Who’s Right On IQ: Sailer Or Taleb?

* Steve Sailer vs Nicholas Nassim Taleb on IQ

* Ron Unz: An Open Letter to the Alt Right Racial Politics in America

* How does Steven Pinker avoid trouble?

* Fake hate crimes

* Canada: Muslim cleric says wishing Christians “Merry Christmas” is worse than murder

* Push to rename Senate office building for McCain fizzles: ‘We are left with a monument to bigotry’

* Egypt’s president accused of fat-shaming in obesity rant

* Trump’s Christmas message to Democrats: Government shutdown will last ‘until we have a wall’

From the comments section on Steve Sailer’s blog:

* Why do you think Taleb is so smart? He’s very confident and portrays himself as an expert in things his audience is expert at. Thus, to traders he’s an academic while to academics he’s a trader. He takes credit for all sorts of prescience, but it’s all unverified and anecdotal. For example, he called the failure of Fannie Mae but warned about interest rate risk, not credit risk, so he was right for the wrong reason. He’s always calling for something unexpected to happen, so when it does, he takes credit, but that’s extremely disingenuous. Of course, he notes these failures very well in other people (eg, Joe Stiglitz), but that’s because he embodies all the vices he most loudly denounces (eg, sophistry, cliche advice, hindsight bias).

* It seems banal and obvious that the only reason Taleb hates the idea of IQ is that it makes the last crash understandable. Low IQ Hispanics and Blacks created a mountain of debt which ended with an economic avalanche. This goes against his magical “Black Swan” hand-waving nonsense.

* The most dramatic argument against disparate impact and racism causing stubborn IQ differences is the profound commonality of these differences throughout the United States. If racism was the cause, surely one would see differing levels of gaps (or the total lack of gaps) based upon the relative levels of racism. Some locations, clearly, are more “racist” than others while others lend more help to poor blacks.

The fact that we see little difference in educational/etc outcomes is emblematic of the reality that the causes are likely genetic factors. In fact, it’s even more telling, as Sailer notes, that some of the most liberals cities on earth with the most aid for poor blacks (Madison, Palo Alto, Berkley, Evanston, etc), have the largest scoring/outcome gaps.

* Why the heritability of IQ is even a question baffles me. Attractive people tend to produce attractive children. Athleticism runs in families as does musical talent.

* Taleb is an over-hyped pseudo-intellect. Admittedly, I base this opinion only on the first 100 pages or so of his book Antifragile.

That’s how long it took me to realize that his whole schtick is simply to coin his own private language of phrases and metaphors — which are always so ill-defined that he can never be pinned down to a definite statement that could be proven false. He then slings his private language around as if he is saying something profound.

But boiling down his self-referential jargon to distill some sort of objectively verifiable hypothesis yields nothing but an inane, self-evident proposition along the lines of: “important events that were not predicted can be very important.”

I am not surprised at all to hear Taleb is rich. Persuasively selling bullshit is the highest paid profession in America.

* Steven Pinker sticks to his script. He’s second-to-none when it comes to driving his point home, but this also means that he excels at not blurting something politically incorrect out.

When he was taken out of context when talking about the “internet-savvy” alt-right, the three “controversial” examples he used were “capitalism vs communism”, sex differences in tastes and interests, and race differences in crime rates. Not intelligence, crime rates. And of course he then went on to put these observations in context and explain why the alt-right are wrong.

I imagine that a lot of thought will have gone into the examples he chose. It was very scripted. As were his speech and article regarding Gregory Cochran’s hypothesis concerning Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence. He raises the prospect of a genetic explanation, says that “more research is needed”, and then goes on to explore the ethical implications of this. He also spares a thought for a suitably diverse cast of other middleman minorities who have indeed been persecuted due to their IQ advantages:

“The idea of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural) could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenians, Lebanese, Ibos, and overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious persecution because of their economic success.”


In any case, Pinker is a liberal, so he won’t be attacked as much as Charles Murray. Plus, he’s talking about the gap between Jews and almost everyone else, not the gap between whites and blacks. Of course, on that topic Pinker may privately hold politically incorrect views, as some commenters speculated on Gregory Cochran’s post close to when Pinker’s new book came out.

