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A Woman’s Story (raganwald.posterous.com)
716 points by raganwald 1917 days ago | hide | past | web | 194 comments | favorite



There were a lot of questions about numbers such as guessing the next number in a sequence. There were some logic puzzles, the kind where you have to figure out that it’s the baker who rides a bicycle and the mechanic who lives in the house with a red door. There were some strange questions where she was given a sketch of a three dimensional figure such as a cube with some missing pieces, and she had to guess which shaped piece would fill the missing space, or guess which of several other pieces was the same thing rotated or reflected.

This is essentially an IQ test, and what they discovered is that Gwen was highly intelligent. They then did the smart thing and judged her based on her demonstrated aptitude rather than on the prevailing prejudices of the day. Indeed, there was an obvious financial incentive to do so, which serves to remind us that unfounded prejudice is unstable in a competitive market for labor.

Nowadays, it is effectively illegal in the U.S. to give IQ tests to job applicants, and in the state of California it is illegal to give a black child an IQ test even when administered by a school psychologist as part of a professional assessment. To their proponents, such laws are mere "progress", but stories like Gwen's show how misguided these rules can be. When there is a clear incentive to discover the truth, objective assessments undermine prejudice rather than promoting it. It's a lesson we would do well to remember.


This is essentially an IQ test, and what they discovered was that Gwen was highly intelligent. They then did the smart thing and judged her based on her demonstrated aptitude rather than on the prevailing prejudices of the day

Actually, if you read the whole thing, they didn't believe her "demonstrated aptitude" because of their "prevailing prejedices". She had to fight to get them to see her demonstrated aptitude. Many people would be tired of fighting and would have given up then (or earlier in the process). If the applicant was in the privileged position, they would not have had to fight.

it is illegal in the U.S. to give IQ tests to job applicants

That's because in the past, the IQ tests were not fair, objective and colour-blind, but were set up in such a way as to bias against poorer people (which will be mostly black in the USA). This is easy to do with IQ tests, just ask lots of questions that require good schooling and education (e.g. word questions).

Companies used to use IQ tests, and hence claim not be racist, and then be racist. The ban on IQ tests in job interviews stems from this US Supreme Court case http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griggs_v._Duke_Power_Company and has hence probably improved equality.


> That's because in the past, the IQ tests were not fair, objective and colour-blind, but were set up in such a way as to bias against poorer people (which will be mostly black in the USA).

This isn't true at all. They haven't been shown to be biased, merely that blacks score lower. Extensive research has show that IQ tests have equal predictive power for blacks and whites. "Disparate impact" merely means that blacks score lower, not that the tests are biased.

> This is easy to do with IQ tests, just ask lots of questions that require good schooling and education (e.g. word questions).

The black-white gap is as large or larger on tasks that require very little education, e.g. "reverse digit span", which merely requires that you repeat a sequence of numbers in the reverse order from the direction you heard it.

> and has hence probably improved equality.

I've never understood why eliminating one of the few objective measures and making the hiring process entirely subjective was an improvement.


"They haven't been shown to be biased"

When I think about that question, I think about questions that would be harder for me (white caucasian) than somebody from another "race" or culture. That is easy: for example imagine selecting some kind of image puzzles involving kanjii symbols, or telling apart chinese faces. They are just images, right, so no bias? But it will be much more easy to tell them apart for somebody with a chinese background than for me. If such questions exists that are biased against me, it seems at least very plausible that other questions could be biased against other "races" and cultures. Another example I read about is how different cultures see the drawing of a box (a 3d wireframe). Apparently in western cultures people would see it as a drawing of a 3d box, whereas some poor test takers in Africa just saw a 2d drawing. This was then interpreted as Africans being less intelligent, when really they were just as correct as the people who saw the 3d shape. It just wasn't such a common meme where they lived to draw 3d shapes like that.


If you have the time, I'd be curious to know your answers to the following (95% confidence intervals if you want):

1. how many seconds did it take you to think up this refutation of IQ tests? 2. how many psychologist/psychometrician man-years do you estimate go into developing any particular IQ test like the RAPM or BOMAT? 3. what probability do you give that psychometricians have not also thought of your objection? 4. conditional on their thinking of it, what probability do you give that they have done nothing to cope with it? 5. how many seconds would it take you in Google or Wikipedia to find the real answers to 3 & 4? 6. how many seconds did it take you to write your comment?


It was several years ago (15), but I actually took the time to read "the Bell Curve" and even to find some of the actual twin studies that tend to be cited in the discussions. Those I found rather underwhelming - for example the sample sizes tend to be low and not very comparable, and sometimes they are clearly exaggerated. For example one mentioned twins who gave their kids the same names and wore the same clothes even though they didn't know each other.

Over the years I have read a lot of articles on the subject - as did many others, I guess, it is a popular subject after all.

I'd say it took me more than a few seconds to come up with my example.


Ok, now I have some more time.

First of all, the thing with the 2d vs 3d drawing was an actual real world example that I read about. So clearly there are some psychologists/psychometrians who were wrong about the interpretation of their tests.

As for 5: if it only takes a few seconds to find those answers, why don't you do it and give the answers to us?

Edit: I just tried googling "RAPM cultural bias" and didn't get any useful results. You really should provide the links. Of course your tone makes it likely that discussing with you is probably a waste of time anyway :-/


> Of course your tone makes it likely that discussing with you is probably a waste of time anyway :-/

Not really. I ask these questions because I've noticed that astonishingly often, people online will write a definitive refutation of some scientific position or new study, which took them only a few seconds to think of and which is wrong; but why do they do this?

I can think of many possibilities, and I'm never sure what it is: do they think so poorly of the scientists conducting the study (anti-intellectualism)? do they think so highly of their own thoughts (Dunning-Krueger)? are they too stupid to realize any of this (low IQ)? are they too lazy to look up the answers in Wikipedia or Google Scholar? or is it a cynical ploy for getting upvoted comments where they count on their fellows not being knowledgeable enough to call them on it?

Hence, I ask questions to try to isolate what might be the issue and incidentally point out to the more reflective readers why comments like yours are fundamentally bad ideas.

Sometimes the spectacle is just horrifying; on a mailing list with a fairly high level of discussion of cutting-edge research on working memory and dual n-back, someone posted proudly about how they thought IQ tests were biased against Africans, and though I point out that this was obvious to him and me, even more obvious to psychometricians, he never once looked up how the tests might have been defended against or corrected for cultural biases, despite me sometimes explicitly naming the names he could punch into Google or Wikipedia.


What makes you so sure that the research around IQ is not flawed? Never mind that there are probably thousands of researchers with differing opinions.

I am still waiting for your refutations. But honestly, your initial assumption that every internet commenter is wrong will make it difficult for you to communicate or learn stuff.

Frankly, I fail to see how pointing out possible flaws in a theory can ever be "a bad idea". In my opinion to doubt everything should be the default stance of a scientist.

You mentioned RAPM, I looked it up and it says it was invented 1934 in an attempt to avoid cultural biases - therefore it uses more graphical elements than language. My examples show that even graphical elements can have a cultural bias. So while it is a nice attempt, you can not be sure RAPM succeeded, even if their intentions were good.

The 2d box vs 3d box thing is an actual event from the history of IQ research, where IQ testers apparently got it wrong. So these people are fallible, too. Finally, cultural bias is one of the standard mistakes people (Even if they are scientists) make.

Note that I didn't even claim the IQ tests are flawed. It bores me if people confuse my comments with stuff other people said.


You make an excellent point, but I think it may be dangerous to conflate race and culture. I suspect for instance that a person of Japanese heritage that grew up in the US and spoke only English might have almost as much trouble with the Kanji characters as I would.


Well in this case, the conflation of race and culture is virtually a requirement. As far as we know, you can't do much really to bias an aptitude test in terms of biology because there is little correlation between race and biology¹. On the other hand, culture and race are relatively tightly correlated, so if you want to bias an aptitude test with respect to race, the surest way to do it is to bias it with respect to culture.

A great example is Jim Crow era voting rules. Black people obviously are not biologically disinclined to be able to read, but in 1900, it was a simple fact of southern American culture that a white person of voting age was less likely to be able to read than a black person of voting age. A black southerner of voting age was usually either a former slave, or the child of a former slave, and slaves did not have access to basic education. So a literacy test was, at that time, a racially biased test.

---

¹ This is unsurprising when you realize, for example, that the combined population we put in the single box of "black" is more genetically diverse than the combined population of all the races we put outside of that box. Even though populations of different specific geographical origins do often have characteristic biological traits, the social concept of "race" is not strongly correlated with geographical origin.


> A black southerner of voting age was usually either a former slave, or the child of a former slave, and slaves did not have access to basic education. So a literacy test was, at that time, a racially biased test.

That wasn't the whole problem. The literacy tests were only administered to black voters in the first place because of a "grandfather clase"--anyone whose father and grandfather both had the right to vote had the right to vote automatically, and since the literacy tests were only implemented at the end of slavery, in practical terms they only applied to the black population. Naturally, since the test itself wouldn't disenfranchise whites (except for immigrants, but fuck them too) they were free to make it as difficult as possible.


