Weird Internet Ideas: How Smart is Vox Day?

And do we actually care? Not really but it is an interesting lead in to look at some utter piffle said about IQ scores.

In the world of the alt-right, the IQ has a kind of magical quality. The quasi-academic research into inter-country IQ scores and the toxic legacy of the race/IQ debate taps into a lot of the alt-right’s areas of interest and also provides a handy smoke screen of numbers for them to assert as if they had scientific rigour.

I don’t think IQ is nonsense – if anything I’m probably less sceptical about IQ than many on the left but that doesn’t mean that it does anything that the alt-right claims for it. However, talk about IQ often plays an interestingly ironic role – it frequently shows up a degree of ignorance and innumeracy on the part of the person doing the talking.

Frequent examples among the alt-right observable in the wild at Vox Popoli, are references to how many ‘standard deviations’ a person is than others. Typically this is cited as put down of a supposed SJW and trumpeting of the superior intelligence of the alt-right minion.

There are some delicious examples in a recent comment thread. The context is Vox Day being upset because a more knowledgeable person elsewhere on the net disputed his analysis of a battle scene on Game of Thrones. Now note, the question at hand is not measures of emotional maturity but ones of intelligence. The quote from Vox is this: “I’m now convinced that his IQ doesn’t come within 50 points of mine”.

I’m not convinced of that – in fact, I’m quite confident that the claim is not really meaningful.

Modern IQ tests work by centring on a median score of 100 and using standard deviations to map out a scale of sorts. It isn’t a measurement/interval scale as such, a one point movement on one part of the scale does not necessarily represent the same change in intelligence/whatever as another point. However, it does describe relative positions across the notional population it is normed against. Typically 15 IQ points represent one standard deviation. So “50 points” represents more than THREE standard deviations.

Some things to note before we continue:

  • IQ scores are scores derived from and defined by tests
  • IQ scores are limited to what those tests can deliver
  • IQ scores, like any test score, have a degree of error

IQ scores gain a degree of validity in part by their correlations with other things. However, the further you go away from the median score (100 points) the fewer people any such correlations are being compared with. In addition, in a purely statistical-measurement sense, the error margins for any test score increase round very low or very high test scores. In simplistic terms, the information a test gives is based on the mix of right versus wrong responses. One extra right or wrong answer for a person near the median score can have less impact on their IQ score than one extra right or wrong answer for somebody close to 0 correct answers or close to 100% correct answers. Finally, the compatibility of IQ tests is less good at extremes – a score of 100 is pretty much intended to be the same thing on any reputable test (~ ish) but the further you get away from that, the less those scores mean the same thing.

Looking at the top end of an IQ score and you’ll find some variation between bands which tests regard as meaningful ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_classification ). However, picking Stanford-Binet or something like MENSA’s test and it is fair to say that being as generous as possible to the claims of IQ testing an IQ score of 160 is really pushing it in terms of an upper score of any kind of meaningfulness.

For an interesting point of comparison, all round very, very smart person Richard Feynman once scored an IQ of 125 points on a school IQ test. You’ll find online various discussions of why that may be (specifically that the test may have emphasised verbal skills rather than mathematical ones – which is a whole other kettle of fish). However, it isn’t a particularly odd finding. All the various kinds of error around IQ testing, from classic measurement error to the number of people the score is being compared against, to the fundamental relation between the content of the test and what it is claiming to be testing, increase sharply the further away from the median score you get. Additionally, the higher or lower your IQ score is compared with that median, the less TYPICAL you are. Atypical people aren’t going to have particularly valid IQ scores.

In Vox Day’s case, his claim is this: the difference in IQ score between man-who-made-Vox-grumpy (MWMVG) and Vox is >50 IQ score points. If we assume the MWMVG is at least in the average range (90-109) Vox is claiming an IQ score of >140 and possibly >159. Note that the upper end of just ‘average’ IQ has Vox claiming to be pretty much at the limit of meaningful IQ scores on the most generous reading of IQ and even at the lower end well above the boundary which most reputable IQ test stop bothering to classify (around 130 IQ points). An informed (and presumably smart) person shouldn’t make a claim any more precise than ‘greater than 130’ – beyond that the figure as some sort of intrinsic property of a person that would be consistent across multiple methods of quantification doesn’t make sense EVEN ASSUMING IQ MAKES MUCH SENSE ANYWAY.

