– Former Executive Editor of the
New York Times
August 27, 2004
tenth anniversary of the publication of the
The Bell Curve, it`s amusing to reflect on one
of the enduring ironies of American political life.
Liberals tend to believe two things about IQ:
- First, that IQ is a
- Second, that
better than conservatives because they have
much higher IQs.
Thus back in May,
hundreds of liberal websites, and even the prestigious
Economist magazine, fell for a
hoax claiming to show that states that voted for Al
Gore in 2000 have higher average IQs—by as much as an
incredible 28 points—than states that voted for George
(In reality, no such
data exist. But, for what it`s worth, Bush and Gore
identical in educational level, and the states they
won were almost dead even in 8th grade achievement test
Similarly, in 2001,
many liberals, including Doonesbury cartoonist
Gary Trudeau and The Guardian newspaper, fell
for the notorious "Lovenstein
Institute" prank, which absurdly claimed that
IQ of Bush, a man with two Ivy League degrees, was a
sub-average 91, while Bill Clinton`s was a
But now I`ve turned up
some hard facts about the IQs of Kerry and Bush.
Most significantly, at
the age of 22, both men took the IQ-type tests required
of candidate military officers. (The U.S. military,
which has studied the
predictive power of IQ in vastly more detail than
any other institution, remains intensely
dedicated to the
Bush`s scores on the
Air Force Officer Qualifying Test have been
briefly mentioned in the press. But no-one before
now has fully explained what they mean.
And, even more
important, this is first article to publish Kerry`s
score on the Navy`s Officer Qualification Test.
The two tests aren`t
perfectly comparable. But they provide no evidence that
Kerry is smarter. If anything, Bush is smarter than
These scores are still
relevant because IQ`s don`t change much over time. The
Daily Telegraph of London reported on a 66 year
long study in Scotland:
"People who sat an IQ
test at the age of 11 in 1932 were ranked in exactly the
same order when they took the exam again at the age of
77, showing that intelligence is stable throughout
is linked to IQ, By Auslan Cramb, September
So the scores
politicians earned as college seniors still have
Yes, it`s crass to
look at the Presidential candidates` scores on IQ-like
exams. For all their many limitations, however,
cognitive tests have a unique advantage. Spinmeisters
can manipulate their clients` images—but they can`t
manipulate these old test scores.
And, yes, the
candidates` IQ scores are hardly the most important
factor in choosing a President.
But I believe the
public has a right to know all the facts.
Am I writing this
because I am biased against one candidate?
But I haven`t spent
weeks on this story out of any hidden desire to
denigrate or promote either candidate. In fact, I
couldn`t prove who scored higher until two days ago.
And, for all I know, showing that Kerry isn`t quite the
brainiac that his supporters assume might make him
I just think Americans need
to know the truth.
In the long run, however, we
do need to think about the quality of the candidates our
current primary system is producing. Are these two the
best our nation of nearly 300,000,000 can put forward?
Raines`s diktat on the natural superiority of the
quoted in my epigraph, there was always
room for doubt that Kerry was objectively sharper than
Bush. While Bush
mangles the English language, Kerry inundates it in
dependent clauses. Chris Suellentrop recently reported
Slate how Kerry somehow bloviated the 2,500
crisply-written words his speechwriters handed to him
into 5,300 soggily-spoken words.
1206 SAT score on the college entrance exam and his
C average at Yale have been public knowledge since
the last election. (Bush`s Graduate Management Aptitude
Test score and grades at
Harvard Business School, however, are not known.)
"During his senior
year he `majored in flying,` as Kerry put it, learning
aerobatics and performing loop-de-loops instead of
focusing on his studies."
After fighting and
losing the most expensive Congressional race in the
country in 1972, Kerry wound up the next year at a
surprisingly non-glittering law school,
Boston College. The Boston Globe biography
nationally known figure, Kerry was not your typical
law student. `I
remember looking up at my first-year class, and sitting
there, big as life, was this guy I had seen on
testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee and running for Congress,` recalls Thomas J.
Carey Jr., one of Kerry`s professors. `He stood out from
Then three weeks ago, a
minister in Florida named
a Navy veteran and Mensa member who works with gifted
children with learning disabilities, pointed out to me
that, although no one in the press had noticed it, the
Kerry campaign had
posted on the Web the Senator`s score on the IQ-like
test he took when he applied to join the Navy as an
officer on February 18, 1966.
military psychometricians and reading Defense Department
reports from the 1960s on the development of the tests,
I can now compare Kerry`s score on the Navy`s Officer
Qualification Test to Bush`s score on the Air Force
Officer Qualifying Test.
