Thursday 24 January 2019

IQ paranoia* on the interweb

Intelligence, as measured by IQ, has been - since the middle 1960s, when it became the first, and still the most aggressively persecuted, object of political correctness - prone to a tremendous amount of misunderstanding in both directions: under- and over-valuation. Indeed, some of the honest (albeit ignorant) undervaluation of IQ comes from reacting against those who overvalue it.

(Of course, most of the undervaluation of intelligence is simply dishonest as well as ignorant: invincibly ignorant, in other words.)

The fact is that IQ test measurements are only modestly precise, modestly predictive, and thus only modestly valid, at the level of individual people. But IQ scores are highly valid and reliably predictive when used to compare group averages. (H/T to Steve Sailor for making this clear to me.)

So, when outcomes are measured in terms of educational success, job status, social class, income, health, life expectancy - a group of 200 people with average IQ of 130 will (pretty much) always significantly outperform a group of 200 with with 115 average IQ; but the same certainly does not apply to individuals.

Personality is very important as well, albeit personality cannot be measured in the same way as IQ; but is only evaluated by human beings (self, parents, teacher, employer etc). A more conscientious personality will provide much the same outcome advantages as IQ - but (at least within races) there is very little correlation between personality and Intelligence.

In particular, there are plenty of high IQ people with low-Conscientiousness personalities - and low-C is quite sufficient to negate any IQ advantage in modern society. I have met several de facto 'unemployable' people with very high intelligence, and indeed such people tend to form the nucleus of the high IQ/ ultra-high IQ societies.

But there is also a confusion about the role of intelligence in creativity. In a nutshell, high intelligence is necessary but not sufficient for creativity; and most highly intelligent people are not at all creative. This can be seen most clearly in the study of creative genius.

In saying this, I am talking about real, primary creativity - not simply what passes for creativity in the superficial and dishonest modern world; which is mostly about expropriation, extrapolation and recombination of already-existing ideas: the kind of 'faked' creativity seen in high status advertising, design, illustration, modern art and sculpture, professional research (so-called 'science'), popular music, mainstream journalism, cultural criticism and theory etc.

Yet it is quite common to equate high intelligence with high creativity; and not to notice that extremely high intelligence is usually absolutely un-creative. Mental speed usually goes with mental dullness/ conformity.

And this applies especially among the high intelligence/ high conscientiousness people (the Head Girl type, as I call them; of both sexes) - who are those most likely to achieve high levels of education, wealth, status and power.

Indeed, in modern conditions, while high success in the social institutions (including 'science') is possible for those of high intelligence, creativity is extremely rare; because only the most Conscientious/ least creative can thrive in these environments. High Conscientiousness is mandatory, but (even in the elite colleges) high intelligence is subject to compromise.   

Meanwhile the most creative people are often more modest in IQ, highly intelligent, but not usually among the highest; and among those high in IQ the most truly-creative are low in Conscientiousness (because inner orientated and directed), and therefore tend to number among the (relative) social-status mediocrities or even failures.

So, even if someone has a very high opinion of himself; there is no reason why he should be touchy, eve paranoid, about his personal, individual, measured IQ; no reason to assert that he is more intelligent than you - no reason to assert that those he admires are more intelligent than those he despises: firstly because such measurements are imprecise; secondly they are poorly predictive...

And thirdly because, when it comes to The Most Important intellectual attribute - genius - intelligence is only one part of a package that must also include an internally-aware and self-motivated - hence low Conscientiousness, hence typically status-failing - personality.

*Note - "Paranoia" is defined here as the combination of heightened self-awareness with heightened self-reference (in short: Everything is about me).


Bruce B. said...

I’m an idiot internet commenter who has never had an original thought but I have to say that Sailer’s insight had occurred to me shortly after I was introduced to IQ studies and before I ever read Sailer.

It just seemed intuitive and the contrast with what liberals were saying (that IQ is predictive/explanatory for individual differences but not group differences ) was striking. It seemed to me they had it exactly backward - they’re good at this. Of course, they were trying to protect themselves from thoughtcrime while maintaining some degree of realism and (partial) honesty.

