"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Talents Part 2: Attitude vs. Altitude

[Content note: scrupulosity and self-esteem triggers, IQ. Potentially not good for growth mindset.]

I.

Last week I challenged a bad study about innate ability, and in the process I accidentally made a few people feel depressed and worthless. Yesterday I tried to resolve that issue, and in the process I accidentally made a few people feel like effort doesn’t matter and there’s no point in trying hard at things. For example:

If I had read this post back in those days, before I had signed up for my class— well, I suppose I never would have signed up. I would have accepted that I did not understand mathematics and that I never could understand mathematics and leave it at that.

So I guess we have to continue our game of Crippling Self-Doubt Whack-A-Mole. Goodness only knows what horrible lesson people will draw from this post. Please, if you interpret it to mean you should light yourself on fire or something, check with me first, okay?

II.

The average eminent theoretical physicist has an IQ of 150-160. The average NBA player has a height of 6’7. Both of these are a little over three standard deviations above their respective mean. Since z-scores are magic and let us compare unlike domains, we conclude that eminent theoretical physicists are about as smart as pro basketball players are tall.

Any time people talk about intelligence, height is a natural sanity check. It’s another strongly heritable polygenic trait which is nevertheless susceptible to environmental influences, and which varies in a normal distribution across the population – but which has yet to accrete the same kind of cloud of confusion around it that IQ has.

So let’s see what we can learn from the height distribution of every player in the NBA: (source)

The first thing we notice is that nobody shorter than average (ie 5’9) gets in. This is not true eternally and forever – Wikipedia’s List Of Shortest NBA Players names 25 NBA players in history (out of maybe 5000 total) who were below average stature. The all-time record holder is Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues at 5’3, who was actually pretty good (though not above exploiting his distinction for publicity: his autobiography is called In the Land of Giants). But Bogues was a spectacular outlier. If we’re going to stick to our resolution to use the histogram we’ve got, the contribution of the left half of the height bell curve is precisely zero.

We can do some very rough Fermi calculations for the next couple standard deviations.

34% of the US male population is 5’9 to 6’0, so about 54 million men. There are 5 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 11 million people of this height is in the NBA.

13.5% of the US male population is 6’0 to 6’3, so about 21 million men. There are 40 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 500,000 people of this height is in the NBA.

2.35% of the US male population is 6’3 to 6’6, so about 4 million men. There are 95 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 40,000 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.15% of the US male population is 6’6 to 6’9, so about 200,000 men. There are 130 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 1,500 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.003% of the US male population is 6’9 to 7’0, so about 5,000 men. There are 160 NBA players in this band. So about one in every 30 people of this height is in the NBA.

0.00002% of the US male population is 7’0 to 7’3, which corresponds to about 45 men. There are 40 NBA players in this band. So about 8 out of 9 people of this height are in the…wait, no, that can’t be right.

Sports Illustrated‘s Dan Diamond does a similar analysis and gets broadly similar results. But he adds several complicating factors. First, at this height people with very rare medical conditions and pituitary tumors start taking over from normal variation, so we lose our ability to derive a census a priori with pure math. Second of all, at this height talent scouts comb the world for suitably tall foreigners and import them, so we can no longer assume we’re drawing from the pool of tall Americans. And third of all, the same way you round up so that you’re 6’0 on OKCupid, NBA players round up so that they’re 7’0 on their official stats.

He concludes that most likely about 17% of seven-foot-tall young men in America are in the NBA. This might still be an overestimate, but is probably in the right ballpark. Forbes Magazine writes that Being Seven Feet Tall Is The Fastest Way To Get Rich In America and quotes a talent scout who says “that he’ll ‘check up on anyone over 7 feet that’s breathing.'” Given that a lot of people this height are unhealthy or uninterested, it might not be much of an exaggeration to say that if you’re 7’3 and have any interest in basketball, you’ve got better than even odds of going pro.

But why stop there? 0.000000001% of men are 7’3 to 7’6. Given the size of the American male population, there shouldn’t be a single person in the US with this height, though in practice a few people with endocrine abnormalities make the cut. There will, however, be a couple of healthy people of this height in the world population. There is one person currently in the NBA above 7’3, and he is a Tanzanian native discovered by talent scouts.

WE’VE GOT TO GO DEEPER TALLER! 0.00000000000001% of the population is 7’6 to 7’9. Statistically, there should not be a single man this tall in the entire world. No NBA players are currently this tall. But Yao Ming, who retired four years ago, was 7’6 exactly. He was the product of a Maoist breeding program specifically aimed at producing tall people to play basketball. You can break a lot of statistical laws if you have breeding programs and flexible ethics. Also if you have pituitary tumors, as the remainder of the List Of Tallest People reminds us. It looks like a little over half of the living people in this height band have played professional basketball at some point.

There are people taller than 7’9, but a lot of them have trouble standing without support, which somewhat decreases basketball ability.

On the plus side, you can do all sorts of awesome things, like take a picture standing next to the world’s shortest man, or…okay, pretty much just that.

III.

This offers us an opportunity to compare our intuitions about intellect to our intuitions about basketball. I recommend taking that opportunity. Basketball isn’t mysterious, it isn’t politicized, and it isn’t tied up with our notions of self-worth. As a result, our intuitions about basketball are crystal clear.

If somebody said “Height plays no role in your success as a basketball player,” we’d look at them funny. Literally nobody shorter than average is currently in the NBA. Your odds at average height are only one in ten million. But if you’re 7’0, you can pretty much walk right in.

But if somebody said “Well, success in basketball is clearly dependent on height, that means there’s no point in practicing, after all you’re not going to grow any taller,” we’d look at them funny too. I don’t know much about sports, but I predict a short guy who’s been playing for years can defeat an untrained giant every time. And of course if two giants go up against each other, experience will be decisive.

If someone found a 5’8 kid who really liked playing hoops in his backyard and was pretty good at it, and they told him “You’re a moron, you can never succeed at basketball because of your height, give up,” that person would be a jerk. The kid is enjoying himself, there’s no point in insulting him about it, and if his goal is just to end up as a college athlete or a minor leaguer, then with hard work he could certainly make it. Even if he didn’t, he might be able to apply what he’d learned to a related area like coaching or reporting.

But if that same kid wanted to go deeply into debt to attend a basketball training camp, and he’ll count it a failure if he achieves anything less than NBA superstardom, you should probably warn him that his hopes aren’t very realistic and that maybe he should lower his standards or pick a sport more suited to his body type or try another line of work entirely.

If somebody who was 6’6 complained that they’d never be able to beat the 7’0 players on the other side, we would tell them to brighten up. After all, Michael Jordan was “only” 6’6, and he’s maybe the greatest basketball player of all time, even though he often had to face off against people taller than himself.

But if a team made entirely of 6’6 players faced off against a team entirely of 7’0 players, and both of them were really motivated and practiced really hard and had great coaches, I know who I would bet on.

Most important, people all over the world innocently enjoy playing basketball, and they are right to do so. Everyone knows that taller players have an advantage, no one’s denying it. But at the levels most people play at, moderate height differences are surmountable by differences in training and technique, and large height differences are so rare as to not come up very often. Yes, the pro leagues are a different story. Yet somehow the 5’8 kid who scores a three-pointer still manages to feel good about himself. And we can be very impressed by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, praise them for their determination and technique and competitive spirit, all while acknowledging that it’s not a coincidence that the one is 6’6 and the other 6’9 and neither of these is a normal-person height.

All of this is crystal clear when we’re talking about basketball. But as soon as we switch back to talking about intelligence, we’re shouting at each other: “YOU SAY RAMANUJAN WAS REALLY HARD-WORKING, BUT I THINK HE HAD HIGH IQ, SO THERE!” Or “WELL IF SUCCESS COMES FROM INNATE TALENT, I GUESS I’LL JUST NEVER STUDY AGAIN.”

Luke Muehlhauser liked to call his philosophy of religion “common sense atheism”, meaning that he wanted to treat the question of God with the same “common” reasoning that he used for every other question. If we don’t see a tiger in front yard, we don’t say “Since it’s impossible to prove a negative, I can at best be agnostic about the existence of a tiger”, we say “I guess there’s probably not a tiger.”

Likewise, if we can just apply the same common reasoning we use for normal everyday activities like basketball to the question of intelligence, we might find it’s not so complicated and scary after all.

Which is not to say that it’s not important. After all, the other analogy between intelligence and basketball talent is that they’re both skills we need to cultivate at the highest levels if we want to save the world when it is threatened by dangerous future technology we can barely comprehend.

[still more on this subject later, but not immediately]

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582 Responses to Talents Part 2: Attitude vs. Altitude

  1. Anonymous says:

    This was actually quite helpful. Thank you. ^_^

  2. Anthony says:

    Something similar is true of performance-enhancing drugs in sports (and probably other fields) – taking testosterone shots doesn’t magically make you stronger. It makes it possible for you to work out more. But if you don’t work out more, you’re not going to see much improvement in your physical abilities. Drinking caffeine won’t make you smarter, but it will make it possible for you to spend more time studying. But if you don’t actually study more, your grades won’t improve.

    • keflex says:

      this is pedantry, but technically testosterone shots do magically make you stronger. they increase LBM in sedentary populations.

      • Anthony says:

        What’s the mechanism? Does it drive people to be more physically active? Or something else?

        • It’s something else. Like men are stronger than women even if they’re both exercising to their limit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Uh…you probably meant: like men are stronger than women even if they’re both sedentary.

          • Randy M says:

            He didn’t specify upper limit 😉

          • namae nanka says:

            Sedentary men are stronger than physically active women.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not all men.

          • grendelkhan says:

            namae nanka: Sedentary men are stronger than physically active women.

            Not quite. For powerlifting (which maps to strength pretty well), “novice” women of the same weight are stronger than “untrained” men; for upper-body exercises, it’s “intermediate” women.

            Men are generally stronger than women, but they’re not that much stronger.

          • mobile says:

            #NotAllMen

          • namae nanka says:

            “Less expected was the gender related distribution of hand-grip strength: 90% of females produced less force than 95% of males. ”

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17186303

            They’re that much stronger.

          • grendelkhan says:

            They’re that much stronger at gripping things. (Also, the abstract notes that these findings are “larger than previously reported”, which seems to require some level of explanation, and goes on to conclude that all types of strength are alike in this way (“the strength level attainable by extremely high training will rarely surpass the 50th percentile of untrained or not specifically trained men”), which is what you were concluding.

            You can pick exercises like hand-grip or pull-ups (I looked into this a while back) at which men are far and away better than women, or you can look at other exercises like the barbell squat (considered the gold standard for overall strength by the fine folks over at /fit/), where men are still stronger than women, but the distributions overlap much more. (And then separate a bit, because men tend to be larger than women and those standards are scaled by body weight.)

          • Anonymous says:

            And adjusting for weight (or better height) is the relevant comparison for this thread, which is about testerosterone supplementation, which doesn’t change height.

          • Jake says:

            > You can pick exercises like hand-grip or pull-ups (I looked into this a while back) at which men are far and away better than women, or you can look at other exercises like the barbell squat

            The strength difference is actually quite similar for both exercises, if we consider the implied maximum strength. Doing 13 reps of an exercise at a particular weight predicts a one-rep max of ~35-55% (depending on the formula) higher weight. So (assuming equal body weight), the 85th percentile man is ~45% stronger than the 85th percentile woman.

            What about squats? A “novice” 165lb man squats 205lbs; a 165lb woman squats 130lbs. The man is 57% stronger. By this metric, the sex disparity is actually somewhat greater for squats than for pullups.

        • Anonymous says:

          Increased rates of muscle protein synthesis. Maybe some neural effects too. Llewellyn’s Anabolics is a good resource for this stuff.

          • Anonymous says:

            Llewellyn’s Anabolics is the Bible of Broscience — it really is a pathetic book. Pubmed alone has far better and more relevant information. Surprisingly enough, there are also a lot of great agricultural books and studies on the subject, as well — the effects of steroids such as testosterone and trenbolone in feedlot animals are physiologically extremely similar to their effects in humans.

            Anyway, with respect to “what’s the mechanism?”, the answer is here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22101547
            Androgen use sets off a cascade of downstream effects, both genomic (via the AR) and non-genomic (via an androgen sensitive GPCR) in origin.

    • Watercressed says:

      If I drink caffeine before I take my exams, my grades might improve even with the same amount of studying.

      • Anthony says:

        That’s probably more true of 8am exams than of 11am exams. Afternoon exams will depend on how your metabolism processes lunch.

        • pneumatik says:

          Caffeine (and sugar, for that matter) are neural stimulants. I attribute pulling a C+ in Diff. Eq. to the soda machine in the building that sold 20oz bottles of Mountain Dew. The mental help lasts for no more than an hour (IME), so it’s not helpful test for long exams.

          • Shenpen says:

            My totally non-scientist mother told me to eat chocolate at the beginning of 3 hour long exams. Sounds like exactly the right idea, I killed the easy filler questions while it kicked in, and gave a boost for 1.5-2 hours (slower digested than sugar water) for the hard ones.

            By chocolate, I mean normal milk chocolate like Milka, so largely dark chocolate + sugar, both have different, but nicely stacking short term boosting effects.

      • David Warman says:

        I took concentrated caffeine pills every day of my Part 1 B. Sc. exams. I had become distracted by a different subject. I failed every single one (except Lab where I got 100%). All the caffeine really did for me was keep me awake for 6 days hallucinating that I was learning stuff.

        Later I changed majors to the distraction and did much better. Really.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don’t have a link or the ambition to look for it at 3 in the morning, but the only decent study I have seen on this says otherwise. I believe it was done in Minnesota.

      Men were divided into 4 groups. Group 1 did not lift and received no anabolics. Group 2 lifted and received no anabolics. Group 3 did not lift but received anabolics. Group 4 lifted and received anabolics.

      Results: Group 1 gained fat and no lean body mass (LBM). Group 2 gained 3lbs LBM and an equal amount of fat. Group 3 gained 6lbs LBM and lost body fat. Group 4 gained 11+ lbs LBM and lost fat. ‘

      Moral of the story: steroids and Netflix trumps going to the gym.

  3. David Simon says:

    Oi, now I have the Space Jam theme stuck in my head.

    Regarding talent vs. hard work, there is another complication: the ability to deliberately work and practice hard might itself be largely driven by genetics and other outside factors.

    • MicaiahC says:

      The instant you said that, I thought of this as the theme song of this post. (Note that the original title was “The Battle for Everyone’s souls”)

      • AR+ says:

        I prefer Slam of the Northstar, myself. I think the tempo and rythem of the lyrics and music are much better matched, to the point that they could pass as having been written for each other if you didn’t recognize either of the source songs.

    • ryan says:

      The posters for the movie Gattaca all said “There is no gene for the human spirit.”

      Uh, hate to break it to you guys…

      • grendelkhan says:

        It looks like the same sort of confusion that leads to people arguing that their minds can’t be made out of the same stuff as the rest of the universe. This sort of thing.

        • Agronomous says:

          My mind is software; it isn’t made out of anything.

          My mind runs on my brain, which is made out of normal matter.

          • Anonymous says:

            I suspect this is an ontological confusion. Like, are you saying because a program isn’t a physical object – i.e., a big chunk of silicon and metal – it isn’t real? There’s certainly some pattern there we can make distinct from chaos, so there is something.

            If we press hard enough, we can even make the computer itself seem unreal. E.g., only the fundamental layer of physics are real things, everything else is just a pattern imposed on it!

            Well, it’s probably just the case that we’re pushing up against the boundaries of what an object-oriented meta-ontology is capable of expressing.

            If we switch to a pattern- or structure- or function-oriented ontology, the program your brain is running is a particular pattern in the substance of the world, just like your brain itself.

          • wysinwyg says:

            There are many ontological confusions happening here. For one, there’s an obvious difference between “not made of anything” and “not real”.

            To say that “the number four is not made of anything” seems pretty reasonable to me. “The number four does not exist” does not seem nearly so reasonable (although I’d assent to that proposition in some contexts, I would do so in fewer contexts than for the former statement).

            “Not made of anything” is completely consistent with “pattern in the substance of the world”.

        • ryan says:

          Eliezer never fails. “Physics underlies our decisions and includes our decisions, it does not explain them away.”

          In Men in Black there’s a scene where the Einstein-looking guy’s face opens up and reveals a tiny mouse like alien holding levers operating the mechanical body.

          I absolutely love that image as a metaphor for several notions about human existence. It works for the concept of the soul, for mind/body duality, for the idea of the socially constructed identity, and as below for the software operating on hardware notion of self.

          I am of course not surprised to learn Yudkowski had already delivered those silly notions a generous take down.

  4. Anthony says:

    Not related to my previous comment:

    A further complication is that people’s ability to put in sustained effort is somewhat (largely?) inherent, and possibly genetic. It’s also susceptible to environmental influences, some of which are unavoidable.

    • pliny says:

      http://www.pnas.org/content/111/42/15273

      “The main finding is that, although intelligence accounts for more of the heritability of GCSE than any other single domain, the other domains collectively account for about as much GCSE heritability as intelligence.”

    • Alsadius says:

      And in particular, not needing to work(because, e.g., you have a lot of innate talent) is a great way of developing a terrible work ethic. I see this in myself all the time.

      • Jon Gunnarsson says:

        How do you know that your bad work ethic is due to not having to work as hard as opposed to genetics?

        • coherentsheaf says:

          In my case I suspect so because both my parents were extremely hard working overachievers. My brother who had a harder time just picking stuff up in school also works pretty hard.

        • Alsadius says:

          Because I can work hard without difficulty in a few situations, but it’s extremely difficult in many more, particularly those related to my various fields of study over the years. (Not definitive, I know, but it seems indicative)

          • Anonymous says:

            Are you here saying that it’s more difficult for you to work/perform in your chosen field of study than other areas because you’re used to not having to work hard due to innate talent?

            Because, boy do I sympathize with that.

          • Alsadius says:

            More or less. I’m a massive slacker unless I force myself quite consciously to work. (And given that I’m basically self-employed, this is a serious threat to my livelihood)

    • Shenpen says:

      Look, obviously, it is related to 1) liking that thing you do in itself 2) having some partial successes which makes you feel good about yourself. So liking the activity and liking yourself during the activity.

      Genetic perseverance and suchlike would play a role if you are forced to do something you hate and suck at it, but how common is that really? Not much.

  5. haishan says:

    More analogies between IQ and basketball!:

    At the far-right tail, the relationship between height and skill is not as strong as you might naively think (mostly because you’re sampling from such a small population.) For instance, Hasheem Thabeet, the 7’3″ Tanzanian, is actually kind of terrible at basketball and is currently playing in the NBA’s minor league.

    Natural ability (height, IQ) seems to trade off with hard work/effort. (In the NBA, this is partially explained by Berkson, but anecdotally there’s a real effect as well.) You might be able to easily put together a team of 6’6″ players that would demolish a team of 7’0″ players, because the seven-footers never had to learn to do things like shoot or dribble. (Kevin Durant excepted). I don’t think this has ever been tested, though, so I could be wrong.

    Height is almost definitely the biggest determinant of ability to make it in the NBA — if you don’t count “son of a former NBA player,” which is probably strongly correlated to height anyway — but there are other skills, too [citation needed]. If you’re good enough at those other things you can make up for a severe lack of height. Isaiah Thomas is 5’9″, and thanks to this he was picked last in his draft class, but he’s become a very successful player. Allen Iverson was generously listed at 6’0″, and he won an MVP. The analogy to IQ is, hopefully, inspiring.

    • Steve Johnson says:

      You might be able to easily put together a team of 6’6″ players that would demolish a team of 7’0″ players, because the seven-footers never had to learn to do things like shoot or dribble.

      Taking this out of the realm of theory the best arrangement for a basketball team is one where you have a variety of heights – more precisely the selection on traits other than height (shooting accuracy, passing ability, dribbling dexterity, etc.) overrides the benefit to greater height for some positions. An equally skilled 7 foot point guard is going to be better than one who is 6’5″ but the 7 footer is more valuable in a different position (center) and someone 6’5″ has an advantage in certain areas of basketball (dribbling without getting the ball stolen, repositioning limbs b/c they’re shorter, etc.). Height generally acts as a floor that’s different for each position on the court. The lower the floor for certain positions the more you can afford to select for other skills.

      All of this is beside the point that Scott is trying to make though but certainly interesting to think about. Lots of professions have intelligence floors then select for other traits over the floor level. Some professions just need as much raw brainpower as humans can provide and so select only for that. Other professions have low intelligence floors but high floors for other traits such that high intelligence people do them better all else being equal (they give IQ tests to every NFL draft prospect, for example) but the people in that profession aren’t selected specifically for intelligence.

      If you find thinking about this sort of thing interesting then you should be reading Steve Sailer’s blog.

      • haishan says:

        If you find thinking about this sort of thing interesting then you should be reading Steve Sailer’s blog.

        Or else Nylon Calculus.

        • anonymous says:

          as a writer for Nylon Calc and a huge fan of SSC and the Less-wrong community it makes me really happy to see this link!

          • haishan says:

            Well now I’m gonna be spending the rest of the week wondering which NC writer is reading SSC. Or maybe all of them are.

      • Anonymous says:

        Lots of professions have intelligence floors then select for other traits over the floor level.

        Paul Graham:

        We thought when we started Y Combinator that the most important quality would be intelligence. That’s the myth in the Valley. And certainly you don’t want founders to be stupid. But as long as you’re over a certain threshold of intelligence, what matters most is determination

      • Steve Sailer says:

        To continue with Steve Johnson’s point about the how basketball teams make use of different heights, Scott recently blogged about how he now realizes that much of the value of psychological therapy comes less from him figuring out solutions for his patients than from him nodding sympathetically while they vent. On the other hand, this raises the question of whether Scott’s time is best utilized nodding along sympathetically. I suspect his brainpower would be best used either as a manager or consultant for frontline therapists, although the medical and psychiatric professions tend to have biases against all that much hierarchy.

        • 5GhostFist says:

          Can you point me to that post, Steve?

          • Barton says:

            He’s probably referring to this post: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/11/the-phatic-and-the-anti-inductive/
            (See part III)

            Eventually, more out of surrender than out of a strategic plan, I gave up and stopped trying. I just let them talk, nodded my head, said “Yeah, that sounds bad” when they said something bad-sounding, said “Oh, that’s good” when they said something good-sounding.

            After a while I realized this went at least as well as any other therapy I was doing, plus the patients really liked me and thought I was great and gave me lots of compliments

    • Deiseach says:

      Allow me to be depressing 🙂

      Professional basketball didn’t start off with 7 foot and taller players, but over time selection pressures meant that “taller players do better”* and so gradually over time, the heights of players crept up. Nobody started out saying “Well, our ambition is to be the first team to field a 7′ 3″ player”, but it happened.

      And unfortunately, I think the same thing happens with intelligence: nobody is pushing for “You need to have an IQ of 130 or else you have no future!” but look where ‘the good jobs’ are, and what parents will advise their children to do – seriously, dear persons, how many of your parents said “Ah, you don’t need college, you can make a great living as a plumber!”

      And you can make a good living as a skilled tradesman – just as you could make a living as a factory worker on an assembly line. But today, pin your future on being able to get an assembly line job in five years’ time when you leave high school? Unless everyone else around you considers that the alternative is you’ll be lucky to stay out of jail, that is not considered a good career plan.

      *Yes, yes: necessary caveats about talent, hard work, coaching, etc. all to be taken into account. A tall, talented, well-coached and hard-working player versus a shorter, talented, well-coached and hard-working player, okay?

      • ryan says:

        I call it the “everyone can be above average” mentality.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        One interesting point is that the height advantage in the NBA is less today than a generation ago. When I was young, the progression of dominance had been 6’10” George Mikan to 6’11” Bill Russell to 7’1″ Wilt Chamberlain to 7’2″ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was widely assumed that 7’4″ Ralph Sampson would then dominate the 1980s, but that didn’t happen.

        • ryan says:

          This is from 3 years ago, it goes over the average and range of height and weight of NBA players by position:

          http://pinwheelempire.com/p/nba/prototypical-size-vs-reality-in-the-nba/

          Posted because I thought you might find it interesting.

          This is something I have no actual idea about, but how did Russel, Chamberlain, Jabar and co stack up compared to the other centers they were playing against at the time? If 7’1″ Chamberlain were playing a league where teams felt no shame having a 6’8″ starting center, that could explain his dominance, and why a 7’1″ center today doesn’t necessarily dominate when no team will start anyone under 6’10”.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        It could be that other fields over-emphasize certain traits. For example, Russell Wilson is a successful NFL quarterback who is under 6 feet tall, but the Seahawks only had to use third round pick to get him because of his lack of height. (On the other hand, it might have helped on his unfortunate last pass yesterday if he could see better over linemen.)

  6. I think people are more prone to going crazy re:intelligence when they’re in debates, or when they’re thinking especially far. Day-to-day, I think people’s beliefs about intelligence are decently accurate. I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago that might be of interest to some people here:

    http://thepenforests.com/2015/01/18/restricted-range-and-the-rpg-fallacy/

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I really enjoyed that post.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Lots of great points. The RPG fallacy sounds like something that could be useful in debates but I do worry that people would abuse it(like Scott’s Motte and Bailey argument).

      • theLaplaceDemon says:

        Yeah, I think it’s interesting and picks up on something that is true, but also misses something important (or maybe it doesn’t miss it – it might not *need* to point this out, but this is where I see a potential for misinterpretation/misuse).

        If two traits are both low-probability and uncorrelated, there is an even lower probability that you will coincidentally find someone who has them both. To keep with the basketball analogy, Kevin Durant is both very tall (6’9″) and exceptionally good at ball handling and shooting. Each of these three uncorrelated and low-probability things showing up in one human is quite rare, which is why Durant is considered one of the best ~2 players in basketball.

        When someone responds to “Do you prefer more attractive girls?” with ”Well I’d rather an plain girl with a great personality than someone who’s really hot but totally clueless” what I think they’re saying is “There is a relatively low probability of someone being on the tail end of both of these distributions. Given that, let me contextualize my preference for attractive people over unattractive people so you don’t think that attractive vs unattractive is my primary criteria.”

        (same if you sub in “smart” and “hard working”.)

        • Alsadius says:

          Particularly with the girls example, there’s also an element of “I’m not desirable enough to land a hot, smart, nice, sane girl, so I need to prioritize”.

          Also, there’s an element of “Well that’s a stupid question – ‘attractive’ literally means that I want her more – but to avoid insulting you and spouting banalities, I’ll say something that seems vaguely interesting instead of answering you directly”.

    • Corwin says:

      Very good post 🙂 It’s a special case of the Just World fallacy, but it really benefits from getting written up about clearly just like you did.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think your post is pretty great, but your initial example reveals that you (thankfully) have never seen a typical “are women funny” argument.

    • onyomi says:

      Very interesting post, but I’m not sure the “RPG fallacy” is entirely fallacious, though it probably is to a greater degree than most people assume. For an extreme example, take the idiot-savante: the person who is intensely autistic and barely able to do everyday things but for some reason can play anything by ear the first time he hears it, or tell you instantly what day of the week January 7th, 1443 was. I don’t know if there have been any actual studies of the brain architecture of such people, but it seems intuitively likely that the brain is devoting more energy to one weird ability at the expense of making the individual more well-rounded.

      Related, I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that nerds are known for poor social skills, poor hygiene, etc. Sure, many people with poor social skills bury themselves in fantasy escapism, etc. but it seems also that many people who have the type of brain which will devote a huge amount of energy to contemplating math problems will often seemingly neglect other areas, though in some cases it may be a conscious choice as in, for example, my choice not to pay much attention to fashion (that is, I don’t think I have a terrible fashion sense, but I mostly view paying close attention to how I dress to be a waste of money and energy I’d rather spend on other things).

      Related, and Scott may tell me I’m totally wrong on this, but I have a very strong impression, just based on my personal acquaintances, that smarter people are more likely to suffer various mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and schizophrenia. This actually seems unsurprising to me when you consider that being an outlier in other physical parameters often predisposes you to other problems: being extremely tall and/or heavy, for example, is a huge stress on the organs.

      This is not to say all things work this way. Apparently taller people, on average, have slightly higher IQs, for example, and there’s also no reason to believe high IQ people would be any less attractive in an absolute sense, though my anecdotal experience is that they are less likely to pay a lot of attention to their appearance.

      And then there are environmental factors. This may be very politically incorrect, but I’ll say it anyway: I think extremely attractive women are less likely to have interesting personalities, all things equal. This is because unusually attractive women are treated as goddesses (for good and for ill) from a young age, and therefore don’t have to do as much as others to garner attention and praise. The same is, of course, true of attractive men, but to a lesser degree. And then there are the people who may not start out smarter than average, but, because they are worse than average at physical pursuits, bury themselves in books, etc. etc.

      I think the idea of the fallacy is sound, but I think the stereotype about trade-offs is not entirely unfounded, either.

      • Anthony says:

        “but it seems intuitively likely that the brain is devoting more energy to one weird ability at the expense of making the individual more well-rounded.”

        My older daughter is probably evidence of this. She’s very bright in academic terms – she reads and does math well ahead of her grade level, but she just doesn’t get social interactions as well as (most of) her age peers. I haven’t actually gone through the Baron-Cohen test for juvenile autism, but she’s definitely not at the non-autistic end of the scale.

        My younger daughter is not as advanced academically, though still above average, but she’s at least as socially ept as her classmates.

      • I suspect we don’t disagree that much. My point in writing this was not so much to argue that positive traits are never negatively correlated; it was more to say that you can’t assume it by default. I suspect you’re right about intelligence and mental illness for instance; I’ve gotten the same impression.

        Interestingly, regarding intelligence trading off against social skills, I did some cursory googling and came across this study:

        http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-01/uoia-rme012213.php

        (or press release about a study I should say, I was too lazy to track down the paper)

        Key quote:

        “A new study of 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries offers the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to emotional intelligence – the ability to process emotional information and navigate the social world.

        The study found significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence, and many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both.”

        So not only do we not see the expected negative correlation, we actually see a positive one! Now, obviously this is just one study and it only deals with brain damaged patients, but it’s intriguing. Especially given Scott’s view on mutational load as a kind of mild brain damage that lowers overall brain function.

        That’s just the first study I found on google, of course. Is anyone aware of the wider literature in this area?

      • Unique Identifier says:

        Note that (smart) nerds don’t need to dress well, etcetera. Their (implicit) strategy is to become competent and useful, which requires intelligence but not dress. Particularly, it doesn’t require accruing social capital with jocks in high-school.

        Other people without this out competence-based value, have much higher relative pay-offs for spending time socializing, dressing, grooming, so on.

        You can explain -both- phenomena well, simply by assuming that both groups play to their perceived comparative advantages.

        • ryan says:

          One also needs to worry about whether they would recognize the confluence of intelligence and a good fashion sense as a nerd at all.

        • Jimbino says:

          ” both groups play to their perceived comparative advantages”

          The proper term is “competitive advantage.” “Comparative advantage” is a term of art in economics–in particular, in theory involving international trade.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            If you’re going to nitpick, try to at least not be wrong. Comparative advantage is perfectly applicable.

            Note that I allow for the hypothetical nerd to be a potentially fantastic dresser and socializer, who merely have better payoffs for spending his time becoming an engineer. The jock does not necessarily have a competitive advantage, but merely a comparative advantage, seeing as he doesn’t have anything better to spend his time on.

        • Anonymous says:

          COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage

          It’s not nitpicking to point out errors on the web. If we do not, the English language will be reduced to gibberish, especially at the hands of the descriptivists like those over at LanguageLog, who spend their time googling to determine what is proper English and eventually come across more examples of bad English than good English.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            Yes, that’s a fine link. Now go to -Ricardo’s example-. Substitute England with Jock, Portugal with Nerd, Cloth with Social capital, Wine with Education.

            Then Jock is said to possess a comparative advantage in socializing, even though Nerd possesses an absolute advantage in socializing.

            So now we have hypothetical mechanism for why some intelligent people do not pursue the payoffs related to dressing well and networking, which isn’t that they are fundamentally incapable.

          • wysinwyg says:

            “descriptivists over at LanguageLog”

            You’re using the term almost like a curse word.

            Since there is no “Academie l’Anglaise” descriptivism is the correct epistemological stance regarding the correctness of any particular usage of the English language.

            Prescriptivism has some obvious utility in terms of allowing communication among broader groups of people, but since communicated among broad groups of people is not the only function of the English language, prescriptivism will often fail. For example, “alief” is a neologism with very little currency, and yet it is a useful term that is needed to understand quite a few comments on this blog. The purpose of the term is to communicate with precision among a small group of people. In general, prescriptivism isn’t a great perspective for this kind of communication because it causes unnecessary and confusing debates about semantics.

            That said, your wiki link says this:

            “The theory of comparative advantage is an economic theory about the potential gains from trade for individuals, firms, or nations that arise from differences in their factor endowments or technological progress.”

            Which is exactly how Unique Identifier was using it, so the nitpick was indeed out of place.

          • Agronomous says:

            Since there is no “Academie l’Anglaise” descriptivism is the correct epistemological stance regarding the correctness of any particular usage of the English language.

            Yeah, but I Googled it and that’s not what most English-speakers mean by “correct”. Descriptively, they use “correct” in the prescriptive sense.

        • Anonymous says:

          Quite so, Wysinwig, “descriptivist” is a pejoritative term. Furthermore, as you say, “The theory of comparative advantage is an economic theory about the potential gains from trade….” Where was Unique Identifier dealing with trade?

      • ryan says:

        As with all questions of this sort one needs to be worried about data selection bias. Did you go around counting the people who have poor hygiene and strike you as dullards? Another issue is that if someone strikes you as a dullard and is also unorganized and socially inept, you may not actually conceive of three separate categories of data, it might all get dumped into dullard. Whereas observing bright, unorganized and socially inept seem separate.

