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From time to time some commentators say that there is no agreement on what constitutes intelligence.
In fact, there is a widely agreed statement drawn up by Linda Gottfredson, which you can read below.

Many people have added variants. I will be going to the International Society for Intelligence Research meeting at Edinburgh University next week.

Here is the program:

If you have your own additions I will discuss them with participants, and see whether the statement needs updating.

I hope to tweet about the conference papers, using the tag #ISIR2018

You can also read the best introductory text:

Or an older summary of the topic in 2000 words.

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  1. res says:

    Emil’s talk sounds interesting. It looks like he is presenting his paper from earlier this year which Anatoly Karlin blogged about at:
    Is there any chance of hearing how that is received by the conference attendees?

    It would be interesting to hear more about the results of this survey: Survey of Americans’ Beliefs Regarding Intelligence
    Will it be published soon?

    Seth Grant’s address did not have a link with more information. Is there more about it anywhere?
    Madness, Genius and the origin of the brain: Molecular building blocks for the behavioural repertoire

    Conference flyer for anyone interested:

  2. Rational says:


    When I used to argue with liberals, I would then plainly tell him/her that he/she is a liberal because he/she is not intelligent and, when they disagreed, challenge them to prove Maxwell’s equations. Nobody ever did.

    I challenge Obama to prove Maxwell’s equations.

    In fact, I will lower my standards—I challenge Obama to prove the formula for the roots of a quadratic equation, which is high school (or middle school) algebra.

    I challenge Krugman (or Obama) to come to an empty room with me, with a desk and chair, and a bottle of water, in case he gets thirsty, and I will give pen and paper, and one hour of time (which is ample) and let him prove Maxwell’s equations.

  3. What’s the argument that IQ tests test ‘intelligence’? Here’s an argument that they test middle-class knowledge:

    P1) IQ tests are experience-dependent.
    P2) IQ tests are experience-dependent because some classes are more exposed to the knowledge and structure on the test by way of their being born into a certain social class.
    P3) If IQ tests are experience-dependent because some social classes are more exposed to the knowledge and the structure of the test along with whatever else comes with membership of that social class then these tests test distance from the middle class and its knowledge structure.
    P4) How one scores on a test has to do with what information they are exposed to along with what they are exposed to in their everyday lives that affects test performance.
    C) Therefore IQ tests test learned skills and knowledge more prevalent in the middle class than lower classes; IQ test scores are largely “middle class” scores, your knowledge of the middle class.

    • Replies: @D. K.
    , @phil
    , @James Thompson
  4. @res

    “Ability in mental sports is g-loaded”

    Would this be a mental ability? Explainable by differences in genes?

  5. D. K. says:

    My father was born in rural Illinois in 1921, the ninth of ten children born to a coal miner and his wife. My grandmother died at 29, when my father was two years old. (Her father had died, alongside his elder brother, in a minor coal-mine collapse, in October 1895, when he was 29 or 30 years old.) My grandfather remarried and had one more child, who has terminal cancer but is still alive. My grandfather was thrown out of work at the coal mine because of the Great Depression. My father had to drop out of school in the eighth grade, to help my grandfather tar roofs for a substitute living. At 19, my father joined the Coast Guard. (During the war, his cutter sank a brand-new German u-boat, out on its maiden mission, in the North Atlantic.) He was belatedly discharged, months after the war had ended, on his 25th birthday. He married my mother, who worked at U.S. Steel’s Gary Works, less than six months later. I was the eighth of their nine children, all of whom were born in the same Gary hospital as the famous Jackson siblings.

    So, where, when and how, exactly, did my father pick up all of his exquisite middle-class skills and knowledge to score a 140 on the IQ test given to him by the Coast Guard, at age 19? (“Gee, that’s almost a genius!” exclaimed the Coast Guardsman who saw and told my father his score.)

    My eldest brother, the son of a young electrician and housewife, went on to score a genius-level IQ at his public grade school in Gary. (His teacher surreptitiously had told him his IQ score. Our aunt, who taught in the same school, surreptitiously looked it up in the office files and confirmed it for him.) My second-eldest brother transferred to a Catholic school, beginning in the third grade. One day, the nun who taught his class read out her classroom’s names, along with a respective number that she never bothered to explain to her charges. Perhaps she assumed that those with the higher numbers would figure things out on their own. My brother’s number was 148, which I believe was the highest of all. Where, when and how, exactly, did my brothers pick up all of their exquisite middle-class skills and knowledge, growing up in a working-class neighborhood on the west side of a mid-size industrial city, living in the long summertime shadow of Chicago?

    I think that your theory needs some more work.

    • Replies: @Factorize
  6. @Rational

    Maxwell’s equations are determined by experiment, and cannot be proved a priori, only from experimental results expressed in simpler form.

