National Merit

The National Merit Scholarship is a competition for recognition and scholarships. About 0.5%  of each class become semifinalists, and about 95% of those semifinalists become finalists.  The threshold score varies by state, adjusted so that half a percent of students in each state qualify – which means that the threshold scores varies somewhat by state.

Some finalists get a small scholarship from the organization itself ($2000 over four years)  but more scholarships, with more money, are available from some colleges, also to children of employees in some corporations, etc.  Free rides are possible.

The test is not quite a national IQ test with prizes, since the winning threshold varies by state – but it’s pretty close to one, probably closer than anything else.  The threshold is about 2.58 stds above average – which would be about 139 on an IQ test.

There are those who don’t like this test, probably mostly because they don’t like the overall results, some because they personally did poorly, but there are other reasons.  It is certainly the case that members of influential classes in this country are probably chosen more by test scores than they were once upon a time, while they seem to be crazier  and less competent than they were back in the day: you have to wonder.  Not that our political class is a mandarinate yet: you can find Senators with combined SAT scores of 800, Governors with an ACT score of 18.

One objection is that very few members of minority groups become finalists. Patrick Hayashi, a retired senior University of California official who had overseen admissions at UC Berkeley for ten years, asserted that not one of the hundreds of National Merit Scholars who came to the campus during those years was black or Hispanic. He estimated that “the percent of National Merit Scholars who are black, Hispanic, and American Indian is close to zero and that the absolute number of poor students from these groups is also close to zero”.

To Hayashi, this proves that there is something wrong with the test, but of course it is exactly what you should expect, since the fraction of a group with a significantly lower mean of some quantitative trait that exceeds a high threshold (in height, IQ, whatever) is very much smaller than in a group with a significantly higher mean, as I have pointed out before.  Consider black Americans. If their mean IQ is one std lower than whites, while the width of their distribution is lower (12 points instead of 15) – then for them the NMSPQRT threshold  is 4.475 standard deviations. Instead of 1 in 200, the fraction of winners is less than 1 in 200,000.

This is too simple: IQ can’t be exactly Gaussian, blacks in the US are not perfectly homogeneous, etc.  But it does show the trend: such high scores are much, much, much rarer in groups with low mean scores. It’s also the case that any black kid with such a high score would get a far better offer from Harvard.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

171 Responses to National Merit

  1. mobiuswolf says:

    Well, that’s a lot about the test that I never knew. I was a semi-finalist in Mass back in the dark ages, but no one ever mentioned any benefit from it. I guess if I had been a tribal member then, it would have changed things. I can’t say I wanted anything they had to offer, then or now. Interesting.

  2. pithom says:

    I suspect that, as ambition and intelligence are imperfectly correlated, that the threshold may be somewhat lower than 139. But the general gist that, with people making free choices, you wouldn’t expect all that many Blacks or Native Americans to become National Merit Scholars is clearly solid.

  3. Patrick Boyle says:

    Hillary Clinton was a National Merit semifinalist as was I. Barack Obama wasn’t. Either he wasn’t bright enough or he didn’t take it. I believe that almost all high school seniors take that test. (I could be wrong about that) But Obama’s life story is so filled with mysteries that he may have not taken it. Who knows what he was doing?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Maybe half take the test ( as juniors). Obama probably didn’t score that high: like I said, the fraction of blacks that do is very, very, very small.

      Hillary apparently did .

      • ursiform says:

        Obama is half white. But most whites don’t make it, either.

        I was also a semifinalist. I don’t think 95% of semifinalists became finalists back in my day. (70s)

      • Bryan Bell says:

        Sailer presented evidence, http://isteve.blogspot.com/2013/05/obamas-lsat-score.html, that Obama probably scored either 43 or 45 on the LSAT (~98%) when he was admitted to Harvard.

        • Patrick Boyle says:

          I don’t think Sailer claimed to have presented actual evidence. He recounts a theory that would be consistent with the possibility that Obama did well on the LSATs. There is no question that Obama is glib but to me he says too many silly things to be considered very bright. Maybe I’m wrong but he’s exactly the kind of personality that appears to be smarter than he really is. His personality and style are one of the reasons why standardized tests are used for admissions decisions.

          I don’t think any President in my lifetime has said as many really stupid things as Obama. I heard Eisenhower live when I was a kid and I was shocked at all his stumbling and fumbling which was edited out for TV. This was after his second stroke. Gerald Ford also seemed to have been brain damaged. But neither of them ever said anything as stupid as Obama did in his ‘You Didn’t Build That’ speech.

          He believes all sorts of strange ideas like ‘lizard brains’ to account for Republican opposition. He really thinks he has kept the oceans from rising. Do you think he has the capacity really understand the climate or the economy? Do you think Obama has ever understood what happened at Solyndra?

          Obama seems to imagine himself to be a great thinker rather like this other black guy Kayne West thinks that he is an important part of world culture. Blacks tend to have to much self regard. One way people judge a stranger’s ability is by their opinion of self. Self confidence is confused with analytic ability

          • Montmorillonite says:

            “He believes all sorts of strange ideas like ‘lizard brains’ to account for Republican opposition.”

            The actual quote:

            “There is still kind of a reptilian side of our brain, that part of our brain that, if somebody looks different or sounds different, that there’s part of us that is cautious. And what we have to do is fight against that.”

            From this you got “Obama believes Republicans have lizard brains”?

            • Patrick L. Boyle says:

              I made a video about Obama beliefs in the triune brain theory. It’s on YouTube. He appeared on a TV show explaining it to some of his adoring acolytes. It was more than a simple one sentence on the cuff statement.

              Trust me, deep down he’s shallow.

          • dearieme says:

            O is the only person I’ve ever heard of who apparently thinks the motor car is an American invention.

          • syon says:

            dearieme:”O is the only person I’ve ever heard of who apparently thinks the motor car is an American invention.”

            Most people seem to know very little about about the history of the car.It’s not like the “heavier-than-air” flying machine, where everyone, barring Brazilians, knows the correct answer.

            WIKIPEDIA credits Karl Benz*, but I’m willing to bet that large numbers of people have no idea who he is

            *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Benz

          • erica says:

            It strains credulity to think a man who pronounced “corps” as “corpse” (“Navy Signal Corps”) and who did it on two separate occasions has a very high verbal score. He likes to be seen in book stores and with books in his hands when he’s on vacation, but I suspect he’s not much of a reader.

          • Sideways says:

            Because he pronounced a word like it’s written, you conclude he’s not a reader

      • syon says:

        “Maybe half take the test ( as juniors). Obama probably didn’t score that high: like I said, the fraction of blacks that do is very, very, very small.”

        Maybe he was stoned that day.From what I can tell, Obama didn’t start really applying himself until he transferred to Columbia

    • Remember, Obama had to take math sections on his NMSQT and SAT’s to get into Occidental, but after that, no math was required and he tranferred to Columbia and then HLS. If he had had anything decent on his SATM, he would likely have affirmative-actioned elsewhere. Berkeley, Stanford. Therefore, I suspect his SATM is 500 or less. But I grant his verbal scores were likely pretty good.

