Saturday, September 12, 2009

IQ Scores: Junk

Intelligence is a thing that is very difficult to define, if it's even possible to begin with. Historically something called an IQ test is considered the way to quantify or put to some kind of standard scale. In fact there are may different IQ tests with a fairly substantial deviation in approach. I think that IQ tests might be one area where we see how tradition is not adequate to justify continued use. Interestingly, there are ways to quantitatively explore an abstract idea such as IQ scores, and that is through associated statistics. For instance, wouldn't it be interesting to consider IQ score as it correlates to salary? It is at least interesting enough for someone to have done the data collection from the same people nearly every year since 1979 (the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, funded by the Bureau of Labor Statistic, information found here)... and the results? Smart most definitely does not mean rich! In fact, people with high IQ scores exhibit higher than average rates of fiscal stupidity. With this in mind, IQ scores can be thought of as failing to consider a rather essential and applied form of intelligence for proper functioning in this modern era--personal finance. Ultimately an IQ score can only tell somebody how well they are at taking IQ tests.

There are certainly many instances in which IQ tests fail to adequately describe something easily considered intelligence. The most common example is the phenomenon of savant syndrome, where the affected people have such unique and powerful capabilities that they almost seem intellectually super-human; recalling the phone number and address of any random person they've read in a phone book, instantly performing arithmetic operations on large numbers, and on and on. One of the most famous savants, local to SLC, Kim Peek, was the basis for the character in the film Rain Man; Kim is able to read books at a rate of ~10 seconds per page, even faster accounting for his ability to read in parallel, two pages at a time--one for each eye. If that weren't convincing enough, he can recall each of ~12,000 books he has read, and his amazing abilities extend beyond reading/recollection. Despite all this, Kim has an IQ of 73. Clearly IQ fails to capture something that would most certainly be called intelligence. Further, I think this failure is much more ubiquitous than the special case of savants; from personal experience I can say with certainty that I've met many, many people who would appear unexceptional to an IQ test but whom I can attest have a special (and meaningful) type of intelligence.

It might seem that I'm battling IQ like a spurned testee--indeed we would expect a person who considers themselves intelligent to express their dissatisfaction with their score. Thus it may be moderately surprising that I'm battling IQ despite having gotten a favorable score, though the reason is simple: I don't think IQ scores do any good for anyone. In fact, I think it very well may be to everyone's detriment to put any reliance on such an ambiguous and not altogether indicative thing such as an IQ score. It's a sword that cuts all ways too; it would be erroneous to think that because one has a higher than average score they are somehow superior or more likely to be successful in life... if anything, a person who finds themselves to have a high IQ should recognize a statistical disadvantage and start paying closer attention to their finances! Likewise, people with very average scores shouldn't feel limited--plenty of people with average IQs have been billionaires, CEOs, athletes, world-renowned musicians, and presidents.

In short, don't let anyone tell you what you are and aren't capable of. We are all amazing, and when it comes to nearly 7 billion unique people, there is little hope of a meaningful, broad quantification, and a great chance of spectacular, rare, and unforeseen abilities to arise.

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