Richard Feynman's intelligence

By Razib Khan | December 27, 2011 1:32 am

Interesting interview of Steve Hsu. I’ll reproduce the part about Feynman:

3. Is it true Feynman’s IQ score was only 125?

Feynman was universally regarded as one of the fastest thinking and most creative theorists in his generation. Yet it has been reported-including by Feynman himself-that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test. I suspect that this test emphasized verbal, as opposed to mathematical, ability. Feynman received the highest score in the country by a large margin on the notoriously difficult Putnam mathematics competition exam, although he joined the MIT team on short notice and did not prepare for the test. He also reportedly had the highest scores on record on the math/physics graduate admission exams at Princeton. It seems quite possible to me that Feynman’s cognitive abilities might have been a bit lopsided-his vocabulary and verbal ability were well above average, but perhaps not as great as his mathematical abilities. I recall looking at excerpts from a notebook Feynman kept while an undergraduate. While the notes covered very advanced topics for an undergraduate-including general relativity and the Dirac equation-it also contained a number of misspellings and grammatical errors. I doubt Feynman cared very much about such things.


One thing I have always wondered about is the fact that Richard Feynman had substantive accomplishments which marked him as definitively brilliant by the time he was talking about his 125 I.Q. score (which is smart, but not exceedingly smart). Intelligence scores are supposed to be predictors of accomplishments, but Feynman already had those accomplishments. Bright people take many psychometric tests, so there will be a range of score about a mean. My personal experience is that there’s a bias in reporting the highest scores. But it may be that Feynman gloried in reporting his lowest scores because that made his accomplishments even more impressive. Unlike most he had nothing to prove to anyone.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Psychology
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  • http://friendsofdarwin.com/ Richard Carter, FCD

    …or it could just mean that IQ tests are a load of old nonsense!

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

    #1, your comment is nonsense. though probably makes you feel Right Thinking.

  • Metacodger

    It makes sense to me that Feynman’s 125 IQ score was heavily weighted to verbal skill, though i wonder if his emphasis of it was rooted mostly in his tendency to be iconoclastic. He deeply disliked symbols of authority and discusses this in a popular interview series I always enjoy watching:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhD0MxacnIE

  • John Roth

    Or it may be the test. I remember one test in Michigan that was clearly marked: not valid over 130. This was in the late 50s. That meant that anyone taking that test with a higher IQ simply got marked as 130.

  • http://julianodea.blogspot.com/ Julian O’Dea

    I remember noticing that James Watson had a few inelegant expressions and spelling errors in his writing. Even the title Avoid Boring People is ambiguous, if you think about it (is “boring” a verb or an adjective?) He credits Joyce Lebowitz with “keeping me from completely misusing the English language”, in the preface to The Double Helix, and I don’t think this was false modesty.

    It seems that Feynman was a very good mathematician. Einstein is reported to have not been particularly exceptional in this regard. But perhaps this is a myth.

    Darwin’s intellect interests me. I assume he had profound logical capacity, but as far as I know he was not a mathematician.

    On a personal note, I was humbled to score relatively low (<120 IQ) in some Internet tests centred on visuo-spatial tests. But I am fairly smart (one of 26 National Undergraduate Scholars in 1972 in Australia).

  • j rush

    Richard feynman was a hero of mine and had so many talents and interests. One talent of which his ability to engage people. Maybe not as strong as Sagan but so much fun to listen. Look up his lectures on youtube. Also he was intersted in Tuva.

  • http://julianodea.blogspot.com/ Julian O’Dea

    On a lighter note, I came across a claim of a 180 IQ on the Internet recently. I had my doubts, especially as the claimant didn’t know how to spell possessive “its”. He spelt the word “it’s”.

  • Metacodger

    Julian – very interesting you should mention Darwin.

    I don’t have an academic background (in anything), but have been reading and trying to understand as much general science as I could over the past 15 years, and have a better appreciation now of why Darwin’s ideas were so profound and far reaching (though I must admit Lamarkian evolution is fun to think about!).

    How can we measure that kind of intellectual capacity? It would be fascinating to know how Darwin might have scored on different types of IQ assessment tests.

  • j rush

    Feynman lives! A hero of mine. He possessed charisma, passion and intellect.

