Why it matters if liberals are much smarter

Update: Also see follow up post.

My previous post where I point to Satoshi Kanazawa's finding that liberals & atheists are smarter than conservatives & the religious was a little drop in the bucket in the blogospheric debate. I made it rather obvious that I wasn't too interested in the evolutionary psychological model of why these patterns exist, rather, I was curious about the patterns themselves. The reason is the one Tom Rees elucidates:

What's got people talking is the correlation between atheism and intelligence, although that isn't what the paper is actually about. It's already pretty well established that atheists tend, on average, to be more intelligent. This paper firms that finding up a bit more, but makes a bigger claim than that.

In other words, if you're familiar with the literature on the relationship between intelligence & religiosity & ideology, this is a totally expected finding. The novelty is in the hypothesis for why this might be, but as I said, I'm not too interested in that.

Over the years I've looked at a lot of studies on intelligence & religiosity & ideology, and it is very hard to find ones which show that those who hold strongly supernatural beliefs are smarter than those who do not, and that those who are very conservative are smarter than those who are very liberal. You can slice & dice the classifications and data in a way to show no difference, but it's a rare one where I've seen that conservatives & supernaturalists are smarter than liberals & atheists. Similarly, I simply haven't found a nation where atheists are more socially conservative or more fertile than the religious. There are nations where there isn't much of a difference. So as the critics would point out, the gap is culturally conditional, but the variance of the studies have an asymmetric range.

A minor point is I specified supernatural beliefs, because there are studies which show that those with affiliation with institutional religions tend to be smarter. For example, in the United States the smarter set are more likely to be church members, but also less likely to be Biblical literalists.

Anyway, a Canadian with whom I am acquainted contends:

Regardless, that initial impression's irrelevant since these averages apply to groups, and to very broad groups at that. Kanazawa's study apparently splits the polled populations into two halves--97 and 103, remember--but since only something like a tenth of North Americans are atheist that the half of the polled population with an average of 103 has to include a very large number of people who are religious to some degree. I'm guessing that, if Kanazawa's right, the other ~40% included in the smarter moiety would be people who are religiously observant or identified to one degree or another, but surely, unless there's a very odd distribution within this moiety and the entire population aren't very useful in day to day life. The six-point difference in IQ between the two moieties is much less than a standard deviation, and the two populations would overlap very considerably. Kanazawa claims that the "young adults who said they were "very conservative" had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were "very liberal" averaged 106"; that's still less than a standard deviation. This isn't a useful

Actually, this information is useful. Let me illustrate....

Assume the "very conservative" and "very liberal" categories are normally distributed in intelligence. The mean is 95 and 106. What percentage of people within each category are going to have IQs of 130 and above?

0.92% of "very conservative" individuals
5.48% of "very liberal" individuals

The modest average differences loom larger at the tails. As it happens, the 130 IQ level is around where the elites of our society seem to be drawn. Two standard deviations above the norm (or higher in the case of scientists, management consultants, corporate lawyers, etc.).

For the smaller gap between very religious and and atheists, you get 1.38% vs.3.59% above 130. This is somewhat less significant in the USA because only ~5% of Americans are atheists. Though very conservative people outnumber very liberal ones, the ratio is not so lopsided. But what percentage of people at higher IQ thresholds are atheists using the model above? In the general population 5% of people are atheists. But if you constrain to an IQ of 130 or above, 13% are of people are atheists.

Why does any of this matter concretely? If you're a conservative person who socializes with a very high IQ set, there's a good chance that you'll be in the minority. I know this from personal experience. Conventionally religious people sometimes have the same experience; I knew someone who was an evangelical who was questioned about his beliefs probably every other day out of curiosity by other evolutionary biologists. Of course you can find your own milieu, there are certainly organizations which allow for the networking of very conservative and religious professionals. But you might have to make a proactive effort to look around.

i-01665c716194fc3a75b90d870143268c-willard_mitt_romney0504.jpgOn a broader level, I think that one of the reasons Mitt Romney has a low probability of getting the nomination in 2012 is that he's too obviously smart (the flip-flopping & Mormonism are other issues). Of course politicians can fake well very often; I think Joe Biden has been faking being smarter than he is for years. But if you are appealing to a mass conservative electorate you have to fake being a plainer and less brainy person than you are if you're someone like Mitt Romney, and I don't think he can pull it off. Nor do I think Romney thinks he can pull "dumb" off, he was surprisingly candid about being out of step with the Republican electorate in regards to evolution:

"I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe," Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. "And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body."

He was asked: Is that intelligent design?

"I'm not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design," he said. "But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body."

While governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney opposed the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

"In my opinion, the science class is where to teach evolution, or if there are other scientific thoughts that need to be discussed," he said. "If we're going to talk about more philosophical matters, like why it was created, and was there an intelligent designer behind it, that's for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies

In contrast, from what I can tell Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee can walk the talk in regards to be a plainly average (or moderately above average) person in intellect. Tim Pawlenty is probably smarter, having managed to graduate from law school and pass the bar, but he had a mullet into middle age and is probably not so bright that faking being duller comes so hard. By contrast, Romney graduated first in his class at Brigham Young University and received an MBA and JD from Harvard. The education wouldn't be a total bar on authenticity, George W. Bush has degrees from Yale and Harvard and a patrician lineage (though unlike Romney Bush was a legacy and a mediocre student), but he has a Southern accent and was governor of Texas. So to the average American he sounds less intelligent,* and he governed a less brainy region of the country. In contrast, Romney doesn't have a Southern accent and was governor of Massachusetts.

All this might be problematic if you don't believe in IQ or intelligence. But that's fine. Just replace the term with something more palatable, like "learnability" or "life effort" or "ability to take a test." It still remains true that those with higher measured whatever-you-want-to-call-it sound a lot less dull than those who have a lower measured whatever-you-want-to-call-it. They also make more money, are less religious, more liberal, and less fertile, than those who have less developed test-taking skills or whatever.

* Bush also seems to have inherited a weird tendency to mangle words and phrases. I don't think this is lack of intelligence, and Bush had measured aptitude in standardized test results despite his slack and lazy attitude. But more to the point, George H. W. Bush, who graduated with a degree in economics in three years at Yale (though a legacy, his degree was more rigorous and he graduated quickly), seems to have had the same problem.


More like this

it isn't intelligent to do a post on intelligence and tie it to an assumption of bias.
I believe Volkh answered the question "intelligently"

http://volokh.com/2010/02/27/are-more-intelligent-people-more-likely-to-be-liberal/ Volkh

I would not of survived my life if I had not been a liberal. If anything the animalistic element that attempts to survive and does not articulate itâs goals or desires is likely to be liberal. Conservatism or self interest only comes out in educated forums that protect us from the pitch fork mob... that is unless you speak of other forums that merely focus on ritual and tradition which in essence runs contrary to self interest again.

"I suspect that much of the public interest in Kanazawaâs study is driven by a perception that political views endorsed by more intelligent people are more likely to be true. This, however, is a dubious inference. Even intelligent people have incentives to be rationally ignorant about politics and to do a poor job of evaluating the information they do know. I do think that, other things equal, a political view is more likely to be correct if it is more likely to be endorsed by people with greater knowledge of the issue (controlling for other factors that may affect their answers). While knowledge and intelligence are likely to be correlated, they are not the same thing. Ultimately, the fact that a political ideology is more likely to be endorsed by more intelligent people is only a weak indicator of its validity. "

just to be clear: the pattern of liberalism correlating with higher is robust for social liberalism. when it comes to economics, everything is more confused, and the more intelligent may have more sympathy to liberal economics in the classical sense than the dull.

noah, i don't know what you're trying to say.

charles, libertarians are like liberals i think. IOW, you can think of them as a form of liberal, as they really are in the big picture, despite the traditional alliance in the 20th century with conservatives after the rise to prominence of social democracy and left liberalism.

the generalizations might have been clearer re: politics if you just note that social conservatives tend to be kind of dumb vis-a-vis socia liberals.

I think the key point is that the link (if it is real) is with social liberalism, not economic liberalism. Both economic and conservative liberalism are, arguably, 'evolutionarily novel', therefore you would not expect a link with intelligence if Kanazawa's theory is correct.

What Kanazawa argues is that intelligence helps us to overcome our evolved cognitive biases. We have biases towards in-group favouritism (i.e. racism), religious beliefs, and multiple sexual partners (for men, at least). Intelligence is inversely correlated with these.

The rather small discrepancy doesn't seem that hard to explain. I don't think it would be hard to define a hefty chunk of the population, maybe 20-30%, which is poorly educated, conventional and lacking in curiosity, not in control of their lives, limited in life experience, and low in IQ, and that the group defined this way would tend overwhelmingly toward religious and conservativism. (It would probably include a large chunk of lax and non-parcticing Christians who strongly affirm religious belief verbally).

After this chunk was taken from the sample my guess is that in the remaining 70-80% the IQ differences would be much less.

I have my own angle onthis. I'm a liberal, and I've spent a lot of time trying to convince my fellow liberals that the problem with Republicans, conservatives, and teabaggers is not stupidity or lack of education. I don't think at all favorably of these groups, but if you diagnose them in terms of stupidity and lack of education you misunderstand what the problem is that you're facing.

In voting, college graduates without advanced degrees are the single most Republican group. "Some college" and "HS graduate only" are less Republican, in descending order. The most Democratic group is non-HS graduates, and the next most Democratic group is people with graduate degrees (10% of the population).

In general those who spend their lives in the education biz, and those with liberal arts or humanities educations probably tend to be more liberal. Someone with data at hand and statistical abilities could probably fine-tune a definition of the "liberal elite" and the "conservative populists" -- two groups which are probably not that far apart in income.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

I'm reluctant to classify my politics because...well, they're hard to classify. "Environmentalism," usually associated with the Left, is sometimes much more effectively embraced by conservatives. Both Left and Right embrace mutually exclusive issues; most lefties I know claim to be "pro-environment" while supporting every kind of pro-natalist policy. Pro-natalism and environmentalism cancel each other out, but there you go.

