Why Do We Keep Writing About Intelligence? An IQ FAQ
After the Washington Post-owned Slate.com ran
three part series by their human sciences
correspondent William Saletan pointing out that the
denunciations of James Watson were scientifically
illiterate, we were wondering here at VDARE.COM if we
going to lose our near-monopoly as the professional
publication routinely reporting the facts about IQ.
But, then Saletan and his editor
Jacob Weisberg apparently
lost their nerve and, just like Watson and Larry
violated the cardinal rule:
Never apologize for a "gaffe."
Showing you`re frightened of them just arouses the
bloodlust in the
So America—that land of the free and the home of the
brave—is back to status quo ante. For straight talk on
IQ, VDARE.com`s your source. (By the way, did I mention
a fundraising drive?)
I figured I`d step back today and answer some common
questions about IQ.
Q. Is IQ really all
that important in understanding how the world works?
A. In an absolute sense, no. Human behavior is
incredibly complicated, and no single factor explains
more than a small fraction of it.
Q. Why do you harp
on IQ so much?
A. It`s an
underexploited market niche. The quantity and
quality of writing in the Main Stream Media [MSM] on IQ
its effects is abysmal that, simply by being
informed and honest about IQ, I can explain how certain
important things work that other journalists can`t.
Q. What are IQ
A. They vary wildly. The nonverbal
Raven Matrices look like the instruction manual for
a DVD player from Mars. Some of the
Wechsler questions look like the
Word Power vocabulary quiz in the Reader`s
Q. How can
different questions give similar results?
A. They`re validated to make sure they do a good job
of predicting real world performance. Obviously,
different tests are better at different tasks, such as
testing small children,
illiterates, or people who speak a different
language, but, when used properly, all the major tests
present similar results because they are proven
predictors of actual behavior.
Q. Aren`t IQ tests
only good for predicting academic performance?
A. Then why have the
U.S. armed forces invested heavily in IQ testing all
potential recruits since WWII? Because the
military has found, over and over again, that IQ
correlates with performance in a huge array of military
duties. Over a time, a unit with an average IQ of 110 is
going to repair
jet engines faster and accidentally
shoot themselves in the foot less often than a unit
with an average IQ of 90.
Q. The military
uses IQ tests? I never heard of such a thing!
A. They don`t go out of their way to publicize it
because it`s politically incorrect, but the Armed Forces
Qualification Test, which is the central core of the
larger ASVAB test, is required of
everyone who wants to enlist. It`s the
equivalent of a highly g-loaded IQ test. During the
golden age of recruiting from 1992-2004, only 1 percent
of enlistees got in with scores in the bottom
30 percent on the test (92 IQ or lower).
Q. Isn`t character
more important than intelligence?
A. I believe so. Work ethic, honesty,
conscientiousness, kindness, together they`re more
important than intelligence. (Of course, when it comes
to making money, less endearing personality traits like
aggressiveness also play a big role, but we`ll leave
that aside for now.)
Can I quantify that? Well, that`s where things get
Q. So why not test
work ethic and the like instead of IQ?
A. We do test for it, in many different ways.
Consider the process of applying to college. The two
most important elements in the application are high
school GPA and the SAT or ACT score. The SAT and ACT are
more or less an IQ test, while high school GPA is driven
by a combination of IQ and work ethic.
But demonstrating work ethic via GPA is a
time-consuming prospect for the applicant … and even for
the admissions committee. The student spends four years
in high school achieving a GPA, which he presents to the
colleges to which he applies. But
what does his GPA really say about him? Did he go to
easy school or a hard one? Did he take easy classes
or hard ones? Does he have the brainpower to go far
beyond high school material? These are complex
questions, and it`s no wonder that almost every college
supplements GPA with the nationally standardized SAT or
Similarly, how does a would-be employee prove he`s
honest enough to handle large amounts of money? By
slowly working his way up over the years from handling
small amounts of money.
somebody invent paper and pencil tests to measure
A. They have. They`re
pretty accurate … overall.
On the other hand, these tests haven`t been all that
popular, perhaps because they are liable to occasional
catastrophic failures. The danger is that somebody with
a high IQ but poor character would use his smarts to
figure out what answers on the test would make him sound
like the second coming of
George Washington. And a high-IQ scoundrel is the
last person you want to select.
You could call it the
Ahmad Chalabi Problem. The Iraqi convicted embezzler
with a Ph.D. in math from the U. of Chicago used his
enormous brainpower to figure out how to dupe the
neocons into believing that he literally was the
George Washington of Iraq, so America should invade
his homeland to make him president.
In contrast to character tests, the good news about
IQ tests is that they are un-outsmartable. If you can
use your brain to figure out what answers the test
makers want, well, then you have a high IQ.
