Friday 30 November 2012

Who is NOT over-promoted, in the over-promoted society


Continuing from


In a world of declining general intelligence, not everybody is over-promoted with respect to intelligence.

Some people have the level of intelligence which would have been commensurate with their position in society about a hundred years ago.

Who are these people?


They are those of very high intelligence (by modern standards) but low conscientiousness and agreeableness (low empathizing).

In other words, they are intelligent people with awkward personalities that mean on the one hand they do not get promoted (because they have awkward personalities); while on the other hand they do not want promotion (because they know enough to recognize that that they are not capable of functioning properly at a higher level than they already are at. Not that others could do better - they cannot - but that they themselves could not do the job properly.).

Such not-over-promoted people actually understand what they are doing at the level at which they are doing it; and can provide a critique of what has happened and what has gone wrong.


I don't want to be too specific - but the handful of people I know who are potential geniuses (or unrecognized geniuses) are all functioning at lower levels than would have been commensurate with their abilities 100 years ago. (This is, I think, due to the trend for requring ever higher levels of docility, obedience and friendliness/ non-abrasiveness from employees of bureaucracies).

And I know of many more people of very high intelligence who are at the level where they would have been 100 years ago - but (becuase of the general delcine in g) are consequently of one-standard-deviation-plus higher in intelligence than their modern co-workers at the same level.

Also, I know of quite a few people of very high intelligence who are pretty much unemployable in modern conditions - however, perhaps that was always the case, perhaps there always were such people.


How to simplify over-complex systems (in an over-promoted society)


[Following from ]

In the long run, institutions cannot be more complex than the understanding of their leaders; thus, because the intelligence of leaders has declined, institutional complexity must reduce.

But the complexity must be reduced by great individual (specific human) reformers building-up complexity from core principles which they can understand

- and not therefore by condensation of the complexity into simplified general schemata (however this condensation might be attempted, by whatever means - currently usually statistical).

Building-up is the only thing that works because it preserves core functionality.


A positive example of what must happen was the method by which the complexity of Christianity was reduced by The Reformation, while preserving 'functionality' (salvation).

Since the Christian tradition had become so corrupt in the West, the religion was simplified to scriptural principles (by the inspired work of individual geniuses) and re-built from that base.


But the many recent institutional simplifications I have experienced professionally in education and health services have been damaging failures, precisely because they fail to preserve core functionality.

(e.g. Health service 'reforms' which severely damage the doctor-patient relationship and impose government objectives; teaching 'reforms' which reduced the amount of teaching and increase class sizes; college admission 'reforms' which impose inverse discrimination; research 'reforms' like peer review and research evaluation systems, which punish truth-seeking and truth-speaking.)

The failure to preserve core functionality is denied and lied about, and core function is redefined and redefined ('mission statements'); but the destruction is real, of course.  


The pyramid of technology, and of intellectual functions

[Following on from ]

There seems to be a pyramid of technology which corresponds to a pyramid of intellectual functions in large complex modern societies.

The peak of the pyramid is the high level of general intelligence (g) needed to make qualitative improvements in social functioning: breakthroughs.

This is the pyramid:

Breakthrough (qualitative)
Improvement (incremental)

What I am talking-about are those key factors which could be termed 'technology' in the broadest sense:

these would include forms of social organization (government, religion), food production - including agriculture, warfare and defence, and so on.

Whatever are the key functions upon which society depends.

The pyramid is most obvious for those complex technologies which led to the emergence of modern societies (the technologies of the linked agricultural and industrial revolutions) and upon which modern societies depend.

Modernity arose due to frequent breakthroughs and improvements - these breakthroughs in 'technology' enabling production to outgrow population growth for many generations.

But underneath it all was the breakthroughs.

So the breakthrough is the invention of something qualitatively new - some piece of machinery, some concept, a form of organization... This (as a rule) requires genius - a combination of very high intelligence and creativity.

This breakthrough is then incrementally improved - this does not require such high intelligence, nor does it require creativity - but can be done by 'trial and error'.

Sooner or later the entity (the piece of technology, the social institution) will wear-out, get broken or dissipate entropically, and need to be replaced - this may require workshops, factories, systems of apprenticeship, colleges - these need to be generated and made to work.

And, as it is being used or operating, from time to time the entity needs to be repaired. This is easier than replacing it, and the repair process may be broken down into specific checks and tasks.

But simply operating the entity, working the technology or working-in an institution, requires less capability than repair.

Nonetheless, there are people who cannot operate; they lack the requisite ability - they are sub-functional with respect to that specific 'technology' (although they may be functional for other technologies).

So, if we think of a gun; there was the breakthrough of the concept of a gun, what it could do and how; there was the incremental (trial and error) improvement of this basic breakthrough until there were functional guns - and the continued incremental improvement (and specialization) of these guns.

Then there is the matter of manufacturing and replacing guns; then below that there is the function of maintaining a gun (regular cleaning, oiling etc).

Then below that there is the function of shooting guns (so the hit the target, and so they do not kill the operator).

Below that again are sub-functional people - e.g. who cannot shoot the guns accurately, or who shoot them on impulse or for a joke; and these people are a liability because they may shoot themselves of the people on their side. Indeed, they are 'more trouble than they are worth' because they require such a high degree of supervision in order to prevent them inflicting damage.

If we think of an abstract field like science; there are the creative geniuses who make breakthroughs in theories or discoveries; and there are the non-creative intelligent people who may incrementally improve and refine these breakthroughs.

Then below that are the structures of education and apprenticeship which create the environment within which this can occur, and from which the higher level people may be generated - for example the people who work in (properly functioning) colleges and research institutions.

Below that are the people who use the products of science to make and do things (applied scientists, engineers, doctors, technologists);

and below that are the people who use what these makers and doers generate (e.g. skilled craftsmen);

and below that are the users;

and below them are people who cannot use science safely or appropriately - and must have it done for them, or not at all (e.g. children, and other people who lack the intellectual requisites).

This pyramid is also a hierarchy of general intelligence (g).

Intelligence is not the only important factor (personality - for instance - is very important) but intelligence is a vital and constraining factor in the above hierarchy.

If the required level of intelligence for the required function is not met - then the function will not be done.

So if we cannot repair and replace a piece of technology or a social institution (like medicine, or engineering); then when it breaks (due to wear and tear, or sabotage) it cannot be mended or re-made, and is lost.  

And as a society's average intelligence declines, as has happened in Western Europe, then it has a major impact on the above pyramid.

What happens initially is the over-promoted society; where the lack of intelligence means that people end-up at a level one (or two) categories too high for their cognitive abilities.

Those whose job is to make breakthroughs can now only make incremental improvements - they cannot do their core job. Therefore breakthroughs dry-up - and the whole basis of modern societies is lost.

But because breakthroughs are needed there there is a pretence of breakthroughs - and ideas that are just random variations and inversions and recombinations of what already exists (mere novelties)  are spun as breakthroughs.

Those whose role is to make incremental improvements are unable to function above the level of replacements and repair of already existing entities - so established things don't improve gradually as they used to.

They change but don't improve - therefore they get worse.

Perhaps this contributes to the fact that so many able people have given-up on trying to improve functionality, and lapsed into fashionability and careerism.

Those who are supposed to repair and maintain stuff cannot really understand how it works - so repair becomes reduced to maintenance, and the following of predecided procedures.

And the fact that so many people are over-promoted (for lack of anyone better) can lead to a deficiency of mere operatives - who may be inadequate either intellectually, or in terms of personality.

These are, in fact, sub-functional individuals who are being used for lack of anyone else.

And still there is a large and expanding 'underclass' of those unable or unwilling to perform any of the functions required by modern society.

All this is due to complexity.

If the technology is less complex, if the institutions are less complex, then people can perform at their proper level.

Except for breakthroughs which are necessary to modernity, but now very rare or absent - as those of the highest level of intelligence have all but disappeared.

So, what will happen is that things will get less complex - technology, society will simplify - because things cannot be sustained at the current level of complexity.

The over-promoted society: Bishops and other religious leaders


In an over-promoted society, where the majority of people can do their jobs but do not understand them

problems become obvious when there is change or crisis.


I shall use the Church of England as an example. There has been a substantial decline in the intelligence of people in Britain: what has been the effect on the church?

Well, the people running the church, the Bishops etc, used to be among the most intelligent members of society; and they were cognitively capable of understanding it, and of repairing it.

As intelligence declined (and as the church declined too, and became less able to attract the most intelligent) the people running the church could no longer repair it - but they could maintain it.

So long as nothing went wrong, so long as they didn't try to modify the church - things were fine.

So long as the leaders were humble enough to recognize that they their predecessors were superior in understanding, then matters went on without much of a problem. 


But the trouble with the over-promoted society is that it has a world view of progress, that things are getting better, and that therefore that frequent and radical change is necessary.

So, the leaders are incapable of positive change - because they don't know how to repair their institution, and are cognitively incapable of learning - are no longer humble, but consumed by their vision of progress.

They change things, and things very obviously begin to fall apart. They modify, they modernize the church...


If the modernized church was an aeroplane we could observe that it is grounded, unable to fly - yet, because it is a church not a piece of technology, the people who have wrecked are able to claim they have improved it.

The aeroplane may not be able to fly - but look! It can be used as a cafe and clubhouse!

And yet, claim the leaders, although it no longer flies it is still an aeroplane!


Intellectual decline continues, and the next generation of Bishops and church leaders comes along, and they are people who can neither repair nor even do routine maintenance...

So we get Bishops who are like untrained mechanics armed with monkey wrenches and let loose on some piece of intricate high-tech machinery.

The results are predictable - wreckage.


But in the over-promoted society with the religion of progress, the cause of the wreckage, the reason for the wreckage, is concealed from the wreckers.

The monkey wrench wielding incompetents blame the wreckage of the church either on the people who wanted to leave it as it was, on the basis that we moderns who cannot even repair it, very obviously lack the competence to rebuild it - these are the Prayer Book conservative and Anglo-Catholics; and/ or they blame the wreckage on those who want to simplify the church (leaving the core) to the point that we can understand, repair and maintain it (roughly-speaking, the conservative evangelicals).


But the wreckers are shielded by their incompetence: and this incompetence is due to inability.

The sexual liberation issues that have first divided then corrupted the CoE are really, really simple compared with the theological disputes of the past. They are no-brainers.

Using the standard evaluative methods of the church; the answers are very clear, very easy, unambiguous.

