April 3, 2010

Finally, a poll on how clueless everybody is

From the Washington Post:
If he stays past this term, [John Paul] Stevens will remain on course to become the oldest and longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history. Paradoxically, he is also among the court's least-known members; in a poll taken last summer, only 1 percent of Americans could summon his name. 

They should do this more often: instead of just asking people their opinion on stuff as if the average man in the street actually knows what he is talking about, pollsters should ask more questions with objective answers.

Stevens should be better known: the press should have been asking for years why Stevens, who will turn 90 this month, hasn't done the right thing by the country and retired. That's just a ridiculous age for a Supreme Court justice, but it hasn't been an issue because he's a liberal.

As I've been writing since 1993, Supreme Court Justices should get a single 18-year term, so that they would typically serve from roughly age 55 to 73. You win a Presidential election, you get to nominate two Justices to the Supreme Court. That's fair.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Imagine if Ford (Stevens) and Bush Sr. (Souter) had actually nominated conservative judges.

Anonymous said...

Not too concerned whether Americans know the names of the supreme court justices - more concerned that they know nothing about the constitution (nor do most of the justices it seems).

Anonymous said...

Paradoxically, he is also among the court's least-known members; in a poll taken last summer, only 1 percent of Americans could summon his name.

In other words, if you assume a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, then you need an IQ of at least 134.8952 just to be able to name all nine Supreme Court justices?

And you think that you're going to be able to teach the Pythagorean Theorem to Mexican Indian children so that they can grow up to become carpenters?!?

Heck, 134.8952 is higher than many [if not most?] of the justices on the Court itself.

Good grief.

jody said...

even many republicans turned on their brains and realized that they want john mccain to retire.

strangely republicans seem to only allow themselves to turn on their brains about once per year.

Anonymous said...

Caplan's Myth of the Rational Voter is supposed to have some data on voter knowledge levels.

Anonymous said...

In other words, if you assume a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, then you need an IQ of at least 134.8952 just to be able to name all nine Supreme Court justices?

Um, that's a very wrong way of looking at things.

Vernunft said...

"In other words, if you assume a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, then you need an IQ of at least 134.8952 just to be able to name all nine Supreme Court justices?"

Maybe with another IQ point you can spot the fallacy in your reasoning!

OneSTDV said...

"I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University. "

-William Buckley

Anonymous said...

All judges after 70 should be tested for their judging acumen -- or required to retake the LSAT -- as often as they have their cholesterol tested: every 5 years. This is typically the time span in which a seriously debilitating medical condition usually presents which might diminish their cognitive powers.

Anonymous said...

There should be some kind of age limit.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering if Steve has an opinion about Obama's rambling 17 minute reply to some tech workers question "Aren't we being taxed enough, already?" Is this evidence that Obama is bipolar? If he is, who is the adult in charge of him and is this person the proxy "decider?"

fdfderere said...

And this punk:

http://www.examiner.com/x-37620-Conservative-Examiner~y2010m4d3-Investigation-reveals-numerous-bogus-claims-on-Obama-resume

will appoint another radical to the Supreme Court.

Michael T. Golden said...

Or, there could be fixed term limits for the justices.

fdfdfdfdfdfd said...

"Imagine if Ford (Stevens) and Bush Sr. (Souter) had actually nominated conservative judges."

They couldn't as long as Congress was dominated by liberals. Look what happened to Bork.

If Obama had been beaten in 2008, we finally might have had enough justices to overturn affirmative action. But, too many freaking conservatives who said, "obama or mccain, the same difference". Idiots.

Anonymous said...

Well, Stevens' age HAS become an issue, since it will be a liberal who appoints his successor. Further, it is beginning to dawn on the NYT that the climate for a far-liberal judge confirmation is likely to get less favorable after November. dave.s.

kritisk_borger said...

I just don’t get the problem here. Seriously what’s worse, a liberal judge who’ll acquit 50 percent of the criminals who’re brought before him, because he can really sympathise with the misguided criminal or a senile old fart who’ll convict 50 percent because he really can’t remember what he’s supposed to do, but he’s pretty sure that it’s best not to disappoint the prosecutor or the defence attorney more than twice in a row?

Anonymous said...

Just a shout out to the two commenters who corrected the lunacy of the IQ fundamentalist.

