Way back in 2007, I wrote a Frequently Asked Questions list about IQ for VDARE. I’m sure it’s somewhat out of date by now, but here are some excerpts, slightly edited:
Q. Is IQ really all that important in understanding how the world works?
A. In an absolute sense, no. Human behavior is incredibly complicated, and no single factor explains more than a small fraction of it.
In a relative sense, yes. Compared to all the countless other factors that influence the human world, IQ ranks up near the top of the list. …
Q. Isn’t character more important than intelligence?
A. I believe so. Work ethic, honesty, conscientiousness, kindness, together they’re more important than intelligence. (Of course, when it comes to making money, less endearing personality traits like aggressiveness also play a big role, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)
Can I quantify that? Well, that’s where things get tricky …
Q. So why not test for work ethic and the like instead of IQ?
A. We do test for it, in many different ways. Consider the process of applying to college. The two most important elements in the application are high school GPA and the SAT or ACT score. The SAT and ACT are more or less an IQ test, while high school GPA is driven by a combination of IQ and work ethic.
But demonstrating work ethic via GPA is a time-consuming prospect for the applicant … and even for the admissions committee. …
In contrast, the SAT takes only a few hours, while the widely used Wonderlic IQ test (mandated by the NFL for all pro football prospects) takes only 12 minutes. …
Q. So, do IQ tests predict an individual’s fate?
A. In an absolute sense, not very accurately at all. Indeed, any single person’s destiny is beyond the capability of all the tests ever invented to predict with much accuracy.
Q. So, if IQ isn’t all that accurate for making predictions about an individual, why even think of using it to compare groups, which are much more complicated?
A. That sounds sensible, but it’s exactly backwards. The larger the sample size, the more the statistical noise washes out. …
Q. So, you’re saying that IQ testing can tell us more about group differences than about individual differences?
A. If the sample sizes are big enough and all else is equal, a higher IQ group will virtually always outperform a lower IQ group on any behavioral metric.
One of the very few positive traits not correlated with IQ is musical rhythm—which is a reason high IQ rock stars like Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, and David Bowie tell Drummer Jokes.
Of course, everything else is seldom equal. A more conscientious group may well outperform a higher IQ group. On the other hand, conscientiousness, like many virtues, is positively correlated with IQ, so IQ tests work surprisingly well.
Q. Wait a minute, does that mean that maybe some of the predictive power of IQ comes not from intelligence itself, but from virtues associated with it like conscientiousness?
A. Most likely. But perhaps smarter people are more conscientious because they are more likely to foresee the bad consequences of slacking off. It’s an interesting philosophical question, but, in a practical sense, so what? We have a test that can predict behavior. That’s useful.
Q. Can one number adequately describe a person’s intelligence?
A. Sort of. …
Q. How can something be true and not true at the same time?
A. How can the glass be half-full and half-empty at the same time? Most things about IQ testing are partly true and partly false at the same time. That’s the nature of anything inherently statistical, which is most of reality.
Humans are used to legalistic reasoning that attempts to draw bright lines between exclusive categories. For example, you are either old enough to vote or you aren’t. There’s no gray area. But the law is artificial and unlike most of reality. Many people have a hard time dealing with that fact, especially when it comes to thinking about IQ.
Q. Enough epistemology! How can you rationalizing summing up something as multifaceted as intelligence in a single number?
A. Think about SAT scores. Your total score says something about you, while breaking out your Math and Verbal scores separately says more. A kid who gets a total of 1400 out of 1600 (Math + Verbal) is definitely college material, while a kid who gets a 600 isn't. That’s the big picture. For the fine detail, like which college to apply to, it helps to look at the subscores. …
A few years ago, the SAT added a third score, Writing, but many colleges aren’t sure how useful it is, and there’s some sentiment for dropping the Writing test as not worth the extra time or cost. In other words, there are diminishing marginal returns to more detail. [The College Board has since dropped the Writing test from the SAT.] …
Q. Is IQ hereditary?
A. At the moment, we only have a vague idea of which genes affect IQ, but the data are pouring in. James Watson figures no more than 15 years until the main genes driving IQ scores are nailed down. It could be faster.