And yet the current Bishops cannot see this; cannot follow simple reasoning based on tradition and scripture (and the traditional interpretation of scripture).

The will not acknowledge their own intellectual incapacity, and - even worse - their own worldly corruption compared with the great Christians of the past whose work they are overthrowing, wrecking.


Incompetence is itself not an evil, and is anyway unavoidable in a declining society.

But when incompetence is denied it leads to pride which is the worst evil: that is the current situation.


The level of cognitive incompetence among church leaders is now so extreme as scarcely to be exaggerated.

This elite are able not to understand matters which used to be within the grasp of most of the population.


The Church of England leadership look at the doctrines of 2000 years of Christianity and they regard them with utter incomprehension.

They cannot imagine how any good and reasonable person could hold such ideas - they regard these ideas as monstrous.

They regard any modern person who holds these traditional Christian ideas as vile.


Since their own competence is, for the Bishops and other leaders, beyond question; the problem is those who challenge the results of their incompetence: those who point out that a church which used to fly is now merely a cafe and club; and even worse, a cafe and club with rapidly declining attendance.


But a church is about flying, not catering.

A church that can fly even two feet above the ground is still a church - but a church which is grounded and functions as something else is not a church: not at all, not even a little bit.


The vast majority of the Bishops and Christians leaders are not just mediocre Christians (we are all that) but not Christians at all, since they have redefined Christianity on non-Christian grounds; and their church organization is not a church at all, since it has discarded religious criteria.

At root this is a matter of sin, of apostasy; but the ground for this, and its swift and nearly-complete corruption, is a matter of over-promotion, of intellectual decline; as is the crisis of leadership in all domains throughout the West.

Once we recognize the fact of substantial intellectual decline, decline in general intelligence, then much becomes clear.


Bishops - it is apparent - do not understand the church, they do not understand the millennial sweep of Christianity - hence they cannot help but wreck it whenever they try to make any change and whatever their motivations might be.

As always, repentance must come first; they must repent their actions (and words, and thoughts) in recognition of their own reckless incompetence; and must pray for guidance.


The Christian Church in general does not depend on cognitive ability - but the Church of England, specifically, has done.

We must lean to do without it; and all the tools are there to enable this - we have scripture and we have tradition, thus we have the traditional understanding of scripture.

If only we are humble enough to be guided by it.  



The over-promoted society


I am now pretty much convinced that average and peak general intelligence (g) has been declining in the West for at least the past 200 years - and the rate of decline is at least half a standard deviation (circa 8 IQ points) per fifty years.

I have recently become aware of further evidence that the above is pretty much correct - but this is not yet published.


What this means is that we are living in an over-promoted society.

We have inherited social structures from earlier generations, with social roles dependent upon certain minimal cognitive capacities - but we lack sufficient people with the requisite cognitive capacity to fill these social functions, therefore although people can do their jobs and functions, they do not and cannot understand these functions.

Therefore when anything goes wrong or when any change is required, people will necessarily wreck what they have inherited.


It has been like giving a bunch of ten year old kids modern guns, tanks and aircraft - they can certainly shoot guns, many could drive tanks, and a few could fly aircraft - but they cannot maintain or repair the stuff - and certainly they cannot replace it.

They simply cannot do this - whether they wanted to or not (and mostly they can't be bothered, and would rather do other things anyway). 


Modern people are the same with their cultural inheritance. Not just technology but religion, science, the education system, politics, administration and management, literature, music, fine arts... you name it, we have wrecked it.

We wreck it because the majority of people who do these things cannot understand them; therefore necessarily cannot maintain, repair or replace them.


Compared with (say) 100 years ago - our premier intellectuals are like their school teachers, our school teachers are like their foremen, our skilled workers like their semi-skilled, our semi-skilled workers are like their peasants, and our unskilled workers are unable (and unwilling) to do anything useful at all.

(I mean they cannot do anything useful in the modern society which we have inherited - in other societies they might perform valuable work.)


And this continues.

There is no reasoning with these people - they cannot follow reason - they are over-promoted, they just cannot understand.


What is to be done?

Start again, simplify, build-up from the ground.

But that will happen anyway, willy nilly...


Note on the phrase 'willy nilly'. From Christopher Tolkien's glossary to Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale: Medieval English possessed special negative forms of some common verbs; see nys, nas, nere, noot [ nys from ne is, is not; nas from ne was, was not; nere from ne were, were it not; noot from ne woot, I do not know]... The phrase 'willy nilly' still contains one: 'will I, nill I' or whether I wish it or wish it not. 


Wednesday 21 November 2012

What can be done about the Genius famine?


I seem to have evolved such a distinctive view of the nature and effect of Creative Genius that I don't suppose anyone else holds any similar views...

And, in the end, I am ambivalent about Genius. Clearly Genius is such a powerful weapon that it can scarcely be trusted in the hands of a fallen Man.

Genius is thus more likely to lead to harm than good, for the same reason that any machine will usually do more harm than good.


But if the modern world has been necessarily based on the work of relatively few Geniuses - as I believe it has; and if Genius is disappearing fast - as I believe it is; then what would be a rational response of a pro-modernizer to the situation.

What is actually happening is not rational, because in fact the modern world has become (and is becoming more so) hostile to Genius; so that the relatively few who emerge are usually kept from having any chance of influence.

This happens passively by bureaucracy and actively by Leftism (pretty much all of the Leftist 'moral' priorities will have the net effect of making it harder, or impossible, for a Genius to get into any position of influence or be taken notice of).


So on the one hand there is a 'famine' of Genius - which afflicts the science, technology, the arts, politics, philosophy, law... pretty much everything with very few people of that sort within the fields

But on the other hand, there is near zero awareness of the rapid and (from a modernizing perspective) catastrophic decline in Genius.


Take classical music. There are essentially zero geniuses operating in composing Western classical music nowadays, although there used to be many; and this has been the situation for many decades; and indeed the kind of people who might potentially do work of genius are utterly absent from these social systems - yet nobody ever talks about this.

Or in academic scholarship. In the vastly bloated British university systems, not only is there essentially nobody doing work of Genius (I can think of just one); but there is probably nobody who would even be capable of having a shot at Genius-level work: the people are just the wrong kind of people altogether.

In the first place, they are not even trying to do the best work of which they are capable - so it is not going to happen,

In the second place they have the wrong personality type: conscientious, obedient, empathic, following of established rules...

In the third place they are of lesser intelligence compared with the past.


Nothing much can be done about the demographic decline in intelligence; and the process continues.

However, it would, in principle, seemingly be possible to compensate for this - for a while - by a better 'search process': a more effective way of unearthing more individuals from the declining pool of potential geniuses and giving them a better chance of coming through to a position where they might attain the best work of which they were capable - and then taking some notice of it.

Yet, to write that paragraph is to see that it will not happen, and also perhaps why it will not happen.

How could a society which is root and branch hostile to the kind of person who might (but probably wont) become a Genius, do anything of the sort?

And there is the paradox of organizing society to encourage the emergence of the disorganized and disorganizing and disruptive.


But if something of the sort was actually put into effect (and this might well be a plot for a science fiction novel, perhaps by Philip K Dick), then it could happen by means of a program of psychological profiling and testing rather like the process which already exists for discovering talent in musical performance.

That is, a multitude of individual coaches, teachers or Maestros who would take on promising youngsters for training; and a variety of competitions aimed at evaluating both achieved performance and (more important) potential.

The framework is that what is happening is that talent is being discovered then developed to a point where the talent can take-over its own development.


The apprentice would need to find, and trust, a Master.

The Master would need to want to find, and work with, the best apprentices. 

The Masters would be in control of the system.

Because only the Masters can see what is going on. 

But aside from that, there is no 'system'. No formal requirements. No standard progression. No accreditation of any significance.


Very individualistic, very elitist, very esoteric.

It sees talent and the potential for Genius as essentially innate.

If you haven't got it you can't do it; and if even you have, you probably won't.


The only place I think anything of this sort continues (at least until recently) in the scholarly world is mathematics in some countries - where there exists a system of competitions for sifting the general population, identifying then developing the small number of kids who show special mathematical talent.

If modern society was concerned with its own continuation - which very clearly it is not, instead being devoted to its own extinction - then something of this kind would need to occur to locate and empower sufficient numbers of Geniuses to maintain the frequent and relevant breakthroughs necessary to enable continued growth in efficiency and capability.

But instead we have public relations which convinces everybody who matters that everything is fine and getting better. 


Neglected genius?


The neglected genius, unrecognized during his lifetime is a standard concept in modern discourse. Yet good examples are exceedingly rare.

(Or unrecognized during her lifetime, since it has been a tenet of feminist theory that there were/ are numerous unrecognized female geniuses. However, I don't think that forty years of feminist - ahem - scholarship has come up with a single new example.)


Of course it takes a while, usually a matter of decades, for somebody to become really famous - but the genius who was essentially unknown and disregarded during their lifetime and only emerged after death is pretty rare considering the cultural currency.

In classical music, among the certainly first rate, there is probably only Schubert (the example comes from Karl Popper's autobiography).

In poetry, perhaps Emily Dickinson would count; probably William Blake (although well known for his art work).

But some of the supposed examples, such as Van Gogh or Mozart are simply untrue - Van Gogh was well known (and sold his work) and Mozart extremely famous during their lives - dying in insanity or poverty is not the same as being unknown; and of course when somebody dies young there has not been enough time for their reputation to be consolidated.


Reputations rise and fall, of course - and there is dishonest boosting and denigration - but in general geniuses are (or have been) known and recognized by their contemporaries - although not necessarily given pride of place.

Fashionable and powerful figures are always in evidence - e.g. Spohr in classical music seems to have been regarded as first rate in Victorian times while Mozart was neglected for a while (seen as a composer of pleasant trifles - rather as we might regard J.C. or C.P.E Bach).

But while trajectories are various, the specific notion of an obscure and neglected genius who lived a full lifespan in the wilderness and was only recognized by posterity is, in fact, a very rare bird.



Is the lack of modern geniuses because there are no big things left to discover?


One of the most frequent arguments about the lack of modern geniuses hinges around the assertion that it was easier for geniuses of the past to make a mark and influence history, because there were so many 'low hanging fruit' - major discoveries just hovering there waiting to be plucked.

But nowadays, so the story goes, the early, easy, major discoveries have already been made; what now remains to be discovered is both harder and more minor - so that a modern person of equal genius to a famous figure of the past appears to make a lesser contribution.


