December 8, 2008

"Outliers"

I haven't managed to finish Malcolm Gladwell's new #1 bestseller, Outliers, yet, because it's so full of snarkworthy goodness. Here's a taste from p. 80:

“What Hudson is saying is that IQ is a lot like height in basketball. Does someone who is five foot six have a realistic chance of playing professional basketball? Not really. You need to be at least six foot or six one to play on that level, and all things being equal, it’s probably better to be six two than six one, and better to be six three than six two. But past a certain point, height stops mattering so much. A player who is six foot eight is not automatically better than someone two inches shorter. (Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, was six six after all.) A basketball player only has to be tall enough — and the same is true of intelligence.”

So that explains Yao Ming's career! See, he's at least 6'-6" -- so he's over the NBA threshold ... by 11 inches, granted, but once you are over the threshold, according to The New Yorker's expert on everything, it doesn't much matter how much taller you are than 6'-6."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

76 comments:

Udolpho said...

I use this argument all the time to explain why I'm just as smart as Einstein.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Steve, I've got to agree with the muppet Gladwell on this. Evolution hasn't yet fully weighed in on if "smarter = more fit".

rightsaidfred said...

Maybe Gladwell's point could be salvaged if he had said that height becomes less of a factor after a certain point. It would be interesting to see the contribution of height cohorts to the NBA, i.e. percentage players who are 5'6" in the NBA vs. that percentage in the population, then 5'7" etc. If Gladwell is accurate, we wouldn't see any increase after 6'6".

Anonymous said...

Of course, the "threshold" model works, if you assume an infinite number of thresholds for every possible task and sub-task. Heh.

Anonymous said...

The phenomenon of restriction of range does exist, but Gladwell butchers it as usual to satisfy his anti-genetics narrative.

Reality shows that there is no threshold effect for IQ. The top 1 in 10000 do much better than the top 1 in 100.


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11519655?dopt=Abstract


Top 1 in 10,000: a 10-year follow-up of the profoundly gifted.

Lubinski D, Webb RM, Morelock MJ, Benbow CP.

Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37203, USA. david.lubinski@vanderbilt.edu

Adolescents identified before the age of 13 (N = 320) as having exceptional mathematical or verbal reasoning abilities (top 1 in 10,000) were tracked over 10 years. They pursued doctoral degrees at rates over 50 times base-rate expectations, with several participants having created noteworthy literary, scientific, or technical products by their early 20s. Early observed distinctions in intellectual strength (viz., quantitative reasoning ability over verbal reasoning ability, and vice versa) predicted sharp differences in their developmental trajectories and occupational pursuits. This special population strongly preferred educational opportunities tailored to their precocious rate of learning (i.e., appropriate developmental placement), with 95% using some form of acceleration to individualize their education.

Scott Galupo said...

Gladwell hardly needs me to run interference for him, but I do remember you making a similar point — that a height advantage levels off around 6'4, after which coordination begins to diminish.

jnc said...

Even if he didn’t do the best job in expressing it, I think you are deliberately distorting the point he is trying to make, which in my opinion is extremely valid, and being yourself knowledgeable in econometrics you should be able to grasp it quite easily (and in fact, I’m quite sure you have a similar argument in the past).

He is simply making reference to the concept of diminishing marginal returns in a particular activity and applying to IQ. For example, for unskilled labour, keeping all else equal, raising someone’s IQ 30 points form 60 to 90, can make a considerable difference, however, a raise form 90 to 120 would matter much less. Similarly, for a dentist, a raise from 90 to 120 would be very important, while a raise 120 to 150 would make little difference for the dentist. But if the same raise was applied to, say, a particle physicist, it would be have a major effect in expected performance.

Anonymous said...

It pains me to see you use the word "snark".

David said...

So as long as you have an IQ of 120, you've met the minimum standard and you're in the door; the difference between you and an applicant of 140 IQ doesn't matter. You both met the standard, i.e., the minimum requirement.

One gets the sinking feeling that this is how Obama got to be where he is. Not just on IQ, but also on all the other indices of character and competence. (What is the minimum number of articles one must submit to that law journal in order to edit it?) So he has always been good enough for, uhhmm, government work?

Outland said...

Gladwell is a stupid clown.

Anonymous said...

Shaquille O'Neal was only 6'2, but he was one of the most dominent centers of all time. Not to mention Wilt "Pee-Wee" Chamberlain.

Danindc said...

Exactly Steve, now you're catching on to the genius that is Gladwell. Similarly, if Shaq was 6'7 he would still dominate the paint and won 4 titles....and for extreme examples Mark Eaton at 6'8 would still have had a long, lucrative NBA career.

Anonymous said...

I think his error is that there are so many more people who are 6' 6'', that you see relatively more people in the NBA of that height than say, 7' 2''. Conditional upon height, the probability of being in the NBA is probably weakly monotonic. However, there are costs to being too tall, and so, merely being 7' 2'', might actually a disadvantage, because it is so hard to be coordinated at that height.

mnjohn said...

