My conversion story, or a brief autobiography
From atheism to small l libertarianism, but with a lot of detours
I sometimes get asked how it is that I got into this unusual field. Of course, as with all autobiographies, there will be some distortions and poor memory along the way. As Hans Eysenck put it in his own autobiography:
However, as P. M. Kendall points out in his The Art of Biography, even the most comprehensive and candid autobiographical works present serious problems to the historian who uses them as primary sources.
Paradoxically, though the autobiographer enjoys a far more intimate knowledge of his subject than the biographer, he usually produces a life that is neither so rounded, so complete, nor so close to the actual life as a biographer's. Both aim at recapturing a person in his journey through time, but the biographer recreates a life out of evidences, whereas the autobiographer recreates it out of memory - and memory, unlike paper remains, is plastic, is itself created. The autobiography gives us a special truth: the life reshaped by recollections, with all of the recollection's conscious and unconscious omissions, distortions and illusions. Autobiography is not a true picture of a life; it is a true picture of what, at one moment of the life, the subject wishes, and is impelled, to reveal of that life. For this reason, of all the materials available to the biographer, autobiographical writings are the most dangerous, the most difficult, and the most exciting to handle.
The reader is warned!
I have the luxury of living in more recent times when many actions leave digital footprints which one can later use together with one's memory to put together a picture of what really happened.
As far as I can remember back, I was interested in discussion of difficult topics. I remember trying to convince my classmates in the first 2-3 grades of school, at age 6-8, that atheism is true. Amusingly, some of the arguments have not changed since then. My mother worked at a printing company, so our family home was full of books of all sorts of types. But one type in particular drew my interest, namely, the encyclopedia. This was before the time of Wikipedia, indeed before the internet. Not knowing English yet, I was reading Danish encyclopedias, in particular Gads lille leksikon (Gad's small lexicon).
According to my mother, I was a very easy child. If told to sit down while the parents were out doing this or that errand, I could simply be placed in some spot and would self-entertain by reading a book or Donald Duck cartoons (Don Rosa stories being my favorite). Later in school, there was an informal debate club where we would debate all sorts of topics, but of course, mostly those of interest to 10-12 year olds. These being the rules of Magic the Gathering, the design of home-made D&D games (a friend had made a variant based on random mutations), the latest computer games (as I recall, the original Battlefield, my dislike of Counter-Strike, RuneScape). When I moved to a new school in 7th grade, I befriended both the school bookworm, who would always hang out in the school library in breaks, and the troublemaking boys. This same pattern continued through high-school. Thus, the nerdy troublemaker persona has a long history.
During 'high-school' (gymnasium is a 3 year ordeal in Denmark), laptop computers started getting normal. Thus, teachers had yet to ban students from using them in class, and one could always claim to be taking notes. In reality, of course, they were used for curing the unbearable boredom of listening to teachers talk about Danish literature from "the modern breakthrough" or something like that. I was no saint, I was playing computer games, but I also started endlessly reading the English Wikipedia. Naturally, given my interest in controversial matters, I began diving into the matters of human intelligence, that is, the IQ wars. In fact, a bit earlier in the 10th grade at my efterskole (a kind of Danish style boarding school), I was stumbled upon the Danish Mensa online test. One day, I was taking this test but the bell rang and it was time for dinner. Due to this, I had to finish the test quickly. When I unexpected received a high score despite using half the time that was allotted, I concluded that the tests were probably bullshit. It was also the same year when I started reading more seriously, aged 16-17. The reason for this was that the school had a daily, mandatory 1 hour homework session, where using using computers was not allowed. As it did not take me 1 hour to do my homework, this meant that the other time had to be put to some use. The solution was to print out readings from the internet. In particular, I was reading the material from infidels.org's library -- the atheism interest continued. Some readings started coming from marxists.org due to the influence of a Marxist student that I was friends with. You can see why. If atheism was true, and the people who were on the forefront of this historically were the Marxists, and the people who were against this were the conservatives, it made sense to look further in that direction. My parents voted to the left or far-left of center too, so the genetics were aligned with this development. They were not communists, just working class aligned in their politics ("workers rights!", "safety on the job!", "job security!" etc.). Thus, when I began reading more seriously about human intelligence during the gymnasium years, I came from a position of skepticism. Ironically, what reduced this tension was my reading of Richard Dawkins' works on evolution. Dawkins did occasionally take stabs at left-wing writers for ignoring or being unduly hostile to facts about human diversity, that is, genetic inequality. It was obvious that humans had evolved the various phenotypes that set us apart from other species, and this can only happen if these phenotypes are under some level of genetic control. As such, it was impossible for mental traits not to be heritable (in hindsight, there is one flaw in this reasoning, which is that the traits could have gone to fixation, that is, all alleles at a frequency of 100%, but this seemed unlikely). I continued reading Dawkins' books during gymnasium, made my way through The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype and even David Buss' Evolutionary Psychology (we can see this on my Goodreads for the year 2009). It was during this time that I discovered the online repository of articles by Linda Gottfredson. This was a huge benefit to me because at this time there was no Sci-Hub or any other way to easily get access to published papers.
