Human Biological and Psychological diversity

An important new academic paper was recently published.

Many evolutionary psychologists have asserted that there is a panhuman nature, a species typical psychological structure that is invariant across human populations. Although many social scientists dispute the basic assumptions of evolutionary psychology, they seem widely to agree with this hypothesis. Psychological differences among human populations (demes, ethnic groups, races) are almost always attributed to cultural and sociological forces in the relevant literatures. However, there are strong reasons to suspect that the hypothesis of a panhuman nature is incorrect. Humans migrated out of Africa at least 50,000 years ago and occupied many different ecological and climatological niches. Because of this, they evolved slightly different anatomical and physiological traits. For example, Tibetans evolved various traits that help them cope with the rigors of altitude; similarly, the Inuit evolved various traits that help them cope with the challenges of a very cold environment. It is likely that humans also evolved slightly different psychological traits as a response to different selection pressures in different environments and niches. One possible example is the high intelligence of the Ashkenazi Jewish people. Frank discussions of such differences among human groups have provoked strong ethical concerns in the past. We understand those ethical concerns and believe that it is important to address them. However, we also believe that the benefits of discussing possible human population differences outweigh the costs.

Notable quotes include:

Mainstream textbooks, for example, document many instances of human biological diversity. Despite this, the basics of human biological diversity are not integrated into the social sciences.

Evidence from a variety of disciplines, including genetics, anthropology, archaeology, and paleontology, indicates that human populations evolved distinctive features after spreading from Africa and settling in different ecological and climatic niches (Bellwood 2013; Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994; Molnar 2006; Wade 2014). Although such human biological variation is often ignored by social scientists, it is not really a matter of dispute among researchers in the relevant disciplines.

In a meta-analysis of racial and ethnic differences in self-esteem, Twenge and Crocker (2002) found a pattern of self-esteem differences (Blacks scored higher than Whites after the 1980s and Asians scored lower than both), but ruled out, a priori, the possibility that such differences were related to biology because, according to them, “racial and ethnic categorizations are socially constructed” and are not based on “shared biological characteristics” (p. 371). This means that an entirely legitimate and plausible hypothesis about the etiology of self-esteem differences was ignored, leaving only social or cultural hypotheses. It is, of course, possible that the differences are entirely environmental in origin, but it is not certain, and ruling legitimate hypotheses out a priori on flimsy arguments (see “Race and Human Populations” section) about the nonreality of human biological diversity potentially prevents researchers from fully understanding the causes of differences in self-esteem.

In a paper on racial and ethnic differences in violent crime rates, Sampson et al. (2005) asserted that biological differences among human populations do not hold “distinct scientific credibility as causes of violence,” and proceeded to adjudicate between three environment-only hypotheses about the causes of disparities in violence (p. 224). So, again, these researchers ruled out a priori a perfectly legitimate and plausible hypothesis and proceeded to approach the data with a self-imposed theoretical limitation.

I wonder why this academic blindness is so common? I also wonder why there are so few researchers willing to challenge the egalitarian orthodoxy despite plenty of empirical evidence to the contrary:

Rushton (1995), for example, forwarded an expansive account of population differences based on life-history theory. However, he was viciously attacked by many scholars (e.g., Barash 1995), and his work was quickly marginalized.

There are plenty of examples in the animal kingdom of both behavioral and physical evolution of species in what most biologists would consider a relatively short time. 20 generations or so seems to be enough time for noticeable adaptations to occur, which is approximately 400 years in humans.

Thus far, we have introduced what we called the SEPP, and noted that we were going to recalibrate two of its basic premises. The first premise was gradualism, which contends that evolution by natural selection is a very slow phenomenon and that human populations have not had enough time to evolve meaningful differences. We argued that this position requires adjustment because (1) natural selection can differentially sculpt traits quite rapidly, as documented by many researchers (see “Background” section), and (2) there is copious evidence that human populations differ from each other somewhat physiologically and that natural selection continues to affect human populations (Hawks et al. 2007; Zuk 2013). Adjusting gradualism in this manner requires that we reconsider the idea of a panhuman nature. It would be remarkable, as we will discuss below, if human populations were completely similar psychologically despite having endured different selective regimes in different environments.

