Two weeks back, the state of Texas sent convicted murderer Marvin Wilson on a KCI-addled one-way trip to oblivion. News of this came to my attention via the Huffington Post, which made a big how-to about the potassium-punctured perp’s IQ. Leading with the headline “Texas Puts Man with 61 IQ to Death”, HuffPo made mention of a variety of testimonies regarding Wilson’s intelligence:
The Supreme Court late in the afternoon rejected without comment a last-ditch appeal by Wilson’s lawyers, clearing the way for his death by lethal injection. The appeal cited a 2004 psychological exam that pegged Wilson’s IQ at just 61. The Texas benchmark for mental retardation is an IQ of about 70 or less.
School records showed Wilson fared poorly in school, earning Ds and Fs in special education classes, and failing 7th grade. Family members testified that Wilson was called “dummy” and “retard” by other children when he was a boy, and struggled with basic tasks that include tying his shoes, counting money and mowing the lawn.
Texas and federal courts, however, rejected Wilson’s claim that he was mentally retarded, siding with prosecutors who argued that his actions showed him to be a street-savvy criminal. Prosecutors also declared that other intelligence tests showed Wilson’s IQ was in the low- to mid-70s.
“Wilson created schemes using a decoy to screen his thefts, hustled for jobs in the community, and orchestrated the execution of the snitch, demonstrating inventiveness, drive and leadership,” Edward Marshall, a Texas assistant attorney general, said in a statement.
According to his sister, Wilson sucked his thumb into his 20s. His cousin, Beverly Walters, said Wilson was constantly teased about his intelligence as a boy.
“The other kids in school would always call Marvin dummy,” Walters said in 2003.
Now, whether or not Wilson’s IQ lay in the retarded range, it proves rather telling that HuffPo would lead in with that one test score out of a reported many as if it were the first and final fact of the matter. Never mind that he scored in the mid-70s in other tests; the lowest score is the most accurate, as far as page hits are concerned.
Senselocke, one commenter amongst a surprisingly sceptical many, nailed HuffPo to the wall for their Pavlovian pitch:
This headline is quite a bit misleading. He was not confirmed to have a 61 IQ, but one test out of many showed his IQ that low. Other tests showed his IQ much higher.
Using sensationalistic headlines and skewing the evidence to highlight one aberrant finding is the kind of crap Fox News does–I thought you folks were interested in being more trustworthy than that.
As well as misleading the reader, the big brouhaha over his cerebral capability obscured the more suspect matter of the (lack of) forensics pinning him to the crime:
Wilson was convicted in 1994 in the shooting death of Jerry Williams, 21, who had identified him to police as a drug dealer. His accomplice in the crime, Terry Lewis, was given life in prison with the possibility of parole, after Lewis’s wife testified that Wilson confessed to pulling the trigger. No forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony established the identity of the shooter.
Regardless of evidence, the predators of the Texas state will have their pound of flesh…and HuffPo writers will scribe their page of fret.
This is not the first time the HP folk have made a big how-to over IQ. Back in January, they picked up and ran with the Psychological Science-published study linking “low IQ to prejudice, racism, conservatism” and other unpleasantries associated with the Right; as expected, the Left-leaning target audience left a series of salivating comments soaked in confirmation bias. A similar pattern ensued a few months following, when they published news of a University of Arkansas test arriving at similar conclusions.
The feeling towards IQ proves not-so complacent and celebratory when the thorny topics of race and gender differences come into focus. Instead, we get editorials downplaying IQ testing as “pseudo-science” (read: “science I dislike or find discomforting”), “improbable and abstract”, and “highly deceptive”, as well as statements like this:
anyone who announces in front of actual living breathing human beings that they have ‘an IQ of 150’ has already given a clear account of their intelligence – though I’m not sure you could put a number on it.
In short, when Lefties rue, PC and moralistic fallacies rule (a fact that some commenters have, to their credit, caught onto). HuffPo, being, as pointed out, the Left’s answer to Fox News, proves a useful outlet of illumination for this tendency. I see it crop up elsewhere, when people spout shibboleths such as “IQ scores measure only how well one performs in IQ tests” and “IQ differs from intelligence”.
Yet, IQ seems to magically morph back into intelligence when smart “liberals” want to dump on dumb conservatives, disregarding the fact that “conservatives” and “Republicans” are not always bosom buddies. (As I pointed out previously, conservative attitudes are pretty much the norm amongst my fellow “people of colour”, who generally tend to vote Leftward.)
To me, the message reads loud and clear: convenience is truth. IQ is a valid intelligence measurement when arguing against the death penalty, Republicans, and the religious, yet becomes invalid “pseudo-science” when looking at race and gender trends. Genetic arguments are endorsed to explain the existence of homosexuality, yet declared verboten when looking into differences between heterosexual men and women. Evolution explains differences in non-human animals, but only a “racist” would wonder whether it explains differences between various branches on the human family tree.
I wonder what would happen if the Left at large decided to ditch this glaring inconsistency. Would the undistorted vision free them from their delusions—or sanity?
EDIT (16/1/13): Razib Khan also examined this phenomenon in his ‘Social Conservatives have Lower IQ’ post at Discover magazine. A worthwhile read (once you’ve finished with all the other hyperlinks!)