  7. phil says:

    Middle-class blacks score lower on IQ tests, on average, than whites and Asians who are below the poverty line. Why do you think that is?

  8. anon[296] • Disclaimer says:

    > P1) IQ tests are experience-dependent.
    > P2) IQ tests are experience-dependent
    > P3) If IQ tests are experience-dependent
    > information they are exposed to

    Written by someone without abstract thought, can learn only when the “experience’ hit him on the head.

  9. IQ tests are incredibly boring. Even more boring that SATs.

    If you do well on IQ tests, you are a hack and a drudge without a sliver of actual humanity in you.

    How kind are people with a high IQ?

    All the people I know with a high IQ are insane or nearly there.

  10. bartok says:

    IQ tests are incredibly boring.

    One quick-and-dirty IQ test is fun – it asks you to pronounce foreign words (borrowed, in English) of varying difficulty. Niche would be an example of an easy one.

  11. From time to time some commentators say that there is no agreement on what constitutes intelligence.

    How about “societies refugees choose as their destination when they escape their shitholes possess the characteristics defining intelligence”?

  12. Niche is pronounced nitch.

    • Replies: @Kratoklastes
    , @obwandiyag
  13. Factorize says:
    @D. K.

    D.K., I am sorry to hear that your family is coping with cancer.

    I have been reading about cancer for years and I am not sure whether I would treat the phrase “terminal cancer” as a definitive prognosis anymore. I do not want to interfere, though if you are interested I might offer you a few comments.

    • Replies: @D. K.
  14. D. K. says:

    Thanks! My dad’s “baby (half-)sister” is in her 90s, now, and she is prepared for what may be. Last I heard, though, she was doing relatively well, after whatever treatment she was able to handle, short of surgery.

    • Replies: @Factorize
  15. @res

    Survey of Americans’ Beliefs Regarding Intelligence

    I could seriously not think of anything less likely to furnish information that would lead to a greater understanding of intelligence, than the thoughts of a genuinely-random sample of Americans – the “dim cousins” of the West.

    Firstly, surveys are simply not useful analytical tools for things that have actual, measurable, economic effects (as intelligence absolutely does). That’s got nothing to do with Americans as a bad sample, though.

    Surveys are useful to identify ignorance – because people can’t fake what they don’t know – and to evaluate pointless shit like how people ‘feel’ about something of significance.

    The actual importance of intelligence to economic development (and to people’s lives) is an empirical issue, and it can be determined with reasonable accuracy: put simply, more intelligence means more ability to determine what your personal objectives are, and to reach them. (That specifically does not mean “smarter is richer“, because super-smart people are not interested in being rich for its own sake).

    A random sample will give responses at the median – i.e., the opinions of people who would not know shit from clay if you made them taste-test it.

    The US is so cognitively bifurcated that the cognitive élite may as well be a different species to the median adult (where ‘cognitive élite’ means “IQ inside the top 1%” – of which more below) .

    Have a look at the OECD’s PIAAC survey results: the median American adult does not reach “Level III” in either literacy or numeracy.

    To get a handle of what that means… it means that the median US adult does not possess the cognitive grunt to

    ★ understand and respond appropriately to dense or lengthy texts, including continuous, non-continuous, mixed, or multiple pages. […]
    ★ understand text structures and rhetorical devices […]
    ★ identify, interpret, or evaluate one or more pieces of information and make appropriate inferences […]
    ★ perform multistep operations and select relevant data from competing information in order to identify and formulate responses.

    Multiple pages? The horror!

    (See, OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey Of Adults Skills

    pp63-67 give an overview of what adults can do at each of the five assessed literacy levels;
    pp75-78 do the same for numeracy;
    pp 87-90 do likewise for problem-solving. )

    Note that before the US put pressure on the OECD to change the definitions of each level, Level III was defined as the “minimum required for individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy“. And the median US adult does not get there (and when you look at the US numbers dissected by race, the median white US adult doesn’t either – boo hoo).

    To my way of thinking, the only people who have anything interesting to say are the “Level V” people – those in the top 0.7% of the distribution (0.4% in the US) who can

    ★ perform tasks that involve searching for and integrating information across multiple, dense texts;
    ★ construct[] syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view, or evaluat[e] evidence and arguments […]
    ★ apply and evaluate logical and conceptual models, and evaluate the reliability of evidentiary sources and select key information.
    ★ [be] aware of subtle, rhetorical cues and are able to make high-level inferences or use specialised background knowledge.

    (Needless to say, I also reckon that the individual must be Level V in numeracy, in order to say meaningful things about quantitative stuff – the definitions of numeracy skill levels are in the PDF linked).

    I have done the tests, and it was not artificially difficult: I scored where my tested IQ (and my academic results) indicated I should.

