off the mark?

  189. #189 Bipolar_Fellow
    May 9, 2007

    Wow.

    I’ve been sampling this blog, marveling at the intensity of the opinions it contains. I’ve read “The Marching Morons” and not just Ben Bova’s summary of it (which is pretty much on the mark). I’ve read 40 or 50 of Ben Bova’s books and met the man, having had enough time chatting with him to determine whether or not he is in fact an “elitist” or considers himself a “genius” compared to the rest of the population. I have a couple of degrees in psychology (Am I an elitist if I add that they are from very good schools, and one was earned under a Nobel laureate? Perhaps so) and have worked as a cognitive scientist and an artificial intelligence researcher.

    I have my own opinions about IQ testing, G (the General intelligence factor), and how the term “intelligence” has been used both well and poorly; in fact, I took my first introductory psychology course (many years ago) from Leon Kamin, author of THE SCIENCE AND POLITICS OF IQ (which pretty much blew the whistle on Sir Cyril Burt, the famous British intelligence researcher who is now infamous for having falsified many of his experimental results). I cite my own background not to paint myself as an expert but to establish that I’m not coming to this debate completely unprepared and to reveal the sources of my biases. My job, before I retired for reasons of health, was building computational models of human cognition. I was a mind designer. I still follow the multiple fields involved.

    As a cognitive scientist, I have encountered a number of usages of terms like “intelligence.” Frankly, the only definitions that illuminate more than they obscure are stipulatory. The word is almost useless to anyone studying human information processing (cognitive or affective) and every competent cognitive psychologist I know lost interest in the fatally flawed notion of “IQ” sometime between 25 and 40 years ago; it’s an intellectual dead end. If you don’t believe that, start by reading Kamin and then move on to Bob Sternberg; Howard Gardner has some interesting ideas, too, although I don’t agree with a lot of them.

    If you want to get to the roots of intelligence, you have to study cognitive architectures. That means reading John R. Anderson of Carnegie-Mellon University (THE ARCHITECTURE OF COGNITION; RULES OF THE MIND; THE ATOMIC COMPONENTS OF THOUGHT; LEARNING AND MEMORY) and understanding ACT-R; you should also be familiar with SOAR, another cognitive architecture developed by the late Allen Newell and refined by a group under John Laird (see UNIFIED MODELS OF COGNITION by Allen Newell for an introduction to it; then search the Internet for more recent material); ICARUS by Pat Langley and others is a third cognitive architecture you might want to check out (look for technical reports on the Internet).

    These suggestions assume you have a serious interest in knowing some useful information about concepts like “intelligence.” I would estimate that about 90% of what I’ve read about intelligence in this blog is scientifically inaccurate. What I’ve read here about IQ is unworthy of scientific attention, unless it is viewed as a sociological phenomenon in which science has failed and that failure has persisted for decades beyond its general acknowledgment.

    I know quite a few science fiction writers; I attend Denver’s annual SF / fantasy/ horror convention MileHiCon every October, although I am not myself a “fan.” I’ve taught a college level course in “Modern Science Fiction” a couple of times with my wife, who was an English professor. I know the literature, the people, and the terrain fairly well, although I wouldn’t call myself an expert.

    None of the SF writers I know are elitists, including Ben Bova (who, let me repeat, is just a passing acquaintance). If I’m not mistaken, Ben believes that we should all look for the best in ourselves and try to draw it out in others; I believe that too. Ben is actually a very generous man, willing to share his visions and his expertise with others as widely as possible. Is it elitist to know that you’re an expert in some field and to try to share your knowledge and experience? I don’t believe it is, although a great many people in our society would disagree with me.

    You see, like it or not, all people are not created equal; we choose to treat one another as equals in the beginning because our society depends on it. People are born with different aptitudes and potentials. That is where the inescapable nature-nurture argument begins. I started out a strong defender of the nurture side of things, but lately things haven’t been going well for our camp; a great deal more is biologically determined than most of us want to believe. Unfortunately, as a scientist I have no choice but to follow where the data lead me. Like it or not.

    I don’t think “The Marching Morons” was intended to be a strong statement about biology, although it comes across as one. I think it was intended to highlight the prevalence of shallow thinking and the difficulties inherent in persuading people to delay gratification. Moreover, I think that’s what Ben was really writing about.

    The real issue is not sexual reproduction, and drawing eugenics into it seems almost paranoid to me. Of course eugenics has horrifying ramifications; can we move on now? What is also bad is a population of citizens who are satisfied by the superficial; who aren’t sufficiently challenged by society to be forced to think their way through things; whose focus of attention is so brief and so narrow that it is almost impossible to get them to deal with important issues that affect them both as individuals and as members of society. That’s what “The Marching Morons” is really about, in this reader’s opinion.

    Do you disagree? Fine. Have you read it? Have you read anything else by or about Kornbluth — say, critical or biographical material in which he sheds light on what issues he intended his story to raise? In other words, have you done your homework before reaching your conclusions?

    Do you disagree with Ben? Fine. Have you read his article in its entirety? Have you read any of his other articles or his books, fiction or nonfiction? Have you ever read an interview with him? Have you ever had the pleasure (afforded me a few years ago) to sit down with the man and talk with him about a wide range of subjects, to get to know what labels you might reasonably associate with him and what would be completely inappropriate?

    I am not a person who believes in simple answers or glib responses. I find more illumination searching for better questions and doing as much intellectual legwork as may be necessary to reach my goals — if, in fact, those goals aren’t changed by what I learn during my quest for them.

    And by the way, I’d enjoy spending time with a group of people with Down’s Syndrome as much as anybody else who has posted here. I don’t know if I’d enjoy it more than the opportunity to sit down with Ben and his lovely wife for an evening meal and conversation afterwards. Why should anyone have to choose between such different pleasures?

    There’s nothing wrong with having strong opinions. I have many. Some of them are even informed.

  190. #190 Brian Macker
    May 9, 2007

    “I know there are constraints on intelligence; there is individual variation in capacity, and there are almost certainly some biological bases for that, and also for differences in the kind of intelligence individuals express. This isn’t about that.”

    The way you wrote your article you made it “about that”. That’s because you bundled a bunch of obvious stuff that we can all get behind with some other stuff that’s not actually true. Your article seems to be against what you listed in the first sentence above. Then people are going to want to point out obvious stuff that contradicts what you’ve said.

    “Growing up, I experienced that social pressure that makes getting good grades in school a problem for fitting in with a certain peer group — but that isn’t about despising intelligence, it’s about conforming to the trappings of your group and not adopting the markers of another class, especially when that class has a habit of treating you like dirt and talking abstractly about how to expunge you, your family, and your friends from the gene pool.”

    If I recall my schooldays correctly the “stupid” kids who picked on smart kids didn’t come from any particular class. In fact many of them were the offspring of the rich families. It really had nothing to do with class. Nor did the smart kids spend their time discussing how to expunge people from the gene pool. The “stupid” kids certainly weren’t reading Bova in order to justify their actions.

    Funny it’s been mostly socialists who’ve been into the eugenics business and you seem to think it’s about capitalism. Not only the national socialists but also the socialist Swedes. Goes with the whole idea of society having rights over the individual. You whine about the upper classes picking on the lower classes but I believe it is the “proletariat” who’ve tallied the largest number of murders in the name of exterminating another class. Their atrocities are somewhere in the several hundred millions. The way you wrote your article it seems that you share in quite a bit of class hatred yourself because some individual called your parents stupid.

    Admit it, this article was just one long rant that was not particularly connected to any sort of factual or scientific basis. This is particularly saddening since you are a evolutionist. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and you seem to do that a lot. I was similarly disappointed with Stephen Gould and his socialist nonsense. You’d think with an evolutionary background and seeing the uninformed telling you about your own field that you learn something about economics and politics before you’d start spewing nonsense.

  191. #191 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    The Nave Leftie Utopia is about bringing everyone up, not down, to the same level.

    That fantasy is even stupider than bringing everyone down. At least that’s possible.

    What I’ve read here about IQ is unworthy of scientific attention, unless it is viewed as a sociological phenomenon in which science has failed and that failure has persisted for decades beyond its general acknowledgment.

