Thursday, 28 November 2013

IQ and Boris Johnson

It is unusual for a British politician to mention IQ. It is seen as a difficult subject, likely to draw criticism and lose votes. The basic rule is that you must flatter your audience. Phrases like “Of course, you-the-British-public are far too intelligent; far, far too intelligent to fall for the rubbish being offered to you by my opponent” are more suited to buttering up voters.

Giving the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture, the Mayor of London has drawn a distinction between the 16% of the population below IQ 85  and the 2% of the population above IQ 130. Apart from some inelegant phrasing, he was right to say that the former have more of an uphill struggle than the latter, who tend to get better jobs and earn more, often far more in a global economy. I have not been able to get the full speech, but just before the IQ comments he makes it clear that he saw intellectual worth as being different from spiritual worth.

So, cue outrage from many quarters. Not surprising, because the higher earnings of brighter people depend upon an open market economy, and that always has its detractors. More surprising was to be interviewed by The Guardian, which is usually a critic of IQ, but which faithfully reproduced the basic points I was making. Is this little blog beginning to get read, even among journalists? I hardly dare hope. As to the headline they used, I was criticising only the phrasing of the Mayor’s remarks, but not the reality of the findings to which he alluded.

Had I thought of it at the time, I would have asked the amiable journalists to read the following posts, which refer in part to the relationship between IQ and wealth.

Or you could just read Linda Gottfredson’s (1997) “Why g matters”

Can you pass on these links to a journalist you know?


  1. I always used to say that Beckham was a limited footballer but that within his limits he was a fine footballer. Similarly, IQ has a weak left foot, no turn of speed, can't dribble nor head the ball, but within its limitations it can do a very useful job.

    Do you think a dim journalist might be capable of grasping that argument? Now, how about one for a female journalist?

  2. Boris Johnson said:
    It is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85

    IQ tests tend to be standardized in developed nations, so they have a skewed perspective on what constitutes the average IQ of the species. Arbitrarily anchoring the 100 point to the average British IQ, I believe it was determined by Richard Lynn that the global average IQ score is actually around 90 points.


  3. Well it's about time someone in the mainstream mentioned this.

    Would you think more heads would explode if he mentioned (more accurately), that the portion "of the species" with an IQ < 85 is actually more like 33%? (I did some math on it.)

    Readers might also be interested in this list of key evidences for IQ here:

    HBD Fundamentals: On the reality of IQ

  4. Well-meaning-amateur29 November 2013 at 15:52

    It's interesting that the Guardian plays up the IQ aspect, since (based on the few excerpts) he also seemed to be saying pretty strongly that the rich should help the poor. One could even interpret his point as being that Britain should tolerate the rich only on condition that they help the poor (or, as politicians like to say in the U.S., "give back").

  5. Thanks Shiv Malik and Ami Sedghi for good journalism on IQ.

    Their piece is remarkable in that they only talked to people who were competent to speak about the subject, and that they avoided using weasel words like "controversial" to describe the interviewed experts.

  6. Dear James,
    Great blog!
    I wish you even more success!

  7. James Thompson said:
    I have not been able to get the full speech

    Here it is: