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    IQ And The Values Of Nations: Part III
    By Becky Jungbauer | June 26th 2009 11:06 AM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Becky

    A scientist and journalist by training, I enjoy all things science, especially science-related humor. My column title is a throwback to Jane

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    The first two articles of this series have covered a brief overview of evolutionary psychology and the difficulty in defining and measuring intelligence. In the first article, I covered that we can measure what people prefer and value, but we don’t know the "why" behind those preferences and values.

    An evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, Satoshi Kanazawa, wrote a paper on the origin of individual values and preferences that suggests values are tied to IQ, and you can theoretically predict the values of a nation based on its average intelligence.

    The second article dealt with the thorny issue of intelligence – what is it? Can we measure it? Can we predict it using tools we have today? In a general sense, animal intelligence may be defined as the degree of mental or behavioral flexibility resulting in novel solutions. A possible measurement of this flexibility is the efficiency of brain structural organization – the number of cortical neurons, their ability to process data, and the speed at which they process information could be tied to what we consider "intelligence."

    In this article, I will hopefully be able to address the many excellent comments from readers on the first two articles, as well as suggest a hypothesis described by Kanazawa as a possible explanation for individual values and preferences (tied to IQ), and how that ties in to the evolution of the human brain and intelligence. Kanazawa was kind enough to respond to an email I sent him with some of the comments, and I will include his responses as well.

    The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis

    As described in the first article, Kanazawa’s Savanna Principle says that the human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment.

    In the ancestral environment there were recurrent adaptive problems, and evolution had "already done all the thinking, so to speak, and equipped the human brain with the appropriate psychological mechanisms," Kanazawa suggests.

    This is what I would define loosely as what Gerhard called the "off-brain" storage, or culmination of centuries of knowledge that has become part of the social collective; or, related to what Josh says, adaptive knowledge.

    But there had to be occasional problems popping up, Kanazawa said, that were not recurrent and were novel enough that our ancestors had to think and reason in order to solve.



    "To the extent that these evolutionarily novel, non-recurrent problems happened frequently enough in the ancestral environment (different problem each time) and had serious enough consequences for survival and reproduction, then any genetic mutation that allowed its carriers to think and reason would have been selected for, and what we now call 'general intelligence' could have evolved as a domain-specific adaptation for the domain of evolutionarily novel, non-recurrent problems."
    So how does the idea of general intelligence tie in with the Savanna Principle? Kanazawa says the logical conjunction is the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis: if general intelligence evolved to deal with evolutionarily novel problems, then the human brain’s difficulty in comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment should interact with general intelligence, such that the Savanna Principle holds stronger among less intelligence individuals than among more intelligence individuals.

    In other words, more intelligent individuals should be better able to comprehend and deal with evolutionarily novel entities and situations than less intelligent individuals, but both can deal equally well with evolutionarily familiar values (since these adaptations have been "hard-wired" by evolution). Kanazawa gave a few examples of these novel experiences:

    1. The lightning has struck a tree near the camp and set it on fire. The fire is now spreading to the dry underbrush. What should I do? How could I stop the spread of the fire? How could I and my family escape it? (Since lightning never strikes the same place twice, this is guaranteed to be a non-recurrent problem.)
    2. We are in the middle of the severest drought in a hundred years. Nuts and berries at our normal places of gathering, which are usually plentiful, are not growing at all, and animals are scarce as well. We are running out of food because none of our normal sources of food are working. What else can we eat? What else is safe to eat? How else can we procure food?
    3. A flash flood has caused the river to swell to several times its normal width, and I am trapped on one side of it while my entire band is on the other side. It is imperative that I rejoin them soon. How could I cross the rapid river? Should I walk across it? Or should I construct some sort of buoyant vehicle to use to get across it? If so, what kind of material should I use? Wood? Stones?

    When considering values then, you can extrapolate and say that more intelligent individuals may be more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel preferences and values than less intelligent individuals, while general intelligence may make no difference for the acquisition and espousal of evolutionarily familiar values.

    What are these values? Evolutionarily novel values include (but are not limited to) liberalism, atheism, sexual exclusivity (for men), vegetarianism, and democracy. Familiar values include children, marriage, family, and friends.

