Book review: The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

The Mismeasure of ManThe Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

IQ tests are very good predictors of how well you will do on IQ tests.

This revised edition of The Mismeasure of Man tackles the field of hereditarianism and its related attempts at justifying hierarchical social structures. Or put another way, it explores the stinking swamp of race science with hopes of getting people to notice the stench.

I’ve not previously delved into the history of race science and hereditarianism. I was aware that it was a thing, that it keeps raising its ugly head every few years (Human Biodiversity – HBD – is a recent version you may have heard of), and that it pollutes an entire corner of psychology. As such, this book was enlightening and also disheartening. It reinforced just how a priori the entire field is and why it will continue to be popular.

The first time I became aware that IQ testing wasn’t actually doing what the marketing claims would have you believe was in high school. My brother was very intent on “raising his IQ” by studying for IQ tests. Well you might ask, how can you improve your test score on something that is meant to measure something innate? Over the years I’ve read several papers discussing factors that impact test scores (stress, hunger, nutrition levels, tiredness, sleep deprivation, etc) and realised that these intelligence tests aren’t measuring what some would claim. And worse, often the results are interpreted in almost exactly the opposite way to what they should be (i.e. a poor test result is probably more an indicator of some discriminatory factor, like attending an underfunded school, than of being stupid).

So it is well worth reading this book to understand how fraught this field is with literal white supremacists and eugenicists (see my comments below). It isn’t an easy read but is relatively accessible to most people who give it the time required.

Some related papers:
What IQ Tests Test
Does IQ Really Predict Job Performance?

Lay articles:
Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ: Podcaster and author Sam Harris is the latest to fall for it.
Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the allure of race science: This is not “forbidden knowledge.” It is America’s most ancient justification for bigotry and racial inequality.

Thoughts during reading:

Have just gotten to the bit about G and Factor Analysis. I’m passingly familiar with principal components analysis, a technique similar in some ways to Factor Analysis, and largely agree with what Gould is saying. It is very easy to not understand what the principal components are actually showing you, let alone what that correlation means. The first thing you learn in statistics is that correlation doesn’t equal causation and something about storks bringing babies.

But this rabbit hole goes deeper still.

I decided to do a quick bit of lateral reading to find some more on G and Factor Analysis. I didn’t get past the former’s Wikipedia page. Just about every reference was from a known white supremacist (Jensen* being particularly prominent as a primary source). Makes it a tad hard to take the field seriously, and hard to find decent research when a jumping-off point like Wikipedia is swamped in BS.

Of course, the rabbit hole goes deeper again.

Another of the people referenced is Richard Lynn (a white supremacist). He and his protege, Emil Kirkegaard (a eugenicist and all-round nasty POS), run a bunch of pseudojournals and a fake research group (Ulster Institute for Social Research) that is all basically a front for white supremacist money to generate pseudoscience. Fun fact: Kirkegaard’s most cited paper has pretty much only been cited by him, fifty-nine times. Thankfully the mainstream doesn’t take these guys seriously anymore, but they have tendrils, as can be seen by Lynn (and other white supremacists) being referenced on the Wikipedia pages.

* Quick note on Arthur Jensen, his Wikipedia bio is much like the G Factor page. It is deliberately misleading and rubbish. You would be forgiven for thinking that Jensen was something other than a white nationalist, avid racist, and in the employ of said same. His funding was barely mentioned in the bio, and he has a whole page on the Southern Poverty Law Centre that doesn’t even get a mention.

Arthur Jensen was arguably the father of modern academic racism. For over 40 years, Jensen, an educational psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, provided a patina of academic respectability to pseudoscientific theories of black inferiority and segregationist public policies. Jensen was responsible for resurrecting the idea that the black population is inherently and immutably less intelligent than the white population, an ideology that immediately became known as “jensenism.”


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Why being smart sucks

I like to think of myself as smart. My friends and work collegues would refer to me as that annoying know-it-all. Being smart is not actually as good as you would think. For example, having knowledge and understanding puts you at a severe disadvantage in an argument, as you are trying to be correct, rather than win the argument with made up nonsense. And, lets face it, everyone hates a know-it-all.

