Oprah & Donahue’s brilliant Iraq war opposition


On the eve of 15th anniversary of the Iraq war it’s worth remembering that Oprah and her mentor Donahue did more to warn America against the Iraq war than virtually anyone in America.

Although Oprah’s brilliant Iraq war record is slightly tarnished by a pro-war show she did in Oct 2002, in the final months leading up to war, her show was perhaps the loudest voice against it, anywhere in America:

Oprah’s mentor Phil Donahue also deserves great credit for getting fired from his cable TV gig for his Iraq war opposition, which gives you a sense of how hard it was to oppose the Iraq war before it began:



Open thread March 18 to March 24, 2018

This is an open thread for the week March 18 to March 24.  Feel free to discuss all off-topic comments here.

So the World’s biggest brained woman was making the talk show rounds, promoting her new movie A Wrinkle in Time where she plays a good witch.  The movie is directed by Ava Duvernay,  the first black woman to direct a nine figure movie.  Oprah absolutely adores the smaller brained Ava:


Oprah’s appearance on James Corden’s show was odd, but I was impressed by Oprah knowing the exact materials her bathtub was carved out of when Cordon pursued this odd line of questioning.  Cordon’s big head was dwarfed by Winfrey’s.


Oprah also appeared on Ellen


Ellen even came to Oprah’s defense when she was attacked on twitter by the president

So high is Oprah’s status that she’s considered a viable presidential candidate despite zero politically experience.



Oprah will almost certainly never run for president, but she enjoyed the attention of so many people thinking she’d win.  And while Oprah recently claimed she doesn’t know enough to be president and her critics dismiss her as an overrated vapid celeb, I estimate she’d be the most intelligent President since Bill Clinton.

Indeed when Oprah was a teenager attending a working class high school in Nashville Tennessee, she won so many public speaking contests that she was invited to the white house to meet Nixon.  Nixon secretly believed the “Negro” was genetically less intelligent, but not even Nixon could know that this particular young girl had a cranium that dwarfed his own, and with a lot of luck and hard work, would become (at her peak) the World’s richest black and most influential woman.


Oprah in the Nixon era




New genetic IQ study


Lion of the Blogosphere writes:

There’s a study publixhed in Molecular Psychiatry.

The only major newspaper to write an article about it is The Telegraph and their paywall prevents me from reading what they have to say about it.

Currently, genetic testing can only reveals 7% of intelligence differences between people but I’m sure as research and methods in genetic sequencing and computer analysis improve, that will eventually become a much higher percent. And then we will also finally have proof that blacks are less intelligent than whites because of genes, and not discrimination or poverty.

I took a look at the study he’s citing and found a few relevant quotes:

Using our meta-analytic dataset on intelligence we carried out polygenic prediction into UK Biobank subsamples following their removal from the meta-analysis. Between 3.64 and 6.84% of phenotypic intelligence (as measured by the VNR Test in UK Biobank) could be predicted (Supplementary Table 10); the upper limit is an improvement of ~43% on the largest reported estimate to date, of 4.8%

So if I understand correctly, it sounds like 7% is the upper limit of some kind of margin of error, but seeing as the lower limit is still around 4%, the single best estimate remains around 5%.  However taking the square root of 5% tells us that genomic predictions correlate 0.22 with IQ, which is a weak (though not terrible) correlation.

However the good news for behavioral genetics is that the IQ test used in this study (the verbal-numerical reasoning test, abbreviated VNR) sounds shockingly bad:

The VNR test consists of 13 items, 6 verbal and 7 numerical questions, all of which are multiple choice. An individual’s verbal numerical reasoning score was measured by summing the number of correct responses given within a 2 minute time period.

Tests with only 13 items (scored right or wrong) almost never have high loadings on g (the general intelligence factor) because the reliability is too low.  My educated guess is that the VNR has a g loading of only 0.65.  Dividing the polygenetic predictive power (0.22) by the estimated g loading of the VNR (0.65), gives 0.34, which is a reasonable estimate of the genomic correlation with a hypothetically perfect measure of g.

A 0.34 correlation is still only moderate, but even modest correlations add up, because by the logic of regression, for every 1 standard deviation increase in the genomic score, general intelligence should increase 0.34 standard deviations on average (5 IQ points).  This is not trivial.  And I agree with Lion that predictive power will increase dramatically as the technology advances.

Of course none of this tells us anything about black-white IQ differences unless the races have been found to differ significantly on these genomic scores.

But of course as commenter Mug of Pee points out, all these predictions are in Western countries so the genotype-phenotype correlation could just be a local phenomenon and not reflect a truly independent genetic effect.  We have no idea whether these genomic scores would predict IQ in societies with radically different environments.

How did Oprah get so rich?


