October 2, 2011

Wilson and Pinker

A few follow-ups to my earlier posting about James Q. Wilson's review of Steven Pinker's upcoming The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

The "intelligent" v. "intellectual" distinction regarding Bush that some have accused Wilson of ignoring is a red herring because Pinker repeatedly explicitly refers to Presidents' IQs, as guesstimated by Dean Simonton in 2006, a study that Pinker finds more authoritative than I do. So, Wilson is correct to point to more direct evidence of IQ (such as scores on IQ tests, admissions tests, and Yale grades) that is largely ignored by Simonton and Pinker in favor of ratings of the "integrative complexity" of samples of Presidents' speeches. 

Of course, most of the Presidents didn't write their own speeches, and they all had ulterior motives for whatever cognitive style they chose to project in their speeches. For example, Eisenhower successfully projected an image of bland Middle American straight-forwardness, when he was global strategist, a master Machiavel, "a far more complex and devious man than most people realized," as Nixon admiringly noted.

Second, this isn't an argument about how bright Bush was in an absolute sense, it is an argument about how bright Bush was relative to Kerry. As Howell Raines, former head man at the NYT wrote in the WP in 2004 in "The Dumb Factor:"
"Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead."

In reality, there's a whole bunch of evidence that Kerry is bright enough, but was overrated because he's a liberal Democrat. For example, both went to Yale, where Bush's grades were very slightly higher. Then Bush got into Harvard for his professional degree (not by much apparently, judging by how happy his parents are over the news in Oliver Stone's fairly reliable biopic "W"). In contrast, Kerry, who was an antiwar celebrity already, had to get his professional degree at Boston College law school. One of his professors there remarked on the incongruity of seeing this glamorous figure in his plebian classroom. (Bush had more family pull, but John Forbes Kerry was hardly without connections, either.)

Finally, JFK (Kennedy, not Kerry) was a helluva guy. I like him. But what did Nixon have over him other than cunning and health? Charm? Physical coordination? Hair? Wit? Wealth? Family connections? Sex appeal? Nixon had nothing else going for him. 

The two men had been House freshmen together in 1947 and got to know each other fairly well. They had long seen each other as peers, rivals, and, to a certain extent, friends. And when they ran against each other in 1960, that was the voters's judgment too: overall, in their very different ways, they matched up pretty well against each other.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's worth noting too that when Kerry attended it BC and BC Law School were both considerably less prestigious than they now are. BC has had a singleminded focus on clawing its way up in the US News ratings for about the past 20 years, but Kerry went there before that. One of my profs at BC remarked to me that when he started working there in the late 60's it was basically a "commuter school".

--BC grad

PeopleVsLarrytheCableGuy said...

Pinker refers to the Simonton study in Better Angels, or elsewhere?

Do you already have a copy of the book? Were you a manuscript reader?

Reg C├Žsar said...

Since Steve hasn't posted his Vdare.com article on Ron Unz as of my bedtime (damn time zones), I'll place my comment here, for now:

Unz's proposal for a higher minimum wage for immigrants isn't new or original. Randall Burns suggested it right there on Vdare.com back in 2007.

However, both Burns and Unz's differential, a mere three-to-five dollars per hour, is far too low to remunerate us for the tax subsidies the newcomers are getting. Better to raise the minimum wage for foreigners to the median wage for citizens.

That way, no foreigner would compete with the left half of the Lotka curve.

Anonymous said...

Might be getting this UC Davis paper all wrong but...

FDR was smarter than Hoover, Nixon, AND Lincoln? Huh?

I seem to recall reading about how Hoover would switch to Mandarin if necessary for discussing sensitive business. That kind of thing would sound far-fetched w/ the current occupant. At least W had his dilettante-ranchero vocab.

Anonymous said...

And furthermore. How does speechifying stack against Madison's ability to, you know, write the constitution?

Anonymous said...

Bush was rejected by UT Law.

Peter A said...

"I seem to recall reading about how Hoover would switch to Mandarin if necessary for discussing sensitive business"

But who was Hoover talking to in Mandarin? Was there a coterie of Mandarin speakers in the White House back then? I suppose giving the missionary tradition in the late 19th century it's possible.

Wes said...

I am not a fan of most of the big government programs Nixon supported (although to be fair it was in the era of Great Society programs so the love of the State was still in the air), but God I wish we had people with his level of intelligence to choose from. Maybe he just seems smarter in retrospect, but he just seems like a natural President.

Wes said...

