The Misguided IQ Debate

Candice eetimesThere has been an uptick in the number of articles, podcasts, and online debates about IQ differences between groups, most especially regarding the so-called ‘races’ and of course between the sexes.  There are typically two sides, both equally right and at the very same time equally wrong.  One side cites IQ studies that show that there are differences between groups and thus conclude that there are genetic differences between them.  The other side says that is pure racism or sexism.  The first side then claims that the second side is anti-science and knee jerk “social justice warriors”.

In all of this debate, I have read only one man, who straddled both sides, who came closer to the right answer when he said that those talking about the IQ differences in the science literature is about two different phenomena.  One, is where we note that there are average differences between defined groups.  The other is where we research the genetics of IQ.  The two do NOT meet.  Sadly, he failed to go into enough detail to explain why.

First, lets talk about the genetics studies of IQ.  The first thing researchers wanted to know is what it the “heritability” of IQ.  To do this they used twin studies, noting the differences and similarities in IQ scores of  identical vs fraternal twins in situations where they are raised together vs apart.  This leads to four different cases.  In one case, it is assumed that both siblings share both genetic and environmental influences while in the other case, only 50% of the genes are shared while maintaining the same early environmental influences if they are raised together.  If raised apart… well, you get the idea.  From this, studies have led to estimates of 50% to 80% heritability.  That is to say, that genetic differences can account for half to 80% of the VARIABILITY of IQ scores.

Remember, so far, we’ve been looking at the variability of individuals within a population, not the differences between populations.

Here we need to understand why the studies show such widely different results.  It is caused by the very nature of environmental influences.  The closer to optimal environmental conditions, the greater the genetics will explain the variability and thus the presumed heritability.  If everyone in a study had absolutely perfectly optimal environmental conditions, ALL of the variability would have to be from the genetic differences and thus a study would show that IQ was 100% heritable.  But life is never the same for two individuals.  And they certainly aren’t the same, nor optimal, for all individuals everywhere for all time.

Thus, the differences in environmental conditions may (they don’t have to automatically be this way) lead to greater variability in a population and thus lower the estimates of heritability.  The question to be asked is how sensitive is IQ to differences in environmental conditions?  The answer is… an amazing amount !  How do we know this?  The Flynn Effect.

Please take a moment to read the Wikipedia entry on the Flynn Effect (so I don’t have to repeat what it says):

The Flynn effect describes the changes in average IQ scores in the same genetic population (gene pool) over a very short period of time.  We don’t have to know what causes the effect.  We need only note that the effect has caused a significantly larger change in average IQ within populations over time than the putative differences found between populations (and in the difference in range of IQ between the sexes).  Is it too much of a stretch to conjecture that any putative differences found between populations is more likely to be attributable to environmental differences, that populations are distributed along different points of the Flynn Effect, than to any putative differences in genetics?

Thus, we see that one group has jumped to the wrong conclusion about the differences between populations because of ‘racial’ bias and another group is reacting in an anti-science manner out of fear that any conclusion will adversely effect disadvantaged populations. Both are wrong.

The number of genes and the number of environmental factors are both very large… too large to come to any conclusion regarding putative differences between populations at this time.

Besides, this argument is looking at the wrong thing.  We shouldn’t be looking at the genetics.  We should be looking at the data to find out what is the optimal environment and ensuring that each and every human being on the planet experiences it.


Free Speech vs. Academic Freedom

Candice eetimesHow do you define “free speech”?

We need to ask because lately, people have been arguing that our college campuses have abandoned free speech.  However, it would appear that they are confusing “freedom of speech” with “academic freedom”, a much different concept.  Further, many outsiders, visitors and speakers not part of the official university community, have claimed that their “free speech rights” are being denied on campuses.

Lets clear a few things up.  First, “free speech” rights are part of the American value system both culturally and legally, codified right in our Constitution in the Bill of Rights.  However, that right is NOT the right to be heard.  It is the right to NOT be arrested when speaking out.  That is to say, if you say something critical of policy or politician, you may NOT be arrested and prosecuted.  It does not give a person the right to demand that an institution provide a platform to disseminate that position.  A university is well within its rights to turn away a would-be speaker.

What people are really asking for is a form of “academic freedom”… another value occasionally professed by centers for higher learning.  But once again, not a right guaranteed by any law.  This freedom is usually granted to instructors or researchers who have gained a contractual protection called ‘tenure’.  But even tenure may not protect an individual who steps outside of other norms and values held collectively by the university community.

No university or college is under any legal or moral obligation to provide a platform for an outsider, either under the rubric of “free speech” nor of “academic freedom”.  An invited speaker does so purely as a courtesy on both sides.  No one’s rights have been abrogated if a would be speaker is disinvited for any reason.

