With the political season upon us “facts” are flying fast and loose from candidates, pundits, bloggers and news organizations. Because our brains are wired to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs, we tend to be easily duped by influence practitioners. We decide, then we justify and justification is one of the seven deadly sins of decision-making.
Politicians know this and therefore seek to justify your position—whatever that might be—with their rhetoric (not your favorite politician, of course. That candidate is completely moral and above these deceptive tactics).
I thought it would be enlightening to explore just how easily statistics can be misleading. So, here it goes:
Fact: Meta-analyses from studies done around the world confirm that men are smarter than women.
Men are nodding their heads in (silent) confirmation, while women are grabbing torches and pitchforks and Googling my whereabouts. Before you track me down, let’s take a deeper dive into the data.
The intelligence “advantage” is 3 – 5 IQ points, which is rather insignificant.
This information is based on averages, not individuals. Any given person could be way above or way below the average.
Here’s the kicker: The genetic correlation with intelligence is not with gender; it is with height. As a group, men are taller than women, so the data falsely attributes an intelligence advantage based on gender.
The height/intelligence correlation advantage is also rather insignificant. For each additional inch in height, the average IQ increases by around 0.4 points and that general rule applies to both sexes.
Here’s another kicker: Women, on average, have higher IQ scores than men of equal height. So, in reality women are smarter then men.
Aha! Let me guess… women are now nodding their heads in approval, while men feel completely betrayed by one of their own. Sorry boys. Facts are facts.
There is a correlation between height and intelligence, but don’t hit the panic button if you are vertically challenged. As I mentioned above, the IQ advantage for taller people is slight. A few IQ points either way won’t provide a significant edge or detriment in life.
Intelligence is about potential, not certainties. People with high IQs have the ability to comprehend complicated concepts better or faster than people with comparably lower IQs, but that is only one factor of many that determines success. Most of the population has an IQ within fifteen points above or below the median score of 100.
Finally, we’re all getting smarter! According the James Flynn, the average IQ in the United States population increases about three points every decade. This is called the Flynn Effect. The median IQ will always remain at 100, because that number reflects the “middle” score of our collective IQs. The Flynn Effect means someone with an IQ of 100 today would have theoretically scored around 115 in 1965. So, congratulations! No matter what your IQ score, you are probably smarter than someone with that same score from an earlier generation.
The lesson here is correlation is not causation. Data may be manipulated to resemble facts that ultimately support a belief. While we expect politicians to “stretch” the truth, we often fail to scrutinize facts that are presented to us in other areas of life, like business. Dig deeper when you are confronted with an important decision and always triangulate the problem. You might discover illusory correlations (a perceived relationship between two variables that does not really exist) leading to false conclusions.
As Mark Twain said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
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