Friday, October 19, 2007

IQ Tests Are Bogus Anyway

Anyone else been keeping up on the Watson debacle? (If you haven't been, check out Watson to Africa: You're All Dumb. Lots of nice links, get the whole story.)

My first reaction to this is: seriously, what century is he living in?

Second reaction: Please, everyone, can we quit obsessing about intelligence? As a concept? The most important part of a person is not how smart they are. It's not the be all, end all, absolute measure of human value.

Yes, parts of Africa are messed up. Lots of places in the world are messed up. News flash: Smart people are also capable of colossal screw-ups. Intelligence is not an absolute indicator of success, and success is not an absolute indicator of intelligence. Not on a continental level, not a national level, not on a personal level.

So please, stop using intelligence as a crutch for your outdated ideologies.


  1. Intelligence is such a vague, abstract concept anyway.

  2. Well, factually he's right:

    I don't think he was trying to malign African countries by calling them stupid, he was saying that we should take African peoples' intelligence into account in our foreign relations with them. He's not saying these things to be mean, just to be realistic.

    He claims that it's an evolutionary effect, which makes his comment more offensive and more "sciency", but it's not all that radical to say that social forces, like the lack of effective schooling, lack of sophisticated media, a lesser emphasis on intellectual careers, and a general dearth of intelligentsia would lower the IQ in Africa.

    IQ is an outdated concept, sure, but general intelligence (g) is still a relevant idea because it accounts for correlations between different "types" of intelligence. People who are bad at writing are statistically not as good at math either.

    Intelligence does have an effect on a societal level. Our social policies toward Africa won't work if they are assuming that people there will act rationally (always a bad assumption in economics). We're going to have problems if we assume that the same checks apply toward corruption and waste that might apply here, even if we take into account the deficiencies in the organizational structures.

    I kind of agree with Watson here. He might be erring on the side of racism, but he's trying to make a point and he has some data to back himself up.

    His main mistake seems to be being wildly politically incorrect.

    This is my favorite Watson quote: "Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them." (from Wikipedia)

  3. You want to talk about evidence? Try "The Mismeasure of Man," by Stephen J. Gould.


    I'm not sure I would call "IQ and the Wealth of Nations" "evidence," exactly. Seeing as how half that article was devoted to criticisms of the information it presented.

    Here's my favorite Watson-related quote:

    He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

    Education and intelligence are not the same thing. If Watson had meant education, he should have said education. He didn't say anything about Africa being less intellectual. He said that Africans have less innate intelligence. If he didn't mean that, he shouldn't have said it.

    This isn't about being "politically incorrect." This is about saying things that are abhorrent. Watson may not actually believe these things, but he's giving support to people who do.