December 16, 2013

Is media coverage of intelligence testing really less accurate than 29 years ago?

In James Thompson's graph of Rindermann et al's new survey of psychometric experts' opinion of the accuracy of media outlets, the blue bars represent current ratings on a 1-9 scale. In contrast, the yellow bars represent similar ratings in the 1984 Snyderman and Rothman survey of experts. Seven media sources appeared in both the 1984 and 2013 studies: WSJ, NYT, Time, NPR, Washington Post, Newsweek, and commercial TV networks. All seven were rated roughly one point lower than 29 years ago.

(It's unfortunate that Fortune magazine doesn't appear in the chart: Back in 1984, Daniel Seligman's "Keeping Up" column in Fortune was outstanding. I can recall it occurring to me one day in the early 1990s while driving to work down Lake Shore Drive that Seligman's successor ought to be me.)

Has the accuracy of coverage declined over the last 29 years, as the graph suggests? I'm leery of drawing comparisons over time. It's the usual problem that social science instruments are pretty good at easy comparisons -- e.g., the quality of this blog vs. that of commercial networks -- but the kind of trend questions that everybody likes to obsess over -- Are things getting better or worse? -- require more methodological care.

Thinking back to my own memories 1984, I can't really come to a conclusion.

Consider the career of Charles Murray. In 1984, when he published Losing Ground, he didn't think much of IQ and therefore didn't know much about it. Over the next decade, he educated himself. But when he and the distinguished psychologist Richard Herrnstein proposed publishing The Bell Curve, Murray was dumped by his think tank. On the other hand, AEI snapped him up.

The New Republic published a big summary article on their book by Herrnstein and Murray in 1994, but it turned out that only publisher Marty Peretz and editor Andrew Sullivan didn't hate it. Fifteen staffers demanded to publish rebuttals, most of which were embarrassing. This suggests to me that back in the 1980s and 1990s passions were high , but the blanket wasn't so suffocating. My impression is that Peretz and Sullivan were kind of surprised that their staffers were such dopes on this subject.

My impression is that there are a few main differences between now and 1984.

- First, we have 29 years more of the accumulation of evidence of all types. And mostly things look pretty much as they did in 1984, just more so. It's a lot harder to argue today in good faith that Real Soon Now everything will be different, so the urge to crush dissenters and to control the past is even stronger.

- Second, back in 1984 the Orwellian practice of rewriting the past was only getting going. Stephen Jay Gould's bestseller The Mismeasure of Man was just three years old and hadn't yet been assigned to a generation of college students.

Obviously, Gould was in over his head in writing about intelligence testing. But he had a malign genius for appealing to modern college graduates' worst instincts. He grasped that what people want is not arguments based on data, but to be told who are the Bad Guys and who are the Good Guys: the professional wrestling version of the history of science. It's best to attack people who can't defend themselves and don't have any friends left to defend them. Thus, Gould got a lot of mileage out of smearing Samuel George Morton, who died in 1851. It was a brilliant innovation.

- Second, the last time Americans in general were interested in testing from a patriotic perspective was Post-Sputnik. There was a huge effort then to find and mobilize talent to out-think the Soviets.

And, guess what? It worked.

In 1984, the post-Sputnik era was a fading but still live memory. Today, it might as well be the bimetalism debate behind The Wizard of Oz.

- Third, neoconservatism has long since petered out as a dynamic interested in investigating domestic issues from a social science perspective. Back in the day, Norman Podhoretz and Martin Peretz commissioned a lot of intelligent articles on intelligence. But nobody with adequate funding has come along to replace the old neocons and neolibs who actually knew something.

- Fourth, media accuracy should have improved since 1984. We now have this thing called the Internet that let's you look stuff up without going to the library.


asdf said...

Quit a few errors in the post. "Has the accuracy of coverage has declined over the last 29 years", "called the Internet that let's you", and others.

countenance said...

Interesting you use the year 1984 to talk about things Orwellian and (quasi-) official cover ups and censorship.

