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Rick Perry Is Not Too Smart
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Likely presidential candidate Rick Perry’s college transcript at Texas A & AM has been published. Here are the highlights:

…In his freshman and sophomore year, Perry struggled with core science classes, earning D’s in several organic chemistry classes and C’s in general chemistry and physics.

But after Perry switched his major at the beginning of his fall semester in 1970, his grades didn’t improve. Perry got a C in Reproduction in Farm Animals, a C in genetics, a D in Feeds & Feeding, a C in Sheep & Angora Goat Production and two C’s in animal breeding classes.

Many of Perry’s other classes involved military education. Perry has previously credited his time in the A&M Corps of Cadets with giving him the necessary discipline to complete school.

Perry got two C’s in Development of Air Power and took four levels of World Military Systems, earning two C’s, a B and an A. The A was one of only two Perry earned at college — the other was for a class called Improv. of Learning.

The future governor only took one political science class while he was in school — American National Government, for which he earned a B. Other classes outside of Perry’s major included Shakespeare and Writing for Professional Men, which earned him two D’s.

Perry took two summer sessions before his senior year but still needed two more after the rest of his class graduated to complete a degree. He graduated in August of 1972.

The article goes on to note that George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, and Al Gore Jr. were all mediocre students. John McCain was famously a poor student at the Naval Academy (though the I.Q. scores of all four are in the 1.5 to 2 standard deviations above the mean, so a lot of this is laziness and complacency). But what about Perry’s rivals? I suspect Mitt Romney is not going to want his transcript released, but that’s because he’s smart enough that his stellar grades are going to accentuate his “pointy-headed” nerd reputation. Romney transferred from Stanford to be with his future wife at B.Y.U. and graduated as a valedictorian. He enrolled at a joint law & business program at Harvard, graduating cum laude in the former (top 1/3) and a Baker Scholar in the latter (top 5 percent). He later went on to become a management consultant, a profession which puts a premium on raw general intelligence (whether this sector as a whole adds that much value in the greater economy is a different issue, but it certainly adds value to the consultants, as they leverage their cleverness into big paychecks).

Finally there’s Barack H. Obama. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, but to my knowledge his standardized test scores and grades from Occidental and Columbia have never been released. Why? I can think of two possible reasons. He received some affirmative action considerations in his transfer to Columbia and acceptance into Harvard Law School, which he capitalized upon effectively (becoming editor of the law review and graduating magna cum laude). So he would want to emphasize the later upswing of his higher education career (recall that George W. Bush received class-based affirmative action to obtain a spot at Harvard Business School). Or, like Romney Obama does not want to release his transcripts because he already has a reputation of being a pointy-headed nerd, and doesn’t want to exacerbate that any further.

In general I’m for democracy. But I’m not a big fan of this fake populism whereby conventionality and mediocrity in academics is acceptable, even a badge of honor, in our candidates for head of state. In contrast our political executives are tall and slim, on the tails of the distribution in physical metrics! (shorter candidates like George W. Bush and John McCain are usually short only for politicians, not for the general male population) I don’t expect presidential candidates to have grasped the basics of topology or quantum chemistry. But do we really want the person who has their finger on the nuclear button to be that personable and likable guy whose primary aim was to not fail? I suspect we do if the range of candidates is a judge. My own personal sympathies in regards to Romney vs. Perry are probably obvious, but if I had to bet I would go with Perry. He has “people skills.” Romney is, as Mike Huckabee famously observed, the boss who is going to fire you. But sometimes people need to be fired, including the electorate. Though I guess that’s not a good attitude to take in a democracy.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
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  1. The electorate definitely needs to be fired, as do quite a few of the politicians. We’re rapidly moving away from a democracy, too, thanks to limited candidate selection and massive interference from corporations and mass media. I honestly wouldn’t be very much against the scientists and engineers declaring a hostile takeover.

  2. Why would you think that the success in the presidency is correlated with IQ?

    Consider the list of the 20th Century presidents who, by virtue of their verbal skills, academic record, or prior accomplishments, are generally agreed to have had the highest IQs:


    Contrast this with an equal number of presidents derided by their contemporaries as “amiable dunces” or worse (ignore for the moment whether the scorn was fair or accurate):

    GW Bush

    Which list would you choose?

