IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > CognitiveLiberty > Staff > Hank Pellissier
Six Brain-Damage Scourges that Cripple IQ in Sub-Saharan Africa
Hank Pellissier   Mar 7, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Why do academic tomes like Wealth and the IQ of Nations insist that the average Sub-Saharan African’s IQ is 30-40 points lower than an East Asian’s IQ?  How can that book give Hong Kong an IQ of 106 and Equatorial Guinea a mere 59?

In 2002, Wealth and the IQ of Nations posited frightfully low IQ numbers for Sub-Saharan Africa.  When the book’s authors - Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen - recalculated the data in their 2006 update, IQ and Global Inequality, they arrived at equally abysmal figures: Sierra Leone (64), The Congo (65), Zimbabwe (66), Guinea (66), Nigeria (69), The Gambia (66), Senegal (66), Mozambique (64), Gabon (64), Central African Republic (64), Equatorial Guinea (59), Liberia (67), Lesotho (67), Angola (68), Niger (67), South Africa (72).

The IQ numbers compiled by Lynn and Vanhanen were lambasted by other researchers, and a rival study, led by Jelte M. Wicherts of The Netherlands, claimed a considerably higher average IQ for the Sub-Saharan region: 82.  But even this lags excruciatingly far behind East Asia and the Western world. Why?

Obviously, Africans have been oppressed by colonialist imperialism, capitalist exploitation, and authoritarian regimes. One way oppression oppresses its victims is by stunting their cognitive abilities, diminishing their ability to be productive and politically engaged. Development economists and the public health community recognize this as an intrinsic part of the gloomy cycle of underdevelopment.

Does oppression impact IQ scores? Yes.  The Sub-Saharan human brain is severely maimed in gestation and early childhood, due to six post-conception horrors: disease, violence, malnutrition, pollution, poverty and illiteracy. Many of the cognitive cripplers that I listed in my previous essay, “Brain Damage: 83 factors that stupefy intelligence”  are located in this underdeveloped region.

Decent humans want to believe everyone remains equal in mental ability, no matter how disparate the environments. I appreciate this idealism, but it is anti-scientific and counter-productive to view our brains as impervious to outside harm. My article seeks to promote assistance to those who live in places where brains are under duress.  I want their environments improved, so their neurological functions can thrive. My ambition in this essay is both humanitarian and techno-progressive; after explaining the causes, I’ll propose attainable solutions that can elevate Sub-Saharan IQ and alleviate suffering.

The Sub-Saharan’s 800 million population is anticipated to rise to 1.5 billion by 2050, according to United Nations reports. It has the highest fertility rate in the world, and the lowest life expectancy. Nigeria will be primarily used in this essay as a source of dismal statistics, because it is the most populous nation in the region, with 160 million citizens.

DISEASE: Two recent studies - a 2010 report from the University of New Mexico and 2011 research from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada - have strongly correlated low national IQs with high rates of infectious disease. Their findings mirror what Jared Diamond claimed in his 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - i.e., endemic diseases thwart human advancement. 

In my email correspondence with the biologists at the University of New Mexico, I was informed by the above study’s lead author Christopher Eppig that, “Based on our own research… a social policy aimed at elevating IQ would want to focus on reducing the infection rates and durations of the infections that are most costly to the brain, which we predict include malaria, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, and intestinal worms.” 

Below I have outlined the damage caused by each of these four maladies in Sub-Saharan nations.

Malaria: Every year there are 225 million cases of malaria worldwide, with 90% occurring in the Sub-Saharan region, where 3,000 die everyday of the disease. Nigeria alone accounts for 25% of the planet’s malaria cases, with 30 million of it’s citizens annually contracting the scourge, leaving 300,000 dead.  The “brain insult” of malaria is horrendous. One international study defines cerebral malaria “as the presence of coma” leaving victims with neuro-physiological impairment to brain regions associated with planning, decision-making, self-awareness, and social sensitivity. Young Sub-Saharans are alarmingly vulnerable to drastic IQ reduction due to the malarial threat because, as University of New Mexico researchers state, “From an energetic standpoint, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks.”  It’s crucial to realize here that developing nations, like the entire Sub-Saharan, have a far higher rate of mental retardation. A 2008 Rush University Medical College (Chicago) report observed, “Surveys in high-income countries show 3 to 5 per 1,000 with severe intellectual disability… Estimates from developing countries, however, have found prevalence rates from 5 to as much as 22 per 1,000.” Malaria is listed by the researchers as one of the “major contributing causes” in Third World mental retardation. remedy: Recently in Lagos, two mosquito nets were distributed to each family - a total of 4.1 million nets - in a fresh attempt to curb the sickening menace.