I'm starting to wonder if "Libertarian" applies to me. Certainly there's a branch of Libertarians who share my position against "Intellectual Property," for the same reasons I do:

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Romney wasn't a legacy in the technical sense but he was very well connected, with his father an ex-Presidential candidate, his namesake the head of Marriott hotels, and his nickname coming from a Chicago Bears quarterback (his father's cousin). ON the other hand, he started at Stanford and ended at BYU.

Mormons aren't good at pretending to be stupid because outside Colorado City and a few other desert hellholes, they're usually not.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

The study raises the attention-getting issue of who's smarter, liberals or conservatives?

I agree that the terms have to be better specified. I think it would be better to set clear definitions of what's liberal, what's conservative, and how you seprate out social conservatives and liberals from economic ones, then there's all the grades of religiousness, church participation, charity-giving, etc. A truly definitive study would be a pretty big undertaking.

Then you would have to study the subjects' life habits, to see what they do versus how they describe themselves (there can be big differences here). I agree that just asking someone whether they are liberal or conservative is not definitive in any sense. You have to see how they actually express themselves and act in society.

Sorting out all the factors that can cloud the results would be another big problem.

As it stands, the study seems just enough to generate a journalistically irresponsible tabloid headline such as "study shows liberals ARE smarter!" in the hopes of baiting all the whackos to come out and buy the tabloid.

I agree with others that we have to see more substance before we start making conclusions.

So they talked exclusively to "young people" (ie: easily accessible college or university students) and asked them how to "subjectively identify themselves" politically. And then they make a grand sweeping generalization about all "conservatives" and "liberals".

Set aside the fact that young people are always the most left-wing (re: naive) age demographic. I seriously doubt this study is useful for anything other than gauging the intelligence of different kinds of students attending one American college. I would bet most of the young people are taking degrees in make-believe subjects like anthropology and womyn's studies.

By J. Simmons (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

This comment is probably to subjective in nature for this site, but what the hell. I am a graduate student in the English Department of an elite public university in California. I think of myself as a Burkean conservative, and I can truthfully say that I am completely alone in my beliefs in my department.Indeed, if I were to go on my academic milieu alone, I would have to assume that highly intelligent conservatives do not exist. The only conservatives that I am aware of on campus are in the economics department, and they are regarded by the English faculty as a kind of bizarre aberration.

Regarding libertarianism, I am in complete accord with Razib. As a Burkean conservative, I have never been able to understand exactly how such a liberal philosophy (Burke would certainly never have recognized it as a species of conservatism)has come to be viewed as a part of the Right.For further evidence of the essentially liberal nature of libertarianism, simply observe the fact that libertarians are virtually the only members of the Right who are viewed by liberals with any sympathy (E.g., simply compare the treatment of social conservatives as compared to libertarians on television).

This turned out to be a more interesting article than I had anticipated. In the view of Walter Cronkite Jimmy Carter was the smartest pres he knew upto that point. Yet, Jimmy C.will go down in history as a poor, poor POTUS. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. Look at all the dumb things he did/does. B. Obama was and still is thought to be smart.... but look at his failings and the mess he's created for our children and grandchildrenin just the first year of office. Hillary was thought to be the smartest woman in the world yet she lost to a guy not even near to the intelligence of her husband. I think her judgement in sellecting and staying with a clutz like bill is very self defeating on her part.

For years Mitt Romney made brilliant decisions solving problems, pioneering paths and making businesses better. When he just about beat Kennedy (Sen.), Kennedy thought a venture capitalist should have a lot of messes to pick apart. WRONG! Mitt was way too smart and very, very ethical. Kennedy nearly went too far trying float a false pointing finger at Mitt. Mitt's 14 year average return on investment over Bain Capital was 113%(not a misprint). Yes, almost too good to be true--in this case it is true ( the exception to the rule).

Someone who worked with Romney said that he could never recall anytime when he felt Romney wasn't the smartest person in the room--during the Bain and Company years and the Bain Capital years. That's a twenty year span working with firms and organizations and groups. Yet, the same guy said Romney wasn't one to flaunt his brains. He stayed humble. Being humble and ethical is the best type of intelligence.

PS--with MA having a 85% Dem majority in it's legislature and a large populace liberal, one has to look for ways to sound moderate while running for office as a republican in that state. Bare that in mind when judging any republican from MA--Scott Brown. That's why Scott is called a "work in progress". That's why Mitt is called a flip flopper. Once out of the MA context what you really are has the chance to come out. If Brown wants to keep his Senate seat in the next election cycle he has to remain a moderate. Does one really have to think about this to understand MA republican politics. Somebody needs to stick their ignorant RINO pointing finger back up their nose.

That should have read "too subjective in nature," not "to subjective." I will now use myself as an example to my students on the importance of proof reading. Afterwards, I will drink some wine and then blow my brains out. The horror, the horror.

Isn't the liberal/conservative issue confounded by the belief/non-belief issue?

It seems to me that the weakness of the arguments for religion are rather obvious, and that a person with an IQ of 106 is considerably more likely to come to understand this than a someone with an IQ of 95, even though the gap between them isn't huge. However the question of which social arrangements work best seems far more difficult to me, and even highly intelligent people can easily find themselves in over their heads. So if the two issues were independent we might expect a clear sorting on belief/non-belief, but not on the liberal/conservative spectrum.

