December Pieces Of My Mind #2

  • Would it be cruel and unusual to wake Cousin E with a rousing rendition of the Brigands' Song from the Ronja movie?
  • Went to the snow-covered golf course, sat down in the moon shadow of a spruce tree at the edge of the fairway, watched until I had seen three meteors, went home.
  • Place-name scholar Ann-Christin Mattisson 1986: "Our knowledge about the nobility's domestic architecture in the Middle Ages is ... limited, i.a. because too few sites have been excavated and dated, but also because the remains are often too insignificant to merit any more thorough investigation." (p. 25)
  • Movie: Fantastic Beasts. Confused plot involving magical beasts and wizardly problems in 1920s New York. Endless CGI property damage. Grade: OK.
  • Mainstream Western art from before the legalisation of porn is unbelievably pornographic. Nude 20-y-o girls and boys everywhere. It's one big wankfest aimed at the moneyed middle-aged male. Amazing that people could have this stuff on their dining-room walls with a straight face.
  • The trailer for the new Assassin's Creed movie made me extremely stoked to watch an indie film about gay cowboys eating pudding.
  • "Having dealt with the band name's overt subversion of Late Modern masculinity, let us begin our penetration of the lyrics. The obvious place to start is 'Lock up your daughter, lock up your wife / Lock up your back door and run for your life'". M. Rundkvist, Pansexual Priapism. A Post-Orientational Reading of AC/DC, forthcoming from Verso Press.
  • I'm on The Archaeology Show podcast!
  • Movie: Rogue One. Loving continuation of the Star Wars saga with added diversity. Grimy, worn and sweaty. Grade: Recommended.
  • Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Pig Disease
My neighbourhood seen from the top of a new building next door. My neighbourhood seen from the top of a new building next door.
Fisksätra Islet. The path used to run to the left of the young trees until blocked by a tree that fell in a storm 15-20 years ago. Now the fallen tree is gone but the new pavement has made the detour around it permanent. Fisksätra Islet. The path used to run to the left of the young trees until blocked by a tree that fell in a storm 15-20 years ago. Now the fallen tree is gone but the new pavement has made the detour around it permanent.

More like this

I see somebody is getting rather meta with the Magritte parody.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Dec 2016 #permalink

Uh, about that last one; isn't Aetiology a tenured professor of pig diseases?

By JustaTech (not verified) on 20 Dec 2016 #permalink

"the band name’s overt subversion of Late Modern masculinity"

You have misunderstood the derivation of the band's name - not your fault; you are certainly not alone in that regard.

The true story is that the Young brothers (Angus and Malcolm, who formed the nucleus of the band with the late singer and real life friend Bon Scott) were searching for a name for their new band, and got the name "AC/DC" from the under-side of their sister's sewing machine - it refers to electrical current, not to any form of sexuality. They have been perpetually bemused since that *everyone* assumes it was a reference to sexual orientation, when it simply was not.

They have always been unashamedly hetero-normative, and it would take a really twisted interpretation of any of their song lyrics (which usually contain some very obvious double-entendre type jokes) to make them out to be anything other than that.

Any other interpretation is just straight-out post-modernist self delusion. "Oh yes but (nudge nudge) we know what they *really* meant." No, you don't. They are just a bunch of not very cerebral hard rockers who like to sing dirty songs full of obvious innuendo about hetero-normative sex.

That's not knocking anyone; just stating a fact that they have stated themselves endlessly repeatedly. They were so dim that they didn't understand the 'alternative' meaning of AC/DC at the time.

An under-appreciated fact about them is that they have sold more albums than the Rolling Stones. There is clearly a market for overly loud guitar thrashing accompanied by lyrics that would normally be regarded as highly politically incorrect; and frankly stupid.

By John Massey (not verified) on 20 Dec 2016 #permalink

Or was that, as I suspect, a wind-up?

I'm so used to seeing post-modernist clap-trap these days that I can no longer tell when I am having my leg pulled.