Once your IQ reaches about 120-125 you can pretty much handle any occupation out there. Anything more than this and its overkill. People with exceptionally high IQ's tend to be misanthropic like bloggers Half Sigma(seems to alays be bitching about proles) and Razib.

agnostic said...

And since no studies exist to support this claim, the threshold for hitting diminishing returns is always the speaker's own IQ.

Bill said...

He might have a point if he'd explained it better. For example, being tall obviously helps one play basketball well, but due to human physiology there are certain tradeoffs with increased height. Someone who is 6'6" can cut faster than a seven footer and can move their hands more quickly.

In football speed is important to one's ability to run the ball, but so is changing direction very quickly. One is easier with relatively longer legs while the other with shorter, so you need a balance between the two.

Although we don't understand the human brain that well, there may be tradeoffs at very high IQs as well. Achieving the kind of processing speed that results in an IQ of 180 might involve tradeoffs that bypass the intuitive connections that are often involved in major scientific breakthroughs. That's speculation, of course, but I think it's likely that there's a sweet spot for each particular mental endeavor, just as there is for professional sports positions.

I'm aware that this isn't what Gladwell is getting at, but it's an interesting concept.

jody said...

in basketball, height does start to matter less past 7-0. at that point athletic ability is more important.

nevertheless, james is better than jordan in absolute terms. he's taller, bigger, more muscular and explosive. jordan dominated his era - but james would have dominated jordan's era even more thoroughly.

basketball players continue to get taller, more muscular, more fit, and more athletic, especially as the sport has become a major international game. only 15 years ago, there were still a few NBA players that were literally chubby - they're all gone now. some NBA teams still fielded an enforcer - guys who were just there to foul. those guys are all gone now too. teams can't afford to have even a single guy who can't play.

Truth said...

Maybe you should go play a little basketball Steve, you already drink a quart of
Hateraide everytime you blog about Gladwell.

Anonymous said...

I'm a moderately high IQ woman (1350 SAT taken in 1991; broken down - nearly perfect verbal score, not very good math score) married to a super high IQ man. We socialize with similar couples and I grew up in the SF Bay Area, otherwise known as the high IQ preserve. Based on my experience, there is DEFINITELY a trade-off once people pass a certain point. Supermegasmarties are almost entirely men. They have social deficits. But they marry smart women and the women make up for the deficits. We should get freaking medals from a grateful nation for it, though.

Anonymous said...

Here is Chomsky giving a revealing peak into the financial/intellectual publisher machinery that serves up an "intellectual" like Malcolm Gladwell for mass consumption:

The Fate of an Honest Intellectual

Anonymous said...

Gladwell's example is sloppy. There are different positions on a basketball team. A center will obviously have a much higher optimum threshold for height than a point guard or forward. Michael Jordan is the all-time NBA scoring leader, but he doesn't even make the top 30 for rebounds or blocked shots per game. Interestingly, Wilt Chamberlain is the all-time rebound leader and second only to Jordan for all-time scoring. Wilt Chamberlain was 7'1".

Anonymous said...

"I'm a moderately high IQ woman (1350 SAT taken in 1991;"

Based on that score, your IQ comes in around 142. You consider that "moderately" high IQ?

What's your husband's IQ?

SFG said...

I'm a moderately high IQ woman (1350 SAT taken in 1991; broken down - nearly perfect verbal score, not very good math score) married to a super high IQ man. We socialize with similar couples and I grew up in the SF Bay Area, otherwise known as the high IQ preserve. Based on my experience, there is DEFINITELY a trade-off once people pass a certain point. Supermegasmarties are almost entirely men. They have social deficits. But they marry smart women and the women make up for the deficits. We should get freaking medals from a grateful nation for it, though.
I suspect you're onto something, though I wonder if the guys just obsess on intellectual matters because we're men and men have to be the best at something, whereas women like to be well-rounded because it helps them socially. I guess I'm saying it may be as much attitude as anything else. There was this book, "American Nerd: a story of my people", where the guy goes on about how, Asperger's syndrome aside, the nerd kids tend to be raised by parents with a disregard for fashion and an overemphasis on intellectual pursuits. So it may be nurture on top of nature...
HBDers should never forget that, while blank slatists claim nature doesn't exist and we stress it to counteract that, the two actually interact in often mutually self-reinforcing ways.

Once your IQ reaches about 120-125 you can pretty much handle any occupation out there. Anything more than this and its overkill. People with exceptionally high IQ's tend to be misanthropic like bloggers Half Sigma(seems to alays be bitching about proles) and Razib.
Actually, not true. It's that the occupations, like computer programmer and research scientist, that benefit from IQs over 120 aren't very good, objectively speaking. I think the highest-IQ occupation in this country is medical doctor, which doesn't pay as well as investment banker at the high end (though if you factor in the much lower chance of failure, it may be better from the expected-value point of view.) It does seem to be favored among high-IQ women, I have to say. (I gotta gets me a doctress...)
I wouldn't call Razib misanthropic. HS, well yeah, but my real problem is his Sarah Palin thing.