Such an argument seems to assume what is false - that the quantity of human geniuses is constant in all times and places and among all people.

Nonetheless, let us assume it is correct: what then?


The importance of genius in human history - and specifically in modern society - is that the major discoveries (the breakthoughs) are so great and so fundamental that they enable a new wave of 'growth' to be built upon them.

But if we have actually (as the above argument asserts) run out of major discoveries to make; then the growth which depends on major discoveries will come to an end.

And since modernity depends on growth - specifically growth in capability and efficiency of productivity - then modernity will halt, then reverse. 


So, the end of genius means the end of modernity; whether the cause is that we have run out of geniuses, or because we have run out of major things for geniuses to discover.

Either way, the consequences are the same.


Monday 17 September 2012

P or not-P: the lack of a characteristic cognitive style in low trait Psychoticism?


High trait Psychoticism is in bold font; Low trait Psychoticism is normal font.

1. Cold - versus warm, charming
2. Aggressive - versus submissive
3. Egocentric - versus follows groups expectations
4. Unempathic - versus socially-expressed agreeableness, empathy, sympathetic
5. Tough-minded (i.e. impervious to events) - versus tender-minded, strongly affected by experience/ people
6. Antisocial - versus gregarious, needs other people
7. Impersonal - versus life consists of intense, direct relationships
8. Impulsive (behaviour dominated by current emotions) - versus conscientious.
9. Creative - versus applies peer approved, learned rules and traditions 


My assumption is that ancestral humans were high Psychoticism on average - for example, anthroplogical accounts of recent hunter gatherers show that they exhibited extremely high trait Psychoticism behaviours. 

Therefore high P is the baseline, and low P is something that evolved more recently - probably due to multiple generations of selection in complex/ agricultural/ high latitude societies. 

So - high P is the original and natural state for humans.


But what unifies all the behaviours characterized as high Psychoticism?

My answer is that the specific behaviours of high P are all products of a characteristic mode of thinking or cognitive style. 

And this high P cognitive style is similar in form to the mode of early childhood, dreams, trances, delirium, psychedelic drugs, and psychotic states - except that it may occur in an adult, alert, aware and fully-orientated person.

Also - this high P cognitive style is that which is characteristic of creative genius - a fluid, multiply-valenced, widely-associated style of thinking with direct links to behaviour. 


It is the cognitive style of High-P which leads to the apparently self-contained, self-confident person, of high self-esteem; interested-by, absorbed-by, motivated by their own vivid and emotionally-engaged subjective, imaginative experiences - thus not easily influenced, nor easily-deflected from their chosen course of action. 


This leads onto the question of what is the characteristic cognitive style of 'Not-P', or low trait psychoticism?

The answer is that there is no single characteristic style of low-Pychoticism; instead it encompasses a variety of cognitive style, which are united not by similarity but by the fact they are not-P. 


This can be clarified by an analogy of Poetry versus Prose: Poetry represents high-P while Prose represents low-P. 

Poetry can be defined in terms of characteristics like rhythm, rhyme, alliteration; by prose is merely defined as Not-poetry: there are innumerable styles of prose.

So we get Poetry versus Not-Poetry: P versus Not-P: 

Thus Poetry has a positive definition in terms of what is is; but Prose has only a negative definition: as being something other than poetry. 

There is therefore no characteristic form of Prose, its forms are unbounded, you cannot say prose is 'like this' in the way that can be done with poetry.


So, non-Psychoticism, or low-Psychoticism forms of thought are not like the cognitive style of early childhood, dreams, trances, delirium, psychedelic drugs, and psychotic states... but what there are like cannot be briefly stated, and will vary according to circumstance. 


Another, and psychologically-related, example is comparing the characteristically natural, spontaneous way that people behave (for example as young children) can be contrasted with formal manners, etiquette, courtesy or social protocols. 

There are innumerable different systems of manners - there is not a characteristic style of manner. And manners must be learned for each specific human society and typically for specific niches within society (e.g. different manners for the two sexes, ages, classes, or occupations).


I believe that it is precisely because high Psychoticism is natural and spontaneous that it is the mode of thinking which drives creative genius - which offers least friction, and harnesses the primary motivations; while by comparison other modes of low-P thinking are learned, artificial, shallow, and less driven. 

NOTE: Regarding Psychoticism as original, primary and spontaneous entails a re-framing of the Big Five traits of Agreeableness (essentially same as Baron Cohen's Empathizing) and Conscientiousness. these become outcomes of an evolved reduction in Psychoticism, rather than positive things in their own right. In particular, there would not be a specific mode of thought characteristic either of Agreeableness/ Empathizing or Conscientiousness; rather they would be the outcomes of learned forms of thinking.


Evil Genius


For a long while we have been living in a world where most instances of Genius, and indeed most of the most talented people, are evil in their net effect.

By evil I mean quite precisely destructive of virtue, beauty and truth - as these transcendental values are traditionally conceptualized.

This applies almost wherever you look: philosophy, prose, poetry, music, science - and in more modern areas like journalism and comedy.

I am particularly impressed by the extent to which so much of comedy has been an agent of evil - especially satire. And I mean the most accomplished, most creative and innovative comedy - the funniest comedy: how it has culmulatively and almost sytematically attacked meaning, purpose, hope.

At any rate, this is one of the biggest problems of Western culture - the extent to which its greatest exemplars were evil; hence destructive of the basis of their own pre-eminence.

Indeed, this seems the norm: there are exceptions, but the evil Genius is the usual kind of Genius.


Friday 14 September 2012

Evolution of Creative Genius in European populations


Why did the European population develop such a high concentration of Creative Geniuses growing and peaking sometime late-ish in the span between 1000 and 2000 AD?


Creative genius requires:

1. High general intelligence

2. High creativity - which is correlated with the personality trait of Psychoticism
(as described by HJ Eysenck).


There is a selection pressure for higher general intelligence in various overlapping situations: agricultural societies, complex societies (with specialization of labour and other functions), high latitude societies (with the problem of surviving through winter).


There is a selection pressure for lower Psychoticism in various situations which overlap with the selection factors for high intelligence.

High Psychoticism is in bold font; Low Psychoticism is normal font.

1. Cold - versus warm, charming
2. Aggressive - versus submissive
3. Egocentric - versus follows groups expectations
4. Unempathic - versus sympathetic, feels the emotions of others
5. Tough-minded (i.e. impervious to events) - versus tender-minded, strongly affected by experience
6. Antisocial - versus gregarious, needs other people
7. Impersonal - versus life consists of intense, direct relationships
8. Impulsive (behaviour dominated by current emotions) - versus behaviour dominated by predictions or weaker emotions.
9. Creative - versus applies peer-approved, learned rules and traditions

High trait Psychoticism supports creative genius; low Psychoticism makes a person more assimilable to large scale, complex human society.


Thus, a relatively complex agricultural society will - over time - tend to Increase Intelligence and reduce Psychoticism.

In other words, complex agrarian societies will tend towards a Smart and Tame population.


(In animal terms, perhaps a group of high-P types could be compared with a wild hunting pack of carnivores such as wolves; while a group of low-P types is somewhat like a herd of domesticated herbivores such as cattle; bearing in mind that when coordinated - e.g. in a stampede - cattle can kill a pack of wolves.)


Creative Genius requires both Intelligence and Psychoticism to be high - so eventually a complex agricultural society will become Smart but Tame - highly intelligent but uncreative.

However, it is possible that the selection pressure for increasing intelligence may (under certain circumstances) be stronger than the selection pressure for reducing Psychoticism: thus the smartening may happen faster than taming.

In such a situation, there would be a temporary period when the population was both intelligence and also creative.

This is the 'sweet spot' for Creative Genius.


On this basis, it is plausible that the European population underwent selection both for Higher Intelligence and lower Psychoticism during the medieval period; but that Intelligence increased faster than Psychoticism reduced, and led to a few centuries of Western Creative Genius, before the taming selection reduced creativity.

Other parts of the world had different experiences: for example, East Asia had a much longer history of complex (and peaceful) agrarian society - thus the population became, after many generations, much lower in Psychoticism as well as higher in Intelligence: to generate the Smart and Tame type of population. Presumably, at an earlier period than in Western Europe  (after, presumably, a much earlier era when the more rapid selection for Intelligence led them to they hit the 'sweet spot' for Creative Genius).


And then, from about 1800, selection began to work against high intelligence due to a combination of declining child mortality rates differentially affecting most the less intelligent and declining fertility initially and most strongly among the most intelligent.

Probably, from about 1800, in Europe average Intelligence began to fall, and average Psychoticism to rise - and Creative Genius dwindled quickly (to become very rare by the mid-twentieth century). 


The Creative Intelligence combination of high Intelligence and high Psychoticism has probably not happened in many populations in the history of the world; and seems likely to be an unstable and transitional state passed-through in moving between the more stable combinations of creative, chaotic, individualistic low-I/ high-P societies on the one hand; and stereotypical, ordered, communalistic high-I/ low-P societies on the other hand.


Saturday 8 September 2012

The nature of understanding in a genius - understanding and creativity.


To be a genius is to understand, to understand is to have appropriated to the imagination.

And this appropriation is not so much 'mastery' as being-mastered-by that which is understood.


Most people's 'understanding' on most (or all) topics is at the level of accepting. Accepting what people say, accepting rules or laws or maxims - and applying them.

Everyday so-called-understanding is passive, submissive, sociable, empathic, ego-denying: moves from the outside inwards.

Hyper-intelligent people are typically no exception - they simply grasp, memorize and apply instructions more rapidly - they don't understand them.


But for the genius in relation to the thing about which they are a genius: understanding is an act of internalizing; making of the thing a part of themselves - no, it is more than this - it is to bring that thing within them, and give that thing life (or allow it life).

To understand a thing is, therefore, to have it inside the imagination and in connection with the mind and body - to observe and feel its growth and workings.

To understand is therefore to-be-possessed-by that thing.

Extreme 'understanding' of one's imagination is therefore psychosis: when a person is possessed by the reality of their own thoughts and hears the thoughts as objective voices, believes ideas as delusions - but genius is also to be possessed by (for instance) thoughts and ideas, but in a manner which can be moved-into and out-from.


And this is the basis of creativity.

To be creative is first to understand in this inner, imaginative and real sense - to feel the thing at work within and to have a relationship with it, indeed to be mastered by it - and then to perceive the implications of this real, lively, living, dominating thing within: to see what it means.


Thus the genius is at root a type of personality, and personality is a way of thinking.

