Intelligence Quotient


With Donald Trump’s blathering about his IQ, it’s now a news-worthy topic. Oh, boy – fake news about fake science.

Whenever discussions of IQ tests crop up, it’s mandatory that someone says “the only thing IQ tests measure is how well you do on IQ tests” which is pithy and true, but somehow IQ tests remain a going concern. Like many other bits of psychological pseudo-science, mainstream psychology has distanced from it, but it was promoted and publicized enough that it immediately was adopted into the popular culture (“pop psychology”) – personally, I don’t give psychology a pass for its propagation of a technique that was immediately known to be wrong yet was attractive and plausible enough to serve as a tool in the arsenal of racists that were trying to justify their a priori beliefs.

Elsewhere, I have pointed out that I consider psychology to have discredited itself as a field, up until the 1980s and the advent of neuroscience. [stderr] [stderr] It’s important to note that the inventors and early promoters of IQ testing were all psychologists – Binet, Terman, Goddard – and the pseudoscience was published and promoted using the prestige of the new field: Psychological Review, Psychological Bulletin. This is not an old problem – eugenicists, who were at the point of barely understanding evolution, leapt headlong to the conclusion that psychometry could be used to demonstrate differences between the various races. It is not hyperbole to say that psychology practically invented ‘scientific racism’ and I’ll go so far as to say that psychology probably would never have gotten the popular air-play it did, if it hadn’t been servicing racism. And, as usual, where psychological pseudo-science led, psychiatry followed – it was psychiatrists that were secretly sterilizing the “mentally retarded” (many of whom were merely uneducated, or deaf) or applying the standards psychologists developed to select immigrants.

The problem rather clearly has not ended; it actually got worse.

Alfred Binet, the inventor of IQ testing, was one of the first psychologists to acknowledge that there was a problem – in fact he was the first psychologist who framed the problem as “the only thing IQ tests measure is how well you do on IQ tests” – what he was doing was looking for a specific correlation between the test results, and a student’s performance in school. He was not, specifically, claiming to measure intelligence – but, rather, to produce some kind of predictive metric. But let’s not whitewash Binet: he had earned his psychology chops working after Broca’s craniometry – searching for a connection between skull (and presumably brain) size and intelligence. He was a pseudoscientist through and through, but he was self-aware enough to identify his own cognitive biases toward confirming what he already believed.

As quoted in Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man [amazon] which is a must-read if you are interested in the topic of scientific racism:

Binet also fueled his own doubts with an extraordinary study of his own suggestibility, an experiment in the primary theme of this book – the tenacity of unconscious bias and the surprising malleability of “objective,” quantitative data in the interest of a preconceived idea. “I feared,” Binet wrote (1900, P323) “that in making measurements on heads with the intention of finding a difference in volume between an intelligent and a less intelligent head, I would be led to increase, unconsciously and in good faith, the cephalic volume of intelligent heads and to decrease that of unintelligent heads.”

Which of these faces is “attractive”? Yes, that’s a question from an early Binet IQ test

Yet, Binet, ever the pseudoscientist, still was seeking to quantify intelligence – even though he did not know what it was. By the way, one of Binet’s other innovations was cooking his data: in order to amplify any measured differences in his collected data, he threw away all the results except for the 5 largest skulls and the 5 smallest – it still didn’t give him the correlation he was looking for. Binet was a hack, but IQ testing exploded across the field as soon as the idea reached the United States – an apartheid society that was eager to grasp at any life-line for its foundational racism. By the time Binet started to walk back his test, to re-frame it as merely a tool for teaching, it was already becoming a winnowing-tool for racist public policy.

Scientific racists continued to use IQ tests, because they remain ignorant about the scientific basis for their racism. For example, William Shockley, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and co-inventor of microprocessors, stepped forward and argued that IQ tests justified eugenics – that was 1965. As usual for scientific racists, Shockley weaponized a partial understanding of evolution and genetics, by completely omitting cultural effects. [wik]

In 1965 William Shockley, Nobel laureate in physics and professor at Stanford University, made a public statement at the Nobel conference on “Genetics and the Future of Man” about the problems of “genetic deterioration” in humans caused by “evolution in reverse”. He claimed social support systems designed to help the disadvantaged had a regressive effect. Shockley subsequently claimed the most competent American population group were the descendants of original European settlers, because of the extreme selective pressures imposed by the harsh conditions of early colonialism.

Shockley is a physicist, not a psychologist, and that’s the problem: psychologists like Binet, Terman, and Goddard promoted this pseudoscience and psychology has hardly debunked it. In fact, psychology has tried to repair a fundamentally bad idea, by attempting to identify sub-components of “intelligence” that can be measured individually, i.e.: experiential intelligence, practical intelligence, etc. Yet there is still no model of what “intelligence” is other than that it’s what’s measured by IQ tests. To me, one of the most interesting giveaways in IQ testing is that it’s only somewhat recently factored in an ability to learn. That was almost certainly because of another problem with IQ tests: it turns out that if a subject takes an IQ test multiple times (different questions, same structure) they will successively do better. That indicates that whatever the test is measuring can’t be purely innate in the subject: if test-takers demonstrate learning, IQ has to incorporate the subject’s experience. But that shoots holes below the waterline of the entire enterprise: if what we are measuring is in whole or part learning and experience, then we can’t pretend that social factors, which affect experience, do not affect the test results. The eugenicists and scientific racists want to argue that there’s something innately inferior about certain people, but if their test results are influenced by the education they had growing up, then maybe we’d learn that a child who was raised with a private tutor because of it’s parents’ money, scores as “higher IQ” than an economically disadvantaged child who attended a public school that was “separate” but not equal.