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Dec 2016 #permalink

Nono, I'm completely serious, I totally have a post-modernist monograph on AC/DC forthcoming with a prestigious academic publisher. d-;

John@5: I have no reason to doubt the band's story behind the name. But at least in American English, "AC/DC" became a slang term for a bisexual male: his equipment would work with either kind of circuit. Obviously, the slang term fell out of favor as AC power became the universal standard (mainly because transmission losses are much lower, especially over distances of more than a few kilometers) and compact DC converters became available for things that actually needed DC.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 Dec 2016 #permalink

I feel like there's a joke to be made here about Edison and Tesla, but I just can't find it.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 21 Dec 2016 #permalink

Martin just caught me beautifully.

That would be a great one for April Fool's Day.

Problem is that there is a Twitter account completely devoted to peer-reviewed papers full of stuff like that but written seriously, and I keep reading it - it's a form of mental madochism.

I'm willing to bet that if you wrote such a monograph and submitted it to one of those peer-reviewed social science journals, they would publish it.

JT@9 - Yes.

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Dec 2016 #permalink

@JustaTech #9: Nothing sparking your imagination, eh? Can't get that ol' light bulb over your head?

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

One for Martin, but hopefully others will find it interesting as well.…

Plague does precede a mass migration - we know that from the American experience, where the first European diseases were introduced to the Native American population by the very first Spanish explorers of the north American mainland, and the animals they took with them as food (pigs, etc.). So by the time Europeans started to move in to establish settlements, they were moving into a landscape that had already been heavily depopulated by high mortality rates among the Native Americans.

It is known that in the area where the Jamestown settlement (of John Smith and Pocahontas fame) was established, the Native American population in that area had already suffered high mortality by epidemics of European diseases. Of course, more high mortality was to follow with increased contact, but certainly the Native American groups in that area were already considerably reduced in numbers and population density by the the time the first boatload of British settlers arrived.

A similar thing happened in Australia - once smallpox was introduced to one Aboriginal group, it spread progressively through the whole continent by contact between Aboriginal people who had by then contracted the disease with Aboriginal people who did not yet have it, due to people being infectious while they are still in the incubation period, before they develop symptoms. And sometimes not helped by native customs, such as people gathering around a sick person instead of staying as far away from them as possible.

So I think the theory about Yersinia pestis travelling ahead of the first wave of Yamnaya migration into Europe is possible, particularly where you have a disease which has animal vectors as well as human carriers.

The animal reservoir for Y. pestis on the Eurasian steppe is the marmot, but that is a bit of a tangent.

As for the 'sati' theory, I don't have an opinion. It seems incredible to me, but I am a modern man trying to look back at early Bronze Age culture and understand it, and one can't make informed value judgements about cultures thousands of years ago from a modern perspective.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

Meanwhile, on Martin's fabulously well constructed joke, heeere's Joanie and the Blackhearts:

In fact, there was that study that purported to find that the only people who are born 'true' bisexuals are women; men are born as either one thing or the other, and 'acquire' bisexuality culturally. But I know better than to buy into arguments about sexual orientation (aside from them being incredibly boring to me).

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

And just to try to totally confuse everything, here's Joan singing an AC/DC song. I think she did it better than Bon Scott, myself, but then I have always had a soft spot for Joan - she was such a pioneer for females in rock music.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

John@12: In North America it wasn't just the Spanish explorers, it was also fishermen from other European countries working along the western Atlantic coast. A major part of why the colony at Plimoth Plantation survived is because they had the good luck to stumble on the site of a native village which had been abandoned due to being depopulated by some Eurasian disease. Normally, the soils of New England have rocks lurking below the surface, and the fields have to be cleared of these rocks for successful crops to grow.

Even after the English arrived, they continued to record massive die-offs among native villages due to disease. In at least one case, the contemporary record in English states that 90% of the residents of a native village in Connecticut died in a disease outbreak.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

"You have misunderstood the derivation of the band’s name – not your fault; you are certainly not alone in that regard."

Many tend to forget that back then, there was no internet, few television channels, etc. Slang from other countries was not known, there were few ubiquitous images. So sometimes things were misinterpreted, people assuming an intent which was not there.

