Friday, 27 February 2015

Your Google IQ

Most people are aware that asking a question can reveal ignorance, and out of fear avoid doing so in public, thus frequently remaining ignorant. They are not entirely wrong: by revealing exactly what they do not understand they allow other to make estimates of their intelligence. Hence the benefits of looking up things in private, on the internet.

I am a fan of everywhere, everytime, universal IQ tests: these are based on the notion that life is an intelligence test, and that estimates of ability can be drawn from all behaviours, even incomplete snippets of behaviour. I am on the lookout for research showing that IQ can be estimated from non-IQ test real world activities, of which asking questions is one.

The power of Google was first brought home to me by a little vignette. About 7 years ago I had gone to a vast warehouse called PC World, in an attempt to clear up some problems on a computer. They quoted me a price higher than the value of the actual device, but after I had remonstrated with them, told me in a whisper that there was a little place up the road which would do the job for half the price.

The small shop was sparse: a front room with some printers and a few laptops for sale, a back room for technical staff. The boss was an English countryman who presided over all with a kindly humour, dressed as if going out with his dogs; the technical assistant was a young Sikh with a warm but weary smile who confided to me, as he worked on my computer, that he had told the boss a hundred times that the “print a page for 20 pence and help locals with software” service was totally uneconomic and a real nuisance. Our consultation was interrupted by the hesitant entrance of a very short and frail old lady, unsteadily carrying a very large laptop. Once she got to the counter she lifted it up with some difficulty, glared at him; and said in accusing tone of voice:  “I’ve lost my Google”.

Presumably there is a difference between googling: “How do I extend my penis” and “Does Hilary Mantel know any history?” Can that difference provide IQ estimates?  Equally, can you distinguish between:  “Thuggish”, “Ruggish”,  “lamium” and “liatris”, and do any of these have predictive value?

McDaniel, Pesta and Gabriel (2015) Big data and the well-being nexus: Tracking Google search activity by state IQ. Intelligence 50 (2015) 21–29

The McDaniel team have dipped their fingers into the American soul by linking US State level google searches with state scholastic achievement levels to as to find the search items which best reveal intelligence, both high and low. I get the impression they found out much about their fellow citizens which they did not previously know (nor did I).

They used the Google Correlate algorithm (a database tracking billions of user
searches) to identify search terms that co-varied most strongly with U.S. state-level IQ and wellbeing. First, they identified the 100 strongest positive and negative search term covariates for state IQ. They then rationally clustered search terms into
composites based on similarity of concept, and correlated those composite scores with other well-being variables (e.g., crime, health). Search-term composite scores correlated strongly with all well-being variables.

We used state well-being data from Pesta et al. (2010), who created six sub-domains of global well-being: IQ, religiosity, crime, education, health, and income. IQ was estimated from public school achievement test scores (see McDaniel, 2006). Religiosity was derived from state-level survey data assessing fundamentalist religious beliefs (e.g., “My holy book is literally true;” “Mine is the one true faith”). Crime was created from various violence statistics, including burglary, murder, rape, violent crimes, and the number of inmates per capita. Education included the percentage of residents with (a) college degrees and (b) jobs in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Health included infant mortality and the incidence of obesity, smoking, and heart disease. Finally, income included income per capita,
disposable income per capita, percent of families in poverty, and percent of individuals in poverty.

McDaniel had already calculated estimates of IQ for the 50 US states. The authors note:  Aggregate IQ measures correlate strongly with many other meaningful variables. Examples include aggregate IQ predicting levels of institutional quality
(Jones & Potrafke, 2014), absolute latitude/temperature (León & León, 2014; Pesta & Poznanski, 2014), election outcomes (Pesta & McDaniel, 2014), economic freedom (Belasen & Hafer, 2012), religiosity (Reeve, 2009), crime (Templer & Rushton, 2011), education (Pesta et al., 2010), health (Eppig, Fincher, & Thornhill, 2011; Reeve & Basalik, 2010), and income (Lynn & Vanhanen, 2002, 2012). In fact, levels of religiosity, crime, education, health, and income are themselves largely inter-correlated within the 50 U.S. states.

We show that IQ and well-being covary with an activity ubiquitous in many
people's lives—conducting Google searches on the internet. Billions of Google searches are performed per day (Internet Live Stats, 2014). These searches provide snapshots of interesting human behavior. Moreover, many state well-being variables
are derived from self-report data (e.g., religious belief data, census survey data) that may be influenced by impression management and self-deception (Paulhus, 1991), in addition to potentially being affected by accuracy of memory and inattentive
responding. In contrast, the current study employs novel measurement methods (massive archival records of internet searches) that are not affected by typical problems inherent in self-report data. Our data are therefore both unobtrusive and non-reactive.

We report that some specific search terms co-vary in frequency with each state's relative level of IQ and well-being. We make sense of these correlations by using rational clustering, and by referencing extant literature to explain why the derived clusters might fall within the well-being nexus.

Now it is time to skip the methodological details (which these authors and their confederates relish) and peer ahead at the actual results. In Table A - 1 are the terms which show a positive relationship with intelligence. For the life of me I cannot understand why “mowing lawn” or “cricket rules” top the list. At least the 9th ranked search “lamium” is Latin, but what sort of intellect requires guidance on the boiling of an egg? We are talking State averages, I know, but these searches are a revelation to me.