That's true. I was simplifying because even without a grandfather clause, any literacy test would have been racially biased at that time.


I guess culture is the main point - if you live in China, you probably get better at telling apart Chinese faces. And vice versa - I can only guess that telling apart western faces might be hard for people from other cultures, too. I should add that I live in Europe, I think in the US there is a higher mix of people from different backgrounds, so my example is perhaps not as convincing.


What I remember of my first-grad year in psychology (in Europe and I changed orientation after that year), anthropology course: The picture shows a black person in a room and you're looking at it in such a way that you don't see any perspective lines (3D construct), only a flat surface for the Wall. A square is drawn on the wall and filled with a scenery. "White/Occidental" people think the square represents a window and "Black/African" people think it's a painting or a hanging frame. Because, when the study was conducted, in that particular part of africa where it was conducted, people didn't have windows in their house.

So, that's another example of that cultural bias but it demonstrates we don't need something "complex" to make it stand out.

PS:Sorry for this atrocious use of english, it has been a long day.


I think there was a study (do not know if it had agenda or was neutral) that indicated that most of the disparity was attributable to socio-economic status rather than culture.

That is to say that general knowledge spread btwn cultures (ethnicities) was less pronounced than non-culture based tests (such as abstract concepts). Again, I don't know how valid that conclusion was.


* Another example I read about is how different cultures see the drawing of a box (a 3d wireframe). Apparently in western cultures people would see it as a drawing of a 3d box, whereas some poor test takers in Africa just saw a 2d drawing. This was then interpreted as Africans being less intelligent, when really they were just as correct as the people who saw the 3d shape. It just wasn't such a common meme where they lived to draw 3d shapes like that.*

This is an excellent example of the way IQ tests can indeed succumb to cultural training effects. It's pretty clear that this is what's going on with the Flynn Effect, for instance, which is not a real increase in intelligence since not g-loaded:

http://psychology.uwo.ca/faculty/rushtonpdfs/2010%20Editoria...

It's also why Raven's matrices don't work as well as they used to (IMHO). I think my own childhood IQ score is 10-20 points too high, because I'd seen too many IQ-test-like problems.

So, certainly a problem with all IQ tests. But a minor problem, or an existential major one? If it was a major one, these tests would lose their predictive validity - which remains quite high.


This is a great summary you've written here and worth a second read. In deed there are confounding cultural factors built into standardized IQ testing. You wouldn't expect a white European student, even from another English-speaking country like the UK, to arrive at one of our school and test as highly as children born in the US. There will always be some exceptional cases, but in general environmental and cultural factors make IQ testing highly culture-specific.

What we need to ask ourselves here in the US is why some children get left behind culturally, or why some children live in disadvantaged environments, broken homes or single-parent households. Solving those problems would quickly close the IQ gap by giving more equal opportunity to all children.


Don't be too optimistic:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/21/us/21latina.html

As I said, the confounding factors exist, but they seem relatively minor. Attempting to effectively homogenize the diverse human gene pool through education is anything but a new effort. If it was possible to educate the Mbuti pygmies of the Congo into the cognitive equivalent of Great Neck Jews, don't you think someone would have tried this already?

Imagine that the remedy proposed was not educational, but rather pharmaceutical. Someone's selling you a drug that purports to turn Pygmy populations (mean IQ 55 or so - but let's be generous and add 10 points for cultural bias) into Ashkenazi populations (mean IQ 115 or so).

You might ask: has this drug ever been tried before? Is there any evidence that it can work? And what happens if the Beastie Boys take it - do they become the world's leading physicists? These would all be very rational questions.


"If it was possible to educate the Mbuti pygmies of the Congo into the cognitive equivalent of Great Neck Jews, don't you think someone would have tried this already"

Who would try that? The benign, wise rulers of the Congo?


You mean the UN? Isn't the UN benign and wise? Or do you mean this? Time Magazine, 1955:

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,866343,00.html

In the Belgian Congo last week massed tom-tom drummers practiced a welcome tattoo. Prosperous Negro shopkeepers climbed up wooden ladders and draped the Congolese flag (a golden star on a blue field) from lampposts and triumphal arches set up along Boulevard Albert I, the spanking concrete highway that bisects the capital city of Leopoldville. In far-off mission churches, encircled by the rain forest that stretches through Belgian territory from the Atlantic to the Mountains of the Moon, choirs of Bantu children rehearsed the Te Deum. African regiments drilled, jazz bands blared in...

If you have a Time subscription (yeah right), you can read the whole thing on line. Otherwise, suffice it to say that (a) the memory hole is a lot deeper than you think, and (b) it's physically possible to teach Bantu children (and perhaps even pygmies) the Te Deum. Not clear that it's a safe and effective method for turning them into the King Ad-Rock, however.

The most interesting, and certainly the most effective, attempt to convert a Stone Age population directly to a civilized lifestyle wasn't even in the 20th century. Or the 19th. Consider the Reductions of Paraguay:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit_Reductions


I have another rational question for you: if an Ashkenazi family adopted a Pygmy baby and raised her, how smart would she be?



So white parents lower Asian children's IQs to below average?


That subsample size is too small - it's just noise.

Although I suppose the Asian adoptees available, as probably with all races, weren't exactly the pick of their gene pool. Blood runs true, you know - on average.

(Ironically, the perspectives on human heredity generally held in the premodern era are generally more accurate than those taught in modern schools today. The traditional ideas of "blood" were after all consistent with a broad cultural understanding of animal husbandry, and the mechanisms of heredity aren't any different in humans than in pigs.)


I think part of the problem has always been calling them IQ tests. If they predict X (say, success in some given profession), perhaps it can't be argued with. It just doesn't follow that it predicts "intelligence". I guess if they claim to test intelligence, they try to limit people to some inherent trait. Like they could never become good at profession X, because their intelligence simply isn't sufficient. In reality there might be lots of other reasons why some people tend to do worse in profession X than others. They can still be predicted, but a prediction is not necessarily a final verdict.


> This isn't true at all. They haven't been shown to be biased, merely that blacks score lower. Extensive research has show that IQ tests have equal predictive power for blacks and whites.

I think you illustrate the danger of making assertions without being entirely informed - that is to say that what you state here is the beginning of the truth, but taken out of context. There was (and in many cases still is) a heavy cultural bias built into standardized IQ testing. Traditionally, most tests were developed and tested against middle-income, white children. Black children traditionally tested one standard deviation below their white counterparts, even when controlling for income, etc. However, many experts agree that this is due to cultural bias and environmental factors, agravated by the strong corelation between income and where you live geographically in the US, including resources (or lack thereof) in corresponding school districts. Example: children in troubled, inner-city schools would often have less access to rigourous IQ testing when compared to their urban, middle-class counterparts.

There is also the complicating factor of single-parent or broken homes and the roll that plays in a child's lack of overall intellectual development. This also correlates to income and geographic area (i.e. innercity versus urban environment).

> I've never understood why eliminating one of the few objective measures and making the hiring process entirely subjective was an improvement.

That's another subject and worth talking about. I'm simply stating that you should be very careful when talking about the black-white gap in IQ scores. There are too many factors at play to make a clear case for IQ differences between races.

For an informative article with really enlightening references, see this: http://theafrican.com/Magazine/IQ.htm


> There was (and in many cases still is) a heavy cultural bias built into standardized IQ testing. Traditionally, most tests were developed and tested against middle-income, white children.

"It has been suggested that various aspects of the way tests are formulated and administered may put African Americans at a disadvantage. The language of testing is a standard form of English with which some Blacks may not be familiar; specific vocabulary items are often unfamiliar to Black children; the tests are often given by White examiners rather than by more familiar Black teachers; African Americans may not be motivated to work hard on tests that so clearly reflect White values; the time demands of some tests may be alien to Black culture. (Similar suggestions have been made in connection with the test performance of Hispanic Americans, e.g., Rodriguez, 1992.) Many of these suggestions are plausible, and such mechanisms may play a role in particular cases. Controlled studies have shown, however, that none of them contributes substantially to the Black/White differential under discussion here (Jensen, 1980; Reynolds & Brown, 1984; for a different view see Helms, 1992). Moreover, efforts to devise reliable and valid tests that would minimize disadvantages of this kind have been unsuccessful."

From pp. 93-94 in "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns" (1996), Ulric Neisser, et al. Report of a Task Force Established by the American Psychological Association

http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~broberts/Neisser%20...


>There is also the complicating factor of single-parent or broken homes and the rol[e] that plays in a child's lack of overall intellectual development. This also correlates to income and geographic area (i.e. innercity versus urban environment).

I may not be understanding your argument properly, but doesn't IQ _try_ to measure intellectual development? I understand cultural bias being problem and that makes sense --but this doesn't make sense to me. "The problem with measuring intelligence is it measures intelligence?" What difference does the lack of intellectual development have to do with whether it was genetic, educational, physiological, mental, etc?


Most IQ tests - at least ones I've seen - are highly trainable, both in general (you learn to think certain way) and in particular (you learn to solve specific type of test). So while tests aren't race-dependent and there's no reason to think they might be, they definitely can be culture-dependent and income (or, more precisely, education level and type) dependent. So while the test is an objective measure, it in an objective measure of test performance, which may not be strongly correlated with the actual work performance. Remember those "move the mount Fuji" interview questions which were so in fashion some years ago?