A classic example is the logo of the band KISS. (Is it really true that Dylan wore kabuki makeup in the 1970s because of KISS?) The logo has "SS" in a font similar to the "SS" runes of the Nazi Schutzstaffel. No connection. Just a coincidence. Not really a believable connection anyway: Nazis look very different from glam-rock musicians! (To this day, KISS have to use an alternate logo in Germany.)

It turns out that Gene Simmons is really Chaim Witz, was born in Israel, most of his family died in the Holocaust, and he speaks Hebrew and Yiddish (and Spanish, and German (I have heard him speak German), and Hungarian, and Turkish, and of course English, and is learning Japanese and Mandarin).

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

Phillip@17: One of the persistent urban legends about KISS in the US is that their band name is an acronym for Knights In Satan's Service. The Snopes article on this urban legend quotes Simmons as saying that the band didn't go out of its way to dispute the claim. Any publicity is good publicity.

I never was much of a fan of their music, but I have to agree with Simmons on the following point:

Through the years, whenever religious fanatics accosted me, especially in the southern states, and quoted the Old Testament at me, I would quote them back chapter and verse. They didn't know that I had been a theology major in school. An idiot is an idiot ... whether he quotes the Bible or not.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

I'm not a fan of KISS, but I admire Simmons as a successful businessman. If I could put on makeup and be worth 200 million, I probably would. :-)

Today, with Hillary Clinton allegedly catering to pedophiles in a pizzeria, truth no longer matters, but this was the case decades ago in parts of the US, where almost anything, no matter how absurd would be believed by many people. The amount of bullshit about rock music is amazing. And Sesame Street was controlled by the KGB.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

In fact, the founding members of AC/DC all started out as Skinheads, but they must have been rather humorously unthreatening ones - Angus and Malcolm Young both stood at a towering 5'1" when they were at their tallest, and the 'big' singer Brian Johnson was all of 5'4". I once was talking to an Australian guy who was a security guard at one of their concerts - he had no idea of their real physical stature, and when they walked out past him to go on stage he was shocked to discover they are a group of midgets. Angus' habit of wearing a schoolboy's uniform on stage is a form of self-mockery - he is the size of a pre-pubescent schoolboy.

In their logo, the slash between AC and DC is a lightning flash which has a kind of Nazi-ish look about it, but although they might have gone through a period of white-supremacist type stuff in their early lives, they have long since grown out of it.

They have also long since reformed from being Skinheads, of course. Singer Bon Scott is long since deceased (inadvertent suicide by alcohol) and replaced by Brian Johnson, Malcolm Young had to retire due to dementia and has been replaced by a younger member of the Young clan, and Brian Johnson has had to retire due to permanent deafness in one ear and the threat of going permanently deaf in the other ear, and has been replaced by none other than Axl Rose, formerly of Guns & Roses. Sometime drummer Phil Rudd, a helicopter pilot in his spare time, has managed to get himself into all kinds of bizarre legal trouble in his native New Zealand, which is still working its way through the courts.

Bon Scott, prior to his early death, had what might be called a checkered career. He was caught and convicted of stealing petrol (filling his motorcycle at a self-service petrol pump and then racing off without paying, which is the dumbest of all crimes, because there is a 100% chance your registration plate will be recorded on CCTV and the cops will track you down); he tried to be recruited into the Australian Defence Force, but was turned down because he was too small and a chronic asthmatic, and he managed to have a head-on collision while riding his motorcycle and got all of his front teeth smashed in, so had to have them all replaced by false implants. He was covered in tattoos, before that became fashionable. And he had to be treated for a variety of STDs, being an inveterate womaniser despite being married. He worked with a series of notably unsuccessful bands before striking pay dirt by forming AC/DC with Angus and Malcolm, who toiled through a period of moderate success touring Australia before going to tour in the UK and striking the big time - and the band has remained hugely successful ever since, despite Scott's demise.

Scott's home town was Fremantle, which serves as the port to the city of Perth, where I grew up. He is buried in Fremantle cemetery, and large numbers of people still make pilgrimages from all over the world to visit his grave. There is a bronze life-sized statue of him on the Fremantle waterfront, which gives an excellent idea of how physically large he was - for a grown man, he was tiny. But, for the latter period of his short life, he was wildly successful and fabulously wealthy, beyond his wildest dreams.

