Thursday, September 28, 2006

Desperately Seeking a Clue

Here we go again with the gas prices. The worldwide price of oil per barrel is coming down. So for that to be manipulated by the oil companies, there would have to be thousands of people at hundreds of companies in on the plan. Including, for example, Ahamdinejad, Hugo Chavez, the Saudis, Gazprom... yeah, they all want a Republican majority really badly.

I can’t think of a better way to shout “Hey! I have no clue how the economy works! It’s all a mystery so I just make simple guesses that I can understand!”

In related news, my uncle sent me an IQ hoax that’s been circulating. He apparently thought it was legit, and he should know better. He’s a Mensa member out in NoCal, and should have some intuitive sense of what the numbers mean, even if he doesn’t pursue psychometrics with any vigor. He sent me the supposed study by the Lowenstein Institute of Scranton, PA that estimates the IQ’s of presidents since 1973.

Without even knowing whether the Lowenstein Institute is biased, or sloppy, or even exists, this is the sort of hoax that people shouldn’t be falling for. The supposed IQ’s of our recent presidents were 182, 176, 174, 155, 147, 132, 126, 122, 121, 105, 98, and 91. I won’t tell you what numbers are assigned to whom, even for fun. Because it doesn’t matter; those numbers are a dead giveaway, another one of those signs people wear that say “I have no idea what a standard deviation is! I have no clue how IQ is measured or what it means!”

There was a similar urban legend that came out after the last election that supposedly showed the average IQ’s of the various states – the objective being to point out what idiots the Red States are, of course. I think Conneticut was at the tope with 115, Utah at the bottom with 85. This is just nuts. 15 points is a full standard deviation, and whole states are not an SD above or below the national average (and Mormon-heavy Utah isn’t likely to be the lowest in any event). You might, if you worked very hard, be able to find a small town dominated by a presitigious college where the average IQ is one SD above average. You will not find an entire county, let alone a state, that far above (or below) average.

I will use a related post to discuss how meaningful a bell curve is in discussing intelligence, and the difficulties of measurement, but for openers you need to bear this in mind. Any claim of an IQ over 140 should be viewed with suspicion, not because such people don’t exist, but because what it means is uncertain. 1 in a hundred people have an IQ of 141 or better, so all of us know a few. If you work in certain specialized fields, you might know many people above the 141 level. But the one-in-a-million level kicks in at around 176, so there’s only 300 of those in the country (theoretically). And remember, of that 300, about a third of them haven’t finished school yet. So 182 is just ludicrous, especially when you throw a 176 and 174 in next to it.

As with the belief that people are manipulating the price of oil, the belief in these statistical enormities about IQ says much more about the intelligence – and the insecurity – of the person who believes it.

You can make intentionally selected small groups that have high average IQ's. This is one. I have only about 30 hits a day, and I know a few people at the site have stratospheric IQ's. I doubt many here are below 120. So this group might average over 132 (2SD, 98th percentile). Gee, I wish we did more than fool around here.


bs king said...

Haha, I saw that IQ email in 2001 or so. I think the numbers were a little different, but it was the same sort of thing. I have always been offended by people who don't like George W. because "he's stupid". Sure his speech slip ups are fun to mock, but to actually accuse him of being stupid...well, pardon me for quoting Michael Jackson but that's just ignorant. In my left of center view, there are plenty of better things to pick on than his IQ. As for average political party intelligence, I think the highest IQ prize would go to the libertarians. At least in my experience.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the first week of class at an Eastern law school. A question in tort law stumped everyone until a short plump kid with the heaviest Mississippi accent I've ever heard volunteered an obscure phrase, "Raaaaays ipsuh lokwuichture."

The Yankees howled with laughter at his accent.

He turned out to be getting two or three degrees in tandem, and finished, I believe, at the top of the class.

W. occasionally sounds a bit like him.

ELC said...

Re: dilys. I recall reading how the first time Flannery O'Connor talked with one of her college teachers, he could hardly understand a word because of her thick Georgia accent. Little did he know at the time that he was talking with a genius who would go on to become one of the 20th century's greatest writers.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Beth, I think you're right about the libertarians. They still make me nervous, though.

Anonymous said...

It's like Jeff Foxworthy says, "Anytime somebody hears my accent, they immediately deduct 20 points from my IQ."

And dilys, don't be too hard on Yankees. Not all of us are like that, usually just the east coast elites. I was born in Ohio, raised in New Mexico, and here in New Mexico, you don't assume ANYTHING about a person based on accent. A man I know, used to be a professor of mathematics, is one of those "170" types that AVI was talking about. Brilliant man. Almost impossible to understand, because he is painfully shy (so he talks softly) and he was raised in a small town in northern New Mexico where he didn't start speaking English until he was around six.

Accents don't mean much as far as intelligence goes...

Anonymous said...

I have got to get a blogger account!! That last post was from me, BubbaB.

Ben Wyman said...

I have an IQ of like, 180, so I already knew all of this.

I really love the idea of a intellectual institute based out of Scranton that focuses mostly on IQ studies of former presidents. I would like to start such an institute, consisting of the finest available intellectual minds in the greater Scranton area. Fortunately, the average IQ of Pennsylvania is abou 112.

David Foster said...

I discuss the subject of intelligence, accent, and class here.