      I think in some of the (currently 72) comments people are confusing NMSQT Semifinalist with Letters of Commendation, a lower cutoff, though still a nice score. I took mine junior year in 1970, and there were only two semifinalist/finalists in a city of 100K in NH, which usually has a fairly high cutoff. It was based on a top score of 160 then. It actually gave a fair approximation of IQ score.

      I thought I was hot shit until I went to a summer advanced studies program at St Paul’s and met a few sky pilots, one of whom had hit 157 that year. He went on to do stuff in low temperature ceramics at MIT, then IBM. Stereotypical geek and I loved the guy, still write to him years later. We never thought in terms of whether there were racial differences in IQ then, because there was nothing but white people in NH. We though the Greek Orthodox and the French Canadians were very exotic. Hell, people from outside New England were exotic.

      • Alex says:

        I’m skeptical of the analysis here. Obama starting at Occidental and transferring to Columbia is a bit strange, but there’s no reason to think that it was due to Obama having low test scores, as he also had to use standardized test scores to get into Columbia and Harvard. It seems more likely that he had a low GPA from high school and had to start at Occidental for that reason.

        • I readily acknowledge that mine is a most-likely rather than a must-be estimate, and I’m not ruling your guess out. Still, most schools treat transfers differently, and the LSAT doesn’t have math. To be creditable and win honors at HLS implies a SATV of maybe 700. If his math scores were anything, even if his grades sucked, a black kid from Punahou and Indonesia would have looked like exactly what Columbia would take a flier on in 1980.

        • Sideways says:

          It’s consistent with him applying to Columbia but not Occidental as “black”

      • dearieme says:

        In old-fashioned British slang a “sky pilot” is a clergyman aka God-botherer.

      • gcochran9 says:

        2 semifinalists out of a city out of 100K: in my home town we had about 1 every other year in a city of 4,000 – although with the farm kids, effective population might well have been as high as 6 k.

  4. Dylan says:

    I guess I can take a perverse pride in being one of the truly rare, a 0.5% Semi-Finalist in the 5% who didn’t make Finalist. (Bad grades.)

    • huitzilopotchli says:

      Me too, and there are a few other people in this thread who refer to themselves as “semifinalists,” which probably means they didn’t make finalist. I think most of the semifinalists who didn’t make finalists were too ornery to do homework, extracurricular activities, show up to class, etc, and they may be attracted to the kind of contrarianism represented by this blog.

      • Anonymous says:

        We are a rare breed. There should be a study done on us, actually.

      • Chip Haddock says:

        That’s me. I had no idea at the time that failing to make finalist was such a distinction. I’d have taken a great deal of perverse pride in it.

      • Karl K says:

        I got the scholarship but your analysis of my personality is dead on.

      • josh says:

        There was a pointless essay that you had to write (IIRC, the topic was “explain why you are so awesome and how you plan to use your awesomeness to serve the power elite in the future” or words to that effect) and an application to fill out I could imagine not bothering..

      • MC says:

        I’ve discovered my people!

        I actually did lots of extra-curriculars, was class president, etc. But yeah, never did any homework. It still got me 100% tuition waiver at a Pac-12, but no living expenses

        I suspect that the personality type that reads politically incorrect blogs has a disproportionate number of our tribe.

    • Andrew Ryan says:

      I too was a semi-finalist (back in 1992) who was not a finalist. Sub-par grades and a poorly put together application (my advisor said they would throw it in the trash when they saw it due to sloppiness) were my downfall.

    • Difference Maker says:

      I had not a care about the membership. School was was not worth spending time on

    • Sideways says:

      Another one of those here. So I do not believe it is as uncommon as Greg suggests

    • Vorotyntsev says:

      Me too, brother. And off to be a 13B I went.

  5. Jim W says:

    I was a finalist in Massachusetts. I was working after school in a grocery store at the time, and my bosses were shocked when they saw my picture in the paper. I was so inept at my job, they thought I was slightly retarded.
    To compete for the scholarship, you had to write an essay, and I didn’t win. The people from my high school who won actually had worse test scores than me. I think essays should be kept out of things like this.
    Years later, with the GRE, I got an 800 on the analytical section, which to me is an ideal test and appeals to my strengths. I found out later that it is similar to the LSAT (I took the PLSAT to help a friend who was having trouble with it). Later, they replaced the analytical section with an essay test — terrible decision.

    • Bryan Bell says:

      I disliked the GRE essay test too, could be due to my bad score.

    • cthulhu says:

      I was a semi finalist, then finalist, in 1979/1980, but didn’t win the scholarship; my actual SAT score, while respectable, didn’t quite live up to my PSAT score (or my ACT score – I killed the ACT). Had to drive 100 miles in my rural mid-south Great Plains part of the country to the state university campus to take the SAT, one of only two students from my high school to take the test; in that timeframe, the SAT was not taken by the typical high school student in the Great Plains. And no coaching – I assumed the SAT would be similar to the ACT; boy was I wrong!

      But no essays; it was just your PSAT score to become a semi-finalist; that plus your junior year grades to become a finalist; then your SAT score and first semester grades (SAT far and away the biggest factor) to determine the winners (I think they reserved the right to revoke the scholarship if you really honked up your last semester grades). And there weren’t all of the corporate sponsorships either, at least that I knew of. It was prestigious but not the way it is today. My state’s most prestigious university recruited me, but as much for my ACT score as the National Merit finalist status.

  6. dearieme says:

    “National Merit Scholarship”: I’ve heard the expression but didn’t know any details. 0.5% seems to me to be an awful lot to make a fuss about. I went to a (very good) British university when only around 5% of my age group went to university, so roughly 10% of our undergraduate body would have qualified. I’m confident that many of my friends were in that top 10% (not least because our exam results were public knowledge).

    On the race biz, my circle was all white except for an Indian who’d grown up in the old Southern Rhodesia – a charming chap, popular, highly intelligent and an excellent sportsman.

    On the social class front, the picture was varied. Of the parental occupations known to me (not all were of course), the students whose fathers had the most modest jobs were the sons respectively of a farm labourer and a butcher’s assistant. Both delightful lads, and sharp as razors intellectually.

    But then this was in Olden Times, before the Forces of Progress set about methodically buggering up the British schools.

  7. erica says:

    Hayashi, Patrick—-might have known, sociology, liberal arts

    “Pat began his career at UC Berkeley in 1966 as a campus mail carrier. He later worked in budget, accounting, contracts and grants and personnel. In 1969 he began teaching freshman writing in the new Asian American Studies program. He served as head of the program from 1971-73 and appointed Ron Takaki as the program’s first tenured professor. In 1973, he left Berkeley for Sendai, Japan where he studied educational sociology at Tohoku University. He returned to Berkeley and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in public policy”

    –from
    http://apahenational.org/?page_id=5427

  8. Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

    Hate to brag— okay no, I don’t, I love bragging— I’m black and was a National Merit Finalist. Granted, it was in a southern state with a low cutoff score. Strangely enough, out of about a dozen people in my school who made it to the semifinalist level, three of them were black (me and two black females).