Another notorious example of IQ test failure is James Damore, the sexist and racist software engineer who was fired from Google for publishing a manifesto asserting a bunch of eugenics-based mistakes. Damore wrote: [gizmodo]

[T]he Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap.

Critical to Damore’s argument is that there are differences that are a result of gender or race, which have a greater impact on individuals’ abilities than cultural differences. Damore tries to dismiss those cultural differences as “myths like social constructionism” which is kind of ironic since asshats like Damore are part of the landscape of social constructs that affect people’s outcomes based on their sex.

The president of The United States appears to be under the impression that his intelligence is a genetic gift; and the coverage surrounding IQ remains wrong – we still lack a model for what it is that IQ tests measure; we still don’t know what “intelligence” is other than increasingly fine slices of results on tests that test for our ability to generate those results. We can measure our individual results against our past results: if I score a 105 today and a 115 next week, you can tell that I scored 10 better on my test than before. It certainly does not allow us to conclude that I have gotten 10 somethings smarter in a week.

We should be quite willing to believe that Trump scores more somethings than average; why wouldn’t he – he has a fairly good education – a BS in economics from an ivy league university: one would expect him to perform better than someone who had attended, say, Trump university, or had only a high school education. In fact, if I paid good money for an education from Trump university and it didn’t budge my IQ score at all, I’d want my money back.

[source] (the source page has a lot of interesting charts about the relationship between income, IQ scores, SAT scores, etc)

Trump could probably raise his IQ further, right now, by spending more time doing logic-puzzles and less time playing golf. But every point you gain by studying is a point that indicates that your IQ score is about learning and cultural influences (what Damore calls “social constructivism”) – aspects of society that are probably more controlled by wealth and privilege than by DNA. I threw “probably” in there because I don’t know and neither does anyone else, at this time.

I consider the whole concept of IQ to be a weird mixture of a tautology (it measures what it measures!) and self-refutation (it isn’t measuring something innate about you, if it’s something you can train yourself to do). The whole self-congratulatory mess depends on the premise that there is something special about me and if it’s something that you can learn, also, I’m not so special after all.

What’s odd to me is that people like Trump, or MENSA members, feel special because they are smart – they are born that way. But it’s pretty obvious that that’s wrong – take a look at the data [here] and [here]. If there are correlations like “if a child is in a head start program, their IQ score will be about 15 points higher, on average” it ought to be clear that IQ is more influenced by cultural influences than DNA.

I read crap so that you don’t have to

Someone wants to pat their own back for being “intelligent” (still undefined) yet they want to study so that they can deliberately distort their score: they cannot simultaneously believe there is something special about their intelligence, and that they can increase it.

Back to the original Binet sketch, in which a subject’s IQ was measured based on their understanding of contemporary social standards of beauty: here we see a great example of a question from a modern IQ test:

Question #38 is a question about culture, specifically vocabulary. Vocabulary is learned and is not innate; it can’t be (we don’t grow up speaking a language that’s coded into our DNA) “Work clockwise round the circles to spell out two eight-letter words that are antonyms.” If the person reading that question is well-educated in English, they’re less more likely to know what an “Antonym” is. This is why people with more/better education score higher on IQ tests – it’s not because they are smarter; there is nothing inherent about them.

In other words, IQ tests don’t measure your intelligence, they measure whether or not you’re completely clueless about culture, wealth, and leisure time and how important those are for a person’s development.

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If you haven’t read The Mismeasure of Man you probably should. It’s very good, and Gould’s research and examples are thorough and detailed. It’s also excruciatingly embarrassing for someone like myself, who has a degree in psychology – seeing the endless waves of nonsense that the field threw up, again, and again, is physically painful. If you read The Mismeasure of Man and you don’t simultaneously facepalm and cringe whenever someone talks about IQ tests, you’ve got a tougher stomach than you should.

Somewhere in here it’s probably worth mentioning Ramanujan. We don’t have any IQ tests for him, but his probably started fairly normal, since he grew up impoverished and badly educated, then rocketed off the chart. If that’s what happened (and it seems likely) that would indicate that perhaps one is born with some innate abilities that are operated on by society. That would pretty neatly torpedo the eugenicists’ position, which we’d expect to show exactly the opposite. Of course, there’s also von Neumann (see below)

One of the questions that I have long enjoyed is “why were there so many brilliant Hungarian physicists in the 1930s?” There were Szilard, Von Neumann, Teller, Gabor, Wigner – probably more; the answer appears to be that the Hungarian educational system of the time was very good at helping genius blossom.

Von Neumann was a child prodigy. As a 6 year old, he could divide two 8-digit numbers in his head, and could converse in Ancient Greek. When he once caught his mother staring aimlessly, the 6-year-old von Neumann asked her: “What are you calculating?”

Formal schooling did not start in Hungary until the age of ten. Instead, governesses taught von Neumann, his brothers and his cousins. Max believed that knowledge of languages other than Hungarian was essential, so the children were tutored in English, French, German and Italian. By the age of 8, von Neumann was familiar with differential and integral calculus, but he was particularly interested in history, reading his way through Wilhelm Oncken’s 46-volume Allgemeine Geschichte in Einzeldarstellungen. A copy was contained in a private library Max purchased. One of the rooms in the apartment was converted into a library and reading room, with bookshelves from ceiling to floor.