The genius is rare because balanced between externally-dominated normality and the internally autonomous state of psychosis.

Compared with normality, a genius is possessed by his imagination, and this inner life is independent from normal social influence; but compared with a psychotic the mastering imagination of a genius retains significant communication with the external world.


(All of which is to re-state HJ Eysenck's perception that genius is a state of moderately-high Psychoticism; midway along the scale; where Psychoticism is a trait with the socially submissive, socially-engaged empathic, conscientious rule-follower is at the low extreme and an egotistical, psychopathic psychotic is at the highest extreme.)


Monday 6 August 2012

Pioneering studies of IQ - and the suppression of intelligence research

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Pioneering studies of IQ by G.H. Thomson and J.F. Duff – An example of established knowledge subsequently ‘hidden in plain sight’

Bruce G. Charlton. Medical Hypotheses. 2008; 71: 625-628


Perhaps the earliest authoritative measurement of a social class gradient in IQ, with a stratification of occupations among the parents of children with different IQs, is seen in two fascinating papers published in 1923 and 1929 in the British Journal of Psychology. The authors were GH Thomson and JF Duff (both of whom were later knighted) and the papers’ main findings were confirmed by later researchers. Results of an intelligence test administered to 13419 children aged 11–12 were analyzed according to parent’s occupation. The average children’s IQ at extremes of social class among their parents included clergymen-121, teachers-116 and bankers and managers-112 at the upper end; while at the lower end there were ‘cripples and invalids’-94, cattlemen-93, hawkers and chimneysweeps-91, and the ‘insane, criminal’-88. More than 100 specific categories of parental occupations were then combined into 13 social classes, with their children’s average IQ as follows: Professional-112; Managers-110; Higher Commercial-109; Army, Navy, Police, Postmen-106; Shopkeeping-105; Engineers [ie. apprenticed craftsmen, such as mining engineers]-103; Foremen-103; Building trades-102; Metal workers, shipbuilders-101; Miscellaneous industrial workers-101; Miners and quarrymen-98; Agriculture-98; Labourers-96. A follow-up study compared an ‘intelligent’ group (IQ 136 plus) with a matched IQ 95–105 ‘control’ group. IQ testing at age 11–12 was predictive of teacher’s reports of higher levels of intelligence and health at age 16; and better performance in official examinations. The occupations of fathers, grandfathers and uncles were consistent with occupation being indicative of ‘an inherited quality’ (i.e. IQ) and there was regression from parents to grandparents and uncles among the ’intelligent’ but not among controls. Other findings included a wider variance in intelligence among boys than girls, and descriptions of the predictive value of IQ in estimating future education, examinations and health. Although the distribution, heredity and predictive value of childhood IQ measurements was once quite widely understood, for the last few decades IQ research has been regarded as morally-suspect and IQ scientists subjected to vilification, persecution and sanctions. Ignorance and misunderstanding of IQ is the norm among intellectual elites in schools, universities, the media, politics and public administration. Consequently IQ research is actively-shunned, and has near-zero influence on public policies. Since this area of science has been so comprehensively ‘disappeared’ from public consciousness as a result of socio-political pressure; it seems probable that other similarly solid and vital domains of scientific knowledge may also be ‘hidden in plain sight’.


Perhaps the earliest authoritative measurement of a social class gradient among the parents of children with different IQs is seen in two fascinating papers published in 1923 [1] and 1929 [2] in the British Journal of Psychology.

The authors were Godfrey H Thomson and James Fitzjames Duff – both of whom were later knighted. The research was done from Armstrong College of Durham University in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, England – Armstrong College later became a part of King’s College which then became the independent University of Newcastle [3]. Thomson was Professor of Education in Newcastle, then later moved to the Chair of Education in Edinburgh from where he provided ‘Eleven plus’ examinations for much of Britain [4] and [5]. Duff moved to Manchester University and ultimately returned to Durham to become Warden (equivalent to Vice Chancellor – the senior administrative position in UK universities) of the collegiate Durham division of the university [3] and [6]. Duff is credited with initiating Durham’s ascent from a tiny theological and teaching college to become one of the premier UK universities [3].

As well as the intrinsic fascination of these trail-blazing researches, the two papers provoke reflection on the effect on science of changes in the national socio-political ethos. The fate of Sir Godfrey and Sir James’s papers provides an example of how once widely-accepted knowledge, generated by very senior and prestigious establishment figures, can later become generally disregarded or even denied, despite abundant scientific confirmation and elaboration by later researchers.

It seems that even in modern times, and in a liberal democratic society such as the UK where information is freely and easily accessible, scientific knowledge can apparently be ‘disappeared’ when it comes into conflict with the dominant socio-political agenda: can become, as it were, ‘hidden in plain sight’.

The social distribution of intelligence in Northumberland

The 1923 Duff and Thomson study began when an intelligence test was administered on February 24 1922, to all children aged 11 and 12 at state elementary schools in Northumberland excluding Newcastle and Tynemouth; yielding an enormous sample of 13419 children (6930 boys; 6695 girls). Further information on parental occupation was provided by teachers. The children’s IQ was then tabulated according to their parent’s (implicitly father’s) occupation.

Average IQ was 99.6, 877 children had an IQ of 120 plus and 1337 had an IQ less than 80. Boys exhibited a slightly larger apparent standard deviation than girls (no specific numbers were given by the authors), with a greater proportion of the most intelligent children being boys (IQ 130-9 - 80 boys, 49 girls; IQ above 140 – 12 boys, 4 girls) and also a greater proportion of the least intelligent being boys (IQ below 80 – 715 boys, 622 girls).

Although private schools were not sampled, and consequently there were no children with parents of the very highest social classes, nonetheless the parents social classes ranged widely from clergymen, lawyers, teachers, chemists, bankers and managers at the top; to farm labourers, brewery and mineral-water workers, ‘cripples and invalids’, cattlemen, ‘hawkers and chimneysweeps’ and the ‘insane, criminal’ at the bottom.

The average IQ (rounded to the nearest integer) of the children of some well-represented extremes of social class among the parents was clergymen-121, teachers-116 and bankers and managers-112 at the upper end; while at the lower end there were farm labourers-94; brewery workers-94; ‘cripples and invalids’-94, cattlemen-93, hawkers and chimneysweeps-91, and the ‘insane, criminal’-88. In between, by far the largest number of parents was the 5659 coal miners (average IQ of children-98).

One surprising statistic is that the children of n = 16 ‘Doctors, dentists, vets’ [i.e. veterinarians] had a reported average IQ of only 102 – the same as builders and below plumbers! My guess is that (in this particular time and place) most rural or semi-rural resident ’doctors, dentists, vets’ who sent their children to state schools were not college-educated, but had instead been trained by apprenticeship: more like craftsmen than professionals.

More than 100 specific categories of parental occupations were then combined into 13 social classes, with their children’s average IQ as follows: Professional-112; Managers-110; Higher Commercial-109; Army, Navy, Police, Postmen-106; Shopkeeping-105; Engineers [ie. apprenticed craftsmen, such as mining engineers]-103; Foremen-103; Building trades-102; Metal workers, shipbuilders-101; Miscellaneous industrial workers-101; Miners and quarrymen-98; Agriculture-98; Low grade occupations, labourers-96.

Finally the parents occupations were divided into two simple divisions of ‘brain work’ having an average IQ of 107 versus ‘hand work’ having an average of IQ 99.

Duff and Thomson also comment that although there are striking stepwise average differences in IQ by parental social class, the parental occupation according to the 13 social classes only predicted child’s IQ with a Pearson correlation of 0.28. In other words, each social class contained a range of IQs, with considerable overlapping between classes.

Following-up the children of highest intelligence

The 1929 Duff paper was a follow-up of the highest-IQ children (IQ 136 plus) which were termed the ‘intelligent’ group with an IQ 95-105 ‘control’ group matched from the same schools. Parents and teachers were asked for information, but the replies were incomplete; and data was obtained on only 64 ‘intelligent’ and 28 ‘control’ subjects.

It was found that IQ testing at age 11–12 was predictive of teacher’s reports of higher levels of intelligence and health at age 16; higher career aspirations; and also better performance in the Durham School Certificate examinations, especially the highest levels of examination results.

Occupations of fathers, grandfathers and uncles were surveyed in terms of their social class. The most striking analysis was in terms of the percentage of fathers that were at the level of skilled labourer or higher: there were 64% of fathers in the intelligent group at this level and 28% of fathers in the control group. By comparison among the intelligent group 49% of grandfathers and 52% of uncles were at this level; while in the control group 33% of grandfathers and 40% of uncles.

Duff commented that this pattern was consistent with occupation being indicative of ‘an inherited quality’ with a regression from parents to grandparents and uncles among the intelligent – but no consistent regression among the average control group when the data as a whole is analyzed. He concludes: “Intelligence is not the sole factor that determines occupation; but that it is an important factor cannot be doubted.”

Science then and now

Reading the articles after eighty years there are striking differences when compared with modern practice. Most surprisingly there is no Reference section and only five footnotes (in the earliest paper). My impression is that this paucity is partly due to embryonic nature of the field – with very little prior relevant published research; and partly due to the fact that the authors were writing for a small, familiar audience of scientific peers, who did not need to have spelled-out precisely how this piece of research fitted into the development of the subject. In those days background assumptions were often simply taken for granted, rather than referenced. The methodology was, by modern standards, skimpy – supplemented with an offer to supply extra detail to ‘anyone interested’. The general tone of these papers is therefore somewhat like a letter addressed to other members of an exclusive club.

At this early stage in the science, researchers were almost simultaneously devising methods and applying them to gather data. The social class categories used were generated specifically for this paper, and apparently on ‘commonsense’ grounds – since no detail is given about the principles underlying the classification.

Yet, for all the apparent arbitrariness and subjectivism of style (as is seems to us nowadays), and the incompleteness of the follow-up study, these two papers seem to have been both prescient and essentially correct (as judged by subsequent knowledge) and their main findings have been substantially replicated or expanded:

1. It has been confirmed that men have a wider variance in intelligence than women – with a greater proportion of both high-scorers and low-scorers [7].

2. Although Duff and Thomson’s studies did not directly measure parental IQ, the authors’ assumption was that occupations reflected IQ. Many later studies have confirmed that there is a significant social class/occupational gradient in average IQ – the size of this gradient depending upon the degree of specificity with which social class is defined e.g. [8], [9], [10] and [11].

