High-IQ People are Not Being Inappropriately Excluded

There is a persistent myth/belief that high-IQ people–due to cultural factors, educators, employers, and the so-called ‘communications gap’–are being systematically and inappropriately excluded from society and employment, and such individuals are doomed to a lifetime of rejection and unhappiness. Based on the evidence I have gathered, I am skeptical of this hypothesis.

For context, this exclusion myth originated from a highly influential 2015 essay, The Inappropriately Excluded, by Michael W. Ferguson. I have seen this essay shared and referenced countless times on Twitter, Reddit, blogs, and elsewhere.

And here is Vox Day in a recent video also talking about the exclusion of high-IQ people:

It’s funny how he downplays IQ 24 minutes into the video, yet never passes on the opportunity to brag about his National Merit qualification or his 150 IQ score.

Regarding the SAT, as Pumpkin Person shows, although IQ and the SAT are positively correlated, the correlation is only 1/2:

However Harvard’s median re-centered SATs of 1490 equate to IQ 143 (U.S. white norms) which is 46 points above the U.S. mean of 97. Assuming the sampled Harvard students were cognitively representative of Harvard and assuming Harvard is cognitively representative of all 1490 SAT Americans, the fact they regressed from being 46 IQ points above average on the SAT to 23 IQ points above average on the abbreviated WAIS-R, suggests the re-centered SAT correlates 23/46 = 0.5 with the abbreviated WAIS-R.

And he concludes:

It also suggests that there’s no substitute for a real IQ test given by a real psychologist with blocks, cartoon pictures, jig-saw puzzles, and open-ended questions. I can see David Wechsler, chuckling from the grave, saying “I told you so.”

Vox possibly puts too much emphasis on SAT scores as being a proxy for full IQ. The SAT only measures two subsets of IQ, although all the parts are highly correlated. If you look at the correlation between SAT scores and the Raven’s test below, you can see that in spite of the positive correlation there are many people with impressive SAT scores but mediocre Raven’s scores, and the other way around:

I think this aphorism or heuristic useful: pretty much everyone who gets a very high score on the GRE, SAT, or LSAT is smart, but not all smart people get high scores.

Regarding exclusion, the argument is possibly wrong for several reasons:

Rather than high-IQ people being excluded, it’s possible that IQ tests are underestimating IQ. So someone with a 1/3,000 rarity IQ (>150) tests at 135 (1/100 rarity), because that is the ceiling of the test. A reason why there are so few people with IQs above 140 in “professional work” is possibly because most IQ tests simply don’t go that high, so the 145+ IQ people are lumped with the 125-135 IQ people.

Second, there are many fields of work in which there appears to be no ceiling, such as theoretical physics (as Michael W. Ferguson points out), mathematics (Field’s Medalists have very high IQs), fiction writing, technical writing, entrepreneurial endeavors (such as Bill Gates, whose IQ is estimated to be 150-160), programming/coding, medical/pharmaceutical research, and so on. These are jobs that are self-paced and have a lot of autonomy and do not involve “reporting to a boss”.

Third, as discussed here, the Terman study, which is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of high-IQ people, shows that individuals with IQs above 150 and 180 are well-adjusted and have productive careers and are as successful or even more so than study participants who have IQs of less than 140. There is no evidence again of exclusion.

Fourth, the rise of the internet has made very high-IQ people more included than ever. In fact, with the obvious exception of celebrities, there is a positive correlation between IQ and internet and social media status, with smarter people in general having more social media followers, more YouTube followers and views, more Reddit and Stack Overflow karma/points, ability to write viral articles and get viral traffic, more recognition, more clout, and so on. Look how much status professors have, especially in STEM and economics. They are constantly cited by the media. One just made $400 million from his biotech investment. Look at the Forbes 400 list–most of the top people are self-made, very high-IQ tech founders (Google, Facebook, etc.).

Off the top of my head, I can name over a dozen high-IQ bloggers, public figures, and writers in fields such as physics, math, finance, psychology, and economics who have tons of status and recognition and can hardly be considered excluded, yet probably have IQs of at least 145 or so, some examples being Tyler Cowen (writer and economist who runs the hugely popular blog Marginal Revolution), Peter Woit (physicist and blogger of the popular site Not Even Wrong), Sabine Hossenfelder (physicist; blogger of Back Reaction, a popular physics blog that is often cited), Terrance Tao (possibly the smartest man alive; Fields Medalist; runs a very popular math blog), Lubos Motl (physicist, blogger), Sean Carroll (physicist, writer, and philosopher), Robin Hanson (economist, futurist), Eliezer Yudkowsky (futurist, writer, AI expert), Bryan Caplan (economist, writer, popular blogger), Brett and Eric Weinstein, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Steven Pinker, and many more.

One can argue that I’m just choosing outliers, but I think if one were to select 1,000 people at random who have IQs of >145 and compare them to 1,000 individuals with IQs of around 100 and 1,000 individuals with IQs of 115-130, you would find the >145 cohort to have higher status and be more successful than the 100 IQ cohort and at least as successful, if not more so, than the 115-130 group. If anyone is being excluded, it’s probably those with IQs around 90-110.

Very high-IQ people being under-represented in certain professions, such as law or government, does not mean that they are being excluded (as in discriminated against), but rather that they may choose other professions, such as STEM.

STEM is a much bigger and important part of the U.S. economy now than generations ago, further boosting the wages and status of high-IQ people.

The author writes:

Over an extensive range of studies and with remarkable consistency, from Physicians to Professors to CEOs, the mean IQ of intellectually elite professions is about 125 and the standard deviationn is about 6.5. For example, Gibson and Light found that 148 members of the Cambridge University faculty had a mean IQ of 126 with a standard deviation of 6.3. The highest score was 139. J.D. Matarazzo and S.G. Goldstein found that the mean IQ of 80 medical students was 125 with a standard deviation of about 6.7. There was one outlier at 149, but the next highest score was 138. This means that 95% of people in intellectually elite professions have IQs between 112 and 138 99.98% have IQs between 99 and 151.

But this is still a very small sample of all professors. I’m sure if you sampled math and physics professors from top-50 colleges, you would find a lot of IQs above 140 and some above 150. Same for tech CEOs and founders. I’m sure if you sampled STEM graduates from top-50 colleges you would again find a lot of 140-150 scores.

Data analyst Randy Olson found that the average IQ of math, astronomy, and physics majors to be above 130:

This is just for any college and those who merely major in it at the undergraduate level. If you narrow it further to graduates, grad school, PHDs, and elite colleges, the average IQ would presumably be even higher, possibly as high as 140-145, so one would also expect some 150+ scores too.

However, for the highest levels of eminence such as Nobel Prizes, IQ probably matters less than luck. Paul Krugman has a Nobel in economics, but I doubt he’s much smarter than Tyler Cowen, who does not.

Overall, for the aforementioned reasons, the belief that very high-IQ people are being systematically excluded, can be put to rest. The evidence just does not show it. People should stop citing this article except to refute it as I have done.