  • http://julianodea.blogspot.com/ Julian O’Dea

    Metacodger, yes Darwin is an interesting case. He came of a clever family, with Galtons and Wedgwoods as relatives, and his son was a first-rate mathematician (a Second Wrangler at Cambridge). I have long felt that mathematical ability can express itself in a logical or a computational form. Maybe Charles Darwin was more of a logician. On the other hand, Wallace had the same fundamental insight, and he came of a less intellectually distinguished family and his only mathematical training appears to have been in surveying.

  • Some guy

    I agree with #1. The implications of the Flynn effect for one, and “IQ and the Wealth of Nations” show the pitfalls of over-reliance on IQ as if it was some kind of magic ingredient.

    I have enough friends who are psychologists, and I know it is a useful diagnosis tool for identifying degrees of mental retardation. But seriously, relying on it enough to come up with the crap in “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”.

    But “Feynman gloried in reporting his lowest scores”? Hey! It’s *your* blog… you are clearly allowed to be silly here… once in a while. In any case, we can speculate endlessly — it’s not like Feynman will come back to tell us we were wrong.

    BTW: my own IQ scores comfortably put me in “genius” levels… not that that means anything to me.

  • Douglas Knight

    A similar hypothesis is that he cherry-picked the lowest score for the purpose of discrediting IQ testing.

  • mihirchander

    Well this test was a comprehensive one,which also included math and logical components.I read his biography by James Gleick where he mentions about Feynman taking an IQ test when he was around 15 years old.Feynman scored 124 in logical reasoning while 126 in verbal reasoning according to Gleick.His spatial ability scores were also in the 120-130 range.

  • mihirchander

    I seriously doubt the relevance of IQ as an indicator of one’s intellectual capabilities.

  • http://friendsofdarwin.com/ Richard Carter, FCD

    #2 Sorry for my nonsense comment. Anyone who can sum up a human being’s ‘intelligence’ (whatever that means) with a single number is clearly far more intelligent than me. I stand corrected. I shall keep my ill-informed thoughts to myself in future.

  • Al Cibiades

    While there may be a ‘general’ correlation of intelligence to verbal ability to spatial/mathematical reasoning, the outliers in any of these abilities do NOT correlate positively with eachother. A brilliant physicist I knew at college could not spell for s&%$t. It is easy to dismiss inelegant communication, but to assume the writer was of limited intelligence is possibly an even larger mistake on your part.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    The California Academic Performance Index is administered to the 70% of the (2008, 694,288 students total) Los Angeles Unified School District’s high school students who did not drop out. Results are publicly reported by race – to prove there is no racial discrimination. If we assign Caucasians an arbitrary IQ of 100 and then take a weighted normalized average… the average LAUSD high school student has a tested IQ of 82.

    Los Angeles Times “California section” page B3, 05 September 2008.

    IQ cannot be a valid measure of intelligence! “A student could pass the math portion of the test without answering a single algebra question correctly.” Make your choice: regulatory capture, platitudinous amorality, diversity, or truth.

  • O’Hara

    This might be a silly question, but isn’t 125 rather high (the 95th percentile or something)? Is there some definite achievement ceiling for people in this IQ range?

  • Darkseid

    I really don’t like it when ultra smart people do this. It makes normal people like myself feel like we could do what they did if not for that we just aren’t working hard enough or we just don’t quite “get it.” I find it to be even more condescending than saying that we’re probably not capable of majoring in physics or that we probably can’t understand QED. They’re trying to make us feel equal but instead it’s feels like they’re stringing us along and lording info over our heads. It’s basically showing that not only are we not as smart but that we aren’t even capable of grasping THAT fact. And it leaves younger people unaware that there IS a difference between us and them for just long enough to make us waste our time pursuing things we’re not cut out for. It’d be better if they simply said “It’s a cool thing, physics, but it’s not for everyone. You should find your strengths and work on that.” Incidentally, I happened across this:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/smartest-person-in-the-world-2011-12?op=1
    seems like a lotta B.S. but i’d be really interested in what people have to say about it.

  • dave chamberlin

    Richard Feynman is reported to be a very late talker uttering his first word after the age of three. His IQ score of 125 was taken while he was in high school. He still was a brilliant kid taking apart and putting back together complex objects like radios. I suspect his genius was directed in other directions other than mastery of the english language when he was young. He later in life became a great communicator as his many still popular books attest. I am quite sure he would crush an IQ test later in life if he had wished, but like many other successful “hard” scientists like to take pokes at the fuzziness of the “soft” sciences.