There are notable adaptations in humans which likely evolved during geologically short periods of time, such as cold adaptations in high latitudes or low oxygen adaptations at high altitudes. Other examples include darker skin in mid latitudes to protect from ultraviolet radiation or conversely light skin in high latitudes to enhance vitamin D production, or lactose digestion in adults in communities which domesticate milk producing animals.

The article also goes over some of the common, and false, arguments against race being a biological construct including lewontin’s fallacy, which I have previously covered myself.

A final argument often forwarded against the use of racial classifications is that the genetic variation between human populations is small and dwarfed by the genetic variation within populations (Lewontin 1972; Templeton 2013). Therefore, so this argument goes, racial classifications contain almost no meaningful biological information. There are two counterarguments to this. First, if one focuses on the correlational structure among multiple genetic loci instead of serially examining single loci or averaging over multiple loci, then there are clear and biologically informative differences among human populations (Cochran and Harpending 2009; Edwards 2003; Tang et al. 2005). In other words, different human population groups are recognizable by their genetic profiles but only if one examines a pattern of genetic loci. Tang et al. (2005), for example, reported evidence that self-reported ethnicity corresponded very closely with genetic clusters derived from 326 microsatellite markers. Other studies have found similar power to detect accurately people’s ancestry (Guo et al. 2014; Moreno-Estrada et al. 2014). Of course, this would be impossible without sufficient genetic information to distinguish among human populations.

Importantly, it highlights the reality that personality and psychology also has a biological component, and this varies across races:

The human brain is the same as the human body in this regard and is not somehow immune to natural selection. Or, as Nicholas Wade (2014) succinctly noted, “brain genes do not lie in some special category exempt from natural selection. They are as much under evolutionary pressure as any other category of gene” (p. 106). It is almost certain that human populations vary psychologically in interesting, important, and scientifically meaningful ways because they were subject to different selective regimes (Rushton 1985; Wade 2007). To preview one example briefly, natural selection may have slightly dialed up the general intelligence knob on Ashkenazi Jews (i.e., an adjustment on an existing adaptation), who score roughly 110 on standardized intelligence tests (Cochran et al. 2006; Lynn 2011). Whether humans share a universal psychological profile depends upon the question one is trying to answer. If, for example, one wants to know how humans learn to recognize siblings, the concept of a panhuman psychical nature is probably fruitful (Lieberman et al. 2007). If, however, one wants to know why the Ashkenazim prosper in many societies, often despite virulent anti-semitism, then the concept of a universal psychical profile is not only wrong, but it also positively prevents researchers from accurately answering the question (because it leads to a fruitless exploration for sociocultural causes which cannot be the entire story).

Citing specific studies with specific genes, the authors discuss some personality traits which seem to vary over different populations, quite likely due to the genetic differences mentioned, including collectivism (east Asians) vs. individualism (NW Europeans) and Ashkanazi Jewish intelligence.

For additional information on the likely evolutionary pressures which led to an increase in pro-civilizational traits in Europeans, I recommend A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World by Gregory Clark. One of these days I am going to get around to doing a full review of this book.

By political necessity, the article is very conservative with its discussion of racial differences. However, it is a useful step in the right direction in gaining a mainstreamed understanding of the reality of race. The article calls out the social “scientists” who categorically rule out biological causes of racial differences as being unscientific. These “scientists” do so for no particular reason other than personal ideological preference. The article further proposes future research more openly and directly pursue possible biological explanations. Despite the obvious qualification that the article doesn’t go far enough in honestly admitting the primacy of biology in racial differences, it is still an important contribution in advancing the our understanding of human nature by addressing the largest problem currently extant in the academic community: Left-wing bias in favor of (false) universal egalitarianism.

We are not naive about the obstacles a Darwinian approach to human biological diversity faces. We hope only to start a candid discussion and to forward some suggestions about how to proceed with this paradigm. Doubtless, some will continue to resist the notion that human populations differ in biologically meaningful ways. But it seems clear to us that biological diversity is the rule across the vast tapestry of life. It is true among plants, among animals, among humans, and among human populations.