      • chamomile geode says:

        i was under the impression that good looks & intelligence were correlated, and that intelligence and interestingness were correlated.

        • Anonymous says:

          From what I recall, it’s less that good looks and intelligence are correlated and more that bad looks and lack of intelligence are.

    • John Schilling says:

      Regarding the “RPG Fallacy”, it is maybe worth noting that the first generation of role-playing games, most famously “Dungeons and Dragons”, did not work that way. Intelligence, roll three dice and add them. Strength, another three dice. Same for dexterity, wisdom, constitution, and charisma, or whatnot. One can with p=0.0156 wind up above average in everything. This was, from the outset, the Obviously Fair way to do it, because it gave everybody the same chance as everybody else.

      In about a decade, the industry shifted to the points-based model you describe except for legacy games like D&D, and even they eventually modified their systems. Because having 75 points[*} to divide among strength, intelligence, etc, is also Obviously Fair at the outset, and more fun in the long run.

      There are of course several competing theories of fairness, e.g. equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome. The real world may have stuck us with one of the least satisfying varieties, and we’re damn well going to do better than that with our own created worlds. Well, from the second generation on at least, because our intuition led us astray when we started. And that may not be a coincidence, what with intuition having evolved in the real world and careful thought being required as to how to make an imaginary world more fair than reality.

      [*] In RPGs as in Lake Wobegon, everybody is above average.

      • Agronomous says:

        In RPGs as in Lake Wobegon….

        Lake Wobegon, the RPG:

        “My frog-faced storyteller swings his microphone at your albino sound-effects guy!”

        “The NPC Lutheran cleric heals him, and my Norwegian housewife casts lutefisk at your storyteller!”

        “Wait, is that an area-of-effect attack?”

      • Anthony says:

        I remember the rule variant that you got to roll 4d6 and discard the lowest one. Because obviously a character that wasn’t somewhat above average wasn’t going to last long adventuring.

    • Shenpen says:

      Interesting. I too used to wonder about how well and how badly RPG stats tend to reflect reality. I found that sometimes they do it too well. Imagine an STR 8, CON 18 character. That is IRL a marathon runner. But in fantasy it is immersion breaking, because you want a char to be a stereotype, so either a tough fella or not. Being tough in endurance and not so tough in strength does not fit that well.

      • Aegeus says:

        Eh, you know what you’re getting into when you build a character like that. If I build a character with 8 Str, I know he’s not going to be good at swinging a giant battleaxe, so I won’t equip one. So my concept of the character won’t be the hulking barbarian stereotype with an axe. Maybe I’ll use Dex instead of Str, so he’s an incredibly tough but agile character – a martial artist’s build, perhaps. Maybe I’ll make him a defensive build with a big shield, who just grits his teeth and takes hits on the chin.

        Point is, mechanics and fluff go hand in hand. I’ve never seen someone say “I want to build a big hulking barbarian, but I also want to use this set of stats that doesn’t allow me to swing a mighty battleaxe.”

  7. Likewise, if we can just apply the same common reasoning we use for normal everyday activities like basketball to the question of intelligence, we might find it’s not so complicated and scary after all.

    IMHO, here’s why the basketball example doesn’t give peace of mind to those cognitively self-conscious. Physical skills, such as running and jumping, are becoming less valuable/pertinent in the competitive-post 2008 economy that seems to increasingly reward intelligence and cleverness. Second, we tend to compare ourselves to people/groups that are similar to us, such as Aaron maybe feeling inadequate compared Terrance Tao, etc.

    • Unique Identifier says:

      Note that being best on the farm is no longer good enough to be acknowledged as a valuable musician, storyteller, etc.

  8. William O. B'Livion says:

    …and it isn’t tied up with our notions of self-worth.

    Wow. You really didn’t get out much as a teenager.

    But if that same kid wanted to go deeply into debt to attend a basketball training camp, and he’ll count it a failure if he achieves anything less than NBA superstardom, you should probably warn him that his hopes aren’t very realistic and that maybe he should lower his standards or pick a sport more suited to his body type or try another line of work entirely.

    And we have my brother. No, seriously.

    Unfortunately my father didn’t have the respect and patience for soccer/footie that he had for basketball, or my brother might have been able to letter in something other than keeping score.

  9. Blue says:

    You’ve mentioned before for some spectrums of advice, half the people need advice in one direction, and half the people need advice in the exact opposite direction. (See: Against All Bravery Debates.)

    Innate ability vs the power of trying harder, seems the perfect example of this.

    So some people are really going to draw comfort from affirmation this and yesterday’s post. Which you see in your comments. But predictably, for half the people it’s going to have the opposite effect.

    And of course, your individual effort versus what you’ve been given, is on a completely different axis from “What the environment can and should be doing to encourage success.”

    • Blakes7th says:

      I had this exact same impression. So on balance do we need to flood “Innate ability” to the culture and assume we’re hurting fewer people than we would be with “Try Harder”?

  10. FacelessCraven says:

    How much of the world that we have is directly attributable to the top 1% of ability? Directly attributable, that is. The geniuses provide insight, discover new things… and then the 6.93 billion of the rest of us actually adapt and implement those insights to build the world we live in. People in previous threads mention “digging ditches”, as though that’s the next step down from the rarefied pantheon of mathematical prowess. Allow me to offer a counter-example:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNX7u_8KL7g
    The man depicted here is not a genius. He’s probably reasonably intelligent, but nothing unusual. He contributes measurably to the lives of those around him. Why would anyone accept a value system where that isn’t enough?

    I’ve never built a bridge. I’m an artist, I make my paycheck drawing cartoons. It seems obvious that the principle holds all the way down the chain.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would contend that doing that multiplication on the fly (or remembering those numbers for 20 years) is a decent indicator that he has unusually above average intelligence. Just saying.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        [Edit] – You’re probably right. He’s also fictional, and the math is there to illustrate the point succinctly. If he couldn’t do the math in his head, the bridge wouldn’t necessarily be less safe or useful.

        Building bridges is largely a solved problem. So is writing HTML, drawing cartoons, milling paint (another thing I’ve done for a living) and so on. 99% of human effort is iterating largely-solved algorithms to fill needs. Thus it has ever been, and thus it shall be for the foreseeable future. There is an unbelievable depth of creativity, effort and reward within that space, more than enough for everyone on the planet.

        • Vulture says:

          Is drawing cartoons actually a solved problem? Given the profusion of styles in recent years, I would guess that we haven’t even reached a local maximum and are still decidedly in the process of evolutionary hill-climbing. Then again, I am not exactly deep embedded in the world of cartoons; maybe they have all converged.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Note the “largely”. You can spend your whole life doing it, and still find new things to learn, you can be a one-in-a-million genius at it and inspire an entire generation. But the fundamentals are describable and teachable, and a lot of the job day-to-day is simply taking basic principles and mixing them together to find something that fits perfectly for the unique task at hand. The most highly-recommended training materials are usually from the fifties or thereabouts, when the pioneers who actually did the groundbreaking work got around to writing what they’d discovered. The imagination and creativity doesn’t come from fundamentally new discoveries about artistic tools and techniques, but from an endless succession of unique individuals using those tools to express themselves as only they can.

            An awful lot of what I do can be described by an algorithm, using relatively simple, easy-to-learn techniques. If it couldn’t, how did I learn it? How could I hope to learn more?

          • Corwin says:

            An awful lot of what I do can be described by an algorithm, using relatively simple, easy-to-learn techniques. If it couldn’t, how did I learn it? How could I hope to learn more?

            Yeah, but that algorithm you learned, it calls primitives from the library of procedures that is included in humans, and to reimplement them is very very hard.

        • Anthony says:

          Building bridges is largely a solved problem.

          Aahahahahahahahaha!

          Ok – for some value of “solved problem”, you’re actually right. But what people get paid for, in all those endeavors, requires exercising a lot of problem-solving ability over the course of the job.

          Even digging ditches rewards people who think about it more than those who don’t. Watch a crew of laborers digging a ditch. The younger guys are putting a lot of work into it – almost as if they’re trying to impress women – but if there’s an older guy, watch him. He’s putting the absolute minimum amount of physical effort required to get each shovelful out of the ground, but he’s almost as productive (maybe more so) than the young guys, despite probably burning half the calories they are.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “They were elite architects, engineers, seismologists and academics — but few had any experience building or designing bridges. After a yearlong process, 19 of them gathered in an auditorium in Oakland to choose between two alternatives: a conventional span resembling more than 100 bridges worldwide, and a daring design that had never been tried on such a scale.”

            From the second paragraph of the article. No problem is sufficiently solved that you can’t unsolve it by binning the script.

            My point isn’t that intelligence is useless. My point is that the discoveries of geniuses are frequently turned into tools that the rest of us can use, and that using those tools is the decent employment of a lifetime.

          • Julie K says:

            Reminds me of the work of Frank Gilbreth as described in “Cheaper by the Dozen”- he would visit a factory, look for the “laziest” worker, who had figured out the most efficient way to do the task, and teach the other workers to imitate him.

        • Dan Simon says:

          I’d go even further: a frightening proportion of the most brilliant people of our age are engaged in the generation of “new discoveries” that are in fact completely useless to humankind. The world would be far, far better off if they were employed “iterating largely-solved problems to fill needs”, but a combination of vanity, laziness and opportunity has conspired to divert them into prestigious-but-irrelevant academic (in both senses of the word) pursuits.

          • AndR says:

            Eh, you can’t really tell if what they’re working on is going to be useless until they’re done… It’s the usual exploitation/exploration problem, isn’t it?

          • Quixote says:

            Absolutely agree. The recent financial crisis knocked a few percentage points off global GDP growth for almost 7 years running at this point. That’s an absolutely huge amount of value. Look at the growth on growth compounded over time and it’s even more.

            Industry does applied science work, but most pure science is gov funded and that funding has been cut by >10%. So to a first approximation scientific progress is slowed by 10% for at least three years (maybe more).

            Humanity as a whole and even science in particular would probably have been much better served if 10 of the top 20 high energy physicists had gone into fianance, focused on risk managment and worked at the Fed / ECB / Bank of England etc.

            Though to be fair this counter factual is very optimistic. If these folks had actualy gone into finance they probably would have gone into printing money at hedge funds, not doing risk management.

          • Anonymous says:

            Do you have any examples of such research?

        • nydwracu says:

          Craft is valuable and rewarding! This is a thing that is obviously true that I feel the need to remind people of more than I should!

          Also, in the artistic realm, there are more long tails of aesthetic preference out there than anyone here realizes, and any one of them can make you actually valuable to the people on them. If you don’t believe me, go look up Jandek or Burzum or Hanatarash or the Shaggs or the Ramones or Ringo goddamn Starr who wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.

          (The Beatles were not very good! This is another thing that is obviously true that I feel the need to remind people of more than I should!)

          • “Craft is rewarding” is a thing that I come up against all the time as a fiction writer. I am never going to write any genuinely new or groundbreaking fiction. All the ground has been broken, and Joyce and other experimentalists took fiction to the limits of what it could do, and then didn’t stop because they thought they knew better. Even within my chosen genre, I am unlikely to ever write anything as important and interesting The Left Hand of Darkness or Spin or even goddam Harry Potter. But who cares? I’m not out to invent new paradigms, I’m out to practice a craft.

          • Alsadius says:

            >(The Beatles were not very good! This is another thing that is obviously true that I feel the need to remind people of more than I should!)

            Citation oh so very needed.

          • Anthony says:

            The Beatles may or may not have been very good, but they destroyed rock’n’roll.

            The early Beatles weren’t the best musicians or performers even within rock and roll, but they were very good songwriters.

          • Alsadius says:

            They changed it significantly, yes, but I think it was for the better – the classic rock era they were major factors in bringing about is to this day the go-to genre of music for something that is broadly acceptable without being boring. Not to mention selling approximately eleven trillion albums, so they must have done something right.

          • wysinwyg says:

            The sheer number of number one hits the Beatles had should be some indicator that they were good at something. (They should have had more — there were a few times they had both the number one and number two hits at the same time.)

            And while Ringo wasn’t terribly technically proficient, he definitely had a great ear for aesthetically pleasing beats and fills.

            Technicality is a poor predictor for quality of music anyway; compare the careers of the technically adept Jeff Beck vs. Neil Young, who played guitar like an arthritic monkey even before he developed arthritis.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          Hard for a computer, sure. For another human, it’s pretty easy stuff to learn.

      • Alexp says:

        I haven’t seen the movie, but it seems like those were numbers he’d memorized and stewed over for a while.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          It’s a really good movie, by the way. I definately recommend it. Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons, and Spock from the star trek reboot.

    • ryan says:

      We also tend to ignore the rarefied geniuses who cause major problems that the other 6.93 billion people have to fix.

  11. switchnode says:

    After all, the other analogy between intelligence and basketball talent is that they’re both skills we need to cultivate at the highest levels if we want to save the world when it is threatened by dangerous future technology we can barely comprehend.

    And I so hoped that link was going to go here

  12. Anonymous says:

    Some people probably could benefit from “WELL IF SUCCESS COMES FROM INNATE TALENT, I GUESS I’LL JUST NEVER STUDY AGAIN.” Some people genuinely aren’t going to cut it and really have no business in an academic setting, and are losing potentially life-ruining amounts of money and time by continuing. I think it’s important to emphasize that if you’re enjoying studying or practicing something there’s nothing wrong with continuing, as long as it isn’t costing you too much – but if it leaves you miserable or indifferent and you’re only interested in it if you get the rewards that come with success, you really need to take a cold-blooded look at your capabilities and cut your losses if you don’t stack up. People are given the notion that all men are created equal and with enough blood sweat and tears anyone can do (almost) anything, and I really think it can mislead people into walking paths that are for them dead ends, at very high cost. I think this should probably be emphasized over ‘can do attitude’ at this point.

    • Caleb says:

      It’s probably safe to say that there are at least some victims of the “winners are losers who didn’t quit” mentality – those who doggedly and blindly dump time and resources into obviously unprofitable endeavors with almost zero hope of payoff. But purveyors of the above mentality always have a counter-example ready; of someone who really should have called it quits, who pushed through all the doubts and pain, who sacrificed everything…and PREVAILED!

      I’m wondering at the validity of that narrative as applied to speculative endeavors which require significant upfront costs and uncertain payoffs. The rule seems to be to apply it in every situation, no matter the circumstance. (Sure, take out a loan to cover that expensive basketball camp, even though you’re 5’4″. Winners never quit!) Prudence is universally derided. And there are some situations where a certain level of failure tolerance is expected. (The universal entrepreneur line is: “yeah, I had N businesses fail before I had one that succeeded…) Is this selection bias? Is it lottery tickets across the board? Or is it a viable strategy which requires toughness and perseverance, and not a little bit of luck?

      • theLaplaceDemon says:

        I think in a situation when actually dealing with these people, it might be useful to point out that people with one deficiency generally make up for it by being exceptional in several other important categories. Isaiah Thomas (5’9″, and considered to be a very good backup point guard) is an above-average shooter (for an NBA player, presumably far above average for your standard 5’9″ dude), probably has above-average athleticism and above-average dribbling abilities.

        My guess is that for most things, those “exception” cases are people who had multiple other qualities that got them to success.

      • Alsadius says:

        > the “winners are losers who didn’t quit” mentality

        Being in a sales job, I get this shoved down my throat as explicit company policy. I roll my eyes, of course – it helps, yes, but do they think that’s the only factor? – but nonetheless, it’s plastered all over the office. And I suspect that’s the case because it makes a real difference on the aggregate level – it can be hard to tell who’s actually good and bad, but you can tell who doesn’t work, and they tend to fail.

        (Not strictly related, of course, but interesting IMO)

      • Cadie says:

        I imagine that the people who failed at an endeavor and then decided to do something else with their time and money aren’t the ones talking about their successes at it. It’s the few that combined perseverance with a lot of luck that do. Nobody is going to do a seminar on, say, starting a business that goes “My business failed and I was in debt as a result, so I got a job at the phone company and now my debts are paid and I’m doing pretty well.”

        So yes, selection bias is a big factor.

    • Shenpen says:

      The shitty part is really the employment-based system of making a living. We have certain amount of vacancies requiring certain skills in the job market, and we have certain amounts of people with a certain distribution of talent for those skills. It is not even a coordination problem of matching vacancies with talents through education, it is the mere fact that nobody every promises us that the vacancies and talents are supposed to match. If for example verbal and mathemathical talent vs. job vacancies in relevant fields mismatch, then either Mr. Verbal will have to force himself to study math because that is where the jobs are and do a half-assed and hated job, or he may follow his calling and be unemployed while the employeers are desperately looking for people who can fill those math jobs.

      This is not a coordination problem, not Moloch, because that assumes that a match could be made, but the point is that there could not be.

      Really I don’t see any other solution that somehow magically making capitalism less customer oriented. Kinda like customers may want to buy more shoes and less sandwiches, but we have more people whose talent is in making sandwiches so we are just going to make sandwiches and customers should better buy them. This is of course silly and I have no idea how this could be made to work. A country could export those sandwiches, but that would only work if jobs and talents would at least match globally (so, global coordination problem) but they don’t and why should they?

      The communist solution – I lived it, briefly – was to let anyone who likes to make sandwiches get a fake ass make believe job, where people slack off and occasionally make a sandwich. We called it “unemployment inside the gates”. The result for customers is the shortage of shoes and, interestingly, shitty sandwiches, because it turned out nobody really liked the job of supplying good raw materials for sandwiches (obviously, oversimplifying).

      Figure it out and get an econ Nobel.

  13. Folder Tunne says:

    I don’t see it discussed much on HBD blogs, but I think this also corresponds to the “overachiever vs underachiever” difference. I went to one of the most overachiever colleges in the USA, so I saw this firsthand.

    • Mine (Wesleyan in CT) had a reputation for having many brilliant underachievers who had low high school grades but high SAT scores.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s interesting. I applied to Welesley but ended up going elsewhere. I do, however, very much fit the description of “brilliant underachiever with low grades and high IQ scores”. Apropos: I was not accepted to Welesley because I never finished submitting my application.

      • Shenpen says:

        Euro here and curious. Can anyone share 1-2 examples of the toughest questions on SAT?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Official SAT Practice Test 2013-14

          Official SAT Practice Test 2014-15

          Question difficulty traditionally increases with each question, so look at the last question of each section to get a feel for what the hardest SAT questions look like.

          • Shenpen says:

            Thank you!

            I like that the essay is about creative original thinking, and not analyzing Shakespeare. The math questions seem to focus more on intelligence than memorized algorythms. The English seems to measure expressive ability.

            All in all, it looks very good!

            Compare it to my maturity exam at 18 in Budapest. Math: plug in variables to algorithms. Recite memorized definitions like NewtonLeibniz thesis. Literature: who were the biggest avantgarde poets and what were their major works. History: shit like dates of battles. English, Latin: grilling me on obscure grammar rules.

            On the whole the SAT seems to measure better whether you have what it takes to be a creative, all-around intellectual.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Well, yes. The SAT is not a knowledge test; it’s an IQ test with the serial numbers filed off.

  14. Sam Hopkins says:

    On the other hand, if you surveyed the top scientists in the year 1900, you would find that they were all white men, with whiteness and maleness being immutable traits determined at birth.

    • Alsadius says:

      Only by modern definitions of “white”. Several discriminated-against-in-1900 minority groups were well-represented in the sciences(Jews, most obviously).

      Also, Marie Curie won her Nobels in 1903 and 1911, so that seems like one obvious non-male example active at the time.

  15. theLaplaceDemon says:

    That…actually makes me feel really good about my prospects in (field that requires intelligence).

    Some of my favorite basketball players – players who are considered some of the best in the game – are in the 6’0 to 6’4 range. That’s taller than the average dude, sure, but not the same kind of rare height that 7’0 is. But combine that height with a handful of other traits/skills and hard work, and things are going pretty swell for them.

    fwiw, I have no idea what my IQ is, but my guess would be certainly higher than average, but definitely not anywhere remotely near Terence Tao territory.

  16. Wrong Species says:

    If China was able to “create” Yao Ming, then maybe we should try to bring back eugenics. Doesn’t have to be anything too extreme, maybe the government could pay high IQ men to give sperm and high IQ women their eggs. Or more controversially, pay low IQ people to get sterilized. Assuming that we are picking the right people, is there a downside other than people feeling it’s icky?

    • Anonymous says:

      A person specifically bred for one trait would likely suffer from inbreeding-related problems; see the many breeds of dog that have health problems from aggressive breeding. Reduced genetic diversity also lowers disease resistance. As of now, we probably don’t have the ability to determine better mating choices for people than native instinct.

      • haishan says:

        I don’t know how much of it is inbreeding-related vs just being a gigantic man, but Yao famously suffered a series of foot injuries that ended his career at age 30. Breeding for one trait is the paperclip-maximizer of genetics.

        That said, I’m not sure that “pay low-IQ people to get sterilized” necessarily has this problem, unless there are really bad things that are comorbid with high IQ. Encouraging assortative mating among high-IQ people beyond what already happens might backfire, however. Also, incentivizing sterilization has been known to create, um, other problems.

        • Vulture says:

          Breeding for one trait is the paperclip-maximizer of genetics.

          A minor quibble, but in the space of personified optimizers I would call breeding-for-one-trait more of a little baby Moloch, complete with baby horns and an adorable little gaping maw into which all basketball players (or basketball-player-breeding-regimes) must eventually toss their healthy feet.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think dog breeds had problems before the 1950 century. Society seems to have lost the ability to breed dogs, or at least the ability to do quality control (while maintaining a better grasp on livestock breeding).

        • Alsadius says:

          It’s because they’re optimizing for single narrow traits, not useful animals. Pre-WW2, most animal breeds needed to be useful somehow. The rise of pets as pure companionship animals have left them with very little need to actually maintain functionality. https://dogbehaviorscience.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/100-years-of-breed-improvement/ is a great set of comparisons re: the end result of this.

          • same says:

            That seems to me like a non-answer. Being a pet is still a job, requiring breeding for good behavior. Also, I think that the transition from working dogs to pet dogs occurred before the breeds fell apart. In particular, the bulldog became non-sporting in 1835, with the banning of bull-baiting.

            I suppose that a sickly dog still makes a perfectly good pet, while it makes a lousy hunter.

            The first example from your link is the bull terrier; the old version described as “handsome.” Why wouldn’t you want your pets to be handsome? Modern bull terriers are not bred to be pets, but for freak shows. Though the others, while sickly, do not look much worse than the old form.

            Why is there a market for dogs optimized for single traits? Is there such a market, or is there a market for credentialed breeds, without much interest in physical or behavioral traits, leaving the breeders to drive off a cliff?

            Don’t people still use German shepherds as guard dogs? So why were they ruined?

          • Alsadius says:

            Being a pet is a job, albeit one that has very few requirements. Being the star of a “freakshow” is not. There, you’re free to let the judge’s whims run wild, without regard for health or wellbeing.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        There are many very smart people from very varied genetic backgrounds. Breeding for intelligence may have its problems, but inbreeding isn’t one of them¹.

        I would expect much autism spectrum in such a program. Silicon Valley already has an epidemic of sorts from all the nerds mating there.

        ¹ Unless you do it stupidly, which would be ironic…

      • Emile says:

        Those are pretty easy problems to avoid (and mostly occur if you’re well into an intensive breeding program with a small population), I don’t see any point in worrying about them now.

      • Nathan Cook says:

        Dog breeds get started from very small founder populations which are themselves already likely significantly inbred. The number of available humans of IQ 100 + 3SD or more is huge in comparison and would itself benefit from heterosis simply by pooling people from historically non-interacting populations.

        Or if you’re still worried, combine that pooling with a quickie test for a hundred genetic markers, matching gametes specifically for heterosis. Who could be against that?

        • Unique Identifier says:

          If heterosis was the only significant issue and easily counteracted by penalty-free outbreeding, everything would be easy.

          The proposed eugenics programme would for instance require us to understand what really happens in cases of soft-hybridism (Caucasian – Asian, for instance). At least, you would need a way to rule out significant negatives, which isn’t ‘but heterosis!’.

          In breeding, effects don’t necessarily show in the first generation, for a variety of reasons. See Darwin:

          “The offspring from the first cross between two pure breeds is tolerably and sometimes (as I have found with pigeons) extremely uniform, and everything seems simple enough; but when these mongrels are crossed one with another for several generations, hardly two of them will be alike, and then the extreme difficulty, or rather utter hopelessness, of the task becomes apparent.”

      • “Reduced genetic diversity also lowers disease resistance.”

        That’s a problem if everyone is using the same sperm. It’s not a problem if the small fraction of people who use donated egg and/or sperm use eggs or sperm selected for one desirable characteristic and varying over everything else.

        And if that small fraction was producing IQ 150 kids, it would substantially change the distribution.

    • We have effective eugenics via people who went to elite colleges having children with each other. Harvard is a hedge fund and dating service that dabbles in academia for marketing purposes.

      • AR+ says:

        Are Harvard grads actually having kids at above-replacement rates, though?

      • zz says:

        >Harvard is a hedge fund

        I’m given to understand that Harvard gets most of its money through alumni donations* and that hedge funds pool financial capital and invests it.

        >Dating service

        In more ways than one. And I quote: “You tell girls you go to Harvard and they just want to suck your dick.”

        *Fermi calculation: 10k undergrads paying 30k / year = 300M in revenue / year. Harvard’s endowment increased 4B 2010–2011.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’m given to understand that Harvard gets most of its money through alumni donations* and that hedge funds pool financial capital and invests it.

          The Harvard endowment is actively invested, and receives suspiciously high returns. Most spectators suspect that insider trading is involved (to ensure kids get accepted, and so on).

          • Alexp says:

            That’s certainly a possibility. Most endowments’ explanation is that they get advantages from scale and a longer term view than most investors.

            I wouldn’t rule out insider trading, though I’m not sure it’d be more than the normal amount of contribution from insider trading that hedge funds in the northeast have.

      • Artemium says:

        Correct. It is called assortative mating an it may be considered as kind of spontaneous eugenics.

        I bet this article makes neoreactionaries wet 😉 :
        America’s new aristocracy

        • The effect of assortative mating on the IQ distribution was central to the early part of the much maligned _Bell Curve_, which presented it as a serious threat. It argued that a century ago, the difference between students at Harvard and students at a state university was mostly class and income, not intelligence. As the system became increasingly meritocratic, it generated better and better sorting by ability, hence more and more assortative mating.

      • Emile says:

        I wouldn’t call that “effective” eugenics; it probably increases the pool of very-high-IQ people by assoartative mating, but wouldn’t have any effect on the average or median IQ.

        It would be much more effective to encourage smart people to have more children, regardless of their spouse.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Much more effective would be a for profit Harvard sperm bank.

          Smart people aren’t going to have more children so long as they have less time to do so (because education takes time) and their opportunity cost of having children is higher. Public daycare would help, but that would raise everyone’s fertility (which wouldn’t be a bad thing in developed countries!). But that’s not eugenic.

    • Alsadius says:

      The most obvious downside is the slippery slope. It’s one thing to pay them, but once the government has established a policy of “You, this identifiable group, should stop existing kthxbai”, how long will it be before voluntary measures are deemed insufficient?

      Not to mention that this policy requires a government founded on the idea that all men are created equal to start saying that some people are better than others, and putting its power behind that definition…

      • Anonymous says:

        (Same anon as above.)

        Another dangerous idea endorsed by this line of thought is the idea of man being created for society, rather than vice versa. Doubtless, any governmental body capable of and willing to breed intelligence into people will also be capable of and willing to breed docility into them. It seems to me that if anything should be bred into people, it should be happiness.

      • Svejk says:

        I agree. An official eugenics program to improve a trait that by definition exists on a bell curve coupled with intense disparagement of the left end of the distribution seems destined to reduce human happiness and increase anxiety at all points on the curve. Are there really a lot of people clamoring for a way to introduce obsolescence cycles into the human species? What is being maximized here, and to what end?

        • Emile says:

          As far as I can tell, “intense disparagement of the left end of the distribution” already exists, and no-one is suggesting we should increase it.

          I think some kind of eugenics program *might* be a good idea, though straight-up optimization of IQ, probably not (it’d be better than nothing tho).

          • Svejk says:

            It troubles me that some of the most intense disparagement of the left end seems to occur among habitues of the fora where soft eugenics programmes are touted, relative to the population at large. It would be difficult to implement any sort of overt eugenics program without increasing the level of dismissal and disrespect shown to the ‘selected against’. How would you encourage people not to reproduce (!) without suggesting to them that they, and the summed contributions of their ancestors, are somehow unworthy? Children are a great source of comfort and satisfaction for most people, in particular for those who are undervalued by elites.

            I am not reassured by the idea of ‘voluntary’ participation, either. Even in places where people enjoy immense theoretical freedom, informal social norms/coercion are strong. We have very powerful systems for punishing defectors without even invoking the rule of law. Within our formal societal organizations, we regularly observe seemingly perverse outcomes like voluntary false confessions.

            We have a very incomplete understanding of human happiness, and I think it would be difficult to devise a system optimized for valuing and improving the happiness of actual extant humans rather than paperclip-maximizing ‘intelligence’ or ‘productivity’.

          • Emile says:

            Svejk: I agree with a lot of that, and it might not be possible to devise a state eugenics program that avoids the problems you mention.

            Still, if one *was* to devise such a system, I don’t think intelligence or productivity should be the main focus – intelligence is important, but so are happiness, health and conscientiousness, and those are pretty heritable too.

            (I find it somewhat annoying that on any discussion of Eugenics there is often an assumption that IQ is the targeted trait)

      • Wrong Species says:

        I recognize the slippery slope but I think the voluntary aspect of it makes a good schelling fence. Right now, there are heavy taxes on alcohol but I don’t worry that the government is going to ban it anytime soon.

        • Alsadius says:

          But if they hadn’t already tried banning it and failed miserably, I would worry about exactly that. Look at what’s happened to tobacco over the last few decades – in 1980, would anyone have predicted the current legal status of smoking?

          • Wrong Species says:

            True, but we don’t know this inevitable. There are some exceptions to free speech but it hasn’t led to the abandonment of free speech. That’s the problem with slippery slope arguments. One side thinks the bad thing happening is inevitable and the other side scoffs at it but you can’t prove either view in an argument. So how do you argue slippery slopes?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Also, we could say the same thing about eugenics. They did something that everyone thought was horrible and now a nicer version could pass. But we are sufficiently worried about the horrible thing happening so it’s less likely to lead to that.

        • agree. Eugenics can be justified from a pragmatist perspective to possibly reduce crime and entitlement spending, and if framed in this manner I don’t see why politicians couldn’t eventually grow to endorse it, but the problem is emotions, the invocations of Nazism, and name calling seems to preclude the possibility productive debate, as I write in an article here http://bit.ly/169nrOs . The idea is we have a finite amount of resources (public goods); we should allocate them, all else being equal, to those who have the potential to contribute more to society. A negative eugenics problem would be more effective for reducing crime and entitlement spending, given that positive eugenics seems to already be occurring through assortative mating.

          • Emile says:

            positive eugenics seems to already be occurring through assortative mating.

            I wouldn’t count assortative mating as positive eugenics – it doesn’t increase the quantity of desirable genes, it just makes them concentrated in fewer people.

          • Svejk says:

            Are we really experiencing resource scarcity sufficient to justify interfering in what many consider to be a natural right – reproduction? Could we not alleviate our foreseen problems by trying to hasten the 2nd demographic transition in those regions where it is not already underway and continuing our efforts to improve technology and behaviour to better shepherd our resources?

            Recent anthropological research suggests that the trend of the longue duree has been toward reduced violence all over the world, and the micro-trend in the 1st world has also been toward less crime and greater pro-sociality. Greater rates of incarceration have been proposed to explain at best 25-30% of the decline in the US (and is not a plausible explanation for some large US states), and has very small estimated effect sizes for much of the rest of the 1st world. Evidence from the interventions we have already undertaken suggests that women all over the world respond to education and improved infant survival by having fewer children and devoting more resources to them – women really gravitate toward the k-selected route when given the chance, and it can occur rapidly, as in Mexico. There is some very interesting behavioural science research suggesting that we still have a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick in crime deterrence.

            I recognize that many people are reacting to the observed within-population differential fertility by income and education. If this is considered problematic, research suggests that allowing women to have their own stated ‘ideal’ number of children would almost eliminate this differential. The NBER paper that highlighted the fertility flip mentioned that it was likely driven by the preferences of the higher income/most educated. If this is the case, better implementation of our standard interventions to help people achieve their preferred family formation, possibly coupled with some concessions to life-history in the standard education and career trajectories of ambitious women (e.g. less rigid educational schedules that allow for faster completion of terminal degrees and earlier fertility) could help all sectors of the population contribute to the future. We have made significant strides in reducing teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion, and small populations like Iceland have done some interesting natural experiments in jumpstarting educated women’s fertility schedules, so there is some reason for optimism.

            I admit I am strongly biased by my temperament against many forms of social engineering and toward following Calvin Coolidge’s advice, “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you”. Have we really correctly identified that 10th trouble, and the best approach to stopping it in its tracks? Can we expect to rely on more ordinary means of innovation to address our social issues?

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            You can’t separate pragmatism from what you are pragmatically trying to achieve. For many people, the right to raise a family is terminal…its in the universal declaration of human rights , after all…so there is nothing eugenics could achieve that could justify abandoning it.

            ” we should allocate them, all else being equal, to those who have the potential to contribute more to society”

            Why? Because they deserve it more? Because they need it more? Because they will produce returns on it?

    • Deiseach says:

      (1) Who is going to carry the pregnancy of Baby Genius to term? One of the reasons given why in the modern era the rich (who can certainly afford to support all the offspring they might produce) have fewer children is that it gets expensive to have children who consume greater resources, and also the better-off and better-educated prefer to put time, energy and money into things they find fun or profitable, rather than having children.

