Verbal IQ and songwriting – NE-Asian underperformance

In my two part blog post “A theory of intelligence” I examine the unusual IQ profiles of both Ashkenazi Jews (high verbal) and NE-Asians (high math-spatial) to propose a theory of intelligence. This theory tries to explain the NE-Asian underperformance in GDP and science relative to their very high IQ, by positing that NE-Asians create fewer lateral and top-down synapses. This leads to slightly lower verbal IQ and conceptual creativity compared to Europeans and especially compared to Ashkenazim.

One of my intuitions is that verbal IQ tests do not pick up on this difference particularly well, because they also load on knowledge and pattern recognition. I wondered whether tail effects in verbally creative endeavors would maybe lend support to my theory. To this end I analyzed a dataset of songwriting competition winners [1].

The dataset consists of 2875 US artists that won prizes or honorary mentions in the years 2002-2017. To identify NE-Asian artists I compare the names against the most common Korean [2], Japanese [3] and Chinese [4] surnames. These surnames cover roughly 90%, 33% and 84.8% of these populations respectively. Each hit I then check by hand to exclude anybody who is provably not Asian (quite likely for some names like Young, Shaw or Lee).

Chinese Americans constitute 1.5% of the US population, Japanese Americans 0.4% and Korean Americans 0.8%. Multiplied with the sensitivity of our method, this leads to (0.0150.848 + 0.0040.33 + 0.0080.90)2875= 61 being the expected number of hits for a perfectly proportional representation of NE-Asian Americans.

Instead we only find 13 NE-Asian names that cannot be excluded, more than a four-fold underrepresentation. Of course, one may argue that this is a result of language deficiencies due to relatively recent immigration. However, there is also no upward trend visible over these 15 years. Only seven of these artists are unambiguously Japanese, Chinese or Korean American. Of the rest, one is Japanese but not American, one is Malaysian, one is Taiwanese (not included in the 1.5%) and four I could not identify.

Also, perfectly proportional representation may be the wrong baseline to compare against. Of the 1554 winners of the US Open Music Competition 2019 [5], a competition in classical music, 1050 have NE-Asian surnames. These also have much more typical names, with the most common being Yang, Wang, Chen, Li, Truong, Zhang, Liu, Loo, Wu, Lin. This makes it plausible that we are still overcounting NE-Asians in the songwriting dataset.

There is the additional fudge factor, that you can’t tell who wrote the lyrics. Christopher Tin, for example, whom we counted twice, is a classical composer. His most famous piece is Baba Yetu, the theme song of Civilisation IV. Its lyrics are a Swahili version of the Lord’s Prayer.

Overall we see at least a 4.5-fold underrepresentation relative to population percentage, compared to classical music winners a 150-fold underrepresentation. I chalk this up as consistent with my theory.

[1] International songwriting competition

[2] Korean Surnames

[3] Japanese surnames

[4] Chinese surnames

[5] US Open Music Competition Winners


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