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[flagged] IQ is largely a pseudoscientific swindle (2019) (medium.com)
68 points by primroot 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments



This article is written so polemically it's hard to take it seriously. Also Taleb seems to be constructing so many straw men I wouldn't even know where to start.

IQ isn't a swindle, it's a very real thing. However, it is only one factor among many in determining most practical real-world outcomes, and it is well-known to be affected by environmental variables at population levels.

But IQ isn't a "fraud" or "immoral". These are bizarre claims Taleb makes, with zero evidence or even definition of what he means.

What a strange article.


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> If he loses that, he loses many of the policies being pushed from an immigration and population control perspective.

I don't know anything about Taleb's personal politics. Care to give any specific examples of these policies?


Are you saying that certain races are genetically inferior? Because that really seems like what you are saying. Which sort of proves his point. The people that loudly disagree with him are racists.


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> You do know how bell curves work, right?

It seems you don't realize that you're talking about a heavily criticized book instead of a mathematical concept. There is no fixed place for different races to always appear on a plot of IQ distribution.

Koreans were once thought to be stupid. Not anymore. Population level genetic differences in IQ are dwarfed by environmental factors, and many studies have shown this effect: https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/6/15/15797120/race-bla...


There are a lot of posts complaining about Taleb's tone. I find it refreshing. Too often are statistics and stupid measurements applied to give a veneer of quantitative rigor to stupid ideas or ineffective systems.

If a manager ranked you based on a statistic of your lines of code produced per day, you would rightly be derisive. It turns out that such stupid quantification infects a great deal of society, especially the sciences.

There are many examples of statistical phenomena that starkly illustrate how subtle and counterintuitive probability can be: by no means a transparent and straightforward subject. Think of Monty Hall or Simpson's paradox. Taleb is just pointing out more sophisticated traps of probability that plague amateurs, and most of us who apply statistics are amateurs.

Why is he so mad? He hates it when stupid ideas are granted importance because of nonsense statistics, especially when they have consequences for people and society as a whole. I hope Taleb never stops being mad.


> If a manager ranked you based on a statistic of your lines of code produced per day, you would rightly be derisive

Yes, but this wouldn't make "lines of code" metric "pseudoscience" or "swindle". The metric is real, even if its applications are not correct.


There is a part I really like about this and a part I don’t.

The part I like: the linearity in IQ vs ability is driven by the low end. People who have cognitive challenges cannot complete the test and cannot perform the task. At the high end the correlation disappears.

This is — you can argue with it — an interesting observation.

The part I don’t like is the attack on “nerds.” Come on! I don’t even have to explain why it’s okay to wear socks with sandals. (Am I defending my own sloppy sense of style? You’ll probably never know.)


> The part I like: the linearity in IQ vs ability is driven by the low end. People who have cognitive challenges cannot complete the test and cannot perform the task. At the high end the correlation disappears.

If this were true you would expect the average IQ of really accomplished individuals to be 110. But this isn't the case, if you look at Supreme Court Justices, scientists, CEO's they all have average IQs higher than what would be expected if IQ only correlated at the low end.


I don't know the average IQ of a CEO or a supreme court justice. Do you know what it is?

Why 110? 1 sd is 115, 2sd would be 130.

Anyway for supreme court justices we have a straightforward explanation: the schools they are selected from (Yale and Harvard, primarily) themselves use a proxy IQ test (the SATs, or LSATs or whatever) to select for.


I saw numbers for supreme court justices a couple years ago but I can't find it.

https://pumpkinperson.com/2015/07/26/anne-roes-study-of-extr...

Says Nobel prize winners had an average IQ of 155, which is a 1 in 4000 score that couldn't be driven by just sub 100 effects.

Hard to find IQ scores on really high performers, I guess it's hard to convince a CEO or a supreme court justice to take an IQ test.


Place some skin in the game and hire a bunch of 87 IQ people as financial advisors.


That indeed is a good idea. Should put the debate partially to rest.


>> “The same people hold that IQ is heritable, that it determines success, that Asians have higher IQs than Caucasians, degrade Africans, then don’t realize that China for about a Century had one order of magnitude lower GDP than the West.”

Lol what. National gdp seems like an absurd thing to associate with with IQ. This doesn’t prove or disprove a thing. What a waste of ink.


This is a fascinating case study on how a reasonable point—IQ is not a terribly useful psychometric in most cases—can be completely lost in the conversation due to your writing style.


I think the only valid interpretation of the IQ test is that you are good at solving some riddles and spotting patterns. In no way, it can be used as a generic metric of who is better or worse.

I took the MENSA test last year just for fun, I did not get in :) The examiner before explained as well that the exam measures an only small part of what is considered an intelligence.

In short, it is a fun exam if you like riddles and no other value.


>I think the only valid interpretation of the IQ test is that you are good at solving some riddles and spotting patterns. In no way, it can be used as a generic metric of who is better or worse.

Correlations are what matter. It just so happens that success at solving such seemingly trivial riddles is correlated with important tasks such as coding and life outcomes. If IQ didn't correlate with anything there would be no reason to have IQ tests. It would be as useful as astrology.