To help me make sense
out of this, a retired Navy psychometrician advised me
to buy from the
National Technical Information Service a 1961
technical bulletin called "Development
of the Officer Qualification Test, Forms 7 and 8"
by Smith, Guttman, Proctor, and Sharp of the Bureau
of Naval Personnel.
According to this
documentation, the Form 7 of the Navy`s OQT that Kerry
took in 1966 was a 90-minute pencil and paper test
consisting of 35 verbal analogy questions, 30 mechanical
comprehension questions, and 50 arithmetic reasoning
Kerry got 58 out of
115 questions right, or 50.4 percent.
The bulletin explained
Analogies section emphasizes understanding of conceptual
relations rather than knowledge of vocabulary. The
Mechanical Comprehension section calls for ability to
understand mechanical principles and ability to apply
them to visually presented problems. The Arithmetic
Reasoning section measures skill in arithmetic reasoning
and problem solving, and requires an understanding of
basic arithmetic processes."
In the validation
process, the test was found to have a satisfactory
correlation of about 0.6 with various measures of
success in Officer Candidate School.
To standardize this
new version of the test when it was developed in the
early 1960, it was given to "approximately 1600
applicants to OCS [Officer Candidate School]."
The mean raw score
(i.e., number of questions answered correctly) of the
preliminary norming group on Form 7 was 57.11—almost
identical to Kerry`s 58—with a standard deviation of
16.14. In other words, Kerry finished almost exactly at
the 50th percentile.
"50" on his record appears to refer to his "Navy
Standard Score." This is a
bell curve-based scoring system where the midpoint
is 50 and each standard deviation is 10, so that a score
of, say, 60 would fall at the 84th percentile and a
score of 70 would fall just below the 98th percentile.
In Kerry`s case, though, the differences between
percentile and Navy Standard Score don`t matter, because
the midpoint for both scales is 50—his score on both.)
It`s possible that the
test slightly underestimated Kerry`s overall cognitive
ability—if he is a stronger verbal thinker than
mathematical or visual thinker. And this seems likely.
He was political science major at Yale and then went to
law school, a typical verbalist`s career path.
The Navy test was
tilted in the opposite direction. When the Navy`s OQT
was revised in 1961, the number of arithmetic reasoning
questions was boosted from 20 to 50 because of "a
study by Wollnack and Guttman (1960), which found that
quantitative reasoning items were the most valid
predictors of OCS performance."
During the 3.5
month-long Officer Candidate School, Kerry outperformed
his test score, finishing
80th out of his class of 563.
I found two other
class ranks for Kerry. In a ten-week class on
damage-control, Kerry ranked 17th out of 33 (p. 2 of
this 5 megabyte
PDF). In a three-week Command and Control course, he
ranked 7th of 22 (p. 4).
So, if Kerry is about
as smart as the average applicant to the Navy`s Officer
Candidate School, how smart is he?
It`s certainly nothing
to be ashamed of. To take the test, applicants were
supposed to be college graduates, or on track toward a
four-year degree, or be high scorers on the IQ test for
enlisted men, the AFQT. The average IQ of a college
graduate is typically close to one standard deviation
above the national mean, over the 80th percentile.
Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve,
told me that, in the huge National Longitudinal Study of
Youth that was featured in his book, the average college
graduate`s IQ, as measured by the AFQT, was 114.
(A quick summary of IQ
scoring: Scores are assumed to fall according to a
"normal distribution," or bell curve, with the
average score at 100. Each standard deviation is 15
points. So, a 115 IQ falls at the 84th percentile and a
130 IQ at the 97.7th percentile.)
Perhaps a better way
to estimate Kerry`s IQ is to look at the average SAT
scores of military officers.
A second Navy
psychometrician told me about a major study he had
looked at the SAT scores of new officers from 1975
through 1985, by separate fiscal year. For each of the
eleven years examined, new officers in the Navy had the
highest SAT mean scores (on SAT-Verbal and SAT-Math)
among all four services. Overall, including all officers
commissioned from 1975 through 1985 combined, SAT scores
were as follows:"
Male high school
[* The "recentered"
column converts these average scores into the easier
scoring system that the College Board adopted in the
So, the average SAT
score for Navy officers was 1103 (old style).