To piggyback on someone else's comment, I am sure several of the Founding Fathers who served as President were smarter than any President we we have had since - I am thinking of Madison, Adams, and Jefferson - based on their ability to think and analyze as revealed through their political writing.

But was Benjamin Franklin the very smartest, smarter than any of the Presidents? Given his achievements in several fields of science and technology, he seems like a standout even among that group. I wasn't aware of his tremendous intelligence until Steve started pointing it out.

Nanonymous said...

How can anyone take seriously a study that concludes that JFK was #2 in "intellectual brilliance" among all American presidents, only after Jefferson? 1.4SD above Nixon and 1.8SD above Carter. Really? Do some people have no shame?

Shawn said...

Keep in mind that George the 2nd was rejected from the plebian University of Texas law school. If Bush chose a career in law over business he would have had to have gone to an even crappier school, assuming of course his parents did not try to buy his way in at a better one. If Kerry choose business could his connections have gotten him into HBS? Maybe. Therefore I don,'t consider Bush's HBS degree proves he is more intelligent than Kerry.

MQ said...

That study finds Chester Arthur smarter than Abe Lincoln? Ummm, no. Lincoln wrote the best speeches ever delivered by an American president. And his improvisational intelligence in the Lincoln-Douglas debates is incredible.

Anonymous said...

It's not a red herring and this is the kind of thing that will make you look ridiculous to everyone outside of the "stevosphere."


its simply not the case that any reader (unless he is very confused) will consider bush's sat scores relevant to the question of how intellectual he is (not very).

Anonymous said...

I'm more concerned with getting a President with things like common sense, real world experience and a feeling that America is a good country and that he should work on our national interest above all else.

Beyond a certain level, I'm really not concerned with IQ as such. The gotcha politics on this strike me as distasteful. Don't tell me your guy's smart. There are lots of smart people out there. Tell me how he's qualified and competent.

The problem is that the left will not shut up about how intelligent they are (and how IQ is a meaningless cultural construct...) and so direct the debate in that direction.

Maybe, if you can't talk about what your candidate has achieved and what his skills are, to the point where you have to make unsubstantiated claims about his sky high IQ, it's time to reconsider the selection.

dearieme said...

You might have mentioned that Kennedy and Nixon were both crooks.

NOTA said...

There is nothing easier to do on this Earth than to convince someone that people like him are smarter, nicer, better, etc., than the kind of people he dislikes. People mostly are already convinced of this, with the specific positive attributes tuned to their specific values. When you see someone telling you that, your I'm-being-bullshitted alarms should start going off till they present evidence you'd accept if they were asserting bad things about your group.

Anonymous said...

OT but are they re-making Lincoln so that he is more PC.Didnt he want to deport "the blacks" (as Trump would say)to Central America? "Oh wait we've researched this stuff and thats not what he meant at ALL!!"

beowulf said...

I seem to recall reading about how Hoover would switch to Mandarin if necessary for discussing sensitive business.

In an era where mining engineers were the software developers of their era, Herbert Hoover was the Sergey Brin of his time (hell, he and his wife both went to Stanford). Hoover's work took them all over the world, including China. He and his wife were in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion ("only Hoover and his fearless wife, Lou, cared enough to sneak food and water to the Chinese Christians besieged elsewhere in the city").
http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/07/0082562

So of course the Hoovers spoke Mandarin, big deal. So do Tim Geithner and Jon Huntsman, and they pretty much suck.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about the Amanda Knox verdict today? Looks like another attractive White girl gets away with it.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't put so much weight on the BC Law School thing as any kind of indicator of the "roof" of Kerry's academic talent.

I'd be willing to bet that one very good reason Kerry chose BC Law school is precisely that it would give him that "plebian" aura so much prized in Massachusetts politicians. For the already down-to-earth (or so perceived) Kennedys, the Ivy League added another dimension. But for the ever pompous Kerry, BC Law could be what he needed to make him look like he had the common touch.

Look at the list of politico alumni from BC Law:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_College_Law_School#Notable_alumni

And the still larger list of politicos from all of BC:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boston_College_people#Law.2C_politics.2C_and_public_service

Camlost said...

Looks like another attractive White girl gets away with it.

Yes, attractive white girls are causing criminal mayhem all across the planet.

Anonymous said...

its simply not the case that any reader (unless he is very confused) will consider bush's sat scores relevant to the question of how intellectual he is (not very).



Of course. Everybody knows that the degree of a persons intellectualism can be measured by the degree of their liberalism!

breathnach said...

I've heard that BHO switches to "Austrian" for discussing sensitive business.

jody said...

"To piggyback on someone else's comment, I am sure several of the Founding Fathers who served as President were smarter than any President we we have had since"

some of the founding fathers were the smartest people who ever lived in the history of the world, so yeah, i would think so. they were geniuses of the highest order, far out thinking not only every deep, political and philosophical thinker from the previous 5000 years before them, but every guy who has come after them as well. show me a document that is EVEN CLOSE in power to the united states constitution, which was written after it. you can't.

jefferson wrote the declaration of independence when he was THIRTY THREE YEARS OLD!

it's a precipitous, basically ludicrous drop off between them and the people in charge today. i mean even the "respectable" presidents of the last 100 years were very far behind the founding fathers in ability and acumen and stature. the people in charge today, well, it's just a joke. essentially they're all weak lawyers who are "failing upwards".

people who are actually good at their careers and fields don't want to run for president or senator most of the time these days, so now we've ended up with these career politicians who have mediocre brainpower, and it becomes nearly impossible to dislodge some of these annoying windbags from office.

RWF said...

Is anyone else a bit disappointed that someone like Pinker- who understands the importance of IQ- would buy into such a preposterous study as the Simonton one?

Simonton rates the vast majority of presidents as being in the top 0.1%, his estimate of Kennesdy exceeds his actual score by 50 points.

The idea that reasonable IQ estimates can be made of 19th century presidents based on very few primary sources is absurd.

This demolishes the presidential IQ study fairly handily:
http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/31513.html

Wes said...

Actually, while Nixon was smart in many ways, after thinking it over, he promoted some really dumb policies (if you are concerned with Whites). He expanded the Section 8 program, ushered in affirmative action and of course proposed a ton of other leftwing programs that transferred wealth and opportunity from Whites to non-Whites.

Harry Baldwin said...

But was Benjamin Franklin the very smartest, smarter than any of the Presidents? Given his achievements in several fields of science and technology, he seems like a standout even among that group.

Franklin was also a successful writer and businessman (as a publisher).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I keep thinking that the level of commenter here is higher than average, until you mention anything about intelligence and political figures. Suddenly, the comments are awash with assertions supported by irrelevant examples, misunderstanding of definitions and claims of what IQ is and is not, and speculations about intelligence based on...well, I can't tell what. Usually by anonymous commenters, who for some reason just know that Bush was not "intellectual." Or that Kerry chose BC for its plebeian street cred. Are you insane?

We get some similar grousing about Obama's intelligence with similar lack of actual evidence. I don't think either of them are brilliant, but both have legitimate positive indicators of intelligence. Sorry that ruins your day.

Being an intellectual is one of the easiest things to mimic for anyone with an IQ over about 110. What people call EQ, as a supposed comparison to IQ, used to be called "charm." Pretty people seem to have more of it. It's fine for what it is, and a very useful leadership trait, but don't pretend it's something else. Common sense requires a minimum IQ and a minimum humility.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Oh, and thanks for that Simonton study. My stars, that's insane, innit?

Deckin said...

Simonton has both Kennedy and Clinton above James A. Garfield in IQ, a man who came up with an original proof of the Pythagorean theorem. Who can take such nonsense seriously? Obviously there's much to effective leadership in politics than IQ, and the very example I'm pointing to both proves it and eliminates any interest in Simonton's project.

Anonymous said...

"Or that Kerry chose BC for its plebeian street cred. Are you insane?"

Do you know ANYTHING about what you're talking about?

Look, consider the context in which Kerry chose to go to BC Law School. He had just failed in a run for the US Congress in Massachusetts -- in no small part, I gather, because he was, as usual, depicted as a an aloof elitist. Do you really think that for such a man with such ambitions, still another degree from an Ivy League institution is what the doctor ordered?

Kerry has always, for political purposes, played up his "Catholicism" -- and he has quite happily NOT discouraged the impression he's Irish because of his name (in fact, his name derives from a German Jewish name). As anyone in the Boston area knows, nothing says "Irish Catholic" like a degree from Boston College.

And beyond all this, think of what Kerry would have brought to the table as an applicant to law school. He was a graduate of Yale, a famous Vietnam War protester, having testified before Congress, had won the Silver Star, and had nearly won a campaign for the US Congress. Do you really believe that more exclusive law schools than BC took a look at him and said, Oh no, this man just isn't high enough caliber for our law school?

I mean, really? Is that the position you're going to take?

MQ said...

"Or that Kerry chose BC for its plebeian street cred. Are you insane?"