    That’s a little unfair. Science hasn’t failed at all – it’s just that its findings haven’t changed the public conception of the topic one bit. It’s not exactly as though that’s a unique phenomenon.

    We know that IQ scores don’t capture the most subtle, sophisticated, and complex forms of human thought at all. It’s still a useful metric.

  192. #192 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    What is the impact of environment on the very young in terms of learning potential later on? Kids are like sponges and very resilient, is there a critical time when early hardships are difficult to recover from? Or is there more evidence that under the right educational environment almost any child can flourish?

    Steve_C, those two questions are totally distinct. The first asks whether environmental conditions can stunt intellectual development, the second whether environmental conditions can remedy deficiencies. There’s no ‘or’ there.

    Children have demonstrated a remarkable ability to bounce back from terrible environmental conditions (see the Romanian orphanage adoptees) – as long as they’re placed in a benign environment before puberty, most of the previous environment’s stunting can be overcome. There are no well-defined critical periods in human development, but there’s some evidence that the neural pruning and streamlining that occurs at puberty marks the end of several of them.

    As for the second question, the answer is no. Unless of course you lower the standards so that everyone can meet them, in which case it’s trivially yes.

    Why isn’t our public school system better?

    First off, committees don’t tend to be good at running anything, mostly because the efficacious traits are those that are most prevalent, and our public school systems are run by committee most of the time. Also, people don’t actually value education – see the earlier remarks about education degrees.

  193. #193 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Yep. And if we define the “natural” height of redwood trees as >360 feet, we can conclude that the environment can only stunt, not promote, the growth of redwood trees.

    Running with this metaphor, windy, there are some plants that can grow almost without limit as long as there are sufficient resources and the right growing conditions. Others will grow only so much before stopping, and no amount of extra enrichment will induce them to go further.

    Brain development is one of the second types of plants. A deficient environment will stunt it, but once a threshold level of enviromental stimuli is reached, more doesn’t help. The basic information processing that is crudely measured by things like IQ scores cannot be improved to any significant degree.

  194. #194 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Caledonian, you shouldn’t take the state of the art in neuroscience or psychology too seriously.

    Oh, I don’t. You shouldn’t ignore the state of the art in neuroscience or psychology so blithely.

    Without a theory, all the data points in the world are at best suggestive. In terms of understanding intelligence or personality, we’re at about the same position as physics was back in the 15th century. Sometimes we do actually know that we don’t know and suggesting otherwise is, well, kinda stupid.

    Falling objects fall at the same rate regardless of their size or mass once air resistance is accounted for. We don’t need a theory to be able to make use of observed facts.

  195. #195 Archaeopteryx
    May 9, 2007

    As always, extremely well-written commentary, PZ. I can’t tell you how many of my own students thought Idiocracy had a scientific basis. One more reason that we need to be teaching evolutionary theory in our schools–so that it can’t be misused by people who don’t really understand it.

  196. #196 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    One more reason that we need to be teaching evolutionary theory in our schools–so that it can’t be misused by people who don’t really understand it.

    That isn’t evolutionary theory.

  197. #197 dorid
    May 9, 2007

    We know that IQ scores don’t capture the most subtle, sophisticated, and complex forms of human thought at all. It’s still a useful metric.

    I don’t know that it’s USEFUL, but I certainly know that it’s USED. You’d think by now we’d have a better way to evaluate cognative ability over a variety of domains.

    I think IQ testing is GROSSLY over-used by schools, who rely on it for educational placements, criteria for special education programing, and admissions to gifted programs.

  198. #198 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Can you offer a better objective method for determining who should be in those programs?

  199. #199 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    It’s remarkable how a group of people who normally pride themselves on proper reasoning will suddenly begin introducing extraneous points into the debate when their hot-button issues come up.

    Where are the issues of socioeconomic class, ethnicity, or social darwinism brought up in the original, critiqued article? What about Kornbluth’s original story?

  200. #200 CortxVortx
    May 9, 2007

    I read “The Marching Morons” back in my teens, and could see the flaw right away: My parents were stupid, and I was brilliant, therefore Kornbluth was wrong. (Was ever a teenager didn’t see his parents as stupid? And realize, in their 20s, that their parents had unaccountably gotten very smart in the meantime?)

    Sounds like my situation was similar to PZ’s. Six kids in the family of an ex-military-now-steelworker in east Texas. Lived on a farm; went barefoot most of the time (except during grassburr season); one bathroom house (!) with no central heating and certainly no central air. Dug potatoes, shucked corn, shelled peas, slopped hogs, went to church. Why, the very stereotype of a redneck!

    I grew up with other stereotypes, as well. That blacks were inherently inferior, mentally; that women were inherently inferior, mentally and physically. Neither group belonged in government or science. I managed to shake off those stereotypes, along with religion, in college. Yes, that’s what it took: Education.

    Stupidity isn’t inherited, but ignorance is.

    Then again, we’re all descended from Golgafrinchans, anyway.

    “You’re all bloody useless!”

    — CV

  201. #201 frog
    May 9, 2007

    Caledonian, you shouldn’t take the state of the art in neuroscience or psychology too seriously.

    Oh, I don’t. You shouldn’t ignore the state of the art in neuroscience or psychology so blithely.

    Without a theory, all the data points in the world are at best suggestive. In terms of understanding intelligence or personality, we’re at about the same position as physics was back in the 15th century. Sometimes we do actually know that we don’t know and suggesting otherwise is, well, kinda stupid.

    Falling objects fall at the same rate regardless of their size or mass once air resistance is accounted for. We don’t need a theory to be able to make use of observed facts.

    Caledonian, you do know what a theory is, don’t you? The data points of falling objects were useless until someone came up with an equation to describe them, which is that the average velocity of falling objects is constant. It’s unlikely that Galileo was the first to drop objects and see when they fell – but he was the first to understand what it meant; particularly, he understood that he had to ignore air resistance – a theoretical and not observational breakthrough. That only became really useful with Newton, when we could calculate the instantaneous velocity, and therefore understand that what was constant was acceleration – that was the rate we needed to care about.

    Neither psychology nor neuroscience have even the glimmerings of a theory that would allow one to extrapolate significantly from the data. At best, they have the analogues to constant average velocity, which in and of itself was not terribly useful to understand gravity in a general sense.

    So, yes, I blithely dismiss the state of the art of psychology and neuroscience, just as I dismiss much of economics. I don’t dismiss the psychologists, neuroscientists and economists – one must start somewhere, and a good start has been made. But to extrapolate beyond the ability of current theory to predict is surely the mark of a fool.

  202. #202 PaulC
    May 9, 2007

    Brian Macker:

    PZ: “Growing up, I experienced that social pressure that makes getting good grades in school a problem for fitting in with a certain peer group — but that isn’t about despising intelligence, it’s about conforming to the trappings of your group and not adopting the markers of another class, especially when that class has a habit of treating you like dirt and talking abstractly about how to expunge you, your family, and your friends from the gene pool.”

    If I recall my schooldays correctly the “stupid” kids who picked on smart kids didn’t come from any particular class.

    You’re using a narrow, politicized interpretation of class. PZ is right on the mark with this observation, though “subculture” might be a more precise term than “class.”

    Stupidity does not confer any advantage in high school, but social savvy does (“conformity” is too loaded a term; we all conform at some level and it’s too easy to spin social cluelessness as rugged independence).

    Smart weird kids get picked on and it hurts (as I well know). But has anyone considered that stupid weird kids also get picked on and it hurts even more, and they lack the resources we nerds use to defend ourselves? You don’t hear as much from them, because they’re not as good at expressing themselves. Smart kids with social grace typically go on to great success in life (so-called “leadership positions”) and they carry the mediocre conforming kids on their coattails. Smart kids without it either learn it or find a career niche where it doesn’t matter so much.

    So I completely agree with PZ on this. High school is a terrible place, but it does not punish intelligence per se. It punishes weirdness. Intelligence was one way for a weirdo like me to survive adolescence with spirit intact. But that’s all it was. It doesn’t make me any better. In fact, I was a little snot who probably just should have been nicer to other people and gained more friends through reciprocal kindness. It takes more experience to realize this than I could have possibly had at the time, though.

