Everybody cool it—this is a party, not a brawl

We seem to have some fresh meat new creationists coming by. It’s been a while since we had such an opportunity—they seem to run away so quickly—so I’m going to remind everyone of the 3 comment rule. Please give people a chance to explain themselves before you decide to pound on them, OK? Abuse is a few doors down the hall, this is supposed to be Argument.

Along those same lines, we have a few persistent trolls who keep coming back. I kill them as I see them (these are a few so far gone that they don’t get disemvowelled, just junked), but please don’t engage them. I’m going to start trashing replies, too, just to discourage people from feeding the trolls.

Also, there are a few people who are being just plain vicious. That’s my job, and I’m beginning to resent the usurpation of my reputed evil temperament. Again, if you find yourself writing 5 snarling comments in a row, stop. Take a break. Dunk your head in some cool water. I’m not one to encourage drug abuse, but some people here need Vicodin, Oxycontin, Xanax and Percocet by the handfuls. If you’ve got to attack someone, and you can’t at least make it light and funny, go out on your front porch and yell at those damn kids instead.

We’re getting lots of comments lately, and you’ve got to stop over-reacting to the occasional jostle.

Join us, Minnesota teachers!


A while back, I mentioned this new group that had formed here in Minnesota to sponsor better science teaching, the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education. Our first big public meeting is happening this Saturday at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis, at Science Education Saturday:

Some of the most popular and dynamic professors involved with evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota – Mark Borrello, Randy Moore, PZ Myers and others – will join a panel of public school K-12 educators to present practical suggestions for the classroom, useful resources for teachers and ideas for working with students and your community.

This event is primarily aimed at educators and education students, with talks about precisely what the Minnesota state science standards require of our teachers, but I don’t think they’d turn away other interested parties. I’m not actually going to be speaking (I’m still going to insist that I be regarded as “popular and dynamic”, however, and I may have to put that on my business cards)—I’m moderating a panel discussion with the real deal, teachers who are actually on the front lines of the struggle against creationism—but Randy Moore and Mark Borello will be giving talks in the morning, and I’m sure they’re going to be excellent.

Africa is filled with people too dumb to live, according to the LSE

My university doesn’t subscribe to the journal, but I’d really be interested in reading this paper by Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics. Even better would be if someone else would critique it so I wouldn’t have to waste my time on it.

Mind the gap…in intelligence: Re-examining the relationship between inequality and health.

Kanazawa S.
Interdisciplinary Institute of Management, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.

Wilkinson contends that economic inequality reduces the health and life expectancy of the whole population but his argument does not make sense within its own evolutionary framework. Recent evolutionary psychological theory suggests that the human brain, adapted to the ancestral environment, has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment and that general intelligence evolved as a domain-specific adaptation to solve evolutionarily novel problems. Since most dangers to health in the contemporary society are evolutionarily novel, it follows that more intelligent individuals are better able to recognize and deal with such dangers and live longer. Consistent with the theory, the macro-level analyses show that income inequality and economic development have no effect on life expectancy at birth, infant mortality and age-specific mortality net of average intelligence quotient (IQ) in 126 countries. They also show that an average IQ has a very large and significant effect on population health but not in the evolutionarily familiar sub-Saharan Africa. At the micro level, the General Social Survey data show that, while both income and intelligence have independent positive effects on self-reported health, intelligence has a stronger effect than income. The data collectively suggest that individuals in wealthier and more egalitarian societies live longer and stay healthier, not because they are wealthier or more egalitarian but because they are more intelligent.

What brings it up is that a reader sent me a link to a Guardian article on the subject of this paper, and I find it hard to believe that it actually makes such strong causal claims…even though the abstract does plainly state that the author is arguing for a causal relationship between intelligence and poverty, and it’s not in the direction I would think reasonable.

The London School of Economics is embroiled in a row over academic freedom after one of its lecturers published a paper alleging that African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is now accused of reviving the politics of eugenics by publishing the research which concludes that low IQ levels, rather than poverty and disease, are the reason why life expectancy is low and infant mortality high. His paper, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, compares IQ scores with indicators of ill health in 126 countries and claims that nations at the top of the ill health league also have the lowest intelligence ratings.

