Who believes in I.Q.?

By Razib Khan | September 7, 2012 1:49 am

There are many things that a given individual believes which are ‘heterodox’ in their social circle. For example, I have long thought that intelligence tests are predictive of life outcomes, and somewhat heritable in a genetic sense (these are both true, the objection of skeptics usually rests on the fact that they are skeptical of the construct itself). As I have explained here before I did not always hold to these views. Rather, when I was in seventh grade a teacher who mentored me somewhat took me aside after class, and suggested that perhaps some of my slower classmates were not quite as lazy as I obviously presumed (I tended to get impatient during mandatory group projects). When I was 5 years old and starting kindergarten my command of English was rather weak, and my mother explained to me that Americans were a very smart people. By the end of the year I was excelling. Throughout my elementary school years I frankly had a smugness about me, because I accepted what my parents told me, that academic outcome is a function of the virtue of effort. And I had quite a bit of virtue if the results were any gauge.

But as I said, it is the fashion today to reject I.Q. Usually people put intelligence in air quotes. The converse of intelligence, stupidity, is also not well acknowledged. Just as I took my realized intelligence to be a mark of my virtue (false, my virtue and moral compass are distinct, and perhaps even at some cross-purposes, with my analytic powers), I perceived stupidity as evidence of sloth and low moral character. This is just not so.

I.Q. is probably a hot-potato topic because of its associations with realized group differences, mostly race, but to some extent class. I think that the phenomenon is real and important, but that may not matter. I’ve been sobered by the realization recently that Soviet Communism persisted for 70 years. I don’t bring this example up to analogize skepticism of I.Q. with Communism, but to illustrate even patently grotesque and false views can persist for decades beyond their “sell-by” date. And yet sometimes it turns out that I’m not the only person out there who thinks that some people are smart, and some people are stupid. Here’s Felix Salmon, Who is speaking for the poor?:

My professional life is largely spent in a world of highly-numerate and highly-intelligent people, many of whom blow up spectacularly in the financial markets. And looking at hedge funds in particular, it’s very easy to find genius-level investors who have lost astonishing amounts of money: there’s clearly more to getting and holding on to vast sums than simply being off-the-charts smart. But the fact is that if you zoom out from the tiny group at the top, there’s a very strong correlation between numeracy, or intelligence, or financial literacy, on the one hand, and having a solid financial footing, on the other.

The distribution is clear: the smarter you are (as measured by IQ), the more likely you are to be invested in the stock market. And this distribution is independent of wealth: it applies to the rich as much as it does to the poor. Or, as the paper puts it, “IQ’s role in the participation decisions of the affluent is about the same as it is for the less affluent. The definition of affluence—net worth or income—does not affect this finding.”

There are various conclusions to be drawn here, one of which is that if we do a better job of financial education, then Americans as a whole will be better off. That’s true. But at the same time, financial illiteracy, and general innumeracy, and low IQs, are all perfectly common things which are never going to go away. It’s idiotic to try to blame people for having a low IQ: that’s not something people can control. And so it stands to reason that any fair society should look after people who are at such a natural disadvantage in life.

Let’s admit first that there’s more than just I.Q. Time preference matters, and that’s not perfectly correlated with intelligence. Though I suspect it too has a strongly heritable element. Second, is being stupid really a disadvantage? Frankly some of the most self-satisfied people I know are the stupid affluent. They are stupid enough that they can unreflectively enjoy their affluence. The correlation between income and intelligence is weak enough that there will be many stupid affluent and intelligent poor. The former are probably the happiest, and the latter the most miserable.

Also, see Matt Yglesias:

Unfortunately, what’s harder to see is how these trends are going to benefit the marginal college student in the United States. The kind of person, in other words, who these days tends to start a college career—typically at an unselective school—but all-too-often ends up dropping out. These are people who typically haven’t been incredibly well-prepared by their K-12 experience, who probably aren’t in the IQ elite, whose social and family networks aren’t full of college graduates, and who are only average in terms of motivation and discipline. That’s why they’re dropping out under present conditions. And they’re ending up not just with student debt, but with student debt that hasn’t purchased them much of anything in terms of valuable skills or credentials. Developments that help people like that are a real game-changer, but it’s not clear to me that anything that’s happening in the education technology space right now will really get us there.