  3. #2, don’t pull the list bullshit with me. your point is fair, but i don’t appreciate pre-selected lists if you’re going to talk about correlations (i’m not a moron, so i’m not wowed by your historical erudition). i could throw adams, jefferson and madison back at your face. all things equal being smart is better. this is especially true with a hugely complex system of governance which we demand of our heads of state. if you don’t think intelligence matters much that’s your business. and eisenhower wasn’t stupid. he played stupid. (in contrast to stevenson, who played smart, but was stupid)

  4. Wow — Razib, I’m not sure why my comment elicited such an angry reaction. I don’t think it would be practical to perform a true correlation, as we have neither IQ scores nor an agreed-upon metric of presidential success. My “pre-selected” list is essentially a median split on widely-held perceptions of presidential intelligence over the last century, which is about as much as the available data will permit. I have only left off a few presidents who do not have a particularly strong association in the public mind (AFAIK) with high or low intellect.

    It is also puzzling to me why you assume that being a head of state involves mastery of “a hugely complex system of governance.” I would have thought we could both agree that such a mastery is humanly impossible to attain and generally foolish to even attempt. Most of the common examples of great leadership and statesmanship (e.g., Churchill, FDR, Reagan, Thatcher) have nothing to do with such a thing.

  5. I can construct some coherent rational for why intelligence is important, and obviously intelligence is better, all else equal. But I do wonder how much of my preference is just identity politics.

    so are you trying to indicate that you’re smart, and therefore you prefer a smart candidate because of that similarity? that’s plausible, but the main issue i point out above is that there’s a notorious tendency for candidates to be physically unrepresentative. american presidents are almost always above the 50th percentile in height, and often 1 to 2 standard deviations above the norm (james madison at 5’4 is the outlier). also, in the age of fatness the top-tier candidates and their wives tend to be slim (tipper was the exception, and she wasn’t that chunky). the general reason offered for this is that you want a head of state to be nicely presentable. a tall slim man is much more impressive than a short fat one (sorry, just how it is). but the american president is a powerless monarch, he’s an executive with real power. so he needs to be more than just a presenter. (from what i recall texas has a very weak executive in real terms, though he looms large symbolically, so that seems a good fit from moderately lazy but personable individuals like perry and w. bush).

  6. It is also puzzling to me why you assume that being a head of state involves mastery of “a hugely complex system of governance.” I would have thought we could both agree that such a mastery is humanly impossible to attain and generally foolish to even attempt. Most of the common examples of great leadership and statesmanship (e.g., Churchill, FDR, Reagan, Thatcher) have nothing to do with such a thing.

    i don’t agree on your statement of facts. i think churchill, fdr and thatcher were all heavily involved. reagan presented as a “big picture” guy, and he probably wasn’t a carter or clinton, but the american system is massive. i wonder how overplayed the myth of hands off guy is.

    i’m not interested in your argument for why being stupid is OK. i’ve heard it, i’m not a moron who is ignorant of history. if you think that all things equal intelligence doesn’t matter much beyond total retard, that’s fine. i do think there are returns to intelligence for an executive, especially in a system which demands that the executive make fast decisions on complex issues.

  7. Wow — Razib, I’m not sure why my comment elicited such an angry reaction.

    don’t talk to me like i’m stupid. what kind of moron hasn’t encountered the list you present? many a moron i suppose.

  8. i do think there are returns to intelligence for an executive, especially in a system which demands that the executive make fast decisions on complex issues.

    Again, I don’t see a strong correlation between intelligence and speed or quality of presidential decision-making. I think a strong moral compass and a temperament that avoids “analysis paralysis” are more important and are largely orthogonal to g.

  9. Again, I don’t see a strong correlation between intelligence and speed or quality of presidential decision-making. I think a strong moral compass and a temperament that avoids “analysis paralysis” are more important and are largely orthogonal to g

    i think rick perry is too stupid to be president. i think mitt romney is smart enough to be president. as a practical matter i doubt that the policies that they’d implement would differ too much on the margins (i.e., both would talk about social issues but not do much, but would push for economic conservatism). but i do think romney would be a better implementer.

    as for moral compass vs. intelligence, i didn’t present it like that, so why are you changing the topic? stop it. that’s why i’m saying all things equal. assuming that you get candidate x vs. y, and both have the same ideology, and x is tall and good looking and dull, and y ix short and not good looking and smart, which would you prefer? i don’t care which you’d prefer, i’m saying i’d prefer the smart guy. at least in a system like ours. if the president was more ceremonial obviously you guy with the good looking guy.

    as it is, mitt romney isn’t even nebbishy looking. but he is clearly smart and hyper-analytical, which is one reason he can’t “connect.” but fat snaggle-toothed americans can identify with rugged good looking men like rick perry, even though they don’t resemble him. priorities.

  10. anyone who recommends changes in my moderation and commenting style will be banned.

