Rick Perry and his transcript

By Razib Khan | September 14, 2011 3:05 pm

This piece in The New York Times goes through the A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s, of Rick Perry’s transcript. Two questions which come to mind:

1) If we know this about Perry, why shouldn’t we know this about all the candidates? I don’t know what getting a B in business law and a D in principles of economics means, but it’s kind of interesting, with the latter being alarming. My liberal friends are generally in awe of Barack Obama’s intellect, so there shouldn’t be any objection from that quarter.

2) If Perry is so dull & lazy, how was it that they let him fly a plane as a pilot? Perhaps he wasn’t academically motivated? Or perhaps in the 1970s the standards in the military were low enough that a marginal college graduate sufficed.

MORE ABOUT: Rick Perry
  • adam

    Honestly, I’m not sure if a college transcript is the best way to assess how intelligent someone is. Don’t let school get in the way of your education and all that. Is there any background as to what he spent his time doing instead? Was he spending his time partying and womanizing, or was he actually applying himself and still unable to get decent grades? (I ask this as a general question, if there is anyone out there who knows his background.)

    Still, a D in intro to economics is pretty disastrous.

  • ryan

    I am in no way a supporter of Perry, but the importance of these grades and calling him “dull and lazy” and questioning pilot standards in the military is really blowing this out of proportion. The guy got a D and an F in organic chem, which as the article mentions, is usually the science weed out course which is exactly what happened in this case. To be fair, orgo was among my lowest grades too and I work in a scientific field. Secondly, as the article states, this whole time he was doing military training in the corps of cadets. I have friends who attended military universities, and it is not an easy thing. I don’t know how his program did things, but most military programs have the cadets doing physical training and drills all the time when they aren’t in class. It isn’t hard to understand why his grades may have been bad. Calling him dull and lazy is unwarranted. Also, remember that we have severe grade inflation these days and even basic stuff like studying and paper writing are tremendously easier due to computers and the internet.

    Again, I’m not saying he is necessarily a smart guy and I sure as hell don’t trust him making rulings in regards to scientific matters, but rhetoric along these tracks is usually overblown and toxic. Making assumptions/statements about something or someone based on little evidence is exactly the wrong kind of thing intelligent, scientific minded people should be doing.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    what do you people want, give him a raven’s matrices?

    #1, i alluded to the possibility that he was lazy. if you’re in college and partying you’re being lazy about what should be your job. also, if he had a bad break up or something i would have expected some time dependence. as it is, his grades are all over the place over the 4 years.

    #2, we don’t have a little evidence. we have a moderate amount. i don’t think it’s wrong at all to say that perry is dumb and romney is smart based on what academic evidence we have at hand. perry himself has admitted he’s not academic. who cares if he’s dull? there are nice dull people and unpleasant smart people.

    50% of people are below average in intelligence. since perry graduated college he may not be in that class. i would bet against it. but, i’m kind of sick of the wariness to say that someone is less intelligence than average when there’s a 1 out of 2 shot without any other information. and of those 50% i think a lot are actually dull. they’re people too. not assessing their nature doesn’t make them go away.

  • Darkseid

    my guess for him is that he’s got a roughly average IQ (around 105 or so) and avg. judgement. i rate people on a combo of IQ/judgement where someone like Sean Carroll or Razib would be high in both, me personally being avg/high, a person who is high IQ but religious or doesn’t believe in global warming would be high/avg-poor and obviously someone like Snooki would be poor/poor. Fantastic judgement can go a long way to make up for an avg. IQ. At least Perry has the Guardisil thing down so i’ll give him that but any time people describe others as “telling it like it is,” being “street smart” or “smart but doesn’t apply himself” it seems like 95% of the time I’m not impressed when i actually meet them. as someone who is good at pretending to be smart, I make a hobby out of guessing about this type of thing;)

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    I’m pretty sure that they don’t let idiots fly planes and they didn’t then either. One issue that hasn’t come up is that it isn’t like his grades were bad freshman year when he was adjusting or something like that. They are sprinkled all over.

    I’m almost more concerned by the grade in the trig class- that shouldn’t be tough material, and is a decent reflection of general intelligence. I’m not sure the econ class is a big deal- someone could easily do badly in a course like that and still pick up the central ideas in the forty years since then.

    Overall, I find this to be concerning but not that concerning. I’m already deeply not a fan of Perry and this doesn’t impact things much that way. If this sort of thing turned up for another Republican candidate I don’t think it would alter my attitude that much. It would make me more concerned but I’m not sure by how much.

    (Full disclosure: I didn’t get good grades in college, although part of that was due to health issues.)

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Ok. Actually looking at this more, there really is a severe concern. It isn’t just that the GPA is low and that there are a lot of low grades, it is the real lack of high grades which is striking. A handful of good grades would demonstrate that when he applies himself to something he enjoys he can actually do well. With only two As in what look like not too hard classes one really doesn’t see this. This lack of good grades maybe should be more worrisome than the presence of Fs.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: his intelligence. it’s not the most important thing in the world fwiw. sorry, but his ideology matters more, since washington is run by institutions. that being said, if rick perry isn’t dumb as politicians go, who is? is it just not acceptable to place ANY public figure in that category?

  • Chris

    Wow that man is an idiot. If I had those kind of grades the shame I would have felt would have caused me to commit suicide long ago. Not that I’m advocating that, but really if you don’t know the difference between an aldehyde and a ketone, what’s the point of living?

  • Erich Schwarz

    “…why shouldn’t we know this about all the candidates?”

    [Begin new_york_times_editor.pl:]

    We definitely should know this about all the Republican candidates.