Von Neumann entered the Lutheran Fasori Evangelikus Gimnázium in 1911. This was one of the best schools in Budapest, part of a brilliant education system designed for the elite. Under the Hungarian system, children received all their education at the one gymnasium. Despite being run by the Lutheran Church, the majority of its pupils were Jewish. The school system produced a generation noted for intellectual achievement, that included Theodore von Kármán (b. 1881), George de Hevesy (b. 1885), Leó Szilárd (b. 1898), Dennis Gabor (b. 1900), Eugene Wigner (b. 1902), Edward Teller (b. 1908), and Paul Erdős (b. 1913). Collectively, they were sometimes known as Martians. Wigner was a year ahead of von Neumann at the Lutheran School. When asked why the Hungary of his generation had produced so many geniuses, Wigner, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, replied that von Neumann was the only genius.

Sure, geniuses are born, and they probably would score very high on IQ tests. But, we’re still left hanging with the question “what is ‘intelligence’?” I know what it’s not – it’s not what IQ tests measure.

I could have written this whole piece as: Trump may have high IQ scores but he’s still a moron.

With regard to Damore’s using labels like “Left” and “Right” to categorize American political views: look, another moron. [stderr] I hardly need to remind you that the left/right divide in French politics (depending on which revolution we’re talking about) was between monarchists and republicans/imperialists – when someone nowadays talks about left/right non-ironically, they are simply hoisting the clueless roger.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m a high tester – I score high on all manner of tests. I’m pretty sure that’s a combination of being an information sponge and deep anxiety over test performance. Thankfully, it’s been a long time since anyone foisted a test on me. I have a particular loathing of IQ tests, because they can crush children with expectations. At least that happened in my case. It was fairly clear I wasn’t going to be a moron, and I loved learning. I still do. But that first fucking IQ test in catholic school? Oh, fuck that noise. All of a sudden, I was supposed to invent rocket surgery or something. They are highly damaging in the labels they slap on kids, and no matter where you are on the scale, those labels change the way people perceive you. We would all be much better off if IQ tests were dumped in the fire, never to be spoken of through all of time.

    I think instilling a love of learning is key; and it’s the only thing which truly matters. A love of learning lasts a lifetime, and if you have sprogs of your own, it’s one of those things happily passed on as a matter of course.

  2. says

    Daz:

    Mediocre and superior are antonyms?

    I was really unimpressed with lack of imagination shown in the word choice. Going by my Roget’s, mediocre is not a listed antonym for superior, but superior is a listed antonym for mediocre.

  3. says

    @Daz: IMO they are not. Antonym to suprerior is subpar. And antonym to mediocre is exceptional. But that would not fit into the construction of the question, because those pairs do not have identical letter counts. Caveat: English is not my first language.
    _____________

    I have absolved first official IQ test in university, during a psychology course, and quite a few unofficial ones, from highschool to adulthood. I always end up with score in upper 5%, maybe even 2%, but I never bothered to try and get into MENSA, since I do not see the point. I also do not consider myself to be superiot, sometimes quite the opposite.

    AFAIK I am also usually regarded as being highly ingelligent in every social group of which I become a member, which troubles me deeply. For example sometimes I get the feeling that my colleagues expect me to know and remember everything, because I remember so much more than they do, and often times they rather “ask Charly” than to go and “ask Google”. I have no doub that it was my intelectual prowess that has contributed to my employer firing a manager rather than letting me go, but unreasonable expectations give me often grief.

    That being said, I do not think that IQ concept is utterly useless, even when it is not clearly defined what it measures. The correlation between IQ score and ability to learn shows that there is something there to measure, the problem is only how to get at it properly. Which effort is alas hindered by aforementioned racist biases and all the rest.

    When you try to define some basic concept, like distance, you cannot do so without using synonyms and after some digging it boils down to some sort of circularity. The proof of the concept is demonstrability of its existence in reality, not whether we have multiple synonyms that allow us construct convoluted definitions that nevertheless boil down to simple – distance is a thing that is measured by distance measurement.

  4. says

    Seems dodgy to me. Mediocre denotes a fixed point—or at least a fuzzy area—in the middle of an agreed-upon range. Superior and inferior, on the other hand, are relative to each other only. Indeed, if A is mediocre, B may be inferior to C, whilst both may be inferior or superior to A, or may bracket it.

    I guess my point is, if someone is claiming to measure something about me by testing my vocab, I would at least like to know that their own grasp of the subject qualifies them to judge mine.

  5. says

    Daz:

    Seems dodgy to me.

    It is. I consider superior and mediocre to be descriptors on a scale, but they certainly aren’t antonyms.

  6. says

    Caine@#1:
    I’m a high tester – I score high on all manner of tests. I’m pretty sure that’s a combination of being an information sponge and deep anxiety over test performance.

    Me too. In my case it’s competitiveness and playfulness: I figured out how to crack multiple choice tests when I was a kid and I think that I always scored higher than I ought to simply by taking advantage of bad test design. That, and I’m an information sponge.

    As I know you know, being an information sponge helps with tests, tremendously – and it’s entirely a result of cultural exposure and nothing innate in the individual (perhaps having a good memory, whatever that is, is innate) So here’s this thing that hugely affects IQ tests that is experiential rather than innate.

    Around now someone usually shows up to explain that IQ tests are also measuring what we do with our experience; i.e.: measuring an innate ability to process information. That still doesn’t salvage IQ testing, since it means that someone dumb with great opportunities to experience is going to outperform someone smarter who doesn’t (which is why I introduced Ramanujan and von Neumann to the discussion: both geniuses, very different opportunity. Wonder what a lifetime set of IQ tests would show?)

    They are highly damaging in the labels they slap on kids, and no matter where you are on the scale, those labels change the way people perceive you. We would all be much better off if IQ tests were dumped in the fire, never to be spoken of through all of time.

    Absolutely.
    Although, my recommendation would be to dump psychology into the fire, because you’d get rid of a lot of damaging stupidity and IQ tests along with it.

