Sunday 17 November 2013

Was the Scientific Dishonesty Minister trying to suppress population estimates?


A general bemusement is now spreading through psychometric  researchers about the actions of the Danish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, and its fearsome “Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty”. In a marginal aside, I suppose we should be mildly grateful that any Dane who is trying to be dishonest is going about it scientifically, but back to the main point, the whole farrago gets more absurd the more we learn about it.

So far, the Danish speakers who have looked at the judgment of this Committee find that this investigation, about which we do not yet understand the basic processes (I have asked the Minister for a prompt official translation into English for an international audience) have identified two counts on which their condemnation is based (four other accusations were turned down) namely: first, that Nyborg was a single author, and that although the committee accepts he offered joint ownership to a colleague who turned it down, it finds it proved to their satisfaction that his claiming to be the single author was dishonest; and second, that his reference to a data base was indeed to that data base, but that Nyborg did not also reference a correction to population growth estimates according to population age structure, though they accept that Nyborg has already submitted a note to the relevant journal on this omission. At the moment we do not understand why they did not simply require that these two aspects be dealt with in an erratum note. Why ask for the withdrawal of the entire paper, even assuming that government committees should be getting involved in these matters?

Commentators are wondering quite what is going on, because if these strictures are applied through academia, we will all be withdrawing papers, frantically contacting old collaborators who helped with tasks but did not ask for authorship, and making penitential pilgrimages to Denmark. Naturally, researchers of a more sour disposition might now choose to take the Danish Dishonesty Accusation route, and denounce troublesome rivals and old academic foes, in the sure knowledge that the two year process will keep them out of circulation for a while. Come to think of it, I could probably “take out” Nisbett, Aronson, Blair, Dickens, Flynn, Halpern, and Turkheimer for their egregious misquoting of McFie (1961) (See “On best understanding Nisbett” on this blog). “Your Honour the Minister for Scientific Dishonesty, I beg leave to arraign before your Committee the afore-named miscreants for having said that McFie (1961) achieved such results as he did after “a few months of Western-style education” when in fact those slight but interesting changes were achieve only after over two years and four months of technical college instruction. I ask that they they be condemned without appeal, and made to withdraw their paper”.  Curious how quickly one can warm to themes of academic revenge. Before this gets out of hand, may I ask readers to contact the above named authors, and explain to them that the publication of a simple erratum statement, plus the usual generous donation to this blog will sort the whole matter out, without bloodshed?

With this in mind, here is Nyborg’s abstract, saying that his paper “provides a demographic analysis of what happens to modern sub-fertile high-IQ Western populations when Internal Relaxation of Darwinian Selection (IRDS) combines with External Relaxation (ERDS, in the form of super-fertile low-IQ non-Western immigration) into Double Relaxation of Darwinian Selection (DRDS). The genotypic IQ decline will ruin the economic and social infrastructure needed for quality education, welfare, democracy and civilization. DRDS is currently unopposed politically, so existing fertility differentials may eventually lead to Western submission or civil resistance.”

The thesis is certainly a matter of contemporary interest, and it is expressed in a highly dramatic fashion. (Boring titles are usually better in academia). Western populations are relatively high IQ with respect to the global norm, though they are below the estimates for China, Japan and Korea. They have low fertility, mostly at around replacement value, sometimes below. They have ageing population structures, are wealthy and have generous welfare provisions which generally far exceed average earnings in the rest of the world.  Most of the countries which supply immigrants to Europe have lower IQs and educational attainments, sometimes much lower, and less generous or non-existent governmental welfare systems. They have higher fertility rates, and much younger population structures.

So,  Nyborg continues, if you take any European country with high IQ, low fertility and generous welfare systems you may get the first whammy, dysgenesis. This is the old spectre which haunted the Victorians: that the lower class energetic breeding of relative dullards would swamp the higher intellect, refined upper classes. This hypothesis has usually been dismissed with a sneer, but the arithmetic of the heritability of intelligence makes it theoretically possible. Even with regression to the mean, if lower IQ couples have more children than higher IQ couples, then the population average will drift down, albeit slowly.

There was only one thing against this hypothesis, and that was the data on intelligence. Far from drifting down, it was clear by the 1940s that IQs were rising. This was against expectation. By the way, if there had been a prohibition against eugenic research, this might not have been found out! It goes to show that research often turns up unpredicted results. So, the actual finding was of a secular rise in intelligence, in itself the subject of much current interest.