I see a lot of that IQ reductionist nonsense on the right, particularly among the so to speak "alternative right" and it just annoys the hell out of me. These are guys whose own IQs are so low that they can't handle any complications beyond a simple numerical way to codify people.

The great thing about these guys is that not only does everything boil down to IQ but they:

A) pull assumed IQs out of a hat (Hoste over at hbdbooks has all kinds of humorous ways of doing this and never tires of coming up with new laughable ones)

B) Have no understanding of or interest in the fact that people's "IQ" may remain steady throughout their lifetime but their actual intelligence (of EVERY sort) varies greatly over their lifespan - i.e. if you have an IQ of 100, you're still a boatload smarter than a 9 year old or a 90 year old with an IQ of 115.

C) Are mainly infatuated with average racial IQs (read: Blacks and other NAMs - not Jews or Koreans of course) rather than with the IQ of individuals, a messy thing that would place many of them quite a ways lower on the Absolute Bar of the IQ Gods than Obama.

Don't get me wrong, as a quick and dirty metric IQ works just fine but the fact that the sort of thinking of our confused mathematician is in no way under represented in the community of the alternative right demonstrates that there are a lot of intellectually lazy and/or intellectually defective people hanging out here who have no interest in ever graduation beyond the quick and dirty stage.

That's why it's so damn heartening to see that a full 28% of the comments represented so far piped up just to note their scorn for the confused IQist. Yeehaw! Those are very hopeful numbers.

There are some other nice comments here too, the moaners, Obama Derangement Syndromists and Caplan admirers however are sadly not among them. For a comment thread on isteve though I'm still pleased with the numbers. Comment quality had taken a hit lately so a thread that's more than 50% rational is clear win. I'm rooting for ya.

dearieme said...

Anon's tease certainly worked. Well done, Sir.

Vernunft said...

"Just a shout out to the two commenters who corrected the lunacy of the IQ fundamentalist."

:wub: whoever you are

People sure seem worked up over the fact that the law clerks of some really old guy rather than the law clerks of some sort of old guy or some sort of old woman are writing opinions.

FelixM said...

Anonymous' rant mentions "the fact that people's 'IQ' may remain steady throughout their lifetime but their actual intelligence ... varies greatly over their lifespan - i.e. if you have an IQ of 100, you're still a boatload smarter than a 9 year old or a 90 year old with an IQ of 115".

People may lose some of the smarts as they age, but they can pick up tricks and insights that compensate for the loss.

Of course, this only works if they've been intellectually active and actually picked up such tricks and insights.

And, I've read somewhere, that the degree of loss is less for higher IQ's than for lower ones. (Speaking personally, I hope so!)

ziel said...

Maybe with another IQ point you can spot the fallacy in your reasoning!

Well, you guys have got me. Sure, knowing the names of all the S.C. Justices may not be a very accurate IQ measure, but surely it's not completely orthogonal to intelligence. So assuming that the original commenter was being at least somewhat tongue in cheek, I don't see the outrageousness.

What's more annoying is the coy way you guys simply state it's wrong without an explanation, while implying that he employed a "logical fallacy" (a term of art) or a mathematical error, which clearly isn't the case. But 134.8952 is the correct value mean 100 sd 15 at the 99th percentile, no?

There was a long, straw-man ridden comment (yeah, right-wing HBD guys never mention the high Jewish IQ), but even he didn't manage to get to the point.

The problem with the conclusion that an IQ of 135 is necessary to know all nine SC justices is that it is based on a single data point, and thus a little hasty. Hardly a great revelation. His use of 4 decimal places to illustrate it was taken by me and probably most others as a signal that he wasn't being 100% serious in this claim. So I think that 28% of commenters getting all huffed-up over this is a bit much.

And how confident are you guys that an actual poll asking people to name all 9 Justices coupled with an IQ test wouldn't produce a result much different?

outlaw josey wales said...

1. Why should the typical person know the names of all SC Justices? I'm sure there are above average persons who also don't know all of their names.

2. I'm sure all the great constitutional scholars her are well aware that Article III judges serve for life on good behavior.

"The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior..." Article III, section 1.

