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Two men with big hair and the nature of IQ
November 16, 2009 9:03 PM   Subscribe

Behind the growing Steven Pinker vs. Malcolm Gladwell feud (Pinker criticizes Gladwell, Gladwell snarkily replies) is a debate over the value of IQ, specifically, and intelligence, broadly, in success. Recent research has generally shown little link between intelligence and success within fields, and that there are multiple kinds of intelligences that drive achievement. On the other hand, scholars of psychometrics claim the opposite, showing that IQ at an early age can predict achievement, and no amount of study will help. Maybe everyone is right, with enough caveats.
posted by blahblahblah (147 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wondered about the basis of Pinker’s conclusion, so I e-mailed him, asking if he could tell me where to find the scientific data that would set me straight. He very graciously wrote me back. He had three sources, he said. The first was Steve Sailer.
Wow. I think it's pretty safe to ignore Pinker from now on.
posted by delmoi at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


The last time some of this got posted, the mods deleted it, pointing to this post.
posted by idiopath at 9:14 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Humans care too much about measuring each others' brains.
posted by spiderskull at 9:16 PM on November 16, 2009


No thread of this kind is complete without the obligatory link to Cosma Shalizi's "g, a statistical myth."
posted by escabeche at 9:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


idiopath - I know some other post on Gladwell was deleted, since there was already some Gladwell-bashing post. I posted this for two reasons: 1) The debate over IQ lies at the heart of the argument, and it is really interesting topic which makes up the majority of my links and 2) Gladwell's response makes this an interesting discussion, as opposed to a one-sided pile-on.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:19 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


That said: it doesn't seem to me that a disagreement about the nature and importance of IQ is central to Pinker's beef with Gladwell at all.
posted by escabeche at 9:21 PM on November 16, 2009


Well, Gladwell's main thesis of Outliers is that innate talent is not the key to success. Pinker's had a long standing interest in the value of innate (and inheritable) intelligence among different groups from an evolutionary perspective. That seems to be the main motivation, as far as I can tell, of the back-and-forth.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:26 PM on November 16, 2009


MetaFilter: everyone is right, with enough caveats.
posted by GuyZero at 9:35 PM on November 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


I really feel bad for Gladwell. The poor fucker has Steve Sailer and his associated nits infesting his blog comments now.
posted by maudlin at 9:36 PM on November 16, 2009


I suspect the clever & innately talented kids eventually clue into this as they realize the stubborn, driven ones have passed them. Half the population has above average intelligence, yet only a handful ever change the world. Classic Thomas Edison: "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

So, yeah, count me in under "IQ ain't all that."
posted by Decimask at 9:38 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I.Q. is totally a construct. I had to take that twice, so I know a bit about the questions. First, it presupposes the existence of a concept called "intelligence" which is supposed to measure a quality which is part cleverness, part expressing yourself and part math. All of these things are different and distinct.

Second, it uses a serious of questions which are suggested to measure this principle. The questions consist of things that people who think they are smart know themselves.

Finally, it proposes to be able to combine the measurement of these things into a single number that determines how smart one is.

And its no surprise. A French guy named Piaget set up the system and wrote the first questions up himself. It isn't rocket science. Its more made up.

The problem is that people want to talk about I.Q. and put it on a level with hard science. Its not. As Colbert would say, it has a quality of "truthiness" about it. People handle the study of it rationally, but never challenge its basic premise which is basically an opinion about a quality that is alleged to exist.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:45 PM on November 16, 2009 [12 favorites]


I never thought I'd ever take Gladwell's side in an argument, but here we are. Pinker disappoints me by resorting to an argumentum-ad-Steve-Sailer.

That said, this observation, from the "no amount of study will help" link is awfully instructive:
10,000 hours of practice won't make you a genius, but being good at something might make you more likely to pursue it for 10,000 hours!
He's slightly wrong: innate cognitive ability may be a necessary but insufficient requirement for success: persistence and confidence are much more important, which he acknowledges. However, one of the reasons you find certain people being successful in a given field is that they found early success in it, which motivated them to be more persistent, resulting in that 10,000 hours of practice that causes you to exceed the ability of others -- practice does make perfect, but only a few people are that stubborn. My friends in college-level fencing "discovered" this principle ourselves: left-handed fencers are overrepresented at the varsity level, but they're not necessarily better than their peers. The reason for this, we guessed, was that left-handers found early success in fencing (because the beginner-level right-handers had a harder time fencing lefties), and thus were more likely to pursue the sport for a longer period of time than right-handers.

My parents raised us to be stubborn.
posted by deanc at 9:49 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Humans care too much about measuring each others' brains.

Two Jewfro's, one Measuring Cup.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:50 PM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


A French guy named Piaget set up the system and wrote the first questions up himself.

Binet. Not Piaget.

I'm so damn smart.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:52 PM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Thanks, twoleftfeet! I knew something was wrong with that statement, but I was too lazy to google and figure out what. Confusion, unconfused.</small?
posted by librarylis at 10:13 PM on November 16, 2009


Wasn't IQ invented to measure retardation (for lack of a better term) rather than exceptional ability? My vibe was that once you got over 120 or so the test was meaningless. It was a developmental assessment just like weight is a developmental assessment until you're about 16 at which point it ceases to have a lot of meaning in isolation.

Saying that my IQ is 130 is no different than saying I weigh 200 pounds. Both indicate a lack of any severe developmental diseases or conditions. They say nothing about how AWESOME I am.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Can't these two have a no-holds-barred steelcage deathmatch on TED and just get it over with?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:30 PM on November 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Eponysterical.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:36 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


No thread of this kind is complete without the obligatory link to Cosma Shalizi's "g, a statistical myth."

heh, I just came here to link to Shazili's Yet More on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ, we really need a Shalizi FPP one of these days.

To me though, all you have to do is point out the Flynn effect to refute the claim that IQ is hertitable. Widely over generalizing the flynn effect shows that for the past 100 years IQ world wide has consitently increased by about 3 points a decade. So over the past century the average IQ has increased by about 30 points, or two standard deviations. In other words a huge change. So if IQ is heritable there has been a huge change in the genetic stock of Homo sapien, but there is no plausible mechanism for this change.
posted by afu at 10:51 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


If this was Digg, half the commenters here would be citing their IQ score and in the same breath remarking how they don't put much stock in the tests.
posted by crapmatic at 11:15 PM on November 16, 2009


How is it that a lot of people even know their IQ score? I thought they weren't supposed to tell you. I have no idea what mine might be.
posted by weston at 11:25 PM on November 16, 2009


From the conclusion of the final linked paper:
Thus, those who want to eliminate intelligence testing altogether bear the burden of proof to show that they have better or even equal measures.

I think they beg the question here. Given IQ testing's long history of misuse, the burden of proof could equally be on those who support testing to prove that the benefits it provides in sorting and classifying members of our society are greater than the potential risks of misclassification and political hijacking.

Mostly, though, Herrnstein and Murray give me the willies.
posted by col_pogo at 11:27 PM on November 16, 2009


To me though, all you have to do is point out the Flynn effect to refute the claim that IQ is hertitable. Widely over generalizing the flynn effect shows that for the past 100 years IQ world wide has consitently increased by about 3 points a decade. So over the past century the average IQ has increased by about 30 points, or two standard deviations. In other words a huge change. So if IQ is heritable there has been a huge change in the genetic stock of Homo sapien, but there is no plausible mechanism for this change.

Average height has been increasing worldwide over the last 100 years. So, height is not heritable?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:33 PM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sailer knows his stuff. An "argumentum-ad-Steve-Sailer" would be a good argument. deanc ought to read up on "guilt by association" before he makes up another logical fallacy.
posted by thumbsdown at 12:14 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sailer knows his stuff. An "argumentum-ad-Steve-Sailer" would be a good argument. deanc ought to read up on "guilt by association" before he makes up another logical fallacy.

Steve? Is that you?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:27 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, height is not heritable?

That average height has increased does not, by itself, necessarily imply height is heritable. Overall improvements in diet and healthcare for various populations probably go a long way to explaining average height increases.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:48 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dogs chase rabbits.

Sorry, what?
posted by seanyboy at 12:51 AM on November 17, 2009


I've always said that Mensa is just high class dining for Mind Flayers. The fucking word means table. Table.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:53 AM on November 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


The only thing IQ proves is that people like measuring things.

That said, there is a vague relationship between a persons IQ, and how they perceive that world. You know when you meet someone if they have a high IQ or not, and it's pretty likely that these people will do better in information rich environments. (jobs, etc).

However - I've met many awesome people who'd probably flunk modern IQ tests, and they've all got something to teach me. If it exists, then IQ isn't all that. It's just a shame that the people who have the most to lose by a minimised impact and effect of IQ are the exact same people that are great at arguing cogently that IQ is really important.
posted by seanyboy at 1:01 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pinker versus Gladwell. Whoever wins, we lose.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:04 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Can't these two have a no-holds-barred steelcage deathmatch on TED and just get it over with?
PINKER v GLADWELL
MIND v MIND
HAIR v HAIR
SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAAAAYYYY
posted by louche mustachio at 1:14 AM on November 17, 2009 [8 favorites]


It seems to me that whenever someone sets themselves the task to come up with a new objective definition and measuring stick for intelligence, they end up with something that makes them look good. To paraphrase Pinker, if elephants designed IQ tests, people who could uproot trees with their nose would score at the very top.

I propose a new method for measuring whatever it is that needs be measured to measure intelligence.

A computer program generates all kinds of random questions, anything from hardcore logic to favorite baseball team. The questions are sent in different combination to a huge sample of children. Repeat every decade. Wait a generation and see how the subjects do in life.

Anyone interested picks whatever definition of intelligence they want to measure (money, education, quality of relationships, number of children who managed to reproduce, nosedness) and looks at the data. The questions that the children who turned out to be successful answered right and the questions that the failed ones answered wrong and viceversa become the basis for the new IQ test.

I predict that an early affirmative answer to the question "Do you prefer salt licorice over chocolate?" will predict handsomeness, charm, intelligence and all around awesomeness later in life.
posted by dirty lies at 2:10 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


People like measuring IQ because it is a lot easier than measuring actual performance.

So the conclusion of every IQ test should be that the IQ tester is lazy.
posted by srboisvert at 2:58 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Let's just go back to phrenology; it's so much simpler, and every bit as useful as IQ tests.
posted by Red Loop at 3:05 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sailer knows his stuff. An "argumentum-ad-Steve-Sailer" would be a good argument. deanc ought to read up on "guilt by association" before he makes up another logical fallacy.