      You’re probably hinting at surrogacy, which will mean paying (or even coercing) ‘lower’ IQ women to be pregnant for a living. This will be an interesting fight.

      (2) Who is going to raise Baby Genius? Again, if Anonymous Sperm Donor and Anonymous Egg Donor want nothing to do with the messy business of having and raising a baby, you’re going to have to place them with foster carers. Unfortunately, once again, these are likely to be less intelligent (by the measure of breeding geniuses) people, and since environment is going to be very important when raising our Baby Genius (how will they be properly stimulated and guided to interesting topics appropriate to their level?), we may be looking at some kind of State hatchery “Enrichment Centre” where the babies are raised and educated in the proper modern way.

      (3) You were bred to be a Genius, you damn well better start contributing! Or, you’re fifteen and you still haven’t cured cancer/invented limitless free energy/created a benevolent AI? Slacker! The pressure on the government to justify such a programme means pressure on the products to prove that they are too by cracky Baby Geniuses. You like art, music, dance? You’ll really love a career in the humanities? Yeah, nice hobbies, but now it’s back to the lab for you!

      Hmm – can anyone possibly see anything that might upset, hurt or damage our Baby Geniuses in such an environment?

      • Jade says:

        I’m fairly certain that what they thought of when talking about sperm donations is that you would give the sperm to women who wanted it for their own fertility treatments.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Yeah, that’s what I meant. My wording was a little vague. But considering how uncommon that would be, maybe a better solution would be to simply pay high IQ couples to have more kids.

          • Deiseach says:

            you would give the sperm to women who wanted it for their own fertility treatments

            Ahem.

            maybe the government could pay high IQ men to give sperm and high IQ women their eggs.

            I believe there was some such case as you propose a fair few years back; a single mother who went to a sperm bank especially looking for a high IQ donor so she could have Baby Genius – how that ended, I have no idea (and of course, can I remember the woman’s name from thirty years ago?)

            Oooh, and Google is your friend: haven’t found the lady’s name yet, but there has been one attempt already at setting up high IQ sperm bank!

            Google is indeed your friend: the Genius Baby I was trying to think of is Doron Blake.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I actually meant something more like sperm donations to smart woman but I can see how my language was misleading. Regarding point 3, that doesn’t really seem like a big concern. We can simply treat smart people like we treat them now and if they want to waster their life doing something else, that’s their decision.

        “Hmm – can anyone possibly see anything that might upset, hurt or damage our Baby Geniuses in such an environment?”

        Can we please try to keep SlatestarCodex civil? This kind of sarcasm is not very conducive to good discussions.

        • Deiseach says:

          Considering the existence of “stage parents” and parents who push their children to excel in sports, all of whom attempt to live vicariously through the achievements of their children, and considering this is the result of random genetic lottery producing a child who may have a talent for music, sports or the like –

          – do you really consider there would never be a danger of children expressly conceived to be high achievers being put under pressure and monitored constantly to make sure they were fulfilling their potential? That there would not be academically ambitious parents, as much as the stage parents, beauty pagent parents, sports parents, who want little Susie or Johnny to be a Nobel Winner and God help the child if it ever comes home with less than an A on any test, or shows any interest in a subject not the desired one?

          • “do you really consider there would never be a danger of children expressly conceived to be high achievers being put under pressure and monitored constantly to make sure they were fulfilling their potential?”

            As you point out, that sometimes happens with children conceived in the usual way. It should be a less serious, not more serious, problem for children with genes that make being a high achiever more practical.

          • haishan says:

            It should be a less serious, not more serious, problem for children with genes that make being a high achiever more practical.

            I think that depends heavily on the underlying causal model. If what drives parents to become stage parents, sport parents, etc., is the child showing some degree of skill in those things, then we should expect to see more of that. And if the thing that causes problems is less the inability to live up to parents’ expectations, or even the inability to live up to more-reasonable versions of parents’ expectations, but the weight of the expectations themselves…

          • Anthony says:

            Is being a stage parent a heritable behavior?

          • Andrew says:

            There are *already* academically-ambitious parents who push their kids into academic fields (often into some specific field)… I can think of several examples just from within my extended family. This is far more common than “stage parents.”

      • In contrast to your speculation, I can offer at least an anecdote, if not statistical data.

        I woman I knew was adopted. She was musically very talented, attempting to make a career as a professional lutenist. She got along well with her adoptive parents, who were a successful blue collar couple. I visited once, and the walls had lots of press cuttings and such about their daughter’s activities. Pretty clearly it was a “ducks that raised a swan” situation, and worked out well for both sides.

        It might be better if high IQ children were reared by high IQ parents, but loving and competent parents could still do a pretty good job.

    • Emile says:

      China is (arguably) better off with one Yao Ming and nine average people then with ten slightly-taller-than average people, because they need elite sportsmen more than ten times more than they need somewhat tall people.

      The same reasoning doesn’t seem to apply for IQ (I see arguments either way), so the same kind of program probably wouldn’t be a good idea. But in general, some form of eugenics might be a good idea, though I don’t think straight-up optimizing of IQ would be the best choice. There are other traits I’d like to see more of in the society my grandkids live in: kindness, health, low violence, conscientiousness, happiness…

      As for the downsides, I think the big one would be making people feel uncomfortable by publicly flagging them as “defective” in some sense. So a way of improving Mankind while avoiding that would be nice. Maybe only having incentives for the extremes would work. Maybe increased genotyping services and embryo selection services will be enough, without the need for the state to poke his nose in it.

    • An alternative approach which some would consider icky but I see no serious problems with is to make it easier for people who want to use donated eggs or sperm to select for intelligence, something along the lines of the widely derided Nobel Prize winner sperm bank. I’m not sure what the current legal restrictions are—would there be any barrier to a sperm bank providing the relevant information and pricing accordingly? My casual impression is that something along those lines already happens with the egg market.

      Of course, a better solution is the one Heinlein sketched in _Beyond This Horizon_, a technology that lets parents select, from among the children they could have, which ones they do have. That way you can simultaneously satisfy the parental desire to have their own children and their desire to have children with various desirable characteristics.

      • grendelkhan says:

        Of course, a better solution is the one Heinlein sketched in _Beyond This Horizon_, a technology that lets parents select, from among the children they could have, which ones they do have.

        Nick Bostrom sketched out some math on the topic; it does eugenics while neatly sidestepping most of the problems people have with the idea.

    • ryan says:

      Consider school breakfast/lunch programs and food stamps as payments to low IQ people to have children.

      Not much fun to consider things that way I’d imagine.

      • Anonymous says:

        It only works if you consider children as things that people have, rather than people themselves.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t see how those propositions are mutually exclusive, nor how that invalidates the point that social welfare incentivizes irresponsible behavior to some degree.

          • wysinwyg says:

            1. School breakfast/lunch programs are an incentive for having kids? How? I can think of literally no way for self-interested yet irresponsible parents to make a profit off these programs by having lots of children.
            2. Assuming that we don’t hold the children culpable for the irresponsibilities of the parents (which seems intuitive to me, but I never know what kind of crazy ethical intuitions I’m going to run into around here), the school breakfast/lunch programs are often providing the only guaranteed meal these (again, non-culpable) children will get.
            3. It’s just about impossible for an underfed child to pay attention to and engage with school work, though it’s nowhere near impossible for an underfed kid to disrupt the rest of the class. The school breakfast/lunch programs plausibly enhance educational outcomes at lower-income schools.

            This is a “proves too much” sort of argument, I think. Saying that the school breakfast/lunch programs “incentivize” poor folks to have children seems a lot to me like arguing a fire department “incentivizes” people to light fires. (In both cases, the “guilty parties” don’t actually make any gains so the notion of “incentive” is questionable; in both cases, the intent is damage control rather than providing incentives in the first place.)

            The question of whether food stamps incentivize irresponsible poor people to have children is a little more arguable though I seriously doubt you will ever find even a single child who was born because their parents wanted all those sweet extra food stamps that come with having another child. (From what I understand, some foster care families adopt kids and try to turn a small profit on the social welfare and tax benefits they receive. But that’s people being evil, not irresponsible.)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            This is a “proves too much” sort of argument, I think. Saying that the school breakfast/lunch programs “incentivize” poor folks to have children seems a lot to me like arguing a fire department “incentivizes” people to light fires. (In both cases, the “guilty parties” don’t actually make any gains so the notion of “incentive” is questionable; in both cases, the intent is damage control rather than providing incentives in the first place.)

            For most people, having children is its own reward, as is engaging in actives that may result in children. Children come with costs, too, however, like having to feed them. If you reduce those costs, you help the marginal non-parent who is just barely unwilling to have children because of the costs involved become a marginal parent, and you help other people become a little more willing to risk having children by accident. By contrast, most people do not value setting their houses on fire (pyromaniacs exist, but their numbers are a rounding error). See Jane Galt’s “A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other”.

          • Anonymous says:

            School breakfast/lunch programs incentivize having kids insofar as the expected suffering/harm of the children is a disincentive to have them (and to the degree that breakfast/lunch programs are expected to reduce the suffering/harm of children).

            Whether or not school breakfast/lunch programs are worth pursuing is a function of both the good and the bad they cause. Pretending they have no negative consequences only serves to weaken your ability to reason about the topic, and to alienate anyone isn’t as willing to delude themselves.

          • wysinwyg says:

            For most people, having children is its own reward, as is engaging in actives that may result in children. Children come with costs, too, however, like having to feed them. If you reduce those costs, you help the marginal non-parent who is just barely unwilling to have children because of the costs involved become a marginal parent, and you help other people become a little more willing to risk having children by accident.

            That’s a good argument. The problem with it is that I honestly don’t think the school breakfast/lunch programs are big considerations when people are deciding whether or not to have children. I’d happily concede the point if someone pointed me to some evidence that these programs have an effect on birthrate.

            I don’t really think the decision of whether or not to have a child is really a logical analysis of whether the benefits outweigh the costs as it’s presented by you and the much ruder gentleman below you. So from an economic modeling point of view, I suppose that the school breakfast/lunch programs are definitionally incentives for poor folks having children. Out of the spreadsheet and back into the real world, however, I think these programs probably have little to no effect on birthrate.

            Whether or not school breakfast/lunch programs are worth pursuing is a function of both the good and the bad they cause. Pretending they have no negative consequences only serves to weaken your ability to reason about the topic, and to alienate anyone isn’t as willing to delude themselves.

            See above on how to have this same conversation without being a dick. Note that the assertion that I’m “deluding” myself is an assumption on your part.

            I agree with you that whether or not to pursue or continue such policies should be subject to cost/benefit analysis (and nowhere did I say otherwise). What I am arguing is that this “incentive for having children” does not really function as such in the real world, i.e. the school breakfast/lunch programs probably do not have any measurable effect on birthrate. Give me evidence or an argument otherwise before concluding I’m “deluded” please.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Fire departments do help the marginal non-user of flammable materials become a marginal user of them, do they not?

          • Emile says:

            The problem with it is that I honestly don’t think the school breakfast/lunch programs are big considerations when people are deciding whether or not to have children.

            Maybe not, they may look at other people they know who have kids and see how much they struggle financially, etc. Or if they already have kids, they can have an idea of how much effort and money it would take with one more.

    • Shenpen says:

      Slippery slope. Which is not a fallacy as long as a mechanism for the slipping can be demonstrated.

      The mechanism is politics. If a politician proposes heavy taxing of unhealthy food, and people do not reduce their consumption of unhealthy food, this makes them look like weak leaders so they get tough and ban it outright.

      Your proposed political plan obviously needs to have objectives, deliverables, like X amount of average IQ gain in Y years. If it fails to deliver, there is an easy prestige gain (or avoid the loss) for a politician to get tough and banning some people from reproducing outright. Most likely everybody will be given or denied a kid licence which opens it up for corruption etc.

  17. The first person to post a SSC themed Slam Jam mashup wins.

  18. suntzuanime says:

    I wish I was little bit taller. I wish I was a baller.

  19. Dinaroozie says:

    Thinking about whether or not height is tied up with self-worth like intelligence is makes me wonder if there’s an element of identity tied up in this. Since this blog seems to select for high IQ, my above-average-in-the-general-population IQ of *mumble* probably isn’t above average here, let alone unusual. Assuming that Slate Star Codex’ readership isn’t particularly tall, though, my height of 6’6″ might be a bit unusual.

    Not that that’s absurdly huge or anything – I come across people who are taller than me fairly often – but in general I’m the tallest person in the room unless it’s a room with lots of people in it. And it’s embarrassing to admit something so silly, but… it is kind of weird and offputting to be around taller people. I’m really not someone who has any reason to care about being tall – it’s annoying more than anything (especially while flying long distances or buying shoes), and I don’t play basketball or any other sports for which being tall is an advantage. But, when enough people think of you as the tall guy, you feel on some level that you’ve lost a part of your identity when you’re standing next to someone taller. I remember once meeting a guy at a party who had the same (unusual) first name as me and was around 6’5″ and we joked about how I’ve destroyed his sense of identity just by existing. It’s fine – it’s really not a big deal or anything – but it’s interesting to observe the slight little irrational twinge that such things cause.

    Given that height is a very-clearly-silly way of judging self-worth, I probably get off pretty lightly in this regard. It’s not so easy to ignore IQ, though. It seems possible that if a population (like Slate Star Codex’ readership) is mostly above average, it contains lots of people who, growing up, formed their identity around being the smart guy/girl.

    I guess ultimately what I’m saying is, I wonder if ‘likelihood of having self-esteem issues because you don’t think you’re smart enough’ peaks at a substantially, but not massively, above-average level of intelligence.

    • Alsadius says:

      Re feeling weird when you meet someone taller: I’m only 6’3″, but it feels the same way to me. Looking up at someone on a level floor is trippy and mildly disconcerting. An inch or so doesn’t much matter(and most of the tall people I know are in that range), but I have a friend who’s 6’7″, and it’s weird.

      • Dinaroozie says:

        I suppose one thing here is that height is unarguable. Your friend is taller than me and I’d have to go to pretty dramatic lengths to convince myself that I’m taller than they are on any level. But if you intimated that your friend is better at maths than I am… even if that’s true, I might still be better at art (or whatever). Perhaps that’s why IQ seems to make people uncomfortable specifically, rather than just a general hand-wavey concept of intelligence.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Great post. There are lots of tales of small town geniuses withering as they became Harvard mediocrities and now the Internet can deflate our pretensions before we have even left home. (Also, 6’3″ and I know what you mean.)

    • Anonymous says:

      I think this is probably true, but then again, smart people are likely to hang out with other smart people and so their intelligence doesn’t seem as unusual to them. Being 6 ft 6, I imagine that not only do you not select for people around the same height as you, but you also don’t have a floor on height for the people you’re friends with.

      As someone with an IQ in the high 130s, I’ve always been roughly in the middle of the bell curve of intelligence amongst my friends, and I doubt I have any friends with an IQ below 120.

      • Dinaroozie says:

        Good point – I hadn’t considered that, but it’s certainly true that I don’t particularly gravitate towards other tall people (unless I need someone to commiserate with about finding shoes that fit or whatever).

    • Anonymous says:

      I think you are right that self-esteem issues peak at an above average level of intelligence. That is in no small part due to the fact that average to slightly less than average people don’t often realize where they fall on the bell curve. Is it 97% of the US population who rate themselves as having above average intelligence?

      Height and self-esteem is a different animal entirely. If you are a man under 5′ 7″ the world pretends you don’t exist. You have to be pretty exceptional to make yourself noticed. I am a perfectly average 5′ 10″, but I have nothing but sympathy for short men. The world ain’t fair.

      • Dinaroozie says:

        Huh. So if my hypothesis that being a bit above average, but not vastly so, is bad for self esteem, and most people consider themselves to be above average intelligence, and lots of people suffer from intelligence-related self-esteem issues… I guess that checks out?

        Fully agreed regarding your second paragraph, by the way. The rather raw deal that short men tend to get is the far more pertinent conversation regarding height and self-esteem than what I was talking about.

    • wysinwyg says:

      Your height also probably has a effect on how people treat you in subtle ways as well. Though apparently being tall isn’t as much of an advantage as being short is a disadvantage. Check out this abstract.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Everyone who trains for and competes in a sport learns to deal with the fact that ability is not equally distributed and you will never be the greatest. I don’t suppose that’s what is traditionally meant by “sports build character,” but it seems like an instance of sports-induced character-building regardless.

    • 5GhostFist says:

      I alsways suspected that’s exactly what they meant. I never played sports ever. I can’t imagine how humiliating it must be for a high school student to realize that he’s not the quarterback and never will be. I often wonder how my life would have turned out different if I had learned that lesson at an early age.

  21. BR says:

    Thoughts:
    – Basketball is also analogous to other pursuits in that there are a lot of weird factors governing success that we either never become aware of or that we become aware of only in retrospect. Michael Jordan wasn’t that tall for a basketball player but he had some of the largest hands of anyone playing at the time. LeBron has many obvious physical gifts, but what has arguably been most important to his success is that he is probably the most durable basketball player ever
    – Many people who care a lot about playing basketball go through all of the self-doubts and conflicts around innate vs. gained ability as are being described here for people concerned with IQ
    – If a basketball team were being assembled to play in a match for the history of humanity vs., say the Monstars, it would be understandable to wish that the pool of talent available to humanity were greater. But wishing that oneself were more talented so that one could play on the team seems superfluous. What matters is the overall level of talent available, not whether you yourself possess a particular level of talent
    – Nonetheless it’s completely human to wish that YOU COULD BE THE PERSON TO LEAD HUMANITY TO VICTORY AGAINST THE MONSTARS. That is totally normal and human
    – A team of 6f6i players would destroy a team of 7 footers, at least based on historical quality of play…

  22. Tom says:

    “But if a team made entirely of 6’6 players faced off against a team entirely of 7’0 players, and both of them were really motivated and practiced really hard and had great coaches, I know who I would bet on.”

    Irrelevant to the subject at hand: this is an interesting proposition by itself. Centers (the biggest players) generally lack ball-handling skills, outside shooting ability, and speed (Kevin Garnett georg is an outlier and should not be counted). Guards (the shortest players) lack, um, height, making inside scoring much more difficult. Intuitively I’d be inclined to take the five best guards over the five best centers in the NBA, because the guards would be able to run an effective offense, finding open shots, and also scoring easy baskets in transition, since they get back down the floor much more quickly. Then again, the best centers shoot nearly 50% from the floor, and that’s while being guarded by other centers. It’s possible they would simply need to get the ball down the floor without turning it over (the difficult part), and then they’d be unstoppable in the post. Also, rebounds are very important, particularly offensive rebounds, and the fact that the big guys would be getting many more second attempts might mean they could win merely by taking an outrageous number of easy shots.

    It might come down to stamina, though. Big guys don’t need to run as much as guards (they stand underneath the baskets much of the game) so this coupled with their weight means they get tired much easier. I suspect that by the end of a 60 minute game, their defense, shoddy from the beginning, would be nearly nonexistent. So maybe the centers take the lead early, but the guards end up winning simply because of their ability to keep running the whole game.

    The oddest bit about this situation is that I imagine one of the big men might just not play offense, to save energy and prevent the guards from beating them down the floor and making layups. The fifth big man’s presence on offense might end up being negligible, anyway.

    • llamathatducks says:

      This is completely off-topic (sorry!), but how do you (and anyone else reading this) pronounce “georg” in that meme? I want to know because reasons.

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        Assuming it’s pronounced in the German way, which is what I’m familiar with, it would be pronounced Gay (as in to be happy/homosexual) Org (the first syllable in organization).

    • Thad says:

      I was going to post a similar comment. I think the strategies each team would employ would be fascinating, even if watching the actual product might be pretty boring. I’d be concerned that all the 7 footers need is one guy who can shoot, and there have been such been players, and they can get a pretty vicious cycle going where they have one guy shooting threes and two or three guys rebounding. On the other hand, defense is a real question. I’m not sure who I would put my money on without seeing the actual rosters.

      • theLaplaceDemon says:

        This is really interesting and something I’d pay to see.

        How strict are we about our “center” criteria here? Can you include someone like Dirk Nowitzki because of his height, even if he’s more of a PF? If that’s the case, I think the big men win. If we’re stricter position-wise I might give it to the “little” guys.

  23. drethelin says:

    http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/howard-schatz-beverly-ornstein-athlete

    A very relevant set of photos of olympic level athletes displaying various body types with advantages in different sports. Olympians are often world famous, and no one faults Tara Lipinski for not having Michael Phelps’ body.

    • Loki says:

      It strikes me that this might be some of the problem with analogizing intelligence to athletic ability. As the picture shows, many different kinds of body with different strengths and weaknesses excel at different sports – the correct analogy to being good at basketball is being good at say, maths or biology, whereas intelligence is understood as being far more general than that.

      I think when people respond to discussions of intelligence by bringing up different kinds of intelligence and ability, some of it is this RPG fallacy but some of it is getting at a perfectly valid opinion that I share – that what is measured by IQ tests is far more narrow than what the English word ‘intelligence’ is generally understood to refer to.

      In my lifetime I’ve looked at a lot of the things, though I haven’t taken one since I was much younger, and I have seen that IQ tests ten or so years ago, versus IQ tests now are way more mathsy than I remember and I would predict that I would score significantly lower than I did because of that. It seems obvious to me that a person who is intelligent but terrible at maths is a thing that could and does exist, but it also seems to me that IQ tests as I have seen them would be incapable of picking that person up.

      • US says:

        IQ tests do pick up some of those people. I know, or at least have met, members of Mensa who are terrible at math – or at least claim to be. I think math is highly useful, and I’d like to think these people could relatively easily learn some math if they had a good teacher/textbook and put in some effort. But whether or not that’s true it’s certainly the case that some of the people scoring highly (compared to the population average, rather than the SSC average) on IQ tests are not great at math. The Mensa admissions test is certainly able to pick up some people who are like that.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        The moment somebody manages to find something measurable and testable which excuses splitting apart IQ into ‘intelligence A’ and ‘intelligence B’, I will be all ears.

        And it’s not for lack of trying. On the contrary, all the best efforts to undermine one-dimensionality of ‘g’, leaning on the common sense notions of ‘creativity’, ‘social intelligence’ and so on, seem to have fallen apart.

        [I would love to be proved wrong.]

        • wysinwyg says:

          Testable in what sense? I’ve known plenty of people who almost certainly have a lower IQ than I do who are nonetheless very sharp and/or clever and could run rings around me in conversation. Many of them are more financially successful than I could ever be.

          Thus, if we measure intelligence by IQ, I soundly beat all these people. But if we measure by some kind of social game (who wins a social intelligence-driven game like mafia or bullshit) OR by who makes the most money then I would lose handily.

          The person you’re responding to isn’t saying that IQ is too broad and needs to be split apart. They’re saying that IQ is too narrow and there are elements of what would be regarded in plain English language as “intelligence” that are nonetheless not captured by IQ tests.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            You are not only arguing from anecdote, but it is even based on your private estimates of people’s IQ scores? Really?

            I’m saying that people have devoted their careers to developing and refining metrics of intellectual capacity. Some of them have worked from the exact perspective suggested – IQ is too narrow, what about communication intelligence, creative intelligence, musical intelligence, so on and so forth. Some of them have worked from the opposite perspective – IQ is too wide and should really be split apart.

            The end result tends to be that the new metric is worse, as far as predictions go, than IQ tests, and insofar as they are useful they are just weaker IQ-tests by proxy.

            But there’s no need to trust me on this evaluation. Just know that these ideas are not novel. If you really believe there’s some merit to them, familiarize yourself with the research and make up your own mind.

            [I’m confusing up IQ and g here, because the distinction isn’t terribly relevant, at this level of description.]

          • wysinwyg says:

            You are not only arguing from anecdote, but it is even based on your private estimates of people’s IQ scores? Really?

            Yes, really. I’m not 100% sure I have a higher IQ than all the people I’m thinking of but I’m about 90% sure based on what I know about myself and based on what I know about them. Since you don’t really know anything about me, them, or what I know about them you’re not really in a position to critique my estimations of their abilities.

            The end result tends to be that the new metric is worse, as far as predictions go, than IQ tests, and insofar as they are useful they are just weaker IQ-tests by proxy.

            Many people seem to think the point of philosophy and science is to explain the universe from a sort of “God’s eye view”. I don’t believe it makes sense to speak of such a perspective, so I personally think the point of science and philosophy is to try to explain the only “view” I have available to me: my subjective experience.

            This is why I think reasoning from anecdote isn’t really the crime you make it out to be. See: http://carcinisation.com/2014/09/09/considerations-on-reasoning-by-anecdote/

            You say the results of such notions as the one I expressed are that they are poor for prediction. Within my personal experience, however, it is IQ scores that fail to predict financial success or success with regard to socially-oriented goals (both of which seem to me much more important than getting a high score on an IQ test).

            If you really believe there’s some merit to them, familiarize yourself with the research and make up your own mind.

            Again, I know there’s some merit to them because I know people who are successful or smart despite not being particularly high IQ (again, with a high degree of confidence). From what I understand, the research doesn’t really contradict this: IQ and, say, financial success are correlated but not 100% — there are definitely successful people with lower IQs out there.

            Then their success is either due to chance or some factor/s that isn’t/aren’t accounted for by g. I suggest the latter is the better explanation.

            At any rate, you guys take this IQ stuff a lot more seriously than I do (largely for reasons I’ve already explained or implied) so I’m not really motivated to go research all about why I’m “WRONG WRONG WRONG” about IQ and g, etc. If you want to point me in the general direction of some studies that you think are credible debunking the notion of “social intelligence”, say, I’m happy to be proven wrong. But I’m not willing to invest the energy and attention required to determine for myself what does and doesn’t constitute a credible study by the rules you’re playing with.

            Edit: I think part of the problem with IQ/g is the drunk under the streetlight effect. You can measure it so it must be important. I think there are probably aspects of mental ability that are not as easily measured but nonetheless important. Quantitative reasoning will be useless here since we don’t have a measurement, but anecdotal reasoning (which is actually a huge region in think-space that includes most of the reasoning we do from day to day and includes stuff like Baconian science and Venkatesh Rao’s narrative decision making) can still give results in such situations.

      • ryan says:

        One thing to note is that if you’re not a professional psychologist you have never literally seen a top of the line IQ test. The questions are strictly confidential to prevent people from being able to study them. You also don’t know how they are scored and how the scores are weighted. If someone who had seen the tests and knew how the scoring worked told you the secrets they’d lose their state license.

        Corollary: if an IQ test has made public the questions it asks or the way it is scored, it is either a very obsolete test or one that is not truly scientific in nature.

        • Peter says:

          I think I have – it was being administered by a professional psychologist… although there’s an amount of stuff I didn’t get to see, so it depends what you mean by “seen an IQ test”.

          Seeing whether the questions look mathsy or not, sure, lots of non-psychologists must have seen that.

          • ryan says:

            Yeah that sounds right. Another interesting quirk is that it takes a solid year for the impact of having taken an IQ test (and “seeing” it to the extent that is the right word to use) to not bias the outcome of a second test. I always found it fascinating that the unpreparedness of the test taker was essential to the test’s accuracy.

    • Shenpen says:

      Looking sexy is usually just a side-effect, but I wonder if synch swimmers are actively trying? They are really standing out, not sure why, but my eyes are immediately drawn to them.

  24. Nesh says:

    It’s seems like basically every useful believe will imply something negative. My guess is this is because humans want things that are contradictory based on the external world and don’t like this to be pointed out.

  25. Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

    errr…

    height is not amenable to any environmental modifications after a certain age.

    but adiposity and blood pressure and some other physical traits have h^2 as high as IQ (in some studies) yet are easily changed.

    by easily i mean the formula for changing them is easy. but carrying it out within a toxic environment may be nigh impossible…psychologically or socially impossible.

    in the case of adiposity or blood pressure just stop eating…

    your bp will drop to 100/60 in a few days. you’ll lose lots of fat if you keep at it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      First of all, although there are lots of different estimates, if we take the middle of SNPedia’s range as a nice neutral choice, blood pressure is about 39% heritable, BMI about 37% heritable, and height about 68% heritable. IQ is not on that list, but if we take the middle of Wikipedia’s range it’s 65%. So I don’t think it’s fair to say these are all about equally heritable. IQ is clearly up there with height rather than down there with the other two.

      Second of all, for something to be both highly heritable and possible to change would demand an explanation. The explanations I can think of are “desire to change the trait is itself heritable”, “the trait is possible to change but in practice nobody does”, and “everyone changes the trait the same amount, meaning that in the end only heritability contributes to the actual variance”.

      The higher the heritability of the trait, the more strongly it implies either that if methods of changing it exist, either nobody cares about them, nobody knows about them, or they’re really hard.

      That is, since there’s a lot of desire for people to keep their weight down, that genetics still explains 37% of weight suggests that many people who try to control their weight don’t succeed. But since 37% is low-ish it is compatible with that some people do succeed (though also compatible with the remaining variance being from other causes, as with height not being 100%). If genetics explained 80% of weight, that would imply that it’s really really hard to alter your genetically determined weight, since everyone wants to but nobody does.

      In the same way, if IQ is amenable to change, it demands an explanation of why the heredity is still so high. The methods of changing IQ would have to be either little-known or very difficult to pull off.

      Also, if you know such methods I think a lot of scientists would like to speak to you. Given how excited the scientific community got over the “brain training” fad before it was determined it didn’t help, if you know a working version of that it would be a pretty big discovery.

      (if the answer is ‘education’, that’s a whole different can of worms)

      • James Brooks says:

        Lets assume our ability to be a great mathematician is similar to becoming a great basketball player.

        You start with an almost random starting level and with practice you can increase. The rate of increase probably depends quite heavily on how much you enjoy practising, and whether you find effective strategies for practice. You will progress quickly when you are a beginner, later your incremental progress per hour of practice will decrease. The point at which this decrease becomes significant is again likely to be mostly genetically determined.

        What this means (assuming the above is true):

        1) You are statistically unlikely to be able to become an Olympic athlete even if you practice more than everyone else. Hence don’t base your life on the assumption that you will succeed in becoming one.
        2) You can get better with practice. Especially if you find ways to enjoy practising the sorts of things that make a you get better quickly. Hence if you want to get better at something then practice.
        3) There will be people who find it all really easy without practising. But unless they practice you are likely to be able to get better than them. Hence, don’t feel bad if people are naturally better than you and don’t assume they always will be.

        So I fall into the category or “I think I can become really good (but not world class) at anything if I find a way to make practising it enjoyable”. This means I get the win of keeping growth mindset and they win of not beating myself up when I don’t become Elon Musk.

        For certain things, it has taken a long time to find the enjoyment in practising. I believe that if I had held the view in “talents part 1” I would not have found it and hence lost out on the benefit of getting better in those tasks.

      • Anonymous says:

        you’re using the wrong estimate of h^2. you’re using the SNP estimate not the twins and other relatives estimate.

        the same estimate for the h^2 of IQ is less than that of adiposity or bp.

        and three studies i know of have found negligible heritability for the IQ of dichorionic twins.

  26. Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

    the “it’s like height” crowd are numerous and boring.

    everything points to psychological traits being like adiposity and bp, not like height.

  27. Alsadius says:

    I suspect a big chunk of this is that variation in intelligence has been used to justify a whole lot of ugly policies over the years – eugenics, most notably. “Nobody is dumber than anybody else!” is an overreaction to this, but an understandable one.

    • It’s also been used by the U.S. Supreme court as a reason not to execute low IQ people, by the U.S. federal government to mandate that local school districts devote extra resources to mentally retarded students, and by my high school to say that I won’t be graded on spelling because of my learning disability.

      • Alsadius says:

        Which is why “I believe that IQ is a real thing!” is not social poison to speak aloud. But fear of people overreacting may be a big reason for those people who do disparage that belief.

        • Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

          if IQ tests were what they claimed to be, namely a large battery of randomly chosen tests or a small battery of tests which were very predictive of all tests then IQ is…

          the best possible operationalization of the concept of intelligence as one thing.

          but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

  28. cassander says:

    I don’t mean this question as snarky, I am 100% sincere. How can you believe A, that intelligence is important, B, that it’s at least as heritable as height, C, that there are rather large observable differences in IQ between racial groups, and D, not have a fierce urge well up inside you to make war on the progressives who’ve spent the last 50+ years putting the assertion that those 3 beliefs are vile, abominable lies spread by the devil at the centerpiece of our civic religion?

    • Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

      the typical un-informed Mercastani.

      who need democracy when you can have Murdochracy?

      a study at the HKSG asked “to what extent is intergenerational income elasticity accounted fro by the heritability of IQ?”

      the answer, using SEM, was 6%!

      6 fucking percent!

      under the “progressive” Obama 93% of economic gains have gone to the 1%. median real wages haven’t increased for 40 years.

      wtf do you want?

      czarism?

      serfdom?

      • DrBeat says:

        we want you to go back to lassiez’s faire

        • Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

          who’s that?

          • DrBeat says:

            – “Ironic” use of african dictator’s name.

            – Lack of capitalization to show lack of caring.

            – Constant, uncontrollable sneering contempt.

            – Bemoaning Obama as insufficiently progressive.

            – Citation of emotionally-weighted but irrelevant images as if they were damning proof of something.

            – Sprinting past eight or nine steps in the argument to conclude your opponents want serfdom.

            – Pinning blame on “neo-liberal bullshit”

            If you actually aren’t aware of what Lassiez’s Faire is, it’s only because you were grown there in a lab and letting you know of your origin would contradict the fake memories implanted in you.

          • social justice warlock says:

            In many ways, a /pol/ of the left, though it is no more.

