Eric recently wrote a post on the connection between genetics and crime. I thought it would be good to chime in with a post I wrote in 2007 at Power and Control on the connection between genetics and talent.


According to the American founders all men are created equal.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,...
Does that mean all men have equal talents? Of course not. Some are fast runners and some are slow runners. Some are very smart some are not so smart. The equality the founders professed was equality before the law. And there by hangs a tale.

What I'm going to look at here is inequality. Let us start with sports.It seems some people run faster than others. I guess we have races to find out who is fastest of the fast.

Running offers the best prima facie case for the potential impact of body type differences. Athletes of West African descent dominate sports requiring speed and jumping, such as basketball and football. They hold the fastest two hundred 100-meter times, all under 10 seconds, and 494 of the top 500 times. In last weekend's NFL draft, of the 69 players who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds or less, only one is white.
How about marathons? That is a little different story.
Humans are different, the consequence of thousands of years of evolution in varying terrains. This is not an issue of black and white. East African blacks, from Kenya and Ethiopia, for example, have traveled a different evolutionary path and are genetically distinct in many aspects of their body type and physiology from West Africans. The best East African time in the 100 meters, 10.28 seconds, ranks near 5,000 on the all time list.

While relatively poor sprinters, East Africans win more than 50 percent of top endurance races. Almost all trace their ancestry to the 6,000-8,000 foot highlands that snake along the western edge of the Great Rift Valley. This region of roughly 1.5 million wins 40 percent of international distance events. The Nandi district in Kenya, 500,000 people - one-twelve-thousandth of Earth's population - sweeps an unfathomable 20 percent, marking it as the greatest concentration of raw athletic talent in the history of sports. They win in large measure because elite runners have a near perfect biomechanical package for endurance: lean, ectomorphic physiques and huge natural lung capacity.

"Kenyans are born with a high number of slow twitch fibers," states Bengt Saltin, director of the Institute of Sports Science in Copenhagen. "They have 70 to 75 percent of their muscle fibers being slow. Very many in sports physiology would like to believe that it is training, the environment, what you eat that plays the most important role. But based on the data it is 'in your genes' whether or not you are talented or whether you will become talented."

White folks sure got short changed when it comes to being runners. There must be some kind of athletics white people are good at. In fact there is.
Genetically linked, highly heritable characteristics such as skeletal structure, the distribution of muscle fiber types, reflex capabilities, metabolic efficiency, lung capacity and the ability to use energy more efficiently are not evenly distributed among populations and cannot be explained. For example, whites of Eurasian ancestry, who have, on average, more natural upper-body strength, predictably dominate weightlifting, field events such as the shot-put and hammer (whites hold 47 of the top 50 throws), and the offensive line in football. Where flexibility is key, East Asians shine, such as in diving and some skating and gymnastic events (hence the term "Chinese splits").
What does he mean by cannot be explained? I think he means that there is no explanation for the clustering of traits in certain groups other than isolated populations in different environments. Natural selection. Darwin in action. In the 100,000 years since our ancestors left Africa we have differentiated according to environment. That is pretty rapid evolution.

So what is all this race stuff any way? It is not like the different races can't interbreed. Isn't race just a social construct? Well no.

Several analyses have confirmed the genetic reality of group identities going under the label of race or ethnicity. In the most recent, published this year, all but five of the 3,636 subjects fell into the cluster of genetic markers corresponding to their self-identified ethnic group. When a statistical procedure, blind to physical characteristics and working exclusively with genetic information, classifies 99.9 percent of the individuals in a large sample in the same way they classify themselves, it is hard to argue that race is imaginary.
Now here comes the hard part. I think that it is now evident and different races have different athletic talents and even within races there are still more subdivisions. What about cognitive ability? Something the scientists call 'g', but we will call it by its better known but somewhat inaccurate term intelligence quotient or IQ. The term 'g' refers to raw computing power. IQ (not 'g') is divided into two main parts. Verbal and spatial intelligence.

Let us look into a real world example, Ashkenazi Jews, to see how this works.

Ashkenazi levels of real world accomplishment are impressive and thus support the IQ studies. Jewish Americans make up no more than three percent of the U.S. adult population. But in the 1995 book Jews and the New American Scene, the prominent social scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, a Senior Scholar of the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies, and Earl Raab, Director of the Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University, pointed out
"During the last three decades, Jews have made up 50% of the top two hundred intellectuals, 40 percent of American Nobel Prize Winners in science and economics, 20 percent of professors at the leading universities, 21 percent of high level civil servants, 40 percent of partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington, 26% of the reporters, editors, and executives of the major print and broadcast media, 59 percent of the directors, writers, and producers of the fifty top-grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982, and 58 percent of directors, writers, and producers in two or more primetime television series." [pp 26-27]
Interestingly, the Ashkenazi cognitive advantage seems to be mostly in verbal and numeric, rather than visual, skills. For example, in Hollywood, fewer top cinematographers are Jewish compared to screenwriters or agents.
So that is one example of variation on the high end. The results are obvious. The differentiation of the Ashkenazi Jews happened in a span of 1,000 years or less. That is very rapid evolution.

So are Ashkenazis a race? Maybe. What they are for sure is an identifiable sub group based on DNA (their DNA is most like Arabic DNA, not too surprisingly) and genetic diseases that cluster in the Ashkenazis like Tay Sachs.

What about variation on the low end? Here comes the really hard part.

When the late Richard Herrnstein and I published The Bell Curve eleven years ago, the furor over its discussion of ethnic differences in IQ was so intense that most people who have not read the book still think it was about race. Since then, I have deliberately not published anything about group differences in IQ, mostly to give the real topic of The Bell Curve--the role of intelligence in reshaping America's class structure--a chance to surface.

The Lawrence Summers affair last January made me rethink my silence. The president of Harvard University offered a few mild, speculative, off-the-record remarks about innate differences between men and women in their aptitude for high-level science and mathematics, and was treated by Harvard's faculty as if he were a crank. The typical news story portrayed the idea of innate sex differences as a renegade position that reputable scholars rejected.

It was depressingly familiar. In the autumn of 1994, I had watched with dismay as The Bell Curve's scientifically unremarkable statements about black IQ were successfully labeled as racist pseudoscience. At the opening of 2005, I watched as some scientifically unremarkable statements about male-female differences were successfully labeled as sexist pseudoscience.

The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media's fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public's misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy.

Good social policy can be based on premises that have nothing to do with scientific truth. The premise that is supposed to undergird all of our social policy, the founders' assertion of an unalienable right to liberty, is not a falsifiable hypothesis. But specific policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm.

One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. The statistical tests for uncovering job discrimination assume that men are not innately different from women, blacks from whites, older people from younger people, homosexuals from heterosexuals, Latinos from Anglos, in ways that can legitimately affect employment decisions. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 assumes that women are no different from men in their attraction to sports. Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.

The American Psychological Association, not a hot bed of racism, checked out The Bell Curve and this is what they found.
There is no technical dispute on some of the core issues. In the aftermath of The Bell Curve, the American Psychological Association established a task force on intelligence whose report was published in early 1996. The task force reached the same conclusions as The Bell Curve on the size and meaningfulness of the black-white difference. Historically, it has been about one standard deviation in magnitude among subjects who have reached adolescence; cultural bias in IQ tests does not explain the difference; and the tests are about equally predictive of educational, social, and economic outcomes for blacks and whites. However controversial such assertions may still be in the eyes of the mainstream media, they are not controversial within the scientific community.

The most important change in the state of knowledge since the mid-1990's lies in our increased understanding of what has happened to the size of the black-white difference over time. Both the task force and The Bell Curve concluded that some narrowing had occurred since the early 1970's. With the advantage of an additional decade of data, we are now able to be more precise:

(1) The black-white difference in scores on educational achievement tests has narrowed significantly.

(2) The black-white convergence in scores on the most highly "g-loaded" tests--the tests that are the best measures of cognitive ability--has been smaller, and may be unchanged, since the first tests were administered 90 years ago.

What does all this mean?

Let us start with some simple statistical assumptions that are aproximately correct and see if we can figure out what the implications are. First IQ. Ashkenazi Jew IQ is 115. White IQ is 100. American black IQ is 85. These are averages. They tell you NOTHING about individuals. Let us also assume a standard deviation (a measure of variation) is 15 for all groups. I'm going to use this handy bell curve calculator to get my results.

What percentage of white Americans are going to be top college material with an IQ above 125? About 5%. How many Ashkenazi Jews will be found in that range? About 25%. How many American blacks (African blacks are significantly different)? About .4%. Which means if we follow merit alone, there ought to be about 10 times as many whites per capita as blacks capable of work in our top institutions. This is a depressing fact of life, just as the Ashkenazi Jews are a bright spot.

It gets worse at the very high end. For scores above 160, the brightest of the bright, among the Ashkenazi Jews the proportion will be about one in a thousand. For whites the number is zero (actually that really means less than one in 10,000 because the calculator does not do really small fractions) and for blacks the number will be a much smaller percentage than whites. Given that Ashkenazi Jews are at least 100 times as likely to be in that range relative to whites and Ashkenazi Jews represent about .1% of the world's population, the results we see above are not unexpected.

We see all this born out in the top science and math prizes.

So the question as Lenin put it is: "What is to be done?" First off treat people as individuals not statistics. Every one has their own group of talents that should be develped as fully as possible.

