Taleb: IQ is a pseudoscientific swindle

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This reference is used to support claims made by Dr Piotr Wozniak as part of an article series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb suffers no fools. His take on IQ tests is harsh and impatient. My text, "IQ is a dismal measure of intelligence", is meek and gentle in comparison. Many of Taleb's observations are similar to mine. However, Taleb focuses on statistical flaws of the test, weakness of correlations, circularity, failure to account for dimensionality, etc. The list of observations is too rich to summarize. I mentioned the negative psychological impact of IQ, esp. for those who score low. Taleb is more direct calling IQ "an immoral measure that, while not working, can put people and groups in boxes for the rest of their lives". Where I show the absurdity of the Athletic Quotient, Taleb presents his own Best Car Quotient.

The text is a goldmine of interesting and well-phrased observations. Selected quotes have been bulletized below for the sake of this summary, esp. for those who might drown in the sea of statistical graphs and formulas used to explain individual points.

Cream of the crop:

  • most “achievements” linked to IQ are measured in circular stuff s.a. bureaucratic or academic success, things for test takers and salary earners in structured jobs that resemble the tests
  • psychologists do not realize that the effect of IQ (if any, ignoring circularity) is smaller than the difference between IQ tests for the same individual
  • if you want to detect how someone fares at a task, say loan sharking, tennis playing, or random matrix theory, make him/her do that task; we don’t need theoretical exams for a real world function by probability-challenged psychologists
  • it is a false comparison to claim that IQ “measures the hardware” rather than the software. It can measure some arbitrarily selected mental abilities (in a testing environment) believed to be useful
  • to measure future needs it you would need to know the mental skills needed in a future ecology
  • the worst problem with IQ is that it seem to select for people who don’t like to say “there is no answer, don’t waste time, find something else”.
  • it takes a certain type of person to waste intelligent concentration on classroom/academic problems
  • not seeing patterns except when they are significant is a virtue in real life
  • the top 25% of janitors have higher IQ than the bottom 25% of college professors
  • IQ is most predictive of performance in military training
  • IQ is risky because you miss out on the Einsteins and Feynmans
  • the variance of the IQ measure increases with IQ
  • the argument that “some races are better at running” is stale: mental capacity is much more dimensional and not defined in the same way running 100 m dash is
  • the Flynn effect should warn us not just that IQ is somewhat environment dependent, but that it is at least partly circular
  • the same people hold that IQ is heritable, that it determines success, that Asians have higher IQs than Caucasians, degrade Africans, then don’t realize that China for about a Century had one order of magnitude lower GDP than the West

With strong words Taleb condemned standardized testing in general: "one has to be a lunatic (or a psychologist) to believe that a standardized test will reveal independent thinking". This reminds me of my own criticism of PISA tests, which I consider reasonably good design serving a very dangerous purpose.

When Taleb says "some people can only focus on problems that are real", I would add that the main factory of people ready to sit for pointless tests is school. We should not taint human autonomy with compulsory schooling and coercive learning because this is exactly the reason we undermine societal intelligence even if IQ tests soar at the same time.

For more see: IQ is a dismal measure of intelligence


Quoted excerpts come from the following reference:

Title: IQ is largely a pseudoscientific swindle

Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Date: 2019

Backlink: IQ is a dismal measure of intelligence

Link: https://medium.com/incerto/iq-is-largely-a-pseudoscientific-swindle-f131c101ba39