            LF was a subforum of Something Awful, a lightly-moderated offshoot of its debate subforum originally focused around political jokes (SHSC:YOSPOS::D&D:LF, on the offchance that that means anything to you.) Over the course of about a year it evolved into a venue for often very serious hard-left discussion, though the joke elements of the culture were heavily there, including in the dominant stylistic content, which eschewed the use of uppercase as pretentious (even in very long posts with citations and so on.) It was eventually banned for hostility to the rest of SA and spinned off into a number of diasporas of varying quality.

        • Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

          who’s “we”?

          there’s you and the voices. who else?

      • PGD says:

        Yes exactly. The fundamental thing about IQ is that it is about abstract reasoning and is only one narrow slice of the stuff our brain can do that makes us ‘smart’ or ‘successful’. Responsible studies of IQ (i.e. not ‘The Bell Curve’) that try to link it to adult success find correlations that are statistically significant but account for only a small fraction of adult outcomes.

        For one such study see Zax and Rees:

        http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/wlsresearch/publications/files/_private/Zax-Rees_IQ.Academic.Performance.Environment.and.Earnings.pdf

    • Alsadius says:

      1) Because they’ve won the debate, and thus making that argument will make you a social pariah in most circumstances, which is largely true because…

      2) It’s really difficult to make that argument without sounding like a plantation owner in 1857. It can be done, particularly among close groups who tolerate debate(because they’re willing to hear you out), but most debaters don’t have the finesse to manage it, and they frequently lack the inclination to try.

      • cassander says:

        those are both excellent reasons not to actually try to wage war on the progressives (so say nothing of the fact that the puritans have been kicking ass and taking names since the 1640s) but they aren’t reasons not to have some theoretical intellectual desire for said conflict.

        • Alsadius says:

          If you’re discussing a theoretical desire, then yes, I have that desire. Thing is, it’s tough to express that desire without actually fighting that battle, which is what I said I didn’t want to do much of.

          Besides, how much does it really matter? I’d much rather fight the progressives on, say, their desire to jail most of my profession for unspecified crimes against the people.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      Progressives are capable of believing all of these things. My population genetics professor* certainly did, he just thought that the between group difference was environmental (specifically pre-natal and early environment) and the within group difference was a mix.

      *I’m not using an argument from authority, I’m just pointing out that he wasn’t ignorant of the data and models. Indeed one can be very well acquainted the data and conclude that racial differences are not necessarily genetic (see page 47).

      • cassander says:

        that strikes me as extremely special pleading. heredity effects IQ within groups within a single generation, not not between groups relatively genetically isolated for thousands of years, long enough to evolve visibly different features in response to their environment? I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but it strikes me as highly unlikely.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      THIS IS A WARNING THAT MOST OF THE PEOPLE IN THIS SUBTHREAD ARE ON THE BRINK OF BEING BANNED

      Cassander for bringing up race stuff unnecessarily and being annoying about it.

      Mugabe for things like “typical uninformed Mercastani” and so on, plus pretending to be a dictator is kind of classless.

      DrBeat for “we want you to go back to Laissezs’ Faire”

      Abide by the policies or get out.

      • Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

        dear God you’re a loser.

      • cassander says:

        I was under the impression that race stuff was only banned on the open threads. If that’s not the case, I apologize I won’t do it again. I’m honestly confused as to what you think was annoying about how I did it, though, and would appreciate clarification.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          It’s not that discussion of race is banned, but I do prefer that threads that don’t start about as about very controversial political things don’t end up about very controversial political things. I think I’m especially sensitive to this because the failure mode for talking about IQ is “people accuse you of only being in it to judge minorities”, so having people comment “hey, since we’re talking about IQ, we should judge minorities!” is not helping.

          Probably what you said wasn’t really banworthy, but I guess I just cluster-bombed everyone in this thread.

          • Sophie Grouchy says:

            @Scott: RGB is now just posting under a new handle (Jorge Videla… note the naming convention). Is there a way to fix this?

            Sorry, but I really don’t like it when my gardens grow weeds.

          • Anonymous says:

            your garden is growing a yeast infection.

  29. Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

    HBD, to alter Paul Simon, still bullshit after all these years:
    https://thomasnastcartoons.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/scientific_racism_irish-1899.jpg
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-eUEJY_meDdE/URxSDzH8skI/AAAAAAAAANE/yq4-az0R2eI/s1600/douglas20.gif
    today:
    1. the UK is the poorest Germanic language speaking country in the EU.
    2. the ROI is richer than the UK.
    3. 20% of the UK workforce is employed in finance.
    4. the UK has the most rigid class structure in Europe.
    5. the UK is still beholden to neo-liberal, trickle down, Reagan-Thatcher bullshit.

  30. LRS says:

    I’m really enjoying this series of posts, and I eagerly await Part 3. Furthermore, I’m thrilled to have witnessed the long-anticipated return of the “sports” tag to Slate Star Codex, and I await even more eagerly the next post tagged “sports.”

  31. zz says:

    >you round up so that you’re 6’0 on OKCupid

    I (would) round down because 6’0.5 seems like I’m trying too hard and is a bit hard to read. Does anyone have any data suggesting whether I shouldn’t or, failing that, common sense?

  32. Robert Gabriel Mugabe says:

    statistically?

    you’re math challenged.

    the normal distribution is a model dk.

    the real distribution isn’t normal or any other parametric distribution.

    duh!

    but you could fit it to any distribution you like via percentile matching.

    why not fit it to a uniform distribution? or a gamma distribution? or whatevs?

    • Alsadius says:

      You think population fits better to a uniform distribution than a normal one? Seriously?

      • Furrfu says:

        Clearly our genocidal dictator correspondent doesn’t think that, because the uniform distribution is also parametric. However, he’s also completely wrong, which is unsurprising since he’s apparently just trolling, as indicated by his nickname and the total lack of positive content in his post.

        • Corey says:

          RGM is clearly trolling, but there is the germ of a worthwhile observation in there. In these sorts of situations the normal model works well for the bulk, but it can’t be trusted in the tails. So “about 8 out of 9 people of this height are in the…wait, no, that can’t be right” is a correct derailment of this approach — at that point we’ve moved beyond the region where the normal distribution model is reasonable. (IAAS — I am a statistician.)

          • Alsadius says:

            > RGM is clearly trolling, but there is the germ of a worthwhile observation in there.

            This is more or less why I responded.

          • Furrfu says:

            Yes, I agree, but trying to describe the situation by using a distribution with less parameters than the Gaussian’s 2 (as RGM suggests) is going in the wrong direction. You need more parameters, not less.

    • Nita says:

      Look, maybe this style of expression is normal on HBD blogs, or Marginal Revolution, or wherever you came from. But don’t do it here, OK? Come up with a reasonable idea and explain it in complete sentences.

      Yes, the empirical distribution of the height of American men is not the normal distribution. And yes, Scott’s phrasing is weird at some points*. That doesn’t mean that anything goes, either in choosing a model or writing a comment.

      * e.g., “the contribution of the left half of the height bell curve is precisely zero”, “there shouldn’t be a single person in the US with this height”

  33. John Maxwell IV says:

    Last week I challenged a bad study about innate ability, and in the process I accidentally made a few people feel depressed and worthless. Yesterday I tried to resolve that issue, and in the process I accidentally made a few people feel like effort doesn’t matter and there’s no point in trying hard at things.

    That’s what happens when you become high status… people start to give what you say unreasonably high weight. From an epistemic standards point of view, your last post consisted of a series of cherry-picked anecdotes; hardly information that should cause a significant update in the extensive nature vs nurture debate.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      But you also have to take into account that Scott only sees those readers who do express altering their beliefs based on his posts. For every one of those, there are probably hundreds or thousands whose beliefs don’t change to any significant degree and who don’t post about that.

      • “For every one of those, there are probably hundreds or thousands whose beliefs don’t change to any significant degree and who don’t post about that.”

        Absolutely true. Biggest mistake everyone makes–little blogs, big blogs, newspapers, tv stations, whatever. Responders are not representative.

        Which is a good thing for this blog, because my lord, the commenters, they contain many Eeyores.

  34. Emp says:

    A lot of this entire discussion topic is based on misconceptions of probability and bad analogies. I have a lot of observations, and I’d appreciate it if you comment on some of them.

    1) Height is an objective fact. IQ isn’t objective in remotely the same sense. I have scored differently on different IQ Tests (comfortably above 140 on all), but studying for IQ tests can improve performance on them, and similarly various distinctly nurture type things can make you have higher IQ. As a consequence basketball=height is a very strong correlation and physicist=IQ is a much weaker correlation and given time I could give you lots of other factors which have a similar R-squared value as IQ.

    2) I’d have thought the Polgar experiment would prove high-level cognitive abilities (although I am aware it’s debatable whether chess is as tough as theoretical physics) can be trained, unless just by coincidence Laszlo Polgar happened to have insane genes so good that three female players (his daughters) achieved open Grandmaster status and one of them became a world-class elite player (the one who practiced most). You can compute the statistical probability of that and it will be vanishingly faint.

    3) The conclusions drawn from 1 in 10 million etc are incredibly unrealistic. In reality:

    a) Sturgeon’s law- 90% of everything is crap. Like it or not, most people are incredibly mediocre and aren’t trying to achieve anything difficult, let alone a particular specific activity which they allegedly have negative selection for.

    b) This is further compounded by various Matthew effects wherein all the attention and resources are lavished on people who are perceived to be naturally talented/suited for these activities.

    As a consequence only 1 in 15 or 20 million people will become a billionaire but asserting that it’s therefore useless to try misses the point quite spectacularly.
    4) This excessive focus on things like 100m sprinting, basketball, competitive gaming or theoretical physics gives a very misleading impression of the degree of ‘innate talent’ required to achieve success in other fields. The vast majority of human activity that people aspire to (including far more glamorous and attractive occupations) don’t require extraordinary physical attributes or cognitive capacities. Importing the requirement of natural talent into these domains is massively flawed. This does diminish not just self-belief, but belief in what is possible (which has enormous impact on athletic performance per various studies).

    • Creutzer says:

      The vast majority of human activity that people aspire to (including far more glamorous and attractive occupations) don’t require extraordinary physical attributes or cognitive capacities.

      Such as?

      • Emp says:

        Running a business, speculating on stock exchanges, acting, writing, playing the most popular skill-based sports. There are plenty of other things; the vast majority of things humans do aren’t designed to require extraordinary ability that most humans don’t have.

        These are the most common ways to get very rich (defined conservatively as making $100 M or more), and none of them require you to have any sort of extraordinary natural gifts. I’m sure you may want to debate this with regard to some sports, but I could win that quite easily, not to mention that the rest quite emphatically don’t require any special genetic ability at all.

        • that was 100 years ago maybe. If you can find an example of a modest IQ successful fiction author I’m all eyes.

          • Doug S. says:

            Define “modest IQ” in this context.

            Fiction writing seems qualitatively different than many other pursuits in which people are considered geniuses: you don’t find top quality literature written by child prodigies. You do find the occasional published novel written by a teenager, but the results tend to be more like the much-mocked Eragon than Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate.

          • Emp says:

            IQ data on famous authors is all but non-existent, suffice it to say there’s no particular reason to think J.K. Rowling, Wilbur Smith or Sidney Sheldon are much more intelligent than the average person.

            Also, there is very little qualitative difference between ‘top quality literature’ and good fiction. Just because you win a Booker by faffing on endlessly in pretentious style doesn’t mean that the literature is better or that the person writing it is particularly intelligent. It’s a bit like abstract art in that way, and you certainly don’t have to be a genius to draw squiggles and lines representing the cosmic harmony of the universe.

          • Multiheaded says:

            ^ this comment is so fucking… greytribe.txt

            P.S.: http://www.kazimir-malevich.org/

            (re: squiggles and lines)

          • Johannes says:

            I do not know Dan Brown’s IQ but he cannot write to save his life and has been the object of mockery for a long time.
            The success of a lot of pop culture is success in a very specific environment (i.e. mass media and a public that appreciates trash). Certainly no genius level language skills are needed.
            http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001628.html

        • Anonymous says:

          You’re playing word games with “require”. Everyone (even the physically and mentally crippled) has the required abilities to make one hundred million or more: all they have to do is win the appropriate lotteries. We are not concerned with what the floor on success is, but on what traits are highly entangled with success. There are many stock brokers, actors, writers, etc… who never reach the one hundred million dollars of success level. I’m pretty sure the number of individuals who don’t achieve that success is larger than number of individuals who do. In fact, I’m pretty sure the former dominates the latter by several orders of magnitude.

          • Emp says:

            Your point is hardly profound. As I mentioned 90% of everything is crap. The way success is defined, 95% plus of EVERYBODY will always be a failure because these things are measured in relative terms (see Scott with his food chain of feeling like pond scum).

            Basketball players who are barely college level now, would have been world-class in 1950. People in 2015 have access to a standard of life and comfort that medieval rulers would find enviable and yet you have people with access to running water, ability to order feasts from any cuisine and access unlimited information of almost any kind at the click of buttons, complaining about inequality, because they see guys in Gulfstreams and Yachts with better lifestyles than them.

            No matter what traits anyone has, most people are going to end up being losers because there just isn’t room for that many winners. Nobody has a high probability of great success as a group but contemplating about whether this is IQ or ‘not really your fault’ is just a distraction and a waste of energy.

            If you want a trait entangled with success, try self-belief. Also, don’t confuse self-belief a necessary condition, with being a sufficient one. Most people with self-belief will fail (because the vast majority of people are just normal), but the ones that end up being very successful tend to be the ones that persist in the face of failure.

            It’s you who are playing with words when you point out that people have the required ability to win $100 M in a lottery. That’s really lame. Even my dog has the theoretical capacity to make $1 B if I donate that money to him (it can be done in plenty of jurisdictions). That wasn’t my point and you know it. You’re also begging the question that there are these ‘traits’ that are highly entangled with success. I agree that a minuscule minority of professions do have these traits, but constantly over-generalizing massive IQ requirements from theoretical physics and importing them to things like lawyers and stock-brokers is missing the point. Scott’s own analysis is physicists are 3 SD’s more intelligent than the average; that isn’t true with brokers and actors. And even with actors/brokers/writers there’s 0 evidence that beyond a minimum threshold higher IQ has any effect at all on success. In fact with chess, there’s categorical evidence that IQ has any correlation with ELO rating.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            The point was that you were ignoring the question in favor of answering a different one. We aren’t interested in the minimum skills/talents required for success, we’re interested in the average impact of skills/talent on success. Even if
            95% of everyone is a “failure”, not all “failures” are equal. Magnitude matters. We care about differences as small as 10% annual income.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            People in 2015 have access to a standard of life and comfort that medieval rulers would find enviable and yet you have people with access to running water, ability to order feasts from any cuisine and access unlimited information of almost any kind at the click of buttons, complaining about inequality, because they see guys in Gulfstreams and Yachts with better lifestyles than them.

            People who make this argument always forget that land is zero-sum. It will eat most of your income, and even having an income requires credentialed education, which is also zero-sum. Medieval nobles may not have had running water and iPods, but neither did they have to work horrible soul-killing jobs 40 hours per week in order to afford their rent and student loan repayments (and that’s just the people who are lucky enough to have jobs, as opposed to ending up homeless in the streets). They also had servants to bring them water and play them music, so it’s not like their standard of living was as low as a their lack of technology would suggest.

    • haishan says:

      Re Polgars: I don’t think it’s controversial that Laszlo Polgar is of considerably above-average intelligence; given assortative mating, his wife probably is too. Of course the years and years spent training his daughters from birth to play high-level chess were a huge factor. But it’s far from clear that the regime would be as successful if you adopted a child of ~100 IQ parents.

      • Emp says:

        Polgar’s wife is selected only for the fact that she was the only willing to marry him on the basis that their children would be a scientific experiment on talent vs conditioning.

        I’ll gladly concede he, and even his wife are above-average, but that’s not the genetic threshold at which all three of your female (and I emphasize female here, because if all these genetic arguments are true, then females really should be considered flat-out inferior to males at chess on the basis of years of relative underperformance ) children happen to be elite professional players in the male category, and one of them is flat-out world-class.

        Obviously, there is no data on anyone else, so we can’t conclude anything at all. Many scientific claims are simply the result of ridiculous methodology and/or null hypothesis being incredibly hard to disprove.

        It’s notable that even if Laslzo Polgar had trained randomly selected kids (he almost did so, to prove a point for a billionaire) that still wouldn’t have silenced anyone because the claim would then be that existing training is primitive and once everyone ‘catches up’ to efficient training, then the ‘talented ones’ will win out. Some version of this argument was made by a cricket player called Ed Smith, in his book called ‘Luck’

        • haishan says:

          I kinda feel like you’re arguing against a weak man, here. Nobody’s making the argument that you can’t become a world-class chess player without having an extraordinarily high IQ; the argument is that it helps a lot and has a very high exchange rate relative to other factors like training. Perhaps even that there’s an IQ floor (which is somewhat high relative to the general population) below which it is genuinely impossible to be a world-class chess player.

          Analogizing to basketball, nobody thinks it’s impossible to get into the NBA at 6’0″. Indeed, you can be 6’0″ and one of the best players in the world. But if you’re 6’0″ and want to play in the NBA, you need to be truly exceptional in some other way. I would say “trained by a monomaniacal father from a very early age to excel at a specific thing” counts as “truly exceptional.”

    • Anonymous says:

      IQ isn’t objective in remotely the same sense

      Hard do measure accurately != not objective

      • Emp says:

        A) It’s very controversial that ‘IQ’ is a thing in any meaningful sense. It encompasses several different things that are collectively known as ‘intelligence’. There are different abilities, and different ways to measure them. The Mensa for instance has two separate Tests it recognizes, one for verbal reasoning and another for visual-spatial intelligence.

        B) Even if it were an actual quantifiable number that couldn’t be measured because we are not smart enough to find a way, that would make it useless in the discussion, since if there was no accurate measurement of IQ, one can’t possibly draw a conclusion about how IQ affects success in various domains.

        • Steven says:

          It’s very controversial that ‘IQ’ is a thing in any meaningful sense.

          The g factor is real, measurable, consistent, proven by numerous studies that specifically tried to debunk it, explains half the variance on IQ tests, and is highly heritable.

          It’s “very controversial” in the exact same sense that the evolution of humans from apelike ancestors is “very controversial”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      >> “As a consequence basketball=height is a very strong correlation and physicist=IQ is a much weaker correlation and given time I could give you lots of other factors which have a similar R-squared value as IQ.”

      I’m not sure how you assert that when I’ve pointed out that the average NBA player and the average eminent physicist are both a little over three standard deviations above average on their respective measure. I’m not sure r^2 is exactly the right measure here (if you think it is, can you explain exactly which two quantities you’re correlating?) but if we use the standard-deviations-above-mean methodology the two domains seem equally loaded on the variable of interest.

      >> “I’d have thought the Polgar experiment would prove high-level cognitive abilities (although I am aware it’s debatable whether chess is as tough as theoretical physics) can be trained”

      Really? You’re still doing the “I can think of one person who got trained in something, so IQ doesn’t matter/exist” thing? If I can think of one person who had natural talent, does that mean practice effects don’t exist? My whole point in the basketball analogy was to ask us to move beyond such things. I mean, I assume the Polgars were moderately intellectually gifted, since their parents were already very smart. So if I said “By giving amazing training to this 6’2 person, I made them into a basketball star, now I have proven height doesn’t matter,” would you find that convincing? Like I said, Jordan was shorter than many (though still tall in the grand scheme of things) and he did fine.

      >> “As a consequence only 1 in 15 or 20 million people will become a billionaire but asserting that it’s therefore useless to try misses the point quite spectacularly.”

      My point wasn’t that it’s useless to try (although I do think if you’re shorter than average, knowing that zero people from your group get in the NBA should tell you something). It’s that all of these same factors apply to 6 footers and 7 footers, yet the 7 footers still get in very often.

      >> “The vast majority of human activity that people aspire to (including far more glamorous and attractive occupations) don’t require extraordinary physical attributes or cognitive capacities.”

      I’m mostly interested in us having enough good scientists and inventors to solve pressing world problems. If someone says that the average company vice-president or Senator doesn’t need especially high IQ, I’d probably believe them (especially with the Senator). On the other hand, if you look at the IQ distribution for different professions, you do find that in some technical professions (doctor, lawyer, engineer) almost nobody has IQs below a certain cutoff. To me this suggests you do need some level of cognitive skill for them (although this could also be explained by needing things correlated with IQ)

      • Emp says:

        What I’m saying is that height has an incredibly strong correlation with pro basketball as a career. Other factors won’t have a correlation that’s even remotely close, and therefore we can be confident that height is the causative factor. My point is that while both factors might be equally loaded on the variable of interest, it’s almost certain that in basketball this is the only variable with that effect, whereas with physics it’s possible there are several other variables with similar load, which makes causation tougher to identify.

        Your second point is definitely a straw-man. I never said talent effects don’t exist, my point is that in almost every meaningful endeavour (I’m excluding raw physique athletics and super-complex science, the latter because I am not certain) the average/slightly above-average person can achieve exceptional success. What I said was literally “high level cognitive abilities can be trained”. I don’t know how that came across as ‘talent doesn’t exist’. I also think my statement of “high level cognitive abilities can be trained” is more pertinent to the issue than ‘talent effects exist’ which anyone would concede (though the magnitude of these is debatable) because the conclusion of your post seems to be ‘practice does matter, but in 99.9999% of cases only if you have exceptional talent to begin with’.

        On the 1/15 million issue. 0 out of a few billion American women have become President of USA. What does that tell us about Hillary’s chances? Not very much, because that’s not the relevant number since vanishingly few of them have ever tried. There is in fact no relevant number for these things. Statistics can’t be applied to a domain where there is not enough adequate data. ‘Fundamental analysis’ is the only possible way, where you look at what the job entails and specifically determine whether these are the kind of skills a normal person is capable of acquiring.

        On your last para, the “things correlated with IQ” is my point exactly (the one I was making on the height/intelligence issue). I think it’s very debatable indeed that scientists and inventors are the key elements to solving humanity’s problems. I personally think it’s excellent decision-makers that are far more rare and far more important. It’s pretty much a lock that for the next 300 years there will be a lot of very good scientists, but it isn’t really remotely clear that people making decisions (often on what the scientists research/are allowed to do) will be good decision-makers. That aside, I’ll willingly concede there are some domains where innate ability of some kind or another is indispensable or highly important for success, but these domains where excellence cannot be reliably trained without these incredibly high talent requirements are very rare.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          >> “My point is that while both factors might be equally loaded on the variable of interest, it’s almost certain that in basketball this is the only variable with that effect, whereas with physics it’s possible there are several other variables with similar load, which makes causation tougher to identify.”

          First of all, I am sure basketball players need things like stamina, dexterity, conscientiousness et cetera, which are also partly heritable though probably less so than height.

          Second of all, I don’t know if you appreciate the significance of an IQ three and a half standard deviations above average. Something like one in a thousand people will have that. If there are other factors that are more necessary, then there’s a 999/1000 chance that the person who most excels in those other factors will not also be the person with a 155 IQ, and so you will not see the preponderance of 155 IQs that you see.

          To give an example, we know height makes you successful in business – taller people seem more confident and are more trusted. And indeed, executives are taller than average. But they’re nowhere near as tall as basketball players – maybe just 1 SD above population average. And that’s precisely because so many other things besides height go into business success that you can’t just make all the 7 foot people CEOs. If all CEOs were seven feet tall, then we would expect that to mean height alone determined business success, or drowned out other factors.

          >> “What I said was literally “high level cognitive abilities can be trained”. I don’t know how that came across as ‘talent doesn’t exist’.”

          Okay. And I don’t think I ever denied that. In fact, the whole point of this post was to demonstrate I’m not denying it. Hence all the stuff about how some short people get into basketball, Michael Jordan was shorter than average for NBA, et cetera.

          I continue to think that just as Michael Jordan started off at least a little taller than average, so the Polgars probably did as well. Consider that at the highest levels there is more than enough room for people with both excellent education and excellent talent, so unless your education is far and away much better than anyone else’s, you will still need some talent. I’m not denying that practice can also matter a lot, or even that in certain cases the practice can contribute more than the talent.

          >>”On the 1/15 million issue. 0 out of a few billion American women have become President of USA. What does that tell us about Hillary’s chances? Not very much, because that’s not the relevant number since vanishingly few of them have ever tried. There is in fact no relevant number for these things. Statistics can’t be applied to a domain where there is not enough adequate data.”

          You’re making a basic error by expecting a general rate to apply to an example you’ve specifically chosen it not to apply to.

          There are 5,000 NBA players and height data from millions of Americans. That’s adequate data. If you still disagree with me about this, we can make a series of bets – for example, I bet you $50 that a randomly chosen 6′ tall American will not eventually join the NBA. Or I will bet you at 50-1 odds in my favor that a randomly chosen 7 foot American young man WILL join the NBA. If we haggle these out sufficiently, either you will settle on the odds I’ve listed, or I will easily win the bet.

          You’re making a fully general argument against ever using statistics, or misunderstanding what I’m saying.

          >>> It’s pretty much a lock that for the next 300 years there will be a lot of very good scientists, but it isn’t really remotely clear that people making decisions (often on what the scientists research/are allowed to do) will be good decision-makers.

          “A lot of very good scientists” is too vague. If we invent fusion power before global warming becomes irreversible, that’s a big difference from inventing fusion power a couple years after global warming becomes irreversible.

          I don’t trust our decision-makers and I don’t think there’s a good way to change that quickly. I’d rather have enough wealth and knowledge that the decision makers can be idiots and we’ll still do pretty fine.

          But if you don’t agree, I do think IQ helps with decision-making. John von Neumann, who I’ve used as an example of freakishly high IQ before, was the person who invented mutually assured destruction and so helped bring us through the Cold War. Robin Hanson, who’s got a masters’ in physics and so I assume very high-IQ, has invented futarchy, a very powerful means of aggregating information for decision-making.

          Even more-so, IQ heavily predicts how much education someone gets, and something – either IQ or education – correlates with what I would consider making good decisions. We’re a democracy. Do we want the people who decide whether or not we fight global warming to be people with IQ 90 and a high school education, or people with IQ 120 and a college education? Heck, how about people with a 160 IQ who naturally understand the ins and outs of the climate simulations being used? If you want good decision-making, you want smart people voting for them.

          I would love to have more brilliant scientists, but I’d also love to have a smarter population in general. IQ is correlated with things like less crime, less teenage pregnancy, less child abuse, less divorce, and higher income. If we can solve teenage pregnancy and drug use and whatever just by making people too smart to be interested, I’d rather do that than trust the right people to be in Congress.

          • Emp says:

            “There are 5,000 NBA players and height data from millions of Americans. That’s adequate data.”

            This misses my point. There are also billions of American women, and election result data. My point is that vanishingly few Americans are actually engaged in any sort of effort to be playing pro basketball at all. Because height IS such a huge factor (and is perceived to be so important) anyone with outlier height is viewed as potential basketball player material, and the job itself is enormously lucrative.

            A very large percentage of people above 6’7 will dedicate enormous effort to playing competitive basketball at some point or the other, while this percentage is much, much lower with people of average height. As a consequence, even in this outlier field, where I already acknowledged height is a massive factor, looking at the rate of success for the general population is especially inappropriate when very few people from that segment of the population is making any attempt at all.

            I’m NOT saying that talent is irrelevant. What I’m saying is that using numbers like 0% of people of type X have succeeded is a) misleading, because very few were trying at all and b) discouraging, and far more discouraging than it would be if you made the relevant comparison, which is to the number of people in that group who’ve put in a genuine meaningful effort.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Emp, as someone complained before, you’re changing the question. And more power to you. The first question is almost always the wrong question, and the second one usually so as well, and so on. This being no exception.

          RE: decision makers, yes indeed we need improved decision-making. Some combination of new decision makers and improving the performance of the current crop – each of which will importantly involve training.

    • LTP says:

      “1) Height is an objective fact. IQ isn’t objective in remotely the same sense. I have scored differently on different IQ Tests (comfortably above 140 on all), but studying for IQ tests can improve performance on them, and similarly various distinctly nurture type things can make you have higher IQ. As a consequence basketball=height is a very strong correlation and physicist=IQ is a much weaker correlation”

      Thanks for this, I’ve been thinking similar things throughout the recent sequence of posts.

      I’m still highly skeptical about the whole idea of a linear measurement of intelligence, or that IQ can be used as a rough synonym for “inherent genetic intellect”.

    • Agronomous says:

      I have scored differently on different IQ Tests (comfortably above 140 on all), but studying for IQ tests can improve performance on them, and similarly various distinctly nurture type things can make you have higher IQ.

      When I was a kid, I would study for my height measurement at my yearly physical. It worked (even if I waited until the week before and crammed) really well: my height increased monotonically by about 3″ a year until age 18 or so, when I hit a plateau. I think I just got bored with studying giraffes and mountains and airplanes and all that.

      But it does make me question our current methods of height measurement a little.

    • Alexp says:

      In sprinting, basketball, American football, soccer, etc. one doesn’t need to be a genetic freak to just play. What makes those interesting is that we’re only interested in the top .001%. If you’re in the 95th percentile of software engineers, you’d likely have an excellent career and comfortable living ahead of you and possibly, with luck and hard work, incredible riches. If you’re in the 95th percentile of basketball players in the world, well you’d better find a different career.

    • swanknasty says:

      Exactly right. All of it.

      • swanknasty says:

        Although, one need not look that far to confirm this point. The highest correlation between IQ and ‘job performance’ I have seen is .6. But that’s a ‘within job’ measure.

        It’s useful enough for our purposes, though. If you just assume that a particular job has less IQ variance than the ‘average job,’ you can see the relationship start to drop off. So, if job X has a cognitive barrier that prohibits anyone below IQ 95 from performing the job, the correlation goes down to ~.45.

        Eminent scientists who have such stratospheric IQs may be explained by something else. The typical paradigm of HBD/hereditists is that work-ethic/studying/etc. has no or minimal impact on IQ scores on a test. But, if we grant some small effect, and we grant that a profession with an IQ floor of 110-120 would have job performance not significantly differentiated by IQ at all, then those ’eminent scientists,’ are likely many, many SDs higher on ‘work ethic.’ This difference may inflate their scores.

        It would certainly square with what we hear about ‘geniuses…’ and their practice habits.

  35. Mars says:

    There is a lot you write that I agree with, a lot I disagree with with, and some things I’m not sure of.
    And then there are the things which just bug me. For example all the “any talents I have are just good luck from the genetic lottery so how can I take any pride in them?” line of thinking. By that logic, no one, has any call to be proud of any achievement, since its just good genetic luck. Hell by that logic, there aren’t even any qualities that can be considered virtues since many psychological traits are inborn. Whether you are a stoic, plain talking man of action, or a wild and free spirit its all just genetic gifts and the way you were raised, and if we are all just deterministic machines running a program that was installed before our birth and tweaked by our upbringing then no accomplishment is truly ours, and there is nothing to be proud of. By the same token of course if we are evil, bigoted, ignorant haters, well, that’s just our genes and the way we were raised, so there’s no reason to ashamed of such behavior or to correct it.

    Now I realize that in part you were expressing such comments for rhetorical effect, but its a theme which is repeated by many commenters here, most especially in the comments referencing “all men being created equal”. But again, that doesn’t mean, and was never meant to mean, what its being used to mean. The FF never took that line to mean that all men had equal capabilities, or were capable of achieving the same things, or that some men weren’t born more intelligent or stronger.

    In fact theres is a rather famous conservative joke that what it really means is that “all men are born equal in that we are all born helpless to feed ourselves, protect ourselves, or even control our bowels” IE that we are all born helpless, (and the logical followup to that is that is also the last moment in our lives all men are equal). Now I’m not saying that the founders were quite that cynical, but I think the joke interpertation does contain a far larger kernel of truth than does the traditional interpretation of that line, which is usually taken to refer to some illusory equality in which all men are deserving of an equal share of the inherent dignity of humanity.

    Because heres the thing. All men aren’t equal. Some are smarter, some are stronger, some are more ambitious and some are more charismatic. In fact Ill go even further, you mention Elon Musk several times. Well guess what, Elon musk is better than I am, better than you are, and most likely better than any of us reading this blog. His value, to the US, and to Humanity as a whole is greater than mine or yours. So is Bill Gates, So was Steve Jobs. Not in some illusory, spiritual, feel good way, but in the way that matters most. Results.

    And that fact bothers most people. No one wants to look at someone else and be forced to accept that yes, that person is worth more (and I don’t mean monetarily) than I am.

    And so instead we get this idea that all men are equal as human beings, that we all deserve the same qual share of human dignity. Really? What about Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or Adolf Hitler? Are they of equal value to a Mother Theresea, Norman Borlaug, or MLK? Now maybe you actually do believe that, and if so I applaud the consistency of your beliefs, but to me its pure horseshit.

    Some of us actually ARE better than others, some of us actually ARE worth more than others. Its sucks but its true.

    • 27chaos says:

      You should try reading the history of this philosophy backwards. It’s untrue that all men are created equal, but that’s much more true a sentiment than common ideas about equality once were. Humans have justified dominating each other on the basis on inherent superiority for a very long time. But to a first approximation, most humans are actually pretty close in value. Proportionally, there are not a whole lot of humans whose lives are worth even 2 other average humans, at least in my opinion. However, sometimes we are tempted to make judgments based on superficial qualities when we should not. The heuristic that “all men are created equal” can help check that bias to overweight the value of obviously positive qualities, like handsomeness or beauty, for example, and look deeper at a person to try to understand them in a way that’s more than skin deep. It’s not a perfect idea. Still has a useful function, though.

      Without knowing the details of someone’s life, it makes sense to just assume that they are approximately equal to anyone else chosen at random. It also makes sense that many people claiming superiority to others will not be telling the truth.

