One subgroup of scholars did manage to see more of what was coming

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

I really enjoyed David Epstein’s The Sports Gene. His new book, Range, explores why generalists triumph in a specialized world:

Ehrlich’s starvation predictions were almost comically bad. And yet, the very same year he conceded the bet, Ehrlich doubled down in another book, with another prediction that would prove untrue: Sure, his timeline had been a little off, he wrote, but “now the population bomb has detonated.” Despite one erroneous prediction after another, Ehrlich amassed an enormous following and received prestigious awards. Simon, meanwhile, became a standard-bearer for scholars who felt that Ehrlich had ignored economic principles. The kind of excessive regulations Ehrlich advocated, the Simon camp argued, would quell the very innovation that had delivered humanity from catastrophe. Both men became luminaries in their respective domains. Both were mistaken.

When economists later examined metal prices for every 10-year window from 1900 to 2008, during which time the world population quadrupled, they saw that Ehrlich would have won the bet 62 percent of the time. The catch: Commodity prices are a poor gauge of population effects, particularly over a single decade. The variable that both men were certain would vindicate their worldviews actually had little to do with those views. Prices waxed and waned with macroeconomic cycles.

Yet both men dug in. Each declared his faith in science and the undisputed primacy of facts. And each continued to miss the value of the other’s ideas. Ehrlich was wrong about the apocalypse, but right on aspects of environmental degradation. Simon was right about the influence of human ingenuity on food and energy supplies, but wrong in claiming that improvements in air and water quality validated his theories. Ironically, those improvements were bolstered through regulations pressed by Ehrlich and others.

Ideally, intellectual sparring partners “hone each other’s arguments so that they are sharper and better,” the Yale historian Paul Sabin wrote in The Bet. “The opposite happened with Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon.” As each man amassed more information for his own view, each became more dogmatic, and the inadequacies in his model of the world grew ever more stark.

The pattern is by now familiar. In the 30 years since Ehrlich sent Simon a check, the track record of expert forecasters — in science, in economics, in politics — is as dismal as ever.

This is Philip E. Tetlock’s domain, of course. His notion of Superforcasting goes back to 1984, when he attended a meeting of a National Research Council committee on American-Soviet relations:

Renowned experts delivered authoritative predictions, and Tetlock was struck by how many perfectly contradicted one another and were impervious to counterarguments.

Tetlock decided to put expert political and economic predictions to the test. With the Cold War in full swing, he collected forecasts from 284 highly educated experts who averaged more than 12 years of experience in their specialties. To ensure that the predictions were concrete, experts had to give specific probabilities of future events. Tetlock had to collect enough predictions that he could separate lucky and unlucky streaks from true skill. The project lasted 20 years, and comprised 82,361 probability estimates about the future.

The result: The experts were, by and large, horrific forecasters. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, and (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting and bad at long-term forecasting. They were bad at forecasting in every domain. When experts declared that future events were impossible or nearly impossible, 15 percent of them occurred nonetheless. When they declared events to be a sure thing, more than one-quarter of them failed to transpire. As the Danish proverb warns, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Even faced with their results, many experts never admitted systematic flaws in their judgment. When they missed wildly, it was a near miss; if just one little thing had gone differently, they would have nailed it. “There is often a curiously inverse relationship,” Tetlock concluded, “between how well forecasters thought they were doing and how well they did.”

Early predictions in Tetlock’s research pertained to the future of the Soviet Union. Some experts (usually liberals) saw Mikhail Gorbachev as an earnest reformer who would be able to change the Soviet Union and keep it intact for a while, and other experts (usually conservatives) felt that the Soviet Union was immune to reform and losing legitimacy. Both sides were partly right and partly wrong. Gorbachev did bring real reform, opening the Soviet Union to the world and empowering citizens. But those reforms unleashed pent-up forces in the republics outside Russia, where the system had lost legitimacy. The forces blew the Soviet Union apart. Both camps of experts were blindsided by the swift demise of the U.S.S.R.

One subgroup of scholars, however, did manage to see more of what was coming. Unlike Ehrlich and Simon, they were not vested in a single discipline. They took from each argument and integrated apparently contradictory worldviews. They agreed that Gorbachev was a real reformer and that the Soviet Union had lost legitimacy outside Russia. A few of those integrators saw that the end of the Soviet Union was close at hand and that real reforms would be the catalyst.


Unfortunately, the world’s most prominent specialists are rarely held accountable for their predictions, so we continue to rely on them even when their track records make clear that we should not. One study compiled a decade of annual dollar-to-euro exchange-rate predictions made by 22 international banks: Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and others. Each year, every bank predicted the end-of-year exchange rate. The banks missed every single change of direction in the exchange rate. In six of the 10 years, the true exchange rate fell outside the entire range of all 22 bank forecasts.


In Tetlock’s 20-year study, both the broad foxes and the narrow hedgehogs were quick to let a successful prediction reinforce their beliefs. But when an outcome took them by surprise, foxes were much more likely to adjust their ideas. Hedgehogs barely budged. Some made authoritative predictions that turned out to be wildly wrong — then updated their theories in the wrong direction. They became even more convinced of the original beliefs that had led them astray. The best forecasters, by contrast, view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. If they make a bet and lose, they embrace the logic of a loss just as they would the reinforcement of a win. This is called, in a word, learning.


  1. Kirk says:

    Coulda sworn that that “Danish proverb” about predicting the future was actually a Yogi Berra quote, but what do I know…?

  2. Paul from Canada says:

    I am reminded of an article I read by an Israeli psychologist. (this might be germane to a to something Kirk and I have been talking about).

    This guy was, as pretty much all Israelis are, a member of their Citizen Army. Being logical and following the precepts of WWI Ops Research, rather than waste his obvious talents by making him a rifleman in an infantry regiment, they utilized his talents by using him and his psychological expertise by putting him on the Officer Candidate Selection Board.

    Now Israel has inherited/borrowed a lot of its military doctrine from Britain. Many of its earliest soldiers had served with the British Army in WWII, or fought against them in the run-up to independence. Many of their earliest military advisors were ex Commonwealth, and their Special Forces were influenced by Orde Wingate of Chindits fame.

    So naturally, they adopted the British method of selecting officer candidates. I myself went through a variation of this. The idea was to replace the original, regimentally based “Old Boy’s Network” method, with a modern, scientific one.

    Candidates were examined by psychologists,and given a series of practical leadership tests. Initially a group of officer candidates were brought together, given an equipment and task, and left to get on with it, to see if a natural leader emerged. This didn’t work so well, as either the most assertive got to be leader, or all of them fought to become the leader, and nothing got done.

    So instead it evolved so that each candidate in turn was given a chance to lead, and a different task assigned each time. A task might be, given two 55 gallon drums and a pair of 2×8 planks, get your group over this dry river bed without letting anyone’s feet touch the ground. With adequate leadership and teamwork, this could be accomplished by creative use of counter-weighting. By cantilevering a plank from one drum, carrying the other, then bridging with the second plank and so on.

    In addition to the practical observations, the psychologists were asked for opinions as to the likelihood of a particular candidate’s ultimate success.

    Having done this for some time,and not having received any feedback, he got curious,and asked the Officer Candidates’ School about the results of the psychologist’s recommendations.

    To his surprise, there was absolutely no correlation. The practical tests gave some early hints, but many predicted to pass selection failed, and many predicted to do well in actual Officer Training failed. So he dug deeper, and wrote a paper, which he published, and passed on to the Army.

    Basically, he said that the assumptions and metrics being used by the psychologists needed to be re-worked and studied properly to determine what was actually predictive, or the use of staff psychologists in the officer selection process needed to be discontinued, since the results were no better than chance, and it was a waste of tome and resources.