Anonymous said...

I feel for Ms. Moderately-High I.Q. Anonymous-- around this weblog, with the likes of Greg Cochran weighing in from time to time, a 1350 (oldstyle) SAT is moderately high. Hell, I wouldn't rate myself above "moderately high" (1450 oldstyle).

Anonymous said...

Gladwell's comparison isn't accurate but I'm inclined to believe that there are diminishing marginal returns for IQ. (Although agnostic's comment is hilarious)

Muggsy Bogues was 5'3" and compiled a very respectable NBA career. Are we to infer that a few outliers with IQ's of 80 could muster their other talents to become renowned physicians and physics professors?

ed said...

If the point is "if you get too tall you tend to have other defits," then that is correct. But I don't think that's what Gladwell is saying.

He's saying "once you are tall enough, it doesn't help to be taller, even if all else is equal."

Anonymous said...

"What is the minimum number of articles one must submit to that law journal in order to edit it?"

Don't even go there. What happens at Harvard stays at Harvard.

Next you'll be claiming Obama wrote meglomaniacal, race-obsessed autobiographies, sat in a radical Black Liberation church for 17 years, and keeps his college records and birth certificate in locked vaults.

Anonymous said...

Jody Said:

"basketball players continue to get taller, more muscular, more fit, and more athletic, especially as the sport has become a major international game."

Actually, as Steve pointed out a while ago, despite the huge influx of foreign talent, the average height of NBA players has remained within a few millimeters of 6'7" for the last 20 years or so. ( http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/04/nba-players-not-getting-taller.html ; http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/04/nba-height.html )There is probably because there is a limit to how large a human frame can be and still be moved with grace and power (obviously this varies by position, with height declining the farther away from the basket the position plays as more speed and quickness are required). Note that when judging changes in player sizes, don't look at program listings, but at the the actual heights taken at the NBA measurements (like the NFL combine). Most players heights are overstated on the program by measuring them in basketball shoes and then rounding up. (E.g., Nowitzki is 6'10", not 7', Jordan and Bryant are only 6'4.5" and James is only 6'7", not 6'8"). This type of overlisting in many sports (like Football) (e.g., Brian Westbrook and Tiki Barber were both listed at 5'10", but actually measured at 5'8 3/8ths" and 5'8 5/8ths" at the NFL Combine, respectively) and quasi-sports (like pro-wrestling) (e.g., Andre the Giant was not 7'4", but 6'11.5")

You are correct, however that players keep getting heavier and more muscular, but hey, training methods (and doping) keep getting better. Just look at Jordan during his comeback. He was much, much bigger. I met him once while he was golfing and was astounded at how massive he was (easily 230lbs with virtually no body fat) - he was also markedly shorter than a legit 6'6" friend of mine who we had stand nest to him to judge his height.

Anonymous said...

"Supermegasmarties are almost entirely men. They have social deficits."

This is true. However, I wouldn't trade any IQ points for social skills. You learn to work around these "social deficits" as you age anyway. And stupidity must make life so boring for those whom it afflicts. No amount of "social skills" can be an adequate compensation for that.

i am the walrus said...

I tell my friends who are Cowboy fans that Dallas will never win a Super Bowl with a quarterback as short as Tony Romo. Even mediorce quarterbacks of Super Bowl winning teams, like Trent Difler and Brad Johnson, are tall.

Anonymous said...

No decreasing returns to high IQ (at least in scientific achievement): IQs of eminent scientists.

See also Success vs Ability

Anonymous said...

Obviously Steve missed the argument. Gladwell actually said that "past a certain point, height doesn't matter so much." Meaning that you need to be around 6 foot at least usually to be effective, but at each inch up to a certain point there are a larger number of good players on average. Just like among good boxers, bigger is better, but there is a law of diminishing return with size. Most of the greatest have been between 200 and 230 lbs. Andre the Giant and probably Shaq would have gotten knocked out by 220 lb Mike Tyson.
And Jordan would no doubt school Ming in hoops ( but maybe not if he was only 5'10".)

jody said...

the average height may not have increased much yet there are more tall players now than ever, and more good tall players than ever too. there were no good giants until mark eaton, now there have been a couple guys that size who were decent. for a few years this decade there were two 7-6 starters. a 6-11 player won the dunk contest and a 7-0 player won the 3 point shootout.

dirk nowitzki is 7 feet tall, he's not 6-10. he played next to shawn bradley for several years and wasn't 8 inches shorter. he was definitely taller than chris webber who was 6-10. he's very slightly taller than tim duncan.

once you get that tall, height is less important anyway. there is a giant 7-5 player in the NBA draft almost every year now, but they usually do not pan out. some of these international giants who cannot make the NBA today absolutely would have played some minutes 30 years ago. there just were not multiple 7-5 guys coming in from every nation back then like there are now. there wasn't an international talent pool. almost all of the giant players today are from the international talent pool. 6 billion is bigger than 300 million.

jody said...

drew brees is only 6 feet tall yet is on track to equal dan marino's single season passing record. he also played in the 2007 NFC championship. his team lost that game and did not advance to the superbowl, yet i don't see how brees being 6-6 would have caused the saints to win that game.

michael vick is only 6 feet tall, yet he became the highest paid player in NFL history in 2004 when he signed a contract for over 100 million dollars. he also played in the 2005 NFC championship. his team lost the game and did not advance to the superbowl, but again, i don't see how vick being taller would have caused the falcons to win. his problem is that he is better at running than throwing.

i don't see height as being the problem with tony romo. guys over 6 feet tall are tall enough, after that other things are important.

