Friday, August 14, 2009

Smart Bombs: Mark Dery, Steven Pinker on the Nature-Nurture Wars and the Politics of IQ - Boing Boing

Smart Bombs: Mark Dery, Steven Pinker on the Nature-Nurture Wars and the Politics of IQ - Boing Boing

Mark Dery: I'm interested in the relationship between a facility with language---eloquence, by any other name---and intelligence. I'm especially interested in the question of whether people possessed of a certain facility with language can use language as a sort of simulation engine to create the illusion of a greater intelligence than they actually possess, whether through eloquence or, more crudely, the strategic use of a large vocabulary (specifically, arcane words or rarified jargon), highbrow allusions, and the like.
Thanks for taking the time to read and consider this query.

Steven Pinker: Unfortunately, there has not been much systematic work on the relation between language fluency and psychometric measures of intelligence. There are some neuropsychological and genetic syndromes in which retarded children and adults can speak deceptively well, fooling onlookers into thinking that there is nothing wrong with them. I discuss one case of hydrocephalus, and another of a child with Williams Syndrome, in chapter 2 of The Language Instinct.

Within the normal range, the word "glib"pretty much captures the common-sense intuition that it is possible to be verbally fluent without saying anything intelligent. On the other hand, even if fluency, high vocabulary and the like can momentarily fool listeners into overestimating the person's intelligence (or at least the quality of his thought, which is not perfectly correlated with intelligence---smart people can say foolish things), I suspect that the vast majority of verbally fluent people are also intelligent by standard measures. Vocabulary, as you probably know, is highly g-loaded, and on average, people who test well in verbal intelligence also test well in all other measures of intelligence (that is the basis for "g").

On your cultural critique of IQ tests: I'm not sure if you plan to reiterate the arguments of Stephen Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man (and similar critiques from Leon Kamin and others) but I assume you know that his arguments were considered highly inaccurate (to the point of dishonesty) by the scientists who study intelligence even when the book was published, and by now have been pretty much discredited.

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