However if religious belief tends to push people towards conservative social positions, then the two issues are not independent at all. So if conservatives in fact do tend to be less intelligent than liberals, couldn't that be entirely a consequence of believers being less intelligent than non-believers?

I have yet to see inclusive fitness correlated with IQ. If there's some other scale of genotypic success then I am similarly unaware of it. The psychological dimensions of liberalism and conservatism seem to show an increase in ideologically driven behavior as one moves to the conservative side of the spectrum.

(Political liberals on the far left show this same tendency but I'd suggest that these are conservatives psychologically - who have taken on politically progressive beliefs - like the Wobblies in the 1920's or the anti-Israel left today.)

So, my point is that maybe inclusive fitness for humans and the types of societies we necessarily live in, is highly sensitive to the willingness to hold strong ideological beliefs and die for them if necessary. Perhaps that's more valuable than average IQ when it comes to the numbers of humans sharing one's dna in future generations. Societies don't need many high IQ elites running around if the ideas of the few who do figure out more clever ways to survive (or kill their enemies) can be successfully passed on to future generations by a social infrastructure that is underpinned by large numbers of ideologically motivated believers and religiously-driven politics.

Perhaps societies that have higher relative numbers of high IQ individuals are at a disadvantage in this regard. Mr. Spock is a valuable asset to Captain Kirk. But, his more emotionless logical skills would be useless (or even dangerous to their survival) if he were commanding the Enterprise rather than providing a logical computing service to its human more ideologically-driven leadership.

By Ray in Seattle (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

This whole thing is such a classic example of the utter vapidity and intellectual emptiness of (most) evo-psych. Make up literally ANY EXPLANATION YOU WANT of why measured IQ differs in this way, shoe-horn it into your favorite version of ideological dynamics, on which everyone is an expert. Please feel free to extrapolate the survey-says attitudes of contemporary U.S. twenty-somethings with the rest of humanity throughout history. Who is to say one explanation is better than the other? No one is, because no one has any evidence, and no one is going to get any.

I will note in passing that no one on this blog has come up with an obviously stupider explanation for the result than the obviously stupid explanation of the authors themselves. What a pantload.

Let's see: "utter vapidity", "intellectual emptiness", stupidity" . . I think I smell ideology. (That doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong.)

It seems obvious to me that if evolution is real then the brains, repertoires and behavior selection mechanisms of species would evolve - and that the evolutionary paradigm would be useful window to look through when studying those things. I've never really read a critique of "evo-psych" that made much sense to me. Maybe you can explain the essence of the argument.

By Ray in Seattle (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

OK, Ray, I'll bite.

"if evolution is real"

Evolution is real.

"..brains, repertoires and behavior selection mechanisms of species would evolve - and that the evolutionary paradigm would be useful window to look through when studying those things."

Which is what I do for a living.

Behavioral genetics is also real, and outside of evo-psych is fairly respectable science, though still in early days. The endless stream of trendy bullshit comes from its mis-application to trivial enculturated human behaviors and behavioral differences between groups of modern humans.

In terms of human differences: Humans have been diverging geographically and therefore genetically from each other for 50-100 thousand years, not very long (especially considering our long generation time). Our effective population size is tiny compared to other broadly distributed mammals. But there is good evidence for non-neutral, non-drift evolution (i.e. selection and adaptation) taking place during this time. Living in new places is probably very selectively rigorous in terms of changing climates, diets, pathogen exposure. As I seem to never tire of pointing out, there is good evidence for selection in human groups for phenotypic adaptation to different climates, diets, and pathogens. Also, humans--all humans--are clever and good at manipulating their environment, wherever they are. What there is no evidence for is selection for different pychological traits. For one, we don't understand the neurological, let alone genetic, basis for the vast majority of psychological traits. For two, under the very emphatic selective sieves of climate, food, and disease, it is difficult to imagine strong, consistent selective pressure for subtle psychological tweaks mattering much. As I also point out kind of often, it is possible that due to pleiotropy or linkage, genes affecting psychological traits could have changed in frequency incidental to the strong selection. Someday we will know, today we don't.

For humans overall:
Yes, like every other animal, our behavior evolved. In fact, our behavior is very similar (in broad strokes) to that of other animals, particularly primates, particularly mammals, particularly vertebrates, and so on down the line. Why made up stories about what pleistocene culture may have been like are necessary to explain sexual jealousy or sibling rivalry is an utter mystery to me.

In summary, I'm not ideological about behavioral genetics, I'm informed. Most evo-psych is not science, it's making vaguely plausible-sounding shit up. I have never seen an EP claim supported by evidence, but they are often "controversial" and media friendly soundbites about human behaviors of interest to fans of reality TV, so I see why it's a tempting route for the attention starved academic.

