Bryan Caplan  

Geoffrey Miller: Progressive for Intelligence

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Overall, I'm critical of Geoffrey Miller's Spent (see here, here, and here).  But I'm impressed that after proclaiming himself "a secular humanist, an antiwar internationalist, an animal-rights environmentalist, a pro-gay feminist, a libertarian on most social, sexual, and cultural issues, and a registered Democrat," he's still ready to bet his life on the science of intelligence:
[T]he anti-intelligence dogma continues unabated, and a conspicuous contempt for IQ remains, among the liberal elite, a fashionable indicator of one's agreeableness and openness.

Yet this overt contempt for the concept of intelligence has never undermined our universal worship of the intelligence-based meritocracy that drives capitalist educational and occupational aspirations.  All parents glow with pride when their children score well on standardized tests, get into elite universities that require high test scores, and pursue careers that require elite university degrees.  The anti-intelligence dogma has not deterred liberal elites from sulking and ranting about the embarrassing stupidity of certain politicians, the inhumanity of inflicting capital punishment on murderers with subnormal IQs, or the IQ-harming effect of lead paint or prenatal alcoholism.
And here's Miller on the hypocritical predicament of the Educational Testing Service:
Although nominally dedicated to the highest standards of test validity, ETS is also under intense legal pressure to create tests that "are free of racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, and other forms of bias."  This means, in practice, that ETS must attempt the impossible.  It must develop tests that accurately predict university performance by assessing general intelligence... Yet since intelligence testing remains such a politically incendiary topic in the United States, it is crucial for ETS to take the position that its "aptitude" and "achievement" tests are not tests of general intelligence.  Further, its tests must avoid charges of bias by yielding precisely equal distributions of scores across different ethnic groups, sexes, and classes - even when those groups do have somewhat different distributions of general intelligence.  So, the more accurate the tests are as indexes of general intelligence, the more biased they look across groups, and the more flack ETS gets from political activists.  On the other hand, the more equal the test outcomes are across groups, the less accurate the tests are as indexes of general intelligence, the less well they predict university performance, and the more flack ETS gets from universities trying to select the best students.
I do wonder, though, how Miller's disdain for anti-IQ activists coheres with the other components his identity.  Later in the book, he argues that there's no real conflict between his politics and his science, but I'm not convinced.  Stay tuned.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
aretae writes:

Oh, come on Bryan....
Your last comment "I do wonder, though, how Miller's disdain for anti-IQ activists coheres with the other components his identity. Later in the book, he argues that there's no real conflict between his politics and his science, but I'm not convinced."
just begs for you to get in on the "what is a progressive" debate.

Arnold is writing about it on this site (3 posts).
Tyler is writing about it.
I'm a relatively new blogger, but I write and summarize here. Surely you're next into the fray.

hacs writes:

First, many of those differences across groups are smaller/negligible and, sometimes, reversed, when IQ is measured on 6, 7 or 8 years old children. So, the patterns in adult groups are not innate, but education in a broad sense, mirroring an individual-familiar effort (IFE), even though many Americans consider that standpoint unpleasant, facing that as resulting from individual merit exclusively, although of a non credible manner, even to them.

Second, there is not an unconditionally right position about that kind of IQ tests, it depends on which type of competition is wanted. They actually measure IFE, promoting a kind of familiar competition in the USA, instead of an exclusively individual one (as many Americans try to believe), thence so many attempts of linking IQ measures with heredity (that is, changing the explanation instead of the IQ tests).

Very smart, but The Bell Curve and similar standpoint are not the last word about the topic, and recent works has shown as difficult is to measure correctly the effects of an interactive, mutable, complex, polygenic charasteristic as intelligence, although it's consensual its heritability, heredity plays too few on the final outcome, being intelligence not static and inseparable from the environment, health, etc.

However, that is a problem only to the exclusively individual standpoint on competition and merit.

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