Cognitive psychology paper getting slammed for being racist

This forum made possible through the generous support of SDN members, donors, and sponsors. Thank you.

futureapppsy2

Assistant professor
Volunteer Staff
Lifetime Donor
15+ Year Member
Joined
Dec 25, 2008
Messages
7,696
Reaction score
6,460
And rightfully so, IMO. The author uses random anecdotes from his various vacations over the years (including one where he's pretty clearly getting fleeced by a taxi driver but doesn't seem to realize it at all) to conclude that people in developing countries really are just that dumb. I'm baffled as to how this got published.

Article here: Surprisingly low results from studies on cognitive ability in developing countries: are the results credible? - Discover Education.

Twitter thread originally calling out the paper here:

Members don't see this ad.
 
Now I’m questioning if the author himself is intellectually impaired because a lot of what he described could’ve been easily figured out by anybody with half a brain lol. Rather than accept the fact that he got fleeced by people he views as lesser than him, he is reaching far into the stratosphere and overcompensating with “these poor sweet dumb foreigners”. In true white supremacist fashion. It’s way too early and my brain is still too asleep to figure out what Freudian defense mechanism this is.

Springer clearly published this for clout and attention, and to get their name in the press. The comments in the Twitter thread are hoot and a half though.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 4 users
The examples with the taxi driver are outright comical to read when considered as provided "evidence" for lower cognitive ability/functioning. Basically means that every stereotypical man who's ever said, "I don't need to stop for directions, I'll just keep driving and will figure out where I am!" is cognitively deficient.

He also should probably talk to the average American about their ideas on how to best manage their health.
 
Members don't see this ad :)
An open access journal with no impact factor that I could find published something they shouldn't have. I am just shocked by this. Utterly shocked. </sarcasm>.

Some of the arguments made are just genuinely bizarre and non-sensical. Like, I really have no earthly idea how some of the examples prove or disprove his point - or in some cases even have to do with the topic at hand. Its more like someone repurposed Grandpa Simpson's google reviews of his trip to Ecuador into a Breitbart editorial than an academic article. "The ATMs didn't work and it was noisy. Everyone but me was dumb." OK, sir - is there someone traveling with you who can help you? Let's see if we can find the tour group you wandered off from...

And..................the author has an H-index of 40 and has been cited over 7000 times. Once again proving to me that you don't have to be good at science to become a successful scientist.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
  • Haha
Reactions: 10 users
Ughhh, things like this make our field look like a joke
 
Ughhh, things like this make our field look like a joke

Meh, every field has its quacks. We could pick any specialty and find someone who fits a contrarian niche, publishing in garbage journals. Though, we do probably have a higher tolerance for political junk across the spectrum and woo.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
To me this is proof that getting published and being a professor is not necessarily correlated with being smarter than a cab driver. I already suspected that but it is great to see some solid evidence to support my observations.
On a more relevant note, tests are culturally biased and impacted by educational effects. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful tools for many things but cross-cultural comparisons would not be one of them.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
If this paper was a car on the road:

1) Basic correlation study on some established data sets- standard academic stuff. Normal person driving in the right lane of a highway.
2) Using nationality and race instead of ethnicity-Driver cracks open a beer.
3) Using first person narratives about your own travels- This is where the paper decided to take a hard left turn across 8 lanes of traffic at 90mph without using a blinker.
4) Bringing up political and ideological stuff- This is where the paper starts to smoke meth while driving the wrong way on the highway.
5) Speculation about public political figure- This is where the driver starts shooting at cops


But this author has some chutzpah. His letter to Intelligence basically says, "There are differences in IQ, I don't care if you don't like it.". Unusual stance for a German.
 
  • Like
  • Haha
Reactions: 9 users
This is as bad as those evo psych folks who extrapolate tiny population-level differences in cognitive differences in male vs. females (as I understand it, a very slight advantage, on average, toward males for spatial awareness and toward females for verbal ability, but with lots of nuance since brains aren't exactly demarcated cleanly based on chromosomal sex) and make all these grand, cringeworthy transphobic or incel-ish claims. From a purely methodological standpoint, it's even worse since it's literally just "I heard this dude in a taxi say some &^%$."
 