Sailer knows his "Stuff" the way Micheal Chrighton knows global warming and Micheal Behe knows his evolution. Except his "stuff" is trying to prove black people are stupid.
posted by delmoi at 3:34 AM on November 17, 2009


Er, The way Crichton knew his stuff, I should say.
posted by delmoi at 3:35 AM on November 17, 2009


Pinker tries too hard in the first Times piece to unravel Gladwell. Gladwell's "oh isn't that interesting-isms" can sometimes be genuinely intriguing and other times completely unenlightening, but I think that's largely because he gets it wrong more often than he gets it right. Can't make an omelette without, etc...

That said, buried near the end of the piece was this gem, the nails exactly what it is about Gladwell's writings that I find so discomfiting yet could never quite put my finger on it.
"The common thread in Gladwell’s writing is a kind of populism, which seeks to undermine the ideals of talent, intelligence and analytical prowess in favor of luck, opportunity, experience and intuition."
For me at least this is exactly how I view Gladwell, and why he appeals to so many of the dumb ass executives that have made some of his books required reading at at least a couple of the companies I have toiled for over the years.
posted by psmealey at 3:49 AM on November 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


"I don't believe in belts, but if I did, I'd be a fifth degree black belt."

Pinker vs. Gladwell leading opposing teams of troubled youths in a paintball battle: it would be the most epic nerdfight of all time, and satisfy one of my longest standing wishes (to see Pinker get shot with paint by juvenile delinquents).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 3:59 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


People like measuring IQ because it is a lot easier than measuring actual performance.

No, people like measuring IQ because "performance" is tethered to a situation or task, and IQ is purported to generalize to any situation by its grounding in "intelligence". Further, IQ when measured according to classical test theory, which in an ideal world, for any individual it would be, isn't easy. The best approximation of intelligence would be arrived at by measuring IQ multiple times with the same test. An average of multiple tests would closer approximate a person's "true score" by weeding out errors caused by, for instance, anxiety or unpreparedness or fatigue or random error. Even still, given multiple testings a person's IQ score should never, never be given to them as a single number. Because there is this error, scores are supposed to be reported with an accompanying prediction band (range), which covers with 95% probability where their true score is likely to fall.

That said, not all IQ tests are made equal. Binet's test was pretty damn culture-bound. Any test that is developed with words to test word abilities is to some extent language-bound. Most IQ tests sample as wide a range of possible reasoning as possible and they correlate very well with performance, but they still have theoretical issues that may never be solved. If I had to put my stock in any one test of intelligence, it would spatial or abstract reasoning tests, like the Raven's Progressive Matrices.
posted by tybeet at 4:04 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


A school gave me an IQ test around the time they decided I should be in special education classes. I scored mediocre, just well enough to disqualify me from special ed.

My teachers couldn't figure out if I was too smart for their classes or too stupid.

As a measurement of a person's usefulness as interchangeable elements in a productive social system, IQ tests seem pretty useful and reliable. We should trust IQ tests to the degree that we want to measure people in therms of their usefulness as interchangeable elements of a social system. It is good to be proud of your high IQ, but to sneer at the inferiority of someone who is less useful as a generic part of the social machinery seems unfortunate.
posted by idiopath at 4:38 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The fact that IQ does not correlate with achievement WITHIN a field is unsurprising from a statistical perspective. To the extent that some careers attract people within a narrower band of the IQ distribution, the range of IQs in a particular career choice will be restricted. Restricting the range of a variable makes correlations harder to see, because you are really only looking at a slice of the possible relationship. (If we could experimentally control peoples' careers, we could, say, make low IQ mathematicians and see whether they are as successful, on average, as the high IQ ones. But until then...)

Of course, under the "IQ is a myth" hypothesis, we would expect to see the same small-to-nonexistent correlations within fields. So, this fact cannot be used as evidence by the "IQ is a myth" camp, because it is expected under BOTH hypotheses.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:50 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The common thread in Gladwell’s writing is a kind of populism, which seeks to undermine the ideals of talent, intelligence and analytical prowess in favor of luck, opportunity, experience and intuition."

But this isn't what Gladwell says. In Outliers, he doesn't say that being born in January will make a boy a good hockey player. He says that talented boys born in January have an early advantage over talented boys born in October because of the size difference in the early years, and this translates to more significant advantages over time.

Whether that's right or wrong, I don't know, but it isn't an argument against either the existence or importance of talent. It's an argument to look at context. And that position is well understood and well supported by most social sciences. It was, arguably, what the IQ test was created for (to identify areas in which children falling behind could be tutored to bring them up to speed with other children). It is not a populist argument, but one well supported by scholars.
posted by carmen at 5:22 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I was in MENSA for a while -- technically the only reason I'm not right now is I finally remembered I'm too smart to pay the annual membership fee. (I only joined because I stumbled across the knowledge that my SAT scores were enough to qualify me, and I figured hell, I'd meet some people I wouldn't have met otherwise.)

At the time, I told a lot of people who asked about it that in my opinion, IQ was only a measurement of CAPACITY of one's intelligence -- it was like the difference between a pint-size pitcher and a quart-size pitcher. And, of course, the size of your pitcher was only part of the equation -- what you put INTO the pitcher also mattered. People are going to be far more interested in the pint pitcher of champagne than they'll be in the quart pitcher of rancid strawberry Yoo-Hoo.

So all the high-IQ people had was a bigger capacity for information and brain power. If we didn't do anything WITH that brain power, it didn't really count.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Genius is a repeatable phenomenon, and geniuses often fit certain molds. (By genius, I mean people who have achieved lasting greatness through creativity and invention. Mathematicians, scientists, artists, authors, con-men, conquerors, etc.) Shine early, blaze brightly, burn out before you're thirty is a very common path for genius to take, but it's far from the only one. High IQ is also very common among geniuses... but there are vastly, vastly, vastly more people with high IQ's than there are geniuses, and not all geniuses have high IQs.

What's more, IQ seems to test for certain types of intelligence. It doesn't allow you to read the emotions and intentions of the man across the table, that's another kind of intelligence. It doesn't allow you to weigh risk vs. reward decisively and quickly, that's another type of intelligence. These types of intelligence are greater indicators of success than pure problem solving, which is what IQ seems to be measuring (by way of hierarchical and spatial relationships between physical and/or abstract objects.)

Who's smarter? A nerd who does math for fun in her spare time, or a glad-hander who can sell a ketchup popscicle to a woman in white gloves? Oh, really? By what measure? Income? If the glad-hander's got a benz by the time she's 30, and calculus-lass has a poorly paid grad school position, how are you measuring smarts and success? Is it even fair or applicable to compare the two?

The only way to measure smarts is to see what someone does and how they do it. An IQ test takes too small a subset of that.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:36 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ah, MENSA. I remember back when I was in seventh grade. My father came back from the library with a MENSA puzzle book. Solve these puzzles, the book suggested, and you may have the right stuff!

The first puzzle was to put twelve marbles into three cups in such a way that each cup held an odd number of marbles. "Bah," I told Dad, "I've seen this type before. The gimmick is that you nest one of the cups inside another. Like you put three in cup A, five in cup B which leaves four for cup C, but you nest A inside of C to fix up C."

To his credit, Dad was skeptical, but I finally talked him into it. We flipped to the back of the book to verify my budding genius.

Disaster! The book's solution was to put three in one cup and three in another, leaving six for the final cup. "A very odd number indeed!" I imagined the French fops from Saturday Night Live chewing on a pinky-nail while saying it and then laughing uproariously.

From then on, MENSA was a punchline.

posted by Rat Spatula at 6:16 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Genius is a repeatable phenomenon.

...really?, Or, more importantly, is it too late for me....? Or maybe I don't quite get your point here.

Otherwise, I completely agree with you.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:25 AM on November 17, 2009


"The common thread in Gladwell’s writing is a kind of populism, which seeks to undermine the ideals of talent, intelligence and analytical prowess in favor of luck, opportunity, experience and intuition."

Isn't the idea that intelligence is a question of innate capacity rather than motivation and effort a populist one? It is easier to bemoan your lack of an innate gift than it is to exert the effort to master an insufficient skill.
posted by idiopath at 6:30 AM on November 17, 2009


The only way to measure smarts is to see what someone does and how they do it. An IQ test takes too small a subset of that.

But then, you've completely avoided measuring anything at all and are instead describing external events and self-reported internal events.
posted by tybeet at 6:42 AM on November 17, 2009


How is it that a lot of people even know their IQ score?

Peeked at my Permanent Record when the dean momentarily walked out of the room. (Confirmed with those on line tests anyone can take.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:47 AM on November 17, 2009


IQ is just a diversion from the true measure of human worth: midichlorians.
posted by brain_drain at 7:13 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


The only thing IQ proves is that people like measuring things. (emphasis added)

IQ ... is basically an opinion about a quality that is alleged to exist.

So - assuming for the sake of argument that the death penalty is acceptable - you both would find untenable and baseless the Supreme Court's position: that executing a person is cruel and unusual if his IQ is below a certain threshold? Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).

Fascinating. ~_^

I believe IQ is worth something. I do not believe it is finely calibrated to the complexity of human intelligence, such that you could find some meaningful differences between people whose scores were within a couple points of each other. But surely you recognize the cognitive differences of people whose scores are standard deviations above or below the mean? I think it overstates your case to say that IQ only stands for the proposition that people like to measure things, and I think it is plainly false that intelligence is only "alleged" to exist. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater; its imperfection does not necessitate the conclusion that it is utterly devoid of worth.
posted by jock@law at 7:15 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Recent research has generally shown little link between intelligence and success within fields

So all the high-IQ people had was a bigger capacity for information and brain power. If we didn't do anything WITH that brain power, it didn't really count.

Exactly. It's not what you CAN do, it's what you DO.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised this post didn't contain a link to the famous feud between Pinker and Stephen Jay Gould - Gould being the noted author of Mismeasure of Man, which thoroughly and completely dismantles the concept of g.

If Pinker really is a supporter of Steve Sailer, I have lost the remaining ounce of respect I had for him. His work on the biological and evolutionary basis of language is great, and I enjoy his writing style, but his... ah... "extracurricular" beliefs are verging on right-wing crazy.
posted by muddgirl at 7:30 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Smart people tend to take intelligence for granted, and thus don't recognize its importance. Gladwell's work on "outliers" makes a lot more sense if you look at it from the perspective of, "Ok. Assume you're already smart and talented. What is required after that to achieve off-the-charts success?" If you look at it from that perspective, that his anecdotes would contain a lot of stories where the protagonists benefit from "luck, opportunity, experience and intuition," shouldn't be a surprise.
posted by deanc at 7:32 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


How is it that a lot of people even know their IQ score?

...begs the question of who should know YOUR IQ score (if not you), and what can they do with it. Also (to jock@law), if IQ was very useful metric, we would be measuring everyone's regularly, wouldn't we?

