Taleb on IQ: more responses, debunking IQ cultural bias, and the philosophy of Taleb’s liberalism

This is the third and for now final chapter of the Taleb IQ series. See part 1 and part 2.

It has been almost two weeks since Taleb’s original anti-IQ Twitter rant and four days since the publication of a Medium blog post also attacking IQ. So far, his statements have generated significant rebuke. More and more people are beginning to realize that Taleb has no idea what he’s talking about (which is what I have been saying for years) and he’s losing the intellectual credibly he took years to build.

Stefan Molyneux put out a video refuting Taleb:

Stefan’s argument is that the reason why IQ is a poorer predictor on the high-end of ability is because smarter people have more job options, but low-IQ people have far fewer options.

Spandrell of the Bloody Shovel blog calls Taleb’ retarded’.

And Dr. James Thompson put out one of the best rebuttals I have read Swanning About: Fooled by Algebra?

As is the case with most Unz.com articles, there are a ton of comments, many of which are as insightful, if not more so, as the original article. Regarding the common argument that the majority high-IQ people are not hugely successful or don’t have PHDs, Dr Thompson responds:

The PhD rates are 50 times higher than the population base rate. That is not a coin toss. The rate at which people wanted to do a PhD would be relevant if we had a population base rate, but the completion rate is the best measure. The difference between the highest levels of intellect and the general population in doctorates is massive.

.5 is a fairly high correlation in behavioural research. Corrected for restriction of range it would be higher, probably .6 or even .7

IQ tests are useful at all levels of work. For higher levels a more specialized test designed for high ability candidates would be better. Demanding occupations set their own tests, specific to their requirements.

Taleb also only focuses on exceptions to the rule: average-IQ ‘Fat Tony’ blue collar millionaires and smart people who ‘blow-up’ (rich people who lose everything due to bad investment decisions), but he ignores that the majority smart people don’t go broke and that the vast majority of blue collar and low-skilled people never become rich. By in large, smarter people tend to have higher-paying careers and make more money than less intelligent people (as my own experience on /r/financialindependence and /r/investing anad /r/personalfinance has shown). It’s a huge story when a 90-year-old secretary bequests her life savings of $3 million, because it’s so rare for average-IQ, low or medium-skilled people to accumulate so much money, yet it’s hardly newsworthy when a financier or tech founder does the same (unless it’s in the tens of millions of dollars or more).

Taleb believes, on a per-capita basis, low-IQ countries can catch-up to smarter ones if given enough time.

But the evidence suggests otherwise:

Now the common objective is, low-IQ countries will eventually catch-up with smarter countries, due to improved nutrition and other factors.

Then why do IQ disparities still exist, such as with proxies like the PISA or SAT, despite modernity? Why do Northern European and East Asian countries consistently score higher than South American and Middle Eastern countries despite all countries having access to roughly the same nutrition and infrastructure. Global poverty has fallen greatly over the past few decades yet IQ disparities still exist.

Such disparities exist in the U.S. too, with Blacks and Hispanics, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, scoring much worse than Whites and Asians. Lead poisoning and malnutrition, both blamed for underachievement and low IQs among Blacks, is no longer a problem yet underachievement persists. A somewhat more convincing argument is that Black families don’t value education as much as White or Asian families do, hence worse achievement, but Blacks still score lower than Whites on culture-neutral IQ sub-tests such as digit span and spatial IQ. If culture were to blame, then Blacks would score as well as other groups on digit span, object assembly, object rotation, and matrix tests.

A meta-analysis of 23 studies finds a 13 point IQ gap between blacks and whites:

This meta-analysis aims to determine the magnitude of the black-white gap in mean IQ in the United States. It was conducted in accordance with a previously published protocol (Neyeloff et al. 2012). A total of 23 studies-deriving from 10 previously published reports-were included in the meta-analysis. High heterogeneity was found (I2 = 99.7%), so a random-effects meta-analysis was conducted, which resulted in a much lower value of I2 (namely, 35.0%) and an effect size of 0.853 SD (95% CI 0.747, 0.959). This effect size is equivalent to a black-white gap in mean IQ scores of 12.8 points.

Some argue that the Flynn effect means that less intelligent countries and groups will eventually catch-up with smarter ones, but all the Flynn Effect means is that due to improved nutrition and other environmental factors, IQs are rising to their biological limit, but some groups have higher limits than others. Furthermore there is evidence the Flynn Effect has stalled. And as discussed above, despite modernity, blacks still have worse scores on IQ tests than whites. Perhaps the gap has narrowed from 15 points to 12, but it persists nonetheless.