  203. #203 frog
    May 9, 2007

    Bipolar_fellow: I think you miss one of the points. Part of the problem is not the tale itself, but the common idea which is referenced by the story. In popular culture (a very specific subset, in particular), The Marching Morons no longer is used to refer to the book, but to a general idea about breeding and the need for eugenics. The actual contents of the story becomes almost laughably irrelevant – the term has been overloaded. Just say the words “The Marching Morons” and immediately you have simple-minded buffoons arguing about Mexicans outbreeding good Midwestern stock – I kid you not.

  204. #204 PaulC
    May 9, 2007

    I’d finally like to comment on what I took away from PZ’s post, though maybe if I reread I’d see what people are making such a stink about.

    The “marching morons” scenario would not happen. It’s not because there is no genetic variability in intelligence, but because there is nothing about living in the modern world that actually favors “stupidity.” If, say, everyone with postgraduate education choose not to breed, the population after a few generations would not be deficient, but would consist of a normal mix of traits. Exceptional individuals would arise from that population just as they always have. It would be nearly impossible to quash out intelligence even by coercive means intended to eliminate it.

    The gene pool is too big, all the traits we value are in there, and in a favorable environment they will surface. The evidence is clear from the fact that most of today’s successful people come from very ordinary ancestors.

    The story “The Marching Morons” uses its premise as a starting off point rather than as its sole point, and it is perfectly fine as a “what if.” But it probably wouldn’t happen.

  205. #205 Hank Roberts
    May 9, 2007

    Rewrite of the “Marching Morons” —- a secret cabal spread throughout the society of stupid people pretends to be part of them, pretends to be the low-status servant group doing work the serious consumer adults find uninteresting.

    Their task: recognize the smart kids from each generation, encourage them to learn, while also helping them not be killed off by their peers.

    Their profession: grade school teacher.

  206. #206 Pygmy Loris
    May 9, 2007

    murph,

    Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I teach about IQ and human variation.

    Read these and get back to me:

    Alland A., Blakely M.L., Brace C.L., Goodman A.H., Molnar S., Rushton J.P., Sarich V.M. and Smedley A. (1996) “The Eternal Triangle: Race, Class, and IQ.” Current Anthropology: Supplement: Special Issue: Anthropology in Public. Vol. 37(1) pp. S143-181.

    Brace C.L. (2005) “Race” is a four-letter word: the Genesis of the Concept. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Devlin B., Feinberg S.E., Resnick D.P. and Roder K. (1997) Intelligence, Genes, & Success: Scientists Respond to the Bell Curve. New York: Copernicus Springer-Verlag.

    Gould S.J. (1996) The Mismeasure of Man. New York & London: W.W. Norton Company.

    Guthrie R.V. (1976) Even the Rat was White: A Historical View of Psychology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Press.

    Herrnstein R.J. and Murray C. (1994). The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free Press.

    Jacoby R and Glauberman N. Eds. (1995) The Bell Curve Debate: History, Documents, Opinions. New York: Random House Times Books.

    Some of these critique the statistical methods used in IQ testing and presentation of scores while others address the cultural nature of IQ tests.

    BTW, I not sure what your point about going to Ethiopia was. My argument is that the IQ tests they were given to reach the conclusion that the average IQ in Ethiopia was significantly below the white average were culturally biased. I don’t need to go to Ethiopia to make this case.

    Fernando,

    I guess I should admit that I have a vested interest in people understanding Trisomy 21 because my uncle has it.

  207. #207 Pygmy Loris
    May 9, 2007

    murph,

    I think arguing that IQ tests are measuring something under mostly genetic control is bogus. The tests do measure something, but whatever genetic signal is there is swamped by environmental noise. Therefore arguing that any particular group of people has a significantly (in the statistical sense) different distribution of IQ scores than whites doesn’t have any meaning because you cannot say whether that difference is genetic or environmental.

  208. #208 Eric Paulsen
    May 9, 2007

    Personally I find the idea comforting. I always liked the poetic justice of a civilization poisoned by its own garbage than vaporized by its technological brilliance. I can see a time in the future when the citizens of this hopeless planet die by the hundreds of thousands simply because they got caught out in a rainstorm and didn’t have the common sense to stop looking up toward heaven in the hope of seeing god pick up a 7-10 split. MARCHING morons would be an improvement.

  209. #209 Tlazolteotl
    May 9, 2007

    My corrections:

    In today’s story, the people who are actually attempting — with scare tactics, really — to keep their own power base from falling apart altogether are a small group of very venal men and woman who labor in secret. They are horrified by the world of the “little people,” but they strive cynically to keep the people from empowering themselves…Sound familiar?

  210. #210 eyelessgame
    May 9, 2007

    For a proper perspective of breeding, one should watch Monty Python’s skit “Upper Class Twit of the Year”.

    And for a proper perspective of Caledonians, one should watch Monty Python’s skit about the blancmanges.

    Don’t mind Murph. With a name like that, he’s probably an Irishman, and we all know about them.

  211. #211 eyelessgame
    May 9, 2007

    oops, somehow failed to quote. But you know what I mean.

  212. #212 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    I think arguing that IQ tests are measuring something under mostly genetic control is bogus.

    Except for all the studies which control for heredity and environment and conclude that it’s mostly inherited, yeah, totally bogus!

  213. #213 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    but because there is nothing about living in the modern world that actually favors “stupidity.”

    In the absence of a selective pressure maintaining gene frequencies, populations will degenerate into whatever’s simplest.

    Remove the ancestors of the dodos from most selective pressures (plenty of food, no predators, pleasant climate) and they degenerated into morons. Domestic cats and dogs lose about a third of their neurons during early development compared to their wild ancestors. (Saves energy.) Carrots revert to Queen Anne’s Lace if permitted to grow without maintenance selection. And so on, and so forth.

    Genetic noise tends to erase traits that aren’t actively preserved.

    Quite simply, it takes very little intelligence to survive and breed in today’s world. Far less than our hunter-gatherer ancestors need to cope with their complex and challenging environment.

  214. #214 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Caledonian, you do know what a theory is, don’t you? The data points of falling objects were useless until someone came up with an equation to describe them, which is that the average velocity of falling objects is constant.

    I know what a theory is. Clearly, you don’t.

  215. #215 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    The gene pool is too big,

    What?! The gene pool for humans is very, very small – we have far fewer alleles for our genes that most other animals and relatively little physical diversity.

    It’s certainly difficult to weed out polygenic traits, but it’s not at all impossible.

  216. #216 dorid
    May 9, 2007

    Can you offer a better objective method for determining who should be in those programs?

    Performance on authentic assesment tools used in various subjects. Teacher observation. Common sense.

  217. #217 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Performance on authentic assesment tools used in various subjects.

    IQ tests ARE authentic assessment tools. Try again.

  218. #218 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Because I think it’s worth discussing here: Lives Not Worth Living

  219. #219 Paul Riddell
    May 9, 2007

    Ah, yes, yet more noise from Cat Piss Men who somehow think that they’re inherently superior just because they read (and try to write) science fiction. I used to get angry at the dolts, but now I just paraphrase Garth Ennis: “Ever notice how the people who advocate the whole ‘fans are slans’ idea are some of the worst examples of it? YOU! Where the FUCK is your chin?”

  220. #220 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Who is arguing that science fiction fans are the chosen people, besides the idiots putting it up as a strawman to knock down? Nobody’s put up any particular group as being superior, although PZ himself started the conflation between stupid people and those of disdained cultural groups, and it’s just continued from there.

  221. #221 PaulC
    May 9, 2007

    Quite simply, it takes very little intelligence to survive and breed in today’s world. Far less than our hunter-gatherer ancestors need to cope with their complex and challenging environment.

    This assertion is made often, but I see little evidence for it. The modern world is a complex and challenging social environment that requires social and language skills to compete. Raising kids is hard–not raising them to get into Harvard, but just to be reasonably responsible, productive people capable of navigating a dynamic job market who aren’t going to drive a car into a phone poll when they’re 16 or leverage a juvenile shoplifting compulsion into life behind bars.

    Let’s start with Bova’s characterization of Kornbluth’s “morons”:

    Kornbluth tells of a future world that is overrun with dummies: men and women who don’t know anything beyond their own shallow personal interests. They don’t know how their society works, or who is running it. All they care about is their personal — and immediate — gratification.

