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 ( ). 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).


You Know What is a Stupid Day to Vote On? Thursdays

Minor rant. An epic decision is facing Britain. Polls close at 10 pm. People are struggling to get home after a days work and fit in voting. Transport is a mess.

Historically the UK has elections on Thursdays.

Australia, on the other hand, has its elections on SATURDAYS. Sure, some people work on Saturdays and plenty of people have other commitments on Saturdays but it still makes things substantially easier for people to get to polling stations. Not only that, buildings such as schools, frequently used as polling stations, aren’t being used for their main purpose on Saturdays.

Australian Gun Laws – Did they Work? (spolier: yes they did)

University of Sydney academic Professor Simon Chapman is the lead author of a study that has examined the impact of the late 1990’s tightening of Australian gun laws. The Liberal government of the time (for ‘liberal’ read ‘conservative’) enacted tougher gun laws in response to the Port Arthur mass shooting in Tasmania. Australia’s gun laws did not become as strict as the UK’s and the emphasis was on  guns that could be used in mass shootings and a general reduction in gun availability.

So what happened? The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association here: [abstract is directly avaialble but I think it is possible to get the full article by a free sign-up]

There is also an editorial in the same edition of the journal here:

What is most clear from the current study is that Australia’s NFA coincided with an elimination of mass killings with firearms. It is difficult to pinpoint precisely which aspect of the policy contributed to this success, but the substantial reduction in the population’s exposure to semiautomatic long guns capable of accepting large-capacity magazines (LCMs) for ammunition is likely to have been key. Examinations of fatal mass shootings in the United States have found that when assault weapons or pistols with LCMs are used in these shootings, the number of victims shot is about 2.5 times higher than in mass shootings with other firearms.7,8

The study is particularly interesting because it aims to disentangle the effect of the gun law changes from other brother shifts – for example  the trend in many developing nations of declines in homicide that occurred anyway. It also shows that the laws had an impact on suicide and importantly, shows that banning some kinds of weapons does not just lead to shift to still-legal weapons with no resulting decline in mass-killings or suicides. Instead a selective ban and gun buy-back schemes does seem to have resulted in a net reduction in deaths.

From a Guardian news article on the study:

The lead author of the study, Professor Simon Chapman, said a similar study had been conducted 10 years ago, and that the researchers had repeated it to see if gun-related deaths were continuing to decline, finding that they had.

“I’ve calculated that for every person in Australia shot in a massacre, 139 [people] are shot through firearm-related suicide or homicides, so they are much more common,” Chapman said.

“We found that homicide and suicide firearms deaths had been falling before the reforms, but the rate of the fall accelerated for both of them after the reforms. We’ve shown that a major policy intervention designed to stop mass shootings has had an effect on other gun-related deaths as well.”

He said the researchers had chosen to publish the results in an American medical journal not just because the title was a prestigious one, but also because the findings would have a greater impact.

However, he does not believe the findings will have an impact on gun ownership laws in the US.

“The US is a good example of where evidence is going to take longer to prevail over fear and ideology,” he said.

“When people like [Republican candidate] Donald Trump talk about gun violence, he’s essentially not talking about the facts or the evidence, he’s talking about ideology and saying people want the right to protect themselves and their homes.

“The irony is the person you have to protect yourself most from in a home is the person who owns the gun.”

Chapman said more than half of those who had conducted mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand had been licensed gun holders.

