Pharyngula

My morning at Mensa

Yesterday, I blitzed through a tiny slice of the Mensa meeting in Denver. My time was really tight, so after arriving on Thursday for a fabulous Pharyngufest, I only got to sit through two talks in the morning session before mine, and then whoosh, I was off to the airport and hurtling through the sky at 475mph to get back home.

I had time to look through the program at least, and I hate to say it, but Mensa meetings are better organized than the big meetings of most atheist groups I’ve been to (this is a peeve of mine — atheists give bad meetings, although I’m sure Margaret Downey will prove me wrong this fall). There were parallel sessions and a great deal of diversity in the subjects — which is especially good since there is a lot of credulous woo at Mensa, mixed in with the critical thinking — and plenty of time scheduled for socializing, which is the whole point of such events. The content was very mixed, however, and I sat through two talks that were not, I hope representative. I later realized I could have gone to the atheist meet-and-greet that was scheduled concurrently with the ID talk I saw, which probably would have been a much better use of my time.

The first talk I saw was “Is evolution incompatible with Intelligent Design?” by Edwin Chong. This was an attempt at a philosophical justification for regarding a weak form of ID as fully compatible with acceptance of a strong form of evolution. It was OK, not as horrible as it could have been, but the speakers motivation was transparent: it was a typical post hoc justification of a belief in god. I had a couple of major objections. One was his claim that ID is a legitimate scientific pursuit, made on the basis of the fact that they actually make epistemological claims, that is, that they express an intent to pursue a scientific line of investigation. Personally, I do not accept the fact that they have an honest intent; there’s too much bad scholarship and far too much willingness to distort the truth at the Discovery Institute. I also don’t think an intent to do research is sufficient to call it science. You also have to have some kind of evidential foundation, building on past observations — you have to be able to answer the questions “how do you know that?” or “why do you expect that result?” with something more than “because I wish it were so.”

A good chunk of the end of his talk was a long discussion of the nature of a god who would be compatible with both ID and evolution, in which you could have an omnipotent, omniscient designer who interferes in an indetectable way by selecting probabilistic outcomes, but in which you also do not have a deterministic universe. It was overwrought, I thought, a lot of intellectual masturbation to justify the existence of something Chong wishes were there, but for which he has no evidence at all.

The second talk was pure crazy. James Carrion of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, got up to tell us whose intelligence was controlling the craft. We got a short history of the UFO movement, from scattered reports of ‘foo fighters’ in WWII to the incident that started it all, the 1947 report of flying saucers in formation over Mt Rainier, to modern day accounts. He showed some of the McMinnville UFO photos, and seemed to think these were good examples of UFO evidence — they look like poorly photographed pie plates, if you ask me. Carrion thinks that UFOs are actually high tech craft built by our government that are being tested or used in secret missions. It was telling that when he said his reason for believing this was that it seemed much more likely than that aliens flew here that our government is lying to us, that there was much nodding of heads in the audience. Many of the questions revealed a weird conspiracy theorist mindset in the crowd. The best question was when one woman asked him to give the single most persuasive piece of evidence that UFOs exist…and Carrion couldn’t do it. The best he could do is cite trace evidence. He thought that soil changes (which he did not or could not describe) at purported UFO landing sites were evidence that something unusual had happened there; people in the audience actually chimed in with crop circle stories. Who knew ropes and boards were our government’s secret high technology?

What I find most damning about the whole UFO movement is that, as Carrion explained, they’ve got 60 years of history and absolutely nothing to show for it other than accumulated and often contradictory anecdotes. I say, cut through the crap: it’s a testimony to the imperfection of human perception and the suggestibility of the human mind, nothing more.

Then I gave my talk, which went in the other direction. It was OK, but I’m still working on getting this message across, which is really difficult to do: that the important evidence for evolution is all molecular, and that we’ve got this incredible wealth of detail available. I think I went over the audience’s heads in a few places. Oh, well — I’d rather credit my listener’s with more knowledge than less, and challenge them a little bit to learn more, than to dumb it down. I still have to work at making the abstractions of the molecular evidence more entertaining, though.

And that was it. It would have been good to get a more representative sample of the talks that were going on, but time was short. At least the people I met were smart and fun, even if those talks were a little odd!

Comments

  1. #1 Anon
    July 5, 2008

    Hate to say it, but I never liked Mensa; the members I have known have tended to think that since they are so intelligent, they cannot be fooled into believing something (ESP, e.g.) that is not true. They also have been (again, this is only my experience) particularly susceptible to flattery (“well, most people don’t have ESP, because they are not utilizing their brains as efficiently as you are…”) as a means to fool them.

    Your commentary seems completely compatible with my observation. I’d like to think otherwise, but oh, well.

  2. #2 Reginald Selkirk
    July 5, 2008

    they look like poorly photographed pie plates, if you ask me. Carrion thinks that UFOs are actually high tech craft built by our government that are being tested or used in secret missions.

    Stand up proud, son. Our government has the highest tech pie plates in the world!

  3. #3 konrad_arflane
    July 5, 2008

    his reason for believing this was that it seemed much more likely than that aliens flew here that our government is lying to us

    All the other UFO nonsense aside, I’d say that’s an accurate assessment of probabilities.

  4. #4 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Discussions of ID in terms of scientific discipline in a philosophical justification, UFOs, crop circles! Good grief, what could possibly come up next; mental telepathy to contact the tooth fairy and levitation? You would have done better by staying home and posting real stuff!

  5. #5 Zeno
    July 5, 2008

    A big problem with Mensa is that high-IQ alone doesn’t necessarily make you that smart. Or, rather, you can end up using those smarts to promote stupid things. You just do it better than stupid people. Mensa has special interest groups devoted to 9/11 conspiracies, astrology, Christianity, alternative health remedies, and parapsychology. Isaac Asimov was a longtime leader in Mensa who used to lament that members would come up to him at meetings and try to persuade him that he should take astrology more seriously. [sigh]

    On the other hand, I hear you usually don’t have to explain your jokes to them.

  6. #6 Michael Murray
    July 5, 2008

    It always strikes me as strange that in modern times nearly everybody in the western world has a camera in their phone and hence a camera with them all the time but still there are no good UFO photo’s.

    Michael

  7. #7 Kurt
    July 5, 2008

    It’s more than a little ironic that at a Mensa meeting, you first have to sit through two talks dealing with nothing but speculative nonsense, and then need to be concerned about your own talk going over the heads of the audience!

    Maybe Mensa members suffer a bit from the same arrogance about the power of their intellects that the ID community likes to indulge in. Being bright does not make a person immune from sloppy thinking and unjustified beliefs. What’s required is discipline in thought, just as natural ability is not going to guarantee an athlete success if they are not disciplined in their training regimen.

  8. #8 James F
    July 5, 2008

    Many of the questions revealed a weird conspiracy theorist mindset in the crowd.

    It’s a short hop from government cover-up to the Global Darwinist Conspiracy.

  9. #9 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Michael @ 6 If they could only get those pie plates and frisbees from coming out all blurred! No damned cooperation!

  10. #10 ChemBob
    July 5, 2008

    I used to be a Mensa member and was constantly frustrated by the amount of woo coming out of some of the members and the fact that they generally seemed to spend too much of their time playing intellectual games rather than applying their intellects to resolving serious problems of our country and the world. Perhaps I just didn’t participate sufficiently long to discover such Mensans, but my impatience got the better of me. Perhaps I should try again; try to get a local atheist and scientist group going or something. Probably be a very small group.

  11. #11 MAJeff, OM
    July 5, 2008

    Our government has the highest tech pie plates in the world!

    Then why can’t I get anything with even heat distribution?

  12. #12 Stagyar zil Doggo
    July 5, 2008

    “Is evolution incompatible with Intelligent Design?”

    Absolutely not. Perfect compatibility is ensured by a small modification to ID theory – that ‘the Designer'(TM) is Darwin’s bitch.

  13. #13 Bob O'H
    July 5, 2008

    Stand up proud, son. Our government has the highest tech pie plates in the world!

    Ha! Is that the best you can do? In Britain, we have the best crop circles. Including ones with ?!

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2008

    I used to get invitations to join MENSA following my ACT’s and SAT’s. (Apparently they have low standards.) I could never really see the point of it, other than to network with people who liked to talk backwards and make jokes about improperly installed transistors, etc. As pointed out, high IQ (whatever that is) doesn’t have a confident correlation with skepticality. We all know about Salem’s hypothesis.

    In a MENSA meeting, though, I would think that if you are afraid that your presentation may go over your audience’s head many would take that as a challenge and want to find out how to learn more about what you are saying.

    In your presentation last year on “God and the Brain” before the Minnesota Atheists, you tamped it down quite a bit, but I did follow up on key points that you made and it was fun to learn more about neurobiology.

    I have an idea; perhaps you could perk up a bit of interest in your presentation by saying it’s a conspiracy on the part of the Science Journal Cabal:

    Nature magazine thinks you should pay for this information and is on a mission to discredit Open-Access to scientific.”

    That’ll get them diving into PLoS.

  15. #15 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2008

    Crap. Two corrections (see what I mean about MENSA’s low standards?)

    “God and the Brain”

    s/b “No Ghosts in Your Brain.”

    “Nature magazine thinks you should pay for this information and is on a mission to discredit Open-Access to scientific.”

    s/b “Nature magazine thinks you should pay for this information and is on a mission to discredit Open-Access to scientific studies.”

  16. #16 JRQ
    July 5, 2008

    The Mensa types tend to be very good at pattern recognition, and not so good at more analytic reasoning (e.g., hypothesis testing). Pattern recognition is a double-edged sword — the better you are at extracting complex patterns and regularities from information, the more susceptible you are to overfitting.

  17. #18 random guy
    July 5, 2008

    In my experience Mensa is just a group for people who score high on IQ tests. Incidentally they also seem to preoccupy themselves with the exact same kind of logic questions that make up those tests. Which I’m sure that has nothing to do with why they score so well on them.

    I once heard Mensa described as a place for people who have nothing greater to their name than a test score. All the other “smart people” are busy doing something else. I haven’t seen much evidence to counter this theory.

  18. #19 JeffreyD
    July 5, 2008

    MAJeff at #11 – “Our government has the highest tech pie plates in the world!”
    “Then why can’t I get anything with even heat distribution?”

    MaJeff, you need the special light and radar absorbing pie plates derived from the black helicopter ™. I can possibly help you, just send me your bank info and the plates will arrive in a plain brown wrapper.

    Ciao

  19. #20 ChemBob
    July 5, 2008

    Mike, the score delimiters for Mensa are supposed to restrict membership to the top two percent of IQ based on the testing.

  20. #21 llewelly
    July 5, 2008

    To me your experience argues that MENSA should replace their IQ tests with a roll of percentile dice – anyone who rolls 98 or better gets in.

  21. #22 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2008

    ChemBob – at least in the 1970’s 98%ile scores on ACT and SAT were sufficient for membership. I learned more in high school about gaming tests than anything else, which is how I fooled people into thinking that I am intelligent. SAT’s and ACT’s were then four-option multiple choice guess affairs, (eliminate the two answers that are obviously wrong and then re-read the question for clues to the answer) and I don’t know that they have become more rigorous since then. I would think that if they truly wanted to attract the cream of the intelligent crop, then they would limit their invitations to those who reach 98%ile in GRE’s and LSATs., and of course their own test.

    Even with intense practice in study for LSAT, I only managed an 80%ile rank, because it is much more rigorous and involves building logic tables.

  22. #23 Blogesque
    July 5, 2008

    The second talk was pure crazy. James Carrion of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, got up to tell us whose intelligence was controlling the craft…Carrion thinks that UFOs are actually high tech craft built by our government that are being tested or used in secret missions.

    Honestly, PZ, where’s the patient understanding? If you spent your existence being picked at by buzzards, hyenas and flies, you’d be a little crazy too.

    What? It had to be said…

  23. #24 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    It’s interesting that it is on exactly the kinds of test MENSA glories in, that the Flynn effect shows up most strongly – in other words, whatever they measure, it’s certainly not innate ability.

    To me your experience argues that MENSA should replace their IQ tests with a roll of percentile dice – llewlly

    Or a measure of smug self-satisfaction.

  24. #25 ChemBob
    July 5, 2008

    Mike, I remember the ACT; that was so long ago. I got in on my GRE scores, but generally I feel as dumb as a stump.

    JRQ @ #16 re: your pattern recognition comment. Possibly this ties in with Kurt @ #7, who invokes the need for discipline in the application of thought irrespective of IQ. Perhaps one needs the ability to envision the emergent patterns and, concomitantly, both the intellectual discipline and education to test the hypotheses that might have resulted in said patterns to actually put the “Mensa Intellect” into play in a constructive manner.

  25. #26 Betsy McCall
    July 5, 2008

    Please, let’s not turn this into a “MENSA sucks” fest. I joined Mensa when I was 15 and it was a great relief to know that I wasn’t as much a freak as I felt like in school. It serves it’s purpose for some and not for others. Not everyone has academia to fall back on for stimulating intellectual conversation. Most people I know (even in Mensa) can’t keep up with me; the odds are just better.

    And frankly, I was instrumental in getting PZ to this meeting: I suggested him and raised the money. And if those talks are any indication, it’s that we need more people like PZ to go to these talks, not less, because for all a Mensan’s in-born talent, they are just as susceptible to the woo coming out of the media and the churches and their parents and conspiracy theorists and all that other nonsense, and they are no more taught critical thinking than the man on the street. Yes, they are wasting their abilities. They need to be around people who can set them straight.

    There is now a huge Atheists group in Mensa, over 600 strong on the Yahoo Group. A welcome relief.

    So please, if you are going bash people, bash them for their specific beliefs. Don’t bash Mensa. I’m sick of it. It’s your own perceptions that smart people should be somehow more rational than the average man on the street that disappoints you. Unfortunately, they are all too human.

    (And frankly, I would have thought math people would be decent rational thinkers, and there is still plenty of woo running around math circles, too. And on average, they are probably smarter than most Mensans.)

  26. #27 Betsy McCall
    July 5, 2008

    Oh, and PZ, thank you for doing this for us. I wish I could have been there, but I had to cancel my trip out there for financial reasons. I really appreciate your effort, even if the woo people, or the other people reading this blog, don’t. Thank you.

  27. #28 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Please, let’s not turn this into a “MENSA sucks” fest. – Betsy McCall

    Why not? It does.

  28. #29 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 5, 2008

    omniscient designer

    Are they still using that idea, after modern math on deterministic chaos and uncomputable numbers shows that no one can be omniscient on the outcome of physics?

    So what they are saying now is that their imaginary friends are illogical. Funny, that is what I’ve said all along.

    I could never really see the point of it, other than to network with people who liked to talk backwards and make jokes about improperly installed transistors, etc.

    Come on now, it’s obvious; many joins social clubs to get laid. And intelligent, well educated persons have IIRC statistically the highest sexual drives. It’s a sex club.

  29. #30 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Jeffrey D @ 19 What, I thought you can get anyone’s bank info just by knowing their zodiac sign and then using mental telepathy to clean them out?

  30. #31 Paul Lundgren
    July 5, 2008

    they’ve got 60 years of history and absolutely nothing to show for it other than accumulated and often contradictory anecdotes.

    Just like religion, only less “credible.”

    Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World,” one of my favorite books, had an excellent analysis of the UFO abduction phenomenon. He basically called it not only mass hysteria, but likened it to the whole bit about seeing angels in the middle ages. What a bunch of woo.

  31. #32 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 5, 2008

    it was a great relief to know that I wasn’t as much a freak as I felt like in school.

    And that, I believe, is one other major reason for Mensa.

    The guy who (at least used to) heads the swedish club IIRC had an interview where he related a similar experience. If I remember correctly he mentions feeling stupid during all of school because he couldn’t seem to fit in. Turned out later he was unusually intelligent (as measured by tests, of course).

  32. #33 fardels bear
    July 5, 2008

    Betsy, I think people would cut Mensa more slack if Mensans did not constantly, as you do in your post, conflate “test score” with “smart.” I think it is abundantly clear that scoring well on an IQ test does very little to prove the test taker is “smart.”

  33. #34 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Betsy McCall @ 26 Okay, no bashing Mensa. “Hi, I’m Jesse. I have an IQ of 350 and I believe in UFO’s, god, crop circles and seances. Duh.

  34. #35 ChemBob
    July 5, 2008

    Nick @ #28: Mensa does not, imho, suck. It is a very useful social organization for many who feel somewhat “other” than the majority of those around them. A high IQ in this dumbed-down, everything based on the “lowest common denominator” of intellect and capability, society is not usually a blessing. It didn’t work for me on the levels that I desired (but maybe that has changed), but it does work for a lot of people.

