How Nassim Taleb is Both Right and Wrong About IQ

Nassim Taleb is making loud noises about how IQ is basically a big scam, and how it doesn’t mean anything. Like usual, he’s onto something, but also like usual his passion and snark is causing him to miss something major.

For the record, I think Taleb is an absolute genius. I’ve read all of his books, and some of them multiple times.

He’s basically saying that you can have a super high IQ and not be famous and rich like he is, which is of course true. His examples were highly-paid back office people at major investment companies. In his mind, losers, evidently. Of course they’re probably making between 200-500K/year.

So guess what? Yes, IQ should matter—to most people. Why? Because it’s correlated with academic success and therefore income. Ask most parents if they care about those things.

7) I put "IQ" in "" as I don't believe that measured IQ includes ability to tinker aggressively, real IQ for me. #GreenLumber #AntiFragile

Now if you’re Nassim Taleb, or the head of an art gallery, and you are being asked to pick your new best friend, or book author, or top poet, does IQ matter that much? No. He’s clearly focused on creative hackers and innovators. Because that’s what he values.

But if you’re trying to predict if someone is going to be a lawyer, or a doctor, or an engineer, or lots of major careers that make decent money, you can do much worse than looking at their IQ score.

IQ is not a cognitive worth score. Or a “does this person have value” score. Or even an intelligence score. It’s a very specific type of test for a very specific type of performance, and that type of ability happens to be correlated strongly with outcomes people really value.

So Taleb is simultaneously right and wrong. It all depends on the question you’re trying to answer. The thing you’re trying to predict.

If you are trying to predict if someone is going to be a remarkable artist, or a great friend, or a moral hero—no it doesn’t matter. But if you’re trying to predict future success in school and in the workforce, in terms of income, it’s a pretty strong signal. So for some it means nothing, and for some it means quite a lot.

I also find it hilarious when famous people who get noticed for bashing IQ almost inevitably have high ones. I’d bet Taleb’s score is way over 120. It’s pretty easy (and common) for people with high intelligence to talk about how little it matters. It’s like privilege in that way, well, perhaps because it is one.


  1. Yes, IQ matters (to a lot of people) because it strongly predicts academic success and income.

  2. No, that is not a measure of a person. Creativity matters. Kindness matters. And IQ measures a fairly limited number of things about a person’s mental capabilities.

  3. Taleb is right if he’s attacking people who think IQ is some kind of magical thing that guarantees you’re a genius. It doesn’t.

  4. But he’s wrong if he’s saying we should throw it out as uninteresting and unworthy of study.

Related posts: