December 3, 2007


Here's an excerpt from my long interview with myself in VDARE.COM on how to think about IQ:

I figured I'd step back today and answer some common questions about IQ.

Q. Is IQ really all that important in understanding how the world works?

A. In an absolute sense, no. Human behavior is incredibly complicated, and no single factor explains more than a small fraction of it.

In a relative sense, yes. Compared to all the countless other factors that influence the human world, IQ ranks up near the top of the list.

Q. Why do you harp on IQ so much?

A. It's an underexploited market niche. The quantity and quality of writing in the Main Stream Media [MSM] on IQ and its effects is so abysmal that, simply by being informed and honest about IQ, I can explain how certain important things work that other journalists can't.

Q. What are IQ questions like?

A. They vary wildly. The nonverbal Raven Matrices look like the instruction manual for a DVD player from Mars. Some of the Wechsler questions look like the Word Power vocabulary quiz in the Reader's Digest.

Q. How can different questions give similar results?

A. They're validated to make sure they do a good job of predicting real world performance. Obviously, different tests are better at different tasks, such as testing small children, illiterates, or people who speak a different language, but, when used properly, all the major tests present similar results because they are proven predictors of actual behavior. ...

Q. Isn't character more important than intelligence?

A. I believe so. Work ethic, honesty, conscientiousness, kindness, together they're more important than intelligence. (Of course, when it comes to making money, less endearing personality traits like aggressiveness also play a big role, but we'll leave that aside for now.)

Can I quantify that? Well, that's where things get tricky…

Q. So why not test for work ethic and the like instead of IQ?

A. We do test for it, in many different ways. Consider the process of applying to college. The two most important elements in the application are high school GPA and the SAT or ACT score. The SAT and ACT are more or less an IQ test, while high school GPA is driven by a combination of IQ and work ethic.

But demonstrating work ethic via GPA is a time-consuming prospect for the applicant … and even for the admissions committee. The student spends four years in high school achieving a GPA, which he presents to the colleges to which he applies. But what does his GPA really say about him? Did he go to an easy school or a hard one? Did he take easy classes or hard ones? Does he have the brainpower to go far beyond high school material? These are complex questions, and it's no wonder that almost every college supplements GPA with the nationally standardized SAT or ACT.

Similarly, how does a would-be employee prove he's honest enough to handle large amounts of money? By slowly working his way up over the years from handling small amounts of money.

In contrast, the SAT takes only a few hours, while the widely used Wonderlic IQ test (mandated by the NFL for all pro football prospects) takes only 12 minutes.

Q. Couldn't somebody invent paper and pencil tests to measure character?

A. They have. They're pretty accurate … overall.

On the other hand, these tests haven't been all that popular, perhaps because they are liable to occasional catastrophic failures. The danger is that somebody with a high IQ but poor character would use his smarts to figure out what answers on the test would make him sound like the second coming of George Washington. And a high-IQ scoundrel is the last person you want to select.

You could call it the Ahmad Chalabi Problem. The Iraqi convicted embezzler with a Ph.D. in math from the U. of Chicago used his enormous brainpower to figure out how to dupe the neocons into believing that he literally was the George Washington of Iraq, so America should invade his homeland to make him president.

In contrast to character tests, the good news about IQ tests is that they are un-outsmartable. If you can use your brain to figure out what answers the test makers want, well, then you have a high IQ.

Q. So, do IQ tests predict an individual's fate?

A. In an absolute sense, not very accurately at all. Indeed, any single person's destiny is beyond the capability of all the tests ever invented to predict with much accuracy.

Q. So, if IQ isn't all that accurate for making predictions about an individual, why even think of using it to compare groups, which are much more complicated?

A. That sounds sensible, but it's exactly backwards. The larger the sample size, the more the statistical noise washes out.

Q. How can that be?

A. If Adam and Zach take an IQ test and Adam outscores Zach by 15 points, it's far from impossible that Zach actually has the higher "true" IQ. A hundred random perturbations could have thrown the results off. Maybe if they took the test dozen times, Zach just might average higher than Adam.

But for comparing the averages of large groups of people, the chance of error becomes vanishingly small. For example, the largest meta-analysis of American ethnic differences in IQ, Philip L. Roth's 2001 survey,[Ethnic group differences in cognitive ability in employment and educational settings: a meta-analysis, Personnel Psychology 54, 297–330] aggregated 105 studies of 6,246,729 individuals. That's what you call a decent sample size.

Q. So, you're saying that IQ testing can tell us more about group differences than about individual differences?

A. If the sample sizes are big enough and all else is equal, a higher IQ group will virtually always outperform a lower IQ group on any behavioral metric.

One of the very few positive traits not correlated with IQ is musical rhythm—which is a reason high IQ rock stars like Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, and David Bowie tell Drummer Jokes.

Of course, everything else is seldom equal. A more conscientious group may well outperform a higher IQ group. On the other hand, conscientiousness, like many virtues, is positively correlated with IQ, so IQ tests work surprisingly well.

Q. Wait a minute, does that mean that maybe some of the predictive power of IQ comes not from intelligence itself, but from virtues associated with it like conscientiousness?

A. Most likely. But perhaps smarter people are more conscientious because they are more likely to foresee the bad consequences of slacking off. It's an interesting philosophical question, but, in a practical sense, so what? We have a test that can predict behavior. That's useful.

Q. Can one number adequately describe a person's intelligence?

[More, much more here]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

If group a has an average IQ of 70, group B has an average IQ of 100, and group C is a genetic mixture of 17.5% group B and 82.5% group A, then you would expect group C to have an IQ of 75.25; Since group C has an IQ of 85, you could argue that the cause of the IQ difference between groups B and C is 35% genetic and 65% environmental.