3. Thomson and Duff’s 1923 analysis demonstrated what later epidemiologists of the 1990s re-discovered for health and social class [12] – that socio-economic differences are not absolute or fixed in size; rather the gradient is much greater when socio-economic position is analyzed precisely than when measured imprecisely. Here there was a gradient of 33 IQ points from 121 down to 88 when 100-plus specific occupations are used; a gradient of 16 IQ points from 112 down to 96 when specific occupations are collapsed into 13 groups; and a gradient of only 8 IQ points from 107 down to 99 for the dual categories of head-work versus hand-work.

4. Childhood IQ has been confirmed to be predictive of future educational (and also occupational) attainments e.g. [13], [14], [15] and [16].

5. It has been confirmed that childhood measurements of IQ are predictive of subsequent health e.g. [9], [17] and [18].

6. IQ is confirmed to be substantially heritable, and exhibits regression to the mean consistent with the degree of heritability e.g. [13], [14] and [15].

The contemporary invisibility of IQ research
Duff and Thomson were both knighted, ending their careers as highly respected and influential figures in the UK educational establishment. The main findings of these papers from the 1920s have been amply replicated in the modern consensus on IQ [e.g. [20] and see above]. And the basic understanding of the distribution, heredity and predictive value of childhood IQ measurements which they pioneered was widely appreciated.

However, for the last few decades IQ research has generally been regarded as a morally-suspect activity and the candid discussion of IQ is taboo among the intellectual elites in schools, universities, the media, politics and public administration. IQ scientists have been – and still are – subjected to vilification, persecution and sanctions [15], [19], [21], [22] and [23]. This 80 year old knowledge is typically regarded by mainstream public discourse as surprising, shocking and controversial – or the facts may even be denied outright.

Consequently, despite its remarkable prescience and importance, this pioneering work on IQ, plus three generations of supporting scientific literature, is ignored or actively-shunned – and has near-zero influence on modern public policies.

Since this area of science has so been comprehensively ‘disappeared’ from public consciousness in the face of socio-political pressure, it seems probable that other similarly solid and vital domains of scientific knowledge may also be hidden in plain sight.


[1] J.F. Duff and G.H. Thomson, The social and geographical distribution of intelligence in Northumberland, Brit J Psychol 14 (1923), pp. 193–198.

[2] J.F. Duff, Children of high intelligence: a following-up enquiry, Brit J Psychol 29 (1929), pp. 413–438.

[3] E.M. Bettenson, The University of Newcastle upon Tyne: a historical introduction, 1834–1971, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (1971).

[4] G.H. Thomson, Education of an Englishman, Moray House, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh (1968).

[5] Wikipedia. Godfrey Thomson.; 2008 [accessed 10.07.2008].

[6] Sir James Fitzjames Duff. A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe.; 2008 [accessed 10.07.2008].

[7] L.V. Hedges and A. Nowell, Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals, Science 269 (1995), pp. 41–45.

[8] M. Argyle, The psychology of social class, Routledge, London (1994).

[9] C.L. Hart, I.J. Deary, M.D. Taylor, P.L. MacKinnon, G. Davey Smith and L.J. Whalley et al., Scottish mental health survey 1932 linked to the Midspan Studies: a prospective investigation of childhood intelligence and future health, Public Health 117 (2003), pp. 187–195.

[10] D. Nettle, Intelligence and class mobility in the British population, Brit J Psychol 94 (2003), pp. 551–561.

[11] R. Lynn and T. Vanhanen, IQ and global inequality, Washington Summit, Augusta, Georgia, USA (2006).

[12] G.D. Smith, M.J. Shipley and G. Rose, Magnitude and causes of socioeconomic differentials in mortality: further evidence from the Whitehall Study, J Epidemiol Commun Health 44 (1990), pp. 265–270.

[13] L.M. Terman and L.H. Oden, The gifted child grows up: Volume 4 (Twenty five years follow up of a superior group), Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, USA (1959).

[14] A.R. Jensen, The g factor Praeger: the science of mental ability, Westport, CT, USA (1998) p. 15.

[15] R.J. Herrnstein and C. Murray, The bell curve, Forbes, New York (1994).

[16] G. Park, D. Lubinski and C.P. Benbow, Contrasting intellectual patterns predict creativity in the arts and sciences, Psychol Sci 18 (2007), pp. 948–952.

[17] G.D. Batty, I.J. Deary and G.S. Gottfredson, Premorbid (early life) IQ and later mortality risk: systematic review, Annals Epidemiol 17 (2007), pp. 278–288.

[18] L.S. Gottfredson, Intelligence: is it the epidemiologists elusive ‘fundamental cause’ of social class inequalities in health?, J Personality Social Psychol 86 (2004), pp. 174–199.

[19] H.J. Eysenck, Rebel with a cause: autobiography of Hans Eysenck, W.H. Allen, London (1990).

[20] U. Neisser et al., Intelligence: knowns and unknowns, Amer Psychol 51 (1996), pp. 77–101.

[21] I.J. Deary, Intelligence: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2001).

[22] L.S. Gottfredson, Applying double-standards to ‘divisive’ ideas, Perspect Psychol Sci 2 (2007), pp. 216–220.

[23] J. Malloy, James Watson tells the inconvenient truth: faces the consequences, Med Hypotheses 70 (2008), pp. 1081–1091.

Do elite US colleges choose personality over IQ?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Sex ratios in the most-selective elite US undergraduate colleges and universities are consistent with the hypothesis that modern educational systems increasingly select for conscientious personality compared with intelligence

Medical Hypotheses. 2009; 73: 127-129

Bruce G. Charlton, , Editor-in-Chief, Medical Hypotheses

Professor of Theoretical Medicine University of Buckingham, UK


The main predictors of examination results and educational achievement in modern societies are intelligence (IQ – or general factor ‘g’ intelligence) and the personality trait termed ‘Conscientiousness’ (C). I have previously argued that increased use of continuous assessment (e.g. course work rather than timed and supervised examinations) and increased duration of the educational process implies that modern educational systems have become increasingly selective for the personality trait of Conscientiousness and consequently less selective for IQ. I have tested this prediction (in a preliminary fashion) by looking at the sex ratios in the most selective elite US universities. My two main assumptions are: (1) that a greater proportion of individuals with very high intelligence are men than women, and (2) that women are more conscientious than men. To estimate the proportion of men and women expected at highly-selective schools, I performed demonstration calculations based on three plausible estimates of male and female IQ averages and standard deviations. The expected percentage of men at elite undergraduate colleges (selecting students with IQ above 130 – i.e. in the top 2% of the population) were 66%, 61% and 74%. When these estimates were compared with the sex ratios at 33 elite colleges and universities, only two technical institutes had more than 60% men. Elite US colleges and universities therefore seem to be selecting primarily on the basis of something other than IQ – probably conscientiousness. There is a ‘missing population’ of very high IQ men who are not being admitted to the most selective and prestigious undergraduate schools, probably because their high school educational qualifications and evaluations are too low. This analysis is therefore consistent with the hypothesis that modern educational systems tend to select more strongly for Conscientiousness than for IQ. The implication is that modern undergraduates at the most-selective US schools are not primarily an intelligence elite, as commonly assumed, but instead an elite for Conscientious personality.


IQ and C predict educational attainment

Evidence from a range of studies suggests that the main determinants of examination results and educational achievement in modern societies are intelligence (IQ – or general factor ‘g’ intelligence) and the personality trait variously described as ‘Conscientiousness’, self-discipline, perseverance or something similar (see Ref. [1] for review). IQ is (roughly speaking) that cognitive ability which enables people to think abstractly and learn quickly; Conscientiousness (broadly synonymous with perseverance or self-discipline) is the personality trait that enables people to work hard for long periods at dull tasks, to think before acting and to take a long term view.

I have previously argued that a combination of the increased use of continuous assessment (e.g. course work rather than timed and supervised examinations) and the increased duration of the educational process implies that modern educational systems have become increasingly selective for Conscientiousness (C) [1]. My argument is that, because C is not closely correlated with intelligence, then demand for increasing levels of C will inevitably lead to reduced selectivity for intelligence. Ever-higher levels of C will usually only be attainable by progressively relaxing standards for IQ.

If this reasoning is correct, it would be predicted that the most highly-educated and most educationally-selected people would be characterized more by their extremely-high Conscientiousness than by their extremely-high intelligence. More precisely, there would be a trend for educational selectivity to increase average ranking for C more than the average ranking for IQ.

Sex ratios at the most-selective US colleges and universities

I have tested this prediction (in a preliminary fashion) by looking at the sex ratios in the most selective elite US universities. My two main assumptions are: (1) that a greater proportion of individuals with very high intelligence are men than women, and (2) that women are more Conscientious than men.

Most IQ studies find a greater proportion of men than women among very high IQ adults. For example, the US national 2008 SAT results show a higher proportion of men than women scoring in the highest band for the most g-loaded sections (Critical Reading and Mathematics) [2]. This male domination of the highest scorers in IQ testing is consistent with IQ surveys going back over many decades [3] and studies of creative and intellectual genius [4] and [5]. I will therefore assume a higher proportion of men than women at levels of very high IQ. In contrast, current evidence suggests that Conscientiousness, especially the academically-relevant sub-trait of self-discipline, is higher in women than men [1] and [6].

On this basis alone, without any calculations, and if we assume equal proportions of men and women in the US population, no important differences in sex applications to college and a sex-blind policy of selectivity; it would be expected that there was a greater proportion of men than women at highly-selective elite colleges, and that the more selective the colleges the greater would be the expected proportion of men. By contrast, if there was an equal or greater-proportion of women at elite colleges then this would be consistent with C being more rigorously selected-for than IQ.

Predicted proportion of men at elite schools – on the basis of IQ
To make this exercise more precise, it is helpful to estimate the proportion of men and women which would be expected at highly-selective schools.

I have focused on predictions related to IQ because much more is known about IQ than C, and C cannot yet be quantified as precisely as IQ. An IQ of 130 is used as a plausible threshold for selectivity at elite universities: this is approximately two standard deviations above the average IQ and includes the top 2% of the population.

However, the magnitude of the expected sex differential is relevant, since if the expected sex differential was small it could easily be swamped by statistical noise, or by other relevant variables. The magnitude of the predicted sex differential depends on the assumptions of male and female IQ average differences and distributions.

There are three mainstream explanations of why there are more men than women among the population of very high IQ people.