I'm not saying banning them completely the right answer here, but putting too much faith into these tests can be dangerous too.


I've taken a bunch of IQ tests over the years with some wildly different scores. I score pretty well. I'm also very sceptical of their general utility.

The between the lowest and highest score I ever received on an IQ test is 45 points. That really doesn't sound like an objective measure of anything much (The lowest was when I was stressed, running on no sleep, the test was sprung on me with no warning and had US cultural aspects when I'm from the UK - things like talking about quarters and dimes. The highest was when I had practiced math & logic problems to win a bet that I couldn't add ten points to my IQ :-)

I find the idea of anybody using an IQ test as a factor in employment laughable. As far as I'm concerned any company using an IQ test is hanging a big red sign on the front of their organisation that says "we don't understand what kind of employees we want".


Such tests can play the same role as the famous FizzBuzz test - to quickly filter out obviously unfit candidates without spending much resources. But this is usually fit for very big companies that hire a lot of people, sometimes without proven experience, and have somehow to reduce costs of that.


> They haven't been shown to be biased, merely that blacks score lower. Extensive research has show that IQ tests have equal predictive power for blacks and whites.

Now, now now. You've forgotten Political Logic.

Political Premise: There are no significant differences in intelligence between blacks and whites. Empirical Premise: Blacks score lower than whites on IQ tests. Conclusion: IQ tests are biased.

The first rule of Political Logic is to never question the political premise!


Oh, look: an appeal-to-emotion on "political logic" consisting of ignoring eight hundred years of the racist "political premise" (extending to present day) that whites are superior to blacks, followed by straw man, followed by false premise.

A tutorial in basic logic is more in order.


Ignoring? Not at all. I'm just pointing out that the notion of racial differences is so taboo in contemporary academic culture that it's impossible to honestly discuss the question. To honestly address the question, you have to be open to the possibility of any answer, which frankly we aren't. If certain racial differences don't exist, that's fine, but if they did exist, no one would say so anyway. So we can't take the claim that racial differences don't exist at face value, because that's the only palatable conclusion open on the question.

The taboo is a completely understandable and largely inevitable reaction against the open and largely fallacious racist claims of academics in the recent past, but it's still a taboo that inhibits honest inquiry. Perhaps in another 50-100 years.


> Extensive research has show that IQ tests have equal predictive power for blacks and whites.

This says nothing about whether an IQ test is biased when used for other purposes than predicting future achievement (such as a job interview), and a supposedly-but-not-actually-objective test is a very dangerous thing; there's a lot of ugly historical baggage where science has met race in the past.


Job interviews aren't for the purpose of predicting future achievement? Say again?

there's a lot of ugly historical baggage where science has met race in the past.

There is indeed:

http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/meta/gould-morton-lewis-2...

If that isn't ugly, what is?


Here is a link to the actual paper instead of someone's highly editorialized blog post.

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal....


You're really doing Professor Hawks a disservice by imagining him as some kind of foul right-wing agitator. He's actually bending over backward to be fair.

Here's how a slightly more partisan biologist (Peter Frost) responds to the same material:

http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2011/07/arroseur-arrose.html

Here's the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/science/14skull.html


Other than stating that the blog post was highly editorialised, there was absolutely no indication given by whyenot about what Hawks biases might be.

To be honest, your comment reads strongly as though you are projecting.


When I joined Motorola, I had to fill in some kind of aptitude test that obviously came from the states. This was in Sweden but I'm an Englishman; pity the Swedes.

The English wasn't English English and it frequently used words that sounded like American sitcoms and which, in the context of a test where one answer is write and another wrong, I was quite unsure of the distinctions between.

I guess I scraped through by luck.


Actually, if you read the whole thing... She had to fight to get them to see her demonstrated aptitude.

I did read the whole thing. She "fought" by answering more questions demonstrating her aptitude, and her interviewers eventually conceded the point:

They tried various other questions, questions from other tests, questions they used for more advanced candidates. Gwen answered as best she could. The men were amazed. To their credit, once they became convinced that she hadn’t faked her results, they knew she would be a great hire. They recommended her for training as a programmer analyst, the most senior position being filled.


Yes, and she wouldn't have to fight if she

Let's pretend there was another black women who wasn't in the 99th percentile, but only the 85th. Let's pretend they would hire anyone over 80th percentile. They might, again, think she was cheating, and hence ask her more, harder, questions, like Gwen here. And since this person is in the 85th percentile, she might not have gotten all the questions right. The examainers would then take this as "proof" that she cheated and she'd be sent home.

We should be worried about the people we don't hear about.


We should also be worried about reading in details to the story that weren't expressly said.

> They tried various other questions, questions from other tests, questions they used for more advanced candidates. Gwen answered as best she could. The men were amazed. To their credit, once they became convinced that she hadn’t faked her results, they knew she would be a great hire.

The story says nothing about whether or not she got all of the followup questions right or not. I think even someone in the 85th percentile should be able to demonstrate they're in the 85th percentile with enough questions--in fact, it might even be easier than for the 99th percentile person because you're assuming that the difference between 85 and 99 is how many hard questions are answered. The first rule of cheating is: never go for 100% accuracy, it makes you stand out.


Companies used to use IQ tests, and hence claim not be racist, and then be racist.

Companies still look at education, employment history, and ask questions that are trying to evaluate intellectual skills, interests, and abilities. Most of these will correlate with race pretty strongly, too. The entry-level job market is almost exclusively about checking for "good schooling and education".

What's particularly bad about IQ as compared to other measures of employability? Is it just that it's measuring skills that are non-job-specific, or is it actually more racially biased than other evaluation criteria?

I would naively think that IQ tests would be at least somewhat less sensitive to educational status than, for instance, looking directly at someone's educational background. In that case, would you similarly argue that looking at the "schooling" section of a person's resume is a way to claim not to be racist, and then be racist?


I'm confused. If you read Griggs vs Duke Power Company, it would seem to allow IQ tests if they can be shown to relate to job ability. For a programming job (or, indeed, a lot of jobs), IQ or "g" should be correlated with performance. Is there some other ruling or law which prohibits IQ tests?


They're allowed in principle, but in practice the law is so vague that for most companies it's not worth the risk of using an actual IQ test. Thus, we have "puzzles" instead.


The wikipedia article seems to suggest that Diplomas & Degrees fall under this as well: "The facts of this case demonstrate the inadequacy of broad and general testing devices, as well as the infirmity of using diplomas or degrees as fixed measures of capability". Do American companies not ask for Degrees in job descriptions?


Interesting. Only if Justice Burger's son was name Hammond, in short Ham.


That's because in the past, the IQ tests were not fair, objective and colour-blind, but were set up in such a way as to bias against poorer people (which will be mostly black in the USA).

Is this a conspiracy theory? It sounds a lot like a conspiracy theory to me. Just sayin'.

Conspiracies do happen. However, when you're trying to persuade me of a conspiracy theory, the burden of proof is high. I expect links - lots of them - and good ones. Try to avoid linking to frauds:

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/06/did_stephen_jay_gould_f...

FYI, the most accurate IQ tests available at this time were Raven's matrices:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravens_Progressive_Matrices

I think these have lost some reliability because of a training effect from the general popularity of cognitive brainteasers (probably the cause of the Flynn effect). However, it would be interesting to hear someone explain how they were designed by racists to be racist. (Wikipedia tells me they were originally the Coloured Progressive Matrices, which does sound mighty suspicious...)


Is this a conspiracy theory?

At the risk of dragging this thread back onto the topic of the story...

The story describes a number of people who put obstacles in Gwen’s way. None of them are described as being malicious, none of them got together and “conspired.” Some of them genuinely thought they were acting in Gwen’s best interests.

So if someone says that IQ tests were set up in such a way as to create bias, perhaps we can believe that yes they were biased, and possibly deliberately so, without thinking about conspiracies or racism, just people attempting to do what they thought at the time was in everyone’s best interests.


"Set up in such a way as to" is a deliberately ambiguous construction. It allows the reader to believe that there is, or is not, a conspiracy.

If I say, "Harvard admissions are set up in such a way as to admit large numbers of Jews," someone believing in a Jewish conspiracy will hear my dog-whistle and agree with me. But to someone not believing in a Jewish conspiracy, I can deny everything. A highly useful and malignant propaganda device.

And when you add "possibly deliberately so," you prove this point completely. What else could "deliberately so" mean? So, it may be a Jewish conspiracy that Harvard admits lots of Jews. But it might not be. That's some compromise position.

Normally, when we think of conspiracy theories (like Holocaust denial), we classify Holocaust deniers and "Holocaust agnostics" in the same bin. And rightly so. I'm certainly not interested in compromising on the position that maybe the Holocaust happened, but maybe it didn't.

Also, when I believe things, I prefer to believe them on better evidence than "perhaps we can believe." Sorry - I know it's an inspiring story and you're not looking for a flamewar. This is Asperger-infested HN, however. Geeks like their facts cold, hard, and entirely factual - don't they?