    Before I go on I also want to differentiate between evolutionarily novel and experientially novel – the former is something that did not exist in the ancestral environment, whereas the latter is something that an individual person hasn’t experienced in his or her lifetime. In this series, we’re referring to the former.

    Liberalism

    Kanazawa uses the contemporary American definition of liberalism: the concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated others and the willingness to contribute large proportions of private resources for the welfare of such others. (He does not use this to mean Democrat versus Republican, in the sense of the parties’ platforms, but simply concern for the welfare of others. People in either party can have concern for the welfare of others.)

    Humans are designed to be altruistic toward their genetic kin, repeated exchange partners, tribe/group –our ancestors lived mostly in small bands of 50-150 people. It follows, then, that our mega cities and nations, filled with complete strangers whom we are not likely ever to meet or exchange with, are novel. Liberalism is the concern for the welfare of those millions of strangers – contributing toward government and social programs – something our ancestors didn’t have to deal with given their environment. The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis predicts that more intelligent individuals are more likely to espouse liberal political ideology than less intelligent individuals.

    As an aside, and in response to one of Gerhard’s comments that very little of what we have learned is a result of direct parental education, Kanazawa notes that political attitude has the heritability of 0.65, and about 43% of the variance in political attitudes is determined by genes. Parental socialization is responsible for roughly 22% of the variance, he says, but this did not take into account intelligence, and intelligence is tied to openness to experience (which is negatively correlated with conservatism). A recent study in 2008 showed that more intelligent British children are more likely to become liberal adults.

    Back to liberalism: Kanazawa used highest marginal tax rate on individual income as a proxy for contribution toward government and social programs, and income inequality as a measure of the consequence of income redistribution. He found that national IQ has a significantly positive effect on rate of highest marginal individual income tax (p<0.05) and a negative effect on the nation’s net income inequality (p<0.01). Each point in national IQ increases the highest marginal individual tax rate by more than half a percentage point. Example: if we raised the national IQ by 10 points, the highest marginal tax rate increases by more than 5%.

    Religiosity

    Religion is a cultural universal, but may not be an adaptation in itself – it may have derived from other evolved psychological mechanisms, namely, paranoia. Pretend you’re one of our ancestors, and you’re hanging out near your favorite fruit tree late at night. Suddenly a piece of fruit beans you on the head. You can think one of two things: one, the fruit was intentionally thrown at your head (when in fact it was just because of gravity and the fruit fell on its own – type I error), or two, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the fruit just fell (when in fact it was intentionally thrown by a member of an enemy tribe who snuck up on you and wants to hack you to death – type II error).

    Of the two thoughts, the second – the type II error, is far more detrimental to survival and reproduction, so it pays to be paranoid – it might save your life. So, evolution should favor psychological mechanisms that result in type 1 errors. As a result, our brains may be more disposed to perceive intentional forces (i.e. the hands of God) behind a wide range of natural phenomena – for example, Greek gods controlled everything from the sun rising to crop cycles. Since this is familiar, the more novel value would be to not believe in an unseen hand, and thus be agnostic or atheistic. And since more intelligent people are predicted to espouse novel values, more intelligent people are predicted to be atheistic.

    Kanazawa used three questions to measure religiosity: do you believe in God, how important is God in your life on a scale of 1-10, and independent of whether you go to church would you say you are (a) a religious person, (b) not a religious person, or (c) a convinced atheist. He found that national IQ has a significantly negative effect on the proportion of the population who believes in God (p<0.01), a significantly negative effect on the mean importance of God (p<0.0001), and a significantly negative effect on the proportion who identify themselves as religious (p<0.01). Each point in national IQ decreases the proportion of the population who believes in God by more than a percentage point, and national IQ alone accounts for more than 70% of the variance in the mean importance of God across nations.

