Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scientists Rediscover the Violence Gene, MAOA-2R

“It’s estimated that a third of all men carry what’s been called the warrior gene.”

— Dr. Phil

“There were three genes, as you mentioned. Call them violence genes. Call them bad-behavior genes. But what they found was that if people had these genes, they’re much more likely to be violent. There were certain triggers, as well: stress, family problems, low popularity, failing in school. To take it a step further, Karen, they sort of predict that about one percent of the population has these genes.”

— Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN

Both of these men are wrong, and both are referring to the same gene, monoamine oxidase A (MAOA). Roughly a third of white men inherit the 3-repeat allele of MAOA (MAOA-3R), which has received considerable research attention for influencing aggression. However, every other group, particularly African Americans, reach much higher allele frequencies, making MAOA-3R the most common version of the gene. Gupta was referring to a study of three potential violence-causing genes. One was the heterozygous pairing of ANKK1’s Taq1A allele (once thought to belong to DRD2), found in 37% of the subjects. Another was DAT1’s 10-repeat allele, found in 95% of the subjects. However, the strongest association with violence occurred in the third gene, MAOA, specifically the 2-repeat allele (MAOA-2R) found in that one percent that Gupta mentioned. I previously documented how this especially violent version of “the warrior gene” can be found much more commonly in African-American men than white or Asian men. Recently, an unusual study filled in some knowledge gaps about this highly understudied allele, specifically its effect on African-American men.

One unusual aspect of this study, Beaver et al, is that it essentially reexamined the exact same data as Guo et al, the study Gupta mentioned. The latter actually coincided with another study, also led by Guang Guo, on MAOA-2R in 2008 that determined that the allele doubles the rate of serious and violent delinquency. The impact most affected those aged twelve to fifteen, more than tripling the violent delinquency score based on eight questions. All three papers obtained their data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that totaled about 20,000 participants. However, only a seventh of that sample provided DNA, and Beaver et al focused on as few as eight black men for some of its findings.

That number might induce a healthy skepticism, but one should recall that this is not some newly discovered point mutation obtained in a “fishing expedition” bound for the annals of false positives. This gene produces an extremely important neurotransmitter enzyme that became the target of the first antidepressants in the 1950s. In the 1970s, studies linked its metabolites to aggression. In the late 80s, Hans Brunner discovered and became the eponym for a syndrome of violence resultant from complete deactivation of MAOA. His initial study included only five instances out of a family history of fourteen possible cases. Follow-up research increased the total subjects to nine from this single family. However, other researchers were able to induce Brunner syndrome in mice and eventually to discover such knockout-allele mice in a spontaneous form. Of course, a 2002 study instigated a tremendous amount of research on the gene-environment interaction, in which MAOA-3R coupled with the experience of child abuse triggers aggressive tendencies. The number of the “repeats” in the allele refers to the length of the more studied of the two promoters of the gene, and so those repeats can represent, to some extent, discrete levels of the enzyme’s dosage. In fact, the Guo et al 2008 study in the European Journal of Human Genetics included an in-vitro functional analysis of MAOA in human brain-tumor cells. MAOA-2R was less active than MAOA-3R, which was less active than MAOA-4R, the most common version in white people. MAOA-4R was more than three times as active as MAOA-2R.

I shall now briefly detail the sample characteristics that each of the three studies examined in order to ascertain how common MAOA-2R is in white and African-American men. Beaver et al claimed that the overall sample consisted of 2574 individuals, though Guo et al claimed a sample of 2524, including 1200 men. If Beaver et al was in error, then they have consistently repeated the error in other papers. In American Sociological Review, Guo et al only included 1111 men who met that study’s requirements, but both 2008 papers show that only eleven men had the 2R allele, and this study actually provided a racial breakdown of the sample: 60% white, 17% African American, 15% Hispanic American, and 8% Asian. The full genotyped Add Health male population is 57% white, which is 680 men. Beaver et al has listed 174 African-American men. Thus, nine black men by interviewer-assessed race (5.2%) or ten by self-reported race (5.5%) had the 2R allele. Beaver et al revealed that only 0.1% of white males had the 2R allele, which would equal just one man out of 680. That probably leaves none for Asians and Hispanics.

