Jordan Peterson on IQ

One of the somewhat frequent topics of conversation for Jordan Peterson has been the subject of IQ, it’s scholarly legitimacy, and how it’s utilized by society. Though it hasn’t been one of the major focuses of his work and research, he has published on the question of IQ albeit somewhat tangentially. Nevertheless he does appear to be fairly well read on the literature and we’ll go through some of the claims here but not before showing a video where he addresses the question head on.


Validity of the IQ Research

In one statement, Jordan Peterson said that “so one thing you need to know is that if any social science claims whatsoever are correct, then the IQ claims are correct. Because the IQ claims are more psychometrically rigorous than any other phenomena that’s been discovered by social scientists.” A small nitpick or distinction to make here is that it could be entirely true that the IQ claims in social science could be wrong and other claims arrived at through less rigor, may well be true. However it appears Jordan is making an epistemic claims about how knowledge is arrive at and that part of the claim is certainly defensible.

The psychometric data and testing has come a long way since it’s inception and those people that say “all that a high IQ means is that the person is good at taking an IQ test”, is really missing out on all the work that has gone into the formation and development of these tests. On the other side though, one of the reasons that the IQ literature has required such rigorous psychometric data is because intelligence, and all it’s attempts to study it, is very hard. The mere definition of intelligence is still intensely debated but just so readers know, the working definition: I.Q. is the measure of one’s ability to a) solve problems and b) learn new things. This is extremely important because it does not factor in the importance of personality which causes some interference in making strong claims about specific future success. 

Comments on the Low End of the IQ Distribution

In a rather intoxicating moment, Jordan lays out a case that aggressively challenges both sides of the aisle (which is one of the things we love about the Clinical Psychologist) for their world view. Peterson states that both of these two opinions are wrong: “conservatives think there’s a job for everyone if people just get off their asses and get to work and liberals think while you can train anyone to do anything.”

How he arrives at this is by telling a story about the development of the IQ literature, originally done by the army, and that it was illegal to admit anyone into the army with an IQ under 83. This was done because the army believed admitting anyone into the army with an IQ of below 83 would be fundamentally counterproductive. Now considering both a) that the army is desperate for people and b) the fact that within the population it’s estimated that as many as 10% could have an IQ of less than 83, we arrive at a pretty startling conclusion, no? Well…maybe not.

There’s a couple logical pieces that are of concern, for one the army is not home to the lowest skilled jobs in the world. Yes the minimum requirements are low (relatively speaking), but given that the unemployment rate hovers around 5-8% (in normal non-coronavirus plagued economies) both of the claims can’t be true. In other words, either people with an IQ of 83 or less are unable to find consistent work, or the number of people with an IQ of less than 83 are significantly less than 10% of the population. Finally, the story Jordan tells is from World War I which was when the law was implemented. This is well before the fancy psychometric techniques of IQ testing were even developed.

All of that said, the point is actually well taken. Clearly there are people who, through no fault of their own, will forever be unable to seek “normal” employment as a productive member of society. This includes people with extreme mental and physical handicaps, those who are chronically ill and the like. However, and we shouldn’t put words into Jordan’s mouth, but perhaps the point would be less impactful if the number of people who could not find a role in society were significantly lower than the 10% alluded to by Peterson.

**Before the standard qualifier, we should note that Jordan has spoken about IQ several times. We encourage you, especially if you’re interested in the debate, to check out his other videos and interviews where he address this same issue. OK. Now, as always, should we become aware that Jordan has changed (or added to) his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 

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