China: Debating the “Clark-Unz Model”
As an individual who often regrets his decades-old defection from the academic community, I was remarkably pleased to see anthropologist Peter Frost very generously discuss my recent China article under the rubric “the Clark-Unz Model.” The senior researcher identified is obviously economist Gregory Clark, whose influential 2007 book A Farewell to Alms had suggested a very similar evolutionary analysis for the forces shaping the British people over most of the last thousand years.
The nearly 100 total comments on that column and Frost’s previous one have most sharply focused on what certainly seems to me to be by far the weakest aspect of my theory, namely that it would predict a substantial performance gap between Chinese and Japanese, given that the traditional rural society of the latter was totally different in nature (although Frost himself argues that there may have been more similarities than I acknowledge). Obviously, if those two major East Asian peoples are very similar in their abilities, my analysis is probably wrong.
Certainly the conventional wisdom has always placed Chinese and Japanese in the same ability category, and if someone had raised that issue with me a year ago, I would have been very skeptical of any large difference. But while I was performing the research for my Meritocracy article I encountered some striking data.
California contains almost one-third of America’s total Asian population, and its Chinese outnumber its Japanese by about 3.5 to 1. But among the high-ability NMS semifinalist students in recent years, there have roughly 750 Chinese names each year as opposed to a mere 15 or so Japanese ones. Obviously, much of this difference may be explained by factors of cultural assimilation, differences in the age-distribution curves, and the impact of selective recent Chinese immigration. However, a 50-to-1 difference in the number of top academic students is large enough to catch one’s eye and make one wonder whether there might possibly also exist the sort of intrinsic factors produced by many centuries of disparate selective pressure. I’d also noticed that although a truly remarkable fraction of all the winners of America’s various national academic competitions had been Chinese, the number of Japanese names was so small that I never even bothered to separately record them.
Obviously, my China hypothesis was meant to be preliminary and provocative rather than definitive, and further study of the relative performance of various East Asian peoples should eventually help to resolve this intriguing question.
Interestingly enough, Clark’s own original version of the model may be subject to much the same critique as my own. He had argued that many centuries of substantial gains in British future time-orientation and ability had been a large factor in explaining why the Industrial Revolution began in their country, rather than anywhere else in Europe or Asia. Among other things, this would imply that the British were substantially superior to all other European peoples in their intrinsic ability and social efficiency. But just a few generations after Britain’s economic rise, the peoples of Germany, France, and Northern Italy were exhibiting equal or even better industrial performance, raising doubts about this hypothesis, as does the very middling range of subsequent British academic performance on the PISA and other international tests.
Otherwise, another science blogger responded to my discussion of whether the term “eugenics” may be properly applied to a non-intentional, natural process, and the Chinese language version of my article was posted on several Chinese-language discussion forums, where it drew quite a number of comments, generally either supportive or at least respectful.
On a different matter, the published work of my sharpest critic, cancer researcher and ardent feminist Prof. Janet Mertz, was discussed in a The New York Times article on educational policy. Apparently, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and other elite public schools in NYC utilize an objective entrance exam, heavy on math and science, to select their students, and the overwhelming number of students admitted are male, which has attracted controversy.
Prof. Janet Hyde, one of Mertz’s co-authors, denounced these results on the grounds that the Hyde/Mertz peer-reviewed findings had conclusively proven that males and females had equal math ability, and if boys scored much higher on the New York tests, then the tests must be biased and should be replaced, perhaps by the sort of “holistic” application process that was worked so well in selecting students for the Ivy League universities.