Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

A Very Confused National Geographic Article

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 5, 2010

Whoever wrote this article apparently wants to feel smart, and wants the readership to feel smart, but is doing some serious muddling of ideas.

It would seem that liberals and atheists are “more highly evolved.” Why? Because some doctor says so. The same guy who wrote that Africans are stupid (as explained by genius science blogger PZ Myers).

What does the article say?

[P]eople with higher levels of intelligence are more likely to adopt social values and behaviors that are relatively new to human life—liberalism, atheism, staying up late, and (for men) monogamy, for example.

Says an hypothesis. Is there actually any evidence for this? Let’s read on.

The study used a picture-based vocabulary test to estimate the IQ of participating teenagers.

What? Really? As narrowly-focused as IQ tests already are, a vocabulary test is even narrower.

People who later admitted to being “not at all religious,” and who classified themselves as “very liberal” politically had higher IQ scores as teenagers than those who were “very religious” and “very conservative.”

The difference isn’t huge. Only 11 points, on average, separate the liberal from the conservative, for instance.

How useless. IQ, an artificial measure of very specific types of intelligence, is very slightly higher among certain political groups. And besides, I question the motives of this study. Dr. Kanazawa, the man who conducted the study, seems awfully interested in presenting biased views.

But it is not all Kanazawa’s fault. Whoever wrote the National Geographic article has some confused ideas as well. In the title he states that atheists and liberals are “more highly evolved”, but all the study claims is that they are more intelligence. Intelligence is not indicative of evolvedness. In a sense, all non-extinct beings are equally evolved: they’ve been around for the same length of time. But that’s not quite true. Cockroaches, for instance, have been around for millions of years, while we have only been around for a few hundred thousand. In that sense, cockroaches are much more evolved. Ants make up a huge portion of the world’s biomass; they are extremely successful, and so in that sense are more evolved. Biologically, intelligence is rather young and unsuccessful. So I can hardly see how “more intelligent” is the same as “more highly evolved”.

Such confusion is being spread by the writers at National Geographic.

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3 Responses to “A Very Confused National Geographic Article”

  1. Matt said

    Haha, I love it when people use terms like “more-evolved” or “un-evolve.” It goes to show how little they paid attention in biology class.

    On another topic, here’s something you might think is interesting:
    Human beings, being omnivores, eat meat from animals. However it should be noted that most “civilized” people only eat certain types of meat. If you ask your neighbor if they have ever eaten cow or chicken meat and they’ll probably say yes. Ask them if they have ever eaten dog meat or opossum meat and they’ll probably say no. Why is this? Is it something we have evolved because these meats are dangerous for us to eat? This can’t be the answer because at some places in time these meats were considered normal food. I’m not sure why people consider certain meats to be taboo, but it can be noted that the meats that are taboo aren’t static. In ancient Hebrew culture there were many things that were taboo that are now considered normal to eat, these are what became the non-kosher foods. Honestly, I doubt there would be anything wrong from eating cats and dogs except that they haven’t yet been bred to produce meat and are naturally pretty skinny animals so just wouldn’t make for much food.

  2. phynnboi said

    Eleven IQ points is more than “slightly” higher. I seem to recall that 15 IQ points is a standard deviation, which is pretty significant.

    As far as “more highly evolved,” do we know for sure that the author was speaking biologically? Many people use “more evolved” colloquially to mean “more advanced” or otherwise “better” in some important way. Like, some might say that Colemak is “more evolved” than Qwerty. 🙂

    (Somehow, evolving is no longer enough in business marketing; there, it’s all about revolving, which is weird, because doesn’t revolving just take you back to where you started? Anyway….)

    • If you met someone on the street with a 100 IQ and someone else with a 111 IQ, you would not be able to tell the difference. The difference is measurable, but has only a minor effect on real life.

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