The reality is that attitudes toward intelligence and I.Q. are rather flexible and situation dependent. People who deny the reality of I.Q. don’t believe that someone who has a low I.Q. should be executed (and conversely, those who accept I.Q. may still demand the execution of those with low enough I.Q.’s to be classified as mentally retarded!). I.Q. is just a social construct for some when it comes to the black-white difference, but they become more open to it when it is shown that conservatives have lower I.Q.’s.

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  • Miguel Madeira

    “I have long thought that intelligence tests are predictive of life outcomes, and somewhat heritable in a genetic sense (these are both true, the objection of skeptics usually rests on the fact that they are skeptical of the construct itself). ”

    My impression is more the opposite – that most people accept that some persons are more intelligent than others, and more or less accept IQ as a proxy of intelligence, but think that inteligence is strongly affected by environment and less by “nature”.

  • Michael Johnson

    ” I.Q. is just a social construct for some when it comes to the black-white difference, but they become more open to it when it is shown that conservatives have lower I.Q.’s.”

    Here’s what I think the view is: intelligence is real. IQ is an imperfect indicator of intelligence. There’s no difference of intelligence, on average, between blacks and whites, but there is a difference of IQ, and that’s explained by non-intelligence-related factors, such as poverty and lack of access. Conservative low IQ can’t be so explained away, and the most plausible thesis is that low intelligence is a common cause of both low conservative IQ and conservatism itself.

    Of course, not all liberal share that view and many do in fact have the “IQ of convenience” notion, where it’s real when they want it to be and not otherwise. But most liberals, I suspect, have the model I articulated, which is not an “IQ of convenience” (or: “intelligence of convenience”) model.

  • JL

    IQ is an imperfect indicator of intelligence. There’s no difference of intelligence, on average, between blacks and whites, but there is a difference of IQ, and that’s explained by non-intelligence-related factors, such as poverty and lack of access.

    Whatever it is that makes people take that view, it’s certainly not empirical evidence. It’s clear that the black-white gap cannot be explained by something as facile as poverty or “lack of access” (which, of course, are very much intelligence-related).

    Conservative low IQ can’t be so explained away, and the most plausible thesis is that low intelligence is a common cause of both low conservative IQ and conservatism itself.

    The liberal-conservative gap is much smaller than the black-white gap, so in principle it’s much easier to explain away. IIRC, the IQ, conservatism & racism study Razib linked to found that IQ did not explain more than a few percent of variation in, for example, racism, i.e., the effect was rather trivial, but this was not generally reported in the media. Political ideology is substantially heritable, but IQ heritability probably mediates at best a small proportion of it.

  • http://delicious.com/robertford Darkseid

    i think the Charles Murray is basically right in that, due to mating preferences, there’s not much that can be done. until someone invents a way to make people smarter it’ll be a problem, right? maybe someone will create a way to better the connections in the relevant brain modules. seems pretty far off though.

  • Charles Nydorf

    In the same article Felix Salmon says “its also true that America has less equality of opportunity… than at any time in recent memory” (The original quote has a typo which I elided).

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I’m surprised Razib. I thought you were going to make mention of the Slate article on your Pinboard, which points to evidence that while IQ may be highly correlated with academic and economic success, it in fact might not be as highly correlated with intelligence as was thought, because it seems lower IQ people in part do worse because they lack internal motivation. In some ways this might not matter in terms of policy, as motivation may be just as hereditary as intelligence, but we won’t know until we actually delve into the details.

    On the subject of financial intelligence, as someone in the labor movement, I see this all the time regarding the continued shift by employers from defined-benefit pensions to 401(k) plans. 401(k) plans were originally constructed to be retirement augments and tax shelters for upper-income executives. They were never meant to be a sole retirement vehicle. And a lot of the problems with them come down to the sheer reduction in benefit they have over the average pension – usually even if employees contribute enough to get a full match, the actual money put out by the company per person is well under half of what would happen with a pension. Indeed, dollar-for-dollar, defined-benefit plans are cheaper for employers, as an employer stops paying benefits when a retiree dies, while with a 401(k), someone needs to estimate their likely year of death, and thus could oversave.