    The army basically read his paper, shrugged, and continued on with the current procedure, because that is what they were used to.

  3. Kirk says:

    Paul, you have got to find me a cite for that one…

    The definition of “expert” that I’ve always liked is this one:

    “An expert is somebody who is more than 50 miles from home, has no responsibility for implementing the advice he gives, and shows slides.”

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    I am lousy at links do I don’t know if this is an actual working link.

    re-reading it I may have exaggerated a little,but only a little.

  5. Kirk says:

    I thought I’d read his book, but apparently not…

    Illusion of validity… I like that. Speaks to so much of what is going on in the world today, with regards to all these freakin’ experts and the SJW types.

  6. Paul from Canada says:

    Looks like the link works. It was surprisingly easier to find it again than I though it would be.

    My own favorite definition of expert: “Beware the term ‘expert’ for an ex is a ‘has been’, and a spurt is a large drip.”

    I am also reminded of a joke.

    A manager goes to a management conference. On the last day, with the meetings and panels finished, he looks for something to do. He checks the resort brochure, and finds they have hot air balloon rentals.

    So he decides that might be fun and rents a hot air balloon. Unfortunately, just after he takes off, fog rolls in, and he gets lost. He sees a hill sticking up through the fog, and manged to drift over towards it.

    On top of this hill is a man walking his dog, so he calls down to him.

    “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am”.

    The man replies; “Certainly, you are fifty seven feet above this hill in a hot air balloon.”

    “Great”, says the manager, “You must be an engineer!”.

    “How did you know?” asks the man.

    “Because you gave me an answer that is technically correct and extremely accurate, but of no use to me in my current situation whatsoever.”

    “Ah” replied the man, “Then you must be a manager, because you have got yourself here through your own stupidity and ignorance, but somehow you are trying to make it my fault.”

  7. Alistair says:

    It’s almost unrelated. But…

    Yesterday I read a medical paper, published in a Serious Journal, on in-utero radiation effects. They made a claim in the abstract that I thought was interesting (i.e. implausible)

    I read the details. The statistical model had been done wrong (they’d thrown it at stats software without any understanding). The abstract claim was entirely unsupported. It also looked like they had made a simple units error too. No one had caught this.

    A lot of contemporary science is broken. A lot of experts are useless. This is a horrible conclusion. But it’s one I’m increasingly drawn to.

  8. Alistair says:

    When I am motivated enough to dig through Social Science “expert” work at the journal or research paper level, I tend to find a serious error or omission that substantively changes the conclusions perhaps 50% of the time. I find smaller errors perhaps 80% of the time.

    Now, I tend only to review “strange” results that I encounter, and leave the serious STEM subjects alone as beyond my ability (I can do Econ, on a good day). But far too many (most?) “expert” prognostications and models in social science are indeed useless.

    How the hell did we get into this mess? What the hell happened to the academy?

  9. Alistair says:

    Oh, Tetlock is awesome, btw.

    Human Beings are status-driven animals, not truth-seeking.

  10. Kirk says:

    I don’t know that I entirely buy that “status-driven” thing, to be honest. Certainly, a number of us are, but all of us…? I see far too many who are oblivious to status, in too many important ways for that to be a ground truth.

    I think the only sweeping generalization I would buy into about humans is “People are screwy…”.

  11. Kirk says:


    Increasingly, it is becoming easier to evaluate any expert, particularly the self-proclaimed sort, as being mostly as-yet-unrevealed con artists.

    What is most frightening, in a way? There are huge numbers of them who are unaware of that fact, uncomprehending of their own cargo-cult mentality. They think they are doing “SCIENCE!!”, but they are actually only mimicking the forms and methods they have observed, all uncomprehending.

  12. Graham says:

    I’ve started to think of Bill Nye as the High Priest of the Sciency Cult.

  13. Kirk says:

    Nye is an embarrassment to engineers everywhere. I liked him when he was doing comedy routines on a local show here in Seattle, but his ego got seriously over-inflated by his handlers, and here we are.

  14. Paul from Canada says:


    There was/is a huge ongoing scandal in the soft sciences, particularly Psychology and Sociology. Some very big names have been brought down for what amounts to straight up academic fraud.

    There was one guy (at Harvard?) who ran what was called the food lab. He was world famous and did a lot of influential stuff on “nudging”. Things like how many calories people ingested at all you can eat buffets, depending on the plate size, and stuff like that.

    Anyway,a bunch of his studies could not be replicated, and it turned out lots of them were junk. For example, he did a study purporting to show that children could be induced to eat more fruit if stickers with cartoon characters were put on them. Turns out that he did one study on one kindergarten class, and that there was no basis for his assertion that it had universal applicability for children up to age ten.

    He was in the habit of re-using data. He would make a hypothesis, get funding, collect data, and then it didn’t pan out. What he would do then, is give the data (since it had already been paid for), to a graduate student, and direct them to torture the data until they found something, and he would publish it in his name and give them part credit. Classic “P” hacking!

    There was also the infamous case of the up and coming wunderkind he did a bunch of work on attitude modification. According to his study, a certain percentage of people who had been against gay marriage, would change their mind if canvased by an actual gay person. Turns out he was a victim of his own success, because others wanted his data and methodology to continue this ground breaking work, only it turned out he had manufactured it out of whole cloth.

    There are many more examples. Data made up, “P” hacking, data sets of 50 test subjects simply multiplied by ten to get 500 subjects, policy based evidence making…..

    A researcher would blare from the rooftops this new groundbreaking study, with profound and universal application. Then the study would not replicate, and they would say, “Well, we did it on students in the northeast, you did it in the central US, so regional differences probably account for your inability to replicate our results, but we stand by them”…..wait a minute, what happened to “groundbreaking” and “universal’?

    Steven Pinker was asked in and interview, given this crisis of outright fraud, and even without fraud, sloppy science, is there anything is psychology/Sociology that stands up scientifically, is falsifiable and replicable.

    His answer was two thing only.

    1. IQ. It is real, measurable, heritable and predictive.

    2. Most stereotypes have a basis in fact.

  15. Kirk says:

    That IQ thing is something I have some serious doubts about, to be honest. We’re measuring something, but as to whether or not it’s actually what most of us think of as “intelligence”, I’m not so certain about.

    Which I’ve said before, in many different posts, so I’ll shut up, having pointed it out yet again.

  16. Lu An Li says:

    Paul Ehrlich won the Genius Prize. The MacArthur award. Said that by 1985 there would be food shortages and food riots in the USA. It was not even a possible, it WAS going to happen. As with most of these other predictions, way off the mark, rather the opposite.

    Paul too is back in the news making more doom and gloom predictions. Just by random guessing he might get one right one day.

  17. Graham says:

    As a pushback in favour of awareness that there is a hereditary component to everything, I think the IQ advocates are fighting a good fight. Some of my acquaintance don’t believe it, but to me it’s been a long time since anyone was a pure hereditarian and I’ve lived through an era in which pretty close to pure environmentalism has dominated education and most other things in our society.

    And that was foolishness, sometimes politically goal-driven foolishness.

    I’m even open to the idea that something of intelligence is being measured, even if it’s the amorphous “g”. It leans more toward a particular kind of intellectual/verbal/spatial, though and it’s not a universal predictor.

    Not that I want to go all fuzzy and create an equivalence between the kind of intelligence that produces space probes and the kind that can develop the largest network of true friends, but there’s a lot to be said for the notion of multiple intelligences.

    We’re all doofuses about something, and barely competent at most other things. It behooves us to at least give due respect to those whose talents have leaned them toward those same things, and to leave openings in life for them to exercise those talents.

    We’ll probably still be arguing the question when the AI Death Squads come for us, anyway.