  35. #36 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    If I remember correctly he mentions feeling stupid during all of school because he couldn’t seem to fit in. Turned out later he was unusually intelligent (as measured by tests, of course)stupid, but good at IQ tests. – Torbjörn Larsson, OM

  36. #37 Maakuz
    July 5, 2008

    My experience with the finnish Mensa is that they are more
    woo than average, based on what I read on members area. It really is strange when you´re talking to people who seem intelligent, civilized and funny, only to realize that people are suddenly talking about how cool horoscopes are.

    Last meeting I participated had an all-woo-goes, a local hare krishna leader and the chairman of Skepsis, finnish sceptical society (the main reason I got there) as speakers.

    The best laugh the audience got was when Pertti Laine, the sceptic, told the audience that love is really just brain chemistry. To me it was obvious, and I was really surprised at the crowd´s reaction.

    In a few months, we are having a large Darwin-meeting panned over several days. I´ll SO be there, hopefully ready to counter the blatherings of “evolution critics”. Man, I never get tired of that title. Classic!

  37. #38 fardels bear
    July 5, 2008

    If love is “really just” brain chemistry, is a dollar bill “really just” a piece of paper?

  38. #39 Danley
    July 5, 2008

    Wacky stuff. The law of diminishing return is applicable to Mensonians.

  39. #40 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    It was telling that when he said his reason for believing this was that it seemed much more likely than that aliens flew here that our government is lying to us, that there was much nodding of heads in the audience.

    Medic!! Copy editor!!

  40. #41 Pablo
    July 5, 2008

    Two comments:
    1) “Is evolution incompatible with Intelligent Design?” — I don’t get it. How can this be a worthwhile talk? EVERYTHING is compatible with ID – that’s the problem. Even if we had a perfectly natural explanation for every detail of every system, we couldn’t rule out intelligent design. Any designer capable of creating a universe and making everything happen has the ability to make it look like it occured naturally. There, a two sentance treatment of what was, what, a 1 hour talk? What else is there to say?
    2) We saw UFOs over Indiana last night. It was really weird, in fact, mixed in among the fireworks, there was an orange spot that moved across the sky before fading out. Three times it passed over, all on the same path. Then again, there is an Air Force base about 20 miles north, so who knows what is flying around (the first two were one right after the other; had I known the third one was coming later, I would have gotten the binos; darn UFOs, never tell you their plans). Nonetheless, definately unidentified, definately flying, although presumably an object.

  41. #42 Orac
    July 5, 2008

    Vox Day is a member of MENSA. ‘Nuff said.

  42. #43 JeffreyD
    July 5, 2008

    Holbach at #30, “What, I thought you can get anyone’s bank info just by knowing their zodiac sign and then using mental telepathy to clean them out?”

    Holbach, you know I cannot use my god given powers for evil. Of course I can read your mind, but if I try to do that for gain, my power vanishes. That is the only reason Randi still has his $1 million. Now, can I interest you in a pie plate? How about a set of Dead Sea Scrolls steak knives? They go well with the Last Supper bibs and placemats. And, if you order in the next five minutes, you will receive a genuine, autographed 3-d picture of jayzuz….the eyes follow you around the room. These items are all free, just need a free will love offering of $29.95 to handle postage and packing. No checks, money orders are fine, cash is better. JeffreyD’s discount house of heavenly worshipful stuff, no better for the price.

    Ciao

  43. #44 JoJo
    July 5, 2008

    Some years ago a friend recommended Mensa to me. I passed the Mensa test and went to a meeting. I was introduced some people who asked me what I did for a living. I explained that I was in the Navy serving in a nuclear submarine.

    Most of the people didn’t seem too interested. A couple of people denounced me for being an imperialistic, blood-thirsty warmonger who undoubtedly had shredded baby on my breakfast Cheerios. Another person told me about the horrors of nuclear power with the implication that I wouldn’t need a night light since I’d soon glow in the dark. But there was one guy I found fascinating.

    This guy wanted confirmation from me about the submarine base in Nevada. When I said I didn’t know about this base, he told me all about the vast underground sea stretching from the continental shelf off California to the Rockies. This sea was being explored by the submarine USS Thresher which operated from the base in Nevada.

    I’ll spare you the rest of the details. This guy was intelligent, with an immense vocabulary, and obviously well read. He also believed in something so wacko that I was convinced that he was, to use the proper technical psychological term, stark-staring bonkers.

    I had no particular problem with the pacifists. I could have probably given the anti-nuke woman more reasons to fear nuclear power. But the vast underground sea guy was too much for me. I did not return to Mensa and my membership has lapsed.

  44. #45 Fred
    July 5, 2008

    I don’t get your statement that “the important evidence for evolution is all molecular”. If that were true, The Origin would never have been so convincing. What about biogeography, developmental patterns, and of course the fossil record? In fact, we don’t really NEED molecular evidence to accept the fact of evolution!

  45. #46 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    Surprised nobody’s quoted Groucho Marx here yet.

  46. #47 ChemBob
    July 5, 2008

    JoJo, I read your comment and couldn’t help thinking that a person could have a top-notch state of the science computer and load it up with nothing but nonsensical crap. I have to wonder why people WANT to believe such foolishness. Why is woo so much more popular than science, which is infinitely more beautiful and explanatory?

  47. #48 Mooser, Bummertown
    July 5, 2008

    Mix in a little “because I wish it were so” with a whole lot of “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, and you got it made!

    Panavision and Pangloss forever!

  48. #49 xander
    July 5, 2008

    JoJo: But we do have a naval base out here, a few hours south of Reno. They keep a submarine there for training. Unfortunately, there is no subterranean sea.

  49. #50 Jason
    July 5, 2008

    When is someone gonna say” “Mensa sucks, Go 999 Club!”

  50. #51 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    JeffreyD @ 43 I’m hooked, er, convinced, and I’ll take the whole crap, er, crop, as long as you throw in a lifetime subscription to MAD and REASON magazine!

  51. #52 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Jason @ 50 Okay: “Mensa sucks, Go 999 Club!”

  52. #53 Soybomb
    July 5, 2008

    One of my friends suggested I should join Mensa. He told me how great it was. After the talk of the meetings starting with a large group hug I decided it wasn’t for me. It doesn’t sound like I missed much.

  53. #54 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2008

    Sorry, Betsy, I am happy for you that you find fulfillment in MENSA and I agree that contributions from people such as PZ are valuable. It doesn’t appeal to me, even though I am qualified by their standards to join. I am sorry that I didn’t communicate that well enough.

    I prefer to belong to groups such as American Atheists/Minnesota Atheists because even though I know some atheists who are as dumb as stumps, it is a place where I am safe from preaching (even if I have to shoot down some 9/11 conspiracists occasionally.)

  54. #55 michelle@michelle.org
    July 5, 2008

    I used to be in Mensa and still have friends who are Mensans. Keep in mind that the audience in those talks you attended are self selected; they had a number of talks to choose from, or they could have chosen not to attend any. So the people who were in the audience were mostly those who were predisposed to agree with the speaker’s viewpoint. Of the approximately 2000 people at the AG, how many were in each of those talks? 25? 50? 100?

  55. #56 Sili
    July 5, 2008

    Well, being told you’re smart (for some value of ‘smart’) can easily lead to some degree of … overconfidence, I’m sure.

    Also, however trite it sounds, I’m sure there’s a fine line between ‘very clever’ and ‘mad’.

    We all know of John Nash’s schizophrenia, for instance.

  56. #57 DanT
    July 5, 2008

    fardels bear (#33) said:
    Betsy, I think people would cut Mensa more slack if Mensans did not constantly, as you do in your post, conflate “test score” with “smart.” I think it is abundantly clear that scoring well on an IQ test does very little to prove the test taker is “smart.”

    My experience is that it’s most generally the non-Mensans doing the conflating. Most M’s I know realize the vast difference. Keep in mind that the membership is a subset of society (and personalities) in general.

  57. #58 Troublesome Frog
    July 5, 2008

    I remember IQ tests I’ve taken heavily rewarding pattern detection. Most of the kooky superstitions people have seem to be the human pattern recognition hardware finding patterns of cause and effect where there are none. If you’re not trained to analyze data systematically, I don’t really think that being able to detect complex patterns and unscramble scrambled words is likely to protect you from the human tendency to see false signals in the noise. It may even make things worse.

    I don’t know if I have a high IQ or not, but I’ve always been pretty good at seeing features in squiggly lines and scatter plots (which is useful as a signal processing guy). If you don’t have a more experienced person who is willing to whack your hand with a ruler, there’s a strong tendency to jump out ahead of the data instead of actually doing the calculations to see if what you’re seeing is real. I know that I’m a more cautious person now that I’ve seen “obvious” patterns and been sure of my results, only to find out that they’re really just a combination of noise and wishful thinking.

  58. #59 Hank Roberts
    July 5, 2008

    Zeno writes:

    > Isaac Asimov … used to lament that members would come up
    > to him at meetings and try to persuade him that he should
    > take astrology more seriously. [sigh]
    >
    > On the other hand, I hear you usually don’t have to
    > explain your jokes to them.

    Er, do they understand what’s funny about Asimov’s lament?

  59. #60 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Oh, the group hug. It would be nice to see people at the verge of this silly debacle, look at the potential hugger and say, bug off. This is a ritual you see in religious circles with the “lord” touching everyone in an unbroken healing touch. An unbroken touching of wallets.

  60. #61 Spinoza
    July 5, 2008

    IQ tests correlate with how well one does in school, and that’s about it.

    They are the only well-established, somewhat useful metric we have for studying intelligence levels.

    Of course there are a lot of variables that enter into any given IQ test score, but at least they’re trying to measure… something… even if it’s only ability to take IQ tests, and thus, ability to do well in school (probably because of low test-anxiety, at least, that’s how it is with me).

    In any case, IQ isn’t everything, and there has been a trend amongst identified “Gifted” children to underachieve, including me. :)

  61. #62 Anthony
    July 5, 2008

    I’d love to see Dr Myer’s latest version of his talk, especially the molecular evidence for evolution part (I agree that this is the best evidence for evolution).

    Will there be a video coming??

  62. #63 miller
    July 5, 2008

    I myself have a really obscure reason for disliking Mensa. When I was younger, I was quite the puzzle enthusiast (still am), and people had a tendency to give me lots of puzzles on my birthdays. One time, I got a bunch of puzzles created by Mensa. I was very unimpressed by the puzzles they put out. It’s not that they were poor quality. It was more like they had their puzzle design philosophy all wrong. (You can’t just give two number pairs and expect the solver to guess a third pair!) Whoever wrote the stuff obviously had high intelligence but low wisdom.

    This is probably a poor reason for disliking Mensa, but it still made me angry.

  63. #64 Aurelio R. Ramos
    July 5, 2008

    You do realize that all discussions about any subject for which there is little evidence (for or against) has no other purpose than appeasing one’s own ego? When a subject has little evidence, it can be treated like a police investigation (in which case various leads are followed under various plausible assumptions) or, on the other hand, it can simply be ignored as chances are it makes no difference (by virtue of the fact that evidence is so sparse) But to go on and on trying to convince people one way or another only helps one feel superior, nothing more. Likewise, to pass judgment on groups of people because of their beliefs or lack thereof is only useful to feel superior than them. It is mental masturbation… all of this. Everything. Once we enter the realm of the unlikely (god, aliens, conspiracies, ideologies) we are probably ALL mistaken. If we could all understand that, the world would be a happier place.

    Yes, I realize the irony of my comment.

  64. #65 Holbach
    July 5, 2008

    Aurelio @ 64 You mean to say that it is wrong to feel superior to people who think and try to convince you of their wacko beliefs in a way that is superior to your non-belief of bullshit insanity? Oh I see and understand. Since they believe all this crap, it must be true, and since you don’t, your mind is lacking in cognitive abilities to understand the non-existent! Oh, I get it. It’s not so much that I feel superior to these morons, it’s that I think they are bat shit crazy.

  65. #66 gaypaganunitarianagnostic
    July 5, 2008

    I have seen it said that G W B has an IQ of 125. I could weep. Actually, I have a Mensa level IQ, and am what you could call ‘book smart,’ but am hopelessly stupid for anything practical. I have a notion that the founders of Mensa had a subversive eugenic motive – to get high IQ people together to possibly mate and ‘improve the race.’

  66. #67 Neil B.
    July 5, 2008

    There’s a lot of truth in what I saw above, but I’ve had lots of fun being in Mensa for the last 23 years (RAWphiles please note!) The conversation is very interesting, and there’s a lot a playing with ideas because many of the us think that speculation is *fun* and exciting. We don’t worry about the claim “it can’t matter because there’s no effect.” (Like, a “God” that is existentially responsible for the way things are but can’t affect anything – OK, maybe, but first: I can care about anything I want to and you don’t have to bother. Second, I get sick of all the hypocrisy from those espousing what AFAWK, are also unmeasurable. That includes multiple worlds of quantum branching, or the idea that time doesn’t really exist (“We live in a block world, there really is no flow of time” etc.) – so what e.g. is the operational definition of the latter being the case? They use arguments, I use arguments, and yes mine are based on something about the world and not any revelations or teachings or etc.)

    Many of us like to “play with people’s heads” and be a bit irritating, to the chagrin of many ferociously serious Atheists around here who can’t stand the fun I have mulling that concept over and tweaking them about it. Really, many of you get so worked up about something that “can’t have any effect” or whatever it is you’re getting at. I also get a chuckle from the people here who think I’m just showing off when I try to argue about ultimate topics, even though I’m more often being sarcastic and having fun and they are dreadfully serious and scolding with their often clumsy rebuttals and air of superiority and disdain (oh the irony …) Often the rebuttals aren’t clumsy, but that just shows you can get some sort of handle and it’s debatable, doesn’t it? Yet Aurelio R. Ramos made a good point about all this, that most of this sort of speculation is indeed a form of mental masturbation. I don’t fully agree since I (along with those critics who inadvertently support that when they disagree with me on track) think we can get some handle on such things with a reasoning process, but it’s nothing to feel assured about. Aurelio’s comment was completely and predictably misunderstood by the denizen right after. His critic didn’t seem to get that Aurelio meant just the sort of things we can’t effectively falsify like the anthropic designer God, other dimensions, and maybe even whether aliens visited.

    Consider that the existence of beings evolved on other planets at least is something you folks should above all believe in, albeit perhaps sparsely sprinkled and not easily able to get here. But think of all the planets now discovered orbiting other stars. So, would any inhabitants sit around century after century not even trying to get on out? Have you heard of the Fermi Paradox, which is a statement of surprise that aliens *haven’t* (supposedly) ever visited us, often stated as “the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.” There is a curious disconnect between the FP and skeptical denunciations of the UFO phenomenon. I know there’s lots of silliness in what many people report, but my theory is that turning the nose up at the UFO phenomenon is more about psychological instincts and pecking-order aggression etc. than well-thought out rebuttal (of the general idea, not any specific case.)

    Of course, the pinnacle of speculative bong-launched adventurism is (drum roll, please, and some of you need to avert your eyes ….) our old favorite overworked woological talisman, Modal Realism! You guys can look that up in Wikipedia, I don’t need to spoon the definition to you like some wank in a previous thread bitched I should. Hey, maybe I should start a Modal Realism SIG in Mensa – we’ll talk about how things work in the Bugs Bunny universe since of course there’s no way to distinguish possible worlds from those that “exist” as David Lewis wrote. (If you can refute him, please try – I don’t agree either, because I think logical descriptions aren’t good enough to make a world. I’m not a cyberdork. But if you believe everything must be made a logical description, you’ll have a hell of a time saying why “exist” really means anything outside of the mathematical meaning.)

    PS: If you want to have fun seeing what fun a Mensa egghead with too much time on his hands can have on the Internet, look around for posts by and the website of “Uncle Al.” He is a trip.

  67. #68 JeffreyD
    July 5, 2008

    Holback at #51, you get not just MAD and REASON magazine subscriptions, but also a “Get out of Frying In Hell Free Card”. The GOOFI Hell card is guaranteed. If you die and go to hell your s&h money if fully refunded, just return from hell with your card in hand and show up at my office the first Monday of each month. Of course, this premium package is still free, but requires a free will love offering of only $39.99 for shipping and handling.

    Now, I understand you may not be a believer, son. In that case, have some lovely UFO paraphernalia that is begging for a good home. We got crystals, we got tinfoil, we got anti-Xenu spray and purifier…

    what? huh? Oh, OK nurse, will take my medication now.

  68. #69 Cujo359
    July 5, 2008

    That UFO talk reminds me of a book I read many years ago when I was, shall we say, more credulous than I am now. It was called Intercept: UFO, by one Renato Vesco. Carrion’s narrative is almost verbatim from this book. I don’t know if Carrion was relating this book’s story as part of his talk, but if he was claiming it as his own I think he’s not even an honest bullshit artist.