Read full article here.

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A proposal: Social Matter for the sciences.

A user on reddit posted a link in which he lamented that there is not a neoreactionary magazine devoted specifically to science and technology news. Frankly, I think this is a very good idea. I have published things related to this several times before. You can see two of these articles here and here.

My book on gender differences in intelligence, and the biological basis thereof, is actually finished and loosely qualifies for what he wants. So that is science, which is just science, coupled with neoreactionary interpretations. I am still negotiating with a potential publisher, otherwise it would already be available. I hope to have it out by the end of the year, but this process takes a long time I understand. If that doesn’t work out, I will put it out on amazon instead. As important as I feel that is, it isn’t a science magazine which has regularly published short articles. It would be quite beneficial to start such an institution.

If there was going to be a neoreactionary science magazine I think that it would mostly be the regular critiquing of various published articles and pointing out the liberal bias in them. You can see a good template in Steve McIntyres Climate Audit website. Imagine this, but with broader topics and an explicitly neoreactionary position. Academia is a left dominated institution after all and I don’t see reactionary scientists getting funding or being published anytime soon. So really that is all we could do with the occasional exception. Before I started my current blog, I considered doing just this kind of content. Specifically, I had in mind a blog which took a published article from psychology every week or two and went through it to find bad or missing interpretations of the findings. Social psychology especially provides a wealth of material to be ripped apart by critique, but plenty of other branches do as well. Basically, what I have found in reading these articles is that often the data collection and number crunching is about as decent as could be expected, but the interpretations of the findings are often just way off; or certain conclusions are conspicuously absent. We don’t necessarily have to analyze papers as a statistician would to critique these papers. In fact, we can often just assume that all the data and math was done superbly (even if that probably isn’t true) and still find major problems with the paper. By conceding that part and focusing on interpretations it should make it so many more of us could participate in writing content for this magazine. Of course, we could also include pieces which simply analyses new advances in technology as well. I believe I could make a commitment to creating content at least once every two weeks and maybe once a week when time permits. Would anyone else in the neoreactosphere be willing to start working on this sort of thing with me such that we have something similar to social matter but for science and technology specifically? Please email me at or comment on this blog so we can start to make a plan.

Also, pretty much any paper should be freely accessible if we use and /r/scholar to get them, so no one should go out of pocket to get papers for thrashing.

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Stereotype threat and pseudo-scientists

The politically acceptable explanation for gender differences in intelligence studies and tests is that discrimination accounts for all current disparities between men and women in intellectual Fields, starting first and foremost with the standardized tests themselves. The question is: does the data support this? The most fashionable (possibly faddish) explanation for test differences between gender (and race) come from social psychology and is termed ‘stereotype threat’. Stereotype threat is a type of implicit discrimination that is supposed to result from traditional stereotypes based on the gender of test takers. It is supposedly all pervasive throughout society, and constantly present everywhere you are. This obscure and unfalsifiable ether is supposed to depress the scores of females in tests. Society has historically held that women were not as intelligent as men. Stereotype threat proponents argue that knowledge of this history combined with the manner in which questions are designed and phrased leads to lower test scores for women in a sort of self fulfilling prophecy.

It is important to consider who should be affected by stereotype threat and other types of discrimination and what kind of pattern in the distribution of scores should result if it was having a widespread impact. Discrimination of this type is assumed to be universal and omnipresent. It is supposed to be present in both the society at large as well as in the test that all students are taking. If it is universally present then it should have a universal effect. It should affect women equally at all levels of test taking proficiency and should result in a uniform downward shift of the score distribution compared to men. In the graph below, hypothetical male and female test score distributions are super-imposed and the expected influence of stereotype threat is shown. The male distribution does not have as high a peak and extends out farther in either direction to reflect the greater male variability in scores found in virtually all IQ tests. I am not the best artist so you will have to forgive me if it isn’t as pretty as it could be.