Many people do not understand how Oprah became so rich.  The confusion is understandable because I don’t think any other popular TV star has ever been officially declared a billionaire by Forbes (though Merv Griffin and Bill Cosby both made the Forbes 400).  According to Forbes, almost all of Oprah’s wealth was made from her syndicated talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show which ran from 1986 to 2011.  That wealth can be largely explained by four things: 1) ownership, 2) syndication, 3) longevity, and 4) timing


When Oprah first came to Chicago to take over a failing morning talk show, her agent was very popular and people would tell Oprah what a great guy he was.

This is where social IQ is extremely important to getting rich, because Oprah asked herself, why would three separate network people go out of their way to tell her how great her agent is?  Oprah shrewdly realized that if the agent was really advancing her interests, he wouldn’t be so popular with her network bosses, so she fired him.

Oprah then went hunting for the toughest agent in town.  She had heard that a Chicago lawyer named Jeffrey Jacobs was a “piranha” and settled on him.  Because Oprah’s ratings were so incredibly high, Jacobs was able to negotiate something better than money: ownership of the show, the production company, and syndication rights.  Because the network was not legally allowed to syndicate Oprah themselves, they agreed to give Oprah the syndication rights on the condition that ABC owned networks get first crack.


Social IQ may help you hire the right agent, but at least some math IQ is needed to understand the business.  Oprah’s biographer George Mair writes on page 103 of Oprah Winfrey: The Real Story:

The arithmetic of syndication is not that hard to understand.  Somebody owns a television show and rents it to stations that sell commercials in the show.  If it’s a dramatic show or comedy like Hill Street Blues or Cheers or The Cosby Show or I Love Lucy, it is largely timeless and may run forever.  The only caveat is that you need enough shows “in the can” to go into syndication, because while the show was originally shown once a week, in syndication, such shows are usually shown on independent stations every weekday in the same time slot…Syndicating Oprah is simpler because she does five shows a week…

On page 105-106 Mair writes (as of 1994):

Oprah will appear on approximately two hundred stations each week, which will pay King World between $100,000 and $200,000 per week for five shows.  The figure varies with the size of the audience in each market.  The $200,000 figure is quite high, and that is the amount the ABC station in Los Angeles, KABC-TV, has agreed to pay under the new contract, due to run through the 1994-95 season.  It was forced to pay this amount in the face of strong counterbid from the rival CBS station.  Similar competition occurred in other markets where CBS faced ABC because The Oprah Winfrey Show served as a lead for two long hours of local news.  As noted elsewhere, this programming sequence helps build local news ratings.

If you use the lower figure of $100,000 and multiply it by the approximately two hundred U.S. stations buying Oprah, you see how King World grosses $20 million a week on the Oprah Winfrey Show, against which the production cost of the show runs about $200,000 a week.  Thus, low-cost shows sold to hundreds of stations can make a fortune for the participants and the star.  Even if the program is not as highly rated as the Oprah Winfrey Show, it can make a lot of money, which is why everyone wants to get into the syndicated talk show business.


As early as 1989 TV Guide declared Oprah the richest woman on TV, though sadly they infamously put her head on Ann-Margaret’s body for this photo


The difference between syndicating a show and running it on a major network is the difference between retail and wholesale.  When TV stations are negotiating how much to pay for a single show (syndication) they will pay a lot more per show than when they are negotiating how much to pay for a whole network of shows, for the same reason you’ll pay a lot more (per movie) to rent individual movies than you’ll pay to stream a whole library of movies on Netflix.  This explains why Leno and Letterman (who were tied to networks) were never in the position to become billionaires.

The Oprah Winfrey Show is hardly the only show to strike syndication gold. Seinfeld reruns have generated  $3.1 billion just from repeating the same 180 shows over and over again, every weekday for 15 years in syndication.  Of this, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were paid $400 million each (before taxes).  Although Seinfeld is nowhere near a billionaire like Oprah, he actually made more money per episode just from syndication than Oprah ever did and that’s largely because sitcoms are able to rerun far more than talk shows can without losing their appeal.


The third key to Oprah’s incredible wealth is her staying power.  In a field where we’re always looking for the next hot thing, remaining the #1 talk show in syndication for virtually 25 straight years was a virtually unparalleled show business achievement.  This allowed the syndication dollars to accumulate year after year, and put Oprah in the position to negotiate increasingly favorable contracts with her distributer King World.  For example, before 1994, King World received 43% of the operating profit from the Oprah Winfrey show.  But when Oprah renegotiated her contract in 1994, their percentage gradually dropped to 25%


The fourth key to Oprah’s success was timing.  Her show’s popularity peaked before the rise of cable television and the internet.  Because the audience was much less fragmented in Oprah’s heyday, she was averaging 12 million U.S. viewers per day in the early 1990s, but by the time she ended in 2011 she was averaging six million.  And yet even with six million viewers, she remained far and away the highest rated talk show in syndication.  She was still the biggest fish in the pond, but the pond had shrunk dramatically and she was lucky to have dominated the medium at the peak of its power.  It’s interesting to ask whether we’ll ever see another Oprah, or perhaps the media has become too fragmented for any one personality to achieve such a large and loyal audience for so long.