I am often deliberately ambiguous about the motives of people I don’t know well. For example, you may or may not be deliberately grinding your pet axe about race and IQ tests in a story which is not really about intelligence but actually about overcoming obstacles.

And I choose to believe that you are capable of adding more signal and less noise. On very poor evidence, so far.


He is capable of adding extraordinary quantities of both signal and noise, as evidenced by his collected writings: http://moldbuggery.blogspot.com/


I wasn't responding to the original story, but to a comment which I felt made unfair and scurrilous accusations about scientists of the past whom I respect.

It's true that these charges are conventional in our society. Most people would let them pass without notice. However, most people would not endorse letting the unacceptable pass without notice - so I don't think I'm being antisocial.


Geeks like their facts cold, hard, and entirely factual - don't they?

Sort of. Those of us who live in the real world, where there are shades of grey around every corner, and where subtlety and nuance count for a lot, have realized that we can't always have things served up to us like that.

Unfortunately real life stubbornly refuses to bend to the will of us geeks (and yes, I definitely am one) who want things to behave in ways that can be modeled strictly by cold, hard facts.


"If I say, "Harvard admissions are set up in such a way as to admit large numbers of Jews," someone believing in a Jewish conspiracy will hear my dog-whistle and agree with me."

Actually, in the past Harvard deliberately restricted the number of jews they admitted: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/ha...


> Is this a conspiracy theory? It sounds a lot like a conspiracy theory to me. Just sayin'.

On the contrary, it was probably a mixture of ignorance and 'common knowledge.' I'm going to assume that if you're posting on this site that you probably are involved with making websites or software. Were you aware that a portion of your customers are colorblind in some way? Did you actively design your site to be hard for them to use? Probably not. Does that mean it is a non-issue? No. Much in the same way, white male test-makers make IQ tests that they think "anyone should know," without realizing that capable people with different backgrounds would not score very well at all.


It's not a conspiracy theory.

>However, it would be interesting to hear someone explain how they were designed by racists to be racist.

No one in this thread has claimed this. Stop trying to invent a polemic.

It just turns out that whatever IQ does measure correlates heavily with income and where you were born which in turn correlates with race.


> It just turns out that whatever IQ does measure correlates heavily with income

Yes, also with high job performance. Actually, IQ correlates with income regardless of family background. That's exactly why it's useful.

I tried to pry the source from JSTOR but failed miserably so here's a crappy pdf copy of "Income Inequality and IQ" http://www.aei.org/book/society-and-culture/citizenship/inco...


No one in this thread has claimed this. Stop trying to invent a polemic.

Note that this comment was posted before raganwald wrote "and possibly deliberately so," above. So it's not as obtuse as it looks.


For many IQ tests there is a correlation between wealth and high IQ results (and conversely, poverty and low IQ tests). IQ tests, do no measure 'innate intelligence' (mostly because no-one really knows what that even is or how to measure it). As a result if you have more, and better education and schooling, you more more likely to have a higher IQ. So if you're in a group that has worse and less education, you're more likely to have lower IQ.

As an example of how IQ test results aren't too reliable: IQ tests have been rising year on year for decades (the Flynn effect). Either we're all a pile of geniuses (which makes you wonder what score people in the middle ages got), or IQ test is inflenced by external things.


You said correlation, not causation, and that's an important point. Wealth is also correlated with what's presumed to be "innate intelligence", as is education. We don't know what the direction of causation is - whether intelligence causes education which causes wealth, or whether intelligence causes both education and wealth, or whether wealth results in more education which result in higher scores on IQ tests.

The measure we usually associate with "innate intelligence", the so-called "G-factor", is actually defined as the correlation between several different factors (education, grades in several subjects, various standardized tests including IQ, career success, socioeconomic status) that all trend in the same direction. It's basically a PCA on the observed metrics. There's no way to measure intelligence directly or even know for sure that it exists as a separate innate "thing" - all we know is that a large number of observable metrics are positively correlated, and then we give a name to the correlation.


This is kind of a weird explanation of g.

What g really means is that you can't design a meaningful intelligence test that doesn't correlate with all the other intelligence tests - with slightly divergent axes for verbal and spatial/mathematical skills. Thus, for instance, backward digit span correlates with Raven's matrices, even though these tasks have nothing obvious in common. Someone who's good at one will be good at the other.

It's also very hard to produce training/educational effects that show an effect on g, though dual N-back perhaps has some promise:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-back

However, these kinds of brain exercises have very little to do with education as we know it. The obvious null hypothesis is that we're looking at a physiological effect, such as the quality of myelin insulation in neurons.

Obviously, we see the same correlation effect in CPU benchmarks - any benchmark at all will reveal that a Xeon is faster than a Celeron. The obvious null hypothesis is that the Xeon has smaller transistors and more of them. The causality behind neurological g is probably something just as crude and straightforward.

One could argue, however, that when we compare Xeon motherboards to Celeron motherboards, we see faster DRAM and the like. Perhaps it's the fast CPU's environment, rather than its lithography, that makes it faster.

But... this isn't an argument anyone would make without a strong prior conviction that all CPUs are created equal. It's unclear where such an idea comes from in the case of the human brain, but it doesn't seem evidentiary in nature.


> For many IQ tests there is a correlation between wealth and high IQ results [...] As a result if you have more, and better education and schooling, you more more likely to have a higher IQ.

But the causal link between parents' income and kid's academic success is small to non-existent[1] so even if there are factors influencing IQ, wealth doesn't seem to be one, at least not in this way.

[1] "Low Family Income Not a Major Reason For Poor Student Achievement" http://educationnext.org/low-family-income-not-a-major-reaso...


+1

great info, thanks


> Nowadays, it is illegal in the U.S. to give IQ tests to job applicants

Citation needed.

It is legal (at least based on the guidelines provided by the US Department of Labor: http://www.onetcenter.org/dl_files/empTestAsse.pdf) to give people all kinds of tests as long as (a) they do not select against certain protected traditionally disadvantaged classes more than it does for the average applicant or (b) if it does, there is a demonstrable link between the test and ability to perform job functions (so, for instance, a test of strength in a job that involves lots of lifting may select against women, but if strength is highly correlated with job performance, that is OK).

IQ tests are actually a fairly poor test for many jobs, and they can test many things besides just intelligence (for instance, knowledge of the English language or cultural trivia). For a blue-collar job, an IQ test may disadvantage people from a different cultural background or who don't speak English as a native language, without actually being particularly relevant to job performance. One of the cases that has come up many times is in fire departments, in which written tests are given and used to screen out applicants who score below a certain level, when much of the knowledge tested is not actually all that important to the job.

These days, for a programming job, you would give a more specific test of programming ability. At the time, given that there probably weren't a lot of people with training or experience programming who could be hired, an IQ test was probably a reasonably good generic stand in for the aptitude to learn and think critically.


We still give IQ tests, they are just IQ tests that have a cultural background required. When we ask an applicant to solve a problem we do not expect them to have seen before, we are testing their intelligence, even if we then proceed to expect them to turn this into code. Even then, plenty of the Google interview questions aren't really any different from the test she received. IQ tests have sections that it doesn't sound like that test included, such as analogy tests or word memorization. The test she received was tailored to the logical, computational thinking required for programming, not generically designed to measure "intelligence".

The major difference between then and now is that they were willing to train people with no prior experience.

Even in this story, I note they were screening a very limited pool of applicants. I wonder what would happen if we went into high schools and conducted universal tests of potential: could we find (and possibly hire) large numbers of people with enormous aptitude who had never considered programming?


>> Nowadays, it is illegal in the U.S. to give IQ tests to job applicants

>Citation needed.

Griggs v. Duke Power Co.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griggs_v._Duke_Power_Co.

"Good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as 'built-in headwinds' for minority groups" - Warren Burger, Chief Justice.


Yes, and in that ruling, as in my comment, the crucial part is that the IQ test is not necessary for the business. "The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited."

IQ tests in general are not banned. IQ tests are not allowed when they disproportionately impact certain protected groups, and are not shown to be necessary for screening applicants. Sure, that means that IQ tests will have a lot of problems these days, because they are not very specific for particular business needs.

But if today, you were to invent an entirely new field of work, and needed to hire people who had an aptitude for grasping something new and solving abstract problems without being able to depend in prior training or experience, then an IQ test might very well be relevant.

The key is whether there is a business necessity for this test or other requirement. It sounds like general intelligence test was necessary in hiring people in a completely new, and intellectually demanding field, where there were no other educational, training, or experience qualifications you could rely on. It is not necessary when hiring firefighters or workers at a power plant. From the article you link to: "It was found that White people who had been working at the firm for some time, but met neither of the requirements, performed their jobs as well as those that did meet the requirements."


It really depends on the job doesn't it? Google doesn't get sued for making logic puzzles part of the hiring process just as Hooters is free to exclusively hire buxom young women for their floor staff. Like many of the complicated regulations in the US there is no clear line and many loopholes to be exploited.


This story about a guy who was denied employment as a police offer because he scored too high on an IQ test is a sufficient counterexample to disprove the assertion that IQ tests are strictly illegal (the decision was upheld in court): http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95836#.T3V6K3lRyxN


Citation needed.

I've edited it to read "effectively illegal", but the essential point remains. In practice, any company using a straight-up IQ test in job interviews is practically begging to be sued.


> In practice, any company using a straight-up IQ test in job interviews is practically begging to be sued.

Not if they secretly use undocumented race quotas.


It is legal (at least based on the guidelines provided by the US Department of Labor: http://www.onetcenter.org/dl_files/empTestAsse.pdf) to give people all kinds of tests as long as (a) they do not select against certain protected traditionally disadvantaged classes more than it does for the average applicant or (b) if it does, there is a demonstrable link between the test and ability to perform job functions (so, for instance, a test of strength in a job that involves lots of lifting may select against women, but if strength is highly correlated with job performance, that is OK).

Imagine trying to apply these hilariously vague "guidelines" as a hiring manager. Then, imagine being sued for applying them wrong. Then, you'll realize why almost no one uses IQ tests for employment screening.

Oddly enough, the main exception I can think of is the NFL:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderlic_Test#Use_in_the_NFL_C...

For some reason, nobody sues the NFL for racism. Perhaps they should, though.


>unfounded prejudice is unstable in a competitive market for labor.

Only with perfect information. In the absence of straightforward tests to evaluate job applicant quality, discrimination can unfortunately be a stable and rational strategy (albeit morally wrong and illegal). Because of information asymmetries, the employer can use race as a signal to infer lower quality. By rejecting minority candidates, the average quality of their applicant pool increases.

See page 494 of this paper for which George Akerlof won the Nobel Prize: http://web.usal.es/~emmam/Docencia/Modelizacion/papers/The%2...

Agreed that banning IQ tests may be misguided, as you point out the solution is to add more information to the market.


in the state of California it is illegal to give a black child an IQ test even when administered by a school psychologist as part of a professional assessment

The issue is that IQ tests were found to be culturally biased against black students and therefore responsibly for placing those students on special-ed tracks that were not appropriate. See: http://www.rcselpa.org/docs/policies/Section%20III%20Evaluat...

This abstract indicates that black students seeking placement into gifted classes are exempted from the ban: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/93/1/31.abstra...


"Were found." Passive voice. Following the link, we discover that the "finder" is Judge Robert Peckham in 1979:

http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/17/us/robert-f-peckham-72-inf...

No offense, but who the fsck is Bob Peckham? And why should anyone in 2012 care what he thought in 1979? BTW, he was in a position to "find" because LBJ made him a judge in 1966. Hear LBJ's enlightened racial perspectives here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1rIDmDWSms

I also like how IQ tests are racist against dumb black kids, but not smart black kids. That's some awful specialized racism you got goin' on there.


If you think something has changed since 1979 then the burden of proof is on you to show what that is, you don't get to just assert that everything is magically different now.


I think his argument was that a judicial determination in 1979 isn't really good evidence that it was true in 1979 either, because the courts aren't the most reliable judges of scientific facts.

[I haven't read enough of the voluminous literature on the IQ-test controversy to have an opinion myself, so I don't necessarily endorse that viewpoint.]


For what it’s worth, the test was probably IBM’s Programmer Aptitude Test, I can find references to it going back to 1950 or so.

http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/IBM-ProgApti-120-6762-2.html


This story made me smile an awful lot. Thanks for posting it.

It would be even better if women and people from traditionally disadvantaged ethnic groups didn't have to jump through all the extra hoops, but it's nice to see that even the extra hoops didn't stop someone smart and determined enough.


Determination is a quite powerful force. As Calvin Coolidge once said:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.


I took IBM's Programmer Aptitude test in 1991, and it was a memorable test even 20 years later. Not exactly an IQ test, but yes, lots of problem solving questions.


I took a similar aptitude test applying to IBM when I graduated in 2000. It was actually a lot of fun.

Great story raganwald, it made my day.


The interesting thing is that it was probably not designed as a general IQ test, but as a test specifically developed at great expense to test for aptitude at computer programming at a time where absolutely nobody could be expected to have prior interest (let alone experience) in that occupation.

This kind of thing was the normal way of hiring programmers for a while before computer science departments became common at universities.

I learned this from "The Psychology of Computer Programming", originally published 1971. A fascinating read, both as a glimpse at a professional environment completely unimaginable to people accustomed to have their own dev machine, and more so for realizing that a lot of what the author wrote about the problems occurring in that environment are still relevant today.


I had a good friend who studied school psychology, and she let me see some of the IQ tests in use.

I think you'd be surprised just how biased some of them are, and how reliant on cultural knowledge.


I doubt I'd be surprised: my mother is a retired school psychologist, and her trainees used me as a guinea pig for lots of different IQ tests over the years. I've pretty much seen it all.

With respect to the content of IQ tests, I tend to avoid the term "biased", as cultural knowledge is relevant in many real-life contexts, but the best IQ tests focus on exactly the kinds of questions described in the OP: math, logic, shapes, etc.


I would be surprised. Do you have an example?


There’s a long history of discussion about what exactly intelligence is, how whatever it is is measured, and why some social groups have statistically higher scores than others. Here’s an easy place to start looking into it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_intelligence


The Wikipedia article raganwald kindly linked to has an archived set of talk pages that go on almost endlessly, as the article has long been the subject of edit-warring. That article and related pages have been the subject of an Arbitration Committee case (opened at about the time I became a wikipedian, by coincidence)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/...

with ongoing administrative sanctions. In other words, I'm not sure if the article is currently in good enough shape to recommend. The Wikipedia user bibliography "Intelligence Citations"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:WeijiBaikeBianji/Intellige...

points to sources that are generally reliable, as does the bibliography "Anthropology, Human Biology, and Race Citations."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:WeijiBaikeBianji/Anthropol...


[U]nfounded prejudice is unstable in a competitive market for labor.

Ah, if only this were true. This assumes the market is ultimately a meritocracy, and I don't think the evidence supports that assumption. And even if it were, inefficiencies in a market can persist for a very long time. While conscious, ideological racism is less common today, unconscious racism is a virtually universal feature of human behavior, affecting all corners of the job market. Adam Smith's invisible hand isn't going to fix job discrimination.


"unfounded prejudice is unstable in a competitive market for labor."

Did you ever see that study in France where they submitted the same exact resumes with Christian names and Arab names? I'll let you guess as to the results.


Assuming this isn't a trick...

There are two likely scenarios:

1) The employers are racist biggots based on things that don't correlate with job performance. In this case betting against them is a winning strategy.

2) The employers are racist based on observed data from previous hires. Based on that they assume that a person with an Arab name is less able to perform. This may not be fair for the individual, but may be right on average. In this case betting against them is a losing strategy.

Given that the muslim world had all the knowledge the western world used to restore science after the dark ages yet have partially returned to them today, there may be some (tangential) evidence for 2.

And that is really scary.


It isn't a trick: the same thing happens in the US with African-American names on resumes and is trivially repeatable on your own if you are so inclined. It has nothing to do with job performance either: measured job performance isn't variable.

It does have to do with cultural comfort, and the fact humans make hiring decisions instead of machines. In any case where human judgement has been replaced by measurement or judgement blind to demographics diversity has increased.

I know it's annoying when reality is non-optimized, but it doesn't take twisting ourselves into knots to explain why: humans make predictably bad decisions.


It has nothing to do with job performance either: measured job performance isn't variable.

Citation needed for this one. It's pretty easy to to measure resume response rates, but I'd love to know how you would even go about measuring this one.

In any case where human judgement has been replaced by measurement or judgement blind to demographics diversity has increased.

This is simply false. For one example, take university admissions - after Grutter, universities have switched from objective systems to systems with human biases in order to increase demographic diversity.

Similarly, take a look at Ricci - the objective measurement system (firefighting tests) was replaced with a human judgement system in order to increase the number of minorities.

It's certainly true that diversity has increased in some cases, however - I believe women in classical music is the standard example.


It's really not that simple. Racism never is - it is much more pervasive, and more insidious than the stereotypical examples of Klansmen with guns.

There is a third, and much more likely scenario:

3) The employers' perceptions of Arabs is subtly colored by popular opinion and stereotypes as exists in pop culture and media. Much of these depictions and stereotypes appear harmless, but cumulatively add up to something substantial. Many of these depictions in media and culture are meant to be harmless, but subtly color your judgment anyways.

The employer is not out to discriminate against anyone, but their perception is colored, and therefore they make subconsciously sub-optimal choices sorting the stack of resumes.

That is a far more likely scenario, it just isn't as black and white, and isn't as interesting due to a noticeable lack of Bad Guys(tm).

I'll also disagree on the "betting against them is a winning strategy" thing. Your theory seems to be that bigotry will collapse in upon itself because they're denying themselves the objectively optimal choices. This doesn't stand up to actual example in history - Blacks were systematically oppressed until direct action was taken. The racists and bigots never caved in on themselves by cutting themselves out of a skilled labor pool, they succeeded until directly toppled.


Sorry I wasn't clear. When I mean bet against this, I don't mean that it will collapse anytime soon -- it properly won't.