Q. So, do IQ tests
predict an individual`s fate?
A. In an absolute sense, not very accurately at all.
Indeed, any single person`s destiny is beyond the
capability of all the tests ever invented to predict
with much accuracy.
Q. So, if IQ isn`t
all that accurate for making predictions about an
individual, why even think of using it to compare
groups, which are much more complicated?
A. That sounds sensible, but it`s exactly backwards.
The larger the sample size, the more the
statistical noise washes out.
Q. How can that be?
A. If Adam and Zach take an IQ test and Adam
outscores Zach by 15 points, it`s far from impossible
that Zach actually has the higher "true" IQ. A
hundred random perturbations could have thrown the
results off. Maybe if they took the test dozen times,
Zach just might average higher than Adam.
But for comparing the averages of large groups of
people, the chance of error becomes vanishingly small.
For example, the largest meta-analysis of
American ethnic differences in IQ,
Philip L. Roth`s 2001
group differences in cognitive ability in employment and
educational settings: a meta-analysis,
Personnel Psychology 54, 297–330.] aggregated 105
studies of 6,246,729 individuals. That`s what you call a
decent sample size.
Q. So, you`re
saying that IQ testing can tell us more about group
differences than about individual differences?
A. If the sample sizes are big enough and all else is
equal, a higher IQ group will virtually always
outperform a lower IQ group on any behavioral metric.
Of course, everything else is seldom equal. A more
conscientious group may well outperform a higher IQ
group. On the other hand, conscientiousness,
like many virtues, is positively correlated with IQ,
so IQ tests work surprisingly well.
Q. Wait a minute,
does that mean that maybe some of the predictive power
of IQ comes not from intelligence itself, but from
virtues associated with it like conscientiousness?
A. Most likely. But perhaps smarter people are more
conscientious because they are more likely to foresee
the bad consequences of slacking off. It`s an
interesting philosophical question, but, in a practical
sense, so what? We have
a test that can predict behavior. That`s useful.
Q. Can one number
adequately describe a person`s intelligence?
A. Sort of.
Q. "Sort of"?!?
What the heck kind of answer is that?
A. A realistic one.
Q. How can
something be true and not true at the same time?
A. How can the glass be half-full and half-empty at
the same time? Most things about IQ testing are partly
true and partly false at the same time. That`s the
nature of anything inherently statistical, which is most
Humans are used to legalistic reasoning that attempts
to draw bright lines between exclusive categories. For
example, you are either old enough to vote or you
aren`t. There`s no gray area. But the law is artificial
and unlike most of reality. Many people have a hard time
dealing with that fact, especially when it comes to
thinking about IQ.
epistemology! How can you rationalizing summing up
something as multifaceted as intelligence in a single
A. Think about SAT scores. Your total score says
something about you, while breaking out your Math and
Verbal scores separately says more. A kid who gets a
total of 1400 out of 1600 (Math + Verbal) is definitely
college material, while a kid who gets a 600 isn`t.
That`s the big picture. For the fine detail, like
which college to apply to, it helps to look at the
subscores. A kid with a 1400 who got a 600 Math and an
800 Verbal would be better off at
at Cal Tech.
A few years ago, the SAT added a third score,
Writing, but many colleges aren`t sure how useful it is,
and there`s some sentiment for dropping the Writing test
as not worth the extra time or cost. In other words,
there are diminishing marginal returns to more detail.
Q. What`s this
g Factor that I see lauded and denounced?
A. If Al outscores Bert on the first subtest (say,
vocabulary or reaction-times), bet on Al in the next
test, no matter how dissimilar (e.g., math,
paper-folding, or distinguishing musical pitches). This
pervasive correlation is why a crude one-number IQ score
is so implausibly useful as predictor of a host of real
world consequences. Lurking behind IQ is a "general
factor" or "g" that plays a role (of
varying magnitudes) in the accomplishment of any and
every mental task, from taking a test to
making a living.
Q. Didn`t Stephen
Jay Gould say, "The
chimerical nature of g is the rotten core" of the
theory of IQ?
A. That he did. But Gould
didn`t understand (or chose not to understand) that
the usefulness of IQ doesn`t depend upon whether or not
there is a general factor. Say you work in college
admissions on a different planet where applicant`s SAT
Math and Verbal scores are totally uncorrelated. In this
world where there is no g factor, somebody who
gets an 800 on the SAT Math test would be just as likely
to get a 200 as an 800 on the Verbal test. How different
would you behave than your colleagues on earth? Not
much. You`d still want the applicants who scored the
highest on the combined score (Math plus Verbal),
because they`d do best in the widest range of college
Of course, back on Earth, there`s a rather high
degree of correlation between Math and Verbal scores.