      Also, I think it’s worth taking the sentiment and looking at it from a God’s eye view. For example, one chart that’s very popular in these circles claims that the difference between an ape and Albert Einstein’s intelligence will be much much less than the difference between Einstein and an AI’s intelligence. In that sense, the ideas of those you disagree with look more like rounding errors than anything else. If nothing else, Hitler at least never tiled the universe in paperclips. 😛

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        One person being worth two isn’t that rare. Plenty of people make more in a year than it would cost to save one African life. If that isn’t a quantitative measure of worth, what is?

      • Mars says:

        I get what you are saying. And I wont argue that “all men are created equal” is a more useful concept than “blacks and yellers are inferior to whites” in general, or that it is a more accurate one. The problem is with those who believe in or subscribe to policies based upon the idea that equality of the sort you refer to should also lead to equality of outcomes, and the inequality of outcomes itself is evidence of bias and/or bigotry. That is nothing more than naked juvenile jealousy.

        In no world will I ever make breakthroughs as fundamental as Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity, and not just because I’m not a physicist. I do not have the capability to be a Mozart, or a Robert Johnson no matter how much time I spend down at the crossroads. And yes, because of those capabilities and more importantly because of the contributions made by the men who put those capabilities to use, My value as a human being, as a contributor to the human race, is less than theirs.

        This fact, when I first came to accept it as a young man infuriated me. The difference is that most of us mature enough to come to terms who with we are, even if that wasn’t who we dreamed of being. But it seems to me a significant portion of American society (and here I am looking in as an outsider as I haven’t lived in the states in over a decade) not only rejects this basic human truth, that we are not, and have never been equal, except possibly at the exact moment of conception, and that as such some will rise higher than others. Or as my grandaddy used to say “The world needs ditch diggers too”

        And this will vary among populations due to, among other factors, genetics, culture, education, income, etc. Now personally I believe culture to be the single largest factor, especially when talking about large populations, but biology matters as well. There will never be as many Madam Curies as there are Einsteins. There will never be as many Hercules are there are Bodicias (spelling?). An objective look at the world shows that this is true of Sex. Whether or not something similar is true of “race” and to what extent is unknown as of yet, mainly because everyone seems terrified to study it.

        • Loki says:

          Her name is commonly styled Bodicea, but it is probable that Boudicca is closer to how it was pronounced.

          I don’t really see how comparing Hercules to Boudicca works, since Hercules’ tale is about his own physical prowess and feats, whereas Boudicca’s is about bravery and leadership – they aren’t the same skill.

          If we ignore the specific examples you used, honestly in science at least the sample size of women with equal opportunity to get into science probably isn’t large enough yet to decide the question objectively.

          But tbh I just reject your idea of ‘value to the human race’ – it isn’t up to us to provide value to the human race, because the human race is not the sort of thing that has a utility value. Humans are, and it seems less likely that intelligence is the trait that most determines how much value we provide to other humans (as opposed to, for instance, how inclined we are to care about anyone else, for example).

          • Mars says:

            “I don’t really see how comparing Hercules to Boudicca works, since Hercules’ tale is about his own physical prowess and feats, whereas Boudicca’s is about bravery and leadership – they aren’t the same skill.”

            Ehh then Boudicca and Patton if that example serves better.

            “If we ignore the specific examples you used, honestly in science at least the sample size of women with equal opportunity to get into science probably isn’t large enough yet to decide the question objectively.”

            I disagree, the Soviet Union and other eastern bloc countries during the clold war educated men and women in all sciences at nearly equal rates, far more equal than any western nation has been able to come close to. Yet the ratio of outstanding scientists, whether measured by papers, medals, awards, or breakthroughs was about 80/20 men to women if memory serves.

            “But tbh I just reject your idea of ‘value to the human race’ – it isn’t up to us to provide value to the human race, because the human race is not the sort of thing that has a utility value.”
            I literally cant understand what your trying to say here. I’m not taking the piss or nuthing, that sentence has no meaning that I can discern. Of course the human race has a value, if humans have value as individuals then it naturally follows that the human race does as well. Furthermore as members of that race it is in our own best interests to reward those who provide the best contributions.

            At first I thought maybe you were using utility value in the strictly economic usage, but that makes no sense as the human race doesn’t have an owner, unless you consider each member of the species to be akin to a shareholder which stretches the metaphor past breaking. Um maybe you could try saying it a different way?

            “Humans are, and it seems less likely that intelligence is the trait that most determines how much value we provide to other humans (as opposed to, for instance, how inclined we are to care about anyone else, for example).”

            Thats debatable. The entire of purpose of capitalism is to try and harness peoples own self-interest in a way that makes their own individual pursuit of happiness contribute to the benefit of the whole. It may not work perfectly but it works better than most other systems we’ve come up with and it doesn’t require people to care about anyone else. Yet despite this, there is no doubt that even the worst of the “robber barons” of the guilded age contributed far more the common good than any of their laborers, even if you believe all the worst motivations ascribed to them.

        • Harald K says:

          You poor man, who think that your value as a human being depends on your ability to perform. Good thing you’re not disabled, or unemployed… on the other hand, if you were, you might have been forced to consider a less misanthropic worldview.

          the inequality of outcomes itself is evidence of bias and/or bigotry.

          Those who draw that conclusion, are wrong, and yes, much bad come of that. The crucial insight is that inequal outcomes is a bad thing in itself. It isn’t just bad because there must have been some injustice to cause it. No, there may be no one to blame, no one to curse, and it’d still be something we do not want, if we believe people are of equal inherent worth.

          And why should we say that people are of equal inherent worth? Well, to some degree we must just assert that. But here’s an argument to make the moral intuition clearer:

          No one can, in any ultimate sense, take credit for their performative accomplishments. If you were a Mozart, then it was because you had the talent to be a Mozart, which most people don’t have. If you had the potential to be a Mozart but weren’t one, there must have been a good reason. Otherwise, you start asserting inherent moral differences – “You had the talent to be Mozart, and you had the natural inclination opportunity to develop it, yet you didn’t because you were immorally lazy!” Such a charge is nonsense to level at anyone. How could we know?

          Yet, if a Mozart can well and truly take credit for his compositions, we must also have a way to tell (and condemn) those who “should” have been Mozarts but weren’t.

          Maybe instead of Mozart we should recall Bach, who signed most of his works with S.D.G: Soli Deo Gloria.

          • Alsadius says:

            > Such a charge is nonsense to level at anyone. How could we know?

            People tend to be reasonably good at telling that, actually. Being able to tell “You’re shirking – knock it off!” is something heavily selected for in our ancestral environment.

          • Mars says:

            “You poor man, who think that your value as a human being depends on your ability to perform. Good thing you’re not disabled, or unemployed… on the other hand, if you were, you might have been forced to consider a less misanthropic worldview.”

            Awww how cute. And I didn’t say perform, I said contribute.

            “Those who draw that conclusion, are wrong, and yes, much bad come of that. The crucial insight is that inequal outcomes is a bad thing in itself.”

            Why? According to whom? Based on what logic or reasoning?
            If Van Gogh and I were to both to paint on the exact same size canvas, for the same amount of time, with identical brushes and paints, he would still produce a work of far greater aesthetic, artistic, and inherent value than I would. The result would be embarrassingly unequal. Why is that bad?

            If anything, when two people of unequal ability and interest compete, the only moral outcome is inequality of outcome. Unless you want to ban any artist on earth from producing any work greater than I or any other untalented ignoramus can create, refuse to allow students to progress in thier education any faster than the dumbest of the dumb, and essentially consign of all humanity to the lowest common denominator of ability how can there be any other result?

            “No one can, in any ultimate sense, take credit for their performative accomplishments. ”

            Then no one can be held accountable for their failures, held responsible for their actions, judged for their crimes, shunned for their beliefs or in any way held to account for any of our actions. Not only is there no right or wrong even in the smallest sense, the very concepts themselves are both irrelevant and pointless. Or as “The Incredibles” put it, “if everyone is special, no one is” and that is most obviously not so or there wouldn’t be people of accomplishment to look up to.

            Some do a lot with a little, some do a little with a lot, but in the ends it all comes down to, what did you do? And there will never come a day when the 38 year old unemployed virgin who died of auto-erotic asphyxiation while watching schoolgirl hentai is going to be worth as much as a Borlaug, or even a Ray Kroc for that matter.

            And you feel sorry for me? This is a sad dreary little world you live in.

          • Harald K says:

            You didn’t say perform, you said contribute. But contributing is always performing, so I don’t see that you’re really disagreeing.

            As to your van Gogh example, the inequality I’m talking about is not that. That van Gogh’s painting is better than yours, is in itself not something we should worry about. But if this difference buys van Gogh fame, wealth or insanity, we should worry about it. If it buys van Gogh fame or wealth, that’s a problem because those things are pretty universally desirable, and van Gogh can’t take credit for being van Gogh – he doesn’t deserve to be who he is than anyone does.

            Similarly, if it buys van Gogh insanity, that’s clearly unfair too. The suffering associated with creating great art should, if it cannot be eliminated, be evenly distributed so that no one bears such an undue burden that he feels the need to cut off body parts.

            Hey, I didn’t say it was easy, or even possible. I just say that yes, if we could lift a burden from van Gogh’s shoulders, we should do it. It is not the natural order of things that van Gogh should go insane, or if it is, we don’t need to care about the natural order. Share burdens and blessings alike, I say.

            Alsadius: We don’t know in a deep moral sense. If I give you a task and you don’t perform it, I may distrust your ability to perform such tasks in the future. But I should be very careful about moral condemnation of you as an individual, because who knows what demons you are struggling with in the darkness of your soul?

            So no need to bring evo-psych into it. Whether you will do it or not is one thing, whether you deserve moral condemnation is another – evolution in general tells us nothing about what we deserve.

            Back to Mars, since it fits: You’re making an old mistake here, of mixing up the sin for the sinner. If you break a promise to me, or hurt me, that’s wrong, and deserves condemnation. It’s a sin – and you’re a sinner for doing it. But, I don’t know, and shall for certain never know in this life, if I would have done the same sin if I were you. I can’t say with any confidence that there’s anything in me, any essence of my being, that’s better than yours. Maybe it’s only my better digestion that keeps me from being the asshole you manifestly are, if you lie to me or hurt me. (Digestion was C.S. Lewis’s example, and I always thought it was so hilariously British!) That must temper all my attempt to hold you to account.

          • Alsadius says:

            Sure, you cannot know perfectly. “Being 100% certain that you’re correct” is not a standard I’ll hold any social interaction to.

          • Mars says:

            “You didn’t say perform, you said contribute. But contributing is always performing, so I don’t see that you’re really disagreeing.”

            The words have two different meanings. And very different connotations.

            “As to your van Gogh example, the inequality I’m talking about is not that. That van Gogh’s painting is better than yours, is in itself not something we should worry about. But if this difference buys van Gogh fame, wealth or insanity, we should worry about it. ”
            Why? You keep asserting this statement, as if it were unarguable. Obviously its not. So by what standard do you make this judgement. I’ve asked you this same general question several times and you refuse to address it, simply repeating your undefended assertion. If he produces a better product, why shouldn’t he receive a better reward? Would you pay the same amount for a Yugo that you would for a Mercedes Benz SLK500? Because if so, I’ve got several clunkers I will happily sell to you for the cost of a brand new luxury car.

            “van Gogh can’t take credit for being van Gogh – he doesn’t deserve to be who he is than anyone does.” Yes he can. He can take credit for choosing to put his talents into use. Even if we accept your “no one can ever be proud of anything we do because its not fair that not everyone has the same capabilities” pablum, the fact remains that Mozart produced beautiful music. maybe he was so talented it was easy, maybe it was really hard, regardless he did in fact produce it. Again results matter.

            ” he doesn’t deserve to be who he is than anyone does.” Yea by that logic Hitler was the real victim because he didnt deserve to inflicted with hateful urges any more than einstein deserved to be gifted with genius. Jeffrey Dahmers was the real victim because he didn’t deserve to be inflicted with the desire to rape and eat children. Except once again you forget choice. Regardless of what urges they had, or what they were or were not gifted with, each and everyone I mentioned made the choice to act upon or put to use those urges and/or talents to concrete ends. And thats why your “arguments” don’t deserve to be called such. There is no validity, no logic, no reason, no consistent underlying principals. You refuse to acknowledge the role of choice, or free will, and reduce humans to nothing more than machines. SO for the last time Ill ask you, on what logical, moral, or ethical principle or set of principles do you base your inane assertion that all inequality is always and everywhere a bad thing? Because again, you keep saying it like its true, but dont seem to be able to explain why its true, or present any evidence other than naked assertions.

            Why is someone who chooses to use their talents to improve the world not afforded the acclaim for their actions while someone actively choosing to make the world worse liable for said harm? What principle does this double standard rest upon? Whether I have the talent to create great art and choose to do so, or an emotional makeup conducive to racism and choose not to overcome it, I am still making a conscious choice.

            Ill be honest, so far I have to say I am unimpressed, You show no ability to back up your statements with any logical proofs, evidence, or even a coherently organized and consistent philosophy, and so far as I can see haven’t even bothered to try. The position you are arguing is at best a juvenile mockery of any coherent moral or ethical system, and the only ones I can think of which even come close to what you are arguing would be embarrassed by a supporter who defends said position so badly. Even the worst of the critical race theorists and radical feminists acknowledge that our choices have some effect on our “agency” (and yes those were scare quotes) and that we actually have some. You seem to believe that humans have less control over their decisions than a wind up toy.

            Honestly Im not trying to be insulting but the only people I can see you having any success convincing are those who have had no success whatsoever in any arena of life whether financial, social, educational, or other. And even then if they have even a basic understanding of sophistry or rhetoric they still wouldn’t be convinced because your arguments are so weak. I’d suggest actually thinking through the implications of what you claim to believe, or at least exposing yourself to other points of view and learning to argue your own more effectively. Because as it is, you come across as a jealous, immature person without the necessary intelligence to even credibly justify your own tantrums.

          • Nita says:

            @Mars

            If Van Gogh and I were to both to paint on the exact same size canvas, for the same amount of time, with identical brushes and paints, he would still produce a work of far greater aesthetic, artistic, and inherent value than I would.

            And yet, Van Gogh lived and died in misery and poverty, while your life is far more comfortable. The actual inequality of outcomes we have is not the meritocratic ideal you’re defending.

          • Harald K says:

            Mars: “Why? You keep asserting this statement, as if it were unarguable. Obviously its not. ”

            Obviously, no point is unarguable, since people can argue about the darndest things. But the point that van Gogh did not choose to be van Gogh I assume you agree with. Unless you’re some sort of weird Hindu who believes in selective reincarnation.

            The claim that people ought not to be rewarded or punished for things outside their control is also uncontroversial. Not even Hindus disagree with that, they say that circumstances like your birth really are under your control, through karma and reincarnation and all that.

            Yes, I am repeating three things as assertions. These are fundamental assertions, I won’t defend them, because they’re pretty much the bottom of moral assertions (at least as expressed in terms of worth). You have to have some fundamental assertions. For all I know you don’t share them, but if you don’t, I consider your notions of morality and desert meaningless.

            The first is that people start off at equal inherent (moral) worth. Not as, say Plato pretended, that some are born with nobler metals in their souls, which make them inherently more valuable.

            The second thing I am asserting, is that if you should ever decrease or increase in (moral)value, it must be because of something you can take credit for, something of (moral) value.

            The third thing I am asserting, is that you really can’t take credit for anything yourself. Because you don’t know how hard the choices you made were, in comparison to the choices other people take. Hell, you don’t even know if you have free will at all.

            (For other people, you may be a little more generous, and assume they deserve credit for their acts of moral courage. As long as you do it only on your own behalf. But they can never demand it, because actually the uncertainty is there, too.)

            So feel free to give money to van Gogh if you think it makes him produce more art. (It won’t. He’s dead. This may seem obvious, but Disney is still collecting royalties.) But you should divorce this from the idea of whether he deserves it or not. What he deserves is up to God – literally or figuratively.

          • Mars says:

            ” But the point that van Gogh did not choose to be van Gogh I assume you agree with.”

            If you mean did he at some point before birth, with foreknowledge of the accomplishments trials and tribulations of his life to come choose to be born that particular collection of genes born to those particular parents? No.
            So what? He still chose every action he took in life that led to his accomplishments, He still chose to exercise or not exercise his talent as he saw fit. He still chose to engage in excess and as such he is still responsible for every thing he did, produced, or caused.

            “The claim that people ought not to be rewarded or punished for things outside their control is also uncontroversial.” In certain limited aspects, depending on how you define reward or punish perhaps this could be something people seem to broadly agree to. However, given your previous attempts at argument I have noticed that your definitions of punish, reward, deserve and many other simple terms is not contained in any dictionary I’ve ever read.

            “Yes, I am repeating three things as assertions. These are fundamental assertions, I won’t defend them, because they’re pretty much the bottom of moral assertions ”
            Then there is no point in further discussion. If assertion becomes truth by fiat then I hereby assert that you are wrong and I am right. And since this is a fundamental assertion it is therefore correct and therefore needs no defense.

            Or maybe simply asserting something doesn’t make it true, no matter how much our “feels” tell us it is, and we should just maybe be able to defend, justify, argue, or produce evidence for our assertions before just assuming everyone else has to agree because they are our fundamental assertions and we are just such a special little snowflake?

            In other words kiddo, you’re boring me. Stating and restating ones beliefs as fact does not make them so.

            “You have to have some fundamental assertions. For all I know you don’t share them, but if you don’t, I consider your notions of morality and desert meaningless.”

            Oh isnt that just precious. You go ahead and consider my notions of morality and desert meaningless. Based on your style of argument there was never any doubt that attempting to delegitimize my arguments by waving them away, its kinda your thing.

            “The first is that people start off at equal inherent (moral) worth. Not as, say Plato pretended, that some are born with nobler metals in their souls, which make them inherently more valuable.”

            Again, says whom? Based on what evidence. By what standard of morailty? Do you mean equal that we all start at birth with 0 moral value and can only hope to add? That we start out with infinite moral value and can only hope to fall below it? That we all start at a neutral moral equilibrium and can rise or fall based on our actions? More to the point what of sociopaths? Do they start out with the same moral value as everyone else? Assert all you like, (and naked unsupported assertion does seem to be the only play in your book) but assertion is not argument. And untill you show you can even attempt to support your assertions, to even begin to try to show why they must be true, what evidence there may be to that truth as opposed to any other asserted truth, you just not worth paying attention to anymore.

            “The second thing I am asserting, is that if you should ever decrease or increase in (moral)value, it must be because of something you can take credit for, something of (moral) value. ”

            Yet you have already stated that no one can take credit for anything, ever. I reckon you will prolly state this again before this comment is done.

            “The third thing I am asserting, is that you really can’t take credit for anything yourself. ”

            How’d I guess?
            So if the only way is to increase in moral value is to take credit for something moral, only you can’t take credit for anything, then no one can possibly increase in moral value. DO you not even realize you are contradicting your own basic assertions?

            “Because you don’t know how hard the choices you made were, in comparison to the choices other people take. ”

            So what, you know what choice you made, and what effect that choice had (to an extent)

            “Hell, you don’t even know if you have free will at all.”

            And there’s the rub. We have no free will, we are just blind clanking machines running out a program based on the inputs we receive.

            Look, i’m sure this is the kind of thing I would have had endless fun arguing in a bar when I was 20 wouldn’t have minded how juvenile your philosophy is, or how little logic it contains, or how egregiously you have been arguing for it, but I’m bored. Try again in a few years when you figure out to support an assertion, how to construct a logical framework that isn’t self contradictory, and have a bit better idea to support than the clockwork man meet catholic theology.

            “So feel free to give money to van Gogh if you think it makes him produce more art. (It won’t. He’s dead. This may seem obvious, but Disney is still collecting royalties.) ”

            No really? he’s dead! oh my god this is the worst, I was just having coffee with him last week, he was gushing about his prosthetic ear.

            Again cute, in the manner of a baby house cat threatening a lion.

            I never claimed that the value in question was monetary, or that monetary success correlated perfectly with the type of value that I was referring to, in fact I said exactly the opposite several times. So again, just bad form. I mean that literally. You make no effort to persuade or convince, your attempts to belittle are frankly embarrassing, the few feeble attempts you do make at argument are illogical, irrational, and unpersuasive. Your appeals to emotion are unmoving, and your over all style is strident, shrill, and juvenile. But on the bright side you are stubborn, seem to have enough intelligence to learn, and can at least present your ideas and thoughts coherently so you are better off than the vast majority of humanity. Read a bit more, listen a bit more, maybe take some classes on debate or rhetoric and try again some time. Allthough I suspect that by the time you are actually capable of defending the philosophy you have espoused over the last few days you will have also seen the glaring holes in and as such will no longer wish to. But Im sure we’ll find something to argue about, its a talent of mine.

            But you should divorce this from the idea of whether he deserves it or not. What he deserves is up to God – literally or figuratively.

          • Harald K says:

            Mars, you have a crazy ability to write a lot, and an unimpressive ability to read. Do you really not know what the problem of infinite descent is?

            You may ask me to justify a moral claim. I may justify it in more basic moral claims. You may ask me to justify those again. I may justify them in still more basic claims, and so we can go on, but not forever. In the end, there has to be some basic moral claim (or claims) that has no justification. Hopefully it’s self-evident to both of us, and doesn’t need one.

            This is a low bar of understanding to expect from you, but you’re not reaching it.

            I gave you three points that I thought were basic enough that they didn’t need further justification, but you rant on for pages as if that was some sort of horrible irrationality and call me “kiddo”.

    • Svejk says:

      I think that this blog tends to underestimate the effects of religious belief in the western population as a whole. In my experience, the most common interpretation of the ‘all men are created equal’ statement is that our claims to equality are entirely independent of our innate and acquired abilities. I have seen this phrase used more often to ground arguments for equality of opportunity than to assert equality of ability. I have also encountered a corollary that the most important axis of human value is moral fibre/goodness, which attempts to address the MLK/Bundy comparison: they were created equal, but one became less in the only way one can, by doing evil. I have observed that similar but less patently spiritually-motivated beliefs are reasonably common among humanists in STEM fields.

      Your examples are interesting; they seem to favor those who are very good at capturing value, attracting investment, and motivating others to innovate – creating shareholder value. I suspect that while many could be persuaded to accept Norman Borlaug or Jonas Salk as their ‘betters’, they would bristle at being seen as lesser than, say, Peter Thiel. The focus on wealth may be a confounder, as people tend to ascribe a great deal of luck, and possibly unscrupulous behaviour, to the fabulously wealthy. Similarly, I think the highly intelligent are more envious of von Neumann or Goethe or Feynman than of Elon Musk.

      My impression is that intrinsic anxiety about inherent value is probably lower in the population as a whole than it is in the circles that intersect with this blog, and that people will jealously guard their concept of worth against those who seek to replace it with stock market valuation. In other words, I think that most people accept obvious differences in ability and are less anxious about their own inherent worth than they are about utilitarians trying to impose a materialist schedule of worth in order to discount or harm them.

      • Mars says:

        I appreciate your comment. Keep in mind when I stated “value” I did state that I did not mean monetary. Not that that cant be one way of keeping score, but that is not the only measure.

        Personally I think Borlaug was the single highest value person who has ever lived, though he was far from the richest. Wealth is one way of measuring the value we provide (and not always accurately or with a very high value to capital correlation) but it is not the only or even necessarily the best one, although it is usually more objective than many others.

        I would have thought that mentioning Mozart, MLK and others not known for their wealth would have made that clear.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          It’s the very same people who say that people deserve equality, independent of merit, who also reward people disproportionally, on the basis of merit. They like spending time around witty, intelligent and beautiful people, and they enjoy the things these people produce, and such they themselves maintain the inequality. They even try to maintain that people are equal, even if they murder people indiscriminately, and they lock these people in prisons, without admitting that they are indeed discriminating between people on a basis of merit.

          (That’s a long-winded way of saying that you are right.)

    • agree. Billionaires, in general, are much smarter than the average population, and while not every high-IQ person will become rich, in the absence of special athletic talent, having a high-IQ certainly helps.

    • I think the best response to the “everything you are is due to forces outside yourself, therefor there is no reason to think well or badly of anyone” argument is to point out that one isn’t thinking well or badly of a disembodied potential pre-conception but of an actual person as that person turned out, whatever the reasons.

      And the best response to the “therefor everyone deserves an equal share of the world’s goods” is “that’s a non-sequitur. If nobody has any responsibility for anything he is, then nobody deserves anything at all, good or bad.” The implication is not the equality of egalitarianism but of amorality.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      Ugh not this stuff again. (this is in response to the whole thread, not any specific comment)

      Ok, there are three (or four) meanings of “equality”.

      Equality of ability- everyone has equal ability to do things useful to others or themselves. This is obviously false.

      Equality of morality- everyone matters equally, everyone is equally valuable. (This is the usual meaning of “all men are created equal”).

      Morality of equality- equality of outcome is desirable, either instrumentally (because everyone deserves everything they want equally) or terminally.

      Blue tribe has a pretty bad problem with confusing rejections of the first kind of equality (when it comes to certain areas especially) with rejection of the other kinds. This is indeed a problem.

      However, many people make the opposite mistake and conflate advocacy of equality 2 and 3 with equality 1, and assume that to believe in 2 and 3 you must believe in 1. But actually, equality 2 and 3 do not require equality 1, it is entirely consistent to think that people vary greatly in their “usefulness” to others, but that everyone has equal moral importance in of themselves, and that the ideal distribution of resources is generally close to equal.

      There is also confusion over what is meant by equality of outcome, in which people conflate equality of outcome (by which I mean something like Bob and Alice both get 5000 credits, which Bob might spend on a bunch of books and Alice might spend on a computer, because those are what they each wanted) with identical behavior or “equality of output” (i.e. Harrison Bergeron silliness).

      Of course in reality things are much more complicated then just “take all the resources, pool them up, and distribute them”. At least until human labor has been mostly replaced by AI, you have to deal with incentives. But most common moral principle cannot yet (or ever, even immortal transhumans will probably die when entropy finally shuts down the power) be enforced absolutely, so that’s not a particular problem.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        G.K. Chesterton joked that all men had to be created equal because they sure didn’t evolve equal.

      • Unique Identifier says:

        This is what is called a sleight of hand. People value a number of things. Getting to eat, have sex and not be killed are some trivial examples.

        If you value these things, you -have- to value people differently, on the basis of whether they makes achieving these things harder or easier.

        It is most obvious in the case of people who kill indiscriminately. It is also plain as day when you stay home from work to care for your sick wife, but don’t hesitate for a single moment as you walk past a homeless man.

        Not until you start treating people equally, regardless of whether they are your family and friends or perfect strangers and regardless of whether they cheat, lie and murder or not, can you pretend that (2) is true.

        [The only sense in which (2) is true, is that people should be equal, in the eyes of the state, -unless- their actions suggest otherwise.]

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          Not until you start treating people equally, regardless of whether they are your family and friends or perfect strangers……

          Not this again.

          Most people don’t aspire to total moral perfection. You don’t have to embody a moral principle perfectly in order to espouse it.

          regardless of whether they cheat, lie and murder or not

          Someone who embodied the principle of equality(2) perfectly would still treat cheaters, liars, and murderers nearly identically to someone who did not do a perfect job of embodying equality(2).

          If you value everyone equally, and you run across a murderer who kills lots of people, you should still imprison or kill the murderer even though you value him. This is because you also value his potential victims equally, so in stopping him from hurting them you generate more value.

          The same is true for liars and cheaters. Even if you value someone who wants to lie and cheat equally, you also value all the people who don’t want to be lied to and cheated equally. So you should stop the liars and cheaters.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            So if you value all people equally, you don’t value all people equally. Their value depends on what value they provide for other people.

            Is there a special catch, where providing positive value such as food, entertainment and inventions doesn’t count, whereas providing negative value does?

            Regardless, you can see that valuing all people equally is self-inconsistent. We -have- to value people based on their actions.

            And yes, there -is- a problem if you are campaigning for a moral principle that you yourself choose to not adhere to. It’s even got its own word, hypocrisy. It’s a maligned word, because it’s the enabler of double standards, which are bad because – guess why? – they involve –not treating people equally–.

          • Paul Torek says:

            “Someone who embodied the principle of equality(2) perfectly would still treat cheaters, liars, and murderers nearly identically to someone who did not do a perfect job of embodying equality(2).”

            Not only that, but they would also treat their friends and loved ones better than random strangers. Fundamental equality(2) doesn’t mean relationships don’t matter.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            At this point, I think I need help with listing all the if-s and but-s implicit in equality(2).

            I’m not sure if there will be much equality left, at the end of it. Animal Farm springs to mind.

          • Paul Torek says:

            Imagine you come into possession of a magical device that can make its bearer extremely happy. Sadly, it doesn’t work for everyone, and you, your family, and friends are among the few it won’t work for. You can’t sell it, it would just magically return to you. But you can give it away. Do you give it to Elon Musk for being so awesome, or to some down on their luck person whose life will otherwise be miserable?

            If you believe in equality(2), you pick the latter.

      • swanknasty says:

        What’s so confusing about it?

        First, the general notion stems from being created equally. This means that we are all innately the same and that nothing innate about us differs to a large enough degree to cause differential treatment.

        This means that we judge others and ourselves based on actions.

        It’s easy to separate the two when traits that are not connected to humanity are considered. However, intelligence is by and large considered to be the trait that makes one belong to the set ‘men’ in the above maxim.

        That’s why it becomes hard to separate the two. Sure, you can say that there is a separation, and logically, you can make several….but in reality, as a matter of perception, I doubt there’s much of one.

  36. Azure says:

    This whole thing does remind me of my experience dealing with people who wanted to be musicians. There’s a particular skill called ‘Ear Training’ that is, basically, grinding the tonal system into your head so you can identify and repliate pitches. Hear a chord and be able to identify it, read a piece of music and know the melody, that sort of thing. It was a wonderful experience for me because I found it tremendously easy, and hadn’t learned to read sheet music before (instead I’d picked everything up by ear), so it was like learning to read while being old enough to appreciate how fantastic being able to read is. Almost like gaining a new sense.

    I got paid a small amount to help tutor people who were having great difficulty with ear training, who, whatever they did, didn’t seem to be able to pull it together. These were folks who could not reliably tell whether two notes struck on the piano in succession were the same pitch. I wasn’t sure how they managed enough of a concept of music to want to be interested in making it, honestly.

    My voice teacher at the time thought it was wrong and unkind of me to even make the attempt. If she wanted to be a ballerina, she couldn’t, because she has the wrong body type. These people lack the innate ability to deal with pitch, and all I’m doing is wasting their time and giving them false hope. I have an innate gift and they don’t.

    I didn’t agree with her. I blithely assigned any musical talent I had to growing up in a church where everyone sang all the time (conveniently ignoring all the other people in the church who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.) and figured they could be JUST as good as I could if they worked at it.

    And I was wrong. I discovered this. They were able to get BETTER, of course. But they had to fight and scrap for it. I set up force feedback joysticks with microphones and a little graphics hackery to see if I could match their ears and voice up with their hand, and that helped, they could sing a scale more or less after LOTS of work. They could tell the difference between a major and minor chord after LOTS of work. I can sing a quarter-tone music with pretty much no practice at all, just listening to them and humming and all and it just happened. It was embarrassing, in taht I felt like I’d had something given to me from nowhere that these people were demonstrating SO much more desire for by the work they were putting in to try and gain it. I couldn’t really continue to believe that pretty much all musical ability was just interest and enthusiasm and hard work. Of course that’s not a scientific study. But this is.

    And it made me feel horribly sad. It still does. On some level I feel like people who are passionate about something and really love it and are willing to break their backs to work at it OUGHT to be able to be good at it. I hope the studies of the genetic basis of variou abilities will eventually leas to a discovery of the physiological basis, so that some day we can slip a little bit of friendly circuitry into someone’s mind to grant them greater mathematical or musical or linguistic ability.

    But, I still disagree with my old voice teacher that I should just tell them they have no ability. They still get to play the guitar. Some of them told me they actually HEARD THINGS in music they’d never heard before after all their gruelling practice, and gaining a sliver of new perception is a wonderful thing. And I think there’s something to be said for the feeling of fighting and struggling to gain competence at something you are, by nature, not very good at. There are a few things I’m particularly ill-suited for due to my vision, and the ones I worked and tried very hard to get some proficiency in are things I’m proud of. Not more proud of than the things I’m actually innately GOOD at, but proud of in a different way that involves spitting in the Blind, Idiot God’s eye.

    • Harald K says:

      My impression is that there’s two components here: One is a pretty big genetic switch for tone deafness, pretty much on/off. But the other is childhood training. Odds are that the people in your church who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket had more of an issue with the second, tone deafness isn’t all that common.

      In every unschooled chorus there tends to be people who don’t sing in pitch, but just glide slightly upwards on a rising note and vice versa. In Norway we call them “brummere” (“brum” is the noise a bear makes). Most of those people can be taught to sing on pitch, if they’re actually helped and not just left to their own devices and expected to improve.

      There are places where musical ability is higher, and it can’t plausible be all down to genetics (for that, we are too similar). Suzuki (as Scott was exposed to) did a pretty good job in showing what you could do with childhood ear training. It won’t turn everyone into Mozart, but done competently it can make most people a lot better than one might assume.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I’d second Harald. My own experience with art leaves me fairly certain that while “genius” can make life easier, there’s nothing much in the field that is off-limits to hard work. Short of actual blindness or the inability to manipulate a pencil, I’m skeptical that an arbitrary level of artistic skill can’t be taught.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      How about rhythm? Did everybody have potential to get better at rhythm or were some people pretty hopeless? I have a vague theory that art abilities of all different kinds are related to rhythmic ability (of which I have so little that I’m always worried when I’m sitting in an audience and the crowd starts to clap along).