These numbers roughly correspond to other studies but suggest that I might have been too generous to African-American men in suggesting that they are only ten times more likely to have this especially dangerous version of MAOA. Reti et al previously genotyped a sample of 618 men and women who were 59% white and 38% African American. That study did not use a purely random sample. Seventy-five percent of that group received psychiatric evaluation within the Hopkins Epidemiology of Personality Disorders Study. That sample included 224 men and 391 women (with apparently three individuals missing possibly from rounding). Assuming both the black people and white people are 64% female, only three alleles out of 595 would have been 2-repeat alleles for white people. Eighteen of 377 would have been 2R for black people. Only about one white man out of possibly 133 would have been likely to have it, if even that, compared to four out of 85 black men. Likewise, Caspi et al in 2002 found one man with the 2R allele out of 499 white males. The trend seems to be that only a token white man in each study has this rare allele. Therefore, to say that the prevalence in whites is higher than Asians is sketchy. Since the new Beaver et al study uses a more random sample than Reti et al, and its white-male 2R prevalence is in closer agreement with Caspi et al than Reti et al, I suspect that this allele is closer to 50 times more common in black men than white men rather than 10 times, as I previously wrote.

Most research on MAOA compares MAOA-3R to MAOA-4R in white males with token instances of MAOA-2R thrown in with MAOA-3R under the label “MAOA-L.” So, these studies are made more shocking by the lumping of “the warrior gene,” MAOA-3R, together with the high-activity allele, MAOA-4R, as the non-violent versions of the gene. The astounding results speak for themselves. Beaver et al found that the ten black men who possessed MAOA-2R had triple the risk of incarceration and almost quadruple their risk of arrest, (accounting for 8.6% of the arrested and 9.5% of the incarcerated). A sample of only eight black men with MAOA-2R out of 130 black men had a statistically significant increased risk of self-reported violence. Scientists have tried to ameliorate the politically unpalatable nature of violence-gene research by emphasizing the environmental trigger for aggression with MAOA-3R, but the findings of Beaver et al and Guo et al did not depend on any environmental trigger. Beaver et al asserted that “the low base-rate of 2-repeat allele carriers prevented an exploration of gene-environment interaction…” However, Guo et al went right ahead and also tested for an interaction between MAOA-2R and being held back a grade in school and three questions regarding feelings of school attachment. The gene’s interaction increased violent delinquency 21 times as much as grade retention alone and seven times as much as school attachment alone.

Given that the men with MAOA-2R in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health are ten African Americans and one white, I doubt the effectiveness of the regression analysis adjustment for race and ethnicity claimed by Guo et al. Put another way, 91% of the exposed cohort come from a racial group that is 13% of all Americans. Their studies should have laid bare this fact. Beaver et al limited their analysis to the black men, but even that raises concerns of population stratification because African Americans are a mixed population, averaging 22% European ancestry. Africa, itself, has produced no MAOA research, (but it did copy a sensational National Geographic documentary on MAOA). If MAOA-2R is so closely associated with African ancestry, then it could serve as a proxy for having more African alleles. Of course, this logic never stopped any of the other research on African Americans, and the implication that multiple other African violence alleles confound this association does not fit the mold of politically correct impugnment usually directed at MAOA research.

Part of my fascination with the sparse research on MAOA-2R comes from my belief that scientists have inadvertently underplayed the true power of this gene. Comparing the two most common versions of MAOA requires less effort and funding, and emphasizing an environmental trigger, like child abuse, varnishes genetics research with a politically correct gloss. However, the trigger for MAOA-3R quickly multiplied to include testosterone levels, maternal smoking, IQ, education, and socio-economic status. Some of those “environmental” factors actually have a dominant hereditary influence. Now, studies have triggered aggression in MAOA-3R men with much more immediate experimental adversities in the form of game unfairness. Furthermore, people like Dr. Phil assume that a gene-environment interaction is synonymous with a “genetic predisposition,” but the “non-active” allele actually appears to play a protective role that negates an environmental trigger’s impact. For instance, low IQ does not increase violent tendencies in men with MAOA-4R, but it does in men with MAOA-3R.

