Bright College Days: Part II

According to Caplan, employers are looking for conformity, conscientiousness, and intelligence. They use completion of high school, or completion of college as a sign of conformity and conscientiousness. College certainly looks as if it’s mostly signaling, and it’s hugely expensive signaling, in terms of college costs and foregone earnings.

But inserting conformity into the merit function is tricky: things become important signals… because they’re important signals. Otherwise useful actions are contraindicated because they’re “not done”. For example, test scores convey useful information. They could help show that an applicant is smart even though he attended a mediocre school – the same role they play in college admissions. But employers seldom request test scores, and although applicants may provide them, few do. Caplan says ” The word on the street: putting high scores on your resume suggests you’re smart but socially inept. ” Who would understand that better than Bryan? So valuing conformity leads to totally arbitrary standards – they exist because they exist. Let me suggest another possibility: flaunting high scores risks irritating the drones in HR. HR tends be packed with underperformers and people that the corporation felt compelled to hire (AA). Few people in HR have high scores on standardized tests. Other employees routinely express contempt for HR/Personnel. In the immortal words of Lieutenant Callahan: ” Personnel? That’s for assholes. ”

In the long run, who you hire is truly important, so it seems odd that companies would routinely allot this task to feebs. Yet it happens. The same thing is true for college admissions – the people doing it are not that special.

I think Bryan Caplan is more or less correct in his description of how companies hire, particularly for fresh college graduates and non-STEM majors. But he thinks that companies know what they’re doing (more or less), when it comes to hiring. ” Employers are greedy but not stupid.” I don’t see much evidence of that. Evidence would consist of careful statistical studies showing what worked best. Most companies have never done that, nor do they make use of similar studies from other companies. There are exceptions: Procter and Gamble puts a lot of thought into hiring, but they’re probably obeying a direct command from their Dark Lord. Google is apparently nutty enough to fire employees for endorsing their hiring system – along with pushing for a form of ideological conformity that is guaranteed to royally piss off at least half the population and all three branches of the Federal Government.

Let me give an example. Once upon a time, there was a Federal civil service exam, the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB), a measure of general cognitive ability. That test was developed by the Feds. with considerable effort. The test had decent predictive value. It makes more sense for a huge organization to make that kind of investment – the development costs can be spread out over zillions of hires. Many state civil service exams also used the GATB, along with a number of private employers.

There was a catch: the results from the GATB were cooked. Race-normed. They gave your percentile rank for your ethnic group. “For example, three applicants might each earn a raw score of 300. But their converted scores would look quite different: the black test-taker would score in the 83 percentile of his group, the Hispanic would rank in the 67th percentile and the white or Asian in the 45th percentile.” It’s as if someone told you that you were a great jumper, for a funky white boy. The test-makers didn’t mention this little fact: most users weren’t aware of it.

My point is that it took almost ten years for this fact to come out. If HR was on the ball, you’d think they would have noticed.

Another point, which Caplan mentions in a review of Garrett Jones’s book Hive Mind: “At the individual level, IQ is much more highly correlated with job performance than income.” Which suggests that employers systematically undervalue intelligence. Why? Come to think of it, if Jones is correct, the effects are not limited to productivity at the individual level. Companies with a higher average IQ should be capable of performing more complex tasks – that is, companies in the O-ring sector of the economy – those where a single mistake can destroy much of the value. Useful tip for Paine-Webber, UBS, and Barings Bank, if a bit late.

You’d think that companies – almost all of them – would have realized this and avidly seek out unusually smart (and honest) workers ( depending on task complexity) . Along the same line of thought, baseball owners must have carefully analyzed the game and discovered all the important lessons of sabermetrics many years ago. Except that they didn’t. Bill James outdid them all while on the night shift as a security guard at the Stokely-Van Camp’s pork and beans cannery.

If the way most corporations hire new grads were close to optimal, it might be difficult to find a way of cutting through the useless and expensive signaling. We might be trapped in a local optimum. But since they apparently hire by intuition, or possibly sense of smell, improvements may not be impossibly difficult.

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122 Responses to Bright College Days: Part II

  1. Frau Katze says:

    Why has the race-normed test been dropped?

    • gcochran9 says:

      People found out. Was embarrassing. They were unable to come up with a replacement: the US hasn’t really a Federal civil service test since the early 90’s.

      • Mike Eisenstadt says:

        In my 70s I took a 2 part test for government security at airports. I flunked the test on spotting suspiciously shaped objects in fuzzy x-ray pictures (on a computer screen). The other test was strangely not a-propos</>. It asked subtle questions about correct grammar usage. What was that all about? I am known to the government, having served in the US Army. The test was administered in a run-down 2 storey building in a dingy office. One employee present behind a desk a young unprepossessing Asian. The listed physical requirements were the ability to lift a 50 lb. valise and remain on one’s feet while working.

      • Calvin X Hobbes says:

        Steve Sailer wrote about how the Carter administration got rid of civil service testing on its way out the door.


        One of the more evil things an outgoing administration can do is to intentionally forfeit in court against what ought to be a nuisance lawsuit. One of the President’s duties is to defend the federal government against all the people constantly suing the government. But an administration also has the relatively arbitrary privilege to sign a consent decree giving in. Worse, an outgoing administration can gin up a lawsuit against itself by its friends, and then concede to them on its way out the door.

        For example, its last day in office in January 1981, the Carter administration did long term damage to the U.S. government by abolishing the venerable civil service examination for hiring federal bureaucrats. The pretext was a consent decree throwing the derisory Luevano suit against the Carter Administration that had been rigged up by Carter’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its allies on the left.

      • Frau Katze says:

        How come affirmative action in college admissions isn’t embarrassing? (Remember, I’m not an American.)

        • gcochran9 says:

          Well, it is embarrassing, but people lie about it and that helps. The details are often obscured, people talk about ‘goals’ instead of ‘quotas’. They say that race is ‘only one consideration out of many’, but it’s a huge one.