Put let’s take that figure of 130. Let’s say Vox is taking a more grounded view of his own IQ and is seeing himself as 130. A 50 point difference would put the MWMVG at an IQ of below 80. For comparison, an IQ of below 70 is used diagnostically as evidence of intellectual disability. An IQ of 80 to 70 is likely to represent somebody who would struggle with school and many cognitive tasks (assuming the score was representative). Which would be an odd thing for Vox to claim – after he is attempting to write a point-by-point rebuttal of what the MWMVG and struggling to do so, claiming that he is struggling to counter an argument from a person with an IQ lower than 80 would be tantamount to claiming he really doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Of course, there is a simpler analysis. IQ is about general cognitive ability. Arguments about how a fictional battle works on a TV show does involve a range of cognitive ability but only somebody utterly clueless about IQ would think it was a sensible way of judging a disparity between IQ of the two participants (except of course in extreme cases).

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18 comments

  1. rob_matic

    Two things to consider:

    1) It’s fairly evident that VD’s maths and stats abilities are woeful, which should be unsurprising as he did a fairly ‘soft’ undergraduate degree decades ago and has only worked in the creative industries since.

    2) He may have obtained his IQ score from one of those tests on the internet where if you’re vaguely intelligent it gives you a score of 160 and tells you that you’re a genius (please click here to purchase a certificate).

    Liked by 1 person

    • camestrosfelapton

      Ah, yes. Probably right on the internet IQ thing. He seems very certain of it. But the minions tend to boast of their IQ levels also – very rightwing thing. At odds with the more general anti-intellectualism of the modern right but less so among alt-right who fancy themselves as great philosophers.

      Like

      • Mark

        I suspect the IQ test is magically non-academic, and therefore not intellectual, because you can take it independent of a course of study and it supposedly measures some inherent quality rather than book-larning.

        I’ve never felt the urge to take an IQ test, I don’t know if that’s odd or not.

        Like

  2. KR

    I insist VD produce an individualized double-blind confirmation of his IQ test. It’s the only way we can know anything for sure.

    Like

  3. szopeno

    You should at least read something on “g” and IQ related research before writing anything. IQ points are still correlated with success in life (i.e. higher IQ result statistically predicts higher probabilty of success as measured in number of PhDs, published scientific papers, grants acquired, better salaries etc) even well above 130 level, even though correlations are weaker. Here for example you have an analysis of people who scored more than 150 (IIRC 160 actually) on IQ test when 13, their achievements at age of 38:

    ” By age 38, the magnitude of their creativity, occupational success, and professional stature was astonishing. Specifically, over the course of 25 years, the individuals who had been identified by SMPY before age 13 accomplished the following: Forty-four percent had obtained doctoral degrees, 7.5% had secured academic tenure at research-intensive universities, and 15% held one or more patents (Kell, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2013).”

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZZVVCR2YzeWg2V0U/view

    By even IF IQ tests ceiling effects would mean maximum meanigful score is 130, it does not mean that scale ends at 130. Which means that someone still can claim score of 150 (i.e claiming that he is as smart as 1 in ten thousand people, or the smartest guy in medium sized town). This score, contrary to what you argue, is completely fair to make – you can estimate your scores as either “3 in 100” i.e. one of the best guys in your year in your grammar school (IQ 130) vs “1 in 1000” ie the best guy in whole school (~IQ145) or “1 in ten thousand” ie the elite of the university (~IQ 155). That is, if you was the smartest guy in very competetive university, you CAN be sure your IQ is higher than 130 and in range of 140-160.

    Which means that the reasoning “he says he is 50 points above X, then it means X is 80IQ points, so this claim is obviously false” is completely false.

    Sorry for any errors in my english, I am not a native speaker.

    Like

    • camestrosfelapton

      “Q points are still correlated with success in life (i.e. higher IQ result statistically predicts higher probabilty of success as measured in number of PhDs, published scientific papers, grants acquired, better salaries etc) even well above 130 level, even though correlations are weaker. Here for example you have an analysis of people who scored more than 150 (IIRC 160 actually) on IQ test when 13, their achievements at age of 38:”

      That is an interesting paper but it isn’t at odds with what I said. Ceiling effects, multidimensionality, as well emotional traits and personality all are involved there. Yes 44% of the SMYP group and 37% of the TIP group gained doctoral degrees, which is impressive but then people with IQs less than 160 also get doctoral degrees and more than half in either group didn’t (not necessarily because they *couldn’t* intellectually of course – it could be for manifold reasons including having something better to do). Nor where either group effectively selected on IQ alone – Duke TIP is an opt in program and hence practically isn’t a random sample of the population with an IQ of 125 or above (note their boundary by the way). That isn’t a criticism of the value of the program, it just means you actually have two levels of filtering going on: IQ 125+ *and* parents/educators etc who see you as being gifted or see you as possibly gaining from a program etc.