Xenophon Hendrix said...

From the anonymously cited article above:

"Feynman's 124: in this context one often hears of Feynman's modest grade school IQ score of 124. To understand this score we have to remember that typical IQ tests (e.g., administered to public school children) tend to have low ceilings. They are not of the kind that Roe used in her study. One can imagine that the ceiling on Feynman's exam was roughly 135 (say, 99th percentile). If Feynman received the highest score on the mathematical portion, and a modest score of 115 on the verbal, we can easily understand the resulting average of 124. However, it is well known that Feynman was extremely strong mathematically. He was asked on short notice to take the Putnam exam for MIT as a senior, and received the top score in the country that year! On Roe's test Feynman's math score would presumably have been > 190, with a correspondingly higher composite IQ."

I thought I'd quote the paragraph about Feynman, because when IQ comes up he tends to get mentioned by persons who don't really know of what they speak.

Anonymous said...

Muggsy Bogues was 5'3" and compiled a very respectable NBA career. Are we to infer that a few outliers with IQ's of 80 could muster their other talents to become renowned physicians and physics professors?

No. Your analogy is poor. The miracle of a guy with an 80 IQ becoming a renowned academic would be analogous not to a short man -- but to a legally blind man "compiling a respectable NBA career"...

Indra Maghavan said...

Man, I feel smarter just listening to you people say shit.

Anonymous said...

Considering that the statistically best NBA players of all time were over 7 feet tall, isn't Gladwell's comment the equivalent of saying: "Only the tallest people in the world have the potential to be the best basketball players in the world." Healthy human beings (those not afflicted with gigantism) don't get much taller than 7 feet something, I'd guess. It's the maximum end of the distribution. Jordan was a great showman who was great in the clutch moments, but his day-in and day-out stats are utterly dwarfed by those of the big centers.

Anonymous said...

For most areas outside of physics or mathematics, I think Gladwell's point is probably true.

It's not that IQ doesn't help after the 130-140 range, it's just that things like creativity, work drive, professional associations, etc, become more important. I think I recall seeing the average IQ of nobel prize winners, and it was suprisingly low (low 130s if I remember correct). Physics and math are different, the best in those fields always do seem to be off-the-charts smart.

Argent Paladin said...

"And stupidity must make life so boring for those whom it afflicts. No amount of "social skills" can be an adequate compensation for that."

It actually may be the case that boredom is positively correlated with IQ not negatively. I get bored in "regular" jobs in a few weeks and thus have gotten fired from quite a few of them. People with low IQs can stick it out for decades when high IQers would quit out of boredom in weeks or months.

Anonymous said...

Where are people getting these SAT ==> IQ translations? I did 1500 in 1973, and I'd love to think that makes me a genius, but I've long been disabused of that notion.

BTW, Gladwell didn't say that height stops mattering after a certain point, he said that it stops mattering "so much". In itself that sounds pretty spot on to me!

Anonymous said...

My IQ is definitely only moderately high. That 1350 score was around 780 verbal. If my IQ were super high I would be better at math. I would guess that my IQ is around 130.

I can't remember my husband's exact score but it was ludicrously high. 150's or 60's.

Someone else says they think the trade-offs are worth the lack of social skills. I agree. But I think people need to recognize that no, some of those skills can't be learned, because they aren't skills at all. It's primate stuff. That is what the trade-off means. My husband is never going to pass as normal. I can. I can even pass as dim. But super-high IQ people can't pass.

High IQ is really a species of mental illness. It's totally obvious that this is true when it comes to very smart children. I spent Saturday with a bilingual 6yo who reads Tolkein and could probably pass a high school biology class. Other children would eat this child alive were he in school. They would recognize him as different and he wouldn't ever be able to hide it. Really, really smart people don't function on the same animal butt-sniffing level the rest of us do. They don't give the right passwords with body language and eye contact and maybe they even smell different.

Sideways said...

If the point is "if you get too tall you tend to have other defits," then that is correct. But I don't think that's what Gladwell is saying.

He's saying "once you are tall enough, it doesn't help to be taller, even if all else is equal."


well, then he's a fool as has already been posted. Yao Ming wouldn't have made the draft at 7 feet tall and no one would have ever considered him for a team at 6'8"

Danindc said...

oyyy, ok there are about five people in the world that know more sports than me and none of them post here....