What I mean is that as a founder of a business there is some people out there whoes skills are incorrectly priced by the market.


Bigotry against the irish in the US did eventually collapse of its own accord.


Because we all know how pervasive anti-Arab, anti-black, etc, stereotypes are in "pop culture and media." As is well known, Hollywood is full of corporate racist fascist pigs. Which is why we see so many films promoting racism and fascism. I'm sure it's just the same in France.

Yes, that was satire. Another possibility - improbable, I know - is that there are actually statistical differences between Frenchmen and Arabs. As a smart guy, you might enjoy this essay on pattern recognition:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/10/war-on-pattern-recognitio...

Someone else posted George Akerlof's paper on asymmetric information:

http://web.usal.es/~emmam/Docencia/Modelizacion/papers/The%2...


You can be subconsciously mildly racist without being a screaming bigot. In fact, pretty much all of us are that, to varying extents.

Your second line of thought seems to approach "I'm not racist, arabs just actually are unenlightened bastards".


(I suspect you already know this, but I find it is an interesting topic so I'll post it for others)

It should probably be noted when talking about the history of science during the so called dark ages that the Islamic Empire covered a very vast area. The society was homogeneous only in religion, not in 'race'.

My (limited) understanding is that their scientific collapse was the result of a series of (religious in nature) bans on various scientific activities (translation, dissection, etc) This seems to have had fair reaching effects on the viability of their Empire and has likely been the cause of the Muslim worlds comparatively limited scientific activity since then.

Therefore I would expect that the decline of Islamic science is not a symptom of a perceived performance deficiency among people with Arab names, but rather the cause. Considering the apparently solely cultural nature of the issue, any observed phenomenon could be subject to extremely rapid change and is likely to have a very significant number of outliers.


Similar things are noticable when male names and female names are swapped.

It's evidence that there is still a lot of racism now. What do you think the 1950s were like?!


At risk of sounding like a sore loser, IQ tests, whether or not they are bias, are not a good indicator of success (in fact, I'd question it's ability to measure "intelligence" or "potential"). Scoring well on an IQ test does not mean you will be successful at your job.

It does not measure your willingness to learn. It does not measure your ability to retain information. It does not measure your reception to criticism. It does not measure your ability to play nice with others. It does not measure your interest in the job. It does not measure your ability to work hard. Among others.

As such, I think giving someone an IQ test at a job interview is a fairly bad idea.

What we should have picked up from Gwen's job interview is that she is willing to learn and work hard given a fair chance.


At risk of sounding like a sore loser, IQ tests, whether or not they are bias, are not a good indicator of success

I wondered if this was actually true, so I did some digging. I'm not saying you're wrong, but here's a fairly recent (in academic time) overview of the research:

    Murphy, K. R. (2002). Can Conflicting Perspectives on the Role of g in Personnel Selection Be Resolved?. Human Performance, 15(1/2), 173-186
In case you don't want to buy the article, and can't access it via a library:

There's a lot of evidence that "measures of general cognitive ability represent perhaps the best predictors of performance".

But the problem is that "racial differences in cognitive ability test scores are known to be considerably larger than racial differences in measures of job performance."

Murphy concludes that "reliance on cognitive ability measures in selection is likely to lead to more efficiency (i.e., higher average performance) and less equity (e.g., disparities in selection rates across racial and ethnic groups)."

--

As such, I think giving someone an IQ test at a job interview is a fairly bad idea.

The research I've found suggests otherwise, provided those IQ tests aren't the sole means of making decisions.


There are lots of people with high IQs who have ADD type issues.


You could figure out an IQ score using multiple regression on questions you are allowed to ask quite accurately.

IQ correlates highly with SAT score and GPA, so you could probably get 85% of the way there with just those two variables.


I think that your assertion that "unfounded prejudice is unstable in a competitive market for labor" has a tacit assumption that Gwen faced a competitive market for labor. For example, suppose other businesses will not work with you if you hire someone who is not "acceptable"? Suppose there are legal penalties (supported by members of the powerful group)? Suppose there is a union? My point is that that there are non-market forces which can strongly effect job selection.


I was (somewhat) recently given the Wonderlic test as part of the standard interview procedure for a fairly large US company that does a lot of recruiting on college campuses.


Good luck in the NFL draft.


The test sounds quite a lot like the ASVAB http://www.military.com/ASVAB with some of the old sections that have since been taken out.


since an IQ test is measuring AND defining IQ at the same time, it's hard for it to be biased.

IQ is what IQ tests measure. It's all made up.

How is the situation in the U.S. regarding assessment centers? That kind of stuff is allowed?


You're an asshole.


Too bad more places don't use skills based tests like the LSAT. If THAT'S not acceptable... I'm sorry if requiring intelligence is racist.


Note also that the methods of 60 years ago (a) discovered Gwen's ability, (b) promoted her to a commensurate position, (c) gave a productive citizen a genuine sense of achievement and accomplishment. All in a period which was universally racist and sexist by today's progressive standards.

Now? Gwen's intelligence would probably also be detected, if by less straightforward and reliable methods. Because her African X chromosomes confer not one but two Diversity Points (tm), every institution she came in contact with would have a strong bureaucratic incentive to promote her not only to her actual abilities - but beyond them.

As a result, she'd be very likely to end up placed in a position where rather than leading enterprise IT projects, she was competing with (say) top-notch particle physicists. Lacking (like almost all of us) the mental horsepower to perform at this level, she would constantly feel like a fraud, and her colleagues would constantly suspect her of being a fraud. A suspicion which would be correct, though you couldn't really say it was her fault.

Lesson: be careful about hating on the past. Often the past looks pretty retarded by the standards of the present. Often the converse is the case as well.


she would constantly feel like a fraud,

Nonsense. Americans today are trained from a young age to have a sense of entitlement. People who are promoted above their ability are quite capable of blaming their inability to perform on prejudice or conspiracy on the part of peers or subordinates.


Women in computing constantly feel like frauds.


I'm not sure why I'm getting down voted. It's the truth. Most women are made to feel like they don't belong in computing. I convinced my girlfriend to major in Computer Science in school and she's constantly telling me how she faked her way through school. She feels like the only reason she got through it is because I helped her.

The reason she got through it is because she was smart. I didn't help her with her exams and I didn't help her land her job at Amazon. That was all her.

Cheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook gave a talk at the Grace Hopper conference about how she felt like a fraud. She wasn't as technical as the engineers so she didn't feel like she deserved her position. Turns out she's really good at her job.

Lots of women feel this way.


I'm not sure you're being down-voted either. I agree with you.


True enough. But I'd say this is an even worse outcome than feeling like a fraud.


So, in essence, black people today are "likely" incompetent at their jobs because of affirmative action?

That seems to be what you're writing. And it doesn't look good.


It's also not how affirmative action works, even if it was still broadly used (which it's not): http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2012/02/granting-women-a...

Aggregate performance was either unaffected or improved in the presence of affirmative action. This fits with history: until 1972 almost no women were admitted to MIT, but it didn't make the men perform less well for all the affirmative action they received nor cheapen their accomplishments.


The issue is not that men perform less well because women are admitted into MIT. The issue is that women admitted due to AA might be lower quality than other candidates (men and women who would be admitted without AA), and therefore drag their group average down.


I'm arguing that men who were admitted might be lower quality than women who weren't admitted because their gender exclude them, but that didn't mean those men were unqualified or even necessarily dragged their group averages down. None of our measurements are accurate enough to correctly distinguish 5,000 very good students from the next 5,000 nearly-identically-but-slightly-better students.


I'm arguing that men who were admitted might be lower quality than women who weren't admitted because their gender exclude them...

This is exactly what I'm saying - whichever group gets bonus points/preferences/etc will have lower quality. In the past, that group was women. Now it's usually men, though not always (some nursing schools give preference to men [1], some liberal arts colleges do also).

[1] Defining quality here is slightly trickier since nurses of both genders are needed for specific tasks (mostly related to bathing).


which it's not

Jesus. Do we live in the same reality?

http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/07/how_divers...

TL;DR: The Espenshade study found that African chromosomes (by the "one-drop rule") equaled 450 SAT points over Asian chromosomes as a college admissions factor.

(Not that actual genetic testing was used. It probably should be, though. Why encourage race fraud?)

Your link is to a study in which "affirmative action" is used in the sense it was originally implied, not the sense in which it is actually used:

Note that none of these constitute "reverse discrimination," an accusation affirmative action plans often face. In no case was a top-performing man denied a reward if he outperformed everyone else. The main effect the researchers found was an increase in the number of able women willing to participate.


Can you say they are not?

Granted before some, perhaps most, would be below their level but it seems rather impossible to assume that nobody has now been moved artificially higher than they should have.


The claim isn't that nobody is above their "level"; it's that black people are "likely" to be - and I read that as "most" are - above their "level".

At what "level" are people with good connections, powerful parents etc.? Is affirmative action more effective in advancing people than pulling strings and calling in favours? Isn't this mechanism - the social status quo - what affirmative action is designed to change?

Why would one expect more incompetence from one than the other?


It's well known, of course, that two wrongs make a right. It's also well known that all white people have rich, powerful parents. (Wasn't that a Dave Chappelle skit?)


