Friday, August 13, 2010

IQ Estimating

On the Mega Test, Ron Hoeflin found that the number series questions had the best correlation to high-IQ. I wrote to say I was surprised at this, and he responded that he was at first himself. (This was over 20 years ago.) But number series aren't tainted by accidental factors as easily as vocabulary questions are. On the Mega, for example, physicians are likely to have an advantage because some of the puzzles rely on knowing the opposite of an obscure medical prefix (such as hyper- and hypo-). Easy to do online now, but difficult then unless you had those prefixes already learned or knew where in your medical references to find them.

Well, we don't usually have much opportunity to observe people discovering the rules behind number series, do we? So that's out in sizing up what their candlepower is. We can sometimes get a sense how at ease they are with numbers and scientific topics, and we can attend to the vocabulary they use. These can be deceiving if we don't attend to circumstance, however. People who have boned up on a topic just prior to your hearing may seem to have a facility somewhat beyond their actual knowledge - and reading from a prepared text can make them shine even brighter. It does take some intelligence to recognise the words, know their pronunciation, and deliver them naturally, but nowhere near what one would need to use the same words and concepts when caught off guard. Yet in the opposite direction, people who do have command of such may take pains to gear their speech to their estimate of the vocabulary of their hearers. This can be subtle, as people have usually been exposed to a richer vocabulary than they use themselves, and can follow the explanations of a person smarter or more knowledgeable than themselves.

There are also social cues that people mistake for intelligence markers. We have spoken of this before, but it bears remembering here. An offhand comment that one reads the New Yorker is an attempt to suggest one has a higher-than-average intelligence. That is likely true, but the magazine is understandable by people with an IQ of 95, so it could be an affectation. Moreover, the people who read it likely overestimate the IQ of what they believe is the average reader by 10 points.

Some folks delight in using obscure words or abstruse concepts as a way of showing off or bullying. More innocently, some people just like knowing words. Both take some intelligence, but can mislead the hearer. Buckley did both: he loved words, but would also use unfamiliar terms in debate to put his disputant on the defensive.

Knowing test scores removes the need for guessing at the intelligence - I use the term in the strict g-factor sense, without regard to more elusive concepts of common sense, insight, or clarity of expression - but many of these are rough, and we don't always have access to them. SAT scores (old scoring up to 1600) divided by 10 give a rough idea of IQ. Childhood scores are especially volatile - emotional and accidental factors can bring down the score of a bright child more easily than an adult. Not much raises your score, so if you have a childhood IQ score you may regard that as your probable minimum.

Knowing lots of people's scores gives one an intuitive feel for others whose scores one doesn't know. Where do they seem to fit - nearer Amy, Sarah, and Michael, or more like Jason, Jack, and Charlene? Not that there is usually any need to know, but it can be helpful in assessments such as oh, whether a presidential candidate is intelligent.

Such estimates circulate from time-to-time, usually for the purpose of making Republican presidents look stupid and Democrats smart. There are also wild estimates of Jefferson and other early presidents having astronomical IQs. Well, perhaps. But unlikely. People do not relate to leaders too far beyond them, and leadership skills are not well-correlated with IQ. There are interesting theories why each would be so, but frankly, we don't know.

The presidential nominees of my lifetime have all probably had IQ's between 120-130. As that is about the 90th to 97th percentiles of intelligence, that's plenty. Nixon is rated higher, for reasons I have not been able to discover, though I have a decades-old recollection that it was based on his performance at law school. Bush and Kerry were reliably estimated at 125 and 120, respectively, by Steve Sailer, who also puts McCain and Gore around 133, Nixon at 143, and Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Reagan around 120. He calls 125 a starting point for discussing Obama's IQ, as he fit in but did not stand out at his prestigious Hawaiian prep school, where he was unlikely to receive any affirmative action boost. I would partly agree, but would downgrade that. I think his verbal side is likely around that level, but his making the millions/billions mistake too many times, and his idiotic Curvature of Constitutional Space paper with Laurence Tribe suggests he does not understand the scientific concepts he pretends to. Also, the teleprompter jokes alerted me to pay closer attention to vocabulary when speaking informally. Not bad, but not exceptional.

Not that I'd knock him down too many points even with that, however. It does take considerable awareness of the concepts flying around you to even get them wrong, after all. So my starting point is 120, about 90th percentile, similar to many other presidents.


Gringo said...

I don't know offhand of any million/billion gaffes that Obama has made. Could you point me to some?

Here are some numerical gaffes from politicians that caught my attention.

