Social Science Words: IQ debate Switcharoo

The Globe’s interesting and opinionated Brainiac blog tipped me off to more yet more ink being spilled (should that be ‘pixels being pushed?’) on the debate about whether IQ is an intrinsic characteristic, from which economic, and other kinds of success follow. Generally this whole area of controversy leaves me cold–it’s worse than the unceasing, yet ever less edifying, fights about teaching Huck Finn in U.S. high schools.

Still a couple of interesting points come out. Brainiac links to the piece by the editor of “The American Conservative” who slogged through data exhaustively. (How skillfully is uncertain, anybody from my social science posse up for an analysis?) He came to the conclusion that the independent and dependent variables are switched. IQ depends on economic and other factors, not the other way around. It’s not “genetically determined” (a fairly meaningless term when it comes to social traits but that’s a soapbox for another day). He cites the issue of American and Israeli Jews with strong shared genetic heritage, yet marked differences in IQ (American Jews have high IQ’s relative to other groups, significantly higher than Israeli Jews). Another example: if economic status is the independent variable, as it improves, so should IQ. This is what has happened to the IQs of Latinos in the U.S. whose socioeconomic status has increased.

Fair warning: the piece is overly long (who edits the editor?). Lots of shaky points: the cross cultural stuff, including various biases, makes these head to head comparisons dubious, identical twin studies are a methodological mess with very small N’s, the multiple intelligences concept is ignored (whether it’s unwelcome in the halls of The American Conservative or just too messy, I don’t know.) And there are oodles of measurement and instrument problems. (He’s doing ‘meta-meta analysis’ so actual instruments and data are pretty far upstream.) Still, worth scanning if this is one of your hobby horses. The comments are lively.

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