    Monogamy

    Humans have been mildly polygynous throughout human evolution. (N.B. Polygynous is when a man has two or more wives or partners at the same time. Polygamy is when any person has two or more marriage or sexual partners at one time.) This correlates with the spread between size of male and female – the larger the male is compared to the female, the more likely the species is polygynous. Gibbons are the same size, and are monogamous. Gorillas differ greatly in size by gender, and are highly polygynous. In humans, usually the male has had multiple partners while the woman has just had one. This means that sexual exclusivity, monogamy, is novel for males but not for females. More intelligent men, then, would likely espouse monogamy, while less intelligent men are man whores. Kanazawa found that as you may expect, the higher the national IQ, the more monogamous the society (p<0.05).

    What does all of this mean?

    According to Kanazawa’s data, more intelligent nations tend to be more liberal, atheistic, and monogamous.

    But what about the argument that these are more adaptive reasons for psychological behavior, as Josh suggests, as opposed to looking at all the evolutionary forces? Josh says the real null hypothesis should be that psychology is the result of random evolutionary process. I sent this idea, along with some others, to Dr. Kanazawa, and he responded:



    I suppose your friend is correct. That evolution has had no effect on the architecture of the human mind is the implicit null hypothesis against which we test our evolutionary psychological hypotheses, although, as the field matures and there remains less and less doubt that the null hypothesis valid, we begin to test competing hypotheses from the evolutionary psychological perspective. Given that the null hypothesis is false and evolution has had an effect on the design of the human mind, which hypothesis is more valid? The null hypothesis your friend proposes has been rejected every single time in the last 17 years!
    Mike commented about average intelligence of a species versus the measure of intelligence of individuals in regard to the number of cortical neurons, and I’d direct him to the paper the previous article by Li et al. But regarding the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis, Kanazawa has a forthcoming paper in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, which will test the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis at the individual level.

    Simoncito asked about trying to find where cleverness exists in our brains, versus thinking about how intelligence is displayed in behavior. An article by J. Philippe Rushton (Intelligence (2004), 32, 321-328) may be of interest (to simoncito or anyone); it addresses intelligence in an evolutionary framework and the r-K matrix of life history-traits including longevity. Another article of interest, and one that I wanted to tie in to this article but it’s already far too long, is an article in Scientific American on the origins of the left and right brain (July 2009 issue, pages 60-67). This article seems to suggest that the novel evolutionary values described by Kanazawa are under control of the right hemisphere.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    FIrst of all, Becky ... great article! 

    A possible measurement of this flexibility is the efficiency of brain structural organization – the number of cortical neurons, their ability to process data, and the speed at which they process information could be tied to what we consider "intelligence."
    The problem with this approach is that it tends to emphasize the more mechanical aspects which suggests only that a "potential" for intelligence exists.  By loose analogy, it's sort of like examining a database design and extrapolating it's performance, while it doesn't actually contain any data.  Until the database has information in it, we can't establish anything about it's usefulness or how well it can be applied to any particular problem.  This is the fundamental problem of intelligence, since it is clear that from the moment of birth, whatever innate intelligence exists in a baby it means nothing without the experiential knowledge that must populate the human "database".  Since there is clearly a difference in the "intelligence" (pick your favorite definition) between a one year old baby, a 10 year old child, and a twenty year old adult, then we must conclude that whatever we are calling intelligence cannot be measured until some degree of education and/or experience has been entered.

    Since lightning never strikes the same place twice, this is guaranteed to be a non-recurrent problem.

    Which, by the way, isn't true.  However, getting to the Savanna Principle .... it would seem that for this to be true, there should be a greater innate ability to deal with the natural world (i.e. survival), and yet we find that most of the knowledge we used to possess has largely disappeared.  We are totally ignorant when compared with the information available to aboriginal peoples, so it would appear that there is a much more tenous link to such a principle.  In other words, people today are infinitely better adapted to cities than they are to wilderness.  As illustrated by the three questions, they are not only flawed, they are the wrong questions.

    Example:

    #1.  A lightning strike near a tree suggests that the camp was vulnerable to begin with.  The highest risk is that of electricity traveling through the roots or of limbs being broken off.  In actuality, a fire is the least of the worries.

    #2.  To worry about food in a severe drought misses the point.  The only question that needs to be answered is where is there water?  After that the problem becomes solvable.

    #3. Crossing any substantial body of water during a flash flood pretty much ensures that your genes will not be passed on, so future generations will not make the same foolish choices.

