Bush has second lowest presidential IQ in a century, claim boffins

by Stephen Tall on September 10, 2006

I try not to be the person who responds with a jerk of the knee to ill-informed newspaper chatter about “the latest scientific survey which proves” X, Y and Z.

(You know the kind of thing – “Bicycles make you shorter”, “Eating twigs can cure baldness”, “Metals are just shiny wood” – all suffixed with the killer phrase, “claim boffins”.)

But that, I confess, was my visceral response to this story in today’s Sunday Times:

Bush IQ low on presidential league: George W Bush has the lowest average IQ of all but one American president since the start of the 20th century, according to the estimates of psychological researchers. He “is definitely intelligent … certainly smart enough to be president of the United States”, says Dean Keith Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California. But his intellect falls below all other presidents of the past 110 years except Warren Harding, who was in the White House briefly in the 1920s and regarded as a failed president.

You may well wonder how they calculated this. Apparently:

“The data used by Simonton was created by the filtering and analysis of personality descriptions from biographical sources — an academically recognised system known as a ‘historiometric’ study.”

Strikes me as an academically recognised system known as a ‘bollocks’ study. Can any reader of a scientific bent persuade me that trying to fit such qualitative material as biographical sources into the quantitative minefield of IQ is anything other than an academic boondoggle?