  18. Kirk says:

    Graham, where I’m at is that since we don’t have a good consensus about what even constitutes this thing we term “intelligence”, it’s dangerous to try to make use of the data gathered in the name of studying it. Too many bad policies proceed from these things, educational, political, and social.

    The drive to implement policy based on IQ wouldn’t exist if we weren’t trying to base value judgments about people based off of things we really don’t understand that well. Sure, there may be genetic markers, behavioral markers, even heritable indicators that certain people are more likely to do well on the tests we’ve invented, but the real question is, what does any of that really mean?

    Let’s take an example, that of the Ashkenazi Jews and the statistical flummery we’ve done that says “Jews smart!!”. Are they really? As a group? In a meaningful way?

    I mean, seriously… Let’s look at the group, and ALL of the surrounding data. Ashkenazi Jewry is probably one of the most disliked and pogrommed-against groups in the world. This site shows it–The amount of reflexive Jew-hatred some of the posters here demonstrate is awe-inspiring. So… Tell me: If the Ashkenazi Jew is really so damn smart, why the hell haven’t they done something about this? There’s book-smart, and then there’s functional intelligence, and I’d submit that if you’re pissing off everyone around you to the point that they feel comfortable coming in and burning your villages to the ground, and you’ve managed to trigger generations of conspiracy theorists, well… You’re actually demonstrating that you’re pretty damn dumb, as a group. Autistic-savant level dumb.

    A truly intelligent Jew would look around, take in the reality, and figure out a way to get people on his or her side, not antagonize them in oh-so-many ways. Yet, here we are: The stereotype is that the Ashkenazi Jew is smart.

    You want my take on it? They’re functionally some of the stupidest people on the planet, or they wouldn’t have every hand turned against them the way they do.

    Smart is as smart does, and if the results show you’re stupid, no amount of demonstrated erudition or academic merit can possibly change that.

    Which is why I’m completely against the vast majority of this “IQ mania”. We can’t even quantify what we mean by the term, so prematurely trying to put numbers to the issue, and then act on them? That’s demonstrable folly, and an indicator of massive, systemic stupidity. Cargo-cultism, actually.

  19. TRX says:

    > IQ

    IQ testing mostly measures memorization and math, because those things are easy to score. Problem-solving ability is much more difficult to test and score, and doesn’t always give “good” scores for the kinds of things people expect from “high IQ”.

    The problem is that “IQ” is often balanced by a factor locally known as “dumbass.” The same person may have significant amounts of both, which is why you can find someone who can do calculus in his head, yet believes in global warming or phrenology…

  20. Graham says:


    I’m fairly OK with all of that, even think it fairly consistent with my views. I’ve seen enough to see different kinds of ‘intelligence’, even different kinds and degrees of ‘intelligence’ if understood in fairly narrowly book-learning ways. Too many geniuses in STEM who mouth the dumbest, or at least most cliched sentiments about everything else, and the same could be said of poets and novelists, or for that matter lawyers.

    And that’s even before considering street smarts, EQ, and various other notions we have given names to about how various types of peoples observe, study, and operate in their environment. Plus, as you have pointed out before, there’s sheer adaptability to a new environment that’s almost an independent kind of intelligence from all others.

    I just want a nice fallback or retort to the mentality that says anybody at all, given the right environment, can be anything they want to be. No they can’t. To take only the least inflammatory way I could express this, I was never going to be a physicist.

  21. Graham says:

    I might have been a phrenologist but I would have hated having to touch people’s heads.

  22. Kirk says:

    Graham, I just think it’s premature to talk about the issue, and I can tell that simply because of the way we all talk about it, and can’t settle on a consistent, simple definition. If we were saying it was a “Good at Math and Language Quotient”, I’d be a lot happier with what we’re doing with it–But, we persist in labeling it as “Intelligence”, which is a highly charged and essentially undefined term.

    Map the genome, do the work to show where each allele does its thing, how they work together, and what methylation of each complex does… I might ascribe some value to it all. Until then, I’m just gonna sit over here and laugh as the pointy-headed kowtow to the pointy-haired, and make a general mess of things.

  23. Paul from Canada says:

    I see your point Kirk, but I am still with Peterson and Pinker.

    Whatever “g” is, it is measurable. Give the test, get the result. Give variations of the test, get a similar result. Test someone in grade eight, they will likely score withing a few points in grade twelve. Overall life success correlates very well with IQ.

    A student who scores below a certain threshold will not make it through college, no matter how motivated, mentored or coached.

    Children have roughly similar levels of IQ to their parents. Environment plays a very limited role, shown in adoption and twins. Environment and so on helps to achieve the most of the individual’s potential, but can’t raise it.

    One of the things that depress psychologists like Peterson, IS that IQ seems so immutable. Baby Einstein, doesn’t work. Head-start programs don’t work.

    We can argue over whether IQ is measuring actual intelligence, a combination of traits or whatever, but whatever it is, it is quantifiable, predictive, heritable and so on. The rest is semantics.

  24. Kirk says:

    Ah, but Paul… Look around you, and observe: Do these “high G” types actually manage to run things any better than a random selection of the general population?

    That’s my main beef with the whole thing: I look at the results, and I don’t see that these “high G” types are doing a better job at things–In actual fact, they’ve done more to ‘eff up the world since we put it into their hands. Look around at the schools, which we’ve turned into virtual factories for the “high G” paradigm of human performance. Are they churning out truly well-educated and well-rounded people? Does the world work better, in these people’s hands?

    To me, this is a perfect example of that same thing you highlighted last night, with the Israeli officer selection system. We’re doing all these things, but the actual results we’re getting? Yikes. I think I’d prefer a lottery to what we’re getting with technocratic “high G” types.

    I mean, hell–Go look at Seattle. They’ve been running that city for years. Same-same San Francisco. They’ve taken two of the most beautiful cities in North America, and used their “high G” attributes to turn them into literal sh*tholes.

    Which is why I look at the whole thing and do the “kid observes emperor is naked…” deal. Something is off, and that something is that while these people are indeed “high G”, they’re also “low W”, or wisdom.

    The results are quite clearly visible in the wreckage of what was once Western Civ, all around us.

  25. Paul from Canada says:

    I’m not sure that the high “G” people ARE running things. Most managers and politicians are dumb as a bag of hammers. Being able to shmooze and LOOK vaguely competent is not the same thing as actually BEING competent.

    I think we are talking at cross purposes here. I’m not suggesting that IQ alone determines your life’s path, far from it. One of the other parts is the big five personality traits, which also seem to bear scientific scrutiny. You can be intelligent, and crazy, for example, and the crazy can negate a lot of the smart (viz. Bobby Fisher).

    I commented before when we were discussing SATs, (Also essentially an IQ test, just not called that). I stated that no matter how much I may want to be a top end physicist, I can’t be, because I am not smart enough, and by not smart enough, I don’t have a high enough IQ score/”G”.

    Another thing I would point out, is that being at either end of the tail of the curve is not a good thing. There are lots of very “Intelligent” people who should not be allowed out in public without an assistant. Doesn’t mean that IQ is useless.

    Look at military aptitude testing, which is basically an IQ test, just not called one. Militaries use them because experience has demonstrated their worth. If you want to be a helicopter pilot, you must score higher than “X”, because every time they try to someone through the course with a score lower than “X” they fail. What are they actually measuring? Intelligence, a combination of intelligence and learned skills? Something else, that they don’t really know, other than the result correlate with and predict success of failure to withing a few percent?

    I would also point out that education and intelligence are not the same thing. You can take a high IQ person, and mis-educate them, just as easilly.

  26. Graham says:

    Much of the really high elite probably are high G and especially good test takers.

    They also are often quite good at written thought.

    That doesn’t really extend too deeply even into the ranks of politicians and managers. I’m thinking your CLintonian Harvard Law or equivalent types.