Brees is a great Qb but is a freak who knows the game and reads defenses better than anyone alive- if he were 6'5' Tom Brady would be envious of him. He still runs into trouble due to his height and throws bad INTs because of it. Of cours it helps to be taller at QB- the lineman are freakin averaging 6'3" so it helps to see over them and scan the field. If you're not 6'4" at least, i wouldn't want you as my QB. Quick firing brain synapses are also crucial to success....there is no more intellectual position in all of sports that QB.

Jordan has many intangibles Lebron never will which will always make him the best- primarly among them that he won an NCAA championship game with a last second shot as a freshman- can you imagine how confident that made him? No one will ever have the mental edge like MJ. Lebro has never won jack and may turn out to be a choke artist.

James said...

Does he know what a block is?

hcl said...

Muggsy Bogues was 5'3" and compiled a very respectable NBA career.

A player under 6'0'' almost never makes f/t starter.

While short players can get an open shot on the offensive end with quickness, they can't defend. Only a defender's body prevents the opposing player from shooting 80%-90% as he might on uncontested shots in practice.

Moreover, 6'0'' is just the point guard threshold. The threshold for Center seems to be at about 6'8'' (and ~240 lbs.)

Anonymous said...

How come you are all missing the point? A smarter person can do intellectual work faster, the same way a taller person is able to look down on more people. The idea that there aren't complex intellectual problems accessible to a 160 IQ person that aren't as accessible to a 130 IQ person is ludicrous or that those with 120-125 IQs are even as quick as those with 140 IQs.

The point is not that higher IQs must correspond with greater success in life. The point is that more mental horsepower is important along the dimension of complex problem solving, and that having more intelligence helps you solve mental problems faster, no matter what the deficits on other dimensions will be.

Anonymous said...

"Other children would eat this child alive were he in school. They would recognize him as different and he wouldn't ever be able to hide it."

But fortunately, this sort of stuff does get easier once you're out of school. The social pressure to fit in decreases in adulthood.

You're right that the social deficits are biological. One can't actually overcome them. However, with practice one can get better at working around them. I'm sure that deaf people are better at being deaf by their 30s than they were as kids.

It's hard to separate ability from interest in this as in many other things. The stereotypical nerdy guy isn't just clumsy in social situations, he's bored by them too.

The source of these stereotypical deficits and of the talents sometimes associated with them is probably the separation between two important kinds of intelligence.

One can be smart about people or one can be smart about inanimate objects and ideas. Of course one can be super smart about both, but that's pretty rare. These seem to be two very different kinds of intelligence. I wouldn't be surprised if they involved different mechanisms in the brain and different genetic causes. By itself being smart with people does not help one to be smart with inanimate objects or abstract concepts. The opposite is true as well. The two skills (or inborn abilities) are too different for much of a crossover to be possible. You can't simply take the skills made possible by one of these kinds of intelligence and apply them in the other kind's domain. They're useless there.

Just one example of how different these two kinds of ability are:

One thinks about inanimate objects and abstract concepts by consciously using logic. Well, one is supposed to, anyway. Most social processing, however, is subconscious. If you ask the people who're good at it to explain how they do it, they're often unable to come up with coherent explanations. Social ability is intuitive, it does not reside in the realm of conscious thought. If logic is used anywhere in it, it is not sounded out in the person's consciousness. In fact, it is hidden from him, just like most of the mental processing involved in regulating heartbeat, sweating, etc.

headache said...

Why does everybody want to be a genius?

My old man, who was a plasma physicist and studied under Heisenberg in Göttingen, must have an IQ at 155-160 (I'm just guessing). He can speak several languages perfectly and even though I hold a PhD in engineering with another coming, I haven't managed to ask him anything he does not know explicitly.

But he cannot get a nail into the wall without either hurting his hands or damaging the wall. What's the good of that?

We managed with him, but for the average family having a good artisan as family father is probably a better payoff. One of the few benefits of having this high IQ dad is that high-IQ folks generally do not make an impression on me. I’m more interested in solid character and appreciate people who get things done and built.

Anonymous said...

When discussing IQ and the upper limits of achievement, there are two key IQ ranges to consider. IQ 120-150 seems to be the ideal range for real-world (business, politics, etc.)success. This observation is probably what gave rise to the idea that an IQ above 120 "doesn't matter." That said, there is another important IQ band from 150-180. In this range are the people who make the most significant theoretical contributions (philosophers, physicists, etc.). The first group is able to use symbolic thinking to solve existing problems. The second group alters the symbol systems themselves.

Anonymous said...

"Where are people getting these SAT ==> IQ translations? I did 1500 in 1973, and I'd love to think that makes me a genius, but I've long been disabused of that notion."

There are several calculators and tables out there on the webs. Try googling them. The SAT has been recentered a few times. Your pre-1974 SAT score of 1500 is equivalent to the other poster's 1350 score from the 1990s. IQ 142. These are, perhaps, moderate scores for this blog, but they put you well above the top 1% of the general population and in the category of "genius" on some scales.