Why doesn't it "look good?" Oh, noes - am I a witch?

Could you, as an engineer, design a better system to make sure that all Eskimos are "likely" incompetent at their jobs, than promoting Eskimos over Tamils just because they are Eskimos and not Tamils?

Another cross-cultural comparison might be useful:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumiputera_(Malaysia)


Why doesn't it "look good?" Oh, noes - am I a witch?

Witch, no. Racist, maybe.


Or a fascist, possibly? Which is worse - a racist, or a fascist? Discuss.

I'll give you my standard deal - I'll admit to being a fascist, if you'll admit to being a communist. I haven't gotten any takers yet but I'm looking forward to the first.


Apparently fascist is even worse!

You know what - if someone, anyone, can tell me why it's absolutely necessary to persecute racists and fascists, yet utterly and completely wrong to persecute communists, I'll go whole hog and buy the R-word. Operators are standing by...


Because on one side you are discriminating against people, and on the other you aren't? They're not just opposite ends of the same spectrum, they're completely different. The opposite of communism isn't facism, it's capitalism - and the opporsite of facism isn't communism, it's just non-racism.



> this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule

I don't need to do that.. I just need to point out that by picking an example of what one or more communists did or said doesn't make their actions a part of communism.

The only logical fallacy here is yours - I could equally point at some American murderers and say "capitalism is terrible, look at those capitalists murdering people for money".

So good job anticipating my response... the response of pointing out that your argument is basically bullshit, because sadly for you it isn't easy to back up racism.


I don't need to do that.. I just need to point out that by picking an example of what one or more communists did or said doesn't make their actions a part of communism.

Priceless! Where's my MasterCard?

For the record, Paul Graham kills hundreds of thousands of persons of color every year. All these capitalists are the same. Fred Wilson is walking down the street, sees some poor black homeless person he doesn't like... blam! He needs an extended magazine just to walk to work. And sells the organs, too - where do you think all this money comes from? But you never hear about it - our capitalist society is just so callous, you know, to the plight of the underprivileged.

I know there are communists out there who can spell "fascist." I just wish one of them would take my bait...


I don't think it is the operators that are standing by.

Folk in white coats with reassuring expressions maybe.



Alas, he is all too right. Attempts to rationalize racism, whether or not with the rather silly faux erudition we see here, may be soon classified as a mental illness:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb4345/is_9_32/ai_n291...

No word on treatment options.


I wasn't referring to the opinions, I was referring to the logic.

As for implying that he is right in general because you have read an article that says that some people would like to be able, in the future, to look at classifying some racist behaviour among a very narrow class of people who already are displaying symptoms of schizophrenia, as being a part of their symptoms. Well, you seem as bonkers as he is.

From your referenced article:

"At present, the state of research is inadequate to suggest one course or another"


And let's not forget Liam Stacey! We're skating on the edge here, neighbors - the very very edge. Big Twitter is in ur thoughts, making sure they "look good."

It could be that everyone is crazy. You and I together, comrades! If the 20th century doesn't prove the possibility of universal political insanity, what does it prove? Why is the English-speaking world somehow magically exempt from this general condition - appearing in all other places east of the Channel and west of the Pacific?


This the old trope that now-a-days the pendulum has swung too far and women, blacks etc. are now in a privileged position compared to white, straight, anglo men.

Nonsense. And spreads the idea that all black people shouldn't be where they are in the company and are all tricksters who are rubbish at their job.


Yeah, sucks that a supermajority of elected politicians, upper management, rich people, and influential cultural figures are all women of color who speak Spanish. Poor white anglo dude, his plight makes me weep.


It's not clear to me what the "privilege" of these few thousand people (who obviously achieved their positions by stealing them from worthy persons of color) has to do with the admissions odds of a million random Americans, black, white, purple or green.

But here, this might help you with your weeping problem:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2117695/Brutal-home-...

Reported only overseas (with a helpful sidebar of tits) and in the local press. Nobody needs to weep for the kulak, the Jew, the enemy of the workers and peasants. But whoa - if some rapacious Jew defends himself against a good Aryan worker who's only trying to grind his head into the pavement, my gosh, well, that's an interplanetary sensation.


Affirmative action has and continues to be a problem, though. The vast majority of affirmative action has favored and continues to favor rich, connected white men. Famous example:

"I remember back in the late 1990s, when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture. Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol during the first Bush administration.

The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. 'I oppose it,' Irving replied. 'It subverts meritocracy.'"

Quoted in http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/09/republicans-to-the-man...


The vast majority of affirmative action has favored and continues to favor rich, connected white men. Famous example:

And the famous example is that... white men network. As do black lesbians, Papuan pearl divers, and for all I know the Turkish blue-ringed octopus (our only social octopus).

The leap from "vast majority" to "famous example" is great, too. I never cease to be fascinated by the bizarre pseudosequiturs that pass for logic in the orthodox mind. It's like tumor pathology - every case its own disease.

What's wonderful is how similar this general strain of disparate impact theory is to the classic logic of German anti-Semitism. Did you know that 80% of the lawyers in 1932 Berlin were Jews, even though only 1% of the population was Jewish? Ineluctable mathematical proof the Jews are conspiring against the Aryans - scratching each other's backs, while stabbing their good German competitors under the table.

Too bad Streicher and company never got a chance to read Cochran and Harpending 2005:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_Jewish_intelligence

But to paraphrase Goethe, against stupidity even the Jews contend in vain...


Think like a smart person - you obviously are one.

If you wanted to confirm or deny this "old trope," how would you do so? What evidence would prove or disprove it? If you wanted to identify such privileges, what would they look like? What about counter-privileges which offset them?

A fun thought-experiment, for instance, is imagining that "women, blacks etc." could sell whatever privileges they have to groups that I consider underprivileged, such as Asians. With some money changing hands, the Asian would become legally black and the black legally Asian, for all official purposes (educational, legal, etc).

What do you think the price of this transaction would be? And who would be paying whom?

And spreads the idea that all black people shouldn't be where they are in the company and are all tricksters who are rubbish at their job.

This is certainly the case for some black people, as it's certainly the case for some whites, Asians, Eskimos, etc. Perhaps we just differ in our estimated percentages.


If you wanted to identify such privileges, what would they look like?

People have done this already, this is what they look like:

White Privilege Checklist: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

Male Privilege Checklist: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/

Heterosexual Privilege Checklist: http://www.cs.earlham.edu/~hyrax/personal/files/student_res/...

Cis gender privilege checklist: http://takesupspace.wordpress.com/cis-privilege-checklist/


Wonderful! What I want you to notice, now, is how abstract every item on that checklist is.

As compared to really concrete, obvious privileges like: 450 free points on your SAT. Could that be the first entry on our 'Black Privilege Checklist?' What would be the second?

Now, let's imagine you design a sociological experiment in which randomly selected individuals of each race can exchange their privileges (and/or handicaps) - along with a payment to equalize the exchange.

Once again: who would pay whom? Or if we look at just one side of the comparison - what would be the market value of being legally black? What would parents pay, for instance, to purchase this privilege for their children?

Let's say we could restrict it only to college admissions. What would American parents pay to change their sons' and daughters' acceptance letters from Chico State, to Harvard? Then you'll have a fairly good price floor on the value of "black privilege" - this is obviously not the only benefit.

I welcome any thoughts on how one might perform the opposite experiment - that is, assessing the market value of "white privilege." Do tell, critical race theorists.


What I want you to notice, now, is how abstract every item on that checklist is.

Abstract?! They aren't abstract, some are very very concrete. If you're straight, you can get married in just about every country in the world, and, in nearly every country. If you're a straight married man, you don't have to worry about saying "my wife" in a new place.

People don't sit men down in secondary school and tell them how to avoid being raped, men don't worry about their drink being spiked.

etc.


I thought we were just focusing on the race checklist. (I actually am a straight married man, but from force of habit I always say "my girlfriend.")

But let's pretend we're talking about my son. And let's find a racial handicap from the '50s which doesn't exist anymore.

"Young man," I say, "here's a deal for you. On the downside, you can't marry anyone not the same race as you."

"That's kind of uncool, Dad," he says. "What's the upside?"

"450 free points on your SAT. Also, you basically can't be fired from a job, ever. Also..." and I run through my Black Privilege Checklist.

What do you think he's going to say? What would you say?


It's true that the mechanism and value of "(succesful group) privilege" are difficult to quantify in a way that explicitly engineered (counter-)measures aren't. Further, it would be impossible to reassign them via contract unless you're a most imaginative thought-experimenter.


It's true that the mechanism and value of "(succesful group) privilege" are difficult to quantify in a way that explicitly engineered (counter-)measures aren't.

That's exactly right! Moreover, there's a very important reason your N-rays are so hard to detect...

Look at it another way. You step into a time machine and emerge in 1938 Berlin - speaking German. Your task: to explain and convince, by pure reason alone, that there is actually no such thing as the international Jewish conspiracy. Expect some downvotes!

Or we could go all science-fiction. The Federation selects you as the first Federation Ambassador to the ice planet of Goth. The people of Goth come in two categories - Ostrogoth and Visigoth. Conventional wisdom among the Ostrogoths is that they are generally oppressed by the Visigoths - and vice versa.