  69. #70 Neil B
    July 5, 2008

    Heh, typing and posting too fast is perhaps a form of showing off that can go bad …

  70. #71 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    As if it weren’t condemnation enough that Vox Day is a member of Mensa, we now learn Neil B. is as well.

  71. #72 blake
    July 5, 2008

    I used to get invitations to join MENSA following my ACT’s and SAT’s. (Apparently they have low standards.)

    Posted by: Mike Haubrich, FCD

    well, i call bullshit. mensa doesn’t send out ‘invitations’ no matter how fucking good your s.a.t.’s are. how are they gonna know?

    i smell wannabe.

    Come on now, it’s obvious; many joins social clubs to get laid. And intelligent, well educated persons have IIRC statistically the highest sexual drives. It’s a sex club.

    Posted by: Torbjörn Larsson

    you left out the beer-drinking part.

    your pal,
    blake

  72. #73 Rey Fox
    July 5, 2008

    “And intelligent, well educated persons have IIRC statistically the highest sexual drives. ”

    Are you sure? Is it possible that those surveys inadvertently measured sexual frustration?

  73. #74 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    There is a curious disconnect between the FP and skeptical denunciations of the UFO phenomenon. – Neil B.

    No, there isn’t. The Fermi paradox is a good (though not conclusive) reason to believe that technological civilisations that get much further than our own are extremely rare. There are several reasons this might be so.

  74. #75 Susan
    July 5, 2008

    Come on now, it’s obvious; many joins social clubs to get laid.

    Worked for me. I met my husband at a Mensa party, 27 years ago. Of course, he was there with a friend who’s a member. (He has always said he’s far too smart to join.)

    I’ve made some really interesting friends through the club, and attended events I’d probably never have known about otherwise, including a lecture by Buckminster Fuller shortly before he died, that I’ll never forget. There are jerks, too, and the clueless– at about the same percentage as in any other group of people, I’d imagine.

  75. #76 themadlolscientist, FCD
    July 5, 2008

    I used to get Mensa invitations too. I even seriously considered joining, but I got turned off by the alarmingly high proportion of members who thought their brains were so astronomically superior, they could teach themselves telepathy and levitation and build their own flying saucers in their basements.

    Bah. Humbug.

    And I wouldn’t join any club that would have Marilyn vos Savant as a member. Stuck-up bitch.

    Meow. =^.^=

  76. #77 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Good grief. vox Day, Neil B. and Marilyn vos Savant? It’s enough to daze the mind with horror.

  77. #78 thoffernifft
    July 5, 2008

    My
    Ego
    Needs
    Some
    Attention

  78. #79 Greg Reich
    July 5, 2008

    Do you people honestly believe that Mensa members are simply idiot savants who can do well on tests and nothing else? You really, really don’t know many Mensans.

    Okay, so there were a couple of talks at the Annual Gathering that were weird. There are plenty of intelligent people–unfortunately–who believe weird things. In fact, intelligent people can rationalize their way around things more easily than people of average intelligence. There are also plenty of intellectually lazy people among the intelligencia. It’s tragic, really, but it’s true.

    Do any of you know why Mensa is supposed to exist? Do any of you non-Mensans know the bylaws of Mensa? The purpose of the organization is to identify and foster intelligence. I don’t find fault in that purpose. I think it’s a good purpose. There are plenty of special interest groups inside of Mensa that have nothing to do with the actual purpose of the organization, and some of them are a little strange, but don’t judge the entire organization based on its SIGs. No single SIG is representative of the entire group.

    Perhaps there are better ways of measuring intelligence aside from administering a standardized test. It would certainly be an interesting area of research. In the meantime, I will say with certainty that Mensa isn’t made up of a bunch of idiot savants who can only recognize patterns. I’ve never had deeper, more diverse, more well-rounded conversation than when I became a part of the organization a few years ago.

  79. #80 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    I’ve never had deeper, more diverse, more well-rounded conversation than when I became a part of the organization a few years ago. – Greg Reich

    I think I recall Tom Cruise saying something similar of the Scientologists.

  80. #81 Bride of Shrek
    July 5, 2008

    I’m not sure about how it’s done elsewhere but here in Aus you have to actively go out of your way to join. No invitations or anything like that. My brother and I became mnembers years ago over a $20 bet over who had the higher IQ ( yeah, okay we were in our early 20’s and the sibling rivalry raged hot still). To get an IQ test from a Psych cost about $150 then but to do the test for Mensa was about half that if I recall. A couple of cheap arsed uni students chose the latter option and became members by default. I’ve never been to a meeting as I lived at the other end of the state from the nearest branch but my brother’s been to a few. He says they’re ok but a bit prone to the sitting around “intellectualising for the sake of it” types.

    Interestingly whilst being able to pass the test easily I struggled academically at high school. Personally I think they favour the “spatial” types over any other and this may have been why I did well. This has never personally benefitted me in any career but I’m shit hot at putting plat pack Ikea furniture together. What can I say, I’m the type that prefers to read Viz than Time.

  81. #82 Jason
    July 5, 2008

    I dont think anyone here has a problem with promoting and fostering intelligence;
    I think people start to get a little angry over it when you make it into an exclusive club, and start telling people that they arent allowed in (especially because the innuendo is that ‘you must be this smart to enter,’ leaving people on the outside feeling inferior [which I suspect is bullshit: I don't doubt that some very intelligent people have been rejected for membership by Mensa])

  82. #83 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Perhaps there are better ways of measuring intelligence aside from administering a standardized test. It would certainly be an interesting area of research. – Greg Reich

    The idea that intelligence can be measured on a single scale is simultaneously one of the stupidest, and one of the most damaging, ever formulated. It has been used to justify racism, sexism, eugenics, the mistreatment of those with learning disabilities, and gross economic inequality.

  83. #84 Neil B.
    July 5, 2008

    “Good grief. vox Day, Neil B. and Marilyn vos Savant? It’s enough to daze the mind with horror.”
    – heh, that’s cute.

    BTW don’t forget that Marilyn was right about the “three door problem” when a lot of “experts” weren’t. It makes we wonder what other things are they wrong about … ;-)

  84. #85 Gerry Schulze
    July 5, 2008

    I’m a life member of Mensa. So that nobody accuses me of “acts inimical to Mensa” I’m going to emphasize that these are my personal observations.

    Before the Internet, Mensa was about the only way for people interested in “weird” stuff to get together. Although you have to score in the top 2% in any one of dozens of IQ tests (meaning there’s probably substantial overlap), in my experience intelligence is not the defining characteristic of Mensa. Unconventionality is the most common characteristic of Mensans in my experience. This is really only true as to the active members. Who knows what the 80-90% of members who do absolutely nothing in the organization are like.

    The small proportion of Mensa members who are actually active are more receptive to weird ideas than the average group of people. They are also more accepting of hard-nosed skeptics. It’s a strange balance.

    There’s some factor that gives some people an advantage in taking standardized tests. We’ve called that factor intelligence, but who knows what it actually is. Mensa is a self-help group for those of us experiencing the biological abnormality of the enhanced factor that lets us to do well on standardized tests. It’s an abnormality like anything else, and it carries with it its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

    Mensa membership can seem impressive or intimidating for those who don’t know much about it. That will go away if you’re ever around many Mensans. Local groups apparently vary a lot. Our local group has always been friendly and accepting. We’ve been free of the kind of squabbles that we hear infect other groups. We also make no effort to check membership at any of our meetings.

    And yes, whatever characteristic it is that allows us to do well on standardized tests does not immunize us from superstition and poor logic. Some of my best friends in Mensa believe some truly weird things. One very intelligent and accomplished guy in our group actually believes he’s seen ghosts. Mensa is probably the only place in his world that he can admit to such a belief. Many believe in various kinds of supernatural nonsense, and there are a lot of theists. In fact, one of my best Mensa memories of all times was when we had the debate on whether or not there was a god.

    There are some things about Mensa that I don’t like, but on balance it has served a very useful function in my life and has been the source of some of my best friends.

    Gerry

  85. #86 Neil B.
    July 5, 2008

    Nick, I sure do agree with you about the single scale issue. Intelligence is more complicated than height. Here’s another good snarky challenge to IQ tests: In many cases it is clear what the “right answer” is, but in many of the analogy questions etc. one could argue for other ways of comparing etc. So, how do the people making up the tests know their picking all the best answers unless they themselves have IQs of 300 or so? How can a bunch of people with IQs of maybe around 160 (?) judge the take a person with an IQ of 200+ would have on how best to answer? Maybe that person can see relationships his or her inferiors can’t! Who are they to judge better supposedly superior to them?

    The usual answers, like the look at the questions and talk it over (high-end Delphi method) aren’t fully convincing. It can’t be automated or made totally rigorous like answers in math.

  86. #87 Betsy
    July 5, 2008

    My
    Ego
    Needs
    Some
    Attention

    Don’t any of you find it the slightest bit strange that the most arrogant and full of sh*t comments have been not from Mensans, but from people trying to prove that they are somehow better than those pathetic Mensans?

  87. #88 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Neil B. @84,

    Well, you take being teased in good part, I will say. “It’s enough to daze the mind with horror”, I admit is not my own, but from The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.

    The point about M von S and the 3 doors is well-made, but I think also points to what’s wrong with IQ tests (or rather, with equating ability to do them well with intelligence), to which it bears some similarity: they are problems deliberately divorced from real-life considerations, the use of existing knowledge, research skills, and cooperation with others. The fact that most people get the “3 doors” wrong is interesting, but says nothing about the abilities of the “experts” in their fields of expertise. One thing it tells us is that our ancestors seldom if ever had to deal with this kind of problem! There’s a well-known logic problem you’ve probably come across, which people (including professors of logic) also do badly on:

    You are shown four cards, laid flat on a table, and told that each one has either “A” or “B” on one side, and either “1” or “2” on the other. As they are laid out in front of you, each of these symbols appears exactly once. You are now given the hypothesis “If a card has A on one side, then it has 1 on the other”. Which cards do you have to turn over to test this hypothesis?

    Answer: A and 2.

    As I say, most people get it wrong. However, if it is instead stated in the form of letters which have “airmail” or “surface mail” on one side, and a 50 cent or $1 stamp on the other, almost everyone gets it right.

    Most of the problems we actually need to solve to get on in life are “embedded” in social institutions, or familiar physical situations, or previous knowledge, or knowledge about where to find relevant information, or some combination of these. IQ tests by design exclude skills in using this kind of context.

  88. #89 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Betsy,

    Do you really think it’s a mark of high intelligence to join an organisation which by definition sets itself up as an elite of “the highly intelligent”, excluding 98% of the population, and then whine about this exclusivity leading to resentment?

  89. #90 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    It makes we wonder what other things are they wrong about

    Yeah, like that hoax about “evolution by natural selection,” for example! It’s the grant-grubbing Darwin Industry behind it all, and we can thank clear-thinking people like Jerry Fodor, Bill Dembski, and Linda Mazur for seeing through the scam and exposing the lies.

  90. #91 Betsy
    July 5, 2008

    Betsy, I think people would cut Mensa more slack if Mensans did not constantly, as you do in your post, conflate “test score” with “smart.” I think it is abundantly clear that scoring well on an IQ test does very little to prove the test taker is “smart.”
    @#33

    The problem here is one of equivocation. You take smart what you want it to mean and not how it is being used. Rather like religious folks do with ‘faith’.

    Smart1.
    a. Characterized by sharp quick thought; bright. See Synonyms at intelligent.
    b. Amusingly clever; witty: a smart quip; a lively, smart conversation.
    c. Impertinent; insolent: That’s enough of your smart talk.
    (and more unrelated stuff).
    See synonyms at intelligent:
    1. Having intelligence.
    2. Having a high degree of intelligence; mentally acute.
    3. Showing sound judgment and rationality: an intelligent decision; an intelligent solution to the problem.
    4. Appealing to the intellect; intellectual: a film with witty and intelligent dialogue.

    Now you may have thought I was implying definition #3, but I wasn’t. I was implying #2, or maybe just #1. Scoring high on an IQ test does equate to success in school, which is typically what we mean when we talk about someone who’s intelligent. When I was younger, I would never have claimed to be wise, which maybe relates to #3, but the fact that folks choose to deliberately misconstrue what I said for your own self-serving purposes isn’t really my problem.

  91. #92 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    Linda Mazur

    Susan, Linda, whatever.

  92. #93 Betsy
    July 5, 2008

    Mike @#54:

    I prefer to belong to groups such as American Atheists/Minnesota Atheists because even though I know some atheists who are as dumb as stumps, it is a place where I am safe from preaching (even if I have to shoot down some 9/11 conspiracists occasionally.)

    That is, of course, your choice. But does that really mean that because you (or others) chose not to join Mensa that it’s worthy of bashing? The Atheist groups inside Mensa that started just a couple years ago, I think, combines the best of both. Even though I do have to fight off the occasional climate change denialists. :)

  93. #94 Theo Bromine
    July 5, 2008

    We have a local (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) Creationist group, called CORE (Citizens for Origins Research and Education). Its current president is Ian Juby, self-described member of Mensa, and owner of the “International Creation Science Special Interest Group* for Mensa members. According to the SIG site (http://www.icssig.org/enter.html) it is intended “to provide a means for the gathering together of intellectuals (specifically members of Mensa) with a common interest in the sciences and philosophies supporting special Creation and refuting Evolutionism.

    I have heard Juby speak, and been distinctly unimpressed.

  94. #95 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Scoring high on an IQ test does equate to success in school – Betsy

    No it doesn’t. It correlates with it. BIG difference.

  95. #96 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Don’t any of you find it the slightest bit strange that the most arrogant and full of sh*t comments have been not from Mensans, but from people trying to prove that they are somehow better than those pathetic Mensans? – Betsy

    Matter of subjective judgement, Betsy.

  96. #97 Betsy
    July 5, 2008

    Nick @#89:

    Betsy,

    Do you really think it’s a mark of high intelligence to join an organisation which by definition sets itself up as an elite of “the highly intelligent”, excluding 98% of the population, and then whine about this exclusivity leading to resentment?

    Why are you offended by Mensa? Don’t you belong to groups that exclude large portions of the population? Alumni associations? Atheist groups? American citizens? Dr. Who clubs? Unions? We make choices about who we associate with all the time. I belong to far more exclusive clubs than that. Are you going to tell me now that people shouldn’t be allowed to belong to tall clubs because they exclude 98% of the population, including all those short people? Mensa is no more than that: a collection of people with shared experiences in school. We may not have a lot else in common, but we have that much. Do you resent tall people?

  97. #98 Neil B.
    July 5, 2008

    Theo, I saw this quote on your blog. Since I’m basically a Deist/Wilsonian guerrilla ontologist, I am maybe not so far from the crowd here (which may give them the creeps!):


    [Freethinkers are] a motley mob of deists, agnostics, secular humanists, pantheists, atheists, and who knows what else, and organizing seems to be against our nature. We have to resist that; we have to be willing to work together while recognizing the diversity of perspectives under the umbrella of freethought, and treat that variety as a strength rather than a weakness.

    –P.Z Myers

    BTW, there’s another “the-” alkaloid of interest. It isn’t a caffeine homologue, but it’s called “theanine.” It’s a great relaxant, sort of caffeine in reverse but doesn’t make one drowsy as such.

  98. #99 Betsy
    July 5, 2008

    Scoring high on an IQ test does equate to success in school – Betsy

    No it doesn’t. It correlates with it. BIG difference.

    Actually, it only works up to a point. Beyond a certain point, students with high IQ scores tend to get bored and underachieve. And you see a lot of this by the time you get to Mensa level IQs. So, in point of fact, while we are issuing corrections, we are both technically wrong.

  99. #100 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Beyond a certain point, students with high IQ scores tend to get bored and underachieve. – Betsy
    What’s your evidence that this is the explanation for the lack of correlation (if there is one) beyond a certain IQ score?

    In any case the statement “X correlates with Y” does not require that it do so over the entire range of X and Y.

  100. #101 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    Do you really think it’s a mark of high intelligence to join an organisation which by definition sets itself up as an elite of “the highly intelligent”, excluding 98% of the population, and then whine about this exclusivity leading to resentment?

    and how do you know that a lot of that “resentment” isn’t born of simple jealousy?

    I never felt the need to join Mensa, but I certainly understand resentment towards people who are intelligent in the US.

    In fact, that resentment is a rather large problem, that also fuels the likes of the creotards.

    I don’t think the resentment has anything to do with the “exclusivity” part, and those who have experienced this form of “resentment” most certainly have independent and valid reasons for “whining” about it.

    There is, and has been, a very strong anti-intelligence movement in the US, peaking with the double-election of the Patron Saint of Mediocracy current sitting in the White House.

