GIGO and the Intelligence of Countries: Disordered Thoughts

Apologies to the reader. Perhaps I wax tedious. But the question of intelligence is both interesting to me and great fun as talking about it puts commenters in an uproar. It is like poking a wasp’s nest when you are eleven. I am a bad person.

Clearing the underbrush: Obviously intelligence is largely genetic–if it were cultural in origin, all the little boys who grew up in Isaac Newton’s neighborhood would have been towering mathematical geniuses–and obviously the various tests of intellectual function have, at least among testees of similar background, considerable relation to intelligence. Some individuals have more of it than others. For example, Hillary, a National Merit Finalist, scored higher than  99.5 percent of Illinois and can reliably be suspected of being bright. Some groups are obviously smarter than other groups. Mensans and Nobelists are smarter than sociologists. Of course, so are acorns.

But knowing that a thing exists and measuring it are not the same thing.

Years back, Marilyn vos Savant had a quiz column in which a question was: “Two bugs in a jar reproduce, doubling their number every minute. The jar is full in an hour. How long does it take to half fill the jar?”

I will speculate, subject to correction, that to anyone who has worked with computers, at least at the register level, the answer is obvious on inspection.  I will further speculate that those of equal intelligence, including mathematical ability, but graduates of liberal arts, will have more trouble with it. The nature of a base-two exponential expansion is probably not obvious to someone who has never seen one.

If this is so, it would seem that experience affects the ability to solve problems such as one finds on tests of mental ability. Does this increase constitute an increase in intelligence?

Children in my demographic cohort were steeped, boiled, drowned in problem-solving and manipulation of symbols. The alphabet. Writing. “Mommy Beaver has three sticks and Little Baby Beaver has four. How many….?” Long division. Linear simultaneous equations in two unknowns. Derive the quadratic formula. Division of fractions. Endless word problems: If a tank is three-quarters full when it contains ten gallons, how many gallons….All of this by the eighth grade.

Would this lead to better performance on standardized tests, to include most IQ tests, compared to that of our (imaginary) identical twins raised in the Appalachian backwoods? Whatever the difference, it would be due to experience or, if you like, culture.

Virtuosity in taking tests is similarly affected by experience in taking tests. Like most in my generation, I was subjected to unending tests: an IQ test in the second grade when my teacher thought me retarded (as many readers still do). Some sort of Virginia test. PSATs. NMSQT. SATs. GREs. Marine Corps General Qualification Test. FSEE. And so on.

As I suppose others did, I learned the technique for acing tests. Run through all the questions rapidly, picking the low-hanging fruit, putting a tick mark by those questions not instantly obvious. Run through again, answering those of the tick-markeds susceptible to a minute’s thought, double tick-marking the really difficult ones. Then to the really hard ones and finally, with an eye on the clock and knowing how the tests are scored, eliminate one or two answers on the remaining ones and guess.

People who don’t know this, and try to go straight through, may not even finish.

Among the lumpen-IQatry, the tendency is to regard SATs, NAEP, and so on as surrogates for IQ, and thus for intelligence. This is error. The SATs in particular are not intelligence tests and were never intended to be. Their function was to measure the student’s ability to handle complex ideas in complex normal English, which  is what college students used to do. The tests did did this well. The were not intelligence tests as their scores were functions of at least  three things, intelligence, background, and experience in taking tests. IQ =  f(a,b,c…)

Of course vocabulary is part of normal English. Consequently the famous objection that a ghetto kid would not know the word “regatta,” making the tests unfair, makes no sense. He would also not know “expurgate,” “putrescent,” “turpitude,” or “exponent.” However intelligent, he would not be ready to read university texts.

Today many students take SAT-prep courses which seem to raise scores quite a bit.  If so, this largely invalidates the tests and very much works against those who cannot afford or have not heard of the prep courses.

Curiously, people who you would expect to solve problems readily sometimes don’t. When I was maybe sixteen, in its letters columns New Scientist asked, “why does a mirror reverse letters from left to right but not from top to bottom” Obviously a mirror does not reverse letters, but for a couple of weeks readers advanced theories as to why they do. At least one of these involved considerable mathematics. This surprised me since the dim presumably do not read New Scientist.

Now, countries. Equatorial Guineans are said to have a mean IQ of 59. In the absence of demonstration to the contrary, I am perfectly happy to believe that they are not very bright. (The CIA Factbook puts literacy there at 95%. You figure it out.) However, the distribution being symmetrical, more than half of them have an IQ under 60. This is in the realm of serious retardation. A substantial fraction would be below 45. Is this plausible? How can they remember to find their way home at night?

Maybe they have a lot of homeless. Someone should study This.

Oddities abound. For example, purebred Mexican Indians are said to have a (mean) IQ of 83, indicating borderline retardation and suggesting that they should be at very low levels of intellectual achievement. They are. OK. So far, so good.

Colombians are said to have an IQ of 84. They run a modern country with all the credentials of airlines, telecommunications and the like. That one IQ point must be a pretty strong one, with a gym membership perhaps anabolic steroids in the medicine cabinet. Or maybe the scale is phenomenally non-linear. Or something.

American blacks are said to be at IQ 85. Being more intelligent than Colombians, they should certainly be able to run modern countries–unless maybe their one IQ point difference runs backwards. It begins to look as if each IQ point needs to be examined separately for individual behavior. And of course if blacks can run complex enterprises, that they don’t must be due to white privilege or slavery. Gotcha.

Then the Irish, long said to have a mean IQ of 86 (before being promoted to 100, perhaps for good behavior) had a First World European country. We conclude that IQ has no reliable relation to national outcome.

Curiously, in the third century BC the purebred Mexican Indians invented writing and  an exponential-positional number system, and made extraordinarily accurate astronomical observations. This would seem peculiar in the mildly retarded, but perhaps these were really smart mildly retarded Indians. Now, in the past, any time I have suggested that Mexicans might have done anything requiring intelligence, I have been assured by commenters that only white Mexicans could have done it. All right, I concede the possibility that only white really smart mildly retarded purebred Indians invented writing.  What else could explain it?.

Look, I have a disordered mind. I can’t hello it.

Now, unless we believe that an 83 IQ is sufficient to invent number systems–do we?–something must have drastically lowered the intelligence of those white purebred Indians. What? Since we are all good Darwinians, there must have been strong selective pressures for stupidity. This suggests a very modern organization of society. Here we enter the ghostly realm of genes assumed to exist acted upon by selective pressures that can neither be measured nor shown to have existed to produce effects which cannot be correlated with the pressures that may or may not have existed. 

But these are deep waters better left my superiors.

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