Diarrhea: The diarrhea rate in Nigeria is 18.8%, with 150,000 children dying annually of the disease. Diarrhea weakens the immune system and can quickly lead the sufferer to malnutrition, pneumonia, and a host of additional plagues. University of New Mexico researchers note that, “if exposed to diarrhoeal diseases during their first five years, individuals may experience lifelong detrimental effects to their brain development, and thus intelligence. Parasites may [also] negatively affect cognitive function in other ways, such as infecting the brain directly…” remedy: Nigeria launched a Hand-washing Campaign in 2008, plus a hygiene program to construct one million latrines. Studies indicate that hand-washing can reduce diarrhea by 30-47%.

Tuberculosis: Nigeria has the 4th highest TB rate in the world, with more than 400,000 cases per year. Tuberculosis - commonly associated with the lungs - has the potential to attack the brain, causing Tuberculosis Meningitis (TBM). Although this occurs in only 1% of TB cases in developed nations, reports indicate that TB leads to TBM in Nigeria between 7.8-14% of the time. The result? At least 20% of survivors are left with severe brain damage. Tuberculosis also creates a severe toll on the immune system, retarding the cognitive development of young children. remedy: TB “carriers” in Nigeria need to be identified early and treated regularly with antibiotics in services that extend throughout the nation, especially rural areas that have relied on herbal concoctions with a low rate of success.

Intestinal Worms (helminth infections): Nigerian schoolchildren are widely at risk of three intestinal parasites: roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm. One study revealed a 54.9% infection rate in urban public schools, 63.5% infection in rural public schools, and 28.4% in private schools. Intestinal worms have been associated with reduced IQ in many studies; one estimate is that “the average IQ loss for children left untreated is 3.75 points per worm infection.” remedy:  Improved sanitation via clean water, soap, improved latrines, and elimination of garbage around schools. Plus, de-worming at a cost of only 50 cents per child.

VIOLENCE: Being subjected to violence, or witnessing violent activity, puts a traumatic burden on children that leads to cognitive decline.  How steep is the subtraction? A 2002 study from the Children’s Hospital of Michigan concludes that “a child experiencing both violence exposure and trauma-related distress… would be expected to have a 7.5-point decrement in IQ and a 9.8 decrement in reading achievement.” The Sub-Saharan region is catastrophically violent in numerous categories; I have listed only four below.

Civil Strife: Myriad bloodbaths have soaked the Sub-Saharan in the last thirty years, including recent and current conflicts in The Congo, Ivory Coast, and religious terrorism in Nigeria, plus past nightmares in Rwanda, Burundi, Biafra, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Liberia, Uganda, Central African Republic, and others. Is it accurate to define the entire region as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?  Perhaps.  A recent survey of Liberians revealed that 71% of those questioned had witnessed a beating, 47% witnessed a killing, and 33% witnessed the killing of a family member. How does a pervasive atmosphere of violence affect children’s cognition? A Stanford Hospital study suggests that, “children’s risk for learning and behavior problems… rises in correlation to their level of trauma exposure…. children experiencing four types of trauma were 30 times more likely to have behavior and learning problems than those not exposed to trauma.” remedy:  Political stability is needed, with dedicated administrators. Hopefully, they’re encouraged by the Mo Imbrahim Foundation that awards an annual $5 million prize to African leaders who demonstrate good governance.

Domestic Violence: A 2011 Harvard Medical report notes that “Witnessing domestic violence is a traumatic childhood experience associated with reduced IQ scores.” Unfortunately, wife beating is all-too-common in Sub-Saharan Africa. A recent Nigerian news report claims that, “More than 50 percent [of wives] say they have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their husbands.” Counter-intuitively,“more educated women (65%) are in this terrible situation as compared to their low income counterparts (55%).” Are the children watching? Another study says that 46% of Nigerian women reported being abused in the presence of their children. remedy:  A cultural sea-change that elevates women’s rights and prosecutes domestic abusers; a staggering 97.2% of Nigerian women say they are unwilling to report the abuse to Nigerian police.