  101. #102 Anton Mates
    July 5, 2008

    success in school, which is typically what we mean when we talk about someone who’s intelligent.

    “Intelligent” means “does well in school?”

  102. #103 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Mensa is no more than that: a collection of people with shared experiences in school.

    Crap. High intelligence, on which Mensa claims to base its exclusivity, is generally regarded as intrinsically superior to low intelligence, which does not apply to height. Mensa is a group who regard themselves as superior to the rest of the population.

  103. #104 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    and how do you know that a lot of that “resentment” isn’t born of simple jealousy? – Ichthyic

    What if it is? How does that affect the point I was making?

  104. #105 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    Crap. High intelligence, on which Mensa claims to base its exclusivity, is generally regarded as intrinsically superior to low intelligence, which does not apply to height. Mensa is a group who regard themselves as superior to the rest of the population.

    sorry, Nick, but your conclusion does not necessarily follow from your premise.

    Think about it:

    Do you really believe that all people belonging to Mensa joined because they wanted to feel superior??

    that’s some pretty twisted logic.

    perhaps you would like to try applying that logic to any group that attracts members from a select segment of the population, based on performance?

    say, golf clubs?

    tennis clubs?

    chess clubs?

  105. #106 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Are you going to tell me now that people shouldn’t be allowed to belong to tall clubs because they exclude 98% of the population, including all those short people? – Betsy

    Your paranoia is showing. I have absolutely no desire to ban Mensa. I just think their members are full of shit.

  106. #107 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    What if it is? How does that affect the point I was making?

    because if it’s based on the JEALOUSY of those expressing resentment, it’s hardly based on the attitude of superiority you ascribe to the members now, is it.

    again, you will find the same jealousy spurring the same resentment against any group an “outsider” feels unqualified to participate in.

    What IS your point here, Nick?

    that those groups shouldn’t exist because of the misplaced jealousy of those outside it?

  107. #108 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    I just think their members are full of shit.

    based on?

    Like I said, I never had the desire to be a part of Mensa, but I hardly hold membership against them, either.

    You’ll find likely the same proportion of people “full of shit” in any particular local Mensa chapter as in the rest of the local population.

    Intelligence, or lack thereof, is hardly a measure of whether one is capable of spouting bullshit. Many of the IDiots serving as prime examples, like Behe.

  108. #109 MJ Kelleher
    July 5, 2008

    Nick Gotts @103

    Crap. High intelligence, on which Mensa claims to base its exclusivity, is generally regarded as intrinsically superior to low intelligence, which does not apply to height. Mensa is a group who regard themselves as superior to the rest of the population.

    Is generally regarded by whom? The general public? Average folk? In my experience, Mensans as a group (never mind some individual members, there are always outliers) don’t regard themselves as superior, but rather as different. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.

    I’ve always thought that Mensans are to the general public like Siamese cats are to cats in general: just like the rest of them, only more so.

    And, while I’m here, to address the definition of intelligence by use of IQ tests, there are hundreds of different tests which use different criteria for assigning IQ scores. Many of them are accepted as qualification for membership. That, and paying the dues, are all that somebody needs to become a member.

  109. #110 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Mensans as a group (never mind some individual members, there are always outliers) don’t regard themselves as superior, but rather as different.

    Yeah, yeah.

  110. #111 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    based on?

    Those I’ve met. What they’ve been spouting on this thread. PZ’s report of the talks.

  111. #112 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Oh – and their adverts in newspapers.

  112. #113 Blake Stacey
    July 5, 2008

    The blake who posted earlier in this thread was not me.

    Ichthyic asked,

    Do you [Nick Gotts] really believe that all people belonging to Mensa joined because they wanted to feel superior??

    I lack the data to answer this question with confidence. However, if the fraction of people who joined Mensa with such a motive were higher than the corresponding fraction in a tennis club, a Dresden Dolls fan club or even the American Physical Society, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. Such are my biases. They may have been shaped, in part, by the fact that the people I see trumpeting their Mensa affiliations turn out to be uniformly dreadful pseudo-intellectuals; whatever great bulk of decent Mensans exists, its members advertise their capability in worthier ways, and the fact of their membership never comes up. It’s sampling bias, I suppose.

  113. #114 Craig Holman
    July 5, 2008

    I’ve never been tempted to look into Mensa. Thanks for reinforcing my poor opinion of the group.

    Why an intelligent and interesting person with healthy self-esteem should want to join such a group is a mystery to me.

  114. #115 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    What IS your point here, Nick? – Ichthyic

    Reread my #89.

  115. #116 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    Those I’ve met.

    Were they lording their supposed superiority over you at the time?

    The only person I’ve ever been acquainted with who claimed membership made him superior was Dave Scott Springerbot.

    What they’ve been spouting on this thread.

    sorry, come again? are there self-identified Mensaites that have been spouting notions of superiority on this thread?

    PZ’s report of the talks.

    I could certainly be wrong, but I would conclude that to be more a function of the location and type of talks themselves, rather than as evidence for the nutbaggery of an entire organization.

    I’m sensing you have an axe to grind here.
    I’m just curious as to why?

    do you feel some inherent danger posed by mensa?

    did someone claiming membership screw you over in the past?

  116. #117 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    Reread my #89.

    which has no real point, AFAICT.

    …which is why I asked.

    If you don’t want to clarify, that’s fine, I really don’t consider this to be of great importance. I was just curious why you particularly decided to attack Mensa, as opposed to any other similar organization.

  117. #118 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Ichthyic golf clubs? tennis clubs? chess clubs?

    Mostly, such organisations are keen to encourage members of whatever standard of performance to join. The paralle would be valid if Mensa was a club for anyone who enjoys IQ-test-type puzzles.

  118. #119 Sven DiMilo
    July 5, 2008

    Why an intelligent and interesting person with healthy self-esteem should want to join such a group is a mystery to me.

    Please see “to get laid,” above.

  119. #120 Ichthyic
    July 5, 2008

    It’s sampling bias, I suppose.

    I’d say that’s likely, for everyone espousing on the “value” of that group as a whole on this thread.

  120. #121 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    I’m sensing you have an axe to grind here.

    As I said, the belief that intelligence can be measured on a single scale is both stupid and damaging. That belief has been clear throughout Betsy’s posts, as it is in the newspaper adverts Mensa put out in the UK. The Mensa members I’ve met have been irritating right-wingers convinced that their ability to do puzzles of a particular kind makes them superior to the common herd. Not only PZ’s post, but quite a number of comments have confirmed that a large proportion of the members are kooks. Now, since its 01.40 here, I’m off to bed.

  121. #122 Blake Stacey
    July 5, 2008

    Nick Gotts (#118):

    An interesting point. I’m not a great joiner, but I’ve seen enough in my day to guess that a go club which admitted only master players would be a pretty lonely place. My friends, who have played for years and are certainly much better than I, still find themselves wowed by the luminaries one can find hanging around the Massachusetts Go Association in Davis Square.

  122. #123 JoJo
    July 5, 2008

    Betsy,

    Don’t any of you find it the slightest bit strange that the most arrogant and full of sh*t comments have been not from Mensans, but from people trying to prove that they are somehow better than those pathetic Mensans?

    In 1986 I made it into Mensa. I don’t claim to be better, worse, or equivalent to Mensans, since I was one. I also had no problem with most of the Mensans, including the two who disapproved on moral grounds of what I did for a living. I did have a major problem of dealing with a man who was either massively deluded or mentally ill.

    This man made a claim about USS Thresher. I suspect that the name means little or nothing to you, so I’ll tell you a little about her. She was the lead ship of the 594 class of attack submarines. 594s were quite innovative, with streamlined hulls, large bow-mounted sonar domes, midship torpedo tubes, increased test depth due to HY-80 steel hulls, and various other features. In short, the finest technology of the late 1950s.

    In 1963, Thresher underwent a mini-overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine. After the yard period, she went on post-overhaul trials accompanied by USS Skylark, a submarine rescue ship (this escort was common in those days). About 200 nautical miles east of Cape Cod, Thresher was approaching test depth when Skylark received some garbled underwater telephone communications indicating some sort of problem and an attempt to blow main ballast tanks. Thresher never surfaced. All 129 people on board died.

    A search using the bathyscaphe Trieste discovered Thresher’s remains. Deep sea photography, recovered material, and an evaluation of her design caused an investigation board to conclude Thresher had probably suffered the failure of a weld in a seawater piping system. You can read the wikipedia article on Thresher for more details.

    The man I met at the Mensa meeting claimed that Thresher was covertly “sunk” so as to be available to explore the vast underground sea. This is a story that doesn’t even pass the giggle test. I tried to tell this man some of the problems with his story but he didn’t want to be confused with mere facts and logic.

    In short, one nutcase drove me away from Mensa. From other things I’ve read and heard, including a description of a Mensa meeting in Issac Asimov’s autobiography, I think I made a wise decision.

  123. #124 Longtime Lurker
    July 5, 2008

    Mensa, because the best woo is self-woo!

  124. #125 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    I can understand Mensa not being someone’s cup of tea, but the level of hostility exhibited by some on this thread towards the organization is surprising to me. It simply is what it is and if you don’t like it don’t join it. If you can’t join it because you don’t test well enough, then too bad, but that doesn’t mean you’re not plenty smart in other ways. There are a lot of organizations for which most of us will never be able to qualify, due either to capabilities or finances, but that doesn’t mean that the people who do qualify are to be scorned. Badmouthing an organization of those who score well on specific types of tests seems ridiculous and like sour grapes.

  125. #126 Art
    July 6, 2008

    Intelligence, to my limited way of thinking, seems to be like CPUs in computers. They are more or less powerful. But computing power doesn’t guarantee good, sound, applicable, verifiable, results.

    The old rule for computers, and one that still applies is: GIGO, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

    The results cannot be better than the quality of the inputs. Inputting garbage, in this case an unsubstantiated belief in supernatural beings and flying saucers, into some of the finest and most powerful minds on the planet still gets you nothing but well packaged and presented garbage as output.

    GIGO. An acronym to remember.

  126. #127 Wayne D
    July 6, 2008

    PZ caught a very short list of topics, hardly a representative cross-section. His was one of the best that I attended this week, by the way. I think if he’d had more time, he would have caught more of the flavor things.

    He also mentions that the M-Atheist meet-and-greet would have been more interesting than the ID talk, and I agree — that’s where I was.

    Art (#126) has a good point, but it’s not so much GIGO — I doubt if I went to the ID talk I would have been convinced that ID is worthwhile.

    The uncomfortable fact is that a high IQ (however measured) doesn’t predispose one to any particular point of view, attitude, opinion, musical taste, hobby, or pet conspiracy theory.

    GASP!

    We’d all like to think that the “smarter” one is, the more likely they are to be “sensible” about certain topics, but it’s not the case.

    To extend Art’s analogy, it’s like expecting a faster CPU in your computer to make you a better gamer. Or a better writer. Or a better thinker. Or a better programmer. Or a better field sales rep.

    It’d be nice (really?) if the higher a group’s median IQ, the more likely that group is to agree on important topics, or the more likely they’ll be interested in the same things, but it just ain’t so.

  127. #128 Azkyroth
    July 6, 2008

    ChemBob:

    I looked up IQ percentiles online and found that the result I got from school-district testing (146) was in the 99.8% percentile. I find the basic premise of Mensa wrongheaded, the underlying assumptions irritating, and nothing I’ve read about the people who find it appealing turns me off any less. While you’re welcome to dispute others’ opinions of the organization, the “sour grapes” comment is idiotic and presumptuous.

  128. #129 Kim Ellis
    July 6, 2008

    It was a good talk :) I was the former bio person there that talked to you after the lecture. The talk was a good antidote to some of the sessions. I walked into one that was advertised as related to quantum physics, and found out it was “What the bleep do we know?” redux.(!!) It’s always good to find a session taught by someone who is familiar and knowledgeable in their field.

    I am thankful to find that the one former agnostic had comic books to provide him a moral foundation. Think of all that murdering that would have gone on during the session if he hadn’t had spiderman as an antidote to his soulless existence. Phew! we lucked out on that one! ;)

  129. #130 Militant Agnostic
    July 6, 2008

    I agree with Blake Stacy that sample bias affects our impression of Mensa members. The ones who feel compelled to tell everyone they are members within 5 minutes of metting them do so because you would otherwise consider them to be idiots based on their behaviour, achievements etc. When you discover that someone is a Mensa member after knowing for a long time they are usually decent and usefully intelligent. I have had a similar experience with Xtians. Someone who loudly and immediately proclaims that they are a Christian usually turns out to be a dishonest scumbag while when you often find out after knowing a decent person for some time that they happen to be a Xtian.

  130. #131 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    Badmouthing an organization of those who score well on specific types of tests seems ridiculous and like sour grapes. ChemBob

    I’ve given my reasons, and I assure you – though you’ll have to take my word for it – sour grapes isn’t one of them. I’ve never applied to join or considered doing so, but I have taken IQ tests, and scored well within the “top 2%”.

  131. #132 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    Azkyroth @ 128 and Nick @ 131: All I can say is that I find it rather amusing that you both respond so quickly to my sour grapes comment (the least portion of my defense of Mensa members, imho) and then find it necessary to point out just how well you score on tests and how you could be in Mensa if you wanted to be, going so far as to give your scores or say how you are “well within the top 2%.” And I’m the one who’s “idiotic and presumptions,” Azkyroth? What the heck are you arguing about? If you don’t like it, don’t join it, or join it and use your superior intellects to get on the board of directors and change the organization to suit your intellectual trappings; then again, you’re probably both just too smart and socially well-adjusted relative to the rest of us dumbasses.

  132. #133 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    ChemBob,
    You raised the “sour grapes” canard – then you expect it not to be answered? Neither Azkyroth nor I had said anything about our IQ test scores prior to that. If you don’t know what we’re arguing about, why the bloody hell don’t you read our comments? Any group of smug, exclusivist tossers, such as the Freemasons, could make exactly the same defence as you’ve just made – except that in their case I couldn’t so readily refute the “sour grapes” canard, because membership depends on wealth and old-boy networks, not IQ tests.

  133. #134 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    BTW, both Akzyroth and Nick, I agree with you on many/most topics where I encounter you (e.g., Jesse Helms thread and Akzyroth’s warring with concern troll on shsforums), so this Mensa thing is the “odd topic out.” Probably best to just let it go and move on with other things; I seldom have time to post except in brief spurts, barely find time to read, constantly busy.

  134. #135 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    Sigh, Nick, I didn’t see your post before I posted my last post. All I can say is that most of the Mensans I have known were not the “smug, exclusivist tossers,” to which you refer. Most of them have been nice, some almost painfully shy, people. I think that Mensa helps some come out of the shells they secreted during high school, etc. I didn’t need it for that, I had the late 60’s to break my shell open!

  135. #136 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    ChemBob,

    Well you hardly helped your case with your “sour grapes” sneer, did you? Just couldn’t quite help yourself, eh?

  136. #137 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    Well, Nick, evidently you can’t quite help yourself either, eh?

    To be honest, I was speaking generically when I made the sour grapes comment and there are reasons other than not scoring well enough that could lead to such feelings towards Mensa (bad interactions after being a member, etc.). I had neither you nor Azkyroth in mind, just the negative comments in general. You can let it bug you all you want, but I wasn’t even thinking about you in particular. I’d like to ask you why you give such a big shit about Mensa and its members, but I don’t want to keep this thread going.

  137. #138 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    ChemBob,
    Evidently you either haven’t read my comments, or haven’t understood them, but I’ll repeat the main point one more time: the idea that intelligence is a more-or-less fixed property of individuals that can be measured on a unitary scale, on which Mensa’s rationale depends, is one of the stupidest and most damaging around. Aside from that, I dislike exclusionist organisations, whether based on sex, race, class, money, or IQ tests. Mensa is by no means a key issue to me, I’ve never mentioned it online before this thread, but when it’s the topic of the thread I see no reason I should not express and defend my opinion.

  138. #139 J
    July 6, 2008

    Nick Gotts is someone who’s nearly completely dictated by his extreme leftist ideology. Almost all of his posts here ooze it.

    As I said, the belief that intelligence can be measured on a single scale is both stupid and damaging.
    What exactly is he trying to say here? Is he arguing that IQ is a systematic attempt to quantify intelligence, rather than a useful, rough and ready statistic which often correlates with intelligence?

    One might as well say that university academics are a bunch of exclusivist tossers for rejecting and selecting on the basis of examination scores (which no-one thinks are a perfect measure of ability, skill and work-rate, even in a given subject).

  139. #140 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    J,
    Read some of the psychological literature on intelligence, then come back and argue with me when you know something about it.

