Friday, February 10, 2012

IQ Dogma

Today I got am email from that included the following:

One panel at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC is called "The Failure of Multiculturalism," and it features the founder of a website that's claimed:
* Black Americans have lower IQs than whites,

The tone of the email email implied that such a claim is a self-evident sin, on the same level as anti-semitism, and that anyone who would associate with the people who make it is evil.

It is a statistical fact that the average black person has a lower IQ than the average white person. This is not an accusation of inferiority. Having a low IQ does not make you a bad person, for several reasons.

First, IQ is strongly affected by environmental factors like nutrition, pollution, and low access to enriching activities. Growing up in the bad environments associated with poverty will lower a child's IQ, and once they grow up, it is too late to change it. As we improve public health, IQ differences will become smaller.

More importantly, IQ tests only measure a very limited slice of human cognitive potential. I may have a higher IQ than the black sensei of my dojo, but he is a far better leader than I will ever be. He is politically astute, a good teacher, has excellent stage presence, and is skilled at working a crowd, commanding attention, maintaining friendships, making people comfortable, making people trust him, and a lot of other little things that are required to turn a disorderly mass of people into a well-functioning team.

For most of human history, his cognitive skills would be far more valuable than mine. The fact that my skills have a much higher market value in our economy does not mean that I am superior. It means that we live in a strange world.

It is probably best to think of a high IQ as a freakish mutation that hijacks the brainpower meant for social organization and uses it to do things that are unnatural, bizarre, and random. The skills that IQ tests measure happen to be extremely useful in the artificial and unnatural technological civilization we inhabit. 

A high-IQ human is to a natural human what a dog is to a wolf. The dog might make a better pet, but it would have much lower survival odds in the wild. It is silly to say that one is better than the other. They are suited for different situations.

We will never be able to think intelligently about human capability and potential, and help all people live good lives, unless we are comfortable with these facts.

1 comment:

Lou said...

Very impressed with this particular post of yours Richard...your examples and comparisons of cognitive skills sets were so well small feat in such a loaded & emotionally charged subject. Dad