A Meeting with Hank Pellissier

This Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Hank Pellissier, who used to work for the IEET, a futurist/transhumanist institute, and is now a blogger-journalist and amateur researcher at the Brighter Brains blog.

2013-09-15 16-59-15 - meeting with Hank Pellissier

As one may glean from the title of that blog, his current area of major interest lies in IQ and how you can bolster (or deflate) it. His most recent book is 225 Ways to Elevate or Injure IQ, the product of four years of research consisting of trawling through and summarizing the existing academic literature on the topic. In the meetup, he expounded upon his work.

Much of it was commonsense, or otherwise of no surprise to people who take an active interest in the topic. Some it was also of doubtful validity, with correlations not always being substantiated by a solid case for causation. But some of it was also new, counter-intuitive, even surprising. Certainly all this material is well worth publicizing and pushing into the public debate because quite apart from the intrinsic individual benefits of higher IQ’s it also leads to more efficient economies, higher technological growth, lower crime rates, etc.

Here is a list of most of these 225 IQ factors from Pellisier’s website. Below is a rough classification and brief discussion of some of the most important and interesting points from his research.

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Only 15% of Scandinavian Pupils can do Basic Fractions

Further to my post on the remarkable failure of Scandinavian education systems to develop their students to anywhere near the levels indicated by their IQ potentials, a professor of mathematics at a Wisconsin university sent me data on the percentage of respondents in the TIMSS who gave the correct answer to the following question:

Which shows a correct method for finding 1/3 – 1/4?

A (1 – 1)/ (4 – 3)
B 1/ (4 – 3)
C (3 – 4)/ (3*4)
D (4 – 3)/ (3*4)

Below are the results. Do bear in mind that these are 8th graders we are talking about.

Korea 2.7 6.9 4.2 86
Singapore 4.8 5.5 6.5 83.1
Taipei 2.9 7.7 7 82
Hong Kong 4 8.7 10 77
Japan 15.4 11.1 8.2 65.3
Russia 12.3 18.8 4.8 62.8
Average 25.4 26 9.4 37.1
US 32.5 26.1 10.7 29.1
Finland 42.3 29.5 8.7 16.1
Sweden 14.4
Chile 11.7

Finally, an international ratings list on which those smarmy, goody-goody Scandinavians don’t come on top! They barely do better than Chile, a country that got 421 (equiv. IQ ~88) in the PISA 2009 survey. Here is what he has to say on the matter:

One interesting fact is that among the 42 countries which tested 8th grade students, Finland had the highest percent of students who picked answer A and the third lowest percent correct. Chile had 11.7 correct and Sweden had 14.4 percent correct. The Finnish result is likely a surprise to the people who have praised the Finnish school system for their results on another international test, PISA. However university and technical college mathematics faculty in Finland will not be surprised. See [this] article signed by over 200 of them.

Anybody who suggests the progressive/neoliberal education policies of the Scandinavian countries are worthy of emulation should be presented with these figures and laughed out of the room.

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Preliminary Thoughts on TIMSS/PIRLS 2012

I had been meaning to post about this for a long time. Better late than never, I suppose.

The TIMSS and PIRLS are international assessments of academic ability in math, science and literacy that are conducted once every four years. They are similar to the PISA tests, although the latter are less purely academically focused and more a test of pure IQ.

Here are the results of TIMSS/PIRLS (h/t North Asian). And here are the results of PISA from 2009 for comparison.

As can be expected, they are highly correlated (r > 0.8 to be precise). This however makes the few differences all the more interesting. The gap between the East Asian countries and European countries, though substantial in PISA, is significantly greater in TIMSS/PIRLS. And most strikingly, both Russia and Israel go from being laggards in the OECD group to being at the forefront of the class.

  Math (PISA) Math (TIMSS)
Korea 539 613
Sweden 494 484
Russia 468 539
Israel 447 516

From performing more poorly than Turkey in the PISA reading test, Russia soars to take second global position in the PIRLS.

  Reading (PISA) Reading (PIRLS)
HK 533 571
Sweden 497 542
Russia 459 568
Israel 474 541

Meanwhile, some European countries, especially Sweden and Norway, plummet quite substantially.

What explains all this?

There are two possibilities. First, the TIMSS/PIRLS tests may have poorer samples than the PISA. For instance, we know from the latter that Moscow has a 10-point IQ lead over the rest of the country. If Muscovite pupils are over-sampled, then it’s quite feasible for the consequent result to be closer to say Hong Kong or Korea than to Greece or Turkey.