        • Anon says:

          Embarrassment implies awareness that there’s something to be embarrassed about. They probably aren’t:

          • Frau Katze says:

            Greg said a comment or two back that the reason race-normed tests for would-be federal government employees were dropped because they were embarrassing.

            I can’t see a difference between race-normed testing and race-based affirmative action for college admission.

            But I’m likely missing some facts, not having studied the subject in any detail.

            In Canada, there is some help for indigenous people. Apart from that, it’s race-blind.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Well, for one thing, having race-normed scores is obviously illegal. The general public won’t swallow it. The same is true of affirmative action, but it’s easier to obfuscate.

              • Pre-employment standardized tests of literacy and Math will have a disparate impact, by race. Degree requirements for employment farm the task of intellectual discrimination out to universities which happily accept Pell grant and GI Bill subsidies and then either fail those students who would not pass the pre-employment tests or steer them into useless degree programs that meet no sane employer’s needs.

    • Anuseed says:

      They realized that race don’t exist.

  2. SlushFundPuppie says:

    companies in the O-ring sector of the economy – those where a single mistake can destroy much of the value

    Not really a mistake, but a ban on using asbestos requiring using less durable alternatives.

    Use of Asbestos Could Have Avert Challenger Disaster

    • Smithie says:

      NASA generally had pretty good quality control – a significant budget set aside for testing nuts and bolts. That’s partly why the Saturn V’s only had one partial failure (of 13) and all the Soviet N1’s were failures (4 out of 4). Of course, it was a more complicated rocket too.

      The main failure was in the structure of the organization, which allowed the launch to go ahead despite at least one engineer voicing his specific concerns about the O-rings.

      • AppSocRes says:

        Edward R. Tufte, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” guy, has a straightforward explanation for the institutional failure that caused the Challenger disaster. Up to almost the very last moment, NASA engineers were desperately trying to convince launch command that the O-rings were likely to fail at the temperatures on the launch site that day. In support of this they sent many tables showing an almost 100% failure rate below a critical temperature. But they never thought to organize their tables by temperature or provide a graph of failure rate by temperature. The critical data wound up being buried in superfluous numeric details. NASA senior staff never looked at the tables with sufficient focus. The relevant NASA engineers never thought to support their concerns with easy to understand supporting documentation.

        • dearieme says:

          I got home from the lab that evening and my wife told me about the disaster. The only unusual thing, the radio had told her, was that it had been unusually cold there. “Oh” said I grandly “it’ll have been some component that’s become brittle because of the low temperature.” “Wouldn’t NASA have thought of that?” she asked.

          That exchange seems to have caught the key issues of the affair, don’t you think? Why should a distant suburban kitchen have done rather better than NASA? You may well ask.
          Tentative explanation: because there were only two of us.

        • cthulhu says:

          Tufte’s “analysis” was refuted by Roger Boisjoly, one of the Thiokol engineers who tried to stop the launch. I find Boisjoly’s account convincing and lost a lot of respect for Tufte over this; Tufte’s actions seem to be no better than those of an ambulance chaser.

  3. pyrrhus says:

    My experiences in interviewing people for professional jobs(attorneys mostly) is that any qualifications a candidate possesses that some of the interviewers do not possess will result in downvoting, unless there is some connection with the interviewee–went to the same school, ethnicity, social, etc. People don’t like competition in a world of no job security….But those negs will be cast aside if there is some significant connection with the ultimate decision maker…
    So the students at Harvard Business School are completely right–grades don’t matter, make connections…

    • Difference Maker says:

      Indeed, one could be a career threat; you’re looking for a job, what happens if you’re hired and you conflict, now they are looking for a job

      In a surplus labor market there will soon be recourse to a casting couch, while same sex evaluators may reject out of hand as competition. Compounded by debt peonage

    • ohwilleke says:

      Maybe. But, there is also a question of what an office needs. Sometimes you need an intellectual diva even if they are a bit quirky; sometimes you need someone who is well organized, hard working and has attention to detail, even if they aren’t going to come up with the brilliant point no one considered in an appellate brief; sometimes you need someone who is a good manager of a team of paralegals or junior attorneys or of an entire office; sometimes you need a rain maker or someone who is well suited to manage some key client relationships. You hire to fill your current deficits. Often someone just like the interviewer is the least likely candidate because that candidate is both a career threat and meets needs of the office that it doesn’t have.

  4. Christopher B says:

    I’m not an expert but my understanding is that Griggs v Duke pretty much killed any use of testing for hiring purposes, and since the test in question was job function specific there is no way more generalized intelligence testing is going to pass muster. For a while companies were able to do their testing at arm’s length by requiring college or HS diplomas (back when schools used actual test scores for graduation or admission) but once the SJWs got wise to that they started the long march to force schools to use race-normed graduation and admission policies.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Griggs is routinely violated.

      • benespen says:

        How often is it on purpose, and how often accidental? In my experience, a large number of people don’t even know there is something you aren’t supposed to find.

        • SMack says:

          Well, Griggs is mentioned in standard MBA textbooks. And If you use an outsource HR consultant, they will warn you against “de-selection” by means of cognitive testing.

          But to Greg’s point, many employers never notice this because they’re not interested enough in recruiting for IQ to make their own lawyers nervous.

          • gcochran9 says:

            I’m sure you’re right. But coding companies routinely violate it.

            • SMack says:

              They do indeed, and get away with it.

              Maybe Google got lucky having a James Damore problem, when they could very easily have had themselves a DaMore James problem, culminating in some Griggs v Duke II.

              • Frau Katze says:

                In the recent culture wars (that I know about from various YouTube commentators) they’re on male vs. female binge. It’s obvious to all but complete fools that men and women vary as groups.

                Once they’ve exhausted the male / female debate will they then moved to race variations? I get the feeling that this way more taboo.

              • Cantman says:

                There are a lot of fools about.

                I have a friend who consumes leftism socially. He seriously argued that men and women have no underlying physiological differences in body strength. At the time he worked for the United Nations.

