Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Nature-Nurture: Are we born Intelligent or Stupid?

 The September 13, 2021 issue of the New Yorker has an interesting article titled “Force of Nature” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. 
It describes the work of Kathryn Paige Harden, a University of Texas psychologist. Harden’s research is about the importance of genetic inheritability of intelligence. In other words, she addresses the age-old “nature-vs.- nurture” question: Are our behavior, our personality and our achievements the result of the environment and socialization (nurture), or are they the product of inborn and inherited genes (nature)? 

 As a sociologist, I have dealt with this issue in many of my classes. That nurture is more important than nature has always been axiomatic to sociologists. How successful you are in life depends much more on environment than on heredity. However, biological determinism (nature) has gained a lot of ground in recent years. Psychology’s holy grail is the identification of the PHYSICAL location of mental faculties, whether in the brain or in one’s genetic make-up. 

There appears every decade or so research that challenges the conventional wisdom that nurture counts for much more than nature. This research suggests that genetic inheritability of things like intelligence plays a much bigger role than we are willing to admit. 

For example, in 1969, Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen published an article in the Harvard Educational Review   in which he argued that there is an I.Q. gap between the races, and the reason for this is at least partly genetic. Nobel laureate William Shockley agreed with this, stating that “my research leads me inescapably to the opinion that the major cause of the American Negro's intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racially genetic in origin and, thus, not remediable... by practical improvements in the environment.”  Read more...

Friday, September 3, 2021


by Madeleine Kando

We are on Kauai, my husband Hans and I. It is the oldest and most beautiful island of the Hawaiian chain. If you could wave a magic wand and wish for a total sensory experience, you would certainly conjure up Kauai. The trade wind coming from the vast ocean, softens the harshness of the blazing sun. The sound of the surf is better than any lullaby. The foaming crests of the waves lapping on shore puts one in a trance.

Then, there are the clouds. They turn pink at sunset, slowly moving across the horizon, like slow motion ballerinas in pink tutus. The coral shines through the turquoise water while the feral chickens strut about, totally indifferent to the beauty around them, getting impertinently close to get fed. All of it is so intoxicating that our life back in Boston seems like it is on another planet.

Is it pathological to be infatuated with an island? Isn’t that feeling reserved for teens and film stars?  But I cannot help it. Since we first came here, almost 20 years ago, Kauai has captivated my heart.

Today, we are taking a helicopter ride. It takes us over the interior, the jungle where Jurassic Park was filmed. We approach the ‘five sisters’, a group of waterfalls on Mt. Waialeale, the second rainiest place on earth. The pilot is having fun with us. He flies straight into the huge vertical wall of jungle, but at the last minute, veers up to the top, to avoid a fatal crash. It is an exhilarating ride, plunging into the center of the volcano. It has been dead for millions of years and is now covered with green, a deep gaping hole, where all the rain from the swamp plateau above, accumulates.

Over 5 million years ago, Kauai was born, when magma spewed from a hot spot beneath the Pacific Tectonic Plate, creating a volcanic island. Like dragging the links of a chain away from the hotspot, the island moved away and Kauai’s volcano slowly became extinct. A new island moved in its place, creating another one of the Hawaiian Islands. A map of the ocean floor shows this long chain called the Emperor Sea Mount Chain, which reaches all the way to Alaska.

It is hard to imagine that for most of her life, this beautiful island was nothing but black rock. Everything that we see, blew in with the wind, on the waves, or in the belly of a bird that lost its way. Then, millions of years in the making, as if the island was ready for inhabitants, the Polynesians came in their canoes, fell in love and established a society.

The older Kauai gets, the more beautiful she becomes. But one day, she will sink into the ocean and only an atoll will remain, like a gravestone to mark the spot. How many of these gorgeous islands have sunk beneath the waves over the past millennia?

Kauai has only one road that hugs the coastline and does not connect to itself, which protects it from the worst damage that tourism creates. On the north shore, where we are staying, there are small, funky towns, like Kapa’a and Hanalei, reminiscent of the 60’s. There are shops that sell designer rash guards and other fancy beach attire, overpriced restaurants and shave ice stands. Read more...

Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Best and the Worst States


I have ranked the world’s countries in terms of quality of life several times on this blog. Today, I want to do that   with America’s own fifty states. There is as much  chauvinism at this level as there is internationally. Just as most Europeans feel that they are better than Americans and vice versa, so Texans feel superior to Californians and vice-versa.

For the facts, I examined a recent USNews and World Report study: Best States Rankings

The study ranks the states on eight criteria:

Health Care





Fiscal stability

Crime and Corrections

Natural Environment

First, I wanted to compare blue states and red states, something which  USNews and World Report does not do. The country’s political climate is  extraordinarily polarized, and I was curious to see whether the data confirm one of my  preconceptions, namely that overall, blue states are better than red states. Well, they most certainly do:

According to 270towin, there are 18 blue states, 22 red states and  10 “mixed” states. They are located as follows:

West:   4 blue states: Washington, Oregon, California and  Hawaii.   1 red state: Alaska.

Midwest: 4 blue states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. 5 red states: Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri. 3 mixed states: Iowa, Indiana and Ohio

Rocky Mountains: 5 red states: Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona. 3 mixed states: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.  ZERO blue states.         

New England: 5 blue states: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island. 1 Mixed state: New Hampshire. ZERO red states.   

The South: 11 red states: Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana. 3 mixed states: Virginia, Florida, North Carolina. ZERO blue states.

Atlantic Coast: 5:  blue states: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania. ZERO red or mixed.

These six regions are those used by the US Census Bureau.