Incidentally, Steven Pinker’s latest book addressed the Flynn Effect. “If smarter people and smarter societies are less likely to be violent, then perhaps the recent rise in intelligence can help explain the recent decline of violence.” However, a hypothesis of much longer-term IQ decline has recently ridden a wave of genetic-load angst, so allow me to point out the tension between these competing paradigms as a challenge to Pinker’s broader thesis. The complex associations between intelligence, executive function, and aggression might have also drawn in olfaction research. Both judgment and the ability to discern smells localize to the frontal lobes, and research has linked poor olfactory acuity to aggression. As with MAOA allele frequencies, racial disparities exist for odor identification.

Since Brunner syndrome and MAOA-2R seem to have a “main effect” without an environmental trigger, I see the MAOA-3R gene-environment interaction as a penumbra of the possible enzymatic effects. In an entire population, the prevalence of violence must have a specific total MAOA component that would consist of all of the MAOA variants (including potential epigenetic effects, SNPs, and both VNTR promoters, only one of which is the subject of most “warrior gene” research) and each variant’s potential when unlocked by all possible environmental triggers. Even with enormous samples, whole-genome studies are capable of studying a tiny fraction of this genetic potential. Similarly, quantitative genetics research, like twins studies, underestimates heritability when some large genetic effects are unlocked by environmental stimuli, as opposed to a merely additive nature-nurture relationship. Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, who spearheaded early gene-environment research, wrote an extended analysis of this approach with Michael Rutter. “For understanding the influence of such conditional-effect genes, large samples may be less necessary than strategic [gene-environment interaction] research.”

Rather than use the penumbra of gene-environment interactions to appreciate the extensiveness of a gene’s effect, scientists like Moffitt, Caspi, and Rutter seek to dispel genetic “determinism.” Citing a two-hour student protest of a scientific conference on the genetics of violence, they explained, “Ethicists attribute the root of the public’s concern about genes to a pervasive belief in the power of genetic determinism: ‘ … genetic determinism implies that knowing a person’s genetic makeup is tantamount to knowing his or her future.’” If the public detests genetic determinism due to its unyielding quality, then surely such people would rather seek methods to circumnavigate genetic fate than to simply disacknowledge the power of heredity. However, Moffitt et al wish for the opposite: “Concrete data needed to counter genetic determinism are provided by new [gene-environment interaction] findings…. Such understanding should make eugenics and other misuses of genetic information much more difficult.” This discussion calls for a debate over both the feasibility and the ethics of changes to environmental triggers, like poverty, versus those of the ill-defined “misuses” of genetic knowledge. Presumably hypothetical therapeutic drugs and diagnostic tests for violent tendencies would not necessarily misuse the research, and the solutions to poverty and educational failure are not just around the corner.

Obviously, many scientists and activists who oppose genetic determinism believe in a greater role for nurture or even blank-slate nurture determinism, but they wish to leverage the masses, who ascribe behavior to supernatural “free will.” To qualify as deterministic, must genetic aggressivity present itself constantly? Though MAOA has no activity in Brunner syndrome, the subjects need not reside in cages, gnawing on the bars. Most men with the MAOA knockout allele are afflicted with conduct disorder and “conflict with the law” during their lifetime. A provocation of some sort might set off aggression, but minor provocations exist in the lives of all people, so Brunner syndrome should still qualify as deterministic. Whether the existence of such determinism is “nice” or not has no bearing on its existence, so do not mistake denial for virtue.


I might have missed the recent Beaver et al study, if others had not pointed it out to me. Unlike most MAOA research, it did not surface in the PubMed database. I think that is true of all studies from the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences of the London School of Differential Psychology. Some of the journal’s board members, including recently deceased Arthur Jensen, received the label “scientific racist” from certain activists. So, Kevin Beaver refused to submit to an interview for this blog, but he saw fit to publish in a journal that recently reviewed research on penis length and circumference differences among “Negroids,” “Caucasoids,” and “Mongoloids.” A year ago, I was able to send him a list of questions, in which I confronted him for conflating MAOA-2R and MAOA-3R as “MAOA-L.” He told me that a study on MAOA-2R was “in the pipeline.” However, I would like to think that I inspired the study, and I find it jarring that four years could pass without any research on MAOA-2R and violence.