              • Frau Katze says:

                @Cantman It’s hard for me to believe that people think women have the same strength as men. I guess I have to accept it in light of these examples.

                They must be ideologically blinded or just plain stupid.

    • Cantman says:

      There are a lot of countries other than the USA. How many of them are full of companies that hire with IQ tests?

      • Smithie says:

        I’ve been wondering this exactly. I could guess a few places where they’d probably be illegal. But I’m not even sure about that.

        Another thing I’ve been wondering is if they actually give Myers-Briggs anywhere an IQ test is legal.

        • Cantman says:

          When I was living in the UK and applying for jobs at some prestige companies, they administered IQ tests (not explicitly labelled as such but clearly in the style of e.g. Raven’s Progressive Matrices). My impression was that they were a rule-out method, not a rule-in method, and that the bar was relatively low (NB: I may have warped standards here). These same companies also did ask for the English equivalent of SAT scores, again used as a rule-out method.

          • j says:

            The Israeli Civil Service’s standard written exam includes an IQ test and English. In the internal processing the results are “corrected” by social index. Something like the system applied in America two generations ago. The result is that basically they are hiring Arab women, Ethiopians, etc. to every position where there is a minimally fit applicant. Civil service jobs are sinecures and the work is outsourced.

  5. Who_To_Select says:

    I could believe personnel wouldn’t select for the best because they’re just jealous, but I’d also believe that they would select for the best because they’re in awe of people smarter than them.

    I’d also believe that giving personnel decisions to the best of the best could lead to them picking out mediocrities who are no threat to them. It’s not like the best of the best (or even just barely better than average) are averse to cultivating weird little spheres and niche blogs which they rule as the “intellectual god” and in which they’re surrounded by sychophants who are no intellectual challenge, while true intellectual challenges are dismissed as numbskulls. How many ultra-arrogant, ultra-competitive self styled brilliant thinkers like competition, or welcome it in when they see it?

    • dearieme says:

      The old British claim was that “First class people appoint first class people and second class people appoint third class people.”

      • Even that may be optimistic, but it captures an important truth. It’s true for more than IQ as well. People don’t like to hire folks who are better-looking, more confident, or harder-working, either. Unless, of course, it is for a position that specifically requires that. If you are 90th percentile good-looking, it is better to work in a field where that is an obvious advantage, rather than one where it is only a minor plus.

        • dearieme says:

          Women know exactly who is better looking than whom. Men, I suspect, know it only for women (apart from those poor souls whom even a man can see are ill-made).

      • First_Class_People says:

        So say “First class people”

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        Its from “The Entrepreneur’s Manual” by Richard M White (published in 1977).

        First rate people hire first raters. Second rate people hire third raters. This is because the first rate people feel confident in their competence. Thus they hire the best they can. The second rate people fear those who may be more competent than they. Thus, they tend to hire people who they feel are of no potential threat to them.

        • Cantman says:

          A solution to this is to give the manager absolute control regardless of his competence. If all he is doing is choosing competent people and letting them organise each other, he doesn’t actually need to be that competent anyway. An argument for owner-directors over joint stock companies.

          Now apply this logic to democracy. Is the average voter a first rater? Is the average democratic ruler secure in power?

  6. IQ, Performance, Income says:

    ““At the individual level, IQ is much more highly correlated with job performance than income.” Which suggests that employers systematically undervalue intelligence.”


    1) measured job performance doesn’t much relate to whether there is a market return on your worked. those sure are shiny taps that whip smart cleaner has cleaned, sure much shinier than that dumb worker that doesn’t get the technique right, but unfortunately the market doesn’t care much for marginally shinier taps. (what you painstakingly get right and what you nerdishly perfect doesn’t actually matter in the scheme of marginal returns, smart boy.)

    2) IQ doesn’t relate too much to people choosing to move into lucrative jobs and industries, where other cognitive skills / personality do.

    (These seem at least as likely as the Mensa boys “Am I wrong? No, it’s society that’s wrong” interpretation).

    • gcochran9 says:

      Losing in baseball was actually a good thing.

      • IQ, Performance, Income says:

        If it meant you moved on in your career path to being a banker rather than a middling baseball player, maybe it would be.

        The point isn’t that “losing” (having a lower job performance) is a good thing, but that having a particular measured performance within some job doesn’t necessarily make anyone any more money, and even less moves that money towards you (sometimes it might even lose you so money, if smarter folk do slightly more expensive things to no particular ends, just because they can’t help themselves from doing everything as well as they can).

        • gcochran9 says:

          Sabermetrics applied to baseball managers. Was losing good for baseball managers? I don’t think it was.

          • IQ, Performance, Income says:

            You speculate that IQ has relatively low correlation with income without a population, and that this is sub-optimal, because IQ has some correlation with job performance, and Sabermetrics suggests that insufficient statistics were used to locate and compensate higher performers in the field of baseball.

            You have no actual grounds to suspect that this is strongly the case. There may just well be little difference in value to businesses between the highest and lowest performers they retain for some particular job, and that IQ has a low relation to the jobs people select, and the hours they choose to work, and the regions they live in.

            Would selecting and offering higher pay to the best performing (to some degree higher IQ) janitors really help their employers make higher profits? I doubt it. Perhaps you would propose IQ based Sabermetrics for janitors, mechanics, etc. nonetheless and expect this to greatly change IQ->income correlations.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I didn’t “speculate” about a relatively low correlation between IQ and income: that’s known. Apparently you don’t know it.

              The surprise-free prediction, for almost every human activity, is that the players barely know what the fuck they’re doing. Medicine. Yamamoto at Midway.

              “An nescis, fili mi, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur?”

              • caethan says:

                I always love the context of that quote: Son, it’s great that you’re worried about fucking things up. But have you seen the competition lately?