Writing some time after the Nyborg paper, Woodley was the first to argue that historical reaction time results supported the identification of a significant dysgenic effect, hence the interest in his work. (Hence also the interest in finding out whether the young man will come out for the 5th round of his big match. The te Nijenhuis and Murphy corner assure me he is indeed ready to storm out again, and predict he will vanquish the opposition). That matter will be dealt with here, as will the upcoming special issue of Intelligence on The Flynn Effect Re-Evaluated. Verily, you are reading the right blog for the latest research in intelligence.

Anyway, the Nyborg thesis continues thus: you have rich countries encouraging the duller lower class to have large families, thus driving down native national intelligence, and then you go for the double whammy, because those same wealthy nations are absolutely relaxed about letting in lots of low IQ immigrants from foreign countries. A portion of that lower ability is very likely to be due to genetic causes, or is at the very least difficult to shift by educational interventions, so when these low IQ immigrants have children they will be similarly low IQ citizens, or only slightly above their parental levels. Thus the European nations slide into dullness, with large number of dull locals and large numbers of even duller foreigners. End of Western Civilization.

I think you may detect that I present the thesis in a somewhat doubting, not to say disparaging way.  The problem is, what if Nyborg is right? At the very least, we need to look at the argument in more detail, and with a critical eye. There is a link to his paper here.

To the surprise of some, differences in intellect between persons and groups are well established. It is likely, on balance of probability, that genetics plays a part in all human differences, and that genetic groups are no exception to that rule, indeed they may be the best place to start looking for the genetic causes of intelligence differences. (It will be interesting if genetic enquiries fail to come up with any replicable results, since it will certainly give the environmentalist position a considerable boost).

If you look at his paper, you will see that Nyborg tries to calculate how many immigrants will enter Denmark, and how many children they will have, and that he does all this whilst being aware that predictions about fertility are likely to be wrong (see below). The prediction game is highly error prone, so we cannot be sure that current projections are reliable guides to the future. Immigrants may take on the mores and habits of the locals. Local Danish descent couples may increase their family size, and Danish descent professional couples might start having very large families. Schools may yet find ways of increasing ability in less able groups. Denmark may flourish as the ancient tribe of Danes (closest genetic cousins to the English) intermingle with other genetic groups, exploiting hybrid vigour.  However, the data on the convergence of immigrant scholastic abilities with those of local children is not supportive of the most optimistic scenario. Have a look at the Meisenberg and Woodley paper in the special issue “Are cognitive differences between countries diminishing? Evidence from TIMSS and PISA”, which predicts convergence of developing world countries with rich world countries somewhere between 70 years or 340 years or never, depending on the tests used. You could also look at Rindermann and Thompson “Ability rise in NAEP and narrowing ethnic gaps?” PISA has international data for immigrants, showing that second generation immigrants usually achieve some closing of the scholastic gap with the locals but significant differences remain. In summary, Nyborg has strong supporting data on the scholastic front, and the currently higher fertility of immigrants is also documented, though of course that might change.

On that very matter, Nyborg probably underestimated the pressure on Europeans to share their territory with non-European genetic groups. At this stage I should say that for years I have been supporting the UN line, which is that if you provide women with access to education, by their own volition they will have smaller families. I saw this on their posters in the 1980s, and it influenced me. I argued confidently that the rate of population increase was falling.  Nyborg used the 2007 UN estimates for population growth, the latest available when he wrote his paper. The UN 2012 revision released in June 2013 is the institutional equivalent of an academic erratum. Their earlier predictions over-estimated the speed with which all women would reduce family size. It seems that the UN did not distribute sufficient posters to tell African women what was expected of them.

New York, 13 June—The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to
increase by almost one billion people within the next twelve years, reaching 8.1
billion in 2025 and 9.6 billion in 2050, according to a new United Nations report,
World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, launched today.
Most of the population growth will occur in developing regions, which are projected
to increase from 5.9 billion in 2013 to 8.2 billion in 2050. During the same period, the
population of developed regions will remain largely unchanged at around 1.3 billion
people. Growth is expected to be most rapid in the 49 least developed countries,
which are projected to double in size from around 900 million inhabitants in 2013 to
1.8 billion in 2050.
At the country level, much of the overall increase between now and 2050 is projected
to take place in high-fertility countries, mainly in Africa, as well as countries with
large populations such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United
“Although population growth has slowed for the world as a whole, this report reminds
us that some developing countries, especially in Africa, are still growing rapidly,”
said Wu Hongbo, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

So, the UN has made an error of a billion persons. Some revision! Another case to be taken before the Danish Minister for Scientific Dishonesty?