I like John Derbyshire’s way of thinking about this. Societies can be thought of as vector sums of the individual intelligences and personalities. He also includes behavior in his “BIP” but I do not like his co-equal grouping of behavior with intelligence and personality as it seems to me behavior is (partly) a consequence of the other two.

So for intelligence, when you are looking at large scale, societal differences, a lot of the other variables ("you know intelligence isn't ALL that matters") vector sum to 0, so the single variable IQ is predictive.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere I read (maybe on this blog, ha) that an IQ of about 120-135 is typically the "sweet spot" for high creativity, then creativity starts to drop after about 140....Is that true? In school I noticed that people who could memorize tons of information earned the highest grades, and they could accurately replicate ideas within established guidelines....They were definitely intelligent, yet hardly any of them were very creative.

Bruce Charlton said...

@EDF - I don't believe in a sweet spot theory; but there are of course (by definition) a lot more creative people at 130 IQ than at 160 IQ - so that is a factor.

But I have also argued that intelligence has declined by more than 15 modern IQ points since Victorian times

So a modern IQ of 145 might be less than a Victorian IQ of 130; and when the average IQ of a population is too low, then there will be near-zero creative geniuses - and this has been the situation in most of the world for most of human history.

Conversely, the East Asian situation shows that no matter how high the IQ, without a creative personality there are no geniuses.

Yet another important factor is that IQ is a proxy measure of 'g' which is the inferred underling factor that explains why all cognitive tests co-correlate positively - however as IQ rises much above (?) 120, the cohesion of this single factor becomes less and less; and intelligence at extremes is much narrower than it is around average - for example the verbal, spatial and mathematical subscales get more and more dissociated. So you get very big differences in 'average' IQ depending on the nature and balance of sub-tests in the overall IQ test.

So it is very obvious that the most extremely intelligent at verbal intelligence are nothing like so high in mathematical; and vice versa.

So the unity of IQ breaks down in individuals at extremes. Probably this is yet another reason why individual IQ measures are rather poorly correlated with individual outcomes.

I would further add that there is a qualitative difference in the intelligence of men and women - easy to discern but hard to describe.

stephen cooper said...

Interesting post, I would like to offer a footnote on "verbal" versus "mathematical".

I do not think "verbal" intelligence and "mathematical" intelligence are commensurate: just as there is nothing really commensurate between love for one's friends (verbal intelligence, in this analogy) and love for one's real estate (mathematical intelligence, in this analogy).

(I think Bertrand Russell was likely right about the ultimate triviality, to a divine or semi-divine being, of the most profound of mathematical proofs and even the trickiest and most surprising jewels of recreational mathematics - the exact quote is at the top of the blog of Taleb's friend Aleksandr' Bogomolniy ).

I have no recollection, after half a century of sporadically reading about math and mathematicians, of even once hearing someone unironically propose that there is such a thing as angelic inspiration for mathematicians,

whereas it is obvious to me that divine inspiration is the only reason many otherwise dull fellows with boring unpleasant personalities are still read with respect and gratitude and pleasure.

Of course I have seen paintings and sculptures that were obviously divinely inspired, maybe it is in the visual arts that divine inspiration visits those who have the basic grounding in mathematical "cleverness", or whatever you want to call the standard human groundwork of cleverness on which divine inspiration works.

With respect to East Asia ----- I tried learning some Chinese for a year once, I found that Li Po, who had the most creative of personalities, was a great poet of supreme genius - at least it seemed to me, although I hardly had the right to judge such things - but ..... but Tu Fu, another poet of Li Po's day, was recorded as having a standard bureaucrat's personality --- and the poems of Tu Fu were also of almost supreme genius.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Stephen - "I have no recollection, after half a century of sporadically reading about math and mathematicians, of even once hearing someone unironically propose that there is such a thing as angelic inspiration for mathematicians"

It depends on whether you insist on 'angelic' specifcially - but surely there were plenty of mathematicians, perhaps even *most* of them up to modern times - starting with Pythagoras and going up to Roger Penrose - who claimed, or more importantly *felt*, a *divine* basis and significance for mathematics?

I didn't mean China of ancient times being uncreative, but of modern times. I think that maybe natural selection favouring Conscientiousness (and high intelligence) was so strong in East Asia, for so many generations, that creativity was culled as a side effect. But before that natural selection had time to take effect - things were different.