"At age 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidental candidate who reminded them most of themselves."
Charles Bukowski

By Dave Chamberlin (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

miko, thanks for your in-depth reply. I do not have a background in either biology or psychology but I am fascinated by both and have studied the topics quite a bit. I have purchased several under and graduate level texts that I consult as part of that effort. But I'm still a long way from a full understanding of these "insider" topics. I just thought evo-psych was another school of interest / thought on a topic that permeates the human nature sciences. I've carefully studied the books and papers of Damasio and LeDoux which seemed to be very insightful to me. Do you take exception to their work or do you see them as legitimate.

I'm at a bit of a loss to fully understand your comment which is no doubt due to my lack of education on the matter. But, is a significant part of your disgust aimed at those who claim that some differences in behavior between ethnic groups are the result of genetic selection and adaptation? Thanks for indulging me.

By Ray in Seattle (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Let's get real! The only thing the latest Kanazawa paper shows is that people with better vocabularies self-identify slightly more as liberal and atheists. That's it. The rest of the statistics is too weak to take seriously. And the bulk of the paper are pure evo-psych fantasies.

Better vocabulary correlates with intelligence but only imperfectly (r~.8 at best). But if A correlates with B and with C, it does not necessarily follow that B correlates with C. Political self-identification is a very vague thing - especially in the USA (a country where the datasets were obtained). The test used were easy - they more than likely lump everyone with IQ>115 into the same group. And the relationship between intelligence and something else does not have to be monotonous.

By Nanonymous (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

"But, is a significant part of your disgust aimed at those who claim that some differences in behavior between ethnic groups are the result of genetic selection and adaptation?"

Certainly, because I think that's a particular insidious application of a fuzzy and poorly supported "science." Using science to promote social conventions and parochial assumptions has a long and well-discredited history, we are absolutely right to be suspicious...while being aware that human difference is important and we are on the cusp of a lot of exciting human genomics research. Understanding how human psychological traits are specified through genetics and environmental interactions is much further off, but not intractable in principle.

Most of my disgust comes from the discrepancy between what seems to count as "evidence" in evo-psych and what counts as evidence in the rest of biology. Humans are hard to work on, it's true. We know nothing--and probably never will--about prehistoric selective pressures for socio-behavioral traits, and how they might have varied over time and across space. Behavioral genetics is a toddler-science: there is a lot of basic work to do, and it's being done by real scientists, mostly in animal models. Then there is this group who want to leap frog to "controversial" human traits that are poorly defined and understood, which to me underscores their real motivation: popular attention. They are often amateurs at biology: psychologists obviously, but even economists, political "scientists", philosophers, and other dilettantes.

Anyway, someone who has criticized EP for reasons like this, but also others which I can't vouch for because I haven't read his stuff, is David Buller.

Some evolutionary psychologists respond here: http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/buller08.htm

I follow this debate about as closely as the one where theists accuse atheists of not really understanding the detailed ins and outs of theology. So what? I know EP doesn't have evidence for selection and adaptive fitness for the "traits" they study, because they can't. Someday there may be evidence for some, although I think it will always remain intensely complex. But the evolutionary psychologists aren't the ones doing the hard work of getting it--of slowly building up our understanding of the biology of behavior, the function of neural circuits, neural development, gene-environment interactions, the astounding problem of the human brain. They are on the sidelines of science, doing surveys and then making up an "evolutionary" explanation for the results, and basically making up shit that grabs headlines, and sells.

You are making a huge assumption in your post, in that you assume that the standard deviation of IQ is the same when you restrict your population to liberals or to conservatives, and there really no reason for this to be true.

(For a simpler example, men and women have the same IQ, but men are believed to have a slightly higher standard deviation, which implies that when you look at both tails, men will vastly outnumber women).

By Jérôme ^ (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

If you aggregate data to the 50 US states, the effects are much stronger. Liberal states are much less religious and have higher IQ's. Conservative states, the opposite.

Things like gun-ownership, starbucks to walmart ratios; % gay households; minimum wage; not amending a constitution to ban gay marriage, all correlate nicely (directly) with IQ but inversely with religiosity.

Sorry for the ghastly looking link


Miko seems to have pretty much nailed the issue. I'm frankly appalled Razib is going so far out on a limb here, considering the shaky grown so much of this stuff rests on. And why do so many people continue to treat IQ as static? You can't take a quick glance around a cocktail party and pat yourself on the back at how your IQ estimates line up.

miko, You say, "Most of my disgust comes from the discrepancy between what seems to count as "evidence" in evo-psych and what counts as evidence in the rest of biology."

In trying to understand your pov. I have drilled down into the links you provided.

For example, here is a paper that seems to my uneducated mind as a pretty decent argument for the existence of evo-psych effects on human behavior in a quantifiable, falsifiable way - that parents invest more care in their own children than step or adopted children - and conversely that parents selectively abuse step and adopted children at significantly higher rates than their genetic offspring.


Do you believe there is something about the evidence they cite in this paper that shows substandard science? It seems to me they make a plausible case for their premise and have tried to account for reasonable confounds. What is it I should look for in a study like this that, in your opinion, reveals a leap-frogging of genuine scientific methods?