By John Massey (not verified) on 22 Dec 2016 #permalink

The critics' favourite joke about AC/DC is that they have not made 18 albums, they have made the same album 18 times.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

I'm not an AC/DC fan, but I recall the song "Lock up your daughters" in a rather funny and very politically incorrect musical of the same name, which I saw in Melbourne in the early 1960s. It was based on an 18th century farce by Henry Fielding (author of "Tom Jones"). The original title was"Rape upon Rape".

By Anthea Fleming (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

The critics’ favourite joke about AC/DC is that they have not made 18 albums, they have made the same album 18 times.

AC/DC aren't the only band about which critics have said things like that.

"Weird Al" Yankovic wrote a song called "It's Still Billy Joel to Me", a parody of Mr. Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me". It never appeared on an album, but there is at least one YouTube clip of a live performance. The relevant line from Yankovic:

Once you've listened to a couple of albums, well they all start to sound the same

Many of Billy Joel's songs (including the one parodied here) fall into the formula Verse-Verse-Bridge with lyrics-Verse-Instrumental bridge-Verse, so there is some truth to Mr. Yankovic's complaint.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

replaced by none other than Axl Rose, formerly of Guns & Roses

That's unlikely to improve my enjoyment of AC/DC. In my opinion Axl Rose has the worst singing voice of any prominent vocalist--worse than even Bob Dylan.

I actually do have a favorite AC/DC song: "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap". In this song, the singer actually takes the victim's side in some of the verses:

If you're havin' trouble with the high school head
He's givin' you the blues
You wanna graduate but not in his bed
Here's what you gotta do

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

"In this song, the singer actually takes the victim’s side in some of the verses"

Yes, but it involves taking the law into one's own hands.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

"Many of Billy Joel’s songs (including the one parodied here) fall into the formula Verse-Verse-Bridge with lyrics-Verse-Instrumental bridge-Verse, so there is some truth to Mr. Yankovic’s complaint."

But that's true of most pop and rock songs. There are certainly many with a more uniform output than Billy Joel.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

Eric@25 - See what you think of Joan Jett's version of "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" that I posted @14.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

Phillip@27 - AC/DC's whole image, 'brand' if you will (I hate that word), is of working class anti-establishment 'bad boys', and always has been. It was spawned by the sons of low SES working class Scottish migrants to Australia. Their songs have frequently taken the side of the 'little person' who is a victim of the 'establishment'.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

Sorry, that was responding to Phillip@26.

By John Massey (not verified) on 23 Dec 2016 #permalink

I forgot to mention,Monday was the 25th anniversary of the "Miracle at Gottröra"
I recall the footage of the wreck. The airliner had broken into three big pieces, but no one died.
The true hero was flight captain Holmberg, who was on board as a passenger, and whoimmediately understood what was happening and that re-start procedures would not be enough to save the aircraft..

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 27 Dec 2016 #permalink

...And yet another great artist dies at a young age.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 27 Dec 2016 #permalink

Birger@32 - Chinese people openly admire Jews because of their business and entrepreneurial abilities, and because, like them, Jews tend to be very family minded. They see them as sort of kindred spirits. A bit odd, maybe, but they do.

It sort of fits - the Chinese have often been labelled "the Jews of Asia".

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Dec 2016 #permalink

On the mysterious Flynn effect, whereby IQ has been rising steadily during the 20th Century, it has now been demystified, and 75 experts have been polled on what has caused it, and where it will go from here.

Quote: "Ratings from N=75 experts attributed the secular IQ rise to better health and nutrition, more and better education and rising standards of living.

Genetic changes were seen as not important. A possible stagnation or retrograde of the FLynn effect was attributed to asymmetric fertility (genetic and socialization effects), migration, declines in education and the influence of media. Experts expected 21st century IQ increases in currently on average low-ability regions (+6 to +7 IQ points, in Latin America, Africa, India) and in East Asia (+7 IQ), but not in the West (a stagnation, below +1 IQ), with a small decline in the US (−0.45 IQ)."

