January 7, 2007

Damned Clever . . . But Why?

The New York Times has an interesting article on the predominance of Asian students at UC Berkeley, where racial preferences are forbidden by law. The article also notes the very low proportion of blacks and Hispanics there and at other University of California campuses.

The article also reports a discrimination lawsuit filed by Jian Li against Princeton University by an Asian student who contends that Asians with high SAT scores and grades are admitted in lower proportions than blacks with mediocre scores and grades.

The article discusses the effects on student social life, stereotypes of Asians, the hand-wringing by administrators, and the history of efforts to keep the campuses safe for upper-class white Protestants.

What the article carefully avoids discussing is the explanation for Asian academic success, and the poor results of Blacks and Hispanics despite 50 years of efforts to improve their results. Cultural factors reflected in family life are surely a part of the story. My discussion of cultural capital addresses some of these issues.

Another factor, surely, is intelligence. IQ is a pretty good measure of intelligence, and it's useful because so many tests have been given over so many years, with fairly consistent results. East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) have at least one-half a standard deviation higher IQ, on average, than whites (about 8 points), which translates into much higher numbers at the upper edge of the Gauss ("bell") curve. American blacks' IQs are about a standard deviation lower than whites (about 16 points), again on average. Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jews are about a standard deviation higher than whites in general, on average, which is one reason this small group produces extraordinary proportions of Nobel Prize winners, chess champions, and Supreme Court law clerks, to name a few élite postions.

Average IQ also correlates fairly well with national income.

Some portion of IQ results are no doubt related to nutrition, family stability and other environmental factors. As these improve, average results also improve. However, it's equally likely that heredity, as evidenced by identical twin studies, for example, plays a rôle. Given basically sound environmental conditions, people from certain groups, including East Asians, have higher average IQs, and form much higher proportions of the upper reaches of IQ results.

This fact doesn't the high-performing groups more worthy, nor does it justify discrimination, except perhaps in immigration policy. But it does suggest there are limits to what programs like Head Start or urban education grants can do to change these outcomes.

And it suggests that our best universities will be heavily East Asian for a long time to come.

No comments: