Friday, February 3, 2012

Liberal/Conservative Smart/Dumb

So, here's a news story that caught my eye yesterday:

A new study suggests that people with low IQs tend to be more conservative, politically and socially, while people with high IQs tend to be more progressive. Here's the link:

My main problem with this is twofold. First, I'm inherently dubious of generalizations about the behavior or beliefs of vast numbers of people. "Women", "Southerners", "Liberals", "Muslims" -- all are too diverse a group to be easily potted.

Second, as Stephen Jay Gould masterfully demonstrated in THE MISMEASURE OF MAN [1985],* IQ isn't a measure of intelligence but of of one's ability to second-guess the test: it's original purpose was to gauge learning speed. What IQ tests test best is the ability to take IQ tests (try saying that ten times quickly): they don't measure innate ability or capacity.

That's assuming there's even such a thing as "Intelligence" that has any more meaning than a D&D stat: that problem solving, verbal skill, memorization, visualization skills, extrapolative logic, &c are all expressions of the same thing, as opposed to widely varied mental functions that have little to do with each other and are found in all kinds of mixes in individual brains.

So, fun headline, but bogus study.

--John R., who scored quite well on IQ tests, actually**

*a book I gave Owen Barfield a copy of -- now at Wheaton, I think -- though I never did hear what he thought of it.

**apparently I'm a low-grade genius. Does that mean my IQ's just high enough not to believe in IQ?


Pax said...

I don't have any experience with IQ tests, but I don't see how it can be assumed that correlation is the same thing as cause and effect.

Matt Fisher said...

To follow up on Pax's comment...

Correlation is NOT causation. There are lots of ways for two factors to be correlated without a direct cause and effect relationship. That is particularly important when talking about something as complex as intelligence and whatever fraction of that IQ tests might measure.