Monday, January 02, 2017

The War on Stupid People


theatlantic |  Rather than looking for ways to give the less intelligent a break, the successful and influential seem more determined than ever to freeze them out. The employment Web site Monster captures current hiring wisdom in its advice to managers, suggesting they look for candidates who, of course, “work hard” and are “ambitious” and “nice”—but who, first and foremost, are “smart.” To make sure they end up with such people, more and more companies are testing applicants on a range of skills, judgment, and knowledge. CEB, one of the world’s largest providers of hiring assessments, evaluates more than 40 million job applicants each year. The number of new hires who report having been tested nearly doubled from 2008 to 2013, says CEB. To be sure, many of these tests scrutinize personality and skills, rather than intelligence. But intelligence and cognitive-skills tests are popular and growing more so. In addition, many employers now ask applicants for SAT scores (whose correlation with IQ is well established); some companies screen out those whose scores don’t fall in the top 5 percent. Even the NFL gives potential draftees a test, the Wonderlic.

 Yes, some careers do require smarts. But even as high intelligence is increasingly treated as a job prerequisite, evidence suggests that it is not the unalloyed advantage it’s assumed to be. The late Harvard Business School professor Chris Argyris argued that smart people can make the worst employees, in part because they’re not used to dealing with failure or criticism. Multiple studies have concluded that interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and other “emotional” qualities can be better predictors of strong job performance than conventional intelligence, and the College Board itself points out that it has never claimed SAT scores are helpful hiring filters. (As for the NFL, some of its most successful quarterbacks have been strikingly low scorers on the Wonderlic, including Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly.) Moreover, many jobs that have come to require college degrees, ranging from retail manager to administrative assistant, haven’t generally gotten harder for the less educated to perform.


At the same time, those positions that can still be acquired without a college degree are disappearing. The list of manufacturing and low-level service jobs that have been taken over, or nearly so, by robots, online services, apps, kiosks, and other forms of automation grows longer daily. Among the many types of workers for whom the bell may soon toll: anyone who drives people or things around for a living, thanks to the driverless cars in the works at (for example) Google and the delivery drones undergoing testing at (for example) Amazon, as well as driverless trucks now being tested on the roads; and most people who work in restaurants, thanks to increasingly affordable and people-friendly robots made by companies like Momentum Machines, and to a growing number of apps that let you arrange for a table, place an order, and pay—all without help from a human being. These two examples together comprise jobs held by an estimated 15 million Americans.
Meanwhile, our fetishization of IQ now extends far beyond the workplace. Intelligence and academic achievement have steadily been moving up on rankings of traits desired in a mate; researchers at the University of Iowa report that intelligence now rates above domestic skills, financial success, looks, sociability, and health.