Friday, August 06, 2004

more brains

The debate about John Kerry's brain continues! Ann characterizes and responds to the main point of my previous post:

Jeremy also considers it snobbish to use someone's academic record as a basis for judging them when they have a work history that can provide an alternate basis for judgment. I disagree. First, if I were hiring a lawyer in a law firm or appointing a new lawprof, I would expect the résumé to include academic credentials, even if they had had some other jobs. Why should voters expect less? Second, I have questions about Kerry's work history... [post continues]
First, I said quasi-snobbish; I don't deploy Latinate prefixes idly. Second, I didn't object to "a basis." What I objected to was it being (seemingly?) the basis. Anyway, I don't think Ann draws the right analogy anyway. Nobody is saying that somebody shouldn't be listing where they went to school on their résumé. At least in the sociology neck of the woods, however, it would be considered odd if someone were being considered for a professorial position some thirty years after receiving their Ph.D., had a judgable record over the years, had given various colloquia and talks, and yet somebody on the hiring committee wanted to telescope judgment of the person's capabilities primarily on their having received their Ph.D. from Boston College instead of from Harvard.*

The part of Ann's post from "questions about Kerry's work history" on is, in my opinion, a much better argument for why one might wonder about whether Kerry's intellectual verve is as strong as some think. I would rather have that be the main argument and the Boston-College-diploma-suspicions be a subsidiary point, rather than the other way around.

BTW, and not to accuse Ann of having a tendency to see the Bush bottle as more than half full, but Bush did not have superior test scores than Gore, as her post suggests. Their grades were apparently roughly the same, with Gore's worst semester being worse than Bush's worst semester, or so says an AP story:
Citing academic records of both men, the Post said Gore entered Harvard with an 1355 SAT score while Bush arrived at Yale for undergraduate work with a 1206 SAT total.

Once in college, both men posted similarly mixed academic records, the Post said, pointing out that in his sophomore year at Harvard, ``Gore's grades were lower than any semester recorded on Bush's transcript from Yale.''
If SAT metrics back then were like today's, Bush's SAT score would put him in the 79th percentile (second brightest crayola in a standard box of 8), while Gore's would put him in the 95th (brightest crayola in even the expanded box of 16). Put another way, there are four times more people out there who can brag about doing better on the SAT than the Leader Of The Free World than who could have had the 2000 election gone the other way.

* Besides which, Ann says nothing about whether law schools and law firms, when hiring, would expect candidates to be listing their LSAT scores and the schools they were rejected from on their résumé; specualation about these seems to be more of what the argument about the smartness-significance of the Brahmin-at-Boston-College is based on.


Anonymous said...

SAT metrics today are nothing like then.

Anonymous said...

As someone who's just interviewed with twenty-some law firms and a consultancy, I can say that at least one did ask me my LSAT scores. The consultancy asked me my LSAT scores, my SAT scores, my ACT scores...

As for law firms, most don't have to ask you your LSAT scores, because as Ann points out, the school you went to largely acts as proxy information. And most don't have to ask which schools you got rejected from, either, as where most people go is the 'best' school that accepted them.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I would not put much stock in SATs, which are frankly not designed to measure intelligence so much as your scholastic achievement level at the end of high school. If you dropped out of high school in 10th grade, then took the SAT, you would obviously score lower on the SAT than had you stayed in school, yet your innate intelligence would be (nearly) the same in either case.

College grades are not necessarily a good measure either, since you would have to know about outside activities that the individual is involved with in addition to their coursework. In any case, while IQ is an important characteristic, by itself it isn't a good determiner of performance in any executive role. Personality characteristics are generally much more important than "raw intellect." This is why understanding the character of the presidential candidate is important, and why, for example, Kerry's Vietnam war record is apropos to his election bid.