Ending College Degree Requirements

Too many jobs needlessly specify a bachelor's.

National Review staff writer Nate Hochman argues “Easing College-Degree* Requirements Should Be a No-Brainer for Conservatives.”

In his first move as governor of Pennsylvania, Democrat Josh Shapiro signed an executive order abolishing four-year-degree requirements for the vast majority of state government jobs. “Effective immediately, 92% of state government jobs — about 65,000 positions — do not require a four-year college degree,” he announced on Twitter. According to the executive order, state government “job postings will begin with equivalent experience needed in lieu of a college degree whenever possible.”

It’s a great idea.

The growth in the share of U.S. jobs that require a four-year college degree is partially owing to a broader shift away from physical-labor-based industries and toward information and knowledge economies. But it’s also due to a misguided, and often toxic, cultural and political trend toward viewing college degrees as a prerequisite for participation in American public life. Among technocrats on both the center-right and center-left, there’s often a flawed assumption that a central goal of U.S. education policy should be to get as many young Americans as possible into four-year programs, rather than to open up other pathways and models for success.

That assumption is reinforced by the ballooning of credentialism — often called “degree inflation” — in the American workforce. In the United States today, there is a massive swath of middle-management, white-collar jobs with unnecessary degree requirements. As of 2021, just 37.9 percent of Americans over the age of 25 held a bachelor’s degree. But a 2017 Harvard Business School study, which examined “more than 26 million job postings,” reported “that employers were increasingly inflating the educational requirements for jobs usually held by high school grads” — and “in many cases, qualified candidates never even got the chance to apply for a position.” In total, according to the study, “as many as 6.2 million workers could be affected by the practice of degree inflation.”

Of course, government jobs are only one part of the workforce. But Shapiro just opened 65,000 jobs to Pennsylvanians without a four-year degree — some 63 percent of the state population, as of 2016. This is an easy, obvious political win on numerous levels: The move lifts artificial barriers to entering the workforce, expands opportunity, and subsequently grows the economy by opening up (often well-paying) jobs to those who would have otherwise been boxed out. On a more fundamental level, it eliminates a basic unfairness that has led to a two-tiered class system.

While I was the first in my family to get a bachelor’s degree and have worked entirely in jobs that require at least an undergraduate degree my entire adult life—including a considerable time teaching at the college level—I fundamentally agree.

I believe Hochman misattributes the motivation. I don’t see social bigotry at work so much as laziness. Possession of a college degree** indicates, at a bare minimum, that the individual is likely to show up to work on time with some regularity and has certain basic competencies that one used to expect of a high school graduate.

There are still many jobs that require specific, college-issued credentials. Physicians, attorneys, architects, engineers, chemists, and the like need specific skills that are next to impossible to gain through an apprenticeship program. But that’s almost certainly not true of middle managers in a government agency.

This is not a new issue. My late father found himself in such a dilemma when he retired from the Army four decades ago.

As I’ve recounted before, he joined the Army in 1962 without a high school diploma but soon got a GED. The Army sent him to junior college circa 1973-1975 to get an associate’s in police science as he transitioned to the Millitary Police Corps and, ultimately, its Criminal Investigations Division. His last job in the Army, as a master sergeant, was as the (acting) Chief Instructor at the MP School, a major’s billet. When he retired and applied for instructor jobs at the same school, he was ruled unqualified because instructors needed bachelor’s degrees!

After a few years in retail, he eventually went back and got a bachelor’s in political science (graduating from the same institution as I had eight months earlier, and thus becoming the second member of the family with a BA) and got hired back on at the MP School. Rather obviously, he was no more qualified to teach the basics of police science than he was when he’d left the Army; indeed, his skills had likely atrophied.

Alas, Hochman goes beyond the policy merits of the argument:

From the conservative perspective, the move could also be framed as a potential culture-war win. One of the most fundamental divisions in American politics today is what New York magazine’s Eric Levitz dubbed the “diploma divide”: “Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Americans without college degrees were more likely than university graduates to vote Democratic,” Levitz wrote. But by 2020, Joe Biden carried 68 percent of congressional districts where 30 percent or more of the population had four-year degrees, while Donald Trump won 64 percent of those where less than 30 percent had such degrees. “College graduates in general — and Democratic college graduates in particular — tend to have different social values, cultural sensibilities, and issue priorities than the median non-college-educated voter,” Levitz noted. They “tend to be more cosmopolitan and culturally liberal, report higher levels of social trust, and are more likely to ‘attribute racial inequality, crime, and poverty to complex structural and systemic problems’ rather than ‘individualist and parochial explanations.’”

