A long time ago, I decided I would just ignore the intelligent design people. I’m perfectly fine leaving them to their beliefs, as I don’t think it causes any harm for people to believe in a supernatural designer. In fact, I feel the same way about creationists. There’s no harm in it and if it brings people some peace and comfort, that seems like a good thing. The reason I will not debate evolution with them, however, is that intelligent design people rarely argue in good faith. They engage in sophistry and logical fallacies, rather than honest debate.
ID’ers will often misrepresent some bit of science, in order to discredit it, and by extension, everything they claim rests upon it. The thermodynamics and entropy argument that was popular with them for a while was a grossly inaccurate interpretation of the science and a faulty application of it. order cannot arise from disorder.By the time you corrected them, they were onto some other half-baked claim. It is simply a waste of time debating them as they just keep moving the goal posts, demanding you prove them wrong.
Anyway, this steaming pile of nonsense from Fred Reed the other day reminds me a lot of the way ID’ers attack evolution. If I recall, Reed is a flat earth guy, so it is probably a habit of mind that puts ID’er and IQ denialists in the same pew.
Apologies to the reader. Perhaps I wax tedious. But the question of intelligence is both interesting to me and great fun as talking about it puts commenters in an uproar. It is like poking a wasp’s nest when you are eleven. I am a bad person.
This Gomer Pyle routine has always been a part of his act. It’s a form of intellectual base stealing where the writer gets to declare the subject, upon which he intends to opine, is easily reduced to folk wisdom. The author is the folksiest of folk wizards, so that means he can be an expert on the countrified version of the topic. He also likes playing the Jon Stewart game of wearing the serious mask when criticizing others, but then donning the clown mask when receiving criticism. In Reed’s case, it is “Ah shucks fellers, I’m just a simple country boy. Why are you sore with me?”
Clearing the underbrush: Obviously intelligence is largely genetic–if it were cultural in origin, all the little boys who grew up in Isaac Newton’s neighborhood would have been towering mathematical geniuses–and obviously the various tests of intellectual function have, at least among testees of similar background, considerable relation to intelligence.
This is a good example of what ID’ers like doing when attacking evolution. It is the false concession. He appears to be conceding that iQ is not cultural, but in reality he is saying it is not magic. What Reed is describing, with regards to Newton, is not culture. It is magic. Culture is the highly complex feedback loop that evolved over time among a group of people with a shared heritage and biology. Mere proximity does not mean culture. That’s just a version of Magic Dirt Theory. No one would call that culture.
Some individuals have more of it than others. For example, Hillary, a National Merit Finalist, scored higher than 99.5 percent of Illinois and can reliably be suspected of being bright. Some groups are obviously smarter than other groups. Mensans and Nobelists are smarter than sociologists. Of course, so are acorns.
But knowing that a thing exists and measuring it are not the same thing.
Notice the Hillary gag. He knows his readers are not Hillary voters so he attempts to discredit the idea of intelligence, by pointing out that, according to standardized testing, Clinton is intelligent. “How ’bout that fellers? These pin-headed IQ people are so dumb they they think that fat commie Hillary Clinton is smart! Shazam!” It is a way to get the reader to accept a point that the writer was never able, or never bothered, to prove. It’s basically guilt by association.
Notice also the subtle confusion of the idea of shared group traits. When people in the cognitive sciences talk about shared traits, they mean biological groups, not social groups or arbitrary categories like Nobel Prize winners. The implication of what Reed is claiming here is that sub-Saharan Africans, for example, are just a random a collection of people like the local PTA or Rotary Club. That’s absurd. They are people with a shared biological heritage and as a result, a shared sent of traits that evolved in Africa.
This fits in well with the last line where he claims you can know something exists, without measuring it. This is complete nonsense. We cannot know something exists without having some evidence of it. Seeing a a mysterious animal may not tell us much, but it is data of an animal. How accurately we can measure a thing like IQ or height or weight is the question, not whether we can measure it. Of course, what he is trying to slip in here is the assertion that just because something can be measured does not mean it exists.
Virtuosity in taking tests is similarly affected by experience in taking tests. Like most in my generation, I was subjected to unending tests: an IQ test in the second grade when my teacher thought me retarded (as many readers still do). Some sort of Virginia test. PSATs. NMSQT. SATs. GREs. Marine Corps General Qualification Test. FSEE. And so on.
As I suppose others did, I learned the technique for acing tests. Run through all the questions rapidly, picking the low-hanging fruit, putting a tick mark by those questions not instantly obvious. Run through again, answering those of the tick-markeds susceptible to a minute’s thought, double tick-marking the really difficult ones. Then to the really hard ones and finally, with an eye on the clock and knowing how the tests are scored, eliminate one or two answers on the remaining ones and guess.
This is a bit of folk nonsense popular with people who have no idea how intelligence testing is constructed. Test designers have understood for generations that guys like Fred Reed will try to game the test. People who have done a lot of test administration learn that people in the high normal range really worry that they are just in the normal range, rather than some level of genius. Therefore, they will be the ones who are the least honest in test taking. That’s why the tests are designed to mitigate this observed phenomenon.
The most common way of defeating the scheme Fred thinks is effective is to make the exams progressively more difficult. Therefore, running through and answering the easy ones just means you get frustrated quickly as you find fewer and fewer cherries to pick from the exam. Some tests are designed such that non-consecutive answers will be discarded. These days, test takers will use a computer and not have the ability to skip ahead looking for easy questions, even if they think it will work.
Among the lumpen-IQatry, the tendency is to regard SATs, NAEP, and so on as surrogates for IQ, and thus for intelligence. This is error. The SATs in particular are not intelligence tests and were never intended to be. Their function was to measure the student’s ability to handle complex ideas in complex normal English, which is what college students used to do. The tests did did this well. The were not intelligence tests as their scores were functions of at least three things, intelligence, background, and experience in taking tests. IQ = f(a,b,c…)
This is a what is called a lie. Yes, some standardized tests correlate with IQ tests in narrow areas, but exactly no one in the cognitive sciences thinks the SAT is a surrogate for an intelligence test. As for the claim regarding cultural bias, that’s always been nonsense, as anyone who has taken the Raven’s Progressive Matrices would know. When researchers look at IQ among groups, they specifically use these sorts of exams. Here’s a short presentation on IQ testing in Africa for those interested.
Like those ID’ers I referenced at the start of this post, Fred has the habit of assuming that his position must be right if the alternative is not proved beyond all doubt. If evolutionary biology has not answered all of his questions to his satisfaction, then it must all be wrong and his brand of oogily-boogily is correct. Similarly, because there are lots of things we don’t know about IQ, he feels free to dismiss all of it, even the stuff that is correct.
What’s objectionable about Fred Reed is not the sugar-coated goober routine that he lays on so thick it gives you cavities. That’s tolerable if it is sincere. When he gets into these topics, there is a distinct lack of authenticity. There’s a meanness to his approach, as if he is bitter at not being able to keep up with the crowd, so he invests his time in trying to prove there’s no reason to bother. Regardless of the motivations, his brand of cornpone nonsense is exactly that, nonsense.
This post has already been linked to 3356 times!