Why is it that those who most vigorously defend the importance of IQ are those who emphasize the biological basis of IQ?

by Scott Barry Kaufman, September 7, 2018 in Blog

I’ve been wondering something, and I’d love to genuinely hear some perspectives on this matter. It seems as though the ones who most vigorously defend the importance of IQ (outside the educational psychology realm) are those who study the genetic and biological foundations of IQ. But why is this the case? Certainly it’s possible to be an intelligence researcher and focus on the environmental determinants of intelligence, and *also* argue for the importance of intelligence as a construct? Something could be real and important, yet still be substantially influenced by environmental factors. I’m trying to think through the deep implications of this, because it’s a fallacy to conclude that “intelligence is genetically determined” from “intelligence is real and important”. Likewise, it’s a fallacy to conclude that “intelligence is not real and important” from “intelligence is influenced by environmental factors”. For instance, I think the evidence suggests that (a) IQ is real and important, (b) IQ is influenced by cultural factors, and (c) IQ is influenced by genetics. Whenever I write an article showing the importance of an environmental factor, that doesn’t lessen my belief in the importance of IQ, and whenever I write an article showing the importance of genetics, that doesn’t strengthen my belief in the importance of IQ. What’s going on here?

2 Responses to “Why is it that those who most vigorously defend the importance of IQ are those who emphasize the biological basis of IQ?”

  1. Carl Sagan reincarnate says:

    Here’s a theory: there are plenty of IQ researchers who favor a social rather than biological basis of intelligence (e.g. Richard Nisbett), but they receive less attention than those who favor a biological/genetic basis. Why do they receive less attention? Well, probably because social psychologists have been really bad at elucidating precisely which environmental factors matter for IQ. Meanwhile, geneticists have found hundreds of “IQ genes”. So the geneticists are winning the race, it seems. They make the headlines more often.

  2. Billy says:

    The above could be the case i.e. the availability bias, although I would hope that you considered this in your judgement and/or looked at the actual statistics.

    Could it be that people generally assume (especially biologists / geneticists) that genetics is the best indicator of the “survival of the fittest” factor in evolution? To this end they would need to prove that genetic evolution is really more effective than cultural evolution at conferring survival / reproduction. Personally I don’t doubt that the both are in action, perhaps with cultural adaptations better at responding to shorter timescale environmental and sociological challenges, and the genetic at preserving the correct adaptation parameters to minimise non functional variance at the extremes. Genes could also act to carry functional adaption parameters through evolutionary bottlenecks so that beneficial variation is not lost.

    Without giving benefit of the doubt, the other option is that those taking that position also believe in determined exceptionalism as it would self support their own internal bias for personal exceptionalism and optimism bias. This is an easy validation of ego by simplifying a complex, chaotic system to fit a personal belief. That isn’t to say that they aren’t endowed with exceptional IQ, but it does provide a motivation to retain that exceptionalism by maintaining the view that their own offspring have more “right” to propagate. This does of course fall foul of the fact that evolution is not a prescient process, and whilst in times of excess it may appear that optimisation is key for personal survival, during periods of stress (evolutionary bottlenecks) variation ensures a better chance at species survival. For all we know, the next big killer is a neurological disease predominantly affecting high IQ.

    Finally, simple domain blinkering from the research with a more established history- i.e. Because people know mostly about genetics / biology and evolution, which they know to be important, the research into IQ by geneticists / biologists is accepted by both domains (biological and cultural), which is not reciprocated in the direction of cultural research. However this is really hair splitting the original point by Carl Sagan Reincarnate, although takes it within the researchers opinions rather than those commenting on the research.

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