              • Speculation says:

                No, I knew that fact. It’s a well known fact. Caplan knows it, Garret Jones knows it, you can’t read his twitter without knowing it. What I’m calling speculation is what I express within my run on sentence as a whole – your general association of ideas and hypothesis explaining that fact, which is unsubstantiated and unlikely, and another prediction of yours which will likely fail.

            • Bob says:

              The difference in value is determined by market competition. If there’s little competition by virtue of market dominance or position, businesses can and will do lots of wasteful stuff like have deadweight and low performers on staff. This doesn’t mean that job performance is irrelevant, or that IQ is irrelevant to job performance.

              Note that pro baseball is basically a monopoly at the national and local levels – there’s one Major League and one Major League team per locale. That’s why there are diehard lifelong Cubs, Red Sox, etc. fans. People don’t go to the same restaurant their entire lives if the food starts tasting like vomit because they can go to other restaurants or eat at home.

              I don’t see why hiring higher IQ, better performing janitors would not lower costs for a business. Whether or not a business is compelled to rein in such costs is determined by competition.

              • ziel says:

                “Note that pro baseball is basically a monopoly at the national and local levels – there’s one Major League and one Major League team per locale. That’s why there are diehard lifelong Cubs, Red Sox, etc. fans.”

                When the Cubs sucked, they got about 1200 fans per game. They haven’t won many World Series, but they’ve been good for awhile- same with the Red Sox, didn’t win any WS until 2004, but were usually one of the best teams. There are alternatives to baseball if the local team sucks.

                Small market or cheap teams may not shell-out bucks for the most expensive players, but “The Natural” aside I don’t think there are any teams who actually try to be bad. The whole point of moneyball was that a smaller market team (Oakland) adopted Bill James’s ideas and managed to field a playoff team with minimal expenditure. Until then everyone just relied on the advice of scouts and lifelong baseball men to judge talent and never bothered with real data.

                i remember thinking the Yankees were cursed in the 80’s when all these awesome players they shelled-out big bucks for ended up duds in pinstripes. Turns out that 33-year olds aren’t in their prime after all – they were a good 5 years past it – that’s what Bill James figured out. No one ever thought of that before because Lou Gehrig had 158 RBI’s when he was 34.

              • Bob says:

                I’m not saying that Major League ball clubs don’t suffer drops in attendance and interest if they don’t win. My point is that they enjoy a degree of monopoly privilege and protection from competition that other many other businesses don’t. The Cubs sucked for a very long time, but even though they had low attendance nobody denies that they had a large following that’s stuck by the team for generations and readily did come in large numbers when they finally got good.

              • Speculation says:

                I don’t see why it would not lower costs for a business, either, to some degree. The question is whether it would lower costs sufficiently for it to be worth the business passing those lower costs onto the better (higher IQ) janitor and whether that effect writ large(higher performance related pay and IQ selection within jobs, with no switching between jobs iterated across every field) would seriously change the structure of the IQ->income correlation.

                My conjecture is that the low income correlation with IQ is because most improvements to firm performance from higher performance by higher IQ employees have only marginal benefits on firm profitability (if any benefit on profitability), and that even if this were passed back it would affect their income only a small amount. And that this is structurally true rather than because they just don’t know how to select higher performance workers and don’t care about it for some reason because they’re all just pinheads or something. Most high IQ, low pay persons are simply like that because they are in roles, industries, work patterns and regions which have low potential for income, whatever their individual performance within that role, industry, work pattern, region (janitor is the hyperbolic example).

              • Isn’t it like higher IQ janitors are more likely to find another (“better”) job soon, inflicting cost on a company to find a replacement? Or even be spies send by competitor?

              • Cantman says:

                “My conjecture is that the low income correlation with IQ is because…”

                Have you met a lot of high IQ people? A lot of them are just weirdos. They substantially underperform in many other important aspects of life.

                I am sure that if you control for number of sexual partners, IQ correlates very strongly with income.

              • “A lot of them are just weirdos. ”
                Is there a rigorous statistics on it, or it’s just observation error? I mean, high IQ weirdos are more likely to be remembered that normal IQ weirdos…

                The second part of your sentence is very thought-provoking…

              • Cantman says:

                In my time at a selective high school, there were a lot of normal-ish upper middle intelligence people, but ALL the top 5% people were weirdos. I was the least weird of them, and I am relatively weird.

                Something I noticed is that a lot of the normal-ish upper middle intelligence people now have very good jobs in business, while most of the most intelligent people burned out in highly intellectually selective, but low paid and low status professions like mathematician. Several are now doing worker drone jobs, because they don’t have either marketable skills or the aptitude for management.

                When I entered the real world, I noticed that pretty much all the very high level managers in prestige professions combined that top 5% intelligence with top 5% people skills. I never met anyone like that at high school, and I meet very few of them in the high IQ professions that ultimately produced these managers, which suggests the overlap is very low. If people skills and intelligence instead correlated strongly (as the genetic load theory might suggest), I should have met lots of these people.

                Yes, it’s all anecdotal. But as I suggested there are ways to test it.

      • arch1 says:

        Greg, why do you think that the Caplan quote suggests that employers systematically undervalue intelligence? The Caplan quote would be true, for example, if IQ + other stuff determines job performance, while in turn job performance + other stuff determines compensation. But this says nothing about undervaluation (or overvaluation) of intelligence. It’s just that an extra level of indirection adds noise factors, reducing the end-to-end correlation.

    • Difference Maker says:

      That is why one should not pick up any underachieving obligations. There’s only so much one can do as the best janitor / paper pusher in the world

      But consider: a high IQ can easily lead to insights that would save companies millions; stopping companies from making blatantly stupid decisions. I have specific examples in mind

      So it’s not the case that simply being in the clique is good enough, the end all be all – but the world is built for the average man, and will keep trundling along. Those companies are still around and making money

      Hehehe, but never forget. Someone smarter, may beat you. Might also have prettier girls. Connect with the CEO. Who says they were socially inept? What then, was the merit of knowing all those middling mediocrities, patting yourselves on the back. It’s only natural that there are more people closer to the average.