  140. #141 J
    July 6, 2008

    Read some of the psychological literature on intelligence, then come back and argue with me when you know something about it.
    Wait a second here. Are you trying to assert that if I were familiar with “psychological literature on intelligence”, I would be forced to abandon my opinion that IQ often correlates with intelligence? Are you denying that many (if not most) respectable psychologists think IQ is often a useful statistic?

  141. #142 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    J,
    No, because I didn’t say “IQ doesn’t correlate with intelligence”. I dispute the reification of “intelligence” as a unitary characteristic of individuals that anything can correlate with. If you review the thread, you’ll find that I make the point that IQ test scores do correlate with school achievement. Why not try to find out what the argument’s about before jumping in swinging wildly because you dislike me?

  142. #143 J
    July 6, 2008

    No, because I didn’t say “IQ doesn’t correlate with intelligence”. I dispute the reification of “intelligence” as a unitary characteristic of individuals that anything can correlate with.
    Ah yes, “reification”. Thought so. You’re maintaining Gould’s controversial and perpetually criticized position described in The Mismeasure of Man. Please don’t trot out his propaganda-laden philosophy as if it’s the consensus view.

  143. #144 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    J, you’re very free with the accusations of political/ideological motivation, and very, very light on actual content.It’s not impressive.

  144. #145 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    J, for the assertion that “IQ correlates with intelligence” to make sense, you would have to have an independent, quantitative measure of intelligence. Otherwise, there’s no way to apply tests for correlation. What would you suggest? And if you had such a measure, why would you need IQ?

  145. #146 Paul W.
    July 6, 2008

    I’ll cop to having been a member of Mensa, for brief periods several times over the last three decades.

    You can get into Mensa with academic achievement test scores (SATs etc.) because whatever IQ tests measure, it isn’t all that different from what the SAT, ACT, and GRE general tests measure.

    Neither kind of test is a very good test of whether somebody’s actually “smart”—and many Mensans know that—but for some purposes it’s better than nothing.
    It does tend to keep out people who are stupid in certain ways. (But not other kinds of stupid.)

    Unfortunately, IQ and achievement tests being what they are, they also let in plenty of people who are stupid or kooky in various ways compatible with high test scores, and keep out some people that ideally they shouldn’t.

    A lot of people in academia benefit from basically the same filter. They like being around a lot of people who are bright enough (in certain ways) to get into grad school, and not being around a whole lot people who aren’t nearly bright enough (in those ways).

    Mensa doesn’t attract a whole lot of academic types, because academia itself has better filters than Mensa, and they can network among bright people they meet in academia.

    Mensa attracts a fair number of bright or half-bright people who chose not to go to university or grad school, or who went but then got regular old jobs, and miss the better networking opportunities they had in college and/or grad school. You get a lot of underemployed working stiffs, retired people, lonely homemakers, etc.

    I’ve never been much impressed with the intellectual level of Mensans. They’re generally not any brighter than most of the folks I hang out with anyway through other organizations, and very few are impressively bright. (By my subjective standards.) Almost none seem as bright as most of my good friends from grad school, or my academic colleagues, and most don’t seem as bright as the average grad student I’ve had.

    But then, that’s not a fair comparison. I don’t hang out with stupid people much, and I suspect that if I socialized with folks from, say, a randomly-chosen church, and then went to a Mensa meeting, I’d notice a positive difference.

    For a lot of people who don’t have other good pools of people to meet, Mensa isn’t too bad. It’s better than joining a church for the social benefits. (Unless maybe it’s a Unitarian church; Unitarians tend to be pretty bright in the same test-score sense, they don’t require you believe anything in particular, and they’re generally not Christians or at least not the orthodox kind.)

    Whether you think that it’s okay that Mensa discriminates based on IQ-or-achievement test scores probably depends on whether you think

    1) it’s okay for smart people to discriminate against dumb ones in who they socialize with, at all, and

    2) whether you think it’s okay to do that using a test that is only moderately correlated with actually being smart or dumb

    I know some fairly bright people that I was quite surprised to find out couldn’t get into Mensa based on their test scores, and that is disturbing. They seem obviously at least as smart as your average Mensan.

    Still, for an individual playing the odds in a self-interested way, that may be okay. Better to exclude a lot of dumb people and a few smart ones than to have no filter at all.

    If Mensa actually attracted most of the bright people, often leaving improperly-excluded bright people with no bright people to hang out with, I’d be more worried about that.

    Mensa suffers from a very common problem that many mostly social organizations have. Aside from the (rather crummy) IQ filter, there’s no particular requirement that you know anything or be able to do anything, and the losers can always show up. Mensa regulars are disproportionately people with poor social networks or somewhat poor social skills and nothing better to do. People with something better to do often go do that; the rest show up more often. That creates a feedback situation where more of the more interesting and better-adjusted people drop out—or only attend every now and then to see if any interesting newbies have shown up, and meet them before they drop out.

    (I’m lucky that I have a very bright friend in the local Mensa group who can filter Mensa for me. If she meets somebody new that I really must meet, I can meet them through her.)

    So overall, I’m not very impressed with Mensa, but then my standards are pretty high. It’s not a bunch of rocket scientists and brain surgeons, but it’s not a bunch of dummies either. It’s just okay.

    If you don’t have a bunch of smart friends, and have the test scores to get in, you might want to give it a try. (Especially if you like brain teaser puzzles and board games; I don’t, much.) Just don’t expect too much. It’s just a social club that has regular parties, game nights, lectures, etc.

    Do expect to meet a variety of people, some of whom you really won’t be impressed by. There will be some who think that IQ really is very significant, and that Mensans are generally superior to the common folk. There will be many others who don’t really think so, and think that Mensa is partly a social support network for misfits who can’t get invited to enough private parties. If you’re an atheist liberal like me, you’ll probably be disappointed to find out that most Mensans aren’t.

    But at least very few are quite ignorant enough to be biblical literalists, which is a plus. Mensans disproportionately value knowledge and science in some way, even if their grasp of knowledge and science may actually be tenuous—like the kooks who think that their favorite woo is not unscientific pseudo-knowledge.

    I helped start an atheist group over a decade ago, and have been pleasantly surprised how well it’s worked and how bright the members are; on average, they seem about as smart as Mensans. Not rocket scientists (well, one is) but mostly reasonably bright, very few dummies, and only a couple of kooks. And none are Christians, much less Bible thumpers. So if you’re looking for a better filter than “top 2 percent” IQ, you might want to try something like that. Look for a local atheist or humanist organization, or a meetup with a related theme, and check it out. Or start one yourself.

    Do keep in mind that when you start a social organization that doesn’t blackball losers, you will run into the same problem Mensa has, of losers showing up disproportionately often, and the bad driving out the good to some extent. Don’t expect all the atheist geniuses in the area to show up and make it awesome.

    We’ve been pretty lucky in that regard—we’ve had a few particularly smart, charismatic, and committed members, and a fair number of reasonably smart and reasonable people, and kept things pretty good. The worst kooks and blowhards have mostly drifted away after a while, because they feel insufficiently appreciated.

    (But to be honest, I don’t know why it’s worked as well as it has for as long as it has; I’ve briefly been a member of a couple of other atheist groups, elsewhere, that were skewed toward the not-as-bright bitter and/or old and/or men demographics, which drove out too many of the smart and/or fun and/or young and/or female people. Yuck.)

  146. #147 J
    July 6, 2008

    J, for the assertion that “IQ correlates with intelligence” to make sense, you would have to have an independent, quantitative measure of intelligence. Otherwise, there’s no way to apply tests for correlation. What would you suggest? And if you had such a measure, why would you need IQ?
    I sincerely doubt that the notion of “general intelligence” has been a myth all along. Many people undoubtedly seem to find it a useful concept. If IQ strongly correlates with this rough impression we have of general intelligence, it will have achieved its humble purpose.

    So why don’t we stick to this “intuitive measure” of intelligence instead of complicating things with IQ? The answer is simple: sometimes the “intuitive measure” is impracticable. You can know someone for a few minutes without having any idea how intelligent he is — in which case knowing his IQ could very well supply you with important, additional information.

    You’d hardly be surprised if someone with an IQ of 170 happens to know each of: the meaning of “discombobulate”, who Charlemagne was, and the chemical symbol for iron. Certainly you’d be more surprised if someone with an IQ of 100 happens to get all the right answers. An IQ value can reduce surprise, and therefore can contain information.

  147. #148 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    I sincerely doubt that the notion of “general intelligence” has been a myth all along.
    Evidence? What you doubt, sincerely or otherwise, doesn’t count.

    Many people undoubtedly seem to find it a useful concept.
    Argumentum ad populum. A well-known fallacy.

    If IQ strongly correlates with this rough impression we have of general intelligence, it will have achieved its humble purpose.
    1)You can’t meaningfully talk about degrees of correlation unless you have two numerical variables.
    2) IQ doesn’t have a purpose. If you mean “IQ testing”, then that has been applied for a range of purposes, some good – e.g. to identify specific cognitive deficits, some bad – e.g. to justify racism, some just silly – e.g. to decide who can be in Mensa.

  148. #149 SC
    July 6, 2008

    http://mpedia.dan.info/index.php?title=George_Trepal

    Clearly, I’ve watched too much American Justice.

  149. #150 J
    July 6, 2008

    Evidence? What you doubt, sincerely or otherwise, doesn’t count.
    Would you like to contest the statement that Nick Gotts is more intelligent than Bruce the Bonobo? If not, intelligence can be a useful concept. Replace him with Billy the Bumpkin, and we see that it’s useful even within our own species.

    “That is a bright student.” Are you truly trying to maintain that this is always a nonsensical statement?

    1)You can’t meaningfully talk about degrees of correlation unless you have two numerical variables.
    My friend studying imprecise probability at the University of Durham would tell you that it’s frequently trivially simple to get numbers out of verbally stated beliefs. For instance, even if we took the crude approach of setting up three categories, Dumb(-1), Medium (0) and Smart (1), applying the statistics would be very straightforward.

    2) IQ doesn’t have a purpose. If you mean “IQ testing”, then that has been applied for a range of purposes, some good – e.g. to identify specific cognitive deficits, some bad – e.g. to justify racism, some just silly – e.g. to decide who can be in Mensa.
    Waste your breath railing against the American SATs, which are in many crucial ways the same as IQ tests, and have definitely been put to some significant use.

  150. #151 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    SC@149. Weird. Well, to remove any possible doubt, let me make it explicit that I do not consider membership of Mensa should be a criminal, let alone a capital offence! In fact, since I oppose capital punishment in all cases, if there’s a petition to sign for his reprieve and/or a fresh trial, I’ll gladly sign it. I note from the link that some Mensans have championed his cause, but:
    “Public Information Manager Lisa Trombetta advocated that Mensa distance itself from him to “maintain Mensa’s image and credibility”.”
    Right on, Lisa. Never mind the guy might not have got a fair trial, Mensa’s image and credibility come first!

  151. #152 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    J,
    Of course you can sometimes say “X is more intelligent than Y”. That does not mean intelligence can be measured on a single scale (which is what “general intelligence” means), only that you have a partial ordering. Consider two people, generally very similar in apparent talents, but one is very good at maths and useless at learning languages, the other is the reverse. It makes no sense to say one is “more intelligent” than the other.

    For instance, even if we took the crude approach of setting up three categories, Dumb(-1), Medium (0) and Smart (1), applying the statistics would be very straightforward.

    Straightforward, but wrong. Unless you have at least a scale where it makes sense to say that the difference between -1 and 0 is the same as that between 0 and 1, your result is rubbish. Ask a proper statistician, not your friend.

    I know little of American SATs test, but if they are basically IQ tests, they should not be used to decide, say, admission to universities, certainly on their own, because they only test a narrow range of skills. Univerisities, and employers, tend to favour tests which give simple numerical outputs because they are convenient.

  152. #153 J
    July 6, 2008

    Consider two people, generally very similar in apparent talents, but one is very good at maths and useless at learning languages, the other is the reverse. It makes no sense to say one is “more intelligent” than the other.
    You can come up with exceptions like this, sure. It doesn’t prove that IQ is not a generally useful statistic.

    Straightforward, but wrong. Unless you have at least a scale where it makes sense to say that the difference between -1 and 0 is the same as that between 0 and 1, your result is rubbish. Ask a proper statistician, not your friend.
    First of all, the friend I referred to is a proper statitician. It’s really common knowledge that vague, verbal beliefs can often be converted into (imprecise) probabilities. The whole field of applied Bayesian probability depends on this notion.

    Second, I was assuming that the same difference separates Dumb and Medium as Medium and Smart. I admitted I was using a crude approach. If for some reason it wouldn’t work, we could always introduce more categories. The point here is that quantifying our intuitive, verbal idea of a person’s intelligence is nowhere near an insuperable task.

    I know little of American SATs test, but if they are basically IQ tests, they should not be used to decide, say, admission to universities, certainly on their own, because they only test a narrow range of skills.
    Says you. Many American academics find SAT scores a useful tool in the university admissions procedure. Maybe they’re all deluding themselves. I doubt it, though.

  153. #154 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    You can come up with exceptions like this, sure.
    you’re evading the point, which is that my “exception” (by no means unusual, I made it simple by stipulating that other talents were very similar, but if they weren’t, the problem just gets more intractable) shows intelligence is not measureable on a single scale, as I’ve been asserting.

    It’s really common knowledge that vague, verbal beliefs can often be converted into (imprecise) probabilities. If you’re trying to get correlation coefficients, it’s just a mistake. It’s a common error in processing survey data, but that doesn’t justify it.

    I was assuming that the same difference separates Dumb and Medium as Medium and Smart.
    What justifies this assumption? how would you know whether it held or not? same applies if you use more categories.

    The point here is that quantifying our intuitive, verbal idea of a person’s intelligence is nowhere near an insuperable task.
    Yes it is. you have completely failed to show otherwise.

    Many American academics find SAT scores a useful tool in the university admissions procedure. Maybe they’re all deluding themselves. I doubt it, though.
    As I said, it’s useful to have a number. Doesn’t mean you’re getting the best candidate, but it lets you choose a candidate. If you bother to read the thread, you’ll see that I justified quite early on the cliam that IQ tests, test only a narrow range of skills. I don’t suppose you will.

    How many times does it need pointing out that what you doubt is not evidence?

  154. #155 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    Nick @ #152,

    You seem to know very little about the tests that you are arguing about and don’t realize that your maths versus languages example is moot. These tests are designed with different sections to test the different capability areas, the math person might do poorly on the language section and the language person poorly on the maths section. Hence one is not strictly favored over the other in the assignation of the test score. To get in the top 2% you have to do pretty well on the entire damned thing, however.

    BTW, categorization is done in statistics all the time; there are tests to ascertain that the categories are sufficiently discrete and those inter-category data sufficiently normal for that type of categorical segregation to work, if such rigor is critical to the hypothesis. In some instances the data are labeled categorically for simple subjective reasons; for example wells might be drilled to shallow, medium and deep depths and one wishes to look at what the driller found significant in those designations.

  155. #156 ChemBob
    July 6, 2008

    Oops,

    Change inter-category to intra-category. Although you sometimes have a normal distribution across the categories as well, usually resulting in many more categories to discretize.

  156. #157 J
    July 6, 2008

    you’re evading the point, which is that my “exception” (by no means unusual, I made it simple by stipulating that other talents were very similar, but if they weren’t, the problem just gets more intractable) shows intelligence is not measureable on a single scale, as I’ve been asserting.
    Get off the strawman. I am not saying intelligence is measurable on a single scale. What I think is that (1) IQ is commonly a useful statistic, and (2) it correlates with our intuitive assessment of intelligence. (These two points aren’t necessarily related. One can stand while the other falls.)

    What justifies this assumption? how would you know whether it held or not? same applies if you use more categories.
    Your objection isn’t substantial. I don’t even have to put a number on each category; I was adopting a deliberately crude model, for the sake of argument. Instead we could have three distinct categories, and see how P(random person in sample is in category X) correlates with IQ. There are all sorts of ways of dealing with problems like this, and you have no grounds for whatever for being so confident that “intuitive idea of intelligence” can’t be quantified to some useful degree.

    Doesn’t mean you’re getting the best candidate, but it lets you choose a candidate. If you bother to read the thread, you’ll see that I justified quite early on the cliam that IQ tests, test only a narrow range of skills. I don’t suppose you will.
    Sure, they test a narrow range of skill. This doesn’t mean an IQ figure doesn’t contain valuable information (in the technical, “reduce surprise” sense of the word).

    How many times does it need pointing out that what you doubt is not evidence?
    You stated without supporting argument that SAT scores should not play a role in the university admissions process. I combated a bare assertion with one of my own.

  157. #158 J
    July 6, 2008

    Instead we could have three distinct categories, and see how P(random person in sample is in category X) correlates with IQ.
    I meant P(random person in sample of people with IQ > x is in category X) correlates with x.

