Saturday, April 13, 2013

IQ, EQ, Billionaires, and Merit

In grad school, I used to say that the surest sign that wealth and intellect were unrelated was expensive cars.  We smart grad students, had no car at all, or a small old one, and those with over-built, shiny, expensive cars seemed like morons and crooks.

Now comes Duke Prof Jonathan Wai's, which is a full-throated endorsement of meritocracy not just in America and the world. It is in Psychology Today, which is certainly more weighty than USA Today, but not Science either.

When a physical scientist looks at social science research, all s/he sees is fuzziness -- I have said that many times. Wai's work is just like that. He took a statistic like 54% of the Forbes 500 richest computer billionaires graduated from selective colleges to infer that these people are in the top 1% of intelligence. It would have been so much better to have tested their intelligence, or even get access to their old test results.  What schools did Wai consider elite? This wasn't just MIT and Harvard -- he tossed in the Indian Institute of Technology, which isn't on the US  News list of top schools.

It looks like cherry picking the data to me. He took 500 people, whittled them down to 10%, and then used the assumption that college admissions were based test scores (kinda true) and that test scores are based on IQ (also kinda true) to get to his meritocracy based solution. It ignores the other 90% of the billionaires. It also ignores the other advantages students in elite schools have. Also ignored is that the ACT tests on educational attainment while the SAT tests on so-called intellectual ability (but they are correlated.)  Fuzziness.

Merit and wealth impact social policy in that if the rich deserved to be rich, then they deserve to keep more of it.