In this sense, beyond the obvious nonpartisan arguments for the idea, there’s a specifically conservative case for easing degree requirements wherever and whenever possible. Doing so would weaken the hold of a predominantly liberal class of college graduates over a large segment of the job market, including influential jobs in government agencies. And it would aid and empower the social, economic, and political influence of a class of Americans who are, increasingly, drawn to our side: the more culturally conservative cohort of working- and middle-class citizens who are strongly rooted in their communities and less likely to be tied to ideologically left-wing institutions.

While it’s true that Democrats have gradually been increasing their vote share among college-educated Whites for some time:

The starkness is new:

The educational divide has been building for years but accelerated dramatically during the Trump era. As recently as the 2012 presidential election, for example, college-educated voters were narrowly split, with college-educated white voters favoring GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

But in the 2020 presidential election, Biden won 68 percent of congressional districts where at least 30 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree. Donald Trump won 64 percent of districts where less than 30 percent are college-educated — and, what’s more, Trump’s showing includes carrying 96 percent of districts that were both below that education threshold and at least 70 percent white.

The causes are likely manifold but, when party leaders go out of their way to lampoon expertise, science, and all the rest to court the rubes, it’s hardly shocking that the college-educated are going to get turned off. Overt white nationalist appeals didn’t help with that group either. The #NeverTrump Republicans were almost entirely from the professional class.


*What’s up with the recent proliferation of unnecessary hyphenation? Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed that external spell- and grammar-checking software like Grammarly is suggesting hyphens for ordinary adjectives in a way I haven’t seen in the 50ish years I’ve been paying attention. It’s gradually seeping into published works.

**At least a genuine one. Alas, the proliferation of online degree mills has made it much more complicated.

FILED UNDER: Education, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    I find it odd many positions require a college degree, but not a specific one. I think about 3/4 of the people I know with college degrees do not work on the fields their degrees are for.

  2. Tony W says:

    College has been a code for “at least middle class, probably white”, but I noticed in the last few years of my career that nobody really cares much about your degree once you reach age 35 or so – it becomes much more about what you can do versus some parchment.

  3. Rick DeMent says:

    A lot here I agree with. True story. I earned a BA in 1986 in communications and worked for the next 10 years in broadcasting. I worked my way up to Director of Operations for a news service in the Cleveland and later the Atlanta market. Most of what I did had nothing to do with my degree. I was in charge of staff, budget, and affiliate relations. I would have been better off with a business degree but my markets were always top performers in the network.

    After a while I became disillusioned with the industry as a whole and the communications act under Clinton upended the industry in a way that was not good for positions like the one I had. After going though three separate studio rebuilds, computers were replacing analog equipment and I had to learn a lot about computer networking. I liked it. After the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where I was the first person in the air over the Olympic park Bombing site, sending feeds out all over the country and the BBC, I was let go due to a dispute with management later that year.

    The experience left me cold and I wanted out of broadcasting. I mentioned to a friend that I had worked with earlier in the late 80’s building PC clones that I had just finished installing a computer network in our studio. With his help, along with a couple of vendor certifications, bootstrapped myself into an industry hungry for warm bodies. I ended up at a number of big companies in Atlanta mostly as a systems administrator. After a while I accepted a job in South Carolina with a small integrator for a few years but I wanted to move back to Michigan to be with my ailing father and an old high school fling who eventually became my wife.

    By the time I moved to MI it was 2006 I had been working in the computer industry on and off for almost 20 years. Never had any issue with credentials or education history. But now I was noticing that all the jobs required a “Computer Science” degree and a lot fewer added the tag; “… or equilvent experience”. The capper in the credentialism game came when I was working with a recruiter who asked me how long I had been working with Windows Server 2003.

    I told her that I had been working with it since it came out, so about three years. She told me that this job required 5 years experience in Windows Server 2003. I told her that I had been working widows server since Version 3.1 and also NT. She told me that the job required 5 years of Windows Server 2003, in 2006. I told her she had a math problem and politely ended the conversation.