    • gcochran9 says:

      Three out of about a dozen? I don’t believe it. By which I really mean I don’t believe it. Now if you said that at least two out of those three black semifinalists were semifinalists in the National Achievement test, rather than the National Merit program, I could believe it.

      • Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

        Again, this was in a southern state with a low cutoff score at a high school with a large black population. The cutoff that year was maybe 208 (now I’m giving too much info, you might be able to figure out what school). My score was 220; I’m sure the other students’ were above 208 also, although I couldn’t tell you their exact score. We were all National Achievement Scholars of course.

        By the way, my WAIS-IV IQ is nowhere close to 139, it’s only 120. There’s more to scoring well on the PSAT than mere IQ. G-loadedness of SAT is only .8-.85 in most studies. High conscientiousness and general test-taking skills go some ways towards explaining PSAT scores.

        The inimitable and famous Pumpkin Person has discussed this already (no, I’m not his shill):

        http://pumpkinperson.com/2015/04/13/is-the-sat-an-iq-test/

        • gcochran9 says:

          Don’t believe it without more evidence. It is hard to find numbers on this, but I can give a couple of examples. The University of Oklahoma tries hard to get National Merit Finalists, offers them a lot. In one year they had 137 freshman scholars. Some years back Lisa Vaughn, the director of the program, said that she’d been there six years (seeing something like 800 freshmen finalists) of those ~800, three were black. The director of the honors program at Texas A&M simply looked for matches between the National Merit semifinalist lists and the National achievement semifinalist list for Texas: he found 7 in 1991, 12 in 1992, 14 in 1993 (out of about 1000 Texan National Merit Finalists each year). Blacks are about 12% of the population of Texas, about 1% of Texas National Merit Finalists.

          Of course, it’s possible that someone who wasn’t quite black might sign up for the National Achievement test. Nobody checks.

          If the total number for Texas (per year) was 11, it’s a bit hard to believe that there were 3 in your graduating class.

          • cthulhu says:

            OU is a respectable school, but I’ll bet that any black who was a National Merit finalist got much more prestigious offers than OU.

        • Anonymous says:

          What was your WAIS verbal score? I have a hunch that that’s the one that’s most predictive of the SAT.

          • Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

            You might be correct. My verbal sub-score was 130. Extremely inflated relative to my other sub-scores.

        • misdreavus says:

          “Lion of the Judah-sphere” is not black, and is most certainly a sockpuppet of “pumpkinperson”, whom you banned earlier.

          • Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

            Hahahaha, I’ll send you a picture of my 23andme racial breakdown if you care to see. I can guarantee I’m black. And why do think I’m a PP sockpuppet (I know I spend a lot of time on his blog)?

          • Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

            Well, at least black according to the racial traditions of America- around 75% Sub-Saharan.

      • josh says:

        I attended one of the wealthuer public schools in fairfax county and we had only two semi-finalists. This is another confusion with the cert. of merit.

  9. sprfls says:

    Recently came across this handy calculator/visualizer of tail effects: http://emilkirkegaard.dk/understanding_statistics/?app=tail_effects

  10. Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    I came across this site at James Thompson’s article on Dull Minds and Criminal Acts. http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.com/2015/06/dull-minds-and-criminal-acts.html

    http://emilkirkegaard.dk/understanding_statistics/?app=tail_effects

    I had not realized that one interesting effect is that when a member of a group, group B (let’s call him/her GeniusB) achieves or exceeds some high threshold they are still generally at a disadvantage compared with members of group A who have a higher group average who also achieve or exceed the same high threshold. That is, on average, those from Group A who also achieve or exceed the threshold are still more likely to achieve a higher level than GeniusB.

    Check it out at the web site.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Sure. You can get a better estimate of true ability considering both score and race than by score alone.

      • j says:

        If I understand what you said, individual IQ test score should be multiplied by k= a race constant to estimate the “true ability” score. Say k=0.8 for Hottentots. Reminds me of my great-uncle who researched the family background of candidates and employed only those from “good families”. Somehow we forgot those ancient verities.

        • Boris Bartlog says:

          It’s more complicated than that. In any case I think we should make it a practice to use the test scores as-is, rather than adjust those of people whom we have reason to believe might have a lower true ability. Call it affirmative action lite.

  11. Lion of the Judah-sphere says:

    Whoa, did my comment disappear?

    Anyhow: http://pumpkinperson.com/2015/04/13/is-the-sat-an-iq-test/

  12. Jokah Macpherson says:

    There were around 7 National Merit Finalists in my HS class if I remember correctly. They were strongly correlated with the smartest kids in terms of grades and reputation but there were enough unexpected people included and excluded that it made you wonder. A couple finalists were pretty ordinary by the school’s standards and weren’t exactly taking challenging classes. On the other hand, there were several obviously very smart people that didn’t make the cut.

    • Dylan says:

      Seven? Where was that? Sailer reports that sort of thin in California areas with lots of Asians these days, but in 1994 I’m reasonable sure I was the only National Merit Semi-Finalist (no finalists) in my graduating class of about 430. This was in south Texas with a class mix of about 50-60% Hispanic, maybe 5% black, <1% Jewish, the rest white gentile.

      • Jokah Macpherson says:

        The amount you’d expect varies depending on the circumstances. My HS class was only 240 but the school was 90% white gentile and the modal breadwinner parent of the students was an engineer for NASA or its contractors, so 7 was nothing particularly special. There was another school in town that had even more.

  13. MawBTS says:

    Not that our political class is a mandarinate yet: you can find Senators with combined SAT scores of 800, Governors with an ACT score of 18.

    I don’t know if we can read too much into an individual person scoring low. There’s always the question of whether they were really trying.

    Bill Cosby apparently scored below 500 on his SAT, at a time when you got 400 just for writing your name on the test. Obviously he isn’t in the first percentile intelligence-wise.

  14. namae nanka says:

    Equality hijinks have been tried here, counting verbal twice or having a writing test.

    http://collegeadmissions.testmasters.com/money-world-round-history-psatnmsqt/

    The former was also supposed to help girls, I can find mention of it in the amusingly titled Sadkers’ book, “Failing at Fairness: how America’s schools cheat girls”, unfortunately boys outscored them in both. It also contains zingers like,

    Students who remember SAT scores with the greatest pain are the girls at the top of the class. A high school girl with an A+ grade point average typically scores 83 points lower than a boy with an A+ average.

    Of course if the shoe was on the other foot, the book would still be titled the same.

    • justanotheroutliergirl says:

      “Students who remember SAT scores with the greatest pain are the girls at the top of the class. A high school girl with an A+ grade point average typically scores 83 points lower than a boy with an A+ average.”

      I found a copy of this book; there is no citation of any source for this statement. I question whether the comparison is between students studying the same subjects at the same level of difficulty.

      I remember seeing my SAT scores as a moment of great joy.

  15. jamesd127 says:

    “It is certainly the case that members of influential classes in this country are probably chosen more by test scores than they were once upon a time”

    I don’t think so. Tests were tougher in the old days. Check the old University entrance exams.

    • Bryan Bell says:

      Those exams seem harder because they’re testing material that isn’t taught or useful anymore.