      No doubt another consideration in hiring

    • ohwilleke says:

      I agree. This reflects my experience and I’ve done a fair amount of hiring and represented a fair amount of employers in employment matters (although neither is my primary occupation).

      While there are jobs for which maximal IQ and ability is the goal, most jobs aren’t remotely like that. Indeed, there are almost always some applicants who are ruled out because they are overqualified. Employers want someone who will stay at a job; they don’t want to be a stepping stone. You don’t hire a former CEO or government agency director to be a receptionist or personal assistant even if they apply (and sometimes they do), nor do you hire someone with immense nursing experience to be a paralegal in an office that doesn’t handle any medical related cases.

      Keep in mind that while HR typically screens applicants, future bosses usually conduct interviews (or at least final interviews) and make the calls regarding who to hire, after which HR does the paperwork. It turns out to be not very hard in a not very long interview, after obviously unqualified candidates have been excluded pre-interview, to pretty reliably sort applicants on the salient aspects of IQ and cultural capital without resorting to test scores.

      Also, in lots of fields, the range of variability on domains like IQ and education often turns out to be pretty modest once you get to the finalists, so other characteristics matter more.

      Finally, recall that employers are generally satisficers and not optimizers. They don’t need or want to pay the premium for the best available person for the job. They want someone who is qualified and not overqualified.

  7. Calvin X Hobbes says:

    ‘They gave your percentile rank for your ethnic group. “For example, three applicants might each earn a raw score of 300. But their converted scores would look quite different: the black test-taker would score in the top 83 percent of his group, the Hispanic would rank in the top 67 percent and the white or Asian in the top 45 percent.’

    “In the top 83 percent” is rather different from in the 83rd percentile. Obviously what you meant was that the 300 raw score would be reported as 83rd percentile for a black test-taker, etc.

  8. dearieme says:

    “The same thing is true for college admissions” – in the US. My experience in Britain was that the academics did the admissions.

    • Difference Maker says:

      From what I saw of US admissions there is a bit of a problem of the interviewers deciding whether or not they want to be your friend.

      Who says I want to be your friend. This is an academic institution, one with varied fields and personnel, and if I attend we all split off to our different cliques, I will myself be an alumnus and maybe a cooler one than you? Perhaps part of the problem

      Though one could get an interviewer thinking about you with a beach bod 😉

    • pyrrhus says:

      In the US, and I speak particularly of the Ivy League, admissions are done by truly faceless junior bureaucrats…some of whom acquire expensive favors from interested parties, for the institution and sometimes for themselves….I know of examples…

    • ohwilleke says:

      This is not true in the U.S., at least at the undergraduate level or in professionals schools (e.g. JD, MD, MBA). My wife worked in a college admissions office and I have seen other college admissions offices up close.

      The situation in graduate student admissions in an academic area (i.e. PhD track) is a bit different with more hands on involvement from the academic who will be the supervisor for the PhD student academically and also usually an employer for the same student in a teaching assistant/research assistant post for many years in a one on one relationship.

    • Frau Katze says:

      In Canada admissions is based on high school performance. ( At least it used to be. )

      They can use high school grades, or marks on Grade 12 finals, because each province has a scheme for accrediting schools. Private schools (not as common as in the US) seek that accreditation too.

      People rarely go to different provinces as undergrads because there’s no point in it. The universities aren’t broken into tiers because we don’t have an Ivy League.

      Foreign students are accepted with vague schooling because the university can still make money from the cold hard cash tuition fees. They just flunk out if they’re no good.

      There’s no interviews to see if you’d be a “good fit.” They’re not interested in hobbies and charity work. It’s a lot cheaper way to evaluate students.

      I don’t know why the US is so different.

      This has last led to a university like UBC in Vancouver being full of Chinese and Koreans. But so what?

      It works for tiger parents too. There’s no affirmative action penalty. If the kid is really top level, he or she can go elsewhere for post graduate studies.

      • Hieronymus of Canada says:

        “The universities aren’t broken into tiers because we don’t have an Ivy League.”
        I would slightly disagree – I think older, 19th/early 20th century universities (e.g. McGill, Toronto, Ottawa) clearly has more the prestige than the postwar universities (e.g. Concordia, York, Carleton). Having said that, I would agree that there are not clearly elite universities like the Ivy League, Oxbridge, the French Grandes Écoles or the Japanese National Universities. [Alternative view – Canada is as part of the Anglosphere, so the Ivy League and Oxbridge are in a sense its elite universities. If you are an ambitious Canadian and want to make a name for yourself internationally, you leave.]

        “I don’t know why the US is so different.”
        I think you covered the major reasons. There is a greater uniformity in high school circulations, so high school courses and any exit exams is sufficient for evaluation. No need for AP courses, the SAT/ACT or special interviews. As I said before, there are no great prestigious private universities like the Ivy League or Stanford (for that mater, there aren’t a lot of ‘small liberal arts colleges’ either, outside of the Maritimes) . Canada developed slower compared to the States, so once great private fortunes were made here, there where already established public universities. Any such money thus went to them, rather than establishing new private universities.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I admit I don’t know much about eastern universities. I’m from BC, where everything is pretty recent. I don’t know how far back UBC goes but Simon Fraser opened in 1965.

  9. Ursiform says:

    You’re certain there is no correlation between IQ and odor? Not that it would help hiring managers, but maybe you could train dogs …

    • Smithie says:

      Richard Feynman probably would have noticed.

      Sometimes he liked to entertain people by using his nose to identify what book they picked up while he wasn’t looking.

  10. Ursiform says:

    I don’t think you really have to sell your soul to work for P&G …

  11. Anon. says:

    Which suggests that employers systematically undervalue intelligence. Why?

    Two points in relation to this:

    Large salary differentials for people ostensibly on the same “level” create morale problems. There’s a big literature on this, search for “wage dispersion”.
    In many professions it’s difficult to actually measure productivity. When it’s easy to measure, as in sales, income is tied directly to performance and income inequality is high. But if the measurement is noisy, it pulls everyone toward the mean.

