Due to the paywall I generally avoid linking to op-eds, columns, or articles in the New York Times. However, since Business Insider has linked to a NYT op-ed on intelligence, I’m going to comment on it. Here’s the meat of the op-ed:
Research has shown that intellectual ability matters for success in many fields — and not just up to a point.
Exhibit A is a landmark study of intellectually precocious youths directed by the Vanderbilt University researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow. They and their colleagues tracked the educational and occupational accomplishments of more than 2,000 people who as part of a youth talent search scored in the top 1 percent on the SAT by the age of 13. (Scores on the SAT correlate so highly with I.Q. that the psychologist Howard Gardner described it as a “thinly disguised” intelligence test.) The remarkable finding of their study is that, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile — the profoundly gifted — were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work. A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage.
My reaction to that is so what? I don’t think there’s any doubt that highly intelligent people are better able to connect things mentally and do it faster than those who are less intelligent. However, any number of studies have found only a weak correlation between very high intelligence and income.
Furthermore, we’re talking about a rather small number of people. The 99th percentile is around two standard deviations above normal. The 99.99th percentile is around four standard deviations above normal. That’s roughly one in every 4,000 people or 75,000 people in the entire United States. Most of the people you went to school with, have met, or deal with on an everyday basis don’t make the cut.
Most of those who are in the top 1% (or even the top .1%) of income earners don’t make the cut, either.
To my mind there are several key points to remember: there’s a difference between accomplishment and the ease of accomplishment and incomes are, as I said, only weakly correlated with IQ. The highest paid nuclear physicist, whose IQ is almost undoubtedly four standard deviations above normal, probably earns less than the median cardiac surgeon who almost certainly isn’t even above the second standard deviation above normal. The supply of nuclear physicists may be low but the demand is pretty low, too.
Another factor that should be kept in mind. Cognitive development isn’t the only kind. Physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development are all important and, guess what? Individuals with high levels of social development are more likely to succeed physically, cognitively, and emotionally than those with the highest levels of cognitive development and lower levels of physical, emotional, etc.
For me the bottom line is that for the foreseeable future we’re going to be building a society and economy in which half of the people are normal (i. e. within one standard deviation of median) while a quarter are below normal and a quarter are above normal. Allowing our society to transmogrify into one in which the only people who can prosper are those in that top quarter or, worse, in the top .01% is a society doomed to failure.