    They are also very good at verbal felicity and all the body language and speaking style, rhetorical skill essentially, that goes into argument and persuasion. So that’s a second kind of intelligence right there, according to the usual ways of breaking things down. I think it’s their core skill, but the two go together.

    At lower levels, one gets lower levels of both, but skewing more toward low level of the second set above. It comes in variants- diplomatic, to use a polite term for a polite manner; ass-kissing; and hucksterism. This is probably where much of the managerial classes really derives their position and power. It’s a powerful skill set, and some of them will be smart enough in other ways, but varying widely and probably variably narrow in their understanding.

    The thing about that top tier is that they aren’t stupid, exactly. The Clintons are very intelligent, and clever, and cunning. Many others are, too.

    I see it rather as a combination of wrong assumptions about the world- it is easy to be very intelligent in ways no one would dispute the applicability of that word, and still stupid in this sense. Many thinkers have called this tendency out in the past. WIlliam F Buckley often did so, and he was probably an unknowing victim himself.

    The other thing is to consider their goals. It is often rightly said one should not blame intent where stupidity will suffice. But one should not assume stupidity until one is sure one understands the game being played.

    I think what the Clintons, for example, do is perfectly intelligent to achieve their goals. Other self-identified progressives similarly. They have a loose set of assumptions about the world that guide them that are sometimes flat wrong, sometimes perfectly colorable if you share their values, preferences, and ideas of what is important, and that leads them to an idea of the future that is perfectly creatable with means available to them, and therefore rational. Their means are directed to that.

  27. Kirk says:

    Here’s where I am with all this “IQ” BS.

    First off, I am a pragmatist. If you want me to accept a premise, I’d better be able to look around and see evidence that I can make out for the validity of that premise.

    And, I come at this from the standpoint of someone who’s always been really, really good at taking tests. I’ve gotten 90/100 on tests I’ve taken on a lark, just because I wanted to see how I could game the system–And, ohbytheway, on subjects I know nothing about. At. All. I know tests; I know test makers. I once had the bizarre idea (because of what people told me…) that the test was the world. It ain’t. Tests test one thing, and one thing only: The ability to take that test. Other than that exquisitely narrow slice of the universe, they’re utterly ‘effing useless to tell you much–Which is a limitation a lot of people need to start grasping.

    What’s happened over the last century-plus is that we’ve taken this narrow testing idea, and we have implemented it across the world as though we were Plato’s cave dwellers treating shadow as reality. Everywhere, we tell “smart” kids that, hey, you did really well on these tests we gave you! Congratulations; you’re gonna go far.

    Then, on the basis of that bullshit, we put them in school, continually telling them that they’re the best and the brightest, and that that is going to make them the masters of the universe.

    Thing is, they then discover some unpleasant realities: Namely, that brainpower isn’t necessarily “all that”. Sure, what we’re testing for with an IQ test maps to a lot of correlations we make, but how many of them are actually self-fulfilling prophecies…? “Oh, Johnny… You’re so smart! Here, we’re going to send you to this school that reinforces that and is specifically tailored towards your strengths…”. Then Johnny graduates, and discovers that “smart” doesn’t get him a job, and that dumb bunny from 3rd grade who was tracked into the “academically dim” educational programs…? Yeah; him–He’s actually the hard-working, people-oriented sales guy that is now looking to hire Johnny as his latest bit of thinking meat.

    And, for those who look at the “success” of the “high G” test takers? How much of that success is due to the facts that a.) you’ve been paying attention to them, which maps out to improvement no matter what you actually do, b.) you’ve tracked them into tailored situations (schools) that play up to their “strengths”, and that c.) you’ve given these “high G” types places of preference and privilege in society because of this “high G” bullshit? Anyone ever consider that what we’ve created with this is a set of interlocking incestuous self-fulfilling prophecies?


    Is it any wonder we have problems with Johnny thinking he’s been dealt with, unfairly? That the world isn’t quite right, and that his intellectual prowess, which we’ve always told him meant Great Things for him…? Why do you suppose Johnny goes off to become the next Unabomber? Joins a terrorist organization, or becomes a member of Antifa…? Wait, same thing.

    Here’s an example of where “high G” takes us:

    These are the third- and possibly fourth-generation “thinkers” we get out of the “high G” testing regime. We’ve institutionalized autism, gentlemen. None of these people as individuals are necessarily evil, but they’ve been conditioned and trained by successive “gates” in society and the academic world, all of which are controlled by other “high G” types, to think that what is going on in the meat between their ears trumps cold, hard reality.

    I’m a pragmatist; I judge by results. These people are actually and demonstrably, fucking morons. I don’t care how well they do on tests, I don’t care how well you may think those tests map out to the correlations everyone thinks they do, the fact is this: They are dysfunctional autistic morons. And, we’ve put them in charge. Of virtually everything. God help us.

  28. Graham says:


    You might appreciate this old Simpsons clip more than most of them:

    And this one:

    This was the widely-featured-in-pop-culture element of American life I most thought weird when I was a kid, though we had started to import this way of being by then.

    Also, a tangent but your phrase “we have institutionalized autism” does ring true for me a little bit in this area of society. On the whole, I think it rather captures a lot of our current troubles about things besides this. Everytime I read a self-identified rationalist on the web or on Youtube I start to think this.

  29. Kirk says:

    Yeah, the Simpsons have gotten a bunch of stuff “righter” than our most erudite and “profound” thinkers and social commentators. Which, I think, ought to give us pause whenever those eeedjits get all pontificate-y.

    I’m of the opinion that we’ve gotten a lot of fundamental things very, very wrong in our society and civilization–And, that a lot of that “wrong” ties in with the same set of syndromes and beliefs that are wrapped up in this worship of the “high G”.

    I look at the results. Seattle and San Francisco have been in the palms of the “high G” for decades, now: What do we have to show for it?

    I’m here to tell you folks something, something you don’t want to hear: The. Emperor. Is. Naked.

    What we’ve defined as “smart”? Isn’t. The reality of that lays in the wreckage of our cities. Sweet F**king Jesus–Look at Detroit. We did that to ourselves, listening to the high-minded “high G” types, who spoke loquaciously of “social justice”. A pragmatist with an average IQ would have looked around about 1970, said “Yeah, this shit ain’t workin’ out…”, and then gone back to the bad old days of yore, where at least the city streets were clean, the buildings maintained, and the criminals were in jail or living in fear of jail.

    Instead, we keep doubling down on the “high G” idiocy, mesmerized by their IQ scores and their glib pronouncements, based on some ideas they picked up from other “high G” types.

    Where I’m at, which is from among that “cognitive elite”, I’m a lot less trusting and a lot more cynical than the credulous victims of all this intellectual flim-flammery. The “high G” elite is a gallimaufry of dysfunction; they can’t manage their way out of a paper bag, and indeed, will even deny the reality that they’re inside of one.

    I mean, for the love of God… We’ve got fucking typhus epidemics in LOS FUCKING ANGELES, because these people are blinded by their ideology and “social justice” ideas. We spend billions of dollars on the “homeless”, so that they can shit all over our streets and public parks in Seattle and San Francisco. What. The. Actual. Fuck?

    And, y’all tell me these assholes are successes. Bullshit. They’re functionally autistic, too disconnected from the real world to function within it. And, our “system”, that other “high G” types built inside of our formerly functioning civilization, is falling apart around us.

    All because people have deified these ‘effing tests, which are not measuring what we think they are. Stupid is as stupid does, and no amount of intellectual posturing can hide that fact for much longer.

    I can guaran-damn-tee you that if you’d select the Seattle city council by lottery from among the merely “average”, and left them to their devices, we’d be a hell of a lot better off, and the city streets would not be covered in human shit. And, most of those creatures doing the shitting would be either off doing something productive, dead, or institutionalized.

