The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.
The American scientist Michael H. Hart in his book Understanding Human History, which is available online as a pdf file, supports the “cold climate” theory for evolution of high IQ. It essentially says that the further north you get the higher the average IQ becomes. Perhaps in order to survive the cold winters you needed elevated intelligence to plan ahead. In my view, the correlation between IQ and climate is too strong to be coincidental. The climate theory is almost certainly partly correct, but it may need to be modified here and there. Ashkenazi Jews during the Middle Ages evolved high IQ in a process that had very little to do with climate.
The cold climate theory predicts that Northeast Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and to some extent Vietnamese) should have higher average IQs than Southeast Asians and Indians, which is correct. It also predicts that Europeans should have higher IQs than Middle Easterners and North Africans, and much higher IQs than sub-Saharan Africans, which is also correct. However, it also predicts that there should be slight differences in mean IQ within Europe itself, even if you discount recent immigrants who are not Europeans, genetically speaking. These differences are smaller than the ones we encounter if we measure Europeans vs. Africans, but they do exist and they are not necessarily without practical significance.
Italians are sometimes listed with a slightly higher average IQ than the Irish, despite the fact that Ireland is much further north. Yet according to Dennis Mangan’s blog, the 100 plus mean IQ for “Italians” is primarily based on data from northerners; southern Italians have a lower mean IQ. If true, this could partly explain why the northern third of Italy has produced many more notable scientists, including Nobel Prize winners during the twentieth century, than the southern third has. Accidental or not, northern Italy has received the highest percentage of Celtic and Germanic genes, but perhaps northern Italy was smarter even in Roman times.
This still leaves the case of Ireland. I asked Michael H. Hart about this. He answered that winters may be milder in Ireland (which is warmed by the Gulf Stream) than they are in northern Italy. There are also other important factors involved which could outweigh the slight differences of climate: There has been a substantial “brain drain” out of Ireland in the last few centuries, especially to the USA. The same thing happened in Italy, but to a lesser extent. Probably no other European country had as large a percentage of its population emigrate to the US as did Ireland. In addition, over the past few centuries there was a “brain drain” from Ireland into England, too. This occurred from Scotland as well.
IQ is a very important, and perhaps the single most important, variable, but there are others, too. Switzerland does have high IQ, but it outperforms other high-IQ countries because of its high degree of order combined with economic and political liberty, a very rare combination.
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I have heard the claim that according to the cold climate theory for the evolution of high IQ, the Nordic countries should excel in the sciences, yet their countries were “backward” until the modern era. This can easily be explained by postulating that science is first and foremost the creation of urban, literate cultures. This does not mean that non-literate peoples cannot have important insights into nature or astronomy, as proven by the Neolithic astronomers of Europe or the Polynesians who navigated across the vast Pacific Ocean, but it is very hard to establish long-term scientific continuity in the absence of written sources.
Since Scandinavians during the Early Middle Ages (the Viking Age) were largely illiterate it was impossible for them to make major contributions to science at that early point. In the later Middle Ages they gradually became assimilated into the mainstream of Christian European civilization until a critical mass of scholarly knowledge had been absorbed. According to this hypothesis, Scandinavians should produce the first significant scientific figure during the Renaissance period, and the likelihood of this happening was greatest in the region that was closest to the European mainstream and had the highest level of urbanization. This figure did emerge in the shape of Tycho Brahe, who came from the Kingdom of Denmark, born in southern Sweden. He was the greatest astronomer in the pre-telescopic era in Europe and perhaps in the world. As soon as it was possible for them to do so, Scandinavians thus produced an individual who outperformed the best astronomers in the Middle East and Asia.
Denmark and (southern) Sweden were for a long time the most important regions within Scandinavia because they were the most densely populated regions. In order to produce great achievement you don’t just need smart people, you usually need a cluster of smart people. If you have a goat herder with very high IQ sitting on an isolated mountain top somewhere this only makes him a clever goat herder. Total population matters as well. Norway is roughly the size of England, but with less than ten percent of the population. The Nordic countries do not have a sufficiently large population base to dominate the sciences; with a small population and high IQ they will make substantial contributions, often disproportionate to their small size, to the sciences but usually not dominate them. You could for example successfully claim that Swedes per person did more than any other nation on Earth to create modern chemistry.
With a roughly similar IQ and all other things being equal, the rate of excellence within the Nordic countries should be highest in Denmark and southern Sweden and slightly lower in more sparsely populated Norway and Finland. In the latter countries, it should be highest in urban regions such as the Helsinki area and the southwestern coast of Finland and the Oslo Fjord and perhaps the Bergen region in Norway, which corresponds well to observed reality. This does not contradict the cold climate hypothesis; the northern peoples have consistently outperformed people to the south once they have achieved a sufficiently high degree of urbanization.
I don’t quite believe in the “distance is dead” maxim, but it is nevertheless true that physical location is less important today than it was in the past. Thanks to modern communication technology you can now effortlessly stay in touch with people who live far away from you. This still doesn’t do away with the need for networks where you can receive creative inspiration as well as criticism of your ideas.
City-states have traditionally been among the most dynamic entities in history, from ancient Mesopotamia and Greece to Renaissance Italy; their Achilles’ heel is that they are often too small to effectively defend themselves against military aggression from larger political entities. City-states enjoyed some lasting success when they formed alliances, for instance the medieval Hansa in northern Europe. Even within countries, Western European cities enjoyed much greater liberty and self-rule by medieval times than Chinese ones did at the same time.