Book review: What Intelligence Tests Miss – The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith E. Stanovich.
Stanovich presents extensive evidence that rationality is very different from what IQ tests measure, and the two are only weakly related. He describes good reasons why society would be better if people became more rational.
He is too optimistic that becoming more rational will help most people who accomplish it. Overconfidence provides widespread benefits to people who use it in job interviews, political discussions, etc.
He gives some advice on how to be more rational, such as thinking the opposite of each new hypothesis you are about to start believing. But will training yourself to do that on test problems cause you to do it when it matters? I don’t see signs that Stanovich practiced it much while writing the book. The most important implication he wants us to draw from the book is that we should develop and use Rationality Quotient (RQ) tests for at least as many purposes as IQ tests are used. But he doesn’t mention any doubts that I’d expect him to have if he thought about how rewarding high RQ scores might affect the validity of those scores.
He reports that high IQ people can avoid some framing effects and overconfidence, but do so only when told to do so. Also, the sunk cost bias test looks easy to learn how to score well on, even when it’s hard to practice the right behavior – the Bruine de Bruin, Parker and Fischhoff paper than Stanovich implies is the best attempt so far to produce an RQ test lists a sample question for the sunk costs bias that involves abandoning food when you’re too full at a restaurant. It’s obvious what answer produces a higher RQ score, but that doesn’t say much about how I’d behave when the food is in front of me.
He sometimes writes as if rationality were as close to being a single mental ability as IQ is, but at other times he implies it isn’t. I needed to read the Bruine de Bruin, Parker and Fischhoff paper to get real evidence. Their path independence component looks unrelated to the others. The remaining components have enough correlation with each other that there may be connections between them, but those correlations are lower than the correlations between the overall rationality score and IQ tests. So it’s far from clear whether a single RQ score is better than using the components as independent tests.
Given the importance he attaches to testing for and rewarding rationality, it’s disappointing that he devotes so little attention to how to do that.
He has some good explanations of why evolution would have produced minds with the irrational features we observe. He’s much less impressive when he describes how we should classify various biases.
I was occasionally annoyed that he treats disrespect for scientific authority as if it were equivalent to irrationality. The evidence for Big Foot or extraterrestrial visitors may be too flimsy to belong in scientific papers, but when he says there’s “not a shred of evidence” for them, he’s either using a meaning of “evidence” that’s inappropriate when discussing the rationality of people who may be sensibly lazy about gathering relevant data, or he’s simply wrong.