    My point here, is that this kind of knowledge is borne from experience and not some innate set of problem solving skills that harken back to the Savanna. 

    I would agree that humans being visual, derive much of these experiential knowledge from what they see.  In that case, I could understand where one could argue that in today's environment, the media makes it difficult for the brain to differentiate between experience versus entertainment, leading to the illusion of knowledge.  However, this is more along the lines of sensory illusions and how they are interpreted, rather than something that relates to primitive survival conditions. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Is it just me or does question two leave me with way to little information to make any kind of decision. First it says middle of a severe drought. Is this years or months or weeks. If I was in the middle and depending on the period I could estimate how much food and water I would need. Am I by a river or lake or do I have a well. Are there fish in the river. What climate did it use to be are there cactus. Am I blind. Can I observe animals eating and assume I could eat it as well. The list goes on and on. Or am I missing the point completely.

    Gerhard Adam
    I think the question is legitimate, but the premise is irrelevant.  It doesn't matter whether you're in the beginning, middle, or end of a severe drought.  It doesn't matter in terms of estimating needs for the future, etc.

    The only thing that matters is how you're going to eat today and probably tomorrow.  Animals have to routinely deal with these kinds of issues, so there's no need to get distracted by a bunch of irrelevant information.

    There's only one problem to solve.  Find water.  If you find water, you will find plants, and you will find other animals.  The rest is details.
    Mundus vult decipi
    It says a severe drought. It makes no mention if I have a water supply. I might have stored water to last me months but not enough to use for farming. It says food is the issue not water. Just because I have water doesn't mean there can't be a drought. So why are the details not important? I understand what your saying. But I think the question ask me to assume something that I have no way of knowing with the information provided. So I could not answer the question.

    For example there is a spider who built his web in my bathroom. I feel sorry for him. He's next to light and water and has caught nothing. I wonder if I should take him outside. It is not his fault I created a false environment that he can't reason on.

    Gerhard Adam
    Just because I have water doesn't mean there can't be a drought.
    Well, that's really splitting hairs.  One way or the other you'll have to find water.  If you have to move to find food, you'll have to take water with you.  However, having your own supply of water is irrelevant for plants or animals, so you'll still have to find water to find where your food supply is.
    So I could not answer the question.
    I can understand that, but actually I would say that unless you're actually in such a situation any answer you provide is purely speculative.  So in my view, any answer isn't necessarily relevant.

    In fact, it seems that the question indicates a misunderstanding about such situations just in the way it is phrased.  As you said, it focuses on food, but it is important to recognize that there are reasons why most human tribes were nomadic.  The presumption in the question is that we are forced to stay in one place.  In the "real world" that would be a foolish condition.

    Mundus vult decipi
    That I can agree with. Thanks Hank jk.

    Becky Jungbauer
    I forgot to mention that I took the three questions verbatim from Dr. Kanazawa.
    Gerhard Adam
    Also regarding a couple of other points.

    It seems that the essential difference between liberalism and conservatism is:

    Liberalism tends to view other people's situations as something that could possibly happen to themselves, while conservatism tends to view other people's situations as something they brought on themselves.

    I realize that sounds somewhat politically loaded, but liberals tend to see that they could, themselves, becomes victims of circumstances, while conservatives tend to view such failings as a sign of weakness or failure to take responsibility.  Perhaps I'm being overly simplistic, but that's how I tend to view it.

    On the religious issue, we tend to view religious ideas as being "over there", as though primitive people shared some kind of vague superstitions to help them make sense of the world.  IN truth, the overwhelming majority of human beings are superstitious to varying degrees.  Even the hardest core athiest is likely to invoke Lady Luck (not probability) when necessary and it seems that with ideas such as "good luck" and "bad luck", it isn't much of a stretch to start assigning intent to such conditions.  We've all experienced situations where you just can't seem to get positive results from some activity, and the frustration tends to make you feel as if the whole universe is conspiring against you (especially gambling).  How many times have you seen people wear a lucky hat, or shirt?  Why do hotels avoid having a 13th floor?  Do these people truly believe that these things are bad luck, or are they simply using these tokens or ideas as an "insurance policy" ... just in case?