      • Anonymous says:

        As a former music student, I remember basically two types of students with rhythm issues. Some seemed to have trouble with physical coordination, others sensing beats. My experience was that the former could improve quite a bit, but not the latter.

    • swanknasty says:

      Music ability may be a good example. When I was a kid, I had no ear for music. No interest, no regard, couldn’t hit a note, etc. By chance, I happened to pick up the guitar during adolescence. Now, almost a decade later, I have a highly developed relative pitch ‘ability.’ I can easily figure out most any song on the radio, etc. Some people have asked if I have perfect pitch, but I tell them that I can guess the chord’s notes when I have a good idea of a song’s key, or an individual note when I have a good idea of a song’s key and hear a note before the note to guess.

      Of course, in learning to play the guitar, I also started listening to a ton of music. Music I probably would not have listened to, had I not started playing guitar.

      What’s interesting is that you put this in terms of ‘breaking one’s back.’ My listen to guitar music SD is way higher than the average person’s, but I never considered it breaking my back. I just did it while I was going on with my life. I just listened for the instrument I was learning, sought out music where that instrument had a prominent role, etc.

      So even with passive practice, you can see marked improvement. Most people don’t even passively practice, though.

  37. 27chaos says:

    In discussions of heritability, I think it is worth mentioning that if learning seems to only offer limited room for growth, that may hypothetically be because people’s past attempts have been insufficiently creative or dedicated or well-researched. I don’t think education as a science has even existed for all that long, so the possibility that we’ll learn more about how to educate people effectively in the future shouldn’t be minimized.

    Of course, if we haven’t discovered easy and effective ways to educate people yet, there are probably some reasons for that. Finding the right methods will certainly be tricky, if they even exist. But that effective methods might be out there is an important caveat which deserves some attention.

    Relatedly, when there is discussion on this site about how parents seem to exert little influence on their children, I think a portion of that might be due to the fact that there’s not sufficient variation in parenting styles, rather than due to the fact that parenting intrinsically has little potential to change a child’s life. Perhaps it takes radical differences to produce radical changes in outcome, and such extreme differences don’t show up often enough to be detected. I wouldn’t claim this is a completely sufficient explanation (nor that all or most variation is important), but I think it’s a valuable partial one.

    One area where we do see a lot of variation in parenting styles is when abuse occurs. Children in abusive environments have much worse outcomes than children in happy secure environments. So, maybe parents who want exceptional children need to be as extra-good at parenting as abusive parents are extra-bad at it. That might not be in reach yet. But someday, I bet it could be.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      One area where we do see a lot of variation in parenting styles is when abuse occurs. Children in abusive environments have much worse outcomes than children in happy secure environments.

      How do you know that’s a causal connection? It could also be the case that parents with bad genes are a lot more likely to abuse their children, who then have bad life outcomes because of their genes, not because of the abuse they suffered.

      I don’t actually think this is all that’s going on, but as far as I can tell, we can’t rule out the possibilty with the data we have. And of course it’s very difficult to investigate this scientifically because of ethical constraints.

  38. Corporate Lawyer says:

    Well now this is absurd. Another post about IQ, this time quite specifically about the distribution of IQ and still no mention of race. This isn’t a trivial issue you can just avoid with any intellectual integrity. If you think people get depressed and make the wrong conclusions about having a low IQ, wait till that’s coupled with race.

    And frankly, the personal self-esteem problem is a minor issue. The much bigger problem is dealing with the fall-out that comes from acknowledging differences in average IQs. What kind of social policy does that imply? How do we think about the world? The reason the topic is avoided is because it implies a fundamental reconceptualization of notions of social justice. Maybe you’ll address it in part 3, or maybe you’ll just continue conspicuously avoiding it. The latter would be hugely disappointing.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I don’t understand how you think race is relevant to any of the points made in the article. Except maybe you’re saying that multiple races with different means make a single Gaussian a poor model of the distribution, but that seems like a quibble, especially since it applies to height as well and so does not actually affect the extent to which the analogy holds.

      If you want articles that address exactly the topics you want addressed, write them on your own blog, don’t complain in the comments every time someone writes about something other than your pet obsession.

    • Emile says:

      Scott has the right to avoid any topic he wants for any reason he wants, and the tendency for this one to trigger flame wars or attract The Wrong Kind Of People seem like perfectly valid reasons to avoid it. By all means, start your own blog!

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Why do I have to mention race every time I mention IQ? There’s also a big controversy around IQ and breastfeeding, but nobody bothers me every time I write an IQ post without bringing breastfeeding up.

      I’ll go further. One of the biggest things holding IQ research back is the number of people who only talk about it in relation to race. Why would I want to only talk about the most controversial thing that will make people angriest and get them to stop reading me and hate the entire field?

      For me, the most interesting questions about IQ are things like “How can we identify and promote genius?” and “Can environmental or genetic interventions create genius on demand?” and “How does understanding the different contribution of innate ability versus practice help us promote excellence in various fields?”

      I won’t say that race and IQ is boring, because it’s interesting both for its own sake and as a particularly toxic subject that tests one’s skills to untangle particularly toxic subjects.

      But when we’re trying to untangle the nature of human ability, and people insist that the most important aspect of it is how it applies to identity politics, I get the same sort of feeling I do when somebody lands on a comet and everyone insists on talking about the political implications of his shirt.

      • it’s a minefield to navigate

      • Jiro says:

        Because you basically asked the question “why do people recognize this for height but not for IQ?” The answer to that question is “race”.

        Or to put it another way, you may not want to engage in identity politics yourself, but your question is about other people, and those other people do engage in identity politics.

        • Anonymous says:

          Because you basically asked the question “why do people recognize this for height but not for IQ?” The answer to that question is “race”

          That’s not the only reason. Most people prefer the concept of “intelligence” to remain vague. Probably because of pretty much the same reasons why most people think it is rude to ask how much they earn. It is more comfortable for things to remain this way. For example, suppose two friends, let’s call them Alice and Bob, know each other’s IQ. Suppose Alice has higher IQ than Bob. In order to preserve the impression of equality and avoid giving impression of feeling superior to her friend, Alice is likely to downplay the importance of IQ, claim that the concept is vague anyway. If, on the other hand, Alice would claim that her IQ shows something about her, it is Bob who might interpret it as arrogance and start downplaying importance of it. Or, let’s say parents finds out that IQ of their child is lower than they expected. In that case, they are still motivated to claim that IQ doesn’t matter anyway. Race doesn’t even enter the picture.

          Intelligence has much wider applicability than height and, in most (although not all) situations, it is much more closely linked to social status. When a thing is closely linked to social status, most people want that thing to remain vague in order to either preserve their own social status or avoid conflicts with people who might feel their social status to be threatened. Race is just a special case.

        • Tracy W says:

          The question was in the context of physicists. I think that it’s pretty safe to assume that most people reading this know very few people of any race are physicists. So I doubt your answer is accurate for Scott’s context.

          • Jiro says:

            Anonymous: If that was the reason why, it would apply to income as well–as you note, revealing your income is as taboo as revealing your IQ, for similar reasons. Something else has to be going on.

            Tracy: The answer is still race in that context. Just because few people of any race are physicists doesn’t mean that the answer won’t have implications outside physics, where there are more people.

          • Tracy W says:

            Jiro: have you considered the possibility that you might be wrong? The commentator Scott quoted from for the previous article didn’t mention race, and I know myself that I have felt dumb and worried about my value a fair few times around very smart people, regardless of their race.

        • MicaiahC says:

          Um, isn’t the height just as connected to race as IQ is? Perhaps a bit weaker, but the choice of example chosen seems implicitly address your objection.

          • Jiro says:

            “Race” is the one word answer. A longer answer would would point out that the racial implication of innate height is in the opposite direction from the racial implication of innate IQ.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Generally speaking, you can’t think long and hard about IQ without getting into crucial nature-nurture questions, which are of course related to the hot-button topics of race and sex. For example, for thinking better about IQ, the analogy of height and the NBA is very helpful as this post once again demonstrates.

        But the NBA is also obviously not populated randomly by race (much less sex).

        There are all sorts of interesting questions about the NBA: e.g., was Jeremy Lin discriminated against in the NBA draft for being East Asian? Are East Asians catching up in height because of better nurture? Are East Asians as good at basketball as blacks, inch for inch? If not, is that because of nurture or nature?

        Thus, in comments sections on anything racial, HBD commenters almost always bring up the NBA. And the proponents of the conventional wisdom seldom have any response other than to denounce the evilness of the kind of people who mention the NBA.

        All truths are interconnected, so just mentioning the NBA is widely recognized as evidence of Closet Crimethinking.

        • Tracy W says:

          It may be that x and y things are related, but that doesn’t mean that anyone has to think about y whenever they think about x. Quite often it’s easier to make progress when you deliberately don’t think about y, eg all those physics problems that include “assume no friction…”.

      • Adam Casey says:

        Because it feels like positive feedback might be helpful: Not talking about race in this context is a good policy and I’m pleased you’re using it.

      • Mars says:

        Heh.. Shirts.

        I think another one is Will nootropics ever actually work as advertised? Cause Id love to be able to bump mine up just before hitting the casino. I cant quite count on a full 5-7 decks. But i’ve got most of the probabilities for most of the cards and I can keep count of the faces at least. Buts it them mid-cards that’ll hammer you if you aint careful.

        However, it is kinda hard to promote excellence in various fields if certain subjects aren’t studied. My issue isn’t that race, sex, diet, breatfeeding, and age of first sexual encounter etc in relation to IQ aren’t being adequately talked about enough. Its that no one is actually willing to study it. At least not with any type of rigor that I’ve ever seen. The closest are studies that try and quantify the amount of inherent or subconscious, or invisible bias or whatever fancy term is in fashion today that is built into the system like rebar in concrete; or at least so i’ve been told. IOW studies like the one you took issue with at the beginning of this whole odyssey. (good reads by the way)

        And honestly, I think the absolute best way to promote excellence in all fields of academic’s would be to get rid of tenure, speech codes, quota’s (official and other) all title 9, and affirmitive action based rules, and give the best applicants the best choices. Use the money saved on admin costs to give the top 1% of the top 1% of university applicants a free ride.

        Hell why not price college on a sliding scale. For every extra IQ, GRE, SAT, point above a certain mark they discount your tuition. For every point you score below that mark they increase it. You get more of what you incentive. Less of what you tax. I may have formulated that politically but I’m pretty sure the underlying observation is solid psychology.

      • “One of the biggest things holding IQ research back is the number of people who only talk about it in relation to race. ”

        The biggest thing holding IQ research back is the number of people who will realize what it means in relation to race. And the *easiest* of those realizations is the understanding that a good chunk of our social and educational spending policies of the past 50 years has been largely wasted.

        “For me, the most interesting questions about IQ are things like “How can we identify and promote genius?” and “Can environmental or genetic interventions create genius on demand?” and “How does understanding the different contribution of innate ability versus practice help us promote excellence in various fields?””

        Right. And these questions have NOTHING to do with race. Like, when we wonder about racist teachers who aren’t promoting excellence for all students, because the excellent students seem all to be white or Asian. Like, should we be using genetic intervention to change black and Hispanic IQs because god knows that 50 years of trying have only demonstrated that environment won’t do much at all.

        “Why do I have to mention race every time I mention IQ? ”

        Because it’s like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the play otherwise.

        You HAVE to. It’s a lie not to. The reason you don’t want to bring it up is the reason you have to. Nothing anyone has to say on the subject is of value unless it is made in the context of race.

        Otherwise, what you get when you talk about IQ is a bunch of white people maundering on about how they always felt kind of inadequate about their brain power….

        Oh. Wait.

        Yeah, okay. This blog is like you being a shrink and letting people vent, right?

        • Corporate Lawyer says:

          Scott is doing his whole uber-rationalist shtick on IQ. He’s talking about IQ like we would talk about it in a perfect world, all the while missing the single biggest reason why public discussion of IQ is stopped dead in its tracks. He wants to avoid it because its uncomfortable, and this is his blog so he can do whatever he wants. But it’s really really hard to keep a straight face discussing IQ when it turns out that the people who have lower or higher IQs tend to be disproportionally a certain kind of skin color, and especially when those ratios get more extreme the higher/lower you go. And then just dismissing that little phenomenon as not relevant at all.

          But I guess the most important thing here for Scott is that he feel superior to both the people who deny IQ exists and the people who talk about IQ as it relates to race. That’ll keep him for feel icky and having the “wrong kind of people” pop up in discussion threads. And I guess that’s the whole point of a intellectual blog, to make your self feel good.

          So, his response was disappointing, but what are you going to do. This is how this topic goes.

    • “The reason the topic is avoided is because it implies a fundamental reconceptualization of notions of social justice.”

      I don’t see why. If you believe it is just that more productive people have higher incomes even if being productive depends on inherited talents, then it’s still just if it results in some racial groups making more than others. If you believe it is unjust, then it’s still unjust if the variation is entirely within race rather than partly across races.

      Denying racial differences in the distribution of talents that affect income results in attributing all differences in outcome by race to environment, and in practice most to discrimination. But that’s not a notion of social justice, it’s a factual belief about the causes of inequality. I think that’s a distinction worth making.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Luke Muehlhauser liked to call his philosophy of religion “common sense atheism”, meaning that he wanted to treat the question of God with the same “common” reasoning that he used for every other question. If we don’t see a tiger in front yard, we don’t say “Since it’s impossible to prove a negative, I can at best be agnostic about the existence of a tiger”, we say “I guess there’s probably not a tiger.”

    Apples and oranges. Atheists do not maintain that there is no God actively acting before them, but that there is no God. At all. If you don’t see any tigers, do you maintain that there are no such thing as tigers? How about London? The planet Pluto? Or ULAS J1120+0641?

    Common sense would dictate that comparing the existence of something visible before you and the existence of something anywhere in the universe is apples and oranges.

    • Mars says:

      This brings up a point I’ve long pondered. I’ve asked many atheists this over the years and have rarely gotten a good answer, and never right away, so maybe y’all will enjoy thinking about it as well.

      Lets say 1 of the monotheistic religions on earth is right. Doesnt matter which one, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, whatever. The only criteria is it must be hard monotheistic, meaning the god in question claims to be the “one true God”who created the heavens, earth, and man. Now lets say this god, tired of sharing headspace with gods he knows don’t exist, decides to personally manifest himself to every man, woman, and child on earth individually and simultaneously. What would it take (and this isn’t only for the atheists, if you are a believer simply choose the religion you feel is the most diametrically opposed to your own tradition) to convince you that what you were experiencing (and later heard that others had experienced) was in fact a manifestation of the one true god?

      What would be considered a great enough show of evidence to prove something that big? Because to me, as a sci-fi fan, I personally would find it easier to believe such an event was an alien invasion strategy than an actual manifestation of god.Your thoughts?

      • Loki says:

        If it claimed to be a good God, providing me with an explanation I found convincing as to how an omnipotent omniscient entity that is good coexists with a world in which horrible things happen would be a start.

        Like, if it could produce that, the sort of thing people describe as religious experiences and an exhibition of the ability to do the scientifically impossible (like, making me levitate and afterwards people who saw me do it confirm that they saw me levitate just as I perceived myself to be levitating), that would do it.

        • Loki says:

          I’d also go with something like it tells me that if I pray to it it will do something no one has been able to do, like completely alleviate the symptoms of my mental illness, and I observe over a reasonable time period that this works.

          (Naturally, I would not expect this to convince anyone else, nor would I be convinced by people who tell me that they prayed and the almost-entirely-subjective symptoms of their clinical-diagnosis-only illness that can spontaneously go into remission for indefinite periods of time anyway went away, but if it happened to me, I would believe it.)

          • Mars says:

            SO all it would take would be oratory and good medical tech? Hell Starfleet could pull that one off. Not Q. Starfleet.

      • Peter says:

        I think, realistically, that my self-knowledge in this area is incomplete. If you want me to say what Future Self’s actual goalposts actually are, I could hazard a guess or two, but not be sure what Future Self would actually do for evidence that only just snuck in through those goalposts – or evidence that narrowly failed the goalposts, for that matter. If you want me to sit down now and make a binding commitment to believe if certain conditions are met, then ha ha ha forget about it.

        One favourite candidate goalpost is “good evidence of people miraculously regrowing entire lost limbs ostensibly due to faith healing”, and I predict that something like that would quite likely lead me to spend a lot of time and effort re-thinking the whole god thing. I can’t predict what the results of that time and effort would be, not without spending that time and effort, and I’m still feeling a bit burned out after the last attempt at honest seeking. Also, I’m not sure I can clarify up-front what “good evidence” means. I have a feeling that if you go googling hard enough you can find _someone_ to claim such a thing, I think that Hume managed to find such a claim in his day, I doubt I’d consider that worth wasting much effort on.

        Also, such an event might well cause me to doubt my own sanity, more than the usual, and past experience is that persistent doubts about one’s sanity aren’t good for one’s sanity.

        So, yeah, I’m one of those annoying atheist-agnostics who engages in several different forms of doubt at once, who sits on fences that other people can scarcely concieve of, and yet who manages to be pretty soldily atheist when The Great God Debate isn’t in town.

        • Mars says:

          Good answer, and it’ll get better the more you think about it. I first formulated the question when I got tired of hearing alien/angel conspiracy theorists arguing on a board I use to frequent. For me, having been raised on a mainline diet of sci-f as a kid, I always just wondered at what point do I say this experience has gone from “some improbably powerful or advanced alien entity” to THIS IS GOD. been thinking about it for years and I’m still not sure. Just something I like to mull over every now and agin.

          • Peter says:

            Of course, with an aliens-or-God type question, there are complicating factors, like how much evidence there is for aliens. If various miracles happen and people convert, then the equivalent of Picard turns up and says, “sorry, there’s been some people acting without orders trying to pretend to be God, they’re being disciplined for it right now, won’t happen again”… in fact, wasn’t there a TNG episode with a plot remarkably similar to this? Also, Star Trek V seems to be in a similar headspace.

            Our gracious host has a scenario where some people find at the centre of the galaxy big stone tablets with exactly his values written into them in glowing letters… this at first face would be evidence for the objective reality of his values, but if he then saw a video of himself making the tablets, putting them at the centre of the galaxy, then wiping his and everyone involved’s memories, that would be another story.

          • Mars says:

            But what if theres no evidence of any aliens. Wouldn’t pretending to be god still be more likely than god manifestin?

          • Jaskologist says:

            TNG:
            Devil’s Due – the one you’re thinking of.
            Who Watches the Watchers – Federation personnel get mistaken for gods, and need to convince the natives otherwise.
            Justice – some alien poses as god of a certain planet.

            TOS:
            Who Mourns for Adonais? – Apollo was really an alien
            The Squire of Gothos – another god-like alien, but it turns out he’s just a kid! (TOS had a lot of god-like beings.)

            DS9: basically the entire series, what with the Prophets, Pah-Wraiths, and Founders.

            VOY:
            Caretaker – series opens with a powerful alien that acts as a god to a specific species.
            Blink of an Eye – Voyager itself becomes a god to a planet where it is trapped.
            Tattoo – Chakotay’s ancestors’ “sky spirits” were really just aliens who loved the earth, maaan.

            ENT:
            The Sphere-Builders, who drove the major plot arc, were aliens from the future who were manipulating the past for their own purposes.

            And just to really nerd out:
            TAS:
            How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth – Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl was really an alien.

          • John Schilling says:

            For maximum nerdosity, I think you need to head over to Babylon 5 (really, it’s a very short trip from DS9): The First Ones were all just sufficiently advanced aliens, mostly not hiding the fact but just being dickishly coy about it. Lorien claims to be the first sentient being in the universe, is not otherwise forthcoming with relevant information, and is a decent but minimally interventionist sort of quasi-deity.

            And of course Valen, the Minbari demigod from ages past, turns out to be a 23rd-century human with a rather impressive time machine. Which turns out to be quite fortunate a thousand years later / twenty years earlier when the Minbari are about to exterminate the human race and notice something a little odd about one of those pesky human kamikaze pilots…

          • DrBeat says:

            On the other hand, if the aliens have Godlike power, and they come up demanding worship, why wouldn’t you worship them?

            I mean, you always have to weigh your abstract values against practical reality and self-preservation. Unless you hate being alive and don’t place value on your continued existence, which may be true, then getting God or a Godlike being involved tips the scales really, really, really heavily in one direction.

        • Troy says:

          One favourite candidate goalpost is “good evidence of people miraculously regrowing entire lost limbs ostensibly due to faith healing”, and I predict that something like that would quite likely lead me to spend a lot of time and effort re-thinking the whole god thing.

          How about good evidence of a man being raised from the dead? 🙂

          • Peter says:

            The quip version is “That would be quite something. Shame there isn’t any.”

            The less-quippy version is that thinking about the evidence there was a major part of the last batch of extensive re-thinking, the one I’m still feeling burned out from.

            Also, I think limb regrowth is more impressive – from an espistemic point of view that is. Apparently quite a few people have been mis-identified as dead (including at least one crucifixion victim), whereas I’d be surprised to see anyone mis-identified as an amputee. Of course there’s more than one way for a recovery from death or amputation to turn out not to be real.

          • Troy says:

            As you may have guessed, I think there is good evidence, but we need not get into that.

            Also, I think limb regrowth is more impressive – from an espistemic point of view that is. Apparently quite a few people have been mis-identified as dead (including at least one crucifixion victim), whereas I’d be surprised to see anyone mis-identified as an amputee.

            I’d be quite surprised if no one’s been mid-identified as an amputee. You mentioned Hume’s example yourself, though there the more plausible hypothesis is that the man in question really did have only one leg, and that he then got some kind of artificial leg. (Hume mis-describes Cardinal de Retz’s testimony on this: de Retz never claims to have touched or otherwise “examined” the leg, as suggested by Hume. He appears to have merely seen the man, fully clothed, with apparently two legs. Not very compelling evidence for a miracle. This is discussed, along with Hume’s other examples, in Campbell’s Dissertation on Miracles, Part II: Sections IV-V.)

      • Kiya says:

        I would be quite easily convinced that the entity I am talking to exists and has superhuman abilities (manifesting pretty well demonstrates that; I might ask if it could read my mind, half as a test of its powers and half to determine how paranoid I should be). If it claimed to be an Abrahamic god, I would leave some space in my head for alternate hypotheses (aliens, a trickster god from a different tradition entirely trolling, whatever), but I’d continue interacting with it on the assumption that it was telling the truth. One is allowed to think something without considering it entirely proven.

        My questions would go more like “Why are you talking to me?” “Are you planning to destroy the world?” “Please explain your treatment of Noah’s society, Babel, the women and children in Sodom, Egypt, people who just wanted to eat quail, and Aaron’s kids.”

        I am not a very good atheist.

      • Jiro says:

        To convince me, a god would have to answer my objections for why I don’t believe there is a God. Showing up personally would be a good first step; it would answer some of those objections, but not others. Of course, “how do I tell the difference between a god and an alien invader” is one of the objections that this would not answer.

        Many of the other questions would be things like “as far as I can tell, this religious concept isn’t logically coherent. Tell me how to make it logically coherent.” If the god comes from a particular religion, he would also have to explain, satisfactorily, what is wrong with my objection to some of the religion’s teachings.

        • ” If the god comes from a particular religion, he would also have to explain, satisfactorily, what is wrong with my objection to some of the religion’s teachings.”

          I think that’s too strong a requirement. I believe in both quantum mechanics and relativity, but I don’t assume that I could provide a random human being with an explanation of them that he would find satisfactory. I’m not even certain I could do it with the principle of comparative advantage, which is much simpler but still counter intuitive for many.

          Or in other words, it might be that there is an adequate explanation but that some, most, or all human beings are not smart enough to understand it.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think the idea of “supernatural” even makes sense. What is god? A supernatural being. What is a supernatural being? The dictionary defines it as existing outside of nature. What does that even mean? If we’re all living in a simulation does that mean whoever created it is God? Once you stop focusing on the definition, it becomes much simpler. A being more powerful than any human and demands obedience is terrifying, regardless of whether it’s natural or supernatural.

      • Tracy W says:

        If it could break the laws of thermodynamics consistently, and I could rule out stage magic (I’d want to consult Penn and Teller) and things like measuring AC power with DC meters I’d accept it as a god, as much as I’d accept any non-mathematical statement.

        I don’t know what could be evidence of something being the one true god though.

      • Anon256 says:

        No evidence I could actually observe would convince me that an entity is infinitely powerful, since some finitely powerful entity is always a sufficient explanation and at least as likely (“infinitely powerful entity” being the conjunction of “entity more powerful than N” for all N). However, it would not take a particularly powerful entity to simply edit the beliefs in my brain directly to make me believe that it was infinitely powerful, so the question seems kind of moot.

        • Mars says:

          Nice one. Thats what I always reckoned. But then at that point Athiesm goes from a rationalist belief structure to a transcendent faith based on gnosis. OTOH were a religious man to come to the same conclusion about an opposing religion’s deity then he might be forced to concede that his faith was nothing more than a rational response to observed phenomenon. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the balls.

          I wonder what the media coverage would be like.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the tiger example is Scott’s interpretation of Luke’s common sense. In reality, Luke’s position is that we haven’t found a tiger anywhere on Earth, or anywhere we can reasonably search, so therefore we can conclude for the time being that no tigers exist.

    • stillnotking says:

      Gods are typically described in such a way that we would expect evidence of their existence. Indeed, the vast majority of theists would assert that there is such evidence (miracles, etc.). The question isn’t, “Is there anything, anywhere in the universe, that could plausibly be described as a god?” That’s not an interesting or relevant question to anyone other than, maybe, a few philosophers. The question is, “Is this religion’s idea of this god plausible?”

      Common-sense atheism is the claim that the answer is “no” for all specified religions: there are no invisible lions, nor tigers, nor bears in my backyard, with no judgment given or needed on whether there might be some in a distant galaxy.

    • Corwin says:

      Nothing. Nothing could possibly convince me. Anything I could possibly get to experience is returned by my senses, and I know I can’t trust them very far anyway – much less than than things like gravity, for example. So if “god” makes me levitate, I could very well accept that my brain experiences the same sensations that I get when I fly in my dreams. But that “God turned gravity off”? Nope, more likely that my senses are not reporting my position accurately.

      Trying to formulate that in more general terms : my senses can’t possibly provide me with enough bits of evidence to prove something as cosmically unlikely as the existence of such a God.

      • Deiseach says:

        But then how can you trust your senses on anything? Can you trust your senses that you are reading this, or only imagining that you are reading this?

        I understand that you can argue you trust your senses when you’re eating a ham sandwich, but if your sandwich suddenly turns back into a pig and runs off, then you quite sensibly say your senses are being deceived: either you are dreaming, drugged, mad or otherwise not in a normal conscious state.

        So yes, if you have the sensation of levitating, you could be experiencing a brain malfunction, or it could be happening. I can only think of a rough check which would be how bystanders react; if they’re trying to hold you back and urge you not to throw yourself out a window, it very probably is wonky brain.

        But if they are reacting with amazement and wonder and cries of “That can’t be happening!”, what then? Do you argue – again, not unreasonably – “Well, if I imagine I’m levitating, I could also be imagining the bystanders and their reactions” – but that gets very recursive, doesn’t it?

        If we take the cut-off point to be “I trust my senses in ordinary situations but not extraordinary ones”, then we still have to thrash out “What are extraordinary situations? Are we absolutely certain they could never occur?”

        I don’t know if you’d appreciate one reaction by the Church to instances of levitation: treat the person as a nuisance and send them somewhere they won’t attract attention 🙂

        It was claimed that he began to levitate while participating at the Mass or joining the community for the Liturgy of the Hours, thereby gaining a widespread reputation of holiness among the people of the region and beyond. He was deemed disruptive by his religious superiors and Church authorities, however, and eventually was confined to a small cell, forbidden from joining in any public gathering of the community.

        As the phenomenon of flying or levitation was widely believed to be connected with witchcraft, Joseph was denounced to the Inquisition. At their command, he was transferred from one Franciscan friary in the region to another for observation, first to Assisi (1639–53), then briefly to Pietrarubbia and finally Fossombrone, where he lived with and under the supervision of the Capuchin friars (1653–57).

        • Jaskologist says:

          St Teresa of Avila:

          As she started to pray again, God gave her spiritual delights: the prayer of quiet where God’s presence overwhelmed her senses, raptures where God overcame her with glorious foolishness, prayer of union where she felt the sun of God melt her soul away. Sometimes her whole body was raised from the ground. If she felt God was going to levitate her body, she stretched out on the floor and called the nuns to sit on her and hold her down. Far from being excited about these events, she “begged God very much not to give me any more favors in public.”

          In her books, she analyzed and dissects mystical experiences the way a scientist would. She never saw these gifts as rewards from God but the way he “chastised” her.

    • Anonymous says:

      Occam’s Razor. Models of the universe without a god or gods have the same predictive power (at least, with the evidence we currently have) as models that do have one or more deities, but are strictly smaller in the information theoretic sense. There are an infinite number of concepts which I posit the non-existence of (in the sense that atheists deny the existence of one or more gods) for exactly this reason. The focus on “God” looks mighty like an isolated demand for rigor.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the argument that God exists even though you can’t detect Him can be intelligently defended.

      I also think the stupid argument Luke critiques is one that a lot of real people use, despite the fact that there is an intelligent argument for the same thing.

    • Anonymous says:

      What? The god in question explicitly claims to be everywhere.

  40. I was so excited when I got to the link at the end of this article, because I was sure that it was going to be a ling to some awesome saving-the-world-by-way-of-basketball story. I was a little disappointed, but that might be because I don’t remember anything about that movie’s plot.

  41. Arthur B. says:

    Not really related, but why doesn’t basketball have height classes, the same way boxing has weight classes? It would open up the professional game to a lot more athletes, and it wouldn’t be any less interesting to watch.

    • i’m guessing the height advantage in basketball (6.5 vs 7) ins’t as obvious as a weight advantage in boxing. A basketball team tends to have players of varying heights and weights for different positions

      • Arthur B. says:

        I don’t have good data for boxing, but MMA is close enough. If we look at the weight of the fighters by weight class, they’re all basically at the same weight. http://www.ufc.com/fighter/Weight_Class/Lightweight

        On the surface this proves your point. The lack of disparity in weight shows that it is so beneficial that you can’t afford to be a gram lighter.

        Not so fast. First, you can increase your weight with diet and exercise, but you cannot easily increase your height. You can bet that if eating your veggies and stretching made you taller, all of the NBA players would grow way past 7′.

        Second, basketball is tapping in the right tail of human height, where very few belong, whereas those weight classes correspond to regular height. So what happens when we look at the one unbounded class, heavyweight? Disparity!

        The reason there are varying heights in the NBA is that being a good player requires height + skill. However, since there are many more 6’5 people than 7′ people, there are going to be many more skilled 6’5 people than skilled 7′ people.

        So I still think there would be value in introducing height classes. Basketball for the 6′ and under, for the 5′ and under, little people basketball! Imagine the possibilities.

        • Desertopa says:

          MMA fighters in the same weight class mostly fight at almost exactly the same weight because competitors usually fight in weight classes where the upper limit is a bit lower than their usual day-to-day weight. They drop weight in preparation for their matches so that they’re just barely below the max limit for the weigh-ins, and then they can break diet and recover some stamina in time for the actual fight.

          In the heavyweight class, however, fighters often compete with significant weight disparities, and some of the smaller heavyweights have records of pretty consistent wins against fighters larger than they are.

    • stillnotking says:

      I assume it’s because basketball is a team sport. It’s not like you can have a half dozen different basketball leagues segregated by height.

      • Arthur B. says:

        I don’t see why not. There’s an untapped market of 5′ tall athletes who could be fantastic basketball player.

        (P.S. no I’m not a short athlete wannabe, I don’t really watch sports and I’m 6’2, but it just seems like such a… low hanging fruit)

        • stillnotking says:

          Where would the audience come from? There are only so many available basketball-watching-hours. The most competitive league (probably the tallest, but maybe not) would quickly outstrip the others. You’d wind up with a boxing-like model where the top-billed teams could charge exorbitant ticket prices, and everyone else would be playing after hours in a high school gym. For a team sport where players couldn’t even move between leagues, that is not a sustainable model.

          • haishan says:

            Yeah, I’d be kind of fascinated to watch a 6′-and-under league, but there are only so many hours in a day. I do think the Olympics should do this, and have thought so for a while. That would simultaneously incentivize players and coaches to put real effort into developing teams and strategies while only occupying my attention for a week or so every four years.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Isn’t that the great thing about the Olympics: it only comes ever 4 years. I have enough time in my life to care about the luge for a few hours every four years, but no more than that.

        • David Simon says:

          low hanging fruit

          Oi.

    • Adam Casey says:

      My question is why there aren’t equivalent classes for other sports. We joke about the 100m for non-Kenyans, but a serious leg-length classification for track events would be cool.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Basketball still has a certain freak show / pro wrestling aspect to it. Wilt Chamberlain, for example, could only intermittently take basketball seriously.

    • Steven says:

      We already have a WNBA for one class of athletes who can’t match the physical advantages of the typical NBA player; how’s that doing, financially? I’d expect much the same from a Short NBA.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Oddly, I manage to be basically the same place on both these scales – 6’6″ and similar IQ (through informal, probably extremely unreliable tests – to back that up, my job is working as a grad student, and my level of academic achievement has been extremely high).

    As far as untrained giants beating motivated smaller people… well, in basketball, I was the exception that tested that idea when in school at one point. I have terrible coordination, and low dexterity. However, when I was in middle school, at one point I hit my growth spurt earlier than everyone else (and hard more powerful growth spurts than basically everyone else, too) so I had literally ~1.5 ft on the next tallest student in my grade. Basketball in Gym for me revolved around getting close enough to the hoop to toss it in, then every time it rebounded if I failed (I missed frequently) I could jump and get it again. I seriously took upward of 10 shots to get it in (my aim/dexterity/coordination was terrible, as I said), but because of the raw height difference there was no question that I was going to get it in eventually and that I was going to grab the rebound every time. In retrospect, this was extremely frustrating for those athletic kids who actually had some skill at the game… Given a sufficiently crazy difference in height of like me being probably more than 3 std deviations from the norm for my age group things change a lot. If it had been like 6 inches rather than 18 with my poor ability for basketball otherwise I would have been pretty worthless on the court – as indeed I proved when other people maxed out their growth spurts and caught up to me.

  43. clathrus says:

    I’m of English extraction and I’m considering procreation with a Han Chinese girl of moderately high intelligence. I’m not overly concerned about the IQ or health of our children (hybrid vigour is a wonderful thing) but I do worry about the masculinity and height of any males we produce. I don’t want an Elliot Rodger on my hands. Should I consider dosing my XY offspring with DHT and HGH before their androgen receptors shut down and growth plates fuse? Is it moral for a parent to tinker with their child’s endocrine system in this way?

    • First off, congratulations on your impending procreation.

      Second, how tall are you? How tall is your wife/fiancee? How tall is you family, and how tall is her family? And likewise for masculinized facial features, etc. The degree of these traits in yourselves and your immediate families will tell you a lot more than the general racial-ethnic characteristics.

      Alas, my boys are probably doomed to be short. My dad is 6’0, but I am only 5’8, and both my wife and my wife’s father are quite short.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      The FDA (a very conservative organization) will actually prescribe HGH for children who are expected to be low height. The children actually do not have to be low height due to any “medical problem” even “natural” very low height is acceptable. I don’t have the standards for safety as Scott. But my look at the research suggested that HGH in moderate doses is a promising idea for male children. Before I actually used this idea I would of course do much, much more re-search. (also I do not expect any children soon). The other issue is the purity of the HGH. I am ot sure how you are going to get sufficiently high quality HGH that you would give it to a child.

      I find your phrasing “don’t want an Eliot Rogers” really objectionable. But regardless my advice is that fi you are already interested looking into HGH is not the worst idea. Male children do benefit alot from being taller on average. So if the medical risks are not too bad it might be worth it for your son. But of course look into this thoroughly.

      • Anonymous says:

        According to this website the “ideal” height for men is around 5’11” – 6’2″.

      • John Schilling says:

        I don’t think this is quite correct. The FDA doesn’t prescribe drugs, it approves them. Approval indicates that the drug has been tested and proven to be A: safe and B: effective for treating some (usually short) list of medical conditions. Once approved, however, the drug can be prescribed by any doctor to any patient for any reason that doctor finds appropriate, with some restrictions regarding obvious abuse. For some drugs, such “off-label use” is more common than whatever it is the drug was actually approved for.

        I couldn’t find the original FDA approval with a quick google; presumably Scott would know where to look, but I don’t think it covers naturally-short children. It’s just that this no longer matters once the FDA gives their initial approval, and I am not at all surprised that there are many doctors who will prescribe off-label an FDA-approved drug that parents think will make their short children a bit less short.

        Not sure what the FDA’s position would be on using HGH to treat, say, “idiopathic basketball aptitude deficiency”; they might not object, but it hardly matters as the NCAA, NBA, and IOC absolutely will.

    • Desertopa says:

      Average height differences between Caucasians and Asians seem to be driven more by environment than genes in any case. In the present day, Japanese teenagers are about equal in height to American teenagers, the difference in population averages is driven almost entirely by the older generations. Population height averages can change dramatically over rather short time periods based on changes in nutrition. In the 1850’s, the Dutch were among the world’s shortest people with the average man standing about 5’4. Today they’re the tallest nationality in the world, with the average Dutch man standing 6’1.

      • Jaskologist says:

        This doesn’t track with my experience of Chinese-Americans who were born in the US; they are still generally shorter than whites. I know those environments are still different, but they’re a lot closer than here and Asia.

    • social justice warlock says:

      this is the modal ssc comment

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know much about this subject, but

      1) Dosing your kids with strong chemicals is usually a bad idea unless you have a really good reason and lots of safety studies

      2) Masculinity strictly defined is correlated with a lot of things like aggressiveness, likelihood of ending up with a criminal record, various diseases, certain decreased cognitive skills, et cetera. It’s not really that good of a thing, at least in my opinion.

      I would say thinking of Elliot Rodger as a likely result of a white person having a kid with an Asian person is really bad salience bias and you shouldn’t worry.

    • Julie K says:

      Do you have a particular girl in mind, or are you describing a hypothetical ideal mate?

    • Mars says:

      Large amounts of meat and dairy in early childhood. I see it all the time here in Asia, lots of rice, little milk, little meat. Short kids. Meat, and dairy, taller kids. Hell you can even see it within generations in families with multiple children from the same parents spaced several years apart. As the parents get better off the kids get taller and taller. Oldest brother ends up being the shorty and youngest daughter is taller than dad. Seen it in Maylasia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, etc.

    • Alexp says:

      Seriously dude? A kid being half Asian means that he’ll likely be effeminate and in a danger of being “Elliot Rodger?”

      I feel sorry for your Chinese fiance.

      • Anonymous says:

        I feel sorry for his kids.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Asian guys have a tougher time on the (American) dating market. This is a valid thing to be concerned about.

        Source: every Asian guy I know.

        • Alexp says:

          That’s true, but it’s not that big a deal unless the Asian man let’s it get into his head (Source: Myself). And it also doesn’t really affect half-Asian men from my experience.

          Also, his concern wasn’t nearly as innocuous as you’re making out. He wasn’t just worried that his children would have a little trouble dating (Something that just about every person posting on this blog might have cause to worry about), but that his children, due to a “Han Chinese” mother would be less masculine and tall (why does he mention the mother’s race and not her height?) to point of being bitter, angry and mentally unhinged like Elliot Rodger. Maybe he should worry more about the father than the mother.

          Right now, he gives off huge vibes of creepy racist dude with Chinese mail order bride.

  44. SUT says:

    Another interesting thing about basketball: over the past 50 years, the level of play has improved *sooo* much. I’d venture to say any college team today in the NCAA tournament would easily beat the championship Boston Celtics from the 60’s. And the improvements aren’t locked in some elite tier, they seem to permeate throughout all levels – from the pro’s to middle school.

    Height matchups be damned – even if the modern college team was shorter at every position than the 60’s celtics, the college team would be mercilessly dunking on the champs.

    Extending the metaphor, I wonder if there’s intellectual fields where we’ve taken the same IQ’s (“talent”) but produce much more effective results than those of the past two generations. Obviously computers come to mind, but there’s a lot of “lowering the rim” going on in that domain.

    Ideas?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What has improved in basketball? Better training methods? Better strategies?

      • Anonymous says:

        Modern NBA athletes are better athletes. Probably due to better training methods and better sports medicine.

        Better scouting. Both from outside the US and within the US. In 1960s career as a professional basketball player wasn’t as attractive as it is now, IIRC there were cases when people declined pro contracts in favour of getting an ordinary job.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Not smoking during halftime anymore helps.

      • SUT says:

        I’d divide performance up like this:

        Shooting percentage: Hasn’t changed.

        Athletic Ability: 1. “explosiveness” can now be trained through plyometrics (you used to have it or you didn’t), and 2. Strength and bulk (for the tall lanky guys) is demanded.

        But mostly the improvement comes down to a category that is very difficult to establish metrics…basically the part that resembles movie kung-fu or fencing – quick act/react micro-movements. A scoring drive is usually 3 steps and 2 dribbles but every aspect of that motion needs to be perfectly executed.

        You can find a kid at every middle school in the country that has learned and can execute this new style of agility because he can watch and imitate. But the greats from earlier eras had nobody to model on, they were just making it up as they went along.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Field goal kicking in the NFL has improved at almost a constant rate for a couple of generations:

      http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-moores-law-of-nfl-field-goal-kicking/

      It’s quite similar to Moore’s Law with computer chips.

      • John Schilling says:

        Obvious rules question: Can you score a field goal on the kickoff, or do you have to wait for the first play of the return to make a formal attempt?

        If the former, degenerate football is decided at the coin toss.

  45. James says:

    I think we’re a long way from maximizing human intellect.

    If you talked to a literate person in the 1700s, when maybe 70% of the population was illiterate, and asked him what the highest literacy rate could potentially be, I bet he’d say MAYBE 70%. But no way would he say 100%, which most developed nations have approximately managed.

    The learning required for reading and writing is essentially the same as other subjects. The problem is most people do not know or apply the most efficient ways for learning.

    E.g., a large majority of college students say they study for tests and exams by re-reading their notes. But this happens to be THE WORST way to study based on our current understanding of cognitive science. Even if they do well on the test, this kind of studying is very unlikely to produce long-lasting understanding. What students should really be doing is actively struggling with the material and putting ideas into their own words.

    And of course, the effect is cumulative. If you’re not learning properly for years, and others ARE, then inevitably you’ll fall behind.

    • James says:

      After reading most of part I, a few of your intuitions about learning stand out and seem to be pushing your thinking in directions I don’t agree with.

      First, you were bad at calculus because you were bad at algebra. Mathematics is cumulative and interconnected. If you struggle to see how an equation can be expressed as a graph, or how trigonometric functions can be transformed, you will not do well.

      However, all the ideas in high school algebra are simple if you want to break them down. The difficulties come in retaining the ideas (which comes with thought! If you think people simply remember these things by magic you are mistaken!) and connecting them.

      Second, in my experience the positive feedback loops need to be quite short for people to enjoy learning. THIS is possible for everyone, but the material has to tailored to them.

      Third, you seemed quite scared of failure and difficulty. The biggest hurdle to learning is fear of making a mistake.

      I’m in a little bit of a rush, but I hope to expand on these later.

    • “What students should really be doing is actively struggling with the material and putting ideas into their own words.”

      The way I usually put this is that you only really understand an idea when you have invented it for yourself. Of course, it may be easier to invent an idea after someone else has told you about it.

    • 27chaos says:

      Agree a lot with this. My comment elsewhere ITT has some similar ideas, but you’ve given me a couple new ways to think about this.

  46. stillnotking says:

    The ultimate question here is: Why do I suffer from comparing myself to others? I don’t think it’s a problem that can be reasoned out of, in the conventional sense. As long as I accept that some people are more valuable — and I don’t see how that conclusion can be avoided, for any criterion of value — there will be a negative emotional valence associated with comparing myself to better people. I will not be the next Norman Borlaug. It’s overwhelmingly likely that I will live out my life in relative obscurity and mediocrity. I suspect that’s true even of the radically self-selected population of readers of this blog.

    Now, one can take comfort in being “good enough”, being socially and personally valuable in mundane ways — a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend, a good worker. But a certain personality type (again, probably overrepresented on this blog) is never going to be completely satisfied with being just those things. For us, the only real solution to the problem is insight. We need to truly understand what we mean by words like “self” and “value”, and that’s ultimately a spiritual project. I am not shilling for any particular religion here, but it’s worth remembering that these are the very types of questions religion has grappled with for millennia, particularly in mystical traditions.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      It seems likely to me that people suffer from comparing themselves to others because they have been taught to.

      The parent who disapprovingly asks, “Why can’t you be like your brother?” The teacher who holds you back from recess because you misunderstood an instruction and did the wrong words for spelling practice. The peers who mock the way you speak, stand, or move.

      If you suck at something, you’re not allowed to feel proud about anything while that suck is being foregrounded at you. That is practice at suffering from comparing yourself to others.

  47. Julie K says:

    [This comment really belongs to the previous post, but I figured all the commenters are here by now, so I hope no one will mind if I post it.]
    First off, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to *expect* consistency, and be surprised when the people who usually take one side of the debate for other issues (weight, mental health) take the other side on IQ. How often are people really consistent on the meta-level?

    That said, I wonder if there’s a link between the inconsistency you highlight here and the one you mentioned in your Thrive/Survive post (not that I endorse that post as a whole), that conservatives are more likely to favor school choice and homeschooling. Perhaps one reason why progressives like to think that intelligence depends on environment is because it provides justification to funnel more resources into the public school system.

  48. victoria says:

    There’s a problem with the statistics in this article: you’re working from the assumption that all NBA players are from the United States (they’re obviously not).

    And from what I understand (others will no doubt be able to provide more information here) there are two other particular confounders w/r/t the NBA:

    1.) People who are not freakish outliers for height (up to, say 6’7″-ish) tend to be scouted more for actual basketball ability in playing situations, in high school, college, and international semi-pro leagues. People who are freakish outliers for height and don’t play basketball may be taught basketball on the chance that they can do something in the NBA (excellent case in point: Yinka Dare).

    2.) People who have athletic ability and interest, at least in the U.S., tend to play multiple sports while they’re young and then specialize in a sport when they get older. If they grow especially tall, my understanding is that they’ll experience a lot of selective pressure towards basketball (from coaches, peers, etc.).

  49. Liz Calkins says:

    This reminds me of how frequently I see artists complaining that they hate when people say “oh you’re so lucky to be blessed with such talent” or similar sentiments, so they counter with, “I’m actually just ‘lucky’ to have practiced every day with a pencil for (x) years, you just don’t want to have to work for it”.

    When really it’s both at once: They were lucky to be blessed with talent AND worked hard to develop that talent. Talent without hard work often will not get you to the top, but hard work without talent probably won’t even get you beyond “mediocre”.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      In my experience, “talent” has a pretty minimal impact on the ability to make art. It really is pretty much all practice. I do not appear to have any great talent at art, and through many years of hard work, I’ve been able to get my skill level to the point that I make a decent living at it. I’ve kept a lot of my old drawings too, and it’s not hard to see the progression.
      Once a year, I go off to a summer camp and teach kids art techniques. I’m not a trained teacher, just a volunteer, but I have a collection of exercises that I learned or developed for personal practice, and most of them involve breaking a complex, difficult form into something simple enough that even a complete beginner can brute-force their way through. The main obstacle between people learning art is being able to tell why a line is the wrong line, and how to fix it. If you can illustrate the techniques clearly enough, this becomes doable, even trivial, and wrote practice handles the rest.

      • Liz Calkins says:

        Sorry, but… no. Not the case. At all.

        I’m someone who had to brute force their way through every aspect of art, and despite spending her childhood doodling and taking art classes and working hard, I never got above “mediocre”. (And eventually gave up because it was clear I was never going to get any better and the amount of frustration and effort involved simply wasn’t worth the comparatively pathetic results.) I know quite a few other people who spend a lot of time drawing and still do as poor or even more poorly.

        Particularly anything involving perspective, shading, and coloring is lost on me, because I’ve read every tutorial I can get my hands on and they all involve “just knowing” in some variation. Even if I try directly copying what I see as precisely as possible, it still looks wrong.

        So if you’ve gotten good enough to be paid for your art, you do have talent. Maybe not as much as a virtuoso artist does, but more than someone like me with absolutely zero talent.

        Same goes for other creative works. I’m a little more natural and accomplished at writing, but my writing still lacks some sort of indefinable “spark” compared to other writers I read, even other amateur ones like myself. It’s a lack of creative talent, not a lack of technique.

        And then there’s singing, which comes a little more naturally to me and so I’m a little more accomplished at that, but I’m still way behind people like my best friend who has a natural talent for pitch and sensing what notes go together than I could even begin to develop even after a couple years of formal training in music theory (which my best friend never had).

        It’s one of those things, I guess, where it’s utterly impossible to see how important talent is and how hard work alone is insufficient unless you lack the talent and can see you get almost nowhere compared to others despite putting in the hard work.

        To call back to the first essay on this topic: It’s like how Scott put in a lot of hard work but still only got a C in his advanced math class, while people with talent in math could almost get an A in their sleep.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          This split in experience is fascinating to me. The problem, of course, is that my experience sounds practically identical to yours.

          “I’m someone who had to brute force their way through every aspect of art, and despite spending her childhood doodling and taking art classes and working hard, I never got above “mediocre”. (And eventually gave up because it was clear I was never going to get any better and the amount of frustration and effort involved simply wasn’t worth the comparatively pathetic results.) I know quite a few other people who spend a lot of time drawing and still do as poor or even more poorly.”

          I worked hard at art as well, and the results were extremely mediocre. what I guess I’d like to do is calibrate what I mean by “working hard”.

          I doodled a lot as a kid, mainly drawing swords and guns. Technical-art style, perfect side views, all clean lines, no shading or perspective. I avoided anything else, because I knew I sucked at “drawing people”, and avoided it. I was very mediocre even at this, but I could take picture of a gun, and in 30 or 40 attempts, eventually end up memorizing the lines and proportions well enough to render a fairly decent line drawing.

          In 2001, I decided to start trying to learn art in a serious way, and started practicing a mix of anatomy, cartooning, and a very small amount of perspective. From 2001 to 2006 or so, I’d say I did about 10-20 hours of drawing a week. The results of this were very mediocre.

          in 2006, I started a webcomic with another artist, and over the next eight months or so cranked out around 50 full-color pages. This was my first big stab at using color, and it was extremely time intensive, probably around 40 hours of sketching, drawing and painting a week. the results were pretty mediocre. I was learning, trying new techniques, but wasn’t close to mastering anything.

          from 2007 to 2009, I was working in a paint factory, drawing and painting in my free time. Back to around 10-20 hours a week, mediocre results.

          in 2009, I went back to school and took a couple art classes. I dedicated myself to extra effort, and got back up to around 20 hours of painting a week pretty consistently. the results started to show some promise, though I wasn’t remotely employable at that point.

          in 2010, an art buddy and I got into an art class with a teacher who, in a number of questionably ethical ways, motivated his students to work very, very hard. I started painting 40 and 50 hours a week, and when my results were dismissed as garbage, I pushed into 60, 70, and sometimes 80 hours a week. We dropped our other classes, painted while we ate, cut back on sleep. A friend and I sustained this level of effort for three semesters straight under this teacher, painting and studying technique with every waking hour, exploiting anything we could find to give us a leg up. We seriously discussed amphetamine use.

          It worked. In mid-2011, both of us got jobs.

          There was not a single moment in this progression where art felt “easy” or “natural”. It was pretty much a slog the whole way through. At many points, especially in the last two years, success seemed flatly impossible, and the effort was backbreaking. I stuck with it because, as miserable as it could be, the rush of finishing a piece was so damn addictive that I just couldn’t stop. Multiple other students in the class were “talented”, one of them in particular could do in 15 minutes work that took me 8 hours or more. As far as I know, that student never made it as a professional artist, due mainly to an apparent lack of discipline.

          For myself, I’ve seen how practice alone isn’t enough. you need to be practicing the right thing, or you’re wasting your time, and as a newbie, it’s extremely difficult to figure out what the right thing is and the best way to practice it. Some people practice the right things at the right time and get better very quickly; you can call this talent or luck or whatever you like, but I’m still convinced that with the right guidance and a sufficient amount of dedication, pretty much anyone with a working eye and hand can get at least as good as I am.

          • Liz Calkins says:

            Your attitude is so poisonous, though, because, while I know you probably didn’t intend it, it spits all over other people who put in the same hard work as you did and didn’t get the same results because they simply didn’t have the talent or opportunities.

            Maybe it’s not a big deal when it comes to talking about doodles, but it’s the same sort of attitude that causes big problems when talking about things like wealth and wages, where even people working 60, 70, 80+ hour work weeks are still considered “lazy” and “not trying hard enough” because their jobs pay poorly and have no opportunities for advancement.

            And I know I’ve spent a lot of time in general putting in a lot of hard work and never getting any good results from it, and being told by everyone that I’m nothing but lazy and stupid and useless as a result. Because they too think that “hard work” = “success” no matter what.

            Because no, I didn’t put in 10-20 hours a week over years and years, but it was because unlike you I found the process frustrating and a chore and instead of a rush from finishing, all I got was the depression of knowing that I put in that much effort for something that looks like utter drek.

            Part of the reason I did better at writing and better at singing was because, thanks to having a little more natural talent, I could put in the effort and actually come out with something that felt worth it, even if it would never be a masterpiece.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            “Your attitude is so poisonous, though, because, while I know you probably didn’t intend it, it spits all over other people who put in the same hard work as you did and didn’t get the same results because they simply didn’t have the talent or opportunities.”

            In the context of art, if these people exist, I’ve never heard of them. My story was not supposed to be bragging. I was attempting to give an idea of what constitutes “hard work”. Very, very few people are willing to actually pull multiple all-nighters a week painting. Even fewer are willing to go outside their comfort zone and draw hundreds and thousands of miserably awful pictures in an attempt to actually master anatomy, perspective, rendering and the other techniques you really need. Few are even willing to admit that a specific drawing they’ve done is bad, which is the bare minimum you need to actually improve. Most draw because it’s fun to them, which means that they draw things that are fun and not things that aren’t. It’s rather like calling yourself a weightlifter, and refusing to lift anything that requires strenuous effort or might leave you sore afterward. “Working hard” by pulling all-nighters to draw things you’re already good at in the way you’re already comfortable with is probably the most frequent way that artists waste their effort. It’s the difference between five years of training, and one year of training five times. It’s a trap I still find myself falling into even today. “I tried and failed” is the start of the hard work, not the end.

            What I am saying is that art is a set of physical and mental skills that are very largely gained through proper training. The skill itself is not nearly so easily acquired as, say, driving a car, or other skills in common experience, and that skews people’s perceptions heavily, but it all comes down to muscle memory and mental imaging in the end.

            The other problem is that instruction is often very bad these days, and most professional artists I’ve heard from agree that college is a waste of time and money; too expensive, too much fluff, not enough focus on core technique, especially compared to newer resources like Gnomon and Massive Black. At the school I went to, even the teacher who actually got us working hard provided very little real instruction. He expected us to find what we needed ourselves, which in retrospect has been a very useful skill in its own right.

            “if you suck, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough” is an awful thing to say. “If you’re working hard and not getting what you want, you should try changing HOW you work” is better advice for pretty much any aspect of life, I think. If I believed as you seem to, I would have quit. I didn’t, and I’m happier for it. One of my goals now is to try and figure out how to make it easier for other people, and one of those ways is to assure them that it IS possible to make it through the gauntlet, and to try to share tricks that make the road easier.

            Another artist’s perspective:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMtCvejakT4

          • Liz Calkins says:

            “In the context of art, if these people exist, I’ve never heard of them.”

            Try deviantART. You’ll find no end of people who sketch and sketch and sketch over years but don’t really get any better. I had one friend like that while I was there; she had boatloads of creativity and drive and was better than I was, but she was still never going to be a master artist.

            “One of my goals now is to try and figure out how to make it easier for other people”

            You can’t, basically. Either they have the talent to work with or they don’t.

            “Even fewer are willing to go outside their comfort zone and draw hundreds and thousands of miserably awful pictures”

            Well yeah, because after the first several dozen awful pictures they probably decided it was worthless and a waste of time like I did. Especially if they considered drawing a chore like I did. How am I supposed to know whether I’ll someday finally magically get better out of the blue like you did, or if I’ll just keep torturing myself for no reason when I could have spent my time more fruitfully?

            And I’d note that while I sang and wrote more often because I actually considered those halfway fun and got halfway tolerable results, I still never got above “mediocre” despite all the practice. Meanwhile, like I said, my friends who had the actual talent that I didn’t have got much better results despite not actually putting in more work than I did up to that point.

            Because all the hard work in the world can’t magically produce the creative “spark” that’s lacking in my writing, or give me better hearing.

            I give up though, it’s obvious it’s impossible to make you understand the other side, because you simply can’t understand what it’s like not having your talent. To you it’s simple, so you just can’t understand why it’s not simple to everyone else. It’s like, I don’t know, say, a color-blind person trying to make normal-sighted people understand why it’s hard for them to tell what color the traffic light is.

          • Nita says:

            @Liz

            Sorry, but I have to side with the artist guy here.

            Most of the folks on DeviantArt are doing it wrong (from a technical improvement perspective — but most of them just draw for fun, so that’s OK). Doodling or painting whatever I wanted didn’t improve my skills, so I it’s safe to say I don’t have any special talent either.

            But when I had to do hours of boring technical exercises, such as constructing and shading a plain white cylinder, checking and fixing my work until I got it right, eventually I got better.

            Do DeviantArt users want to spend their free time drawing balls, cylinders, cones, pyramids and cubes? No, they want to draw awesome characters and stuff! So that’s what they do. And are they eager for critical comments? No, they want positive comments. So that’s what their friends give them.

            Of course, not everyone has the time, resources or knowledge to do it right. And some of us, including you and me, have mental issues like not feeling satisfaction after completing a task. But that doesn’t diminish the amount of work that “luckier” people have to do.

            And no, drawing for fun / learning inefficiently is not similar to working 80+ hours at a poorly paid job, although neither is a hallmark of “laziness”.

          • Agronomous says:

            Do DeviantArt users want to spend their free time drawing balls, cylinders, cones, pyramids and cubes? No, they want to draw awesome characters and stuff! So that’s what they do.

            But Triangle Man is an awesome character! On a more serious note:

            “Talent determines how fast you get good, not how good you get.” —Richard Gabriel

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Liz – “Well yeah, because after the first several dozen awful pictures they probably decided it was worthless and a waste of time like I did.”

            And this is the core of my point. “Hard Work” means pushing through that feeling and drawing anyway, day after day, for years. There is an innate instinct to avoid situations that hurt one’s self-esteem, and this instinct is toxic to efforts at self-improvement. Add in the belief that “talent” is unteachable, and you have a self-perpetuating pattern.

            One response to the pattern is to simply give up, stop drawing entirely.

            Another response is to keep drawing, but only draw things you already got good at before the pattern set in. This is what you see on DeviantArt, and frequently in the web-comics community as well. The not-entirely-helpful harsh critique of the ConceptArt.org community developed as a direct response to this approach.

            The third response is to embrace the suck, admit to yourself that you’re awful, and give yourself permission to keep being awful as long as you’re learning. This is the heart of what it means to be an artist.

            “How am I supposed to know whether I’ll someday finally magically get better out of the blue like you did or if I’ll just keep torturing myself for no reason when I could have spent my time more fruitfully?”

            I have no idea if learning to draw is a fruitful use of time for any particular person. That’s an entirely subjective decision. All I’m saying is that natural talent is not the deciding factor, and that the path from zero skill to marketable skill is a fairly well-mapped one.

            A simple demonstration doable in a couple hours: http://imgur.com/viJqCKa

  50. Tom Scharf says:

    Of course people who have math skills and basketball talent understand a very important distinction here:

    # US NBA/NFL players: 2,000
    # US Engineers: 2,000,000

    And this is where the platitude of “do what you love” gets complicated.

  51. Crab says:

    For me the worst feeling for me is when someone can easily recall things, for example the names of actors, the lyrics of a song, random facts, or can carry out complicated mental calculations. Then I think that if *I* had this ability, my work would be an order of magnitude easier. It makes me doubtful whether it’s worthwhile to spend my time learning given that other people can accomplish a similar result in a small fraction of the time.

    I comfort myself with the consideration, that it seems that making success is to a large degree determined by persistence and chance. I believe I’m still one of those who occasionally find a curious, unprecedented way of combining patterns, often enough, at least, so that it’s worth spending all my time on it. I’m definitely one of those who don’t mind spending an excessive amount of time on a single task. A big part of my motivation is also, that I like to figure out how things work, no matter how bad I’m at it or how bad it makes me look like an idiot. I feel superior to anyone who doesn’t have this drive or ridicules it, but I would still be highly motivated without that superiority.

    The basketball analogy is actually flawed in the way, that if you fail at sports, you are likely still physically and socially attractive and can enjoy everything that ensues (togetherness, sex etc.). On the other hand, intellectual activities are both socially and physically crippling as far as the majority of society is concerned, so dropping out of it is a much bigger deal.

    • On the other hand, intellectual activities are both socially and physically crippling as far as the majority of society is concerned,

      Sorry, but this just ain’t so. I have never seen any evidence that intellectual prowess per se is actually unattractive to anyone, in that a normally attractive, sociable person who is very intelligent is somehow penalized. There might be a few subcultures where this is the case, but it’s certainly not true in “the majority of society.” What is true is the converse, that if you’re unattractive and antisocial, being smart won’t necessarily make up for it. In general, nerds use this false belief as an ego-saving mechanism to excuse their social incompetence.

      (I am of average attractiveness and below-average sociability, but I started improving on both of these axes once I stopped pretending that being ugly and socially awkward was inherent to being smart.)

      • BD Sixsmith says:

        …once I stopped pretending that being ugly and socially awkward was inherent to being smart…

        Well said, although I think that while it is characteristics other than intelligence that can make nerds seem attractive it is often hard to separate them. To be capable of hyperfocus, for example, is often to have an academic gift and a social handicap.

      • On the other hand, intellectual activities are both socially and physically crippling as far as the majority of society is concerned,

        This may have been as recently as 20 years ago, bot not anymore. Both in terms of earning power and social status, intellectualism is more valued than ever

        • Liz Calkins says:

          I disagree, personally. It’s not so much intelligence that’s valued nowadays as it is creativity, innovation, and the ability to network and market those two skills. Intelligence is only strictly valued in the sense of being able to fuel the first two skills more effectively, particularly in today’s age of creativity and innovation being more technologically-oriented.

          But people who are “merely” intelligent without enough creativity and/or innovation to go with it, they tend to just be your average Tech Support grunts or code monkeys. Maybe lab techs or other bottom-rung scientists. Still making middle class incomes more easily than most, but not exactly high flying either in income or status.

      • Crab says:

        This part of my comment was admittedly ambiguous. Sports is a social and physical activity. If you drop out, you were at least active in ways that society directly rewards. On the other hand, there is a high risk that spending thousands of hours at a desk leads to atrophy of your social skills and muscles. Where I come from, those who are strong and chatty definitely have a huge social advantage—scarcely anybody cares about what you’ve learned about physics and theory of computation.

  52. Tom Scharf says:

    I have a different mindset than Scott, who seems to get all wrapped up in “do no harm” and worries about any negative outcomes of his posts. I think it is part of the red/blue tribe divide or simply my engineering mindset.

    If Scott’s post equally inspires 11 people and offends 10 people, was his post worthy? I would say yes.

    There seems to be a competing mindset between minimizing emotional trauma of a group vs. strengthening the group (at the expense of some emotional trauma).

    An assembly line is not performing well because Bob isn’t very good at his job and is affecting the production of the entire group. Although Bob has 3 kids and is the nicest guy around, Bob needs to be fired. I don’t pretend to speak for Scott, but my guess is Scott could not fire Bob. Insert person X who could not fire Bob if you wish.

    Because somebody fires Bob doesn’t mean they don’t care about the welfare of Bob. They care more about the integrated welfare of the entire group. This decision is even clearer when poor production may threaten the entire company’s future.

    I think the right has mentality of “we must maximize the strength of the group” and the left has a mentality of “we must minimize the trauma to the group”. Another way of stating it would be the competing goals of “protection of society” vs. “advancement of society”. Both sides feel they are justly and morally correct in their actions.

    Because the right is more likely to sacrifice others to strengthen the group, they look harsh and uncaring (queue up the evil corporate overlord stereotype). From the right’s perspective, capitalism may be harsh but Cuba is what a more fair society really looks like.

    It is appropriate that this tug of war take place. There is no correct answer. I could do without all the screaming about it though.

    It is acknowledged this is a vast oversimplification of the issue.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t understand why people care so much about inequality. I understand not wanting the poor person to starve but why do people care so much if some guy is a lot richer than him?

      • Tom Scharf says:

        Mostly because they believe they received the riches on the backs of others unjustly. One can imagine a world in which everyone is paid $1/hour and starting any business costs $100M. The unwashed masses are stuck in poverty and cannot become the evil corporate overlord due to the fixed and corrupt economic system designed to keep the rich wealthy.

        A system that allows the unwashed masses to start their own business and become a benevolent caring philanthropist that crushes the uncaring corporate overlord under their boot heel is desirable.

        The fact that the benevolent caring philanthropist and evil corporate overlord are indistinguishable depending on your viewpoint is of no importance.

      • Eli says:

        Because some resources, like available mass-energy in the universe (more prosaically: land, political influence), are zero-sum, and so inequality actually necessarily entails that someone be deprived for the sake of someone else.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        1 Unjustified inequality looks a lot like theft.

        2 People are still starving, so inequality is not harmless.

        3 The justificationas regularly put forward for inequalities of outcome are based on inequality of effort and talent. However, inequalities of effort and talent are in no way proportionate to inequalities in outcome at the extremes, so inequality remains unjustified by the justifications that are typically put forward for it.

        (NB not saying inequality lacks causal explanation. Also not saying inequality is unjustified according to ultimate objective morality)

        • Jaskologist says:

          Starvation is not due to inequality, it is due to not having enough. Bill Gates’ vast wealth in no way increases the number calories that I need to survive.

    • If Scott’s post equally inspires 11 people and offends 10 people, was his post worthy? I would say yes

      Scott’s post could offend millions, inspire no one, and yet still be worthy. It could likewise get a billion LIKES and be of little more value than Kleenex.

  53. Macrojams says:

    Hopefully I haven’t missed the boat, but I think this post has important things to say in regards to the last two posts here: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/08/19/the-calculus-of-grit/

  54. Gbdub says:

    Scott has already mentioned that the SSC commentariat skews high in intelligence, but I suspect it skews even higher in intellectual curiosity. The posts are dense, long, and esoteric – something that will mostly appeal to curious types interested in knowledge for its own sake. To use the basketball analogy, SSC is full of 6’0 types with hoop dreams.