The only time you see an 800 on the Math test combined
with a 200 on the Verbal test is from somebody who
just got off the plane from Seoul.
Q. Can you improve
A. Maybe. Try
exercising your brain. If you spend twice as many
hours per day thinking hard, it might improve the
quality of your thinking. And even if it doesn`t, you`ve
still doubled the quantity of your hard thinking,
so what`s to lose, other than your TV-watching time?
Q. Is IQ
A. At the moment, we only have a vague idea of which
genes affect IQ, but the
data is pouring in. James Watson figures no more
15 years until the main genes driving IQ scores are
nailed down. It could be faster.
In the mean time, we have a lot of circumstantial
evidence, such as
twin and adoption studies. Almost all of it points
toward IQ having a sizable genetic component.
Q. What does it
mean to say IQ has a genetic component?
A. It means that identical twins tend to be more
similar in intelligence than fraternal twins, who are
more alike than first cousins, and so forth. That
appears to be true.
Q. So, everybody in
the same family gets the same IQ?
A. No. Think about
siblings that you know and you`ll likely notice
moderate differences in intelligence among them—unless
they are identical twins (and thus have identical
Q. Is IQ solely
determined by genes?
A. No. Consider, for example, the need for
micronutrient supplementation. For example, here in
America, manufacturers have been adding
iodine to salt and iron to flour since before WWII
to combat medical syndromes (such as
cretinism) that lower IQ. In poor countries around
the world, hundreds of millions of children still suffer
cognitively from lack of iodine and iron. Of course,
this relatively cheap step for raising the IQs of the
poor in Third World countries is rarely discussed,
because the whole topic of IQ is so fraught with the
chance of getting Watsoned out of your job.
Q. Are there
differences in average SAT scores among racial groups?
A. Yes. Ashkenazi (European) Jews appear to average
the highest—maybe around
110-112—followed by Northeast Asians (105),
and then by gentile white Europeans and North Americans
(100). The world mean is around 90,
Hispanic-Americans are at 89. African-Americans
traditionally average around 85 and Africans in
Sub-Saharan Africa around 70.
Q. Aren`t all IQ
researchers white supremacists who just want to show
their race has the highest IQ?
A. If they are, they`re doing an awfully lousy job of
it. (See above.)
Q. How can anybody
talk about race and IQ when race doesn`t exist?
A. It`s funny how these objections don`t come up in
regard to affirmative action. Scientists gather
race-related data the same way colleges and bureaucrats
hand out affirmative action goodies. They let people
I spent a lot of time
years ago trying to prove that affirmative action is
unworkable because there`s
too much overlap between the races to decide which
race somebody belongs to, but I eventually gave up
because, at least at present, the situation`s good
enough for government (and scientific) work.
Q. But what about
"black" intellectuals like the identical twins
Shelby and Claude Steele? They`re likely more than
half white, but they are counted as black, so how can
you include them as black?
A. If you took out all the self-identified blacks who
are over half white by ancestry (people who tend to be
above the black average in education and income),
the IQ gap would in all likelihood get a little
Anyway, only about
10% of adults who call themselves black are over
half white, so it`s not very important.
Q. Are global
differences in IQ caused solely by genetics?
A. No. As I wrote in
VDARE.COM back in 2002:
"A clear example of how a
bad environment can hurt IQ can be seen in the IQ scores
sub-Saharan African countries. They average only
around 70. In contrast, African-Americans average about
85. It appears unlikely that African-Americans` white
admixture can account for most of this 15-point gap
because they are only around 17%-18% white on average,
according to the latest genetic research. (Thus
African-Americans` white genes probably couldn`t account
for more than 3 points of the gap between
African-Americans and African-Africans.) This suggests
that the harshness of life in Africa might be
cutting ten points or more off African IQ scores."
Q. Are IQ tests
biased against African-Americans?
Any kind of non-functional bias against minorities in
test design has been radioactive for decades, so all the
questions that were “unfair” to minorities were
removed long ago.
Q. Isn`t there an
Ebonics IQ test on which blacks outscore whites?
A. You can make up a test asking, say, "Do you
eat, drink, or shoot a `40`?"
on which inner city blacks might outscore
note: Such knowledge
quickly becomes dated—Jane Elliott is
still using the
"Chitling Test" from 1971 to humiliate whites, but
many blacks couldn`t pass it today either.]
But it won`t have real world predictive validity.
The Air Force recruits who know that you drink a 40
won`t do a better job of fixing jet engines than the
ones who don`t. So, it`s useless in the real world.
