Choosing Exclusion

There is an article The Inappropriately Excluded by the Polymath Archives [1] that gets cited a lot. Mainly by Mensa types who think that their lack of success is due to being too smart.

The Main Claim is Wrong

The main claim is:
The probability of entering and remaining in an intellectually elite profession such as Physician, Judge, Professor, Scientist, Corporate Executive, etc. increases with IQ to about 133. It then falls by about 1/3 at 140. By 150 IQ the probability has fallen from its peak by 97%!

The first thing to consider is whether taking those professions is a smart thing to do. These are the types of jobs that a school career adviser would tell you are good choices for well paying jobs, but really there’s lots of professional positions that get similar pay with less demanding work. Physicians have to deal with people who are sick and patients who die – including cases where the physician needs to make a recommendation on incomplete information where the wrong choice will result in serious injury or death, there are significant benefits to being a medical researcher or doing biological engineering. Being a Judge has a high public profile and has a reasonable amount of pressure, good for status but you can probably earn more money with less work as a corporate lawyer. Being a professor is a position that is respected but which in many countries is very poorly paid. In a mid-size company executives probably get about $300k compared to $220k for middle managers and $100k-$180k for senior professional roles in the same company.

There has been research on how much happyness is increased by having more money, here is one from CBS saying that income up to $500K can increase happiness[2] which contradicts previous research suggesting that income over $75K didn’t provide much benefit. I think that part of this is determined by the conditions that you live in, if you live in a country like Australia with cheap healthcare then you won’t feel as great a need to hoard money. Another part is whether you feel obliged to compete with other people for financial status, if driving an old car of a non-prestige brand while my neighbours have new BMWs concerned me then I might desire an executive position.

I think that the smart thing to do is to get work that is relatively enjoyable, pays enough for all the essentials and some reasonable luxury, and doesn’t require excessive effort or long hours. Unless you have a great need for attention from other people then for every job with a high profile there will be several with similar salaries but less attention.

The main point of the article is that people with high IQs all want to reach the pinnacle of their career path and don’t do so because they are excluded. It doesn’t consider the possibility that smart people might have chosen the option that’s best for them. For example I’ve seen what my manager and the CIO of my company do and it doesn’t look like fun for me. I’m happy to have them earn more than me as compensation for doing things I don’t want to do.

Why is This Happening?

This section of the article starts with “Because of the dearth of objective evidence, the cause of the exclusion cannot be determined directly” which is possibly where they should have given up. Also I could have concluded this blog post with “I’m not excluded from this list of jobs that suck”, but I will continue listing problems with the article.

One claim in the article is:
Garth Zietsman has said, referring to people with D15IQs over 152, ‘A common experience with people in this category or higher is that they are not wanted – the masses (including the professional classes) find them an affront of some sort.’

The question I have is whether it’s being smart or being a jerk that “the masses” find to be an affront, I’m guessing the latter. I don’t recall seeing evidence outside high school of people inherently disliking smarter people.

The article claims that “We have no reason to conclude that this upper limit on IQ differences changes in adulthood“. Schools don’t cater well to smart kids and it isn’t good for kids to have no intellectual peers. One benefit I’ve found in the Free Software community is that there are a lot of smart people.

Regarding leadership it claims “D.K. Simonton found that persuasiveness is at its maximum when the IQ differential between speaker and audience is about 20 points“. A good counter example is Julius Sumner Miller who successfully combined science education and advertising for children’s chocolate [3]. Maybe being a little smarter than other people makes it more difficult to communicate with them but being as smart as Julius Sumner Miller can outweigh that. The article goes on to claim that the intellectual elites have an average IQ of 125 because they have to convince people who have an average IQ of 105. I think that if that 20 point difference was really a thing then you would have politicians with an IQ of 125 appointing leaders of the public service with an IQ of 145 who would then hire scientific advisers with an IQ of 165. In a corporate environment a CEO with an IQ of 125 could hire a CIO with an IQ of 145 who could then hire IT staff with an IQ of 165. If people with 165 IQs wanted to be Prime Minister or CEO that might suck for them, but if they wanted to have the most senior technical roles in public service or corporations then it would work out well. For the work I do I almost never speak to a CEO and rarely speak to anyone who regularly speaks to them, if CEOs don’t like me and won’t hire people like me then it doesn’t matter to me as I won’t meet them.

Inappropriate Educational Options

The section on “Inappropriate Educational Options” is one where I almost agree with the author. I say almost because I don’t think that schools are good for anyone. Yes schools have some particular problems for smart kids, but they also have serious problems for kids who are below average IQ, kids who have problems at home, kids who are disabled, etc. Most schools fail so many groups of kids in so many ways that the overall culture of schools can’t be functional.

Social Isolation

The section on “Social Isolation” is another where I almost agree with the author. But as with schools I think that society overall is poorly structured to support people such that people on the entire range of IQs have more difficulty in finding friends and relationships than they should. One easy change to make would be to increase the minimum wage such that one minimum wage job can support a family without working more than 35 hours a week and to set the maximum work week to something less than 40 hours Atlassian has a good blog post about the data on working weeks [4]. Wired has an article suggesting that 5 hours a day is an ideal work time for some jobs [5].

We also need improvements in public transport and city design to have less wasted time and better options for socialising.


The blogspot site hosting the article in question also has a very complex plan for funding a magazine for such articles [6]. The problems with that funding model start with selling “advertising” that converts to shares in a Turks & Caicos company in an attempt to circumvent securities regulations (things don’t work that way). Then it goes in to some complex formulas for where money will go. This isn’t the smart way to start a company, the smart way is to run a kickstarter with fixed rewards for specific amounts of contributions and then possibly have an offer of profit sharing with people who donate extra or something. As a general rule when doing something that’s new to you it’s a good idea to look at how others have succeeded at it in the past. Devising an experimental new way of doing something is best reserved to people who have some experience withe the more common methods.

Mentioning this may seem like an ad hominem attack, but I think it’s relevant to consider this in the context of people who score well in IQ tests but don’t do so well in other things. Maybe someone who didn’t think that they were a lot smarter than everyone else would have tried to launch a magazine in a more common way and actually had some success at it.

In a more general sense I think that people who believe that they are suffering because of being too smart are in a similar category as incels. It’s more of a psychological problem than anything else and one that they could solve for themselves.

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