Estimating Scott Alexander’s IQ

There is only one good piece of evidence regarding Scott’s IQ, which is this:

-He says he got a perfect score on the verbal SAT, and a “good-but-not-great” score on the math SAT. People tend to think in sets of 5-10, which suggests to me his interval for “good-but-not-great” is 600-700, where “great” is 700-800, and “not good” is under 600. This leads me to a guess of roughly 1450.

It seems that in 2021 the nationally representative population score 35 points lower than the test-taking population. I assume the difference in the past was a little higher due to less students taking the test, so I will go with a difference of 50.

Assuming the 2004-5 percentiles are close to the 2002 ones, the average score in 2002 was about 980 in the general population with an SD of about 213 (based on calculator fiddling). Assuming no change in the SD, Scott Alexander scored 2.44SD above the mean.

A great verbal score and a mediocre math score seems to be in line with the life evidence he presented in the article:

>And in high school English, I got A++s in all my classes, Principal’s Gold Medals, 100%s on tests, first prize in various state-wide essay contests, etc. In Math, I just barely by the skin of my teeth scraped together a pass in Calculus with a C-.

>Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.

>On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I. It should be in the center of the schoolyard, and have a plaque saying something like “Scott Alexander, who by making a herculean effort managed to pass Calculus I, even though they kept throwing random things after the little curly S sign and pretending it made sense.”

Because of this, I think that a regression to the mean of 0.86 is fitting, as his SAT score is probably a good estimate of his overall intelligence.

I have been told Scott Alexander’s parents are wealthy Jews, which means that he should be regressed to a higher mean. Given that being Jewish, having wealthy parents, and having an unusually high SAT score are probably related to each other more than what you would expect based on intelligence, I think it would be overkill to keep continually regressing variables that are too close to each other. I will regress him to a mean of 110, which is an arbitrary decision.

This leaves us with (2.44-.666)*.86 + .66 = 2.18 -> 132.7

Personal Judgement: looks appropriate to me.

Mathematical Estimation: 133

Personal Judgement: 133 {120, 150}


3 thoughts on “Estimating Scott Alexander’s IQ

  1. Nah, you are forgetting restriction of the range on the verbal SAT where Scott Alexander scored 800, but only so low because that’s as high as you can score on it. My guess is he would have scored between 900 and 1000 if the test went up that high. Scott is probably the outstanding public intellectual of his generation in America, a status he largely achieved in his spare time while working a 9 to 5 job. If 40 million Americans were born in the decade that Scott was born in, how many have a higher verbal IQ? There may be some who are keeping their heads down devoting all their efforts to their career in, say, AI development or law or some abstruse field of scholarship such as philosophy, but in terms of participants in the public arena, Scott is a definite contender for being 1 out of 40 million.


    • Taking into account a ceiling effect on the SATV only increases his verbal estimate by 5 points. His writing/reading ability is clearly highly elevated, though based on the evidence in the article his other abilities aren’t on that level. I don’t think he is an actual wordcel – he clearly understands the topics he is talking about and knows stats.

      As for whether he is the best public intellectual, I have only been reading him for a few years (yes, I’m fairly young). Overall, I am impressed at how consistently he pumps out consistently good content and is able to engage in controversial subjects with a clear mind. These are somewhat g-loaded activities, but I think they are more of a facet of personality than intelligence.


  2. I would guess that his SAT math score was higher than that. I scored 740 in math in the early 2010s, and I found calculus probably about as difficult as he did.

    Grated, Scott is about a decade older than me, so the test was a bit harder when he took it. I would still bet that he scored at least 700 when he took it circa 2001.


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