The Economist becomes Woke about IQ

The Economist finally awakens to the reality and importance of IQ, in an article How and why to search for young Einsteins: New research suggests new ways to nurture gifted children

The article went massively viral, getting hundreds of up-votes on major social news aggregation sites such as Hacker News and Reddit. This suggests there is a lot of interest in the subject of gifted education and IQ.

More and more people are waking up to fact that IQ is one of the best predictors of individual lifetime achievement. The Terman study and others first established this link over 50 years ago; Charles Murray wrote about it in the 80′s and 90′s; and finally, decades later, it’s getting mainstream acceptance. But parents, especially in the upper-middle classes, have always suspected that IQ is important, in spite of the best efforts by the media to downplay the of role IQ. For example, the admissions process for New York’s gifted schools is so competitive that parents spend $200/hour on coaching in the hope their children will score high enough to be admitted, believing that coaching can raise IQ scores. They understand that high IQ=more success=more prestige and money.

The high-IQ people who shared the article and up-voted it have a sort of self-realization that they are among society’s anointed secular nobility/priesthood, replacing the theistic priesthood of century ago. Using viralness and comments as a benchmark for public interest, there is a sort of fascination with giftedness and IQ, much in the same way a hundred years ago people looked up to clergymen and aspired to be as holy as them. Although, unlike the ecclesiastical monarchies of centuries ago, this priesthood does not have the absolute power, they wield a lot of economic and social power, and they are also represented in many of the most important facets of society, such as government, science, business, and media. With the exception of entertainment celebrities (such as athletes and actors, who tend to not be that exceptionally bright), those who attended gifted classes are the most successful and prominent people in society, with the most social status online, but also offline despite being marginalized or ignored in school.

It’s high-IQ people who are the ones with the most followers on social media, such as the rise of intellectual celebrities such as Jordan Peterson; or who are getting rich with surging stock prices (such as on /r/wallstreetbets or /r/investing); or who are getting rich with 6-figure tech jobs and web 2.0 (such as the dropbox.com IPO last week, which surged 40% in its debut at a $12 billion-dollar valuation, no doubt enriching a lot of high-IQ people such as the employees and venture capitalists); or who are getting rich with expensive real estate (such as the rich, high-IQ Chinese who are buying up America’s most expensive homes in Silicon Valley and New York). Of course, not all smart people are so successful, but in aggregate they are much more successful–even for things that on the surface are unrelated to IQ, such as number of social media followers or ‘karma’ points on websites like Hacker News and Stack Overflow–than less intelligent people.

The 2008 crisis can be likened to the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, which wiped out the lumbering, low-IQ dinosaurs and saw the rise of smart, cunning mammals in the aftermath as the new status quo. Those who may have been popular in secondary school school but were not ‘book smart’ are often stuck in low-paying, low-status jobs that don’t keep up with inflation, stripped of the social status they once enjoyed when they were younger. In other words, the tables have turned. This is because recent economic conditions reward smarts and competence more so than social skills or one’s high school social status. In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, which hurt low and medium-IQ jobs the most, high-IQ tech and finance jobs recovered the fastest and saw the greatest inflation-adjusted pay. Same for legal, medical, administrative, professorial, and other high-IQ sectors and domains. Although the service sector has generated a lot of jobs since 2008, the pay is much worse than manufacturing jobs, that decades ago allowed average and even below-average IQ people to attain the ‘middle class’, such jobs are vanishing on a relative and absolute basis relative to the total labor force.

From the article, these passages stood out:

Some researchers go further. Carol Dweck of Stanford University emphasises children’s “mindset” (the beliefs they have about learning). Children who think they can change their intelligence have a “growth mindset”, she says. Those who believe they cannot do much to change their “D” grades have a “fixed” one. According to Ms Dweck, children who adopt the first mindset quickly start to do better in tests.

However, a recent meta-analysis suggests that interventions based on growth-mindset are less effective than their hype implies. The study suggests that the effects of interventions drawing on the idea have no effect on the typical student’s outcomes and at best a small effect on those of poorer students. Other psychologists have struggled to replicate Ms Dweck’s results.

That seems to be the case with these programs that try to override one’s hard-wired biological cognitive limitations with affirmations–they don’t work. Similar disappointing results were found with Dr. Peterson’s self-authoring program, which purports to raise college GPAs, but an independent study showed it doesn’t.

Also, the author falls into the all-too-common trap of treating ‘book smarts’, which includes rote memorization, as being distinct from creativeness and IQ, when they are the same:

IQ tests have attracted furious criticism. Speaking for the sceptics, Christopher Hitchens, a journalist, argued that: “There is…an unusually high and consistent correlation between the stupidity of a given person and [his] propensity to be impressed by the measurement of IQ.” Like any assessment, IQ tests are not perfect. But as Stuart Ritchie of the University of Edinburgh points out in “Intelligence”, researchers in cognitive science agree that general intelligence—not book-learning but the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly and so on—is an identifiable and important attribute which can be measured by IQ tests.

Yeah, like like Christopher Hitchens, who was a social commentator, is as authoritative and reputable source on matters pertaining to IQ as an actual cognitive scientist. Book learning is highly correlated with IQ because it’s related to crystallized intelligence and working memory. Because all of the components of IQ are highly correlated, one who does well at rote memorization often excels at the other domains of intelligence too. Idiots savants are very rare. The ability to make exceptional creative contributions in any endeavor requires one understand the fundamentals first, necessitating some degree of book-learning.

In summary, one’s position in life and the social pecking order (or what Dr. Peterson calls hierarchies of competence) as manifested by individual achievement, is likely predetermined by IQ, especially in an economy and intellectual culture that rewards mental prowess more so than physical strength or social skills, whereas 100 years ago it was reversed.