      • jamesd127 says:

        Well then, read the stuff that the elite read and wrote in those days. The proposition that today’s elite is smarter, or as smart, just does not seem reasonable to me.

        Trig is still taught. Part of the trig exam was calculating the value of pi from first principles, after the fashion of Archimedes, based on a 2^n sided polygon, where you express pi in terms of the harmonic geometric mean (still the most efficient algorithm) We no longer expect students to be able to calculate pi from trig.

        • Bryan Bell says:

          I was expected to calculate pi via taylor expansion of tan, when high school age.

          There is no data I know of suggesting a significant decline in IQ over the last century. A few points have been lost due to mass immigration.

          • Florida resident says:

            And how exactly can you calculate pi via expansion of tan ?
            May be it was arctan(x) ? The expansion of arctan there is an explicit infinite series,
            arctan(x) = sum over n {from 0 to infinity} of {[(x(-x^2)^n]/(2n + 1) } .

          • Florida resident says:

            Thank you. Indeed, arctan(1)=pi/4. and x^n === 1^n=1, so calculations are somewhat easier. Still 200 terms of sum yielded me 3.137 . So convergence is pretty slow. And I had to use Mathcad package to calculate the sum, with account of [1/(2n+1)] – [1/(2n+3)] = 2/[(2n+1)*(2n+3)]; with that trick I am summing twice lass terms, and all of them of the same sign.
            It was fun, thank you.

          • William Newman says:

            “So convergence is pretty slow.” Ayup (with an arctan argument of 1, so that series terms are only shrinking as a polynomial function function of n).

            If you want many digits of accuracy, clever trickery at the beginning to arrange for the arctan argument to be smaller pays off big. (With an argument less than one, the series terms shrink exponentially.) A famous form is $\pi/4 = 4\arctan(1/5) – \arctan(1/239)$ ; see e.g. http://turner.faculty.swau.edu/mathematics/materialslibrary/pi/piforms.html for more.

          • Florida resident says:

            To William Newman: Thank you.
            Sure, x=1 is exactly on the border of convergence circle for that series. But to calculate by hand anything except x^(2n+1) at any x different form 1, with 1^m === 1, is pain in, hmm, the neck. Definitely I do not remember by heart the formula you suggested, and I doubt I ever knew it.
            Best, F.r.

          • Jim says:

            That’s the Machin Series discovered by John Machin in 1706. He used it to calculate pi to 100 decimal places. Machin type series have been what have mainly been used since then for calculating pi. Gauss made up some very efficent Machin type series.

            Without doing any Machin type manipulations the series for arcsin(1/2) is much better than the (admittedly pretty) Leibniz series for arctan(1).

          • Frank says:

            There’s a study that estimates 1 std loss.

            http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-decline-in-general-intelligence.html

            “Simple reaction time measures correlate substantially with measures of general intelligence (g) and are considered elementary measures of cognition. In this study we used the data on the secular slowing of simple reaction time described in a meta-analysis of 14 age-matched studies from Western countries conducted between 1884 and 2004 to estimate the decline in g that may have resulted from the presence of dysgenic fertility. Using psychometric meta-analysis we computed the true correlation between simple reaction time and g, yielding a decline of − 1.23 IQ points per decade or fourteen IQ points since Victorian times. These findings strongly indicate that with respect to g the Victorians were substantially cleverer than modern Western populations.”

    • pyrrhus says:

      Scores were higher in the old days, although the tests were somewhat harder. Taking into consideration the addition of roughly 100 points to SAT scores in 1995, a “re-norming” motivated by the consistent drop in scores since the 1960s, scores have continued to drop, even adjusted for racial factors. I estimate an implicit drop in IQ of roughly 1 point per decade.

    • Dale says:

      I think it depends on exactly what you mean by “influential classes”. Herrnstein and Murray make a good case that well-paying work, on the whole, has been moving toward the sorts of “professional” jobs that are a lot like school, and so wage levels have become increasingly correlated with IQ. So the upper half of the middle class, where the political power lies, have become increasingly selected by tests and/or things that are strongly correlated with tests. And of course, those people tilt the playing fields to favor people like themselves.

      But it’s always been known that book-learning smarts aren’t well correlated with the sort of political acumen that gets one leadership positions in politics or even the high ranks of management or leads to success in them. (Though getting such a position in a big company these days usually requires that one can get an MBA.) Maybe the odds are good that I have a higher IQ than Obama. But Obama is President and I’m not. More to the point, I’d be incompetent at the job even by the standards set by the last few Presidents.

      • gcochran9 says:

        You can get an accurate estimate of a player’s sports ability, because he plays many, many times – and what he does is very visible. But you can become President after a lot fewer tests. Chance (Jeri Ryan, for example), plays a big role.

  16. ironrailsironweights says:

    I grew up in a Joe Sixpack city of 100,000 in the Northeast. At the time the high school aged population was 50% to 60% white, with the remainder fairly evenly split between blacks and Puerto Ricans.
    In the year I took the test there were zero National Merit semifinalists in the entire city.

    Peter

  17. teageegeepea says:

    My state declined to fund it when I went to college, so I got a corporate one instead. However, my recollection was that my grades weren’t all that special.

  18. Julian says:

    You might be interested in the discussion regarding a post at Unz Review about test score results by migrants in the UK. Chuck has noted in the comments that while interesting, the results don’t really threaten a hereditarian hypothesis.

    http://www.unz.com/article/the-iq-gap-is-no-longer-a-black-and-white-issue/

    http://www.unz.com/article/the-iq-gap-is-no-longer-a-black-and-white-issue/#comment-989099

  19. j says:

    It is certainly the case that members of influential classes in this country are probably chosen more by test scores than they were once upon a time, while they seem to be crazier and less competent than they were back in the day: you have to wonder.

    France is a model mandarinate – its influential class is selected by school admission tests. The former Soviet Union also actively identified capable students and co-opted them in the academic-political elite (I was among those sent to a special school). I have to agree with you that elites selected by tests seem less competent than those selected by un-managed Darwinian competition, by life’s catch-as-you-can. I cant make up my mind about craziness.

    • jamesd127 says:

      By and large the Manchu aristocrats seem to have been smarter than test selected Han mandarins.

      The Ashantee aristocracy, on the whole seems to have been as smart as middle class English whites, while Ashantee commoners were perceived, in those politically incorrect days, as mentally on the level of small evil children.

    • jamesd127 says:

      Sometimes Darwinian competition yields better results than testing. Sometimes it does not. Chimps have had exactly as much evolution as humans.

    • sprfls says:

      I don’t know what Soviet Union you grew up in, or when, but that was not the experience I heard from my family and others. Admission to “special schools” was still very much determined by who your parents were, as well as bribery.

      It was hinted that my father got one of the highest test scores in the state (Moldova) and his Physics teacher was pushing for him to continue studying in one of the schools in Moscow or Leningrad. He was rejected everywhere, including the local school in Kishinev.