    I ended up getting a job at the university where I had earned my Bachelors degree and picked up a master degree just in case I ever got fired and a Masters had become the new Bachelors degree. Universities are a great place to work if you are sprinting toward retirement with the generous retirement accounts and luxurious European style vacation benefits. But the money is generally crap and I have to put up with people at the directors level who are much younger then me and ill suited temperamentally to be in that position.

    I also don’t know how to use hyphens.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Much of the reason for the requirement of a college degree for jobs that demonstrably don’t need that level of knowledge, is due to the distrust among hiring officers that a high school degree is worth the paper it is written on.

    That Hochman delves into culture war issues is an attempt at avoidance to confront the real issue, that schooling in America is failing the students and the country. The last listing I’m familiar with rated Massachusetts’ public schools as the best in the US and 17th best in the world, if US states were compared to other countries. The cultural, political and economic effort that it would take to bring America’s schools even to Massachusetts level would be huge and frankly America isn’t up to the challenge.

  5. steve says:

    The PA elections gave me a bit of hope. Se managed to not elect a Nazi or a medical charlatan. Both candidates talked about issues like this, jobs and crime and not so much social stuff. I am hoping that they also go after the non competes. Small chance it passes at national level.


  6. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kathy:..not a specific one.

    The family of a friend of mine relocated from Minnesota to the Chicago suburbs when I was a junior in High School (Class of 1966). His dad had been promoted to the top post in the Chicago office of what was then called Minneapolis-Honeywell. At one time my friends father told me that his company wanted their employees to have a Bachelors Degree. He said it really didn’t matter what a prospective employee’s major was. The company just wanted an applicant to demonstrate that they had the discipline to complete the requirements to graduate from college.

  7. Jen says:

    I think this is overall a good move–my concern is that this nudges open the door to pay less for these positions. Still, anything that moves us away from degree inflation is a positive in my book.

    It really has gotten crazy. I know I’ve mentioned it here before, but around a decade ago, I poked around a bit to see what kind of opportunities there were in my industry (PR and communications) and I was astonished at the number of these jobs that were requiring a MASTER’S DEGREE. And paying like $50K, for jobs that routinely have you working 50, 60, 70 hours a week. This is stupid and unsustainable. I laughed and decided to try freelancing, which I’ve now been doing for years. My time is my own (and I’m doing fine salary-wise as well).

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Education stands in for IQ and what we have here is a slide down the IQ bell curve by the GOP. In effect Republican policies were impossible for an intelligent person to justify. Fortunately for the GOP, they found Donald Trump, the moron-whisperer, and they embraced stupid. The manufactured moral panics, the ludicrous conspiracy theories that have JFK Jr. rising from the dead, the book banning, these are meant to amuse and enrage stupid people.

  9. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: True. I was headed for an academic career in history, but circumstances steered me into working with scientists and engineers for most of my professional career.

  10. just nutha says:

    While I also agree with Hochman’s point, he’s not very likely to be able to sell it to conservatives. This is a marketing issue–society has a desire (maybe even a need, who knows?) to sell seats in colleges and universities (and the degrees that go with those seats, but to a lesser degree) and requiring the guy who unloads the freight at Target to have a degree in Marketing (true story, I was turned down for that very job despite my having 15 years of inventory control and warehousing experience–including 3 in retail–because of my lack of a Marketing degree) is as good a way to sell them as any.

    Beyond that, even faux degree requirements keep the rabble of society tamped down. Remember what Burke was cited as saying about the hairdressers (?) and bootmakers a few comment threads back. And as more people get degrees–as particularly worthless ones in the Liberal Arts–Republicans will find their message of white angst reaching ever greater audiences. Yep. The future for college is brighter and brighter.

    On the hyphens issue, I suspect the problem may come from what types of phrasings should be considered compound modifiers because they are considered compound nouns. In the case you marked, I would go with no hyphen despite the fact that “college degree” isn’t a compound noun because it functions as one in the phrase. Complicated call though–and depends on what grammar system one uses.

  11. just nutha says:

    @Jen: No, opening the door for paying less for various types of employment (in which he doesn’t participate) is the feature rather than the bug. We’re talking conservatives here.

  12. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IQ is vastly overrated. At best it measures one kind of intelligence. I recommend reading The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes by David Robson.

    TL;DR: The Harford Intelligence Principle: We all visit the Dunning-Kruger clubhouse, even if we’re not permanent members.

    Not that I disagree with your larger point, but it misses a lot of nuance.


    See, now, that’s what I should have done.