  11. I think a larger issue is at stake here, as described by Walter Russel Mead last week:

    The progressive ideal of administrative cadres leading the masses toward the light has its roots in a time when many Americans had an eighth grade education or less. It always had its down side, and the arrogance and tin-eared obtuseness of self assured American liberal progressives has infuriated generations of Americans and foreigners who for one reason or another have the misfortune to fall under the power of a class still in the grip of a secularized version of the Puritan ideal. But in the conditions of late nineteenth and twentieth century America, the progressive vanguard fulfilled a vital and necessary social role.

    The deep crisis of the progressive ideal today is that it is no longer clear that the American clerisy is wanted or needed in that role.

    At bottom, that is what the populist revolt against establishments of all kinds is about. A growing section of the American population wants to think and act for itself, without the guidance of the graduates of ivy league colleges and blue chip graduate programs.

    The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government. It is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation’s affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.

  12. ok prose if you’re a conservative prone to finding that model congenial,* but i think it’s pretty substanceless. the public consistently wants a smaller government and more services. that is, the good majority. conservatives who point out that they need to cut their services (or more softly, means test) or liberals who point out the necessity for more revenue through taxation to fund the services are marginalized. though at some point in the near future reality has to be fed.

    * mead’s not a liar, but i find his interpretations of history plausible but generally not robust against multiple angles of examination.

  13. Wow Razib .. you are an angry man. OK we get it you are smart. You have told us many times you are not a moron!

    I suppose you think Obama is a shining example of how intelligence makes for an exemplary President?

    As an aside, your tolerance of views that are not aligned with yours is equally exemplary.

  14. IIRC, IQ correlates a bit with some kinds of moral behavior, so one may not even need to add the “everything else being equal” clause.

  15. I got a few C’s in college, but mainly because I was a slacker at 19-22 and didn’t want to wake up at 8am, not because I wasn’t smart. At the time, an extra two hours of sleep was worth more to me than dragging my ass across campus and taking a Bio 114 quiz. (Then again, maybe if I was really smart, I would have been able to rationalize myself out of slacking.)

  16. A president doesn’t necessarily need to be smart. There are plenty of smart people around who can be hired to do the heavy thinking.

    However, the politician does need to be smart enough to choose whom to hire and to keep them in line. Think about the Michael Brown/Katrina response– or the way that Reagen hired smart people but then let them build their own little empires.

    Eisenhower was certainly an example of a mediocre intelligence who knew whom to hire and how to keep them in line.

  17. I also attended Texas A&M and was in the Corps of Cadets for one semester. In that term I earned one A, one B, two Cs, and a D. My worst semester ever. The ROTC program there did not foster good education and study habits at that time. Afterwards my grades significantly improved. So I don’t necessarily hold bad grades against Perry as I understand well the challenges they imposed back then and the time constraints involved. I think instead of petty arguments on someones grades 40 years ago, why not discuss his politics and what he did or did not accomplish while Lt Gov and Gov of Texas.

    This is one of the significant challenges of today’s presidential politics – who cares what someone did as a teenager or young adult. Eventually we either grow up or we don’t. I like to know what someone thinks once they get exposed to the real world after college. If Perry is championing anti-science beliefs today then he should be challenged on them. You seem petty talking about college grades, as did many conservatives when asking about Obama’s transcripts. Hard to look in the mirror when you’re being hypocritical isn’t it?

  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    OK…I skew conservative, but there is no way I can vote for Rick Perry….

    The governor of Texas is one of the least significant jobs in politics. He has no power to affect anything, and it requires absolutely no skill or leadership ability whatsoever. He is basically the Queen, but without the intellect or dignity.

    Rick Perry is the right-wing version of Barack Obama. Like the Dems did with Obama in 08, the Tea Party has anointed Perry the “hope” of the GOP. The problem when you elect “hope” is that you need to check whether your standard bearer actually has the ability….ask the Democrats how their swing at electing “hope” is working out.

  19. I seem to recall learning that among Texans, Aggie jokes were their equivalent of the Irish jokes told by Brits, Polish jokes told by Chicagoans, West Virginian jokes by Virginians (sample: How do we know the toothbrush was invented in West Virginia? If it were invented elsewhere it would be called a “teethbrush”.) The idea being that anyone with a smidgen of smarts would not attend a school supposedly built for farmers’ offspring.

    I’m not saying there’s any basis for these jokes. I’m just … sayin’.

  20. why are any of you bothering to apologize for stupidity? if GWB’s IQ was 140 do you think we’d be where we are right now? no. simple as that.

