Over at Althouse, there is a discussion of whether John Kerry is smart (here and here). The key piece of evidence against Kerry is that he went to law school at--gasp!--Boston College, instead of somewhere more prestigious. One part of the argument is that Kerry must have wanted to go somewhere better, given speculation about his personality, and so the reason he didn't is that he was rejected from more prestigious places. The other part is that given Kerry's prestigious background, etc., the winds of prestigious-law-school-admission must have been working in his favor. Put the two together, and you have the conclusion that the law school admissions committee must have seen something they didn't like about Kerry's academic record, namely, that he's not very bright.
Wow. Let me say it again. Wow. In the discussion, there seems to be a recognition in the quasi-snobbery of putting so much stock in law school rankings. To me, that actually dodges the more pertinent issue, which is the quasi-snobbery in judging with someone with an extensive biographical record on the basis of where they went to school (or, for that matter, on their test scores). John Kerry has led an entire life in public view, and, yet, when trying to measure up his intellect, we should base it on whatever law school admissions committees might have thought of him three decades earlier?
I suppose one counterargument would be that the world has judged George W. Bush on the basis of his test scores, so why isn't fair to judge John Kerry on the basis of speculation about his test scores? The problem with this counterargument is that the opinion about the middling character of George W. Bush's intellect--whatever my fellow liberals might claim, he's not dumb--is not based on his test scores. There is a pretty extensive record, spanning long stretches of this man's life, involving many things he has said and done, that may be used to draw the conclusion that he is not the brightest crayola in a standard box of 8, much less a jumbo box of 64.
The view of this public sociologist is that credentials are a measure. In conditions of impoverished information, they may even be the most informative measure we have for certain traits, intellect being one. The more information you have about a person, the less relative weight a credential should receive. We have a lot of extracredential information about both John Kerry and George W. Bush.