Monday 29 March 2010

Belle Curve De Jour: GCSE Chinese and Indians not British

What's wrong with this headline?
Chinese and Indian pupils get more top grades at GCSE than British children

The Daily Mail does it again. In an article that's supposed to prove Chinese and Indian kids are high in Geek Factor when it comes to exams, Laura Clark effectively says that UK Chinese and Indians living, studying and most likely born here aren't British. At no point are we described as such. I know it shouldn't come as a shock to me that on Planet Mail, only white children can be classed as Brits, but it still annoys me to see us defined as "Other" in this underhand way.

Clark writes:
Chinese and Indian pupils gain more top grades than white British children in every school subject, official figures reveal. The biggest gulf in attainment is in GCSE maths, where Chinese children are three-and-a-half times more likely to get an A than white British children.

Yeah, we're fiendishly clever and foreign. So watch out!

This naked expression of a fear of (a) intellectuals and (b) forners plays on the dawning realisation that deteriorating living standards threaten to regress us all back to Victorian levels of poverty. Someone ate all the pies, but the the finger keeps getting pointed to other groups struggling to make a good life instead of the kleptocrats currently stealing everything that isn't nailed down (and, thanks to the clawhammers supplied under Blair, quite a lot that was). While Dyson relocates his domestic appliance business to hoover up cheap labour in Malaysia, company directors lay workers off and then pay themselves the stolen wages in fat bonuses and peers of the realm on both sides of the House refuse to pay British taxes, we're supposed to blame other workers. We should at least be smart enough not to allow politicians and media to turn us into rats in a sack while the super-rich wreck our lives.

Lies, damned lies and The Bell Curve
I was greatly amused when all the rednecks started quoting soi-disant "libertarian political scientist" Charles Murray (no relation, thankfully, to the British blues-rock guru of almost the same name), whose mission seems to be to render racism respectable. His dubious 'Bell Curve' statistics were supposed to prove that whites were intellectually superior to blacks, as if there were no other factors in the way these tests were organised. But the same tests and dodgy methodology also showed that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans scored higher than whites. Somehow his adherents excised that latter chunk of data from their arguments whilst waging their race war.

So, what do we learn from the latest statistics? Curry feeds the brain? Eating with chopsticks increases your intelligence? Perhaps it's the delicate co-ordination required every mealtime that forges those synaptic links in the young brain which will stand you in such good stead when it comes to writing your dissertation on genetic degeneration in the grey matter of certain white scientists and Daily Mail journalists.

Hat-tip, Navjot Singh.


AVBK said...

A deeply pleasing posting.

Seán said...

Agree, a really good post.

I remember a few months back (that could be a couple of years in my world) there was a TV documentary that touched upon the issues you raise about Murray's reactionary bullshit. It was fronted by that ex-BBC reporter Rageh Omaar and examined the so-called differences in race and intelligence.

Anyway, recent research appears to repudiate much of Murray's thesis. One of the finding was that all ethnic groups IQ scores have risen during the 20th/21st century and that (wait for this big surprise!) class rather than race was the determining factor in the differences in IQ scores.

Thus, if you are of a certain race living in the USA during mid to late 20th century (African American for instance) or indeed a black African living during Apartheid in SA, odds were/are you were also of a certain social class.

Environmental, historical and economic contexts are always absent during such 'research'. I wonder why?

Madam Miaow said...

Exactly, class is the biggest determining factor, especially if poverty is an issue.

But, of course, the Powers That Be can't allow class to be looked at properly as that might beg certain uncomfortable questions as to the status quo. "You are in that lowly position because of your inferior genes and nothing can be done about it. It's science, innit? Here's Chuck Murray with the proof."

Cue "All Things Bright And Beautiful" with the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate.

Gwei Mui said...

When is this cr*p going to stop. Although as you so rightly pointed out it is The Daily Mail! Oh I grow weary nearly thirty years on and we are still having the same stale caricatures being regurgitated. So the British passport I've got tucked away in my draw - what is that, chopped liver? However I'm British when the establishment needs to count me as such, for Tax, NI etc, etc.

Laban said...

"But the same tests and dodgy methodology also showed that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans scored higher than whites. Somehow his adherents excised that latter chunk of data from their arguments whilst waging their race war."

Not really (although I don't know who you're reading). Take a look at Steve Sailer's IQ FAQ. He's generally considered a Right Wing Death Beast , but doesn't excise data - in fact the first thing he'd say about your piece is that you forgot the Ashkenazis.

Sailer is an entertaining writer. Try his witty and observant 'Why Lesbians Aren't Gay'.

I took little notice of IQ theory (not that I take a huge amount now) until I sent a child to private school and noticed, contrary to my expectations (I went to a selective state school in the 60s when the assumption was that private schools were for 'thick rich kids') that there were a relatively high number (compared to his previous state school) of highly intelligent and talented kids there - talent and intelligence beyond what 'mere' teaching/coaching can produce. We all know from everyday experience that bright people tend to have bright kids, but it was striking to see such a concentration. It wasn't just the money that made them.