Child Sexual Abuse: Multiple studies assert that children subjected to sexual abuse suffer parallel damage to their brain development. For example, a Yale University study has linked childhood sexual abuse to “long-term deficits in verbal short-term memory” - a result that resembles the damage observed in “patients with combat-related PTSD.” Is child sexual abuse common in the Sub-Saharan? The Lancet reports reports that 33% of girls and women in Swaziland claimed they were victimized by sexual violence before reaching the age of 18. In Nigeria, rape is reportedly on the increase, particularly child rape. A 2008 news article from Kano, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria, claimed that, “The suspects are usually males between the ages of 45 and 70 while their victims are mostly girls of between three and 11 years.” The article notes that many rapes are never reported because “parents want to save the honor of their daughters and protect their families from embarrassment.” remedy:  Cultural change is needed, promoting the rights of children and prosecuting those who abuse them.

Female Genital Mutilation: Although FGM is a “traditional ritual,” it needs to also be regarded as a violent, traumatic episode that can likely damage the cognitive development of the victims, generally girls aged 4-12. The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees, asserting that FGM has posed a “mental health risk” to 92 million African women. In the Sub-Saharan region, the following rates of FGM prevalence exist in the 15-49 age category, representing tens of millions of women and girls: Ivory Coast (36.4%), Gambia (78.3%), Guinea (95.6%), Liberia (58.2%), Nigeria (29.6%), Sierra Leone (94.0%), Guinea-Bissau (44.5%), and Senegal (28.2%).  I have written about FGM in greater detail at the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology website.  remedy: Outlawing FGM.

MALNUTRITION: Prior to the recent focus on infectious disease hampering IQ levels, the prevalent opinion in scholastic circles was that malnutrition was the brain’s primarily oppressor. On the website nextbigfuture, author Brian Wang asserts that “if everyone had optimal levels of micronutrients the IQ of over half the world would be increased by up to 20 IQ points.” The Sub-Saharan would be a primary beneficiary of improved nutrition, especially infants, children, and pregnant women. Below I’ve listed only two dietary ingredients needed for optimal brain development; additional nutrients that also need to be considered are zinc, calcium, folic acid, Vitamin A, and magnesium. I’ve also advocated breast-feeding, because the nutrition it provides has been frequently linked to higher IQ scores.

Iodine Deficiency: If a pregnant mother’s diet is low in element #53, her child’s IQ can be severely hampered. Cretinism is the worst result of iodine deficiency, with its shocking retardation of physical and mental development. A recent report indicates that every year 900,000 Nigerian children will suffer an IQ loss because their mothers didn’t ingest enough iodine during their pregnancy. How large of an IQ loss? The website suggests “the loss of intellectual capacity by as much as 10 to 15 percentage points.” remedy: Add iodine to all salt distributed in the Sub-Saharan.

Iron Deficiency (anemia): An alarming 75.6% of Nigerian children are anemic, claims  This lack punishes developing brains. “Various tests of cognitive skills associate lack of iron during infancy and early childhood with significant levels of disadvantage, affecting IQ scores by as much as 5 to 7 points,” notes remedy: Food fortification, especially wheat flour and cereal.

Lack of Breastfeeding: Recent research by Oxford University and Essex University asserts that infants breastfed for just four weeks are granted a 3-point IQ boost. Many specialists advice breastfeeding for at least six months, because the fatty acids in the mother’s milk aids infant brain development. Unfortunately, breastfeeding rates in the Sub-Saharan are among the lowest in the world.  UNICEF calculates that only 31% of the region’s mothers breastfeed, a low figure compared to East and South Asia’s 43-44%. Breastfeeding is also more hygienic; bottle-feeding can infect newborns with diseases like diarrhea, especially in areas with contaminated water. remedy: Breastfeeding prevalence in the Sub-Saharan has made enormous strides in recent years, leaping up from a mere 24% in 1996. Continued education is needed.

