Shrunken Brains

Gregory Cochran brusquely dispatches what might be the most incompetent piece of ‘scientific’ reasoning in recent years (although the competition for that honor gets ever more intense). The discovery — brains of poor children are statistically smaller. The insane leftist inference passed into the public realm as a logical conclusion: poverty shrinks brains. I’m not going to insult XS readers by laboring over the mistake here (Cochran does it succinctly enough, and with appropriate biting contempt). It’s utterly horrifying, from any remotely objective viewpoint, that such blatant stupidity could ever borrow the robes of science, even momentarily. This is what collapse looks like (and most probably our brains are shrinking).

(I was aiming to do some kind of April Fool’s thing here today. Sadly, this isn’t one.)

ADDED: Thompson patiently picks through the mess. “The paper and the comments will lead readers to believe that lack of money is stunting the brains of poorer children. This is possible, but not proved by this study because of obvious genetic confounders.”

April 1, 2015admin 19 Comments »


19 Responses to this entry

  • Brett Stevens Says:

    I’m waiting for all leftists to join hands and scream APRIL FOOLS and then take us back to 1788.

    Obviously, classes/castes exist for a reason… in the same way inequalities of ability appear in any group.

    It is only leftist narcissism that denies this and makes it social taboo. That’s where leftism crosses over from mere popularity: it intends to ban and remove any noticing of reality that conflicts with what is popular.


    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 2:12 pm Reply | Quote
  • Distinctions that Make a Difference | al fin next level Says:

    […] h/t Nick Land […]

    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 2:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dark Psy-Ops Says:

    From the nature article itself:

    Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, calls the research “unbelievably cool”.

    ‘Unbelievably cool’? That’s an unusual reaction to the news of the shrunken brains of the poor. Or could it be Ms. Farah is just so glad to have found small brains in the heads of the poor so she has a reason to push for more welfare? Would anyone dumb enough to fall for this article even read a science journal, even one like Nature? Perhaps it made a large constituency of ‘I Love Science’ people very warm in their hearts, for a moment. ‘Communism make big brain,’ they think.


    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 2:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    Bad studies cause insane leftism. It’s the only possible conclusion.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:



    Kwisatz Haderach Reply:

    That’s edgy


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    Edges sound scientific. Ban edges.

    Hegemonizing Swarm Reply:

    The edge of Occam’s Razor is sharp, and it will slice any population that bans science to very thin slices. That’s how edgy.

    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 3:30 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dan Says:

    From the article… The authors don’t rule out genetics.

    “Neither study explains the cause of the cognitive differences. Although the authors of both studies admit that genetic factors could be involved, they suspect that environmental exposures such as stress and nutrition are more important and begin even before the babies are born.”

    “And Hanson suggests that epigenetics — modifications to DNA caused by environmental factors such as stress — could also be playing an important role, and can be passed down through generations.”

    The authors may feel obliged to spew rightthink in order to protect themselves. But by doing that, they make a mess of good, clear research and obfuscate important knowledge.


    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 3:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • Toddy Cat Says:

    Actually, it’s cultural Marxism that shrinks brains, and this study proves it.


    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 5:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • Izak Says:

    Didn’t Franz Boas make a similar mistake? If I remember right, he argued that an environment will change people’s brain size, so if black people live around white people long enough, their brains will somehow grow (I might have the concept slightly wrong, someone can maybe correct me). I only know that because Oswald Spengler cited this claim approvingly.


    SanguineEmpiricist Reply:

    “There is one significant missing piece, however, which is of critical importance for our subject matter here on LW: the effect of attention on plasticity, including the plasticity of motivation. Since I don’t see any other texts addressing it directly (certainly not from a neuroscientific perspective), let’s cover the main idea here.

    Summary for impatient readers: focus of attention physically determines which synapses in your brain get stronger, and which areas of your cortex physically grow in size. The implications of this provide direct guidance for alteration of behaviors and motivational patterns. This is used for this purpose extensively: for instance, many benefits of the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy approach rely on this mechanism.”


    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 6:01 pm Reply | Quote
  • Mechanomica Says:

    I’d suggest clicking on over to the study itself. Full access is permitted via the link at the bottom of the article cited by Dan (first footnote).

    “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study of SES and the brain to include as covariates continuously varying measures of degree of genetic ancestry. Notably, our results can only speak to the effects of GAF [genetic ancestry factor], a proxy for race. Thus, although the inclusion of genetic ancestry does not preclude the possibility that these findings may reflect, in part, an unmeasured heritable component, it reduces as far as possible the likelihood that apparent SES effects were mediated by genetic ancestry factors associated with SES in the population. Furthermore, associations between SES factors and brain morphometry were invariant across ancestry groups.”

    Vocal proponents of HBD aren’t doing their side (or science itself) any favors by over-simplifying or feigning understanding of this kind of thing. There are plenty of actual problems to tackle on this front without wasting time pretending that your kids’ cortical surface area would be exactly the same as it is today, had someone kidnapped them at birth and dropped them off in a crumbling third world orphanage where the morning porridge is served up with poker-faced random beatings and a side of lead paint chips.

    Genetic inheritance obviously plays a key role in mechanistic/behavioral outcomes. But the minute a person starts distorting the available evidence to suit his preferred narrative, in effect he’s no less moronic than the Cathedral’s most sycophantic acolyte—he’s just a heck of a lot less powerful. (Provided he’s actually drinking his own Kool-Aid and not deliberately strewing chaos for the sake of a hidden motive.)

