Friday, August 16, 2013

...although most of us are probably smarter than Steven Pinker.

Are you smarter than a third-grader?

It would add too much to the post below, so let me present this as an appendix of sorts.

I get the following from The Thought Criminal.  It is from a review of Stephen Pinker's The Angels of our Better Nature, a book more suited to be a Slate article back in the day when Slate's reputation was built on Michael Kinsley's "counter-intuitive liberal" persona.

But I digress.

The connection to the post below should be pretty clear:

Let's start with the presidential I.Q. study upon which Pinker relies. I.Q. tests did not even exist until the early 20th century, so most of its ludicrously precise estimates—Martin Van Buren (132.9), James Buchanan (122.8), Ulysses S. Grant (115.0)—deserve horselaughs. John F. Kennedy is conveniently credited with an I.Q. of 156, though his tested I.Q. was 119, or roughly 10 points lower than George W. Bush's.
I would submit that everything you want to know about IQ is contained in those three sentences.  What one does or says is clearly a product of one's intelligence, so outcomes we prefer are clearly intelligent outcomes; those we don't like, clearly come from lesser abilities to cogitate.  So George W. Bush has the lowest Presidential IQ on record, while John Kennedy, from his accomplishments, clearly has a vastly superior IQ (156, if I remember my IQ scorings correctly, is a very high genius range.  Anything above 130 is considered quite remarkable.)

Except, of course, Kennedy had a very standard IQ score.

So tell me again what "IQ" measures, and how we know its measurements are accurate, and how they relate to a world where taking tests is about the last useful skill a human being can have?


  1. I have to say it somewhere, so I'll say it in comments to my own post:

    George W. Bush recorded a fairly decent IQ; but he was almost universally described as a not intellectually curious human being.

    Curiosity, of course, is an emotion. It provokes reason, perhaps, but we prefer to think of reason as those brain functions we control; and we don't control curiosity.

    The conventional notion of "intelligence" is that it is all about reasoning, usually and preferably divorced from emotion. This is even the fear of intelligent machines: that they will be all reason, without emotions like compassion or empathy.

    But without emotions such as curiosity, or even empathy (Bush was also not famed for his compassion for death row inmates, for example), what is the value of the ability to reason well enough to make a good score on an IQ test? How is IQ, in other words, an indication of anything about a person, aside from the ability to answer more of the test questions correctly than the general population?

  2. I'm afraid, these days I instantly regard someone who believes in IQ as being at least superstitious and likely not to bright. I was given one of the standard tests when I was about ten - I remember it featured producing a predetermined pattern with blocks - I think there was some kind of analogy stuff like the Millers' and all I remember about it was thinking it was stupid. Of course they didn't tell me what it was, I found that out later. I never found out what the number was. Hope I'd have remembered how stupid I thought the test was if they'd ever told me. Never thought of the test in any other terms than that.

  3. I actually saw my IQ scores in my "permanent record" in my old high school. I worked there one summer scrubbing and waxing the floors in the entire building, and we had to move boxes around in the school office.

    All I will tell you is that my IQ and $5 will get you a cup of coffee and a bagel at Starbucks. Which is all it's ever been worth to me.