Luke Lea said...

Plomin's Behavioral Genetics is a good up-to-date overview of the field, suitable for beginners and old duffers too.

TGGP said...

Nobody at the time thought "Wizard of Oz" was about bimetallism. That was made up later.

Anonymous said...

Quit a few errors in the post. "Has the accuracy of coverage has declined over the last 29 years", "called the Internet that let's you", and others.

Quit a few errors indeed. But who has time to profread?

Harry Baldwin said...

Peter Brimelow refers to the early 1990s as the inter-glacial period, when it was possible to get serious work published on the now-taboo topics of immigration and IQ. Twenty years ago Newsweek and Insight magazine (a publication of the Washington Times) had cover stories on IQ that acknowledged the facts.

The drawbridge has definitely been pulled up.

Harry Baldwin said...

It's an iron law of the internet that any comment that takes someone else to task for grammatical or spelling errors will itself contain grammatical or spelling errors. (Though I'm assuming yours is in homage to this law.)

anony-mouse said...

Helping rapists receive multiple concussions doesn't seem to be a bad thing.

Feature, not bug.

Anonymous said...

Helping rapists receive multiple concussions doesn't seem to be a bad thing.

Feature, not bug.

They don't use or need their brains anyway. So it's not like the concussions do anything.

Sid said...

I've noticed that intellectual discourse has declined and narrowed since 2005 or so. In 1994, the Bell Curve was released and received wide, scathing attention from the mainstream media. The MSM learned the hard way that they can't win that debate, so if a bombshell book regarding intelligence were released today, the media would just damn it's memory than confront it. The Nurture Assumption made a splash in the 90s. It would be ignored today. Steven Pinker wrote frankly about sex differences in intelligence in the Blank Slate. He would now be a target in the War on Women by today's Jiang Qings. Hell, I became aware about HBD when a mainstream news website reported on Cochran's paper about Ashkenazi intelligence in 2005. I doubt anyone would dare mention it today.

I think the Lawrence Summers debacle set a terrible precedent. No matter how big or powerful you are, a "sexist" statement can cost you your job, even if all the facts are behind it. The James Watson debacle also showed that if you think anything about genetic differences between races, well, that just proves that you're a mindless bigot and know nothing about biology, even if you discovered DNA. There have been similar purges since then, but both episodes showed that you're not allowed to say anything the PC sharks dislike, even if you're a genius, are immensely powerful, etc. If Summers and Watson can be destroyed for talking about sex and race, who do you think you are to say anything? If men like them are immediately considered to be know-nothings for walking away from the Orthodoxy, where can there even be room for debate?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I used to read a lot of journals in the 80s and 90s, and they were less PC than today.

New York Review of Books didn't have non-stop political editorials they do today.

New Republic had some moderate to conservative voices: Krauthammer, Kondracke, etc.

During the Cold War, many libs did turned against the left. And boomer radicals hadn't yet fully taken over the media and academia.

Also, funding imbalance between left and right wasn't as big.

But with New Democrat policy of Clinton, most rich donors are now with Democrats and libs.
Also with the rise of PC and pantheonization of King and Mandela, it's taboo to be anti-pc, even among cons.

National Review used to have critical pieces on MLK in the 80s and even 90s. Now, it's all pants-wetting paeans to King.

Henry Canaday said...

The American debate on possible differences in genetic endowment, on average, among races is about as healthy as the debate on slavery in the South in the 30 years after Nat Turner’s revolt. The stronger the intellectual and prudential case for discussing some way to end slavery grew, the stronger the fear of discussion became in the South.

The, uh, solid Democratic south

Anonymous said...

Conservatives just love Conservative theories, in fact conservatives are right high minority states have high poverty. The least poverty is in Minnesota, Vermont and Iowa but the conservatives don't like the economic policies of those states particularity Vermont which is more on the left. Conservatives want to stick with the high poverty states of the South instead of the cold belt.

Art Deco said...

