Joseph Cotto, 7/24/2015 [Archive]

Intelligence in 21st Century America

By Joseph Cotto

So much for the bell curve.

The concept has long subject to immense controversy; perhaps because people often describe it in a way which suits their beliefs. In 2012, NPR reporter Shankar Vedantam simplified things by explaining that all the bell curve really amounts to is a belief that "in most activities, we expect a few people to be very good, a few people to be very bad and most people to be average."

A study from the same year, published in Personnel Psychology, measured the personal output of four very different types of high achievers; academics, athletes, entertainers, and politicians. It was found that most people rank below average.

For generations on end, prevailing wisdom has been that most people reside in the curve's soaring middle with outliers — such as the mentally challenged and outright geniuses — making up the far smaller lower and upper tails of the distribution.

The greatest number of those surveyed were actually found to be outliers. Dr. Herman Aguinis, one of the researchers working on the project, assessed the situation by telling NPR that only "a small minority of superstar performers contribute a disproportionate amount of the output" of almost any given group.In other words, there is only a small handful of movers and shakers. Most people, it seems, are just along for the ride.Vedantam further summed up the study with the following example: "More than 80 percent of all Emmy-nominated entertainers ... fell below the mean in terms of the number of nominations they received. A small but sizable minority, meanwhile, enjoyed outsize success and accounted for a disproportionately large number of Emmy nominations."Sounds like evolution playing itself out once again. What's so controversial about that? More than one might imagine, unfortunately.

"The scientific (not the political) consensus is that intelligence is largely inherited," Dr. Robert Weissberg told me. For decades, the University of Illinois, Urbana emeritus professor has been a popular columnist, author, and public speaker. "The data from identical twins raised apart is clear—they resemble each other even if raised in very different environments."

According to many researchers, the lower any given society's average IQ is, the more social problems are had. Why is this, exactly?

"Stupid people do stupid things," Weissberg remarked. "They often cannot appreciate the consequences of their behavior, for example, risking a long jail sentence to steal $10. Nor can the control impulses. Just ask anybody who has to deal with the underclass about such behavior."

Steve Sailer is one of the few journalists who regularly writes about the relationship between intelligence and society. He has managed to do what few other journalists dare: linking intelligence not only with economics, but political trends.

"When looking at different neighborhoods, your real estate agent will explain to you that, all else being equal, the higher the locals students' test scores, the more expensive the homes," he explained to me. "There are a lot of reasons for this, such as that smart neighbors tend to do fewer stupid things like celebrating New Year's Eve by shooting their guns off in the air.

"In 21st Century America, the worst thing about being poor is not that you can't buy enough stuff, it's that you can't afford to get away from other poor people."What does all of this mean for the American economy during years to come?

No one can be absolutely sure, but a good bet would be several new rounds of layoffs, along with a real unemployment rate which darkens even the brightest horizons.Consider it a sign of the times.

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Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

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