When I was in Grade One, The Powers That Be did broad testing of our age group, and as a result of that, a fairly large group of us were "accelerated", doing grades 2 & 3 in one year. I could cope with the schoolwork, but I think it was a fairly jarring "social" change, putting us with a group of slightly older kids who resented that we were "better".

I think the current metric of IQ needs some revision, especially nowadays when employers are latching onto things like Myers-Briggs as a filtering mechanism. Coming soon on employment applications: Rorschach Tests
posted by Artful Codger at 7:45 AM on November 17, 2009


In any discussion about IQ, I think it's important to acknowledge the work of Howard Gardner--he has done more to make the idea of "intelligence" workable and practical in terms of understanding and educating people than any other scholar of whom I'm aware. He is of course the originator of the theory of multiple intelligences, that people have an "intelligence profile" rather than a greater or lesser amount of a single thing called intelligence.

In American education circles, his ideas have nearly completely displaced the concept of IQ (when I started teaching in the mid-90s, his books were required reading for new teachers, and often cited in conference presentations, etc.), so the debate over IQ--in practice--is not nearly as hot button as the conflict between Pinker and Gladwell make it appear.

It's pretty widely accepted these days, to my understanding anyway, that the real limit of the old concept of IQ is that it measures mainly verbal and spatial intelligence, but didn't account for any of the other ways in which human beings are smart. IQ as a concept sort of works, because high verbal and spatial (abstract reasoning, etc.) intelligence are required in many professional fields. But you can't design a computer or fix a car or win a gold medal by only talking and thinking about it, and Gardner rightly asserts that there are other facets to "intelligence" than only facility with language and ideas. (His "candidate intelligences" include verbal, spatial, mathematical, musical, physical/kinesthetic, inter- and intra-personal, and etc. you can read for yourself it's actually quite fascinating.)

So much of the debate that Pinker wants to have has been eclipsed by better ideas for some time now, it seems to me.

resulting in that 10,000 hours of practice that causes you to exceed the ability of others -- practice does make perfect, but only a few people are that stubborn.

Repeated for truth--I teach music majors, and I know pretty quickly (among performance majors in particular) who will very likely reach a professional level of artistry and who won't, mainly by knowing their practice habits. In my world, Mozart is hailed as that rarest of phenomena, the effortless, sublimely gifted genius. Truth is, we suspect he hit his 10,000 hours sometime by age 12 or so--he really, really worked his ass off as a kid, like we can't imagine. Combine that with his obvious gifts, and you have one of the great artists of human history. It is surprising how much the focus and determination to hit that 10,000 hour mark makes The Difference in one's success in my field, one long assumed to be driven by "innate" things like "talent". (Now, among my students who have or are on track to hit that mark by their mid-20s, the ones with other gifts--like high verbal ability, innate inter- and intra-personal intelligence, higher kinesthetic intelligence--are usually the ones who will be the very most successful.)
posted by LooseFilter at 7:49 AM on November 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also (to jock@law), if IQ was very useful metric, we would be measuring everyone's regularly, wouldn't we?

Non-responsive. Did you read my post? It's about IQ not being 'utterly devoid of worth.' That is a significantly different proposition than claiming that it is '[a] very useful metric.'
posted by jock@law at 7:51 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a clin psych Ph.D. student, so this stuff is naturally interesting to me.

Here's my basic breakdown:

1. IQ tests are great in a number of ways. But the single summary "IQ" score is the least useful piece of information you get out of them. The fact that people worship it drives me crazy.

2. Does g exist? Eh, probably. Sort of. Nonetheless, I never forget that IQ tests give you IQ scores (and all the other information they give you that's more useful than the IQ scores.) I never, ever forget that IQ tests don't give you a lot of other information. That is, I use the things, but I use them (and write my reports about them) with appropriate skepticism.

3. IQ and achievement appear to be tightly linked up to about average IQ, after which it starts to break down. You need a high IQ to be a successful scientist, for example, but lots of people with IQs don't succeed at anything.

There's more, but this is what i have time for right now.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 7:52 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


So - assuming for the sake of argument that the death penalty is acceptable - you both would find untenable and baseless the Supreme Court's position: that executing a person is cruel and unusual if his IQ is below a certain threshold? Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).

I think that was a bad decision. Assuming the death penalty isn't categorically flawed (although I think it is), IQ is not a credible basis for ruling people out. The test should be whether the defendant was able to distinguish right and wrong, not how "intelligent" he or she is. It's actually an insulting ruling to mentally disabled people in many respects.
posted by brain_drain at 7:53 AM on November 17, 2009


Exactly. It's not what you CAN do, it's what you DO.
There's a lot of confusion in this thread. It is unfortunate that IQ has become some kind of measure of "worth," and clearly people need to step back and ask whether IQ is really as important as they think it is. But from the perspective of a psychological researcher, what you CAN do, what you DO, and the LINK between the two are all interesting. If intelligence is a general trait that can be measured, even imperfectly and as part of a suite of other human abilities, it says something about human behavior.

The main problem I see is that early intelligence researchers overstated what IQ could say about a person, and it became a measure of worth. The above quote shows a reaction to IQ as a measure of worth. Well, IQ is not a measure of worth. IQ is an attempt to measure a general human trait which may, or may not, exist, depending on who you ask. Given the relative stability of IQ measurements across time within a person, it seems that something is being measured. What that "something" is is a matter of some debate. But don't pretend like refuting IQ as a measure of "worth" is refuting the idea of IQ in general. You've missed the point, from a psychological perspective.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:54 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


So - assuming for the sake of argument that the death penalty is acceptable - you both would find untenable and baseless the Supreme Court's position: that executing a person is cruel and unusual if his IQ is below a certain threshold? Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).

Fascinating. ~_^


I get your larger point, but to be fair the SC did not actually set a numerical threshold for what constitutes "mental retardation" for the purposes of cruel & unusual punishment analysis.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:57 AM on November 17, 2009


How is it that a lot of people even know their IQ score?

Dragged it out of my high-school guidance counsellor when I was failing every class in Grade 9 (boredom, depression, and a generalized disgust at life that only the 14 year old can really know). She was trying to be helpful, I think, and also explaining why I was still in the academic stream after two rather disastrous years (this was back in the days when kids were streamed into "vocational" and "academic" sets of courses; the school system dropped this soon after, probably in the face of impending lawsuits). I can't say it changed much for me, really: I was still miserable, and I already knew I was intelligent.
posted by jokeefe at 7:57 AM on November 17, 2009


>> Also (to jock@law), if IQ was very useful metric, we would be measuring everyone's regularly, wouldn't we?

>> Non-responsive. Did you read my post? It's about IQ not being 'utterly devoid of worth.' That is a significantly different proposition than claiming that it is '[a] very useful metric.'


Yes I read your post. Did you read my question? I was kind of interested in your opinion. But your assumptions about my question are interesting too.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:00 AM on November 17, 2009


IQ was a useful metric, for identifying at an early age those students who, for whatever reason, did not have the skills presently to keep up with their peers in school.

The fact that it has been twisted and used as a proof of heritable intelligence is quite a shame. And the fact that we use it to divert resources away from "average" students and towards "gifted" students who may already have the benefits of that a stable and loving home life can afford them has always seemed odd to me.
posted by muddgirl at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would think that Pinker's experience at Harvard alone should be sufficient evidence that innate intelligence is not as important as intelligence joined to diligence.

Every year at the graduation baccalaureate service in Memorial Church, Peter Gomes invites seniors to consider that approximately half among them have reached their peak. "These individuals will spend the rest of their lives resting on the laurel of their Harvard diploma, all while someone with a much less auspicious degree runs circles around them at the office, largely because no one has ever implied to this lesser soul that he does not have to continue jumping through hoops."
posted by jefficator at 8:18 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the Shalizi links. He's great. Incidentally, Shalizi thanks favorably of Pinker and his books. He is also supporter of evolutionary psychology in general, but does have his reservations.
posted by AceRock at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2009


Shalizi thinks favorably
posted by AceRock at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2009


...quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra)...

Awesome!

Yeah, I was reading Blink and noticed that Gladwell is honest enough to include the evidence or statistics that show what he's trying to say is either wrong or at least not necessarily right, but not honest enough to avoid forcing the conclusion he wants. And he's entirely too pleased with himself.
posted by ignignokt at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2009


But from the perspective of a psychological researcher, what you CAN do, what you DO, and the LINK between the two are all interesting.

I agree with you. I wasn't so much thinking about IQ as a measurement of "worth" but of "utility"-- or rather the capacity for utility. In this I agree with EmpressCallipygos, who posted, "So all the high-IQ people had was a bigger capacity for information and brain power. If we didn't do anything WITH that brain power, it didn't really count."

I find the link between what someone can do and what they actually do completely fascinating. I've known extremely talented people who, for whatever reason, don't use their talents to their full potential. I've known other people, less talented, who through a combination of incredibly hard work and stubbornness, have been successful at their chosen fields. Or, as it says in the front page post, "Recent research has generally shown little link between intelligence and success within fields, and that there are multiple kinds of intelligences that drive achievement." I believe this wholeheartedly.

Does IQ measure these multiple kinds of intelligences? Possibly not. Does that mean IQ is completely useless as a tool for psychological research? No. As you say, "something is being measured. What that 'something' is is a matter of some debate." I'll stay tuned to this debate and this thread. This is interesting stuff.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2009


That said, not all IQ tests are made equal. Binet's test was pretty damn culture-bound.

They all are. They all say "it is important to know and to be able to do these things." But they don't prove it. Because they can't. It isn't like gravity where you can make actual physical measurements of the thing being measured.

The amount we know about the human brain/mind is staggeringly small. Yet people want to do "science" on it without having any facts.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2009


I suspect the clever & innately talented kids eventually clue into this as they realize the stubborn, driven ones have passed them.

And then both groups become bitter, as the clever-and-innately-talented join the stubborn-and-driven in noticing that they're both passed by the morons with rich daddies.

Based on no data at all (but a lot of observation) I suspect that success in life maps more closely to the wealth of one's parents than to anything that might or might not be in your brain. Most of us on MeFi are smarter than at least a couple of senators. Many of us are more driven than most millionaires.

Yes, there are pulled-up-bootstrap exceptions, people who rose from dirt-poor surroundings to excel. But they're just that: notable because they're exceptional cases. The American Dream has always been a bit of a sham.
posted by rokusan at 8:43 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Average height has been increasing worldwide over the last 100 years. So, height is not heritable?

No. It is not completely heritable. There is a difference between phenotype and genotype, no?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:50 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does IQ measure these multiple kinds of intelligences? Possibly not.

Not possibly, definitely does not. IQ and multiple intelligences are not reconcilable ideas, in fact the theory of multiple intelligences specifically refutes the notion of IQ. (some links in my earlier comment.)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2009


I think it is plainly false that intelligence is only "alleged" to exist. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater; its imperfection does not necessitate the conclusion that it is utterly devoid of worth.