    I think instilling a love of learning is key; and it’s the only thing which truly matters. A love of learning lasts a lifetime, and if you have sprogs of your own, it’s one of those things happily passed on as a matter of course.

    Yes!
    My parents raised me to enjoy museums instead of television, a good book instead of sports, politics instead of religion – that “starting condition” shaped me tremendously – it was nothing innate about me other than that I picked my parents well.

  7. says

    Daz: Uffish, yet slightly frabjous@#2:
    Mediocre and superior are antonyms

    See, I don’t even know what an antonym is; I slept through the parts of English where they did all the breakdown and analysis stuff.

    Whups there goes a point off my IQ!

  8. says

    Caine@#4:
    I was really unimpressed with lack of imagination shown in the word choice

    I plan to, eventually, post more bits from IQ tests. I bought and read several “train yourself to boost your IQ!” books (so that you don’t have to) and I can pretty accurately predict that you’re going to be unimpressed a lot.

    Mostly, my interest is teasing out what’s cultural and whether any of this stuff is innate.
    There’s an easy argument that none of this measures anything innate at all, since the vehicle by which the test is communicated is a specific language. I’m not going to make that argument, because I’m trying to be fair and this isn’t a debate or philosophy club – but it ought to be unavoidably obvious that someone who recently learned English is going to perform worse on an IQ test in English.

    Hmm… There’s a thought experiment: what if I took an IQ test in English, and then an IQ test in French? If IQ tests are measuring something called “intelligence” that is not merely language skill and vocabulary memory, I would expect to score the same. Of course not. I don’t really know what an “antonym” is, but I damn sure wouldn’t know whatever they call a similar thing in French (imagine if a French IQ test had questions about the Passe Simple) (Passe simple is an ancient form of past tense which is quite beautiful but rarely used since we’re not living in medieval times anymore. For example, “Elle est nee” – “she was born” – would be a typical past tense usage, in passe simple it would render as “elle naquit” My dad being a French historian, I grew up around people who used passe simple as a matter of course, so when I took a class in French in high school my teacher yelled at me for being pretentious. Since I was a computer programmer, I was favoring using passe simple because it uses fewer characters, see, therefore it’s more efficient. I’ve forgotten most of that stuff, now…)

  9. says

    Daz and Caine@various:
    One of the things I enjoy about analyzing tests is how arguable so many of the answers are. The premise of these tests is to test something yet the mechanism for that assessment is flawed. How good is the resulting measure?

    I’m sure at least one of us has encountered a test question that’s wrong and had to decide which of multiple slightly wrong answers was the one the tester was looking for.

    Cue an IQ testing apologist rushing in and saying, “that’s part of the test: your ability to adapt and interpret is a form of intelligence and that is what we’re measuring!”

    (I got weird looks from the tester when I submitted my ASFAB with a lengthy handwritten note deconstructing the mistakes in two of the test questions and explaining my reasoning. I got them right.)

  10. says

    Charly@#5:
    I have absolved first official IQ test in university, during a psychology course, and quite a few unofficial ones, from highschool to adulthood. I always end up with score in upper 5%, maybe even 2%, but I never bothered to try and get into MENSA, since I do not see the point.

    MENSA is an interesting case. They want to believe they are special, yet they accept a test that’s culturally influenced and some of them have been known to practice to improve their scores. I guess they don’t believe there’s a natural “intelligence” any more than I do.

    That being said, I do not think that IQ concept is utterly useless, even when it is not clearly defined what it measures. The correlation between IQ score and ability to learn shows that there is something there to measure, the problem is only how to get at it properly. Which effort is alas hindered by aforementioned racist biases and all the rest.

    I agree, with caveats.

    I believe it was jrkrideau who pointed out in one of the earlier threads where I was bashing on psychology, that IQ tests are useful as a baseline to see if an individual’s ability to think is changing. In that situation, I agree mostly: if I was going to have a tumor removed from my brain, it’d be interesting to do an IQ test before, and after, and see how I did. That’s basically a problem we encounter everywhere if we’re building comparative metrics (which is why I don’t like to use comparative metrics!) your baseline appears to be normative even if it’s not, really. When I’m teaching companies how to establish IT security metrics, I always tell them to establish comparative metrics against past performance. That (sort of) works, as long as you’re willing to ignore whatever test practice effects there are, or whether the tests aren’t asking the same questions.

    When you try to define some basic concept, like distance, you cannot do so without using synonyms and after some digging it boils down to some sort of circularity. The proof of the concept is demonstrability of its existence in reality, not whether we have multiple synonyms that allow us construct convoluted definitions that nevertheless boil down to simple – distance is a thing that is measured by distance measurement.

    I agree.
    Language is a really sloppy tool, but it’s the only one we have. So we wind up defining things in terms of things, and everything winds up being circularly defined. Demonstrating something in reality is the only thing we can do, to hang all that stuff on, otherwise we’ve just got words.

    One telling thing about IQ testing: they still don’t define “intelligence”
    I have a couple of books about IQ testing and every time I look at one, I double check to see whether there is a definition of “intelligence” in there that I somehow missed.

  11. cartomancer says

    Being able to speak multiple languages, particularly culturally prestigious ones at a young age, is another one of these supposed markers of intelligence that annoys me. So what if Von Neumann could speak Ancient Greek at 6 – Socrates could speak it at 2! There’s nothing intrinsically harder about Greek than any other language – it just has such cultural prestige in Europe because it is the language in which the Greek classics were written. In fact, it’s a lot easier for a child under the age of about 7 or 8 to learn a new language than it is for an adult, because child brains have an innate language acquisition faculty that disappears with age. Even the least intellectually gifted children can learn multiple languages at the right time, hence there are whole bilingual and even trilingual populations.