      “By even IF IQ tests ceiling effects would mean maximum meanigful score is 130, it does not mean that scale ends at 130. Which means that someone still can claim score of 150 (i.e claiming that he is as smart as 1 in ten thousand people, or the smartest guy in medium sized town). This score, contrary to what you argue, is completely fair to make – you can estimate your scores as either “3 in 100” i.e. one of the best guys in your year in your grammar school (IQ 130) vs “1 in 1000” ie the best guy in whole school (~IQ145) or “1 in ten thousand” ie the elite of the university (~IQ 155). That is, if you was the smartest guy in very competetive university, you CAN be sure your IQ is higher than 130 and in range of 140-160. ”

      A couple of issues. Firstly that scenario is not unreasonable but it is not the scenario we are seeing above. Vox is making the claim on the basis of an internet argument on a fictional battle plus knowledge of late medieval/early modern military tactics – rather than an academic scenario where we know IQ is at its strongest in terms of validity.

      Secondly, it isn’t at all clear the extent to which IQ scale extends *meaningfully* upwards. Multidimensionality becomes more of an issue (possibly) at greater levels of academic performance which in turn means that course choice will effect academic performance even (or especially) of people in the gifted range. Take for example this caveat from the study you quoted:
      “Different patterns of specific abilities are important, but so too is how they align with interests. Whether interests and specific abilities have common or distinct causal antecedents has yet to be determined (Lubinski, 2010). What is known is that each contributes incremental validity relative to the other in predicting the types of outcomes examined here (Lubinski & Benbow, 2006). Interests and abilities jointly drive development down different paths.”
      That doesn’t invalidate g but it does mean at the extremes of academic performance, high levels of performance are moderated by more factors than just general ability. The study you quoted for example notes that that spatial reasoning ability was not a factor that they could look at (due to limitations in the earlier testing). So lets imagine Susan is a student at a competitive university and is absolutely owning everything in terms of academic performance. She knows that her IQ is 130+ from prior testing or SAT score conversion and also those of her peers. She also knows she is performing much better than her next nearest peer Bob. Can she conclude her IQ must be 160 etc? No. She’s got a bit more reason too but unless she also knows that she is actually less well motivated and has picked a course that isn’t a great match for her intellectual strengths, then she would be wrong to discount the other factors in her academic performance.

      IQ is intended to look like it is a measurement scale but if we apply our intuitions about actual measurement scales to it then we are making an error. Even by psychometric standards it isn’t a measurement scale – it isn’t necessarily unidimensional and a one point change in IQ doesn’t not represent the same change in ability at different points in the scale. So reasoning that assumes that it is like height or weight or some other actual measurement scale about which we have clear intuitions may be in error.

      “Sorry for any errors in my english, I am not a native speaker.”

      Not a problem 🙂 – Heck, I *am* a native speaker and make far more errors than you did. Thank you for an interesting, challenging, polite and informed reply.

      Like

  4. SJW Slayer

    Smarter than a moron like you.

    Though this will probably get moderated into oblivion, if not, the responses will be something along the lines of: “oh those unintelligent types always start with name calling”. A feign of innocence as typical in discussions started by incendiary loons. So we can cut this off right now.

    Here’s evidence: You took over 1,100 words to call someone “not as smart as he thinks”, I took 6 words to do it back to you. Brevity is the soul of wit.

    Like

  5. Fishbone

    Perhaps, I misunderstood you, but didn’t you just inadvertently admit, that the IQ score of a size-able portion of the African American population “is likely to represent somebody who would struggle with school and many cognitive tasks…”?

    Like

    • camestrosfelapton

      No but I will ‘admit’ that there is an existing disparity in educational performance in the US educational system because it is well known and well documented. *WHY* there is such a disparity is an open and interesting question.

      Like

  6. Pingback: Vox Day asks me some questions about his IQ | Camestros Felapton
  7. Crash

    A few minor observations
    1. Vox sure put a bee in your bonnet.
    2. Your argument makes several mathematical statements then asks the reader to accept them as a matter of faith never actually proving them.
    3. The only means I have of comparing relative intelligence here are the written arguments. I’d suggest you do the same and ask if you have actually helped yourself with this ?

    Like

    • camestrosfelapton

      1. Really? I’m a minor blogger commenting on SF/F, the Hugos and pathological righwing politics – obviously I write about Vox. The question is why on Earth is he writing about me? (Well aside from my sparkling wit etc) I suspect the bee and bonnet allocation may not be how you characterize it.
      2. I was crediting my readers with sufficient intelligence to read up on stuff if they are unsure.
      3. mmm, yup, I think so.

      Liked by 2 people

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