Monday, December 18, 2017

- The SAT As An IQ Test

I have been forbidden from mentioning specifics, but my daughter has done exceptionally well on the SAT. She might even get mad at me for being this specific, but taken on it's own, she has scored high enough to qualify for admission to any University on the planet, including Oxford and Cambridge - the highest minimum scores we could find. (she isn't applying to either school... it's just a 'fun fact'.)

As you can imagine I am so bursting with pride that I can't keep totally quiet about it. I told about 20 people in my personal life (okay really about 40, including a woman I met on the Subway), and it fostered a lot of discussion between my daughter and I this weekend, about what that all means.

As a standardized test, the SAT can be a proxy for an IQ test. And IQ, as we all know, is both the single strongest social science predictor for lifetime success, and the single best predictor of anything in all of social science. It's so good that it defines the measurement standard for much of social science. But there are better combined predictors for lifetime success.

The combination of IQ and the personality type 'industriousness' taken together, are a breathtakingly good predictor of lifetime success - better than either are on their own. In the modern world you can do quite well with either one or the other. But if you measure on the high end in both, you are among those rare intellectual powerhouses that build and change the world.

My daughter, being the humble and generally self critical type, sees this as pressure. So I tried to explain to her that it shouldn't be. All it means is that her 'normal' is going to be more productive, insightful and valuable to others than other people's 'normal', and it will only be that way on average. Life rolls forward for all of us asynchronously, and grand insights are rare even for the exceptional.

As an example, in my 30 year career where coming up with new ideas was a substantial part of my job, I've had exactly one totally original idea in my whole life that wasn't simply me adding to or modifying something that I learned from someone else. That singular idea led to a trading model which made my career in the Hedge Fund world, and is now at the root core of a startup company that will offer high paying employment to many, and hopefully change the world for the better. Let's see how it goes.

At the moment, my daughter's primary interest seems to be in public policy. She's young so this is obviously subject to change, and if it changes, it will do so without criticism from me. I don't care much what she wants to do with her life, because I know that whatever it is, she's going to be good at it. That will bring success for her eventually, and success in achieving goals leads to a more fulfilled life. That's all I'm really hoping for on her behalf. So this recent news is a prize I much cherish. I don't know what road she'll travel, but I have a strong indicator of where it will eventually lead.

With that thought in mind though, I went scouring about the internet for some written work regarding the public policy issues around IQ, and lo and behold, look what I found:

Q: Why study this stuff? What possible use could it be? Will it not, in fact — whatever results it delivers — will it not, just by being a subject of study, sow discord?

A: Why study it? Because free people want to understand the world, that's why. Why should I not make free inquiry into this or that, if it interests me to do so? Why should my patron Billy Billionaire, who made a fortune from running a hedge fund, not finance my researches, if it's something that interests him? And if you won't let me do it here, how will you stop me doing it there — in Beijing, Bombay, or Buenos Aires? How exactly will you implement your world-wide ban?

To adapt a Second Amendment bumper slogan: Ideas don't sow discord, people sow discord. A truth about the world, is a truth about the world. Why get worked up about it? Here's a truth about the world: Several million Americans are smarter than I am. Am I worked up about this? No. Should I be?

Or take this: If the figure of 15 points usually given for the black-white gap in mean IQ scores is correct, then around six million — that's 6,000,000 — black Americans have higher IQs than the average white American. Should they be worked up? Or should the average white American be worked up? Who should be worked up about this?

The world is what it is. Make a life for yourself in it. Play the cards you've been dealt, as best you can play them. Get married, get a job. Don't whine — it ticks people off. Don't eat too much fried food. Take moderate exercise. Calm down.

That, you may recognize, is noted writer John Derbyshire, much revered in these pages for everything but his extremely mediocre wing shooting skills, a talent which in his family seems to have skipped a generation.

I've said many times that I think recognition of these scientific facts around group IQ differences represent the greatest cultural and public policy threat of the 21st century. As technology replaces low skilled work with automation and the IQ required for value added productive behavior continues to rise as it has for the last 30 years, we face a world where the bottom 15% of the population may no longer be intellectually adept enough to do anything.

This is a problem whose potential for social upheaval dwarves anything we've ever seen in all of human history. And based on my own morality (which I hope my daughter shares) our mutual solution to it cannot include the words 'concentration camps', 'rioting', or widespread use of force. Currently unpopular terms like 'eugenics' are as likely to offer solutions as they are problems. But whatever we collectively decide to do, I'm convinced it shouldn't be done with a gun to anyone's head.

If she stays on her current chosen path, it will be people like my daughter who will have to solve this issue. And fearful as I am about it in general, I have to confess, I do feel a little less afraid today thinking about it in those terms.

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