    In fact, there is a tremendous cultural bias in how well-regarded different areas of knowledge and ability are. Someone who is familiar with Vergil and Cicero tends to be regarded as more intelligent than someone equally familiar with modern poets and statesmen – say with the poems of Carol Anne Duffy and the writings of Tony Blair. Someone who can tell you the birth and death dates of Renaissance artists and Classical composers is given higher regard than someone who can do the same with modern pop stars and TV personalities. Knowledge of particle physics is seen as more intelligent knowledge than knowledge of video game mechanics or sports statistics. And so it goes on. The trick is finding something at once prestigious and obscure, so that you only need a little knowledge to impress far beyond what you deserve.

  12. says

    Antonyms are words with opposite meanings, unlike synonyms, which are words with similar meanings. Homonyms are words which sound alike, but have different meanings, hear; here.

  13. says

    Marcus

    The antonym of a given word is a word which has the opposite meaning. The opposite of a synonym. I’d contend that calling mediocre an antonym of superior is as daft as calling average an antonym of tall.

    There ya go. I just bumped your IQ up a point. Ahem.

    I’m sure at least one of us has encountered a test question that’s wrong

    My favourite is from a general knowledge quiz, rather than a formal test. Apparently the four dimensions are width, height, length and breadth.

  14. says

    Cartomancer # 13:

    The classicism of classics. That bias is still very much with us, and will be for a long time to come, no doubt.

  15. says

    From the top of my head: When I was studying psychology at the university some 18 years ago, we were taught that intelligence is basically the ability to understand and solve problems, and that it has both innate and learned components. We were taught that IQ tries to measure the innate component, but that it definitively also measures to some extent the learned component, because upbringing can move the IQ one standard deviation either way (and that is a lot!). We were also taught that IQ test results vary with the actual condition of an individual and that people who have contracted influenza can score as much as 10 points lower than they normally would be even before the onset of symptoms.
    Unfortunately to none of these statements I can remember the references and I no longer have acces to academic literature unless it is available on the internet. They might be bogus.

    However, Marcus, I disagree with you on the “tossing out” of psychology. If we are to know our own species, psychology is a necessary part of our toolbox for that task. Tossing it out because of its problems would be throwing out the children with the bathwater.

    Highly problematical alchemy has after all given us the tools and methods which gave us later chemistry – one of the most important practical sciences of today.

  16. Owlmirror says

    If the person reading that question is well-educated in English, they’re less likely to know what an “Antonym” is.

    Pretty sure this has a negation mismatch…

    There’s a thought experiment: what if I took an IQ test in English, and then an IQ test in French?

    Speaking of French, according to Adam Ruins Everything, IQ tests were originally invented specifically to see how well French children were doing in kindergarten. (It was H. H. Goddard who applied the tests more broadly.)

    The full episode more or less covered what you’re saying.

  17. Siobhan says

    My IQ scores were generally impressive but I was a shitty student for a variety of reasons, one of which was a lack of motivation to learn what I was being taught.

    Now that I know what I’m interested in I’m far more academic than I was while in academia.

    To me, my score seems to correlate more with enthusiasm than with anything else.

  18. kestrel says

    I’ve often tried to figure out what is meant by “intelligence”. Charly’s definition sounds OK; but sometimes I wonder if that’s even the right question to ask (is this person intelligent? iow).

    I guess I’ve run into a lot of “intelligent” people who are incapable of getting along with other people, or of doing simple tasks, or of operating in the day-to-day world. I met a guy who did numbers theory; he wrote a book that only about 20 other people could understand. He was undeniably intelligent and yet every single day he did things that made you wonder how he could get dressed by himself in the morning. (For example, he built a small barn for chickens ON HIS PORCH. Apparently not realizing that when you nail a whole bunch of heavy things together, they get heavier since they are now one thing, and then you can’t pick them up and move them. Which I guess he had been planning to do.)

    Also, people used to tell me, upon hearing that I worked with horses, that pigs were smarter than horses. Why on earth would that matter? No matter how smart a pig is, they still can’t run as fast as a horse can, carry as much weight or travel as far. Again I just think it’s the wrong question and the wrong focus.

  19. says

    Owlmirror@#19:
    Speaking of French, according to Adam Ruins Everything, IQ tests were originally invented specifically to see how well French children were doing in kindergarten. (It was H. H. Goddard who applied the tests more broadly.)

    Yes, that’s correct. Binet was relatively successful: his test correlated with scholastic outcomes – and, to be fair to him, he acknowledged that it might be measuring a lot of things and not just “intelligence.” I don’t give him credit for being a good scientist, though, because he approached the whole question of “intelligence” via cranial capacity.

    If you enjoy the Adam Ruins Everything you’d really enjoy The Mismeasure of Man. It’s brilliant and horrifying and (for all that people complain that Gould was a marxist) pretty fair.

    As you say, Goddard was the one (also a psychologist) who began framing Binet’s work into an abstract test for “intelligence” and he came up with the unjustifiable hack of normalizing it against age, to give an “Intelligence Quotient” (basically, a simple way of cooking the numbers to explain away the fact that kids performed better then trailed off over time.. which may have had to do with class and privilege, huh?)

    IQ testing fell right into a perfect storm of scientific racism and eugenics. It’s still there, really.

    (Thanks for the catch on the negation mismatch! Fixed it with my Strike Pen!)

  20. lumipuna says

    Re: superior vs. mediocre.