However, a second possibility is that the PISA-TIMSS/PIRLS gap is a proxy for differences in the quality of educational systems. It is more feasible to prepare for the TIMSS/PIRLS than it is for PISA, which is closer to an IQ test and is, as such, more difficult to improve through policy interventions. It is nowadays fashionable to lambast the ex-Soviet and East Asian school systems for “rote learning,” “stifling creativity,” and whatnot. However, the data shows that under these systems, pupils perform well above the levels they “should” as indicated by their underlying IQ levels. Meanwhile, in places where “creativity” and “self-expression” are given full bloom, where science lessons focus on the evils of plastic bags in between sermons on LGBT appreciation and the progressiveness of Islamic civilization, academic performance is somewhat less than what might expect based on the local students’ apparent IQ levels.

This all makes sense, I suppose. To be truly “creative” you first have to acquire a ton of skills and knowledge via the old method of applied hard work. Without that, “creativity” simply boils down to a sea of PoMo-waffling curmudgeons and MacBook-toting hipsters. And whoever needs that?

Flynn Effect DOES Apply To South Korea

Regular readers of this blog may remember my comments regarding Ron Unz’s theory that East Asians have high IQ’s independent of time/nutrition/urbanization whatever it is that causes the Flynn Effect. Here is his original article on his theory of the “East Asian Exception” and my two responses are here and here.

Anyway a new paper (well, July 2012) I think finally puts this theory to rest: The Flynn effect in Korea: large gains by Jan te Nijenhuis et al. Here is the abstract:

Secular gains in IQ test scores have been reported for many Western countries. This is the first study of secular IQ gains in South Korea, using various datasets. The first question is what the size of the Flynn effect in South Korea is. The gains per decade are 7.7 points for persons born between 1970 and 1990. These gains on broad intelligence batteries are much larger than the gains in Western countries of about 3 IQ points per decade. The second question is whether the Korean IQ gains are comparable to the Japanese IQ gains with a lag of a few decades. The gains in Japan of 7.7 IQ points per decade for those born approximately 1940 1965 are identical to the gains per decade for Koreans born 1970 1990. The third question is whether the Korean gains in height and education lag a few decades behind the Japanese gains. The Koreans reach the educational levels the Japanese reached 25 30 years before, and the gains in height for Koreans born 1970 1990 are very similar to gains in height for Japanese born 1940 1960, so three decades earlier. These findings combined strongly support the hypothesis of similar developmental patterns in the two countries.

So, similar processes (height is of course strongly associated with nutritional quality) leading to the same pattern of steady IQ gains that have been observed for all Western societies.

Incidentally, back during my discussion with Unz, I wrote: “Anyhow, I wish we could do tests on North Koreans. Their meat consumption is at less than 10kg a year and they have periodic famines. They are also directly comparable to South Koreans. They would conclusively prove your theory right or wrong!” The study authors concur on the benefits of testing the Norks:

Theoretically, it would be very interesting to do a study of secular score gains in IQ in North Korea. It appears that height has not increased in North Korea since the end of the Korean war. However, it may be that the quality and number of years of education has improved. This experiment of nature could throw some light on the question to what degree nutrition/hygiene and education influence score gains.

New Delhi Cuts Ties With PISA

India backs out of global education test for 15-year-olds.

Indians were put to test for the first time in the last assessment in 2009. On the global stage, they stood second last among 73 countries, only beating Kyrgyzstan on reading, math and science abilities… This time around, sources said India shied away from the assessment as government officials felt our children were not prepared for such a test.

“India didn’t sign up for the PISA 2012 assessment because when countries were asked to sign up for that assessment, India had only signed up for the PISA 2009 assessment, which it carried out with a year later delay in 2010,” said Juliet Evans, who handles communication and administration for the PISA Secretariat. Unlike India, several other countries like Costa Rica, Malaysia, Georgia and the UAE who had carried out the PISA evaluation in 2010 did sign up for the upcoming assessment.

Which of these Soviet leaders does this remind you of?

Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are all travelling together in a railway carriage. Unexpectedly the train stops. Lenin suggests: “Perhaps, we should call a subbotnik, so that workers and peasants fix the problem.” Stalin puts his head out of the window and shouts, “If the train does not start moving, the driver will be shot!” But the train doesn’t start moving. Khrushchev then shouts, “Let’s take the rails behind the train and use them to construct the tracks in the front”. But it still doesn’t move. Brezhnev then says, “Comrades, Comrades, let’s draw the curtains, turn on the gramophone and pretend we’re moving!”