Anyway, the good news is that IQ is increasing in those developing regions where, in the past, it has been below world average. The slightly less good news is that, in the developed Western world, the Flynn effect has actually virtually stopped now. And in the USA, IQ is actually dropping slightly. Meanwhile, in East Asia, where mean IQ is already well above world average, it is going to keep increasing.

In terms of US Presidents-elect, we all thought it had hit a low point with GW Bush, but now it has just plummeted so far that even GW Bush is looking slightly less dumb.

Key point to note, though - for once, genetics are not implicated in the rise in world intelligence. The drop attributed to migration is attributed to a lot of people from low IQ regions migrating to high IQ regions - that one is questionable, but if it is happening, the only country where it seems to have had a significant effect so far is in the USA. Asymmetric fertility refers to the phenomenon that less intelligent parents have more children than intelligent parents - that's where genes and heritability of intelligence come in. I don't know what they mean by 'socialization effects' - possibly the break-down of the traditional nuclear family, more single parenting - I dunno, but that's all I can think of.

I guess we'll see, in 20 years or so.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Dec 2016 #permalink

Alcohol-related deaths of women aged 35 to 54 in America from 1999 to 2015:
Asians have remained at a steady low level of 2 deaths/100,000/year.
Hispanics have risen slightly from 6 to 8.
Blacks have fallen slightly from 14 to 12.
Whites have more than doubled from 8 to 18.

So, in 1999, black women were the biggest 'problem drinkers'. By 2015, black women had improved, and white women had become the biggest problem drinkers.

By John Massey (not verified) on 27 Dec 2016 #permalink

Oh for crying out loud - now there's a 'movement' to promote English as a 'pure language', meaning pure Germanic, obviously. You can see which direction this is heading.

Yeah yeah, and before Old English there were the Celtic languages, and before them there was some pre-Indo-European whatever.

How stupid.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Dec 2016 #permalink

Sweden had a Norsifying movement 110 years ago. It fizzled without leaving much trace. One surviving neologism is eldsjäl, literally "fire soul", which was introduced to replace entusiast. It caught on but failed to replace anything.

Oh shit. Now princess Leia has died.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 28 Dec 2016 #permalink

now there’s a ‘movement’ to promote English as a ‘pure language’, meaning pure Germanic, obviously

Poul Anderson has actually attempted to write a short description of atomic theory using only words of Germanic origin. Several of the words he coined have direct German cognates, e.g. "waterstuff" (hydrogen) vs. German Wasserstoff. The attempt wasn't entirely successful; a few words of Old French origin slipped in.

English has been one of the most promiscuous borrowers of words from other languages. The high degree of nuance in the English language is one of the results--so many synonyms.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 28 Dec 2016 #permalink

Asymmetric fertility refers to the phenomenon that less intelligent parents have more children than intelligent parents

In the US particularly (I don't know about the world in general) there is a marked tendency for members of fundamentalist religious groups to have more children than others. The extreme case is the so-called Quiverfull movement, where women are expected to be almost constantly pregnant once they get married. It's tempting to think that membership in such groups is anticorrelated with intelligence, but I am unaware of data to back that up.

There is also the possibly related phenomenon that, at least in developed countries, parents of high SES tend to have fewer children than those of low SES. I'm sure that SES and IQ are correlated, because IQ tests are likely to have systematic biases that favor people of high SES, but there is also wide variation within these groups. Wall Street bankers, not low SES people taking out mortgages they couldn't afford, caused the real estate crash of 2008.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 28 Dec 2016 #permalink

Eric, in the USA the fastest growing group by reproduction rather than migration are the Amish. They have a 10% 'boil off' rate, i.e. kids who decide they don't want to be Amish and drop out, but despite that, their numbers are growing rapidly.

I don't see that as a bad thing, though. If they want to use horses instead of tractors to pull their ploughs and don't watch TV, I say good for them. I can think of worse people to have as neighbours than a bunch of Amish. Much worse. Australian meth addicts are very much worse.

There is a very strong inverse correlation between fertility and female education. More educated women have fewer children. All those people in Africa (and formerly India) trying to persuade people to use birth control are wasting their time - it doesn't work. What does work wonderfully well is just ensuring that all little girls can go to school. Do that, and the girls will take care of everything.

