Monday, 6 October 2008

Two Americas

The chart below (click for full size) lists American states by average IQ and highlights red for Bush in 2004, blue for John Kerry:

In the last decade, America has been clearly divided along urban/rural lines, and between populated coastal areas and sparse flyover states. While it was suspected there was an intelligence difference, it has never been shown in such a clear way.

What does IQ measure? According to Malcolm Gladwell, it shows how modern someone's mind is. This is demonstrated by rapid improvements in IQ scores in developing countries and in pre- and post-socialised immigrants, out of proportion with education funding. It also explains why African nations, among others, test so poorly.
Gladwell offers answers which are right in one context while wrong in another, to the question "How are dogs and rabbits similar?" A modern mind would volunteer that they were both mammals. A pre-industrial mind might say that a dog hunts a rabbit.
Another complication with IQ tests is that they must fit a bell curve. If everyone starts doing better, on average, then what '100 IQ' means has changed and the bell curve takes one step to the right. And we are doing better. IQ rises in OECD nations by an average of 10 points a decade, and is re-normed for the population's new average.

Does this mean that Mississippians aren't uneducated, knee-jerk hillbillies?
Not really. This is the state flag:

Can you really tell a state who retain a failed 1863 rebel insignia that their thinking isn't modern enough? The conservative culture in parts of America encourages a wholesale rejection of the kind of thinking which creates high IQ scores. The Republican Party taps into this culture while the Democratic Party does not (despite having a lock on the deep South until just 50 years ago). Whether this is cynical pandering or representation by verisimilitude is probably a question best left unanswered.

So the bad news is that much of America really is unapologetically stupid. The good news is that, by the law of averages, they're getting almost four IQ points less stupid every election. Let's hope that four points is enough this time.

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