In the mean time, we have a lot of circumstantial evidence, such as twin and adoption studies. Almost all of it points toward IQ having a sizable genetic component.
Q. What does it mean to say IQ has a genetic component?
A. It means that identical twins tend to be more similar in intelligence than fraternal twins, who are more alike than first cousins, and so forth. That appears to be true.
Q. So, everybody in the same family gets the same IQ?
A. No. Think about siblings that you know and you’ll likely notice moderate differences in intelligence among them—unless they are identical twins (and thus have identical genes).
Q. Is IQ solely determined by genes?
A. No. Consider, for example, the need for micronutrient supplementation. For example, here in America, manufacturers have been adding iodine to salt and iron to flour since before WWII to combat medical syndromes (such as cretinism) that lower IQ. In poor countries around the world, hundreds of millions of children still suffer cognitively from lack of iodine and iron. …
Q. Are there differences in average SAT scores among racial groups?
A. Yes. Ashkenazi (European) Jews appear to average the highest—maybe around 110-112—followed by Northeast Asians (105), and then by gentile white Europeans and North Americans (100). The world mean is around 90, Hispanic-Americans are at 89. African-Americans traditionally average around 85 and Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa around 70.
Q. Aren’t all IQ researchers white supremacists who just want to show their race has the highest IQ?
A. If they are, they’re doing an awfully lousy job of it. (See above.)
Q. How can anybody talk about race and IQ when race doesn’t exist?
A. It’s funny how these objections don’t come up in regard to affirmative action. Scientists gather race-related data the same way colleges and bureaucrats hand out affirmative action goodies. They let people self-identify.
I spent a lot of time years ago trying to prove that affirmative action is unworkable because there’s too much overlap between the races to decide which race somebody belongs to, but I eventually gave up because, at least at present, the situation’s good enough for government (and scientific) work. …
Q. Are global differences in IQ caused solely by genetics?
A. No. As I wrote in VDARE.COM back in 2002:
“A clear example of how a bad environment can hurt IQ can be seen in the IQ scores for sub-Saharan African countries. … This suggests that the harshness of life in Africa might be cutting ten points or more off African IQ scores.”
Q. Are IQ tests biased against African-Americans?
A. Not in the most important sense of predictive validity. White and black Army recruits with 100 IQs on the Armed Forces Qualification Test, for instance, will perform about equally well on the job.
Any kind of non-functional bias against minorities in test design has been radioactive for decades, so all the questions that were “unfair” to minorities were removed long ago. …
Creating an IQ test on which there’s no black-white gap has been the Holy Grail of test designers for 40 years. Any test company that could pull it off would make a fortune, because every school district in the country would dump their current test and switch to the “non-racist” test. It’s been attempted repeatedly, but it can’t be done without destroying the test’s predictive powers.
Q. But I see all these black people on TV being highly entertaining. They look pretty lively upstairs. Could IQ tests be missing something?
A. Yes. IQ test questions, by their nature, must have fixed, objective answers. If African Americans are better at subjective, improvisatory responses than they are at objective problem-solving, then IQ will fail to predict fully their patterns of success in the real world. And, indeed, we see much evidence for that every time we turn on the TV (e.g., Oprah). …
Q. What’s the real story behind the crushing of James Watson?
A. The Establishment knows that evidence is piling up for the Bell Curve theory that they’ve denounced so vociferously for so long. So they are just trying to postpone the day of reckoning on which it becomes widely understood that they are fools, liars, and smear-artists by silencing anyone like Watson who speaks up. The frenzy will only increase as the genome data comes flooding in.
Q. What can we say for sure about racial gaps?
A. That they’ll be around for a long time.
Say it’s discovered in 2008 that the entire cause of the black-white IQ gap is some hitherto unknown micronutrient needed by pregnant women that African-Americans don’t get enough of, and a crash program is put into place immediately to solve the problem. If that happened, the IQ gap among working-age adults still wouldn’t disappear until the 2070s.
So whether the racial IQ gaps are genetic or not, they’re going to be around for many decades. And we need to understand them. …
Q. So what can be done?
A. People who understand reality reasonably well can figure out many small, incremental changes that will make us all better off. In contrast, powerful people who don’t know what the hell they are doing will tend to make us all worse off. …
You can read the whole thing there.