By Ray in Seattle (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

And why do so many people continue to treat IQ as static? You can't take a quick glance around a cocktail party and pat yourself on the back at how your IQ estimates line up.

what are you talking about? and i'm shocked that you're "appalled" ;-)

miko alluded to this, but please note that *traditionally* understood evo-psych as it was originally conceived in the 1980s is totally different from behavior genetics. specifically, evo-psych focused on putatively fixed traits which exhibit little species-level variation, while behavior genetics focuses specifically on variant traits. so for example evo-psych was interested in domain specific competencies, like theory of mind, while behavior genetics focuses on things like intelligence or personality differences.

at this point though it's all kind of thrown together in a mish-mash. by both proponents and critics.

Hi Ray,

The disconnect here is that evolutionary psychologists often start with a real, measurable phenomenon. Step-kids are more likely to be abused. That's sociology. Take what you want from giving physical abuse of children a cutesy, media-friendly name like the "Cinderella Effect."

Where EP runs off the rails is in their construction of causes for phenomena. There is no effort expended in finding proximal social or cultural factors (although they often claim they are "controlled" for--which they can't, because they don't know what they are). Instead, they decided that the human brain has been selected to predispose us to assault children who aren't are own.

So, we can agree that there is evidence for more child abuse in step-parent or adoptive relationships. In some manner this was measured. What is the evidence for the evolutionary claim? Or is it taken as axiomatic that all measurable modern human behaviors are "natural" and adaptive? What is the explanation for the majority of adoptive/step-parents who don't beat or neglect their kids? I'm not even saying it's wrong--I'm just saying it's empty. It fondles a serious social issue, offers no insight, and claims it's an evolved behavior, without evidence. For science journalists, "Cinderella Effect" sure pops off the page on the wire, though.

Finally, as a separate issue, I think there is a big "so what" factor with claims that something is "evolved." People steal because we evolved to try and get things we want. Fascinating, I guess that explains crime. If I want a baby in a movie theater to leave, is it useful to be told that babies cry because they have evolved to obtain adult human attention? If you're not doing basic research to understand evolutionary or behavioral mechanisms, and you're not interested in prescriptive research that identifies social mechanisms we may want to address, what are you doing? And what for?

Razib, I'd further distinguish between human behavioral genetics, which contains a lot of good science but also wishy washy things like correlations between SNPs and fMRI results, and behavioral genetics more broadly, particularly in animal models.

I would also say I am a big fan of things that in the past might have been called evolutionary psychology--Terence Deacon's "The Symbolic Species" is I think far and away the best book about human brain evolution.

The EP that I am constantly slagging is what some people call "Pop EP", but has come to represent the whole field.

If that adoption study cited upthread is the one I'm familiar with, it actually found that investment/nonabuse was highest among adopted children, followed by biological children, followed by stepchildren. Which makes sense: if you go through the trouble of adoption, you must really want kids, whereas you reproduce by choice, though with much less effort, and if you marry someone you might not be very interested in her kids at all, especially if you didn't throw a lot of effort at them in their infancy (as we rationalize anything we throw effort at as worthwhile.) The same effects probably explain why abortion seems to have lowered crime rates - women are better able to delay children until they/their partners can throw resources at them.

I agree with miko that EP has major epistemological problems that render it unfit as a research program. That doesn't mean that there isn't something interesting going on with (whatever it is IQ measures) and traditionalism, though.

I never started seriously studying the psychology of behavior until 2002 so I was not paying attention when the ideological lines were drawn. I also tend to be a bit impressed - perhaps naively so - by science, the only field I know where practitioners hold objectivity as an ideal and practice ways to pursue it - or even give lip service to it.

The fact that this is obviously difficult for scientists - who have higher average intelligence than the general population - seems to say something important about human nature.

By Ray in Seattle (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

I viewed a show the other night on modern day gold hunters. The interesting twist was these guys were highly trained geologists using very advanced carbon dating equipment, satellite mapping, etc. They came upon a huge deposit, the find totally dependent on trusting various aging dates in assorted rock strata across a vast area. Hundreds of millions years here, a billion or two there. I wondered how a creationist, young earth "scientist" would have ever even hoped to join such a venture? If he did get on does he deny the age of the very rocks and soil, arguing against the facts that eventually actually led to the find? Does he cry "Dumb luck!" when the venture pans out? The search team will reap millions upon millions for their work. How does a company give any credence to an applicant in the field of geology (and the dozens of tangents and offshoots of that field) if he professes to believe the planet is 6000 years old? Isn't scientific intelligence unachievable in many areas if your root beliefs are an attempted literalist religious interpretation of the data? Thus rendering you effectively "dumb" in your field?

By steve duncan (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

You know what would be nice? If conservatives simply accepted that liberals are not provably their intellectual inferiors. I'll accept that the studies do not conclusively, let alone usefully, prove liberals' superior intelligence so long as fewer conservatives assume their intellectual superiority over liberals. I know some liberals are going to use the study to flog conservatives, but most won't. Why? Because they're liberals. That's not how we roll.

beejeez, that's totally how we roll! Where I think liberals are different is that we are just as hard on our own idiots (new agers, etc). Conservatives have a lot more team spirit, and seem willing to tolerate some outrageous morons when necessary, like in the cause of lockstep political obstructionism.