    One might snarkily speculate that, for the IQ fascists out there, mediocrity is the worst, most insulating result you could achieve in an IQ test. Since very few people have truly inferior IQ by definition, virtually all of the value of a superior IQ test result would be in comparison with the mediocre masses. Even more so, since lower IQ test results tend to be erased, because people with low result expectations don’t take IQ tests or don’t reveal their results – they might not even socialize with the people who find IQ as a potential bragging tool. Outright mentally disabled people have generally poor visibility in society. For those who can expect superior results, a below mediocre result wouldn’t be so much a failure as simply unimaginable.

  21. lumipuna says

    cartomancer: I think I can use the English language on a deeper level than Donald Trump, but I admit he uses it more quickly and confidently, and probably also learned it younger than I did.

  22. says

    @kestrel

    I guess I’ve run into a lot of “intelligent” people who are incapable of getting along with other people, or of doing simple tasks, or of operating in the day-to-day world.

    I might be one of those, in some circumstances. This is the snag – high functioning autism throws any overly simplistic inteligence theory obviously out of the window. There is more than oney type of problem to (learn how to) solve and any one person might excel at solving problems of categories xyz, but be hopeless at abc. And some high functioning autistic people are extreme cases of that. It is evident that IQ evaluates (poorly) only a tiny fraction of what intelligence under by me mentioned definition means.

    For example one of the false assumptions people who know me make about me relatively often, is the expectation that I will be good at chess/checkers/go – stragegic games in general. Yet I am lousy at all of them, despite learning chess at 5 years of age and spending a lot of time with the board and reading chess literature as a child. My brother, who did worse at school and has lower education than me beats me in any stragegy based game whenever he wants to to the point of me not wanting to play with him anymore, because the results are so predictable (but I do not know his IQ, we never compared those – we did not compare other measurements either).

    It also took me about 30 years to learn how to barely navigate social environment. High results of IQ tests were not much help there.

    @lumipuna
    This is not meant against you, but I think most english speakers around the world, both native and non-native, can use English on a deeper level than Lord Dampnut.

  23. says

    Regarding the strike pen:

    "text-decoration: line-through" is a style, and won’t be picked up by screen-readers. For deleted text, the tag you want is <del>deleted text</del>, which produces: deleted text.

    If you wanna get fancy, <span style="color:red; text-decoration:strikethrough"><del><span style="color:black">inserted text</span></del></span> creates a red strike-through over black text.

    Also <ins style="border-bottom: 1px dotted black">inserted text</ins> gives a nice effect for the inserted correct text.

  24. invivoMark says

    The most interesting thing I know about IQ tests is that from twin studies, IQ is less genetically determined at a younger age (<18 years) and more genetically determined for adults. It’s something like 40% “biological” for children and up to 80% “biological” for adults (but it’s probably below 80%).

    I’ll be buggered if I know what that means, because I’d expect the opposite.

  25. says

    @invivoMark
    It is contraintuitive at first, but it makes sense. Children’s brains are not developed yet, and different children develop at different paces, can slow for different reasons and then catch up etc. This creates a lot of noise.
    In adults all that noise is mostly smoothed out. For example some people with learning disabilities like dyslexia can be really behind their peers as children, but completely chatch up in their twenties, given the right environment.

    A simple point to ilustrate this: difference between a 1 year old and 2 year old is much greater, than a difference between a 40 and 41 year old.

  26. says

    I recently read “The Mismeasure of Man”. It was very interesting. In that book there were multiple examples of actual questions from those early IQ tests and I was amused to realize that I would get countless incorrect answers just because I lack familiarity with American culture. My favorite test question was as follows: “A man gets visited by a doctor, a lawyer and a priest; what’s going to happen next?” My answer was: a dinner party. Apparently this man is somebody who likes receiving guests, so he’ll probably have more guests in the future. The correct answer was: funeral. Whoops! Here where I live doctors visit only patients with mild and non life threatening diseases. Anybody seriously ill is taken to a hospital instead. As for the priest — I live in an atheist state where majority of people are non believers. The idea of a terminally ill person meeting a priest is simply alien for me.

    [T]he Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences).

    Damn. I hate that one about differences between sexes. Some people claim that nowadays boys and girls are raised the same way and therefore all the differences between men and women are caused by nature (rather than nurture). This couldn’t be further from the truth. As somebody whose gender assigned at birth and personality/identity do not match I can attest that there’s a lot of pressure to conform to gender norms. I could write thousands of words describing all those countless instances when parents/teachers/friends/classmates/society attempted to force me to behave like a woman. Cisgender people tend to not notice it. A woman who likes wearing feminine clothes and using makeup won’t notice that there’s pressure to do so. But once a person attempts to behave in ways contrary to what society expects from them, then all the pressure becomes painfully noticeable. And there’s so much of it.

    I read crap so that you don’t have to

    You don’t have to do it either. Life is too short for reading crap.

    As I know you know, being an information sponge helps with tests, tremendously – and it’s entirely a result of cultural exposure and nothing innate in the individual (perhaps having a good memory, whatever that is, is innate)

    I probably accept the idea that some people are born with exceptionally good memory. But I don’t think that in general having a good memory is innate. For the average person it is possible to significantly improve their memory. Now at 25 my memory is a lot better than it used to be ten years ago. I still remember how much effort/time it took me to memorize a list of words in a foreign language/a poem/contents of a textbook back then. And I can tell that nowadays it takes me a lot less time and effort.

    There are multiple reasons for this. As a child I always tried to simply memorize everything. I no longer do that. Now I instead form associations, systematize everything, decompose stories into logical structures so that I only need to remember the bare minimum that would later allow me to reconstruct the whole story. For new words I form associations with what I already know. For example, some years ago when I was learning German, I needed to memorize the word “Hörsaal” (meaning: lecture hall). So I made a mental image of a horse being brought into my university’s lecture hall. By linking the new word with similarly sounding word I already knew I made it simpler to remember the new word. And that’s just one of the countless tricks I use. Moreover, my observation is that the more I know, the simpler it becomes for me to learn new additional information, because I can tie it with what I knew before.