POVERTY: The per capita income in Nigeria, for example, is a mere $191 annually. Numerous studies have indicated that growing up poor causes severe damages to one’s ability to achieve full cognitive potential. For example, wealthier parents can provide “better educational resources and spend more time with their children” notes Elliot Tucker Drob, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Another study, by Cornell University child-development researchers Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg, determined that “chronically elevated physiological stress is a plausible model for how poverty could get into the brain and eventually interfere with achievement.”  It noted that poor children tended to go to “ill-equipped and ill-taught schools, have fewer resources at home, eat low-nutrition food, and have less access to health care.” The result of the subpar environment was that “hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains…”  A specific test carried out with teenagers revealed that those in poverty had a weaker working memory than teens that were well-off. (Working memory is a reliable indicator reading. Language and problem-solving ability)

POLLUTION: Numerous elements and molecular compounds are severely debilitating to human brain development. I’ve listed two dangers below; additional chemicals that cause harm in the Sub-Saharan are cadmium, manganese, petroleum hydrocarbons, mercury, and others. Water pollution and soil contamination are merit attention.

Lead Poisoning: The brain-toxic 82nd element is pervasive throughout the Sub-Sahara. Leaded gasoline wasn’t phased out until 2005 with settling fumes caking the soil, and subsequently, the agricultural produce. Illegal mining operations in northern Nigeria recently used lead to refine gold ore, horrendously contaminating both the ground and the water. The NGO “Doctors Without Borders” discovered in 2010 that 90% of the children under 5 in the state of Zamfara, Nigeria (population 3.6 million) had lead poisoning. In Kabwe, Zambia, lead concentrates in children arealso 5-19 times the permissible USA EPA level. Researchers also recently discovered that “96% of the consumer paints available in Nigeria contained higher than the recommended levels of lead.” The effect of lead on IQ varies in research reports, but a 2001 study, from School of Public Health University at Albany Rensselaer (New York) estimated that lead exposure in children caused a “permanent loss of IQ of approximately 5 to 7 IQ points.” remedy: The World Bank and other organizations have allocated funds for massive clean-up operations.

Air Pollution (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons): Lagos - with its 12 million residents - has severe air pollution, largely caused by auto fumes and burning garbage. The Nigerian city does not have the worst air in the Sub-Saharan, however, that unfortunate honor goes to Gaberone, Botswana, which was voted 7th Worst in the World in a recent Time magazine survey. Research in Krakow, Poland and New York City  claims that air pollution exposure before birth lowers IQ by 4 points, because smog harms the developing brain. remedy: Sub-Saharan cities need energy-efficient public rail systems, and vehicles and industry need stricter emissions controls.

ILLITERACY: In the Sub-Saharan, a mind-boggling 58% of the population is illiterate. Benin is the worst with 82.4% illiteracy; only 11.9% of its women can read and write. In Nigeria, nine nine million kids don’t go to school, instead they just “roam the streets.” Illiterate children don’t take the standard “Alpha” IQ test, instead, they tackle the non-verbal Revised Beta Examination.  Barely literate children are at an extreme disadvantage with the language-based Alpha. remedy: Strides are being made. Emphasis needs to be placed on getting more girls to attend school (i.e., changing cultural attitudes) and in encouraging students to attend secondary schools.


GENETICS - Adding to the multiple environmental factors listed above are at least two genetic circumstances that damage IQ. Both problems could be alleviated with improved social, educational, and health policies. The two genetic factors are sickle-cell disease and cousin marriage.

The Sub-Saharan has the highest prevalence in the world in sickle-cell disease, with up to 2% of all children born with the genetic blood disorder. A 2011 Emma Children’s Hospital study at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam discovered that children with sickle-cell disease were at-risk for lower intelligence and executive dysfunction, with possible deficits in visual-spatial working memory, attention, and planning.  The impact was significant: “More than one in three children with SDC had a full-scale IQ below 75.”

Cousin marriage, known as “consanguinity,” is prevalent in many Sub-Saharan groups.  In Nigeria it is practiced by the 18 million members of the Hausa tribe, preferentially in marrying patrilateral parallel cousins. The custom is also common among the Yoruba.  Cousin marriage increases the risk of birth defects, due to sharing of the genes. In 1993, an Aligarh Muslim University report from India study showed an IQ drop of 11.2 points (from 99.6 to 88.4) in the offspring of cousin marriages.