By John Massey (not verified) on 28 Dec 2016 #permalink

Eric - SES and IQ are correlated, most likely because intelligent people tend to be more financially successful than dumb people. That is the Occam's Razor explanation for it. (Actually, from memory, I think annual income vs IQ peaks at around IQ 135, then starts to drop off slightly - there are a large and growing number of poorly paid or even unemployed PhDs.)

If you believe that IQ tests are biased in favour of high SES people, you must have some evidence to support that belief, so what is it? If you have no evidence, but just believe it to be so, it has to rank with political belief or religious faith that 'it must be so', despite the absence of evidence.

I came from a poor family. I didn't own a pair of shoes until I was 12. I missed out completely on the first half of the first year of school due to a post-war baby-boom shortage of classrooms. I took my first IQ test when I was 12, and I absolutely smashed it. Up to that point, my parents believed I was, if not dumb exactly, what they called a 'plodder'. My father was speechless when the headmaster of the school administering the test sought him out and informed him that his son was a 'genius'.

OK, sample of one, but my low SES had no influence on my performance of that test, and in no way could I see how it could have been biased against me. I underwent psychometric testing again when enroling for university, and I smashed the test again. IQ is robust and does not change with age.

The 2008 real estate crash in the USA and ensuing global financial crisis is a non sequitur to a discussion of individual intelligence. Either that, or you are seeing some link that I am missing.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 Dec 2016 #permalink

I bucked the 'regression to the mean' and turned out to be more intelligent than both of my parents. I could add that as a child I was inoculated against nothing except tetanus and diphtheria, and caught every childhood disease going, except whooping cough - somehow I managed to duck that one. I also managed to duck the polio epidemic which swept through my area when I was 4, but came perilously close - a friend I was playing with one day came down with it the next day and nearly died from it; she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. I still remember the group euphoria that swept through my primary school class the day the nurses turned up at our school to administer the very first vaccination against that dread disease that we had survived through - seeing a bunch of 6 year olds gleefully lining up to get a needle in the arm is a powerful illustration of what the fear of epidemic disease does to kids.

I was also poorly and badly nourished as a child. Sometimes, when the money had run out, 'dinner' was some lard spread on a piece of stale bread, with a bit of salt on it to make it more palatable, and a few times dinner was nothing at all.

My daughter has also bucked the 'regression to the mean' rule and turned out to be more intelligent than both me and my wife. But she had the advantages that she was very well nourished as a child, and inoculated against just about everything except chicken pox, which she got. They now inoculate even against that, which is a good thing.

Childhood disease and nutrition turn out to be important in avoiding depression of intelligence. It's possible my daughter is more intelligent than her parents because she was mostly spared the insults of poor nutrition and disease load that both me and my wife were subjected to. Both my wife and I suffered no serious early educational deprivation (despite my early formal educational deprivation, I caught up fast, in part because I had an older sister and father who both helped to educate me in the basics at home), so that's not a reason. My wife contracted tuberculosis when she was 16 and had to be quarantined for a year, so that really screwed big time with her later education, and left her with scarred lungs for life. She's still pretty smart, though. But there was no way she could afford to attend university. It was out of the question - as soon as possible, she needed to go out to earn a living to help support her family, which she did very well.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 Dec 2016 #permalink

Any correlation between IQ and childhood nutrition would be ipso facto a correlation between IQ and SES, because SES and childhood nutrition are themselves correlated. Of course, correlation does not imply causation.

One reason I am leery of studies involving IQ is that there is a long history of bad science associated with the subject. Charles Murray and The Bell Curve would be the most infamous example from my lifetime, but it almost certainly goes further back. As with similar subjects in the US, the discussion quickly becomes a discussion about race. Murray's thesis is that blacks are inferior to other races. People more knowledgeable about the subject than I (I refuse to read Murray's work because I am not willing to give money to read things with such a political slant) tell me that Murray's claims rely on much dubious science (Philippe Rushton is prominently mentioned as providing alleged supporting evidence) and biased interpretation.