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

    BTW: my own IQ scores comfortably put me in “genius” levels… not that that means anything to me.

    classic bullshit move pulled by those who don’t believe in IQ. same trick pulled by those dissing the SAT/GRE: “oh, those tests don’t prove anything, look, even i scored a perfect 800/800.” hypocrite assholes. the military and higher education uses g-loaded tests almost universally.

    #12, that’s my bet. smart people tend to take a lot of these tests. they have more opportunity to cherry pick a low realized score in their range on the distribution.

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

    Anyone who can sum up a human being’s ‘intelligence’ (whatever that means) with a single number is clearly far more intelligent than me.

    exactly. you make a nonsense definition, and define it as nonsense.

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

    also, an IQ of 125 is high. but a top-flight physicist probably has an expected IQ in the 140-150 range (probably higher, since i think this is the range of grad students from top level schools, not their most eminent professors, though is suspect that non-IQ variables start to become important at these high measured levels to distinguish those who accomplish a lot vs. those who do not).

  • Thomas

    IQ tests often use questions of the type “what is the next symbol/number in this series”. If you are clever enough you can come up with several different algorithms that fit the given items, but only one of them will be listed as correct. I can imagine Feynmann in a contrarian mood coming up with wonderfully complex patterns giving completely different answers from the ones intended.

  • Richard Harper

    1. It was only ~after~ WWII when vice-admiral Hyman Rickover traveled around the USA arguing that the side that would win the Cold-War was the side that educated the most nuclear scientists that educational testing for ~high~ intelligence really took off. At the time Feynman was tested (?) almost all those tests were really only geared to measure up to around 125 anyway. Carelessly slipping-up on even just one answer wrong had a huge effect on the measure. Without sufficient challenge the mind wanders. 2. The math-verbal “tilt” has been discussed a lot with considerable interest at conferences, but gets very little journalistic attention or even publication. Simon Baron-Cohen (in the contexts of the studies of students at MIT) and more recently (as of 2007 onward) Michelle Dawson are both researchers of autism who have emphasized the sometimes very strong math-verbal tilt in autisms. With Baron-Cohen in the context of the extreme male brain theory (2002), and with Dawson in the context of Raven (RPM) tests. Why mention this? Because the issue of high-IQ with mental abnormality is so counter-intuitive to many it is as a blindness. Also, in the selection processes for systems requiring extremes forms of intelligence, given that complexity has a strong general trend of going with increasing nodes of trade-offs, … etc. 3. If a reader here is interested in the tilt in the context of economic development, allow me to direct you to page 67 (Wittmann’s abstract) of the ISIR Dec. 2011 conference (70 page PDF) –> http://www.isironline.org/meeting/pdfs/2011_program.pdf (Razib — I tend to write too much. Edit however you like.)

  • Richard Harper

    Great communicators I think of as falling into two categories — those who develop naturally at a young age with great intuition for it, and those who develop much later and usually because they are forced into circumstances requiring them to explicitly practice communication on a daily basis. It is a difference perhaps useful to think of as the difference between implicit and explicit psychological mechanisms. (Yes, Feynman was a great communicator.)

  • T. Kosmatka

    So Feynman was a late talker? Einstein famously was also. Interesting data point. It would be interesting to know how common this trait was among famous physicists.

  • Richard Harper

    Murray Gell-Mann was a late-talker.

  • Richard Harper

    Oh yeah, Thomas Sowell wrote an entire book about late-talkers called “The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children who Talk Late” (2001).

  • rosemary lafollette

    does the test make the man? I don’t think we actually have totally defined intelligence.

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

    I don’t think we actually have totally defined intelligence.

    no shit (in reply to the bold). well, unless you count george w. bush’s purported low IQ or the fact that “red states” have lower IQs. who exactly would be fwding such hoaxes i wonder????

  • Some guy

    #21, asshole, I may be, but hypocrite? Sir, I had to write the GRE to get into a good institution. Fine! Treat me like I’m a genius! See if I care.

    But if I gave the impression that I don’t believe in IQ (entirely), I must correct that: I know the usefulness of these tests for identifying mental incapacity. Low-IQ people should not be expected to do certain tasks by themselves… like manning shops. But for anyone who scores over (let’s say) 120, the utility of these tests diminishes. It’s those “non-IQ variables” (as you called them) that become more and more important.