  12. WatchinIt says:

    It’s interesting that a job candidate testing service, Plum – “Money Ball for Hiring,” wasn’t successful. The test assessed problem solving ability, stress tolerance, and personality priorities. It is so dead that only has anything about it.

  13. Ursiform says:

    It may be that managers don’t like intelligent employees because they are harder to manage.

    I also suspect there is comprehension issue when IQs are too far apart. If someone has an IQ 15 points higher they will appear very smart, but probably talk and act in a way the boss can understand and relate to. If some has an IQ 30 points higher they may seem disconnected from the boss’ reality.

    I’m pretty sure this works with voters …

  14. Anon says:

    How well does something like the ASVAB map onto traditional IQ tests? It’s strange that people are horrified if you even suggest that general aptitude tests would be useful for employers, but everybody who trashes the idea of an IQ test seems to avert their eyes when it comes to the military.

  15. E. Olson says:

    “At the individual level, IQ is much more highly correlated with job performance than income.” Which suggests that employers systematically undervalue intelligence.”

    This is just an indication of how the smartest almost always end up subsidizing the less bright. For example, the high relative IQ production line worker that suggests a few small changes in the production process that save the company millions of dollars might get a small “performance” based raise or bonus (union rules permitting), which is a small fraction of the value the worker created. Or the super high IQ CEO who sees a market opportunity before the competition and earns the shareholders billions of dollars might get a multi-million dollar “performance” based raise or bonus, which will still be a small fraction of the value the CEO has generated. Or we can take an academic example of the brilliant professor who is able to publish many more highly acclaimed and cited research papers than his less brilliant colleagues, and consequently raises the profile of the department/school to the benefit the entire faculty, staff, and students, but who likely makes a salary that is a relatively small multiple of his less productive colleagues. In all cases, the organization prospers because of the “added value” created by the higher IQ employees, but this value will mostly be distributed to the other employees and stakeholders, and hence the high IQ subsidizes the lower IQ.

  16. Who would understand that better than Bryan?

    Lol! You’re a cruel man.

  17. AppSocRes says:

    Within the last decade I was involved in the process which the HR department of Massachusetts’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services devised for hiring new IT “professionals” for specific positions requiring specific skill sets. The process went like this (and I am not exaggerating):

    (1) We wrote up a list of required skills and submitted it to HR.
    (2) HR edited this and posted it. Their posting included a required knowledge of COBOL(!!!) and other extraneous skills and excluded most of the absolutely essential skills we’d originally required.
    (3) After an acrimonious battle, HR modified the posting slightly to exclude COBOL and include some of our more salient requirements.
    (4) HR filtered all our applicants before we even got to see any applications. The people doing the filtering had absolutely no technical knowledge. One element of the filtering process included a list of about thirty or so “IT skills” that HR had somehow decided were relevant to our needs and asked applicants to check off all those they had. Some of these were mutually exclusive, if an applicant had one it was almost impossible he had the other. But this didn’t matter to HR. The more boxes an applicant checked, the higher that applicant’s score. And HR automatically filtered out all but the highest scores.
    (5) We ultimately got a pack of resumes from applicants who almost uniformly were not suited for the positions we needed to fill or whose resumes were padded with BS.
    (6) After a preliminary review our IT people got to interview a number of applicants. They wound up telling us that those they’d interviewed were almost uniformly unqualified for a position with us, some (all African immigrants) embarrassingly/laughably so.
    (7) We wound up using a different process to hire “consultants” and started the whole process over to try once more to get qualified applicants.

    I left before the process finally went to whatever completion ultimately happened. But the badly broken higher education process in the USA seems to mesh almost perfectly with the badly broken hiring process in this particular state agency.

    • 70 miles north of you, working in our DHHS I can well believe it. Remember that government HR people often have templates and regulations they get punished for not adhering to. They don’t get punished for sending you worthless candidates.

      I have discovered the young unit secretary who knows more IT than our IT guys, and go to him when I need advice. Apropos of this discussion, he’s not likely to move up in his department because he sometimes uses his better judgement when HIPPA rules contradict each other, rather than accept the clearly-wrong judgements of his immediate supervisor.

  18. Mike Perry says:

    Steve Sailer says that the AFQT subset of the ASVAB is effectively an IQ test. As I understand it, recruits must have a minimum AFQT score (it differs by service) to join. Recruits with a GED rather than a high school diploma must have a higher AFQT.

    • I though it would be easy to put a Bing on this, but not so. From memory, when Son #3 was enlisting in the USMC, The Army requires a minimum of IQ 90, Marines 92, Navy 93, Air Force 95. There are exceptions to this, as there are subtests they like for certain slots. I’m willing to be corrected by those who know better on this.

      • Halvorson says:

        30th ASVAB percentile for Army/Marines, 50th for Navy/Air Force.

      • Anon says:

        Not sure about current IQ minimums other than that a handful of articles came out recently detailing how the Army lowered entry ASVAB standards and issued waivers for marijuana use in order to compensate for a manpower shortage.

        At least for the enlisted classes in the Air Force, standardized testing results are a pretty decent (but not perfect) indicator about what jobs they are cognitively capable of handling. This is more or less on-its-face admission that not all are created equal, at least when it comes to “winning wars”. On one extreme you’ll have your pick of air traffic controller, cryptographic linguist, or something related to indirect control over nuclear weapons systems. On the other extreme you’re a mall cop guarding a gate.

        Sort of related, the FAA has gone though a couple iterations of its own subtests related specifically to air traffic control but because the tests are written by people who wouldn’t have passed the original ASVAB you end up with nothing that even resembles an IQ test.

        • ohwilleke says:

          “because the tests are written by people who wouldn’t have passed the original ASVAB”

          I have little doubt that the tests were outsourced to government contractors full of Ivy League grads who charged the FAA an arm and a leg to do the work.

