We're Sorry, Larry

Larry Summers caught a lot of grief for a statement that has been oft-misreported:

"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability - there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means - which can be debated - there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population."

Carpe Diem brings this chart, visit the link for more explanation.

Personally, I don't have a lot of problems with the gender hypothesis, but I am skeptical of our ability to test intelligence.  I think most of us in the real world have enough experience to understand that the people we meet have a range of cognitive abilities, but I am not sure it is even possible to put a number on this, particularly since my experience is that there are many categories of intelligence and intelligence in one area is not intelligence in another.  Besides, I think most IQ tests are dominated by logic problems where one's ability to solve them improves with practice and training -- but this is counter to the idea we are somehow testing some property separate from education or training.

Update: As to the idea of different intelligences, I will offer myself as an example.  In my prime, I was pretty freaking good at advanced math, and later in life I got pretty good at deconstructing business problems that were pretty complex.  But I can't spell my way out of a paper bag, and I have a horrendous proof-reading ability (as all my readers will know by now).  I can stare at text over and over and still miss obvious errors.  I have a fabulous memory for concepts and problem-solving approaches, and I can recite the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory, but have almost no ability to retain a name, date, or phone number.


  1. Ignoramus:

    To me, IQ tests are like judging overall basketball talent with a free throw shooting contest.

    While not irrelevant, (1) exceptional talent doesn't necessarily stand out, (2) some who do well are actually over-rated, and (3) occasional idiot savant talents get overlooked, e.g. Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O'Neal -- our most famous Irish-American.

  2. D-man:

    Where's the surprise? Our learned politicians have quantized who is rich and who is poor. Put them in charge of the task force to define IQ and they most assuredly will. I suspect the resulting law will be 2,200 pages long and will be passed under the deem and pass rule.

  3. Scott:

    Engineers and related occupations have great difficulty spelling in the English language. That’s because English is a conglomeration of multiple languages. (We raise chickens but eat poultry.) Each of the original languages has different spelling rules. Someone that sees patterns and applies rules consistently (like a good mathematician or engineer) will naturally have trouble with something that is so inconsistent as spelling in the English language.

  4. Evil Red Scandi:

    Sadly, it's all irrelevant because many women can knock the IQ's of most men down by about 30% just by wearing the right outfit.

  5. Rick C:

    "Someone that sees patterns and applies rules consistently (like a good mathematician or engineer) will naturally have trouble with something that is so inconsistent as spelling in the English language."

    I could make the argument that you're entirely backwards, and someone with that level of intelligence could simply memorize the spelling of thousands of words.

    Also, Warren, they have these amazing things these days called spell-checkers. :)

  6. Fred Z:

    I have an adopted son of mostly unknown genetic background. Watching him grow up has been fascinating. He is no good at school, never has been.

    He is commercially brilliant. In grade 5 he was trading pogs (Remember them?) and later video games for more pogs and games, and money. Little brat was making money out of thin air. He is now 22 and making a good living curbing cars.

    He supposedly has ADHD. Our doctor laughed at that term and told us the kid has AES - Attention to Everything Skill and told me to take him hunting. I did. He shot a gopher dead from 100 yards with an ancient single shot .22 the first time he ever shot at a non stationary target. He knows exactly where the game is before I know the game is even this side of the horizon. He knows when game is behind us.

    There are many kinds of intelligence.

  7. Michael:

    Fred makes a good point on education. We have one model. 1 hour per day per subject, 3 times a week, over 19 weeks and teach a group of subjects. I do horrible in this environment. Take a single subject, 8 hours a day over a week, and I excel.

    Rather than accept that people learn differently, the "minds" of education rather put labels on these kids (ADHD).

  8. nzc:

    TJIC has made this point to me before, and frankly, I'm fairly convinced -- it's clear that there are more dolts AND geniuses among men than women.

    The facile socio-biological argument is that men are, frankly, pretty much expendable in the grand scheme of survival, whereas women must survive for significant time so the children can grow up; so they tend to have IQ's clustered in the range best suited to overall success. It may be better for the men to survive, and hang around, but it's not NECESSARY. Further, since they only have to be around briefly to win the genetic lottery, there may well be more to be gained by having a wider distribution of intelligence. Folks with very high IQs, the "alien smart" ones, don't do that well overall in life. I know a whole bunch of them. But every once in a while, one of them makes a huge contribution. Might as well let the more expendable ones do that, mostly.

    And I sort of think, absent counterargument, that the facile theory works.

    Scott: I find your argument convincing, but given the explanation of the problem, I wonder who *could* find the language easy. And there are demonstrably those who do. Are they worse at applying patterns? Or just worse at applying them *uniformly*? I think it's the latter.

  9. mesaeconoguy:

    Did Harvard eventually and finally castrate Larry?

    Such a sad poster child of progressive cannibalism ™…

  10. John Moore:

    Although its popular to diss IQ tests (especially on the left side of the political spectrum), IQ tests of youngsters have a strong predictive capability for general academic and life success, and various other results.

    IOW, they work surprisingly well (for a measure of anything human) to measure *something* that is important.

    Re: Math - the ability for complex math is well known to decrease rapidly with age in most mathematicians. Einstein was quite young when he produced all his important works (which were, fundamentally, hairy math and some very precise logic).

  11. Greg:

    Larry Summers got the bum rush by the idiots who make a career about being offended. There's a difference between saying "Genetics makes a difference in certain endeavors" and "Only people with certain genetic characteristics should do these endeavors."

    Perhaps that could be explained to these idiots with an anti-white example. Almost everyone can run a marathon. (Someone born with cystic fibrosis is an example of someone who probably can't.) If you want to do well in a marathon, you'll need to practice, but you need some inherent ability, perhaps in the top 50% in terms of physical ability. If you want to be in the top 10 in the world, you not only have to practice, but you need the extremely rare genetic traits that appear to be centered on an eastern African population.

    So, if a person wants to go into mathematics, he or she should. Almost everyone could complete a degree, with practice. A fair number of people, men and women, could become professional mathematicians. Of course, the problem with determining success in a field like mathematics is it's subjective. There isn't a list of finishing times. So there's still the opportunity to feel as if your failure to make top 10 isn't because you aren't a top 10 talent.

  12. Gringo:

    That graph is consistent with what I have read about IQ distribution for males and females. Relatively more females in the middle, relatively more males at both ends. I once worked at an institution for the mentally retarded, and there were definitely more males at the institution than females. More males in special ed programs.

  13. the other coyote:

    There used to be a theory that women's genetic code was more stable, since they were XX. Men had more genetic defects including mental defects because the Y (as in XY) is less stable than the X. Severely, profoundly retarded men in the group home my old roommate worked at (the guys who used to be institutionalized and drugged, back when there were asylums) were diagnosed as "fragile X" in other words on the way to being YY, not XY.

    She said there were far, far, far fewer women that were autistic or retarded (we still used retarded, that may be politically incorrect now) than men and the theory was that second X.

    That's psycho babble from 20 years ago, and I assume that theory has been thrown out the window in the intervening.

  14. Chris:

    I'm five years younger than you and have the same strengths and weaknesses. We're just getting old.