Refuting Richard Lynn's Italian "IQ" Study

September 13, 2010

Controversial psychologist Richard Lynn, who looks at IQ and its correlates, has published a study claiming to show regional (North-South) differences in intelligence within Italy, which he attempts to correlate with achievement and attribute to admixture. The guy's been called just about every name in the book, and he can now add Padanian Nordicist to that list.

Intelligence


Generally speaking, Lynn is not to be trusted. He's been caught numerous times falsifying and manipulating data to fit his conclusions (e.g. here, here, here, here, here and here), and it looks like he's up to his old tricks again.

This time around, he's not even using actual IQ data, but the proxy of scores on reading, math and science tests administered to 15-year-olds (PISA 2006). So he's attempting to quantify innate general intelligence by looking at the academic performance of school kids, a measure that to a large extent involves learned knowledge and other factors. Indeed, while some researchers report a strong correlation between general intelligence and educational attainment, one of Lynn's own sources, Deary et al. (2007), addressing two of his other sources, suggests that caution should be exercised when attempting to equate the two:

There are various possible causes of the cognitive ability-educational achievement association. Bartels et al. (2002b) found a strong genetic correlation between cognitive ability (measured at 5, 7, 10, and 12 years) and educational achievement at age 12. In an overview, Petrill and Wilkerson (2000) concluded that genetics and shared and non-shared environmental factors all influence intelligence and education, with genetics being important in the correlation between them, and non-shared environment being important in discrepancies between intelligence and educational attainments.

Whereas the correlations indicate that around 50% to 60% of the variance in GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] examination points score can be statistically explained by the prior g [general intelligence] factor, by the same token a large proportion of the variance is not accounted for by g. Some of the remaining variance in GCSE scores will be measurement error, but some will be systematic. Thus, non-g factors have a substantial impact on educational attainment. These may include: school attendance and engagement; pupils' personality traits, motivation and effort; the extent of parental support; and the provision of appropriate learning experiences, teaching quality, school ethos, and structure among other possible factors (Petrides, Chamorro-Premuzic, Frederickson, & Furnham, 2005; Strand, 2003).

But Lynn already knows the pitfalls of his approach. Finland had the highest score in Europe on the 2006 PISA tests, and using his method leads to a calculated IQ of 107, yet he reports Finns' IQ as being just 97. Romanians' PISA score is near the very bottom of Europe, leading to an estimate of 85, though their measured IQ is in fact 94 according to Lynn, just three points lower than that of Finns. With discrepancies like that, there's absolutely no reason to trust his calculated IQs of around 100 and 90 for Northern and Southern Italians. Clearly, PISA scores are not a good substitute for IQ.

Then, to try to prove that disparities in intelligence are long-standing, and therefore genetically based, he uses literacy as another (questionable) proxy for IQ. But whereas for other correlates like stature and infant mortality he includes data from the past and present to show that the North-South gap has remained fairly stable, for literacy he only includes data from 1880, when it was extremely large (55% vs. 20%, on average). Obviously, he wants to hide the fact that the gap has been closing steadily since then, and by the 21st century, literacy among Italians under the age of sixty-five was 99.7% in the North and 99% in the South (Istat 2001).

Achievement


Lynn goes on to attempt to correlate his fake IQs with achievement. The primary measure he uses is per capita income, which is double in the North what it is in the South. His source is the Italian Statistical Office, but he should be aware that figures for the South's economic performance are greatly underestimated because the official statistics fail to take into account a large underground economy there, according to Burnett and Vaccara (1999):

But the third factor, somewhat alleviating the second, is the existence of a far vaster private sector than ever shows up in the economic statistics. The size of the lavoro nero sector and the black market in the South clearly exceeds that of any other EU region.... In Calabria, with its dire employment figures, 84 percent of the families own their own home. What such anomalies must mean is that real income in Calabria is far higher than what is "on the books." Many among the vast numbers of officially unemployed are, in fact, partly or fully employed. They are earning no social benefits, but they are earning the daily lire that keep their families afloat. [...] A very large part of the South's hidden labor is made up of entrepreneurs, sometimes also employing black labor, and existing themselves outside official recognition, taxation, protection, control, or counting. A recent analysis concludes that "there exists in several zones of the Mezzogiorno [Southern Italy] a whole fabric of small and very small businesses that escape every census, but that work and make profits, share among themselves a serious level of production, export to other regions [of Italy] and abroad." [...] This massive sector skews all the statistics. It means that the GDP for the Italian South (and for Italy as a whole) is far from accurate. And the unemployment figures do not reflect reality.