    In practice though, many of the problems are because individuals are much worse managers of their retirement savings than pension funds. The average worker over age 55 had only $50,000 in their 401(K) – before the recession! Many workers we talk to have no idea that $30,000 in savings is too little to retire on, and they need ten times that at minimum. I have also seen studies which suggest that except for the very wealthy, 401(k) plans essentially track inflation, both because the lower income you are, the more likely you’ll have low-return investments, and the more likely your only choices will be mutual funds which shave off huge fees without telling you, eating 1%-2% of your rate of return. Many people don’t even begin saving for retirement until their mid to late 30s, and when they hit a family emergency like needed medical care (or even when their kid goes to college) they withdraw early and take a penalty. Before congress changed the law in 2007, the default was to have to “opt in” instead of “opt out” so many never even bothered to contribute, even in order to get a match which would have been essentially free money. The bottom line is at least half of workers, if not more, are totally incapable of managing their investments well enough to retire on them.

    It’s for essentially this reason I think that, as much as those on the right say an understanding of human nature makes the most egalitarian forms of leftism impossible, it also shows the farce of idealized libertarianism. I can see why boosting those of low ability to higher rungs is self-defeating. I can also see why people are opposed in a general sense to redistribution, although I think some level is needed for social stability. But setting up a national pension structure is non-zero sum. It does hurt some wealthy actors – those who had the means to privately invest and get a better rate of return – along with the mutual funds which exploit lower-income people in the current system. But the boost for the non-wealthy is far greater, because it deals with all the elements “left on the table” due to poor planning outlined above.

    This is just one policy example. But in general I think a real understanding of human difference and heredity must lead one to support paternalist policies in some cases – individuals really are not the best managers of their life in all possible aspects, and there are some, relatively non-intrusive, ways that the state (or at least, collective private organizations) can do things better than “the market” could accomplish.

  • Jokah Macpherson

    When you ask if being stupid is really a disadvantage, do you mean stupid as in “below average” or “not way above average”? I ask this because in playing around with the GSS I’ve found most of the benefits of IQ to overall happiness (as measured by the HAPPY variable) occur on the left side of the bell curve. This means that being a poor smart person is about the same as being a rich dumb person; you’re “1 for 2″ either way. Therefore, it’s always better to not be below average in intelligence.

    On the other hand, what you’re saying about unreflectiveness makes sense from my experience as well, and the WORDSUM probably isn’t useful for measuring intelligence at the very high end, so it could be more a matter of the difference between “really smart” and “average”.

  • Chris_T_T

    it in fact might not be as highly correlated with intelligence as was thought, because it seems lower IQ people in part do worse because they lack internal motivation.

    I’m not sure how you’d disentangle this from lower IQ people shying away from questions they find difficult or don’t understand. Part of motivation is assessing a challenge as surmountable.

  • marcel

    I think it important to differentiate several notions or concepts that I don’t believe RK did in the OP.

    1) The first notion is smart/smartness which I think is related to some combination of numeracy, articulateness and analytic ability.

    2) The second is intelligence, which tacks on judgment to the above. Judgment itself, I imagine, reflects some combination of innate temperament and lessons learned, both intellectually and from experience.

    Felix Salmon’s statement about very smart people who have “lost astonishing amounts of money” speaks to the difference between (1) & (2).

    3) The third concept, which RK does distinguish from IQ, is impulse control, closely related to time preference (I think). From everything I’ve read about brain structure, things that determine, and damage, this are not really the same as those influencing either 1 or 2 above. It seems related to judgment, but it is easy to imagine someone who can analyze and evaluate situations that are either abstract or at least not pressing, but then responds badly in the moment from lack of impulse control.

    4) Lastly, I come to the virtues RK mentioned in his own life history: the ability to work hard and to persevere. These too are obviously related to impulse control and time preference, less so to smartness and intelligence, but are different from each.

    Conflating these into a 1 dimensional measurement, where we value more over less, leads to a confused and confusing discussion in which the participants tend to talk past each other, and often appear to disagree with each other because they are using the same word or words to refer to different things.