    • ohwilleke says:

      IIRC, there are cutoff scores for various MOS too. You might meet the minimum threshold for the Army and be assigned to be a cook, but you can forget about being on a helicopter crew or an intelligence post.

  19. dearieme says:

    I established that the applicant didn’t have all the degrees he claimed to have. I turned him down for the job. The next I heard of him was that he’d become an MEP i.e. Member of the European Parliament.

  20. cthulhu says:

    Well, since they apparently hire by intuition, or possibly sense of smell, that may explain why the new boss is the same as the old boss. Who knew?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Made what they told me was the highest score in state history on the ASVAB. Told them I wanted to go into intelligence but they said that recruiting station didn’t have spots for that. Best they could do was fireman. I passed.

  22. says:

    “Which suggests that employers systematically undervalue intelligence. ”

    The optimal “perceived” leader is 1.2SD = 18 IQ points above the work-group.
    So it is natural that the leaders’ perceived ideal new hires are 18 IQ points below their IQ.

  23. nickedP says:

    The post is interesting as always but let’s be honest: It has only the most tenuous relationship to the “review” genre under which it was sold. What you are doing is not a review at all – you just use Caplan’s book as a pretext to once more mention a few of the things that you know and love.

    • dearieme says:

      It’s a blog not a PhD dissertation.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Almost all the best book reviewers do this. For them, the book is often no more than a point of departure – an excuse, really – to talk about some subject which interests the reviewer. The book addresses the topic, of course, but often does not go in the direction the reviewer wishes to take.

      Point-by-point takedowns, citing chapter and page, such as what Greg did with GG&S, are not typical among the best book reviewers. It’s too limiting to just respond rather than transcend.

  24. Isn’t it like that IQ denialism, race denialism is a high IQ trait?

  25. Warren Notes says:

    Whether or not an employer can get away with using an IQ test instead of specific job related measures depends both on boldness and circumstance. In the case of coders and other job categories, there aren’t that many “protected group” applicants, so there isn’t much risk. If it’s a job requiring a less daunting IQ, however, and you use an IQ test (and don’t have a pretty low standard) – you’ll get more minority applicants and their scores will guarantee that you have adverse impact. Another situation in which you can get away with intelligence testing fairly easily is in an occupational category where you don’t do much hiring. In that case, if the feds came in and did a review, they wouldn’t be able to get their hands on enough data to prove anything – and in practice, they’d just avoid looking at it and move on to something that looked more “juicy.”. I’ve always thought that it would be a good idea to develop a “non-IQ” test that asked easy questions using high level vocabulary. That way, you could at least measure Verbal IQ indirectly and use a test that’s highly cognitively loaded (at least on the verbal side). Whether this is being done, I don’t know, but it probably is. I find I have few if any completely original ideas.

    • There are “protected group” applicants in IT, but there are many East Asians and Hindus too, so if SJWs want to make room for dindus they would have to kick some East Asians and Hindus rather than whites. I guess it’s the reason why we don’t hear much about this.

  26. Toddy Cat says:

    So, Dr. Cochran, do you think that this thing is worth buying and reading, or does it only tell us what we really already know, or is it primarily BS? I have a visceral dislike of Caplan and don’t want to give him money unnecessarily, but I trust your judgement.

    • gcochran9 says:

      If you already think that most stuff in college is not used or useful, which seemed obvious to me as a freshman, while companies still hire by your B.S., you don’t really need to read it. Read his article in the Atlantic maybe.

  27. GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:


    Octopuses are pretty smart, as far as invertebrates go. They also have a pretty short lifespans (1-5 years). This means it’s feasible to breed them for intelligence. How smart can we make them? Could they evolve mental tricks we couldn’t? Is anyone attempting this?

    • GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:

      Oh also: do octoposes have a general factor of intelligence? I know mammals have it (e.g. humans, chimps, dogs), but cephalopods evolved their big brains totally independently.

  28. US says:

    “he thinks that companies know what they’re doing (more or less), when it comes to hiring. ” Employers are greedy but not stupid.” I don’t see much evidence of that.”

    Neither do I. And people have actually researched this stuff. Some of the most commonly used metrics applied in the field of personnel selection are well-documented to have poor reliability and to be cost-inefficient, on account of the fact that both cheaper and more accurate metrics are available. Some selected observations from a textbook on these topics (The Psychology of Personnel Selection, by Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham) below:

    “Ideally those in the business of selection want to use reliable and valid measures to accurately assess a person’s abilities, motives, values and traits. There are many techniques available and at least a century of research trying to determine the psychometric properties of these methods. Over the past twenty years there have been excellent meta-analyses of the predictive validity of various techniques.
    In this chapter we considered some assessment and selection techniques that have alas ‘stood the test of time’ despite being consistently shown to be both unreliable and invalid. They are perhaps more a testament to the credulity, naivety and desperation of people who should know better. […] Part of the problem for selectors is their relative ignorance of the issues which are the subject of this book. Even specialists in human resources remain uninformed about research showing the poor validity and reliability of different methods.”

    “The result of an interview is usually a decision. Ideally this process involves collecting, evaluating and integrating specific salient information into a logical algorithm that has shown to be predictive.
    However, there is an academic literature on impression formation that has examined experimentally how precisely people select particular pieces of information. Studies looking at the process in selection interviews have shown all too often how interviewers may make their minds up before the interview even occurs (based on the application form or CV of the candidate), or that they make up their minds too quickly based on first impression (superficial data) or their own personal implicit theories of personality. Equally, they overweigh or overemphasise negative information or bias information not in line with the algorithm they use. […] Research in this area has gone on for fifty years at least. Over the years small, relatively unsophisticated studies have been replaced by ever more useful and important meta-analyses. There are now a sufficient number of meta-analyses that some have done helpful summaries of them. Thus Cook (2004) reviewed Hunter and Hunter (1984) (30 studies); Wiesner and Cronshaw (1988) (160 studies); Huffcutt and Arthur (1994) (114 studies) and McDaniel, Whetzel, Schmidt and Maurer (1994) (245 studies). These meta-analyses covered many different studies done in different countries over different jobs and different time periods, but the results were surprisingly consistent. Results were clear: the validity coefficient for unstructured interviews as predictors of job performance is around r = .15 (range .11 – .18), while that for structured interviews is around r = .28 (range .24 – .34). Cook (2004) calculates the overall validity of all interviews over three recent meta-analyses – taking job performance as the common denominator of all criteria examined – to be around r = .23.”