Having dispensed with the notion of rights, we may turn to the question of wisdom of turning away such speakers.  There is something to be said for providing a wider range of ideas and opinions to be heard on campus to provide a better education, or perhaps to bolster deeper cultural understanding.  However, when a would-be speaker’s primary reason for speaking is to gain the imprimatur of respectability and even of implied correctness for their ideas from having spoken at an institution… and that institution’s values would oppose those ideas and would seek to deny attaching its reputation to those ideas, the institution would be better served by denying that platform.

Let’s be specific, speakers calling for discrimination or other illtreatment of others do NOT have a right to expect university support for their ideas nor to provide a platform from which to call for these injustices.

On the other hand… when an institution has invited a speaker, that speaker has the moral expectation that they will not be subject to undue harassment and physical danger.  Members of the university community have the right to speak against the ideas of the speaker, but not the right to shout them down, as that interferes with right of other members of the community to hear out the speaker, which was after all, the reason for inviting the speaker.  One does not have to be respectful of the ideas or opinions of the speaker; but one must be respectful of the rights of others to civil conduct during a presentation.

Video Review: The Expanse

Candice eetimesI finally had the chance to watch the first two episodes of The Expanse.  It has been well reviewed by others.  Those reviews all speak well of the production values and the scientific realism of the show.  Sigh…

First, there are lots of wonderful high quality details… but as I’ve explained before, one of my pet peeves is the fetish that Hollywood has for transparent displays.  This show has them in abundance.  It’s irritating and pulls me out of the story and into my career as an expert on display design.  But that isn’t the only problem with science and technology on the show.

In one scene, a hard-boiled cop with a streak of cynical corruption pours liquid from a bottle into a glass… that goes sideways… SIDEWAYS!  Ummmm… if that’s the effect of gravity of Ceres, then the engineers of the habitat messed up and didn’t plumb the building.  Then it occurred to me… perhaps they are trying to show the effect of Coriolis?  No, that can’t be right as Ceres has a rotation (day length) of nine hours.  The coriolis effect would be far too small to be noticed.  Ok… could it represent that the bottle was under some pressure and Ceres tiny 0.03g gravity wasn’t involved?  This would make more sense… but the bottle didn’t seem to be a pressured bottle.  Nothing I can think of would explain the behavior of the liquid.

Thinking of gravity… at that tiny gravity, everyone on Ceres should have been loping, not walking… and certainly NOT running as occurred in several scenes.  The moment someone tried it, they would be bounding off the floor!  And then there is the issue of shipboard gravity/acceleration.  While it may make superficial sense for people to use magnetic boots in zero g, a long time favorite staple of budget limited science fiction film, actual walking in them makes zero sense.  Walking is a form of “falling” forward and toward the floor then catching yourself.  Without real gravity/acceleration walking just isn’t possible.  The best that could occur is to use the mag boots in situation where one wants to lock oneself into one “standing” position so as to enable working on tasks that require that torque be applied by one’s arms.  Then… there are the scenes where ship acceleration is used to provide gravity.  Yes, the physics allow that… the energetics do not.  One would not provide constant moderate g burns to rocket around the solar system.  It would take more reaction mass than the mass of the ship!  Then there is the sillyness of the design of the chairs used during high g burns… sigh… one would not be sitting upright!  One would be lying down, lazyboy fashion, so that one’s heart didn’t have to fight the acceleration to keep blood flowing to one’s brain (drugs or no drugs).

Speaking of energetics and economics.  The notion of capturing ice in the outer solar system and storing it in a ship that then brings it back to the belt makes zero sense.  Ice is very plentiful in the outer system in the form of comets and Saturn’s rings.  One would simply (as if anything in space is “simple”) strap an ion rocket powered by plutonium Radioactive Thermal Generator (RTG) to nudge it into a least energy orbit to the belt.  If that’s not enough water and other gasses… do it over and over.  No human should be riding it back down to the belt.  There should NEVER be a shortage of water available to the belt.

OK… I love the show for it’s hard science fiction feel… I just wish that they had a better science advisor!  Or perhaps, had chosen to base the show on a SciFi book series where the author knew better?

Additional Reading:

What Hollywood Gets Wrong In Futuristic Science Fiction

Free Range Childhood…

Candice eetimesWhen my daughter Liz was ten years old, I would pick her up from school and take her directly to the ice rink where she could skate and I could sit in comfort and occasionally glance through a window from the warm lobby to see her zooming backwards at high-speed to throw herself into the air to perform a double mumble-mumble. (I could never keep the moves clear in my head.  They all looked the same to me.)  I usually read a book while Liz was on the ice.  Every now and then she would zoom up to the window, tap on it to get my attention so she could show off to me.  A happy child doing happy kid things.  Life was good.