Last edited:
This is as bad as those evo psych folks who extrapolate tiny population-level differences in cognitive differences in male vs. females (as I understand it, a very slight advantage, on average, toward males for spatial awareness and toward females for verbal ability, but with lots of nuance since brains aren't exactly demarcated cleanly based on chromosomal sex) and make all these grand, cringeworthy transphobic or incel-ish claims. From a purely methodological standpoint, it's even worse since it's literally just "I heard this dude in a taxi say some &^%$."

Slight may be underplaying it a bit. When it comes to things like verbal memory, the gender differences are a half to full standard deviation, depending on which aspect we are measuring. So, while there is more overlap than difference, the differences are still sizable enough to matter in certain contexts.
 
Slight may be underplaying it a bit. When it comes to things like verbal memory, the gender differences are a half to full standard deviation, depending on which aspect we are measuring. So, while there is more overlap than difference, the differences are still sizable enough to matter in certain contexts.
This is well outside my purview, so I have to defer to more knowledge folks (yourself included). I just think it's icky when folks use these findings to make weird sexist and transphobic arguments as if brains are somehow inherently gendered/cleanly dimorphic.
 
This is well outside my purview, so I have to defer to more knowledge folks (yourself included). I just think it's icky when folks use these findings to make weird sexist and transphobic arguments as if brains are somehow inherently gendered/cleanly dimorphic.

I get that, but just because the data/tools can be misused, doesn't mean that we ignore the data, or try to pretend that it doesn't exist in the first place. Particularly if there is some meaningful difference, of which ignoring it can increase misdiagnoses. We can acknowledge group differences, while still making sure we are examining the individual in a holistic way in a clinical setting.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
I get that, but just because the data/tools can be misused, doesn't mean that we ignore the data, or try to pretend that it doesn't exist in the first place. Particularly if there is some meaningful difference, of which ignoring it can increase misdiagnoses. We can acknowledge group differences, while still making sure we are examining the individual in a holistic way in a clinical setting.
Well, I don't deny the differences or that they have population-level significance...I believe they exist and can be meaningful. If it came off as if I was denying that, then I will retroactively make it clear that I did not mean to communicate that.
 
Members don't see this ad :)
There is a legitimate academic conversation to be had around IQ differences across populations. When had, it should be nuanced and done with some sensitivity. Are there biologically inherent differences in certain populations? I'm quite skeptical, but can't categorically rule out the possibility. I'm not a test developer, but personally my first assumption would be that our methods for validating and aligning scores is particularly weak for these populations. That's not to say efforts weren't made, just that they're imperfect. I have literally no idea how one could perfectly adjust the test and procedures in a way that enables direct comparison of scores. Or differences in exposure to standardized testing procedures across populations, which may contribute directly to performance as well as influence test anxiety.

What any of this has to do with the ATMs being broken is still beyond me...
 
  • Like
Reactions: 4 users
There is a legitimate academic conversation to be had around IQ differences across populations. When had, it should be nuanced and done with some sensitivity. Are there biologically inherent differences in certain populations? I'm quite skeptical, but can't categorically rule out the possibility. I'm not a test developer, but personally my first assumption would be that our methods for validating and aligning scores is particularly weak for these populations. That's not to say efforts weren't made, just that they're imperfect. I have literally no idea how one could perfectly adjust the test and procedures in a way that enables direct comparison of scores. Or differences in exposure to standardized testing procedures across populations, which may contribute directly to performance as well as influence test anxiety.

What any of this has to do with the ATMs being broken is still beyond me...
Yeah, the ATM example was especially perplexing. So the ATMs not working (or, maybe, him not being able to use them correctly...) and the buses being loud means the population as a whole has lower cognitive ability. That checks out.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user
There is a legitimate academic conversation to be had around IQ differences across populations. When had, it should be nuanced and done with some sensitivity. Are there biologically inherent differences in certain populations? I'm quite skeptical, but can't categorically rule out the possibility. I'm not a test developer, but personally my first assumption would be that our methods for validating and aligning scores is particularly weak for these populations. That's not to say efforts weren't made, just that they're imperfect. I have literally no idea how one could perfectly adjust the test and procedures in a way that enables direct comparison of scores. Or differences in exposure to standardized testing procedures across populations, which may contribute directly to performance as well as influence test anxiety.