    I’m pretty sure that genetics has precluded me from rivaling J.S. Bach in music or Ramanujan in mathematics. On the other hand, a quite ordinary mind can absorb habits such as: deferral of gratification, good citizenship, planning, and some level of critical thinking. So an ordinary human population will not look like Bova’s characterization given a reasonably effective social infrastructure.

    So we’d have to believe that modern life over enough generations is going to result in not merely an ordinary human population but a genuinely deficient one. Sorry, I just don’t see it. Life just isn’t that easy, and there is also a self-correcting element. If people got that dumb, the resulting chaos would send them back to surviving by wits alone. It would be carnage and wouldn’t result in much innovation, but it would probably keep the gene pool vital.

    Actually even our relatively stable, prosperous world contains numerous traps for people with poor judgment. You can wreck your life with a drug addiction–if the drugs don’t do it, the jail time will. And even seemingly successful people can fall prey to gambling problems. Numerous hazards can take people with poor judgment out of the running before they have a chance to reproduce, increase infant mortality, and reduce the likelihood of their offspring reproducing.

    The “dummies” may not be planning their families very well, but are they actually outbreeding people who show planning and good judgment to confer success to their offspring? I don’t know, but I sort of doubt it. In any case, the argument would have to be made with evidence rather than pure speculation. Every trend I’ve seen suggests that it is getting harder, not easier for people with poorly developed academic skills to prosper, so I just don’t see a lot of plausibility to Kornbluth’s premise, even if it sounds clever on the face of it.

  222. #222 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    This assertion is made often, but I see little evidence for it. The modern world is a complex and challenging social environment that requires social and language skills to compete.

    1) Existing in an environment made up mostly of other humans is a one-way ticket to positive feedback loops.

    2) Social skills don’t do much for intelligence, and language skills? No.

    I think you’re vastly underestimating the difficulty of being a hunter-gatherer, the complexity of the stimuli they had to deal with on a daily basis, and the tremendous amount of information they had to learn to cope with their environment.

    The move to agriculture produced unhealthy, malnourished people who bred like rabbits because of the unnutritious but starch-rich food they grew. In terms of quality of life, leaving behind hunter-gathering was an absolute terrible idea – but the farmers managed to outbreed the hunter-gatherers, much like cancer cells crowding out healthy ones.

    Once, people who did certain kinds of grossly unwise things died. Now they don’t. You think that has no effect?

  223. #223 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    Gene Expression’s response to PZ

    ***

    On the other hand, a quite ordinary mind can absorb habits such as: deferral of gratification, good citizenship, planning, and some level of critical thinking.

    Deferral of gratification is one of the frontal-lobe properties that IQ tests can’t even pick up on. So are planning and critical thinking. Most human beings are extraordinarily bad at those tasks.

  224. #224 PaulC
    May 9, 2007

    Caledonian: Far be it from me to underestimate hunter gatherers, but my ancestors are far enough removed from that that I should probably be measuring myself against a baseline of illiterate Irish serfs. I’m sure my ancestors had a much harder life than mine, but I don’t know if it was one in which IQ conferred a lot of advantage.

    One of PZ’s point, if I got it right, is that most of us who count ourselves as smart actually come from pretty humble stock. I have little doubt that you could breed selectively for the traits Bova ascribes to Kornbluth’s morons, but I don’t think we’re even close to it. We live in a stimulating environment that rewards cognitive skills.

    Many if not most educated adults choose to breed at nearly replacement rate by having two children. Virtually nobody is having the 5+ families that were once the norm. Even a “dummy” has enough options available. So if Kornbluth’s premise were ever plausible, it seems less so now.

  225. #225 Caledonian
    May 9, 2007

    We live in a stimulating environment that rewards cognitive skills.

    With more children? With children better capable of surviving? No, we don’t live in such an enviroment. We live in a section of the world where intellect can make some people moderately comfortable, while people with sports skills and/or good looks make obscene amounts of money and live like gods. Meanwhile, the people with the most children are religious fanatics, people delay having children until their most-fertile periods are over and their risk of genetic abnormalities is far greater, and the forces that define reproductive success are fundamentally different from those that created humanity’s distinctiveness in the first place.

    Many if not most educated adults choose to breed at nearly replacement rate by having two children.

    No, many people with middle-class-or-better lifestyles have two (or fewer) children. There’s a very important difference. To people in the upper echelons of our society, children are a tedious obstacle, not a goal in itself, that can be easily avoided and often are.

  226. #226 Brian Macker
    May 9, 2007

    PaulC,

    “You’re using a narrow, politicized interpretation of class.”
    I matter what definition of class you use the article is false. It’s as simple as realizing that the dumb bullies who like to pick on smart kids come from every background. They are black, white, rich, poor, etc. Besides it was Myers who defined it as the rich vs. the poor in his article.

    “And no, eating brie, going to Harvard, and reading the Wall Street Journal are not indicators of ability — they are properties of class.”

    “Drinking beer, learning a trade, and reading Sports Illustrated doesn’t mean you’re dumber”

    Then you try to convince me of some other theory about why kids are picked on ignoring the fact that I didn’t provide any theory. Ignoring the fact that I wrote, “It really had nothing to do with class.” and was merely providing a counterexample to prove Myers wrong.


    So I completely agree with PZ on this. High school is a terrible place, but it does not punish intelligence per se. It punishes weirdness.

    So you agree with Myers on something he didn’t even say. I guess when you wrote this response you didn’t realize your whole “high school”/”weird kids” theory wasn’t even present in Myers article. He was talking working class vs. rich.

    I think it’s a ridiculous and sloppy over-generalization. There were many such mistakes and I only bothered to point out one. I find it disgusting that he’s making excuses for kids who bully other kids for getting good grades. I remember what it was about and it wasn’t about virtue on the part of the bullies. It was about envy, lowering the bar, recognizing someone who would not hit back, etc.

  227. #227 murph
    May 9, 2007

    Pygmy why are you still teaching Gould’s outdated, dishonest, and thoroughly debunked book Mismeasure of Man?

  228. #228 PZ Myers
    May 9, 2007

    Mismeasure of Man is an excellent book. If you’re looking for crap in that list, start with the that incompetent tripe from Herrnstein and Murray.

  229. #229 Brian macker
    May 10, 2007

    That should have started “It doesn’t matter what definition of class you use the article is false.”.

  230. #230 murph
    May 10, 2007

    Scientists don’t take Gould seriously.

    Why is it Christians are supposed to accept the fact of evolution even though it contradicts their beliefs, yet people with left wing politcal views, including Marxists like Gould, get to ignore the parts of evolutionary theory that conflict with their faith? I don’t get it.

  231. #231 Kseniya
    May 10, 2007

    Who is arguing that science fiction fans are the chosen people, besides the idiots putting it up as a strawman to knock down? Nobody’s put up any particular group as being superior…

    Actually, Caledonian, someone is and someone has: Bova.

    The bulk of his article can be distilled thus: “We’re being overwhelmed by morons! If people had only been reading science fiction, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

    Even if we overlook his insistence that “We’re living among the Marching Morons” and accept that he’s using the Moron label figuratively, he’s still saying that most people (those who don’t read S/F, dontcha know) are intellectually lazy sheep.

    “If more people had read that story half a century ago, perhaps we might have avoided some of the pitfalls that have led us to a moron-rich world today.”

    “I write science fiction, stories that attempt to show how we can change the world — for the better or for the worse. Most people don’t read science fiction because (I suspect) they’re afraid they’d have to do some thinking.”

    “Morons” aside, he’s clearly not saying that people who don’t read S/F are stupid, but he’s just as clearly making a distinction (and an implicit value judgement) between those who do and those who don’t.

  232. #232 Jeff
    May 10, 2007

    I think that while the “Marching Moron” fear today has less of a grounding in genetics, it is more a worry of memetics. I’ll admit to feeling queasy when I hear about the increasing number of children from religious families being homeschooled, isolated from the diversity of their peers, and indoctrinated. This is not to say that these children will never be able to form their own viewpoints, but statistically I’m willing to bet the parents’ and church leaders’ values and ideas are transmitted to people who were homeschooled with a much higher fidelity than those who received a public education. I have to run to work now, but if actual figures are out there on this, I think it would be interesting to see how they pan out.