Hypothetical male and female IQ distributions before and after stereotype threat

Stereotype threat voodoo action from the ether

If it does not fit this pattern, explanations for why women at different test taking levels react differently to stereotype threat must be invented. The more disagreements from this trend, the more explanations that must contrived, and the more parsimony is lost (which generally means a theory is weaker). The difference between average IQ at least suggests that this might be happening, but the 3-5 iq points generally reported is a relatively small difference and mainly suggests that whatever universal influences do exist, their importance must be relatively minor. (However, there is reason to suspect that male IQ advantage is severely underestimated)

The discrimination theory is not the only possible explanation for this overall shift. The difference could just as easily, in fact probably much more easily, be explained by biological differences in brain development. Especially the fact that males in general grow to be larger, which translates into larger brain sizes on average, which for reasons that should be obvious correlates with higher IQ.

The discrimination and biological differences above have one thing in common: they are universal and thus are not good explanations for greater male variance which is the root source of most male/female disparity in the highest levels of achievement. A consistent universal factor should have a consistent universal effect for all levels of ability as shown in the figure above, and the only consistent universal difference in mean IQ scores between gender are small. Assuming stereotype threat is real, which is doubtful, it is not impossible that of the small difference that does exist, stereotype threat only makes a small contribution in addition to other factors like biological development. In such a case, the individual contribution of stereotype threat would be vanishingly small and would approximate complete irrelevance.

In the case of gender, stereotype threat is pretty much ruled out for the above reason. However, racial gaps do take a form that would be consistent with the idea of Stereotype threat. However, there are other reasons why it is also doubtful in the case of race. For more exploration on why conclusions drawn from stereotype threat studies are doubtful for methodological reasons, I recommend this paper by law professor Amy Wax: Stereotype Threat: A case of overclaim syndrome? (I have a special love for this paper because insisting on using it in the sex and intelligence wikipedia page years ago is what brought down a flock of feminist harpies who eventually got not only the paper, but also my user account banned from wikipedia.) Seems like Wax really likes sticking her neck out and fighting the good fight.

At best, stereotype threat is something that exists and has only a very small effect and at worst it is an example of publication bias amongst journals where positive results that support politically progressive ideas (like discrimination against women) are overwhelmingly published relative to studies that don’t confirm progressive beliefs or which might positively refute progressive beliefs.

Diederick Stapel was previously a highly regarded and influential Dutch social psychologist who did a lot of work on stereotype threat, among other things, until it came to light that he “routinely falsified data and made up entire experiments.” Another example of his politically biased work was a “scientific” article which sanctimoniously claimed to find that meat eaters were more selfish and less agreeable than vegans. Unfortunately, it is impossible to be surprised by outspoken priggishness from vegans. Thanks to this media attention, Stapel is now the most notorious charlatan in the field of social psychology, which is saying a lot for what appears to be a regularly fraudulent and pseudo-scientific discipline. Social Psychologists as a group do not make the data they collect available for outside review 2/3rds of the time. This stinginess with data is actually against the ethical rules established by Social psychologists themselves and suggests that there are likely many more Stapels out their who simply haven’t been caught. A survey by the Harvard business school found that 70% of social psychologists admitted to cutting corners in reporting data, 30% reporting unexpected findings as if they were expected from the start, and 1% admitted to falsifying data. Another meta-analysis of papers published in high-tier psychology journals found that 50% of papers surveyed contained at least one statistical error and 15% contained an error so severe that the conclusion drawn would have had to have been reversed. Yet another meta-analysis which looked at whether or not positive results from stereotype threat studies could be replicated found that almost half could not, and that a further 25% were confounded by methodological issues. A substantial majority of the findings were unreliable.1,2,3

Bias is rampant in the humanities, but especially in social psychology, both among individual researchers and among the journals publishing papers. Beyond the objective critical evaluation of papers, the field itself is essentially an ideological and political echo-chamber that is considerably more left-wing politically than the general population. 80% of social psychologists identify as liberal, while only 3 out of 1000 identify as conservative. Contrast this with the general population which is 40% conservative and only 20% liberal. Were these sorts of numbers occurring with a protected class, these same people wouldn’t hesitate to use it as incontrovertible proof of discrimination. Considering what is now known about the biological origins of cognition and intelligence, it is generally difficult to take claims of discrimination seriously when groups also display a relatively lower intelligence profile. However, in this case there is no reason to think that conservatives as a group have an intellectual profile below the general population. Social conservatives tend to be a little lower in intelligence relative to liberals, but free-market conservatives (libertarians) tend to be smarter. Being very partisan, either liberal or conservative, tended to be associated with high IQ as well. Increased income levels, which are a proxy for IQ, also moves people right ideologically. In other words, there is nothing that differentials in biologically determined intelligence can do to explain the lack of conservatives, and even moderates, in the humanities.4,5,6,7 Presumably academia wasn’t always so partisan, and thus its current state is a classic case of successful entryism.

