Re: IQ - A cautionary tale (Re: The ways of child prodigies)

From: Martin Striz (
Date: Thu Nov 10 2005 - 19:06:43 MST

On 11/10/05, Tennessee Leeuwenburg <> wrote:
> Indeed, but I reject the implied suggestion that I was making a mistake
> of assuming otherwise. I believe that IQ really is tracking ...
> something -- even if that something is nothing more than a correlation
> between various areas of skill. I would suppose that in Langan's case,
> something else has come unstuck. I'll just take it as fact that his IQ
> is what he says it is, on the grounds that even if he's off by a bit,
> it's still going to be really high.

It's pretty well established that IQ differences are real and
important. Within the population of highly intelligent people, I
would identify one good predictor of "having goofy beliefs" as
"belonging to a high IQ society." Langan actually started one.

A few years ago I joined Mensa out of curiosity. What I found was a
group of fairly smart people who wasted their intellectual gifts
playing board games and socializing. I had enough friends to do that
on my own and didn't need to pay $50 per year for it. What I also
found is that there were few people my age (I was 22 at the time).
There were a lot of middle aged people, including what seemed to be a
large number middle aged housewives and people with menial jobs. Now,
there's nothing wrong with being a bartender or a grocery store clerk
or a housewife, but it's obvious that some these people sought out an
organization like Mensa because they weren't getting the intellectual
stimulation that they needed in their personal lives (Langan, btw, is
a bouncer). Mensa states that it wants to provide a forum where
intelligent people can work together to solve the world's problems.
But the people who are already solving the world's problems --
doctors, scientists, engineers -- have already surrounded themselves
with other smart people and get the stimulation that they need. They
tend not to join places like Mensa, which is why Mensa will never
fulfill its goal and will always be a place where people play

What I also found is a place where a disconcerting number of people
were devoutly religious, believed in UFOs, and other pseudoscientific
and even nonsensical things. I couldn't understand then why so many
smart people could believe such dumb things, but I think now it's
because so many of them aren't part of the larger
intellectual/academic landscape. You can be intelligent without
having formal training in critical thinking skills (as members of this
list, so well versed in probability theory, should know). That, among
other things, may be Langan's biggest problem. For anybody who has
read Tversky et al. or the other suggestions on the SIAI booklist on
human reasoning, you know that it doesn't necessarily come naturally,
even for intelligent people. In fact, as Michael Shermer points out,
intelligent people can be among the most intractable because they can
defend erroneous beliefs with such alacrity.

My point is that an IQ score is a pretty good predictor of success,
but not the only one. A rigorous methodology for making accurate
inferences must still be learned. Paying attention to the scientific
mainstream is pretty important. Concensus science has passed the test
of falsifiability by many smart people. Langan might think that since
he's profoundly smarter than any individual scientist, he can
pontificate in his ivory tower and come up with a closer description
of reality than scientists can, but he's not smarter than the
aggregate knowledge of the scientific community.


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