  30. Kirk says:

    Anyone wondering why I’m in such a pissy mood, today…?

    Well, here’s the latest evidence of the genius of the “high G”:

    Go through and click through the links for each item. Pay attention to the meta, while you read: Are any of those 72 items things that strike you as being written and developed by “average G” people with an iota of common sense?

    Read through those training packages in the links. Note the high-minded abstract manner in which everything is couched, then reflect on what they’re really talking about and describing as being a potential threat.

    This crap is straight out of official training documentation. This is “high G” in action; where do you suppose it’s all going to end, once they’ve convinced themselves and enough of the median that the rest of us are criminals and madmen for holding traditional beliefs?

    Either these people are removed from positions of power and authority, or we’re going to end in a civil war the likes of which you only imagine in your worst nightmares. And, we’ve done it to ourselves via the enshrining of the oikophobic intellectual “high G” types.

    Stupid is as stupid does; they don’t see the problem with what they are doing. These are the “smart kids” who’ve morphed over into being intellectual bullies and frustrated tyrants that don’t understand why the world doesn’t conform to the false expectations they were fed all through their upbringing and schooling, fed by this test-driven “high G” bullshit.

  31. Kirk says:

    Worth a read, and some careful consideration:

    Note how the author fails to question the entire premise of IQ testing, and couches everything in terms of “fairness”. He thinks the solution is to make everyone “smarter” via better education, failing to comprehend that education is a game set up for these “high G” types, in the first damn place. Making everyone “high G”, even if that were possible, is to institutionalize the problems. The things that make you “high G” in testing and in schools are not the things that make you successful in life in general, and the evidence is that they don’t make for societal success, either. Instead of trying to make everyone “smart”, what we ought to be doing is taking these “smart” people out of power, and enshrining “wise” rather than “smart”.

    Much of our current societal folly stems from stuff that the “average G” type would look at, and say “OK, sounds nice… Does it work? No? Not doing that…”.

    Look at education: All these “high G” types came up with all these theories about how to teach, ones that said, for example, that “drill and kill” math study techniques didn’t work, that they crushed the little darlings “spirits of inquiry and wonder”. Meanwhile, some unreconstructed common-sense types were still doing the old-school drills. Which kids turned out better at higher math…?

    To be an intellectual seems to me to be the fundamental ability to arrive at an unjustified conclusion, and then to continue to hold it in the face of evidence that it doesn’t work.

    Seattle city council comes to mind. King County has spent a billion dollars a year on homelessness. What do we have to show for all that…? Tent encampments all over the place, shit on the streets, drug addicts galore, and on and on and on… Meanwhile, if you were to go and put things in the hands of the average “medium G” beat cop, you’d have the problem solved in a couple of years. Not to mention, no human feces on your streets…

    Of course, there’d probably be a few mass graves out in the forest, and some unpleasant things would have happened to some entirely dysfunctional people, but there you are. You would at least be able to walk the streets and enjoy the parks your tax dollars pay for.

  32. Kirk says:

    Another data point:

    Note the essential inability to act on the cognitive dissonance; reality is trumped by their beloved theories.

    Everything the “high G” touch turns to shit, and you want to argue that they’re the cognitive elite, nature’s wondrous noblemen of the intellect?

    No, the reality is more than a little different. When they write the epitaph for this civilization, the survivors are gonna make it out to be something like a plaintive wail: “But, they did so well on the tests!!!”.

    Yeah, they sure did, didn’t they? Only, the test ain’t real life, the map is not the territory, and the game is not reality.

  33. Paul from Canada says:


    We still seem to be talking past each other, and I’m not sure why. It is bothering me and I have been thinking about it all day, and I think I have an idea of what it possibly might be.

    I don’t think I articulated what I mean when I use IQ and describe it as scientific and predictive, and I think we are having trouble because we are using a word, and I think we mean different things by it.

    So bear with me, I am going to try and explain what I mean, and possibly bring the threads of this discussion closer together. I am going to be repeating myself and saying things that we all likely already know, so I appreciate your patience.

    Now, When I say IQ is scientific, I mean it in the literal sense. In that it is repeatable, scale-able, falsifiable, predictive and heritable.

    Give a test to a hundred subjects, curve the result, give it to a thousand, and curve the result and the curves will be the same withing a very small margin.

    Take someone in grade nine to a clinical psychologist, and give them a battery of IQ and aptitude tests, and you will be able to predict to around the 90th percentile, the cognitive ability and potential of that person. Their overall IQ will be divided up into various sub-parts, like math, verbal, spacial, working memory etc. and how that distributes determines their potential. You need good spacial ability to be a mechanical engineer or a pilot for example.

    Now, our subject gets de-briefed by the psychologist, and is told that if he or she has an interest in say, mechanical engineering, then their IQ and aptitude matches that and they will likely be successful in studying that subject at the university level.

    Now here we get to a limit of IQ.

    This doesn’t mean that they will be a good engineer, just that they have the skills and aptitudes to learn it. How well do they collaborate? Are they good at grinding out the routing little details, or are they easily bored and want to do only the cool stuff?

    Same with military aptitude testing. Say a kid walks into the recruiters and wants to be a helicopter pilot. He does all the tests, and scores high enough to get an offer. Doesn’t mean he will make a good MILITARY helicopter pilot, just that he has the cognitive abilities to learn the job.

    For all we know, he may not react well to disciple, and may not have the guts to pass basic. Even if he does pass all the way through, he may not be a good leader and team player, but a perfectly competent pilot.

    We have spoken before about toxic leadership. During my last tour, I shared an office with the Detachment Sgt-Major, who like you, was a combat engineer. He told me the story of his brush with toxic leadership. People transferring out, resigning, getting fired, retribution through deliberately bad fitness reports, etc. etc. This guy was the Love Canal of toxic leadership.

    It was so bad, that after the change of command parade when he left, the senior N.C.O.s had a party and handed out T-Shirts in the Regimental colours;

    ___ Combat Engineer Regiment

    “I Survived the Reign of Terror”


    Now I think this illustrates what I think is your argument. To get to be the Colonel of a Combat Engineer Regiment, he would have to be a very smart person. He would have to have the high IQ required to get into and pass military college and his officer training. He would have graduated with a degree in science and/or engineering. He would have been taught all sorts of things about leadership and management, and he has, as we said a high IQ. So why then is he a toxic waste dump fire?

    I think you are arguing from a pragmatic and practical position. Our leaders and TPTB are high IQ, graduates of ivy league universities etc. So with that as in input, we should get a good output. A high IQ PhD in urban planning from a prestigious institute working for the city government should do a good job, yet does not.

    Worse, you the layman, without the education and background, can SEE that the proposed solution isn’t working and can’t work, and you get irritated and conclude that obviously the paradigm is wrong. Obviously IQ isn’t living up to its billing, because the practical results don’t match the theory.

    I think the problem with this is that you are using IQ as a metric or proxy for something it really isn’t, or doesn’t measure.

    In the case of our toxic leader, his IQ is not relevant. All his IQ does is inform his ability to do the technical, cognitive and intellectual stuff. His toxic leadership is a function of his PERSONALITY, which is totally separate from, and has nothing to do with his IQ.

    Take our civic leader, our urban planner. Yes, he has a high IQ and supposed expertise in his field, but what about his personality?

    How does he do in the big five personality traits?

    If he is a politician, likely he scores high in Extroversion and Agreeableness, after all, he is a politician with good networking skills and an ability to schmooze.

    On the other hand, he could have poor Conscientiousness, poor Openness to Experience, and very high Neuroticism, so he is lazy, neurotic, vain, scared of change and failure, credit hogging, back-stabbing and sabotaging and these things inform his performance just as much or more than his education and IQ.

    When teaching the brain and human cognition, a useful model used in basic instruction is the three brain model. We have three brains in our skull. The Lizard, the Monkey, and the Robot.

    The Lizard is the oldest and the most primitive. It is the reflexes and instincts, and the one we can condition easily

    The Monkey is the emotional one. The one that gets angry, horny, scared, plays dominance games and status games. It is the irrational part. If you read Greg Ellifritz or Marc MacYoung, they talk about the “Monkey Dance”.

    Finally, you have the robot. The rational reasoning, intellectual, mathematical, whatever other adjective you like. It is the newest part, and IQ is basically the size and features of your robot. How big is the hard drive and how much RAM does it have.

    The robot is not in charge most of the time, the monkey is. This is why military and martial arts training requires drilling. We need to do this to be able to tell the monkey, “I know you are scared and angry, but shut up and do what the robot says for now”.

    And having a big strong robot isn’t much help if your monkey is crazy. High IQ comes with downsides. Bobby Fisher goes in for all sorts of irrational conspiracy theories, that he SHOULD be rational enough to reject, but as I have said before, people aren’t rational. Nash was a paranoid schizophrenic, both of them likely BECAUSE of their very high intelligence.

    The point I am trying to make in a convoluted and roundabout way, is that IQ is only a part of it. I think that our miscommunication is that you are using IQ as a shorthand for something more heuristic, call it Total Personal Ability Quotient, or something like that. A mix of IQ, cognition, personality, bias and predisposition, culture and a bunch of other stuff, where I am using it much more narrowly.

  34. Kirk says:

    Paul, I do think we’re talking past each other.

    I’m not the one using the IQ test as a proxy for virtue–That’s everyone else. I’ve been saying all along that the test is only valid in terms of what is on the damn test, and nothing else. You do well with vocabulary and math, that’s an assessment of your vocabulary and math skills. It’s not a measure of how “smart” you are, overall–But, everyone sees that high IQ score, and suddenly, you’re the guy they’re selecting to go to school, become an officer, and on and on.

    Meanwhile, the reality is that you’re really only good at taking tests.

    Society has chosen to make the IQ test a proxy, and the whole thing has taken on the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kid does well on the test, he gets tracked into an academic track that reinforces that, and keeps getting told how smart he is. Then, he takes more tests, and it gets reinforced again, and he gets into a college prep course that’s tailored to his skills, and then he takes another test that says he’s a genius, then college…

    D’ya see where the whole thing is broken? Nowhere along the line of all that is there a single practical test, a validation. Not until the kid is out in the world, and trying to make a living, where they attempt to impose the patterns that made them successful in school–Which are extremely arbitrary and artificial. Where do you think the knuckleheads Obama put in charge of things got their ideas and conditioning? They’re all academics; selected for their prowess at testing and incubated in an environment designed to cater to them.

    This is the problem I’m trying to get at–These tests are emphatically not the reality. They’re only testing a narrow range of the things that make up the totality which is human intelligence, and all this hoo-hah about how the tests correlate with results represents a lot of willful self-delusion–Of course that kid who got the high scores is successful: We sent his ass to Harvard on the basis of them, and he got the advantage of all that.

    Reality? He’s less experienced and connected to the real world, which is totally incomprehensible to him because he’s the creation of an entirely theoretical structure that bears little continuity with it.

    Examine your premise that IQ testing is a proxy for anything of any real merit; “success” is not getting into Harvard and then making a lot of money. That’s a product of connections and people accepting the value of that credential that our test taker earned.

    The real test is, can he make things happen? Can he work effectively? Do people want to work for him?

    We are basically letting the abstraction layers drive the train, not actual demonstrated performance. The argument that the IQ test effectively predicts “performance” says nothing to me, because I’m looking past those “performances” everyone points to as success, and seeing failure.

    Sure, our Mr. X got into Harvard, got his degree, got a good job managing the homeless program in Seattle. That’s as far as you’re taking it; I’m looking at that homeless program and observing that we’re spending a billion dollars a year, and we’ve got streets filled with human excrement and hypodermic needles.

    That’s why I’m saying it’s a false metric. These preening idiots are the reason all of this shit is falling apart, and they all did really, really well on their tests, did well in school, ad infinitum.

    Detroit. San Francisco. Seattle. All the urban wastelands, managed into the gutter by the “best and brightest” selected, trained, and graduated out of our best institutions.

    See why I’m saying the whole thing is a crock?

  35. Kirk says:

    To clarify–There’s a fundamental fallacy here, with the big idea that IQ testing is either at all scientific or predictable.

    It’s sciencism, more than science. If they’d done double-blind studies from the outset, and not told the test subjects the results, then gone back after the test subjects lifetimes and examined things, then what we’re doing with IQ testing might be termed “science”.

    Instead, what we’re doing is giving them the test, telling them how well they did, patting them on the head, and then using the test results to send them off on a golden path through life. Entirely based on how well they did on that test.

    After that, we pat ourselves on the back, and go “Aren’t we fine scientists, we predicted that!”.

    D’ya see the circular reasoning, here? Do you begin to glimpse an explanation for why the world this has created doesn’t f**king work, in a lot of essential ways?

    That is not how you do “science”, at all. It’s a set of circular, self-reinforcing circles. It’s why the narrow set of skills and attributes that we have chosen to use as proxies for testing are choking the life out of our civilization. We’re basically testing for a sort of autism, people who have a deficiency in what might be termed “wisdom”, and then we’re elevating them way past what they’re actually capable of doing–Just like how the geniuses who were running the 5-year plans in the Soviet Union thought they were smart enough to out-think a market economy and do better.

    Hubris got us here, and I sense Nemesis waiting in the wings.

  36. Paul from Canada says:

    Yeah, we seem to be on the same page that the test measures what it measures, and that it is not necessarily the correct thing.

    I think I am getting hung up on the technical. “The test measures what it measures, and it is valid and useful for certain purposes, in a scientifically valid way.”

    You on the other hand, are looking way beyond that to “So what, the practical application isn’t useful where it really counts”. To which I can’t disagree. I think I was just filtering your argument, possibly thru my own lens and bias, to “Kirk thinks IQ is bullshit and not real or useful, and within its limitations, it IS real and useful, and Scientific ™ too.”, so I think that was my cognitive bias, not what I thought yours was.

    I certainly don’t see IQ as a proxy for virtue, quite the opposite. I see it as purely mechanical, and for most people, an accident of birth anyway.

  37. Paul from Canada says:

    Yeah, re-reading a bunch of it, I think I got it backwards. I was too busy thinking that you were overvaluing IQ and using it as a proxy for other stuff, where in reality, you were bewailing the tendency of everyone else doing so.

    I think my emphasis on the other aspects, the “Total Person Ability Quotient”, is that I work in a technical job, and it is taken for granted that a certain level of cognitive ability is required, but also that it is taken for granted, that once you have passed the training, that you obviously have it, but then human factors (as I mentioned in relation to CRM, are more important, hence my emphasis on personality traits and other things being just as if not more important than “G”

  38. Kirk says:

    The more consideration I give it, the worse it actually looks.

    Consider the various Army testing regimes. I’m not going to claim they aren’t fit for purpose, but there are a lot of holes in them that I’ve observed.

    Most of them stem from the fact that the test-makers failed to grasp that they really did not understand a lot of the jobs they were classifying. Sure, the clerks need a certain facile skill at sorting things, but when you get into the technical jobs…? They set the wrong priorities, possibly because they didn’t build their models properly.