I started thinking - perhaps it's because daddy and mummy are so clever that
a) they've got the money to school Junior
b) that Junior is such a bright cookie

in other words, perhaps it's not 'just' being middle class that makes middle class children do better in school. Obviously I'm not dismissing nurture (my great great- grandparents were illiterate labourers, but had no schooling) but nature may play a part.

And as someone - Koestler ? says, when you start questioning one thing ...

You are obviously an intelligent and literate person. Isn't dismissing IQ the equivalent of the pretty girl who says that looks aren't important ?

Madam Miaow said...

Laban, I don't believe the validity of any "science" that tries to prove genetic superiority or inferiority of races when there are so many more factors that Murray's methods don't take into consideration.

The ability to make money has thus far eluded me and I don't think I'm dumber than many of the money obsessives I've met. It depends on what you're measuring and how.

IQ theory seems to me to be an excuse a) to subjugate and exploit people who don't know their way around making dosh (like me), and b) to leave this system as it is.

One reason why private schools might now be getting better results than state schools is their average class size of eleven against the average state school class size of thirty plus.

Thanks for the links. I'll have a look later.

Laban said...

Thanks for such a courteous and speedy response.

I'm really pretty certain that Murray is not a believer in "superiority or inferiority of races". The fact that people might use the science to bolster a political position is really not an argument that can or should be used against a piece of science. From a scientific perspective, Murray's work has not been refuted. If you actually read his stuff, rather than what other people say about it, he turns out to be rather a nice guy.

"a special committee set up by the American Psychological Association to report on the basic science eventually backed all of the book's main claims, as did an open letter signed by several dozen of the nation's most qualified intelligence researchers."

But no one thinks that IQ is all there is to anything. Culture, political structures - lots of externalities play a part. Take China. More than a thousand years ago, at the time of the Battle of Hastings, China had an iron industry as big as the UKs was in 1850 ! In the 15th century Cheng Ho was sailing the oceans long before Magellan or Vasco da Gama, and China was by far the world's biggest economy. Don't get me started on the civil service exams. Then a decision was taken by the centralised government to stop oceanic trade, and China turned in on itself for centuries while other nations overtook. They were the same people, yet their circumstances changed.

Similarly the China which is now the workshop of the world is only 40 years away from Cultural Revolution China. The people are ethnically the same, even Chinese culture can't have changed THAT much, and presumably average IQs haven't changed much - yet the place is very different.

(I got the broad-brush overview and the iron industry from Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers - a great book).

Laban said...

Somebody in China liked Paul Kennedy's book - it was loosely adapted into a 12-part Chinese TV documentary.

Madam Miaow said...

Murray may be a "nice guy" but Stephen Jay Gould is nicer in my book. He wrote a couple of rebuttals which I have not yet read beyond reviews.

(Apologies — I am not yet intelligent enough to turn those page addresses into links.)

I am suspicious of anyone whose work has been used to such foul ends and who hasn't either refuted that use or clarified his position. Plus the Wiki link says Murray's methodology has been systematically dismantled.

harpymarx said...

I really recommend Stephen Jay Gould's book, The Mismeasure of Man, also Leon Kamin's bk on intelligence where he demolishes Hans Eysenck's research on race, intelligence and IQ.

Laban said...

"I am suspicious of anyone whose work has been used to such foul ends and who hasn't either refuted that use or clarified his position."

That seems to be a faith-based position, not a scientific one. Fair enough, it's just nice to know the grounds for attack. As a scientist the question should be 'is it true' ?

How much of his stuff have you read ? Why not actually read first, then condemn ? If Harpy (who also comments on the "disgusting book") has actually read it then I'll eat my copy of The Women's Room.

From Murray and Herrnstein’s conclusion to The Bell Curve : "If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or the environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a particularly good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with this issue. What might the mix be ? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not justify an estimate."

I'll stop now, don't want to turn into one of those IQ bores who annoy me so much in my own comments. But Murray is a decent man - and the more of his work I read the more that impression is reinforced. I hate to see him traduced.

PS - I've read 'The Mismeasure of Man'. It's basic thesis is 'a lot of 19th century scientists looked at group differences. They were all racists (and most of them were by modern standards). Therefore people who examine group differences today - like Charles Murray - are just followers of that old tradition - and are also racists.'

The sad thing is that race and IQ only occupy a few pages of the Bell Curve. The bulk of the book is about something that socialists should care about - what he calls the emergence of a 'cognitive elite' due to assortative mating - basically the phenomenon where high achievers marry other high achievers.

A Sane Person said...

Here's an interesting article for anyone who'd like to dwell on the nature-nurture thing: Poor children a year behind in language skills. There is a constant and striking difference between children from poor families and children from wealthy families.

You could argue that this is due to genetics because poor people are mostly those who did bad at school, who have lower IQs while the higher classes are invariably populated by people with higher IQs and that is reflected in the difference between their children, but the study also shows significant improvment in children's vocabulary skills if the children are being read to every day, so parenting obviously has immense influence on the child's skills and capabilities.