  21. I suppose you think Obama is a shining example of how intelligence makes for an exemplary President?

    #18, i banned you because you’re an asshole. but this is an interesting illustration why i’m such a dick about political conversations on the web. the general tenor is that you have a website which is a circle jerk where you agree with like-minded people, and make asinine and rhetorical ripostes to those who disagree. this assertion has nothing to do with what i said, and in fact i don’t think obama is a shining example of intelligence making for an exemplary president (to be frank i think in most cases a legal education is a waste of a mind because it doesn’t add value outside of a legal context). but what moron would think that i implied that? i said all things being equal intelligence is best, and my focus was on the republican field. at least you didn’t try to make a fake-erudite historical reference presuming i’m a total idiot who is going to be wowed by “evidence.”

  22. “…management consultant, a profession which puts a premium on raw general intelligence…”

    I guess I thought that “consultant” was the catchall designation for smart people doing nothing specific enough to test their smartness, the way that women with no apparent means of support are “models”.

  23. Razib, I am a big fan of yours, and the few times I have left comments here in the past have been highly supportive. In that context, the tenor of my comments on this thread have not merited the kind of rage you are spewing. My historical reference was not “fake-erudite,” nor do I presume you are a total idiot. I merely disagree with the premise of your post. I am really stunned by what is going on here.

  24. Everybody went to Jr. High with Rick Perry. He was the guy that shoved you into a locker and got two High School cheerleaders pregnant. He is a schoolyard bully.

  25. How does Obama’s collage transcript compare to Perry’s?

  26. It strikes me that on some issues, average people tend to think X, smarter people think Y, while yet smarter people think X again.

  27. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Isn’t is odd that we don’t require presidential candidates to have what any executive recruiter would consider minimal qualifications for the job?

    Imagine Heidrick & Struggles interviewing the candidates in the last (or next) election:

    1. What is the largest organization you have ever managed?
    2. Who are the three most successful people you’ve ever hired?
    3. What was the largest budget you’ve ever managed (and did you stay within the budget)?
    4. Do you have any experience managing financial turn-arounds (and how did you go about doing this)?
    5. What experience do you have in creating effective compromises among diverse and contentious groups?
    6. What experience do you have managing a global military organization?
    7. What experience do you have negotiating with foreign leaders?
    8. What is the biggest mistake you made in the past five years, and what have you done to overcome this?

    These are all obvious questions that any competent headhunter or hiring manager would ask someone seeking the job of President of the United States. But for some reason, we choose an American Idol-like popularity contest instead. It’s no surprise we’re not getting very good results.

  28. While intelligence is an important trait in a Presidential candidate, it is not the only trait of great import. The ability to manage a staff is an important skill, perhaps more important than intelligence, given the spread of intelligence levels displayed in a given field. Perhaps even more important than either is the advisers that a candidate surrounds himself with. I suspect, for instance, that Obama’s picking of Susan Rice and Samantha Power as part of his foreign policy advising team during the campaign (and his subsequent assignment of both to high level posts once in office) tipped the scales in his decision to pursue an intervention in Libya.

    While the first two traits, intelligence and management skills are traits of the candidate, the likely more important (and more inherently political) trait one of the group that surrounds the candidate. There is a tendency among the populace to attribute all behavior of an administration to the man at the top, and though he is the ultimate source of responsibility, much of how the actual mechanics of an administration ends up depends upon who the candidate chooses to associate with for his opinions (as well as who chooses to associate with a candidate).

    As to Rick Perry in particular, I really can’t comment. This release doesn’t give me confidence in his intelligence, and the small amount of information I’ve heard of his perceived positions (important for the third characteristic) isn’t encouraging, so I doubt that he’s a candidate that I would support, but I’m willing to wait and see more information come out.

  29. TGGP says: • Website

    Razib, I don’t know how familiar you are with Hopefully Anonymous, but he has had an unusual amount of focus on finding opposition candidates who have demonstrated technocratic competence or signals thereof.

    gcochran, Yvain (who seems to be a Y type) wrote about that sort of U-curve with Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism.

  30. My historical reference was not “fake-erudite,”

    i wasn’t talking about you.

  31. @neuro-conservative, #2
    looking at your list and the comment that goes along with it, you apparently judge g.w. bush to have been a better president than clinton. seen from over here in europe, this is a bit hard to grasp. can you really prefer a president (bush) who started two mindless wars of revenge that destabilized the middle east even more and left you with a truly monstrous budget deficit over a president who pulled you into two other wars (Kosovo and Somalia, as far as i remember, although Somalia may have started before his incumbency) for slightly less obnoxious reasons (seen from over here in europe, that is) that were at least small-scale enough to be controllable and not too costly and who left you with a balanced budget. as i said, your position is a bit hard to understand on my side of the atlantic
    that goes for some of the other presidents, too.