1. Men have a higher average IQ than women, but the same variance. For instance, Lynn suggests that men have an average IQ about 4–5 points higher than women with the sexes having the same standard deviation (conventionally 15 IQ points) [7].

2. Men and women have a near-identical average IQ, but men have a greater variance in IQ than women (higher standard deviation). For instance Hedges and Nowell present Project Talent data that suggest men and women have the same IQ, but men have a standard deviation around 10% greater than women [8].

3. Men have both a higher average IQ and larger standard deviation of IQ than women. For instance, Hans Eysenck accepted Lynn’s estimate of about 4 IQ points difference in average IQ and also assumed that women had a standard deviation of 14 compared with the male standard deviation of 15 [4].

We can use these ball-park estimates as the basis for calculating approximate expected sex ratios at elite US undergraduate schools.

Therefore on the basis of IQ considered alone (Table 1), it would be expected to find a considerably greater proportion of men than women at elite undergraduate colleges. The prediction is that the most selective institutions would admit at least 60% men (and probably a higher proportion).

Table 1.

Demonstration calculations of the effect of plausible male versus female IQ averages and standard deviations on the proportion of men and women at elite colleges with threshold IQ of 130 for a US population with average mean IQ 100 (SD 15). Key: SD = standard deviation; M = men; W = women; av. = average.

Assumption Mean IQ (SD) Percentage IQ > 130 Predicted % men at elite college

M higher av. IQ than W: M 102 (15) 3.1% c. 66% W 98 (15) 1.6%

M > SD than W: M 100 (15.75) 2.8% c. 61% W 100 (14.25) 1.8%

Men higher av. IQ: M 102 (15) 3.1% c. 74% & >SD than W W 98 (14) 1.1%

So, any sex ratio less than this would imply that other qualities than IQ are actually determining selection; or alternatively that one or more of the assumptions are incorrect – for example there might be sexually differential patterns of application or selection.

Using the College Admissions web pages ( – up to March 2009) I generated a list of sex ratios (the percentage of men) at three categories of elite US colleges and universities: (1) Ivy League plus several comparably-selective private research universities; (2) The top 10 public universities; (3) The top 10 liberal arts colleges.

From Table 2 it is clear that almost all these 33 elite US undergraduate schools select approximately equal proportions of men and women with only two technical universities (Caltech and Georgia Tech) having a male sex ratio greater than 60%. If the assumptions hold, then the implication is that elite colleges seem to be selecting mainly on the basis of something other than IQ – probably Conscientiousness.


Table 2.

Sex ratios at undergraduate level – percentage of men. Colleges with more than 60% men are marked with an asterisk.

Ivy League and similar private research universities

Brown 48%
Columbia 51%
Cornell 51%
Dartmouth 50%
Harvard 47%
Pennsylvania 49%
Princeton 53%
Yale 51%
Stanford 52%
Duke 51%
Chicago 50%
MIT 56%
*Caltech 71%

Top 10 public universities

Berkeley 46%
*Georgia Tech 71%
UCLA 45%
UCSD 48%
U Michigan 50%
UNC Chapel Hill 41%
Urbana Champaign 53%
U Virginia 45%
William and Mary 46%

Top 10 liberal arts colleges: (NB: Wellesley is essentially a women’s college)

Amherst 50%
Carleton 47%
Claremont–McKenna 54%
Grinnell 46%
Haverford 46%
Middlebury 48%
Pomona 51%
Reed 45%
Swarthmore 48%
Wellesley 2%
Williams 49%

It seems that there is a ‘missing population’ of very high IQ men who are not getting admitted to the most selective and prestigious undergraduate schools. The likely reason is that their high school educational qualifications and evaluations are too low, since these men probably lack the very high levels of C required to negotiate modern educational systems and achieve the very highest level of success (in the top 2% of attainment). These men with very high IQ but only moderate C are presumably attending a wide spectrum of less-selective and lower-ranked undergraduate schools, or (less plausibly) dropping-out of the educational system altogether.

A further factor may be that colleges are also selecting on the basis of high sociability, which can be measured as the personality trait of Agreeableness [1]. Agreeableness is higher in women. High Agreeableness would not be expected to lead to better educational performance, but instead would be likely to enhance an applicant’s resume with a record of participation in societies, charities and sports together with general friendliness and club-ability – these factors may well be counted in favour of a student and would also tend differentially to favour the admission of women.

My hypothesis [1] that Conscientiousness (and perhaps Agreeableness) count for more than IQ at the level of elite college admissions receives some support from this data set, and could be tested further by longitudinal studies which measured IQ and personality during childhood (rankings of IQ and personality tend to be stable throughout life), and followed-up students through the school and college examination and selection process to observe the interaction between these variables.

The implication is that modern undergraduates at the most selective US universities are not so much an elite for intelligence, as is commonly assumed, but more of an elite in terms of traits such as perseverance and self-discipline.


My thanks to Richard Lynn for his help and advice in preparing this editorial.


[1] B.G. Charlton, Why are modern scientists so dull? How science selects for perseverance and sociability at the expense of intelligence and creativity, Med Hypotheses 72 (2009), pp. 237–243.

[2] College Board SAT, 2008 College Bound Seniors. ; [accessed 19.03.09].

[3] B.G. Charlton, Pioneering studies of IQ by G.H. Thomson and J.F. Duff – an example of established knowledge subsequently ‘hidden in plain sight’, Med Hypotheses 71 (2008), pp. 625–628.

[4] H.J. Eysenck, Genius: the natural history of creativity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK (1995).

[5] C. Murray, Human accomplishment. The pursuit of excellence in the arts and sciences 800 BC to 1950, HarperCollins, New York (2003).

[6] A.L. Duckworth and M.E.P. Seligman, Self-discipline gives girls the edge, J Educ Psychol 98 (2006), pp. 198–208.

[7] R. Lynn and P. Irwing, Sex differences on the progressive matrices: a meta analysis, Intelligence 32 (2004), pp. 481–498.

[8] L.V. Hedges and A. Nowell, Sex differences in mental test scores, variability, and numbers of high-scoring individuals, Science 269 (1995), pp. 41–45.

Replacing education with psychometrics

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Bruce G Charlton

Replacing education with psychometrics: How learning about IQ almost-completely changed my mind about education.

Medical Hypotheses. 2009; 73: 273-277



I myself am a prime example of the way in which ignorance of IQ leads to a distorted understanding of education (and many other matters). I have been writing on the subject of education – especially higher education, science and medical education – for about 20 years, but now believe that many of my earlier ideas were wrong for the simple reason that I did not know about IQ. Since discovering the basic facts about IQ, several of my convictions have undergone a U-turn. Just how radically my ideas were changed has been brought home by two recent books: Real Education by Charles Murray and Spent by Geoffrey Miller. Since IQ and personality are substantially hereditary and rankings (although not absolute levels) are highly stable throughout a persons adult life, this implies that differential educational attainment within a society is mostly determined by heredity and therefore not by differences in educational experience. This implies that education is about selection more than enhancement, and educational qualifications mainly serve to ‘signal’ or quantify a person’s hereditary attributes. So education mostly functions as an extremely slow, inefficient and imprecise form of psychometric testing. It would therefore be easy to construct a modern educational system that was both more efficient and more effective than the current one. I now advocate a substantial reduction in the average amount of formal education and the proportion of the population attending higher education institutions. At the age of about sixteen each person could leave school with a set of knowledge-based examination results demonstrating their level of competence in a core knowledge curriculum; and with usefully precise and valid psychometric measurements of their general intelligence and personality (especially their age ranked degree of Conscientiousness). However, such change would result in a massive down-sizing of the educational system and this is a key underlying reason why IQ has become a taboo subject. Miller suggests that academics at the most expensive, elite, intelligence-screening universities tend to be sceptical of psychometric testing; precisely because they do not want to be undercut by cheaper, faster, more-reliable IQ and personality evaluations.



It was only in early 2007 that I began properly to engage, for the first time in my professional career, with the literature on IQ. Surprisingly, this engagement had been stimulated by a book of economic history. And learning the basic facts about IQ rapidly changed my views on many things, none more so than education.

Just how radically my ideas about education were changed by learning about IQ has been brought home by two recent books: Real Education By Charles Murray [1] and Spent by Geoffrey Miller [2]. In line with analyses of Murray and Miller, I would now repudiate many of my previous opinions on the subject, and advocate a substantial reduction in the average amount of formal education and the proportion of the population attending higher education. In general, I now believe that many years of formal education can and should be substantially (but not entirely!) replaced with ‘psychometric’ measures of intelligence and personality as a basis for evaluating career potential.

In this article I use my own experience as a case study of the potentially-disruptive influence of psychometric knowledge, and discuss further the reasons why basic IQ facts have been so effectively concealed, confused and denied by mainstream elite intellectual opinion in the UK and USA.

The importance of IQ

I have been writing on the subject of education for about 20 years (especially on higher education, science and medical education), but I now believe that much of what I wrote was wrong for the simple reason that I did not know about IQ. Personality traits are important in a similar way to IQ, however personality measurement is currently less reliable and valid than IQ testing, and less-well quantified.

In the early 2000s I argued that modern formal education should be directed primarily at inculcating the ability to think abstractly and systematically [3] and that therefore the structure and not the specific content of education was critical (although ‘science’ – broadly defined – was likely to be the best basis for this type of education [4]). I suggested that higher education should be regarded as a non-vocational process, in which most degrees are modular, and modules were optional and multi-disciplinary, so that each student would assemble their own degree program in a minimally-constrained, ‘pick and mix’ fashion [5]. I also contended that since abstract systemizing cognition was so essential to modernizing societies, a major aim of social reform should be to include as many people as possible in formal education for as long as possible [6].

All of these views I would now regard as mistaken – and the reason is mostly my new understanding of IQ [7], [8], [9] and [10]. Miller concisely explains the basic facts about IQ:

“General intelligence (a.k.a. IQ, general cognitive ability, the g factor) is a way of quantifying intelligence’s variability among people. It is the best-established, most predictive, most heritable mental trait ever discovered in psychology. Whether measured with formal IQ tests or assessed through informal conversations and observations, intelligence predicts objective performance and learning ability across all important life-domains that show reliable individual differences” [2].

The crux of my new understanding is that IQ, and to a lesser but important extent personality traits, are highly predictive of educational attainment. This is a very old finding, and scientifically uncontroversial – but the implications have still not been acknowledged.