What Chomsky thinks the first humans were thinking



Some readers have been very critical of the thesis presented by the book Why Only Us by Noam Chomsky and Robert C. Berwick.    Berwick jokes that Chomsky deserves only 5% of the credit for the book.

The thesis seems to be that language developed very recently and rapidly, in either a single, or a small number of genetic mutations.  Commenter Mug of Pee condemned this theory saying:

VIQ is heritable and varies continuously. the very lowest VIQ humans are no smarter than chimps at language.

imagine that the first anatomically modern humans were verbal idiots…. then the utility of language selected for higher and higher verbal ability, language evolved. and the same thing would happen in any large brained species with a vocal apparatus similar to that of humans. homo erection spoke, just really badly.

the idea that a single mutation produced the language faculty is 100% AUTISTIC.

First of all, humans with the linguistic ability of a chimp are probably always those with organic mental retardation, meaning disabilities caused by the overriding effect of single mutant genes or chromosomal abnormalities.  You never see anyone with familial retardation (i.e. low IQ caused by the extreme end of normal variation) who resembles a chimp linguistically.  This is important because it suggests that the difference between man and ape may not be “continuous” as Mug of Pee suggests, but discrete.

In other words, what Chomsky and Berwick are arguing is that prior to about 175 kya or so (give or take perhaps 125,000 years), humans not only had less verbal ability, but a different kind of verbal ability.  In other words they seem to think language is almost a binary ability.  You either have it or you don’t.

Specifically, if we cloned a human from 175,000 years ago, and taught them English, they could acquire a vocabulary almost as big as ours, but if we said to them: “bird ate worm”, they might picture this in their mind:

In other words, they would understand all the words of the sentence, but they would forever be separate concepts.  They would never be able to see the big picture.

By contrast, after the genetic mutation(s) occurred, when you say “bird ate worm” they would picture this in their mind:


The difference between these two interpretations is what Chomsky calls “merge”, the ability to glue different concepts together to form a bigger concept.  And then once you merge multiple concepts into one, you can then merge the multifaceted concepts themselves together to create an even more complex thought “bird ate worm at night” giving rise to almost infinite levels of creativity.

If I understand Chomsky and Berwick’s thesis correctly, this capacity to merge ideas is what makes human verbal ability not just quantitatively different from pre-human communication, but qualitatively different too.

Of course all this is based in part on the somewhat discredited idea of “the great leap forward”, the notion that cultural progress in ancestral humans occurred in a sudden largely upper paleolithic explosion, rather than a gradual transition over millions of years.  More and more scientists believe in gradualism, leaving Chomsky and Berwick in the minority.

But this “merge” ability Chomsky describes extends beyond just language.  According to Berwick, humans are the only animal that makes multifaceted tools, for example a pencil with an eraser at the end.  With one side you write and with the other side, you correct mistakes.  Apparently the two men believe such tools were impossible to conceive before “merge” mutated into existence.


Here’s Chomsky talking about “merge”:




How old is language? More thoughts from Noam Chomsky


In the below video Noam Chomsky talks again about when language likely emerged.  He notes that anatomically modern humans (AMH) are about 200,000 years old and claims there’s no evidence of symbolic behavior predating AMH.

He then claims that the San split-off from other AMH about 150 kya, and since they have language, Chomsky seems to be hinting that language emerged sometime between 200 kya and 150 kya.  Perhaps 175 kya is a good guess.

There are a few potential challenges to Chomsky’s argument:

  1. Some scientists are now suggesting AMH might be 325,000 years old, not 200,000 years old.
  2. According to Greg Cochran, the split between Bantu and African pygmies was 300 kya, and since both these groups have language, this suggests language must be at least 300,000 years old (unless gene flow since the split explains why both groups have it). Although Peter Frost disagrees with Cochran.
  3. An engraving likely made by Neanderthals found in a cave in Gibraltar (and more recently, representational cave drawings of animals) implies AMH may not have been the only species capable of symbolic behavior. If Neanderthals also had this ability it suggests they may have inherited it from the common ancestor they share with us, implying symbolic behavior (and thus language) may be at least 700,000 years old.

Noam Chomsky thinks language is only about 100,000 years old


We’ve talked a lot on this blog about Noam Chomsky, and also about Richard Klein, a scientist who argued that a single brain mutation about 50 kya sparked behavioral modernity (the rise of art, symbolism, and complex tools).

But what we haven’t talked about, is that Noam Chomsky essentially endorses Klein’s theory, only Chomsky is much more specific: he believes the genetic mutation was the capacity for language.