  32. 32. gcochran Says:
    August 7th, 2011 at 11:30 am
    It strikes me that on some issues, average people tend to think X, smarter people think Y, while yet smarter people think X again

    One example here could be Market Failure – there are people who think markets don’t really fail, then there are smarter people who realize that markets do fail, then there are smarter people still who realize that markets fail but what to do about this is not so clear.

    Or maybe this is this just confirmation bias on my part.

  33. There are 200,000,000 adults in America, so we ought to be able to find a President who is pretty all-around good.

  34. yep, i’m with #40. no matter the ideology or identity you should be able to find SOMEONE smart.

    for those commenters (who i banned) complaining about me being a dick to commenters, please understand that on many popular blogs the tendency is for nasty commenters to be verbally abusive and insulting toward the poster (which then prompts lots of labor hours removing or banning these people). this seems to be taken as a necessary part of the package of having a semi-popular blog. i’d much rather the environment be where commenters be on their best behavior. of course that means many of you are one off commenters, because you’re not usually rebuked if you subtly shift OT elsewhere and take great offense. that’s fine. i have people who’ve been commenting on my blogs since 2002 who are still commenting.

  35. For example, we can find a couple of dozen people to be nuclear submarine captains. That’s a pretty weird job: you’ve got to be highly competent, plus you’ve got to want to spend your working career at the bottom of the ocean, plus they have an unusual psychological profile: you have to be kind of laid back. No Captain Ahabs or Captain Queegs. So far, we haven’t had major trouble finding nuclear sub captains — after all, it’s a big country.

  36. #37 Ruth, Clinton’s war-count was higher than 2. Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan. Not all invasions, but acts of war against all, if the US weren’t so much bigger that those countries were not able to reply. And our current president is busily attacking in four countries, two of them new targets since he took over.

    As for Perry, I am undecided. Low grades don’t concern me. His record since is what matters. Compared to the other Repubs, which right now is the only real consideration, he doesn’t sound so bad. Bachman? Smart enough, but no real experience. Paul? A fruitloop. A nice fruitloop, but still. Romney? I don’t know. No doubt he has the brains, but I suspect he would be another GHW Bush.

    I wish the Dems could find a candidate who was not a far left ideologue to run a primary challenge. But who could that possibly be? The Dem potential field is far weaker than the pitiful Repub choices. Hillary is the only possibility, and I just don’t see her going for it.

  37. There are 200,000,000 adults in America, so we ought to be able to find a President who is pretty all-around good.

    And yet, decade after decade, we are failing to do it.

  38. Dean Simonton wrote a paper on this subject and even cites Sailer 🙂

    “The scores were obtained by applying missing-values estimation methods
    (expectation-maximization) to published assessments of (a) IQ (Cox, 1926; n = 8), (b)
    Intellectual Brilliance (Simonton, 1986c; n = 39), and (c) Openness to Experience
    (Rubenzer & Faschingbauer, 2004; n = 32). The resulting scores were then shown to
    correlate with evaluations of presidential leadership performance. The implications for
    George W. Bush and his presidency were then discussed.”

    (Presidential IQ, Openness, Intellectual Brilliance, and
    Leadership: Estimates and Correlations for 42 U.S. Chief Executives)

  39. Dean Simonton wrote a paper on this subject and even cited Sailer 🙂

    This diagram plots Presidential IQ against Presidential success according to Simonton.

  40. Americans don’t want to elect somebody noticably smarter than themselves. Isn’t that obvious by now? You think somebody is going to run on a campaign “Vote for me, I’m a brilliant economist, who actually grasps the complexity of the modern world.” No way, no how. We are going to keep electing boobs who act like your swell guy nieghbor with whom you can share a beer and a few yucks down at the end of your driveway. I wish it were different, but it isn’t. The really bright politicians who do manage to get elected are carefully coached to hide their real intellegence, they are highly competent actors.

  41. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “There are 200,000,000 adults in America, so we ought to be able to find a President who is pretty all-around good.”

    Except that all-around good person–the one who is smart, successful, charming, and attractive–also can’t have any baggage of any kind, something that is becoming increasingly rare in the age of the Internet where a permanent electronic record of everything is kept for posterity. At this point, anyone with a Facebook page or Youtube account would probably be automatically disqualified.

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