Or perhaps it was a more direct divine providence that specifically enabled creativity in European peoples - for a few hundred years (but not now).

My main point, however, is that a society with numerous geniuses is extremely rare in the history of the world - because it needs both high average intelligence and a creative (lowish conscientiousness - but highly inner motivated, inner aware) combination.

The 'normal', default state for most places through most history is no geniuses at all.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Stephen, what's your secret? A year of learning Chinese, and you can read and appreciate Tang poetry. I've been living in Taiwan for 15 years and have just about reached the "can decipher most restaurant menus" level of literacy!

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Bruce, I had gathered from the title of your book The Genius Famine that you considered the absence of geniuses to be an abnormal and distressing state of affairs.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - It depends on perspective. The lack of geniuses to solve qualitative problems will mean that the entirety of modern civilisation must inevitably collapse with death of 5 billion people at least - but maybe that is 'spiritually' better than the alternative.

stephen cooper said...

If Roger Penrose said that was his experience - I am definitely not going to dispute what he said.

Yes, I was thinking of, specifically, angelic inspiration, not brief participation in a divine (as Leibniz might describe it) or superhuman (as has been said of von Neumann, the "Martian") level of understanding ...

Wm Jas - no secret --- I did not learn everyday Chinese.
When studying those old poems, I read, for each short classical Chinese poem, the equivalent of a paragraph about the main meaning and the possible nuances of each and every word, and after I had done this for about a thousand words, I tried to imagine myself as someone who did not know any English, but who only knew a thousand words, all of them Chinese. Doing that for a while, I could tell the difference between Li Po and Tu Fu, sometimes, and could see why the translations were not as good as the originals. Of course a Chinese speaker could have written a poem in the style of Li Po and I would have had no idea it was fake .... so I did not "appreciate" Li Po, I just reached a level of understanding of his lexicon ...
what I have just described is, by the way, the same way I read old Anglo-Saxon poetry, since I do not have the two or three spare years it would take me to learn even that fairly close-to-English language. (I have been learning Russian for decades and am nowhere near completely fluent, so I don't claim to have any very unusual gift for foreign languages).

Dexter said...

"high intelligence is necessary but not sufficient for creativity; and most highly intelligent people are not at all creative"

I noticed this when I was a kid. My parents were physicians. Their colleagues, all high intelligence/ high conscientiousness types, were generally extremely boring and had no other interest than their medical specialty. To be sure, you may well want your surgeon to care about nothing other than being a surgeon...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dexter - I too trained as a physician (in case you didn't know) - and that is the normal type in medicine.

It works well when 'good medicine' consists in learning then doing - but it depends on what is being taught. When medicine got captured by Big Pharma and Management (aka 'evidence based' medicine) this personality type ensured that there was near zero objection or resistance - no push-back and complete compliance even when the agenda was evil.

Conscientiousness is based on a need for social compliance; and that trumps all. When the social behaviour becomes corrupted, then conscientiousness makes for hard-working, detailed implementation of corruption.

BruceB said...

Professor Charlton, for your reference, Reich has found that we are probably losing about one IQ point per generation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I prefer not to talk about 'IQ points' because thet have no objective magnitude; but in 2012 I announced on this blog that - using simple reaction time measures - the 'IQ' of modern people had droped by more than one standard deviation since the late 1800s - which is very-approx 1 IQ point per *decade* (i.e. more than twice as fast as Reich reported data)

I wrote about this in the Genius Famine book; and this estimate has been broadly confirmed over the next five years by Michael A Woodley

Martin said...

You said in a blog from 2012 that IQ start to lose it´s meaning around 2SD from the mean but you still mention IQ numbers of 145 and 160 in this blog, even though it isn´t supposed to be measurable. Why?

Bruce Charlton said...

@M. You'll have to give the specific instances if I am to explain them - there may be several different reasons.

Martin said...

In this link:

there is a guy who ask if there are any accurate online-IQ tests that measure up to 160 IQ and gets a reply from a commenter that says IQ tests get "swamped with noise more than 2 SD from the mean" and isn´t a reliable measurement of intelligence beyond that.

Another user then tries to explain:
(Just skim through it.)