While a lot of comments in the comment section blather on about Chomsky’s political theories, these same comments are mum when it comes to Chomsky’s linguistic theories.  Why?  Because the latter theory is much more abstract and people lack the cognitive ability to discuss it.

Chomsky believes in part that before about 100,000 years ago, humans could only understand linear language, but because of a mutation after 100,000 years ago, we suddenly acquired an ability to arrange words in stacked triangles, and thus think hierarchically, so adverbs could modify verbs that were linearly far away in a sentence.  So as Chomsky’s co-author Robert C. Berwick likes to say:

“Instinctively, birds that swim, can fly”

Instinctively refers to the ability to fly, not the ability to swim, even though linearly, the former verb is closer.  So if Chomsky and Berwick are right, if we cloned someone from 100,000 years ago and raised them in the best modern schools today, they would still not be able to understand this sentence because their brains were only wired to process linear, non-hierarchical language.

Chomsky cites the complete lack of symbolism in the archeological record prior to 100,000 years ago as evidence that there was no language.

In Chomsky’s view, language mutated in the brain of a single African about 100 kya, but because he or she was the first to possess language, she had no one to talk to and just talked to herself.

But perhaps once she had kids who shared her capacity for language, the entire family could speak among themselves and plan strategies that allowed her to exploit the environment in ways their pre-language contemporaries could not, causing the language mutation to spread rapidly.

Many years ago some scientists decided to make a monkey out of Chomsky, literally.  They raised a chimp as though it were human, and named the Chimp “Nim Chimpsky” and tried to teach it human language.

“The experiment was a total failure” gloated Chomsky.  Apparently, the chimp could only string words together linearly, but lacked the hierarchical processing for true language.

A more recent challenge to Chomsky’s language theory is the claim that Neanderthals had language.  Chomsky finds it completely unconvincing and wonders, if Neanderthals had language, why didn’t they use it?  Chomsky’s analogy: It would be like a wild species bird not knowing it could fly until a bunch of biologists tossed them in the air and said “hey you guys can fly!”


For a more in depth discussion about Chomsky’s views, see this lecture by his co-author Robert Berwick:

The beautiful average theory by Zeitgeisterfahrer

[NOTE FROM PUMPKIN PERSON: The following is a guest article by Zeitgeisterfahrer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pumpkin Person.   PLEASE PLACE ALL OFF-TOPIC COMMENTS HERE.  THEY WILL NOT BE POSTED IN THIS THREAD]

I discovered this image that shows the average faces of of many countries.


The average face of each country looks much better than a random person
from that country. If I had to rate the attractivity of 100 people in 100 rounds against the country’s average face, the the latter would likely win in most cases.

Averageness equals attractivity.
Attractive people are average.
Attractive people represent the average of a country or race.
Their behavior and IQ are more average and their standard deviation is smaller.

What is the reason why we prefer beautiful people?
Natural selection!

We prefer beautiful people because we are the descendents of people who prefered attractive (who we now consider attractive) people and mated with them or were beautiful themselves.
They had more offspring and their offspring prefered people with similar faces.
Those who didn’t prefer them had less offspring.

Unattractive people don’t resemble our ancestors that much.
Their package wasn’t very successful and people who considered them okay or attractive were sorted out.
That’s why we have a preference for some faces and and an aversion to other faces.

On the bell curve, average people are the most numerous.
If average people represent the average of a race and averageness equals attractivity, attrative people represent their race in IQ, body, face and behaviour.

Attractive people are the best representation of our ancestors. Their body and mind shows us, how the abilities or our ancestors were and
how and if we diverge from them.

The most attractive people are the mean of the bell curve of our ancestors.

They are less likely to be very dumb or very smart.

They show us how our generation compares to them.

Especially interesting is the comparison of a whole country vs a selection of attractive people.

According to Satoshi Kanazawa, the average IQ of attractive people (american) is 104,23.
The IQ for men is 105 and for women it’s 103,64.
I don’t know if it’s based on a mean of 100 or 98 (american IQ).

According to my theory, americans are 4-6 points less intelligent than their ancestors.

Selection of course has an effect on the perception of attractivity. That means attractive people are a bit less smart than our ancestors,
because the people who are less average and who have more offspring become more average over time.

To get the most representive IQ our our ancestors, you have to first choose a bunch of attractive people.
But we won’t measure their IQ. They will now choose among a new list of attractive people.
The average IQ of the latter group is the best represenation of the intelligence of our ancestors.

If beautiful people in a society have an above average IQ, that means the society is dysgenic and selects for less intelligent people.

If beautiful people in a society have a below average IQ, that means the society is eugenic and selects for more intelligent people.

It’s highly likely that attractive people are smarter in all western countries, which means that we have become more stupid.