This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Boris, IQ, the media and statistics

Last night, Boris Johnson (Mayor and PCC for London) gave the second annual Margaret Thatcher lecture to people assembled by the Centre for Policy Studies. At the time of writing, the transcript / video does not appear to be uploaded yet, so I only have some words from the Guardian to use. They report: 
In highly provocative remarks, Johnson mocked the 16% "of our species" with an IQ below 85 as he called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. "Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% …" he said as he departed from the text of his speech to ask whether anyone in his City audience had a low IQ. To muted laughter he asked: "Over 16% anyone? Put up your hands." He then resumed his speech to talk about the 2% who have an IQ above 130
This has been picked up by several other media outlets as well, including the Daily Mirror who report:
It echoed Education Secretary Michael Gove’s advisor Dominic Cummings who recently claimed that youngsters’ performance at school is determined by genetics.
Let's deal with that issue first: to conflate IQ with genetics is dangerously simplistic. As far as I am aware, the scientific consensus now (after dispatching the discredited research which linked race and IQ etc) is that whilst genes are part of the equation, so is social environment in which a child is raised and (critically) the interaction between the two (whereby some genes can be switched on or off). I would criticise the Mirror for making this link although the use of the word 'species' by Mr Johnson is worrying.

But for me, what is far more worrying is the way in which Boris bandied about the stats on IQs. In essence he is stating the bloomin' obvious: that is how IQ scores work! Take this quote for example from "What Is the Average IQ?" from
This means that 68 percent of scores fall within one standard deviation of the mean (that is, between 85 and 115), and 95 percent of scores fall within two standard deviations (between 70 and 130)
In other words (100-68)/2 = 16%

Wow.... Boris is clearly being advised by a superior statistician. And, guess what!?... (100-95)/2=2.5% have an IQ above 130...

What was Boris trying to say? Was it this...?
  • There are many stupid people about: a whacking 16% of our species in fact
  • Bright people (the 2% with IQs of more than 130) are very clever at exploiting and manipulating this 16% and make lots of money out of them
  • Hurrah!
  • These clever people also pay lots of taxes (even after they have squirreled away as much as possible in offshore trusts) 
  • This makes them good people and we should not 'bash' these good people
  • Because there are huge inequalities in people's IQs, we should be relaxed, if not gleeful, about the rising inequalities in wealth between the rich and poor in our society
  • The trickle down theory really, really does work, doesn't it!
  • And who is Katniss Everdeen anyway?

Or have I misjudged and misinterpreted this heir to the Margaret Thatcher throne?

1 comment:

  1. Spot on Jon. Behind Boris's buffoonery lurks a dangerous, malevolent bigot.