    RK also writes, “They are stupid enough that they can unreflectively enjoy their affluence.” “Stupid” is, I believe, the antonym of “smart”. I think being reflective or self-reflective is probably more related to judgment/intelligence, but I am not certain about this. I’ve known many very smart people who are not particularly self-aware or reflective (not quite the same thing). Similarly, I’ve known some stupid people who were, or tried to be, reflective and/or self-aware: I have to admit that I’ve found their efforts in this direction painful to watch. I suspect that I would categorize many of the liberals/leftists that drive RK up the wall as stupid (or not so smart) but self-reflective. Off the top of my head, it occurs to me that perhaps the biggest phenotypical difference between conservatives who are not esp. bright and liberals who are not esp. bright, over and above differences in background and cultural milieu, is whether they try to be reflective: the former are not and the latter are. I am not prepared, however, to defend this notion too far, esp. in the face of
    a good counter-example or two.

    As for policy implications: How much of the variation among humans in any of these is biologically (rather than narrowly genetically) determined, I do not know. As a matter of morality and of political stablity, it seems to me that we want to increase the relative size of the genetic component, by setting fairly high the minimum levels of cultural and material benefits available to people, especially children. Contrary to the view common among most economists (my own training) and many conservatives, my hope (and that is really all it is) is that if people knew that they could only fall so far and would not necessarily endanger their children’s future by their own failures, they would be willing to take on more risk, try to innovate more and be more entrepreneurial.

  • Jaco Louw

    I strongly feel that the concept of IQ is not usefull in this regard. Speaking from a psychological point of view the construct of IQ is only usefull to compare cognitive development to one’s peer group. That is most likely why the BlackWhite gap exists, can you “prove” that they are truly being compared to peers? The IQ tests are usually normed for white subjects.

    Even if you belive in a general intelligence, it besomes almost meaningless to measure it using an IQ test after the age of 16. Cognitive development stagnates to a large extent and IQ tests becomes less usefull after the age of 16 due to its design. Comparison to peer groups no longer give an accurate indication of cognitive functioning.

    IQ tests are prone to bias and you would need a much more accurate assesment tool to convincingly compare whites to blacks on the basis of “inherited intelligence”. Furthermore some studies have found more intra-group variability among african-americans then intergroup variability between arican americans and Caucasians, so DNA test need to be done in addtion to IQ tests to determine genetic influence.

    In the end however, it is true that people have different cognitive abilities. It is just impossible to sum up these differences using one score. The reasoning that IQ tests predict performance due to an innate “intelligence” also ignores countless confounding variables.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    due to an innate “intelligence” also ignores countless confounding variables.

    nice quotes :-)

  • toto

    IQ’s role in the participation decisions of the affluent is about the same as it is for the less affluent.

    But IQ might be correlated with job stability, independently of raw wealth. And people with stabler income might have more inclination to gambl^H^H^H^H^H invest in stocks.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    a minor note: heritable differences were brought home to me as my parents had more children. siblings differ in deep ways, despite similar upbringings.

  • toto

    “a minor note: heritable differences were brought home to me as my parents had more children. siblings differ in deep ways, despite similar upbringings.”

    Since large-effect variants for IQ are unlikely, isn’t that a proof of high epistasis (gene-gene interactions)? If “genetic IQ” was caused by many small independent variants, wouldn’t we expect relatively little differences between siblings?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #14, perhaps. but there’s variation in relatedness (std +/- 3%) due to segregation and mutational load. probably stochastic developmental things in utero and after. though except in the first case classic heritability does not apply.

    (note: the ‘least related’ of my siblings according to 23andme is also the phenotypic outlier)

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    btw, high heritability in height does not preclude inter-sibling variable. so we need to be cautious about mapping population statistics to within family correlation. they’re correlated, but not always of especially close magnitude. my only point is that knowing about genetic dispositions makes differences between siblings more understandable. families might be more closely related, but there is still variation, and it is often more salient because you interact with these people lot (though even more striking in bio vs. adopted siblings).