    I’m sure I needn’t explain why the tendency to undermine oneself doesn’t exactly augur well for one’s survival beyond Gibsonian Jackpot scenarios. Those of you who are smart enough to detect and uproot this inclination in yourselves should take care to do so. That many of us are the descendants of bottleneck populations should be taken as no guarantee of future results. Nature knows how to take care of those who would rest on their laurels in times of turmoil: someone more alert comes along, proverbial machete sharpened and ready to go.

    That said, the closing sentence of the paper is pretty telling:

    “By elucidating the structural brain differences associated with socioeconomic disparities, we may be better able to identify more precise endophenotypic biomarkers to serve as targets for intervention, with the ultimate goal of reducing socioeconomic disparities in development and achievement.”

    There’s hardly a scientific paper published these days that doesn’t end with a political statement carrying some seriously dystopian implications. Bringing this pattern to light would be useful. Stomping it out, even better.


    Erebus Reply:

    That’s a hell of a lot of rhetoric you’ve just laid down. Are you implying that Gregory Cochran is “over-simplifying or feigning understanding of” this study? Is your position that it’s good science, and that nobody commenting on it understands it?

    I ask because, charitably, that paper is a scientific puff-piece. It leaves one with more questions than answers.

    (A) Its conclusion is half-baked — they seem to be implying an epigenetic basis for their findings, if for no other reason than that there doesn’t appear to be a plausible alternative, but nowhere is this examined or even mentioned.
    (B) Their nonchalant “race doesn’t matter” position also strikes me as rather insincere — note that they are careful not to show or mention the actual brain size/structure data, not even in the supplementary information, and they made certain not to imply that brain structures are largely identical across racial groups or across their “GAF” proxies — they only note that low SES affects each group in a similar way, that is all. (They admit, in the Nature News article, that there are “small differences in brain structure between ethnic groups.” I wonder just what they consider small, given that it has to be statistically significant for them to make such a statement.)
    (C) Then just look at the variability they’re coming up with…

    …I’d call into question whether or not this paper says anything meaningful at all. The whole edifice rests on the way their models interpret/massage the data. (See online methods: statistical analyses.) I’d bet that were G.Cochran to have access to their huge amount of raw data, he’d be able to come up with a different set of “statistically significant” conclusions. What’s beyond question is that this is a poor and slipshod study — and a perfect example of science-by-political-committee.


    Mechanomica Reply:

    I already covered some of what you’re asking me to revisit here. Seems safe to conclude that you either skimmed what I wrote or didn’t understand it, so I’m not seeing much incentive here to engage with you at length on this.

    For the record (again): I do think there are legitimate problems with this study. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart approach to get all emotionally fired up and attribute claims to it that aren’t actually present.


    Erebus Reply:

    I understood you just fine.

    The beginning of your third paragraph, which starts “Vocal proponents of HBD aren’t doing their side (or science itself) any favors by over-simplifying or feigning understanding of this kind of thing”, appears to condescendingly assume that most HBD-oriented commenters have either not read or understood the Nature News article, let alone the actual study itself. Under the circumstances, I don’t think that’s a fair position to take. I’m not seeing any comments so clearly wrongheaded…. If anything, the study deserves even more criticism than it’s getting, on the grounds that its methodology, findings, etc. are either flawed outright or just very poorly done.

    That same paragraph continues, then implying that if the children of HBD proponents were kidnapped “at birth and dropped them off in a crumbling third world orphanage where the morning porridge is served up with poker-faced random beatings and a side of lead paint chips” their brain structures would obviously be different. This is a contemptible rhetorical digression. I believe it would be fair to ask, again, “do you think that this is good science, and that nobody commenting on it understands it?” If not, what kind of point were you trying to make? Why the appeal to emotion?

    Your fourth and further paragraphs appear to argue that while genetics are important, HBD proponents should not distort evidence, “drink their own Kool-Aid,” act in bad faith, undermine themselves, etc. More empty rhetoric, and I simply don’t see how it is warranted, under the circumstances. (I’d note that your “Gibsonian Jackpot” paragraph was very vague and largely unclear, and I couldn’t work out who you were referring to.)

    You wrap it up by weakly criticizing the study yourself — not on its scientific merits or lack thereof, but on one of the conclusions it draws. Criticizing their statements, not their science. And this is faint criticism indeed, for you hold it up as evidence of a pattern.

    All in all, I think my questions were fair game. You appear to be unjustly criticizing — or condescendingly chiding and “advising” — the HBD community. At the same time, you appear to accept the premise of that study at more-or-less face value. Any point beyond what I’ve just written was impossible for me to discern.

    Request clarification: What have people wrongly attributed to this study?

    Posted on April 1st, 2015 at 6:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • SVErshov Says:

    Not only brains. Most of tribals are having smaller bodies, at least of what I’ve seen. What a drama about it. It is a fact.


    Posted on April 2nd, 2015 at 5:49 pm Reply | Quote
  • E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Says:

    A clue to the ascendency of democracy is hidden here. It seems that from the higher part of the middle class up, there is no significant brain size difference. If you began including the upper crust of the commoners (who have about the same mental capacities as the traditional nobility) in decision making and other sorts of things, the potential talent and intelligence being tapped will drastically increase. But the logic necessary to make this leap doomed it from the start: for now no longer did they consider just any principle that would prevent the less capable (genetically) of having their slice of the pie too.

    Because this stratum exists, it would seem that history is doomed to repeat the democratic vortex forever.


    Posted on April 3rd, 2015 at 2:46 pm Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2015/04/03) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] Land says thanks to Cochran for neatly flaying the idea that poverty causes Shrunken Brains. Apparently it was not an April Fools joke. Also notes on the sad state of Capitalism […]

    Posted on April 4th, 2015 at 9:56 pm Reply | Quote

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