  233. #233 windy
    May 10, 2007

    …he’s still saying that most people (those who don’t read S/F, dontcha know) are intellectually lazy sheep.

    This reminds me of a Finnish SF panel discussion, where science fiction was characterised approximately as “Harlequin romance for intellectuals” ;)

  234. That does it. You cited, “Idiocracy.” That makes you my all-time #1 blogging hero.

  235. #235 Caledonian
    May 10, 2007

    Actually, Caledonian, someone is and someone has: Bova.

    “Morons” aside, he’s clearly not saying that people who don’t read S/F are stupid, but he’s just as clearly making a distinction (and an implicit value judgement) between those who do and those who don’t.

    Or he’s saying that those who disparage the field frequently do so because the nerdish, intellectual taint repulses them. You seem to have trouble distinguishing between “reading science fiction would have prevented these problems” and “if people were willing to read science fiction, we wouldn’t have these problems”.

    Even accepting your points for the sake of argument, he’s not talking about sociocultural or ethnic groups at all, and that’s one of the first things PZ switched the discussion to.

  236. #236 Caledonian
    May 10, 2007

    Gould had a distressing tendency to set the conclusion he wished to reach and twist his reasoning towards it – see his statements about the nature of science and religion.

    His statements in The Mismeasure of Man regarding the g factor are simply inane.

    Considering how badly PZ argued in this thread, I’m not surprised he liked it.

  237. #237 Kseniya
    May 10, 2007

    Good Morning, Caledonian:

    Or he’s saying that those who disparage the field frequently do so because the nerdish, intellectual taint repulses them.

    Not precisely, no. He’s saying that those who decline to read science fiction may do so because they are intimidated by the “science” and suspect the stories will be difficult to understand – a suspicion that Bova, to his credit, dismisses. (This statement is curiously at odds with his point that popular S/F as seen in the movies is typically comic-book S/F, and not “real” S/F at all.)

    He then goes on to say that he believes people avoid science fiction because they worry that it will force them to think. Whether he’s right or wrong is irrelevant. He says it. Not that they are stupid, but that they are intellectually both fearful and lazy. The implication being: Readers of science fiction are neither.

    You seem to have trouble distinguishing between “reading science fiction would have prevented these problems” and “if people were willing to read science fiction, we wouldn’t have these problems”.

    Semantically, no. Do I have trouble discerning how the difference matters to this argument? Yes. I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to explain it to me.

    Bova says IF more people had read the story THEN perhaps we could have avoided the pitfalls that led to the currect problematic situation.

    Willingness is a prerequisite to action (and Bova does address the unwillingness as part of the problem) but it’s no guarantee that the action will be taken – and it’s the reading, not the willingness to read, that counts. Good intentions, and all that.

    Even accepting your points for the sake of argument, he’s not talking about sociocultural or ethnic groups at all, and that’s one of the first things PZ switched the discussion to.

    Well… true enough, if neither of us are willing to recognize “readers of science fiction” as a sociocultural or ethnic group. :-) But please tell me again how Bova isn’t holding up the reader of science fiction as being better equipped to understand the present, to anticipate the future and, most significantly, to help avoid creating those less desirable futures imagined by S/F writers. And that’s what we’re talking about: whether or not anybody is claiming the reader of science fiction is superior in some respect, any respect, to the non-reader. Bova has done that.

    Is this a trivial point in the scope of this discussion? Yeah, probably, but you seem to be wondering why it’s being discussed. That’s the reason, for better or for worse.

  238. #238 PaulC
    May 10, 2007

    Caledonian (I’m not sure if he said this or is quoting):

    Or he’s saying that those who disparage the field frequently do so because the nerdish, intellectual taint repulses them.

    The main reason I disparage a certain category of science fiction fans isn’t because they’re smart, but because they’re not nearly as smart as they think. I know fandom reasonably well and was quite active in my university SF club way back, so this is not what I’d call an opinion from ignorance. I remember attending SF cons a couple of times in grad school after I had been to academic conferences in my field. I was attending a panel discussion when it sort of hit me that the whole purpose appeared to be to elevate the attendees to a feeling of importance and worth, as if they were discussing new ideas with a bunch of academic colleagues–when in fact, they were just BSing endlessly about the same old stuff they’d done for years.

    I don’t mean to suggest that there is nothing of value in SF, just that Sturgeon’s law applies (to rehash another old observation). People ought to read SF, but they should read more widely, and they should drop the attitude of superiority towards “mundanes.” Some of the smartest people I’ve known are pretty normal, have lives, spouses, kids, and drive minivans (that aren’t covered in bumper stickers). Foreign-born “geeks” in particular seem to lack the disdain for athletics and actually do things like play soccer and volleyball. There’s nothing wrong with wearing your geekiness on your sleeve, but it doesn’t make you better than anyone else.

    I saw Bova talk about 20 years ago and I have nothing against him. He’s a smart, affable guy. But I think it’s odd for him to laud Kornbluth’s prescience, unless by prescience, he means predicting events that have not happened and are unlikely ever to happen.

  239. #239 Russell
    May 10, 2007

    Examining them over the two generations since Kornbluth wrote, when it comes to science coverage , and a disposition to be governed by facts instead of circumscribing them , it is not hard to detect the evolutionary and devolutionary divergence of Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal.

    If their memetic divergence has a genetic component, it may owe to one having a swimsuit issue while the other does not.

  240. #240 PaulC
    May 10, 2007

    Brian Macker: I’ll concede that PZ’s diatribe was more class-based than I suggested and that I shoehorned it into my personal theory of why adolescence sucks. But take what I actually said about why I “agree completely.”

    So I completely agree with PZ on this. High school is a terrible place, but it does not punish intelligence per se.

    I agree with PZ on his assertion that high school does not punish intelligence per so. Did he make this assertion? Well, he said:

    Growing up, I experienced that social pressure that makes getting good grades in school a problem for fitting in with a certain peer group — but that isn’t about despising intelligence, it’s about conforming to the trappings of your group

    I think it’s fair to conclude that whatever else PZ said, he asserted that early socialization (which includes high school) does not punish intelligence per se. This is not nitpicking, since the whole premise of “marching morons” is the existence of some kind of selective pressure against intelligence.

    Now I’ll concede that as written, it looks like my phrase “on this” refers to what I wrote above it rather than the sentence that followed it. If I intended that at the time, let me retract any such suggestion. I have my own theory, and it’s not the same as PZ’s. For one reason, my schooling experience was probably different. I went to a prep school where the most despised group was probably the types you’d call “stoners.” The in group is what I’d call “preppy snots” and I found stoners much more decent as people, though it’s not a life I would emulate. Several very popular, well adjusted kids had better grades than I did. I was bullied because I just didn’t fit in, wasn’t particularly interested in fitting in, and sort of stupidly took my isolation as a mark of pride. Probably one reason I got some modicum of respect was just that I had a reputation for being smart.

    The idea that there is some kind of conspiracy of the lilliputians to hold down the great is one of those paranoid fantasies that keeps the works of Ayn Rand in continual publication. Most people don’t want to be bullied, and the ideal response would be to develop a strategy to avoid being bullied. The less than ideal response is to develop a personal mythology by which the bullying somehow proves that you’re superior. This is fine as a psychological defense, but all of my experience in life has convinced me that the smartest people often have their act together on just about everything else too, and don’t get bullied.

  241. #241 Pygmy Loris
    May 10, 2007

    murph,

    Yes I still teach Gould. I show his lecture every semester.

    PZ,

    I included Herrnstein and Murray for reference rather than b/c I think they had any good points. Because we critique The Bell Curve I read it and we discuss the basic problems of the authors’ arguments.

  242. #242 johannes
    May 10, 2007

    > The Nave Leftie Utopia is about bringing everyone up, not down, to
    the same level.

    This was so in 1890. However, if you become empowered, and established, and fat, and tired, cultural pessimism and anti intellectual sentiment become attractive. After all, it makes sense for an established elite to keep meritocratic middle- and lower-class upstarts down. For my great-great-grandfather, socialism meant bringing everyone up to the same level. For my hippie teachers in the eighties, socialism meant bringing everybody (except themselves) down to the same level.