The existence of "intelligence" cannot be proved. Tell me what it is, and then prove its existence in the way that you can prove that gravitation exists.

You can't do that. It requires an assumption--that there is a quality existing separate from our subjective world, entitled "intelligence." Essentially, what it is involves taking our subjective experience of the ability of individuals to solve various problems, includes the subjective choice of what problems are important to be solved, and then asserts that this quality can be measured independent of its actual exercise in everyday life by the asking of a serious of subjectively decided questions designed to mimic the ability to solve those problems.

Therefore its existence is only an allegation--it cannot be proved.

This is not science, it is stats hooked up to assumptions without observation.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:02 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


You need a high IQ to be a successful scientist, for example, but lots of people with IQs don't succeed at anything.

So to the "successful scientist," it's easy for him to say that IQ/intelligence didn't play a role in his success. Tell that to the person with a low-IQ, though, and see how believable the statement is.

So IQ means nothing. Unless it's too low, in which case it means everything.

A lot of arguments about the importance of intelligence are being made by people who are, themselves, intelligent, and those arguments are going to be colored by their own experiences.

It is not completely heritable.

There's a difference between something that's heritable and purely genetic. The likelihood of having missing fingers is heritable: because the likelihood that you will work in a dangerous occupation that puts your fingers in proximity to machine tools is correlated with your parents' likelihood of having that same kind of job.

Of course IQ is "heritable": all the factors that come into play when calculating your IQ are going to be influenced by the same factors that your parents had influencing them. It doesn't mean there's an immutable genetic destiny involved (as the Flynn effect demonstrates).
posted by deanc at 9:06 AM on November 17, 2009


You're absolutely right about heritability, deanc. The problem is that lay science reporting confuses "heritability" with "genetics".
posted by muddgirl at 9:13 AM on November 17, 2009


Which you, like, totally said. Damn.
posted by muddgirl at 9:13 AM on November 17, 2009


The existence of "intelligence" cannot be proved. Tell me what it is, and then prove its existence in the way that you can prove that gravitation exists.
You give gravitation too much credit. Gravity doesn't exist, per se; "gravity" is a description of a statistical regularity in the way objects move. Release an object above the ground, and it will fall. The regularity "exists," but not in the same way that, say, the popcorn I'm eating right now exists. The regularity is an abstraction, and can be couched in terms of prediction (if I release this object, I predict it will fall).

Now, there are various explanations one can come up with FOR this regularity: curved space-time, gravitons, Jesus, gnomes; but these explanations are NOT the same as the observation of regularity itself. In the same way, "evolution" does not exist; there is an observation of a pattern in geographical distribution of plants and animals, the fossil record, etc. The explanation of these facts is evolution.

Now, to turn to IQ; for certain tests, there is a regularity. These tests correlate with achievement in some ways, they correlate with working memory capacity, and they are stable over time. The explanation of this fact is a general trait called g - general, fluid intelligence (and one can go further, and posit neural correlates of the trait itself, etc). But like with gravity, g has a certain predictive value (the correlation). Of course, the predictive value of g and Newtonian mechanics are orders of magnitude different, but human behavior is a little noisier than the interaction of two bodies in space.

If the statistical regularities in IQ are real, then "g" exists in EXACTLY the same way that gravity exists. The question is, what is the explanation for g (and, if you are a physicist, gravity)?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:40 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


A more appropriate analogy would be developing an "a quotient" to describe "athleticism" and then using it to make hiring judgments about all players in all sports, regardless of the several thousand factors that make up a human body, not to mention the thousand factors that make up each sport.

Gravity may be a statistical function of several thousand factors, but gravity is not a moral issue the way intelligence has become.
posted by muddgirl at 10:08 AM on November 17, 2009


Hsu has a response to Gladwell's IQ claims that predates the publishing of Outliers. Sadly, I'm not smart enough to understand it.

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/07/annals-of-psychometry-iqs-of-eminent.html
posted by mecran01 at 10:47 AM on November 17, 2009


What a shit study in mecran01's link. Or perhaps its just a bad summary of the study?
posted by muddgirl at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2009


Now, to turn to IQ; for certain tests, there is a regularity. These tests correlate with achievement in some ways, they correlate with working memory capacity

I must differ. Although I agree with your assesment of the "Law of gravity" which is a construct to help us think about a regularly observable fact, the difference here is in the terms of observation. It is very easy to measure gravity's effects. We can take yardsticks, balances and video cameras and one time after the other measure a lead weight dropping to the ground and calculate its speed over time.

Not so with "intelligence." First let us take the concept of "achievement." What is it? How is it defined? The definition of meter is easy--it is a physically definable thing. No subjective question of what "length" is plays into the question. I know what meters per second is, it is how far a body is observed to travel over time. But I cannnot define achievment. It is a subjective concept, based on value judgments. There is no measurement for it. Is an artist who makes far less than Bill Gates to be considered more of an achiever than Mr. Gates or Bloomberg? Obama has made pennies compared to Warren Buffett. Has he achieved less? Is income the yard stick? Thus, these are subjective concepts. They are based on value judgments.

Now let us take your "working memory capacity." This is something our science lacks the ability to measure. It isn't like a hard drive where we can measure the available disk space. We do not even know how memories are stored or coded. We cannot read the code of how neurons store information in the way we can with computers. Thus there is no currently available measurement of "working memory capacity." Indeed, what is "working" or even "memory" in those situations? We don't understand the system in enough detail to make the sweeping claims for the measurement that "g" does.

(and one can go further, and posit neural correlates of the trait itself, etc).

One cannot go further, because we do not understand human neural action very much. At best we see areas of the brain light up on a pet scan. That's like seeing a disk drive rotate under the magnetic head to read the data. We know that area A has data on it that is important, but we cannot read or decode any of the data. We can only guess, based on external behavior.

Of course, the predictive value of g and Newtonian mechanics are orders of magnitude different, but human behavior is a little noisier than the interaction of two bodies in space.

Your comparision is inapt. In Newtonian mechanics (or relativity) we have physically measurable properties which can be applied against a yardstick that is the same for everyone. The units of that yard stick are regular and based upon the regular division of the thing to be measured into discrete units. Setting aside relativity effects, the yardstick is the same. No one is proposing any changes to the yardstick because it measures an objective quality.

Here there is no yard stick. There are no physical properties to measure. Instead, there is a group of people getting together and proposing that (1) there is a thing called "intelligence" which is universal and can be measured; (2) that the measurement should consist of a range of numbers based not any externally measurable constant, but the distribution of answers to the test.

Yet there is no thing called "intelligence." You could get 50 "cognitive scientists" in a room and none of them could agree on what it was. Even if they did, it is a subjective concept based on consensus of experts. The ideaa of length or speed are not subjective they are objective. It is unlike a computer--there it can be shown that a particular chip has a measurable output of X number of operations a second. Here we don't even know what the operations are. We don't know what the brain does when it thinks. All we can do is measure behavior. Even the thinker himself cannot be trusted to give a true report, even if he wanted to, as any number of studies have already shown.

Can we know these things? Maybe. But we don't have the ability to know what is going on and it is far better to accept this than to foolishly attempt in the name of science to fake what we don't know.

Honestly, I do not see any "science" here at all.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:00 AM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


After re-reading the link, I see that Steve Hsu is drawing some ridiculous conclusions from a very limited study. For example, he seems rather ignorant of the fact that college majors are already stratified by interest, which should partially be based on aptitude, which should be correllated to an aptitude test, which is what an IQ test should be. It should not be surprising that physicists score well on tests of math aptitude.

To claim that we can use a "quick" IQ test as a method of admitting only the most qualified students ignores the fact that PhD candidates have already taken up to 16 years worth of aptitude tests.
posted by muddgirl at 11:08 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't wait to tell the world how smart I am.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 11:23 AM on November 17, 2009


You give gravitation too much credit. Gravity doesn't exist, per se; "gravity" is a description of a statistical regularity in the way objects move. Release an object above the ground, and it will fall. The regularity "exists," but not in the same way that, say, the popcorn I'm eating right now exists. The regularity is an abstraction, and can be couched in terms of prediction (if I release this object, I predict it will fall).

The idea of popcorn is an abstraction, and a whole lot more fuzzy one at that. Philosophical points about what we truly "know" and what is an abstraction only muddies the water. It may strictly be true in some sense, but it is absolutely less useful and accurate than saying gravity exists in a real and fundamental way.

Gravity is something that is real and precisely measurable and can be used to make precisely measurable predictions. If I know the mass of two objects, their course of motion due to their interaction can be quite precisely predicted.

Even if there is such a thing as general intelligence, it most certainly cannot be precisely measured and does not predict with very much accuracy the course of future "success". Not to mention the fact that "success" is not really defined in the first place. Is it money, power? What about people who want neither of those things? Is it the ability to achieve one's own goals? What about people who set their goals impossibly high, but are certain to achieve a great deal of note nevertheless?

What we have is a correlation between two ill-defined quantities, which for cultural reasons have moral weight behind them. I'm not sure if I have a point to be made about that. Heck, I'm not sure if there is one.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:39 AM on November 17, 2009


Here's what we know about IQ: It measures something. That can be proven. It produces repeatable results, they conform to the right sort of curve, etc. This has been extensively documented over the past several decades.

Here's what we don't know about IQ: What, exactly, it measures.
posted by rusty at 11:44 AM on November 17, 2009


Here's what we don't know about IQ: What, exactly, it measures.

Which doesn't stop people from claiming that they do, especially when it serves a political agenda.
posted by muddgirl at 11:46 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not so with "intelligence." First let us take the concept of "achievement." What is it? How is it defined? The definition of meter is easy--it is a physically definable thing. No subjective question of what "length" is plays into the question.

I don't think you understand the role of operationalization in science. You want to know how "achievement" is defined? Look at a study which measures it. It is operationalized, and then the operationalization is measured.

Now let us take your "working memory capacity." This is something our science lacks the ability to measure.

You don't know what you're talking about. I'm a working memory researcher and psychometrician, and yes, we can measure working memory capacity. Those measurements correlate with IQ. This is a fact.

Your comparision is inapt. In Newtonian mechanics (or relativity) we have physically measurable properties which can be applied against a yardstick that is the same for everyone.

The physical "yardsticks" will vary to people in different inertial frames of reference, according to relativity. But, you are acting like psychologists don't measure something objective. You speak from ignorance. I have gigabytes of objective measurements of human behavior, and these measurements show regularities, in exactly the same way as measurements in physics or biology do. These are statistical regularities, to be sure, but they are regularities in objectively measured quantities. The question is, what is the explanation FOR these regularities?