Then, with the same goal of establishing a pattern that extends far back in time, he also looks at historical achievement, citing Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment. But here again he plays fast and loose with the data. He adds up Murray's "significant figures" for Italy from 1400-1950 and divides them into "North", "Center" and "South" based on their origins. Almost all of them (187 out of 236) come from the "North". However, he explains that he uses the 42nd and 41st lines of latitude as borders, which are, respectively, just north of Rome and just north of Naples. So more than half of the country is put into the "North" category, while the "Center" gets flattened down and pushed into the territory of the "South" (click here to see what that looks like). This is a shameless and transparent ploy by Lynn to hugely inflate the number of significant figures from the "North" and reduce the number elsewhere in the country.

But perhaps even worse, he ignores the main finding of Murray's book, which is that achievement has been concentrated in just a few places, and Southern Italy is but one of many "low-achievement" areas throughout Europe, along with some of the northernmost regions in Italy:


As you can see — and as Murray points out in his book — the highest ranking region is Tuscany, which would normally be considered part of Central Italy. Ironically, Lynn doesn't even have PISA/IQ data for Tuscany, though its 1880 literacy rate isn't particularly high. So he's basically attributing the unique genius of that region to the brainpower of regions that have not produced the same level of genius.

Admixture


Finally, Lynn offers his "explanation" for the disparities in fake IQ, which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be admixture from the Middle East and North Africa, where (according to him) IQs are in the range of 80-84. As you might expect from someone with an agenda and little knowledge of genetics, he references a lot of old studies that use single or small numbers of loci and don't directly address the question of admixture. One of them has "Neolithic demic diffusion in Europe" in its title, yet he stupidly follows the citation with references to historical groups like Phoenicians and Arabs.

Recent genome-wide studies have been able to detect and quantify admixture like never before. Li et al. (2008), using more than 600,000 autosomal SNPs, identify seven global population clusters, including European, Middle Eastern and Central/South Asian. Contrary to Lynn's claims, it's actually the overachieving Tuscans who have a small amount of non-European admixture and not the underachieving Sardinians:


López Herráez et al. (2009) typed the same samples at close to 1 million SNPs and analyzed them in a Western Eurasian context, identifying a number of subclusters. This time, all of the European samples show some minor admixture. Among the Italians, Tuscany still has the most, and Sardinia has a bit too, but so does Lombardy (Bergamo), which is even farther north:


Conclusion


The bottom line is, we don't know the average IQs for different regions in Italy, which is why Richard Lynn had to resort to making them up. And while Southern Italians are likely to be a few points lower than Northern Italians — as the Irish and Scottish are a few points lower than the English — there's absolutely no reason to believe that North and South would be separated at their extremes by almost a full standard deviation. Lynn certainly hasn't proven anything of the kind with this ridiculous study, nor has he provided any valid explanations for such a disparity.

Updates


Since I wrote this article, a number of studies have been published that refute Lynn and confirm what I've said:


---------------
Richard Lynn. "In Italy, north-south differences in IQ predict differences in income, education, infant mortality, stature, and literacy". Intelligence, 2010.

13 comments

Mark Wethman said...

Jason Malloy of GNXP mentioned over at Inductivist that there are Italian-language studies using IQ tests that support Lynn's thesis, though he didn't say whether they support Lynn's thesis as to the size of the gap or just the existence of *a* gap.

I'm Sicilian, btw, so I have no ideological investment in southern Italian being less intelligent than norther ones. :)

Mark Wethman said...

Oooo forgive the typos in my post... Particularly unfortunate given the issue at hand is the alleged intellectual shortcomings of my people!

FWIW, I didn't take time to proofread because I'm in the middle of a class in Family Law at a top 30 law school!

There, damage undone.

Anonymous said...

A few points:

- while Lynn may have been sloppy in some of his calculations, with some of his African date possibly all wrong (check out Jelte Wicherts's papers on this), none of these criticisms refute his main points, i.e. that IQ varies by race and even by sub-race across the world, and that national IQ is highly correlated with many social and economic outcomes (and you're actually citing Leon Kamin as a source -- LOL, who's next, Trofim Lysenko?)