Professor Richard Lynn has written to the Danish Minister thus:

I am surprised to learn that proceedings are being taken against Professor Helmuth Nyborg with accusations that there are statistical errors in his paper The Decay of Western Civilization: Double Relaxed Darwinian Selection, printed in 2012 in Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 53, issue 2, 118-125.

In my judgment the paper is sound. He estimates that by 2072 around 60% of births in Denmark will be to people of non-Western origin, and that indigenous Danes will be a minority of the population by 2085. He estimates the average IQ of the immigrants at 86, and the IQ in Denmark in 2085 will be 90.

The estimate that indigenous Danes will be a minority of the population by 2085 is similar to the estimate for Britain made by Professor David Coleman, Professor of Demography at the University of Oxford, who predicts that the indigenous British will be a minority of the population by 2056. This prediction is based on what he calls “the standard scenario” and is derived from estimates of the net migra­tion of non-European immigrants and their mortality and fertility, Similarly, in the United States, the Census Bureau’s projection that whites will become a minority in the United States in the year 2043. Thus, there is nothing at all remarkable about Professor Nyborg’s estimate that indigenous Danes will be a minority of the population by 2085.

Professor Nyborg’s estimate that the average IQ of the immigrants in Denmark is 86 (as compared with 100 for indigenous Danes) is based on solid evidence. It is obvious that as the number of the immigrants increases the IQ of the population will decline. His estimate that the IQ in Denmark in 2085 will be 90 is reasonable.

Richard Lynn, MA, PhD Cambridge

Professor emeritus of Psychology, University of Ulster.

Ref: Coleman, D. Projections of the ethnic minority populations of the United Kingdom 2006–2056. Population and Development Review, 2010. 36, 441–486.

Perhaps it is simply the replacement of the local tribe with another from afar which makes for uncomfortable reading in government circles, linked to disturbing evidence that these foreign tribes do not achieve the same levels of local wit even after two generations. Furthermore, the foreign tribes are not following the European example of reproductive restraint with quite the speed and acquiescence which had been expected of them. No people actively search out minority status in their own country. From a global perspective, if you won’t populate your own territory, others will. The projections being made might be wildly wrong, but at the moment it seems possible that Europeans, by their own volition, may finally achieve European Exceptionalism, if only in the sense that eventually there may be, proportionally speaking, exceptionally few of them.

Or perhaps it was a common room row about the correct way to reference UN statistics?


  1. Are valid criticisms of Nyborg's research just a question of timing, then?

  2. Papers should be subjected to any criticism which can be substantiated at any time! The three main factors to be considered for these sorts of predictions are 1) How many immigrants will enter the country 2) How many babies will they have compared to the locals 3) How quickly and to what extent will their contribution match or exceed that of the locals? The current picture appears to be 1) Many 2) More than the locals 3) Less than the locals. The last point seems true for two generations as shown by PISA data. The first two factors may change quickly, the last more slowly, but change there will (probably) be.

  3. "It is likely, on balance of probability, that genetics plays a part in all human differences": unless humans are different in this respect from all other animals, how could it be otherwise?

  4. ....(as compared with 100 for indigenous Danes) is based on solid evidence

    Prof Nyborg does not say that Dane IQ is 100. He says 98.

    You too are Dishonesty Committee material...! :-)

    But the post is very good.

  5. In fact, it is Prof Lynn in his letter who says 100, which is probably because he wrote it from memory. Both Nyborg and Lynn's data show a score of 98
    Denmark 5-11 yr olds,n=628, SPM, IQ97, Vejleskov, 1968
    Denmark Adults, n=122, CF, IQ99, Buj, 1981
    Denmark: median 98

    Thanks for being another eagle-eyed reader, which is what I want!

  6. Apparently people are now calling for harsher punishment against those ruled scientifically dishonest by the Danish government.


  7. Retraction Watch has a post on the Nyborg controversy. In the comments section Jelte Wicherts, an established IQ researcher with environmentalist leanings on the group differences issue expressed doubt that Nyborg's behavior constitutes scientific misconduct. Also of note is a comment by Marco who disputes the accuracy of your account of some of the details of the DCSD committee.