Yet there is no thing called "intelligence." You could get 50 "cognitive scientists" in a room and none of them could agree on what it was. Even if they did, it is a subjective concept based on consensus of experts. The ideaa of length or speed are not subjective they are objective.

Again, length and speed are subjective and depend on your inertial frame of reference. But by your definition, "species" don't exist either. Biologists disagree about how best to divide up groups of animals (see the "Biological Species Concept" and related debates). Cognitive scientists differ in how to best OPERATIONALIZE and MODEL intelligence. There is a difference between disagreements over how to operationalize and model something, and disagreements over whether a concept "exists" at all, or is useful. There is a such thing as intelligence. The fact that we can solve problems, speak, and argue shows that intelligence is real. Arguments over "g" are really arguments over how to operationalize and model intelligence.

Honestly, I do not see any "science" here at all.

I'm not surprised. You are ignorant about cognitive science. That's nothing to necessarily be ashamed of - I'm sure you are knowledgeable in some other field. However, before you spout off about an area of science, you should know something about it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:53 AM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Whatever intelligence may be, and however measurable it may be, this seems to me a very intelligent post and even more intelligent thread and thoughtful thread.
posted by bearwife at 11:58 AM on November 17, 2009


Argh, meant to say even more intelligent and thoughtful thread.
posted by bearwife at 11:58 AM on November 17, 2009


And the fact that we use IQ to divert resources away from "average" students and towards "gifted" students who may already have the benefits of that a stable and loving home life can afford them has always seemed odd to me.

As a latch-key kid who grew up on welfare and was placed in "gifted" classes, I'm not sure why you would assume that kids with higher IQs come from stable and loving homes.

On the other hand, the only difference I could discern between my "gifted" history class and the regular history class my friends were in is that we had to color maps of the various regions we were studying.

The problem isn't that resources are being taken away from anyone; it's that standards for everyone -- "gifted" or not -- are ridiculously, pathetically low.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:13 PM on November 17, 2009


The idea of popcorn is an abstraction, and a whole lot more fuzzy one at that.

You are confusing the idea of popcorn with the actual, physical popcorn I was eating. Of course "popcorn" is an abstraction. I wasn't eating an idea, though. I was eating chunks of matter with a particular composition.

Gravity is something that is real and precisely measurable and can be used to make precisely measurable predictions. If I know the mass of two objects, their course of motion due to their interaction can be quite precisely predicted.

No, gravity is not measured directly. The course of motions of two interacting objects are measured, and give the name "gravitational force" to "explain" particular regularities in these paths. But it doesn't really, at that level, explain anything - "gravity" is simply a label for the regularities that enable prediction. It is this predictive ability that is important. In the same way, a person's IQ will predict other measurements. Why these correlations exist is an important question, but clearly something is being measured. The fact that Newtonian mechanics is much more precise than psychometrics is just a reality we have to live with, because human behavior is so variable (but, before one starts extolling the predictive capabilities of Newtonian mechanics, check out the N-body problem - physics gets pretty hairy too...)

Not to mention the fact that "success" is not really defined in the first place. Is it money, power?

In any psychological study, if something is measured, it must have been first operationalized. That means that if "success" was measured, it was defined. The usefulness of the adopted definition may be questioned, but to say that something is "never" defined is silly. If IQ is correlated with something, that "something" was measured and defined. There's no way around that.

What we have is a correlation between two ill-defined quantities, which for cultural reasons have moral weight behind them.

The quantities are not ill-defined. What's IQ? It's your score on a (particular) IQ test. What is "success"? It is whatever the researchers operationalized it as. These things can be measured. Then, a correlation can be computed. This correlation is a real measurement with a real interpretation. The question is, why does the correlation arise?

Now, from a psychological perspective, the moral weight is irrelevant. People with higher IQs aren't worth more than people with lower IQs. They merely have higher IQs.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:18 PM on November 17, 2009


As a latch-key kid who grew up on welfare and was placed in "gifted" classes, I'm not sure why you would assume that kids with higher IQs come from stable and loving homes.

I was making a generalization that is backed up by statistics. Of course it is not true for the aggregate. For example, my mother was a low-paid secretary and my father on disability and social security (this doesn't say anything about their intellectual involvment in my schooling, of course). But I was also self-aware enough to realize that I was a minority, both in my GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program and at CTY, which allows entrance based on PSAT or SAT scores, which correlate to IQ.

On the other hand, the only difference I could discern between my "gifted" history class and the regular history class my friends were in is that we had to color maps of the various regions we were studying.

The problem isn't that resources are being taken away from anyone; it's that standards for everyone -- "gifted" or not -- are ridiculously, pathetically low.


That is highly dependent on state and school district, of course. Every GATE program is different, and every school district has different levels of funding. My GATE programs generally involved separate classes for the gifted students, as well as an after-school program that featured a small class size and lots of one-on-one interaction. My brother, who was a poor student and struggled his whole life but wasn't "dumb enough" to be in the special education classes, never had the benefit of these resources.

Indeed, when I judge school systems now, I tend to look at the level of resources put into the students that are middling performers, rather than the resources thrown at the students who perform well or poorly on an IQ test.
posted by muddgirl at 12:48 PM on November 17, 2009


Nothing succeeds like success.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2009


The quantities are not ill-defined. What's IQ? It's your score on a (particular) IQ test. What is "success"? It is whatever the researchers operationalized it as. These things can be measured. Then, a correlation can be computed. This correlation is a real measurement with a real interpretation. The question is, why does the correlation arise?

Now you are starting to get it. Do you now see the difference between a measure of velocity of a moving body and the measurement of a quality which is "whatever the researchers operationalized it as?" When the researchers' subjective opinion about what success is a part of the equation--the rest of the study is flawed by definition. What you are doing at that point is just telling people about your opinion about what "intelligence" is and what "success" is and how, applying your opinion you wrote a test which you believe measures this, and how people stack up statistically when taking that test.

Get it? The method is flawed from the beginning because it relies on the opinions of the researchers on what measures this thing called intelligence. There can be no objective measurement of that as there is in weight. You don't see scientists arguing over what qualities should be measured to determine mass. Because mass is not a matter of opinion. It is a measurable quality of the amount of matter in an object.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:20 PM on November 17, 2009


This correlation is a real measurement with a real interpretation. The question is, why does the correlation arise?

The fact that a measurement is real, does not mean that the units measured are real. You are measuring how much someone has of what you consider important. When the units are defined subjectively, you cannot argue that the result is an objective measurement of anything, no matter how brilliantly measured they are.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:24 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The fact that a measurement is real, does not mean that the units measured are real.

There are no units to a correlation. Correlations are unitless by construction. Again, you are spouting off about things you have no idea about.

When the researchers' subjective opinion about what success is a part of the equation--the rest of the study is flawed by definition.

You have not shown this, you've merely asserted it. An operationalization is not the same as a "subjective opinion." It is a definition created for the sake of measurement. If the measurement and statistics were done properly, and it is replicable, you've got a phenomenon that requires explaining. This business of the correlations or the measurements not being "real" or being "subjective" is just nonsense. The measurement is entirely objective and real.

If if makes you feel better, think about it this way. We can just call one operationalized quantity "flurpty". For instance, the property "flurpty" could be income, at age 50. And your score on an IQ test? Let's call that "bloytz". We can measure bloytz and flurpty. Do they correlate? Can we replicate the correlation? If so, we have a phenomenon that is as real as any in physics. Explaining the correlation is interesting to some researchers.

What you'd like to do is ignore the fact that flurpty is related to the way success is defined in our culture. OK, that's the height of sophistry, but you can do it. Ignore success altogether. Focus on flurpty. There's nothing fake or subjective about flurpty and bloytz. Your lack of familiarity with research methods doesn't allow you to see past the WORDS and to the TECHNIQUES. Take a class or read a book.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:47 PM on November 17, 2009


Yeah, IQ tests are the equivalent of measuring fitness by a 1km race across the desert - on average fitter people will do better, but you'll disadvantage sprinters and people acclimatised to cold climates and people who are better at longer distances and so on and so on. It's still "objective", insofar as everyone is held to the same standard, but it's still a single test for something more complicated than a single number.

At the same time, doesn't "intelligence" as a concept pass the sniff test? I've certainly met people I would describe as intelligent (usually because they aren't narrow specialists and show the capacity to learn quickly). Indeed (though I'm much slower to come to the opinion) I've met people that I would count as stupid.

On the one hand my natural inclination is to think of the brain as a Turing machine, each one roughly equivalent to the next, barring gross hardware problems. Sure, some are faster, some have less reliable memory, but a brain is a brain is a brain. Everything that one person can understand, another can.

On the other, I find it hard to square that with my experiences in the world. Except by filing it all under "socialisation and upbringing" which doesn't seem honest.

In any case, measuring "intelligence" by IQ test seems misguided. IQ tests are a perfectly reliable indicator of IQ and that's good enough for most purposes.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


IQ isn't a perfect metric by any means, but assessment of the various components of cognitive processes (which most contemporary IQ tests seek to measure) is more objective than a lot of people give it credit for.

Are the metrics culturally biased? Of course, but so are people's cognitive abilities. It is a true shame that the folk psychological perception of IQ has twisted what seeks to be an objective assessment of various information processing capacities into some sort of measure of intrinsic worth, but the people who create and administer such tests don't view them that way.

A professor told me at a grad school interview, "We're not concerned with how intelligent you are. At this level of study, pretty much everyone clearly possesses the intellectual capacity to handle the program and do good work. We're a lot more concerned with whether you can excel in this particular environment." That spoke volumes to me, and, though I thought that prof was an excellent scientist and a wise person in general, her statement actually inspired me to pursue my degree elsewhere.

Measures of IQ are helpful for identifying people (especially in their youth) who may need extra help mastering some concepts or people who may benefit from additional pressure to use their cognitive skills to the best of their abilities, but the folks who are most intimately involved with the design and implementation of psychometric tools know damn well that they aren't absolute.

As far as I can see, it's the people who read a little Gladwell or Pinker (or some other pop science writer) and suddenly consider themselves experts on a concept so murky and ill-defined as "intelligence" that end up pushing bad ideas about the broader implications of IQ.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:53 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Ironmouth, what you're talking about is validity, or construct validity. Are we really measuring what we are purporting to measure? This is an issue that psychologists are aware of and take very seriously, because psychologists study things that are not directly observable. Validity can be evaluated using statistical tests and methods. This means that some constructs are more valid than others and that all constructs should not be disregarded just because their operational definitions are created by humans.
posted by AceRock at 1:56 PM on November 17, 2009


The degree of curve in my spine (I have scoliosis) correlates pretty well to my shoe size. My problem is when we start measuring people's shoe sizes as a test for scoliosis.
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on November 17, 2009


The degree of curve in my spine (I have scoliosis) correlates pretty well to my shoe size. My problem is when we start measuring people's shoe sizes as a test for scoliosis.