      Meanwhile, my mother and aunts, all of moderate intelligence, were admitted to the most prestigious universities. Why? My maternal grandpa was a Big Shot; my paternal grandpa was a Lowly Shopkeep. Of course it all worked out in the end, as these sorts of things tend to… 😉

      Also, culling an elite from high-scoring test takers isn’t enough. It’s meaningless without freedom of research as well as freedom to enact policies based on said research. I’d say the former USSR was plagued by this — as, sadly, is modern France.

      • j says:

        Selection by standartised testing is always distorted by politics. In the Soviet Union, a self-declared proletarian dictatorship, testing was distorted to favor those of the politically correct background (your paternal grandpa was a petit-burgeois class enemy…) . In the USA also, selection favors protected minorities like Africans. Free Darwinian competition produces the best result, the ablest elite class.

    • pyrrhus says:

      My three brothers and I were also NM Finalists…..Heredity? No, probably just random chance….And It’s a good thing that none of us went into politics.

  20. It is a tiny point, but when two measures are highly correlated, but at less than unity, there will still be individuals with discrepant scores. Steve Hsu has illustrated this. The best scorer on Terman’s test will not necessarily be the Nobel Laureate. So, in a classroom the best students in school tests will not be exactly the same as the best in national tests, nor in the important but informal test of everyday life, or such estimates of everyday life as students can determine before they are in possession of the full facts.

  21. dearieme says:

    “The best scorer on Terman’s test will not necessarily be the Nobel Laureate.” If the Nobel depends on other characteristics in addition to reasoning power, should this be surprising?

  22. Not at all, but some criticize intelligence testing by showing that “William Shockley was tested twice at school in the 1920s and failed to reach the IQ of 135 required to join Lewis Terman’s pioneering survey of gifted children, started in 1921 at Stanford University.”

    • Anonymous says:

      You know better than me, that IQ-tests at age 12-15 are not exactly predictive for adults. Feynman was regarded as one of the fastest thinking and most creative theorists in his generation. Yet it has been reported that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test at age 12.

      • syon says:

        “Yet it has been reported that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test at age 12.”

        So far as I know, no one has ever actually found the test, so maybe Feynman was telling stories.Other factors to bear in mind:

        High high was the ceiling on the test.Perhaps it only went to 125-130.

        Perhaps Feynman’s high IQ is largely spatial/mathematical in nature. If his verbal IQ was low , it could distort the results.

        • Excellent point. A couple of studies from the 60s (as discussed in recent Lynn) produced via WAIS and others an average I.Q. for Cambridge mathematicians of only 128. However, an inside source mentioned to me that there were likely ceiling-bumping effects and old WAIS had less math than current version.

        • MawBTS says:

          If his verbal IQ was low

          Could have fooled me. Feynman was SO GOOD at eloquently explaining things.

      • syon says:

        Here’s a discussion on Feynman’s IQ:

        “Feynman was universally regarded as one of the fastest thinking and most creative theorists in his generation. Yet it has been reported-including by Feynman himself-that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test. I suspect that this test emphasized verbal, as opposed to mathematical, ability. Feynman received the highest score in the country by a large margin on the notoriously difficult Putnam mathematics competition exam, although he joined the MIT team on short notice and did not prepare for the test. He also reportedly had the highest scores on record on the math/physics graduate admission exams at Princeton. It seems quite possible to me that Feynman’s cognitive abilities might have been a bit lopsided-his vocabulary and verbal ability were well above average, but perhaps not as great as his mathematical abilities. I recall looking at excerpts from a notebook Feynman kept while an undergraduate. While the notes covered very advanced topics for an undergraduate-including general relativity and the Dirac equation-it also contained a number of misspellings and grammatical errors. I doubt Feynman cared very much about such things.”

        https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-the-next-einstein/201112/polymath-physicist-richard-feynmans-low-iq-and-finding-another

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t think misspellings and grammatical errors in one’s notes necessarily reflect low verbal intelligence, but I think it’d be associated with poor performance on digit-symbol coding, which has long been used as an IQ measure and may have been featured on the test he took as a kid. My verbal IQ is 145 but I’m always fucking up when writing stuff by hand — I have poor fine motor skills and my attention is never on what my hand is doing. Tons of omitted letters, omitted words, etc. Most likely he KNEW the basic rules of grammar he was screwing up on, but wouldn’t have been able to produce flawless written material without taking his attention away from the deeper conceptual stuff. Some people can, because they have more of a certain type of cognitive resource. It’s a useful skill to have, but it’s not very close to the core of what most of us would consider “intelligence”.

          • Do we have any hard evidence as to what scores Feynman got?

          • syon says:

            James Thompson:

            “Do we have any hard evidence as to what scores Feynman got?”

            Not that I know of.The stuff that I’ve read on the matter consists of people repeating what Feynman said.

          • cthulhu says:

            I seem to recall reading somewhere (Gleick’s biography maybe?) that Feynman’s tested IQ was over 160, but I could be wrong.

          • Anonymous says:

            160 is about what it should be. But if you take a room full of 160+ IQ people and make them all take 10 different IQ tests, one of them is going to score 125 on something.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          Maybe he just got bored half way through.

      • Tests at 12-15 are predictive for adults. Scottish 11 plus (Moray House) holds up well for 6 decades at r= .5

    • dearieme says:

      The Shockley case shows that either (i) IQ tests aren’t perfectly accurate – which must doubtless be true for any human construct – or (ii) there’s more to Nobel-quality gifts than IQ. Maybe, for instance, it helps being the sort of ruthless shit that Shockley was.

      • syon says:

        “The Shockley case shows that either (i) IQ tests aren’t perfectly accurate – which must doubtless be true for any human construct – or (ii) there’s more to Nobel-quality gifts than IQ. Maybe, for instance, it helps being the sort of ruthless shit that Shockley was.”

        Some points to bear in mind:

        1.If memory serves, Shockley just barely missed Terman’s cut-off, so it’s not as though we are talking about a man who tested at, say, 105

        2.Non-IQ related factors: Plenty of people with high IQs never invent/create anything of value.Clearly, other psychological/environmental factors are at play: drive, ambition, psychological stability, etc

        3.”Maybe, for instance, it helps being the sort of ruthless shit that Shockley was.””

        Shockley was clearly a total bastard as a human being.For example, he tried to shut out Brattain and and Bardeen from their share of the credit.However, when Shockley was shut-out instead, he responded by developing a new type of transistor:

        ” A few months later he invented an entirely new, considerably more robust, type of transistor with a layer or ‘sandwich’ structure. This structure went on to be used for the vast majority of all transistors into the 1960s, and evolved into the bipolar junction transistor. Shockley later admitted that the workings of the team were “mixture of cooperation and competition.” He also admitted that he kept some of his own work secret until his “hand was forced” by Shive’s 1948 advance.[21] Shockley worked out a rather complete description of what he called the “sandwich” transistor, and a first proof of principle was obtained on April 7, 1949.

        Meanwhile, Shockley worked on his magnum opus, Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors which was published as a 558-page treatise in 1950. The tome included Shockley’s critical ideas of drift and diffusion and the differential equations that govern the flow of electrons in solid state crystals. Shockley’s diode equation is also described. This seminal work became the reference text for other scientists working to develop and improve new variants of the transistor and other devices based on semiconductors.”