OK, this thread has sent me into a totally unproductive spelunking mission into the bowels of Pop EP, and I think we have a winner from the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology: "THE TEXAS BILLIONAIREâS PREGNANT BRIDE: AN EVOLUTIONARY INTERPRETATION OF ROMANCE FICTION TITLES."

From the abstract: "Our results indicate that Harlequin romance novel titles are congruent with womenâs sex-specific mating strategies, which is surmised to be the reason for their continued international success."

I suspect a Sokal-ish hoax and wish I'd thought of it.

It's a sign of intelligence to question your life, upbringing and basic assumptions. Most people go through life in the religion they were born in, trusting that their parents, friends and pastor knew what they were talking about.

Highly intelligent people have doubts and are bothered by questions. They do research and analyze life. Often, they come to the conclusion that things should be just because they are. This leads them to make changes in their world view, and that can include religion.

Since few people are raised atheist, most atheists arrived at their beliefs through analytical thinking. That doesn't mean that intelligent people don't switch from one theistic belief system to another, nor that people can decide that the religion of their birth is after all the one best suited for them.

Atheists tend to be more intelligent not because smart people are atheists, but because few people are born atheist and have to arrive their own their own analysis.

Even if the hypothesis of a correlation between intelligence and political views, or intelligence and religious views, had any validity, the example of Mitt Romney, who is both very intelligent and very religious (he was a Mormon bishop and then the president of all congregations in Boston), as well as moderately conservative, demonstrates that the hypothesis has no predictive value in any practical situation.

Liberals and atheists want to be able to say that, because of their politics or their lack of religious belief, they are smarter than people who are conservative or religious, but that does not follow. Any particular religious or conservative person they are trying to compare themselves against could be another smart, religious conservative like Mitt Romney. (Or, for that matter, myself--BA Mathematics, JD, LLM, Phi Beta Kappa, Lt. Colonel, USAF.) So if a liberal or an atheist tries to assert that those whom they disagree with only disagree because they are less intelligent, the liberal or atheist is demonstrating a LACK of intelligence.

A recent survey showed that believing Mormons in the US self-identify as "conservative" about 65% of the time, so here is a population that is very conservative and very religious in terms of devoting a good share of their time each week to their churches--Mormons have no professional clergy, all the positions at the local level are filled by uncompensated part-timers, including bishops of congregations--yet indicators of intelligence like education level, SAT scores, work in technical fields, etc., show that US Mormons as a population are at least average or above for all those factors that directly reflect what we usually call "intelligence".

For example, a recent survey of religious belief and attitudes toward religion among college professors indicated that Mormons are represented in academia at about twice their percentage of the US population (in contrast to "Evangelical Christians", who are underrepresented on faculties, even counting church-affiliated schools). Additionally, other studies have indicated that, among Mormons, there is a positive correlation between higher educational level and religious devotion. Because of the lack of a clergy career path, senior leaders among the Mormons tend to be people who have succeeded in other professions, whether in business, law, medicine, science and engineering, or academia. Among the top 15 leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one is an MD/PhD who did pioneering work in developing heart-lung machines to allow open heart surgery, another is a nuclear engineer, four are former college or university presidents, several others have graduate degrees in law or education, and one is a jet pilot and former VP for Operations for Lufthansa. The unpaid volunteer who heads my local congregation is a PhD mathematician. The US Ambassador to China, career diplomat and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, learned Mandarin in Taiwan as a missionary. And so on.

Among Americans who are not native speakers of foreign languages, Mormons are far and away more conversant than most Americans in a second or even third language, because so many of them serve two years as unpaid missionaries in one of 150 nations. If you want to recruit a computer software engineer who speaks Chinese, or Tagalog, or Russian, who is not a native of one of those countries, you go to BYU, University of Utah, or another Utah college. As was demonstrated during the 2002 Winter Olympics, you can stand on a street corner in Salt Lake City and ask for help in one of 50 languages and find someone who can speak to you.

There is no indication that US Mormons are, on average, any less intelligent than the US population generally, even though all measures of religious devotion show them to be more religious than most other Americans, and they are much more politically conservative than the mean of Americans. The hypothesis that was the basis for this blog post would assert that Mormons must therefore be measurably less intelligent than average americans, but that is precisely NOT the case. The 6 million or so US Mormons is a far larger sample than the one in the study that claimed to find the correlation of intelligence with liberalism and less religiosity, so I would suggest that the study contradicts simple known demographic facts.

There are tremendous variations in religious beliefs and levels of personal behavioral commitment to such beliefs. There are also wide variations in the doctrines taught in various denominations. There are also variations in political views that are much more complex than an overly simplified "liberal to conservative" linear scale. Social conservatism is not international assertiveness "neo-conservatism" is not "fiscal conservatism" is not libertarianism. Additionally, religious and political commitments vary over a person's lifetime, in a way that intelligence or IQ is not supposed to. "Religion" and "conservatism" are not well defined enough to even make a self-consistent hypothesis that applies to all varieties of both terms, let alone to propose a correlation between them and "IQ".