Kerry certainly did go to BC for street cred. This was the early 70s in Boston, not our Ivy-worshipping days of today. Kerry already had fame (Vietnam vet/war protestor), and an Ivy background. The only thing he needed politically was connections to the Massachusetts Democratic grass roots, and he got them at BC.

Here is Kerry himself on the reasons for going to BC:

Q.: What drew you to Boston College Law School in particular?

A.: Although my family lived in a lot of places as I was growing up, Boston’s always been home. I was drawn to BC Law mostly because of Father [Robert] Drinan, whose first campaign for Congress I ended up chairing after I got out of the Navy and got involved in politics. In fact, the first time I ever came to BC Law was to meet with Father Drinan about his campaign.

He had left his position as dean of the Law School by the time I enrolled, but he made me aware of the Law School and its commitment to public service. I had expected to go to law school after college but got diverted by the Navy and then by my involvement in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I went back to the law school path after I lost a race for Congress in 1972. At that point, Father Drinan helped me to get into BC Law late in the process.

The experiences I still treasure most from my BC Law days weren’t in the classroom, they were the ULL [Urban Legal Lab] in third year, trying cases in the Middlesex D.A.’s Office, and the Grimes Moot Court Competition, which my partner Ronna Schneider and I won. I’d never focused more intensely on one issue, so that I’d be able to argue either side of the case, literally on the toss of a coin.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:19, in 1972 Kerry was 29 years old and out of school for 7 years. I don't think HLS was knocking at his door.

Kerry lost his first election for a variety of reasons, first and foremost because the GOP, from Nixon on down, took it as a priority to beat him. The fact that he bought a house in the district just to run against an incumbent didn't endear him to many voters either. The majority of his campaign contributions were from out of state.

If you knew anything, you'd know that nothing says Boston Irish Catholic than intransigence in the face of outsiders.

Anonymous said...

some of the founding fathers were the smartest people who ever lived in the history of the world, so yeah, i would think so. they were geniuses of the highest order, far out thinking not only every deep, political and philosophical thinker from the previous 5000 years before them, but every guy who has come after them as well. show me a document that is EVEN CLOSE in power to the united states constitution, which was written after it. you can't.

jefferson wrote the declaration of independence when he was THIRTY THREE YEARS OLD!

I was going to parody this, but it's self-parody.

An alternative view is that the Declaration is a ludicrous piece of overwriting, stuffed with fashionable intellectual ideas and lapsing into George III Derangement Syndrome for paragraphs at a time.

Anyway, it's hardly unusual for talented people to demonstrate their talents by age 33.

Cennbeorc

Anonymous said...

"JFK was a helluva guy. I like him"
*****************************
Me, too; but the guy that Evelyn Lincoln was personal secretary to and about whom she wrote fairly but honestly--THAT JFK was not the one seen on tee vee. His assumed mental ability was more a well honed absence of making dumb errors than a really high attainment. Absent such matters as having his father arrange to have papers written for him during his schooling, etc., he seems--left to himself--to have been academically a "gentleman's B" level guy. How did Nixon compare with him on the AFGQT--or the early version of it used in WW II induction?? Of the pair, I'd be surprised if Nixon did not have a statistically significant higher general IQ but massively detracted from, as noted. ??

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anonymous and MQ. I was living in Sudbury and working in Waltham at the time, thanks. I'll stick with my original. Kerry may have wished to establish liberal cred by hanging out with Drinan (though I can't imagine why you would take him at face value on such a topic, especially speaking in retrospect), though I doubt even that. Catholic cred was not on the radar in those days. If you were Irish and hadn't visibly converted or alienated, you were in. It was binary, not something you had more or less of. Elitist, if one was Irish, was not a problem but an advantage. The name Kennedy might ring a bell there.

That said, Kerry might indeed have been able to get into a "better," in the sense of more prestigious school on the strength of his name and background, without the soft academics hurting him much. But it wasn't going to be top-flight, and after that, choosing a school came down to secondary considerations. If you want to insist that he chose BC over New England, Northeastern, and Suffolk for the reasons you listed, I have no objection. But the most econo0mical explanation why he didn't go to BU or Harvard was that he wasn't accepted.

None of this is to say his graduate degree is better or worse than Bush's MBA or Al Gore's fumbling around at Vandy. I'm just knocking down an idea that might look plausible in retrospect but would have made no sense in its context.

Anonymous said...

One strength of Bush--whether tethered to the ground with a 126 IQ or not--is his strong ego strength and basic self-realism. He appears to know who he is and isn't and what can and can't do. He is reliant enough to allow you to see his brains by feeling them--not by showing them to you. Primate.