IQ is only good for solving riddles? Have you heard of g-factor by any chance?


I think we all know what happened here: Nassim Taleb took an IQ test, it didn’t show him to be the great genius he knows himself to be, and so the entire concept of IQ must be invalid.


Ever since Taleb blocked me on twitter for such a minor pushback I gave in the replies of one of his tweets, I've lost interest reading anything he writes. His unbridled emotion is uncouth.

And it's not that I think IQ is "the most perfect psychometric ever created(TM)".


just make a new account and block him so he cannot read your tweet but his readers will still see it


Oh man, can't wait for the conversation about this one. So much of people's identity can be wrapped up in being intelligent, which makes sense when you are still in the phase of your life where what you _can_ do is more important than what you _have_ done. If you're concerned about your IQ very much over the age of about 12 years old, that's a sign that you probably aren't focusing on the right things in your life.


Anytime IQ is brought up on HN, the comment section is gonna get interesting. I mean hell this thread is already full of snide remarks about the author, people getting emotionally charged about emotion, personal attacks from people on both sides of the argument in "clever" attempts to prove who's smarter, and occasional and questionable views.


I got tested at 3 psychiatrists, as part of tests for other neurological issues. Not just some shitty web test. All results were in the ballpark of 160. And yet, it doesn’t matter at all in my daily life. In fact, I only really mention those results for one reason: so others don’t reply with "you only disagree with using IQ as score because you’d lose".

IQ just tells you how fast you adapt to new challenges — and in a very roundabout way which isn’t really reliable. And that’s aside from the whole "if a metric becomes a target, it ceases being a useful metric" stuff.

But in the real world, persistence and discipline is what really matters for success — you can have a startup with the most intelligent people in this world, but they won’t be able to actually make any progress without persistence. In fact, they’ll likely be bored by any task you give them quite quickly, and spend their time on something else.

Persistence is key for success, not just in our capitalistic world, but in anything — be it in learning a new skill, completing university successfully, or doing a new startup from start to finish.

As Stephen Hawking already said: "People who boast about their I.Q. are losers"


This comes off like an angry rant by a person who scored 100 but thinks of himself as highly gifted. IQ as a concept is a useful metric and predictor. Our current "stale" IQ tests still predict criminal behavior more accurately than any sociological theories of crime. It just doesn't predict whether someone will end up in a "menial job" or as a C-level executive.


He has a greatly inflated perception of his accomplishments and intellect. Recently he has been trying to get his Mathematica PDFs published in actual journals, but good luck with that. Rendering fat tails does not make for meritorious scholarly research. Fat tail distributions long predate Taleb.


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I'm much better at debating than you are. Maybe you're too stupid to notice? Using a simile to describe a poorly written blog post isn't the same as an ad hominem. Good try, though.


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> I'm genuinely asking you to examine the possibility that you aren't competent to evaluate Taleb's arguments.

I'll admit that I gave up reading the article (due to its invective) and skimmed the rest of it, but I don't recall there being much in the way of firm, mathematical arguments for his arguments, instead being a lot of "look, this correlates! look this correlates! clearly I'm right!" (along with mocking various groups of people).

So it's not a question of being competent to evaluate the arguments, but rather having the patience to actually find the arguments (should they exist) in the article.


Taleb's article is debunked here https://greyenlightenment.com/wealth-and-iq-part-3-continued...

Studying popular subs such as /r/wallstreetbets, /r/investing, /r/personalfinance, /r/fatfire, and /r/financialindependence is useful because we have a generally homogeneous population in which everyone tends to have similar individual preferences, that being the accumulation of wealth, so we have already controlled for that important variable. To a high degree of statistical significance, regarding the aforementioned subs, members who accumulate a lot of money at an early stage in life such as through investing and or STEM, again, tend to high high IQs. Even inheriting a lot wealth at an early age is positively correlated with IQ, because of the correlation between between family wealth and IQ.

Taleb fails to account for individual preferences as it concerns the accumulation of wealth. Obv. if you compare aspiring actors to aspiring t lawyers, IQ will not be as useful versus comparing aspiring physicists. It's not so much that IQ predicts absolute outcomes, but rather relative outcomes among a homogeneous population who have similar goals/aspirations for g-loaded activities whether it's writing, publishing, stock trading, law, math, FIRE, etc.

Aspiring lawyers who have high IQs will have high LSAT scores and GPAs and get into competitive programs, whereas low-scoring applicants may quit or find it harder to get into good programs and make as much money. On trading and investing Reddit subs , top traders almost invariably have higher IQs than traders who lose money. An extreme example of this is Renaissance Technologies, founded and staffed by some of the smartest people in the world, and by a huge margin the most successful hedge fund ever..


> Studying popular subs such as /r/wallstreetbets, /r/investing, /r/personalfinance, /r/fatfire, and /r/financialindependence is useful

Promising start, lol...


> If you want to detect how someone fares at a task, say loan sharking, tennis playing, or random matrix theory, make him/her do that task; we don’t need theoretical exams for a real world function by probability-challenged psychologists.