- Dienekes is horribly biased himself -- for example, in order to prove that Greek IQ is on the same level as that of Western Europe, he cites Buj's data which anyone can see is total garbage (e.g. SDs higher than 30 IQ points!), and a study by Demetriou et al. on Greek and Chinese children which Dienekes represents as if they had found that Greeks have the same average IQ as Chinese by omitting the fact the Greek sample (and probably the Chinese one too) was an elite one (IIRC, all of the kids in the sample had at least one university-educated parent, whereas Wiki says that only 15 percent of all Greeks are university-educated)

- Finland's national IQ is 99 in Lynn's newer data based on more sources

- controlling for the larger underground economy in Southern Italy using your own data from yesterday does little to close the GDP gap between North and South (North has a large underground economy, too)

- Lynn's IQ data is so highly correlated with nationally representative school achievement studies like TIMMS and PISA (see Rindermann's work on this) that they must measure the same thing; it makes no sense to say that Lynn's data are "fake" (this of course does not mean that either Lynn's data or TIMMS or PISA reflect genetic influences to the extent that Lynn claims)

Italianthro said...

>>> Jason Malloy of GNXP mentioned over at Inductivist that there are Italian-language studies using IQ tests that support Lynn's thesis

Apparently, that guy is always claiming he has evidence that he doesn't. I don't believe for a second that there's published data out there that Lynn and his Italian critics aren't aware of, but that a nobody like Molloy is.

Italianthro said...

>>> Lynn may have been sloppy in some of his calculations, with some of his African date possibly all wrong

Exactly. Stop right there.

>>> (and you're actually citing Leon Kamin as a source -- LOL, who's next, Trofim Lysenko?)

You're actually defending Richard Lynn -- LOL, who's next, Josef Mengele?

>>> Buj's data which anyone can see is total garbage

It's a hell of a lot better than Lynn's. And that's the only comparative study of European IQs we've got.

>>> by omitting the fact the Greek sample (and probably the Chinese one too) was an elite one

If both groups are "elites" then it's a fair comparison.

>>> Finland's national IQ is 99 in Lynn's newer data based on more sources

Still way off.

>>> North has a large underground economy, too

Not nearly as large as the South's.

>>> it makes no sense to say that Lynn's data are "fake"

They're not real IQ scores. Hence, they're fake.

Anonymous said...

>> Lynn may have been sloppy in some of his calculations, with some of his African date possibly all wrong

Exactly. Stop right there
.

No. In science, it's completely normal that older conclusions get revised and improved by new research. If you cannot handle that, you'd better turn to religion.

Even if some of Lynn's Africa data are wrong, this does not in any way invalidate his larger conclusions. He relies on a huge amount of data from numerous sources, so refuting this or that detail of this large body of data means nothing. Wicherts's criticisms of Lynn's African data have no bearing on Lynn's European data, for example.

You're actually defending Richard Lynn -- LOL, who's next, Josef Mengele?

The fact that you would cite a far-left ideologue like Kamin, who has made no positive contributions to intelligence research, suggests that you know little of psychometrics and that you are more driven by ideology. In contrast to Kamin, Lynn has been widely published in top intelligence research journals, and is an important, even if controversial, scientist in his field. For example, the now universally accepted fact that East Asians tend to have higher IQs than whites was established by Lynn's research.

It's a hell of a lot better than Lynn's. And that's the only comparative study of European IQs we've got.

Do you know what the samples were like in Buj's study? Do you know what the SDs were like? If you know these facts, and also know at least something about IQ testing, you will agree that Buj's study is worthless.

This is what Rindermann said of Buj:

But the data of Vinko D. Buj seem not to be ideal for differences within Europe
because these data yielded correlations with student assessment studies of only around
r=-.10 to .07. In contrast, the mean IQs of the Lynn & Vanhanen collection (including
Buj) correlated with student assessment studies within Europe at r=.61 (N=31; grade),
r=.71 (N=29; age) and r=.67 (N=35; student assessment sum, all corrected)
.

In other words, Buj's data utterly fail this test of convergent validity, whereas Lynn's pass it with flying colors.


>>> by omitting the fact the Greek sample (and probably the Chinese one too) was an elite one

If both groups are "elites" then it's a fair comparison
.

Of course it isn't. Firstly, Dienekes did not mention at all that they were elite samples. Secondly, the aim of the study was to study the factor structure of IQ tests in different populations, not to compare national IQs. Therefore, there was no attempt to match the Chinese and Greek subjects for SES or other characteristics.