Norman Podhoretz was a literary critic who edited an opinion magazine. Some of the articles may have translated academic work, but it was commentary on the contemporary scene. It was Irving Kristol who published translations of academic work.

The thing is, "the neo-conservatives" were a nexus of academics and publicists dissatisfied with the regnant liberalism of the day. Their institutions were letter head organizations and press offices and publications which employed few people (The Public Interest had a staff of four).

After 1991, most of them folded themselves into the main currents of thought within the Republican Party with the old Socialists like Penn Kemble returning to the Democratic Party. There was never a popular tendency and there was no second generation recruited. The Public Interest ceased publication in 2003 and its affiliated publications were conveyed to other agencies with different agendas, the Phi Beta Kappa society fired Joseph Epstein and turned The American Scholar over to a succession of wheelhorses from the publishing business, and Commentary was disgorged by the American Jewish Committee and turned over to Norman Podhoretz' son (a capable book reviewer but otherwise of no special distinction).

As for the policy shops, most antedated the work Kristol and Podhoretz were doing ca. 1979 or never had any filial relationship with them. The closest thing to a neo-conservative think tank is the Manhattan Institute (which has scant interest in any of the sort of foreign policy questions for which people like William Kristol are reviled).

The neo-con discourse is just humbug.

Anonymous said...

We have a two-tier media system: aca-media and popu-media, as was the case in the USSR.

Aca-media is lot freer than popu-media.

In the USSR, the media for the elites, while not entirely free, was a lot freer than for the masses. So, the elites did gain access to foreign news. And for elite consumption, there might even be articles and studies that were critical of the USSR and approving of market economies.
On his rise to power, Gorbachev was able to discuss stuff in elite circles that was not permitted at lower levels. Indeed, reforms in the USSR came from the top since it was at the top that some degree of free discussion of reform took place.

Of course, this couldn't be allowed for mass consumption. For the masses, Marx and Lenin were sacrosanct and capitalism was all bad. But what the elites were reading and discussing in the USSR was not what the masses were getting. What was deemed acceptable or even essential for the elites was not deemed acceptable for the masses.

We have the same thing in the US. The elites can speak much more freely and share controversial ideas AS LONG AS they use careful terminology--more science-jargonic terms of 'race' for example--and share it among themselves. Indeed, if a Harvard scientist did a study showing that men have higher intelligence at tail ends than women do and if such a study was published in some science tract read only by experts, it would have hardly stirred up controversy. But when the president of Harvard said it PUBLICLY, that was a big no-no.

So, what is deemed okay within the enclosed realm of the elites is deemed NOT OKAY for mass consumption or visibly official discussion.
Paradoxically, the ideological egalitarians at Ivy League universities want certain ideas to be discussed only among the elites and NOT be shared equally with the masses since the masses are deemed either too dumb to understand it properly or too dangerous if indeed they did understand it properly. Just as God said the Tree of Knowledge is only for Himself, certain elite knowledge is only for the elites and not for the masses. It's like Zeus got pissed at Prometheus for sharing fire with man. As far as the elites are concerned, man cannot handle fire and will burn the world down. Fire, like guns, must only be with the elites and elite-controlled institutions.

Think of Jason Richwine. He was tolerated at Harvard when he worked on a doctoral thesis, but once he joined a well-known thinkthank and offered his opinions for pubic debate--Jewish IQ and etc--, the Jewish Gang got Rubin to act as hitman. Again, it wasn't so much what he said as where and how he said it.

Same with Charles Murray. If Murray had offered his views on race and intelligence to a small enclosed group of intellectuals, he would have been tolerated and even found invaluable for his insights. But he wrote a best seller for mass consumption. A big no-no in our two-tier media system. He offered fire and fruit for the masses which the elite god-men wanna hog for themselves.

I mean I highly doubt if most elite Jews really think there are no racial differences. Dumb Jews may believe it, but really smart Jews can't possibly believe such tripe. But just as Jews have a rule that goes 'what we can say amongst ourselves cannot be said OUTSIDE our community', elite liberals have the same mentality, indeed not much different from what prevailed in the USSR. This is why Snowden is so detested by the elites.