^ horrible job interviews in a nutshell


IQ is just a metric from taking a standardized test. I don't know why people have a hard time understanding that. It's like being mad about people's SAT scores. It's not like IQ is even used for anything important, people don't put it on their resumes or anything.


> IQ is just a metric from taking a standardized test. I don't know why people have a hard time understanding that. It's like being mad about people's SAT scores.

Metric for what? That is the point. The main argument as I understand is that "intelligence" is not something one-dimensional that can be measured with a number.

If IQ tests were a simple pass/fail filter for detecting some kind of learning disability, sure. The problem is when you have a whole army of people trying to infer something tremendously complex from a single scalar point.

> It's not like IQ is even used for anything important, people don't put it on their resumes or anything.

Yet, how many psychologists rely on IQ data and IQ "science" to justify their research grants, their books and their consulting fees from companies? How many people parrot Charles Murray to justify their racism with "science"?


>Metric for what?

Metric for capability. Even though imperfect, IQ appears to reasonable good predictor of how capable a person is in learning a new task. The better way is of course to actually tech the person to find out how well he can learn it, which is time consuming. High IQ people can easily learn and do most jobs, low IQ people cannot.

>How many people parrot Charles Murray to justify their racism with "science"?

Charles Murray just says that races have statistically different IQ. This is different from my understood definition of racism which manifest as: "I will not hire you because you belong to race X"


Assuming you are right, the metric of capability could still work as a pass/fail filter, and if IQ tests were just that the discussions would be way less controversial.

The problem is when you have a whole lot of either naive or malicious people trying to drive this hammer into any and every thing, trying to draw crazy correlations from IQ: drug abuse, income, life expectancy, social status...

> This is different from my understood definition of racism which manifest as: "I will not hire you because you belong to race X".

Yeah, it would be crazy to hear that from a hiring manager saying that nowadays. But put the veil of science and suddenly it is easy to consistently choose the White with an IQ of 107 over the Hispanic with "only" 98, even though both of them are perfectly capable of doing the job - or to get a plant with 100 new workers and end up with a bias to White/Asian due to a test where they score "statistically higher" but that is completely irrelevant for actual job performance.


I've done a few "aptitude" tests for interviews, and so has people in my closest circle. It seems common across business sectors and taken as a major indicator of employee "success" https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557354/


I can't even bring myself to read this. After perusing and seeing it gets so emotional (bringing up eugenics, morality, etc), I have a hard time believing it's going to be objective.

"There is no significant statistical association between IQ and hard measures such as wealth."

So... you're saying that people with an IQ of 60 are equally wealthy as those with an IQ of 110?

I understand getting frustrated about misapplication of tests. But it's absolute that science must measure what is, not what we wish to be. Science is never unfair, never has an agenda, never backward -- it's simply a method to ascertain facts, entirely indifferent to our human affairs and feelings.


Even as someone who agreed in large part with the conclusion before coming to this article, I find this virtually unreadable. It's just so full of vindictiveness and pettiness that it loses sight of its argument, and the images and graphs it uses aren't particularly coherent in their framing.

> you're saying that people with an IQ of 60 are equally wealthy as those with an IQ of 110?

Actually, if I understand his point correctly, he's arguing that the test "correctly" identifies the low tail of intelligence (because they would fail at any task), but is pure noise for people of average or above-average intelligence.


> ...but is pure noise for people of average or above-average intelligence.

Maybe not pure noise. He pointed out in many paragraphs that further to the right of the distribution you would find "nerds", salarymen, and other sorts of boring people that would never write such revolutionary medium articles as this one. People ill-adapted for "real life"; academics and their lot. Oh, and "suckers" who don't have the instinct, "why is he/she asking me that question?"

The impression I got from the article was not that Taleb believes that IQ is useless, but rather that all the ideal people are at the middle of the distribution. Too low and you're genuinely unintelligent. Too high and you're "in on it", one of those "lifeless bureaucrat" metrics-obsessed pocket-protector types.


My Google-fu is failing me, but I swear I've read before a quote from some business guy (I want to say Peter Drucker) that is similar to this: You don't want those with a 4.0 GPA because they will never think for themselves, and don't get those 2.0 GPA because they will just do enough to go by.


You have a point re: vindictiveness and pettiness. I clicked the link and immediately scrolled into the article failing to notice the author. After about 30 seconds I had the following reaction, “wait! Is this Taleb?” Despite the severe flaws in his prose, he makes some points that I think are worth considering. The chief one is that it’s kind of dumb to attempt a measure of total mental capacity. At best it will result in gross over generalization of the individual’s potential. So what’s the point if not to serve as a means for separating people into developmental tracks as early as possible. Put another way, IQ is simply another way people get evaluated not as individuals but as cogs in the machine. I rather like this critique of IQ and I’m appreciative for Taleb bringing it up (though I doubt he’s the first).


Two thoughts.

Firstly if that's his point, his conclusion should match. Saying there is "no correlation" is a reach.

Secondly, I'm not convinced I even believe that point. So is he saying that if I took an IQ test from nobel prize winners they would be equally distributed to a normal population sample (assuming a 100 minimum cutoff)?