    Hypothetical: if Prof. Hawking scores 170 and Prof. Susskind scores 220, what difference does it make? (Please don’t say “50”.)

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

    Fine! Treat me like I’m a genius! See if I care.

    please understand, i find most claims of x-IQ threshold being ‘genius’ kind of dumb. genius isn’t a test score, it’s realized ability. like feynman. i’m not personally impressed by an IQ of 145 without further exploration of intellectual interests (e.g., i have found that some ivy league law graduates seem to have dulled their sharp CPU with disgusting malware, despite the very high likelihood their IQ is >140).

    But for anyone who scores over (let’s say) 120, the utility of these tests diminishes. It’s those “non-IQ variables” (as you called them) that become more and more important.

    you don’t know the literature:

    Exhibit A is a landmark study of intellectually precocious youths directed by the Vanderbilt University researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow. They and their colleagues tracked the educational and occupational accomplishments of more than 2,000 people who as part of a youth talent search scored in the top 1 percent on the SAT by the age of 13. (Scores on the SAT correlate so highly with I.Q. that the psychologist Howard Gardner described it as a “thinly disguised” intelligence test.) The remarkable finding of their study is that, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile — the profoundly gifted — were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work. A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage.

    IOW, a consistent measure of 160 is different by a wide margin from a consistent measure of 140 in particular fields that are highly cognitively demanding (e.g., mathematical sciences). though i grant that IQs much about 120 may not matter if you are a pharmaceutical salesperson (and may even cause detriment).

    Hypothetical: if Prof. Hawking scores 170 and Prof. Susskind scores 220, what difference does it make? (I hope you’re not thinking “50″.)

    i’m not an idiot, so of course i don’t believe that scores north of 160 (average, not one random score) mean much. IQ is especially useful in the 3-4 stdv range around the mean.

    i haven’t specified my detailed views in this post. it’s you guys who have been making wide ranging claims, so i’ve been dismissing you as unserious. your comment was more serious than the person claiming that IQ was “nonsense,” but you still don’t seem to be familiar with the correlations of IQ up to 3-4 stdvs above the norm. of course i don’t think that IQ is everything, or that it is perfectly precise (obviousy) or accurate in terms of what we’re trying to measure. but it has wide ranging utility, which is why tests which measure intelligence (whether on purpose or due to correlation with ‘g’) are widely used in organizations across the world, including military and higher education.

  • Charles Nydorf

    Feynman was a brilliant expositor. To anyone who learned physics from his lectures, his extremely high verbal intelligence is beyond doubt.

  • Some guy

    I admit I haven’t come across the Lubinski & Benbow paper before. I will not go by the nytimes article (despite the fact that it was written by associate profs) — however, I will use it as a pointer to something more concrete.

    I will not have access to the Lubinski & Benbow paper for the next few days and so I am not sure how to respond to it. Off the top of my head, I wonder if they have normalized for Expectancy Effect? If they used just SAT scores, which the students know, they haven’t.

    The fact that the military use IQ means nothing to me: old-world red-tape, as far as I am concerned. As for higher education, I don’t know about the undergrad scene, but someone who was at Stanford and MIT (I believe, as a post-doc) told me that the GRE score is the last thing they look at. Of course, this applies only to the US. In Europe, a place I know better than I do the US, no one is asked to take the GRE. In the industry, I haven’t heard of anyone using IQ score or equivalents. (Except Google, a long time ago, where what they used was in some ways close to an IQ test. I don’t know what they do now.) Speaking for myself, I too have been in positions that require me to interview engineers for vacancies in my team. I haven’t done more than interview them for the specific technical roles they will be assigned to. That worked out well enough. I hope I have made it clear why what the military does means so little to me.

  • DK

    There is absolutely no way Feynman had an IQ lower than mine. Not even remotely possible. No matter how greatly verbal abilities are emphasized. Just not possible, period. He absolutely cherry-picked it for a sheer shock value. He liked mischief.

    That said, his lectures are densely written. At least for the (very few) subjects that I understand reasonably well, my feeling was that it all can be written better – easier to read and more fool-proof. So it seems that his verbal intelligence was not on a par with math.

    In some very narrow subset, he could have easily had low score. People differ and intelligence is a sum of many vectors. For any person, a single number is not going to be very meaningful as an indicator of intelligence. E.g., my IQ is somewhere between 130 and 140, depending on the test (and I totally suck at mental rotation).