  243. #243 albatross
    May 10, 2007

    PZ Meyers said:

    “Furthermore, intelligence is an incredibly plastic property of the brain. You can nurture it or you can squelch it — the marching morons will birth children with as much potential as a pair of science-fiction geeks, and all that will matter is how well that mind is encouraged to grow.”

    Is there some evidence for this claim? If intelligence has a heritable component, and by morons here you mean people who have lower intelligence than the science-fiction geeks, then I don’t see how it can be right.

  244. #244 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 10, 2007

    Read closer. The morons aren’t of lower intelligence.

  245. #245 albatross
    May 10, 2007

    This does kind of stretch the meaning of “moron,” right?

    I think I see the idea here: PZ Meyers’ assumption is that low intelligence is about environment, culture, etc. If there’s no genetic component, then there are no marching morons. The morons having a kid aren’t any different genetically than the smart people (assuming SF fans are smart), just culturally.

    But that does seem to contradict the existing evidence from twin studies, right? Even if those studies are potentially flawed, it seems like that lets you say “there’s suggestive but not definitive evidence for a genetic component to intelligence,” rather than that there’s definitely no genetic component, or that the genetic component is unimportant.

  246. #246 Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD
    May 10, 2007

    There is a genetic component to intelligence. But what constitutes a “moron” is not genetic. So whatever kids they have has no meaning genetically.

    You’re confusing ignorance with intelligence.

  247. #247 albatross
    May 10, 2007

    Doesn’t that also require that there be no connection between intelligence and being a moron in the sense used above? If being a moron is less likely, the smarter you are, then we’re back to the notion that morons’ kids will have less intelligence than non-morons’ kids.

    If intelligence has a genetic component, and more intelligent people have fewer surviving offspring than less intelligent people on average, then that looks like a difference in fitness that will be selected against, right? Isn’t this the whole concern that led to eugenics?

  248. #248 Caledonian
    May 10, 2007

    Semantically, no. Do I have trouble discerning how the difference matters to this argument? Yes. I’d appreciate it if you would take a moment to explain it to me.

    If you don’t grasp its importance to the argument, you cannot understand the semantic difference.

    “If A, then B” is not the same thing as “If B, then A”.

  249. #249 Keith Douglas
    May 10, 2007

    Sarkar’s Genetics and Reductionism also has some useful remarks on this theme.

    But I think the most important thing I learned from Gene Roddenberry, actually. He said that even if there are human capacity differences in any area (and he, actually, thought there were) then, so what? Just because Sulu (his example) is not as capable to do XYZ as Kirk (his example), should we deprive him of his opportunity to become the best he can be? On the contrary, in a way he needs our help more to flourish. This, BTW, is why I insist that evolutionary psychology/sociobiology is not reactionary, whatever other demerits it might have. (I also note in passing that I learned later that Sojourner Truth made the same sort of remarks as Roddenberry.)

  250. #250 Kseniya
    May 10, 2007

    “If A, then B” is not the same thing as “If B, then A”.

    Yes, even a shambling cretin like me can see that. O.o

    However, I don’t see what that has to do with the subject at hand, and the obvious distinction between those two statements is in no way analagous to the more subtle distinction that exists between the two statements in question – a distinction that is, by the way, irrelevant. Why? Because one statemtent was made by Bova, the other was contributed by you, for the purpose of… of what? You tell me. I don’t see the point of splitting this particular hair. Does the one statement characterize the attitude (displayed here in the comments section) to which you object, while the other is what Bova said, and the distinction is critical in our discussion because it’s not Bova’s statement you’re addressing?

  251. #251 C. L. Hanson
    May 12, 2007

    Genes flow fluidly — if you sneer at the underclass and think your line is superior, I suspect you won’t have to go back very many generations to find your stock comes out of that same seething mob.

    Hear, hear!!

    On that note, I’ve decided to post about my own illustrious ancestry: family history: Moonshine.

  252. #252 Brian Macker
    May 12, 2007

    PaulC,

    Alright, you got the point of my reply. You clarified your position and now I can agree with it. I don’t believe that there are selective pressures in our schools that effect the gene pool in a way that benefits morons. Problem is I wasn’t taking Myers to task on that point, so why address that reply to me?

    “The idea that there is some kind of conspiracy of the lilliputians to hold down the great is one of those paranoid fantasies that keeps the works of Ayn Rand in continual publication.”
    I disagree with Ayn Rand on many things but this sentence is not fair. Taken honestly Rands complaint was not about a conspiracy working at a genetic level, or one by people who were morons in the sense of being unintelligent. Her complaint was against ideological conspiracy to silence the opposition. She had first hand experience with this having fled from communists. Those communists really did practice a direct and open form of bullying of their ideological opponents. So it wasn’t paranoid fantasy.

    “The less than ideal response is to develop a personal mythology by which the bullying somehow proves that you’re superior.”

    Are you still discussing Rand because this is not what she did.

    I think it’s a perfectly acceptable criticism of an ideology to show that it gained widespread acceptance by killing it’s ideological opponents. Shows that the ideology did not rely on intellectual persuasion to gain dominance and therefore is not likely to be true.

    One of the problems with Rand was that she was a kind of bully herself. She didn’t use direct violence but she did use other morally unacceptable means.

    The trouble I have with Myers is he goes to far in his political claims and is trying to dress them up in his own authority as an evolutionist. Gould used to do the same thing. When it comes to the subject of Marxism Ayn Rand was a giant and Gould a lilliputian.

  253. #253 Caledonian
    May 12, 2007

    I don’t believe that there are selective pressures in our schools that effect the gene pool in a way that benefits morons.

    Genetics is the Red Queen’s race. Stop the treadmill and you’ll run right into the wall.

    As for Rand, you’ve utterly missed the point, PaulC. Paranoid? Hardly. There’s no conspiracy in the common sense, because that would require organization and adherence to principles, traits that Rand is concerned are NOT present. Do you think that bacteria developing antibiotic resistance is a conspiracy? It’s a mindless process that’s nevertheless profoundly harmful.

    Rand is concerned with memes rather than genes. Necessary but difficult concepts aren’t encouraged, while mental and ethical weakness is encouraged to spread by not being checked.

  254. #254 Brian Macker
    May 12, 2007

    BTW, I haven’t read “The Marching Morons” and as described by Myers the book does seem silly. What I find hard to believe however is that the books idea of morons was based on race or class distinctions. I’ve seen this theme before in science fiction and it’s never been based on race. The movie Idiocracy didn’t make this mistake and yet Myers railed against it as if it had. I have seen books such as “The Time Machine” where the evolution is based on class, and of course it’s silly, because the book posits no mechanism for the genetic isolation of the Morlocks from the Eloi. Myers didn’t bring this book up however.

    I have my own reasons for thinking that Idiocracy is idiotic but I like to fault stuff on the actual premises presented and not ones I’ve made of whole cloth. In this case it wasn’t about any particular genetically isolated subculture displacing the others. So Myers objection that “Genes flow fluidly” is moot. I’m really surprised he didn’t catch that him being a biologist professor and all.

    Like I said there was lots wrong with this article. I just don’t feel like wading through it all. Myers has serious “class” issues that blinkers his thought processes regarding economics and political issues. They seem to also spill into issues of human population genetics.

  255. #255 Ugly American
    June 3, 2007

    We now know that over half your DNA is expressed in your neurons.

    But it must be some kind of fluke because it doesn’t fit the communist one size fits all dogma?

  256. #256 sorbix
    June 3, 2007

    I think you might have confused the ethnic form of eugenics with the intelligence-based kind. You’re definitely right that intelligence probably doesn’t vary according to ethnicity or race. But that is a separate issue from natural selection choosing the “less intelligent” sub-group in the population.

    One is much easier to detest than the other, since there is no practical nor moral merit to choosing one ethnic group over another. But intelligence (whatever that is) seems like a much more desirable trait than any particular race is.

  257. #257 Brian Boyko
    June 3, 2007

    The big problem with your rebuttal to this essay, is that you seem to be confusing ignorance with utter stupidity.

    Yes, intelligence is relatively fluid, and a child nurtured at birth to be intelligent will often show great strides no matter what his or her background.

    However.

