Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Two measures—both alike in quackery

with 5 comments

When I land in discussions of IQ, it is often manifestly clear that two thirds of the debaters have no clue about the topic. In an attempt to straighten out a few question marks, I will below present an analogy. The topic as a whole is far too wide for a single blog post, but I can recommend IQ Comparison Sitee and some of La Griffe du Lion’s writingse to those who want a basic introduction respectively some discussion of other aspects. (There is plenty of more material on the Internet, including academic papers. Google is your friend.)

Now, one of the most common ways of dismissing IQ is to point out that there are high-IQ people who have failed utterly and that there are low-IQ people who have succeeded—“obviously” IQ is just quackery.

IMO, a very appropriate analogy is height in basket ball. Consider that:

  1. Countless other factors play in, including how hard and well the athlete trains (the two are far from the same…), what his physical characteristics in other areas are, how he fits in the team—and whether he is at all interested in basket ball.

  2. It is possible to be an NBA player without being tall: Muggsy Boguesw played for 14 seasons at a mere 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m). (Numbers here and elsewhere copied from Wikipedia.)

  3. Great height is no guarantee for anything: Robert Wadloww stood a full 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m)—but was hard-pressed to walk. Despite being the tallest man on historic record, theoretically able to dunk while keeping his heels solidly on the floor, he never played an NBA game.

  4. Michael Jordanw, by many considered the greatest player of all times, was far shorter, at 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m).

Obviously, height in basket ball is just quackery…

No: As anyone who thinks the situation through, looks at more statistics about height (e.g. heree), considers the advantages under the basket, whatnot, soon realizes, great height is a major advantage and lack of height is corresponding disadvantage. This in particular when considering the statistics in light of how few men reach 7 feet compared to those who reach 6 feet.

In conclusion, I will look at two side-issues:

  1. I have seen speculated that there is a certain “comfort interval” of roughly 30 IQ points within which people are sufficiently compatible to handle each other well: Someone with an IQ of 130 gets along well with people down to roughly 100, but has problems with those at 90; someone with an IQ of a 160 plays well down to 130, but has problems with someone at 120; etc. (Obviously, there is unlikely to be an abrupt change, but rather a gradual worsening.) This can go a long way to explain why many of the very highly intelligent have problems in life, including mental issues, problems in romance, surprisingly poor career developments, whatnot. (Speaking for myself: Yes, I find that when I am too far ahead of someone else, communication problems, differences in interests and world-view, etc., become disproportionally likely.)

  2. Feynmanw is often taken as an example of an “ordinary” man who became a Nobel-prize winning physicist—his IQ being “only” 125.

    Apart from 125 being more than one-and-a-half standard deviations above the mean, this number is highly likely to be misleading. Consider e.g. that anyone can have a bad day and score low, that he may not have taken the test seriously, or that he may have had his mind elsewhere, causing careless mistakes. Notably, I have spent a lot of time solving puzzles of various kinds (including questions from real IQ tests), and have found it to be important to know what level of difficulty the puzzle has: Different difficulties require different approaches and meta-reasoning—and a world-leading physicist could easily have over-estimated the difficulty of the questions.

    Most notably, many IQ tests have a strong verbal component (the more so in the past) and there is reason to suspect that Feynman’s verbal IQ was far from stellar. At the same time, a physicist needs math ability, spatial thinking, and similar. Going by the books by him that I have read, I would only be mildly surprised to hear him going below 100 in verbal IQ—and shocked if he went above average + one standard deviation (i.e. roughly 115). He may then very well have had mathematical and visio-spatial IQs and a “g” on a genius level while still scoring just 125 overall.

    Certainly, based on his books and accomplishments, Feynman was very, very far from average in raw intelligence—and a claimed IQ of 125 would point to a test that needed refinement or something having gone wrong. (Note that this would hold true even if IQ was a more flawed proxy of intelligence than I consider it to be: A man on his level should have no problem scoring higher on a well-made IQ test, be it in my world or in the world of Stephen Jay Gould.)