        So, yes, a ruthless bastard, but also one who could do significant work

        *

        • dearieme says:

          I used to work in a lab where perhaps the most successful inventor of clever instruments was the stupidest fellow there. He clearly had a specialised creative gift that just did not extend to reasoning tasks. But the most successful researcher was the most intelligent of us – unmistakably so. Happily, he was not a ruthless shit – if he had been, many of the rest of us would have buzzed off elsewhere.

    • pyrrhus says:

      My understanding was that boys don’t reach intellectual maturity until their early 20s, although there are certainly exceptions…

  23. Bruce says:

    Years ago, I read that homeschooled children make up 1.8% of the population but 16% of National Merit finalists. Is this a case of selection bias?

  24. sprfls says:

    I vaguely heard of the words “National Merit” but never knew it was a test and of course never took it — or any other standardized tests in high school outside the SAT. This may be a “thing” with NYC private schools as they summarily reject all the other tests required at public schools. If this is true for lots of other metro areas across the US, then a not insignificant amount of kids never take this test, and the analogous IQ cutoff would probably be slightly lower.

  25. Florida resident says:

    PSAT test, isn’t it the one used for determining if a person will or will not get the distinction of being National Merit Semifinalist of Finalist ? PSAT test is given once in the Fall of 11-th grade. But you can take any number of un-official pre-PSAT test before that date.

    For the last 4 years, responding to a request of a teacher from one of local schools, I kind of “tutored”, better to say “advised”, to a student (absolutely not a relative, not a co-ethnic, absolutely for free) one hour a week. I advised him on Mathematics in general, and, when time came, on the strategy of taking Mathematical courses and tests. His father drove him each time to my work and was sitting that hour and a half in the room, so I am happy that no suspicions of my inappropriate attitude could arise.

    He got AP Calculus 1 (AB ?) and got top mark 5 (or was it A ?) from College Board after 10th grade, when school did not allow him to take the school’s AP Calculus. Then he took Calculus 2 (BC ? in his school) and got the top mark 5 (or was it A ?) from College board again. To the best of my recollections, it was the PSAT score, that won him 2014 National Merit Semifinalist status here in Florida.

    Last fall, following my advice, he applied to MIT as top choice, but was not admitted there.
    He will go to UC Berkeley this 2015 fall, hopes to study physics there. Berkeley gave him a 50% discount on out-of-state tuition, possibly based on “Merit status”. I am sorry for his two parents, that are of modest means, and I warned them about “lefty” atmosphere in Berkeley.

    I will skip the stories of our (with my wife) two kids, who graduated in 1998 and 2002 respectively from a particular public school (not the one of the boy described above.)

    Once more, my question: what test(s) determines if one is Nat. Merit this or that ?

    • Sideways says:

      The PSAT determines semifinalist status. Semifinalists who wish can apply for finalist status. I recall it being something like a college application. Of course, that’s almost twenty years ago and at the same time i was doing actual college applications, so I might be conflating them.

  26. Cpluskx says:

    1 in 85 for East Asians, 1 in 38 for Indian Americans, 1 in 18 for Ashkenazi.

    • Anonymous says:

      Data seems to show that Americans named “Wong” have a greater chance of being semifinalists than those named “Cohen”. This underperformance of Ashkenazis compared to Chinese seems to be only at the high end of the distribution — average Jewish SAT scores are substantially higher than average Asian scores. For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of evidence that Asian-Americans have an unusually wide IQ distribution (reflecting immigration patterns), and it may also be the case that the Jewish distribution is a bit narrow.

    • shan94 says:

      Where did you get this data ?

  27. Patrick Boyle says:

    The software restricts nesting so this comment will not nest properly, but I had to respond to two remarks. Contrary to what ‘Syon’ wrote most intelligent adult Americans know that Benz of Mercedes-Benz is credited with invent the automobile. How could they not given all the TV ads that Mercedes shows?

    This blog is not filled with your average dunderheads. Look at how many commenters have been merit finalists. Some inventions that you would think everyone should know but few do are the invertor of television and the inventor of the microprocessor. But people know about cars – at least boys do.

    I am quite familiar with what Obama said on ‘The View’ about reptilian brains. I have a long video on YouTube about it. He badly mangles Sagan’s triune brain notion. He reveals himself to be limited to ‘pop’ psychology. He is not a careful thinker. He has no facility with serious ideas.

  28. Dr. Cochran, do you have any thoughts on this Chanda Chisala piece that has caused quite a storm? http://www.unz.com/article/the-iq-gap-is-no-longer-a-black-and-white-issue/

    • MawBTS says:

      See Jayman and RCB’s comments:

      http://www.unz.com/article/the-iq-gap-is-no-longer-a-black-and-white-issue/#comment-988101
      http://www.unz.com/article/the-iq-gap-is-no-longer-a-black-and-white-issue/#comment-987469

      Other things of note:

      Lynn’s work has obvious problems.
      Everyone realises that dividing people into black and white erases finer detail, and isn’t always the best line of analysis to take. For some problems you need a microscope, for others you need a telescope.
      It seems true that a lot of intelligent, high-IQ blacks have Igbo ancestry. Jamaicans, too (aren’t a lot of black Jamaicans descended from the Igbo?). I don’t know if the Igbo are collectively exceptional as a group – Nigeria’s average IQ is something like 70-80.

      • dearieme says:

        I had an Igbo (we then said “Ibo”) classmate at university. He eventually went home to take part in the Biafra war. We presumed he was killed: his regular letters to his best friend in the class suddenly stopped just after a bombing raid.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          As I recall, the Ibo used to be called “the Jews of Africa” because of their overall high intelligence and business acumen, and they did pretty well in the Biafran War, despite overwhelming odds against them, so it doesn’t really surprise me that they outscore most other Africans, and a good many whites. Personally, I don’t see how this damages the heriditarian position at all. After all, given the genetic and environmental diversity of Africa, you would expect there to be at least a few high-scoring groups, and you would expect scores to be particularly high among a self-selected group like immigrants to the West. All Chisala’s piece proves is that there’s a lot more to it than black vs. white, which is surely not a surprise to anyone outside of Stormfront and the KKK. With all due respect, this seems to be more about Mr. Unz riding his “mutability of IQ’ hobbyhorse than anything else…

          • syon says:

            “With all due respect, this seems to be more about Mr. Unz riding his “mutability of IQ’ hobbyhorse than anything else…”

            Yeah, that does seem to be a factor.Unz, after all, is the guy who is trying to convince everyone that “Super-Flynn” will work its voodoo on Hispanic Amerinds and Mestizos any day now and give them mean IQs of 100 or so…..

          • That there are sub-populations within Africa with higher IQ is indeed not surprising. The real point, though, is that Chisala is arguing that Nigerian immigrants in England are a representative sample of the population AND do better than representative samples of East Asian immigrants. And that if that is true, then it seems Chisala would be right that disparity in IQ cannot be due to recent evolution at the (continental) racial level.