    There’s a thought experiment: what if I took an IQ test in English, and then an IQ test in French? If IQ tests are measuring something called “intelligence” that is not merely language skill and vocabulary memory, I would expect to score the same. Of course not.

    As somebody who has taken IQ tests both in my native language and in English I can answer this one. IQ tests generally have different types of tasks. Finding patterns in pictures, calculating answers to math tasks and so on. In these types of tasks your result in French would be the same as in English. You know French well enough to understand the task description and French wouldn’t influence your ability to do a math task. Your only problems would be with “linguistic” types of tasks. Basically all those tasks where they are testing how many words you know. Even if you know French quite well, the number of French words you know is definitely smaller than the number of words you know in English. Thus you would lose a few points on those tasks where you would encounter some rarely used obscure French words that you simply didn’t know. Your overall score in the French tests would be a few points lower. By the way, my score is Latvian tests was about 145, my scores in English tests were somewhere around 135-140.

    By the way, “l’antonyme” is French for “antonym”. If you knew the English word, you would also recognize the French one.

    My dad being a French historian, I grew up around people who used passe simple as a matter of course, so when I took a class in French in high school my teacher yelled at me for being pretentious. Since I was a computer programmer, I was favoring using passe simple because it uses fewer characters, see, therefore it’s more efficient.

    Sounds like you had a bad teacher. As long as you use passé simple correctly without making any grammar mistakes, your teacher shouldn’t have criticized you. Your choice of words ought to be your choice.

    As for me, I never used passé simple and I only learned about it enough to recognize it in old texts. I prefer to deal with regular verb tenses. Things are simple when verb conjugations follow rules, it turns into a pain when each verb is unique and I have to memorize the correct form of every one of them.

    As for “intelligent” people who are incapable of getting along with other people, or of doing simple tasks, or of operating in the day-to-day world, that sounds like autism spectrum to me. I have never been weird enough to get diagnosed with anything, but I do have some of autism symptoms (I lack many others though). I’d say the key is to utilize one’s strengths and learn how to live with such peculiarities of how one’s brain functions.

    For example, I struggle to notice/interpret non verbal cues (body language, facial expressions, tone of voice). Unless it is very obvious (like somebody yelling in anger), I generally fail to understand what’s going on. This quirk of my brain makes it impossible to flirt. At first I had some problems getting laid because of this. Ultimately I got sick of attempting to mimic normal human courting behavior and I developed a totally different strategy: step 1) pick some sexy guy; step 2) approach him; step 3) say “do you want to sleep with me?” My success rate turned out to be pretty high and that was enough to solve my issues with involuntary celibacy. Another quirk I have is that I cannot remember human faces. At first I attempted to hide it. That resulted in numerous situations where somebody approached me and started talking with me as if they knew me and I tried to keep the conversation while desperately trying to figure out who is this person. I gave up on that. Now I just tell people that I cannot recognize faces. Others may find this weird, but having them tell me who they are really simplifies my life. I’m also unable to feel empathy and love. So I just arrange my daily life so as to avoid situations where somebody could get hurt/offended by my inability to fell/display whatever they wish to see. And one of my sex slaves is a guy who actually got an official autism diagnosis (and dyslexia on top of that). He solved the problem by getting a degree in chemistry and finding a job where he gets paid for doing mathematical calculations (he’s very good at that).

    So I don’t think that lacking some basic skill is that important. It is possible to find workarounds so that one can get by without needing to use whatever skills most “normal” people take for granted.

  27. says

    Cartomancer @#13

    In fact, it’s a lot easier for a child under the age of about 7 or 8 to learn a new language than it is for an adult, because child brains have an innate language acquisition faculty that disappears with age. Even the least intellectually gifted children can learn multiple languages at the right time, hence there are whole bilingual and even trilingual populations.

    I somewhat disagree with the idea that it is a lot easier for children to learn foreign languages. Maybe it really is easier but not “a lot”. And the difference between child/adult foreign language learning abilities is significantly overstated. Our environment makes it a lot simpler for kids to learn languages.

    1. Children get a lot more input. They use the language in their daily life every waking moment. How many hours per week a typical child spends learning the language? Of course it depends on the child’s activities, but it is definitely over 30 hours per week. Children use the language while playing games, talking with parents, being taught at school.

    Now compare that with the typical adult foreign language learner. She will go to a language lesson once or twice a week. She will spend maybe 3 hours a week learning her target language.

    Now compare a person who spends over 30 hours a week learning a language with a person who spends only 3 hours a week. Who is going to learn faster? This has nothing to do with innate abilities; it’s all determined by environment. Very few adults can devote so many hours a week to foreign language learning.

    2. Motherese aka baby talk. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_talk When talking with small children adults speak differently. They speak more slowly and they pronounce words more clearly. Having somebody talk with you in such a fashion significantly simplifies language learning. As a polyglot who has learned multiple foreign languages while being an adult, I can attest that it is really hard to hear what native speakers say in the language I’m attempting to learn, because they speak too quickly. Unfortunately nobody speaks with me in baby talk, because I happen to look like an adult, but, when learning foreign languages, I really wish they did.

    3. Children learn languages by using them in real life. Adults generally take language courses where they write grammar tasks. Actually using your target language is a lot more efficient than studying it. Adults who take language lessons generally fail to learn the foreign language. Adults who move to another country where they are forced to actually use the language generally succeed in learning it.