  158. #159 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 6, 2008

    @ Nick Gott:

    If I remember correctly he mentions feeling stupid during all of school because he couldn’t seem to fit in. Turned out later he was unusually intelligent (as measured by tests, of course)stupid, but good at IQ tests. – Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    No, intelligence is more or less by definition measured in those tests, as “IQ”. I meant that there can be other types of intelligence. And there is already a discussion here that intelligence doesn’t necessarily makes you smart all over, such as canny. But lack of smarts isn’t the same as stupid.

    Stupid is for example to change others comments to say something they wasn’t intended to say. :-P

    @ Rey Fox:

    “And intelligent, well educated persons have IIRC statistically the highest sexual drives. ”

    Are you sure? Is it possible that those surveys inadvertently measured sexual frustration?

    I’m reasonably sure about my memory, but it certainly warrants a check. Seems reasonable enough though, having a high function area appears to correlate with having high functionality elsewhere (another IIRC, I’m afraid), sexual drive and capability among them.

    A frustrated drive would lead to frustration, yes. But how do you frustrate sexual outlet outside of religious celibacy belief? It is ubiquitous.

  159. #160 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 6, 2008

    Do any of you non-Mensans know the bylaws of Mensa? The purpose of the organization is to identify and foster intelligence.

    Isn’t that why many here have turned down or exited memberships? They rather identify and foster knowledge. There isn’t anything larger.

    It was more like they had their puzzle design philosophy all wrong. (You can’t just give two number pairs and expect the solver to guess a third pair!)

    That is my beef in such cases too. You can learn what typical pattern the test makers want you to reproduce quick enough from a couple of tests and, say, “raise” your IQ considerably. But it is both quickly boring and irrelevant to puzzles and most applications in the real world.

    It does test pattern recognition and memory capability however, so it works for the tests. There are other parts of the test/puzzle mentality that is applicable enough though, for example math and probability puzzles.

  160. #161 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    You seem to know very little about the tests that you are arguing about and don’t realize that your maths versus languages example is moot. – ChemBob
    Of course I know IQ tests include different sections – I’ve taken them remember, in addition to having studied them during my first degree (in developmental psychology); and read about them to a reasonable extent since. The point is that the balance between the sections is entirely arbitrary, and there are, as I pointed out near the beginning of the thread, an enormous range of skills and capabilities that IQ tests do not test – in fact, are deliberately designed to exclude, because of an erroneous belief (as shown by the Flynn effect apart from anything else) that they measure “innate ability”. Anything involving ability to use existing knowledge, search for new information, critically evaluate sources, express ideas intelligibly, manipulate physical objects, cooperate on tasks with others… is not included. All that is tested, in the IQ tests I’m aware of, is the ability to solve problems presented with a minimum of meaningful context. That ability is useful in certain areas (notably pure mathematics, although even here really talented mathematicians have to go well beyond it), but for most of the tasks you need to undertake in the course of a degree, or most high-status jobs, it’s of very limited relevance. As has been clear from a number of comments in this thread, a lot of Mensans, particularly those who spend a lot of time in it, have poor social skills, weird ideas, and low-status jobs. I rest my case.

    categorization is done in statistics all the time – ChemBob
    Sigh. I know it is. I mostly use non-parametric statistics in my own work, because much of the information I’m analysing 9output from simulation programs) is at a categorical level. My point is that if you are going to use statistical techniques that rely on information being on an interval scale, you’d better be bloody sure your it makes sense to apply it to your data – and if your data is just 3, or 5, or 7 levels of someone’s judgement of how bright someone else is, it doesn’t, because you have no way of ensuring that the difference between categories 1 and 2 is the same as the difference between 2 and 3.

    I am not saying intelligence is measurable on a single scale. – J
    Since that is exactly what I was asserting throughout the thread, and what the IQ-enthusiasts deny (they say it measures “g” – general intelligence), I’m not sure what you’re arguing about.

    and see how P(random person in sample is in category X) correlates with IQ – J
    (clarification)
    I meant P(random person in sample of people with IQ > x is in category X) correlates with x.

    OK, your clarification does produce something you could get a meaningful correlation coefficient on. You could do the same with height (preferably adjusting for sex), years in education, many measures of health, or for those in the labour market within a single country, annual earnings, which are all far better measures, being much more easily measured and having much higher test-retest reliability.

    Sure, they test a narrow range of skill. – J.
    As you were questioning before (“says you” was your exact phrase).

    You stated without supporting argument that SAT scores should not play a role in the university admissions process.
    No, I didn’t. What I said was:
    “I know little of American SATs test, but if they are basically IQ tests, they should not be used to decide, say, admission to universities, certainly on their own, because they only test a narrow range of skills.”
    So, I start by acknowledging that I know little about these specific tests. I then say if they are like IQ tests, as you asserted, they shouldn’t be used on their own, because they test a narrow range of skills, as you have now conceded.

  161. #162 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    No, intelligence is more or less by definition measured in those tests, as “IQ”. – Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    That might be your definition; it’s the definition the IQ-enthusiasts promote, but it’s not mine. In fact, a definition of such a natural language term is not even useful. If you want to get some idea what I mean by it, read my comments in this thread.

  162. #163 Memory like water
    July 6, 2008

    Touching on the subject of organization. In ‘preparation’ for debate… I have noticed that the ID/God brigade are usually much better prepared for a ‘win all’ assault on the audience. The rational/atheist/evolution participant turns up confident that the argument is logically ‘theirs’, and often seems to be wrong-footed, defending each point rather than making it, and even without an argument against the other side, even though the other side is (to me) patently in sky-fairy territory. I have sat in the audience, on more than one occasion, desperately hoping for the killer point to be made.
    Sorry if I’m a little off thread here, but this is written in response/support of PZ’s post, rather than the huge thread that follows!

  163. #164 Dan
    July 6, 2008

    I have never understood MENSA, and it has nothing to do with the tests they require to get in. As a scientist myself, I hang out with many brilliant people. Most of them are extremely cool, sociable, and witty. The rest are probably members of MENSA. It’s an organization devoted towards the worst sort of pointless self-congratulation, and I see no redeeming value in it. Smart people who actually achieve things have no need of a MENSA membership to show that they’re smart; their achievements do that for them.

    Having a card that says that you are smart is just the nerd version of having a card that says you have a large penis; the card doesn’t make it true, and even if it is true it doesn’t mean a damn thing until you take it out and do something USEFUL with it.

  164. #165 Nick Gotts
    July 6, 2008

    Dan – thanks. I wish I’d said that!

  165. #166 Paul W.
    July 6, 2008

    Dan@164

    As one smart, accomplished scientist (with smart, accomplished friends) to another, I gotta say you’re right that you’ve never understood Mensa.

    They didn’t make Mensa for you.

    Most people with IQ’s in the top 2 percent are not all that smart or accomplished, and are not scientists. They’re just bright and half-bright folks.

    Like other folks, they tend to like having parties, playing games, telling jokes, maybe listening to lectures that they find interesting, dancing, getting drunk, and/or getting laid.

    Like most reasonably but not extraordinarily bright people, they tend to like hanging around with other people who are reasonably bright.

    I don’t think that’s such a horrible idea.

    Sure, there are some Mensans who take the high IQ thing too seriously, and are unwarrantedly smug about it. But there are a whole lot more who recognize that IQ scores only go so far, and Mensa is just a social club.

    Does anybody else find it particularly rich to hear a physicist talk about his wonderfully smart physicist friends and then turn around and call Mensans smug?

    Physics has no shortage of smug shits.

    Maybe you’re too smart and shit-together for Mensa. Fine. You might want to try giving a lecture to a Mensa audience, though. On average, Mensans are a bit brighter than random other folks, and a bit more interested in intellectual stimulation. Maybe you can help them fulfill some of their potential that would otherwise go to waste.

  166. #167 Neil B.
    July 6, 2008

    Nick at #74: You still didn’t get my point. If Fermi was surprised that there “weren’t” any visitors, it means that:
    1. He thought it was possible to get here, but
    2. He or supporters discounted extant reports as not valid. Why? Well, in the case of people who think it’s so hard to get here, that’s their reason. But what’s the excuse of those who think Fermi’s observation is a “paradox”? Why believe that civilizations that are more advanced than ours are “rare” if there are possible examples of their getting here? The whole point was, why reject the sightings to begin with, not what are the implications of having discounting them for whatever reason.

  167. #168 Bart Mitchell
    July 6, 2008

    As a spanish speaker, I always got a kick out of the word ‘Mensa’ which, phonetically means ‘stupid woman’ with menso being stupid man.

    I never saw much value in Mensa, they never do anything to further human understanding. They just seemed more like an elitist do nothing club.

    Plus, as a personal anecdote, we were talking science and philosophy around a campfire with a big group. It was a mixed group of old friends and new faces. One of the new guys was impressed by me, and asked if I was a Mensa member. Before I had a chance to answer, one of the girls who knew me since high school days piped up and said, “No, he’s not. But he is a card carrying member of Densa!”

  168. #169 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    Neil B@167,
    My reasons for rejecting “sightings”, and I imagine Fermi’s, are:
    1) There is no good evidence any of them are real. This is being discussed in the “Saucer people…” thread. There are no physical relics, no convincing photos, only “eyewitness reports” – as there are for gods, demons, fairies, witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster…
    2) If aliens were around, we would expect it to be obvious – they would either declare themselves, exterminate us, or simply go about their alien business without bothering whether we observed them, any more than a human group landing on an uninhabited island to erect a communications base bothers about being observed by seabirds.

    Of course you can invent scenarios in which either:
    A) They are here, but successfully avoid detection. In this case, all the “eyewitness reports” are false and irrelevant anyway.
    B) They are here, and for alien reasons of their own have been playing peek-a-boo with us for 60 years. The most plausible hypothesis of this type I’ve come across comes from Douglas Adams, in Hitchhiker’s Guide: we are being teased by the alien equivalent of irresponsible teenagers.

  169. #170 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    …in which case the adult response is to ignore them: they’ll get bored with it, and go away.

  170. #171 J
    July 7, 2008

    Sure, there are some Mensans who take the high IQ thing too seriously, and are unwarrantedly smug about it. But there are a whole lot more who recognize that IQ scores only go so far, and Mensa is just a social club.
    Physics has no shortage of smug shits.
    After coming out with the gratuitous boasts you have in this thread, you have no right to call anyone smug.

  171. #172 Neil B.
    July 7, 2008

    Yes Nick I am aware of the way UFO sightings don’t really “lead anywhere” and we don’t have what we expect for “sensible contact” – this has been admitted by smart enthusiasts like J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee. The latter figured that such oddities may be “from another dimension” if real at all, not “merely” another planet in our common space. (Boy do I get off on the idea of interdimensional travel! Or maybe the UFOnauts are angels and/or demons! Wow, man.) Hence my main beef is with the contradictory presumptions of how easy or not it is to get here, albeit I recognize how hard that is to estimate (it’s about gauging the possible envelope-pushing “frontier” progress of technology.)

    In any case, I have a cute theory why UFOnauts act so strangely: long travel through interstellar space causes brain damage from cosmic rays (especially the blue-shifted ones coming from the direction of travel.) Heh, that’s a typical Mensa-type offering.

  172. #173 J
    July 7, 2008

    OK, your clarification does produce something you could get a meaningful correlation coefficient on. You could do the same with height (preferably adjusting for sex), years in education, many measures of health, or for those in the labour market within a single country, annual earnings, which are all far better measures, being much more easily measured and having much higher test-retest reliability.
    You could use the same argument against looking for correlation between any set of variables. Obviously my point is that I suspect the correlation is strong. Admittedly this is based on my own limited experience (i.e. the peoople I know who have high IQ tend to be the ones I view as my smarter acquaintances). But it’ll suffice to say, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the correlation does happen to be strong. At least I can’t see how “in principle” arguments against this possibility are to any extent merited.

    So, I start by acknowledging that I know little about these specific tests. I then say if they are like IQ tests, as you asserted, they shouldn’t be used on their own, because they test a narrow range of skills, as you have now conceded.
    SATs test language skills (very important), mathematical skills (often very important — certainly a bonus), and critical reading (less concrete, but again surely a bonus). This is a narrow range of skills, but so what? Even a small amount of information distinguishing candidates can be useful in the university admissions process.

  173. #174 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    Hence my main beef is with the contradictory presumptions of how easy or not it is to get here

    Who has made such contradictory presumptions?

  174. #175 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    J,

    You go round asking all your acquaintances their IQ? Whatever floats your boat, J, whatever floats your boat.

  175. #176 J
    July 7, 2008

    That might be your definition; it’s the definition the IQ-enthusiasts promote, but it’s not mine. In fact, a definition of such a natural language term is not even useful. If you want to get some idea what I mean by it, read my comments in this thread.
    I’d definitely have to agree with Nick Gotts here. I think it’s preposterous to define a person’s intelligence to be as given by his or her IQ.

  176. #177 J
    July 7, 2008

    You go round asking all your acquaintances their IQ? Whatever floats your boat, J, whatever floats your boat.
    No, I never said that. Don’t put words in my mouth.

  177. #178 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    J@177
    LOL!

  178. #179 Gary
    July 7, 2008

    Betsy forgot to mention another fun discussion we’ve been having on the M-Atheist group of late: 9/11 Truthers. I originally joined the organization a number of years ago, because the local group where I then lived was a vital and interesting group of folks. We went out frequently, had occasional parties, and mostly got each others jokes.

    My local group now is completely moribund, but at least there are mailing lists with interesting discussions (and the occasional troll). I have most definitely come to the conclusion that testing high on an IQ test does not automatically confer a degree of rationality, but the ratio of woo is definitely lower within Mensa than without. Still, it does jar me when someone comes up with a statement about Edgar Cayce being a powerful psychic without using any sort of qualifier, or when someone brings up the 9/11 Truth movement completely uncritically.

    I obviously have too high of hopes for people in general. :-)

  179. #180 Neil B.
    July 7, 2008

    Nick, I am not thinking of an individual/s who have been contradictory, but just the existence of dismissive attitudes in some quarters about how possible it is to get here versus other people being amazed that aliens aren’t here. It is logically possible to critique “contradictions” within a field, an ideology, a theme-based organization, etc., without any one person contradicting him or her self. (And BTW1 I know that a conversion from one perspective another isn’t a contradiction – it’s the people that change, and then change back that I worry about. BTW2 we need a gender-neutral 3rdP pronoun, I suggest “hiser.”)

    BTW3, the “Unmuseum” shows how to make round crop circles, but doesn’t give any insight into how to make the Mandelbrot (basic shape) outline, etc.
    http://www.unmuseum.org/cropcir.htm
    I love the last lines:

    “Perhaps the mystery here is not what makes the circles, but what would cause so many other-wise normal people in southern Britain to make strange circles in the middle of the night in a farm field?”

    Yeah, why go to all that trouble? Are you aware just how huge and elaborate some of those formations are, and the man-hours required to do it?

  180. #181 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    Neil B.,

    You’re not making any sense. Some people think it would be difficult for aliens to get here, if they existed; others think it would be relatively easy. So what? Why do you have a “beef” with that?

    Crop circles ~= tags.

  181. #182 windy
    July 7, 2008

    Nick:

    (@36) If I remember correctly he mentions feeling stupid during all of school because he couldn’t seem to fit in. Turned out later he was unusually intelligent (as measured by tests, of course)stupid, but good at IQ tests.

    That was low.

    (@67) As if it weren’t condemnation enough that Vox Day is a member of Mensa, we now learn Neil B. is as well.

    Although you’ve got a point there. I wonder if there is a club for the exceptionally insipid?

    (@103) High intelligence, on which Mensa claims to base its exclusivity, is generally regarded as intrinsically superior to low intelligence, which does not apply to height.

    Actually it does, only that tall people get an unconscious advantage (ignore loose evo psych speculation in article)

  182. #183 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    I wonder if there is a club for the exceptionally insipid?

    Well in the UK, it used to be the Church of England, but they are, even as I speak, biting chunks out of each other over whether bishops need balls. I’m very hopeful of a schism, followed by disestablishment!

  183. #184 J
    July 7, 2008

    LOL!
    You haven’t the slightest interest in what’s really true, have you? For you this is about nothing more than furthering your wingnut political agenda.

    I did not say I went around asking my acquaintances their IQ. Whenever by some chance someone does disclose his or her IQ (or indicate its value roughly), I find that people I think are intelligent seldom score low. Without my prodding, you’ve even given me a rough idea of your own IQ (you said it’s in the top 2%).

  184. #185 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    J@184,

    ROTFL!

  185. #186 J
    July 7, 2008

    There’s strong positive correlation between IQ and school performance. The average IQ of graduates is higher than that of non-graduates. Those with PhDs in general have even higher average IQ. There’s a statistically significant difference between average IQs of physics PhDs and sociology PhDs. All as we’d expect if there were important relation between IQ and the rule-of-thumb, intuitive measure of intelligence.