Sorry, I don't want to read that whole thing. Is there a linked journal article about IQs of nobel winners?


The article basically says when you look at a 1000 really smart 11 year olds you don't get any Nobel prize winners. Which is a pretty obvious straw man because the base rate of Nobel prize winners is 1 in a million, plus childhoold IQ doesn't perfectly correlate with adult IQ. For instance a group of children with an average IQ of 150 will have an average IQ of 130 as adults.

https://pumpkinperson.com/2015/07/26/anne-roes-study-of-extr...

Basically the average Nobel prize winners have IQ's in the 150's.


There were two future Nobel prize winners that were excluded from the group he studied because they didn't score high enough.


Who both also had very high iqs, just not quite high enough at the age of 11 to be included.


I agree with your criticism in that the form and tone really do get in the way of a clear communication of his point. But I don't think it negates that he does have a point, which is that IQ is "scientistic" rather than scientific.

And furthermore, not only is what you're saying ("that people with an IQ of 60 are equally wealthy as those with an IQ of 110") a disingenuous reading of his point (he actually says that IQ is closer to a step function where correlation exists below the median but not above), but so too is the tone of what you're saying. To state that science is "a method to ascertain facts, entirely indifferent to our human affairs and feelings" is not something he is even arguing, it's the other half of what you say ("science is never unfair, never has an agenda") where you indict yourself.

He says this:

```

The “best measure” charlatans: IQ is reminiscent of risk charlatans insisting on selling “value at risk”, VaR, and RiskMetrics saying “it’s the best measure”. That “best” measure, being unreliable blew them up many many times. Note the class of suckers for whom a bad measure is better than no measure across domains.

```

When you say "science is never unfair, never has an agenda, never backward", shouldn't you be saying "science SHOULD never be unfair, science SHOULD never have an agenda, science SHOULD never be backward"? History is littered with examples of scientism masquerading as science that were only later on unmasked (such as Lysenkoism, phrenology, the humors, VaR as he mentions and so on) as frauds by the purportedly "scientific" concept's inability to _work_, and only then after causing a significant amount of ignorance and damage. For what reason are we to believe IQ is not one of these? Taleb's argument is that assumptions about IQ which misinterpret it as a linear function when it is a clipped linear function injected with noise lead to erroneous conclusions. If you have any criticism of Taleb here, then by your own reasoning, shouldn't it be because his hypothesis is wrong? And shouldn't you have a compelling argument for that? What are you doing but proving his point?


I find it really naive to treat science like some kind of objective methodology that can output unbiased data. Its complete fantasy.

"Science" is much more of a set of institutions and social regard for those institutions than an objective methodology. We often just want to throw money and scientists at an issue, and get out good "science" but thats like managers hiring 50% more programmers for 50% better/more code, we know the details are what matters.

At the end of the day, "science" in the real world is a lot of professor vying for tenure, caught in publish or perish, funding coming from self-preserving institutions, and a bunch of overworked grad students. Its a lot of companies making a buck, too.

Everything is political! Everything. If you see something like science, religion, art, anything as apolitical, that probably means its just reinforcing prevailing politics.

Check out Anarchistic Epistemology if this idea is of any interest.


> Everything is political! Everything.

I think what you might be saying is something like, "politics is a fundamental part of human behavior, so all things human must at least be scrutinized through a political lens". Which is probably true. But I can also point out that gut flora are part of being human, so human interaction must be at least glanced at through a gastrointestinal lens. And to some extent, that's true as well; those microbes do influence behavior in surprising ways.

Even a though the political lens has non-zero utility in practically any case, it's still not sufficient to explain the physics of our world or even all of human behavior. There's a little red in any real-world colored object, but everything is not red.


>Everything is political! Everything. If you see something like science, religion, art, anything as apolitical, that probably means its just reinforcing prevailing politics.

Let's assume that everything is political. We could certainly argue that every concept and every thing created by human is in some way political.

But then what? If everything is, what does it mean for a thing to be "political"? That concept has simply become empty and useless.


I don't think math is political.

A scientific theory could be considered political only if you think Popper's definition is fundamentally flawed. I don't think his definition is wrong though and i have yet to see someone arguing over the basics since the 80s (nowadays its more bayesians vs frequentists).

> I find it really naive to treat science like some kind of objective methodology that can output unbiased data. Its complete fantasy.

No bayesian scientific will treat science like this.

> "Science" is much more of a set of institutions and social regard for those institutions than an objective methodology

Wrong, there is methodology. Scientific consensus is still the best approximation of the reality we have. It might be wrong, but it is wrong for the right reasons.

> We often just want to throw money and scientists at an issue, and get out good "science" but thats like managers hiring 50% more programmers for 50% better/more code, we know the details are what matters.

Pad argument, this is not comparable.

> At the end of the day, "science" in the real world is a lot of professor vying for tenure, caught in publish or perish, funding coming from self-preserving institutions, and a bunch of overworked grad students. Its a lot of companies making a buck, too.

Yes, good point.

> Everything is political! Everything. If you see something like science, religion, art, anything as apolitical, that probably means its just reinforcing prevailing politics.