Is anyone following this research as well as I am? Many professions fight “turf wars.” This occurs among medical professionals and physician specialties. Study of MAOA and violence likens less to competition over a lucrative procedure and more to a game of “hot potato.” Violence, itself, does not have a dedicated category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Though psychiatrists have contributed some research, it seems that psychologists and criminologists like Beaver have taken the lead usually with low-cost data mining from databases like the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Meanwhile, public attention to the gene increasingly falls to self-appointed experts and “ethicists,” who cannot even report some very basic facts about the gene correctly. Pseudointellectuals are claiming that “most if not all of this literature [on MAOA] is wrong, and [sic] will soon be forgotten” and that a “single molecule” like serotonin or dopamine cannot explain “complex behavior.” When Scientologists mouth these stupid ideas, most people roll their eyes, but now the same ideas are coming from “science reporters” and Harvard professors. Therefore, I decided to take the drastic measure of addressing what I think might be the source of the problem by editing Wikipedia. Before I started editing the Wikipedia pages for Brunner syndrome and MAOA, activists had peppered them with qualifications that the evidence was “flawed” or “controversial” or that the emerging field of epigenetics made the gene’s effects “hard to predict.” Apparently, methyl moieties escape the rule that a single type of molecule cannot determine a complex behavior. Never mind studies that show the epigenetics of MAOA in men is minimal, low in variance, and high in hereditary influence. Of course, it is never enough to simply edit a fix into a Wikipedia page. First, one makes the edit. Then, one reapplies the edit repeatedly after activists try to undo one’s work. Finally, one replies to the activist on one’s personal “talk” page when the activist threatens to undo one’s work again unless one attaches to an email the study that proves the activist’s sacred belief is based on a copy-and-paste error. A stronger commitment predicates some Wikipedia myths than that of many a marriage.

Some are rightfully criticizing this research and candidate-gene behavioral genetics, in general, because small sample sizes can cause false positives by measure of statistical significance. However, since no other approach is capable of studying VNTRs like MAOA, the only current solution would be to fund the research more rather than to advocate censorship of the research that is being done. Rarely do I hear similar criticism of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research, which tends to have small samples due to the expense of the imaging but makes up for it with pretty color explosions on brain maps. When I worked with fMRI, I thought that the arbitrary threshold settings that defined the “areas of increased activity” added an extra layer of bias. Perhaps the Harvard establishment has singled out behavioral genetics for rebuke in order to centralize the potential for offensive findings and to avoid “misuse.”

Congratulations! You Have Cancer!

The study of MAOA has received a beautiful gift—the gift of cancer. One might recall the fad cureall and supplier of immortality known as antioxidants. Antioxidants are supposed to save cells by counteracting free radicals. However, too much of a good thing like cell survival is cancer. MAOA deserves to be called the “warrior gene” because it makes oxidases that slay cancer cells. Malorni et al first discovered this in 1998 when the MAOA-inhibiting drug, clorgyline, saved melanoma cells, in vitro. Ten years later, Alpini et al concluded that epigenetic effects on the MAOA VNTR could explain its lower enzyme levels in cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the liver bile ducts. Now, Huang et al has determined that higher MAOA expression decreased the risk of metastasis and improved prognosis and survival in patients with cholangiocarcinoma. Though the decline in MAOA expression seemed mostly limited to the areas of malignancy, I have found some online family-member portrayals of men with the disease becoming “distant,” “difficult,” “angry,” “grumpy,” “horrible,” and “mean,” in some cases prior to diagnosis.

This calls for drugs that increase MAOA levels, and maybe the resulting therapies could metastasize to psychiatric uses. A few contestants already have records of accomplishment. Doctors sometimes use risperidone, an older-generation antipsychotic, to treat impulsive aggression. In fact, Tuinier et al detailed a case report of a Brunner syndrome patient who successfully responded for a time to risperidone. Nevertheless, the drug has serious adverse reactions, causing many patients to gain weight, and a small percentage develop permanent tardive dyskinesia, involuntary movements often of the lips. Tetrabenazine and ketanserin reduced aggression in MAOA-knockout mice. Tetrabenazine is used to treat chorea, the involuntary movements of Huntington’s disease. The FDA granted it official orphan-drug status in 2008, but it is incredibly expensive for Americans to use. Ketanserin has applications for high blood pressure, but it is unavailable in the US.