Of course, the SAT
isn`t taken by high school dropouts, nor by students who
don`t intend to go to college. So the true national
average would have been much lower, probably around
the old (uninflated) style scoring system.
the average Navy officer`s SAT score of 1103 into a
rough IQ? There`s a reasonable
between SAT and IQ.
deviation of the SAT was around
then, so if the typical Navy officer scored 1100, or 300
points above the estimated national average of 800, then
his IQ was about 1.3 standard deviations above the
national average IQ of 100 — roughly 120, or maybe a
which is in the low 90s on a percentile scale.
Of course, Kerry`s
OQT score was average for applicants for Officer
Candidate School, not for officers, who presumably score
better than those who flunk the test. This suggests he
might have scored under 1100 on his SAT.
it`s not clear whether the applicant pool was stronger
or weaker when Kerry`s version of the test was normed in
1961 than in this 1975-1985 period for which we have
The draft was in
effect in 1961, so many young men chose to volunteer to
be an officer rather than to be drafted into the
enlisted ranks. The late 1970s in contrast, were the
early years of the all-volunteer military. Recruiting
was notoriously difficult and the quality of the
military drooped. But then, in the Reagan 1980s, pay
increases and revived patriotism brought in better
An SAT score of 1100
for Kerry seems low, however, because that might have
been low enough to keep him out of Yale, which he
entered in 1962. I don`t know the average SAT score
at Yale at that time, but The Bell Curve reports
that in 1960, the Harvard freshman class averaged 1373.
Yale turned down
Former Senator Bill Bradley, who challenged Al Gore for
the Democratic nomination in 2000, despite being an
outstanding basketball player, because his SAT-Verbal
score was only
was accepted by Princeton and became a
Rhodes Scholar. But, although he built a good
reputation in the Senate, his dull style during his
dismal 2000 Presidential campaign certainly did not
disprove his SAT score`s validity.
Two years after
Kerry`s admission to Yale, Bush slid into Yale too.
According to a 1999 article in The New Yorker, he
had a 566 Verbal – 640 Math, for a 1206 total (which
would be about
Combined with Bush`s mediocre grades in prep school,
this meant he was left sweating over whether he`d get
in. During spring break in 1964, Bush downplayed
expectations by telling friends how much he looked
forward to attending the University of Texas, which was
his "safety school."
Kerry, being a
Forbes, had family pull too—but certainly no more than
Bush, whose father and grandfather were Yalies. And the
latter, Prescott Bush, had been U.S. Senator from Yale`s
state of Connecticut until the year before.
During the 1960s,
Yale tightened up entrance requirements for sons of
graduates considerably, especially in the year after
Bush was admitted. The late historian
Jim Chapin, who taught at Yale during those years,
told me that the intellectual quality of his students
leapt upwards the next year.
This sudden arrival
of so many brainy, bookish, leftwing nobodies may be a
major reason Bush became so alienated from Yale during
his later years there.
Still, it`s important
to keep in mind that Kerry was admitted two years
before Bush—when admission was
even less meritocratic.
(By the way, there is
out there that claims that Kerry`s SAT score was 1190.
That`s not implausible, but, unfortunately, the site
provides no supporting evidence whatsoever, and I wasn`t
able to find any confirmation on Google.)
kind of IQ does Bush`s 1206 SAT imply?
Gottfredson, co-director of the University of
Delaware-Johns Hopkins Project for the Study of
Intelligence and Society, told me:
recently converted Bush`s SAT score to an IQ using the
high school norms available for his age cohort.
Educational Testing Service happened to have done a
study of representative high school students within a
year or so of when he took the test. I derived an IQ of
125, which is the 95th percentile."
other words, only one out of 20 people would score
Charles Murray came up with a similar result:
think you`re safe in saying that Dubya`s IQ, based on
his SAT score, is in excess of 120, which puts him in
the top 10 percent of the distribution, but I wouldn`t
try to be more precise than that."
suggests that applicants to the Air Force Academy
averaged about 122.5 (halfway between one and two
standard deviations above the average), putting Bush in
the 125-130 range — a little better than his SAT score
By way of comparison,
Bush`s 2000 opponent Al Gore
scored 134 and 133 the two times he took an IQ test
in high school, putting him just under the top 1 percent
of the public.