    The only difference with religion is that it has formalized such vague feelings and ideas, and encapsulated them into ritualistic behaviors.  Remove the facade of a particular belief and you'll find the same general feelings underneath.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Liberalism tends to view other people's situations as something that could possibly happen to themselves, while conservatism tends to view other people's situations as something they brought on themselves.

    I think that's basically correct, but that it goes a bit further. I think these two groups define "fair" differently. Liberals tend to define a situation as fair when everyone has the same stuff. Conservatives define fair as everyone having the same starting point. So for example, if life is an easter-egg hunt, a conservative would say the game was fair if everyone started at the same time, and the same starting line. If at the end of the game, Sally has 20 eggs and Joe has 10, that doesn't matter to a conservative. The game was fair. But a liberal would say that the game is only fair if Sally and Joe have the same number of eggs.

    Becky Jungbauer
    You picked up on a point that I didn't even include in the article, but one that Kanazawa discussed briefly in his paper relating to liberalism - he touched on communism (the ideal theory, not the disastrous practice) and socialism, and how more intelligent people are more egalitarian.
    How is having the same starting point fair. Sally could be blind. What might be fair for her is to wait for Joe to pick up all the eggs and them bash him Over the head and take them all. The only way to solve this is to evenly distribute the eggs. Or is it morality of the majority. In which case if I can out smart the majority then that should be fair. Like put all the eggs you collected in a basket. And then I run of with the basket. Awh did you create a game where you had the advantage and now someone decide not to follow them because it was the game that was not fair.

    Simplistic? Yes. True? Yes. What more could you ask for?

    adaptivecomplexity
    In other words, more intelligent individuals should be better able to comprehend and deal with evolutionarily novel entities and situations than less intelligent individuals, but both can deal equally well with evolutionarily familiar values (since these adaptations have been "hard-wired" by evolution). 
    So then why aren't all species highly intelligent? Or at least those with variable environments, like rats? That's an argument for why hundreds or thousands of species should be as intelligent as we are.
    Also, Dr. Kanazawa completely misinterpreted Josh's question:

    That evolution has had no effect on the architecture of the human mind is the implicit null hypothesis against which we test our evolutionary psychological hypotheses, although, as the field matures and there remains less and less doubt that the null hypothesis valid, we begin to test competing hypotheses from the evolutionary psychological perspective. 
    That's not right - the null hypothesis isn't that "evolution has had no effect on the architecture of the human mind." The proper null hypothesis is that a specific feature or trait was  produced by natural selection: each time they come up with an adaptationist (which Kanazawa falsely equates with evolutionary - not all evolution is adaptive!!!) hypothesis, they need to ask themselves, could this trait have been produced by non-selective means.
    A null hypothesis has to be specific!

    And finally, the biggest problem with this research is the idea that we can accurately measure differences in innate intelligence between populations. We can give IQ tests to different populations, but the scores reflect both culture and innate intelligence, when you're making between population comparisons. Thus Kanazawa's argument is somewhat circular - when you're measuring IQ differences among nations, you're measuring cultural effects, and then you use the results to explain cultural differences among nations.



    Mike
    Actually, I think that most species with a highly variable environment are more intelligent (here meaning able to deal with novel situations) than other more specialized similar creatures.

    Corvids are an excellent example. The smaller the range of the bird (and/or the less variable its environment... New Caledonian crows have a small, but very diverse, environment), the less well it performs on conitive tests, tool selection, tool building, and tool use.

    Canids and Vulpines are other groups of animals that have thrived in the evolutionary novel environment disturbed by man. And I would argue that Rats are actually quite intelligent compared to other, more specialized rodents.

    I do not think that it is nessecarily useful to expect all creatures with a diverse environment to be as intelligent as we are. Smarter than your average bear (or bird, or fox, or dog) will suffice to show the result of a diverse environment on a species' intelligence. I concede, though, that it would be very difficult to develop a control for experiments to test this assumption.

    adaptivecomplexity
    Actually, I think that most species with a highly variable environment are more intelligent (here meaning able to deal with novel situations) than other more specialized similar creatures....
    I do not think that it is nessecarily useful to expect all creatures with a diverse environment to be as intelligent as we are.
    I think you're correct. The point is that a highly variable environment-leads-to-intelligence argument is too general: it's not enough to explain why humans are much more intelligent than chimps, or why they got so much smarter during over millions of years on the savannah.
    Mike
    Becky Jungbauer
    So then why aren't all species highly intelligent?
    I agree - I think in totality with contributions (psychological, biological, evolution) we can arguably say that humans are the most intelligent as we understand it (reason, adaption, flexibility) of the animals, but I think just using the argument that adaptation to novel situations = intelligence could be applied to many (if not all) species.