    For shits and giggles, I also re-took the test and tried to ‘hit the median’ and I was appalled at how much obvious stuff I had to get wrong.

    Level V strikes me as the absolute minimum cognitive requirement in order for a non-specialist to make a useful contribution on any matter of moderate complexity (Level IV plus graduate-level specialist training at an elite institution would also suffice).

    Anyhow: with a sample size of 165,000 across the OECD, it’s beyond argument that the score distribution of the PIAAC sample will be a reasonable approximation to the IQ distribution… hence my assertion that “Level V” and “inside the top 1% of the IQ distribution” and “cognitive elite” can be used interchangeably.

    To establish that US adults finish stony motherless last among Anglophone OECD nations, see

    Rammstedt et al (2013) PIAAC 2012: Overview of the Main Results

    p5 gives the mapping from raw test scores to the 5 assessment levels;
    p7-8 give examples of test criteria for the different levels
    p9 gives the median score/PIAAC level for each OECD country.


    And of course, cain’t write anything about intelligence without bringing race into it (WHITE POWER!!)… I’ve said this before, but it seems to me that a fuckton of folks who are infatuated with the “non-whites are dumb” trope, are cognitively pretty close to the median. (‘fuckton’ is a technical term – a readily-observable supermajority)

    • Replies: @res
  16. @obwandiyag

    Depends where you live.

    Yanks would probably say nitch, and so would Poms who were trying to pretend to be middle-class[1] by pretending not to be able to talk Frog.

    In Straya, everyone says neesh – from production line workers to university professors.

    There’s less variation in “niche” here in Oz, than there is in “schedule” (“shed-yool” vs “sked-yool” vs “sked-yil”… but rarely “shed-yil”).

    [1] “middle class” in the English sense – which just means “apes the public values of the aristocracy (being ignorant of the private behaviour of same); people who try to be pukkha“. It has nothing whatsoever to do with wealth (or income) unlike the American definition, in which middle class and middle-income are synonyms.

  17. @Rational

    Why require something so specific? Even if you wanted to be numeracy/quant fixated, you could have chosen any one of ten thousand far less abstruse examples – some of them from everyday life… e.g.,

    ① prove that “switch” is the correct strategy in the standard “Monty Hall” problem;
    ② derive the first-order conditions for a constrained local maximum of a multivariate function;
    ③ derive the stable manifold for a set of differential equations.

    If the individual got past ① and was not majoring in a probability-heavy branch of mathematics, then they are objectively very smart (well inside the top 10%). As an example, my Lovely is a quantitative null, but she could ‘work it out’ and give a word-sketch of the proof (and as should be expected, she graduated summa cum laude from a university ranked in the top 30 globally in her discipline – Law).

    I’ve taught 3rd year classes in a course where the entire student body has to be in the top 5% of high-school graduates just to get into first year, where the bottom quarter of the class could not ‘grok’ ② or ③ given an entire half-semester to work it out.

    Your example assumes that numeracy and intelligence are virtually the same; that’s a very bad assumption (even though it would suit me down to the ground – it’s my wheelhouse).

    Intelligence is not that one-dimensional – but Americans are particularly impressed by anything to do with mathematics. It’s kind of a “NASCAR” effect (one powerful dimension, going round and round in circles every 19 seconds).

  18. @obwandiyag

    IQ tests are incredibly boring. Even more boring that SATs.

    I can only imagine how boring it must be for you, sitting in an exam hall, looking at that test paper … and having no idea what the answers are.

    Next, getting into university/college is ‘boring’; undergraduate classes are ‘boring’; exams are ‘boring’.

    That’s the sort of drivel that grownups hear from kids who think they should be taken seriously without any evidence as to why that should be the case.

    Maybe do a Google search real quick and see if anyone offers an undergraduate course in playing XBox.


    If all of the smart people you know are ‘insane or nearly there’, then you need to examine your definitions (either of ‘smart’, ‘insane’ or both). All of the smart people I know have only one common characteristic: they’re smart. In pretty much every other dimension of their lives, they differ – a few (like me) are argumentative arseholes; most aren’t.

    Seems to me like some folks that you think are smart, didn’t give your opinion the weight you think it deserves. Welcome to real life, son – get used to that feeling, because you’re gonna feel it a whole lot more often than you’re currently prepared for.

  19. res says:

    I could seriously not think of anything less likely to furnish information that would lead to a greater understanding of intelligence, than the thoughts of a genuinely-random sample of Americans – the “dim cousins” of the West.

    I won’t dispute that, but I am interested in what the conventional wisdom is.

    Thanks for the PIAAC link. Those numeracy results for the US are depressing. And the literacy results are not that much better.

    Thanks also for the OECD link and your specific page pointers (at 433 pages there is a lot there).

