IQ is an artificial construct

For lack of time to write a post laying out my complete thoughts on Jason Richwine’s thesis on IQ and immigration (it’s the sort of topic where if you want to engage, you need to engage fully) and doubt whether I have anything new to add, I’ve been waiting for a media piece that would allow me to say “that’s roughly my position”. So far, one hasn’t appeared, but perhaps the closest article is this post by Andrew Sullivan of The Dish.

I agree with Sullivan that red flags should go up around intellectual freedom. We should treat the Heritage report as “agitprop” but distinguish it from Richwine’s thesis. And to ignore any empirics, “even if it is true”, will only push discussions of these topics to the fringes where people can rightfully claim that evidence is being ignored. After all, there was a reason Richwine was writing for “white supremacist magazines” – he’s probably not going to get published in many other forums.

There’s a few things I’d change with Sullivan’s piece. I’d weaken the skepticism about whether racial categories can be made of the “DNA salad”, the basis of IQ and whether ‘g’ means anything. And I certainly would have not used the beagle/poodle analogy. There’s massive opportunity to be misinterpreted there (actually, it’s already happening).

But there is one point in Sullivan’s piece that I found particularly interesting. Sullivan writes:

I believe IQ is an artificial construct created to predict how well a random person is likely to do in an advanced post-industrial society. And that’s all it is. It certainly shouldn’t be conflated with some Platonic idea of “intelligence.”

I don’t consider IQ to be a social construct. However, let’s suppose that Sullivan’s statement is true. The interesting thing is that under that definition, IQ remains a big deal. We’ve passed a point where more than half of the world’s population is living in post-industrial societies. Those numbers are increasing every day. And success in those societies affects poverty, inequality and the success of those societies themselves. This would be a construct worth measuring.

Further, even if IQ were just a construct of this nature, Richwine’s argument would probably not change. After all, Richwine’s argument (whatever its merits) is not about creating a highly intelligent race. It is about creating a successful post-industrial society. IQ as a social construct is still of use.

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