January 24, 2007

Will Princeton *please* admit Jian Li and let the rest of us get on with our lives?

From the NYT, another story on anti-Asian Princeton with the by now obligatory griping of Jian Li, who claims he was rejected due to racial discrimination. Seriously, this guy got into CalTech, Cooper Union, Rutgers, and is currently attending Yale, so you'll pardon me if I don't commiserate. So he got a perfect SAT score and great grades -- unless he has also patented inventions, written Broadway plays, or something similar, his academic record doesn't make him a shoe-in at any top-tier university. Yet from the way he apparently expects every eminent school to roll out the red carpet for him, he would have us believe that he's an unrecognized genius. However, as noted by Francis Galton, who pioneered the study of genius, there's no such thing as an unrecognized genius, since we require proof in the form of accomplishment, and no one so accomplished will go unnoticed by those who matter. But again, who's to say that Li hasn't been recognized as an accomplished student -- for fuck's sake, he got into CalTech and Yale.

All I know is that this guy is going to be in for a rude awakening when he applies to grad school and discovers that his perfect 800 GRE Math score only puts him in the 94th percentile (or +1.56 SD) of GRE test-takers, compared to the 99th percentile (or +2.33 SD) an 800 SAT Math score represents. One of the better points that Charles Murray brought up in his series on intelligence and education was that smart kids need to be humbled. That doesn't mean they should wallow in self-pity, of course, but they need to know their limits in order to optimally guide their ship along its course.

Particularly among the groups of people Li is likely to associate with for the rest of his life -- academics, Google engineers, what-have-you -- an IQ of 145 is not going to be anything special. Such individuals are about 1 per 1000, and in a country where there are roughly 200 million people of working age (15-64), there are about 200,000 such people with a 145 IQ. In a high school representative of the population, whose student body is a bit over 1000, you'd expect to find 1 such person -- at every such high school across the country. I looked up info on Li's high school (Livingston High School), and the mean SAT Math score is 611, so I assume he's already experienced this phenomenon to some extent. He should get used to it.

Just remember, dude, next time you cry bloody murder because important people aren't paying enough attention to you -- having a high IQ, by itself, doesn't count for squat in getting important people's attention. You could always join the club that was invented so that high-IQ people who were bitter that their high IQ wasn't sufficient to earn them Galilean distinction would at least have something to brag about: "I'm a member of MENSA!"

Addendum: Since Steve commented, that reminded me of a recent blog entry of his on criteria and quotas. Should firefighters be required to lift 200 lbs or 250 lbs or just 150 lbs, for example? The answer to this question has implications for the percentage of females who will make the cut-off, since men and women differ in mean weight they can lift. The same is true of personality traits and interests in gaining admission to an elite college like Princeton: good grades and test scores are taken for granted, except in cases of affirmative action. Beyond that, different schools might emphasize different personality traits and interests -- Princeton may emphasize cocky, dominant son-of-a-guns who will use their brains as lawyers, politicians, and senior executives, while Berkeley may be much more tolerant of the personality traits and interests of geeks and nerds. If true, Northeast Asians will be overrepresented everywhere due to higher mean IQ, but even more so at Berkeley than at Princeton.

Independent evidence that this is likely a big factor in the different percentages of Northeast Asians at elite schools is that most of the rivalries among such schools center around the mean personality traits and interests of the other: Dartmouth is conservative and provincial, while Brown is liberal and cosmopolitan, and those affiliated with the schools use these differences to satirize the foibles of each other.


  1. Before the "recentering" of scores in 1995, the SAT Verbal was particularly humbling, since almost nobody got an 800.

  2. But can't the same be said of minorities-that they can very well go to Caltech or Yale if they are not qualified for Princeton?

  3. Well, "minorities" doesn't include South Asian-Americans in your example. But if you mean the beneficiaries of affirmative action, then you're right.

  4. Well-qualified Li was rejected while a less-qualified white was admitted. This is RACISM.

    If Princeton is more suited to "cocky" types, then Li's temerity and tenacity qualifies him for Princeton.

    Li should sue Princeton for racism against Asians. Asians have to score 50 to 112 points more than whites in order to be admitted to college. Whites whine all the time. Shut up Gratz - Asians with far higher scores are rejected than whites! Shut that girl up forever!


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