    Stupidity is not merely “a lack of information.” In other words, you can be ignorant but not stupid (I don’t know how to change the oil in my car – does that make me “stupid?” No, just ignorant in that field.)

    Stupidity is PRIDE in ignorance and apathy towards knowledge. Stupidity is disparaging something because it is considered smart – not many people like Opera, for example, but it takes a certain amount of stupidity to not like people who like Opera because “Opera Sucks.”

    There is also a second component to this that you did not consider. That is, if intelligence is also a function of environment as well as genetics, this threatens the intelligence of even the most genetically gifted young children. Television, for example, continues to cater to the lowest common denominator, and that demoninator keeps getting lower in response. Our generation grew up without Kronkite, without Murrow, the next generation will grow up without Fred Rogers – that gap filled by Barney, Teletubbies, and Boobah – which make Cheri and Lamb Chop look like goddamn PhDs in comparison.

    As the number of “morons” grows, peer pressure will cause them to shun intellectual pursuits for more base pursuits.

    Ultimately, no matter how you look at it, those parents most likely to give their child every advantage and nurture intellectual growth are also the parents most likely to have fewer children to begin with.

  258. #258 brian roper
    June 3, 2007

    I just barely graduated high school and would be slow to describe myself as an intellectual. I work in a defense-related plant with people who microwave popcorn, wash it down with Diet Coke and call that breakfast. None of them read (my website, http://www.file23magazine.wordpress.com is proof; if any of them read it I would have been fired years ago) Even the ones who have cable, I can’t discuss South Park with them; they didn’t watch it because that’s their wrestling night. My point? IDIOCRACY may be “just a movie” but I don’t think it’s entirely without merit. 70% of most books don’t make a profit because this country is semi-illiterate. Sad.

  259. #259 jane doe
    June 3, 2007

    You are 100% correct, Mr Myers. The issue isn’t the shady idea of eugenics, but a lack of educational opportunity…sort of.

    There’s also the larger issue of cultural bias towards education from both sides — left and right. Lefties claim there’s no point in educating everyone because there aren’t the kind of jobs that require education in this country anymore (yes, several libs have said this to me). The right doesn’t want to spend any money on additional education for the children of this country, period.

    In the broader scope of cultural bias, there’s a definite anti-intellectual sentiment in much of the Midwest/South of the US. I can confirm this from personal experience growing up poor in a rural area in the South. By and large, the populace that sees less value in an education (or reading, vocabulary, etc.) than telling people they’re going to hell.

    America needs to wake up and realize that the South is a serious, serious problem and is dragging the rest of the country down economically, educationally and otherwise. The statistics don’t lie: there’s higher drop-out rates, lower test scores and, COINCIDENTALLY, greater crime, illiteracy, teen pregnancy and an disproportionate number of people abusing the Welfare system! Throwing money at them hasn’t worked. Social programs make small progress. And now creationist “museums” are popping up all over at an alarming rate.

    If only there was a way to guarantee every child a free education at a state college — provided he/she *performs* (in high school and in college). And even if they don’t perform in the standard academic sense, at least offer them a trade school to attend. This isn’t to say that students can’t go to a school of their choice and still receive scholarships and such, but it at *least* guarantees that there is *something* there for them.

    Georgia’s already doing this to a certain extent. Why not the rest of our wealthy country? Oh, yeah — money’s already being drained on the “No Child Left Behind” bullshit initiative.

    We’re in grave danger of becoming a vast nation of morons — not because the somehow-genetically-”inferior” (who don’t exist) are breeding; rather, because we value consuming more than education. That’s the sad truth.

  260. #260 roo
    June 3, 2007

    This was an incredibly shallow treatise of the issue and wasted most of its time attacking strawmen. It is not about smart babies, it is about smart *parents*.

    Factually, there are biological differences in people and their capability of higher thought. The baseline is fairly even, outliers are rarer the further they go.

    However, the real problem is not biological intelligence but the real-world manifestation of it, influenced as it is by upbringing and education.

    Generally speaking anyone who is not biologically functionally retarded can be brought up to be what we, the elite, would consider to be an ‘adequate’ person with the abilities necessary for an innovative, productive and intellectually curious life.

    The issue at hand is the culture of ignorance, the ‘fagginess’ or ‘evilness’ of education. The U.S., for example, is fast closing to a crossroads: imagine that the attempt to undermine teaching science (evolution is the prime example) for a reason that can be followed to a source of anti-intellectualism. Gradually, with greater numbers of people growing up this path and fewer being raised by responsible, ‘smart’ parents the former could take over.

    The only question there is whether the trend could be stopped before it got too far and there is a good chance since humankind does have the tendency to spawn those who think outside the norm. The best thing, of course, would be to avoid getting to such dire situations in the first place.

    Take religion, for example, and the tunnel vision that often accompanies it. I personally believe that there is simply a void, a tendency, in the human psyche that can be filled with religion which is followed by the brain function shifting toward single-solution processing. At its simplest, it is the yearning to make something understandable.

    Fortunately it would be fairly easy to divert this instinct to seeking actual understanding, to hold only the dogma that there is no dogma. It may still emerge that there is a need for some type of spirituality in a human, the lack of which might be detrimental. In that case the buddhist self-enlightenment would be a good candidate to accompany the gathering of knowledge.

  261. #261 Icenode
    June 3, 2007

    The premise that there are more idiots breeding than intellectuals is correct. Your jumping to the conclusion that this is strictly a genetic problem related to intelligence and that we are all hypocrites isn’t.

    The problem isn’t with genetics, its with the passing on of behavioral patterns through the upbringing of our children. It has nothing to do with race or origin and strictly to do with societies lack of interest in passing on common sense.

    It’s a numbers game, there is no disputing it. There are more people today that have little to no common sense than there are that rely on it daily.

    As more and more people have children, they are unable to teach their children common sense because they themselves don’t understand it. It isn’t the intelligence level that is the problem, it’s the application of it in everyday life that seems to trip everyone up. This is a learned skill, and if you don’t know it, you can’t help pass it on.

    The population will continue on this trend unless someone starts teaching the adults common sense. And yes I know common sense is no longer a relevant term.

  262. #262 Steve
    June 3, 2007

    this article is beautiful

  263. #263 Eli Gottlieb
    June 3, 2007

    I see this debate in terms of selection pressures. “Idiocracy” posits that our culture has a selection pressure towards stupidity, and that stupidity or intelligence are heritable. Egalitarians argue that intelligence (or at least measurable proxies of it) comes from environment and education.

    I think that current science clearly shows that intelligence is heritable. So “Idiocracy” has a very valid concern. The creator just made the film from observations of (a) subset(s) of society instead of looking at the whole.

    Different economic classes, IMHO, exert different selection pressures on intelligence.

    For poor people, intelligence is the key to education, education is the key to a secure living, and a secure living is the key to a happy future for yourself and your children. We used to all believe this, and we used to call it “the American Dream”. I posit that, under that logic, intelligence and education in an impoverished person will help in attracting a spouse and forming a family. Poverty, therefore, selects for intelligence (when you factor out culture interferences like criminal life being cool).

    However, as you move up the economic ladder you start to see a diminished marginal return on intelligence. Mostly white guys from middle- to upper-class families become stupid frat boys, and that’s because they can make more money becoming a Wall Street trader with nice connections (something utterly impossible for an impoverished person) than studying long and hard to become say… a nuclear engineer (something that can and does lift people out of poverty). So once the cultural and familial inertia of parents or grandparents who did their own climbing and struggling into the Good Life disappears, the children of successful parents often revert to stupidity. Once that happens, they become poorer (if they have no connections) or the President of the United States (if they have connections).

    And once they become poorer, their own children once again have strong incentive to educate themselves. The cycle begins again.

    But we must acknowledge what this cycle does for society: it keeps it out of Idiocracy. As long as broad swaths of people have incentive to educate their intelligent youth, those intelligent people bolster the basic level of intelligence in our country.

    So we can see that generally declining “intelligence”, if it really exists, comes from a larger issue: decreased cultural and economic incentive for intelligence. For proof, I refer to Philip Greenspun’s piece: http://philip.greenspun.com/careers/women-in-science . To summarize “Adjusted for IQ, quantitative skills, and working hours, jobs in science are the lowest paid in the United States.”