  13. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    Biden won 68 percent of congressional districts where at least 30 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree. Donald Trump won 64 percent of districts where less than 30 percent are college-educated — and, what’s more, Trump’s showing includes carrying 96 percent of districts that were both below that education threshold and at least 70 percent white.

    The GOP has been attacking education for decades. This is why.
    An undergraduate liberal arts education is as much about learning how to think and how to learn as it is the subject matter.
    Republicans do not want you to know how to think for yourself.
    It’s the secret to Fox News being able to brainwash much of the country.
    It’s the secret of the MAGA Cult.

  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    Meanwhile in PA, the newly elected Democratic governor’s first action after being sworn in:

    Gov. Shapiro signs executive order, college degree no longer required for 92% of state jobs

  15. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That’s literally the basis for the article that was the basis of the post 😉

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    IQ is just a shorthand way of saying, ‘intelligence.’ We keep saying, ‘no one but an idiot would believe Q.’ We’re right. This is an intellectual sorting, a new class structure. Not that all of ‘ours’ are geniuses, but on average, yes they are dumb and we are less dumb.

  17. Grommit Gunn says:

    After ten years of teaching in the community college and seeing first hand the scope of the developmental education apparatus needed to help people learn the basic reading, writing, computer, and math skills that they supposedly were taught in high school, I’m not really sure that I can agree that a HS Diploma alone should be considered sufficient for entry level office work.

  18. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The last listing I’m familiar with rated Massachusetts’ public schools as the best in the US and 17th best in the world, if US states were compared to other countries.

    Be careful with those surveys. One of the most popular, for instance, lists China as constantly in the top three. However, it’s not China. It’s just Shanghai–which is like saying that Annapolis, MD is representative of the entire US.

    Second: With respect to the Asian countries that rank so high, the results are misleading. Those kids are very good at repeating the answers they’ve been taught, but not so good at actually learning anything about finding answers on their own.

    Anecdote: When I was teaching adults in China, I got called into the section for high school students to help out a special case. A Chinese girl was attending an international school (e.g., one run by Canada or UK) and was having real difficulties with an assignment: Read this poem and explain what you think it means.

    So… I started to take it line by line.

    Me: “Once upon a midnight dreary…” What do you think that means? What does it make you think about or feel?

    Her: I don’t know. You tell me what it means.

    She literally couldn’t express any individual thought on a poem. Not even “I think it’s boring”. She needed to be told what to think about it.

    American schools certainly have a lot of room for improvement, but it’s apples to durian trying to compare them internationally in many cases.

    Second anecdote: While in China, I read an article written by a very successful Chinese businessman. He went to HS in China, and then college in the US. The comment that stuck out from the article was “When I came to the US for college, I had to start over. I had to learn how to learn.”

  19. Mu Yixiao says:


    Regarding hyphenation. The bit in the headline is obviously wrong. I haven’t, however, noticed it that much (not saying it’s not happening, just that I haven’t noticed it). What I have noticed is the lack of hyphens in compound descriptives using an adjective and a participle (e.g., fast-moving).

  20. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m willing to bet no one goes though life questioning everything. I certainly don’t. but when I find something that is extraordinary, big, important, transcendental even, that harmonizes with my biases and/or predilections, I do question it to make sure it’s for real.

    An intelligent person with the right biases will not only believe the Q idiocies, but will find effective rationalizations for it.

  21. Jen says:

    On the excess hyphenation, this one is strange. Typically, compound adjectives are hyphenated (e.g., third-degree burn; two-year term; white-hot rage), but “college degree requirements” doesn’t appear to fall into that category. In this case, the hyphen is unnecessary.

  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Didn’t take the listing as gospel, but an indication of something to be concerned about. IIRC the countries whose educational systems were ranked higher than the US, were generally European and Japan. As @Grommit Gunn: points out, there is legitimate concern about the quality of education in the US.

    Your point about the Chinese student is well taken and something to consider when politicians declare that schools need to get back to basics. The learning to think is as important as being able to recognize words and perform math problems.

  23. Kathy says:


    I’ve pretty much done away with hyphenation, with a few ex-ceptions.

  24. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yeah, I missed the reference to it at the top of the article…

  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IQ tests were really just a way of filtering out minorities after explicit racial preferences were banned, and a lot of college degree requirements were a way of filtering out minorities after IQ tests were banned.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @Grommit Gunn:

    After ten years of teaching in the community college and seeing first hand the scope of the developmental education apparatus needed to help people learn the basic reading, writing, computer, and math skills that they supposedly were taught in high school, I’m not really sure that I can agree that a HS Diploma alone should be considered sufficient for entry level office work.