Now we turn to searches which are associated with more modest intellects. I find these more cheerful, and somewhat more predicable. Eye-shadow tutorials indeed. Before long there will be Masters courses in the topic. Kitty shoes, clothes, and stuff is very interesting. You may already know this, but a Kitty shoe is like an ordinary shoe, but with “Hello Kitty” and a drawing of a kitty on it. To save you searching for it, I have copied it below. Sweet.

Image result for hello kitty logo




By now you will be asking yourself what “asvab” stands for: Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery. Very sadly, wanting to read a simple guide as to how to do this test is not associated with high aptitude. However, it does show that the armed forces have learned about the importance of IQ the hard way, and have been given carte blanche to use IQ tests to reject as many candidates as fail to reach their standards.

I find this paper highly instructive. The authors have opened a new window on the mind. They would like to go beyond the 100 terms, and should be encouraged to do so when the data become available. With a bit of help from them I will be able to make significant additions to my “7 tribes of intellect” post. 

As to Hilary Mantel, the Wiki entry on Thomas Cromwell is a good place to start, and gives the major biographies. On a final point, I wish to make it absolutely clear that when I google “basic statistics for dummies” I am merely idly checking whether the procedures are being described with absolute accuracy. And a Goodbye Kitty to all of you.


  1. A fair few of the "higher-IQ" searches seem to illustrate what Sailer calls Moynihan's Law of the Canadian Border. All those snow-related searches --> northern location --> higher IQ.

    1. Could be Cold Winter theory proved again.

  2. In the second table they've misspelled "tosspot".

  3. and the highest IQ would probably go to esoteric math and physics terms

  4. Did they correct for the age distribution in the various states? The first list reads like a list of the concerns of middle-aged homeowners who eat carbs (or eat them infrequently, thus needing to look up recipes), maintain their homes, and watch their budgets.

    The second list strikes me as a teenaged list, preoccupied with appearance and display.

    It certainly could be IQ, but an older population would be more educated, as it would have more people old enough to have completed degrees.

    Are the New England states full of high IQ people, or do they have fewer children? Just eyeballing the chart in the paper, and a list of states arranged by percentage of 0-18 year olds, there's a great deal of similarity.

    I would not have predicted that Alaska would be third in the percentage of 0-18 year olds in the population.

  5. Interesting point, and thanks for the link to the data. No mention of age correction in the paper that I can find. However, assume kids do few internet searches before about 9 years, so doubt it would tip the balance much. Figures for adults vary less. Of course, low ability does relate to more immature tastes, and brighter people are "more mature than their years". Probably not the main driver, but still an interesting possibility the authors might like to comment on.

    1. The Pew Institute has been studying teen technology use. With every new report, they have found teen ownership and use of tech devices to be increasing.

      This report is two years old, so it represents a point from which one should assume use has increased. About three in four (74%) teens ages 12-17 are “mobile internet users” who say they access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.1 By comparison, 55% of adults are mobile internet users.2 However, this gap is driven primarily by adults ages 65 and older, many of whom are not using the internet in any capacity, let alone on a mobile device. Adults under the age of 50, on the other hand, are just as likely as teens to be mobile internet users; 74% of adults ages 18-49 access the internet on a cell phone, tablet, or other mobile device.

      dragonball z, social media sites, high school fights, how to be a clerk or enlist in the army, braces... It looks like a teenaged list to me.

      As to Hello Kitty, my own search for it (no doubt lowering my IQ in the process), turns up many mentions of the brand as a model of effective marketing. I would assume lower IQ would make one more vulnerable to marketing.

      Add to all this that many US families are not signing up for land line phones anymore. The cell plan is the phone plan. As users can "add a line" at supposedly low cost, that means the number of children in a state population has an effect on the number and content of web searches run by that population.

    2. Thanks very much. The authors point out that their discussion, as regards limitations, mentions the general problem of lack of access to the web, but your more detailed material and explanations certainly seems to match some of the searches and suggest that teenagers could be driving some of the effects found. The authors should respond later this week, when various other duties have been completed.

  6. "Cricket rules" correlates with high IQ here because our upper middle class (America's technocrats) is obsessed with upper class English aesthetics and habits. See Paul Fussell's book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System for more details on that.

  7. Similarly, the terms related to woodworking and boiling eggs and similarly pedestrian life skills are due to class. Most professionals in this country have been on such-and-such career track since early childhood, which means 8 hours of school, 4 hours of homework and 3 hours of extracurriculars. Most of our college graduates have never learned to cook a meal, iron a shirt, do their own laundry, etc. until middle adulthood, and learn these out of curiosity. It's kind of like how a lawyer might go fishing to relax, but a fisherman won't.

  8. Dear Aeoli, Thanks for your explanations, which seem very likely.

  9. I think the Hello Kitty correlation might be explainable by the educated classes in Western countries having been exposed to a lot of feminist theory, which has given them an aversion to overtly "girly" brands, while the working class have been much less affected by these ideas.

    1. Interesting. However, I think it goes deeper. I am always surprised how much people respond to pictures of pets, not a common concern among academics.