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

    I admit I haven’t come across the Lubinski & Benbow paper before. I will not go by the nytimes article (despite the fact that it was written by associate profs) — however, I will use it as a pointer to something more concrete.

    most of their papers are available here:

    http://www.vanderbilt.edu/Peabody/SMPY/camilla_benbow.htm

    The fact that the military use IQ means nothing to me: old-world red-tape, as far as I am concerned. As for higher education, I don’t know about the undergrad scene, but someone who was at Stanford and MIT (I believe, as a post-doc) told me that the GRE score is the last thing they look at. Of course, this applies only to the US

    i have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have educations from these universities. GRE is the last thing that you would look at MIT applicants because so many of them had 800 out 800 on the math section. i know this for a fact because a friend who wasn’t a perfect 800 was made fun of in a friendly manner by all his roommates. you’re already pre-selecting from a very elite population. some universities are honest about who they accept, so georgia tech, no MIT or stanford, though a good school, has an average quant GRE of 778 out of 800 for its admits:

    http://www.ece.gatech.edu/academics/graduate/apply.html#phd

    they state that if you GRE scores are “very low”, e.g., 700 quant, you will be declined.

    In the industry, I haven’t heard of anyone using IQ score or equivalents.

    1) industry doesn’t need IQ tests because the american system is really good at using universities as signalers. if you see that someone graduated in EE from stanford or berkeley, or had a high GPA in EE from univ. of minnesota, that’s good enough information.

    2) straightforward IQ tests have to pass a hurdle of being non-discriminatory in employment:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_and_public_policy#Use_of_cognitive_tests_in_the_United_States_legal_system_and_public_policy

    I hope I have made it clear why what the military does means so little to me.

    that’s fine. my point is that the military is a huge organization which habitually uses these “quick & dirty” tests to track and assign people, as filter out the total idiots. that’s because the tests are useful. you said they weren’t. now, you can declaim that the military “doesn’t count” because you don’t think much of the military, or you think they’re inefficient, etc. etc. i think the example from higher education is good enough to indicate the usefulness some people find in these tests.

  • salacious

    Razib,

    You’ve mentioned your disdain for law school several times, usually pretty obliquely in posts on other topics. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind seeing an elaboration of your views on that matter. Is it just a gut perception or do you have a substantive theory/critique? I speak as one of the malware-infected=D

    sal

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    But seriously, relying on it enough to come up with the crap in “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”.

    What in particular is “crap” with “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”?

  • Douglas Knight

    mihirchander@13 made the very interesting claim that Gleick reports the subscores on the IQ test and they were all the same. However, google books says that Gleick says practically nothing.

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

    #38, what if newton had spent all his days in hermeneutics? how would that have profited the world? we do need great minds to work in law and finance. but do we need so many great minds to work in these fields? i’ve read some of noah feldman’s stuff. i think would be more informative if he didn’t have legal training. i mean, this is the guy who graduated first in his class at harvard….

  • Some guy

    Thanks for the link to the papers! I hit a paywall in my first few tries… and I thought I’d have access to them from the university.
    my point is that the military is a huge organization which habitually uses these “quick & dirty” tests to track and assign people, as filter out the total idiots. that’s because the tests are useful. you said they weren’t.

    I have always maintained that they are useful to measure inability… i.e., degrees of retardation. If that’s what they use it for, I find it quite reasonable. What I don’t find reasonable is to use this for people who exceed approx. 120 (people like Feynman). But, I will go through some of the papers from the Vanderbilt site.

    About your MIT friends… well… it’s quite likely they are all engineers. It is awfully easy for engineers to hit 800. And to think they make engineers pay about a couple of hundred dollars to take an exam in high-school math! (It’s quite likely you would have heard your friends complain this way.) You see why I think so little of the GRE… Heck! I would found it a somewhat more reasonable if they made us do a subject GRE instead of the general one. In my cynical moods, I sometimes wonder if universities get a kickback from ETS for making the GRE mandatory.

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

    1) they were chemists (i have a degree in biochemistry, so i have friends who are chemists)

    2) many programs do require the subject GRE. it seems that the more competitive programs generally do

    and yes, the math is easy. that’s why you get saturation at the high levels, so that there’s no visible separation. they should probably make it harder. the verbal seems to have a nicer range.