    While I can’t dispute that, I would note that it’s also true of a lot of college graduates. A lot of my students—who are almost without exception of well-above-average IQ and graduates of decent universities, have rather poor skills.

    Beyond that, I don’t know that we’re even talking just about entry-level jobs here. A whole lot of middle management posts, including presumably most of those in state governments like Pennsylvania, require a degree. Yet one would think employees with 15-20 years experience one rung down the ladder should be able to compete for them.

  27. Michael Reynolds says:


    An intelligent person with the right biases will not only believe the Q idiocies, but will find effective rationalizations for it.

    An intelligent person tends to question the data he’s fed. An intelligent person continues to take on new data and reconsider the old. I disagree that a closed mind can also be an intelligent mind. It may have been an intelligent mind, but it has engaged in an act of intellectual auto-castration.

    Religion, ideology, weakness, cowardice, social pressure, they push minds into boxes and many people – probably most – are happiest when intellectually constrained. The anxiety of freedom, the refusal to accept responsibility for making hard choices, timidity, people cripple their own minds on a regular basis.

    Short version: intelligence is not steady state, it can fluctuate, change, deteriorate, whether from life’s vicissitudes or conscious choice. So, if one is a follower of Q, no, one is not intelligent, one may have been once, but no longer. You can’t go around shutting down your own brain and still pretend to be smart.

  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    (Because IQ tests measure growing up in an upper middle class background more than actual intelligence)

  29. There are two benefits to requiring a degree. First, it reduces the pool of candidates to a manageable level. Second, (as James hinted) it at least indicates you will get a reliable person who can put up with quite a bit of BS.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    Two thoughts come to mind:
    1) Graduating in the US from a typical high school doesn’t mean diddly-squat. We’ve dumbed down so much of our education, mainly because we’ve been using the school system as nothing more than babysitters to keep kids out of needing to be supervised by someone else. The ability to go to a school used to be appreciated much more, especially when the alternative was 10-hour days detassling corn or the equivalent.
    2) It’s been said that people graduating Japanese high schools are at a much higher level than those in the US. True, and then people in the US catch up over the following four years. The intensity of education in Japan ends at the entrance to university, or actually, at the testing ground at the entrance to university. The next four years will be much more relaxed, with a lot of time devoted more to social interactions, university clubs, and making the connections (in university clubs, etc.) that one will end up depending upon for the rest of one’s life. (I suspect this isn’t too much different than what we do here in the US, modulo the entrance exams. I still depend mostly on my undergrad links, rather than my grad school links.)

  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Yes, I know the history of IQ tests. The mis-use of, or biased construction of, the tests does not invalidate the notion of general intelligence. The fact is you need a higher level of intelligence to handle graduate level subjects than you do for, say, high school level subjects. You need a higher level of intelligence to work in particle physics than you do to, let’s say, write a YA novel.

    Americans have such a persistent bias against natural talent, everything has to flow from hard work. It’s very small ‘d’ democratic and Protestant, but it’s not reality. Millions of people want to be Tom Brady, and millions work very hard to be Tom Brady, and yet, there’s just the one actual Tom Brady. Because natural ability, talent, general intelligence, these are real things. Hard to measure maybe, but real.

  32. just nutha says:

    @Grommit Gunn: High school diploma has fallen prey to gravitation toward the mean as I see things. A society that wants more students to have HS diplomas–and particularly with specific elements checked off (everyone needs to complete Algebra 2 comes to mind, but I don’t know why) will need to lower the bar to a level where everyone can jump over to accomplish greater diploma saturation. Lowering the bar results in a lower mid point. And the lowered midpoint may result in reducing the top level of achievement–but that part is still only theoretical except to the extent that “schools of science and technology” are what they are specifically because they don’t let the crackers and other low achievers in. I don’t know the answer, but I’m not sure society wants one anyway. “As long as MY kid doesn’t end up in a “dead end job,” the schools did a great job.”

  33. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: I’ve never seen more idiocy than when working with the best and brightest in software engineering.

