Unless lists are based on on hard numbers, they are all subjective, based on opinion only. The worst lists are the ones that are opinion but that claim to be based on hard data. Lists are unethical when they mislead the lazy and ignorant, which is to say, most of the public and those who pay attention to internet lists. Again, as in today’s warm-up, the ethics issue is incompetence, and often breaches of honesty and responsibility as well.
The first of the unethical lists was this one, click-baited as “The Smartest Presidents, Ranked By IQ (Guess Who’s No.1)” It’s hard to imagine a worse hash could be made of that topic than the article prepared by Esther Trattner, who must have difficulty spelling IQ herself. This topic became popular during the Trump administration and the previous campaign, because Donald kept boasting about high his IQ is (which is a stupid thing for anyone to do.) There are a lot of these lists (Trattner’s is the worst, but they are all bad.) To begin with, IQ doesn’t measure “intelligence;” it measures, as one psychologist told me, “what IQ tests measure.” There is so much more to intelligence than what that test indicates that conflating the scores with intellect is absurd. Indeed, the man who invested the IQ test condemned using his creation to measure above average intelligence, since its purpose was to assess intellectual deficits.
I’ve been around a lot of smart people in my life, and I learned long ago that assessing intelligence by any single standard was, well, dumb.
Here’s how incompetent the Trattner list is: though it claims to rank the Presidents from smartest to least smart by IQ, its slide show (web slide shows are unethical) begins with #1, George H.W. Bush with an alleged IQ score of 130.3. Wait: no U.S. President had an IQ higher that 130? Well, no, because #3, John Tyler, supposedly had an IQ of 136 and #7, Jimmy Carter clocked in at 145.1. How can this list rank the Presidents by IQ and jump around like that? Simple: it’s garbage. I didn’t bother to take the year and a half it would have taken to scroll all the way to the end, but I’ll assume that the “surprise” smartest is John Quincy Adams, the 6th President. Someone fake scholar somewhere a while ago “estimated” that JQ Adams had a soaring IQ of 175. There’s no doubt that Adams was well-educated and brilliant—the offspring of John and Abigail Adams would have big genetic advantage (though his brother gambled and drank himself to death). But “estimated IQ”—and all the Presidential IQs on all the lists are either “estimated” or “alleged”—is a synonym for “bullshit.” Estimated IQs with decimal points in them, as in the Trattner list, means “super bullshit on steroids.”
The usual academic bias is also on metaphorical steroids on every such list I’ve ever seen. The dumbest Presidents are all Republicans: Trump, Bush II, Ford, and Reagan. All of the last three Democratic Presidents, in contrast, (mirabile dictu!) are in the top ten—Obama, Clinton, Carter (If they were so smart, why were they such poor Presidents, making such bad choices?) along with the martyred Democratic saint Jack Kennedy, whose reputation as an intellectual giant was entirely manufactured by his publicists. JFK got a Pulitzer Prize for a book he didn’t write (“Profiles in Courage”) and it was later admitted that all of the reports of Kennedy being a speed reader were fiction.
It literally doesn’t matter what Presidents’ IQ scores might have been. IQ doesn’t measure character, courage, or leadership skills. All these lists do is lower the understanding of American history, leadership and Presidency on the part of badly-educated Americans.
For what it’s worth, based on my long-time study of these men, I think the evidence is pretty clear regarding who was the most intellectually gifted President. Yes, it was Abraham Lincoln. Jefferson is an easy second.
What started me down this annoying road was another historical list, this one a ranking of the First Ladies. It’s a Sienna College and C-SPAN “study” that was released in 2014 and resurfacing now. The spouses were scored in ten categories, including value to the country, integrity, leadership, being her “own woman,” accomplishments, courage and value to the President. This technique is a dishonest way to attach numbers to a completely subjective set of choices, usually, as in this case, governed by bias.
Again, as in the idiotic POTUS IQ poll, #1 is numbered #40. Luckily, when it comes to First Ladies, the most influential, most courageous, valuable to the President and the nation, etc, is an easy call, and no study is necessary to make it: Eleanor Roosevelt was the longest-serving FLOTUS and the most accomplished by any measure. Even this incompetent list couldn’t louse up that choice. But the rest? Ugh. Yecchh.
Jackie Kennedy is considered #3. Sure. She was abused by her husband and lived a lie in the White House. She had no political influence whatsoever (unlike the First Ladies who followed her), and Jackie’s popularity was mostly grounded in the verdict that she was “glamorous.” #5 on the list is Michelle Obama, the only First Lady to insult the nation in published remarks. The next on the list? Hillary Clinton, who lied to the public and the press while assisting in the Monica Lewinsky cover-up. Her major attempt at direct policy influence, her health care reform scheme, was an embarrassing flop. As with the Presidential IQ poll, the Democrats in this list obviously benefited from the listers’ thumbs on the scale, and sometimes their feet as well.
And yet, amazingly, these two weren’t the most unethical of the three lists. No, the most unethical by far—incompetent, misleading, biased and negligent—is this: “A Definitive Ranking Of The Top Western Films Of All Time.”
Western films are a passion of mine; I’ve lectured at the Smithsonian on the topic twice. My perspective has its own biases, and I respect different standards and points of view, but not this one. The list should be titled “The Top 40 American Western Films According To Those Who Don’t Like America, The American West, or Know What Westerns Are.”
The overwhelming tilt of the list is historical revisionist, anti-Western expansion, anti-American, progressive Hollywood bias. Well, that’s not what the classic Westerns were about. Calling this a “definitive” list is flat-out misrepresentation. I find a large number of my associates are ignorant about Westerns, and I even have created a study guide and a list of movies they need to see to approach necessary literacy on our culture, movies, and American traditions. #1 on my list is “Lonesome Dove,” but technically it’s a mini-series, so I’ll forgive its omission on the “definitive” list of 40. However, #1 on that list is…”The Treasure of Sierra Madre”???
It’s not a Western! It’s a great film, but the American Film Institute doesn’t list it as a Wester, because it’s not. (Wikipedia does, because it’s Wikipedia.) The film takes place in the West, but if that’s the standard, “LA Confidential” is a Western. I’ve seen it many times, and never thought of it as a Western nor heard anyone refer to it as one.
Well, that choice is signature significance for incompetence, but so is the fact that “Stagecoach,” Red River,” ” Shane,” “Little Big Man,” “Ride The High Country,” “Destry Rides Again,” “Winchester 73,” ‘Hondo,” “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon” and other long-acclaimed classics don’t appear on the list, while “Blazing Saddles” does (it’s a parody, not a real Western: Count Basie doesn’t appear in real Westerns…) and most of Sergio Leone’s Italian anti-Westerns, which are more about the Mafia than cowboys, do as well. It also has “Brokeback Mountain” (not a Western, but a gay love story) and “The Power of the Dog,” just a currently trendy, lousy movie, but on the list because Gay is Good.
ADDENDUM: I forget to mention this in the original post, and it must be pointed out. The list claims “Westworld” is one of the 40 greatest Westerns of all time. The movie is set in the future, and is about robots. It literally has nothing to do with the West at all, except that the renegade robot looks like Yul Brenner’s character in “The Magnificent Seven.”