Anonymous said...

"Man, I feel smarter just listening to you people say shit."

That's what drives the blogosphere, doesn't it? I know it's a big part of my motivation for checking in to blogs such as this one.

Black Sea said...

“What Hudson is saying is that IQ is a lot like height in basketball."

I guess my reaction to Gladwell's argument would depend on knowing what point "Hudson" is making about IQ. For the most part, Gladwell's comment seems uncontroversial enough.

All things being equal, height is an advantage in basketball, but since all other things are rarely equal, a lot of factors other than height come into play. Since there is a much larger pool of men closer to average height than, say, one foot above it, you tend to have a much largeer pool of athleticism, competitiveness, eye hand coordination, etc, to choose from among those under 6' 10." Yeah, if you could move as gracefully as Allen Iverson at 6' 10", you'd be a hell of a player, but you can't, so it doesn't matter.

Michael Vick's height was/is a liability to his performance as a passer. Difficulty seeing over the defenders. Vick is a great running back trapped in an average quarterback's body.

As a kid in Texas, Drew Brees was the highest ranked tennis player in the boys 12 division, although he considered tennis something like his 5th favorte sport. He beat Andy Roddick several times, though admittedly, Roddick was 3 years his junior.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060209/news_1s9davis.html

We often forget how off-the-scale athletically talented almost everybody who grows rich playing professional sports actually is.
I remember watching a Chicago Bulls game during their heyday, and someone making a comment about Will Perdue being a lumbering oaf. I said, "and the irony is that he's probably about 10 times as coordinated as anybody in this room."

Nobody, including a guy who'd played Division II college football, seriously argued the point.

Anonymous said...

"My IQ is definitely only moderately high. That 1350 score was around 780 verbal. If my IQ were super high I would be better at math."

You may want to investigate this further or have yourself professionally tested. Many consider the verbal portion of the SAT to be more g-loaded than the math section. In other words, it is theoretically possible to look at your verbal score separately from the math section in order to gauge your IQ. A 780V on the pre-1995 SAT is extraordinary and taken alone would put your IQ over 155. It's not uncommon for high IQ people to show uneven performance on various IQ subtests. Some tilt heavily toward verbal, others tilt heavily toward quantitative. It also doesn't seem like a stretch to think that a higher verbal IQ would be useful for social situations. Your husband may have a high quantitative IQ and a lower verbal IQ which explains why you complement one another well.

i am the walrus said...

jody,

Brees was a very good quarterback in San Diego, as well, but the team dumped him to make way for the 6'5'' Phillip Rivers.

And Atlanta is not missing a beat without Vick this season due to the play of 6'5'' Matt Ryan, potentially the rookie of the year.

Anonymous said...

Really, really smart people don't function on the same animal butt-sniffing level the rest of us do.

I have seen a similar example. Friends daughter is brilliant - 150+ IQ. She can memorize long patterns after a single view. Plays chess at a high level, etc.

But, she is socially infantile. It is a strange thing to observe.

Interesting fact about the dad is that he was late speaker as a child.

Borderline asperger(sp?)???

There are trade-offs to everything.

Anonymous said...

Considering that the statistically best NBA players of all time were over 7 feet tall, isn't Gladwell's comment the equivalent of saying: "Only the tallest people in the world have the potential to be the best basketball players in the world." Healthy human beings (those not afflicted with gigantism) don't get much taller than 7 feet something, I'd guess. It's the maximum end of the distribution. Jordan was a great showman who was great in the clutch moments, but his day-in and day-out stats are utterly dwarfed by those of the big centers.


This is just wrong. Jordan has 2 of the 5 most dominant seasons in NBA history (1990-1991 and 1987-1988). Measured by PER (Player Efficiency Rating) or by win shares. Both stats attempt to measure total statistical performance. Virtually every other season in the top is held by centers. Jordan wasn't just a great showman he dominated the game as a shooting guard and it shows on the stat sheets

jan said...

How can one compare height to IQ? IQ is about general ability, height is just one factor in the ability to play basket.

Chaos said...

Gladwell and many of the commenters here are mixing different variables together and trying to come to a conclusion - which is often wrong. Gladwell and many commenters implicitly assume that increasing height in basketball or increasing IQ for a given person will lead to a decrease in some other variable, which will 'balance-out' the desired outcome.

But this balancing act then distorts the real argument about the variable in question - height in basketball and IQ in real life. Gladwell's point about there being some magical bottom after which height in basketball and IQ in life don't matter is also just plain wrong. He is only saying this because he assumes that at that point other variables will 'balance' things out.

In other words everything else being equal (ball handling skills, speed, agility, balance, etc.) give me a team of 8' feet players at every position and let me go heads-up against any team in the NBA. In real life give me a company of 220 IQ average people (everything else being equal) and I will show you where that takes me.

The same applies to countries of course. But then we get into 'tricky' immigration and racial questions and such, and thus everything I said is probably wrong. Gladwell is a much better person to explain these things to he public. No conspiracies here...