In a survey of social psychologists, it was found that conservative responders feared negative consequences from revealing their political affiliation and that they were right to do so as liberal responders expressed willingness to discriminate against conservatives in approving papers, grant proposals, and hiring decisions. The more liberal a social psychologist is or the more consequential the decision would be for the conservative, the more willing liberal social psychologists are to discriminate. That willingness to discriminate against (or for) articles and proposals for ideological reasons has been empirically confirmed in several instances. In one study, reviewers were sent a manuscript which purported to show the mental health of a group of leftist political activists compared to a control group. Reviewers who were sent a version which showed that the activists had better mental health consistently felt that the paper was more publishable and even felt that the statistics were more adequate than reviewers sent a version that showed the activists had lower mental health. In another case, a research proposal which either wanted to study discrimination or reverse-discrimination was sent to 150 review boards. The proposal on discrimination was approved twice as often as the proposal on reverse-discrimination. In college admissions, it was found that reviewers would attach greater value to the criteria (grades vs. test scores) which would allow them to pick the candidates with similar partisan politics. Lastly, controlling for research productivity and academic achievement, another study found that conservative researchers were working at lower quality institutions relative to equivalent liberal colleagues than would be expected. The irony that a group which commonly publishes on the asserted negative consequences of discrimination would prove to itself be extraordinarily discriminatory is stunning.8,9,10,11

The pattern of ideologically driven academics significantly undermines the ability of an objective outsider to trust the conclusions coming out of certain fields, especially when it is related to such a politically charged subject as gender (and race) differences in test scores. It is quite clear that the overwhelming majority of researchers working on this topic possess a politically desired outcome of these studies. The great potential for this systemic Lysenkoism to motivate the production of inaccurate results which are contrary to reality can’t be overestimated. The objectivity of the field concluding stereotype threat is a real and large effect phenomenon is highly questionable. Calling this cynical skepticism “anti-intellectual,” a common criticism of conservative thinkers, is only so in the sense that these “scientists” have mis-defined the word “intellectual” to describe their political ideology and therefore themselves. Like most things on the right the “anti-science” feeling exposed by some is just a reaction to leftist entryism in academia and the dominance of pseudo-scientific articles surrounding politically partisan topics.

  1. Can stereotype threat explain the gender gap in mathematics performance and achievement? Stoet, Gijsbert; Geary, David C. Review of General Psychology, Vol 16(1), Mar 2012, 93-102.
  2. The (mis)reporting of statistical results in psychology journals. Marjan Bakker and Jelte Wicherts. 2011. Behavior Research methods.
  3. Psychology rife with inaccurate research findings. Psychology today. 2011
  4. Jonathon Haidt’s post-partisan psychology page.
  5. Social scientist sees bias within. New York Times. 2011
  6. Is there a relationship between political orientation and cognitive ability? A test of three hypotheses in two studies. Markus Kemmelmeier. 2008
  7. Income and Ideology: How personality traits, cognitive abilities, and education shape political attitudes. Rebecca Morton. Jean-Robet Tyran. Erik Wengstrom.
  8. Political Diversity in social and personality psychology. Yoel Inbar, Joris Lammers. 2012
  9. Publish or politic: Referee bias in Manuscript review. Stephen Abramowitz, Beverly Gomes, Christine Abramowitz. 1975
  10. Human subjects review, personal values, and the regulation of social science research. Ceci, Peters, Plotkin 1985.
  11. Political Partisan Prejeduce: Selective Distortion and weighting of Evaluative categories in college admission applications. Munro, Lasane, Leary.
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