Summary: The tragic liabilities listed above have created a climate so vicious to brain development it’s amazing the tormented Sub-Saharan IQs aren’t even farther behind the 3-digit East Asians and high-90’s Westerners.  Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa is presently experiencing an economic boom - it’s expected to grow 5.25% in 2011, with a 5.75% forecast in 2012, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Sub-Saharan’s financial future is aided by the region’s enormous mineral wealth and China’s lavish recent investment.  Perhaps effervescent confidence can also boost the region; a 2011 Gallup poll proclaimed Nigerians the world’s happiest and most optimist people.

Regarding the IQ gap, my hope is that charitable developed nations and NGOS will continue to donate.  Commendable, among many, are the Voss Foundation of Norway that works to guarantee access to clean water in the Sub-Saharan, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that has helped decrease malaria deaths in the region by 20% since 2000.

Addressing the systemic problems I’ve noted in my essay is imperative in fixing the stunted abilities of the region. Truth is, there’s reason for optimism – the brain is marvelously “plastic” and IQ is enormously malleable.  Children damaged by malnutrition, pollutions, and other grim factors can swiftly improve.

Techno-progressive solutions are also critical now - a prime current hope is that Internet access and low-cost computers in the Sub-Saharan will accelerate the residents into an egalitarian future. This is rapidly happening: Nigeria’s Internet connectivity tripled from 2000-2008, leaping from 8 to 24 million, according to Accender Africa.

Another interesting “transhumanist” advance is Nigeria’s recent development of it’s own pharmaceutical “smart drug” - called Cognitol. The pill is a clinically proven, 5mg vinpocetine tablet that can improve information storage, memory and IQ.  Additionally, there are other cognitive enhancement therapies that provide enormous benefits for those with stunted abilities, benefits that can enable them to rapidly close the gap between themselves and luckier individuals who received optimal nutrition and environments. In Jamais Cascio’s recent essay in The Atlantic he notes that intelligence is increasing and will continue to increase globally, aided by “social tools”, “individualized systems that augment our capacity for planning and foresight”, “drugs… exocortical technology”, and “stand-alone artificial mind[s].”

With correct future policies and neuro-technology, Sub-Saharans can be equal to all, by every material and mental measure.

Special thanks for help with this essay is owed to IEET’s Executive Editor, James Hughes, Ph.D., for his patient advice and contribution to both the structure of the essay, and additional content, via reference material he provided, and observations he expressed. Thanks is also due to residents of the Subsaharan who verified the general conclusions of this report, and lent their emotional support.

For additional information on factors that damage the brain’s thinking ability, you can peruse the essay, “Brain Damage: 83 factors that stupefy intelligence”.

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


Great piece, thanks, very complete and well-informed.

I think anyway that we have to face an additional, deeper issue. Should we really regard IQ measurements as something scientific and meaningful? If we do, there are certain IQ “facts” that simply falsify the conclusions of the article above. Afro-Americans have an average IQ about one standard deviation below Eur-Americans. ( and Sub-Saharan pathogens clearly play no role in US, nor we can honestly say that social conditions of American black communities are even comparable to the ones of Central Africa. So, why do blacks in US score around 85 at IQ tests, while whites score around 100?

I believe that these IQ tests measure but one thing - the ability to take an IQ test. Being designed by people with a certain cultural structure, a culture that praises certain human traits, instead of others, these tests represent only the capacity to fit into a meaningless social standard. Yes, our culture praises abstract thinking, and other mental skills. But these skills have more to do with success in our social structure, a structure ruled by a its own codes. Yet, intelligence is another thing.

As Diamond explained in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel - people from New Guinea are definitely not stupider than civilized whites, loaded with “cargo”. It takes a sharp intellect to survive in the jungle, to discover ways to grow and hunt food in such hostile places. Richard Herrnstein would not last a week in those rainforests - even with the best equipment (canned beans not allowed).

@ Andre—I respectfully disagree with your notion that IQ tests only measure “an ability to take an IQ test.”

Researchers have found strong correlation between brain anatomy and IQ scores. check out:

The brain’s anatomical features used in problem-solving… can be deeply injured by its environment.  To make a society mentally high-functioning, we must eliminate the mind-threatening factors.