You know, I could believe that the populations of nations ravaged by disease, poverty, and war would test poorly. I am not surprised that people could develop tests in the Western world, rush into a completely different culture (not to mention one distracted by serious internal problems), and find that the inhabitants do not respond to their tests with quite the due seriousness they do at home. I do wonder, though, how anyone in their right mind could make this claim:

In the paper he cites Ethiopia’s national IQ of 63, the world’s lowest, and the fact that men and women are only expected to live until their mid-40s as an example of his finding that intelligence is the main determinant of someone’s health.

An IQ of 63 means the average person in Ethiopia is clinically mildly mentally retarded; that’s a result that’s over two standard deviations away from the mean. If you look it up in the DSM-IV, you’ll find that this means they are at best capable of sixth-grade work, and that they are marginally capable of living independently with some community support. When a test reports that a population of 75 million people is dominated by a cohort that is incapable of reading beyond the grade school level and is unable to understand geometry, I tend to be suspicious of the validity of the test, or of the conclusions about ability being drawn from it.

I also have to wonder about the chain of reasoning behind this. I guess when I see a nation wracked by civil war with its infrastructure blown to pieces, a life expectancy of 49 years, and an infant mortality rate of almost 10%, combined with poor performance on some abstract IQ test, my conclusion would be that that situation isn’t exactly conducive to educating children. I don’t see how you would come to the conclusion that they’re just too dumb to live; perhaps the full paper would explain this in some plausible detail.

I don’t have much hope, though. I look at the evolutionary rationale in that abstract and am astonished. So this guy thinks African populations, unlike, say, European populations, have not faced the challenges of “evolutionarily novel problems”? That on an evolutionarily significant timescale, selection has been working on Europeans to generate nearly 40 point differences in IQ from their ancestors, and more improbable still, these same forces haven’t applied to Africans? This is cartoon biology, free of any constraint by fact or theory.

I also don’t have a lot of confidence in work coming out of the London School of Economics. What is it with the wacky stuff coming out of the LSE lately?

Fear of a bad election


So there’s this election tomorrow, and the Republicans have consistently screwed the pooch for years, and people are starting to wake up and get more vocal about the incompetence, corruption, and dumbassery of this administration…but I am not sanguine about our prospects for getting rid of the villains. Tom Tomorrow explains why: even if these people were shown to be literally demons from hell, we’d still have to cope with…the undecided voters.

I lost all confidence in the American electorate in 2000 and 2004. I’ll be doing my part on Tuesday, voting and helping to turn out the vote, but I anticipate the election returns with a sense of dread.

I don’t think he’s going to help

There’s a group in the UK called “Truth in Science” (it’s not just Republicans who title things ironically) which is pushing creationism in the schools there. A recommendation in Parliament is trying to dismiss these silly people as something that should be treated very cautiously by the schools, and one blogger wrote his member of Parliament asking for support. He got a curious reply.

I would be very happy to act on this matter as soon as you can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Creationism is not true, and I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

My first thought is that our blogger is being blown off. Seriously, anyone who makes such an overweening demand is not looking for a genuine answer—he’s looking for an excuse to pretend to have evaluated the evidence, but his mind is made up. The brave blogger is going to try and persuade him otherwise, and has a draft letter online. It’s not bad; take a look and make suggestions.

They really don’t like me

I’m still getting flamage from Dr Mike S. Adams’ fans. This one just happened to tickle me, for some reason. I wonder if I can get that title engraved on my office door?



I think the funniest part of this all-caps, misspelled, strangely punctuated rant and sneer at “HIGHER????” EDUCATION is that the guy’s signature proudly says, “Employee of University of Wisconsin”.

Time bobbles the God and science debate


The cover of Time magazine highlights the current struggle: it’s God vs. Science, or as I’d prefer to put it, fantasy vs. reality. I have mixed feelings about the story; on the one hand, it presents the theological sound in such a godawful stupid way that it gives me some hope, but on the other, stupid seems to win the day far too often. It sure seems to have won over the editors of Time.

The lead article covers a debate between the forces of reason and dogma. They picked two debaters and pitted them against each other, and on our side, we have Richard Dawkins. Dawkins talked to us a bit about this on our visit, since he’d just recently gotten back from a quick flight to NY to do this. Time says they’d had to consider a number of possibilities for this argument: Marc Hauser, Lewis Wolpert, Victor Stenger, and Ann Druyan (speaking for Carl Sagan, who has a posthumous book on religion coming out), so they had a competent collection on one side, and they just needed to find a good representative for the other. Unfortunately, here’s how Time characterized the search.

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