Open thread: Test your general knowledge with quick quiz

The following questions are taken from an episode of the hit quiz show Who wants to be a millionaire?  Try to answer each one and then scroll down to see the answers, and then vote in the anonymous poll so I know how my very bright readers perform on general knowledge.

Question 1


Question 2


Question 3


Question 4


Question 5



Question 6 (these question were asked in the year 2000)


Question 7



Question 8


Question 9



Question 10


Question 11


Question 12


Question 13 (only 2 choices for this question)


Question 14


Question 15



  1. B
  2. B
  3. C
  4. A
  5. D
  6. B
  7. C
  8. C
  9. A
  10. B
  11. D
  12. B
  13. A
  14. D
  15. B





My first impressions of Rising Star by David J. Garrow


I’ve been looking through the book Rising Star:  The making of Barack Obama by Pulitzer Prize winning author David J. Garrow.  The book is huge.  The main text is 1,084 pages, followed by a few hundred pages of chapter notes, and then about another hundred pages for the bibliography and index.  Garrow reportedly interviewed over a thousand of Obama’s friends and colleagues and even interviewed Obama himself for eight hours.  All this for a book that only covers Obama’s pre-presidential life!

Obama fans might be disappointed to learn how calculating and deceptive Obama has been about his own life story.  On the other hand, Obama haters will be disappointed to learn that Obama was an excellent law student who earned his high grades at Harvard.

Indeed I’m impressed by how the book is both so negative yet so positive.  Unlike many biographers who try to vilify or deify their subject, Garrow only seems interested in gathering as much information as he can and letting the chips fall where they may.  It’s great when truly objective historians take the time to interview this many people and collect this much original research before memories fade, people die, and things get covered up.

Rising Star is a gift to history.

Open thread: Oprah was decades ahead of her time

Long before Ellen, Will & Grace or Modern Family, it was Oprah (and before her Donahue) and the genre of TV she popularized, that played the critical role bringing gays into the mainstream.  Here she is way back in 1989 (before most of my readers were even born) discussing gay marriage.

Oprah really is the most influential woman in the World because virtually no single living person has done more to change the culture of America, and by extension, the World.  It sounds bad to say now, but back in the 1980s people weren’t used to seeing a black looking black woman on TV.  What few black celebs there were, were often mixed race or skin bleached, so to see an authentic dark skinned black woman with African features on TV was transformative.  One Oprah fan told me that she didn’t watch for years because she thought “she is black, what kind of show can she have?”  A TV station told the legendary King brothers (Oprah’s syndicators) that they could get a better rating with a potato than by putting a black woman on TV.

But if being overweight and hardcore black wasn’t taboo enough, Oprah shocked the world by discussing topics as forbidden as gay marriage, infidelity, food addiction, and above all, sexual abuse, leading millions of victims to recovery.

Even though at age three, Oprah was a preacher prodigy, raised to believe gays would go to hell, she slowly abandoned this dogma for a more inclusive spirituality that millions of her fans embraced.


A preacher at the age of 3

She was smart enough to know that as an overweight dark skinned black woman, she faced discrimination in the same way gays did, and with 20th century nutrition increasing the World’s brain size and IQ, an awakened public would soon embrace moral progress, causing gay suicide rates to plummet.

As Martin Luther King once observed, the arch of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice.

Like all revolutionary leaders, Oprah got on the right side of history, way ahead of her time, just as she had with the Iraq war:

Open thread: Obama finally confronts Trump, Trump reacts

Obama has realized that if he wants to maintain his enormous popularity among liberals, he can no longer just sit on the sidelines as Trump tramples all over his legacy.  At the same time, the last thing he wants to do is ruin his retirement and risk his pristine reputation by getting into a mud fight, since no one benefits more from those than Trump.  Thus he seems to have found a middle ground of mild criticism.

Trump reacted with a zinger about falling asleep.

When Obama fans heard about this, they went absolutely ballistic.

It’s not surprising they would become so angry.   They consider Obama to be the greatest public speaker of all time, so to have a man they consider unworthy of shining Obama’s shoes,  not only destroy Obama’s legacy, but mock even his greatest talent, just adds insult to injury.

Why are they so psychologically invested in Obama?  Because white liberals pride themselves in supporting the underdogs and thus being very pro-black, but for years they’ve struggled to find a black they can get excited about.  Rap stars and athletes are too uneducated for their elitist tastes.    Even Oprah struck some of them as tacky for celebrating diets and materialism, and being loved by Midwestern housewives.

In Obama they found a black who looked, acted, and had the credentials of the white liberal elite, and thus he became their messiah.  By contrast, Trump is everything they hate (tacky materialism, uneducated speaking style, white working class fans) and is also a “racist” white conservative, making him the ultimate villain.