What any of this has to do with the ATMs being broken is still beyond me...
A huge problem with cross-group achievement and intelligence research is that pretty much every method we have of assessing intelligence has some heavy linguistic and cultural loading, even nonverbal methods (which also have disability accessibility issues), so it's really hard to do cross-cultural and cross-language comparisons and know how much of any difference you see is just due to a bias in the test. And then people often wade into race science and things get really sketchy really quickly.

And..................the author has an H-index of 40 and has been cited over 7000 times. Once again proving to me that you don't have to be good at science to become a successful scientist.
To be fair, it's entirely possible he did at least some legit work in the past, separate from his personal convictions, and then hit retirement age and figured he could now essentially say whatever he wanted and find somewhere to publish it, Dude's been holding onto these racist vacation anecdotes since the 1980s after all.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
This is well outside my purview, so I have to defer to more knowledge folks (yourself included). I just think it's icky when folks use these findings to make weird sexist and transphobic arguments as if brains are somehow inherently gendered/cleanly dimorphic.
There do seem to be some gender based neuroanatomical differences. Doesn't look to be anything notable or interesting.
 
Yeah, the ATM example was especially perplexing. So the ATMs not working (or, maybe, him not being able to use them correctly...) and the buses being loud means the population as a whole has lower cognitive ability. That checks out.
I also like how the cab driver is probably trying to get more money out of him (as cab drivers around the world are wont to do) and he falls for it and then concludes its because the cab driver is stupid and not because he (the author) got played. Like, dude....
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
The comments in the Twitter thread are hoot and a half though.
This one is pretty great:
"The taxi driver was also a federal wallet inspector, and said he had to send my wallet to his superiors for further investigation. He claimed that it would be returned to me with 5-10 business days, and yet *to date* the Wallet Bureau has failed to do so"
 
  • Haha
Reactions: 1 users
This one is pretty great:
"The taxi driver was also a federal wallet inspector, and said he had to send my wallet to his superiors for further investigation. He claimed that it would be returned to me with 5-10 business days, and yet *to date* the Wallet Bureau has failed to do so"

That's not the wallet inspector...
 

Attachments

  • wallet inspector.jpg
    wallet inspector.jpg
    53.1 KB · Views: 18
  • Haha
  • Like
Reactions: 1 users
@futureapppsy2

One can contribute to one area of science while being very very wrong about another. Karl Pearson was the editor for the Annals of Eugenics. Goddard, Thorndike, and Yerkes worked for the Eugenics Record Office of the Carnegie Institute. Those same people gave us correlations, Guinness Beer, NPR, some of the neural net models of AI, PsychCorps, etc.

I think that science should allow any lines of inquiry. Worst case scenarios: some fool tilts at windmills and we all get a decent laugh. Best case scenario: we get a condition like Sir Barry Marshall who won the Nobel prize after said the peptic ulcers were caused by h pylori. The guy’s research was ranked at the bottom 10% of his field. Then the guy scoped his own stomach, drank a beaker full of h pylori, scoped himself again, documented peptic ulcers, and won the Nobel prize for it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 3 users
@futureapppsy2

One can contribute to one area of science while being very very wrong about another. Karl Pearson was the editor for the Annals of Eugenics. Goddard, Thorndike, and Yerkes worked for the Eugenics Record Office of the Carnegie Institute. Those same people gave us correlations, Guinness Beer, NPR, some of the neural net models of AI, PsychCorps, etc.

I think that science should allow any lines of inquiry. Worst case scenarios: some fool tilts at windmills and we all get a decent laugh. Best case scenario: we get a condition like Sir Barry Marshall who won the Nobel prize after said the peptic ulcers were caused by h pylori. The guy’s research was ranked at the bottom 10% of his field. Then the guy scoped his own stomach, drank a beaker full of h pylori, scoped himself again, documented peptic ulcers, and won the Nobel prize for it.
I never said that we shouldn’t do that? In fact, I said above that he most likely did good, legitimate work earlier in his career.
 
I never said that we shouldn’t do that? In fact, I said above that he most likely did good, legitimate work earlier in his career.
Oh, I didn't mean to imply that you suggested anything negative. Sorry. I was trying to add my own spin, and clearly did it poorly.

Reason #9903213 I use bullet points.
 
Top