Review: Cognitive Capitalism (Heiner Rindermann)

Heiner was kind enough to send me a reviewer’s (paper) copy. Unfortunately, I lack the time to write up a formal book review, and so this blogpost will have to do. James Thompson already has his review up. The book description is:

Nations can vary greatly in their wealth, democratic rights and the wellbeing of their citizens. These gaps are often obvious, and by studying the flow of immigration one can easily predict people’s wants and needs. But why are there also large differences in the level of education indicating disparities in cognitive ability? How are they related to a country’s economic, political and cultural development? Researchers in the paradigms of economics, psychology, sociology, evolution and cultural studies have tried to find answers for these hotly debated issues. In this book, Heiner Rindermann establishes a new model: the emergence of a burgher-civic world, supported by long-term background factors, furthered education and thinking. The burgher-civic world initiated a reciprocal development changing society and culture, resulting in past and present cognitive capital and wealth differences. This is an important text for graduate students and researchers in a wide range of fields, including economics, psychology, sociology and political science, and those working on economic growth, human capital formation and cognitive development.

As you can surmise, it is a kind of more complicated version of Garett Jones‘ recent book The Hive Mind. Only Heiner spent years writing this book, so it is wildly comprehensive at 576 pages, of which 50 are references. The book aims to give a broad review of most intelligence research, but has a strong focus on national differences. Unlike Stuart Ritchie’s recent textbook, Heiner does not shy away from the controversial matters of group differences. Heiner is not happy with his politically correct colleagues who have been blocking scientific progress on these matters. In particular, he takes stabs at Robert Sternberg and Steven Jay Gould. The latter case is obvious, but the words are harsher than normally seen. In a discussion of non-epistemic (not truth seeking motivations), he writes:

One example could be the book by Stephen Gay Gould (1981, pp. 50-69), The Mismeasure of Man. In this book, which is still credited to some extent by the public and by some ‘scientists’, Gould alleged different researchers had dishonest motives, particularly having cheated due to racist motives. One ‘case’ for him was Samuel George Morton (1799-1851), an American physician, natural scientist and anthropologist from Philadelphia. Using craniometry, Morton came to the result that Europeans have on average larger brains than Native Americans and Africans. Gould claiming that this result was based on an unconscious manipulation of the data due to ‘prejudices’ (‘finagling’). However, a student (Michael, 1988) has checked Morton’s data and found no systematic error, only deficits in precision. John Michael sent his results to Gould but he never reacted. But dealing with the results of others and dealing with questioning and critique is essential for an epistemic attitude (searching truth) and scientific progress (finding new truth). And not dealing with them, except for time and cognitive constraints, hints to a non-epistemic attitude (pursuing other aims than truth).

Psychologically interesting is that Gould alleged that others were biased in their research; however, he was himself biased. Projection is an indicator of a poorly integrated cognitive system. E.g. Blinkhorn (1982, p. 506) on Gould:

The theme of this [Gould’s] particular book is that since science is embedded in society, one must expect to find the prejudices of the age presented by scientists as fact. Most authors, given such a theme, would be content to document and catalogue instances in support of the proposition. Gould, however, goes one better by writing a book which exemplifies its own thesis. It’s a masterwork of propaganda, research in the service of a point of view rather than from a fund of knowledge.

Or Carroll (1995, p. 122), who sees Gould not only as prejudiced, but as producing prejudices:

His [Gould’s] account of the history of mental testing, however, may be regarded as badly biased, and crafted in such a way as to prejudice the general public and even some scientists against almost any research concerning human cognitive abilities. [p. 111-112]

In reference to Robert Sternberg’s abuses, someone came up with a triangle theory of Sternberg.

The criticism of Sternberg is particularly well-timed given that he is currently facing trouble because it has been revealed that he has been engaging in massive self-citing, text recycling (copypasting his own words verbatim over and over again), abusing editor roles to publish his own stuff (citing himself >40 times in short papers). The situation is still developing. After giving 2 examples of Sternberg giving a so-called moral reading of someone else’s writing, Rindermann writes:

Sternberg’s comments attribute value judgments and motives to Hunt that he did not state, and they do so in a manner that leaves a disparaging impression of him (see also critique by Coyle et al 2013). Hereafter, an unethical and ubsubstantiated criticism of scientists with a feeling of moral superiority should be dubbed to sternberg.

Fun fact of history comes in handy here: Sternberg’s loves things that come in threes, triangular theory of love, triarchic theory of intelligence. He really dislikes g factor models, immaturely calling referring to Jensen as a child who refuses to leave his house (of g). Turns out in history, there was another group of people who disliked so-called theoretical intelligence and were heavily into practical intelligence. These people were called Nazis and they viewed the aforementioned things as being Jewish intellectualizing (not entirely wrong, Wechsler was Jewish). It seems that no German speaking intelligence researcher has bothered to do the homework and discover these inconvenient facts about history before now. It should be mentioned, as Rindermann does, that these historical facts about who was against this or that (should) matter nothing for our current beliefs about reality. One cannot use guilt by association reasoning to get the truth.

Rindermann’s main focus is as mentioned on national comparisons and most of the book is on this. He gives a very broad introduction to thinking about these matters covering macroeconomics, historical models, Piagetian psychology (especially the work of Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff). He introduces the reader to the technical aspects of comparing scholastic ability scores to IQ studies, the role of the 95th centile (intellectual class) in his thinking. Rindermann faults researchers like Richard Lynn for relying on mere correlations between variables. Rindermann prefers instead path models. These are usually also cross-sectional and so are only somewhat more informative than bivariate associations, but they can be used to see the general patterns of relationships between variables if one is willing to make strong assumptions about the causal network. In my view, Rindermann overuses and overestimates of the utility of path models to get at causality, but it is a step up from mere correlations. One can use cross-lagged path models to get a better view, but this is generally hindered by the lack of longitudinal data. Rindermann uses this method when data are available.

Concerning race, Rindermann writes:

Thus the entire race issue is less scientifically relevant. [because it is a crude description of the complex population genetics underlying human differences] But it is relevant as indicator of epistemic rationality of a person and scientist, of a scientific field and an intellectual climate. Denying the subspecies concept without denying it for other species and without comparing the applied criteria for its refutation or acceptance with the ones applied for other living beings certainly fails in epistemic rationality. The race issue is the litmus test of a scientific attitude.

He also argues that confronting them is necessary for discussion of national differences because national differences to a large extent are race differences (complicated by mixed populations in countries). Rindermann discusses the various pieces of evidence concerning nutrition deficiencies, stunting etc., as well as the indirect genetic evidence from skin tone associations. He doesn’t come to any firm conclusions on relative importance. Indeed, Heiner takes a fairly middle of the road position on most gaps: some genetics, some environmental effects, we don’t really know the exact proportions yet, but we could find out if we want to.

Towards the end, he compares his pluralistic big theory approach to others, such as institutional models in economics. Generally speaking, other researchers ignore the intelligence literature completely, and he faults them for that. It seems obvious that if one ignores the most detailed literature on the most important trait for human capital, one will have a lot of problems understanding human social inequality caused by human capital.

Lastly, he considers a variety of things one can do to improve matters. His attitude is basically go-head for everything, but the evidence he cites is usually hopelessly confounded by genetic factors, so I was not convinced. This was also the case for his earlier review of environmental effects on intelligence, probably because we simply do not have much good quality evidence of environmental effects on intelligence. Some exists, however, such as  (Almond et al 2009) finding that fetuses exposed to radiation seems to perform worse on tests decades later. The finding was made possible by Swedish records and the freak accident in Chernobyl. For most other cases, one will have to rely on various natural experiments using behavioral genetic designs, but these generally fail to find much effect of environments on intelligence. For instance, a sibling control study failed to find any support for breastfeeding (Der 2006).

All in all though, this is a highly informative book for people interested in intelligence research and even experts will learn many things.

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