Most of what I have heard about IQ tests is anecdotal and very likely US-specific. But it is quite easy for the designers of such tests to include biases in favor of their group, and quite difficult to eliminate such biases when all of the designers are from similar backgrounds, as would have been the case in the US when I was in school. And again, at least in the US, people whose ethnicity is other than white or south/east Asian are much more likely to be of low SES.

As for nutrition, availability of calories is no longer an issue in the US, but the quality of those calories is. Preparing good food takes significant amounts of time and money, quantities which low-SES (and even middle class) Americans often lack. The obesity epidemic among Americans is at least partially due to this.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 29 Dec 2016 #permalink

Razib Khan said he had told Rushton that he had got some things wrong about genetics (and Razib is a qualified geneticist), but that Rushton had just ignored everything he had told him and continued committing the same errors.

So you can wipe Rushton off as a credible source. He wasn't.

I also pointed out to Razib some egregious errors that Richard Lynn had made (like taking Hong Kong as a proxy for the whole of Guangdong Province, which it clearly is not). But by that point, I think Razib had totally lost interest in psychometrics.

The nasty thing about malnutrition is that its effects carry through for three generations.

On IQ tests, I suggest you don't give any credence to anecdotes. They are a highly politicised subject, particularly in America. There is actually a lot of good science in psychometrics, from what I have read, but it's a subject that a lot of people like to opinionate about without actually reading or knowing anything about the subject.

You do get variations in mean IQ between different geographical groups. You get variations in other measurable highly polygenic traits like mean height between different groups, and there is no reason why general intelligence as measured by objective testing should be any different. For example, there is no question that East Asians (Koreans, Japanese and Chinese) have higher mean IQ than people of European ancestry. But you can break that down, and you will find that mean IQ varies quite a lot between different regions of China. The Igbo in Nigeria have notably higher mean IQ than other Nigerians. No one knows why. And, unquestionably, the Ashkenazim have the highest mean IQ in the world. You only have to look at the disproportionately high number of Nobel Laureates who were Ashkenazi Jews to realise that they are a particularly intelligent group.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 Dec 2016 #permalink

On a slightly lighter note, apparently you grow out of IKEA at age 34. I think I must have suffered from retarded development - I distinctly remember still buying and assembling IKEA stuff when I was in my 40s. But then, I didn't get married until I was 29. Late developer. And my IKEA phase died suddenly and comprehensively soon after that late burst in my 40s.

By John Massey (not verified) on 29 Dec 2016 #permalink

Very cool animated gif map of early Indo-European migrations here. It blows up so you can read the textual annotations.…

We need more of these to be able to visualise the stuff that gets complicated to follow in word descriptions. It would be even better if they added a time stamp in years BC for each migration. (See - I do learn from those who know better; I have accepted the merit of using 'BC'.)

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Dec 2016 #permalink

"You only have to look at the disproportionately high number of Nobel Laureates who were Ashkenazi Jews to realise that they are a particularly intelligent group."

This is a good example illustrating the importance of environment, culture, tradition, etc. Remember Hilbert's famous comment when he was asked by a Nazi official how mathematics in Göttingen had improved after it had been rid of Jewish influence: "There is no more mathematics in Göttingen". But this has almost nothing to say about genetic predisposition to maths.

As Asimov said, the higher one's IQ, the less one thinks that it is a useful concept. :-)

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 30 Dec 2016 #permalink

So it has nothing to do with the Ashkenazim having a mean IQ of 112. Well, if you say so.

If IQ is not a useful concept, then I got a scholarship for secondary school and a cadetship to enable me to go to university, and was permitted to enrol in engineering, and managed to graduate with good grades from a course with a drop-out rate of 90%, all under false pretences. I should have been a truck driver.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Dec 2016 #permalink

BTW, there is no 'genetic predisposition to maths', except for the highly heritable component of general intelligence that is expressed in all kinds of endeavours, including music. The more that environmental factors that depress general intelligence, like childhood disease and malnutrition, are eliminated, the higher the heritable proportion of general intelligence becomes.

This is why the Flynn effect has maxed out in the developed world, while it is still operating in under-developed countries/regions.