    Also, Dr. Kanazawa completely misinterpreted Josh's question
    When I saw his email I had to read that paragraph a few times because I wasn't quite sure how he went from Josh's question to his answer. I think the null hypothesis that you present is more in line with what we should use. And I struggled with what seemed to be the use of "adapt" interchangeably with "evolve" in the paper.

    And finally, the biggest problem with this research is the idea that we can accurately measure differences in innate intelligence between populations.
    I was really interested to see how he dealt with this problem, because I agree with you - unless you have a common baseline, how can you measure the delta? I'm glad you picked up on that. He used data on IQ of a national population from a comprehensive list of 192 nations' national IQs (nations with populations > 40,000); the list's authors showed a correlation between the two extreme scores for each nation (with 2+ scores available) was 0.92 and the correlation between the second highest and second lowest scores across 15 nations (with 5+ scores available) was 0.95. The authors also showed showed a correlation between national IQ and national scores on tests of mathematics and science ranging from 0.79-0.89, and compared their data to an international assessment studies of student academic performance (r=0.97). So while the numbers look good, I'm not sure if you can compare the various populations, as their underlying characteristics are so different. I think the idea of comparing within populations is a better one.
    adaptivecomplexity
    So while the numbers look good, I'm not sure if you can compare the various populations, as their underlying characteristics are so different. I think the idea of comparing within populations is a better one.
    That's the key here - one can certainly compare IQ scores between populations, but you can't tease out cultural effects from innate intelligence (if that's even possible to define).  It's not even just the fact that cultures are so different; you can't even do the proper controls, in which you keep the environment constant: a Pakastani kid, adopted at infancy by a white, middle-class American couple, is still not experiencing the same environment as a non-adopted child in the same household. Someone who looks different gets treated differently, obviously. The same would be true of a Caucasian child raised in Pakistan.
    If Kanazawa is invoking evolution here, then presumably he's interested in innate intelligence, and for that, his data are no good.




    Mike
    Gerhard Adam
    I don't think anyone's disputing that diversity would generate more "intelligence" (since the flexibility of the brain would be subject to more experiential data).

    I do not think that it is nessecarily useful to expect all creatures with a diverse environment to be as intelligent as we are.
    Actually it is, since the point of mentioning such selection pressures is because they supposedly produced the result of intelligence.  While it might be reasonable to argue that only some animals moved in that direction while others didn't might be plausible.  However when no other animal experienced such a radical difference, then the strong suggestion is that something else was probably responsible for the shift in human intelligence.  In other words, any phenomenon to which only humans are the beneficiaries suggests something outside of environmental selection pressures.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Johannes Koelman
    Hi Becky, can you clarify a point. You stated:

      "In humans, usually the male has had multiple partners while the woman has just had one."

    Occasionally I see statements like these, but never really understand what is meant to be implied.
    Assuming you are talking about heterosexual partnering, and assuming the females do not strongly outnumber the males (or the other way around), the average number of partners should be equal for both genders. Right?

    So, are you implying that a subgroup of the females is highly polygynous (much more so than the average male)? Or is a significant asymmetry in cross-gender partnering reflected in this statistics (e.g. voluntary vs non-voluntary partnering, with the latter not entered into the count)?
    Becky Jungbauer
    the average number of partners should be equal for both genders. Right?
    You know, I thought the same thing at first, but your two suggestions are more in line with what I think is reality. I think it's a mix - small subgroup of highly polygynous females, and a much larger group of females who are forced into partnering - see Josh's various posts on the subject - plus some underreporting. Girls aren't supposed to have multiple partners, but guys are, so while I hope the reporting bias is low I do wonder.