Your shoe size changes as your spine gets more curved?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:14 PM on November 17, 2009


Over my life time both my shoe size and the curve in my spine increased at a similar rate, until age 14 at which point my feet growth slowed and my spine curving also slowed. Of course it's a hard correlation to test as I can't shrink my feet or naturally straighten my spine :(
posted by muddgirl at 2:26 PM on November 17, 2009


I've never taken an IQ test. Does that mean I have Schrodinger's IQ?
posted by nickmark at 2:32 PM on November 17, 2009


What you'd like to do is ignore the fact that flurpty is related to the way success is defined in our culture.

Really? Is there a universal definition of "success" the way that there is a universal definition of "mass?" You aren't challenging yourself enough here. Ask yourself--am I doing good science when I focus on my own perceptions of what success is "defined as" in "our society?" and use my perception of what that is to form the basis for a "quality" I am measuring?

If you were measuring the ability to add numbers in rapid succession I would have no problem with it. If you correlated that ability with income, I'd have no problem with it.

But you refuse to acknowledge the subjective nature of your definitions. When the very thing you are measuring is based on a consensus of "experts" you are measuring the experts subjective opinion of that thing, not an actual thing such as mass. Please detail how you can be doing hard science when you are measuring cultural constructs. It isn't science.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:43 PM on November 17, 2009


What you'd like to do is ignore the fact that flurpty is related to the way success is defined in our culture.

also, just for the record, I never said anything like that. I could care less. I do hate bad cognitive science. It is based on the assumption that behavior can tell us about the mechanics of what is going on in our head, when we don't know the physical operation of the brain system at all. We can't even crack the code in which we store information.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:45 PM on November 17, 2009


With regards to construct validity, when you do come up with a metric for success, and say it is good enough to be universally accepted what you have not done is come up with a measurement for what society has heretofore referred to as success. What you have done is created a new concept that seems similar enough to what society calls "success" to call this new concept "success" as well. However, it is disingenuous to use the word success to signify the concept to someone who is unfamiliar with the technical definition because that person will take it to mean success as colloquially (and vaguely) defined, which it most certainly is not.

For example, energy has a very specific scientific meaning, but when I say that I "don't have much energy today" I am most certainly not saying anything about my Hamiltonian. Or, for example, when scientists say that under the theory of relativity distance is subjective that has a very technical definition. Time and space being "subjective" does not mean that 9:00 AM in Mrs. Johnson's class is legitimately unspecific enough to refer to multiple places/times; if it were I would have used that as an excuse for skipping English class more often.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:57 PM on November 17, 2009


Zalzidrax, I agree and I think in regards to intelligence, most researchers refer to the construct as "G", and the metric as "IQ" and don't just throw around "intelligence". Could be wrong though.
posted by AceRock at 3:00 PM on November 17, 2009


I bet almost everyone in the 'IQ is a meaningless concept devoid of real world significance' camp probably thinks that Sarah Palin is dumb, if they had to guess her IQ they would guess low and probably be right. If someone came up and argued that Sarah Palin has charisma or can read people so she's really smart they would say something like "that's not what smart is" and they would be right.

It isn't that hard to tell who's smarter and who's dumber and IQ is tightly correlated with what you probably think of as smart. I know it's reductionist, I know there are exceptions, but that doesn't mean that it's not meaningful.
posted by I Foody at 3:03 PM on November 17, 2009


If you correlated that ability with income, I'd have no problem with it.

Really? How do you define income? You realize that "income" requires operationalizing too, and that it can be done in a variety of ways, don't you? Let me say this again: operational definitions are not subjective. "I defined X this way" is a FACT, which is OBJECTIVELY VERIFIABLE. "Variable," or "open to debate or change," are not the same thing as "subjective."

But I asked to to IGNORE the operationalization, and focus on flurpty. You still haven't managed to do that.

I do hate bad cognitive science.

You don't know anything about cognitive science. You had no idea that working memory capacity could be measured. That's a basic fact that anyone who had an intro class in psychology should know. You also don't seem to be aware of the properties of correlations, like that they are unitless, which makes me doubt you've had an intro stat class. Understanding statistics is a necessary condition for understanding cognitive science. You're really opinionated for someone who doesn't have the understanding to back it up.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:06 PM on November 17, 2009


With regards to construct validity, when you do come up with a metric for success, and say it is good enough to be universally accepted what you have not done is come up with a measurement for what society has heretofore referred to as success. What you have done is created a new concept that seems similar enough to what society calls "success" to call this new concept "success" as well. However, it is disingenuous to use the word success to signify the concept to someone who is unfamiliar with the technical definition because that person will take it to mean success as colloquially (and vaguely) defined, which it most certainly is not.

I'm not arguing it is vaguely defined (which it is). I'm arguing that as an intellectual construct, the very choice is not vaild for hard scientific study because it constitutes not a physical measurement of any observable quality of an objective nature, in contrast to say, mass. It is a measurement of a construct.

Put another way, there is no such thing as "society." It is a mental construct we use (quite successfully) to navigate our relationships with others and to understand why groups of people act as they do. Its very value is its massive generalization of everyone. However, when doing scientific study, one cannot rely on any such perception.

I'm getting at the difference between the statement: "Escape velocity from the Earth is 11km/second from location X", and "people who score 90% on this set of questions I wrote have an average income of $100,000 per year." That's not what the IQ people say. They do not acknowledge that this is what they are doing. They posit that there is an actual thing called intelligence. No such thing can be proven to exist. They are mistaking the generalizing shorthand for "that person seems clever" for an actual category. Whereas mass is not such a category.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:16 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth, it also strikes me that you don't know much about scientific history, because your attitude about cognitive science could easily be applied to other fields with disastrous results.
I do hate bad cognitive science. It is based on the assumption that behavior can tell us about the mechanics of what is going on in our head, when we don't know the physical operation of the brain system at all.

Let me reword this as something some contemporary of Kepler might say, discussing his laws of planetary motion:
I do hate bad astronomy. It is based on the assumption that behavior of planets can tell us about the mechanics of what is going on in the solar system, when we don't know the physical operation of the solar system at all.

Guess what? Kepler's laws of planetary motion were proposed BEFORE Newtonian mechanics, and relativity. There was no mechanism. There was only the observation of a several regularities. Newton came along and unified the observations with observations of objects on earth with a general theory of mechanics. Still, no mechanism, though - just simple laws of motion. They did not EXPLAIN anything. Not until Einstein, four centuries later, was there a mechanism for planetary motion - that is, curved space-time. But Kepler's laws were critical to Newton, because they enabled Newton to show that he could use the same laws to predict motion in the heavens and on earth. No Kepler, no Newton.

So you can dislike cognitive science all you want. Your dislike is based on ignorance of the methods of cognitive science and scientific history in general.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:21 PM on November 17, 2009


You had no idea that working memory capacity could be measured. That's a basic fact that anyone who had an intro class in psychology should know.

A "fact?" You are taking the results of a test and working backward to say it equals the "working memory capacity" of human beings. It isn't like a computer where you can actually measure what can be held in memory because you know the file system.

Lets assume test X. The test say involves memorizing strings of random numbers. You test 5000 people and get a view of how many random numbers people can memorize. You then posit "ability to memorize random number strings"="working memory capacity."

However, you have no measurements of the actual amount of data space that can be held in someone's head in bits, bytes, kilobytes or any other system of objective memory evaluation because you don't know the file system. You do not know how data is stored in the brain, yet you argue that you know how much a brain can keep going at any one time. That is just self-deception. And your entire field is engaging in it! Yet you use terms like "working memory capacity" to make it seem like you are indeed measuring that you are not.

Take Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. In the first 20 pages of the book he essentially admits that the whole science is built on unprovable assumptions like: "reported thoughts=actual goings on in the brain." His own father, a hard scientist, disputes that you can make science in that way.

I have taken plenty of psych, including cognitive psych. I have no statistics background. But the fact that you can perform statistical analysis of numbers taken does not mean that those numbers are telling us about the real goings on in the brain.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:26 PM on November 17, 2009


Yeah, similarly, Darwin came up with natural selection before genes and DNA were discovered. The point is that you can study things indirectly and without complete information. You can make convincing arguments without direct, physical, "hard" evidence. Ironmouth, I think that you are wrong that there is no such thing as intelligence. Of course, IQ is a very imperfect measure of general intelligence, but the point is that it is measuring something that matters. If I know your IQ, I know something about you that matters. It is relevant to how you perform in the real world.
posted by AceRock at 3:30 PM on November 17, 2009


Guess what? Kepler's laws of planetary motion were proposed BEFORE Newtonian mechanics, and relativity. There was no mechanism. There was only the observation of a several regularities. Newton came along and unified the observations with observations of objects on earth with a general theory of mechanics. Still, no mechanism, though - just simple laws of motion

But Kepler wasn't measuring social constructs made up by the researchers! He was measuring the actual appearance of actual objects in the sky. You are not measuring the inside of the brain. The location of a light in the sky is a physical measurement of a quantity-where that light is in the sky. It isn't a test, it is an actual measurement of an actual thing. It is the measurment of a short hand way we look at things.

In other words, you are putting lights up in a planetarium and testing how they interact given assumptions you provide. Kepler observed the actual motions of actual bodies. You are not looking into the brain. You are providing a testing ground that is based on your assumptions, not observing the natural world.

My history background is extensive and involves a graduate degree. It is however, irrelevant to the philosophical argument I am making here.

Don't argue by analogy by putting the word "astronomy" in place of cognitive science, because that assumes it is the same process. It is not. Show me how it is the same process.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:38 PM on November 17, 2009


Yeah, similarly, Darwin came up with natural selection before genes and DNA were discovered. The point is that you can study things indirectly and without complete information. You can make convincing arguments without direct, physical, "hard" evidence. Ironmouth, I think that you are wrong that there is no such thing as intelligence. Of course, IQ is a very imperfect measure of general intelligence, but the point is that it is measuring something that matters. If I know your IQ, I know something about you that matters. It is relevant to how you perform in the real world.

How can there be an objective thing such as general intelligence? What is it, exactly? It is a generalization. Mass and velocity are not.

Provide for me a universal definition of general intelligence, in the same way we have a universal definition of mass or velocity and I will get you. But you cannot. It is a way of trying to shorthand something that cannot be shorthanded. It isn't science.

A true scientific measurement would be number of memory operations in the brain. Like all of them. Someday we will have these measurements. Then we can correlate them to income and the like all day long. But we have no physical measurements. We have measurements not even of actual performance on everyday tasks. We have measurement of something "like" everyday tasks. But it is the opinion of the researcher that it is "like" everyday tasks or that it measures anything.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:47 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth: "Provide for me a universal definition of general intelligence"

A good performance on the test for general intelligence.