Maybe this cancer research could save MAOA from its “controversial” reputation. Harvard professors might hesitate to dismiss a violence gene that became a cancer gene. After all, lives are at stake.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Inscrutable Voters

Debates about religion fascinate me, and I confess that I have always felt more inclined to the skeptical side. However, I have to respect the sheer cynical self-centeredness of Pascal’s wager. Fortunately, a new and equally pragmatic contention has arisen before my death: Republicans must convert to atheism to win the Asian vote! At least, that is my summation of the reaction to an exit poll from the recent presidential election that revealed strong support for President Obama among Asian Americans. Steve Sailer questioned the validity of this exit poll, but if there is one salient lesson from this election, it would have to be that polls are always right. The concern seems to center on the belief that Republicans swung too far towards the religious right by choosing a Mormon Massachusetts governor. LDS is a strict, conservative denomination, but I implore for imperturbation for two reasons: one, Mormons are a collection of happy-go-lucky genealogy and board-game enthusiasts, and, two, Mormonism might follow the trajectory that I predict for Scientology. When Scientology becomes the largest religion, a sealed envelope will provide L Ron Hubbard’s final testament: “Gotcha! Hope you enjoyed it.” In any case, the facts on the ground hardly matter when the libertarian elite must spin a loss to thwart populists with pitchforks. Who knows? Maybe in fifty years, the Asian vote will grow significant enough to turn this strategy into a comeback.

My first encounter with this strategy was on the site of temperamental science blogger Razib Khan. He did not so much lay out a plan as call everyone retarded for not seeing how obvious it is that Asians moved left as a direct consequence of losing their religion. “It’s not even in the class of a non-obvious prediction. Rather, the description screams at you.” To bolster his argument, he began swearing.

Soon thereafter, author Charles Murray joined in. “Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists.” By creationism, he means the absurd, literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, not the process by which liberals and libertarians create new rights out of nothingness. Murray might have a point. Why could not Governor Romney have paused his gay-bashing for a proper discussion of the issue of, say, taxation policy? Come to think of it, some of my best friends are Asians, and they see the Republican Party as the party of fat-cat, universal-healthcare-bashing global-warming deniers.

So, Murray and I seem to be on the same wavelength, but then I came across a curious statement. “Politically, a college education is a wash—in the General Social Survey, almost identical proportions of college graduates identify themselves as liberals and conservatives.” Razib contends that religious beliefs recently precipitated an attitudinal shift, and Murray describes this Asian political persuasion, while postulating that education played no role. Since Murray co-wrote The Bell Curve, perhaps he has noticed the radical improvement of SAT and ACT scores among Asians that could easily rival other cultural shifts, and since he works for a conservative think tank, perhaps he understands that university culture tends to espouse a certain ideology of its own. Though Asians are so much the Other that social scientists still label them “other race,” as the General Social Survey (GSS) does, Asians nevertheless adapt well. Confucius said, “Speak with sincerity and honesty, be humble and respectful, and you will get along even if you live among the barbarians.” Chinese people are the Asian prototype of nice folks who blend with the scenery. They adopt Islamic last names in Muslim nations and Christian first names in the lands of the West. Some Asians fled Communism, as Murray noted, but the Chinese diaspora was considered a bastion of Marxist agitation just a generation ago in pre-independence Singapore. How hard is it to imagine that some Asians adapt to the university ideology? In addition, I have noted previously that high intellect is more associated with liberal values and that the SAT is an IQ test, though not by design.

Murray is mostly correct about political ideology and education. This scale of conservativism is from one to seven with four being “moderate” and one being “extremely liberal.” Only those with graduate degrees are much more liberal than people with other education levels. However, for education to be “a wash” for Republicans, should not party identification receive the attention?

Education is not “a wash,” but it appears to be the opposite of my expectations. The scale extends from zero to six with three being “independent” and zero being “strong Democrat.” Republicans sensibly educate themselves to the level of a bachelor’s degree, before seeking out the upper-middle class and a house in the suburbs. Benighted high school dropouts are more conservative than they are Republican probably because the uglier aspects of conservativism that Murray so detests define their values. Indeed, high school dropouts are the least likely to agree that humans evolved from prior species.