Nancy Pelosi said that we cannot move fast enough on the Stimulus as there are 500 million jobs lost every month.

Senator Boxer of California recently repeated the canard that Obama had initially stated two years ago that the energy saved from inflating tires could substitute for increased drilling for oil.

james said...

I don't find Tipler's formulation convincing. For example, the whole point of the Schrodinger equation was to rewrite the Hamiltonian using wave operators because at small scales particles also acted like waves. I suppose you could hack a luminiferous ether theory with Newtonian gravity to look like GR, but it sounds even more complex than GR, which was hairy enough. That the "bones" of each of the new theories are the same as the old is not news.
I didn't read the whole paper, though I got as far (and like) his assessment of "Kuhn and his damn fool idea of paradigm."
I think a better formulation involves the concept of the domain of validity of a model. GR is equivalent to Newtonian physics if taken to one limit, QM to it if h goes to zero, and for massive enough (*) quarks at high enough momentum you can calculate cross sections with only a few Feynman diagrams. And you can trust your life to the Newtonian mechanics of a brake system or an Otis elevator safety without worrying about QM subtleties.

So the weight of analogies with new insights in physics for new insights for Constitutional is on the other side--the old robust methods will still be valid.

I have no reason to believe that the emperor-less suit has any insights on physics, and reason to disbelieve anything he asserts about the Constitution and how to apply it.

(*) OK, granted, the mass of a quark is a little fuzzy: you can't perfectly know both the mass and the quark type.

Gringo said...

The point about the Tribe paper is that it is absurd to reduce laws passed by assemblies of men to an application of quantum physics, not to mention Newtonian physics.

It is even more absurd to do so when someone doing so has a minimal understanding of physics. While Tribe, being a math major, may have some understanding of physics, I doubt that BHO ever solved even a simple force and acceleration equation after high school, let alone an equation that dealt with quantum physics.

Physics and Constitutional law are talking about different issues, and are in effect two separate universes. Apple, meet orange.

Professor Sokal, in his deliberately nonsensical paper, Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, that got published with nary a question from the social science types who edited the journal Social Text, put paid to the notions to reduce human affairs to physics.

jaed said...

Hmm. If I had to guess, I'd guess Obama could break 140 on a good day. I'm not sure why I estimate his IQ at this level; it's just an intuitive guess.

But I do think I see some problems with executive function there. Problems decision-making in office, the trouble he had finishing his first autobiography, the fact he didn't publish anything but one note at HLR, all make me think prioritizing and action are problems. And if I'm not mistaken, deficits in executive function tend to go along with high IQ.

Not standing out at his prep school would also go with this: smart people with trouble prioritizing, such as *cough* me for example, can do OK in school just on the power of their smarts, without studying. I know I did. (In fact, I didn't learn to study in school. I didn't really understand there was such a thing. Studying meant reading through the chapter and slamming through the assignment. You mean there are more ways to study??? A pox on educational systems that don't believe in giving smart children work that will stretch them. [Another rant altogether.])

Doing this will be enough to get you through, but won't make you shine...

...Until you get into an academic environment where your teachers' opinion of you starts mattering quite a bit more for your reputation than the work you do. If you're verbal, obviously bright, quick with ideas, you'll make an impression. If your work isn't quite up to par, this may be passed off as not an adequate reflection of your true quality. (Possibly not in a physics or engineering class, but Obama seems to have avoided quantitative disciplines during his education.)

Texan99 said...

President Obama is too much of a blank to permit me to assess his intelligence. He seems like a fairly conventional thinker within his milieu, moderately facile with words but not demonstrating any unusual ability. He could be hiding either a mediocre or a stellar intelligence beneath all that slick opportunism.

I wouldn't hold his ignorance of physics against him, though. He's probably never been exposed to the least training in that area, to judge from his background, and he wouldn't be unusual in that. He may have picked up enough buzzwords to make some silly and fashionable analogies to political systems. And when he co-writes a paper with an experienced writer, who knows which part is his contribution, if any?

Anna said...

To me, I don't need to look for gaffes to know that Obama is really freaking dumb, just look at the content of what he says (or lack thereof). As in,

"Israelis don't like me because my middle name is Hussein."

Dumber than idiocy.

Jaed, I was like that in school as well. A straight A+ student who was the biggest apathetic slacker in the student body (well maybe not the biggest, but large nonetheless.)

Anna said...

Haha, also I did my valedictory address on the second law of thermodynamics. It was intended to lose the audience. I was not a very nice person back then (arguably, still not). It was my way of saying FU to that hole of a high school. We should get together and rant about public school sometime.