  20. Here is my comment on Dr. Ritchie’s book, which I read this week thanks to James’s recommendations: This is a solid primer from a leading scientist in the field, but essentially is just a précis. A novice reader on the subject would lack much context, and an informed reader could use much, much more of new findings in the context of existing knowledge. Reading the book flew by in a couple of hours, which I suppose is the aim of the “All That Matters” imprint, which takes various topics and offers brief overviews of key points, summations, things to remember, etc. But I was left hungering for more meat. For those who have delved into the writings of Murray, Jensen, Rushton, Thompson, Godffredson and others, this book is a skimming of their main points—albeit in a charming, almost too accessible way—but ultimately unsatisfying in its brevity and lack of focus. It’s been almost 25 years since “The Bell Curve” — a book that took a huge field and intensely focused on the societal role of intelligence—profoundly changed the public conversion. I hope that Dr. Ritchie is able to wrangle a new contract with a different publisher for a more extended treatment of a core idea. That will mean either a) providing a meatier overview, or b) taking a single issue and pushing it to its limits. Because of his accessible style, Ritchie has the opportunity to offer us a new “Bell Curve” insofar as it might dramatically move the *public* conversation forward, versus merely the scientific one. Good luck, Dr. Ritchie.

  21. @obwandiyag

    Niche has always been pronounced nitch. Only boobs pronounce it otherwise. No matter their class.

  22. @obwandiyag

    Cretin can’t tell I am smarter than he is, and probably has never taken an IQ test or he would know that they are boring.

  23. Factorize says:
    @D. K.

    I am very glad that you found my comment to be non-intrusive and possibly helpful. Trying to find some treatment to cope with cancer is perhaps one of the most relevant of cognitive tests that we will often face in our life. Yet for so many of us it is too high of a mountain.

    With cancer it is wise to have some last line of defence if it advances to the point where medicine no longer has options. At the top of such a list would be the recently described E260. Detailed synthesis instructions were given. The oncoprotein targeted by E260 was only found to occur in cancer and sperm cells (in mice) which resulted in no side effects and yet powerful treatment effects were seen. Germany would be one of the few nations that might permit this treatment at such an early stage of development. Right to Try in the US and UK only applies to latter stage development.

    One can find equally impressive research in almost any recent cancer article. There is a great deal of realistic optimism that an effective treatment is emerging. However, it might take decades to translate this research into marketed products. By making a rational choice considering risks and benefits one might access the treatments of tomorrow today.

    I greatly wish that my comment is helpful to you. There are many other suggestions that would be much less difficult to access.
    Best wishes.

  24. Greenwich- IQ is not human avg intelligence… but in industrialized countries. IQ-100 is a point of reference and not a general avg.

    Intelligence is adaptation itself, no have such thing stupid living being, but more or less smarter. You can adapt in ”multiple” ways in given environment, you don’t need to be the ”winner” to be well adapted, just adapted.

    Instincts or instinctive memory is itself a knowledge, a primitive type, because the being take from environment some very relevant informations to adapt, to stablish a connection with it, mirroring way. When a certain aquatic species adapt to the seabed and lose its sight sense it’s embodying the darkness of such place, embodying its feature. Humans have evolved its environmental memory, when it’s possible to expand or even to change superficially the instincts, internalizing more memory than the instinctive boundaries, centralizing more information in one of the fundamental systems, the nervous/perceptive-sensitive one.

    Intelligence starts with perception or consciousness and when you develop it well you can become more wiser, because you can rethink about instinctive assumptions, in other words, a system which are TRULY self-aware and not just partial as most human beings are. A system which can understand it at the point to improve itself.

    One of most huge but little-focuse aspects OF intelligence is the existential ones, and via self-conscious perspective, i mean, without surrealism or religions and ideologies, and also without the dominance of instincts in behavior and perception. And in my view, to become truly self aware you must need accept and trivialize this hard realities, for example, the senseless purpose to life and its extreme fragility and finitude. This is knowledge, central in our lives but most people is not emotionally mature enough to accept it, maybe because they are mature only enough to obey and adapt to their mundane human-made environment.

  25. res says:
    @Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

    Thanks, Emil!

    Would the sample size be large enough to permit repeating your Scrabble (et al.) analysis with only English speaking countries? Or have you found another way of dealing with the language effect?

    • Replies: @Emil O. W. Kirkegaard
  26. Factorize says:

    What cognitive ability level is required to solve the Rubik’s cube? I took about a month to solve the cube without assistance. I think this is perhaps one of my top lifetime cognitive achievements. I doubt if many have actually solved the cube without assistance. I solved the 4 by 4 and a version of the Hypercube (also without assistance). I found these twisty puzzles a great way to focus my thinking and develop my intelligence.

  27. @res

    The data are public (, so I recommend you do your own analyses.

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