Now to the premise, have Asians changed their political views? Since the GSS had not been using Asian as a race in its primary race survey question, I have graphed each Asian ethnic category. For conservativism, the main trend appears to be a reduction of statistical noise as the sample size increased. Filipino-Americans had the largest sample, followed by Chinese-Americans. Japanese-Americans, with the least, had about half as many respondents as the Filipinos and Chinese. Therefore, perhaps the uptick of Chinese-American Republicanism since 2008 is a real shift to the right. The conservativism trend for this group does echo party affiliation.

The evidence for an Asian political shift in the GSS is either not there or perhaps starting towards the political right, at least for the Chinese. The survey’s most recent results were 2010, but if Khan is right about religious beliefs playing the dominant role of influencing votes or if my hypothesis was right that the academic or intellectual progress was having an effect, I would have expected many years demonstrating a political shift, barring inadequacies of the survey. Surely, the study acknowledges that Asians have advanced in their educational accomplishments.

Yes, it does. The GSS also contains Wordsum, a ten-word vocabulary test that has some correlation with intelligence. Given the very clear evidence of improvement for Asian Americans on both the SAT and the ACT, as well as the improved education levels, one would expect a positive trend for Wordsum, too.

Unfortunately, these scores show no such evidence. Any number of explanations could address the discrepancy, while allowing for one’s personal biases to enter the equation. Those with contempt for Asians could find fault with the college entrance exams or explain away SAT scores as soulless cramming endeavors. Asian defenders can point out that the GSS has a small Asian sample size of about a thousand cumulatively over 38 years rather than the SAT’s tens of thousands each year, that a short vocabulary test does not represent general intelligence as well, or that a high proportion of Asians are not native-English speakers. The scores appear unbelievably low for Asians. For instance, in 2010 the average Indian American had a lower Wordsum score than the average African American. Indian Americans have the highest household annual income of any Asian-American ethnic group at over $90,000, which is more than twice that of the average African-American family.

An ongoing debate in America concerns whether Hispanic people are a race or are mostly members of the white race, having Hispanic ethnicity. Since they are the largest minority, they might account for the bulk of those in the graph delineated as “other race,” whose scores seem flat and at about the level of African Americans. Ron Unz recently asserted that the GSS shows dramatic score improvement for Mexican Americans. Apparently, the blog, Inductivist, first noticed this.

Here we see Ron Unz’s “super-Flynn effect,” through which “ the Mexican-American Wordsum-IQ increased from 84.4 in the 1980s to 95.1 in the 2000s, while the rise for American whites was from 99.2 to 101.3.” Wait! I see that just prior to the super-Flynn effect an even larger super-dimming effect from 1976 to 1982 deflated Mexican-American scores in many fewer years. Likewise, Puerto Ricans’ Wordsum average fell from over five to under three in only two years! Come to think of it, Japanese Wordsum average rose six points from 1990 to 1991, (which I attribute to the release of the Violator album by Depeche Mode). The GSS sample is 4.1% Mexican-American. Mexican Americans are 10.5% of the US population. So, one can imagine that earlier decades of survey samples had small numbers for this group, which would explain the noise in the graph. This teaches the valuable lesson that graphs reveal truths better than carefully selected numbers.

If the Asian sample is not large or representative enough to properly detect shifts of voting behavior, improved intellect, or even a ballpark range of Asian intellectual abilities, I can muster little confidence in any information that I can glean for this group. However, I decided to create more detailed graphs of each Asian ethnic group for political views, Wordsum scores, and educational attainment to look for patterns. Most had none.

Despite the apparent recent trend toward conservative politics, Chinese people do not appear to have clear links between politics, education, and scores. On the political-ideology graph, notice the unwillingness of Chinese people to be extremely anything.

For Indian Americans, I do see a consistent pattern that the most educated and intelligent have recently started becoming more conservative and Republican. Consistency between graphs does not discount issues with sample size, but the recent years for Indian Americans with graduate degrees look smoother, which could reflect an increasing sample thanks to the H1B visa program. Contrast that with the noise in a graph for Japanese people.

Coulter’s Fallacy

Using Wordsum, the GSS can check the purported relationship between liberal political views and intelligence. For political ideology, the relationship presents itself. However, party affiliation appears different.

These graphs do not control for any confounding variables, and race is an obvious potential confounder. However, the associations also appear when the graphs are limited to white people, except for strong party identification in recent years.