Open thread: Demographics of the World’s most influential people

[Please place all off-topic comments here.  They will not be posted in the main articles]

When most people talk about “elites”, they’re talking about who has the most power.  But power is only as good as what you do with it, so to me, the real elites are those with influence.  Those who have changed history and actually made a difference, especially the difference they wanted to make.  Roughly speaking, the more different the world is, then it would have been, had you never lived, the more influential you are.

Of course we can’t go back in a time machine and prevent people from being born, to see how big a difference their lives have made.  But if we asked a dozen different historians to name the most influential people in history,  they’d all name many of the same people (Jesus, the prophet Mohammad, Newton etc) proving there’s some objectivity to this.

When analyzing 2018’s list of the 100 most influential living people of all time,  I found  that although blacks are 15% of the World’s population, they are only 3% of the most influential (Oprah, Diana Ross, and “Kool Herc”).  The number increases to 6% if you include Afro-multiracials such as Obama, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice. All are Americans.

Powell, primarily used his influence to advance the interests of others, so I would not consider him an elite.  Rice was influential more by what she failed to prevent, then by what she actually intended, so I would not consider her an elite either.  But the other blacks all used their influence to advance their own agendas and thus qualify as elites.

Even though Ashkenazi Jews are only 0.14% of the World’s population, they’re roughly half the World’s 100 most influential people.  Sadly one of these (Bernard Lewis) recently passed away, opening up a slot for a newcomer on 2019’s list.

Although they are listed for their impact on history, one listee (Bob Woodward) is having a huge impact right now, for his new book about Trump, which claims his aids are secretly against him.  Just as Woodward helped drive one president to paranoia back in the 1970s, he may be doing the same today.

The heritability of education vs IQ

There’s an interesting 2013 meta-analysis by Branigan et al about the heritability of education attainment as measured by twin studies:




Source:  Branigan et al, 2013

If you average all the studies in the US and UK,  the mean heritability is 0.31.

A recent study of 1.1 million people (largely from the U.K. and U.S.) found polygenic scores predicted 0.12 of the variation in education, or roughly 39% of twin studies’ heritability.

Why so much lower than twin studies?  One reason might be that genetic samples suffer from range restriction, since relatively educated people (like our very own G-man!) seem more likely to get genotyped.

I found this quote from the supplemental materials of a 2018 study by Ritchie et al.

A personal measure of socioeconomic status is educational attainment. We compared the distributions of educational attainment in UK Biobank to the data from the 2011 Census for England and Wales (available at the following URL:; England and Wales makes up the vast majority—around 89%—of the population of the United Kingdom). In the census, for those ages 50+ years, 25.5% of males and 20.5% of females reported having a ‘level 4 qualification’, the category including college/university degrees (we might expect this figure to be slightly higher were it restricted to the 44-77 age group, but that precise age subset was not available from the census data). In the subsample of UK Biobank used here, 48.0% of males and 42.2% of females reported having a college degree. Thus, the sample was not representative in terms of educational attainment: a higher proportion of individuals in general had a degree.

Adjusting for range restriction would perhaps increase the amount of education variance explained by DNA from 0.12 to 0.2 (though that’s just a guess).

0.2 is 65% of the heritability found in twin studies.

Meanwhile twin studies find about a 0.75 heritability for IQ.

That means we might expect polygenic scores to eventually explain 65% of 0.75 of the variance in IQ, or 0.49 at least among whites living in the West.

Of course that might be a huge overestimate of heritability, if much of the genetic variance is not causal (i.e. population stratification, gene environment interaction).

On the other hand it might be a huge underestimate of heritability, if much of the genetic variance in IQ is not capture by the additive effects of common SNPs.

Both possibilities likely cancel each other out to some degree.

But if the heritability of IQ really is 0.49 (one of the fiercest critics of twin studies suggested 0.45) then square rooting the heritability gives a potent 0.7 correlation between DNA and IQ.

Open thread: Excellent discussion on CBC radio

Last week I was busy searching the internet when I got a text message urging me to immediately turn on CBC radio because there was an excellent show.  CBC radio puts out a lot of really good shows and this one was no exception.  You can hear the whole episode here.

Here’s the description:

Universities are supposed to be dedicated to the exchange of ideas. But according to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, campuses now skew so far to the left that they’ve become what he calls “political monocultures” in which voices that stray too far from liberal orthodoxy are shouted down. Paul Kennedy speaks with Professor Haidt – and with other scholars who have been thinking about the complex question of diversity on campus.

Long-term brain & body size trends

I found a 1997 paper called  Body mass and encephalization in Pleistocene Homo by CB Ruff et al.

We often hear how prehistoric man was so robust and muscular, yet their estimated weights are surprisingly modest (see John Hawks).  Indeed they weigh less than most Americans, though their fat-free body size was probably greater (and that’s what counts when it comes to predicting brain size).