Not surprisingly, the
former vice president`s` SAT scores were also strong but
not stratospheric: Verbal 625, Math 730, for a total of
1355, which would equate to the upper 130s in IQ.
We can compare Kerry`s
50th percentile performance to Bush`s performance on the
different but reasonably comparable Air Force Officer
On January 17, 1968,
Bush took the AFOQT. (Just to keep our military acronyms
from getting tangled up in a SNAFU, the
AFOQT is different from the
AFQT or Armed Forces Qualifying Test, which is the
IQ portion of the
ASVAB or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery
that all applicants for the enlisted ranks take.)
This AFOQT then
consisted of 13 subtests that were aggregated into five
Here are Bush`s
percentile scores (p. 25 of a huge
PDF on the USA Today website):
Bush took the 1966
version of the test. I couldn`t find the technical
report on that revision, so I bought from NTIS the
report on the 1964 revision, "Development and
Standardization of the Air Force Officer Qualifying
Test-64," by Dr. Robert E. Miller and Dr. Lonnie D.
Valentine, two prominent psychometricians at the
Lackland Air Force Base.
The percentiles are
based on the scores of Air Force Academy candidates
during 1955-1960. (To be technical, the 1964 version of
AFOQT was renormed using the huge 1960 Project Talent
study of high school seniors, but the percentile scores
continued to reflect the scores of applicants to the
Academy at Colorado Springs.)
This baseline group
would appear to be fairly comparable to the Naval OCS
applicants against whom Kerry scored at the 50th
percentile. The Air Force norm group was typically
younger, being high school seniors, than the Navy OCS
candidate group, but applicants to the Academies tend to
be a little more elite than OCS applicants. For example,
the average SAT score of today`s Air Force Academy
1292 (using the easier post-1994 scoring system),
compared to the recentered 1132 of the average Air
Force officer during the 1975-1985 period.
How did Bush do? In
estimating his IQ, we can probably throw out his high
score (the 95th percentile on Officer Quality) and his
low score (25th percentile on Pilot Aptitude) because
those tests don`t measure IQ very directly. Instead, we
should concentrate on his Verbal Aptitude (85th
percentile), Quantitative (65th), and Navigator Aptitude
(50th). In fact, those three are fairly similar in
subject matter to the three parts of the Naval OQT that
Kerry took: Verbal Analogies, Arithmetic Reasoning, and
Mechanical Comprehension, respectively.
The Officer Quality
score was derived by combining Bush`s score on the 60
item Quantitative Aptitude subtest, the 60 item Verbal
Aptitude subtest, with the 100 item Officer Biographical
Inventory. The latter was a personality test that asked
about "past experiences, preferences, and certain
personality characteristics related to measures of
officer effectiveness." It inquired into
enthusiasm for sports and
hunting, and was only vaguely correlated with IQ.
(A retired Air Force
test psychologist told me that this section was later
dropped because women did very poorly on it, and
urban and suburban youths didn`t do as well as
country boys. "It was
politically incorrect, but"—he recalled
wistfully—"It was a predictor of success as an
Judging from his
scoring at the highest percentile possible on Officer
Quality, Bush must have absolutely nailed the Officer
Biographical Inventory test, as you might expect coming
from his ultra-competitive family.
In contrast, his not
having any flying experience dragged down Bush`s 25th
percentile score in "Pilot Aptitude." He would
have scored poorly on the Pilot Biographical Inventory
and on Aviation Information, two of the seven subtests
for this composite. Many of the other subtests focused
on three dimensional imagination capacities, such as the
"Visualization of Maneuvers" component. These are
valuable mental skills, no doubt, but not ones called
upon much in the Oval Office.
So, if you take the
average of Bush`s percentile scores on the three
composites most similar to the test Kerry took, Bush
scored at the 67th percentile, a little better than
Kerry`s 50th percentile.
This isn`t an apples
to apples comparison, so you can`t say that Bush would
have done better than Kerry on the same test. But this
doesn`t provide any evidence in support of the common
assumption that Kerry has a much higher IQ.
report by Miller and Valentine says that the "officer
population" that provided the percentile scores was
about one standard deviation better than the average
12th grade male on the Verbal subtest and about two
standard deviations better on the Quantitative test.
This suggests that the 50th percentile
among the norm group of Air Force Academy applicants had
an IQ of about 123, thus putting Bush in the 125-130
range—a little better than his SAT score would imply.
Of course, effort
matters at lea