But then, if you actually read anything worth reading on the subject, you would not just keep repeating your Asimov quote like it's some kind of mantra. A lot of other informed and intelligent people know from real data that general intelligence, and IQ as a measure of it, are convinced that it is not only a useful concept, it is very important, and has strong predictive power for life outcomes in all sorts of ways, e.g. high IQ people live longer than low IQ people.

You should read about it from experts, instead of just opinionating based on what happens to suit your ideology. You could start with Steve Hsu - he has lots of real life data which show that you don't know what you are talking about.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Dec 2016 #permalink

My point is that if this group has a higher than average IQ, then it is more likely due to environment and not to genetics. That's all.

By Phillip Helbig (not verified) on 30 Dec 2016 #permalink

General intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, has already been proven many times over to be highly heritable. The more that negative environmental factors that depress intelligence are removed, the higher the heritability gets - that process is happening right now in Africa and India. The data supporting that conclusion are overwhelming.

By John Massey (not verified) on 30 Dec 2016 #permalink

Just consider adoption studies. A lot of those have been done in America; very large data sets. So, I assume you know about those, and are not just opinionating off the top of your head or because Isaac Ozimov told you so.

The classic for adoption studies are Korean orphans adopted by white American parents, who also have some of their own children. Same home environment, same schools, same peer groups, same everything. But the Korean kids turn out to be a lot more intelligent than either their adoptive parents or their adoptive siblings, as measured both in IQ tests and in academic performance. So is that more likely due to environment?

If environment is not the explanation in all of those studies, and I repeat that there have been really a lot of them, then why should environment be the explanation for why the Ashkenzim are the highest intelligence group in the world, by a full 6 points on the mean from Koreans, who are already a full 6 points higher on the mean from Europeans? Is environment also the explanation for why the Ashkenazim suffer from very high rates of some really awful genetic diseases, much higher than any other group in the world?

If being forced to live in ghettoes and being shunned, beaten up and spat on by the rest of society results in such high intelligence, maybe we should all do it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Dec 2016 #permalink

A valid question for you to ask ([Redacted /MR]), given your conviction that the high intelligence of the Ashkenazim is a product of environment, culture and tradition, would be why is it only the Ashkenazim who have such extraordinarily high intelligence? Why not other Jews? The Sephardim don't have it - they are just kind of world average, nothing special. And Jews who remained living in the Middle East are actually quite dumb.

All of those other Jews had the same Jewish culture and tradition and, arguably, a better living environment than the Ashkenazim who, for much of the second millenium, were herded into ghettoes, generally pretty badly treated by everybody, and permitted to carry on only certain kinds of business; notably, money lending, which was forbidden for Christians. The Ashkenazim also went through a pretty severe genetic bottleneck at some time during their history - and I'm not referring here to the Holocaust, or at least not *that* Holocaust.

So what was it about their (lousy) environment, and culture and traditions shared with other Jewish groups that are not notably smart to day, that produced a group of Jews living in mostly eastern Europe that produced a group of such astoundingly intelligent and successful people?

I'll give you a clue - the answer lies in natural selection. IOW, the explanation *is* genetic, in the sense that natural selection acting on them in the environment they were forced to live in resulted in their mean general intelligence rising higher than any other group in the world, by a long way, including other Jewish groups.

There is nothing about converting to Judaism that will make you smarter - if there was, I might have tried it a long time ago. I did have an adopted Polish Jewish uncle from Warsaw who made it out in the nick of time before Germany invaded Poland, and who knew me and remained a close friend all of my life until he died a few years back, but that is as close as I ever got to it.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Dec 2016 #permalink

I am not touching the IQ debate, not even with a long pole...

Regarding horrible heritable disease, we can learn more about the genetic causes by studying the DNA of people living in regions with a high degree of consanguinity (cousin marriage).
Saudi Arabia is one of those regions, and are beginning to do research, collecting DNA from large numbers of people.
Not only does this provide clues to which genes are harmful, sometimes someone has escaped disease despite having two copies of the same harmful gene.
By studying those fortunate cases mediine also gets a lot of information.

By BirgerJohansson (not verified) on 31 Dec 2016 #permalink

It's OK, Birger, I'm about to redact myself out of here anyway.

By John Massey (not verified) on 31 Dec 2016 #permalink