Sunday, November 05, 2006
At the London School of Economic Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is in trouble over his conclusion that low IQ, not poverty or disease, is the primary cause of Africa's problems. In Ethiopia, for example, the average IQ is 63 and life expectancies are in the mid-forties. People are upset about this because it seems racist and threatens to revive the idea of eugenics. In fact, Kanazawa's research is a) almost certainly true and b) unremarkable. I wrote about this subject some years ago - see Selected Articles - and came across the Flynn Effect. This was the discovery by James Flynn that IQ in the developed world seemed to be rising at the rate of 10 points per generation. Flynn had simply given old intelligence tests to new children. His results showed that an average child in 1918 had an IQ of 85 or lower, whereas an average contemporary child would have an IQ of 100 or higher. But this did not really mean that within a few years we would be bumping into waves of Aristotles, Kants and Newtons on the street. It meant that the results of IQ tests are linked to educational and cultural factors. The children who tooks the tests in 1918 would have been found to have an average of around 100, since that is the average the tests are designed to produce. If that is the case, then, as I say, Kanazawa's findings are unremarkable, indeed entirely predictable. IQ is not an absolute measurement, true at all times in all places. It is culturally determined; it measures the ability of an individual to function within the culture that is setting the test. In these terms, it is an amazingly accurate indicator of success in life for inhabitants of the rich nations. Conversely, an entirely African IQ test would probably show Africans were the most intelligent people in the world. But the real point is that the rich world's idea of intelligence is, for the moment, the most effective at delivering goods like education, health and wealth. Africans needs these. If they get them, then, in time, their IQs would rise to the levels seen in the developed world. It is supremely improbable that a phenomenon as complex and diverse as intelligence is determined by race to any significant degree. All of which should not entirely allay the fears of the politically correct left. For, if Africa is locked in low IQ misery from which it can only be rescued by institutional and educational systems developed by the high IQ nations, then a new colonialism would seem to be the most rational and humane response.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:30 am