I see math as apolitical. Tell me how i'm reinforcing capitalism and liberalism. If you can't, this argument is invalid.

> Check out Anarchistic Epistemology if this idea is of any interest.

Ok, now i see, why you're against the scientific method. Popper's falsification have been largely improved by epistemologist thanks or Feyerabend's critics, and he is right about the "consistency" criterion that was dumped in all fields except medecine and social science. However this epistemologic theory is old and its argument were already based on old discoveries (galileo, newton) or misrepresentation of newer ones (i think a dozen papers were written against his vision of Einstein, and i find his critics on Feynman really undeserved). If you have knowledge of any epistemologic book[0] on this theory updated with new knowledge i'd like to read it.

[0] Or any living philosopher since nowadays its more about short papers than books in the philosophical field.


Autism is related to high socioeconomic status, and has common factors with high IQ. Well, it's harder to say that autism is a "pseudoscientific swindle":

1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328734204_A_theory_...

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4927579/


The observation is that above roughly IQ 70 the test is not even correlated with SAT scores. And below 70 one does not need a test to see that.


Is there really any doubt that 80 IQ people are represented less than 110 IQ people in industries like medicine, law, or engineering?

If there's really no correlation in SAT scores, I wager that says more about that test than it does about IQ.


Read the article. This is his point about circularity this is literally one of his examples. If IQ measures test taking acumen and there are fields that are gate kept with tests, you will see a correlation with IQ.


I doubt the skill of test taking is unrelated to aptitude in those fields, or any other field in which it's important to learn a great deal of information from books and to keep that information in mind for rapid recall during high pressure situations 'in the field.' Law or medical school is certainly harder for halfwits to get through, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong (in that respect) with that schooling. Rather, it reflects the complexity and importance of those fields.

Edit for response:

I don't know anything about the MCAT in particular. However I'm confident in saying that the class of people unable to perform well in any sort of test that requires reading and recalling large amounts of information (as learning medicine surely requires, no matter how you structure the education system for it) should find a career outside medicine.


The MCAT is a difficult test. It is not clear that the difficulty of the MCAT is the same difficulty as practicing medicine. You can't test that question without having doctors who don't do well on the MCAT.



The correlation comes from low scores. Moreover, above 70 IQ is not even well correlated with itself as variability between results for the same person is like 20%.


From wikipedia

> Psychometricians generally regard IQ tests as having high statistical reliability.[10][65] Reliability represents the measurement consistency of a test.[66] A reliable test produces similar scores upon repetition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_quotient#Reliabil...

> The correlation comes from low scores.

Look at the pictures in this study, that is absolutely not the case, and it will take only a minute to verify.

Frey, M. C., & Detterman, D. K. (2004). Scholastic Assessment or g? Psychological Science, 15(6), 373–378. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00687.x


Well I'd say bringing up hard problems like morality and eugenics is part of being objective. It's not like they could be ignored.


I agree with this statement; it would be an omission to discuss the misapplication of IQ tests and leave out the fact that they have been misapplied in a way that has given ammunition to eugenicists and the "field" of so-called "scientific racism."

However, the polemic style of writing the author uses does make not only hard to read, but hard to take seriously, even though I ultimately agree with what is said.


Science is never unfair, but statistics and psychology as fields often misrepresent science for personal gain. The article is arguing that it's a useless (or harmful) metric for what most people use it for, which isn't science-denial.


IQ is one of the few actually, and maybe THE most robust and measurable dimension in humans that psychology has come up with.

Some people are smarter than others and they are expected to rise higher in a (necessarily imperfectly) meritocratic system. The big question is whether the bottom end should starve. I think they should not starve and should have certain minimal living standards met, but they are going to be lower than the top end. You risk dividing the population trying to convince the smart to settle for less than they can get. They will simply band together and manipulate the system until they achieve it.


> IQ is one of the few actually, and maybe THE most robust and measurable dimensions in humans that psychology has come up with.

IQ is the most robust psychometric (with the Big 5 personality being the only real contender), but that is largely because psychometrics in general are not robust. It's a one-eyed man in the land of the blind kind of scenario.

The first big issue you run into with IQ is that... as far as we understand intelligence in psychology, there isn't a single number that can be reflected as IQ. The closest we come is a "g factor" that influences all other types of intelligence, and is somewhat circularly defined as the correlation between all of the different intelligence metrics.


> in general are not robust

Sure, but they are robust enough to be relevant to everyday life.

> circularly defined

g is circularly defined, which is the nature of how a latent factor is defined. But g also does correlate with school and work performance (around r = .5), so it IS related to everyday life. Though you can only make extreme decisions based on single tests. E.g. you can say they are "likely not gifted" when they score low or "likely not an imbecile" when they score high.


IQ is probably the biggest success of human psychology as a field. Personalty tests are notoriously unreliable and can be faked (hell, that is what actors do).


"Actors can fake personalities" isn't a particularly rigorous argument in favor of IQ.