Source: Ruff et al. 1997

The chart shows brain size increasing from the Early Pleistocene (890 g) to the Early Upper Paleolithic (1460 g) and then decreasing all the way down to 1302 g in so-called “living people”.

The problem is the sample for  “living” people does not have a date and my guess is these “living” people have been dead for over 80 years, since their brain weights were estimated from cranial capacity and the “living” skulls are likely from museums.  The authors probably just assumed they were recent enough to approximate living people, but given Richard Lynn’s claim that 20th century nutrition & disease reduction has boosted brain size, we need especially recent data.

How would truly living people, especially living young people in the First World compare with the numbers on this chart?  More recent data comes from Ho et al (1980).


Source: Jensen 1998

Of course people from the United States are not comparable to the Worldwide ancient skulls, however Ruff et al note that about three quarters of their data is from Europe/West Asia and about a quarter is from Africa.  If we use the Ho et al age 25 sex combined means (1455 g for whites and 1333 g for blacks), and do a weighted average where whites are 75% and blacks are 25%, we get 0.75(1455) + 0.25(1333) = 1091.25 = 1425 g.

In other words, people with ancestry from the similar regions of the world as most ancient skulls, seem to have an average brain weight of 1425 g when reared in the First World.  Not far from the peak brain weight of 1460 g in the upper paleolithic. Add to that the fact that people in autopsy studies likely have smaller brains and the likely brain growth that’s occurred since the 1980s, and it seems our brains have arguably made a full recovery, as we’ve finally achieved the great nutrition standards humans enjoyed in the early upper paleolithic!

Indeed nutrition was so good in the Upper Paleolithic, that the elite were morbidly obese, reminding us that wealth inequality has always been with us.


Have we recovered our paleolithic brain size yet?

Although brain size roughly tripled as humans evolved from apes, one mystery is the little known brain shrinkage that occurred in the last 10,000 years or so.   The bulk of the evidence for this comes from Maciej Henneberg who published the following table:


Source:  Henneberg, 1988

One problem with this table is that cranial capacity is not measured directly by actually filling the skull with mustard seeds, water or beads etc, but rather by using regression equations which may or may not apply to all samples.

However there’s also evidence from directly measured cranial capacity suggesting brains have shrunk since the upper paleolithic.


Source:  Henneberg, 1988

So it seems that brain size had been shrinking since the stone age until at least the industrial revolution;  the question is what’s happened since?

According to Richard Lynn, brain size has since been increasing because of better health and nutrition,  and this is matched by a similar increase in IQ test performance, known as the Flynn effect.

Unfortunately I don’t know of any directly measured cranial capacities from 21st century young adults.  The closest we have are MRI scans of intracranial volume, but one scientist working in this field recently told me that these can give different results depending on the scanning (MRI) machine and the algorithms used.  For more details, see here and here.

Thus, I turn once again to the Lee and Pearson regression formulas, for estimating cranial capacity from external head measures which Lee and Pearson found agreed with the direct packing method far better than the packing method applied by two different packers!


Using 2012 anthropometric data from the U.S. army,  I found that men have a head length, head breadth and head height of 199.5 mm, 154.3 mm and 131.1 mm respectively.  Comparable figures for women are 189.8 mm, 147.8 mm, and 126.5 mm.

Assuming these forumulas are still valid today,  21st century U.S. army men average 1499 cc and their female counterparts average 1337 cc, for a sex-combined average of 1418 cc.

The simplest explanation for the fall and recent rise of brain size is the one advanced by Richard Lynn.  As humans switched from hunting to farming, malnutriton and disease caused brain size (and height) to plummet,  but with 20th century advances in health and nutrition, First World countries have (largely) recovered our former brain size.

But why is the 2012 U.S. army sample still 80 cc lower than people 50 to 30 kya?  I see four reasons:

  • Most of the upper paleolithic samples are probably from Europe, while the U.S. army is more diverse.
  • The U.S. army is slightly shorter than their civilian  counterparts, and so their heads might be slightly smaller.
  • Even in 2012, much of the U.S. still suffered from sub-optimum nutrition and inadequate health care during their prenatal and perinatal development.
  • Upper paleolithic people may have been genetically (if not phenotypically) more robust than people today. For example Richard Klein once claimed that if a paleolithic (but anatomically modern) human walked into the room, the only thing we’d notice about him is that he was extraordinarily well built.  Among 1989 army personnel of the same rank, race, and sex, weight correlates 0.41 with cranial capacity (at least as estimated by the Lee & Pearson formula).  Among the entire army, it correlated 0.66.  Thus, there may have been a slight genetic decrease in brain size related to body size, but the lion’s share of the decrease and all of the increase was likely health and nutrition.