Republicans tend to be smarter than Democrats, but liberals tend to be smarter than conservatives. Republican strategists should take note of the obvious strategy to appeal to the stupid vote. Maybe they already have. On the contrary, the party has been focusing on reaching out to minority voters, and the following graphs give some indication of the results:

The graphs are distorted by the designation of “other race” as being worth three points, whereas African Americans are worth two points. (At least it is not three-fifths.)

Minorities should be joining the GOP by the boatload, considering effusive praise like this from author Ann Coulter:
That’s why our blacks are so much better than their blacks. To become a black Republican, you don’t just roll into it. You’re not going with the flow. You have fought against probably your family members, probably your neighbors. You have thought everything out, and that’s why we have very impressive blacks in our party.
According to the GSS, their blacks are actually better than her blacks. Perhaps that is changing for those who are the strongest Republicans, but the sample size for that group is likely to be very, very small.

What Republicans really hunger for is the Hispanic vote, so I present this very important graph about Mexican Americans:

At first, a pattern might not jump out, but if one stares long enough, everything makes sense. Then, if one closes one’s eyes, a photo negative of the graph will appear.

Republicans commit a basic error when envisioning Hispanic Americans or African Americans as “natural conservatives” in that they conflate conservativism and Republicanism. Minorities tend to identify with conservativism much more than the Republican Party.

For some, the vagueness or emptiness of the term conservative might allow for posturing about values or lifestyle. Still others actually embody the vulgar close-minded thinking and parochialism that puts off Murray. It helps to consider how some socially conservative beliefs are natural reactions to some unhealthy societal changes, and values that sustain a family contrast with the blandness of haggling over the budgetary pie for already well-off interests. Confucianism serves as a fine example of an Asian social philosophy that contrasts with the libertarian, Randian individualism. Murray is right to defend science and reason, but the best strategy to win the votes of Asians and others is an intelligent populism.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Arthur Jensen & JP Rushton

As many regular readers probably know, two controversial psychometricians, Arthur Jensen and Jean Philippe Rushton, recently died. I had collected nearly every document that the two had published with the intention of widely sharing. Unfortunately, a catastrophic hard drive failure erased most of it. For now, here are books by them and a televised debate featuring Rushton.

Arthur Jensen - The g Factor

JP Rushton - Race, Evolution, & Behavior (Unabridged)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The SAT Zombie Apocalypse

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Halloween in an election year! ‘Tis the season for a bevy of fright flicks designed to put your girlfriend in your arms and a bad taste in your mouth. Granted, high-art horror, like Antichrist, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Passion of the Christ, usually do not enter this season’s strategic lineup, but it is good to know that today’s zombies have taken up running because, really, who wants to see a bunch of fat zombies?

This year is special because a multitude of new Americans might very well bring to fruition one-party democracy, much like 20th-century Mexico. Pundits are lauding the Hispanic-American population boom, as if it were an accomplishment akin to putting a flag on the moon or Iwo Jima. Meanwhile, a few bitter white men are expected to vote for the Republican presidential candidate because they have no pity for the new majority.

Halloween season also brings scary stories about falling SAT scores. At, Ben Shapiro lamented that “2012’s high school seniors have the worst SAT reading scores since 1972; they scored 486 on reading, out of a possible 800.” The Washington Post reported that the scores “reached a four-decade low.” The good news and the bad news are that the elite media are reporting falsehoods, again. Shapiro can take a deep breath because his copy-and-paste error (his Pinker error?) dropped ten points from the actual reading score. However, being too lazy to investigate the scores prior to 1972, the earliest year shown in the annual SAT report, gives the false impression that verbal scores were ever worse than now. In fact, reading scores before Woodstock stood far above the present.

A single year is unlikely to provide a momentous pivot in any of the multiple-decade trends, many of which, it seems, only my readers are aware. It is worth mentioning that the male mathematics advantage slightly grew despite the fact that the upper score limit held down an increased proportion of men relative to women.