  • biologist

    #14 — Not necessarily. You can get the same outcome with a model of additive effects, especially if the modifying alleles are rare. Also, the length of human chromosomes in centiMorgans is short enough that sampling effects are strong. But a very interesting question that probably hasn’t seen a final answer. :)

    #16 — Absolutely right. The average difference in IQ between siblings is 12 points on a scale with a mean of 100 and a SD of 15. That 12 point difference is more than half of the average difference between randomly paired strangers — 18 points. This either implies that IQs differences come about due to an enormous amount of chance in development, or there’s a substantial genetic effect. The correlation between genomic relatedness and IQ shows that it’s the latter.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    8 -

    The linked article makes it clear if you give M&Ms to dumb children, it boosts their score. I think this shows pretty conclusively that IQ doesn’t equal g, even if IQ does come pretty close to approximating the ability that your intelligence gives you to succeed in life.

    I do wonder, however, if this is part of the reason why some kids score very high when children, but as adults are only slightly above average. Their IQ develops early because they have an unusually high desire to please adults at a point where most kids are still too distracted by life to properly concentrate on an IQ test.

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    That Huffington post article is something else. The comments are quite enjoyable, as well. I just don’t see how the readers and the author of the article don’t see their own blatant double standard. “Intelligence study links lower and higher IQs to racial populations.” Something tells me that article wouldn’t find a home at HuffPo.

    Or maybe I’m just being unfair, and these folks would be more than willing to accept the studies on IQ, race, and gender; or, on the other hand, perhaps they’d also be willing to express more skepticism toward the IQ/conservatism study once they discovered the larger debates about g . . .

    Or perhaps not.

    This comment was particularly telling: “I always thought conservatives seemed less able to deal with facts that conflicted with their childhood programming; this study seems to say why. Put these 2 studies together, and you have a picture of people with lower IQs who adopt conservative philosophies and have smaller ability to understand the complexities of our world. Interesting, yes? A different breed of human? Feels like it to me.

    I would bet, say, fifty dollars that this commenter has written many an essay about evil whites that have “Othered” the world’s indigenous populations with pseudo-scientific racialism, or that this commentator would at least nod rapturously in agreement to such an essay.

  • Chris_T_T

    18 – It’s actually been well known among psychologists that IQ tests are not particularly accurate for children and scores can change significantly between early childhood and adolescence. Razib has previously discussed how heritability measures are significantly higher in adults and children:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/01/when-genes-matter-for-intelligence/

    Unfortunately, the American education system has never realized this and gifted programs are pretty screwed up because of it.

  • Jonathan

    IQ does not measure one’s intrinsic intellectual drive to explore the world. Without such curiosity, the world would stagnate, and nothing would drive scientific inquiry.

    The elitist comments coming from the author seem to show little more than his desire to express what a gifted person he is as compared to the rest of society; the same is true for many of the people who posted comments here. Arrogance is typically reflective of underlying unhappiness and the need to overcompensate for self-perceived inadequacies. I would much rather be “stupid” and blissful than a neurotic rocket scientist.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    I would much rather be “stupid” and blissful

    there are many ways to lower your intelligence a great deal chemically which are probably painless, and will mostly leave other functions intact :-)

  • pconroy

    IMO, some factors that should be taken into account when measuring IQ in kids and teens are:
    1. Sex of child
    2. Rate of physical development
    3. Race

    From my own experience (yes anecdotal evidence?!) kids who reach maturity early tend to reach their peak Intelligence early too. So you may have a kid who is in the top 5% at 12 yo, and by 16 yo is in only in the top 50%. I’ve known many people like this.

    I think girls experience this as after a certain point – say 16 yo – they don’t get any better at doing Math (for instance), yet boys on average improve till 18 yo.

    I know I was average or above average height till about 10 yo, then was very sick till about 13 yo, and was one of the shortest in my class in High school on entering. I was a Top 10% student, but as of about 16/17 yo I started to both grow tall and find Math increasing easy, and by college was getting easy A’s in Math – by then I was 6′ 1″. Yet my sister was an A student all the way in High school, yet dropped to a lower Math test (Pass/Fail) by end of High school.

    This effect could be magnified in a female who is Black and matures early.