    But we absolutely should not ever know this about Obama. Because … er … uh … mumble … um … oh, look! cows! … eeuh …what was the question again? Oh yeah: you were asking about whether we should know Republican candidates’ transcripts. Of course we should! Particularly when they’re bad. That settles that …… huh? What “double standard”? I have no idea what you’re talking about! You teabagger racist, you.

    [end new_york_times_editor.pl]

    Now, if I actually do write the Perl script “new_york_times_editor.pl” to generate the above reply, I can make it pass the Turing test, as long as we consider editors of the New York Times “as intelligent as a real human”.

  • Anthony

    Reagan had mediocre grades at a mediocre college (though many fewer people went to college back in 1928), but that was because his primary interest was football, and he only put in enough academic effort to maintain eligibility. Some of his instructors believed he could have done significantly better academically.

    There’s a paper which purports to analyze presidential intelligence at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2006.00524.x/pdf though I have my doubts both about the potential political bias in the measurements, and the high ranges reported.

  • Sandgroper

    As a non-American bored by politics, I’ve got a fix on Perry now – he was the guy in Texas who signed the executive order on Gardasil. A generation of Texan women will thank him for that, or should.

  • http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/ Christopher@BorderWars

    I’d love to know which Pols were good students, just for comparison.

    I don’t know what grades are really supposed to tell us, I find test scores and actual product (like essays or a thesis, etc.) more informative. I’d like to be able to assess how these pols think, not see how some prof gave them a grade. Although, in general, good grades are more reassuring than poor grades.

    I saw classmates at Stanford fail classes after setting the curve on all the previous tests because they overslept the final or missed a deadline on one problem set. I also got an A+ in a class where I didn’t turn in a paper, so standards are hardly fair across teachers, departments, and schools. Sure, I don’t see any A+ after a retake on Perry’s transcripts, but I know a lot of Phi Beta Kappas who can’t balance a checkbook let alone lead a nation.

    We have to get real about what a President is and does. I personally prefer to see the record of State Governors, as this is the most comparable job. I think in general that Presidents lead like their previous jobs. I think Clinton and Bush 2 lead like governors, and I think Obama has lead like a guy who spent a few months in the Senate before getting promoted too fast. Lots of speeches, not a lot of leadership and management.

    Part of the reason I’m a Libertarian is that I don’t see politics attracting the sorts of minds and quality of character individuals that I would cede decision making to. I’d rather swim a more uncertain ocean than believe that any of these clowns are going to make better decisions about my life, liberty, and property than I can based on their campaign promises.

  • Chris

    Well yes there is a range among teachers in the grades they give and if it was one bad grade we could move along and say it was an anomaly. But when most are Cs and Ds, that is a definite pattern. If he didn’t demand excellence from himself as a college student, how can we expect him to demand excellence from himself as a leader?

  • Anthony

    Razib – Perry may be “dumb” relative to politicians of national stature, but he’s still above-average relative to the entire population, and thus not “dumb” in that larger context. On the other hand, that *will* matter somewhat, as a smarter politician will (possibly) be more able to maneuver the institutions to get the results he wants.

    I think with politicians generally, more of their cognitive ability is focused on the social skills and short-term situational response which makes great salesmen but are hard to measure on a test, so IQ-type tests will underestimate their true level of cognitive ability.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Razib – Perry may be “dumb” relative to politicians of national stature, but he’s still above-average relative to the entire population, and thus not “dumb” in that larger context.

    i was unclear above. i do assume perry is above the 50th percentile.

    I think with politicians generally, more of their cognitive ability is focused on the social skills and short-term situational response which makes great salesmen but are hard to measure on a test

    the average politician who attains a high level position is smart compared to the median. look at how many house of rep. members don’t have a college degree vs. gen population.

  • http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/ Christopher@BorderWars


    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pouting about the fairness of the measure because I don’t like the results. The transcript is far from reassuring. I just don’t think that college performance is all that relevant to the presidency as you suggest. I see education more like the pedigree of a dog. It tells you what the person is supposedly capable of, but it’s no guarantee. We already have actual measures of Perry’s performance in the real world, in a role that is similar to what we expect of the President. We don’t have to EXPECT anything from his academic record, we have real and relevant data to look at regarding his political abilities.

    Perry actually has a record of leadership of a large state. I find that much more relevant. Someone like Obama had very little leadership experience worth note and thus his education came to the forefront. His law review position was hammered home constantly during the campaign and yet we still didn’t get any of Obama’s transcripts. That allows the opposition to imagine any sort of negative thing regarding his academic performance and gives them ammo to claim affirmative action and that Harvard social planning gave Barack access and awards that perhaps his academics didn’t merit. Who knows, we have no data. I see that as more of a proposal of potential than a record of success.

    If we were voting for a 26 year old for President I might put more weight on their college transcripts, but we aren’t. Perry isn’t a 20 year old college student looking for an internship, nor is the job he’s running for particularly informed by academic performance. Unlike many readers of this blog whose entire careers are based on successive academic degrees, politics is a very different game, so the players have very different resumes.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #16, good point about track record. the main issue i would offer is that texas has a relatively weak governorship, and the areas where president of the USA is VERY different from a governor and much more relevant and powerful is foreign policy.

  • occamseraser

    If Perry’s not stupid, then he’s doing a good job of pretending to be stupid. He’s part of the anti-science core of the current crop of flat-earth Republicans. Richard Dawkin’s take on him/them is spot on and worth googling if you haven’t read it. Bachman, Perry, and Co. wear their ignorance with great pride.

  • Baramos

    I’m sure it depresses me and many other hard-working college graduates that we all got much better grades than so many successful politicians.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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