The Miracle on 60th Street, Possibilities at the Post, The Story the Press Dare Not Print, and Other Matters. The IQ Wars

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Continuing to quarrel with the mainstream media, we now come to their treatment of the intelligence quotient (IQ), one of the great inventions of the 20th century. The media do not like the IQ. They disfavor it because the liberal culture in which they thrive is committed to egalitarian principles, and the IQ data persist in quantitatively documenting the awkward fact that some people -- and some social and ethnic groups -- are smarter than others. Your average media professional does not wish to report this news and worries that doing so could cause him to be called a fascist or something. The IQ has enormous predictive and explanatory power. It tells us who is most likely to do well at school, to perform best at a particular job, and in general to end up with a high income and prestigious career. It also helps us predict who is most likely to end up behind bars. (With the mean set at 100, criminals are heavily concentrated in the IQ zone around 90.) And since variability in IQ scores is primarily attributable to genetic factors, it helps us see the extent to which human outcomes reflect human biology. So what's to quarrel about? Nutshell brief and capsule concise, our gripe is that you will seldom hear any of the above from our country's great national media -- or if you do encounter such propositions, it is ordinarily in a context where some high-minded characters are challenging them. The media keep giving you the impression that the views in the paragraph above are suspect and held only by extremists, when in fact they are well documented and, in the psychological profession, not especially controversial. Bringing on your correspondent's outburst was a long piece in the New York Times the other day. ''New Scales of Intelligence Rank Talent for Living,'' said this great publication as its psychology correspondent proceeded to discover the latest alternative to IQ. His first sentence referred to the ''glaring limitations of IQ tests,'' while his second nonchalantly noted that such tests can predict academic performance but ''have little or nothing to do with who will earn the most money or prestige . . .'' In fact, IQ tests administered to a random selection of teenagers will do almost as well in predicting income in later life as in predicting grades in school; the respective correlation coefficients are 0.4 and 0.6 (on a scale where 0.0 means no relationship and 1.0 means a perfect relationship). The IQ does better still -- with a correlation coefficient of 0.7 -- in predicting the kids' occupational status. Our latest Nexis search confirms that there is indeed an avalanche of IQ badmouthing in the media. Here is a Los Angeles Times piece boldly reporting that psychologists say IQ scores ''are of no use in predicting future success.'' Here is a UPI story on a professor who says IQ tests are ''basically useless.'' Here is a U.S. News & World Report article about many different attacks on the IQ. Is it really possible that the media are distorting scholars' view of the IQ's utility? You better believe it. But who is to say what scholars believe? The most exhaustive survey we've seen -- with over 650 respondents, including psychometricians and other academic specialists -- was performed a couple of years ago by Stanley Rothman of Smith College and Mark Snyderman, now at the University of Chicago. Virtually all the respondents agreed that the mental abilities measured by IQ tests are roughly what they think of as ''intelligence'' and are predominantly rooted in genetic differences. A sizable majority (71%) stated that test scores predict social and economic success. Oddly enough, we have trouble thinking of the majority as a bunch of fascists.