In disagreement with some, I doubt that Taleb’s hostility to IQ has to do with Taleb’s ethnic and racial heritage or due to Taleb objecting to the implication that Middle Easterners have lower IQs than Whites, but rather due to liberalism and egalitarianism on Taleb’s part. Taleb is a liberal and possibly a sjw, too, as evidenced by how he uses the rhetorical tactics and arguments the left uses, such as calling Charles Murray a racist. Even as early as 2012 I had him pegged as a liberal. Taleb is opposed to the fact that some people are intrinsically better than others, and how this superiority manifests itself in social status and individual socioeconomic outcomes. He wants to believe that smarter people are not better than the less intelligent and that socioeconomic factors are to blame for underachievement among certain groups, not biological factors.

Here is Taleb playing the racism card, just as we would expect the left to do:

Aww..did those alt-right pple say mean things about you on the internet? I think Taleb needs his safe space.

Lebanon’s national IQ of 82 is according to the notorious alt-right website Wikipedia. This is just an empirical, objective fact, much how Scandinavian people are taller than average. Playing the racist card is an admission of intellectual weakness and cowardice on Taleb’s part.

Taleb’s liberalism

A reason why a lot of people were fooled by Taleb being a conservative when he’s actually a liberal, is because most people only look at politics at the object-level. For example, issues such as gun control or abortion. The second level is political philosophy such as Burke, Lokke, Voltaire, Hobbes, etc., but this is still insufficient. The final level is epistemological and ontological philosophy. This is what Ayn Rand tried to, by combining all three into a single framework called Objectivism. Taleb is a huge fan of Hume and Popper, all of whom are antecedents to postmodernism, which denies ‘logocentrism’ and objective values, such as IQ being a measure of intrinsic individual worth. Even if postmodernists don’t deny the existence of IQ , they deny the existence of value systems based on IQ, race, gender and other absolute, objective variables. Ayn Rand hated Hume and Kant and for good reason, and if she were alive she too would not be fooled by Taleb’s pretense of conservatism. The Quora answer explains the key differences between Hume’s philosophy and Objectivism:

David Hume was a skeptic of everything, including the possibility of knowledge, whereas Ayn Rand believed in absolute truths, as long as they are correctly defined in the appropriate context, using the correct method. David Hume was a skeptic of man’s ability to perceive entities or causal events. Ayn Rand defended man’s mind and his ability to perceive entities and causality, allowing him to know the world around him.

As a result of his beliefs, Hume didn’t believe that any fact or collection thereof could result in a logical endorsement of any moral code. Hume described preferences in morality as a war of irrational passions- impervious to reason, understanding or justification.

Rand’s view of man’s competence to reason and understand himself and his surroundings resulted in her confidence in man’s ability to see his place in the world… Thereby yielding a moral code by observing the nature of man and observing man’s life as the standard of value. Since reason is man’s primary means of survival, and since it takes place inside the operation of an individual mind, Ayn Rand was a fundemental supporter of individualism and individual rights.

Philosophically, David Hume believed that the phenomena of consciousness could not be justified by reference to an absolute reality of any kind. Therefore he can easily be described as a Subjectivist, whereas Ayn Rand believed that man could access reality by methodically adhering to reason. This is why she advocated a method for acquiring absolute, yet contextual, knowledge which leads to answers for man to know and act upon in the world. This is why she called her philosophy Objectivism.

Understanding one’s philosophical antecedents (level 3) is predictive of one’s ‘true’ political beliefs and orientation, which is how I knew Taleb was a liberal as far back as 2012, long before he unwittingly exposed himself as one.

Even if he’s only a centrist, Jordan Peterson is further to the right than Taleb and is not fake. Jordan Peterson acknowledges the predictive value of IQ–not just at the individual level but also for the wealth and success of nations and socioeconomic disparities between groups. He is speaks out against postmodernist interpretations of gender and sexuality, which Taleb ignores or covertly agrees with (which would not surprise me). Jordan Peterson, unlike Taleb, opposes the relativistic, fallibilistic philosophy of Hume and Popper.Yes, Jordan Peterson’s interpretation of Christianity and the literal existence of Jesus may be iffy, and he bombed that debate with Sam Harris, and he has a lot of centrist leanings, but he makes a lot of good points too.

Just as Dr. Peterson conveys much needed intellectual credibility for the right, Nassim Taleb exudes masculinity and toughness that is otherwise lacking for left, which is why the left leaves him alone but attacks moderates and centrists who speak about biological realism, such as Jordan Peterson and Charles Murray.

Some critics may concede that although Taleb is wrong only about IQ, he is a genius at other stuff, but as I will discuss in further detail in an upcoming post, Taleb has no original ideas, gets a lot of other stuff wrong, and is not a genius. But he does a reasonably good job pretending to be one, so understandably a lot of people are fooled by his facade of intellect.