Anyhow, most countries will continue participating, including some new ones. I am especially looking forwards to seeing how Vietnam performs. It is about ten years behind China, and its genetic IQ level is probably about 5 points lower than China’s. As such, if its IQ comes out to be appreciable lower than 95 (my own estimate is 90-92) then it would be a further blow against Ron Unz’s theory of the East Asian Exception (to the Flynn Effect).

Minorities’ Cognitive Performance In The UK

Here is data from the Cognitive Abilities Test for UK students in 2009/10 via Ambiguous.

Some interesting things to take away here:

(1) The sample is very large. Verbal IQ has the highest correlation with academic performance in most subjects, followed by Quantitative IQ, and then Non-Verbal Reasoning (recognizing patterns and such, I imagine).

(2) Indians do almost as well as Whites, although the structure of their cognitive abilities are a bit different: About 4 points lower than Whites in Verbal, but almost 2 points better in Quantitative. As rec1man said, “The Patels and Sikhs are Upper-Shudra / Vaishya and this is 80% of the diaspora in UK.” So this is highly encouraging for India’s eventual prospects; in indicates that the broad middle can in principle build a reasonably wealthy, middle-class society.

(3) The Pakistanis and Bangladeshis also don’t do too badly – certainly better than I would have expected (I visited a Pakistani school once in the UK and it was horrific).

(4) This might imply we are actually looking at the following average-IQ groups in India: Lower 40% – 93; Middle 40% – 99; Top 20% – 105, for an overall average of 98 (once Flynn Effect is done with them). That’s better than Greece today and certainly good enough  to have a developed society. But there’s tons of challenges: Malnutrition, slums, poor education, widespread vegetarianism (both voluntary and involuntary – due to poverty) that have to be sorted out for India to perform to its potential.

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Analysis Of Russia’s PISA 2009 Results

A few months ago I posted a table and map of Russian IQ’s as derived from regional PISA performance. Those figures are based on Jarkko Hautamäki’s slideshow comparing regional PISA performance in Finland and Russia.

That material is a bit inadequate because, as had been my custom up that point, I was only making IQ estimates based on the Math and Science components of the PISA tests, and avoiding Reading to maintain reverse compatibility with my (now disused, in favor of just IQ) Human Capital Index. In light of some realizations that verbal IQ is no less important than numerical, I have updated the figures to include the verbal component as well. This doesn’t create any radical changes – the overall IQ only drops by 0.3 points – so I reuse the same map.

(Note that the legend on the map isn’t converted to IQ. “PISA scores, mean 500, SD 100, have to be transformed into IQ values, mean 100, SD 15, by adding or subtracting the deviation from the mean in the relationship 100 : 15 = 6,67.”)


There are any numbers of comments one can make, but I will confine myself to the most important ones:

(1) In some regions, margins of error are high, as samples were low. Nonetheless, it is still possible to identify some concrete patterns. The overall estimate is very accurate because the sample was N=5,308 and representatively distributed across the country.

(2) Moscow pupils performed very well, at the level of the highest scoring OECD countries like Finland, Taiwan, and Korea. This is especially impressive considering the significant numbers of immigrants in that city from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, who come from poorly-scoring countries and rarely have good Russian. This is surely the result of a century of attracting Russia’s (the USSR’s) cognitive elite.

(3) St.-Petersburg and Tyumen oblast performed above the OECD average, while a few other regions performed at or only slightly below the OECD average.

(4) Among ethnic Russian republics, Siberian regions performed well, while the Urals and southern regions performed badly.

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rec1man On Indian IQ

My post on Indian IQ (max potential is low to mid 90’s) spawned an interesting analysis by commentator rec1man. It is not very well organized but he does have a ton of useful information that deserves to be highlighted. It’s reprinted in full below interspersed with occasional commentary by myself:

Caste Analysis

75% of the Indian population gets affirmative action quota in India and is genetically low IQ.
25% of the Indian population is upper caste and higher IQ and does not get quota.
Most of the upper caste population has Y-DNA = R1A = Russian / Slavic.

AK: The Slavic max. potential IQ appears to be around 100.

In North India there are 3 levels of quota, each quota level corresponding to a different IQ level:
In North India Upper caste > Other Backward Caste > Dalit – Untouchable – Tribal.

In South India, there are 4 levels of quota:
Brahmin > Dravidian Backward Caste > Dravidian Most Backward caste > Dalit-Untouchable-Tribal.

Upper castes and Brahmins dont get quota. In North India, upper castes and Brahmins are genetically the same of Aryan origin. In South India, the only Aryan origin caste is Brahmin.
The others are Dravidian.

5% of the Indian population is of Oriental race and they dont have a high IQ.

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The Evolution Of Chinese IQ

In the discussion at the previous post, in which I took exception to Ron Unz’s theory of the East Asian Exception, he alerted me to so additional work on the matter he’d done as a Harvard freshman on Chinese IQ. You can read his summary of Social Darwinism and Rural China as well as Steve Sailer’s commentary on it.

Ron Unz’s Theory of Social Darwinism in Rural China

According to Ron Unz, Chinese peasants lived close to their Malthusian limits for millennia on end. That is correct. Furthermore, Chinese rural life was “remarkably sophisticated in its financial and business arrangements”, far more so even than in England. I do not have the comparative knowledge to offer informed commentary on this, though I would stop to note that such a system may not have been so much a generator of “selective pressure for those able to prosper” under complexity as a reflection of already high IQ’s. After all on most social, economic, and technological metrics China was far ahead of Europe until the 18th century or so (though there were important exceptions). Furthermore, “virtually all Chinese were on an equal legal footing”, with far fewer of the feudalistic or caste distinctions that proliferate in India and pre-Enlightenment Europe. This is also correct.

This environment included a number of mechanisms that promoted a highly eugenic development path for the Chinese population. Ron Unz says that only the relative affluent could afford their wives for their children. This is not quite correct, or should I say permanently correct, as this issue only heavily manifested itself during times of Malthusian stress, when families opted to kill baby daughters resulting in skewed sex ratios. Otherwise, we should note that Europeans within the Hajnal Line married late and that the poor sometimes didn’t marry at all, so this particular eugenic effect was if anything stronger in Europe.

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Disagree With Ron Unz’s Conclusions On Chinese IQ

He writes:

These scores are indeed truly remarkable, and completely confirm the apparent pattern of Lynn’s IQ samples, in which desperately poor East Asians tend to score at or above the levels of the most successful and well-educated Western populations… But since the total population is at least well into the hundreds of millions, heavily rural as well as urban, the average PISA score of 520—corresponding to an IQ of 103—cannot be too dissimilar from the overall Chinese figure. And with China’s per capita GDP still only $3,700 and well over half the population still living in rural villages when the tests were conducted, these are absolutely astonishing results… Although opinions may certainly differ, I regard this new evidence as very strong support for my “East Asian Exception” hypothesis.

China isn’t anywhere near as backward as he portrays it.

(1) The urban-rural ratio was essentially 50/50 according to the 2010 Census. Furthermore, rural Chinese don’t really suffer from the absolute destitution common to peasants in Third World countries. They own their own land and it is almost impossible for them to lose it. Malnutrition is now close to non-existent. Slums are now very rare. According to a Gallup poll, Chinese now actually struggle less than Americans to buy food.

(2) Total Chinese meat consumption overtook US meat consumption in 1990, signifying a nutritionally adequate figure (as Americans eat a lot of and perhaps a bit too much meat anyway). Today Chinese meat consumption is half the US level. The PISA 2009 cohort would have been born in 1993, when Chinese nutrition had already essentially converged with the First World.

(3) He uses nominal GDP per capita which is quite meaningless. The PPP level of Chinese GDP per capita is $8,400 and that figure is probably underestimated.

Basically, if we adjust for the fact that in terms of basics (food, education, housing) China is now essentially equivalent to developed countries, it would make sense that its average IQ level is now only about 5 points from its potential maximum.

But really my fundamental problem with the “East Asia Exception” hypothesis is the huge paradox it exposes: Why was it Europe, and not China, that first underwent the Industrial Revolution? And the (initially unrelated) Scientific Revolution, for that matter? If as Ron Unz says the Flynn Effect barely applies to East Asian populations, then what you’d have had five centuries ago is 100mn Chinese, 20% of them urban – with an average IQ of maybe 95; and 100mn Europeans, only 5% of them urban – with an average IQ of 75. Sure Europe had various advantages (as chronicled by Jared Diamond, Kenneth Pomeranz, etc) but surely it couldn’t have trumped the effects of a 1 S.D. IQ advantage? That is why I believe the East Asia Exception to be historically implausible.