Cognitive Abilities

COGNITIVE ABILITIES….Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that the Army has responded to its recruiting woes by dramatically lowering its standards:

The bad news is twofold. First, the number of Category IV recruits is starting to skyrocket. Second, a new study compellingly demonstrates that, in all realms of military activity, intelligence does matter. Smarter soldiers and units perform their tasks better; dumber ones do theirs worse.

“Category IV” is the Army’s term for recruits who score in the bottom third of the Armed Forces Qualifying Test. Matt Yglesias comments:

I tend to doubt, however, that this line of criticism will gain any traction, since making the argument requires you to say that IQ tests (which is all the AFQT really is) are an important measurement and most liberals prefer to shy away from the topic.

If that’s true, it’s too bad for a community that likes to think of itself as reality based. Like it or not, all the PC handwaving in the world won’t change the fact that (a) IQ tests are a pretty good measure of the cognitive ability normally referred to as “intelligence” and (b) intelligence is an important trait for a wide variety of modern day tasks. Kaplan reviews the evidence that intelligence matters for military tasks in his Slate piece.

Of course, we all know what the real problem is here: in contemporary discourse intelligence is inextricably bound up with race, which is why it’s almost impossible to talk honestly about it. For that we mainly have conservative race demagogues like Charles Murray and Steve Sailer to blame ? although liberals themselves haven’t been entirely blameless either when it comes to demagoging IQ.

In any case, I’ve long had a suspicion that one of the reasons IQ is so overvalued in our society ? it’s important, but it’s not that important ? is because it’s one of the few cognitive traits that’s routinely measured. Simply because it’s something that most of us can put a number to, it becomes a de facto stand-in for all cognitive abilities, even though it very clearly isn’t.

The answer? How about more testing, not less? Cognitive traits like sociability, empathy, self-discipline, and extroversion, just to name a few, are as important in contemporary society as IQ, but most of us have only a vague idea of how we compare to other people in these areas. If we routinely measured these things in addition to IQ, perhaps the lay public would start treating IQ as just one of many important cognitive traits and we’d all start to assign it an importance more in keeping with its true worth. This in turn might help to reduce IQ as the cultural flashpoint that it is today.

Anyway, it’s just a thought. Let the rending begin in comments!