"There are at least two problems with measuring high intelligence:

(1) Any IQ test has a maximum difficulty. That means that all subjects above a certain intelligence answer all questions correctly and get the same maximum score. This is called the "ceiling effect".

Now you might say, that we simply need to construct a test that is difficult enough for even the most intelligent person to make some mistakes.

(2) The problem with special "high IQ" tests is that you cannot draw a large enough sample to norm this test. An IQ score is not an absolute value, like height, where you measure from a zero point to a certain length and each length has a meaning in itself in relation to that zero point. IQ does not have a zero point (there is no measurable total absence of intelligence), and the values of an IQ test are defined in relation to the average intelligence of the population that person comes from.

To norm a test, it is applied to a large sample of the population, and the mean and the shape of the distribution are calculated. The mean is defined as 100, the distribution is defined by the standard deviation, which for an IQ test is 15.

Now, since there are very few very intelligent people, even if all of them took the test your sample would be too small to reliably calculate a mean and the distribution. (And you couldn't test any of them ever again, because they already took the test and know the questions.)

Finally, you wouldn't know how the scores from this test relate to scores from other tests. In an IQ test with which you test the whole population, the average is set to be 100. Since all different IQ tests are normed for the whole population, you can set all their means at 100 and compare their scores. For a test that tests only a non-average subset of the population, like very intelligent people, the average must be somewhere else, because of course highly intelligent people are not of average intelligence. But where do you set it in relation to the 100 of the average population? You would need their scores from a normal IQ test to calculate this, but (now the circle closes) since a normal IQ test cannot measure them due to the ceiling effect, you don't know where they are in relation to the average IQ of 100.


While you can create an intelligence test to measure the intelligence of highly intelligent people, this test will not give you a result that has any meaning in relation to the IQ, so in fact it is not an IQ test.

IQ is not intelligence (a trait), but a construct. IQ is what is measured by an IQ test, as the saying goes. A high intelligence test measures a different construct."

You have written a similiar thing in 2012 in this blogpost:

where you, among many other things, say that:

"the actual concept of 'general intelligence' of general intelligence (hence IQ) begins to break-down from around two standard deviations above average - in the top couple of percent of the population.

From around and above this point, therefore, ultra-high cognitive abilities tend to be specialized and found in isolation."

So my question is: why do you and many others mention IQ levels above 130 or 135 when it isn´t supposed to be accurately measurable beyond that? Don´t you contradict yourself (or is it just me who aren´t smart enough to get what you are trying to say)?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Martin - OK. I agree with the analysis you quote. This means that any citation of IQ above about 135 is very imprecise. A very difficult, high level IQ test can put these people into (approximate) rank order, but cannot assign a meaningful IQ number to them.

Indeed, one would need a census or random sample of subjects doing IQ tests to have a genuinely valid standardisation. This has never happened, and is probably impossible. The nearest are studies of all the children in state schools on a particular day in a particular region - even these are not fully representative.

The second point is that the construct of 'g' breaks down among very high intelligence - because the most intelligent people are not equally intelligent in all domains. Indeed, this is pretty obvious - the very best mathematicians (probably the purest IQ specialism) are not the very best at everything else as well. But most kids a bit above average in maths are also above average in all other cognitive subjects - which is the basis of selectivity and streaming in schools.

Since 'g' is based on the observation that all cognitive abilities are significantly and positively co-correlated in groups; this means that the correlation gets less as IQ gets very high, therefore g becomes less valid as a single summary statistic.

On top of this, as you know from elsewhere in this blog, there is a change (a decline) in the objective meaning of IQ over time. So IQ 130 among 25 year olds now, corresponds to an IQ of less than 115 c150 years ago.

In sum, extreme high IQ measures need to be regarded as more approximate than levels nearer 100.

Martin said...


Thanks for your reply!

Martin said...

I hope it's not a problem, but I have another question regarding IQ.

What would you say is the difference between people with high functioning autism and high IQ people? They have similiar "symptoms" so to speak. Isn't high IQ people just people with some mild form of a autism?

Maybe you have mentioned it before in some other blog so in that case I am sorry.

Bruce Charlton said...

If you word search this blog for Asperger you will find something relevant, also search my Genius Famine book, free online.

Martin said...

I see, thanks!