The solution to this is to teach clever kids from a young age to be compassionate towards the less clever. Right now our society does a terrible job of this; hating and mocking people for being stupid is far too common. Much of it may feel justified under reasoning like "Stupid people [bullied me|voted wrong|didn't follow instructions|did something wrong and broke things] and for that reason my negative feelings towards them are valid." But clever kids should be reminded that hating their peers for being stupid won't make them any less stupid. Compassion is constructive but disdain is not.


> The solution to this is to teach clever kids from a young age to be compassionate towards the less clever.

Given that high iq is highly correlated with depression and anxiety, maybe it should be the other way around.


Not saying the education system is perfect, but even though IQ is partly determined by education, science indicates there is not much one can achieve this way.


I don't propose that compassion towards the less clever will raise their IQ. When I say that compassion is constructive, I mean that compassion paves the road towards mutual understanding and social harmony.


I think there are more important things than compassion, e.g. work/status, marriage and family. These are also easy to measure and to enforce by comparison. How do you force everyone to be nice? And is that worth it? Is the threat of being sued for "not being nice enough" an improvement for society? I doubt it. Children being treated nicely actually predicts worse, not better outcome.

https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/full/10.1027/2512-8442/a000...


> How do you force everyone to be nice?

> Is the threat of being sued for "not being nice enough" an improvement for society?

I never said anything about force, nor certainly anything about suing people for not being nice (which is so ridiculous it barely warrants a response...) You're reading a great deal more into what I said than what I actually said, and in a very uncharitable way.

> I think there are more important things than compassion, e.g. work/status, marriage and family

Smart people will be more likely to support social policies that help people in those regards if they are taught to be compassionate from a young age. I'm earnestly surprised to receive pushback on what I'm suggesting, and it's probably because you don't understand what I'm suggesting. Maybe providing a concrete example of what I propose will help you understand what I mean: one possibility is to encourage clever kids to participate in intellectually inclusive extramural activities where they can form social bonds with people less clever than themselves. Track and field or the swim team are two good options, contrasted with science olympiad (which is generally inaccessible to dull children.)


The simplest rule is people should cohabit peacefully. AFAIK there is no evidence that this is enabled by more exposure. People assort themselves by IQ for a good reason: Most people have a natural desire to dominate and the lower IQ person would always loose which is no fun to them.


> Most people have a natural desire to dominate and the lower IQ person would always loose which is no fun to them.

IQ won't help you swim faster, so no. Attitudes such as yours are what I'd hope to mitigate by encouraging children to socialize with people outside their intellectual class.


I'm not seeing much evidence for this being helpful. Inclusion attempts I've seen where largely failures and there were no pilot projects so it seems all of this was seemingly (well-intentioned) politicking.


> IQ is one of the few actually, and maybe THE most robust and measurable dimensions in humans that psychology has come up with.

How did you come to that conclusion? That feels like a claim that would be pretty difficult to defend.

I think you have far more of an uphill climb to justify that the wealthy/poor divide is largely correlated to intelligence, rather than social systems that advantage/disadvantage certain classes of people or one's access to certain privileges (prior wealth, access to education, etc.)


I'm not saying it is largely determined by it and not claiming there are no injustices, but I'm saying it is not a negligible factor.


>The big question is whether the bottom end should starve. I think they should not starve and should have certain minimal living standards met, but they are going to be lower than the top end. You risk dividing the population trying to convince the smart to settle for less than they can get. They will simply band together and manipulate the system until they achieve it.

This implies that poverty is largely a product of being on the wrong end of the intelligence scale, which ignores the substantial impact that social and economic structures play in determining one's economic success. When looking at factors that perpetuate poverty, IQ isn't even on the map.


Yeah the system is not very meritocratic. Not sure to which extent one can change that though and not sure how much better society would look after enforcing those changes.

If you wanted to make it more meritocratic the populations with lowest IQ would actually be worse off, unless you also increase the minimal living standards.


> If you wanted to make it more meritocratic the populations with lowest IQ would actually be worse off, unless you also increase the minimal living standards.

I agree with this. I'm not sure that making economies more "meritocratic" is necessarily the only solution we have when confronting larger structures that perpetuate inequality. Even if it were, It'd be important to know who or what quantifies "merit." If it is impersonal market forces, the same unjust social systems will still eventually develop as certain families, classes, and countries entrench their economic development to solidify and secure an advantage down the line.


> If you wanted to make it more meritocratic the populations with lowest IQ would actually be worse off, unless you also increase the minimal living standards.

If you're talking about people who have some kind of mental handicap, then this is accurate, but I'm skeptical it will be meaningfully different for people with close to average intelligence or higher, because the effect of IQ will be dwarfed by other differences like how hard they work or how much they delay gratification and save.


Forget the polemical style; this is just genuinely hard to read. It’s structured like his personal notes, not like something that’s supposed to be read by anyone else.


> Science is never unfair, never has an agenda, never backward

That’s the ideal of course. But History shows otherwise. Personal biases often influence research. This isn’t a knock against science, as you mentioned it’s ultimately a tool to understand the world. Human judgements, prior beliefs and reasoning is the issue here.


I'm not here to defend a lazily-edited article (you're right, it is), but why respond to the premise with an ungenerous assumption about what you assume he meant, rather than reading the article? Either it's worth discovering if your conclusion is correct, or it's not worth responding to.