  • Jonathan

    It doesn’t have to be either/or, but thank you for the kind suggestion ;) Neuroscience research on the default mode network seems to point to mindfulness meditation as being the key to enhancing self awareness and increasing presence of mind, thereby decreasing neuroses and enhancing cognitive processing. The problem most “intelligent” people experience is one of projecting themselves into the future or the past. This type of rumination leads to stage fright, increased anxiety, depression, OCD, and decreased attention span. This all seems to relate to faulty performance of the default mode network. Increased connectivity of the DMN is enhanced in people who meditate, and after only eight weeks, structural and blood flow changes occur in the limbic center of the brain related to autonomic control, emotional stability, and enhanced cognitive and sensorimotor processing. The reason for this is that meditation allows an individual to focus on tbe present moment; if all you are focused on is the breath or the sensation of the breeze on your skin, then it is impossible to project yourself forward into the future. For evidence of the efficacy of meditation, search PubMed for: default mode network meditation.

    Everyone is neurotic and self conscious to a certain extent–I’m not immune. And it is human nature to want to surround yourself with people who think and feel the same way as you. But my point is that when that energy is channeled outward to separate us vs them, we tend to miss out on the 99% of the population who have a great deal to offer other than their stellar IQ scores.

  • Anthony

    I think a big part of the left’s unwillingness to deal with IQ (and intelligence) differences stems from their fundamental *inegalitarianism*. If you are talking to a white liberal only about white people, they will often express views which equate intelligence with merit or moral desert. Many liberals in poorly-paying positions which require college degrees believe that the higher salaries of less-educated businesspeople are fundamentally unfair, because the liberals are smarter than the businesspeople (this also explains why liberals don’t complain about salaries in Silicon Valley so much – those people *are* obviously smarter than the typical liberal arts grad). I’ve been much more likely to hear sentiments like “stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to vote/reproduce/etc.” from liberals than from conservatives.

    It’s only the American liberal’s prior commitment to racial equality which causes liberals to have conniptions about IQ. The mere hint of the idea that blacks may, on average, be less intelligent than whites is the vilest crimethink, because the logical conclusion of that idea, for the liberal, is that blacks are therefore not deserving of equality.

    I suspect that if blacks actually did have an intelligence distribution about equal to that of whites, that liberals would be much more willing to discuss innate differences in intelligence, and support things like tracking in schools.

  • statsquatch

    Karl Zimmerman,

    I would not bet your house on the IQ motivation connection. You have to look at Angela Duckworth’s work closely. I personally think she is a hack but you can decide for yourself. See

    https://menghusblog.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/angela-l-duckworths-iq-motivation-study-another-bad-apple/

    to start.

  • Miguel Madeira

    “25 – I suspect that if blacks actually did have an intelligence distribution about equal to that of whites, that liberals would be much more willing to discuss innate differences in intelligence, and support things like tracking in schools.”

    A possible test to that theory could be to see if european left-wingers (where there is not – or it was not until very recently – a racial subtext in discussions about equality/unequality) are less prone than american “liberals” to deny the value and/or the “geneticity” of IQ.

    My impression is that kind of discussion is rare in Europe but, when it occurs, the european left-wingers tend to overwhelming support the “environmental theory of intelligence”.

  • Ed

    Potential intellect varies across populations but environmental factors can influence the realization of this potential. That’s how I see it.

    Razib:
    The reality is that attitudes toward intelligence and I.Q. are rather flexible and situation dependent. People who deny the reality of I.Q. don’t believe that someone who has a low I.Q. should be executed (and conversely, those who accept I.Q. may still demand the execution of those with low enough I.Q.’s to be classified as mentally retarded!). I.Q. is just a social construct for some when it comes to the black-white difference, but they become more open to it when it is shown that conservatives have lower I.Q.’s.

    True, I remember watching the comments section on Reddit explode into a heated debate over this exact study. Many liberals were all too happy to take this evidence as fact. Others were more cautious, warning that I.Q more accurately measures cognitive levels than anything immutable. I thought the article was a masterwork troll at first, or that the researchers conducted it partially out of jest.