TGGP said...

Quite good.

I noticed you linking to an article on Roth's scare story about Hitlerndbergh. I defended Charles Lindbergh here.

Steve Sailer said...

Different Philip Roth...

rainy_day said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

anonymous 9:48 -

That's just a first guess, since intelligence is not actually continuous, but generated by discrete genes and their interactions, and groups A and C have been operating under different selection pressures for a few generations as well. But it's a good lead, at any rate.

rainy_day said...

"If African Americans are better at subjective, improvisatory
responses than they are at objective problem-solving ..."

This 'better subjective, improvisatory responses' begs to be delved; what
could go into it, less permeable ego? A bigger corpus callosum (access
to the right brain)? From the "subjective, improvisatory" link:

"Interestingly, while blacks tend to be more masculine in physique and
personality than whites or East Asians, they are often better at
typically feminine, more subjective cerebral skills like
verbalization, emotional intuition and expression, sense of rhythm,
sense of style, improvisation, situational awareness, and mental

Ironically, as AI gets stronger and moves into the workplace (say,
over a decade or three), demand might well shift from objective
problem solving to the black strengths of 'situational awareness' and people-handling.

Anonymous said...

Of course, back on Earth, there's a rather high degree of correlation between Math and Verbal scores. The only time you see an 800 on the Math test combined with a 200 on the Verbal test is from somebody who just got off the plane from Seoul.

Where "just got off the plane from Seoul" is linked to Cho Seung Hui.

That's a pretty cheap shot. Koreans have generally low rates of crime and high rates of law abidance. A guy with an 800M and a low verbal score is a lot more likely to be a nerdy engineer than a crazed serial killer.

Also, Hui didn't have language difficulties; he got a 540 Verbal and 620 math (see here)
His problem was that he was just crazy.

Anyway, that kind of link strikes me as the sort of thing someone like Brenda Walker might have inserted -- not really your style.

If VDare really wanted to hit Asian immigrants for something, there *are* areas where you can make a factual case. Especially among Chinese immigrants, espionage and possibly influencing our elections (e.g. Clinton stuff) are among them. But the idea that Asian nerds are shooting up the place is pretty laughable.

Anonymous said...

I thought was an immigration reform website. The case against legal and illegal immigation doesn't require a discussion of IQ test scores and race.

It is enough to state that non-white Legal and illegal immigration will over time reduce the majority Euro-American population to a racial minority and that this coudn't possibly be in the interest of Euro-Americans.

Euro-America did quite well prior to the massive influx of post -1965 legal immigrant asians.

If Marcus Epstien wants to have a serious debate about IQ scores and race he should invite Princeton philosopher Phillip Kitcher or the Philosophy Guys-two Stanford University professors of philosophy who specialize in the Philosophy of Science-who host a weekly radio show on Philosophy.

How did Euro-America ever manage create a spce program and put several Euro-American Men on the man without the Legal immigrant Asians?

How did the "less" intelligent Euro-America ever manage to destoy the Japanese during WW11.

The time and space that devotes to IQ score and race could be spent on the theat asian legal immigration poses to Euro-Americans.

Steve-and Peter-how do you both feel about the fact that the California State University system is now 40 percent Asian. Do you both approve of this? Indifferent to it?

So what do you say Marcus Epstien? How about inviting the aforementioned philosophers?


Anonymous said...

"they are often better at
typically feminine, more subjective cerebral skills ..": golly, is that why I find American Football so camp?

Anonymous said...

IQ correlates most with Openness among the Five Factor personality traits. Not so much with Conscientiousness.

Anonymous said...


Peripheral question: why do you keep claiming that 'proficient' as it relates to No Child LB means 'above average' rather than just competent or skilled (which also don't mean 'above average')?

There are several reaons why NCLB is a weak initiateive, but incorrectly defining one of its aims does not seem very useful as an argument against it.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Steve. I vote that this always stays at the top of the pile here and at for newbies.

As for the description of black intelligence by Goat, I think many people have noticed the:

"...typically feminine, more subjective cerebral skills like
verbalization, emotional intuition and expression, sense of rhythm..."

My theory is that for some reason blacks have less brain lateralization than people from other races which means that the hemispheres are less dedicated to the specific tasks associated with them i.e. spatial vs verbal.

I've read that it's the hormones in the womb more than the hormones that we produce as males and females that determines brain organization. I've also read studies on iSteve demonstrating an IQ difference between mixed race blacks depending on if the mother was white or black seem to bear this out. As for what this means? Maybe black men will tend to function better in jobs that women do well. But that sensitivity to feelings supposedly typical of black males, I haven't noticed it.

Anonymous said...

one typo... "Are there differences in average SAT scores among racial groups?" should be Are there differences in average IQ scores among racial groups?", correct?

Anonymous said...

Steve, might want to throw in a mention of regression to the mean too.

Anonymous said...

The time and space that devotes to IQ score and race could be spent on the theat asian legal immigration poses to Euro-Americans.

Hi, Jupiter, nice to know you're still around.

Anonymous said...

Sailer: So they are just trying to postpone the day of reckoning on which it becomes widely understood that they are fools, liars, and smear-artists by silencing anyone like Watson who speaks up.

There will be no "day of reckoning", because it's the New York Times etc. that decide who the "fools, liars, and smear-artists" are.

If new evidence will show that the IQ gap is substantially genetic, and if the liberal establishment accepts this, then people like Watson and Charles Murray and, uh, you, might even be smeared as "premature hereditarians" -- analogous to those called "premature anti-fascists" (i.e., presumed commies) in the 1950s because they had opposed fascism before World War 2.