Geoffrey Miller: Progressive for Intelligence
By Bryan Caplan
Overall, I’m critical of Geoffrey Miller’s Spent (see here, here, and here). But I’m impressed that after proclaiming himself “a secular humanist, an antiwar internationalist, an animal-rights environmentalist, a pro-gay feminist, a libertarian on most social, sexual, and cultural issues, and a registered Democrat,” he’s still ready to bet his life on the science of intelligence:
[T]he anti-intelligence dogma continues unabated, and a conspicuous contempt for IQ remains, among the liberal elite, a fashionable indicator of one’s agreeableness and openness.
Yet this overt contempt for the concept of intelligence has never undermined our universal worship of the intelligence-based meritocracy that drives capitalist educational and occupational aspirations. All parents glow with pride when their children score well on standardized tests, get into elite universities that require high test scores, and pursue careers that require elite university degrees. The anti-intelligence dogma has not deterred liberal elites from sulking and ranting about the embarrassing stupidity of certain politicians, the inhumanity of inflicting capital punishment on murderers with subnormal IQs, or the IQ-harming effect of lead paint or prenatal alcoholism.
And here’s Miller on the hypocritical predicament of the Educational Testing Service:
Although nominally dedicated to the highest standards of test validity, ETS is also under intense legal pressure to create tests that “are free of racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, and other forms of bias.” This means, in practice, that ETS must attempt the impossible. It must develop tests that accurately predict university performance by assessing general intelligence… Yet since intelligence testing remains such a politically incendiary topic in the United States, it is crucial for ETS to take the position that its “aptitude” and “achievement” tests are not tests of general intelligence. Further, its tests must avoid charges of bias by yielding precisely equal distributions of scores across different ethnic groups, sexes, and classes – even when those groups do have somewhat different distributions of general intelligence. So, the more accurate the tests are as indexes of general intelligence, the more biased they look across groups, and the more flack ETS gets from political activists. On the other hand, the more equal the test outcomes are across groups, the less accurate the tests are as indexes of general intelligence, the less well they predict university performance, and the more flack ETS gets from universities trying to select the best students.
I do wonder, though, how Miller’s disdain for anti-IQ activists coheres with the other components his identity. Later in the book, he argues that there’s no real conflict between his politics and his science, but I’m not convinced. Stay tuned.