Creating an IQ test on which there`s no black-white
gap has been the Holy Grail of test designers for 40
years. Any test company that could pull it off would
make a fortune, because every school district in the
country would dump their current test and switch to the
"non-racist" test. It`s been attempted repeatedly,
but it can`t be done without destroying the
test`s predictive powers.
Q. But I see all
these black people on TV being highly entertaining. They
look pretty lively upstairs. Could IQ tests be missing
A. Yes. IQ test questions, by their nature, must have
fixed, objective answers. If African Americans are
subjective, improvisatory responses than they are at
objective problem-solving, then IQ will fail to predict
fully their patterns of success in the real world. And,
indeed, we see much evidence for that every time we turn
on the TV (e.g.,
Unfortunately, there aren`t nearly as many jobs being
sports superstars as black youths seem to assume,
so, overall, IQ remains a quite accurate predictor
outside of the tiny sliver of celebrities.
Q. What`s the
All over the world, raw IQ scores have been rising,
on average at the rate of about 3 points per decade.
Thus, a test performance that a half century ago would
have ranked at the 84th percentile (a score of 115) now
is only good enough for the 50th percentile (a score of
Q. Will the Flynn
Effect bring about racial convergence?
A. Perhaps someday, but the Flynn Effect was first
noticed in 1942, and there has been very little
narrowing of the various gaps since then. (See the
Q. Enough with the
preliminaries! Are racial gaps in average IQ at least
A. Probably some are, but we don`t know for sure yet.
At this point, we have a lot of data, and
Occam`s Razor suggests the simplest and thus best
explanation is that races differ in average IQ for the
same reason that families differ. After all, races are
big extended families.
But that might turn out to be wrong. We`ll know with
a high degree of certainty fairly soon. Once we have a
quite clear understanding of which genes affect IQ and
by how much, it will be relatively trivial to then
calculate the "expected IQ" for various racial
groups based on their average genetic profiles.
Q. But, but … how
can we live in such a world?
A. It appears to be the world we`re living in right
Q. What`s the real
story behind the crushing of James Watson?
A. The Establishment knows that evidence is piling up
the Bell Curve theory that they`ve
denounced so vociferously for
so long. So they are just trying to postpone the day
of reckoning on which it becomes widely understood that
they are fools, liars, and smear-artists by
silencing anyone like Watson who speaks up. The
frenzy will only increase as the
genome data comes flooding in.
Q. What can we say
for sure about racial gaps?
A. That they`ll be around for a long time.
Say it`s discovered in 2008 that the entire cause of
the black-white IQ gap is some hitherto unknown
micronutrient needed by pregnant women that
African-Americans don`t get enough of, and a crash
program is put into place immediately to solve the
problem. If that happened, the IQ gap among working-age
adults still wouldn`t disappear until the 2070s.
So whether the racial IQ gaps are genetic or not,
they`re going to be around for many decades. And we need
to understand them.
Q. Why is all this
important? Shouldn`t we just think of people as
A. That sounds good to me, but we don`t. We`re social
and political animals, and many of our government
policies are based on group membership: not just
explicit affirmative action programs, but most
anti-discrimination cases as well are based not on
evidence of actual discrimination but on "disparate
impact," a legal theory that`s built on the
big assumption that different groups are identical
in IQ and other traits.
Q. How would
understanding IQ better help America?
A. It becoming ever more clear that the combination
of racial gaps in IQ and the IQ taboo acts as a black
hole that sucks all the intelligence out of an
institution. Racial gaps in achievement are the
overwhelmingly dominant fact driving school performance,
for instance, but nobody is allowed to mention the IQ
gap among the races, so misbegotten nonsense rushes in.
Last month, the California Superintendent of Schools
announced that the cause of low black achievement
was "absolutely, positively not genetic." [Summit
called to address racial disparities in academic
performance, by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco
Chronicle, November 12, 2007] Instead, white
too much discipline on black youths "who learn
at church that it`s good to clap, speak loudly and
bit raucous" were too blame. Of course, the
last thing public schools need is less discipline.
Similarly, in 2001, President Bush and Senator
Kennedy got together and passed the
No Child Left Behind Act, which is certifiably
insane. It mandates eliminating all racial gaps and
making every student in America "proficient"
average) by 2014.
Q. So what can be
A. People who understand reality reasonably well can
figure out many small, incremental changes that will
make us all better off. In contrast, powerful people who
don`t know what the hell they are doing will tend to
make us all worse off.
Q. What`s the
initial thing we should do?
A. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing
to do is to stop digging. By letting in so many
unskilled (i.e., largely low IQ) immigrants, especially
illegal immigrants, we`re digging a deeper hole for
So let`s stop. Now
features his daily blog.]