    Intelligence needs a well-rounded education to fill in all the gaps before they try to figure it out themselves. Otherwise, they end up with Objectivism or at least Libertarianism, all with the assumption that people are perfectly rational, and no business would poison it’s customers…

    In fact, I’m willing to bet that Q folk would test higher than average on IQ tests. Dumb people don’t see patterns. Intelligent people see patterns and assume they mean something.

  34. Kurtz says:

    IQ measures something. What it measures is ill defined; what it doesn’t measure is a long list of traits and skills.

    I was recently involved in a discussion about IQ. Someone argued that if one looks at two people, the first scored in the mid-150s and the second in the mid-130s, the differences would be stark and readily apparent.

    I immediately wondered if the finance wizards in the building that employs the janitor who scored in the 99.9999th percentile of test takers would see that if they took the cleaning guy out for drinks after work. I doubt it. Even if they did, they would likely ignore a number of potential implications of that observation.

    I suspect a lot of the issues discussed here – – the education system, hiring procedures – – are caused by shitty methods of managing scale. But that is only one of the issues.

    The NR piece quoted is an example of getting something right for the wrong reasons.

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Interesting anecdote, but I am quite positive that issue is widespread in the US as well. Even if it is less common among high-performing students, I’m almost as positive it is far from a rarity among that cohort as well.

    It may be too cynical a take, but I suspect the first question among an alarming number of American students may be, “what does dreary mean?” Followed by a second question, “do I need to know it for the test?”

  35. just nutha says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Additionally, samples can be so large that the difference between places can be statistically insignificant. One survey report that I perused stuck in my mind because the US ranked 13th internationally with 3 nations tied for second place 4 tied for 5th and 4 tied for 9th, with the US tied for 13th place with a score 4 or 5 points lower than number one.

    No intended slam on MA schools, but how much better are they than the rest of the 10 or so highest finishers?

  36. Stormy Dragon says:


    One great metaphor I saw regarding high performing students: building a mansion takes a lot more time and materials than building a cabin, but the education system instead gives the mansion the cabin-building time and resources and then when the cabins are done but the mansion has barely completed the foundation, decides this means the mansion must be lazy.

  37. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I disagree that a closed mind can also be an intelligent mind.

    Perhaps, but a high IQ mind can be closed as well.

  38. just nutha says:

    @Jen: I don’t think it’s necessary either, but a person can easily make the argument that “college degree” is functioning as a single modifier and therefore takes a hyphen. But it is working as a compound modifier rather than two sequential modifiers from different categories, at least to my reading. But punctuating modifiers is something I’d have to look up the conventions for these days. It’s been 20 years since I did close editing of student papers and needed to “know” or remember this stuff.

  39. Kathy says:


    I’ve no doubt that Kary Mullis is a brilliant man. He invented the PCR technique, which is one of the most important tools of modern genetics (it’s used for far more than detecting the trump virus).

    He also advocates for astrology, denies climate change, and denies HIV causes AIDS

    Astrology seems to bedevil a lot of smart people. In his memoir, Asimov talks a great deal about Mensa, and in particular how many of its members were invested in astrology. I’ve known very smart people who also gravitated in that direction.

    Now, with astrology you have the regular, maybe lower IQ, numerous people who buy astrology magazines (or these days visit websites), or read a daily horoscope somewhere. But also the fewer, more influential, perhaps higher IQ devotees who consult professional astrologers, read books on the subject, dabble in different kinds of astrology, learn to cast horoscopes themselves, etc.

    The Q thing must be like that, too. Lots of people may occasionally read about it or see stuff on Twitter and Fakebook from their favorite Q Twits, and ambe watch a few videos on Youtube. And there should be a core of devotees who “do” their own “research,” read whatever’s published, look for their own patterns, make stuff up to add to the ideology, etc. etc.

  40. Jay L Gischer says:

    When Louis Terman first discovered/measured IQ, he thought he had found the key to understanding human success.

    This did not turn out to be so. However, this isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. Intelligence, as measured by IQ, correlates with higher performance in just about any human activity that can be measured.

    However, its impact on that behavior is not especially large, maybe it’s +10%. It isn’t as big as people who are high on the IQ scale think it ought to be, for sure.

    AND, it’s impact is not nothing either. I demur from “IQ means nothing”. It’s a hyperbolic binary, and those are pretty much never correct.

    I would claim that a college degree is a good measure, not of IQ especially, but of conscientiousness, which is much more powerful of a variable when explaining life success. It could be called discipline, but maybe that isn’t quite the same thing. In college, nobody holds your hand – you are on your own, and a college degree is concrete evidence that you can be left to do tasks on your own.