Here are some updated graphs:

SAT examinees mirror the demographic changes in America, but racial score gaps (not counting Asians) declare their constancy. With its gargantuan participation levels of highly engaged students, the SAT offers relatively noise-free output and immunity to the growing criticism of differential motivation confounding IQ tests that lack incentives. Still, Alexander Abad-Santos, at the Atlantic’s blog, promised that the “sweeping assumption that minority test-takers are naturally worse than their non-minority counterparts at the ‘reading’ section doesn’t tell the entire story.” He read this assumption into words that the Post apparently removed from their article that “the declining national reading averages may in part reflect the ever widening pool of students who take the SAT…. Nearly half were minorities….” Abad-Santos seems unmoved by the new numbers. Perhaps the data require a fresh style of presentation—something that fits the spirit of the season. I think back to how the Centers for Disease Control produced an animated graph that defined the obesity epidemic as we know it. America has diversified but not with uniformity. Maybe this calls for a map that illustrates the score changes like an infectious outbreak—or a zombie apocalypse!

Forget the numbers. This night of the testing dread is in full color. White (and light pink) represent superior scores. Red is mid-range. Yellow and the more yellow shades of orange mark the worst states (and Washington, DC, the gold star).




Now, compare those results with this map of the percentage of white and Asian SAT takers out of those who identified their race.


State SAT scores do reflect demographic change, but also test participation. Maine is among the whitest states, but its SAT scores fell when it greatly increased the proportion of students who take the test. Delaware did the same. I have expressed some doubts about the effects on scores of participation rates for various groups, but racial and gender groups cannot achieve total participation in a test, like states can. That phenomenon pushes students to take part regardless of their ability or desire to attend college. Midwestern states seem to fare best, but those states emphasize the ACT rather than the SAT. In a state like Illinois, which currently has 100% ACT participation and 5% SAT participation among high-school graduates, a student who takes both tests probably outperforms most of his or her classmates. That student may want to take the SAT to apply to a more prestigious university outside the region.

According to the Washington Post, “questions about whether the SAT is biased in favor of middle-class and wealthy students have led many colleges and universities to use other gauges or to accept an alternative exam, the ACT, which edged out the SAT in 2012 for the first time…” With regard to racial groups, ACT scores act just like those of the SAT.

The ACT even had the same surge of people who would not respond to the racial identity question, except ACT non-responders peaked in 2007 instead of 2003.

Over the years, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans have fallen further behind whites on the ACT.

The map of ACT scores does show a developing North-South divide somewhat like the demographic map. However, it mostly looks red because the District of Columbia used to be such an outlier. Likewise, certain New England states with low ACT participation served as outliers at the other end.


To better account for state test preferences, I created a composite SAT-ACT map. I designed a crude linear formula based on a conversion table to convert ACT scores to SAT equivalents. Then I weighted each of the two tests according to the relative participation for each state. In accordance with the conversion table, I did not consider writing scores.


Even though I kept the same color scheme as the other SAT maps, the white and pink disappeared because the map reduces the influence of overachievers who take both tests when their state has a clear preference. A worsening North-South divide clearly presents itself.

I consider this the best and most reliable map, but participation issues limit even it. I controlled for the relative participation between the tests, but not for the overall participation rates. The states that moved to total or near total participation on one of the tests were Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming. Only Delaware and Maine have chosen to go with the SAT. By contrast, Arizona sticks out for its extremely low participation on both tests. Clearly, Arizona has an unfair score advantage, and Iowa and California also do not have especially high testing rates, either. I decided to program a map that punishes the scores of states in which the combined participation percentages of both tests is less than 100% by a factor proportional to its deficit below 100%. The punishment is somewhat arbitrary and probably quite excessive, but at least it shows that the American Southwest has inflated scores. I consider this neither to be a “score” map nor truly “controlled,” so I reset the color ranges.


For clarity, here is a map just of the addition of the participation percentages for both tests without regard to scores. States like Florida are seeing high rates of participation on both tests because they have not settled upon a single standard.


State participation changes confound state scores in multiple ways, but a movement towards full participation on the ACT could settle this issue. States increasingly seem to favor the ACT over the SAT, which I suspect is partly due to the false impression that ACT scores are less racist. Demographic changes correspond to falling test scores, and one can see it, at least in terms of a North-South divide, on these maps. America is bearing a zombie apocalypse, which is sweeping the nation and coming for our brains.

Duckworth AL, Quinn PD, Lynam DR, Loeber R, & Stouthamer-Loeber M (2011). Role of test motivation in intelligence testing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 (19), 7716-20 PMID: 21518867