Hugh LaMaster (
27 Jan 1995 02:04:08 GMT

In article <JMC.95Jan26100432@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>,
jmc@SAIL.Stanford.EDU (John McCarthy) writes:
|> In article <3g7t7j$> (David A. Johns) writes:

|> Fine. Let me give you a head start:
|> 1. Define intelligence.
: [the rest deleted]

|> David Johns's strictness certainly has advantages for racists. Until
|> you have defined race to his satisfaction, the proposition that blacks
|> were ever enslaved in the United States or are subjects of
|> discrimination today will be meaningless to him.

The definition of slave was a quite precise legal one in the slave
states. Of course, not all blacks were slaves, and not all slaves
were dark or had more than nominal African ancestry. We don't
know how to define the race of the slaves biologically, but we
know there were slaves.

|> Precise definitions are good when you can get them, and when the ones
|> you have accurately cover the phenomenon being studied. However,
|> scientific progress is often made without them.
|> For example, for several centuries (say 1630-1860) temperature had to
|> be defined as what a thermometer measures. But the chemists and

True. The operational definition had to do for a long time.
But, at least volume had a reasonably precise definition, and
pressure was had another operationalist definition. As time
evolved, rather precise measurements could be made to verify
things like, say, Boyles' and Charles' Laws.

TBC uses "income" as the operationalist definition of "success".
Terman used a combination of things, such as number of creative
works published, advanced degrees, etc. in addition to income.

Using the TBC definition, the correlation is rather poor.
[But "good for the social sciences".] Are you suggesting
that some sort of social "law" is at work? Is it a social
law that income is a {monotonic?, linear? quadratic?}
function of IQ?

|> Almost all social science and much physical science would be required
|> if everything had to be precisely defined before science could start.

Something seems to have gotten lost here, so I'm not sure exactly
what was originally meant. Anyway, the hard sciences have much
firmer foundations in general that the operationalist definitions
used in the social sciences. Maybe that is the best that can be
done at the moment, and to some extent, it makes the social "sciences"
*interesting*. However, when people make sweeping policy claims
based on operationalist definitions with correlations on the order
of .5, isn't that rather worrisome?

|> IQ is like an old-fashioned thermometer. It measures intelligence
|> well enough to do quite a lot of science.
|> Demanding precise definitions where they cannot be had or aren't
|> useful is a form of filibustering. Certainly it plays this role in
|> arguments about intelligence.

It also serves to remind people that intelligence is still
struggling with 17th century style operational definitions
and has not yet achieved the coherence of 19th century
thermodynamics. Unfortunately, it seems there are some
[not all, by any means} psychometricians [is that a word?]
who would like to convince themselves otherwise.

Hugh LaMaster, M/S 233-9, UUCP: ames!lamaster
NASA Ames Research Center Internet:
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000 Or:
Phone: 415/604-1056 #include <std_disclaimer.h>