    And I think that might be the source of frustration over “innate” intelligence talk. I don’t think low intelligence is per se unsatisfying, it’s the combination of high intellectual curiosity and moderate intelligence. A 6’0 person is above average, and unlikely to be unsatisfied with their height – unless they want to be an NBA star. Likewise a person in the 75th percentile of intelligence ought to be pretty happy in most circumstances- unless they want to be a famous particle physicist. I’d wager the usual SSC content selects for people both very intelligent, yet still unsatisfied with their intelligence.

  55. JayMan says:

    Excellent illustration of the mechanics behind both processes!

    (I saw your response to my previous comment – working on responding to all my comments 😉 )

    I’m glad you address the matter of non-normality of the distribution at the extremes. IQ works similarly: people with extreme IQs are far more common than one would gather from a plain normal distribution. Genes of outsized effect (many perhaps otherwise deleterious) probably play a role here.

    As an addendum to this, here’s something else to consider on the matter:

    But at the levels most people play at, moderate height differences are surmountable by differences in training and technique, and large height differences are so rare as to not come up very often.

    I’m 6’4″ and I can’t play a lick of basketball. There’s more to success at basketball than height. Yes, those other things are heritable too (i.e., I have at least one of the needed traits, but not all or enough of the others).

    If we don’t see a tiger in front yard, we don’t say “Since it’s impossible to prove a negative, I can at best be agnostic about the existence of a tiger”, we say “I guess there’s probably not a tiger.”

    Quibble: there’s a difference between absence of evidence and evidence of absence. Not seeing a tiger in your yard is when there’s a clear view of the yard and no place for the tiger to conceivably hide is evidence of absence (i.e., if the tiger was there, you should be seeing x, y, z, etc…). When it’s dark or there is plenty of vegetation in which the tiger could hide, not seeing one upon a glance around the yard gives you only an absence of evidence.

    • social justice warlock says:

      IQ works similarly: people with extreme IQs are far more common than one would gather from a plain normal distribution.

      I thought that IQ was distributed normally by definition. Is it that the tests are scaled to be normal for a representative seed population that first tests them, and then among super-high-scorers who outclass those the normal distribution breaks down? If so, wouldn’t that be unsurprising even if there are no “real” effects at the level of outsize genes and so on? Or am I just confused?

      • there are more high-scorers than one would expect from a normal distribution either because the tail is fat or IQ tests are inflating scores at the extreme end. Probably explains why Guinness Book of World Records discontinued the category in 1990, unable to designate a single record holder because of all of these people with alleged IQs above 190 or so. It’s hard (but not impossible) to reliably measure IQ bbove 160 or so. You just need a very large sample size and a test with a lot of questions.

    • Deiseach says:

      I imagine it also depends where you live: were I to sight a tiger in my front yard, I’d be very surprised, because tigers are not native wild fauna in Ireland. If I lived in India or Thailand, I might be less surprised, because tigers are native to those countries.

      If I were to go from “There is no tiger in my front yard” to “Therefore, tigers do not exist and stories about people seeing tigers and even being killed by tigers are just fairy tales”, I think you’d all be pointing out the flaws in my logic 🙂

      • Corwin says:

        The analogy breaks down because tigers exist. Trying again with “translucent luminiferous pink unicorn”:

        “If I were to go from “There is no unicorn in my front yard” to “Therefore, unicorns do not exist and stories about people seeing unicorns and even being blinded by their pink light are just fairy tales”, I think you’d all be pointing out the flaws in my logic :-)”

        Well…

        From http://lesswrong.com/lw/ih/absence_of_evidence_is_evidence_of_absence/

        “But in probability theory, absence of evidence is always evidence of absence. If E is a binary event and P(H|E) > P(H), “seeing E increases the probability of H”; then P(H|~E) < P(H), "failure to observe E decreases the probability of H". P(H) is a weighted mix of P(H|E) and P(H|~E), and necessarily lies between the two."

        • Deiseach says:

          But tigers were as exotic and unthinkable a creature to people living in Europe at a certain period as translucent pink luminiferous unicorns are in your example.

          The Best Science of its day explained how there just couldn’t be people living on the other hemisphere of the world, it was physically impossible.

          If we do someday get out to other star systems and run across translucent pink luminiferous unicorns on some far-flung world, let me be the first to say: I always believed in you, stellar horsies! 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            The Best Science of its day explained how there just couldn’t be people living on the other hemisphere of the world, it was physically impossible.

            What makes you think there was such a thing as “Best Science of the day”? Are you claiming that the people back then did experiments, with peer-reviewed results, to determine whether people could live on the other hemisphere of the world?

          • “The Best Science of its day explained how there just couldn’t be people living on the other hemisphere of the world, it was physically impossible.”

            I think you have to combine “best science” with “accepted religious doctrine.”

            The argument, as I understand it, was that the equator was intolerably hot (a scientific claim, although one that happened to be false), and since God had created man in the Garden of Eden in the northern hemisphere, there was no way humans could have made it to the southern hemisphere.

          • Jiro says:

            Saying that it’s too hot on the equator to live is a claim about a subject that can be studied scientifically, not a scientific claim. I doubt that they came to that conclusion using a procedure that would pass for scientific today.

          • Unique Identifier says:

            What ‘day’ are you talking about?

            Eratosthenes was born 276 BC seems to have been much better informed. His calculation of the Earth’s circumference is as far as I have understood based on crossing into the Tropic of Cancer.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Genes of outsized effect (many perhaps otherwise deleterious) probably play a role here.”

      How does this square with the finding in studies that no gene explains more than a tiny percent of IQ variance? You think these genes are too rare to show up?

      • It may be tons of small genetic variants that are too small to pick up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantitative_trait_locus

        A quantitative trait locus (QTL) is a region of DNA that is associated with a particular phenotypic trait. These QTLs are often found on different chromosomes. Knowing the number of QTLs that explains variation in the phenotypic trait tells us about the genetic architecture of a trait. It may tell us that plant height is controlled by many genes of small effect, or by a few genes of large effect.

        • Tails says:

          Many small independent effects loci give you thin tails/Gaussians. They are not an explanation for fat tails.

          • SUT says:

            Gaussian for simple traits like:
            E[Height] = E[number-of-cells]

            Intelligence isn’t a material property of cells, it is a function of cell connections, the famous:
            Connections ~= nodes^2 / 2

            It’s like a person’s utility = f(money)

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Yes, I’m aware of that, but JayMan’s comment above implied a few genes with large effect.

      • JayMan says:

        My first guess is insufficient sampling of really high IQ people. I’ll wait for the BGI study results.

        Alternatively, really high IQs may often result from rare combinations of genes having outsized effects.

        • Speaking of which, does anyone know if there’s been any word recently regarding the BGI study? I’m a participant (not that that makes me stand out much here) and I was looking forward to getting my data. But I haven’t heard anything about it in a while.

          • Jake says:

            I asked them about the delay them a few months ago and received this response:

            > Thanks for your mail, which was forwarded to me.

            > I want to inform you that your sample is currently being processed, and that it will be made available to you as soon as possible. Our processing is taking time, due in part to unanticipated resource constraints internal to our project, as BGI’s recent acquisition by BGI of Complete Genomics, uncoupling from Illumina, and the subsequent shifting of all sequencing capacity into the new CG hardware platform, compounded by a recent change in the local regulation of sequencing, has imposed a bottleneck on sequencing within BGI in general – upwards of half of our samples remain unsequenced at this time, and the delay affects all of our processing, as all of the samples are being shifted to the new hardware platform. For your sample, we’ve also adopted an imputation regimen which requires a degree of computation and reference genome downloads from the UK10K project, and data generation on the new hardware platform within BGI, as imputation requires a sizeable reference genome dataset. We feel that it is necessary to perform this imputation step, because variant calling on low coverage genome sequencing otherwise will have an overrepresentation of an error called a “false positive” variant, an error which may otherwise misinform the user about his genotype, particularly to signal the detection of a variant where none is in fact likely to be present. We perform this in the spirit of conscientiousness, as we understand that some of our users will be interested in interpreting their own genomes using freely available toolsets, due to our return of volunteer genomes in an easily interpreted, 23andme-style format, and that the “false positive” is a type of error which we particularly aim to minimise.

            > The above, mostly unanticipated obstacles have significantly impacted our project, as well as most of the other research projects within BGI. But we are confident that the sequencing of your sample will be completed, despite these impacts – you have our word that we will inform you as soon as your genome has passed our steps of sequencing, QC and verification, and is prepared for download at your convenience. We thank you for your patience.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Before worrying about genes of large positive effect, consider the symmetric situation of genes of large negative effect. You are well-aware, surely more than I, of genes of large negative effect on IQ and height. eg, fragile X and achondroplasia. Height does not form a bell curve. As you said in the article, many people taller than Yao Ming exist, with pituitary tumors. Probably some of these tumors are genetic. But giants and dwarfs are rare. Take them away and you have a bell curve. Bring them back and you don’t have a bell curve, but the variance has hardly changed. They contribute virtually nothing to the variance, a population statistic. And that is true regardless of whether they are genetic.

        Wikipedia has some numbers for achondroplasia: its effect is six standard deviations, with a prevalence of 1 in 25k. The variance is the square of the effect size times the prevalence: 0.14%. So, in fact, there is a gene which contributes more than 0.1% of the population variance. 80% of achondroplasia is spontaneous mutation, so it contributes only 0.03% to the h^2 of height.

        There was a paper in 1970 that claimed that torsion dystonia contributes 10 IQ points. (If true and) if it contributes that much to carriers, who are 1/4000 of Ashkenazim, then it would still only contribute 0.02% of Ashkenazi IQ variance and 0.0002% of American IQ variance.

        (There may be factor of 2 errors from confusing population prevalence with gene prevalence.)

        • JayMan says:

          Genes of outsized negative effect (in this case, on IQ) tend not to stick around very long, as they are quickly weeded out by natural selection. Such is not necessarily the case with genes of outsized positive effect (assuming they don’t mess up too many other systems). Hence, the tail is fatter on the up side than the down side.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Could be, but be careful about what distribution you mean. It sure looks to me like the lower tail of phenotype with downs is thicker than the upper tail. (And that applies to the distribution of genotypes, too, technically. You’re talking about an bespoke distribution, something like what the next generation would be without mutations.)

            The evolutionary argument applies just as much to the upper tail as to the lower. If the variant has neither swept nor been eliminated, it must be awfully close to neutral. That is suspicious for a fixed effect. Maybe it is neutral because of heterozygote advantage. But then each such variant of large effect has an associated homozygous disease that is simple Mendelian and should be easily documented. And the balance would have been suddenly upset by assortative mating. Of course there are the Ashkenazi diseases, but are there any others? Also, I expect evolution to eventually clean up such a compromise gene so that it eventually sweeps. The Ashkenazi genes are still diseases because the selection is so recent and hasn’t debugged them.

  56. Mac Z says:

    An interesting thing this ties into is one of my hobby-horses on NBA height – which is that since a 7 foot body is nearly sufficient to play in the NBA, 7-footers are going to be systematically worse at every skill that isn’t correlated with height. I think it would be interesting to compare this with the talents of people in high-IQ fields.

    In some ways, what is fascinating about NBA 7-footers is they really neatly answer the question “what if you plucked average relatively healthy American males out of obscurity and made them be professional athletes.” Because virtually all 7-footers who want to play in the NBA can play in the NBA, the average NBA 7-footer is likely to be no genetically better than the average American male in all that much with the exception of height – which makes them interesting to study.

    For example, the stereotypical 7-footer is a wretched shooter – many 7-footers are worse shooters than millions of dilettantes playing pickup basketball. It’s generally uncontroversial to say that if you gave a 7-footer the skills of a good high school point guard who will never make the NBA, they’d be better than the vast majority of big men. NBA 7-footers are disproportionately likely to be plagued with accusations of effort problems, proneness to injury, and 7-footers are virtually the only NBA players you’ll ever hear say something like “I don’t really like basketball.”

    Now my hypothesis on this is that if you’re making the NBA as a 6-footer, it’s not just that you worked like a fiend, but that you are probably an extreme genetic outlier in harder-to-see areas like speed, coordination, durability, competitiveness, work ethic, etc. Perhaps just as much of an outlier as the 7-footer is in height. For example, Steph Curry – currently considered the greatest shooter in NBA history – has a brother who is perhaps the best three point shooter in the “minor leagues,” and his father was the best three point shooter in the NBA. A full third of the Golden State Warriors (the best team in the NBA) have family members who also played in the NBA – which indicates that perhaps a lot of these skills are inheritable.

    In some ways what’s fascinating about NBA 7-footers is that they – in theory – resemble the average American male in speed, coordination, durability, competitiveness, work ethic, etc. I had a friend who was a center in college basketball, and he said that – for him at least – it was way harder to play high-level basketball as a big man because you’re basically an average joe who is not cut out to be a professional athlete – and that every other player on the team was probably born with more speed, coordination, competitiveness, and so forth than you were.

    This is a long lead-up to an open question about whether we see a similar phenomenon in high-IQ fields. Let’s imagine we have a field where the average person is the IQ equivalent of 6’7″, as was the premise of this post. Are the IQ equivalents of 7-footers more likely to be headcases? More likely to be lazy? More likely to never develop basic skills that the people with 6’7″ IQs can easily tackle? I don’t have an easy answer to this, but I’d be curious to know. Intuitively, it seems like the same forces should apply.

    I think it’s not a coincidence that the best players in the NBA have often historically been 6’6″-6’9″. This means they’re tall enough to be taller than most people, but, at any given point in time, the best person in that category has a 1-in-200,000 combination of all the other skills that make one an elite athlete (durability, work ethic, etc). Similarly, I wonder if there’s some equivalent IQ threshold, where the people with the IQ equivalent of being 6’6″-6’9″ are the ones who really rise to the top, because the IQ 7-footers are going to be average across every other human trait.

    • pro bb players tend to be freaks of nature, more so than other pro athletes. really big hands, really big feet, really tall, jutting jawlines and prominent brow ridges

    • Troy says:

      Let’s imagine we have a field where the average person is the IQ equivalent of 6’7″, as was the premise of this post. Are the IQ equivalents of 7-footers more likely to be headcases? More likely to be lazy? More likely to never develop basic skills that the people with 6’7″ IQs can easily tackle?

      As an academic in a “genius” field, this seems anecdotally plausible to me.

    • Emp says:

      It’s very debatable that 6’6- 6’9 guys are the best of all time. The best players prior to the 1990s were Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem, Magic all of whom were very big guys. It’s arguable that rule changes, 3 point shots, less violent play might have contributed significantly.

      For instance in soccer, Spain suddenly became dominant around 10 years ago, with an abundance of small, technically proficient players, with great stamina speed, and low centres of gravity. These players were always around, but with massive clamp-downs on rough play, their styles were significantly enabled by rule-changes.

      I also don’t understand how NBA 7 footers are average Joe’s; they are pro athletes paid millions of dollars; they are expected to train, eat and exercise under supervision and they have by that stage been playing basketball competitively for years.

      • Gbdub says:

        NBA 7-footers are more likely to be average Joes in areas other than height because you’re selecting from a much smaller pool of guys. Among players 6’6″ – 6’9″, you’ve got a pool on the order of 10^5, from which you can pick the players who are not only tall but also excel at speed, shooting, and ball handling. Above 7′, you’re selecting from a pool 2-3 orders of magnitude smaller, so the chances that any available 7′ human is also superlative at other skills is smaller.

        Also, to some degree size hinders player development. Taller players usually take longer to “grow into” their bodies. Also, until they reach the upper levels of the sport (at least d1 college), they can often dominate with height alone, which can encourage bad habits / hide other flaws.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Remember the gay English NBA center? He hated sports in general and put little effort into playing, but made about $10 million out of his basketball career because he was a huge man.

    • Academics are stereotypically disorganised, lack social skill and lack charisma. That would seem analogous. Entrepreneurs are often weird or assholes. This is particularly true in STEM fields, I guess because they are selected on mathematical more than verbal skills

      Aside, as a non American the obvious takeaway is that there should be height leagues in basketball so skill and tactics are more important?

    • SUT says:

      RE: curry family shooting ability.

      I doubt shooting is heritable as a talent. In curry’s case, his shooting ability *in games* is largely determined by “a quick (and high) release” which makes him face less defensive obstruction on any shot.

      If you were to run “pure shooting” experiments in an open court with no defense, you’d see some weekend warriors best nba-er’s, and the accuracy for many nba players would not be proportional to their accuracy in game scenarios. Most accurate shooter in the world is a 54 year old technician http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/sports/ncaabasketball/free-throw-records-fall-with-the-flick-of-his-wrist.html

      Basically there is enough difference in practice than theory for something as simple as a jump shot. Continuing the metaphor, there is enough of a difference between being-smart and life-success as there is between being RAMANUJAN and achieving a comfortable middle class life.

    • 27chaos says:

      I don’t think it’s possible to be high IQ but also lazy about intellectual things in the same way it’s possible to be tall but not athletic. My perception is that if you have a high IQ then higher caliber thoughts will come into your head automatically. Even if you do nothing all day but play videogames, the way you’ll go about playing videogames will be influenced by your IQ. Intelligence is a general problem solving capability. Consequently, it’s impossible to avoid using it.

  57. Steve says:

    What I’m getting from this is that I should only light myself on fire if I’m significantly above average combustibility.

    • Anonymous says:

      And actually want to light yourself on fire. The correlate is that if you want to light yourself on fire, but have the flammability of a damp rock, you might be better served by trying to change your preferences.

      • Peter says:

        In particular, if setting yourself on fire is a competitive activity and the only point of setting yourself on fire is to win or at any rate to come in the top part of the rankings (maybe people will only pay you if you burn well, maybe it’s a buyer’s market for people who want to hire burny people) and lots of other people want to set themselves on fire too and there’s wide variability in natural combustibility and people have some idea of their own combustibility and lots of people don’t set themselves on fire because they won’t win so the field is skewed towards more flammable people… then you’re in a very strange hypothetical situation, and should probably check to make sure no-one’s about to be run over by a stray trolley.

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t see how that would matter. Being presumably spherical, elastic, and on a frictionless surface, you would almost certainly roll or bounce harmlessly away from any wayward trolleys. Well, harmlessly except for the being impressively aflame part, which makes this a thought experiment that I want very much to visualize.

  58. jtgw says:

    The Bell Curve thesis, that we are witnessing the rise of a new IQ-based aristocracy in the US, seems to be increasingly mainstream (see the recent Economist editorial). To me the political significance for conservatism is great, since it raised the question of whether there is a natural social order. American mainstream conservatism is actually quite liberal tends to assume that high social mobility is desirable and indeed possible if only the government would leave people alone, which in turn assumes that talent is evenly distributed and people only differ in moral character, which in turn is generally determined by life choices, rather than genetic endowment or environmental influences. But if it’s true that talent is not evenly distributed, then a meritocratic system will result in a natural social hierarchy, more or less returning us to the rigid social hierarchies of the pre-modern world.

    • the bell curve is more relevant than ever it seems

      • Jtgw says:

        Indeed. I suppose I see the essentially Calvinist message of current mainstream conservatism, i.e. you can be safely judged on your worldly success since it is only a proxy for your moral character, will be replaced with a more pre-modern, Catholic message of accepting a fixed station in life as natural and just, with a corresponding obligation of deference towards your superiors and benevolence towards your inferiors. The cutthroat exploitativeness of the free marketplace might be replaced by something kinder and more compassionate, while still conservative in that we’re not seeking to overthrow this natural order.

        Either that, or we’ll need genetic engineering alongside social engineering.

    • It’s worth noting that Adam Smith, who can be regarded as the patron saint of at least one facet of modern conservatism, argued that innate differences were much smaller than usually assumed.

      “The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education.”

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Smith was writing near the beginning of the scientific agriculture revolution. By the time of Darwin and Galton, in contrast, it was obvious that differences between individuals of the same species were important — otherwise you couldn’t have evolution. Livestock breeding, including the development of thoroughbred racehorses, was important in helping inspire this 19th Century intellectual revolution. British culture was unusual in that intellectuals tended to be country rather than city men, so developments in selective breeding of farm animals was a natural topic of interest for their environments.

  59. RJMeyers says:

    This is more a comment on your last post, but your comments and posts move fast and this one is still related…

    You mentioned that when you write, you just put on the paper the words that are in your head, almost like your transcribing your thoughts directly, and that most people don’t seem to have this facility. That is actually a remarkable talent from my perspective.

    I’ve noticed that my own writing tends to be more nonlinear. I already have some ideas about the major topic(s) that I want to cover, and when I sit down to write I find my brain jumping between them. It goes quicker than my fingers can get the ideas down. To compensate, I have two methods: (1) Develop an outline first and fill in and (2) something I’ve come to call Brutalist writing. (1) is obvious. For (2), I sit down and start writing as succinctly and intensely as possible, and when a new idea enters my head I just hit “enter” and start writing about it. I go with the flow, usually accumulating a half dozen or so partially written paragraphs that omit most articles and pronouns–sounding almost like a caveman wrote them. Then I go back, re-arrange, add in missing words, etc. It’s a very particular mindset that I have to get into, but it seems to work.

    Interestingly, writing comments like this tends to just flow from my mind. I wrote this whole comment without going back and revising and with almost no interruption in flow. Perhaps because it’s less formal and more conversational? Hmmm… that might be a new tactic to try. Thinking about my writing more as a conversation with someone rather than a formal essay.

    • 27chaos says:

      I also have noticed that it’s easier to write online comments or informal comments than to write more formal essays.

      When I write formal essays, I use a strategy that’s a mix of the two you describe. I write a bullet point list of ideas that are both general and specific, but don’t really use any organized method or outline. Many of the ideas are bad ones, but the point is to get them all down on paper. After I have a lot of ideas written, I sort them to put like ideas with like. Then I choose which order I want to make my points in. Then I start writing actual sentences.

  60. ezra abrams says:

    you accuse the Chinese gov’t of a very serious crime
    Your source appears dubious, at best
    any shame on your part ?, at the very least, for making serious accusations without good sources ?

  61. Jacob says:

    This is why it helps to think quantitatively. One could write down a function like:

    Probability(getting to the NBA) = f1(height) + f2(hours of practice) + f3(natural basketball ability) + (other nonlinear terms)

    and the idea becomes clear. Full estimations of f1, f2 … are impossible but success in any field is some accumulation of different characteristics. Missing a bit in one area can be made up for in others.

    What this leaves out is the difference between failure due to reality, and due to perception. So there is nobody shorter 5’9″ in the NBA. If that 5’8″ kid just absolutely loved basketball so much that they practiced every second of every day, they’d probably play in high school. And maybe college.

    When they got onto a court with NBA players a foot taller, they would be at a natural disadvantage. But would they still be a good player in spite of that? I doubt we’ll ever know, because the perception of “tall == good at basketball” is so strong that NBA scouts wouldn’t give that kid the time of day.

    So while we can say with high certainty that the 5’8″ kid shouldn’t plan on being in the NBA, we can’t say whether it’s because NBA talent scouts are heightist or because the game of basketball itself is heightist (likely some lopsided mixture of both).

    • Anonymous says:

      A person doesn’t have to play in NBA to make a living from playing basketball. There are a lot of professional leagues outside the United States, and although contracts they offer are less lucrative than those offered by NBA teams, they are still quite good.

      • Anonymous says:

        But would they still be a good player in spite of that? I doubt we’ll ever know, because the perception of “tall == good at basketball” is so strong that NBA scouts wouldn’t give that kid the time of day.

        Therefore, if a kid is a good player but NBA doesn’t give him a chance, there are plenty of other leagues where he can shine and prove his level.

      • RCF says:

        And I suppose that the Harlem Globe Trotters aren’t NBA, but they probably also put a premium on height (and I suppose that an argument can be made that they aren’t really “playing basketball”).

  62. Steve Sailer says:

    Here’s a picture of Kevin Hart standing next to Shaquille O’Neal that I always enjoy:

    http://isteve.blogspot.com/2013/09/gladwell-on-human-biological-diversity.html

  63. Steve Sailer says:

    When I was at Rice U., the two tallest students on campus were the first and second string centers on the basketball team, who were both listed at 6′-11″. Neither made it to the NBA. The second string center was bitterly accused by the coaching staff of spending too many hours in the library studying engineering. They resentfully suspected that he had accepted a Rice scholarship in order to get an education in engineering. (I see today that he’s a successful engineering consultant.)

    When I was at UCLA, the two tallest students on campus were the first and second string centers, both of whom played in the NBA: Stuart Gray (7’0″) and Mark Eaton (7’4″). The latter was a clumsy man in his mid-20s who didn’t like basketball, but had taken it up again because he was tired of being an auto mechanic. He eventually was NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice.

    • John Schilling says:

      Coincidentally, I have a 6’9″ generally fit and athletic colleague who turned down a basketball scholarship to Rice because he wanted to study engineering without distraction (at UT Austin, where tuition was then negligible). Sounds like he made the right choice – I’ve known other scientists and engineers who enjoyed a few years of collegiate and even professional sports in their youth, but being harassed for taking the “student” part of student-athlete seriously, well, that ought not happen.

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s an interesting and relevant anecdote about Eaton on his Wikipedia page:

      “Because of his lack of playing time at UCLA, few NBA teams had interest in Eaton after he finished his college career. However, the Utah Jazz saw him as a potentially dominant defender and selected him with the 72nd pick in the fourth round of the 1982 NBA Draft.[3] Utah coach Frank Layden would later explain his choice by quoting Red Auerbach’s old axiom, “you can’t teach height”.”

  64. Stella says:

    My dad uses Michael Phelps as his go-to talent metaphor ever since he saw a five-minute clip years ago that was basically an ode to Phelps’ body type. Apparently Phelps has the perfect body for swimming–tall and broad-shouldered, with relatively long arms and big hands and etc. etc. “I can get better at swimming if I try,” my dad says, “but I can’t be Michael Phelps.”

    I use height as one of my gender-differences metaphors, and hair length as my other one–some gender differences are like height (mostly/entirely biological) some are like hair-length (mostly/entirely cultural) and most are somewhere between those poles.

    • Anthony says:

      Hair length is interesting, because the ability to grow essentially unlimited-length hair is very definitely not evenly distributed across racial groups. Many more Asian women than white women can do that, but there are white women who can (Crystal Gayle).

      It’s also strongly affected by environment – people under stress just can’t grow hair as long as when they’re not under stress, and sometimes this change is significant.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Back in the 1990s I read that maximum hair length is sex related: white women on average can grow their hair 12″” longer than white men. I’ve never seen anything else confirming or denying it, but it would make sense that it’s a sex-related trait because most cultures (other than some black ones such as Masais and Rastafarians) favor longer hair for women.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan have basically the opposite bodies, at least for very tall men in outstanding shape. Jordan has super long legs and Phelps, a human surfboard, has a super long torso.

  65. It feels obvious that part of the solution to helping people not feel depressed over something they can’t control, like being short or low-IQ, has to be to quit rewarding people so well for being tall or high-IQ. Hmm.

  66. Thank you for providing trigger warnings, Scott. I heeded them, and have read neither post thus far on the Parable of Talents. I’ve skipped only here to the comments section to send the notice someone uses trigger warnings on Slate Star Codex, even more abstract ones, and this matters.

    I’ve in the past been depressed due to issues of low self-esteem and scrupulosity. This metastasized to me having issues academically, and me (temporarily) discontinuing post-secondary school. It’s only in the last several months I’ve begun cultivating a growth mindset for the first time in my life. For me to lose it would return me to a mentality that ruined my life, and aspirations, in ways I’m not even comfortable stating publicly.

    By heeding your trigger warning, I have avoided of a repeat of what was for me, cognitively and emotionally, THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED. It was basically a malignant cancer of my hopes and dreams. Others sharing my experience can redouble this signal by replying. However, I hope potentially saving one person, myself, from this pitfall, makes it worth it.

    P.S., this comment also acts as a signal to other bloggers trigger warnings, even on topics like discussions of social science, or the importance of mathematical aptitude, can help your readers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad trigger warnings are working and that you shared your experience to help convince other blog authors to use warnings.

  67. I think I broadly agree with you, but here’s some issues with the analogy:

    Height is easy and uncontroversial to measure in a way iq isn’t. Also it clearly exists on one axis whereas I’m unsure if intelligence does.

    There may also be a benefit of placebo effects, it’s hard to trick someone about height, but someone believing they have more innate intelligence might motivate them

  68. C.S. says:

    There’s another thing missing or omitted, the idea that everyone is equally capable of being motivated, to work hard or do stuff.

    What drives people to work hard?

    Me, personally, I can either be compulsive about something (which never lasts, unless I’m addicted), or indifferent, and only do it out of a sense of ritual. There’s no middle ground. Everything I’m not compulsive about might be fun or enjoyable, or satisfying, but I seem incapable of being motivated to actually start at it and keep doing it until it becomes it’s own reward.

    For example, I might know in abstract that if I go out to cycle on a nice spring afternoon I’m going to really like it, and indeed if someone drags me out and and we go cycling I’m going to enjoy it, but the future enjoyment holds no sway over them. Rationally, I’m aware of, but my emotions say ‘meh’, there’s no anticipation. Nevertheless, it usually takes a month of nice spring weather before I change out of my winter indoors routine.

    Same with meeting or talking to family or friends. Even though I like talking to them, I never feel like calling them, unless there is something more.

    It’s similar with food. I don’t dislike eating, but about the only thing that makes me go out and get some are acute hunger pangs. Just regular hunger doesn’t really cut it, though it might make me eat something I have in my pocket, of course, provided I remember it’s there.
    While this might be seen as advantageous in the light of the benefits of caloric restriction, well, I don’t think you can have that without the rest of the shit sandwich.

    Luckily, this doesn’t mean I’m incapable of working, but anything requiring more mental effort than manual labor is just about impossible, as my attention is like a flighty squirrel and motivation to break it’s squirrelly legs and nail it in place is just not there, and that’s probably why I work in a warehouse for €3 per hour. And my father, despite not being any smarter earns about €20 per hour in IT. Knowing that doesn’t make me happy.

  69. Thasvaddef says:

    Research into the science of height is increasing exponentially. I worry that some time this century, bioengineers will create a man who is tall enough to create even taller men, leading to a height explosion. This artificially tall man will have basketball ability beyond what we can comprehend. Even if we try to keep him in a box, he will likely be tall enough to step over the walls of the box and start playing. Ordinary humans will not be able to compete in basketball, so we will be forced out of the game. Not because they hate us, but because we are in basketball courts that they want to use. So it’s important that this tall man will be friendly.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Cute, but being incredibly tall does not increase your ability to create tall beings or increase your own tallness (except in the trivial sense of your siring tall children). Being incredibly intelligent does increase your ability to create intelligent beings or improve your own intelligence.

  70. Jimbino says:

    This is an excellent blog and the commentary is outstanding, as noted by David Friedman in his Ideas blog.

    I do, however, object to some of the lousy grammar, as in:

    “If somebody who was 6’6 complained that they’d never be able to beat the 7’0 players on the other side, we would tell them to brighten up.”

    which, in Standard American English would read:

    “If somebody who is 6’6 complained that he’d never be able to beat the 7’0 players on the other side, we would tell him to brighten up.”

    And likewise, mutatis mutandis, for:

    “Please advise every expectant mother to bring their own toiletries.”

    or

    “As soon as the parents show up with their boy, be sure to give them a circumcision.”

  71. Eli says:

    I was really hoping that was a Space Jam reference, and thank you Scott, it was.

    Luke Muehlhauser liked to call his philosophy of religion “common sense atheism”, meaning that he wanted to treat the question of God with the same “common” reasoning that he used for every other question. If we don’t see a tiger in front yard, we don’t say “Since it’s impossible to prove a negative, I can at best be agnostic about the existence of a tiger”, we say “I guess there’s probably not a tiger.”

    But that’s not the really great thing he did. The really great thing was to go on to apply mere common reasoning to philosophical issues and Larger Questions of Life in general, when even most professional philosophers insist that we have to use the “special reasoning” for those — which is why philosophy types are so obnoxiously mystical.

  72. Pingback: Athletic Quotient | a gallant chrome tiger

  73. James James says:

    “Basketball… isn’t tied up with our notions of self-worth.”

    Why is intelligence tied up with our notions of self-worth, but basketball isn’t? Perhaps its because intelligence can make you have a better quality of life?

  74. I know on the first part on this topic I wrote how I didn’t read it because of the trigger warning, because I have high scrupulosity, and low self-esteem. However, I arrived at it tangentially again while reading Jonah Sinick’s sequence on LessWrong about mathematical ability. In particular, my (relative) lack of mathematical ability is exactly the intellectual domain which used to make me feel horrible, and is the one which has (for a time) driven me out of post-secondary education. When reading Sinick’s most recent post, on innate mathematical ability, I realized it was exactly the sort of essay for which I specifically would want the trigger warning Scott applied to his “Parable of Talents” essay. However, I realized if I wasn’t triggered by Sinick’s essay, it was unlikely I’d be triggered by Scott’s. So, I’ve read both this first one, and this one.

    They’ve helped me. First of all, I wasn’t triggered. That surprises me to the point I don’t believe my scrupulosity is as high as it once was. My self-esteem isn’t very high, but I think now it’s less sensitive. Like, a few years ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if exposure to this rhetoric sent me spiraling into negative emotions. However, the idea of ‘self-esteem’ makes sense to me know. Ideas from Feeling Good by Dr. Burns seem intuitive now. I get how and why I can and should have ‘self-esteem’ (for my own mental health), and I don’t have to earn my own ‘self-esteem’.

    If, to others reading this, the idea of ‘self-esteem’ needing to be earned only through the completion of, like, seemingly Herculean tasks seems ludicrous, know my thinking at such time was backwards. Anyway, Scott, thanks a lot for writing about this! You’re great not because of your innate writing skills, but your willingness to apply those skills to getting ideas like this one across.