If you can show that performance on that test correlates with other measurable things, then the results of the test are useful. From an instrumentalist point of view, it doesn't matter if there is a real thing called "intelligence" behind the phenomenon, what matters is the usefulness of the predictive power of the test. Pretty much every scientific field has similar ambiguities or constructions, what matters is not whether something exists in the real world that they are describing, but whether using those models gives us an ability to predict measurable outcomes.

Words are social constructs, that model of the atom that looks like a little solar system is a social construct, the flow of electricity from positive to negative is a social construct. Subatomic particles are social constructs. We use social constructs because they are more useful than abandoning them would be. Whether something exists in the real world that looks like the construct is beside the point.
posted by idiopath at 3:56 PM on November 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


The location of a light in the sky is a physical measurement of a quantity-where that light is in the sky. It isn't a test, it is an actual measurement of an actual thing. It is the measurment of a short hand way we look at things.

Kepler's laws of planetary motion were based on assuming a model of the solar system. He did not actually measure the time it takes for a planet to sweep out a particular area around the sun. He inferred it based on measurements from the Earth. From the Earth, the planets do not move in ways that make the laws of planetary motion obvious. If you think this is as trivial as a simple measurement, you don't understand what was so utterly amazing about what Kepler inferred from the observations he had.

Sure, he had measurements (just as psychologists do), but the interpretation of those numbers is what's critical. He has NO WAY of seeing the whole solar system from the outside, but the assumption of elliptical orbits around the sun made the regularities in the data clear. And it was these regularities that were the real scientific breakthrough. Similarly, psychologists observe regularities. These regularities are as real as the regularities that Kepler observed (with the caveat that the data are noisy, but so were Brahe's observations, in which Kepler's work was based - just much less so). Are there ways of collapsing the regularities in data, as Newton did? Yes. The way cognitive science works (well, if you don't count the crap unfalsifiable verbal theories) is no different than the way astronomy worked in that era.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:00 PM on November 17, 2009


I agree with idiopath here. Whether psychology or cognitive science satisfy Ironmouth's definition of "hard science" or "real science" isn't all that interesting to me. Those fields, since starting to apply more scientific methods to studying the human brain, have made a lot of really interesting, useful and important discoveries that say things about the real world and about the human condition that matter and that are true.
posted by AceRock at 4:05 PM on November 17, 2009


Sure, he had measurements (just as psychologists do),

You don't have measurements of natural phenomena. You have measurements of artificial phenomena, which you deem to measure a natual phenomenon, general intelligence, which you deem to exist.

Unlike Kepler, you work from a presupposition, which is that a thing like "general intelligence" exists, and then create a test to measure it. Kepler worked from real world data and then put a suppostion upon it. That planets existed and that they moved was known as an observable fact. That "general intelligence" exists is not proved.

More impotantly, the whole idea of general intelligence is just our way of generalizing about the ability to solve problems. To say that our generalization is real makes no sense.

Let me illustrate a different way. Put a chimp in a room and put the test in front of him. See how he does. The results would be that he has no intelligence. How are you measuring anything if you can't measure it across species?

These are more akin to the "experiment" done by Miller and Urey. They proposed what the early earth might look like, then mixed up chemicals and put in energy conditions that might have been there. Amino acids were later found in the experimental vessel. It isn't an experiment that tells us anything about the early Earth. It isn't a scientific experiment at all.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2009


More impotantly, the whole idea of general intelligence is just our way of generalizing about the ability to solve problems. To say that our generalization is real makes no sense.

You're losing me here man. Are you saying that problem solving ability is not a real ability that some people are better at or have more of than others? And that a test with problems that you have to solve says nothing about the test taker's problem solving ability?
posted by AceRock at 5:16 PM on November 17, 2009


If you were measuring the ability to add numbers in rapid succession I would have no problem with it.

This is exactly the sort of thing that most IQ tests measure. You would be hard pressed to find a psychometric scientist worth his salt who would make the claim that his tests are a measure of general intelligence the way that kilograms are a measure of mass. IQ, as it was originally conceived, was a ratio of "mental age" to "physical age." I will readily acknowledge that there is a veritable host of problems with fuzzy concepts like "mental age," but the people who are making extrapolations about what IQ means are not the people who are designing and implementing the tests.

Psychometric tools are just tools, like any other kind of tool. If you give a fool a chainsaw, he may well cut off his own leg. If you give a layperson an IQ score, he may well make broad generalizations about intelligence.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:31 PM on November 17, 2009


No. It is not completely heritable.

A non-heritable trait has a heritability of zero. A heritable trait has a heritability of greater than zero and less than or equal to one. So saying something is not completely heritable does not amount to showing it is not heritable.

There is a difference between phenotype and genotype, no?

If we are talking about "heritability" and "heritable" or "not heritable" traits we are obviously talking about phenotypes. Genotypes are heritable by definition.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 5:33 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You have measurements of artificial phenomena, which you deem to measure a natual phenomenon, general intelligence, which you deem to exist.

First, of all, although I am a cognitive scientist and psychometrician, I do not study IQ. So the "you" is inappropriate. Second, what is an "artificial" phenomenon? Am I studying androids? Maybe ghosts? I study humans. I measure behavior. People have behaviors just like planets. I can measure, say, when someone can correctly identify a change in a stimulus. There is nothing "artificial" about this.

Put a chimp in a room and put the test in front of him. See how he does. The results would be that he has no intelligence. How are you measuring anything if you can't measure it across species?

Let me reword this to show you how silly this is.

Cool a room to 2 degrees Kelvin and put a standard thermometer in the room. See how it measures. The results would be that the temperature is (whatever the lowest temperature is on the thermometer) . How are you measuring anything if you can't measure it across all rooms?

This problem of measurement is dealt with in intro stat - yes, that's right, the VERY FIRST statistics class that undergraduate psychologists will take. The scale, given by the range of the thermometer, is inappropriate for measuring the quantity of interest in the room. You've mistaken the measure for the construct, which is something you ACCUSE psychologists of doing. No, we are quite aware of the difference, thanks.

Different tests can be useful for different populations. For instance, we would not use a test in English to test a non-English speaker, any more than we would use a human IQ test to study intelligence in chimps. Your examples are just straw men.

These are more akin to the "experiment" done by Miller and Urey....It isn't an experiment that tells us anything about the early Earth. It isn't a scientific experiment at all.

No, it doesn't tell us about the early Earth. You're right, it was assumed that the given compounds were present on the early Earth, but the experiment is valuable even if they were wrong about that. The more general point was to show that complex molecules can arise from simpler ones, given the right conditions. From Miller and Urey, we know of several conditions that can give rise to more complex molecules. It was an experiment. Things were controlled, and an outcome was measured. The results can be used to inform theories of how life originated.

A general problem with your thinking is that because you don't have a familiarity with scientific methodology and terminology, you keep making things up. For instance, you seem to make up terms out of thin air. "Artificial" measurements? Your own, idiosyncratic definition of "experiment," and "scientific?" "Real" units? How are we supposed to communicate if you make terms up?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:39 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is exactly the sort of thing that most IQ tests measure. You would be hard pressed to find a psychometric scientist worth his salt who would make the claim that his tests are a measure of general intelligence the way that kilograms are a measure of mass. IQ, as it was originally conceived, was a ratio of "mental age" to "physical age." I will readily acknowledge that there is a veritable host of problems with fuzzy concepts like "mental age," but the people who are making extrapolations about what IQ means are not the people who are designing and implementing the tests.

But the term "general intelligence" does just that. It takes a lay idea (the generalizations about how smart people are we use to navigate our interpersonal relations) with more cultural and definitional currency and attaches a much more complex idea to the word. So it is no surprise you see this sort of thing pop up. The language needs to be changed.

The fuzziness is just too great. There's a slight of hand there that isn't really acknowledged. I looked at the back of the Gilbert book when I came home and it asks "why are sighted people more willing to pay to prevent the loss of sight than blind people are willing to pay to see again?"

There are no recorded instances of market prices for any of these things. It comes from an experiment where subjects (college students, naturally) are given the thought experiment and asked what they are willing to pay. Its not a measurement of people's actual payment for things at all. No money is actually used. So it is a measure something else, perhaps people's expectations of how they will react to such a situation.

And it continues. When I took my cognitive psych class I was appalled. They would come out and state that these thought experiments represented not people's predictions of what would happen, but what really happens when a person is put in the unlikely position of having enough money to prevent blindness, or the totally theoretical restoration of sight from blindness.

IQ is so much more of this. I've taken IQ tests before, administered by school psychologists. Like the real deal. Like just him and me sitting there and him asking me questions off a sheet for an hour. And a lot of the questions were like "How many miles between Chicago and New York" and things like that. The problem with fuzziness of addressing these things is that it means that the problems creep in from the very beginning--you can have incredible statistical analysis, but if what is being measured is something that is essentially a measurement of a subjective set of criteria, then you are not measuring something with an objective existence. Fine you have a correlative test. Call it the "Mental Skills Test" or something like that. But when you use the term "general intelligence" you are throwing yourself into an assumption that has not been answered.

Frankly, I believe there is no such thing as "general intelligence." Yes we can measure how people do on tests and use those tests to help them. But this does not measure an actual quality of nature. It repesents the opinion of what people think is important--choices and value decisions on what to put in and what to exclude. Kepler didn't have that problem. He had his planets and his measurements of where they were. There were no categories for him to choose between. He only had observation, not contrived "test" conditions.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:16 PM on November 17, 2009


A general problem with your thinking is that because you don't have a familiarity with scientific methodology and terminology, you keep making things up. For instance, you seem to make up terms out of thin air. "Artificial" measurements? Your own, idiosyncratic definition of "experiment," and "scientific?" "Real" units? How are we supposed to communicate if you make terms up?

My terms: A natural measurement is one made of a quality that an object has that is directly or indirectly observed. An object's mass. Its shape or size. The speed of an object. The genetic code of an organism. Such measurments are conducted by ruler, camea and stopwatch. Chemical interactions.

An artificial measurement--a measurment of a hypothetical quality proposed by a researcher, a quality which cannot be measured by physical means. Such things are "measured" not by an actual direct measurement of a subject's ability to solve a problem faced in the wild, but a simulation of someone facing that problem in a thought experiment. The creaction of that thought experiment is where the process goes wrong. You are measuring simulated reactions to simulated situations, not real reactions to real situations. You can't measure those things due to sheer practicality issues. So you must admit that you cannot know.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:27 PM on November 17, 2009


Put another way, there is no such thing as "society." It is a mental construct we use (quite successfully) to navigate our relationships with others and to understand why groups of people act as they do. Its very value is its massive generalization of everyone. However, when doing scientific study, one cannot rely on any such perception.