Anonymous said...

Basketball, like most sports, is very abritrary. The fact that the goal has been set at 10' has a lot to do with the reason why height is such a factor. If the goal was on the ground as in hockey or soccer then the players would shrink. Their bodies would become less angular and they would have a lower center of gravity.

What would happen if the basketball court was twice as long? Or for that matter 4x as long? Also consider what would happen if the basket was set a 12' or 15'. Perhaps the need for height would deminish and the need for coordination, speed, and endurance would increase. Once again, the goal in basketball is arbitrary.

Now take intelligence. The "goal" here is not arbitrary. The object in a winner take all system is to simply be smarter than your rival. "In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King". If your IQ is 85 and your rivals have an IQ of 75 then chances are that you will get more pussy than most. If you live in Korea and you IQ is 95 then farming is always an option. The simple fact is that you will have fewer opportunities to climb the domenance heirarchy if you are a man.

Of course if you are a woman you can be as dumb as a stump and still have as many children as you like as long as you are young, healthy, and pretty.

Anonymous said...

Where are people getting these SAT ==> IQ translations?

MC Frey and DK Detterman found in 2004 that the SAT was a measure of "general intelligence". They created a formula that could predict IQ scores from SAT scores. Subsequent studies have validated this.

Anonymous said...

If the basketball court was 50 or a 100 meters long you would probably have really big centers that would not move away from the goal like in hockey or soccer. Their sole job would be shot blocking. They would use smaller, more nimble, younger, faster, ball handlers / shooters who had better endurance.

Jim O'Sullivan said...

Great bunch of comments. Thanks, everybody!

When I was a kid, there was talk of a match between Ali and Chamberlain, then both in their prime. I remember the CW was "Ali by KO in one." Would love to have see it.

Jordan's personal accomplishments don't stack up to a lot of seven -footers? I respectfully disagee. How about 6 rings on a team where the second-best player was the likes of the overrated Scotty Pipen? I can't think of any basketball player who could make a comparable boast. You may be just thinking of stats, which is different from acomplishment. Remember: the only man who could hold Jordan to under 20 points a game was Dean Smith.

As for IQ score versus SAT, it looks to me as if MENSA figures that an old-style 1300 SAT is an IQ in the low 130's. They've probably given the topic more thought than most.

Anonymous said...

Finally someone spoke up for Michael Jordan! Yeah, let's wait until Lebron gets his second or third championship before we seriously start the comparisons.
And as far as big men dominating the stats relative to Jordan, any big man even approach his combination of FGs, FT%, assists, rebounds and defensive play?

Anonymous said...

"No. Your analogy is poor. The miracle of a guy with an 80 IQ becoming a renowned academic would be analogous not to a short man -- but to a legally blind man "compiling a respectable NBA career"..."

It's not my analogy; it's Gladwell's. As I understand it he is saying that intellectual achievement/professional success has a minimum IQ standard and diminishing marginal returns on IQ in the same way that height does with NBA success. I am simply inquiring if the analogy carries to the lower end of the spectrum. Vision has nothing to do with any of this but you are welcome to create your own analogy.

MQ said...

Jordan has many intangibles Lebron never will which will always make him the best- primarly among them that he won an NCAA championship game with a last second shot as a freshman- can you imagine how confident that made him? No one will ever have the mental edge like MJ. Lebro has never won jack and may turn out to be a choke artist.

This is nonsense; Lebron has a great mental game and if you think he isn't a great clutch player you just don't watch the NBA. Jordan is better in certain ways but that's because he's quicker and smaller than lebron -- he was the ultimate shooting guard. Lebron's jumper is a little clumsy and inconsistent because of his size. Lebron's only problem is that he tries to be too much of a perimeter player like Jordan, when his body type is better suited to playing inside. But he is improving year by year and it's evident he'll take his place as one of the top few players ever to play the game.

Truth said...

"No. Your analogy is poor."

No, I think the analogy is fair:

height/ basketball as intelligence/ science

Most scientists are smarter well smarter than average as most basketball players are well taller than average. The average size in the NBA is 6'6 1/2

Anonymous said...

"If your IQ is 85 and your rivals have an IQ of 75 then chances are that you will get more pussy than most."

In what world do men with higher IQ's get more pussy?

albertosaurus said...

I had Amazon send me a copy. I got it an hour or so ago and have read the first three chapters. It was a little creepy because he seemed to be writing about me specifically. How did he know my birthdate?

I was parcularly interested because I had written comments on this blog and others for years about IQ as a threshold variable.

But first let me respond to the anonymous woman with the 1350 SAT scores who thinks that a very high IQ is a disease process. This could conceivably be true but almost certainly isn't.

Consider the height analogy. Adult height has a heritability of around .80. Height is also probably Mendelian polygenic. This means that all normal people have a number of identical genes for height. Some have more and some have less. A binomial expansion of these pairs of allele will approximate a normal (gaussian)distribution. This is the phenotypic expression that we see - a normal distribution of heights.