Then one day, a woman a few years younger than me came up and angrily demanded that I, “do something about” my daughter.  I glanced up from my book, searching through the throng of mostly pre-adolescent girls on the ice until I spotted Liz, chatting and playing with another little girl… whew!  For a moment, I thought that Liz had perhaps gotten into a fight with another child or hurt herself.  I turned back to the woman and asked what she was so agitated about.

“Your daughter is distracting mine from her practice!”

Oh boy… an “ice skating mom”… you know the type, living out their dreams of athletic and artistic narcissistic glory through their children.

“What I see is too little girls doing what kids that age should be doing, playing, socializing, learning how to make friends.”

Off the woman huffed, put out by my total lack of concern or sympathy.

That was decades ago.  Today, not only are parents totally controlling every moment of their children’s lives and thoughts, our neighbors are turning us into the authorities if we too do not hover over our children, never letting them out of our sight for a moment, never letting them be… like kids used to be… kids.

Older adults can remember walking or riding their bike to school alone.  Playing in the park with their friends while their parents were at work or at home.  We used to play with the neighbor kids down by the creek, in a tiny copse of trees and brush, get our shoes squishy wet catching pollywogs in a jar with nary an adult in sight.  If we got hungry, we dropped in on any one of our parents houses for cookies and milk before running out to toss a frisbee or jump rope in the suburban street.  The boys would be playing baseball with a light bat and a taped up ‘wiffle-ball’.  (The wiffle-ball, if you don’t have such memories, was a plastic ball with holes in it so light that it could never break a neighbors windows… but because of the holes, they couldn’t be thrown very far, so the boys would tape them up with black electricians tape to make them more aerodynamic and a tad heavier.)

Sometimes, an ice cream truck would come by… and kids would haul out their dimes from their pockets to get a treat… and we didn’t have to ask permission from our parents.

But today’s kids will never have these memories unless this horrid practice of over supervision of every moment of their lives isn’t countered with a counter movement back to sanity… cause as it is now… parents are afraid that the neighbors will call the police and child protective services if they so much as let their kids play in the front yard alone.

Hurray for Utah.  (And I never thought I would be happy about anything that came out of that homophobic state.)  They have specifically made a law that allows kids to be kids.  The “Free Range Parenting” movement, which is really just a return to the type of parenting that was the norm before the past two decades, has finally pushed back against the “stranger danger” and “oh my god your child can’t walk to school alone like that” fear mongers.  Hurray for Utah.

Now, let’s see this same sanity return to the rest of the Western world.

Electoral College Is Only One Problem…

Candice eetimesMany folks have been calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College for a number of reasons, one of which is the failure of our recent election to install the candidate who won the most votes.  Personally, I have even more issues with the system in that we no longer vote directly for an Elector, but instead we have bypassed the original intent by voting for a slate of Electors by party in a winner take all contest in many states.  Then, we have laws that would seek to enforce the winner take all slate vote during the actual Electoral election some weeks later for the candidate that they had pledged to when selected by their party.  This present system could not be further removed from the original intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America back in the late 18th Century.

So lets imagine that those original framers were somehow alive today and able to debate the issues anew based on what over two hundred years of the history of our republic have taught us about their great experiment.

First, all of the abolitionists would be both satisfied and horrified that their misgivings about slavery had come about.  Yes, there were active abolitionists at the convention.  But in order to pull together the States into the Union, a compromise was needed.  My favorite aphorism about politics is that “Good politics is compromise… unless it is one’s own rights that are compromised”  Unfortunately, all of the framers were white men.  I would add “straight”… but in fact a few of them were very likely gay or bi, both from historic evidence and from statistical probability.  No black men.  No women.  That slavery and institutional disenfranchisement of women were baked into the constitution were just two of the great injustices found in this otherwise great document.

Did you know that at the time of the framing of the constitution that one of the states allowed women to vote?  Yes, New Jersey allowed women to vote if they met the same qualifications as men… which was they had to be financially well off.  But since far more men then women owned property, they booted women off the island in the early 19th Century.  Yes, women’s rights went backward, a lesson for LGBT folk as well.  We can’t be too vigilant.

There would be another problem that the framers would now recognize.  The status of the Vice President.  In real practice, the “Vice President” is actually the “President of the Senate” with the ability to vote there in the case of a tie vote.  But the VP is also in the line of succession.  As we saw in the case of the death of FDR during WWII, the then VP, Harry Truman, was totally unprepared to step into the Oval Office at first because he had been outside the loop.  He had truly been the President of the Senate… NOT the an actual member of the Executive Branch of the government.  This needs to be fixed.