In 2010, it was time for university. I had been given the impression that people who study philosophy were quite bright and thus presumably well-read, so given my interests in such matters, it was a natural major to choose. During my gymnasium years, I had consumed thousands of pages of philosophy, with the main interests being formal logic, David Hume, and meta-ethics (in particular error theory). Thus when I came to university and found my peers to be sorely lacking in knowledge, I was unhappy. With most students, one had to go through endless arguments about measurement of intelligence, behavioral genetics, and so on before one could get to the interesting parts. Clearly, the typical philosophy student in Denmark (at Aarhus University anyway) was perhaps smart, but with a strong left-wing tilt on top of their verbal tilt. Most students were not that much interested in science, they preferred the nonsensical parts of continental philosophy or neurotic existentialism, which I detested. While they would read Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Kierkegaard, I would be reading Hume, Quine, Russell. Their hostility surprised me, as I had expected others have a similar mindset of critical thinking together with strong, broad reading habits. Later, in 2012, I switched to linguistics to avoid this nonsense. At linguistics, there was no requirement to attend classes. I hated lectures -- the teachers were just repeating things one could read in the assigned reading materials in half the time -- so being forced to wake up early and attend classes was a horrible waste of time. Thus, my choice of linguistics was based partially on avoiding lectures, and partially on my skills with language. A final point in its favor was my long-running interest in spelling reforms. If yu reed oeld poests on this blog from this period, yu miet fiend poests riten in a mor fonetik stiel! My second choice was computer science, but my gymnasium grades were just barely good enough to get into linguistics instead of computer science. This is curious because during the linguistics studies I would begin training myself as a data scientist, so one might wonder if I could have simply have skipped this whole linguistics side quest!
In the year 2013 (2nd year of linguistics), I stumbled upon an obscure 2005 Helmuth Nyborg article mentioning results about immigrants in Denmark on the military intelligence test (Børge Priens Prøve). I was able to find the article and was surprised to find that the military had attached the distribution of scores in the appendix. Thus was born my first published study from December 2013 in MQ. The idea was simple. If we know the distribution of immigrants in Denmark in terms of national origins, and we know the average IQs of these countries, then assuming that the immigrants are broadly representative and roughly keep their IQs, then we can predict what the average IQ of immigrants in Denmark is. As it turned out, this prediction was very accurate:
Many recent studies have corroborated Lynn and Vanhanen's worldwide compilation of national IQs; however, no one has attempted to estimate the mean IQ of an immigration population based on its countries of origin. This paper reports such a study based on the Danish immigrant population and IQ data from the military draft. Based on Lynn and Vanhanen's estimates, the Danish immigrant population was estimated to have an average 89.9 IQ in 2013Q2, and the IQ from the draft was 86.3 in 2003Q3 (against a 'Danish' IQ of 100). However, after taking account of two error sources, the discrepancy between the measured IQ and the estimated IQ was reduced to a mere 0.4 IQ. The study thus strongly validates Lynn and Vanhanen's national IQs.
Why did I send it to MQ? Well, some years before, in 2011 I had emailed Richard Lynn to ask for a copy of his Dysgenics and Eugenics book, as part of my interest in contested areas of ethics and behavioral genetics. Lynn sent them to me, and added:
have you thought about changing to psychology?
philosophy is about words, psychology is about facts & is more satisfying.
At the time, I brushed off his suggestion, but in hindsight he was right. Why spend time on otherworldly philosophy, when one can study psychology about the real world! Thus, 2 years later, when I had written my first study, I asked him where to send it, and he told me to send it to MQ. I didn't really care that this was not considered a 'good journal'. I was already familiar with the strong political bias on the topic, and the editor of MQ was very kind to the rough text I had sent him.
After this first study, I quickly got some more ideas for similar research and I read the main works of Arthur Jensen, and felt I really found a person with a similar mindset. I ended up publishing 10 papers in 2014, many in the open science journals that I co-founded with Davide Piffer (OpenPsych). Lynn kindly invited me to attend the first London Conference on Intelligence (LCI), in London in May 2014. The rest, as they say, is history. I don't really regret going into this field. It is very exciting. It's a pity about the stalkers and dishonest journalists, but that comes with the territory as I was to learn. On the positive side, many people privately express their respect that one is willing to tolerate such a hostile working environment for what one believes in. In this way, one can feel some brotherhood with great historical scientists who endured various forms of persecution (e.g. Semmelweis).
Thus, if we were to summarize my conversion story, one can say that it started with school-day atheism, then went into evolutionary biology and generalized skepticism, then a brief stint as a Marxist (with long hair and poor clothes!), then back to reality with more reading of Dawkins' biology books, then converted to IQ realism by Linda Gottfredson and Richard Lynn, and finally hammered home by the cold logic of Arthur Jensen. My politics thus evolved from generic leftist, to radical leftist, to small l libertarian upon learning that most government programs basically don't work, and can't work well in general due to the dominance of genetics and luck in determining life outcomes. I haven't really changed my mind about the truth of atheism, but I have come to see religion as a positive force given that it is often replaced with even worse ideas (communism!).
But really, if you want to read the absolute best conversion story, read Rosalind Arden's An Athurian Romance. I have read it many times.