Since IQ is very substantially inherited with a true heritability of about 80% [7], [8], [9] and [10] and personality too has about a 50% heritability [11] and [12]; and since both IQ and personality rankings are highly stable throughout a persons adult life [13] (it is, for example, very difficult for educational interventions to have any significant and lasting effect on underlying IQ [1]) – then this implies that differential educational attainment within societies is mostly determined by heredity and therefore not by differences in educational experience.

(The other big factor which influences attainment is of course the large element of chance – which affects individuals unpredictably. However, chance is not completely random, in the sense that many outcomes such as accidental injuries and a range of illnesses are also correlated with IQ and personality [14]).

When full account has been taken of IQ and personality (and the measured effects of IQ and personality have been increased to take account of the inevitable imprecision of IQ measurements and the even greater difficulties of determining personality), and when the presumed effects of chance have also been subtracted – then there is not much variation of outcomes left-over within which educational differences could have an effect. Of course there will be some systemic effect of educational differences, but the effect is likely to be very much smaller than generally assumed, and even the direction of the education effect may be hard to detect when other more powerful factors are operative [1].

I found the fact that differences in educational attainment within a society are mostly due to heredity to be a stunning conclusion, which effectively demolished most of what I believed about education. My understanding of what education was doing was radically reshaped, and my beliefs about the justifiable duration and proper focus of the system of formal education were transformed. I began to realize that the educational system in modern societies was operating under false pretences. It seems that current educational systems are barely ‘fit for purpose’ and (lacking a proper understanding of IQ) are in many instances progressively getting worse rather than better.

In sum, education is more about selection than enhancement, and educational qualifications mostly serve to ‘signal’ or quantify a person’s hereditary attributes [15] – especially IQ and personality. Differential educational experience does not seem to have much of a systemic effect on people’s ability to think or work.

To put it another way – education mostly functions as an extremely slow, inefficient and imprecise form of psychometric testing. And because this fact is poorly understood, those aspects of modern education which are not psychometric are consequently neglected and misdirected.

Policy implications of psychometrics

If psychometric measures of IQ and personality were available, then it would be easy to construct a modern educational system that was both more efficient and more effective than the current one. However, such change would result in a massive down-sizing of the educational system – with substantial and permanent loss of jobs and status for educational professionals of all types including teachers, professors, administrators and managers.

According to Geoffrey Miller’s analysis [2], this impact on educational professionals is likely to be a key underlying reason why IQ has become a taboo subject, and why the basic facts of IQ have been so effectively obfuscated. Miller notes that it is the ultra-elite, most-selective and heavily research-oriented universities which are the focus of IQ resistance. At the same time more functionally-orientated institutions, such as the United States military, have for many decades quietly been using IQ as a tool to assist with selection and training allocations [16].

“Is it an accident that researchers at the most expensive, elite, IQ-screening universities tend to be most sceptical of IQ tests? I think not. Universities offer a costly, slow, unreliable intelligence-indicating product that competes directly with cheap, fast, more-reliable IQ tests. (…) Harvard and Yale sell nicely printed sheets of paper called degrees that cost about $160,000 (…). To obtain the degree, one must demonstrate a decent level of Conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness in one’s coursework, but above all, one must have the intelligence to get admitted, based on SAT scores and high school grades. Thus the Harvard degree is basically an IQ guarantee”.

“Elite universities do not want to be undercut by competitors. They do not want their expensive IQ-warranties to suffer competition from cheap, fast IQ tests which would commodify the intelligence-display market and drive down costs. Therefore, elite universities have a hypocritical, love-hate relationship with intelligence tests”.

The vulnerability of the elite institutions to IQ knowledge is because most of the assumed advantages of an expensive elite education can be ascribed to their historic ability to select the top stratum of IQ (and also the most desirable personality types): given the stability and predictive power of these traits the elite students are therefore pre-determined to be (on average) highly successful.

Consequently the most elite institutions and their graduates have in the past few decades, both via academic publications and in the mass media, thoroughly obscured the basic and validated facts about IQ. We now have a situation where the high predictive powers of IQ and personality and the stable and hereditary nature of these traits are routinely concealed, confused or (in extremis) explicitly denied by some of the most prestigious and best-educated members of modern society [17].

Four mistaken beliefs resulting from my lack of IQ knowledge

I will summarize under four heading my main pre-IQ errors regarding education.

Mistaken belief number 1: Modern formal education should be directed primarily at inculcating the ability to think abstractly and systematically [3].

Revision: Modern formal education should be directed primarily at inculcating specific knowledge content.

Abstract systematic thinking is exceptionally important in modern societies. And I used to believe that that abstract systematic thinking was mostly a product of formal education – indeed I regarded this as the main function of formal education [3]. But I now recognize that abstract systematic thinking is pretty close to a definition of IQ; and that strongly IQ related (or heavily ‘g-loaded’) educational outcomes – such as differentials in reading comprehension and mathematical ability – are very difficult/impossible to improve in a real and sustained fashion by educational interventions [1].

In other words, a person’s level of ability to think abstractly and systematically is mostly a biological given – and not a consequence of formal education. The implication is that formal education should not be focusing on trying to do what it cannot do – i.e. enhance IQ. Instead, formal education should focus on educational goals where is can make a difference: i.e. the teaching of specific knowledge [1].

Mistaken belief number 2: Structure not content of formal education is crucial [5].

Revision: Content not structure of education is crucial.

I used to think that it did not matter what subject was studied in formal education, so long as the method of education was one which nurtured abstract systematic thinking [3]. I believed that how we learned was more important than what we learned, because I believed that abstract systematic thinking was a result of formal education – and this cognitive ability was more important than any particular body of information which had been memorized.

This line of reasoning meant that I favoured ‘pick and mix’, wide choice and multi-disciplinary curricula as a method of improving motivation by allowing students to study what most interested them, and giving students practice in learning new material and applying systematic thinking in many knowledge domains [5].

The reason that I believed all this has been summarized by Geoffrey Miller:

“The highly selective credential with little relevant content [such as an elite college degree in any subject] often trumps the less-selective credential with very relevant content. Nor are such preferences irrational. General intelligence is such a powerful predictor of job performance that a content-free IQ guarantee can be much more valuable to an employer or graduate school than a set of rote-learned content with no IQ guarantee” [2].

Since IQ is such a powerful influence on educational (and other) outcomes [18], the value of specific educational content is therefore only apparent when IQ has been controlled-for. Since IQ is routinely ignored or denied, the value of educational content is not apparent in outcomes which are sensitive to differences in general intelligence.

Murray argues that variations in the structure and methods of education are not able significantly to influence those educational outcomes which are ‘g-loaded’ such as reading comprehension or mathematic reasoning [1]. Numerous attempts to raise real long-term intelligence (rather than merely raising specific test scores) have failed [19]. However, the subject matter being studied will (obviously!) make a big difference to what gets learned. Once we set aside the delusional goal of enhancing IQ by educational reform, then the subject matter – or curriculum – becomes a more important focus than educational structure and methods.

Charles Murray therefore endorses the approach to ‘Cultural Literacy’ or a core knowledge curriculum pioneered by Ed Hirsch ( This educational philosophy focuses on constructing a comprehensive curriculum of the factual material that people should know, or ‘need to know’. Over the past couple of decades some detailed and well-validated programmes of study have been developed for the USA, and these can be purchased by educational institutions and also home-schooling parents.

It is claimed that such a core knowledge curriculum should enable the student to become a citizen participating at the highest possible social level, and that a shared education in core knowledge should hold society together with a stronger ‘cultural glue’. If such benefits are real, then school, especially between the ages of about 6 and 14, is the best place to follow such a program; since, although the core curriculum involves more than mere memorization, nonetheless memorization is an important element – and young children can memorize information much more easily and lastingly than adults [1].

Understanding IQ has therefore provoked me into a U-turn on the matter of curricula. I now believe that what we learn in formal education is more important than how we learn, because what we learn can have a lasting effect on what we know; while how we learn does not, after all, teach us how to think.

Mistaken belief number 3: A major aim of social reform should be to include as many people as possible in formal education for as long as possible. Ever-more people should get ever-more education for the foreseeable future [6].

Revision: The system of formal education is hugely over-expanded and should be substantially reduced (to considerably less than half its current size). The average person should receive fewer years of formal education, fewer people should attend higher education institutions and do fewer bachelor’s degrees, and those in higher education should – on average – complete the process in fewer years.

The proportion of school leavers entering higher education in the UK has at least trebled over the past three decades, from around 15% to more than 45%. The rationale behind this vast expansion was based on the observation of higher all-round performance among college graduates – better performance in jobs, and also a wide range of other good outcomes including improved health and happiness [6].

However, it turns out that almost all of this differential in behaviours can be explained in terms of selection for (mostly hereditary) intelligence, rather than these improvements being something added to individuals by their educational experience. The main extra information provided by the successful completion of prolonged educational programs (i.e. extra in addition to signalling IQ) is that educational certification provides a broadly-reliable signal of a highly-Conscientious personality.

Miller has neatly described this trait: “Conscientiousness is the Big Five personality trait that includes such characteristics as integrity, reliability, predictability, consistency, and punctuality. It predicts respect for social norms and responsibilities, and the likelihood of fulfilling promises and contracts. A century ago, people would have called it character, principle, honor, or moral fiber. (…) Conscientiousness is lower on average in juveniles, and it matures slowly with age” [2].

Other attributes of a highly-Conscientious personality are self-discipline, perseverance and long-termism [20].

But a person’s degree of Conscientiousness is not a product of their educational experience; rather it is a mostly-inherited psychological attribute which develops throughout life, the relative (or differential) possession of which is stable throughout life [13]. In other words, Conscientiousness is (mostly) an innate ability in a similar sense to intelligence – and similarly difficult to influence by educational means.

It turns out that modern formal education is mainly signalling [15], or providing indirect evidence about, a person’s IQ and personality abilities which they have mostly inherited [1] and [2]. This means that imposing an ever-increasing number of years of formal education for an ever-increasing proportion of the population is ever-increasingly inefficient – and is wasting years of people’s lives, wasting vast amounts of money on the education provision, and imposing huge economic and social ‘opportunity costs’ by forcing people to remain in formal education when their time would often be better spent doing something else (for example something economically-productive or something more personally-fulfilling).

Mistaken belief number 4: Higher education should be regarded as a general, non-vocational process, in which most degrees are modular and multi-disciplinary; and where specialization or vocational preparation should be a relatively brief and ‘last-minute’ training at the end of a long process of education [3], [5] and [6].