All term limit or age limit suggestions would be facially unconstitutional if implemented. You will never get a constitutional amendment passed either, so just give it up. It is just as likely that an old conservative judge would be on the bench.

greenrivervalleyman said...

My guess is that the number of people who correctly identified Stevens was between 1/5 and 1/10 the size of those who thought he played bass in Led Zeppelin.

Vernunft said...

"Well, you guys have got me. Sure, knowing the names of all the S.C. Justices may not be a very accurate IQ measure, but surely it's not completely orthogonal to intelligence. So assuming that the original commenter was being at least somewhat tongue in cheek, I don't see the outrageousness."

Whoops! His entire argument is premised on the belief that one's knowledge of Supreme Court justices correlates precisely with IQ. That is stupid!

People with trouble understanding logic often do things like you just did. I and whoever else was on my team was pointing out that, hey, the correlation between SCOTUS knowledge and IQ is not 1. And then you rumble in with "You guys are wrong because it's not 0." Where did that come from? Who EVER said it was completely orthogonal?

"What's more annoying is the coy way you guys simply state it's wrong without an explanation, while implying that he employed a 'logical fallacy' (a term of art) or a mathematical error, which clearly isn't the case. But 134.8952 is the correct value mean 100 sd 15 at the 99th percentile, no?"

Just pointed out the fallacy, happy to help. With enough practice, perhaps you can learn how to infer things from other things!

"The problem with the conclusion that an IQ of 135 is necessary to know all nine SC justices is that it is based on a single data point, and thus a little hasty."

Nope! Even the data point we have doesn't support the conclusion, at all. Knowledge of facts != IQ, happy to help. If we had 10,000 such polls, the conclusion would still not follow.

"And how confident are you guys that an actual poll asking people to name all 9 Justices coupled with an IQ test wouldn't produce a result much different?"

Very! Law students and lawyers would be the ones doing extremely well, but they tend to be humanities majors and thus not great brains. Science majors will do rather poorly because they don't pay attention to SCOTUS inside baseball, but they're smarter than lawyers.

Knowing all the justices demonstrates that you are a weird political junkie or someone in the law. These people will tend to be smarter than average, but the correlation is not 1.

I think you owe me for the logic tutoring. It took ten minutes...how does five bucks sound?

Victoria said...

Steve wrote:
As I've been writing since 1993, Supreme Court Justices should get a single 18-year term, so that they would typically serve from roughly age 55 to 73.

An excellent idea. I would make the term no more than 10. I've long felt that the greatest mistake the Founders made was the creation of this court. What were they thinking? When service is for a lifetime, naturally it's tempting to recreate the institution and turn it into whatever the Justices desired, which is exactly what they did.

When I was a kid, the New York Times had a box (on page 3), that informed readers of the cases taken on or rejected by the Court. It seems to me that more cases were rejected than accepted for review. But nowadays, this court seems to take on everything, which is a worry. For instance, it has decided to rule on "free speech" in the case of the outrageous Pastor Phelps and his actions at funerals. I just wish that this Court would never touch free speech issues, since its meddling might lead to anything.

Nora Helmer said...

kritisk borger said: "I just don’t get the problem here. Seriously what’s worse, a liberal judge who’ll acquit 50 percent of the criminals who’re brought before him...."

FYI - the conversation here is about U.S. Supreme Court justices, not criminial court judges. Different sort of animal altogether.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm not a Caplan admirer. He's an open-borders fool. On the other hand it's not like he's never said anything interesting in his whole life.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't suggest anyone use our Canadian Supreme Court as a model (well, OK, may, you know, Zimbabwe could take some tips), but we do have a retirement age of 75, which makes sense. That means the average tenure can't be too far from Steve's 18 years.

Personally, I like the idea of a 18-year term, followed by lifelong appointment as a senior appeals court judge, so they have to face the practical results of their decisions.

Anonymous said...

Is the inability to see a joke orthogonal to IQ?

Vernunft said...

"It seems to me that more cases were rejected than accepted for review."

About 1% of cases are certified to SCOTUS. SCOTUS also has some residual mandatory cases which amount to very, very few each year (like, single digits IIRC).

"But nowadays, this court seems to take on everything, which is a worry."

Nope, it's been declining.

Anonymous said...

Ford could have nominated a conservative since Congress did go after Judges for ideology until Bork.