>>> Finland's national IQ is 99 in Lynn's newer data based on more sources

Still way off
.

If we also control for the fact that most European countries have a much larger share of immigrants, particularly third-worlders, in those cohorts that are tested in PISA than Finland, it's much closer. I'm not saying that studies like PISA can be treated as out and out IQ studies, but nevertheless they clearly tap into the same abilities and skills.

>>> it makes no sense to say that Lynn's data are "fake"

They're not real IQ scores. Hence, they're fake
.

They're real IQ scores obtained in real IQ tests. They are erroneous to some extent just as all measurements all, but that does mean that they're "fake", no matter how much that hurts your ego.

Mark Wethman said...

"Apparently, that guy is always claiming he has evidence that he doesn't. I don't believe for a second that there's published data out there that Lynn and his Italian critics aren't aware of, but that a nobody like Molloy is."

Well, Malloy has impressed me with his knowledge of these issues. He often makes promises to, or suggests that he will do blog posts which he never actually does, but given the studies he seems to have at his fingertips, I think it's more that he just doesn't have the time than that he is pretending to have information he doesn't.

Regarding southern Italian IQ, it might also be helpful to point out that Italian-Americans, who mostly hail from the south (I believe the north had a lot of emigrants, but they went elsewhere) have much higher educational achievements and more socio-economic success than one would expect for a group with an average IQ of 90.

Italianthro said...

>>> Even if some of Lynn's Africa data are wrong, this does not in any way invalidate his larger conclusions. He relies on a huge amount of data from numerous sources, so refuting this or that detail of this large body of data means nothing. Wicherts's criticisms of Lynn's African data have no bearing on Lynn's European data, for example.

Wicherts et al. don't merely criticize Lynn's data (most of which is wrong or, worse, falsified). They criticize his entire methodology as being unsystematic.

>>> The fact that you would cite a far-left ideologue like Kamin

And Lynn is a far-right ideologue. You're mocking me for citing a "communist" while you're defending a "fascist". And Kamin is just one of the multitude of people critical of Lynn's "scholarship".

>>> This is what Rindermann said of Buj:

Please. His criticism is based on the fact that Buj's real IQ data doesn't match students' educational attainment or Lynn's massaged data.

>>> Firstly, Dienekes...

I haven't read that study, and I didn't write the article you went on an off-topic rant about. Take it up with Dienekes elsewhere. But my money's on him.

>>> I'm not saying that studies like PISA can be treated as out and out IQ studies

Then why are you arguing with me about it?

>>> They're real IQ scores obtained in real IQ tests.

I'm talking about his "calculated" PISA figures. Those are most certainly not real IQ scores.

Italianthro said...

>>> He often makes promises to, or suggests that he will do blog posts which he never actually does, but given the studies he seems to have at his fingertips, I think it's more that he just doesn't have the time than that he is pretending to have information he doesn't.

Then why doesn't he just cite the source(s), especially when he's called out on it?

Mark Wethman said...

Italiananthro,

Well, I can't answer, that of course.

Anyway, do you plan to do any posts on the Italian diaspora?

Anonymous said...

Bah, i don't understand why you and CrimsonGuard always pick up my fellow tuscans to hail your claims.
You are like Lynn but you didn't realize yet.
You would like to take down tuscans claiming they are middleasterns(LOL)to make southern italians better than they are or more "italians" as i have seen.
Tuscans may have some anatolian imprint(i would like to know who the tuscans tested are by the way)but in 23andme are always ahead southern Italians and stuck where they should be, they almost never cluster "east" as many southern Italians do.
That Crimsonguard also spoke about improbable settlements of jews in Tuscany during renaissance...pathetic....
He would like Sicily to be more western than Tuscany but he forgot the history of Sicily and the history of Tuscany(and above all he forgot genetic tests).

Italianthro said...

Stop spamming my blogs. You already posted your nonsense on the other one, and I already responded.

Kingtheropod king said...

Great study analysis. I would also like to add some refuting information myself. Lynn claims that the southern Italian IQ is only around 90, which off course is not based on actual IQ tests. However, if you look at the IQ test scores for Malta, the IQ for Maltese people is 97 which is the same as Scots, and about on par with the rest of Europe ~99 average. DNA studies have shown that Maltese people are identical to Sicilians, so I would think if Malta IQ is 97, so should southern Italy.