  • JL
  • Some guy

    #39: The authors are supremely stupid! I’ll explain.

    To start with, I have not read the book, but I have tried to read the article “Intelligence and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations” by the same authors. And I had to stop because I was disgusted after just a few pages. I could not force myself to finish the dumb article.
    I quote from http://www.rlynn.co.uk/uploads/pdfs/Intelligence%20and%20the%20Wealth%20and%20Poverty%20of%20Nations.pdf page 2.

    “In view of these differences, it seems a reasonable hypothesis that national differences in intelligence may be a factor contributing to national differences in wealth. This is a promising hypothesis for two reasons. First, it is well established that intelligence is a determinant of earnings among individuals; and second, several studies have shown that the intelligence of groups is related to their average earnings.”

    Let’s break it apart: “First, it is well established that intelligence is a determinant of earnings among individuals” Maybe… depends on what they do, where they are, what field they work in, and so on. If they were all focussed on the task of “I have to make the greatest money possible”, then yes. Otherwise, no. I guess physicists and mathematicians generally have higher intelligence and lower incomes. Drug dealers probably have generally lower intelligence and higher incomes, and so on. For the general middle class… I can grant that there is such a correleation. Are we trying to get a world-wide IQ vs. $ equation here? If we are, then no: it is NOT well established that intelligence is a determinant of earnings among individuals. What about all those engineers from Israel or India? Could they dumber than American factory workers… because those engineers earn less? What has been fairly “well established [is] that intelligence is ROUGHLY a determinant of earnings” keeping other things fairly constant… not those ranging across economies.

    Next: “several studies have shown that the intelligence of groups is related to their average earnings” Much weaker… because there are many more factors now… it now depends on how you group people. By profession? By geography? By culture?

    Their hypothesis: “national differences in intelligence may be a factor contributing to national differences in wealth” Sure… anything is a reasonable hypothesis… even the size of their teeth as a factor contributing to national differences in wealth… as long as we are doing a multi-variate analysis. Yet they consider just IQ!

    Soon after, I could not bring myself to finish their piece of crap. I skimmed. Ethiopia – IQ 67, Ghana – IQ 62. Wow! Do yourself a favour and find out what this really means: http://www.paulcooijmans.com/intelligence/iq_ranges.html Keep in mind that some tribals who would think that a remote controller is the work of god might otherwise be very competent group hunters, track down their prey, while we notice no clues, tell apart toxic plants from edible ones, while we think they all look the same, improvise tools from raw nature, while we’d be helpless without a long knife and a matchbox… and so on.

    Also, I like economics too much to subject myself to Lynn and Vanhanen.

    I have read brief extracts from their book here and there, when I couldn’t avoid it. I don’t see how many so many (otherwise intelligent) people could like that book. Did I make some mistake and prejudge them? Well… what I write above sounds very reasonable to me. Please do point out flaws in my reasoning! Be brutally honest if you wish.

  • Some guy

    aw crap! my browser was misbehaving :-(. Sorry about the double post — I tried to edit some things in my first post, and now they both got submitted.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I’ve never read Lynn etc and don’t intend to defend them. But you just because scientists make less than i-bankers (but more than median American) doesn’t mean IQ predicts low income, people choose professions based on their inclinations as well as abilities. And Venkatesh found that drug dealers make minimum wage.

    Regarding individual vs group IQ correlations, I recommend the papers of Garett Jones.

  • Some guy

    But you just because scientists make less than i-bankers doesn’t mean IQ predicts low income
    Nope, but I did not draw that implication. I mentioned it only as one of the factors that might confound an attempt to draw a monotonically increasing relation between IQ and. $. My own suspicion (I don’t have data) is that for lower IQs, the std dev of income might be higher and the std dev of income might keep increasing with IQ, with the mean income might steady out after (maybe) an IQ of 120. Have you come across data that shows both mean and stddev for various IQ levels? But in any case, the final claim I made still holds… “keeping other things fairly constant… not those ranging across economies.”

    About drug dealers… I had forgotten that I had come across something like that in Freakonomics.

    About Garet Jones, if his data came from the same place that indicated an average IQ of Ghana to be 62, I’m not interested. Do you know if his methods are more sound?

  • Wes

    There is almost no way Feynman’s score was that low, unless it was unbelievably lopsided as you suggest. As to the importance of IQ in fields like physics, it is known that the average physicist Phd seems to score about 2 std dev above the norm (roughly), while those that make significant contributions are more likely to score 3 or even 4 std dev above the norm. Feynman appears to have been off the charts in raw mathematical ability.

