Valley of the Clever

I came across this map of German performance in math, biology, physics, and chemistry in the IQB-Ländervergleich 2012, a test they hold once every few years in conjunction with PISA.


With the sole exception of Berlin, which is close to rock bottom, the former GDR states along with Bavaria were consistently at the top of the ratings. 50-60 points difference correspond to two years’ worth of learning progress.

Saxony, home of Pegida and known in the Cold War as the “valley of the clueless” because its specific geography hampered Western radio and TV broadcasts, is at the very top.


This is confirmed by the regional PISA results for 2009.

What could possibly explain this?


Who could have imagined?

In reality, East Germans are nothing special academically; they are about mid-range compared to the average ethnic German elsewhere in Germany.


The key difference is that East Germans had yet to be really enriched back when these tests were carried out. The map above shows the percentage of immigrants in the German districts as of 2011.

On a historical note, it’s possible that the roots of the South German – that is, Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg – dominance on the German cognitive scoreboard are pretty old.



Thirty years after the printing press first appeared in Europe, you could already begin to discern three distinct clusters of concentration – Northern Italy, the Low Countries, and South Germany. (The first two, of course, were famous for their respective Renaissances). Back then, there was no independent Protestant pro-literacy effect, so we might expect to see a considerable correlation across Catholic Europe between literacy rates and IQ (though back then climatic factors would had a much bigger influence in suppressing literacy rates in the colder, less urbanized areas of Northern Europe). And it is reasonably to suppose that there was likewise a good correlation between literacy rates and the adoption of the printing press.

Furthermore, unlike the Low Countries and Italy, South Germany is a hilly inland area, an environment that tends to depress IQ (iodine deficiency – the European alpine areas used to be known for having many cases of goitre and cretinism), so their achievement in quickly accumulating such a high density of printing presses nonetheless must have already hinted at a very respectable genotypic IQ.

I seem to recall reading in National Literacy Campaigns and Movements, as in Sweden, there were ecclesiastical reglaments making marriage more difficult for illiterate people in southern Germany from the 18th century. If so this would have been a eugenic policy that helped maintain or increase further those high IQ levels, though the effect would have been attenuated by the Bavarians having one of Europe’s highest illegitimacy rates (something like 27% IIRC).

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Pseudonymic Handle says

    South Germany was one of the centers of the Renaissance mostly because of trade connections with North Italy (same thing with Flanders). Gutenberg worked in Mainz so it’s not surprising printing was developed early in South Germany.

  2. It would be interesting to point out other pockets/regions of high intelligence (meaning rivaling or almost rivaling Eastern Asians) in non-East Asian settings and to compare them. PISA unfortunately doesn’t publish results for all nations regionally, but besides that it surely should be rewarding top look at Switzerland, Flanders and central Poland (which is elevated by the stellar performance of Warsaw in PISA. The results of Warsaw rivalled Shanghai in 2012!).

    I am also wondering how the regional distribution of intelligence in France or the UK would be like, but so far I have found nothing on France and only the rough subdivision in England, Scotland etc. for the UK.

    It’s quite revealing how regional IQ differences correlate very well with conservatism. Saxony and Bavaria are easily the two most conservative states in Germany, while our dumbest state, Bremen, has been ruled by the Social democrats since WWII.

    PS: The state differences in PISA refer to 2006, not 2009. 2006 unfortunately was the last year regional PISA results got published. Based on that, and previous results I used the deviations from the national mean to calculate average IQs for 2009/2012 by state:

    Bayern 104,9
    Sachsen 104,9
    Baden-Württemberg 103,4
    Thüringen 103,1
    Saarland 101,5
    Sachsen-Anhalt 101,4
    Rheinland-Pfalz 101,4
    Brandenburg 101,2
    Schleswig-Holstein 101,0
    Hessen 100,9
    Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 100,9
    Berlin 100,7
    Niedersachsen 100,4
    Nordrhein-Westfalen 100,2
    Hamburg 99,3
    Bremen 97,9

  3. Immigrant from former USSR says

    Mr. Karlin:
    Thank you for your post.
    You are working with the material at hand.
    However, it would be interesting to learn about PISA grades
    for each ethnic (racial ?) group separately, even within the given locality.
    Compare to the post(s) by Steve Sailer:

  4. It’s quite revealing how regional IQ differences correlate very well with conservatism.

    Revealing of what?