  264. #264 Gary
    June 4, 2007

    For many years, I’ve actually been worried about the Marching Morons scenario happening, although I never read that story. I was heartened in reading this thread by seeing some decent arguments that it isn’t.

    However, I’d like to mention some other things and see what people think.

    1) First of all, I think we can assume that there is a large inheritable component to IQ. PZ does seem to admit to this; he just doesn’t think IQ follows class lines.

    2) I saw some research a number of years ago that said that the single most reliable predictor of a successful marriage is similarity of IQ scores. I remember reading this article in the NY Times science addition; it may have been 20 years ago for all I know. But in any case, at this point, I have no reason to doubt that it’s true. I understand that there is supposed to be a tendency for women to go after successful (does that mean intelligent?) men, and men to go after good-looking women. One poster in this thread said that that causes an intermixing of genes. But I wonder how much intermixing that really causes compared with the IQ-matching phenomenon. My guess is that the IQ-matching is a bigger factor, though both exist.

    3) Through most of human evolution, there wasn’t opportunity for upward mobility. Many thousands of years ago there weren’t separate classes except for a small ruling clique, which was usually small enough that the hazards of inbreeding made sure that a more intelligent class didn’t develop. And even hundreds of years ago, most people did not have much opportunity to move up — the society was structured such that men were usually kept in the same class (and job) as their father, and women weren’t particularly mobile in class aspirations either.

    4) Thus, the situation in a economically successful democracy today, such as in the U.S., creates a historically unprecedented opportunity for social advancement based on merit. So, we cannot look at what happened in the past to judge what will happen in the future regarding the questions we’re discussing here.

    Given all the above I am really unsure what factors, other than PCness and wish-fulfillment would make one confident that the marching morons scenario can not happen. It seems to me is that all it would take to occur are the following:

    1) People of similar IQ would have have children together substantially more frequently than people of unlike IQ. If the marriage research noted above is an indicator, this is probably happening now.

    2) People would have be able to move into an “upper class” based significantly on IQ. While there are certainly plenty of factors other than IQ that help a person succeed, and while it’s even true that those with the very highest IQ’s often have special problems succeeding, I think it’s undeniable that most people want to be more wealthy, and high IQ’s are a very useful tool in achieving that. I cannot imagine how those of high IQ’s wouldn’t, on average, tend to move away from menial work toward more intellectual work which tends to correspond to higher pay. I cannot imagine how, in a society where social mobility exists, there won’t be a tendency for those who are smarter to eventually migrate to higher paying jobs.

    3) Then we have a situation where smarter people have more of the money and tend to have children with other smart people. Now consider birth control. While intelligent people may have psychological problems that cause them to have more babies than they can care for, I think it’s arguable that people of very low intelligence would tend to do so more often. There is a reasoning process involved in choosing to use contraception, and by definition, people with lower IQ’s are less likely to successfully use reasoning in the course of solving problems. It seems to follow that people with lower IQ’s will tend to have more children than they can care for. This would put the burden on the “smarties” to do what they can to keep the “morons” from starving to death, which can happen a number of ways, none attractive.

    This seems to point us in the direction of the Marching Morons scenario.

    If anyone has non-PC, non-wishful-thinking reasons why it doesn’t, let’s hear them.

  265. #265 Gary
    June 4, 2007

    Correction: toward the end of my post above I said “It seems to follow that people with lower IQ’s will tend to have more children than they can care for.” I meant that it seems that they will tend to do so more often than people with IQ’s will. I did not mean that all people with lower IQ’s will have more children than they can care for, which is obviously false.

  266. #266 Shadow13
    December 28, 2008

    I find this quite an interesting prespective outlook on the story. It seems I’m a year late for this whole disscusion. I have noticed at certain points in time that a feeling of an “us v.s. them” mentality arises and thus divideds groups of people. Especially in the US around election times it becomes especially luminous.
    I see your point in this where genetics are not the deciding factor in such a possible outcome but instead maybe it is the influence of society and the divisions of class that lead to misinformation (or disinformation)and cast blame upon another factor.
    In this story we have the tendency to look and see one society but in fact there are two. If you are surrounded by shallow ignorant people you are more likely to mirror their attributes especially if exposed in the early formative years. What we become as people are not the result of genetic variation but of social values.
    I think the message was to focus more on adjusting our values or it is such a possible outcome. This being written in the 50′s is an excellent example of the possible outcomes if behavior popular in the 50′s was continued exclusion of those different, it’s desire for conformity, and the focus of gratification through material means.

    Something we hear often but never seem to grasp. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I don’t see the Kornbluth as either idolizing either class in this story but pointing out how both are victims of a foolish past. One finds the irony that the “protagonist” takes examples from Hitler. Perhaps it was the horrors of elitism and the drive to “solve” their problems is what the author meant to portray.

  267. #267 Thomas Fisher
    February 1, 2009

    test

  268. #268 Thomas Fisher
    February 1, 2009

    I never really made the connection to darwin in the movie. I think the difference in perception is in micro and macro evolution. People will dispute things like evolving from an ape to man (or woman)because it is macro evolution and has not been proven. However, a fool would dispute that breeding animals could not produce specific traits like size, speed, aggressive tendancies ect. This is micro evolution. Of course you have to know what you are doing and know the blood line, because hidden recessive jeans can come forth. So yes, two stupid people could have a smart child. I bet the probablilty is less, not only because dominate jeans have a stronger chance, but also the children will be exposed to different environment. You cant tell me someone with more resources (correctly answered questions, proper upbringing, good schools, parent supervision instead of both gone to work, better home with no lead paint lol) cannot achieve more. Yes motivation matters, but if the kid were equally motivated their would be a difference. I believe in the nut shell we are a combination of jeans and environment. Lets say for example that I am a kind and loving person. True that if someone kills my wife for example, I could forgive them and keep my cool. However, I might just snap and go after the person, something I never would have done in a “normal” environment. I also believe that knowledge is no reason to exploit someone. I have been angry for a while now how people exploit the weak, the poor and the intellectually challenged. If you ask me, I would rather be like an engineer for example than a poop shoveler. I would think the person that does the worst job should get paid more. If it was enough money to live well on, I would even take a pay cut to do a cushy office think alot job. However, in exploitation like we have now (so ceos can make 400x our pay on average) we have to fight tooth and nail for the best pay we can get because lets just say entry level is not acceptable. How can you buy a house, keep it up, pay home ins., car ins., car, car maitnance, taxes, gas (car), gas (home), electric, food, clothes, schooling, 401k, medical (especially if unhealthy) and expect to retire or even be on top of things. People should do the job they like and are good at. Insentive to do better (premise for capitolism) should be more like 1.05x the pay maybe 2 or 3 times at most. However we have a spread from $10,000 per year all the way to $50,000,000. Thats about 5,000 times. Is anyone or thing worth that much more. Lets put it into perspective. 50 yrs at taco bell, or 5 days as a ceo. They would pay about the same. $7 * 2000 hrs/yr * 50 yrs = $700,000 now 50,000,000/700,000=71 (rounded) times as much for one yr. vs. 50 yrs. now 365 days / 71 = 5 days. This doesnt account for his weekend, sick or vacation either. That is gross. If the CEO could live on the $700,000 over the course of their life (lol) they would only have to work a short week at best then retire. Now comparing this properly would be difficult (inflation, raises, taxes) would all mix everything up, but I hope you get the “idea” of it. Plus we talk about genetics as traits not just intelligence. What do you consider more desirable? Being pretty, smart (logical, book, street), caring, healthy, strong, tall, skinny. If scientist took only the smart people this world would suck. If it only took the pretty people this world would still suck. What would make this world cool, is if we take the traits most desirable in each individual and worked with that. Everyone is different and that is great because I dont want to be great at everything. I would rather hone in on my special skills (that seperate me from the rest) and be happy that their are people than can do what I cant or like to do what I dont like to do. That is how we compliment each other, not trample. Sorry if I went all out on this one. Gotta love a good rant.

  269. #269 Hugh (Dumb and a little ugly on the side) M.
    February 1, 2009

    Dumb all over
    Yes we are
    Dumb all over
    Near and far
    Dumb all over
    Black and White
    People we is not wrapped tight

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