Written by michaeleriksson

November 20, 2010 at 10:57 pm

5 Responses

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  1. If you want to put it in fauceir terms this blog entry can be summarized as follows.
    Body height is a piece of information about basket ball capabilities as well as the IQ is a piece of information about intellectual capabilities. All information includes some degree of uncertainty, a statistical measure of precision. (Here you have, so to say, the intersection between fauceir and quantum theories—remember Heisenberg.)
    Hence you never get a true prediction by such measures, an approximation only. With hindsight, you might be able to estimate the deviation from the ideal, the capability quotient (CQ), and you may want to employ fauceir principles to improve the test.

    PS: What amuses me most is your experience that someone can only cope with people of less than 30 degrees down the IQ scale. This is wrong according to the theory and probably your own experience as you can deal well with monkeys and dogs and peoples with mental disabilities that have almost no IQ at all. I won’t relate my psychoanalysis of this observation now. Better we postpone this until you have had a look at this paper.

    [Moderator’s note: Links corrected.]

    Paul N.

    November 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    • I have to have a look at your blog later, before I judge the “faucier” part. Generally, however, I suspect that you over-interpret: Height is a proxy measure with a very imperfect correlation with basket ability. As such, errors in measurement are secondary and it is not really possible to estimate an ideal (in terms of basket-ball ability). This is very different from, hypothetically, trying to estimate the height of players from photos of them standing around a basket at a know height of 10 feet.

      As for the PS, I may have been unclear in my post: It is not a matter of, for instance, playing fetch and having a good time, but of trying to work together on a problem, setting priorities for what should be achieved, what types, means, and contents of communication are prefered, etc. Try running a business with dog as an equal partner…

      (As an aside, the number 30 and the general theory is not from me, but from an intelligence researcher. I am, I regret, not certain of whom, of the top of my head.)


      November 25, 2010 at 5:17 pm

  2. Thank you for your quick reply. I just realized that the links given in my comment don’t work because of some extra quotation marks. As for running a business with dogs, it’s fully possible—remember dog-sledding—as long as you, the most intelligent being of the team, stay in charge. Only for a limited time and spectrum of tasks you can hand over supervision to the lead dog, but I agree, not as much with dogs that are inherently submissive, but with other species you run into great problems convincing them you should take over supervision. That by the way is the problem tackled by the paper.


    November 25, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    • But even with dog-sledding, it is not really a meeting of equals. Incidentally, it may actually be easier to work with e.g. dogs or children in some cases, because the differences in ability and behaviour are so manifest and also parallelled by physical differences: A lot of the problems in interactions between adults stem from the common erroneous belief that others have similar minds (“If it quacks like a duck…”). Cf. http://www.aswedeingermany.de/50CompanyLife/10TallDancer.html

      As for fauceir, there are several interesting ideas to be found around the concept; however, these seem to be of comparatively limited value when we discuss basket ball. (But may be considerably more important when it comes to IQ vs. career success or playing ability vs sponsorship deals.) Notably, the selection mechanism for picking the best players for advancement to e.g. college basket and later NBA are likely to be comparatively accurate, seeing that the on-field success is a very strong measure of basket ability. Further, the assumptions around Dunning-Kruger largely break down, because the choices are made by coaches and talent scouts with considerable skill in making these judgement—as a rule they are even better at it than the players.

      As an aside on Dunning-Kruger: This principle is very strong where intelligence is concerned, because intelligence (or some closely related characteristic) is always involved, independent of what is estimated. In other words, self-estimate of intelligence depends mostly on intelligence; however, self-estimate of basket ball stems from a mixture of basket-ball skill and intelligence. (And, as implied above, this skill is not merely the skill at playing, but may be slanted towards “coaching knowledge”.)


      November 25, 2010 at 10:51 pm

  3. […] it to (approximately) fulfill the demands that are put on it today. In an earlier entry, I compare basket ability and height with success in life and IQ, noting that it would be equally foolish to dismiss IQ for success as to dismiss height for […]

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