          • Bruce says:

            “The real point, though, is that Chisala is arguing that Nigerian immigrants in England are a representative sample of the population AND do better than representative samples of East Asian immigrants.”

            Well someone with a modest grant could do a detailed study and settle the issue. I wonder if anyone will?

          • Dale says:

            It’s hardly surprising if you take a strongly selected group like immigrants allowed into a rich country from a country where a large fraction of the population would like to emigrate to a rich country, that the characteristics of the group are much different from either the source population or the natives at the destination. You can spend pointless hours arguing whether this is due to selection for the genetic basis of IQ or selection for cultural traditions of ambition and hard work — of course, it selects for both, and the two are synergistic.

            As for mutability of IQ, of course over the long run it’s mutable, at least within the range seen in current populations, because we’re all descented from the same handful of people. And now that lower-IQ subgroups have to work in the New Economy just like everyone else, it wouldn’t be surprising if selection for higher IQs has gotten fairly intense. (Just like it must have been in Europe and China in the past.) And there are some hints in the news that reproductive variance of American black males is unusually high for a US population…

        • Labayu says:

          The change in spelling of Igbo is to differentiate between [b] and [ɡ͡b] because the language has both, and they are contrastive phonemes. [ɡ͡b] is literally like the English B and G pronounced simultaneously. It’s common in West African languages.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            “The real point, though, is that Chisala is arguing that Nigerian immigrants in England are a representative sample of the population ”

            I simply don’t see how this could be true for Nigerians, since, as far as I know, it has not been true for any other immigrant group. Voluntary immigration almost always involves self-selection. But, as Bruce says, somebody should certainly study this. Obviously, we don’t know, but given the history and makeup of almost every other immigrant group, I’d be willing to bet that it’s not true. But at least Chisala’s paper is a legitimate attempt to engage with hereditarians, instead of the usual screaming of “racist!”…

  29. Beyond Anon says:

    Greg should be flattered. He has an admirer:

    https://genetiker.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/greg-cochran-is-an-ignoramus/

    Of is that a stalker?

    • MawBTS says:

      Banned troll and solutrean hypothesis fan, I think

      • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Personally, I found this thread to be informative:

        David Reich and his associates have published a paper containing a lot of new genetic data from prehistoric Europe. These data utterly refute the Kurgan hypothesis, and yet Reich and his associates are so stupid that they actually think the data support the hypothesis.

        It seems that everyone is stupid except him.

      • Beyond Anon says:

        Perhaps he is one of those with the ADRA2b deletion.

  30. Dale says:

    Only some hours after reading it did I realize the amusement encapsulated in the statement “One objection is that very few members of minority groups become finalists. Patrick Hayashi, a retired senior University of California official who had overseen admissions at UC Berkeley for ten years, asserted that not one of the hundreds of National Merit Scholars who came to the campus during those years was black or Hispanic.”

    We’ve come to think of people of East Asian extraction as overachievers in academic and semi-academic activities to the point where we don’t think of them as “minorities” when we’re discussing such subjects. Whereas not too long ago anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese prejudices ran very deep.

    • dearieme says:

      Under apartheid, weren’t Japanese classed as Honorary Whites?

      • ursiform says:

        I believe the Nazis did that so the Japanese could be allies. Of course the Japanese considered themselves far superior to other Asians.

        When Queen Elizabeth II visited Saudi Arabia she was declared an honorary man. Protocol and all …

      • Dale says:

        You might well be right; most Japanese who arrived in S.A. would have been businessmen or tourists. On the other hand, South Asians were in a medium-ranked racial group.

        Back when the US had race-based immigration laws, East Asians weren’t classified as white.

        And I forgot to mention that Mr. Hayashi sounds Japanese to me. Perhaps he should ask his parents whether they are minorities.

    • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Whereas not too long ago anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese prejudices ran very deep.

      Are you referring to China? I hear that the Chinese don’t like the Japanese much and perhaps the Japanese don’t like the Chinese much either.

      • ursiform says:

        There was a time when Americans and many others were very prejudiced against both the Chinese and the Japanese.

        The Japanese have long looked down on the Chinese.

        After the Japanese invaded China and killed many Chinese in an attempt to take over China the Japanese became very unpopular in China.

        What was your question?

        • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

          There was a time when Americans and many others were very prejudiced against both the Chinese and the Japanese.

          There was a time when the Chinese looked down on the rest of the world and I am sure was prejudiced against everyone else.

          I am sure there was a time when the Romans looked down on most of the rest of the world.

          When it comes to employing people for tasks requiring high cognitive skills I am prejudiced against certain groups as well, but I married someone of a different race.

          Making useless (in my view) statements like that causes me to think: Hmmm, maybe I am dealing with an SJW.

          That is all.

          • Dale says:

            I’m not quite sure what your point is. My point was that quite within my lifetime, both Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans would have been called minorities and were discriminated in. But in the intervening years, it’s gotten to the point that someone can point at a list of names (with, at the very least, lots of Chinese ones) and say with a straight face “very few members of minority groups become finalists”. And, for that matter, it took me some hours to realize just how historically odd that statement is.

        • Kenn Teoh says:

          “The Japanese have long looked down on the Chinese.”

          That’s actually a very recent historical phenomena – even up until the Tokugawa era the still Japanese looked upon the Chinese as their cultural and technological mentors – thus the influence of Ming Dynasty Neo-Confucianism, Chan Buddhism, and the migration of members of China’s artisan class.

  31. Greying Wanderer says:

    “And that if that is true, then it seems Chisala would be right that disparity in IQ cannot be due to recent evolution at the (continental) racial level.”

    cannot be solely due to recent evolution at the continental level

    continental level as the base +/- bunch of local factors

    • Currently we do not have sufficient data to show that one African group is significantly more intelligent than another African group. Testable hypothesis, but not yet tested. Results from selected immigrant minorities in UK and US instructive but not conclusive.

  32. syon says:

    Fourth and final attempt:

    dearieme:”I used to work in a lab where perhaps the most successful inventor of clever instruments was the stupidest fellow there. He clearly had a specialised creative gift that just did not extend to reasoning tasks. But the most successful researcher was the most intelligent of us – unmistakably so.”

    It’s a cliche, but a cognitive divide does seem to exist between technologists (James Watt, Edison, Bell, George Stephenson, Wheatstone, Morse-Vail, the Wright Bros, Frank Whittle, Philo Farnsworth, etc) and theoreticians (Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac,James Clerk Maxwell, Josiah Willard Gibbs etc).Theoretical work just seems to require more brainpower than practical application.

    • dearieme says:

      Newton was also a brilliant experimentalist: I don’t think that any of the others on your list was but I’m open to correction.

      When I wrote “a specialised creative gift that just did not extend to reasoning tasks” I should preferably have referred to abstract reasoning tasks, since he obviously could reason successfully about his instruments. In everyday life he came across as a chump, which I don’t suppose the technologists on your list did – but then they were an altogether higher calibre of technologist. As for theoreticians, it’s striking that your list is – Newton apart – a list of theoretical physicists from the glory days of the discipline. I never saw any evidence myself that chemists, for instance, were especially clever. Since the eclipse of theoretical physics as the leading science by genetics and all that jazz, I suppose we should be asking how clever the genetics chaps are. Or whether there are still lots of clever people in theoretical physics wasting their time beating their heads against a brick wall. If there are, then they are clever in an unproductive way.