Secondly, the founders expected Congress and the President to perform their constitutional duties and rein in the court when it exceeded its authority. Congress has always had the power to restrict what cases the Appellate judges hear. And the number of SCOTUS judges is up to congress. The President & Congress is also free to ignore any ruling by the SCOTUS. Jackson said "Justice Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it".

The founders also expected people to amend the constitution when appropriate and not treat it as a sacred parchment.

rast said...

Ziel, most people over IQ:135 can't name the SC justices either. All that is needed is:
- the ability to memorize 9 names (anyone not profoundly retarded)
- deep unhealthy interest in politics (1% of the population, correlates with intelligence but probably not too strongly once you get above IQ:110)

For comparison, probably 80% of heterosexual males can name the starting lineup of the closet MLB team.

MQ said...

Not only is the correlation between IQ and knowing the names of supreme court justices weak, IQ correlations *in general* are weak. The correlation between IQ and earnings is weak! (Attend a Mensa meeting and see how many high-IQ losers you meet).

IQ fetishism is basically a short cut to evade thinking about actual human diversity.

Anonymous said...

If you need proof of the average person's stupidity and ignorance, just glance at the comments on that article. Both sides calling each other Nazis and Fascists.

Kylie said...

kritisk_borger said, "I just don’t get the problem here. Seriously what’s worse, a liberal judge who’ll acquit 50 percent of the criminals who’re brought before him, because he can really sympathise with the misguided criminal or a senile old fart who’ll convict 50 percent because he really can’t remember what he’s supposed to do, but he’s pretty sure that it’s best not to disappoint the prosecutor or the defence attorney more than twice in a row?"

One problem is that you are confusing Supreme Court Justices with criminal court judges. Another problem is your example: in the US, most alleged criminals who come to trial are tried by jury, not by a judge. Judges can and do overturn jury verdicts but that's relatively rare as such decisions are usually highly controversial.

Still another other problem, more pertinent to the post, is that Supreme Court Justices have far more influence and far greater impact on our laws than does the average judge presiding over a criminal court. The Supreme Court is just what its name implies, it's the highest court in the land. Further, once appointed, High Court Justices serve for life and can only be removed from the bench by death or extraordinary circumstances. Thus, the quality of each Supreme Court justice is of far greater importance to all Americans than the quality of any given criminal judge.

As to your hypothetical example, I personally think a liberal judge who lets 50% of criminals go is worse than a doddering old conservative judge who arbitrarily but routinely chooses to convict 50% of the time.

Anonymous said...

"They couldn't as long as Congress was dominated by liberals. Look what happened to Bork. "

Funny how when congress is dominated by supposed conservatives, the democrat president has no trouble getting his ultra-liberal nominees in.

It's almost as if neither party is conservative...

Richard Hoste said...

Ziel, most people over IQ:135 can't name the SC justices either. All that is needed is:
- the ability to memorize 9 names (anyone not profoundly retarded)
- deep unhealthy interest in politics (1% of the population, correlates with intelligence but probably not too strongly once you get above IQ:110)

For comparison, probably 80% of heterosexual males can name the starting lineup of the closet MLB team.


Are you implying that knowing about baseball is somehow healthier than knowing the Supreme Court justices?

rob said...

I'd prefer fixed terms for SC Justices over a retirement age. Having a retirement age would encourage presidents to appoint young justices so they would be on the court for as long as possible.

Yeah, 90 years olds shouldn't be on the court, but no one should be on it for 50 years.

Anonymous said...

"That's why it's so damn heartening to see that a full 28% of the comments represented so far piped up just to note their scorn for the confused IQist. Yeehaw! Those are very hopeful numbers."

I'm laughing so hard at "IQist". That lame and clunky made-up word says it all.

When will we be rid of these acolytes of the false science of measuring intelligence? IQ is only an incredibly powerful predictor of social phenomena such as success in school, ability to work in cognitively demanding fields, propensity to criminality, and the very wealth of nations.

But surely we're drawing the wrong lessons. It's not that differing racial groups have differing average IQ levels and those differences have profound effect on the course a society takes. No the real lesson is that everyone has a different IQ and is a unique snowflake or something, and stop bringing up IQ you racist.

Mr. Anon said...

"ziel said...

