IQ: The Truth Can Set Us (And Africa) Free

One of the most frequently emailed articles ever published by is my review two years ago of IQ and the Wealth of Nations. This book by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen summarizes 168 IQ studies to provide estimated average national IQs for 81 different countries. They found that the correlation between national IQ and national income is very high: 0.73. [See also another much-emailed review by Phil Rushton].

The popularity of my review is hardly surprising, because the subject matter of the book is irresistible: everybody wants to know how smart the people of different countries are.

The rest of the U.S. media, however, have proven remarkably resistant to even mentioning the existence of the Lynn-Vanhanen book. (A similar blockade existed for about 18 months in Britain before breaking down recently.)

Here in the U.S., even mentioning IQ is in bad taste. The concept of “national IQ” is completely beyond the pale. To say aloud that African-Americans average 85, and Africans 70, is insensitive beyond words.

I`m regularly asked why, when practically no other pundit will touch the subject, I risk hurting my career by mentioning IQ.

Answer: Because it`s important. Because the more people understand, the more they can help other people. Because, if you ignore problems, they don`t go away, but if you allow smart people to think about them, they can come up with at least partial solutions.

For example, I pointed out in my review of IQ and the Wealth of Nations that the very low IQs found in Africa, which do so much to undermine that unfortunate continent, appear amenable to improvement.

I noted that the 15-point gap between African-Americans and Africans is

“a clear example of how a bad environment can hurt IQ… African-Americans` white genes probably couldn`t account for more than 3 points of the gap … This suggests that the harshness of life in Africa might be cutting ten points or more off African IQ scores.”

Of course, if, like most American opinion-leaders, you never allowed yourself to think about IQ, then you wouldn`t know that the sad state of Africa stems in part from IQ deficiencies.

Nor would you know that it`s likely that Africa`s average IQ could be raised.

Indeed, the heavyweight psychometricians backed by the much-denounced Pioneer Fund, such as Lynn, the late Hans Eysenck, and Arthur Jensen, have long pointed to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in Third World diets as a likely contributor to low average IQs.

The Pioneer Fund website says specifically:

“Some research has demonstrated that food supplements have the potential to enhance cognitive ability. Most non-genetic explanations for IQ deficits in non-developed countries have focused entirely on cultural factors such as prejudice, poor education, and poverty. The biological, but not genetic contribution to cognitive ability has largely been ignored. However, we do know that minute daily additions of essential amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and other trace elements can be critical. (Malnutrition in childhood is a different phenomenon.) There may even be group differences in the optimal daily requirements of these substances. Research of this kind carried out in developing countries such as South Africa could pay great dividends. “

Now, in a stunning vindication for IQ realists, the Associated Press has reported (March 25):

The brainpower of entire nations has diminished because of a shortage of the right vitamins, and slipping nutrients into people`s food seems to be the only solution, a new U.N. survey says.”

This survey, co-produced by UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative, begins:

“Few outside specialist circles are aware of the scale and severity of vitamin and mineral deficiency, or of what it means for individuals and for nations. It means the impairment of hundreds of millions of growing minds and the lowering of national IQs… And it means the large-scale loss of national energies, intellects, productivity, and growth.”

There`s a simple reason that only specialists are aware of this:


Got that?

The survey notes, for example, that iron shortages are driving down national GNPs by lowering national IQs:

“In most developing countries today, iron deficiency is now estimated to be preventing 40% to 60% of children from growing to their mental potential… In the last 10 to 15 years, iron deficiency has assumed even greater importance as evidence accumulates linking iron deficiency with mental impairment. In various tests of cognitive and psycho-motor skills, for example, lack of iron has been found to be associated with significant levels of disadvantage—affecting IQ scores by as much as 5 to 7 IQ points.

Similarly, iodine shortages cause the swelling of the thyroid gland called goiter, which can lead to what the U.N. report calls “cretinism.”

In the U.S., these two problems were almost completely solved decades ago—by fortifying salt with iodine and flour with iron and other micronutrients. Similar methods should work in the Third World.

Of course, the expense and organizational challenges are greater. In Pakistan, for example, there are 600 commercial salt producers. Getting each to iodize is a sizable undertaking.

Yet it can and must be done.

Even if we all have to start mentioning the dread letters IQ.”

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]