Royalty in Texas, Brains in Singapore, Correlations in Congress, and Other Matters. The Emperor's Brain

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Still picking arguments with people who insist that deep down inside everybody is the same as everybody else, we come now to the slightly touchy subject of brainy Asian-Americans. Oddly enough, the subject is seasonal. Every year in the dead of winter, Westinghouse announces the winners in its annual science talent search, and every year it turns out that an extraordinary fraction of the winners -- high school students who have shown unusual creativity in science -- are kids of Oriental extraction. The subject has boiled over more than usual here in New York City, where the Benjamin N. Cardozo High School this year all by itself produced 11 of the country's 300 semifinalists, and all 11 turned out to be the sons or daughters of Asian immigrants. Weeks later, the New York Times is still running letters on the meaning of it all. The letters, like the original reporting and an op-ed article, have several things in common: They basically express puzzlement over the Asian-American dominance. Some suggest, quite plausibly, that it may have something to do with family stability or with a cultural commitment to intellectual achievement. But they race off nervously any time they get close to the main and obvious reason for the dominance, which is that the Asian-American families are extra-smart. They have higher average IQs than other American families. There is abundant evidence, furthermore, that Oriental children in the U.S. and abroad have a special gift for spatial and mathematical thinking. It is established, for example, that children in Japan are ahead of American children in mathematical understanding in kindergarten. In the first grade, Chinese children from Taiwan are also mathematically superior to their American counterparts. Details of this superiority have been published in several papers by professor Harold W. Stevenson and his colleagues at the University of Michigan. The papers show the Oriental kids increasing their edge over the Americans in subsequent grades, and not, apparently, because of higher educational standards. (The mathematical curricula seem about equal on average.) Stevenson believes that in some measure the edge grows because the Oriental kids work much harder. And on average they are smarter. That is the message of most of the studies performed by Richard Lynn of the University of Belfast, who has tracked Oriental IQs in many different parts of the world and found them usually superior to those of Caucasians. With the American IQ average normalized at 100, Japanese in Hawaii average 108. (Lynn's latest estimate for Japan itself is 110.) In Singapore, Lynn found Chinese kids averaging 110 (vs. 96 for the Malays). Research in Hong Kong in the Sixties and Seventies generally showed native Chinese youth at about the same IQ level as the British, although the latter obviously came from a select group of families. Arthur Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley, who closely studied children in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early Seventies, show them superior to white children; beginning around the third grade, they show nonverbal scores averaging an extraordinary 110. Among the letters generated by the news from Cardozo High School, our favorite was the one sent in by the 11 semifinalists themselves. They argued that their families were all different, that their Asian-ness was irrelevant, and that ''stereotyping'' of people like themselves is awful -- the stereotype being that they're smart and hardworking. One wonders if the 14 finalists from New York City will also write in. To be sure, their case would be more complicated, since three of them turn out not to be Asians.