  186. #187 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    J,
    I’m laughing at you because you’re not now arguing for anything I dispute. I consider the emphasis Mensa, and many right-wing ideologues put on IQ highly exaggerated: it tests a narrow range of skills, it doesn’t measure anything close to pure inherited abilities, it doesn’t have very good test-retest reliability, and its enthusiasts often wrongly claim that intelligence can meaningfully be scored on a single scale, and even that IQ score = intelligence – both of which you’ve agreed are not so. I don’t deny an IQ test score gives you some information – I just don’t think the raw score gives you much. The pattern of scores across different types of test can be far more useful – revealing dyslexia for example. I also think Mensa members are a bunch of prats. Now, as I have both more useful and more entertaining things to do than continue arguing with someone as boring, humourless and ignorant as you, I’ll leave you the last word if you want it.

  187. #188 Aurelio
    July 7, 2008

    I remember getting a 155 in an IQ test because I failed to recognize that the picture of a Hammer should have been the odd one out in a set of PICTURES of various tools:
    Spoon
    Screwdriver
    Hammer
    Shovel
    Scissors

    I mistakenly selected the screwdriver because it was the only tool you rotate. As a result I lost 5 points, otherwise I would have scored the maximum for that test.

    Thats when I learned that having Spanish as your native language can cost you 5 points on an IQ test.

    Without those extra 5 points, I feel totally misrepresented as nothing more than an average genius. Sheesh!

  188. #189 Paul W.
    July 7, 2008
    Sure, there are some Mensans who take the high IQ thing too seriously, and are unwarrantedly smug about it. But there are a whole lot more who recognize that IQ scores only go so far, and Mensa is just a social club.

    Physics has no shortage of smug shits.

    After coming out with the gratuitous boasts you have in this thread, you have no right to call anyone smug.

    J, I’m not sure what you think is a gratuitous boast in this context. The subject is Mensa, and I’ve been in it, and it’s hard to talk about that without saying something that somebody will take as a boast.

    BTW, in the comment you quoted above, my point is that while yes, there is some basis for the stereotype of Mensans as IQ-obsessed braggarts, because some Mensans do that, most Mensans are not much that way.
    (At least in my experience.)

    The irony I was pointing out is that physics has a similar reputation, with too many physicists thinking other sciences and scientists are lesser things than physics and physicists. As with the stereotype of Mensans, there’s some basis for that stereotype of physicists, but in my experience the majority of physicists aren’t much that way. (Some of my good friends are physicists, and a couple are Mensans. :-) )

    I did not mean to bash either Mensans or physicists generally. I was just pointing out that in stereotyping Mensans, Dan was fulfilling a similar stereotype of physicists. (And he was answering his own question about the point of Mensa. He doesn’t need it because he already has a network of sufficiently bright people available to hang out with.)

    BTW, I think Nick is giving you way too hard a time, and beating up on Mensa based on unsubstantiated stereotypes. I don’t think he knows a representative sample of Mensans. Sure, there are some Mensans who talk about being Mensa members all the time, as a badge of something.

    Most Mensans I know don’t fit that stereotype. They avoid mentioning that they are Mensa members unless they’re pretty sure that the people they’re talking to are also qualified for Mensa. (If they mention it at all.) They don’t want to rub people’s noses in their supposed “superiority,” although they may want to let other eligible people know about their club.

    I also suspect that sometimes when Mensans talk about Mensa to non-Mensans, it’s not bragging, or at least not in a “superior” way; they do it because they’re pretty sure the person they’re talking to is also eligible to be in Mensa as well. And I think that’s fine.

    I hope I haven’t painted too negative a picture of Mensa. I’ve been a member, and I’ve even rejoined a couple of times. Obviously my experience wasn’t terribly negative. I do think I’m lucky to have have networks of bright enough friends that I don’t have much need for Mensa. Many people outside academia (or living in less enlightened and vibrant places) are not so lucky, and if Mensa’s their cup of tea, great.

    In particular, the comment about the less interesting and less well-adjusted people disproportionately showing up was not specific to Mensa; as I pointed out, it’s a problem with most social organizations that do not blackball. That doesn’t mean that social organizations are a bad idea, or that blackballing is a good idea; it’s just par for the course, and I didn’t mean to make it sound like most Mensa members are losers.

    Hmmm…. reading what I wrote, it pretty much did sound that way. Sorry. I should have made it clearer that for Mensa, like any social organization, you shouldn’t have your expectations set too high. Given that, if you’re looking for some brighter than average people to socialize with, and can get in, consider giving it a try. Don’t let Nick convince you everybody in Mensa’s an asshole, or let me convince you that everybody in Mensa is a loser.

  189. #190 Neil B.
    July 7, 2008

    Aurelio’s point shows one big problem with grouping-based questions: whether you consider only “things in themselves” or whether their names (in a given language!) is part of the evaluation. I think that if the latter is part of the test-providers’ scheme, they should say so explicitly so as not to confuse those who think in terms of inherent properties. (The latter being my preference, since I abhor analytical philosophy and want to work “around” language, not be enslaved to it.) After all, pace Wittgenstein, language does not tell us what things are, only what (and LCD-ated) speakers call them (often with very bad logical framing, and “ordinary” language is the worst offender.)

    Nick: OK, maybe I’m mountaining a mole-hill. (How we Mensans love to make up cute neologisms or back formations – Neilogisms, Neilojisms?) But it wasn’t the existence of disagreement per se, just the odd contrast of some being very skeptical of something possible while others were so astonished it didn’t happen they call it a paradox. No big deal, we don’t really know whether they’ve visited or how easy it is for anyone.

  190. #191 Paul W.
    July 7, 2008

    Damn, messed up the opening quotage of 189…

    it should have looked like this

    Sure, there are some Mensans who take the high IQ thing too seriously, and are unwarrantedly smug about it. But there are a whole lot more who recognize that IQ scores only go so far, and Mensa is just a social club.

    Physics has no shortage of smug shits.

    After coming out with the gratuitous boasts you have in this thread, you have no right to call anyone smug.

    J, I’m not sure what you think is a gratuitous boast in this context. […}

  191. #192 Millicent
    July 7, 2008

    As a Mensa member who attended this gathering, I’d like to remark on some of the commentary I’ve read here. Mensa is a social group. Sure, it has the criteria of scoring in the top 2% on a standardized IQ test, but beyond that, we pretty much just hang out.

    The reason I joined isn’t because I wanted to prove anything. It’s because I wanted to be around people who weren’t offended that I read the paper, have a broad vocabulary and grasp concepts easily. I wanted a place where I fit. Mensa’s that place.

    Yeah, there are some jerks in the group. (There’s no getting around that.) But there are also a lot of very neat people, some of whom refuse to discuss their affiliation with anybody outside the group. Why? How do we know you won’t be a jerk to us? We do have feelings. Another thing a lot of people don’t stop to consider is that there are jerks in all sectors of society. Example – I recently had work done on my house, and needed to use 3 contractors. All three of them tried to screw me. Does this mean that every contractor out there is a jerk?

    But another thing I’m noticing in this thread is that the initial author attended two presentations that disagreed w/ his spiritual thinking. The programming is generally designed to encompass various beliefs and interests. Shouldn’t the scientific presentations be offset by something from a different line of thought? And – why can’t we admit there are things we don’t know? To assume that a higher power could never exist is just as presumptuous as to assume one must exist. Reality is, we can all see evidence to the affirmative as well as to the contrary – but we just don’t know. Me, I’m kind of a spiritual pantheist who finds science fascinating.

    If you are interested in learning more about Mensa, please visit our website: http://www.us.mensa.org. You can follow links to the 2008 annual gathering (AG) in Denver, which lists the myriad of presentations offered.

    Myself, I love this organization, not because it’s stuffy but because it’s really fun. I’ve met many of my best friends through Mensa, have done some travelling with Mensa, and have both argued with and been inspired by people in Mensa.

    Organizationally, Mensa offers travel resources, over 100 special interest groups, local groups, and regional or national gatherings (aka extended parties) that occur on average about twice a month. They also offer college scholarships (the recipient doesn’t need to be a member), and they offer resources for parents with gifted children.

    Yes, I do realize that an IQ test is not the only indicator of intelligence. And I realize that some of my friends who are not in this organization may well be more knowledgeable, intelligent, or gifted than I am. Nothing’s 100%. But if you’re looking for a place to meet very neat people, please consider joining. You could either submit a previous IQ test score (the list of acceptable scores is on the website listed above) or you could attend a test day.

    Somehow, the jerks in our group must stand out a lot more than the run-of-the-mill members. I’ll grant that Mensa isn’t for everybody, but if you qualify and haven’t joined, please look into it more. You don’t necessarily know that this isn’t for you.

    http://www.us.mensa.org

    Thanks for listening,
    Millicent

  192. #193 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    To assume that a higher power could never exist is just as presumptuous as to assume one must exist. Reality is, we can all see evidence to the affirmative – Millicent

    No we can’t all see such evidence; I see none whatever. What did you have in mind?

  193. #194 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2008

    Shouldn’t the scientific presentations be offset by something from a different line of thought?

    What, by pseudoscientific presentations?

    And – why can’t we admit there are things we don’t know?

    1. Science does admit that there exist many things we don’t know. If we knew everything, we could go home and fix the plumbing.

    2. Admitting you don’t know how to answer a question is a far cry from fabricating an answer based on empty sophistries.

  194. #195 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2008

    JoJo (#123):

    I’ve read and heard, including a description of a Mensa meeting in Issac Asimov’s autobiography, I think I made a wise decision.

    Asimov was critical of Mensa on many occasions, and his voluminous pages of autobiography describe dissatisfaction with persistent trends he experienced, not just a single meeting. Of course, he was probably just as susceptible to the “jerks are the most visible people” problem as the rest of us, if not more so, since his status as the Great Explainer made him a “marked man”. The flipside of that is, I suppose, that if a small contingent of highly vocal jerks can ruin one meeting after the next, why bother to join? The proportion of reasonable people doesn’t necessarily matter as much as the experience one gets from membership.

    In a world where 90% of everything is crud — mediocre and indifferent, to be generous — what matters is the system we have for letting the cream rise to the top. I will probably offend somebody by saying that in my experience, literary criticism, gender studies and the sociological study of science have warped and broken cream-recognition systems, so that the memes which gain recognition and thereby proliferate are more likely controversial than useful. Overall, the science blogosphere has had both successes and failures in this line. Thanks to the High Jerk Volume problem, the discourse surrounding high-IQ societies is roughly as intolerable as the Derridean deconstruction of hypertextual gender norms in boundary-transgressive quantum gravity. . . .

  195. #196 J
    July 7, 2008

    Just one teeny-weeny correction:

    The irony I was pointing out is that physics has a similar reputation, with too many physicists thinking other sciences and scientists are lesser things than physics and physicists. As with the stereotype of Mensans, there’s some basis for that stereotype of physicists, but in my experience the majority of physicists aren’t much that way. (Some of my good friends are physicists, and a couple are Mensans. :-) )
    I don’t think any non-negigible fraction of the physics community sees the other sciences as “inferior”. They do tend to assume the other sciences are less difficult, and generally they’re justified in doing so. Physics involves most of the skills required in other natural sciences, only with more emphasis on the mathematics and the theory.

  196. #197 Ichthyic
    July 7, 2008

    J, spouting off yet again from his ass:

    and generally they’re justified in doing so.

    no, they aren’t. You’re also wrong that there are a lot that do so. In all my years in academia, I never met one that did (that covers about 7 different Universities -so far- I have worked with). In fact, when I was an undergrad, one of my physics professors was instrumental in helping me understand how all disciplines are interrelated.

    Physics involves most of the skills required in other natural sciences,

    oh? what have you available to prove that? nothing? Frankly, I know few physicists that would do well designing a field experiment in ecology or behavior (and those few wouldn’t owe any ability to do so from their training in physics). Why do you suppose that is, I wonder…

    only with more emphasis on the mathematics and the theory.

    depends on which specific area you go into. Chemistry and biology can also be heavily involved with mathematics and theory. Here’s a fun little place where you can introduce yourself to a smidgeon of the mathematics involved in biological theory and application, for example:

    http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/biomath/menu.html

    and for a decent overview:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/mathbio/

    In short, you are doing nothing but perpetuating ignorant stereotypes of academics. However, that being your only forte (perpetuating ignorant stereotypes) I guess I can’t fault you for being inconsistent, at least.

    I don’t understand why you persist, in every thread you post in, in speaking as if you actually had some real understanding of what you pontificate about. Whatever the reason, it ain’t working for you.

    You simply aren’t really contributing anything of value to many of the discussions, and when this is pointed out to you, repeatedly and by many different people, you claim we are conspiring against you.

    trust me, we’re only noticing a repeated pattern.

    I know you aren’t stupid, but you really should curtail your interest in jumping into the middle of discussions where you obviously know little about the subject matter.

    I know, as it was a bad habit of mine when I was in high school. Surely you’re older than a high school student, yes?

    Frankly, I wouldn’t even bother mentioning it, but you’ve been around long enough, and jumped into enough threads, where you’ve actually managed to become more than a minor irritation.

  197. #198 thalarctos
    July 7, 2008

    They do tend to assume the other sciences are less difficult, and generally they’re justified in doing so. Physics involves most of the skills required in other natural sciences, only with more emphasis on the mathematics and the theory.

    Several of the physicists I know consider biology much more difficult than physics for the very reason you describe it as less difficult. If you put in enough time and effort at the mathematics, after all, you can get at the physics pretty directly.

    It’s the task of figuring out what’s going on in biology without all the neat mathematical tools served up to plug in ready to use right out of the box that makes several of the physicists I’ve heard say they find biology much more difficult than physics.

  198. #199 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    Ichthyic,

    Thanks very much for those URLs – both look fascinating, I’ve bookmarked them, though FSM knows when I’ll get time to explore them!

  199. #200 amhovgaard
    July 7, 2008

    Nick Gotts, #161:
    You claim that “Anything involving ability to use existing knowledge, search for new information, critically evaluate sources, express ideas intelligibly, manipulate physical objects, cooperate on tasks with others… is not included.”
    I’m afraid ChemBob is right about your lack of knowledge. Tasks involving the ability to use existing knowledge, express ideas intelligibly and manipulate physical objects make up a large part of the Wechsler scales (e.g. WAIS-III), a widely used group of tests.

  200. #201 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    amhovgard,

    It’s true the Wechsler scale tests are slightly broader than earlier ones, but still very limited, requiring nothing in the way of research skills, cooperation with others, critical assessment of sources (aspects I mentioned before but you don’t), and no more than one-step or at most two-step tasks in the categories you do mention – where I nonetheless concede I overstated my case. In none of these tests are subjects asked to plan ahead, deal with unexpected events during a task, come up with new ideas, or think critically in any way. They all remain essentially trivial puzzles, to which many people’s natural response, (but by no means everyone’s) would be “What’s the point of doing that?” A subset of people (including me, I might add) rather like these sorts of puzzles, and so have an advantage over those who don’t in IQ tests – but there’s no reason to expect this advantage to carry over to more realistic educational or work contexts (I accept IQ tests will also call on cognitive capabilities that will carry over).

  201. #202 Karen
    July 8, 2008

    Wow! I managed to wade through most of the Mensa-bashing, but admittedly not every post. I really don’t understand it. Mensans aren’t really much different than the rest of the population. No matter what subset of the population you choose to examine, you will find some nut cases, criminals, weirdos, deviants, and other societal “misfits.” Will you find a higher proportion in Mensa than you would in an Atheist or Christian organization? I don’t think so.

    You Mensa bashers obviously have had no (or very little) experience with Mensa and Mensans. I belong to a regional group of about 350. Of those, about 50-60 are active members that I know. Of those, maybe one or two “might” fit in one of the above categories. Are there some who feel they are superior to everyone else? Yes, maybe. Most of us don’t even tell people we belong to Mensa. Maybe the ones that are vocal about it are the ones you have met. Maybe you work with Mensans and don’t even know it. My boss (of 1 1/2 years) does not know I belong to Mensa. He probably thinks I’m just a “regular person.” I see no need to tell him…or hide it, for that matter. It just hasn’t “come up” in conversation. I was on vacation in Denver last week. I don’t have to say I went to a Mensa gathering.

    So… you bashers are judging Mensans on the few that you have known were Mensans and maybe only one bad apple. How many people do you know that maybe are Mensans and you don’t know it? Guess you don’t know that, do you?

    Some of the Mensa bashing was directed at the two talks that PZ Myers mentioned. Neither of the two presentations he attended were given by Mensans. Don’t blame us for them! Yes, we invited them… and also PZ Myers.