  41. just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I think you are confusing “background information” for “intelligence.” The fact that you don’t understand particle physics is not because you are a less intelligent YA author (although I won’t second guess you on having lower intelligence 😉 ) as much as it is an effect of having taken little or no instruction in physics, particularly not at the level that introduces particle physics.

    The confusion doesn’t trouble me any, though. Our society has a strong desire to tell people “you’re too stupid to…” when we really mean something else that could be remediated. Feel free to lecture me about propensities in response as that is the next go to point for this argument.

  42. Kathy says:

    I should mention I’ve a beef with IQ. Both how it’s used and how it’s perceived by the public.

    Early in life, apparently I tested high. I don’t know how high, though I vaguely recall once hearing it was 125 (which isn’t much). Growing up I wasn’t allowed to struggle with any subject, nor to fail to understand it, nor to fail ever at school. If I did, it was laziness, or not giving a damn, or something.

    I admit I’m lazy. I was always behind on homework, and this reflected on my grades even in subjects where I otherwise did well (like history).

    Aside from that, I can’t do math. End of story.

    I understand it. That’s not the issue. it’s carrying out operations that I can’t handle. I won’t get into details, but if I’m confronted with the very simple problem “If 5 is 100%, 2 is what percentage?” I couldn’t tell you how to solve it without writing the simple matrix down. Never mind stuff like analytic geometry, balancing a chemical reaction, or deriving the value of a variable in a physics problem.

  43. Stormy Dragon says:


    learn to cast horoscopes themselves

    While not putting any stock in astrology’s divinatory capabilities, I find the process of making of star charts interesting from an artistic standpoint as well as the mathematical aspects of calculating exactly where a particular astronomical body was at a particular moment.

  44. just nutha says:

    @Kurtz: True story from yesterday. There was a scheduled fire drill at the high school where I was substituting for the auto shop teacher. The first question from the students was “where do we go Mr. P?” When I asked if any of them know where the sign and the “go bag” are, they all concurred that they did not. I hope they were yanking my chain, but I suspect that there’s a certain amount of “will this be on the test” at work.

    Or they may just be gear heads who are too stupid to understand stuff, but if that’s the case, I’m glad that I’m on my last car ownership.

  45. Mimai says:

    In my experience, lay discussions of IQ tend to sort into predictable bins*. One bin is over-represented in discussion amongst the “high” IQ crowd. And that is that IQ is bunk, ill-defined, poorly measured, meaningless, etc. Is this a luxury belief?

    *I’m glad that all the bins were not represented in this discussion.

  46. Kurtz says:

    @just nutha:

    I am imagining you telling them it’s where the framus intersects with the ramistan, approximately at the paternoster and watching them clunk heads and run into walls.

  47. OzarkHillbilly says:

    True story: In the 9th grade I took an IQ test as part of a psych course. The maximum score was 135 and I finished it 15-20 minutes ahead of time. I answered every single question correctly. Am I a genius? Fck no. The test was a joke.

    Over the years I have had the pleasure of knowing a few true geniuses and I know for certain I am not one.

    But that does not mean I am an idiot.

  48. Modulo Myself says:

    There are waves and forces guiding beliefs. I’m old enough to remember Prozac Nation and the debate over whether or not it was ethical as a self to take anti-depressants. Now I think that there’s a degree of mystification about the self in the world because the alternative is this Christian fundie literalism of tests and metrics and the cult of Effective Altruism and tech people who believe reality is a simulation. And that’s why astrology, psychedelics, and Freud are coming back in vogue.

    My take on IQ is that any measure of materialized intelligence involves the interactions between genes and the environment, and a true science of inheritable behavior would be able to predict, based on genes, a sense of humor or intelligence. There would not be a dumb test designed by psychometricians. It would be like having your blood drawn.

    The same also goes with AI. None of this recursive garbage that comes out of search engines and ‘learning’ is remotely akin to human life. An actual AI would shed light on how consciousness actually works materially, and vice versa.

  49. Kurtz says:


    I am curious about hear your thoughts on IQ and g.

    Stray thoughts:

    I remember reading of a hypothesis about savants in certain domains that seemed like it could be on the right track. From what I recall, it centered on the idea of access to unprocessed information.*

    I have found that some number of people seem to conflate retention of information with intelligence, or at least they use it as a heuristic. But retention is much different from manipulation of information, understanding relationships between bits, and generation of ways to test ideas.