Hugo Choices 9: Best Graphic Story

Previously on Hugo Choices:

Current Hugo State of Play

Hugo Choices 1: Best Novel

Hugo Choices 2: Best Related Work – The Story of Moira Greyland

Hugo Choices 3: Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

Hugo Choices 4: Best Short Story

Hugo Choices 5: Best Fanzine

Hugo Choices 6: Best Fan Writer

Hugo Choices 7: Best Editor – Long Form

Hugo Choices 8: Best Semiprozine

Best Graphic Story

The choices are:

The Divine: written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka (First Second)
Erin Dies Alone: written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell (
Full Frontal Nerdity: by Aaron Williams (
Invisible Republic Vol 1: written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman (Image Comics)
The Sandman – Overture: written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)

This category is an oddity. The finalists match the Rabid Puppy slate but none of the works are particularly representative of Rabid goals. The inclusion of Neil Gaiman/J.h.Williams Sandman prequel in the Rabid slate was an obvious attempt at trying to pick what was most likely to be a finalist anyway. The stature of  Gaiman’s original Sandman stories is unarguable and Gaiman himself is a favourite with Worldcon voters, so it doesn’t take great prognosticatory skills to pick his return to The Sandman as a probable finalist.

So what’s worth voting for here? A key thing to remember is that this category is best graphic STORY. The medium is different but this is still a story category. On this basis Full Frontal Nerdity, while not unentertaining, really isn’t award worthy. Erin Dies Alone is interesting and has that quality of many webcomics of starting in a way that seems relatively superficial (in this case a parody of video game tropes) but shows more depth and complexity as it goes on – but it still feels like early days for it. I’d like to see where it goes in the future but I don’t think it is an award-worthy story at this point.

1. The Sandman. Gaiman probably doesn’t need any more awards but that isn’t a sound basis for voting. Complex and yet familiar – this a hard entry to beat, building on one of the most notable graphic stories ever (is that hyperbole?)

2. Invisible Republic. I really enjoyed this but as volume 1 of a series, but it isn’t clear where this will go. The story is a tense thriller set on colony moon/planet that has recently had a governmental collapse. An off-world journalist finds a journal which reveals a hitherto unknown history to the early life of a revolutionary leader. Switching between the past of the journal and the present of the journalists investigation, the story manages an interesting take on the politics of revolt. Will it maintain this strength in the future? I don’t know.

3. The Divine. In a fictional country that looks pretty much like Burma/Myanmar, an explosive expert is confronted by a band of children who may be guerrillas or maybe something far stranger. Entertaining and interesting but I feel this self-contained graphic novel rests too much on stock characters (especially the thuggish militaristic American bad guy in a south-east asian country).

4. No Award.

5. Erin Dies Alone. Not cooked yet for an award but worthy enough to still get on the ballot.

6. Full Frontal Nerdity. Sorry – doesn’t get on my ballot. The category is not ‘OK webcomic’ but ‘best graphic story’

Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep plays the eponymous eccentric socialite famed for the mismatch between her operatic ambitions and her ability to sing. As a comedy there is only one joke – that Florence is a truly terrible singer but the film takes an overall more sympathetic look at the woman and the people around her.

The key theme is deception and whether love is a sufficient reason to make deception just and moral. At its heart is Florence’s extreme self-deception; she cannot sing and it is only because of her vast wealth that she can indulge in having her own pianist, recording a record or booking Carnegie Hall for her own concert. However, rather than examine this as privilege run amok, Stephen Frears’s script delves deeper into her life, painting a sympathetic portrayal of a woman who has lost more than she has gained.

Deception too is the key quality of Hugh Grant’s performance as her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, an aging British actor. We are shown early on in the film that Bayfield actually lives in another apartment with another woman – the daily life and rituals yet another deception but this deception is also not what it seems.

Despite very strong performances from Streep and Grant the film feels unbalanced. The comic elements are undermined by the films own choices to portray the real life mockery as cruel and unimaginative. Some characters are portrayed as cynically exploiting Foster Jenkins for her wealth and others as acting out of love but the choices seem arbitrary even though the most favorably drawn characters (Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg as her hapless pianist Cosme McMoon) also gain financially from her. Some aspects of Florence’s eccentricity are built up as apparent major plot points (e.g. her fear of pointed and sharp objects) and then skipped over.

Costuming and set design are exquisite. The World War 2 setting only adds to the unreality of the world in which the characters live. A very humane film that perhaps does not entirely work but which tells a largely true if odd story.