A brain damaged by violence, stress, multiple diseases, malnutrition, and poor education won’t do well on IQ tests, nor will it perform optimally when confronted with day-to-day dilemmas that require complex reasoning ability.

We all understand that the physical body can be weakened, and we accept the reasons why.  We also need to understand that mental health is similarly attacked and crippled if the conditions it operates in are destructive to its well-being.

Exellent article ! - empathetic, compassionate, transhuman..

However, - it seems to me that your effort to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes comes at a price.. - Your focus on environmental factors / nurture is entirely justified, but genetic factors could be explored further perhaps..

As André points out, Afro-Americans have an average IQ about one standard deviation below Eur-Americans, which calls for an explanation..

Also, a couple of generations of (environmental) hardships in North Korea is showing no effect on IQ’s, but unfortunately we should not trust the data to much perhaps..

Anyway, - may I suggest you counter-balance this - controversial.. - article with one that focuses on possible genetic aspects. If anyone has the guts to do it, it’s got to be YOU !

@ Andre—in the book “Intelligence and How to Get it” the author, RIchard Nisbett, asserts that African-American IQ is what it is due to environmental factors, especially poverty.  I am in agreement with Nisbett’s analysis.

@ Joern - My essay does mention two genetic factors in the Sub-Sahara - cousin marriage and sickle cell anemia.  I will be writing about the cognitive damage caused by generations of first-cousin-marriage in a future essay. It is indeed significant. The chance of birth defects in a first-time cousin marriage is about 1.7-2.0 times greater than average; if a culture repeats cousin marriage for generation, the odds of genetic mishap increase enormously.

Re genetic aspects, I would really prefer to keep racism out of here, shall we.

Arguing IQ racism is also dangerous: if you say that all X are stupid, then, when you see a X who is evidently much smarter than you (and there are always some), you must accept that you are more stupid than a stupid.


I don’t know about you, but I trust that people who hang around IEET are NOT that stupid, but then I’ve always been slightly naive maybe.. - I agree with you of course, that saying ALL X are stupid, is VERY stupid indeed, but again, - I’m not so worried about that, and I find it wrong to shy away from sensitive issues because of threats to social cohesion or something.. - In my view, science takes priority.

Apart from that, I’m actually more interested in gene-environment interactions, and I find it unfortunate that some divide into two camps, - those who believe IQ is mainly a function of nurture, and those who see nature as the determining factor.

I have recently been presented with a book on “intelligence on a cellular level”, which I mean to read. It’s focus is on EPI-genetics, i.e. which environmental - and / or “cellular memory” factors determine the activation of this or that genetic disposition..

@ thanks Giulio - I profoundly agree!  My article isn’t about “race” - it is about environmental factors that damage the cognition of all human beings.

The mental “scourges” in the article are dangerous to every brain.

regarding “race” - is it even a legitimately scientific term? I don’t think so. IEET covered that topic here:

Personally, I don’t want this thread to get side-tracked by race-talk. 
I am interested in promoting mental health by alleviating the brain-damaging factors that my article mentions. I find it appalling that children’s minds are ruined by factors that can be prevented with improved policies.

The staggering loss of brain-power in the world is detrimental to all of us - how many “geniuses” that could contribute enormously to improving the planet are mentally-ruined at by age 5?

Hank , Giulio, - forget about “race”, - no need to shout “wolf is coming” when it is nowhere to be seen.. , but perhaps you are afraid it is dressed in sheep’s clothing.. 😊


I am aware of the economical explanation for low IQ in Afro-Americans. But, don’t you also find it a bit puzzling that those six brain-damage scourges in Africa have roughly the same effect as American-style poverty? The measurements in both cases are around are around 85. Then how about Jewish people? They have higher IQ than all other ethnic groups. Does this happen because they are economically more advantaged? I hope we do not want to give such explanations.

So, while I think that poverty certain plays a role, and I also agree with all the policies you advocated to improve African conditions, I still consider IQ a dangerous political tool, with a very scarce scientific content. Do not get me wrong. I am ready to change my mind when one of those IQ “scientist” can make an accurate prediction about something. But so far I only saw statistics. And mere statistical correlations do not sound like good science to me.