  5. Revealing that this education leads to liberalism theory isn’t really true.

  6. Anatoly Karlin says

    and central Poland (which is elevated by the stellar performance of Warsaw in PISA. The results of Warsaw rivalled Shanghai in 2012!).

    Meaning around 113? That’s interesting, though not overly surprising.

    Did Poland have propiska/hukou system? If so, that would handily explain the cognitive clustering seen in Warsaw. And unlike Moscow with ~107 IQ, Warsaw’s performance wouldn’t be attenuated by 1-2 million high 80s IQ Caucasians and Central Asians.

  7. Santoculto says

    Saxony is to Texas**

  8. Cicerone says

    According to the “Society and demographics” part of the Warsaw Wikipedia article, there were restrictions:

    During the first years after the war, the population growth was c. 6%, so shortly the city started to suffer from the lack of flats and of areas for new houses. The first remedial measure was the Warsaw area enlargement (1951) – but the city authorities were still forced to introduce residency registration limitations: only the spouses and children of the permanent residents as well as some persons of public importance (like renowned specialists) were allowed to get the registration, hence halving the population growth in the following years. It also bolstered some kind of conviction among Poles that Varsovians thought of themselves as better only because they lived in the capital. Unfortunately this belief still lives on in Poland (although not as much as it used to be) – even though since 1990 there are no limitations to residency registration anymore.

    According to PISA 2012, the IQ of Warsaw indeed was 112. They don’t have data for individual cities though, but by city size in all countries, with the biggest category being cities of a million people or more, so if some countries only have one city of more than a million people, one can derive their IQ easily. The data shows niely how cognitive clustering in many countries happens in the big cities, the exception being several Western countries, where the cognitive elites cluster in the suburbs (US, UK, Germany…).

  9. Santoculto says

    I have a theory, countries with greater % of their population living in their biggest cities tend to have less discrepancy between their national average iq and maximum (collective-average) or ceilling-iq because huge proportion of their population are living in this cities and this situation will produce a representative cognitive scenario. Example: Uruguay and Greece.

    Poland seems have a greater urban dispersion instead a greater urban concentration. This create the emerging of numerous relatively populous urban niches with nationally greater COGNITIVE (worker) potential or ceilling-iq because this cities may have very higher standard living than in other little cities and produce higher selection, selecting less people to live there.

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  11. Reg Cæsar says

    …there were ecclesiastical reglaments making marriage more difficult for illiterate people in southern Germany from the 18th century. If so this would have been a eugenic policy…

    Interesting. A recent Charles Lane column mentioned the strong eugenicist support a century ago for the minimum wage, a sacred cow to today’s progressive. It seems they wanted the feeble and feeble-minded to be unemployed, and thus unable to form families.

    Reglament is a very obscure word in English, by the way.

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  13. Anonymous says

    That is probably the case.

    For example, if the PISA results above are anything to go by, Poland’s overall performance obviously doesn’t reflect a Warsaw IQ of Shanghai levels. On the other hand, Attica houses almost 50% of the Greek population and drew from pretty much everywhere, socially and spatially, so it’ll be much more representative.

    Still, I see all this investigation into the impact of other ethnic groups into the results of Germany, Sweden etc. but (almost) nothing (Rindermann and others have had a look into such) about the impact of gypsies, Muslims and other groups (many of which are ‘native’ and aren’t counted separately) for the results of other European countries. Part of it is due to the greater availability of regional and ethnic results but part of it seems to be an attempt to inordinately elevate those specific countries (no offense, I’m sure it isn’t done on purpose, just an unconscious preference due to their success).