Impoverished Rural Chinese Also Smart

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results from China outside of areas like Shanghai have finally been released. From the BBC:

China’s results in international education tests – which have never been published – are “remarkable”, says Andreas Schleicher, responsible for the highly-influential Pisa tests.

The Pisa 2009 tests showed that Shanghai was top of the international education rankings.

But it was unclear whether Shanghai and another chart-topper, Hong Kong, were unrepresentative regional showcases.

Mr Schleicher says the unpublished results reveal that pupils in other parts of China are also performing strongly.

“Even in rural areas and in disadvantaged environments, you see a remarkable performance.”

In particular, he said the test results showed the “resilience” of pupils to succeed despite tough backgrounds – and the “high levels of equity” between rich and poor pupils.

Schleicher attributes this to cultural differences, saying:

“In China, the idea is so deeply rooted that education is the key to mobility and success.”

and also:

… it’s a philosophical difference – expecting all pupils to make the grade, rather than a “sorting mechanism” to find a chosen few.

Why Pygmies Are So Short

More evidence for genetic determination of Pygmy height:

The data revealed height had a genetic component related to Bantu ancestry: The more Bantu ancestry an individual from the Pygmy tribe had, the taller that individual tended to be. One part of the genome, on chromosome 3, was especially important in this trait, the researchers said.

“We kept seeing a lot of them [these single-letter differences] highlight that region in chromosome 3,” Tishkoff said. “It just seemed like a hot spot for selection and for very high differentiation and, as it turns out, very strong association with height as well.”

There’s been a long-standing debate about why Pygmies are so short and whether it is an adaptation to living in a tropical environment,” study researcher Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement. “Our findings are telling us that the genetic basis of complex traits like height may be very different in globally diverse populations.

Can Chivalry Be Dead if It Was Never Alive?

Women first rule ‘ignored in ship disasters’ – study” (BBC):

The belief that women and children are first to be saved when ships sink is largely a myth, a new study suggests.

Analysis of survivors from 18 maritime disasters shows women “have a distinct survival disadvantage”, say researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden.

The report says captains and crew have a significantly higher survival rate.

The study covered sea disasters spanning three centuries, involving more than 15,000 people. The authors say data from 16 of the ships had never been analysed in this way before.

Or maybe chivalry was dead and is now alive:

The analysis showed that the gender gap in death rates has narrowed in disasters since World War I. The authors say this is connected with women’s generally higher status in modern society.

They also point out that in more recent disasters people show altruism to more vulnerable people generally, such as those with disabilities.

This fits with my perception that in the past people were kind of jerks.

“They Come, They Steal and They Go”

Die Weltwoche sparks anger over ‘racist’ Roma story” (BBC):

The article was headlined “They come, they steal and they go” and suggested: “Roma families from Eastern Europe are responsible for a large part of the increasing crime tourism”.

It examined issues such as prostitution and the use of children for begging and theft, adding caveats that not all Roma are involved.

But it nonetheless provoked outrage, particularly in Germany where half a million Gypsies – as Sinti and Roma were then more usually called – were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

[The head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma] said the article was similar to Nazi propaganda in that it gave the impression that criminality was caused by ethnic origin.

Is ethnicity a factor in crime? Yes it is. Obviously. Since ethnicity is a cultural, not a biological, category, trying to suggest that it couldn’t have an effect on crime should be considered absurd by anyone.

Zimbabwe Still Unable to Feed Itself


Zimbabwe plans to nearly double its wheat output to 75,000 tonnes this year… The southern African country requires 400,000 tonnes of wheat annually and has struggled to feed itself since President Robert Mugabe began a drive to seize white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks in 2000… Farmers’ unions put Zimbabwe’s wheat output at 12,000 tonnes last year, barely enough to feed the country for a week.

Of course, they tend to blame it on poor rains, but this is a cop-out. From VOANews:

Zimbabwe was once southern Africa’s breadbasket… For more than 10 consecutive years since President Robert Mugabe’s government embarked on a land reform program targeting white farmers, Zimbabwe has had to import food to avert hunger as its new farmers cannot produce enough… Almost all white commercial farmers were replaced by inexperienced farmers, mainly supporters of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. It is these farmers that Made wants helped in erecting irrigation systems to water their crops… The deposed white farmers had irrigation systems, but the new farmers mostly destroyed them when they took over the farms, often by force.

Not all parts of the economy are as bleak as that, however. From

[Tobacco o]utput is expected to reach 150 million kilogrammes, up from 131 million last year. The target is to reach the 210 million kg achieved in 2000…
The agriculture sector contributes immensely to Zimbabwe’s overall growth. Although statistics had dropped significantly over the past decade, the past three years have seen the sector contribute more meaningfully to overall economic growth.
Agriculture grew by about 19 percent in 2011 and is expected to consolidate the growth this year.

There are rumours Mugabe is dying though, so that could help.

Apparently Misery Doesn’t Make You Happy

According to the UN Happiness Index, northern Europe is a good place to live, sub-saharan Africa, not so much. The actual report is here (pdf).

Although wealthy nations like Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands lead the rankings of happiest countries while poor nations like Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone ranked among the least happy, the report noted that social factors such as the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom were more important than wealth.

If free speech no longer exists…

… I think we can do more than this (Telegraph):

Liam Stacey, a student who mocked footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed during a match, was jailed today for inciting racial hatred.

Last week he admitted inciting racial hatred when he appeared briefly at Swansea Magistrates’ Court and today he was jailed for 56 days at the same court.
The first of Stacey’s messages began with ”LOL (laugh out loud). **** Muamba. He’s dead!!!”

Moments earlier, District Judge John Charles told him: “In my view there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence.”

He was sent to prison to “reflect the public outrage” at his comments. Now that it’s open season on anything unpleasant, I have a long list of people I’d like imprisoned.

More Bias against Blacks

From the BBC: ‘Is Africa on trial?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up to try those responsible for the most serious crimes in the world – such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

So far, all 24 people facing charges – and the only person convicted – are from Africa, leading to accusations of bias. The African Union has said members countries should stop cooperating with the Court.

Australian Megafauna Extinction Caused by Humans

From the BBC:

Humans hunted Australia’s giant vertebrates to extinction about 40,000 years ago, the latest research published in Science has concluded.

Human-lit fire – deliberately targeted and more frequent than lightning – had a devastating effect of plants that had previously been protected.

“Any climate change at those times was modest and highly unlikely to affect the outcome,” author Matt McGlone wrote in Science.

He said the latest study “supports a mounting number of studies that have argued that climate change was not primarily responsible for the Late Pleistocene extinctions in other parts of the continent.”