Private conversations

In public, he claims he disagrees with The Bell Curve, but never explains why. A few people on the far-left seem to have cottoned on to this.

By contrast, his friend Sam Harris – already heavily criticised for his focus on Islam – has learned the hard way what happens when you talk about race and IQ and even consider the possibility that group differences are partly explained by genetic differences.

Back in 2007, there was a “Four Horsemen of New Atheism” discussion between Harris, Dawkins, Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, and the topic of The Bell Curve came up briefly. A few minutes later, Harris then brought it up again and tried to delve into the claims of The Bell Curve further, but Hitchens dismissed it with “well none of us believe any of that, do we?”.

I got the sense that Harris thought there was something to The Bell Curve even back then. Yet, in his podcast interview with Murray, he claimed he was only inviting Murray on because he felt bad for believing all of the accusations levelled against Murray, and that he hadn’t read The Bell Curve until the Middlebury incident. I highly doubt that, but it’s another example of a tactic that popular figures such as Pinker and Harris try to use to prevent them from being Watsoned.

Robert Plomin does the same. He signed Gottfredson’s letter to the Wall Street Journal, but always stresses that he doesn’t agree with all of the claims made in The Bell Curve. As long as he’s talking about genetically-driven IQ differences between private school and state school kids, or between the different classes, he’s fine: his book even got favourable reception in outlets such as The Guardian.

Having said that, a few years ago Plomin was pretty controversial, especially when Dominic Cummings (a friend of Steve Hsu’s, the director of the Brexit campaign, and the author of a long essay on education which cited Plomin’s work) arranged a meeting between Plomin and his then-boss, the Education Secretary Michael Gove, along with other officials in the UK’s Department for Education.

Nowadays, though, the evidence is hard to deny because the genes have been found. The middle-classes in Britain might also be a bit sick of the working-class, due to Brexit.

Moreover, the middle-classes are naturally very much interested in the intelligence of their kids. When I was at medical school, I had a Communist flatmate who, out-of-the-blue, started to vociferously criticise IQ testing. I patiently explained the evidence to him, and at the end of it he asked me for my IQ. Then, a few weeks later, he randomly asked me how one would go about calculating the expected IQ of one’s offspring.

Economics is a pretty g-loaded subject, and I’d rate Professor Glenn Loury pretty highly. He doesn’t do Nobel-level work, but W. Arthur Lewis also won a Nobel Prize in Economics back in 1979, and is the only Black to win a science Nobel Prize.

If we widen the net a little, there are also two Black Nobel Laureates in Literature: Wole Soyinka and Toni Morrison. There are a few Black billionaires, too.

And Steve already mentioned David Blackwell, the statistician.

Still, you’re right that it’s quite difficult to explain the dearth of Blacks in g-loaded fields using the normal distribution alone, and culture may play a role as Steve suggests. But consider that, assuming that there are around 1.1 billion Blacks in the world, you’d only expect (assuming a genotypic IQ of 85) there to be ~8084 Blacks with IQs above 150 in the entire world. And remember that the phenotypic IQ of sub-Saharan Africa, due to extreme poverty and associated malnutrition and infection, is likely to be around 75, meaning that we’ll observe even fewer Blacks with IQs above 150.

Currently, you’d expect there to be ~337 African-Americans and ~286 sub-Saharan Africans with IQs above 150.

For reference, Terence Tao has a measured IQ (on the Stanford-Binet) of around 180.

* It works even better on Twitter. You can just drop a bunch of jargon, abbreviations, and references without any hint of how they’re supposed to support your argument. There’s no room to squeeze that in alongside your telegraphic ramblings. Your loyal followers are just supposed to nod along.

The tweetstorm has got to be the most unbearably smug genre of short form writing since the open letter.

* With a good editor Black Swan could have been expressed in 3 pages and still be long for the insights offered. I read it years ago. Mostly self promoting verbiage. It obviously worked. Good consulting pitch too, suggesting that he had ways to insulate himself from the damage.