    I had a kid working for me for a couple of years. I say kid, because he was when I had him. He didn’t mature until long after I had him under me, but that’s immaterial to the point I want to make–He was the most amazing natural, intuitive mechanic I’ve ever run into. You’d be walking by a vehicle with him, he’d cock his ear, listen to the sound it was making, and diagnose the problem. Accurately. Give him a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, and he’d get something running again that hadn’t worked in ten years. We had this Vietnam-era 10-ton forklift that was sitting around the motor pool since forever; it literally had not run in the memory of anyone in the unit. They’d brought it up to Fort Lewis from Fort Ord by winching it onto a flatbed and driving it north, and it had not moved once from where they’d unloaded it when I took over the platoon. Couple of months later, this kid showed up in the unit. He’d wanted to be a mechanic, see… But, his test scores were not good enough, and all the Army thought he was good for was “truck driver”. After a bit, he gravitated towards that damn forklift, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t get it running, using just the tools that were in its depleted On-Vehicle Equipment list, which as I recall, consisted of a couple of screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, and a pair of pliers.

    The resultant cloud of black smoke issuing from that corner of the motor pool caused everyone to think something had caught on fire, or blown up. No, it was the 10-ton forklift that hadn’t run in forever and a day, which the motor sergeant and all his high-scoring, school-trained minions could not get running again.

    In maybe 90% of the cases, those tests may be valid. There are the edge cases, though, where they’re worse than invalid, they’re wrong.

    This is why when you tell me how predictive the tests are, I’m gonna look you in the eye and tell you “Prove it to me, in this specific and particular case…”.

    The tests test test-taking ability and the test; nothing else. There may be some correlation with outside reality, but you can’t always guarantee those correlations will be either predictive of success, or consistent.

    I think we’ve put entirely too much reliance on these things, and applied them across far too wide a spectrum of human enterprise. I think the epitaph for our civilization will probably be something like “But, they tested so well…!!”.

    The whole shaky edifice is a construct we’ve called up out of nothing. The universe is waiting to hand us our asses for our hubris, and I suspect that day is not too far off.

    You could frame the old aristocracies as having been merit-based, in that they were founded by the men who were circumstantially called to the role of defending the body politic. They eventually collapsed when they became self-referential and self-justifying, shortly after becoming irrelevant. Our cognitive elite is going down the same primrose path, taking us with them.

  39. Paul from Canada says:

    “If they’d done double-blind studies from the outset, and not told the test subjects the results, then gone back after the test subjects lifetimes and examined things, then what we’re doing with IQ testing might be termed “science”.”

    Actually they do sometimes do that, but it is done at a population, not individual level. Psychologists love the Scandinavians, because they have had conscription for over a hundred years and though not everyone actually gets inducted, every male cohort gets assessed, and they have essentially data for the whole male population.

    There was a very interesting study where they looked at criminality vs. IQ. Now in this case, the results of the military induction IQ tests were not shared with the subjects, they were either accepted or rejected, and if accepted, streamed into a role that suited their results.

    Now going back over old data, and following a whole cohort over decades, researchers were able to correlate rate of criminality and incarceration against the equivalent of IQ.

    What they discovered, over decades of data, was that there is a “sweet” (sour?) spot for criminality. It turned out to be 85. That is not to say that high IQ people did not commit crimes, but rather petty anti-social crime like petty drug dealing, burglary, getting into bar fights, car theft etc. etc. clustered around an IQ of 85.

    It is surmised that below that, you are too stupid to learn how to hotwire a car or calculate drug prices, and above that, you are likely to have a longer time preference and be able to forecast consequences and in consequence, have better impulse control.

    These results were found repeatedly over decades, repeated over different cohorts, and crossed other socioeconomic factors.

  40. Paul from Canada says:

    “In maybe 90% of the cases, those tests may be valid. There are the edge cases, though, where they’re worse than invalid, they’re wrong.”

    Yeah, I can’t help but agree, having been a round peg myself. The problem is that that kid WAS an outlier, he IS the edge case, but the system isn’t looking for the edge cases and savants, they are looking for predictable, measurable 90th percentile efficiency.

    I passed a very stringent set of aircrew selection tests. Technically, I ought to have graduated from pilot training, but I washed out, along with a percentage of others. The system doesn’t get perfection, but it gets a decent average, which is what they want.

    The money, time and effort of poking around the edges isn’t worth it to them. The human collateral damage, the guy who didn’t get a shot at the job he really would have been good at, but the other than honorable he got because the tests slotted him into a job he really wasn’t suited to, under leaders who didn’t really care, that’s just the cost of doing business.

  41. Kirk says:

    I wouldn’t feel too bad, Paul–I’m probably doing a lousy job of expressing what I mean.

    The whole thing is horrible, when you think about what it does to the kids, though.

    “Oh, Johnny! You did so well on the test; you’re going to go far!”.

    So, Johnny applies himself, his behavior rewarded, and continues to get accolade after accolade awarded to him for things that really aren’t that hard for him, all the while ignoring as irrelevant those important things that aren’t on the test, like learning how to relate effectively and intuitively to other people. He’s good at the test, see?

    Then, he gets selected for college based on those tests, and he goes off to school, where he experiences more and more success, taking test after test after test.

    Then, he hits the real world, and suddenly… Tests don’t mean a damn thing. He’s sitting there, miserable and discontented because he’s done all the right things, and it’s not making him successful in the real world. What. The. Hell. He did everything they told him to do, but he’s alone, in a crappy job, working for people who didn’t do well on those tests everyone lauded him for excelling on. He is, in short, miserable. He never learned to be happy, nor did he learn to relate to others–Maybe he’s actually incapable of that, naturally, but instead of identifying that minor little problem in childhood, and helping him overcome it, we rewarded his dysfunction and tracked him into a false reality that rewarded it… For just long enough to set him up for life-long dissatisfaction and failure.

    I think that we ought to be re-assessing a lot of what we’re doing with the testing, and back off a long, long way from where we are. Test, sure–But, don’t tell the subject or anyone else the results. A childhood IQ test or aptitude test ought to be secret, and the only thing that comes out of it ought to be an opaque “You need to work on this…”, rather than a laudatory assessment leading to false expectations.

    The most miserable people I ever met in my life were the people inhabiting things like MENSA. You could tell they were the kids who’d “tested really well”, and had never actually become rounded, versatile human beings. They were caricatures of humanity, not really connected to the reality the rest of us live in.

    Our system seems hell-bent on creating more and more of these miserable creatures. The fact that we are ought to be something we take as a sign that maybe, just maybe, the system that created the Unabomber has some damn issues.

    I don’t think it’s accidental, either, that almost all of the various Islamic terrorists are coming out of this same group of people, either. They’re almost all people who did really well on tests, and got into western-type universities, and who were educated past their real-world mental capabilities.

  42. Kirk says:

    “What they discovered, over decades of data, was that there is a “sweet” (sour?) spot for criminality. It turned out to be 85. That is not to say that high IQ people did not commit crimes, but rather petty anti-social crime like petty drug dealing, burglary, getting into bar fights, car theft etc. etc. clustered around an IQ of 85.

    It is surmised that below that, you are too stupid to learn how to hotwire a car or calculate drug prices, and above that, you are likely to have a longer time preference and be able to forecast consequences and in consequence, have better impulse control.”

    See, this is why “smart people” can actually be… Pretty damn dumb.

    I look at that data about criminality, and I’m like “Oh, really, now? You caught the dumb criminals, and you think that means they’re all dumb, eh…? Might I introduce you to Mr. Bernie Madoff?”

    Criminality ain’t got squat to do with brains; the reason the prisons are full of dumb criminals is that they’re the ones the cops can catch, not because they’re all dumb.

    You guys in Canada have a perfect example:Colonel Russell Williams. How long did he remain undetected, and how far did he get in life before his drives made him go over the edge…?

