HBD: evidence for and against

I’ve read a couple HBD-related things this morning.

First, here’s a study from William Easterly:

We found that there was a remarkably strong association between countries with the most advanced technology in 1500 and countries with the highest per capita income today. Europe already had steel, printed books, and oceangoing ships then, while large parts of Africa did not yet have writing or the wheel. Britain had all 24 of our sample technologies in 1500. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga had none of them. But technology also travels. North America, Australia, and New Zealand had among the world’s most backward technology in 1500; today, they are among the wealthiest regions on Earth, reflecting the principle that it’s the people who matter, not the places. As migration has transformed parts of the world that were nearly empty in the Middle Ages, technology has migrated with them.

He has some non-HBD explanations for the findings, but anyone with even a modicum of understanding of HBD will see what really explains the findings.

Second, here’s Aretae thinking he’s found a Gladwellian-hole in HBD reasoning:

1. 10,000 hours. They talk about it from a 10 years, 4 hours a day format, but it’s there. I don’t care what your natural talent looks like. Until you’ve put in your 10,000 hours, you don’t have a very good idea of HOW good you can be in an area. And almost anyone who’s put in the requisite 10K hours (of deliberate practice) is better than almost everyone with only 1000 hours of practice. Of course, after 10K hours, natural ability takes over…but since that’s a tiny portion (0.01% or less), no big deal. Even the godly Manute Bol (7’7" Sudanese sheep-herder who killed a lion with a spear then became an NBA star) wasn’t able to overcome the insufficient practice hurdle.

2. IQ is in the range of top-predictors (along with conscientiousness, etc.) …but people who believe that IQ/innate ability strongly predicts success do less well than folks who believe that effort is the big deal. There’s the killer anti-HBD position. HBD is partly true (correlation coefficient between .4-.5), but belief in HBD is harmful to actual performance in real life. The other 75-84% of performance is negatively impacted by the belief that the ability part (16-25%) is particularly important.

3. Complex skill proficiency cannot be predicted very well before the 10,000 hour mark. "Very well" is a weasel-phrase, and I’m fully aware of that, but regardless…the very top performers in a field are not necessarily identifiable from early work. Some tiny number of geniuses excepted.

I must be missing something, because I don’t understand how this refutes HBD in any manner.

To be clear, HBD suggests that various traits – including conscientiousness, IQ, propensity to commit crime – are genetic. The presence of these traits will therefore differ across genetically distinguishable categories, like race and sex.

We need to clarify what we’re discussing. Let’s say we’re discussing income across populations. Let’s further say we believe the 10,000 hour argument. So, we’re assuming that 10,000 hours of skill is necessary for success (defined as earning more money) and we’re asking whether success rates will vary by race or sex.

The first position is that success will not vary across race or sex – everyone is equally capable of spending 10,000 hours on a given activity and the results will therefore be independent of genetics.

The second position is that success will vary by race and sex – not everyone is capable of spending 10,000 hours on an activity that readily marketable and therefore results (i.e. incomes) will differ dramatically.

I think it’s pretty clear that a given level of IQ and conscientiousness are necessary conditions for someone who wants to spend 10,000 hours working on a particular, marketable activity. The fact is that, in a modern economy, most jobs are boring and tedious. You need a high level of conscientiousness and IQ to succeed (i.e. make a lot of money). I know of no reason why HBD would be incompatible with the idea that you need to practice – i.e. spend 10,000 hours on something. However, I think HBD has a lot to say about who is going to be successful at actually spending 10,000 hours on some mundane analysis.


8 Responses to HBD: evidence for and against

  1. aretae says:

    1. I’m a full-blooded HBD proponent. It’s incontrovertible. Just that frequently folks overstate the case, or misuse the data a wee bit.

    2. A lot of the HBD thing is about who succeeds…and the 10,000 hour bit is a bigger hurdle than the innate ability (IQ/fast twitch) bit. My read of the research says that conscientiousness is more malleable than IQ — HCZ schools for instance.

  2. Jehu says:

    IQ gets a possibly disproportionate amount of play because
    a) We have a ton of tests that people have spent a lot of energy and research on validating that correlate to it very well and,
    b) It has pretty strong and robust correlations (insofar as any correlation in the social sciences is robust or strong) with a lot of outcomes that matter and,
    c) The tests aren’t subject to being gamed or faked to anywhere near the degree that a test for, say, Emotional Intelligence or Conscientiousness is—especially when the stakes are high.

    • Foseti says:

      I understand the importance of IQ, but I think HBD is not advanced if it becomes synonymous with IQ-only interpretations of various social phenomenon.

      • Jehu says:

        HBD is about lots of stuff Foseti. It’s just that people get really exercised about IQ for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Differences in other traits matter an awful lot too—sometimes far more so, but if you think that you’ve seen screaming fits on IQ, wait till you see folks scream about HBD results saying various groups are genetically predisposed to lower levels of self control and more psychopathy 🙂 Since those traits are more fuzzy in their definition, expect even more strident denials.

  3. Carter says:

    Manute Bol is the all-time leader in block percentage.

  4. […] – “HBD: Evidence for and Against“, “Mainstream Libertarians Do Not Understand Democracy“, “Half Sigma is […]

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