> So... you're saying that people with an IQ of 60 are equally wealthy as those with an IQ of 110?

Literally the first paragraph states that it can discover extreme unintelligence.


IQ is not science.


IQ is probably more well studied than any other phenomenon in the social sciences or psychology.

Also IQ is not science, it is something that is studied scientifically.


So was astrology at one point.


Your argument applies equally strongly to every scientific finding.

I think this means that either science is poor or the argument is.


The argument is that the amount of attention paid by scholars does not make a field of inquiry more or less valid. It does apply to all science. Do you think science does not suffer from fads and community bias? When did we move past that? Even a very rigorous field like mathematics suffers from these problems. Cf. Mochizuki getting published in Nature or the controversies about the foundations of symplectic geometry.

What is your relation to science? Have you done any yourself?

Science is poor in the sense that it can be arbitrarily wrong and for arbitrarily long as humans can be. Yea, it's true. Does that trouble you?


If you are just trying to make the argument that science has made mistakes, there is no argument, I agree. So theoretically relativity and Newtonian physics could be untrue. But it's highly unlikely.

I would argue that a combination of the simplicity of study of a phenomenon, the amount it's been studied, and the consistency of the results of that study correlate with the likelihood of it being true.

IQ is very simple to study, it's been studied exhaustively, and results of that study have been consistent. Outside of physics and some very basic biology there are few if any scientific phenomenon as likely to be true as IQ. Can you name a single phenomenon that has been as well studied in the modern era with the same consistency of results that has been untrue?

Btw you still haven't made a single argument against IQ. You've only been arguing against the totality of science and my credentials.


It is my understanding that all of the evidence we have for IQ is statistical in nature: it's a robust correlate. I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that it is strong correlation with an innate, biological, causative metric that closely corresponds to a general, popular notion of "intelligence"--which is of course the use that pop psychology immediately attaches to it.

IMHO, the most biting criticism of IQ is that we (that is the psychology community at large) expect such a thing to exist, and so we treat anything that looks like it might fit that glove, no matter how poorly, as evidence of its existence. Our scientific methods aren't really capable of forcibly rebutting such a theory--see the existence of parapsychology, where psi is statistically known to exist (unless you're a skeptic). See https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/28/the-control-group-is-o... for a discussion of this phenomenon.


I'm not sure what non statistical evidence of IQ would be? Would you mind elaborating on this.

> I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that it is strong correlation with an innate, biological, causative metric that closely corresponds to a general, popular notion of "intelligence"--which is of course the use that pop psychology immediately attaches to it.

I don't think you need to correlate IQ with anything physical for it to exist. But it's been correlated with genes, amount of white matter, size of different regions in the brain etc...

Maybe we have a different idea of what IQ means.

I would say the IQ "theory" could be broken down into a couple of distinct hypotheses.

1. Problem solving is a skill/ability - People who are good at solving some types of problems, will be better than average as solving other types of problems.

2. We can test this ability - We can write down problems and ask them to solve them. Because of 1 this tells us how good they will be at solving other problems.

3. This ability helps with some real world tasks - The real world has lots of problems that benefit from problem solving ability.

When we put together this means we can predict a portion of someone's ability at a real world task we care about (like physics or software development) by estimating their problem solving ability through a test. Based on the evidence we currently have I don't know how this couldn't be true.


I actually think it is a very insightful point, just not for proving either sides of this argument, for this purpose it is useless.

In the case of astrology, I find interesting how a few millennia of human culture, stories, and epics have been projected on celestial bodies and carried along our history through this shared medium.

I would say that (if you really want to find a strong point) astrology can be seen as trying to distill human knowledge from our cultural substrata.

Whether we should do it or not is another topic.



That is an article about eugenics. No one is arguing for eugenics. Eugenics was awful, but just because something was used as a tool for evil does not make it untrue.

If I light someone on fire with gasoline this makes it no less useful for fueling a car.


IQ is more like lead additive in gasoline. Unnecessary to the main purpose, created with very dubious motivations, yet for decades people took it for granted that you can’t do without.


The first real IQ test (the Binet iq test) was created to help identify special ed kids so they could receive special tutoring.

The question about IQ is does it measure anything? Is it predictive? And can that be useful? And the answer all three of those questions is obviously yes.


And if you actually read Binet, you’d know that he explicitly warned against its usage beyond what he designed it for.


FYI most avgas is still leaded, to this day. This is because many airplane engines are designed to operate at very high compression ratios, requiring high octane fuel. The lead additive boosts the octane rating of the fuel.


That's in the spirit of the analogy. Lead additive has a special niche purpose. Similarly IQ could be useful for measuring a specific narrow combination of skills and cultural background. (The first step towards rehabilitating "IQ" should be to rename it, though.)

Lead everywhere is as toxic as assuming IQ measures some kind of general intelligence.


Read it. Learn history. Learn how sociology works.

Nah don’t bother. It’s HN.


I would say that this was not the purpose of the link. A comment said "X is something studied scientifically" with X = IQ, and the reply was the same as proposing also X = eugenics. It did not look particularly constuctive.