Hi Andre - I sympathize with what you are saying but I believe it is wise to study intelligence and IQ is our present system of measurement. Mental health is a highly desirable goal - I believe we need to comprehend the factors that improve or injure our cognition so we can make decisions that guarantee us the best brain functionality.

Regarding the validity of IQ as a measuring stick, I interviewed brain research Richard Haier from UC Irvine recently on that topic and this was his response:

“The most important finding of brain imaging studies of intelligence so far is this: a generation ago there was a widely accepted view that IQ was “meaningless.” But now we know that scores on IQ and other tests of intelligence are correlated to brain characteristics that we can measure. Brain imaging reveals that there is a neural basis to intelligence.”

I will be publishing the full interview with Dr. Haier next week.


Thanks! I will be looking forward to reading that interview.

@Joern I am not shouting “wolf is coming” but I am not interested in the mine-is-bigger-than-yours game (white vs blacks, men vs women, etc.) and I find it strange that adults like this game so much.

In any large group of persons there are good and bad people, smart and stupid people, with all shades of grey in between, and similar statistical curves. End of the story.

I will stop reading this thread, feel free to play your game.


Don’t you think Hank deserves better than you and I getting personal here ? - I have no idea what “game” you are referring to. For all I know we are engaged in an honest academic discussion, and if you really don’t like to discuss “nature”, - which is fair enough, - then please comment on what Hank is writing about “nurture” instead of wasting your - and our - time telling people off..

Like André, I am looking forward to Hank’s interview with the greatest of interest, and I wish more people would comment here. - Personally, I agree with everything Hank writes about nurture, so I don’t have anything to add to that, which is one reason why I draw attention to genetics.. - Genetics that is, not “race”, there is a difference, right..

@Joern - nothing personal at all, but I am just not interested in race vs. race or genetics vs. genetics talk.

@Giulio - I understand, respect, accept that, but I fail to see how your personal lack of interest gives you the right to tell others not to be interested as well.. - but my guess is that you are concerned with “sensitivities”, which is admirable, but has got little to do with science..

Going to read your latest article, - looks interesting {; - )

@Joern - I _never_ tell others what they should or should not be interested in. Please be interested in whatever you like, and have fun! I am not interested in this particular topic.

You wrote, “Decent humans want to believe everyone remains equal in mental ability, no matter how disparate the environments.”

I was horrified when I read The Bell Curve and went through great mental anguish. But in time I came to terms with it and realized that denying the problem is not going to make it go away.

You have listed the causes of IQ inhibition together with solutions, some simple (like iodated salt and de-worming) and some we may never get on top of (like malnutrition and stunting environment). The problem appears huge but like eating an elephant, if we tackle it one teaspoon at a time we can overcome it.

The important thing to remember is that most low IQ people are that way because outside factors prevented them from developing properly. The genetic material is still perfectly healthy. Two low IQ people can have a child with normal or high IQ.

Thanks again. I’ve bookmarked this page and will read it many times.

@shadeburst “The important thing to remember is that most low IQ people are that way because outside factors prevented them from developing properly”

Any evidence for your claim?

Hi @buttons,

There’s a difference between genetic and secular retardation.

I have high IQ. It is probable that my children will also have high IQ. But say that as a result of an accident I become a vegetable. My semen does not change to reflect my suddenly reduced IQ.

Say that I impregnate a woman and that during pregnancy she undergoes malnutrition resulting in severe anaemia. The child’s body and brain will probably fail to develop properly and it will be born with physical and mental defects. However, the child’s chromosomes are still the same as at the moment of conception. If this child in turn becomes a parent, it passes on healthy chromosomes.

I live in South Africa. Apartheid officially ended 18 years ago. Welfare grants are now available to pregnant women and women with young children. Previous to that, malnutrition among Black women and children was widespread. This led to very high rates of miscarriage, still birth, and neonatal fatality. The surviving infants were often also physically and mentally undeveloped.

I’m interested to read from the article above that the national IQ for South Africa is 72. By a remarkable coincidence, this is the same figure as reported by Garth Zietsman, the then head psychologist for the South African prison service from a study he performed over 20 years ago. As prison inmates normally have a lower IQ on aggregate than the rest of the population, the figure of 72 seems doubtful.

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: Partnering for Growth

Previous entry: Buddhist Feminism (Part 3)