Further Thoughts on IQ

(waning, I got up 4 hours early today.)

So as I was saying, withing the “normal” (average) range of IQ, most people who have the same number probably have about the same level of competency. But for outliers at the bottom end, it makes a difference how their low IQ came about, whether through natural genetic variation, or an unfortunate accident. A person’s level of impairment has a lot to do with their deviation from the IQ they should have been and the society at large–thus, a person who is naturally at 70IQ and comes from a society where they are average–where everyone is about 70–is perfectly functional, whereas a person who was supposed to have a 100 IQ but got dropped on their head and suffered brain damage is not going to be very functional.

An IQ below 80 is somewhere between borderline and severely impaired in the US; about 8 or 9% of people score below 80. About 2.5% score as severely impaired, below 70. People with IQs under 70 can’t be executed, and can only reach, at max, the intellectual level of a 12 yr old.* People below 60 have severe impairments and may never be able to live alone.

*Still putting them well ahead of the smartest apes–to be honest, people blathering on about how apes and dolphins are “as smart as humans” kind of get on my nerves.

And yet, many successful societies have survived without any ability to read or numbers beyond 3. These folks tend to score badly on IQ tests, but they survive just fine in their own societies, and I assume they are very happy with their lives the way they are. When people say that people in society Foo have average IQs around Bar, this is not the same as saying they are severely disabled–it’s a different kind of low IQ.

One thing I wonder about: let’s say someone was supposed to have an IQ of 140, due to genetics, but an accident interfered–say, they got dropped on their head–and they lost 40 IQ points. If they’d started at 100, they’d drop down to 60, which is pretty darn impaired. But they’ve only dropped to 100.

I assume that, even though they would test as “normal” on an IQ test, the loss of 40 IQ points would result in severe life impairment of some sort. I don’t know if the DSM/other ways of diagnosing people with disabilities could pick up on such people at all, or maybe they’d end up with some random diagnosis due to however the condition manifests. I also wonder how such a person would compare to someone who is just naturally low-IQ–would they have a better chance of thriving in a society that’s not as IQ-demanding? Or would they be just as dysfunctional there? Or would they have enough wits left about them to make up for the damage they’d suffered, and do fine in life?

One thing I suspect: growing up would be hell for them. Their siblings (assuming their 140 IQ parents manage to have any other kids,) would pursue advanced degrees and become doctors, lawyers, finance bros, or professors. Their parents probably are professors. Their parents would be pushing them to take advanced maths in elementary school (“Your brother could work with negative numbers when he was 4!) when they struggle with fractions, and they’d feel like shit for consistently being dumber than everyone around them. Their parents would shove them into remedial classes, because “average” looks suspiciously like “dumb a rock” when you’re really smart, and then force them to go to college whether they belong there or not.

Of course, this is what our society tries to do to everyone, under the assumption that enough… pre-k? tutoring? organic food? Sesame Street?… can turn anyone into a math professor.


14 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on IQ

  1. So a quality education has no role to play. People with an IQ of 140 will probably educate themselves and everything is wasted on the ones below that cut-off?


    • Strawman. Education provides the opportunity to learn things from people who are good at teaching them. Even hunter-gatherers teach their kids things. The individual contains the raw ability to understand and retain what they’re taught. Teaching beyond/outside the individual’s ability to understand is not terribly useful.


    • Do you mean what happens if society/schools fail to teach a smart person to the level of their ability? Or what happens when material flies over someone’s head? Forgive me for not being sure what you’re asking; I’m just going to try to respond thoroughly and hope I hit what you’re after.

      Obviously in an ideal world, every student would get a completely tailored education where every lesson is planned to maximize the student’s comprehension and enjoyment. In the real world, students have to share their lessons with 15-30 other students. It sounds horrible, but in general, most manage to muddle through just fine–I actually have a pretty positive opinion overall of the job public schools do.

      A few smart kids get left in the lurch here and there because they’re smart in weird ways or in some really rural district, but every district I’ve encountered has some form of “gifted” program or advanced classes for the smarter kids. There are smart kids who are really clueless about college, and end up screwed as a result, but that is more because the whole college application system is horrible and not because of the quality of their preschool education.

      I’ve never met a smart person and thought, “gee, this person really could have made something of themselves if they’d just been taught more in school.” I have met smart people and thought, “gosh, you sure are clueless.”

      Let me give a few examples:
      Person A, female, born during the Depression. Family was so poor, they moved to Oklahoma during the Dustbowl. They had no books. Teachers/family thought she was retarded when she started school. Behind on reading abilities until highschool or beyond. Ended up with a PhD in math; career as math professor.

      Person B, gender irrelevant, born in a poor family. Not as poor as the first, but still very poor. Exceptionally bright; got into “gifted” program at school, reading at or near an adult level in 2nd grade. Made ample use of the public library. Received what looks like bad college advice; middle-class career with low ambition.

      Person C, seems intensely bright in an aspie kind of way. Attended a shitty school but still reads extensively on subjects of interest. Scored extremely high on standardized tests, but got bad college advice and has severe health problems.

      Person D, orphan, then homeless. No highschool degree; no college. Got middle-class job via self-study.

      Lack of formal education and parental support clearly interfered with D achieving their full potential, but D still tested quite well and did okay in life. A, B, and C all received pretty standard educations for their respective areas/times, and all achieved or didn’t achieve due to factors like their own desire to study, the advice they got about college, or health issues. None of them got fancy preschools or were ever really ‘challenged’ in school.

      There’s a good chance none of them would have done well in life if they hadn’t received some education; someone taught them reading, writing, and arithmetic, but what they did with it has more to do with who they are and conditions totally irrelevant to teaching.