They can't be right. It's your first task, as Federation Ambassador, to construct objective tests that accurately measure whether the Visigoths are sticking it to the Ostrogoths or vice versa.

For instance, you might ask: how many Visigoths are killed extralegally by Ostrogoths? And vice versa? Are young Visigoths, or young Ostrogoths, subjected to the numerus clausus? Etc, etc, etc.

You could build up a spreadsheet of these types of human-rights violations - which would greatly assist you in deciding, as a mere neutral observer, which faction of Goths is holding the whip and which taking it in the tail.

Of course, you're not the Federation Ambassador and neither am I. But even if you're a Goth yourself, why not think this way? Isn't it, at the very least, refreshingly different?


There is nothing illegal about giving IQ tests to job applicants. If companies are afraid to do that, it's because they are run by idiots.


The biggest lesson I see here is how much family solidarity and positive expectations makes in a childs education and life. Without her male tribe, and presumably the female tribe who sent the male tribe along, Reg's mum would have taken a different path.

As a father of a young family with a spotty family past I wanted to focus on things I knew for my children. Perhaps I need to focus more on building that kind of supportive family or pseudo family.

Inspiring stories have a tendancy to inspire things not first thought of.

Thank you


If you want to raise your child to be successful look at the mars-mellow experiment. Unlike IQ they could come up with a really strong correlation to school performance and later success and it seems (at least partially) to be something the family has some influence over.


I've read about it recently and found a snippet interesting that said the kids who could wait longer were better at distracting themselves with other stuff. Interesting because the initial thinking would be "discipline", but just teaching your kid discipline might not be the thing that helps them over the marshmallow challenge...


I love this story because it shows how important it is to be persistent and stand up to authority. Lois had to challenge the principal not once but TWICE, and she was smart enough to get her male relatives involved. Gwen had to fight for her job application TWICE - once to receive the test paper and again to be credited for her answers. This persistence is even more impressive because in each case it involved personal confrontation with someone in authority.

This cultural element of success is underrated. People understand the importance of intelligence, hard word and luck, but don't realise that 'culture' is also vital. Without a family culture of standing up to authority going back three generations, Gwen would not have got that great job. (Malcolm Gladwell devotes much of his book, 'Outliers' to this theme).


That's a wonderful story; wonderfully written.

If you don't mind, it reminds me of an Asimov story I've always loved, "Profession". http://www.inf.ufpr.br/renato/profession.html


Superb. As a fellow Torontonian, programmer, and just a guy with a mom, this story warms me up. She sounds badass.


I immediately knew it was about your mother after the first few paragraphs. Just a bit sad that the debate here quickly degenerated into the political correctness of IQ tests and the very loaded debate of IQ and race.

When you omit skin color and gender from the story, it's an inspiring story of family values triumphing over environment. It would also be reasonable to say that this family probably has a higher level of native intelligence than the average but they also have instilled the value of hard work and perseverance to make the most of their potential so even if they were average, they would get better results given the same potential.

I'm always puzzled at how quickly intelligent debate breaks down among Americans the second gender or race become part of the discussion.


Captivating as ever, Mr Braithwaite. We all need heroes, and it's especially satisfying when such a hero is also a parent.


It is a wonderful and inspiring story. It is the best way to honor one's parents. Thanks for sharing it with us.


[deleted]


However, she had to go above and beyond to prove she was that capable and talented - she and her family had to fight to get her placed in a non-trade school and she had to take additional tests to show that her scores were legitimate. If she had been a white male, she would have been placed in the appropriate secondary school immediately and she would have been hired on the spot without further issue.

It's a story about someone who, despite proving themselves to be capable and talented as their peers, would have been passed over if they hadn't fought to be recognized. Ultimately her race/gender didn't make a difference, but it certainly made getting where she wanted an ordeal.


> The fact that she was a woman and black ultimately didn't make a difference to the, presumably, white men that hired her.

so sticking it out is a credit to her.

it's likely though that the industry missed out on others who were qualified, but too put off to get that far.


And it's still missing out. My girlfriend was told that she was "in the wrong room" for one of her comp sci exams, back in the dark ages of... 2000 or so, in one of the most progressive countries in the world.


Damn it, I didn't click on the link at the end.

I've deleted my comment out of respect for raganwald's mother. Even I have lines I won't cross...


I don’t mind your comment. If it fosters productive discussion, it’s a win.


Goodbye HN. After repeatedly demonstrating your racism and sexism I just cannot take it anymore. It was nice knowing you.


Don't go please, I really appreciate your comments and submissions, although I'm really not active here. You're one of the few users that I always read comments from, raganwald also is one.

There's always a histrionic minority that read about some research and always come here bragging about it (ie, mainly about women, blacks or whatever else), this type of people, although mainly libertarian have a real dislike for the individual that is telling of their real beliefs.


I don't know if it makes any difference to you, but some people (at least me) have been down-voting and flagging the obvious troll in this thread.

It is frustrating that people are keen to feed that troll.


Fascinating article. I am reminded of things my grandmother said about breaking into the field of physics (and later really helping greatly expand the field of astrophysics). I am also reminded of women complaining about the problems with trying to raise a family and get tenure as science professors today, and conclude that in many ways my grandmother had it easy.

So it sounds like Gwen's experience wasn't unique. It may be that we are actually becoming more rather than less hostile towards women breaking into male-dominated industries.


I think we are more hostile to women now than in the past if only because we say we aren't hostile at all and in the past women and minorities knew they needed to fight their way in. If you know you're up for a fight vs just thinking you're evaluating possibilities you're approach is going to be different. Basically, since the younger generation has bought into the idea that sexism/racism is on its way out they are more likely to believe someone when they say - you can't be any good. And why be persistent if maybe you aren't actually any good?


There are a lot of stories lately of women not taken for intelligent or made fun of, but I don't see that happen here at all.

Recalling from a previous news item, a women said that men always told her to "lighten up" (assuming that means something along the lines "don't whine, I didn't mean it that seriously", it doesn't translate). Well either I'm one of the bastards, or the culture is different here. It appears here we, men and women, have a lot of... liberties I guess you could say.

Looking at the list of countries allowing gay marriage lately, I was surprised to see the Netherlands listed as one of just a few. I once read a quote, "Mom, why do those two women hold hands? - Because they love each other.". I didn't get why it was upvoted at all (site similar to bash.org, don't remember which though). It seems rather obvious to me, like a girl asks her mother why a man and a woman hold hands. Now that I've learned that gay marriage is not actually that common, I get the point.

Is this true for (black) women in America too? I don't get the impression the USA is 'behind', but reading these stories you'd almost think it is. Of course, this particular one is a story from many years ago and either way a good read. But still, it is one of many last days which make it to the front page, covering pretty much the same subject.

I'm not saying people should stop posting or upvoting them, nor do I intend to offend anyone or any country. I'm just wondering aloud what the motivation is behind posting and upvoting these stories.


Perhaps this story is also about a person who overcame many obstacles to do somethng nobody thought was possible. If that doesn't belong on HN, what does?


Does anyone else think it's weird that the principal seemed to have authority over where she could go to secondary school? Was that standard? Is it still true today?


The comments seem to have degenerated into a debate about the merits of IQ tests, but I wanted to say thank you for a beautiful and uplifting story.


Damn, I need to put more effort in my dance lessons.


It sounds like this woman was lucky to both be incredibly intelligent in her own right, and to have an excellent family who believed in her and were persuasive to overcome some societal obstacles. And to live in a place with excellent schools and jobs.

I wonder if she would have gone to work for a big company today, or if she would have tried to do a startup.


'In Toronto, they could marry, but they couldn’t rent an apartment together as landlords were afraid of “trouble."'

A bit off-topic, but I'm somewhat shocked by this (and my own ignorance). I know about the US, but this was an issue in Canada?


In theory they could live anywhere they chose. But the gap between theory and practice is narrower in theory than it is in practice.


My parents came to Toronto from Ireland in the 1960s and also experienced their share of covert racism. It may be hard to imagine that a city that is so cosmopolitan† today was so repressive and ethnocentric just a few decades ago.

† Notwithstanding the Toronto Sun, et al.


Given that it was 60 years ago, I'm not so surprised.

For what is worth, even today the majority of landlords in Japan will not rent to foreigners.


The most sencere respect for what Gwen did and achieved. I can't tell more and only draw my hat (bad translation of a german saying, please don't hold it against me!).


OT, but it sounds like you're trying to say "I've got nothing more to say, I just tip my hat [to her]." As in, no more words required, just a show of respect.


Yep, that's it! Hope that's not considered spam.


That was a very inspiring story about your mother, raganwald. Thanks for posting it.


IQ is very biased depending on the environment you grew up.if u grew up in zimbabwe or a country with high literacy levels the iq tests will be just too easy.


The idea that some race have low IQ because of their race shows how low your IQ is and you ability to think outside box.


To moms. To women. Thanks Raganwald.


Really nicely written post, thanks for sharing.


This is delightful! Thanks for sharing.


thanks for sharing, a really inspiring story.




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