      I always enjoy references to Gibbs – historically he’s been overshadowed by the march of the nuclear men, but he was a very important fellow. You could argue that Gibbs was part-chemist, part-engineer as well as a theoretical physicist. Top man, anyway.

      • syon says:

        dearieme:”I always enjoy references to Gibbs – historically he’s been overshadowed by the march of the nuclear men, but he was a very important fellow. You could argue that Gibbs was part-chemist, part-engineer as well as a theoretical physicist. Top man, anyway.”

        According to the WIKIPEDIA article, a joke started to circulate in New Haven after James Clerk Maxwell’s death:

        “[O]nly one man lived who could understand Gibbs’s papers. That was Maxwell, and now he is dead.”

      • syon says:

        “When I wrote “a specialised creative gift that just did not extend to reasoning tasks” I should preferably have referred to abstract reasoning tasks, since he obviously could reason successfully about his instruments. In everyday life he came across as a chump,”

        “Chump” seems like the wrong word for Shockley.He was a man, after all, who alienated just about all of his friends, family, and associates:

        “”His way” could generally be summed up as domineering and increasingly paranoid. In one well-known incident, he claimed that a secretary’s cut thumb was the result of a malicious act and he demanded lie detector tests to find the culprit.[29] After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1956, his demeanor changed as evidenced in his increasingly autocratic, erratic and hard-to-please management style.[30] In late 1957, eight of Shockley’s researchers, who would come to be known as the “traitorous eight”, resigned after Shockley decided not to continue research into silicon-based semiconductors.[31] They went on to form Fairchild Semiconductor, a loss from which Shockley Semiconductor never recovered. Over the course of 20 years, these eight of Shockley’s former employees started 65 new enterprises.”

        “Shockley died in 1989 of prostate cancer.[45] By the time of his death he was almost completely estranged from most of his friends and family, except his wife who died in 2007. His children are reported to have learned of his death only through the print media.[46]”

    • dearieme says:

      “Theoretical work just seems to require more brainpower than practical application.” I’d say, rather, that theoretical work requires a different sort of brainpower than creative practicality. Watt, after all, didn’t do mere “application”: Watt didn’t apply thermodynamics; thermodynamics was developed to explain Watt.

      What sort of mental divide is it? Set aside Newton, who had so many gifts that he might well have been potentially a great inventor, and Gibbs, who was part-chemist and part-engineer as well as a theoretical physicist. The others on your list were wonderfully able but very specialised. The outstanding example is Einstein. He found – or perhaps devised – the perfect niche for himself in theoretical physics. He was no mathematician (as he said himself) and there’s no reason to think he could have succeeded as an experimental physicist. He did have one invention jointly to his credit but it was lame. In other words, just as Watt or Stephenson could not have been an Einstein, Einstein could not have been a Watt or a Stephenson. (I set aside the minority view that Einstein’s first triumph was just an application of ideas of Poincare, Fitzgerald, Lorentz and others, which seems far-fetched to me. I gather that Einstein improperly failed to refer to their work in his early publications, mind.)

      Is it the case that at the level of these great men, there’s a fork in the road? One way lies theoretical physics (at least back then, before it reached its present dead end), the other way lies civilisation-changing inventions? If so, it reminds us of the limits of IQ. Put otherwise, it may be (who knows?) that I’ve met dozens of physicists who have had a higher IQ than James Watt, but none, not even Nobelists, who have had a smidgen of his genius. Nor a smidgen of the genius of Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Rembrandt ….. I dare say.

      Just because there are knaves and fools who deny any virtue to IQ, we shouldn’t ignore its limitations.

      P.S. I’ve just thought of an example of a very high IQ chap whose attempt at creation was a flop – Maynard Keynes. His “cognitive abilities” impressed everyone who met him – he was undoubtedly ginormously clever. Yet his “general theory”, as far as I can tell, mainly concerns the special case of a closed economy: there was nothing “general” about it. Moreover, my attempts to quiz economists about it leave me wondering whether it isn’t a bit of a muddle too.

      Perhaps that explains the much remarked upon distinction between Keynesian Economics and the Economics of Keynes. No electrical engineer neglects Maxwell, no cosmologist Einstein. Keynesians, it appears, neglect Keynes.

    • dearieme says:

      I’ve had two goes, Syon, at replying: attempts full of insights that the world must now do without, for I have less patience than you. Boo hoo.

  33. Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    It would seem that selection should reduce variance. Do I have this correct?

    If that is the case, the reduced variance of one group would seem to indicate selection for something,

    That selection might be for, say, more energy efficient brains in an environment where cognitive skills are not particularly important and most social problems can be solved in a hard-wired manner.

    Does that not suggest that a contradiction of sorts lurks somewhere?

    • Beyond Anon says:

      What sort of contradiction are you referring to?

      • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        If a reduction in variance is a signal of selection, what selection has occurred on Caucasians who appear to have a larger variance. Are Caucasians possibly made up of several subgroups each with different means?

        • jamesd127 says:

          In that Caucasians are largely the product of Aryans conquering a multitude of other peoples, we expect high variance among Caucasians.

  34. Greying Wanderer says:

    Remember how Castro cleared his prisons. Maybe the Igbo sold the people they didn’t want?

    • dearieme says:

      I’ve always assumed that to be true of all the selling tribes – whatever the African equivalent was of the prison, the lunatic asylum, the school for mental defectives, and the poorhouse would have been emptied.

  35. namae nanka says:

    “Is it the case that at the level of these great men, there’s a fork in the road? ”

    Yes. Grady Towers explicates on it here, the big divide seems to be verbal/educational vs. spatial/mechanical.

    http://megasociety.org/noesis/141/towers.html

    • dearieme says:

      Thank you. “It should be perfectly obvious to anyone that Shakespeare could never have done what Newton did, nor could Newton have replaced Shakespeare.” Very likely. What is extraordinary is that Newton could have done what any other theoretical physicist did, damn near any mathematician (who do we except in addition to Gauss? Euler maybe?) and probably any experimental physicist. The most extraordinary man! He could even run the Mint and reform the currency; JP and MP, …… And all this while wasting much of his energy on alchemy and biblical studies.

      Any notion that a mere IQ test could encompass such a fellow is risible. But then for humdrum purposes they’re pretty handy: who should sent for officer training, who should be put in the top stream at school, ….. Actually, what other humdrum purposes are they demonstrably useful for?

  36. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2015/07/08 | Free Northerner

  37. karenjo12 says:

    I won a National Merit scholarship, the only one from Commerce High School, Commerce Texas, in 1981. I had no idea at the time I was so special.

  38. I won a scholarship that kept me out of debt in college over 30 years ago. Dad was a factory worker and mom stayed home. Their generation didn’t have so many options. Charles Murray is right, we are segregating out the successful genes better than in the past. Doubt it will work out best in terms of society.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s