Of course, US is not like USSR in the sense that we have freedom of speech. But freedom of speech is nothing compared to power of speech. If two people stand side by side and one holds a mega-bull horn while the other must only use his voice, both may be equally free to say what they want, but the only thing we're gonna hear is the sound coming out of the bullhorn. The other voice, even if free, will be drowned out.
Also, most people are sheeple and don't seek the truth. They passively want to be told what is true and not true and just rely on the popu-media.

the hurting head said...

There is an unspoken policy in the Liberal media that might be called censorshhhhh or censorsheesh.

Paradoxically, the Liberal media may be more likely to give coverage to and sound alarms about the far right than about the sensible right. Given that the Liberal media hates the far right, this may seem rather odd. Why give more exposure to the far right than to the sensible right? Why so much coverage of Westboro Church but total silence about Sailer and others like him? Surely, Libs have more in common with Sailer than with Westboro nuts in their worldview.

And yet, plenty of TV news have visited Westboro home and granted the family interviews while media give Sailer and others like him the silent treatment and cold shoulder. In fact, the liberal Media do not even launch a crusade against Sailer and others like him. There's just benign neglect as if Sailer doesn't even exist.

Of course, the reason is obvious. The far right is foolish and retarded, and giving them coverage--even objective coverage--makes the right look stupid and demented. I mean one only needs to listen to the likes of Tom Metzger or William Pierce to know they are on the cuckoo side.

But if sensible rightists were to be heard, they might actually come across as sane(even saner than so-called rational liberals) and persuasive. So, the elements of the right that are most heavily censheeshed are ones that are most sensible, whereas extreme elements of the right are often 'favored' by the media for coverage.
Jason Richwine is a sensible person, but that's what makes him dangerous. Better to purge him and pretend he doesn't exist and never existed.
The Lib media would rather highlight some white separatist movement in South Dakota or the remnants of the KKK in the Deep South--or the fictional KKK at Oberlin or neo-Nazi Lacrosse rapists at Duke.

Notice that the media overlooks and remains silent about all the sensible opposition to 'gay marriage' and only focuses on extreme Christian nuts who wear 'God hates fags' t-shirts as if the only kind of people opposed to the 'gay' agenda are religious loonies.

Sometimes, certain voices can be censored purely because they are ignored or shunned even if not outright censored. Since the big media outlets don't engage in them, such voices don't become part of the debate.

This is why there is so little discussion of Sailer among Libs. They fear him not because he's extreme but because he's sensible. If libs were to loudly attack him, his ideas would become part of the debate and actually turn out to be persuasive. So, it's much better to focus on some Republican idiot who says raped women cannot become pregnant.

But then, mainstream conservatism also ignores Sailer because it is afraid to lose funding among maybe the Eskimos.

We hear so much about how the Right became extreme and lost sensible voices, but how did this happen? It's because the sensible voices have been censhhhhhed by the media, both Liberal and mainstream conservative. With people like Sailer and Richwine out, GOP is a hotbed of libertarians calling for lower taxes on the superrich and Christian Zionist loonies calling for war on Iran.

Pat Boyle said...

Steven Jay Gould was over his head in just about any subject that required math. He admits his math deficiencies in one of his books. Yet he wrote at least two books where he patronizingly lectures his readership on simple statistical concepts. He makes a great deal out of the difference between the median and the mean in one book. He has a whole book on elementary topics covered the first week in any Statistics 101 course.

He writes about baseball as if he were the first person to ever apply any serious analysis to the subject. How wrong can you possibly be?

His two great contributions to science were probably the punctuated equilibrium idea and the notion of spandrels. Both ideas are kinda crypto-Marxist notions. His fellow Marxist Lewontin is mathematically competent but Gould himself was more or less innumerate.