Revision: The period of general education should not extend much beyond about 16 (the approximate age of IQ maturity), and this general education should be focused on the basic skills of literacy and numeracy together with a core knowledge curriculum.

At the age of about 16 each person could potentially leave school with a set of knowledge-based examination results demonstrating their level of competence in a core knowledge curriculum; and with usefully precise and valid psychometric measurements of their general intelligence and personality (especially their age ranked degree of Conscientiousness). The combination of psychometric measures of IQ and Conscientiousness would serve the same kind of function as educational evaluations do at present, providing a basis for employment selection or valid predictions to guide the allocation of access to further levels of formal education.

Beyond this I believe that most education should be ‘functional’ or vocational, in the sense of being a relatively-focused training in the knowledge and skills required to do something specific. This functional post-sixteen formal higher education could vary in duration from weeks or months (for semi-skilled jobs) to several years (for access to the starting level of the most highly skilled and knowledge-intensive professions such as architecture, engineering, medicine or law).

But when IQ and personality measurements are available, then the majority of ‘white collar’ jobs – jobs such as management, administration, or school teaching (up to the age of about 16) – would no longer require a college degree. Instead specific knowledge-based training would be provided ‘on the job’, presumably by the traditional mixture of a formally-structured curriculum for imparting the core knowledge and systematic elements with apprenticeship and individual instruction in order to impart specialized skills.

Murray also suggests that much specialist educational certification for careers could in principle be better done by rigorous public examinations such as those for accountancy, than by the medium of minimum-duration college degrees [1].

Measuring personality

The main unsolved problem for this psychometric approach is the evaluation of personality. Most of the current evidence for the predictive and explanatory power of personality comes from self-rating questionnaires, and clearly these would not be suitable for educational and job evaluations since it is facile to learn the responses which would lead to a high rating for Conscientiousness.

Rather than being simply asserted in a questionnaire, a Conscientious, persevering, self-disciplined personality requires to be demonstrated in actual practice. The modern educational system has, inadvertently, evolved in the direction of requiring higher levels of Conscientiousness [20]. The main factor in this evolution has been the progressive lengthening of the educational process (in the UK the modal average age for leaving formal education has increased from 16 to about 21 in the space of 30 years), but educational evaluations have also become less IQ-orientated (less g-loaded) and more dependent upon the ability of students frequently and punctually to complete neat and regular course work assignments [20] and [21].

However, the modern educational system is not explicitly aware that it is measuring Conscientiousness – the changes have been an accidental by-product of other trends, and there was not a deliberate attempt to enhance Conscientiousness-selectivity as a matter of policy. Because the educational system is blind to the consequences of its own actions, there are counter-pressures to make course work easier and more-interesting and to offer more choices – when in fact it would be a more efficient and accurate measure of Conscientiousness to have students complete compulsory, dull and irrelevant tasks which required a great deal of toil and effort!

However, it may be socially-preferable to have students prove their Conscientiousness in the realm of economic employment rather than by setting them pointless and grinding work in a formal educational context. There are plenty of dull and demanding but necessary jobs, the successful and sufficiently-prolonged accomplishment of which could serve as a valid and accurate reliable signal of Conscientiousness. So it would be more useful for people to prove their level of Conscientiousness in the arena of paid work, than by having this measurement task done by formal educational institutions.

An alternative suggestion for evaluating Conscientiousness comes from Geoffrey Miller, who advocates using broad surveys of opinion from families, peers, employers or any reliable and informed person who is in prolonged social contact with the subject [2].


I have previously written about the extraordinary way in which knowledge of IQ in particular, and psychometrics in general, is ‘hidden in plain sight’ in modern culture [17]. The basic facts about IQ are accessible, abundant and convincing for those who take the trouble to look; but modern mainstream intellectual culture has for around half a decade ‘immunized’ most educated people against looking-at or learning about IQ by multiple forms of misinformation and denigration [22] and [23].

The recent books of Murray and Miller marshal more strongly than before the evidence that one major reason for its taboo status is that IQ knowledge has extremely damaging implications for the vast and expanding system of formal education which employs many intellectuals directly, and which provides almost all other intellectuals with the credentials upon which their status and employability depend. Miller’s phrase is worth repeating: “they do not want their expensive IQ-warranties to suffer competition from cheap, fast IQ tests which would commodify the intelligence-display market and drive down costs” [2].

Murray argues that a properly-demanding 4 year, general and core knowledge-based, ‘liberal arts’ degree would be valuable as a pre-specialization education for the high IQ intellectual elite [1]. Perhaps because I am a product of the (now disappeared) traditional English system of early educational specialization, I am unconvinced about the systematic benefits of general education at a college level. I suspect that the most efficient pattern of higher education would be to specialize at age 16 (or earlier for the highest IQ individuals) on completion of the standard core knowledge program; and that liberal arts should mainly be seen as an avocation (done for reasons of personal fulfilment) rather than a vocation (done as a job).

In other words, a liberal arts education beyond core knowledge could, and perhaps should, be optional and provided by the market, rather than being included in the educational ‘system’. For example, in the UK such an education is universally available without any residential requirement at a reasonable price and high quality via the Open University (

But in a system where objective IQ and personality evaluations were available as signals of aptitude, it could be left to ‘the market’ to decide whether the possession of a rigorous 4 year general liberal arts degree opened more doors; or attracted any extra premium of status, salary or conditions compared with a specialized, early vocational degree such as medicine, law, architecture, engineering, or one of the sciences. (There would presumably also be some specialist arts and humanities degrees, mainly vocationally-orientated towards training high-level school and college teachers – as was the traditional English practice until about 40 years ago [3].)

In summary, modern societies are currently vastly over-provided with formal education, and this education has the wrong emphasis. In particular, the job of sorting people by their general aptitude could be done more accurately, cheaply and quickly by using psychometrics to measure IQ and Conscientiousness. This would free-up time and energy for early training in key skills such as reading, writing and mathematics; and to focus on a core knowledge curriculum.

However, for reasons related to self-interest, the intellectual class do not want people to know the basic facts about IQ; and since the intellectual class provide the information upon which the rest of society depends for their understanding – consequently most people do not know the basic facts about IQ. And lacking knowledge of IQ, people are not able to understand the education system and what it actually does.

I can point to myself as a prime example of the way in which ignorance of IQ leads to a distorted understanding of education. Before I knew about the basic facts of IQ, I had articulated what seemed to be a rational and coherent set of beliefs about education. But since discovering the facts about IQ several of my convictions have undergone what amounts to a U-turn.


“A Farewell to Alms: a brief economic history of the world” by Gregory Clark (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, USA, 2007) was the book of economic history which first stimulated my (belated) engagement with the scientific literature of intelligence and personality. The web pages of Steve Sailer have since provided both an invaluable introduction and also a higher education in the subject (e.g.


[1] C. Murray, Real education: four simple truths for bringing America’s schools back to reality, Crown Forum, New York (2008).

[2] G. Miller, Spent: sex, evolution and consumer behaviour, Viking, New York (2009).

[3] B.G. Charlton and P. Andras, Auditing as a tool of public policy – the misuse of quality assurance techniques in the UK university expansion, Eur Polit Sci 2 (2002), pp. 24–35.

[4] B.G. Charlton, Science as a general education: conceptual science should constitute the compulsory core of multi-disciplinary undergraduate degrees, Med Hypotheses 66 (2006), pp. 451–453.

[5] Charlton BG, Andras P. The educational function and implications for teaching of multi-disciplinary modular (MDM) undergraduate degrees. OxCHEPS Occasional Paper No. 12; 2003.

[6] B.G. Charlton and P. Andras, Universities and social progress in modernizing societies: how educational expansion has replaced socialism as an instrument of political reform, CQ (Crit Quart) 47 (2005), pp. 30–39.

[7] N.J. Mackintosh, IQ and human intelligence, Oxford University Press, Oxford (1998).

[8] A.R. Jensen, The g factor: the science of mental ability, Praeger, Westport, CT, USA (1988).

[9] U. Neisser et al., Intelligence: knowns and unknowns, Am Psychol 51 (1996), pp. 77–101.

[10] I.J. Deary, Intelligence: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford (2001).

[11] J.R. Harris, The nurture assumption: why children turn out the way they do, Bloomsbury, London (1998).

[12] D. Nettle, Personality: what makes you the way you are, Oxford University Press (2007).

[13] P.T. Costa and R.R. McCrae, Stability and change in personality from adolescence through adulthood. In: C.F. Halverson Jr., G.A. Kohnstamm and R.P. Martin, Editors, The developing structure of temperament and personality from infancy to adulthood, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, USA (1994), pp. 139–150.

[14] G.D. Batty, I.J. Deary and L.S. Gottfredson, Pre-morbid (early life) IQ and later mortality risk: systematic review, Ann Epidemiol 17 (2007), pp. 278–288.

[15] Caplan B. Mixed signals: Why Becker, Cowen, and Kling should reconsider the signaling model of education. . Accessed 06.04.09.

[16] R.J. Herrnstein and C. Murray, The bell curve: intelligence and class structure in American life, Forbes, New York (1994).

[17] B.G. Charlton, Pioneering studies of IQ by G.H. Thomson and J.F. Duff – an example of established knowledge subsequently ‘hidden in plain sight’, Med Hypotheses 71 (2008), pp. 625–628.

[18] L.S. Gottfredson, Implications of cognitive differences for schooling within diverse societies. In: C.L. Frisby and C.R. Reynolds, Editors, Comprehensive handbook of multicultural school psychology, Wiley, New York (2005), pp. 517–554.

[19] Spitz HH. The raising of intelligence: a selected history of attempts to raise retarded intelligence. Hillsdale, NJ, USA: Erlbaum; 1986.

[20] B.G. Charlton, Why are modern scientists so dull? How science selects for perseverance and sociability at the expense of intelligence and creativity, Med Hypotheses 72 (2009), pp. 237–243.

[21] Charlton BG. Sex ratios in the most-selective elite undergraduate US colleges and universities are consistent with the hypothesis that modern educational systems increasingly select for conscientious personality compared with intelligence. Med Hypotheses; in press, doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.03.016.

[22] A. Wooldridge, Measuring the mind: education and psychology in England, c.1860–c.1990, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK (1994).

[23] L.S. Gottfredson, Logical fallacies used to dismiss the evidence on intelligence testing. In: R. Phelps, Editor, Correcting fallacies about educational and psychological testing, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC (2009), pp. 11–65.