    Now, ask yourself this: How many are out there who aren’t making the mistakes he did, and who’re stable enough to avoid letting their criminal impulses take them to where they’re detectable?

    The problem with assuming that criminality is associated with low intelligence isn’t that you’re stereotyping decent people who don’t do well on tests, it’s that you’re allowing an entire class of really dangerous people to go undetected in their criminal activities. Williams could probably have gone on for many, many more years of deviant behavior before he lost the bubble and made his discovery inevitable.

    Of course, that’s another aspect of the criminal; many of them actually want to be caught. The ones that ought to scare the hell out of us are the ones who’re smart enough to evade detection, and not nutty enough to want to be caught.

    I met a guy who’d worked for Colonel Williams, and who’d been around him for years. Every time he thought about what Williams did, he tried to come up with even a single time where he’d behaved even slightly off-kilter or suspicious. He couldn’t think of once, and that scared him more than anything he’d ever experienced in his life. It was interesting watching him work through it–I don’t think I’ve ever watched someone work through visceral retrospective horror quite like that–If I remember what he said, he’d known the Corporal who was the Colonel’s last victim fairly well, and he racked his brains to think of even once that Williams had shown any sign of involvement in the matter, until they announced his arrest.

    Yeah, color me in as dubious of the proposition that there’s a definitive relationship between low intelligence and criminality. I think what it is is that there’s a high correlation between not-so-bright criminals and our ability to catch them…

  43. Paul from Canada says:

    Yeah I agree with you there. I have a friend who is a university professor, and she absolutely hates the way we set kids up for failure. The current “everyone gets a prize”,and it matters how you feel and so on.

    All their lives,they have been told that everything is subjective, it is all about how you feel, there are no objective standards, they graduate from high school with straight A’s. Then they get to University, and they discover in first year, that there ARE objective standards, and guess what? You don’t meet them!

    “They eventually collapsed when they became self-referential and self-justifying, shortly after becoming irrelevant. Our cognitive elite is going down the same primrose path, taking us with them.”

    I commented on another thread, that it feels uncomfortably like we are in the equivalent of the late Roman period, but it is hard to figure out exactly where.

    We are still coming up with technological innovations, but at the same time we are becoming too specialized. There are still brilliant computer engineers, but the vast bulk of college graduates are credentialed, not educated. In post Roman Britain, eventually the knowledge of concrete and dome building was lost, because the critical mass of people who knew how diminished beyond the tipping point.

    Rome took centuries to fall, and if you grew up half way through the process, would you be aware that you were living during the decline? I often feel that we are somewhere in that process, I’m just not sure where. Do we still have hundreds of years, or only fifty?

    I have an essay, almost a book really, by Sir John Glubb, also known as Glubb Pasha. He was the British officer who ran the Jordanian Army until 1956. It is I think, “The fate of Empires and Search for Survival” or something like that. It is sort of like Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”. He describes how empires expand and thrive, and then decline and fall.

    One of the things he talks about is the slow decline into decadence. When soldiers and generals and explorers are no longer celebrated, and athletes and actors take their place as role models for the youth, you are on your way out.

    “The whole thing is horrible, when you think about what it does to the kids, though.”

  44. Paul from Canada says:

    I look at that data about criminality, and I’m like “Oh, really, now? You caught the dumb criminals, and you think that means they’re all dumb, eh…? Might I introduce you to Mr. Bernie Madoff?”

    You missed where I said that it didn’t mean only stupid people committed crimes, only that the data showed petty anti-social crimes correlated with that particular data point.

    The point being that it was a) predictive, and b) replicable.

  45. Paul from Canada says:

    My second last comment was out of sequence, since you were typing about Col. Williams while I was still responding to an earlier comment of yours.

  46. Paul from Canada says:

    Actually, Williams is a perfect illustration of what you are talking about, the flaws in the systems and the “tests”. He passed all the tests and vetting. A high flyer, rapid promotions and going places. Yet he was a sick sexual psycho.

  47. Kirk says:

    I should have been clearer, Paul… I didn’t mean to direct that at you, but the self-congratulatory Swedes–I’ve seen and read through what I think is that same report that they wrote up, and the hubris is almost a palpable mist coming up off the page.

    I really need to work on my writing–I keep writing stuff that’s offensive, and I’m not getting across what I really mean.

    [sigh] See, I test well, but fail in real life at communicating what I mean… :)

  48. Paul from Canada says:

    “I really need to work on my writing–I keep writing stuff that’s offensive, and I’m not getting across what I really mean.”

    [sigh] See, I test well, but fail in real life at communicating what I mean… :)

    Funny, I keep thinking something similar.:-)

    My post several comments ago was me trying to figure out what I had got wrong.

    Just to be clear, the thing with the Scandinavian Criminality study, is not that smart people aren’t criminals, nor that only stupid people are criminals, nor that everyone with an IQ of 85 is doomed to be a criminal, only that petty anti-social crime correlated with that IQ to a statistically significant P value. Enough that the correlation can be almost causative, and that it occurred repeatedly, over several decades of data, and that it was a retrospective discovery, not “policy based evidence making”.

    Don’t worry about the way you express yourself. I can tell this topic is, shall we say “topical” to you. I think I have some idea why, and I suspect that in many respects we have quite a bit in common as regards this stuff.

    It is good to take your pet hobby horse out of the barn from time to time, and take it for a ride.

    It is also good to exercise your intellects, and I come here specifically for this sort of thing. I don’t get challenged like this enough in my day to day work.

    In the immortal words of Monty Python, “I came here for a good argument”.

  49. Kirk says:

    “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival”

    That… Is a hell of a read. Only 26 pages, but dense as hell, and something I’m going to have to sit down with and read for content and context.

    See, this is why I keep coming here… Y’all are hones for the mind.

    Section XX would seem to be particularly apt to our thread…

    XX-The inadequacy of intellect

    Perhaps the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world. Even on the low level of practical affairs this is patently untrue. Any small human activity, the local bowls club or the ladies’ luncheon club, requires for its survival a measure of self-sacrifice and service on the part of the members. In a wider national sphere, the survival of the nation depends basically on the loyalty and self-sacrifice of the citizens. The impression that the situation can be saved by mental cleverness, without unselfishness or human self-dedication, can only lead to collapse. Thus we see that the cultivation of the human intellect seems to be a magnificent ideal, but only on condition that it does not weaken unselfishness and human dedication to service. Yet this, judging by historical precedent, seems to be exactly what it does do. Perhaps it is not the intellectualism which destroys the spirit of self-sacrifice—the least we can say is that the two, intellectualism and the loss of a sense of duty, appear simultaneously in the life-story of the nation. Indeed it often appears in individuals, that the head and the heart are natural rivals. The brilliant but cynical intellectual appears at the opposite end of the spectrum from the emotional self-sacrifice of the hero or the martyr. Yet there are times when the perhaps unsophisticated self-dedication of the hero is more essential than the sarcasms of the clever.

    Profound, that. I have only read of Glubb, not anything of his writing. It’s not what I’d have expected…

    One wonders what Mr. John Cleese would make of this passage, and how different his take of today would be from that of his take in the heyday of the Monty Python crew.

  50. Paul from Canada says:

    Yep, that is the essay I was talking about.

    Scared me when I read it. I think that is when I developed this idea that I was living somewhere during the equivalent of the decline of Rome.

    Today we think with our technology and smart phones and medical advances, that we are still on the climb, but I am sure Romans just before the fall of the Western Empire thought so too.

    Poor John is getting stick from the SJWs because he is lamenting the loss of his culture, and is being labelled a racist for doing so. Ironic that the SJWs see him as an old, establishment figure to attack, rather than the satirist and anti-establishment figure he and the gang were.

Leave a Reply