IQ tests have been around for about a century. We know they work, and they explain many important things about us, and our societies. As homo sapiens, intelligence is our main competitive advantage—it’s how we’ve built everything (e.g. this website, the hard drives on which the data is stored, the device you are reading it on, the electricity this process is using, etc). Who invents these things? The invention is made possible, every single time, by our intelligence outliers.
So why, when smart people have given us so much, do people hate the topic of IQ—the quantification of genetic intelligence? The latest denialist is Nassim Taleb, a high IQer from the financial world, who works up a bunch of statistical sophistry to “prove” IQ isn’t real.
As for me, I’m a practitioner, not an academic with no “skin in the game” like Taleb. For a decade I’ve worked in venture capital with high-IQ inventors globally (U.S. China, Korea, Singapore). One interesting thing I did was a long-running attribution analysis on those inventors, for the owners—who is most productive, and what are their characteristics? You learn interesting things in the study of human intelligence, but in this piece I’m going to focus on the logical reasons why people deny its usefulness, and deny IQ specifically.
I’ve observed this for many years, and talked with many high-IQers about why this happens. Let’s divide this into two parts—first I’ll bullet point the main reasons why people deny IQ, and second I’ll list the main reasons they give…
Why They Deny
Because they are normals. The number one reason people deny, is because they don’t have a high IQ. Statistically, 2/3 of the population fall within +/- 1 standard deviation of the mean (IQ 85–115), and 84% fall under 115. So they cry out “nooo, lies!” This is understandable, what other outcome would you expect? Related to this, as normals, they also aren’t intellectually capable of comprehending how IQ tests measure their intelligence. It takes an intelligence materially greater than the subject’s intelligence, to design the test (as an aside, this becomes a problem only when trying to quantify 160+ geniuses, who tests them?).
Virtue signaling. The high IQers know IQ is real, but as high IQers, they also know it’s not wise to talk about (see reason #1). And so while privately their actions signal they know it’s real, publicly they virtue signal that “it’s not all that.” This is seen in public statements by Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Stephen Hawking, etc. It’s public relations. It can also take the form of virtue signaling to “stop the racists,” and demonstrate one is a member of “the good people.”
Romanticism. People love to romanticize human intelligence—it’s a mystical unquantifiable thing—when really it’s just primate pattern recognition. From this state of mind, the quantifier ruins the mystique, and becomes the target of the enraged primate for popping their bubble.
Ignorance. The vast majority of people who discuss IQ, don’t actually know anything about IQ tests. The public are not specialists, and lacking any real knowledge, fall back to the emotional reactions #1–3 above. This is seen clearly in online comments, by those of us who aren’t ignorant. Or in other cases, they aren’t actually ignorant, but know the public are, and so they know they can get away with all sorts of false statements.
Because they are racists. Interestingly, although there is a long history of accusing people who reference IQ of being racists, currently the denialismof IQ is being used by racists (and sexists too). A claim is made that “everyone is equal,” but the observations show outcomes are not equal—so the explanation must be discrimination. The “solution” then becomes institutional racism and sexism, and the use of IQ to explain the differences must be banned, or else the racist’s argument falls apart.
Ideological possession. Anti-meritocracy and “blank slate” ideologies want to burry quant that proves people genetically differ. This can give groups aligned with such an ideology—including politicians, academia, and industry—a strong reason to deny science. Socialism obviously has strong anti-meritocracy tendencies. Progressivism, by its nature, has always denied evolutionary biology. Postmodernism wants to overthrow the “oppressors,” many of which are intelligence outliers. Corporatism wants to build a bland faceless workforce of drones to maximize profit. In all these cases, science gets subordinated.
With all these anti-science forces, it’s a wonder all references to IQ haven’t been deleted off the internet by now. Yet the topic keeps resurfacing, because IQ is real, and it explains many important things for which we need answers. And each time the topic resurfaces, for decades now, we hear the same canned responses…
How They Deny
“We don’t know what intelligence is.” False, intelligence is pattern recognition. Patterns in numbers, words, shapes, colors, sounds, tastes, emotions, etc. High IQers see more patterns, they see them faster, and they are better able to distinguish false patterns.
“Intelligence can’t be measured.” False, pattern recognition ability is adequately measured by IQ tests, which measure your ability to see patterns in shapes, words and numbers. Although these tests don’t employ patterns in say, sound or emotion, they still work since with most people the tested correlates with the non-tested. Big picture, these tests work—an 85 person can’t score 160, the patterns are beyond their comprehension even if they looked at them for 100 years (see test example at bottom). Similarly a 160 person can’t score 85, even if they are tired and hung over, the patterns are just too obvious (see test example at top). IQ tests give a general idea of where a person resides on the spectrum of human intelligence.
“It doesn’t matter.” False, knowing your general intelligence matters a lot in making wise life choices. If you are 85, realistically you don’t have what it takes to compete in physics, and you may need to work harder at whatever you do. If you are 145, it may explain why you have felt different your whole life, you may need to work on communication with normals to live a functional life, and it may suggest certain career paths. It also matters at the macro-level as analysts studying societies, government planning and policy, and in business managing human resources.
“But it’s just education.” False, IQ measures genetic intelligence. Many tests only use shapes, so you don’t even need language or math. High IQ kids, are such, before receiving an education. Low IQ adults, are such, after receiving a masters degree. You can’t really become genetically smarter. Although a life spent directing your innate pattern recognition skills, at certain types of problems, could make you perform slightly better on a test that uses those types of problems.
“But there are time limits.” False, some IQ tests have no time limits, because time won’t help you solve these problems (the example question at the bottom is from a test with no time limit). Besides, the speed of your pattern recognition can be part of what is being tested. If you had a 160 IQ, you’d see those questions that test for 130 instantly. Personally, I’m a slow methodical thinker so I dislike timed tests, but it doesn’t change my score.
“But someone fooled the test.” Irrelevant. There are extreme examples of people who worked their entire life to increase their score from 150 to 190. And there are people who take Yahoo! tests to tell them what they want to hear. Who cares? You can just make up a number if you want. But the existence of these people, does not make IQ tests less useful for sincere people.
“But IQ tests are racist.” False, science can not be racist. Both the science, and the denialism of the science, can be used by racists. Hiding the science won’t fix this problem! As proof; in the United States the denial, obfuscation, and social pressure not to reference the science, is used to create and perpetuate institutional racism and sexism.
“But look at my micro statistical sophistry.” You can spend a lot of time coming up with fallacious arguments, and bad/irrelevant math. But in the end, differences in human intelligence exist, and IQ tests gauge those differences accurately enough. These intelligence differences matter—we see them manifest in outputs across time and geography.
Thanks for reading, I imagine these thoughts may trigger a bunch of the above denialist responses! If you come up with a new one, I’ll add it.