    By the way, I am also so tired of this fake attitude of “oh yes, I scored so high on such-and-such a test, but of course I don’t take it seriously.” Nice try. You get the public status of claiming a high score AND the status of dissing the test (proving yourself to be a good Leftist). Frankly, if your IQ is that high, you should devise a less transparent argument.

  • Konkvistador

    @Razib: Your patience with explaining and dealing with people pontificating about how IQ dosen’t really matter is comendable, I honestly don’t have it in me anymore.

    When you hear one say something like:
    “But for anyone who scores over (let’s say) 120, the utility of these tests diminishes. It’s those “non-IQ variables” (as you called them) that become more and more important.”

    without even considering to check what the data has to say on the issue or engage in wordplay about the meaning of the word intelligence, while ignoring that IQ even if it has nothing to do with abstract thinking, smarts (book or otherwise), cleverness, intelligence, wisdom, nice-sounding-connected-to-mind-word-of-choice ect. would still be one of the most robust things to come out of psychology and the soft sciences in the past 100 years.

    If find it amusing that the same people people who generally take the field of study very seriously (but don’t necessarily know it very well), are dismissive towards one of its finest results.

  • http://lyingeyes.blogspot.com ziel

    #45 – Please do point out flaws in my reasoning! Be brutally honest if you wish.

    You didn’t employ any “reasoning” that I could discern. But let’s start with your first attempt:

    Let’s break it apart: “First, it is well established that intelligence is a determinant of earnings among individuals” Maybe…depends on [blah blah blah]

    Well of course “maybe…it depends on…”, since the correlation is not perfect. Do you seriously not comprehend the difference between <100% and zero? The rest of your comment is basically a variation on that same "maybe…it depends" canard.

    By the way, L&V assign an IQ of 71 to Ghana – not 62 – which is a value higher than its neighbors, and Ghana does indeed outperform its neighbors in most measures. But it's a very very poor country. What is it about the performance of sub-saharan countries that would make you doubt average IQ's 2 standard deviations below the western mean?

    And also that link you provided showing what abilities can be expected at various IQ levels is not clearly applicable to non-white populations. People at those low levels of measured intelligence can be quite functional in an environment with little need for abstraction.

    For example, you assert that low-IQ scoring people "might otherwise be very competent group hunters, track down their prey, while we notice no clues, tell apart toxic plants from edible ones, while we think they all look the same, improvise tools from raw nature, while we’d be helpless without a long knife and a matchbox…" The same of course can be said for other non-human species. This is why we have the term "street smarts" – because people who are otherwise dopes when it comes to the kind of abstract thinking required to function in a modern economy can be real clever in the nitty-gritty non-abstract world that most of us avoid. But no one cares who has "street smarts" – all the good stuff in modern life is only attainable with "IQ-smarts". You'll never hear anyone bemoaning a "street-smarts gap."

  • http://emilkirkegaard.com Emil

    One of the things that has buged me with the low skores asyned to varius poor kountrys, is that about half the population wud qualify as a retard (<70 IQ). But ther seems to be somthing rong with that. Perhaps it is beter to think of retardednes as a relativ term, in the sens that a given person is a retard iff he koms from a population* with a meen IQ of N, and that the person's IQ is <2sd from N.

    * In the sens, larj amount of (relativly) jenetikaly homogous peeple living somwher, e.g. "Scandinavians".

    Perhaps not.

  • http://capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com CIP

    125 is a fairly respectable IQ, good enough that only one in 17 people scores that high, but nobody thinks that Feynman was just 1 in 17 people smart or even just 1 in 1700 people smart. He was the guy often called the smartest man in the world – though to be fair, when a magazine cover so dubbed him, Feynman reported his own mother’s reaction: “Pity the poor world!”

    Feynman loved to punctuate his intellectual feats of strength with an “aw shucks” manner and some self-deprecating banter. Moreover, he was a notorious contrarian who could delight in finding “different” but still correct answers to conventional questions. He was exactly the kind of guy who, given 20 different IQ scores for himself, would tease everyone by choosing the lowest. When Doug Hofstadter, another pretty bright guy, gave a seminar at Caltech, he reported that Feynman sat in the front row and kept interupting him with “village idiot” questions. Feynman apparently delighted in the characterization.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    someguy, Jones is not a psychometrician. I cited him not for verifying L&V’s Ghana score, but to explain why engineers in India & Israel can make less than American factory workers (there are positive externalities arising from high IQ countrymen).