    *I have some thoughts on why it seems reasonable to me. But I am reminded of one of my favorite bits of dialogue from any type of fiction:

    “I don’t know. It was an idea. Who knows where they come from? Isaac Newton invented gravity because some asshole hit him with an apple.”

  50. Kurtz says:


    that does not mean I am an idiot.

    Sure, that does not mean you are an idiot. But I can give you some reasons you are.


  51. steve says:

    Having a degree may mean you are more likely to show up on time and be responsible but that’s if you have nothing else on which to judge. If you have someone’s working record for 10 years that is an even better predictor.


  52. The Q says:

    Another dumbing down of America. Ever notice how all federal law enforcement jobs require college degrees?

    Ever notice how just about every local LE departments don’t?

    Ever notice how many GED racist stupid local cops blow away minorities compared to the rate of the college educated Feds?

    What’s Next? No reading and writing skills? Can we let illiterates do jobs now? And if not , why not? I mean, surely some of them can count spilled matchsticks, something that “literate” folks can’t.

    It’s like the “unborn”. At some point, from legal/social perspectives, a line must be drawn as to when someone is “born”.

    If I go to a bar at 20 years 364 days, I am refused a drink. Why? Because we have to draw a line, otherwise, why not let a 15 year old drink?

    Federal and state government have a right to draw a line. That line is a college degree for many positions.

    Sorry, go to night school and get the degree.

  53. Mimai says:


    This really does deserve a long discursive discussion. Topics for the first 3 drinks:
    1. Your point about retention vs. manipulation is a good one. Add “act on / make use of” to the mix. Shake and serve.
    2. I wouldn’t call it access to unprocessed info so much as (mis)calibrated filtering. This filtering factor is relevant to a lot of things we label “mental illness” (eg, schizophrenia). Also, re point 1, it’s not just filtering alone but rather filtering plus. That “plus” makes all the difference.
    3. g is a statistical “reality” (insert postmodern digression here). For humans and non-humans. It is remarkably stable and predictive.
    4. Measurement! I break out in hives when I eavesdrop on lay discussions about “IQ/intelligence tests” and the like. A psychometrically sound measure (which takes several hours to administer) is comprised of multiple different tests that tap specific domains. Performance on the individual tests tends to group into two higher order factors, which then converge to that which we call g.
    5. Context! Intelligence test performance needs to be considered alongside other data from multiple contexts, never as a standalone. This does not negate item 3.

    I’ll stop there — the postmodern squirrel took us far afield. My three drinks are drained and I’m craving a hotpocket. It really is a terrible topic for a blog discussion — even (especially?) with such “high” IQ commenters. 😉

  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kurtz: These days, I don’t tell them nuthin other than to go to the shop safety website and do the lesson on tool maintenance. In the past, some of them have complained about how they “shouldn’t be gettin’ assigned book work while they ought to be in the shop fixin’ cars” but that’s gone down some as the online instruction modules are taking on the appearance of ASE modules.

  55. Kurtz says:


    My one adult experience with psychometric testing took hours. I was told afterward that it was used as a baseline.

    I have a thought or two, and many more questions than that.

    Thanks for the response.

    Enjoy the hotpocket.

  56. Ed B says:

    I started my engineering career with a BS from UC Berkeley. I was a B student and not interested in spending any more time in school. Then I spent 36 years in microprocessor design, starting the year the word was invented. The amount of knowledge I gained and created during that time was many times what I learned in school, and I helped promote quite a few people without 4 year degrees from technician jobs to engineering jobs. They did a great job, but when it was time to move on, many companies would not hire them because they did not have degrees. Over time, more and more entry level jobs in the field wanted at least a masters degree for entry level jobs, while more senior people were hired based on real world experience and contributions. And the final irony for me was that, with my decades old bachelor’s degree, I was hired as adjunct faculty at two ivy league schools to develop and teach a specialized course to seniors and grad students. And when I retired, with those gigs on my CV, the local community college would not even consider me for part time teaching because I didn’t have an advanced degree. Overall good for me, though, because I moved on to volunteering as a STEM mentor at the high school level, which is way more fun, and nobody asks what degree you have.

  57. Mimai says:


    Feel free to share thoughts and/or ask questions. I didn’t mean to shut down the conversation.

    After a certain age, hotpockets are never enjoyed.