I get the sense that, in Ironmouth's view of things, love isn't real either, because we don't know what it actually is, can't measure it and don't understand the mechanism very well. I mean, of course 'society' is a construct composed of multiple, dynamic, and chaotic phenomena we experience being among other people every day, but the experience of it is a real thing, even if it lacks material reality. We need to call that experience something so that we can move from percept to concept, so that we can think and talk about it to understand it better.

And if those constructs, as idiopath said, have predictive ability, then we are in the territory of science, no?
posted by LooseFilter at 6:33 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth, you make it seem like what test creators put in and exclude are just arbitrary. This is not the case. Rather, the validity and reliability of metrics are scrutinized and evaluated. You're right that Kepler didn't have that problem. And you're right that it is a methodological issue, but it is one that psychologists are aware of and take seriously.
posted by AceRock at 6:33 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth, also, as a complete non-scientist, it seems to me that what you're really saying is that bad cognitive science is bad, but have yet to refute the sort of science that PhilosopherDirtbike is describing. So do you think that cognitive science is a field that unfortunately currently has much poor practice in it but that done correctly is OK, or do you think that the field is not and never can be legitimate science?
posted by LooseFilter at 6:37 PM on November 17, 2009


A reply from Mensa:

"We resent your implication that our organization is designed to foster delusions of grandeur among milk men and other professions..."

(paraphrase from memory of a novel by Mordecai Richler)
posted by ovvl at 6:42 PM on November 17, 2009


but if what is being measured is something that is essentially a measurement of a subjective set of criteria, then you are not measuring something with an objective existence.

You keep misusing the terms "objective" and "subjective". In order to measure something, you need objective criteria. Cognitive psychologists use objective criteria. The relationship of these criteria TO THE CONSTRUCT in question is open to debate, but not the objectiveness of the criteria.

Fine you have a correlative test.

What's a "correlative test"? Why do you insist on making terms up?

When I took my cognitive psych class I was appalled. They would come out and state that these thought experiments represented not people's predictions of what would happen, but what really happens when a person is put in the unlikely position of having enough money to prevent blindness, or the totally theoretical restoration of sight from blindness.

You either had a really crappy cognitive psych class, or you misunderstood it. Given the fact that you use a behavioral economics experiment as an example of bad cognitive psych, I'm not sure what happened.

Kepler didn't have that problem. He had his planets and his measurements of where they were.

Kepler did NOT have measurements of "where they were." He had measurements of the motion of planets in relative to fixed points in the sky. This is miles away from having measurements of "where" the planets are. Kepler then assumed a model of the solar system, and found that the planet's motion could be described by very simple regularities. This is important, because it shows that the relationship between measurements (locations in the sky) and theoretical constructs (the elliptical orbits, which could not be directly observed) is not straightforward, even in astronomy. Do I have to keep repeating myself?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:46 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth, is the flavor of a quark an "artificial" or "real" quantity?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:55 PM on November 17, 2009


But the term "general intelligence" does just that. It takes a lay idea (the generalizations about how smart people are we use to navigate our interpersonal relations) with more cultural and definitional currency and attaches a much more complex idea to the word. So it is no surprise you see this sort of thing pop up. The language needs to be changed.

The term "general intelligence" does not appear in any of the links in this post. I don't know where the extrapolation from IQ to the "general intelligence" you speak of is coming from, but it ain't from psychologists. Perhaps you can help initiate the change of language that you think is needed by avoiding promoting ideas like "general intelligence."
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:07 PM on November 17, 2009


oh, and I'm still a bit annoyed about that last post getting crunched, just when I was just getting started on dissing Pinker's theories about art.
posted by ovvl at 7:11 PM on November 17, 2009


ovvl (in the previous thread): "These are valid interpretations, but they are stated as facts, not opinions, and if you have studied any art history then the details are much more nuanced than presented here.

Pinker does have interesting insights and thought provoking ideas in his books, but his thunderous pronouncements about various things outside of his grasp can be annoying at times."


Popular science writing is for a large part trolling with pants on. The fact that it is not outright shoving its ass in your face does not mean that it is not written to provoke. A bit of outrage is what it takes to get some headlines and get people talking about your new pseudo-profound book of popular science at cocktail parties. Something about the way public attention works anymore demands that you get buffoonish and insult people with your arrogant ignorance just to get a book deal.
posted by idiopath at 7:25 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth, is the flavor of a quark an "artificial" or "real" quantity?

It is a component of the scientifically developed model that abstracts the workings of the universe into something humans can use to understand and use to predict outcomes of events within it with incredible accuracy.

In short it is as real as anything else.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:51 PM on November 17, 2009


[Quark flavor] is a component of the scientifically developed model that abstracts the workings of the universe into something humans can use to understand and use to predict outcomes of events within it with incredible accuracy.

Please explain how that links to your previous definition of "real" ("natural"?) vs "artificial", which had nothing to do with prediction. The problem here is that if you use prediction as the criterion, you admit correlations, which is what I've been trying to tell you is the point of studying IQ. It correlates with other measurements, and correlation is about prediction.

On the other hand, if you disregard prediction and trash theoretical (your word was "hypothetical") quantities, like quark flavor, you've just trashed the standard model along with the study of intelligence. Science is much, much more complicated than your "real"/"artificial" dichotomy can possibly handle.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:10 PM on November 17, 2009


Psst I think you are confusing two different people Mr. Dirtbike
posted by idiopath at 8:14 PM on November 17, 2009


Ironmouth, is the flavor of a quark an "artificial" or "real" quantity.

How is quark flavor measured? Is an instrument involved. You are measuring a physical property?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:47 PM on November 17, 2009


On the other hand, if you disregard prediction and trash theoretical (your word was "hypothetical") quantities, like quark flavor.

Put another way you seek to discredit me by expanding what I argued to a context I didn't extend it to, rather than actually defending your own position. Apply my reasoning to your position, not some others. It is weak not to address the application to your position.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:55 PM on November 17, 2009


Quarks cannot be measured, they are presumed to exist based on measurements of larger, measurable things that are said to be made partially of quarks.
posted by idiopath at 10:57 PM on November 17, 2009


Posted too soon. Further, the standard model says that we will never be able to detect or measure a singular quark in isolation.
posted by idiopath at 10:59 PM on November 17, 2009


You know what makes science so great? Rhetoric is largely left out of the equation. True, some scientists state their findings more eloquently than others, but at the core, it's all hinged on replicable observations. If only the same could be said for ill-informed argument...
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:00 AM on November 18, 2009


solipsophistocracy: "Rhetoric is largely left out of the equation"

Feyerabend, for one, would disagree (I am not sure how I feel about his stance myself at the moment). Granted, at the least, there is often something other than rhetoric to fall back on, which is a bonus.

From the wikipedia page on Feyerabend:

According to Feyerabend, new theories came to be accepted not because of their accord with scientific method, but because their supporters made use of any trick – rational, rhetorical or ribald – in order to advance their cause. Without a fixed ideology, or the introduction of religious tendencies, the only approach which does not inhibit progress (using whichever definition one sees fit) is "anything goes": "'anything goes' is not a 'principle' I hold... but the terrified exclamation of a rationalist who takes a closer look at history." (Feyerabend, 1975).
posted by idiopath at 1:14 AM on November 18, 2009


Psst I think you are confusing two different people Mr. Dirtbike

Ha, you're right, I missed that. My comment still stands, but now I'd still like to know whether Ironmouth thinks quarks flavor is a "real" or "artificial" quantity. Ironmouth, you attacked cognitive science based on some nonstandard division between "real" and "artificial" measurements. So, what I'm doing now is showing you that one of most successful scientific theories, QM, also has unobservable, theoretical quantities, that whose existence is inferred based on other measurements.

Put another way you seek to discredit me by expanding what I argued to a context I didn't extend it to, rather than actually defending your own position. Apply my reasoning to your position, not some others.

Hey, you brought up the "difference" between cognitive science and physics. I'm showing you how your viewpoint is not generalizable, and appears to be tailored specifically against cognitive science. This makes no sense. Your logic should hold across all fields, ESPECIALLY since you sought to compare physics and cognitive science. Why should I be barred from applying your reasoning to other scientific fields?

Just like Kepler "measuring" the area swept out by planets (he didn't, directly) you are bound by a particular theoretical viewpoint when you measure, say, mass (indirectly, again) by observing the acceleration of an object in a gravitational field. This is key. But the theory (Newtonian mechanics) is powerful because it has predictive power. Likewise, when I design an experiment to measure something like working memory capacity, I am measuring something very real - proportion correct in a particular kind of test. Certain theories predict patterns in the percent correct measurements, and even correlations with other measures like IQ. To the extent the predictions do not hold, the theory is not supported. Cognitive science works just like the other sciences.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:58 AM on November 18, 2009


Feyerabend, for one, would disagree (I am not sure how I feel about his stance myself at the moment). Granted, at the least, there is often something other than rhetoric to fall back on, which is a bonus.

That is a far more eloquent and accurate way of putting it. Feyerabend is probably right. There a lot of intriguing findings that go undisseminated because the folks who made them can't play the game well enough to get them published. I agree with the rejection of universal methodological rules. At the same time, I think it is hard to deny that there has always been a set of methodological rules that the scientific community from any given time has (for the most part) tacitly agreed upon.

Saying that "rhetoric is left out of the equation" was a gross overstatement at best, and straight up wrong at worst. What I meant to get across was that, unlike with other forms of argument, scientific debate is necessarily reliant upon replicable, measured observations. It doesn't matter how well you state your case if the data can be refuted.

The argument against IQ that I perceive to be going on in this thread isn't based on the validity of any particular psychometric tool, and I regard the attempt to discredit a scientific construct with rhetoric as essentially flawed. The problem is that "IQ" has long passed into the vernacular, and most people think of it as something other than what it actually is.

At the same time, I don't want to come across as some sort of drone to scientific dogma. I know damn well that contemporary science has plenty of flaws. I work hard to address and reduce them, but I know that they will never be entirely eliminated (where would be the fun in that, anyway?). My cellular neuroscience professor is a self-described "cell-poker" or "electrician," and he conducts experiments with a level of precision and rigor that my own research will never even begin to approach. Despite the fact that his science is about as tight as it gets (at least in neuroscience), he put it to me really well the other day:

"You never really know enough to ever know what you're really doing. It's science. You have to make some assumptions."
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:18 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two men with big hair and the nature of IQ

Ahh, but that hair is a noble Canadian tradition. See Terry Fox, Darryl Sittler, and Ambassador Ken Taylor.
posted by Chuckles at 6:26 PM on November 18, 2009


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