So here are 5 reasons being smart sucks (Original article from with some edits by Tyson Adams. Original here).

5) You’re Probably a Night Owl – And That’s a Bad Thing

Recently, scientists discovered a quirky side effect to having a high IQ: You tend to stay up until later hours and get up later in the morning. That’s right – the more intelligent are also much more likely to be night owls. Which isn’t such a surprise when you consider that intelligent people are infamous for burning the midnight oil to cram for tests, write papers, touch up those earnings reports, etc.It appears to just be evolution – the more intelligent members of a species are, in general, the first to change habits. Since humans have been day-dwellers during most of their existence, it’s primarily the smarties who prefer to habitually stay up until the wee hours and to do the types of tasks that are easier to accomplish when you don’t have the day-dwellers hanging around and distracting you.

Of course being a night owl does have some negative side effects, or rather a lot that will screw up your health. For starters, studies have found that “eveningness” is associated with a high degree of emotional instability. That means you tend to be less agreeable and conscientious than the average Joe. Oh, and you don’t just make others’ lives miserable. Thanks to your late-night habits, likely brought on by high intelligence, you’re also three times more likely to suffer symptoms of depression. According to a number of studies, night owls are at higher risk for heart disease and suffer more arterial stiffness than those who go to bed early. People who tend to stay up late also tend to do other unhealthy things at night, such as overeating. Then, once they do eventually hit the hay, they experience more sleep interruptions when those pesky morning larks get up and start noisying about. All this adds up to some nasty artery stress and whacked-out circadian rhythms, a nice recipe for a massive coronary.

4) You’re Less Likely to Pass On Your Genes

Another unfortunate stereotype of smart people is that they’re socially awkward nerds who are doomed to lives of celibacy until they get out of high school hell. Unfortunately, that one turns out to be totally true. But it’s not all bad news. There’s evidence that the highly educated get more enjoyment out of sex than the dumb jocks and that they make the woman in their lives happy. Yes, monogamy.

It all starts with the smart ladies. A 2008 national census reported that women who had dropped out of high school had the most children on average. And the more education women achieved, the fewer children they were likely to have, with the fewest children being born to women who had finished graduate school. Good news for overpopulation, bad news for picking up. Well, unless you want a dumb chick, who is likely to trap you with an unwanted child, as research found that women with lower IQs are less likely to know how to use birth control properly, leading to more unplanned pregnancies. Looks like Idiocracy was a startling insight into our future society.

 3) You’re More Likely to Lie

Tyson note: I’m not sure I agree with this point because it assumes we are manipulative bastards. From my own experience managers are moronic manipulative bastards and they are usually following the Dilbert  Principle.

The problem with being the smartest guy in the room is that you usually know you’re the smartest guy in the room. For some people, that’s not a big deal. They can relate to others just fine and know how to navigate around everyone else’s deficiencies without being complete pricks. Others, however, know they have an intellectual edge and can’t help but abuse it.

In order to lie and get away with it, you also have to keep the truth in mind and manipulate it, and you might even have to cover up your lies upon further questioning. All of this involves integrating several brain processes in much the same way that you would solve a complex calculus problem. This means that the age at which you start lying, and the effectiveness with which you do it throughout your life, are controlled by how smart you are.

In one study, scientists put people in brain-imaging machines and found that the regions of the brain that light up when a person metaphorically sets his pants on fire are the same that control “executive functioning.” These are high-order thinking and reasoning abilities that include working memory, which, you guessed it, is the single biggest component of your IQ.

2) You’re More Likely to Believe Bullshit

We’re sure that at some point, someone has told you that you can’t get anywhere without an education, and for the most part, they’re right. And you’re much more likely to pursue that education if you’re starting out with a high IQ. According to renowned intelligenceologists who painstakingly measured every goddamn thing that you can associate with IQ, test scores were “the best single predictor of an individual’s years of education.”

The problem is that education leads to one overall inaccurate belief: You think you’re smarter than you are. Three studies have found that people who fall for investment scams are better-educated than the average person but don’t seek advice because they think they’re immune to making mistakes. In one study, researchers found that 94 percent of college professors think their work is superior to their peers’. These fellows fail to realize that intelligence doesn’t always translate to real-world ability, and thus they tend to overestimate the quality of their work.