What's more annoying is the coy way you guys simply state it's wrong without an explanation, while implying that he employed a "logical fallacy" (a term of art) or a mathematical error, which clearly isn't the case. But 134.8952 is the correct value mean 100 sd 15 at the 99th percentile, no?"

You might have helped your case if you hadn't quoted an IQ - a number that's probably only good to plus or minus two - to six significant figures.

Mr. Anon said...

"fdfdfdfdfdfd said...

""Imagine if Ford (Stevens) and Bush Sr. (Souter) had actually nominated conservative judges.""

They couldn't as long as Congress was dominated by liberals. Look what happened to Bork.

If Obama had been beaten in 2008, we finally might have had enough justices to overturn affirmative action. But, too many freaking conservatives who said, "obama or mccain, the same difference". Idiots.""

No not the same difference - just different kinds of bad.

If McCain had been elected in 2008 he would not be seating any conservative supreme court justices because 1.) he doesn't really have any strong conservative convictions, and 2.) in any event he would still have a democratic congress.

One thing that a President McCain would have been able to accomplish? An amnesty for illegal aliens. If he had been elected that already would have passed.

Anonymous said...

"How come it's unhealthy to know the names of the Supreme Court? Are you saying it's a waste of time to a citizen? If so, you are right. Any one vote doesn't matter. I could read every book on every issue and be well informed, but my 1 vote doesn't matter. If I was in a coma the last 20 years and couldn't vote, would anything have been different in this country. There are people who run this country and they do what they want. What has been done about immigration? Nothing.

ben tillman said...

Ford could have nominated a conservative since Congress did go after Judges for ideology until Bork.

Clement Haynsworth says you don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

All term limit or age limit suggestions would be facially unconstitutional if implemented. You will never get a constitutional amendment passed either, so just give it up.

"Give it up" sound like a request that everyone be more mainstream. If you think that just by asking, you can get ultracons to stop advocating their balanced budget amendments, leaving the UN, abortion bans, etc. ... you should probably just give it up.

Svigor said...

Anon's tease certainly worked. Well done, Sir.

It ain't hard with this gallery.

Victoria said...

... the founders expected Congress and the President to perform their constitutional duties and rein in the court when it exceeded its authority. ... The President & Congress is also free to ignore any ruling by the SCOTUS.

Yes, but as we see it hasn't worked out that way. Instead, their decisions are as if God has spoken from above. People look at those decisions as the Final Word. I don't know to what extent individual citizens petition Congress to intervene after some decision, such as the eminent domain one, but I think it's understood by the populace that a Supreme Court decision cannot and should not be challenged. Yet, that was not, as you say, the original idea.

Having a retirement age would encourage presidents to appoint young justices so they would be on the court for as long as possible.

A good point -- which makes the case for a fixed 10-year term.

FelixM said...

re the suggestion that high IQ correlates with knowing the names of the Supreme Court justices

I suggest there's a slight negative correlation

this is because a high IQ person will ask himself, why should I memorize this? And will then decide it's not worth it

even if you're a lawyer, why do this unless you practice in the Sup Court?

BTW, this is why a lot of bright guys go in for math and physics - you skip the tedious memorization needed for chemistry etc

actually, the sort of people who memorize stuff like this are wannabees (IQ 115, say), who try to substitute memory for thought

Seamus said...

That's just a ridiculous age for a Supreme Court justice, but it hasn't been an issue because he's a liberal.

It was an issue with regard to Stevens's (equally liberal) predecessor, William O. Douglas, because Douglas (more than a decade younger than Stevens is now) had so clearly lost his marbles.

Half Sigma said...

" Supreme Court Justices should get a single 18-year term."

That would require an amendment to the Constitution. Which is not very likely to happen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Half Sigma. It's not like we've already been through that before or anything.

Antioco Dascalon said...

I think it helps to remember the members if you are a) older, b) in proximity to DC or c)if a justice is "controversial". It's hard not to remember Sotomayor because she is so recent. Likewise with Alito and Roberts. The Thomas confirmation was historic and unforgettable. Ginsburg is Jewish, female and liberal so pretty easy to remember. Scalia catches a lot of flak from libs and is admired by conservatives. The rest are pretty forgettable since they are white, male and confirmed without drama many years ago. They are basically trivia answers.