    I’m a polyglot. I currently speak six languages (OK, it depends on how you count, I know some languages better than others, the “number” can be anywhere between 4 and 8). Until the age of 10 I knew only one language. When I was six years old I had a teacher who attempted to teach me French, but I did miserably. I barely learned a few words. As a six years old child I was constantly told that kids are good at language learning and that learning French should be a piece of cake for me. It wasn’t. I struggled to learn anything. It was only after I was over 10 years old that I started gradually learning new languages. And I did most of the language learning when I was already over 20 (I’m 25 now). Things were very similar for my cousin. Her parents attempted to teach her a second language when she was still a very young child and she did just as miserably as me. She did learn the language later, but just like in my case she was over the magical age of 7 when she finally started to actually learn it.

    For me learning languages as an adult was a lot easier than trying to do so as a child. One of my jobs was being a private language teacher for a client who was over 60. And he did great. Considering that he only took one lesson per week (60 minutes), he learned a lot. And then there’s blogger and polyglot Benny Lewis who currently knows over 10 languages. He started learning his first foreign language when he was already over 20.

    I have seen countless examples of children failing to learn foreign languages and adults learning them successfully. I just can’t buy the idea that learning a second language is significantly easier for a child.

    Even the least intellectually gifted children can learn multiple languages at the right time, hence there are whole bilingual and even trilingual populations.

    I live in a bilingual population. Here everybody speaks at least two languages and better educated people know at least three. And majority of people here learn their second and third language after the magical age of 7 (they speak only one language at home, they start to learn other languages after they already start going to school).

    By the way, in Soviet Union the place where (non Russian) men often learned Russian language wasn’t at home (there were very few bilingual families). Instead they learned Russian in the army. Going to the army was obligatory for every healthy male. Countless men went to the army knowing hardly any Russian and a few years later they returned home speaking fluent Russian.

    The secret to bilingual or trilingual societies isn’t bilingual families where kids learn multiple languages at a very young age. Such families hardly ever exist even in bilingual societies. Even if parents have different native languages they generally tend to speak only one language at home. Instead people learn other languages when they already are older. They learn the other language at school, often they make friends with neighbor children who speak the other language. Even later in life at work they have colleagues who speak the other language. I have a bilingual friend who learned the other language as a teen while playing computer games. In my family every single person speaks multiple languages. And that’s how we learned them all.

    There’s nothing intrinsically harder about Greek than any other language

    In fact there is. Nowadays if you want to learn Greek or Latin, you have to study it. If you want to learn English (or German or French or whatever other living language), you just have to find friends who speak your target language and hang out with them. Learning a foreign language by speaking with friends is a lot simpler than learning it by studying from textbooks. I once took some Latin lessons. For me learning Latin was a lot harder than learning, for example, German, because I couldn’t just make some Latin speaking friends and hang out with them.

  28. Callinectes says

    I got supermod on the word circle and spent some time scratching my head as to what the opposite could be.

  29. jrkrideau says

    # 17 Charly

    …We were also taught that IQ test results vary with the actual condition of an individual and that people who have contracted influenza can score as much as 10 points lower than they normally would be even before the onset of symptoms.

    I don’t any references handy either but the instructors were giving you a very simplified version of the real problems and issues.

    # 25 Charly

    This is the snag – high functioning autism throws any overly simplistic inteligence theory obviously out of the window.

    Indeed it does but so what? Only the lay public who can be conned into buying those books that Marcus is talking about would believe in such a theory.

  30. jrkrideau says

    @ Marcus

    In my role as extremely annoying pedant:

    Passe simple?

    ou

    Passé simple?

    Even my extremely crappy French senses a problem.

    And to continue on being a pedant, is there any reason to think those weird books such as The ultimate IQ test book in the figure have any more relationship to actual psychological testing than Wheat Belly does to actual nutritional science that a dietitian would recognize?

    At the moment, I am assuming that they are nothing more than puzzle books, perhaps one step up from a book of Sudoku but with a sciency look. Anything with a subtitle of “1,00 Practice Test Questions to Boost your Brain Power” looks as valid as Deepak Chopra’s new book “Advances in Quantum Mechanics”.

  31. says

    @jrkrideau, nou, our instructors did not give us very simplified version of the real issue, I only simplified the issue down to the bare minimum because 1) space in comment section 2) time and 3) memory.

  32. says

    @#33
    In my role as extremely annoying pedant:
    Passe simple?
    ou
    Passé simple?
    Even my extremely crappy French senses a problem.

    It is passé simple. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pass%C3%A9_simple
    “É” is an acute accent that denotes the pronunciation. People who don’t have a French keyboard often don’t indicate these either because of laziness or because they cannot get the keyboard installed (for example, when writing from a computer owned by somebody else).

    In general diacritics can be a pain in many European languages if you don’t have the right keyboard installed. In French there’s “é, à, è, ù, â, ê, î, ô, û, ë, ï, ü, ÿ, ç”. In German there’s “ä, ö, ü, ß”. In Swedish there’s “å, ä, ö”. In Latvian there’s “ā, č, ē, ģ, ī, ķ, ļ, ņ, š, ū, ž”. In order to get these characters you have to 1) get the appropriate keyboard layout installed on your computer, 2) know where to find the necessary character on the keyboard. On my home computer I have all this installed, but I have written a lot of e-mails/comments with absolutely horrendous spelling just because I was writing from somebody else’s computer or from my mobile phone.

  33. jrkrideau says

    @ 34charly
    I now realise that you did not get the simple version, it was just that your first post gave the impression of someone with “some” knowledge not someone in the business.

    It was you doing the simplifying!

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