Whoa! Sure is getting crowded at the smart end of the bell curve. Right, guys?

It seems to go back to the old saying about how the wisest man is the one who realizes he knows nothing. Or, as Michael Shermer, the author of Why People Believe Weird Things, puts it: “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

That’s why the more education you get, the more likely you are to believe in, say, ghosts and the supernatural. One study found that 23 percent of college freshman believed in the paranormal, compared with 31 percent of seniors and 34 percent of graduate students. Which leads us to wonder … what the fuck are schools teaching these days?

1) You’re More Likely to Be Self-Destructive

On one hand, it seems like the smarter you are, the greater your ability to know the dangers of, say, shooting heroin. So self-destructive habits are traits of the low-class and stupid, right? Eh, not really…

The thing is, the great minds have something in common with proverbial death-prone kitties: curiosity. Researchers have finally begun to understand the link between curiosity and intelligence on the molecular level, thanks to scientists from the University of Toronto and Mount Sinai Hospital who discovered a protein in an under-explored part of the brain that controls both traits.

It’s always in the last place you look.

Makes sense. Weird shit like monkey-powered time machines can be invented only by people with enough brain smarts to make them work and enough curiosity to want to see such awesomeness in the first place.

So extra-curious people are also extra-likely to be substance abusers. British scientists published the results of a long-term study showing that smart people were more likely to be drunks. People who fell into the “very bright” category (IQs of 125 or greater, that’s me) were not only more likely to experiment with alcohol but also were more likely to drink excessively and binge drink than their dimwitted counterparts. And they found the same link between high intelligence and psychoactive drug use. It also turns out that intelligent people are much more likely to indulge in illicit substances such as marijuana, Ecstasy, cocaine and heroin. The smarter you are, the more likely you are to be tripping balls at any given moment.

As for why, remember when we said earlier that smart people’s brains seek out novelty and thus are the first to experiment with any new habit? Well, one theory explaining the link between substance abuse and intelligence is that both alcohol and drugs are novel substances, in evolutionary terms. Humans have been consuming alcohol for only about 10,000 years, and the earliest recorded drug was only 5,000 years ago. So when something is novel, the curiouser and most intelligent among us are more likely to want to try it out.

You know. For science.

What can you achieve?

There was something on the TV last night, I think it was a moth attracted to the bright screen. Fortunately the ‘moth’ flapping around didn’t distract me from someone talking about being your best. Best? There is always the question of ability and effort. No one would doubt that effort is involved in achieving something, but some people have to work really hard just to be average, just visit any shopping mall for confirmation. And what if you are lazy, are you aiming too high in your career? My inner science nerd sent me to Google Scholar to find out what various people can achieve.

Real-life accomplishments

Average adult IQs associated with real-life accomplishments:

  • MDs or PhDs (postgraduates) 125

  • College graduates 115

  • 1–3 years of college 105-110

  • Clerical and sales workers 100-105

  • High school graduates, skilled workers (e.g., electricians, cabinetmakers) 100

  • 1–3 years of high school (completed 9–11 years of school) 95

  • Semi-skilled workers (e.g., truck drivers, factory workers) 90-95

  • Elementary school graduates (completed eighth grade) 90

  • Elementary school dropouts (completed 0–7 years of school) 80-85

  • Have 50/50 chance of reaching high school 75

Average IQ of various occupational groups:

  • Professional and technical 112

  • Managers and administrators 104

  • Clerical workers; sales workers; skilled workers, craftsmen, and foremen 101

  • Semi-skilled workers (operatives, service workers, including private household; farmers and farm managers) 92

  • Unskilled workers 87

Type of work that can be accomplished:

  • Adults can harvest vegetables, repair furniture 60

  • Adults can do domestic work, simple carpentry 50

  • Adults can mow lawns, do simple laundry 40

There is considerable variation within and overlap between these categories. People with high IQs are found at all levels of education and occupational categories. The biggest difference occurs for low IQs with only an occasional college graduate or professional scoring below 90.

So there you go, now you know just how hard you have to work. And just remember, in a democracy the vote of the highly educated is given the same value as those who think mowing a lawn is mentally challenging.