And then there is the entire question of whether conventional IQ is positively correlated to wise judgment on public policy questions. The rejection of dependence upon the judgment of the "smart" versus the judgment of the mass of citizens is the difference between American democracy and the socialism that assumes that elite experts exercise better judgment than the affected citizens. That precise issue is at the root of the struggle for power between the courts on the one hand and the elected legislatures and popular referenda on the other. As William F. Buckley said, many of us would rather be governed by the first hundred people in the phone book than by the Supreme Court.

By Coltakashi (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

So, have all those well-educated Mormon leaders come out and admitted that Joe Smith was completely off-base on the history of the pre-Columbian Americas? Arguing that Native Americans are really lost Israelite tribes is way out there in Kent Hovind territory.

By Pohranicni Straze (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

miko @36, in the paper, THE TEXAS BILLIONAIREâS PREGNANT BRIDE: AN EVOLUTIONARY INTERPRETATION OF ROMANCE FICTION TITLES, I fail to see why you don't see the author's premise as reasonable and potentially useful for understanding aspects of (female) human behavior. I suspect that any behavior associated with mating would be likely dependent upon evolved dispositions to some extent, for both sexes. Gay males for example, exhibit characteristic male mating behavior, despite sharing the same biological male targets as most females. Why would such concepts not be useful, stated as hypotheses, that could be tested in advancing our understanding of human nature?

By Ray in Seattle (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink


Even if the hypothesis of a correlation between intelligence and political views, or intelligence and religious views, had any validity, the example of Mitt Romney, who is both very intelligent and very religious (he was a Mormon bishop and then the president of all congregations in Boston), as well as moderately conservative, demonstrates that the hypothesis has no predictive value in any practical situation.

I see that statistics isn't your strong suit. Saying that group A has a higher average value x than group B does not mean that every member of group A has higher x than every member of group B. For example, pointing out that Margo Dydek is taller than most men does not mean that women are taller on average than men.

I see that statistics isn't your strong suit.

lol. honestly, i was going to say "are you dumb, or do you just chill with dumb people?" :-) but i doubt he's coming back.

Bryan said: The problem with a high IQ though is one might become a clever silly, which I think is a liberal thing on it's face
...and links to an article in "Medical Hypotheses", a non-peer-reviewed journal. An article that has 37 footnote cites - 10 of which are cites of articles written by the editor of "Medical Hypotheses".

I'll let someone else do the research to debunk the blog "journal" that is called "Medical Hypotheses":

By Worst Nightmare (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

Coltakashi @38:
Romney may be what Bob Altemeyer would categorize as a "Social Dominator", who is willing to appear to be quite religious in order to gain power.

Agreed, however, that the predictive power of this hypothesis is miniscule. It's more descriptive than predictive....

As many self-identified Conservatives will readily tell you, your plethora of degrees denote little about your intelligence. I more often see s-i Cons calling people "stupid" or "Libtards" than the other way around.

But, as I read more of your post, I see that you are differentiating Mormons from the rabble-of-faith. So, rather than address the theory in the OP, you appear to be stating that - in these studies - Mormon religion does not correlate with religion in general.

Maybe the whole thing would bother you less if it stated that this is a general correlation, not a specific correlation between religion and IQ. (...and if it makes you more comfy, IQ is mostly a measurement convention that approximates relative intelligence)

When you say "The hypothesis that was the basis for this blog post would assert that Mormons must therefore be measurably less intelligent than average americans....", you read too much into it. It would be wrong to select a subset and project the characteristics of the entire religious population upon it, and you are wrong to claim that the study would assert that. I think you are also wrong in failing to capitalize "Americans", but you don't claim any degrees in English.

"...whether conventional IQ is positively correlated to wise judgment..." is a different issue. Is there an accepted standard for "wise"? I'd put good money on positive correlation above 0.236 (p less than 0.05) if we could use a definition of "wise" that I find acceptable.

By Worst Nightmare (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

Reasonable comments, Worst.

I'm only aware of the article because an editorial against it (the explanation for clever sillies; not that clever sillies exist) recently came to my attention.

@Ray: "I fail to see why you don't see the author's premise as reasonable and potentially useful for understanding aspects of (female) human behavior."

How is it more reasonable than alternative explanations? Why prefer an evolutionary one? How would you falsify it? What would count as supporting evidence? How can that explanation represent and evolutionary understanding of female behavior when your premise is that those titles already somehow represent evolved female behavior? It's circular reasoning.

"Reasonable" explanations are not what science is about--"reasonable" is whatever seems true to people at a certain time and place. Slavery seemed reasonable, as did volcano gods. Science is about explanations that can be supported with evidence.


@ Miko: LOL! The sad thing is that it is not a hoax. These people are getting tenures for this sort of things. A very serious business.

@ Ray in Seattle who writes: "I fail to see why you don't see the author's premise as reasonable and potentially useful for understanding aspects of (female) human behavior.

Answer: Because the whole thing is 16 pages-long rephrasing of the statement "women are designed to like romance stories". That and that the main result of the study is that "words linked to long-term committed relationships (i.e., bride, marriage, wife, wedding and husband), and reproductive success (i.e., baby and child), are within the top 20 words". LMAO.

By Nanonymous (not verified) on 05 Mar 2010 #permalink