I read it, and besides one paragraph (which presents a straw man) it has nothing to do with whether IQ is a psuedoscientific swindle and everything to do with whether eugenicists used IQ.


Sure you did buddy. Sure you did. The whole idea of the SAT was an expansive control of capital when the USA grew too large for word-of-mouth recommendation systems.

But you knew that too right? You also knew that it was basically designed to keep undesirables out of the capital class too, right? Guess who those people were.


Clearly this argument is spiraling away from the original premise of whether IQ pseudoscientific into what feels like a flamewar. There are a couple of HN guidelines that try to keep that from happening that I think would have helped prevent this.

> Be kind. Don't be snarky.

> Please don't post shallow dismissals

> Please don't comment on whether someone read an article


Science is political. Get over yourself.


[flagged]


Are you familiar with the Orwellian word 'newspeak'? The way you use the word racist turns it into non - euphemistic newspeak. Can't attack the argument? Attack the message. Label the person as an outsider and signal to everyone to do the same. It's intellectually dishonest and lazy.


IQ seems to be more predictive at the low end than the high end. Someone with an IQ of 60 is handicapped. Someone with an IQ of 100 is normal. Above 100 the differences start to vanish into noise due to loads of other confounding factors and random chance.

I have taken several tests in my life. They have all shown above average but the differences have varied wildly from 120 all the way up to 160 or something. That is a crazy variance and really makes me feel like the high numbers are hand wavey BS.

The same is true of lots of other biological metrics. Very high cholesterol can indicate a problem. From the normal range down it's not predictive of much unless it is absurdly low. Low IQ probably indicates a neurological problem. Normal and above is... normal.

The "IQ cult" is bullshit. It seems like compensatory narcissism to me, like people who are fairly intelligent trying to clutch IQ because they are not in fact super successful. They are trying to rationalize the fact that high IQ does not automatically translate to better outcomes and many other factors dominate once your IQ hits the normal range.

The IQ cult is also deeply anti-intellectual. It neglects the value of ideas entirely. Who would you bet on? A person with a normal 100 IQ with sane rational beliefs and habits of thought or a person with a really high score whose mind is full of loony garbage? Having a big engine in the car doesn't mean anything if the driver is bad. Some of the nuttiest people I have ever met would undoubtedly get a high IQ score.

You can see a good A/B experiment on IQ vs ideas by searching for photos of North and South Korea from space. There is basically no genetic difference at all there. The difference is 100% ideas.

My personal observation is that in the realm of neurological factors motivation and focus are more important in terms of outcome than IQ beyond the normal range. I would definitely be tempted to exchange some IQ points for the dopamine system that super successful people seem to have.


> The same is true of lots of other biological metrics. Very high cholesterol can indicate a problem. From the normal range down it's not predictive of much unless it is absurdly low. Low IQ probably indicates a neurological problem. Normal and above is... normal

Autism is caused by an excess of the same factors that increase IQ, i.e. general reduction of gene expression. Well, it's harder to say that autism is a "pseudoscientific swindle":

1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328734204_A_theory_...

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4927579/


> IQ seems to be more predictive at the low end than the high end.

More complex tasks actually become more g-loaded, i.e. among very sophisticated tasks, IQ and performance are more strongly correlated than at unsophisticated tasks. The reason is presumably because unsophisticated tasks have a quick satiation in what general thinking can help at all.

Though, true, a person who cannot solve simple cognitive tasks at all can very confidently be classified as someone who won't achieve much in the economy.



"It does correlate to very negative performance (as it was initially designed to detect learning special needs)"

It did a crap job detecting learning special needs with my son. Because he has a weird intelligence profile of being above 98% on some tasks and below 10% on other tasks, the IQ test simply wouldn't score him, and put him in the "he's not taking the test correctly" category. Yeah, not at all useful, thanks. There were plenty of other more useful tests however that teased out his learning difficulties and actually gave us useful information to help his education.


Exactly, the standard IQ tests measure a very narrow ability in abstract reasoning.

This is certainly something we call 'smart', but I don't think it's at all predictive of success, except perhaps in academia.


Which ones?


Hey, sorry for the situation with your son and how IQ tests failed us here, but could we stray away from clear anecdotes on HN comments?


This article motivates an extension of yesterday's xkcd comic [1]. A Type X error: a correct result, interpreted correctly but communicated so poorly that no one wants to listen.

[1] https://xkcd.com/2303/


Flagged in 3, 2, 1...


i wish this wasn't flagged because even though taleb is wrong, the discussion is useful


did he 'fail' an IQ test?

taleb sometimes makes some great and interesting arguments, but I can't take rabid monologues like this seriously.


A fine example of an expert in one field believing he is an expert in every field.

In reading the section describing psychometricians, he clearly is not actually reading what they publish.


Taleb is an expert in statistics. This is an analysis of the statistics of a metric and the statistical methodology of the field it is part of.


> Taleb is an expert in statistics. This is an analysis of the statistics of a metric and the statistical methodology of the field it is part of.

If he doesn't understand their definitions within their sphere of expertise, how can any analysis of such be valid?




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