It's sad in a way that his exceptional prose style will not be remembered. He seems destined to be best remembered for 'The Mismeasurement of Man'. He wasn't just wrong in that book, he was perilously close to perpetrating a hoax.

In the future when youngsters look him up in the Intergalactic Wikipedia his ideas will be listed next to the articles on the Piltdown Man and the Cardiff Giant.


Anonymous said...

"It's a lot harder to argue today in good faith that Real Soon Now everything will be different, so the urge to crush dissenters and to control the past is even stronger."

Bingo. The more obvious it becomes that the emperor has no clothes, the more critical it becomes for the courtiers to shut up anyone who notices.

Anonymous said...


Shush, not sheesh.


Art Deco said...

Now, it's all pants-wetting paeans to King.

When was the last time they published an article about Martin Luther King (much less a pants wetting paean)?

rob said...

Pat, the book where Gould spends lots of time on mean v median was 'Bully for Brontosaurus.' It was a kid's book. I don't like Gould much, but c'mon.

After all, a book written by a brilliant scientist might make bright kids think science is too hard. Read a book like Gould's, and hey' If that idiot can do it...

Anonymous said...

Iowa, Nebraska and other states in the hardworking Midwest have always boasted some of the lowest poverty rates in the country.

But under a new Census Bureau poverty calculation that for the first time takes into account cost-of-living differences among the states, the Midwest looks even better.

Iowa ranks No. 1 for lowest poverty under the new measure released Wednesday — five spots better than it ranked under the latest official poverty measure, which didn't adjust for cost-of-living differences.

Other Midwest neighbors round out the top five: North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Nebraska. Nebraska's rank improves four places, compared with the official measure.

“It's a positive story for Nebraska and Iowa,'' said David Drozd, a demographer for the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Center for Public Affairs Research. “The Midwest comes out a lot better under this measure.''

I know these places are cold but they don't suck at the government teat when it comes to the free and reduce lunch programs. This is why Democrats are picking up since a lot of the purple to blue states in the Midwest don't have the high poverty issues of the rest of the US. Republicans dislike Iowa whose poverty is almost 8 percent lower than Texas.

Anonymous said...

The Lib media would rather highlight some white separatist movement in South Dakota or the remnants of the KKK in the Deep South--or the fictional KKK at Oberlin or neo-Nazi Lacrosse rapists at Duke.

Actually, this is not true, the Deep South since they have lots of blacks is less darkened than Kalifornia. The gang Pen1, public emeny number one is headquarters in Orange County Ca which has few blacks. Its a white gang that gets about 10 times the coverage of white gangs in the South or Texas. The liberals hate Orange County, Inland Empire and Kern County for having white supremacists since they are in California and also the counties have low black populations.

Anonymous said...

The Lib media would rather highlight some white separatist movement in South Dakota or the remnants of the KKK in the Deep South--or the fictional KKK at Oberlin or neo-Nazi Lacrosse rapists at Duke.

Notice that the media overlooks and remains silent about all the sensible opposition to 'gay marriage' and only focuses on extreme Christian nuts who wear 'God hates fags' t-shirts as if the only kind of people opposed to the 'gay' agenda are religious loonie

Guess where most of the Christian loonies are in the Deep South or Texas, why do you not make this connection. That's why I stop defending the South they are the reason why the Republican Party has lots of Zionists as you say and the Christian Right.

Anonymous said...

"The liberals hate Orange County, Inland Empire and Kern County for having white supremacists since they are in California and also the counties have low black populations."

Then they must also hate San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

Well, it might help instead of writing and reading, an effort--maybe based in E. Europe or China?--might be made to do a
documentary film about measuring intelligence, about the eyeball concomitants of differing levels of intelligence/ social judgment, especially in skilled motor performance occupations. Test content from tests published overseas could be adapted--or just
a fairly accurate test developed for the film and anchored variously to well standardized tests. The notion that we don't IQ when we see it is just so much media trance. Observing how real life situations sort folks out and then how test items sort them out is quite congenial to both documentary film making and the honest human eyeball.