Scrabble Spells Doom for the Racial Hypothesis of Intelligence

It turns out that men dominate the high-IQ majors in college.

In college majors with the greatest average IQ scores, males dominate

In college majors with the greatest average IQ scores, males dominate

Now, although I did not make up the data represented here, they are contested; certainly any conclusion drawn from them is. For example, in 2005 similar data was mentioned by the then president of Harvard University, Larry Summers, a leading economist who had served at Cabinet level in both the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Administrations. Summers himself complained, after having resigned from his position at Harvard, in part because of the uproar regarding his assertion that few women excel in math,

“There is a great deal of absurd political correctness. Now, I’m somebody who believes very strongly in diversity, who resists racism in all of its many incarnations, who thinks that there is a great deal that’s unjust in American society that needs to be combated, but it seems to be that there is a kind of creeping totalitarianism in terms of what kind of ideas are acceptable and are debatable on college campuses.”

but not a few reasonable people have dismissed the purported disadvantage women have in outstanding math achievement — here is one example.

Similarly, black American students (according to the, to my way of thinking, very strange categorization used today) have a persistent lower level of scores on lots of tests of intellectual ability.  Below we see a study of IQ of the general population (not just students) during the 1980-1990 decade:


an illustration I provide solely as illustrative of many others which could have been used.  Back in the 1970s this country had, among the public intellectuals, quite a heated debate about these results.  Whether or not Mr Summers suffered a job loss because of his unfashionably raising the issue of sexually-distributed ability in mathematics and science, it is true that discussion of racial intelligence differences is definitely discouraged.  Scientific American, a couple of years ago, asked whether such discussion should be banned altogether.

I am not crying for Larry Summers to get fair treatment.  He lost the confidence of the faculty of the university which he led, and there were issues other than his wondering whether women had inherited math ability or not.  What I’d like to do here is to ask whether we cannot pick up the banner of inquiry, in some sense just because it is so much of a Kiss of Death politically.  I’m already, as I’ve noted before, an exile from the Green Party, which is my political registration.  I have nothing to lose (in the words, directed toward black folk, of the avowed fascist nominee of the Republican Party this year).

A writer I don’t know much about, one Chanda Chisala, is doing that.

The first order of business is to address the bias of IQ tests, which are culture-based and suffer from the Flynn effect (namely the scores depend a lot on when they are administered; for some unknown reason scores on IQ tests tend to increase over time). Chisala makes use of the world of competitive gaming, focussing first on the game of Scrabble. Like chess and checkers, the game has a fixed, easy-to-learn set of rules, and an international population of players who compete seriously, winning prizes and money for excellent play.

Begin then to look at the record of winners of national and international Scrabble competition: how many of them are female?

In Chisala’s own words,

Since many mainstream cognitive psychologists tell us that white women (like white men) have much higher tested intelligence than blacks, whether you measure this as “general intelligence” or you just limit it to visuospatial intelligence or mathematical ability, we should expect white women to perform better than black men in any activity that depends on these abilities (since a slight deficiency in such abilities is also the reason white women perform lower than white men, according to the same hereditarians). What we have in Scrabble is an emphatic refutation of this hereditarian expectation of Black cognitive under-performance, especially when the full picture of African achievement in such mental games is examined, as I attempt to do in this article.

The answer is, it hovers around one in twenty.

Although there are more women than men who play Scrabble, the game is dominated more and more by men as you go higher in level of expertise. Girls in schools are initially attracted to the game because they have a strong ability in spelling. Spelling bee contests have been won more by girls than boys (46 to 41, respectively, as of 2013). Although girls do well in school Scrabble, the highest awards even at that level go to boys, and this disparity continues all the way to adult club level play, especially the World Championship level.

Women make up as high as 45% of qualifiers to the North American Scrabble championships. This just so happens to be the same gender distribution for majoring in mathematics itself in the US. But in the division of the highest rated players, there are only about 5% women, a pattern that is similar to gender imbalance as you go higher in mathematical achievement.

These assertions by Chisala are easily checked, although I admit I haven’t done so. What I’d like to emphasize is the innovation I notice — that we’re looking at a commonly available test of conceptual ability, ability to rapidly and accurately interchange letters in many different orders to obtain meaningful words, and not a highly unusual (and frequently off-putting) test environment.

From my own knowledge I can point out that group theory, which permutes the order and the action of operations of generalized variables, is frequently advocated as the basis of all mathematics. Felix Klein announced the idea in the Erlanger Program of 1872, and the standard model of sub-atomic particles rests upon just such foundations.

Going back to Scrabble, Chisala’s very next paragraph states

I also looked at the current (2016) WESPA ratings of the top elite players in the world and could identify only 5 names that were clearly female out of the top 100 players, which is only a bit better than chess (there were 2 female chess players in the top 100 in 2015, including the retired Judit Polgar; at the time of this writing in 2016, there is zero), despite the much larger participation of women in Scrabble. No woman has yet won the World Championship of Scrabble, one woman has won the highest award in mathematics (the Field’s Medal) and one woman has won the North American Scrabble championship (the late Rita Norr, a computer scientist, in 1987).

This is consistent with the usual picture painted by the many, many IQ tests: white men on top, white women below that. But . . . the problem with that picture is, black Africans. In international competition, white men are regularly beaten by black African men. Of the current top Scrabble players, in the English language, although 139 are from Great Britain and 71 from the United States, once we look at the top 100 players, Nigeria, with only 51 players in all among the highest rated, has 24 in the top 100 as compared with 19 for the U.S. and only 11 for Great Britain. this, as Chisala indicates, despite the problems which arise in getting visa permits for black African competitors.

2016 French World Championships final standings. Source: French Wikipedia

Rang Score
1 Abib ALABI 43 Côte d’Ivoire
2 Gildas Ingrid MADELA 43 Gabon
3 Ahmed SANOKO 41 Côte d’Ivoire
4 Nigel RICHARDS 41 Nouvelle-Zélande
5 Babacar MBENGUE 40 Sénégal
6 Julien AFFATON 39 Bénin
7 Benjamin VALOUR 39 France
8 Emile AGBANGLASSI 39 Bénin
8 Dimitri FOUAFOUA 39 Gabon
9 Yao Luc KOFFI 39 Côte d’Ivoire

(I apologize for my computer illiteracy in not getting th table to look right)

Commenting on the 2015 results (which approximate, from the point of view of black African domination, those shown for 2016), Chisala, himself a native of Zambia, notes:

A look at Gabon’s demographics makes the Scrabble achievement of Gabon impossible to explain under the present racial hypothesis.

Gabon has a population of 1.7 million and a reported national IQ of 64.

If the world champion needs an IQ of just 140 (it should probably be higher than that, given the level of gender disparity at the very top), then there is statistically no one in Gabon who should ever come anywhere close to the world championship. Three made it to the top 10 in 2015.

Ivory Coast could be substituted for Gabon for the year 2016.

In the article to which I have provided a link, Chisals examines checkers and chess as well, discusses the performance of Asians and people of Jewish background, as well as other aspects of the question before us.   He concludes

The global racial hypothesis is therefore not just contradicted by these findings, it is logically refuted. Under this hypothesis, there should not be even one single cognitive field where the top blacks are equal or more over-represented than the top whites, especially when white participation in such fields is elite enough to result in a wide gender performance gap in favor of males even with relatively high numbers of female participants.

UPDATE 5 November 2016: Interested readers can consult Mr Chisala’s (to me, not very persuasive) attempt to make sense of all of this, here.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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