* There is an excellent essay by Gladwell on Taleb that casts some light on his insecurities. For all his tough talk about entrepreneurship, he himself was not a success as a trader. He got out of the market and went into the guru business and struck mother load.

* Taleb’s making the perfect the enemy of the good. Yes, IQ is an imperfect measure in many respects. The question is what do we put in its place? Should we go back to examining bird entrails?

* This missive reads like someone who is very unfamiliar with the game of football.

All of the players’ measurable attributes are tabulated across multiple dimensions of speed, athleticism, strength, explosiveness, and agility.

These figures are all quantified and can be (and are) constructed into a matrix with height, leg length, arm length, weight, chest size, etc to create an athletic composite than can be tailored to each position. This score is used to judge whether a person has a good probability of being athletically capable of competing in the NFL. Those who do not pass this minimum composite for their position are almost never drafted and never play in the nfl. This is because they would not be able to compete.

Tens of thousands of athletes have taken these tests and the results exist in NFL repositories. Over the years, every manner of person who played football at some level aspires to play in the NFL and many spend thousands of hours dedicated to that goal.

The fact that zero white athletes have been a starting cornerback in the NFL for nearly 15 seasons can only be attributed to two causes: a vast conspiracy or complete athletic dominance by black athletes in that position group.

The fact of the matter is that if their were whites capable of playing that position in any number, they would be in the nfl.

* As a non-native speaker of English, Taleb is a creative neologist, not hindered by preexisting language patterns.

ludic, while an actual English word, is not used by him in that sense exactly (cf. ludicrous), but in the sense of “of or pertaining to games or sport”. Wikipedia describes Taleb’s “ludic fallacy” here:


psycholophaster is a Talebism meaning pseudo-pyschologist. This coinage seems to be based in philosophaster, coined by Erwin Schrödinger (and not used by anyone since). Rather than take the suffix -aster and adding it to the root of psychologist, psychologaster, Taleb decided to include the last consonant in philosophy and delete the last consonant in psychology for some reason.

The Taleb-Pinker feud is backgrounded in this article from last March in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The two academics had books come out at the same time; Pinker’s was praised in the New York Times, Taleb’s trashed.

* There has been reams of research on incomes and IQs, and it supports the thesis that, on average, smarter guys earn more money than dumber guys. End of story.

* Skimming his tweats, I see some repeating issues:

– He’s redefining intelligence from the psychological meaning, which is IQ, which itself is an imperfect, noisy attempt to measure g. g itself is “cognitive ability,” which are language and math and other things that have been discovered to correlate with them, such as reaction speed, 3D manipulation, certain puzzles, forward and reverse digit spans, and several other abilities (but not rhythmical sense, for instance, but it might include some plumber street-smart skills). This is intelligence to psychometricians. The word intelligence can mean other things, but not in this context. You’re not allowed to say that psychologists are not using the word intelligence right. Make up your own word if you need a new concept (which he frequently does, anyway).

– He attacks psychological research on IQ-income correlation/causation, replacing it with his anecdotal street-smart plumber “data.” If the many psychological studies correlating IQ with income are wrong, do new studies. As far as I can tell, the studies look at income from any source by any type of person, including street-smart plumbers.

– He is saying that IQ doesn’t correlate with success. Well, define that word strictly in a way that can be quantified. For an example, see how socioeconomic status is formally defined in a quantifiable way. After defining success, there need to be real world studies done, not Talel anecdotal “studies.” SES is defined looking at income of household, highest degree obtained expressed as a weighted number, and job status expressed as a weighted number from a reference table. Over large numbers of people it produces results that ring true. You get a lower paid but highly educated academic or journalist at a prestigious publication ranking up there with a higher paid business person (who might be a plumber). That sounds like success to me. If Taleb needs to reanalyze the data with a higher weighted score for plumbers, fine, let’s see the results. At the end of the day, does IQ correllate with Taleb street-smart successful people? Do the definitions and the studies and we’ll know, which we can’t know from listening to Taleb’s anecdotes. But psychologists have accepted Big Five traits as important factors, as well as nepotism and who you know.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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