    “given that interviews are used to infer information about candidates’ abilities or personality traits […], they provide very little unique information about a candidate and show little incremental validity over established psychometric tests (of ability and personality) in the prediction of future job performance […] All sorts of extraneous factors like the perfume a person wears at interview have been shown to influence ratings.”

    “References are almost as widely used in personnel selection as the interview […] Yet there has been a surprising dearth of research on the reliability and validity of the reference letter; and, as shown in this chapter, an assessment of the existing evidence suggests that the reference is a poor indicator of candidates’ potential. Thus Judge and Higgins (1998) concluded that ‘despite widespread use, reference reports also appear to rank among the least valid selection measures’ […] The low reliability of references has been explained in terms of evaluative biases (Feldman, 1981) attributable to personality characteristics of the referee […] Most notably, the referee’s mood when writing a reference will influence whether it is more or less positive […] Some of the sources of such mood states are arguably dispositional […] and personality characteristics can have other (non-affective) effects on evaluations, too. For example, agreeable referees […] can be expected to provide more positive evaluations […] the question remains as to whether […] referees can provide any additional information to, say, psychometric tests”

    “To say that GMA [‘General Mental Ability’] predicts occupational outcomes, such as job or training performance, is as much a truism as an understatement, and is really beyond debate […] Indeed, there is so much evidence for the validity of GMA in the prediction of job and training performance that an entire book could be written simply describing these findings. There are several great and relatively compact sources of reference […] In a colossal quantitative review and meta-analysis of 425 studies on GMA and job performance across different levels of complexity (Hunter, 1980; Hunter & Hunter, 1984), typically referred to as ‘validity studies’, GMA was found to correlate significantly with performance at all levels of job complexity, though it is clear that the more complex the job, the more important GMA is […] Subsequent meta-analyses in the US were by and large congruent with Hunter’s findings […] the UK studies on GMA and job performance and training mirror the findings from the US. […] it is clear (as much in the UK as in the US data) that GMA matters in every job and for both training and performance […] Studies in the European Community (EC) echo the pattern of results from US and UK studies. […] The most compelling evidence for the longitudinal validity of GMA in the prediction of occupational level and income was provided by a study spanning back almost four decades (Judge et al., 1999). The authors reported correlations between GMA at age 12 and occupational level (r = .51) and income (r = .53) almost forty years later. Moreover, a reanalysis of these data (which also included the Big Five personality traits) estimated that the predictive power of GMA was almost 60 per cent higher than that of Conscientiousness (the trait that came second) (Schmidt & Hunter, 2004).”

    “Estimates of white–black differences in IQ tend to give whites an average advantage of .85 to 1.00 standard deviation (that is, almost 15 IQ points), which is certainly ‘not trivial’ (Hough & Oswald, 2000, p. 636). Although group differences in job performance are somewhat less pronounced (Hattrup, Rock & Scalia, 1997; Waldman & Avolio, 1991), the mainstream view in intelligence research is that these differences are not caused by any test biases […] there is little evidence for the benefits of ignoring GMA when it comes to selecting employees. In fact, most studies report just the opposite, namely detrimental effects of banning IQ-based personnel selection […] GMA-based selection is not necessarily a disadvantage for any group of society, as individuals would be rated on the basis of their own capability rather than their group membership […] The question of whether personality inventories should be used or not in the context of personnel selection has divided practitioners and researchers for decades. Practitioners tend to assign much more weight to personality than to abilities, but are reluctant to accept the validity of self-reports because common sense indicates that people can and will fake. On the other hand, researchers are still debating whether faking is really a problem and whether the validities of personality inventories are acceptable, meaningless or high. […] Thus the answer to the question of whether personality tests should be used in personnel selection will depend mostly on who you ask, even if answers are based on exactly the same data. […] What is beyond debate is that personality inventories are weaker predictors of job and training performance than are cognitive ability tests”.

    “GPA-based selection has been the target of recurrent criticisms over the years and there are still many employers and recruiters who are reluctant to select on the basis of GPA. […] In the past ten years meta-analysis has provided compelling evidence for the validity of GPA in occupational settings. Most notably, Roth and colleagues reported corrected validities above .30 for job performance […] and .20 for initial level of earnings […] the highest validity was found for job performance one year after graduating, with validities decreasing thereafter […] the overall corrected validity above .30 for performance and around .20 for salary is at least comparable to and often higher than that of personality traits […] the causes of individual differences in GPA are at least in part similar to the causes of individual differences in job outcomes. […] GPA can be conceptually linked to occupational performance in that it carries variance from both ability and non-ability factors that are determinants of individual differences in real-world success”.

  29. US says:

    ? Just wrote a long-ish comment which appears to not have been posted. Caught in the spam-filter?

  30. US says:

    Didn’t seem to work either. Okay, I’m giving up. Anyway much of the material included in the comment was also included in my previous blog posts about a personnel selection textbook I covered some years ago. Link to part 2 here: (that post includes a link in the beginning to my first post about the book which is also highly relevant – don’t want to add a lot of links here to anger the wordpress gods even further). Basic point is that a lot of research has been done on personnel selection methods over the years, some methods are much better than others, firms keep using ineffective and cost-ineffective methods/metrics. I.e. employers are stupid. Or the HR people in charge are (many of which also don’t seem to be aware of what the research has been telling us for decades). There are meta-analyses involving hundreds of studies documenting that some methods are better than others, yet people keep using poorly performing methods.

  31. Pingback: This Week In Reaction (2018/02/11) - Social Matter

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