    IMHO, there are too many environmental factors that affect I.Q scores for me to interpret them as a measure of innate intelligence. It seems like nearly every month there is a new study coming out citing something new that must be taken into consideration that’s negatively impacting I.Q (most recent ones I can think of being Fluoride and Smoking weed during childhood )

    Of course, this isn’t to say that all groups will produce the same amount of cognitively gifted individuals. I mean, even with every possible “bonus” you can give with corrections, certain groups would likely still only be in the high 70s low 80s right? Certain groups with lower I.Q (Indians, Vietnamese, Filipinos etc.) do however, reach similar or even higher levels of educational attainment and economic success compared to those with high I.Q in similar environments. Before anyone says that these groups are not representative of the general population, I’d like to point out that according to Flynn’s book: Asian Americans: Achievement Beyond IQ
    , initial Filipino immigrants actually scored slightly lower than those in the Philippines. Maybe the US isn’t a good representative of India, but more likely the UK is(?). Indians outperform the general population there and I’m willing to bet their I.Q scores have risen too.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    My impression is that kind of discussion is rare in Europe but, when it occurs, the european left-wingers tend to overwhelming support the “environmental theory of intelligence”.

    perhaps. this tends to be true of east asians. but it is not true of my readers. the left-wing readers from europe regularly argue that i have a misperception of left attitudes toward heredity because of my american background. i still remain skeptical.

  • Anthony

    IMHO, there are too many environmental factors that affect I.Q scores for me to interpret them as a measure of innate intelligence

    Depends what you mean by “innate”. Definitely, they don’t measure genetic potential, at least where the negative environmental factors have had a chance to operate. (Are there many positive environmental factors?) But do they measure someone’s realized intelligence, as opposed to their education or some other factor? From what I’ve read, with a number of caveats, the answer is “mostly yes”. Caveats – there’s some random element in any single test; a person’s motivation or level of immediate environmental stress at the time of the test may cause variation (again, mostly downward); some tests are badly designed; most tests won’t capture every possible way someone’s cognitive abilities can be expressed. But those are generally minor considerations when the test results are used intelligently.

    They’re not entirely minor all the time – Murray and Herrnstein noted that American blacks tended to have somewhat higher incomes (on average) than they would be predicted to have based on their IQ results, possibly by as much as 5 IQ points. One can argue if this is due to cultural bias in the tests greater than that in American society at large, or if there is some characteristic at which blacks are (on average) better than whites which isn’t measured by IQ tests, but that the market values.

  • Anthony

    Miguel – in the U.S., the left doesn’t like to deal with intelligence differences as they relate to policy *at all*. Regardless of whether the differences are primarily genetic or environmental. (Though sometimes the left will support policies which claim to improve IQs generally, like promoting breastfeeding.) I’m not familiar with European leftist discourse, but consider this question:

    In a school large enough to have multiple classes of students about the same age (physical maturity, etc.), should the classes be sorted by intelligence?

    When I grew up, the answer in the U.S. was generally “yes”. There were varying motivations for this – in some schools, the class with the least intelligent students was smaller, or the teacher had an assistant, so that those kids could be given additional help to master the material; there was also often a desire to challenge the smartest students to achieve more. Another motive was to keep the smart students from getting bored and disruptive.

    These days, now that it’s my daughter in school, the answer is generally “no”. The motivations for that answer appear to me to be either levelling egalitarianism, or a desire to avoid having racial imbalances between the classes. The latter motive can be again a form of egalitarianism, or it can be fear of lawsuits – since the time I was in school, many school districts have been successfully sued for having “too many” black kids (or hispanic kids) in “speical education” or remedial classes.

    How would your typical Finnish leftist answer? How about an Italian (where environmental factors may play a greater role)?

  • gcochran

    ” some characteristic at which blacks are (on average) better than whites which isn’t measured by IQ tests”

    As good. Voting.

  • Grey

    “A possible test to that theory could be to see if european left-wingers (where there is not – or it was not until very recently – a racial subtext in discussions about equality/unequality) are less prone than american “liberals” to deny the value and/or the “geneticity” of IQ.”

    Race isn’t required. They don’t believe in innate IQ differences between individuals and they attempt to prove it by creating 100% pass rates to the great detriment of everyone concerned.

  • ackbark

    I’m very bad at math, but I’m not so bad at other things.

    I think much of my difficulty has to do with working memory –in relation to math I don’t have much, but I have more in relation to other tasks.

    So my question is,

    are there studies showing the amount of working memory available to be dependent upon the task at hand and not as a general fixed amount?

    (you might say my blank slate shrinks when I aim it at math, expands when I aim it somewhere else).

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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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