    So, enough, already. We are a social organization of people with high IQs. That’s all that we have in common with each other. After that, we are as diverse as the rest of the population. Find something more useful (and intelligent) to say other than “Mensa sucks” or “Join Mensa to get laid.”

  202. #203 Nick Gotts
    July 8, 2008

    Will you find a higher proportion in Mensa than you would in an Atheist or Christian organization? I don’t think so. – Karen

    Any evidence? Or don’t Mensans go in for empirical justification?

    My boss (of 1 1/2 years) does not know I belong to Mensa. He probably thinks I’m just a “regular person.” – Karen

    Whereas in reality – you’re SuperGenius!

    We are a social organization of people with high IQs. That’s all that we have in common with each other. – Karen

    No it isn’t. You also share a desire to join an exclusivist group based on IQ test scores. Ever heard of a “self-selected” sample of a population, Karen? They are often highly untypical of the population as a whole.

  203. #204 J
    July 8, 2008

    Ichthyic,

    You know nothing about science if you don’t agree with me that physics is the most mathematical of the natural sciences. The mathematical difference between physics and other natural sciences is so great that I should not have to unpack this claim.

  204. #205 J
    July 8, 2008

    I know you aren’t stupid, but you really should curtail your interest in jumping into the middle of discussions where you obviously know little about the subject matter.
    Utter nonsense. If you look through my exchange with Nick Gotts, you’ll see that the only ignorant assertions were made by him. (In particular, he was forced to retract his “in principle” declaration that intuitive measures of “intelligence” can’t be quantified.)

    I fail to see how I’ve brought less knowledge to this thread than any other participants. These arbitrary, unsupported allegations of ignorance are little more than a sign of your own intellectual dishonesty.

  205. #206 J
    July 8, 2008

    I fail to see how I’ve brought less knowledge to this thread than any other participants.
    “Any typical participants”, that should read. (I’m not going to try and start a snobby pissing contest in “informed contributions”.)

  206. #207 J
    July 8, 2008

    An entertaining anecdote to support my assertion that physics is the most mathematical natural science:

    One of the leading mathematical biologists of his time, John Maynard Smith, said on record that theoretical physics was technically beyond him. (I’ll supply the source, if anyone’s interested.)

  207. #208 J
    July 8, 2008

    By the way, Ichthyic:

    I’m familiar with the mathematical side of chemistry, having made my way through the standard undergraduate Atkins textbook on physical chemistry. It’s all essentially high school or freshman mathematics. Please refrain from attempting to cow me with vague reference to chemistry.

    Biology I’m admittedly less familiar with, though I have little doubt that it’s on the whole anywhere near as mathematically sophisticated as theoretical physics. Certainly the above anecdote doesn’t suggest as much.

  208. #209 J
    July 8, 2008

    …,though I have little doubt that it’s on the whole anywhere near as mathematically sophisticated as theoretical physics.
    Great doubt, not little doubt. Mathematical biology is to theoretical physics as Lego is to electronics.

  209. #210 uk
    July 8, 2008

    Did they serve chocolate? No Mensa meeting is complete without theobromine.

  210. #211 amhovgaard
    July 8, 2008

    #201:
    Research skills and critical assessment of sources are useful skills, I agree. And they are being tested, just not in IQ tests (writing papers, school projects…). But “cooperating with others” is not a cognitive ability, it is a behavioral tendency that should give points towards personality test scales with names like “extroversion” and “agreeableness”.

  211. #212 Judy
    July 9, 2008

    I went to PZ’s talk at the Mensa AG and it was fascinating. It helped me understand how genome research is being used to understand evolution. I now think of our DNA as being a bit like the bureaucracy at my work. As the work systems evolve, all we are doing is adding more rules. As our DNA evolves, it just adds more functions without removing any of the old functionality. I got hold of J. Craig Ventner’s book “A Life Decoded” so I can learn more.

    I joined Mensa because I was one of those odd kids in school who never fit in and who learned faster than the other kids. I like being a member with a group of people like me.

  212. #213 K.A.
    July 9, 2008

    Betsy, I ain’t even one of them thar Mensa-folk who can hardly keep up with you, but it’s not “less,” it’s “fewer.”

    /please don’t hit me! I want to be Menza one day!

  213. #214 Nick Gotts
    July 9, 2008

    (In particular, he [me] was forced to retract his “in principle” declaration that intuitive measures of “intelligence” can’t be quantified.)

    No I wasn’t. My claim throughout was that intelligence cannot be measured on a single scale, which you conceded. I do not recognise the characterisation you give as something I said at any point.

  214. #215 Nick Gotts
    July 9, 2008

    But “cooperating with others” is not a cognitive ability – amhovgaard

    Ability to cooperate productively with others is. It is a typical error of naive psychometrics to think that cognitive abilities and behavioural tendencies can be neatly separated.

  215. #216 Nick Gotts
    July 9, 2008

    Research skills and critical assessment of sources are useful skills, I agree. And they are being tested, just not in IQ tests – amhovgaard

    I agree. Since the topic under discussion is IQ tests, I’m not sure what your point is here.

  216. #217 amhovgaard
    July 10, 2008

    Of course cognitive abilities and behavioral tendencies in general can’t be “neatly” separated (what human characteristics can? do you really think that the fact that you like doing IQ test puzzles is in no way influenced by the fact that you are good at them?), but some behavioral tendencies are more heavily influenced by other factors. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that “cooperating well with others” is primarily a cognitive ability and not a result of being a friendly, social, outgoing person. If you add the word “productively” you’re saying something about the result, and that’s not the same thing.

    I think research skills are much more difficult to test effectively in a short period of time, as part of a standardised test, than things like short term memory or pattern recognition. I’m not really disagreeing with you, I just think that trying to assess such skills using a “test” (as opposed to, say, observation and evaluation of work on a 3-month project) would not give a valid result anyway, so there’s little point in criticising IQ tests for not including this. It might be possible to come up with a reasonable test of “critical assessment of sources”, though.

    When you call IQ tests “puzzles” you seem to be talking about pattern recognition or analog reasoning tests. It doesn’t make sense to describe tests of verbal reasoning, memory, general knowledge, vocabulary or mental arithmetic as puzzles. Nor are they tests of “pure cognitive ability”: a low score on a test of general knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that you have problems with verbal understanding or long term memory – maybe you were raised in a cabin in the woods, homeschooled, with no access to books, radio or TV… And I really don’t think it’s fair to call these tests trivial. I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and one topic that comes up a lot is evolution. According to the Norwegian norms for the vocabulary part of the WAIS-III, less than 50 % of the population can tell you what the word means. Popular wrong answers include attempts at defining “revolution” or “evaluation”. If people don’t know what the word means, a poll asking “Do you believe in evolution?” is a bit meaningless. You might as well ask how they feel about the war in Farawaystan.

    Just to clarify: I agree with you that differences in scores on a single scale are highly unreliable (and less reliable the further up into the tail end of the distibution you come), and that there is no good evidence that the difference between IQ test scores in the upper end of the distribution is a difference in intelligence, however you define that (I prefer “general cognitive ability” or “a wide range of cognitive skills”). But when someone consistently (e. g. on all 14 WAIS-III subtests) scores more than two standard deviatons below the mean on IQ tests, there is good reason to believe that this has to do with reduced general cognitive ability. It is quite plausible that differences below the normal range mean something different than differences above the normal range. If you don’t know that 2+3=5 you have a serious problem, but if you can’t work out percentages or probabilities in your head that may well be because of a lack of interest, and it is not likely to cause a lot of problems in your life.

  217. #218 Nick Gotts
    July 10, 2008

    amhovgaard,

    I don’t think we are in serious disagreement: it is the tendencies to equate IQ scores with intelligence, to believe intelligence is a unitary, separable and/or quantifiable characteristic of individuals, and to over-rely on psychometric tests of any type – personality assessment tools are routinely abused by employers – that I object to. As I’ve said above, IQ tests can be useful in diagnosing specific cognitive deficits; and I would also agree that consistently very poor performance way well indicate broader cognitive problems – although you have to rule out or take into account factors such as perceptual and/or motor difficulties, motivational issues, problems with attention or short-term memory, and unfamiliarity with pencil-and-paper tasks.

    To clarify my point about “cooperating well with others”, in order to do so you need the ability to understand others’ actions, skills and motivations, to assess what they know and don’t know, how best both to teach and to learn from them, how their skills can best be combined with yours, and so forth. It’s notable that many people who score highly on IQ tests, and some high-performing people in areas such as maths, music and chess, are outstandingly lacking in such abilities. Many of the comments above, including those from Mensa members, suggest that Mensans often share these deficits: they “never fit in” at school for example. I was good at picking up concepts at school, too, but I did not have this kind of problem.

    If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend Hutchins “Cognition in the Wild”, and Conte and Castelfranchi’s “Cognitive and Social Action” – although I’m sure there is a great deal more relevant work.

  218. #219 amhovgaard
    July 10, 2008

    Socially inept, high IQ people who excel at math, chess and music… Are you suggesting that all Mensa members have Asperger’s syndrome?

  219. #220 Nick Gotts
    July 10, 2008

    amhovgaard@129 No, and I have no clinical expertise whatever, but it would surprise me if the incidence wasn’t considerably above the norm. And indeed, I can see the point of a social group aimed at people who have that kind of cognitive profile, whether or not to a degree that meets the criteria for Asperger’s – but the “top 2%” restriction can have only one point – for people to feel superior by excluding others.

  220. #221 SC
    July 10, 2008

    I joined Mensa because I was one of those odd kids in school who never fit in and who learned faster than the other kids. I like being a member with a group of people like me.

    I have to take issue with this sort of claim. Even though you use the word “and” and not “because,” it does seem that you are trying to establish an illegitimate link between intelligence and social behavior/acceptance. I always had plenty of friends, and the fact that I was taken out of class for special activities or tests wasn’t ever an issue with anyone, because I didn’t make it one. The other kids in the gifted program with me were also outgoing, popular people – my best friend in the program was class president. Highly intelligent people are not necessarily socially inept. The suggestion (again, implied) that you didn’t fit in because you “learned faster than the other kids” just doesn’t wash. It’s far more likely that you didn’t fit in because you believed your success in class meant you were superior and in some way conveyed that, or because you were a dork.

  221. #222 amhovgaard
    July 10, 2008

    Whether or not people who learn a lot faster than others fit in at school depends not only on them, but also on the school/class in question. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I didn’t fit in, but I did have to spend a fair amount of energy on actively hiding how far ahead of the rest of the class I was. There was no gifted program, so I wasted a lot of time daydreaming and waiting for the teacher to move on to the next subject. I enjoyed daydreaming but I didn’t enjoy feeling embarrassed about being different and feeling that it was “safer” to pretend not to know the answer to questions. And I was no genius, just an ordinary bright kid in a not-so-great school. SC, just because your school environment was accepting of diversity doesn’t mean everyone is so lucky.

  222. #223 Nick Gotts
    July 10, 2008

    There was no gifted program, so I wasted a lot of time daydreaming and waiting for the teacher to move on to the next subject.

    How do you know everyone else wasn’t wasting even more of their time, and pretending not to know even more answers, and you were really the stupidest ;-)

  223. #224 SC
    July 10, 2008

    Good point, amhovgaard. I had thought of that, too. If I’m being totally honest, there were possibly times (and I was fortunate to be in good schools, though I was probably “helped” by the fact that I was fairly sickly and missed a lot of school) that I was less forthcoming with answers because I didn’t want to seem obnoxious or make others look bad by comparison. Incidentally, I was often asked by teachers over the years to tutor students who weren’t keeping up, or just kind of did so voluntarily, and I think this may have helped.

    On the other hand, even if Mensans come from the sort of school you describe, all of life isn’t like that. Certainly, when you get to college intelligence isn’t something you have to hide. It just seems to me that some people are trying to locate the source of their lack of social intelligence in their alleged intellectual superiority and almost seeing it as a virtue, and then seeking out others who will support them in that view. I think they would do better (if they really care – some people are quite content to be oddballs) to work on developing their social skills, particularly in interactions with people who have different strengths and abilities than they do, while seeking out groups that share their substantive interests.

  224. #225 SC
    July 10, 2008

    This all makes me think of those arrogant defendants, like George Trepal in the article I linked to above (I think, though I can’t remember if he actually testified at his trial) who make no effort to hide their contempt for “lesser beings” at their murder trials, and then when they’re convicted argue that the jury was biased against them because of their high intelligence. I mean, if you can’t figure out that you shouldn’t come across like a smug fuck to a jury that’s determining whether you’re capable of committing coldblooded murder and is deciding your fate, you’re just not very bright – I don’t care how you scored on a test.

  225. #226 Millicent
    July 11, 2008

    Betsy, Judy and Karen,

    I think the only thing of use we’re going to garnish from this blog is that most of these commenters feel fit to strongly opine on matters they know nothing about. Makes me wonder what else they see themselves as proficient in.

    Millicent

  226. #227 Nick Gotts
    July 14, 2008

    I think the only thing of use we’re going to garnish from this blog – Millicent

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/garnish gives two definitions of “garnish” as a verb:
    (1) to enhance in appearance by adding decorative touches; embellish
    (2) to take a debtor’s wages on legal orders, such as for child support.

    What was that about Mensans having good vocabularies?

  227. #228 Anonymous
    July 16, 2008

    I have been reading the comments about Mensa and Mensans with interest. I’ve been a member of Mensa in the US for nearly 30 years and have had a lot of experience with Mensa internationally–I’ve worked with Mensans from around the world and have been to many non-US Mensa gatherings. I’ve met many wonderful people in Mensa, and I’ve met some jerks and crackpots, too. With over 100,000 members worldwide, I don’t have to like all of them, but I’m more likely to find people in the group that I do like than in other places. What I appreciate most about Mensa is the diversity of age, interest and outlook. That diversity is what is lacking in other groups formed around a philosophy or interest.

    All that said, I absolutely cannot blame Nick for his feelings and comments about Mensa once I saw that he is in the UK. While there are some British Mensans that I do like, the wanker-to-normal ratio is quite a bit higher in that group than in any other, and it’s even worse in the management of the group.

    To those who would judge Mensa and Mensans based solely on one member or group that you’ve either had experience with or heard about, it’s a situation like “the blind men and the elephant”. One tail or one tusk is not the whole animal. Please try to look for the bigger picture. Also, no group is perfect, and no set of people are either. I take the bad with the good because the good far outweighs the bad.

  228. #229 Jim Cook
    July 20, 2008

    I was amused to read your spin on Edwin Chong’s talk at Mensa. I know Edwin and my hunch is that he was slumming a bit with the lower leveled IQ bunch that are the denizens of Mensa’s meetings.

    I was especially amused to see that your line of disagreement with him amounted to 1)philosophical issues for which you are apparently not trained and show little expertise and 2) was based on your inner insight to his “transparent motivation.”

    I love that. You see HIS transparent motivations. Well I confess that I don’t know your motivations, I just read what you wrote and there wasn’t much to it. And it will be the last I read of it; times being what they are, who has time?

  229. #230 Rich Blinne
    July 20, 2008

    Like Jim, I know Edwin personally and also find PZ’s analysis both naive and amusing. What exposes PZ’s total lack of understanding of Edwin’s argument is his conflation of Edwin with the Discovery Institute. Specifically, the DI will have nothing to do with so-called randomness. As all of us here know evolution isn’t really random but rather historically contingent (see PZ’s analysis of Rich Lenski’s recent paper and my comments inter alia). The gist of Edwin’s argument is his deft use of middle knowledge to deal with the very issue of contingency to show something can be both designed and contingent. Another key difference between Edwin and the DI is that if you invoke middle knowledge it cannot be the undefined designer of the DI but one that is able to deal with *all* contingencies and that implies a capital G god. As for Edwin’s motivations, I know here (because he told me) that he was trying to solve a difficult philosophical/theological problem and present it in a dignified and academic fashion like one ought at a scientific conference. One should note a certain subtlety of his argument, namely he is arguing how a weak form of ID — which bears little to no resemblance to the bilge put out by the DI — *can be* compatible with evolution as it is currently accepted by mainstream science and not that it *is* compatible. In fact, Edwin’s solution is not the only one out there, e.g. concursus divinitatis. Another thing I found amusing was Edwin’s characterization to me that PZ’s talk was all “theatrics” making PZ have more in common with the Disco folks than Edwin.

  230. #231 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 15, 2008

    Life intervened, but finally returning to old threads FWIW:

    @ Nick Gott, #162:

    In fact, a definition of such a natural language term is not even useful

    It is observably useful as a measure. And it is observably useful as such in a number of areas, for example used in business and military organizations. I dunno about research, but I would assume that it’s supposed to be an instrument for understanding the mind.

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