    You may find low scores for such countries hard to believe, perhaps because in a population with a higher average IQ such scores might indicate that some mutation resulted in mental retardation. Another way of thinking about it might be in terms of “mental age”. A middle-schooler isn’t going to have the cognitive capacities of an adult, but they don’t seem obviously defective either. And children of that age learn to engage in adult activities like hunting in pre-literate cultures, though they will of course improve in such abilities as they grow into adults.

  • Some guy

    #51: What was that, again? You didn’t employ any “reasoning” that I could discern.
    I feel sorry for your stupidity. I’ll try to help you a bit this time. Try to read it slower; I hear that helps too.

    Let’s focus on the important thing I said already.
    What has been fairly “well established [is] that intelligence is ROUGHLY a determinant of earnings” keeping other things fairly constant… not [when those other factors are] ranging across economies.
    I even put this at the end of the paragraph as a neat summary of what came before. Here is an exercise: Group 1 – nurses of USA, Group 2 – doctors of Ghana, Group 3 – assembly line workers of Sweden, Group 4 – engineers of Israel. Draw a graph for IQ vs. US$ income.

    Ghana’s national IQ? Our results are based on a sample of 60 nations out of approximately 185 nations of significant size in the world. We believe that the sample can be regarded as relatively well representative of the totality of nations … Look at Table 3 for that.
    However, it should be noted that correlations are somewhat lower in the total group of 185 countries… their revised figures in Table 4 indicate 71.

    And also that link you provided showing what abilities can be expected at various IQ levels is not clearly applicable to non-white populations. Is that so? If a bunch of people with an average IQ of 62 or 71 could get a modern economy running, perhaps some Ghana citizen with an IQ of 100 will be the next Einstein. Take a moment to reflect on why psychologits came up with the concept of “IQ”.

    The same of course can be said for other non-human species. I was hoping you were smart enough to figure this one out. 1. Other species have vastly keener or vastly different physical abilities. 2. Other species have instincts that are more or less specialized to that environment — despite being able to build a complex nest, a weaver bird will not build a pigeon-like nest if forced to live in a treeless city.

    Street smarts: I covered the idea already when I spoke about Ghana’s national IQ.

    Given that the Japanese and the Koreans are a couple of std dev higher IQ than Americans, don’t you wonder about the kinds of papers the Japanese and the Koreans are publishing in their own languages? Some of them even publish in English… and soon regret it. Hint: Google is your friend.

  • Some guy

    #50:
    Konkvistador: … would still be one of the most robust things to come out of psychology and the soft sciences in the past 100 years …

    You might have the best hammer in the world. That does not make every problem a nail. If you think I’m ENTIRELY dismissive of it, you need to work on your reading comprehension.

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

    Given that the Japanese and the Koreans are a couple of std dev higher IQ than Americans, don’t you wonder about the kinds of papers the Japanese and the Koreans are publishing in their own

    i haven’t been following this discussion, but the japanese and koreans are not a couple of standard deviations above the american norm. i had gotten the impression that you actually read the stuff you disagree with.

  • Some guy

    #57: That’s exactly what I meant by brutally honest. Thanks! As for reading the stuff I disagreed with… how do you think I am able to come up with just the right snippets to quote? ;-)

  • Some guy

    TGGP: I did check out some papers of Garett Jones. But I did not read them because I lost interest after I read “We use Lynn and Vanhanen’s [2002] new database of IQ tests from 81 countries–tests given across the entire 20th-century–to create estimates of what Lynn and Vanhanen call “national average IQ.””

    BTW, that data has been severely criticised in literature.

  • shab

    I thought Putnam didn’t release the result of the top 5 or 6 scorers .
    The five contestants with the highest scores are called Putam fellows. But
    when the 5th highest scorer has the same score as another contestant outside of the top 5 then 6 are given Putnam fellowship. The fellow names are ranked in alphabetical order not by their scores as not even the fellows know their rankings other than they are in the top 5 or 6. The highest possible score is 120 as there are 12 problems with each worth at most 10 points.

  • devon

    I thought putnam didnt release the scores of its fellows neither to the fellows or the public.

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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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