All those tall guys in the NBA are the right most tail of a distribution with a man of about 5'8" and an SD of about 2.5".

There are other ways to be very tall. For example there are pituitary tumors. However there are no such people as far as I know in the NBA. All the NBA players are in this sense "normal".

Similarly IQ may very well be a Mendelian polygenic trait too. IQs seem also to be normally distributed. There are a couple disease prosesses that yield high mental abilities in narrow fields. The obvious example are the so called "savants" like Rainman.

However as far as I know there is no general high ability disease. Those with very high IQs are normal in the same way Wilt Chamberlain was normal. They may social problems - Chamberlain complained that he could never walk down a public street without drawing unwanted attention. That could certainly affect your social development.

There are other sports where height is important. Vollyball was Chamberlain's favorite sport. I believe that our Olympic vollyball team was taller than our basketball team. So if the correlation of height with basketball success was .75 (made up figure), than the corellation with vollyball success would have been more like .85.

If we made flatfooted lightbulb changing an Olympic sport the corellation would be nearly perfect say .99. Such a "sport" approches just a simple height measurement. Unlike real sports lightbulb changing wouldn't be very suspenseful - the height relationship is too strong.

IQ is also called Spearman's "g". The 'g" stands for general meaning the IQ trait has general relevance. Unlike barefoot lightbulb changing where height alone is everything, by definition a high IQ helps its possessor in almost every task - it is generally useful.

Essentially every occupation benefits from its practioners being brighter. Some jobs like doctors and lawyers benefit more than others but its still better to have a smart rather than a dumb trash collector.

Let's say that trial lawyer success correlates .50 with IQ and trash collector .20. This means that other factors besides IQ matter. This is perceived in the job environment as a threshold effect. The threshold for trial lawyer might be an IQ of 120 and the IQ threshold of a trash collector might be 80.

As long as there are other factors (independant ANOVA variables) there will be a threshold. For example in our hypothetical sport barefoot lightbulb changing there is no threshold. The taller guy always wins.

MensaRefugee said...

High IQ is really a species of mental illness.
Posted by the moderately smart Anon wife of a super smarty hubby.
================================

Abnormality, yes.

Illness, only if it impairs the ability to survive. And that, is relative. Take the 150 IQ guy, and put him in a country where the average IQ is 120-150 and he might well do fine, or at any rate, much much better.

Much of this social deficits talk is probably real, but overrated. Take a 90 IQ person and put him in M.I.T and see how his social skills are (and imagine a lifetime of such imbalances starting in childhood as well - how would they learn social skills in the first place?)

SFG said...

My old man, who was a plasma physicist and studied under Heisenberg in Göttingen, must have an IQ at 155-160 (I'm just guessing). He can speak several languages perfectly and even though I hold a PhD in engineering with another coming, I haven't managed to ask him anything he does not know explicitly.

But he cannot get a nail into the wall without either hurting his hands or damaging the wall. What's the good of that?

We managed with him, but for the average family having a good artisan as family father is probably a better payoff. One of the few benefits of having this high IQ dad is that high-IQ folks generally do not make an impression on me. I’m more interested in solid character and appreciate people who get things done and built.


I'll agree that character is more important for working with a person, but you really think your dad's no good b/c he's a lousy artisan? Wouldn't the social status gained from having a physicist for a father (from what I understand, they actually respect academics in Germany) easily outweigh the ability to hammer a nail into the wall? Besides, your dad isn't just a useless Mensa goofball, the extra languages have at least got to count for something socially. I'm not knocking artisans--we all need them, and plenty of them, and I wish we had the same respect for fine artisanship the Germans do over here--but does everyone have to be one?

Anonymous said...

So hey guys, "species of mental illness" is hyperbole. You can tell I am using figurative language because I used "species" instead of "kind" or "sort." But it's ok, you all are better at math than me.

Truth said...

I'll bet the guy who went to Vo-Tech High School and had a dad who rebuilt Chevy transmissions would have traded him for a plasma scientist too.

SFG said...

Anon: you're basically right that it's maladaptive. I could cite myself as an example. I'm just wondering if it's the IQ or something that comes with it. It could be that the brain can't be simultaneously wired for a 190 IQ and social skills due to some principle of neuronal organization we don't know about yet. I wouldn't even be surprised.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell was defending the ludicrous and speculative remark by Hudson that scientists with IQ 130 and IQ 180 would be equally likely to get Nobel prizes (i.e. anything above whatever is typical for that field doesn't matter).

Anonymous said...

Since Steve already has had some tussles with Gladwell, he might be just the guy to document mercilessly what one of the Amazon reviewers already complained about, which is that essentially all of the factual content in Outliers was found by searching the internet. (Well, there are a few interviews with friends of Gladwell's agent, and so on. But beyond a few such grabs at low-hanging fruit the work is superficial and at times shoddy). Comparing quotations in Gladwell to their online sources should be enlightening.