The problem, of course, is that poor parents may not have time, energy and money to invest in improving their child's skills, which will result in that the child will be less successful in school, grow up into a less successful individual, and have children that will again fall behind in tests and knowledge. Thus the pattern is repeated and inequality is perpetuated through the system, giving an impression that this is due to innate capabilities of individuals simply because it is hard to target problems such as these on a systematical level. But the fact is that children's skills are significantly impacted by the environment in which they are developed.

Another thing that also shows that presumably innate capabilities are in fact highly influenced by the enivironment is the Flynn effect, which shows that the average IQ in populations rises over time - not millenia, but decades. And that is not because our brains are evolving and we are becoming smarter, but because we are changing our environment in ways that allow for better development of our skills.

James Williams said...

Did you write to Ms Clark to ask why she is creating this false binary?

Gregor said...

So Daily Mail writers share the ‘ethnically British’ concept with a certain party that they so sincerely hate so much from the bottom of their hearts and with whom they have nothing in common…

Laban said...

Every year the US science site Edge asks a prominent thinker to pose a question - and gets lots of clever people to chip in their answers.

In 2006 the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (of Blank Slate fame) asked the question :


The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

119 eminent people contributed 75,000 words on dangerous ideas, but I tend to assume Pinker asked the question because he wanted to get his own answer out :

"the dangerous idea of the next decade ? that groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments."

His conclusion is that "the prospect of genetic tests of group differences in psychological traits is both more likely and more incendiary, and is one that the current intellectual community is ill-equipped to deal with."

We've certainly seen that here.

A Sane Person said...

I've read The Blank State, and the book is very interesting, but he offers evolutionary psychology theories for observable phenomena postulating that the observed phenomena are result of those theories when that can in fact be in no way confirmed. Genetic differences tell nothing about the way environmental context influences them, and environmental context is too diverse and too fluid to be studied in controlled experiments. For example: women are more inclined to study social sciences and humanities, men are more inclined to do science and math. BUT: this presumption is a consequence of and confirmed by the observed situation, but the observed situation is not neccessarily the consequence of this presumtion.

Let me explain: A small study done on students in Croatia showed that university students had firmly developed ideas about which fields of study are more suitable for men and which are more suitable for women. The women who studied science and IT considered themselves as an exception to the rule, and so did their female teachers and their male peers. The female students reported that they believed that their chosen field of study is more suitable for men than for women because, as one girl said, "our brains work differently." This shows that the culture is still deeply ingrained with beliefs on what skills and capabilities belong to which gender - and that girls internalize these beliefs as much as boys, even when they go against them.

Essentially, this means that little boys and girls are from their childhood divided along the lines of "this will suit you better, because you're a girl/boy". So by the time it comes for a girl to choose her profession, she's already had a lifetime of conditioning which lead her away from science.

In other words, a bright and smart girl was urged by her parents, the society and prevalent beliefs that maths and physics is too difficult for her to tackle so she developed her skills in some other area. This leads to the fact that there is a significantly less number of women in science than men, which in turn leads to the conclusion that this must be down to genetic differences between men and women, and not due to social conditioning. Psychology then enters to make men and women take various tests the results of which show that men and women differ in a certain number of skills and capabilities. Completely ignoring the fact that men and women are socially encouraged and even pressured to develop different skills and capabilities.

A Sane Person said...

Of course, all this is not to say that there are no genetic differences between men and women. But the area needs to be carefully examined lest we proclaim some differences inborn and hence unchangeable when they are actually to a large degree the result of social conditioning, because that will have an effect on members of both sexes and how encouraged or disouraged they will feel in their efforts to fullfil their potentials in whichever field of work or study they choose.

Laban said...

Sane Person - I think we basically agree. Of course nurture is important . But as you say "this is not to say that there are no genetic differences between men and women. But the area needs to be carefully examined"

The sad thing is that no matter how carefully, and sensitively, the area is examined, for some people the idea that at group level - be it black/white, male/female, straight/gay - the idea that there can be ANY differences is heretical.

In 50 or 100 years - perhaps earlier as genetic research proceeds apace - this debate will be looked on as an equivalent to the storm when Copernicus and Galileo moved the earth from the centre of the universe. It will have moved on from denying difference to a far more important topic - deciding what to do about it. Alternatively, advances in gene therapy may mean the debate is redundant because we can all be clever.

Navjot Singh said...

Hi Anna
You are was quick! I loved the blog article...its inspiring. Thanks for hat tipping me...really appreciate it. Will keep a lookout for more similar stories..
Best wishes

Gwyn said...

Christ, Laban, I just read that Steve Sailer link you posted. It's not witty and observant. He's utterly making it up as he goes along, answering his own half-baked strawmen with the most ancient clichés known to mankind.
Gay men sunbathe and don't want to join the military? Lesbians play sports and hate porn? You don't even need to think about it, you know that's a load of crap. I feel like I just got rickrolled or something. Urgh.