      On the other end of the spectrum, we have the low-achievers. There are, of course, some low achievers who are low-achievers simply because they have no access to education. If there are no books or schools around, you probably won’t learn to read. But most low-achievers in the US do go to school; most of them go to schools just as good as A-D attended, if not significantly better. Here there is plenty to challenge them. I have no idea, personally, whether it is a good idea to “push” low achievers or try to keep things comfortable for them, but there is a level beyond which I think nothing useful is going to happen.

      For example, the Kindergarten math curriculum is counting 1 – 10. They don’t do this because they’re lazy; they do this because some of the kids don’t have 1 – 10 down solid when they start Kindergarten, and they don’t really ‘get’ it until about Christmas. Meanwhile, I’ve met people who, at that age, could solve problems like “280 – 300 = -20”. It’s highly unlikely that there’s anything you can do to make the kids who are struggling with 1-10 master negative numbers in kindergarten. People may not become math professors for a variety of reasons, but very few of them have to do with lack of quality education.


      • I am not talking about the failure of higher IQ people reaching their potential. As a general rule, under-educated higher IQ people do not cause society a lot of problems. I suppose in an economic analysis having higher ability people working at peak performance would be good for everyone concerned.

        I am talking about the fact that year in and year out we turn out thousands of people who are basically illiterate. Most of these people are on the left side of the IQ curve. I am not saying that we should try to turn a person with an IQ of 95 into a rocket scientist. Some of these people come out of school and they can’t even spell their own name. I think people can be trained to tasks that are appropriate to their IQ level and we do not do that for a significant part of the left side of the curve. Then people tut-tut when a % turn to crime. Exactly how do you expect people with no skills and very little or no education to function in our society?

        On the assumption that I am not very smart or clueless, or both, can you elaborate on how you define clueless?


      • By “clueless” I just mean “Ignorant of some specific fact,” rather than “Lacking intellectual abilities.”

        For example, which colleges and which majors are the best investments for your money, and how to sculpt your resume to maximize your chances of getting into the school of your choice are specific pieces of information that not everyone gets, even really smart people. Rural people who only have dialup internet are particularly limited in their ability to find all of the information they’d like.

        Young people, in general, are clueless about lots of things because they just haven’t had as many years on this Earth to learn things, but this doesn’t mean they lack the raw ability to learn.

        As for education, there’s virtually *no one* in this country, with the possible exception of a few “unschooled” kids (and even they turn out fine on average and certainly don’t commit much crime,) who has had “little or no” education. K-12 education is free, and the teachers there put a ton of effort into teaching kids their three Rs. Kids do not graduate illiterate because of lack of education. They graduate illiterate because they are either not capable of reading or have no desire to read. Neither of those is the school’s fault.

        IMO, the idea that American schools suck is a myth. They’re not perfect, and there are plenty of things I’d change if I could, but these schools managed to educate the guys who sent a rocket to the moon.

        When you break down educational attainment by race, it’s pretty clear: our whites do just as well or even outperform other Europeans, our Asians outperform most other Asians, our Mexicans outperform other Mexicans, and our Africans outperform other Africans. But our blacks and Hispanics don’t get the same test scores as whites and Asians, so people claim our schools are “failing.”

        I’ve had classmates who could not read. It was not for lack of teaching; they had the same teachers as I did, and those teachers were very good and our school was very well funded; they certainly had far more education than Person D did.

        But perhaps this is not really what you meant at all. Let’s suppose that we agree on the idea that there exist some people who will never be literate–not 95s; 95s can read just fine. But perhaps 70s. For these people, some form of vocational training that they can understand seems best. Our schools probably should put more effort into such programs, but I suspect we don’t because it’s a difficult pill for people to swallow that some of us just aren’t going to become math professors.

        Unfortunately, there just isn’t as much unskilled work to go around these days–even agriculture uses fewer humans than it used to, thanks to industrialization. Returning to a pre-industrial society might make a lot more jobs for lower-IQ people, but I don’t know if we’re willing to do that.

        I don’t think people “turn to crime” just because they have few skills. I’ve known enough people who were homeless and didn’t turn to crime, and enough people who had gov’t welfare and support, food on their table and a home to live in who did commit crime. The Great Depression saw a DROP in crime, not an increase. Poverty does not cause crime. Being an impulsive, aggressive person who can’t delay gratification leads to both crime and getting fired from jobs.


  2. I did not and do not place the blame primarily on teachers. That is a job for slimy politicians.

    Every year we have a bloc of uneducated, unskilled, un-socialized young people that are pushed into adult society and they have very diminished chances of having good outcomes in life. We know some of the reasons they are unprepared, low IQ for one. No one, as in no one, gives any pragmatic ideas on how to reduce the size of that bloc. Even if one does not care about these people, it affects everyone because their problems spill over onto everybody.


    • Oh, well, if you just want to reduce the block, the obvious solution is free IUDs for everyone. Globally. Long-term planners will get theirs removed when they’re ready for children, and impulsive people will be able to enjoy life without any “oopsies.”

      Abortion and birth control are important tools for the maintenance of any kind of human thriving, but people tend to lose their marbles if you suggest them. Just look at all of the NRxers attacking Planned Parenthood, despite PP actually being a force for civilization.


      • Other than that is unfeasible, it will not lead to the results you are envisioning. It is a well-known fact that intelligent, career and planning oriented women make few kids or no at all, so that could lead to a difficult situation long-term. And how do we know that they will care for them like more average moms? Also there will be the people who want to make children, but postpone it indefinately. No that will not work.


      • Fine, people with enough money to pay for IUDs don’t get free ones. Intelligent people are already using birth control; the idea is simply to make it easy for impulsive people to avoid accidentally making children. Parenting communities are sadly full of people who got pregnant by accident.


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