Debunking IQ Denial-ism

In his most recent article, AGAINST INDIVIDUAL IQ WORRIES, Scott ‘truth bombs’ everyone about IQ, with phrasing that departs from his typical nuanced tone, such as calling critics ‘IQ denialists’ and dismissing emotional IQ as a ‘silly theory’. This is an article that needed to be written, because there are a lot of misconceptions about IQ.

Scott writes, “I’m kind of annoyed I have to write this post. After investing so much work debunking IQ denialists, I feel like this is really – I don’t know – diluting the brand.”

It’s no so much that these people deny IQ exists, but rather they deny that: it is of predictive power for individual socioeconomic and national outcomes, that is varies among races, and that it can be reliably measured. The typical arguments are “even if some people are smarter than others, it doesn’t matter,” “social programs can close IQ gaps,” “IQ does not measure anything important,” “IQ tests are racist/biased,” or “a high IQ must be in lieu of a more important trait (such as honesty or creativity),” “I have a friend with a high IQ and he is a loser in life,” and last but not least “it only measures how well you do on IQ tests.”

Related: Beyond the Blank Slate: How Libs Turn High-IQ Into a Handicap:

But the left is resourceful. When pressed, many will concede that, yes some people are smarter than others and this intelligence may have a biological origin, but that’s where it ends. The left’s most effective strategy in downplaying the benefits and significance of IQ is turn high-IQ into handicap. Yes, being better now means you’re worse.

Going back to Scott’s article, the overarching thesis is that IQ is a better predictor in the aggregate than at the individual level. IQ cannot predict specifically how well or poorly someone will do: some average-IQ people become scientists; some geniuses become janitors, even if ‘on average’ scientists are 30 points smarter than janitors.

Unfortunately, Scott gets things wrong, too. He starts off by saying (I’m just going to blockquote the entire thing because it won’t make sense unless you read the entire section):

But every so often, I get comments/emails saying something like “Help! I just took an IQ test and learned that my IQ is x! This is much lower than I thought, and so obviously I will be a failure in everything I do in life. Can you direct me to the best cliff to jump off of?”


So I want to clarify: IQ is very useful and powerful for research purposes. It’s not nearly as interesting for you personally.


How can this be?


Consider something like income inequality: kids from rich families are at an advantage in life; kids from poor families are at a disadvantage.


From a research point of view, it’s really important to understand this is true. A scientific establishment in denial that having wealthy parents gave you a leg up in life would be an intellectual disgrace. Knowing that wealth runs in families is vital for even a minimal understanding of society, and anybody forced to deny that for political reasons would end up so hopelessly confused that they might as well just give up on having a coherent world-view.


From an personal point of view, coming from a poor family probably isn’t great but shouldn’t be infinitely discouraging. It doesn’t suggest that some kid should think to herself “I come from a family that only makes $30,000 per year, guess that means I’m doomed to be a failure forever, might as well not even try”. A poor kid is certainly at a disadvantage relative to a rich kid, but probably she knew that already long before any scientist came around to tell her. If she took the scientific study of intergenerational income transmission as something more official and final than her general sense that life was hard – if she obsessively recorded every raise and bonus her parents got on the grounds that it determined her own hope for the future – she would be giving the science more weight than it deserves.

The mistake he is he is conflating IQ (which is biological and thus intrinsic to the individual) with parental wealth (which is not). Studies have shown that the high-IQ poor have higher levels of socioeconomic mobility than the less intelligent. And from the article Despite indoctrination, a college degree may still be the best path out of poverty

…67% of poor college grads are at least 50-percentile in wealth compared to 49% of rich high school dropouts. It’s even better when you compare poor high school dropouts vs. poor college graduates, which is why a college degree may still be worth the money and the best pathway out of poverty, especially if you major in STEM.

…and from IQ, Education, and Upward Mobility

Height at midlife, years of education and childhood IQ were significantly positively related to upward social mobility, while number of siblings had no significant effect. For each standard deviation increase in IQ score at the age 11, the chances of upward social mobility increases by 69% (with a 95% confidence). After controlling the effect of independent variables, only IQ at age 11 was significantly inversely related to the downward in social mobility. Which means that more years of education help a man to surpass his father’s social class, and that low IQ makes a man prone to fall behind his father’s social class.

One can change their socioeconomic standing; one cannot change their IQ.

Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman famously scored “only” 124 on an IQ test in school – still bright, but nowhere near what you would expect of a Nobelist. Some people point out that it might have been biased towards measuring verbal rather than math abilities – then again, Feynman’s autobiography (admittedly edited and stitched together by a ghostwriter) sold 500,000 copies and made the New York Times bestseller list. So either his tested IQ was off by at least 30 points (supposed chance of this happening: 1/505 million), or IQ isn’t real and all of the studies showing that it is are made up by lizardmen to confuse us. In either case, you should be less concerned if your own school IQ tests seem kind of low.

Feynman’s ‘low IQ’ is probably more urban legend than reality. No one knows the type of IQ test he took (which would be important in knowing how much the test was ‘verbal loaded’ vs. ‘math loaded’), or if this ever happened, because he has never produced official records. It’s possible he got an ‘average’ score on the verbal parts and maximum score on the quantitative, producing an ‘above average’ score of 125.

Of note:

This is absolutely consistent with population averages of thousands of IQ estimates still being valuable and useful research tools. It just means you shouldn’t use it on yourself. Statistics is what tells us that almost everybody feels stimulated on amphetamines. Reality is my patient who consistently goes to sleep every time she takes Adderall. Neither the statistics nor the lived experience are wrong – but if you use one when you need the other, you’re going to have a bad time.

In part 3, Scott shows a box plot of various professions with their predicted IQs.

I don’t know how better to demonstrate this idea of “statistically solid, individually shaky”. On a population level, we see that the average doctor is 30 IQ points higher than the average janitor, that college professors are overwhelmingly high-IQ, and we think yeah, this is about what we would hope for from a statistic measuring intelligence. But on an individual level, we see that below-average IQ people sometimes become scientists, professors, engineers, and almost anything else you could hope for.

But the problem is many of these job titles, especially for high-IQ professions, are non-specific. What work does a ‘miscellaneous engineer’, ‘computer occupation’, or a ‘creative occupation’ entail? A ‘computer job’ can be as simple as inputting data, to as complicated as coding, which the chart does not differentiate between. I’m sure the people on the lower end of the ‘computer occupation’ IQ range are not going to be programming Unix, for example. It also does not differentiate between wages.

And then you can either resist that with every breath you have – deny all the data, picket the labs where it’s studied, make up silly theories about “emotional intelligence” and “grit” and what have you. Or you can surrender to the darkness, at least have the comfort of knowing that you accept the grim reality as it is.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that EQ competes with IQ, but rather they are different categories, one being an intrinsic trait and the other being a skill. It’s not so much that EQ is useless or silly, but rather EQ is a skill, which, unlike IQ, can be taught, and one who posses such skills, all else being equal, is at an advantage over someone who lacks such skills. EQ is the ability to put oneself in another person’s perspective. Let’s assume for example I want to post links to my blog on a Reddit sub. I know that if I post too many links at once, I will annoy people and possibly get banned. That is an example of applying EQ.

So please: study the science of IQ. Use IQ to explain and predict social phenomena. Work on figuring out how to raise IQ. Assume that raising IQ will have far-ranging and powerful effects on a wide variety of social problems. Just don’t expect it to predict a single person’s individual achievement with any kind of reliability. Especially not yourself.

Agree. If you see someone spouting nonsense about IQ, kindly direct them here