Finally, as we’ve seen this past year, the framer’s fears that a popular but utterly unsuitable candidate might be installed by an ill-informed public if given the direct vote was realized due to our having disabled the original mechanism of the Electoral College.  There has even been calls for the other party to double up on the problem by encouraging yet another such candidate to stand for election to oppose him.

The original framers would, I strongly believe, be aghast.  I certainly am.

We do not need another celebrity President.

So, in the spirit of being at a Constitutional Convention, I propose several amendements to our constitution:

Item:  The Office of President of the Senate be separate from the Vice President of the United States.  The President of the Senate to be elected solely by the Senate for a term of six years.  To be qualified, the candidate must have been previously a Senator for at least a full term, with honor, and may not be a currently sitting Senator.

Item:  The Office of President of the United States of America is to be elected by direct popular vote of the People of the United States and its Territories for a term of four years and may not serve for more than two terms.  To be qualified, the candidate must have served at least one term, with honor, as the Governor of one of the several States.

Item:  The Office of Vice President of the United States of America is to be elected by direct popular vote of the People of the United States and its Territories.  To be qualified, the candidate must have served at least one term, with honor, as the Governor of one of the several States.  During their tenure as Vice President, the officer shall hold the position and responsibilities of Secretary of State.

Item:  The line of succession should the President be unavailable or unable to fulfill the responsibilities shall be as follows, the Vice President.  The Office of Vice President would then be filled by a qualified candidate elected by a college consisting of the current Governors of the several States only until the next Federal election.

Item:  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

United Airlines Lottery Gamble Loss

Candice eetimesManagement at United Airlines is backtracking on their idea of replacing earned individual bonuses with lottery tickets.  They seemed to have been caught completely by surprise that employees aren’t thrilled with the idea of replacing earned income with a very small chance at winning a larger amount.

If they had just talked to me, I could have told them this would happen.

Several decades ago, at a fast growing start-up company I joined, they had a “Suggestion Box” system that generated a slow but useful number of suggestions.  The payoff for those suggestions that were accepted and implemented was an atta’boy/girl from the management of the group that had been the beneficiary.  Although it worked, Human Resources didn’t think that enough suggestions were being made.  So they came up with the idea that they needed to provide a real incentive to make suggestions.  In this case, they would have a drawing each month… each suggestion equaled one lottery ticket for the drawing.  Sounds like a great idea huh?

Well, it backfired.  As one would expect, the average quality of the suggestions dropped precipitously.  But what really surprised HR was that the number of suggestions also dropped.  This totally surprised them.

It turns out that people who are hard workers, innovators, conscientious people, like you find in a successful company, have certain ethical codes.  They believe that work should be rewarded fairly, not capriciously.  It also turned out that many of the folks who had been participating in the Suggestion Box had religious and ethical codes that precluded them from participating in ANY form of gambling.  Combined, those who had previously enjoyed the positive reward of knowing that they were simply doing a good turn and maybe would get recognized for having a good idea were put off by the crassness or moral repugnance of a lottery and so no longer felt any incentive to make suggestions for improvements.

Lessons for employers?  Know your staff… and maybe… just maybe… think about the message that you are sending to employees when you tell them that being lucky is more likely to be rewarded than actual consistent performance.

A Well Regulated…

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Candice eetimesThe last year and some I’ve been reading a great deal about the history of the American Revolution, the period from about 1760 to 1800.  It has been most instructive.  My understanding has been radically altered.  I now see many of the lesser known players as the true heros and now see a number of the ‘founding fathers’ actually had feet of clay.  I’ve learned about the economic as well as the political interests that competeted with each other.  There is one item that I’ve learned about that seems to have recently been sorely misunderstood and misused.

The 2nd Amendment was all about the states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state“. It was NOT about random private citizens having a protected interest (that’s what a “right” is…) in owning military hardware per se… it was the right of the states to “regulate”, to organize its citizens into militia (military units) and to “own and bear arms”… note that it is “the people” collectively of the states that have that right… NOT every tom, dick, or harry as individuals.

At the time of the writing of the constitution, the memory of England’s attempts to disarm and disband the colony’s (which later become the states) militias was still fresh. Many feared that a strong central government could turn monarchical and wished to retain the rights of the states, which were seen as responsive to the local citizens, to organize (regulate) their own militias as a necessary means of maintaining their freedom from such a potential despotic turn of events.

Only lately, in the past 30 years, has the NRA, originally an organization of sportsman offering education and competitions, etc. become a lobbying group for the arms manufacturers who have used a false interpretation (read: lying) of the 2nd Amendment as having been about individuals. Their goal, as a gun manufacturer’s voice, is to maximize arms sales… NOT to protect the actual meaning and value of the 2nd Amendment.

Perhaps we do need the 2nd Amendment more than ever… but we need its true and original meaning… not this NRA fabrication.  The people of the states need to take back the power to regulate firearms.