Second off we are turning into a society whose rewards are based on cognitive ability. Something the Bell Curve guys discuss at length. What is their answer, besides giving every one a fair shot to develop their talents? They suggest socialism light. The top perfomers should be able to reap top rewards for top performance. Not every one gets first prize in the race. However, because of the work of these top performers, labor doesn't have the value it once did. "John Henry, the Steel Driving Man" was a harbinger of that. It is hard to compete, labor wise, with a motor controlled by a microprocessor. So the top performers are going to have to help those on the bottom, if for no other reason than to keep the peace. Socialism lite.

Milton Friedman and a number of others (including The Bell Curve authors) think that the negative income tax (instituted by Nixon) is the way to go because the bureaucracy required is minimal.

I think we also have to accept that there is a limit to what our public schools can accomplish. Each added increment of resources is going to produce a diminishing return.

There are lots more policy implications in all this. More than I can deal with here. The main point for me is that even in a race blind society not all races will do equally well at all tasks.

A couple of books that might be of interest:

Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It

The Bell Curve

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 08.26.09 at 07:07 PM


In Before The Dawn, Nicholas Wade speculates that medieval Christian Europeans ran an inadvertent centuries-long eugenics experiment. Ashkenazim were constrained to think - banking and money-lending - and forbidden other livelihoods. A few dozen generations of that.....

chuckR   ·  August 26, 2009 10:21 PM

are Ashkenazis a race?

The Nazi ideology maintained that all Jews were a race. I disagree. Racial purity is for cranks.

I think race exists but it is silly to worry about it. The longterm solution is mongrelization. If I practiced what I preached I'd interbreed with someone from an "inferior" race and watch my children grow into my intellectual superiors. (This is where the Nazis were wrong. And jealous.)

Eric Scheie   ·  August 26, 2009 10:54 PM

Mongrelization is raising the IQ of American Blacks. It is one full standard deviation above African Blacks. (ie. avg IQ of Africans 70, avg of African Americans 85).

An interesting article on why a vibrant civilization depends on the smart fraction:

And the IQ that counts? Verbal ability.

M. Simon   ·  August 27, 2009 1:21 AM

And third: know thyself.

Brett   ·  August 27, 2009 8:28 AM

Interesting that both Ireland and Israel have lower average verbal IQs that the US. I would not have expected that. But as you say, statistics don't apply to individuals. That's why I detest insurance companies and the communitarian approach.

I think an ideal society would be a non-racial one, and I wish people could reach the point where they didn't care about race. My worry is that grouping people according to statistical differences -- especially with an eye toward implementing "policy" -- would lead to individuals being bureaucratically treated as part of a group, to the detriment of all. I'd like to see an end to identity politics, and I don't see how policy decisions based on racial differences would do anything but exacerbate the problem.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 27, 2009 10:43 AM

I wish people could reach the point where they didn't care about race.

People need the Other. They will always care about something that makes some else different.

If the races get so mixed that there are no more racial differences, 5'3" people will hate 5'4" people and brown hairs will hate black hairs.
The reasons are unimportant.

Veeshir   ·  August 27, 2009 1:42 PM

The counter to 'racial purity' is hybrid vigor.
You have to wonder what millenia of first cousin marriage has done to the smarts-level and general health of people whose cultures practice it.

chuckR   ·  August 27, 2009 1:55 PM

Veeshir, in Japan the descendants of feudal leather workers are social outcasts -- even though they're racially indistinguishable from other Japanese:

It might be human nature, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with it.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 27, 2009 2:00 PM

Oh, I don't agree with it, but I accept that it's real.
Why do you think I always say, "People are scum"?
Because I think we are.

Veeshir   ·  August 27, 2009 2:09 PM

Kenya is also very high above sea level, meanging they grow up running in much lower air pressure, so when they come down to our level and run races they beat the snot out of us.

It's why many elite endurance athletes sleep in hyperbaric chambers.

So now we have to ask ourselves, is it nature or nurture? Will Kenyans who grow up in the lowlands still make great endurance athletes? Or someone else born in the highlands make one? How much of it is genetic? Can we know?

plutosdad   ·  August 27, 2009 2:32 PM

How much of it is genetic? Can we know?

In time.

M. Simon   ·  August 27, 2009 5:43 PM

The Danes conquered England in the Dark Ages, and now their genes will conquer the world!


On the global market, Denmark has a well developed system of sperm export. This success mainly comes from the reputation of Danish sperm donors for being of high quality[5] and, in contrast with the law in the other Nordic countries, gives donors the choice of being either anonymous or non-anonymous to the receiving couple.[5] Furthermore, Nordic sperm donors tend to be tall and highly educated[6] and have altruistic motives for their donations,[6] partly due to the relatively low monetary compensation in Nordic countries. More than 50 countries worldwide are importers of Danish sperm, including Paraguay, Canada, Kenya, and Hong Kong.[5]


MORE (12/09/09): Check out the Lumbees:

And the Melungeons:

Eric Scheie   ·  August 28, 2009 12:10 AM

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