Support This Website! Shop Here!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On the Absurdity of IQ Tests

My daughter read this Huffington Post story, and asked me what the big deal was about IQ tests. Here's what I told her.
What you are reading is one voice in a LONG argument that has extended for at least the last fifty years.

IQ testing unquestionably has eugenics origins. It was invented by eugenicists, administered by them and normed by them.
The whole point of IQ testing was originally to keep southern Europeans, Mexicans and Asians out of the country.

This is bad. Eugenicists are not nice people. They say that some people are more valuable than others, they support abortion, euthanasia, yada, yada, yada. It is a very ugly philosophy. Unfortunately, a lot of interesting results have come from these eugenics-inspired tests.

For instance, over the course of time, IQ has steadily risen across the board throughout every aspect of the population. No one is quite sure why this has been happening for the last century, but the suspicion is that improvements in nutrition and medicine, along with reductions in pollution (especially the removal of lead from gasoline and household paints, which greatly reduced the blood levels of lead in all populations, especially the poor) contributed quite a lot to this effect.

No matter how the tests have been "fixed", on average, Asians always score the best, whites second, Hispanics third and blacks fourth. Women always cluster close to the mean, men always scatter out so that (a) their mean is lower and (b) there are more outliers at BOTH ends of the IQ scale. This doesn't speak to any particular individual, of course, only averages.

During the 1950s and 60s, the argument was made that the IQ test was really a test of culture, not a test of IQ, so in the intervening 50 years, there have been many attempts to "fix" them so that they really do measure intelligence. The problem is, none of the "fixes" seemed to cause the various sub-populations to test the same. Some subpopulations always test smarter, other always test stupider.

No matter how the tests have been "fixed", on average, Asians always score the best, whites second, Hispanics third and blacks fourth. Women always cluster close to the mean, men always scatter out so that (a) their mean is lower and (b) there are more outliers at BOTH ends of the IQ scale. This doesn't speak to any particular individual, of course, only averages.

People who want the tests to reveal absolutely no real differences between different genetic populations always insist the tests are skewed, but they can't figure out how to fix them so that they don't produce these results. Psychologists have pretty much given up. They admit privately that there are real differences in the average IQ of various populations, but they can't say this out loud without being called "racist" or some such, so you get articles like the one you found, where people who don't like the results sob loudly for their lost cause, and psychologists shift uncomfortably from foot to foot, then state firmly that they are going out for a beer and does anyone else want them to pick up something while they are out?

The major problem with IQ tests is that they only measure the ability to engage in rational thought. They don't measure a person's happiness in life, they don't measure how happy one person makes someone else. They don't measure artistic ability, musical ability, the ability to care for or empathize with animals, other human beings, etc.

The original high-IQ society, Mensa, was envisioned to become a powerhouse of world happiness. Put all these really smart people together in a room, the reasoning went, and they would solve the world's problems. But the actual organization has never solved anyone's problems. None of the dozens of high-IQ societies that have been created since Mensa have done anything useful either. Each one seems to be a way for one smaller group of people to pretend to be superior to some other slightly larger group of people (the top 1% vs the top 0.1% vs the top 0.01% and so on).

In fact, all IQ tests seem to do is produce high-IQ societies filled with people who do really hard crossword puzzles and odd math sequences while dressing oddly. So, the whole debate is, at this point, kind of stupid. Sure, some high-IQ people do useful things, but a lot of high-IQ people really don't do anything useful, so what's the point here?

It's the modern equivalent of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: how many IQ points does it take before you actually accomplish something useful? Take Marilyn vos Savant, for instance, who has highest IQ ever recorded (note that she is female, in contradiction to the average). She hasn't done a single useful thing in her life, apart from making money off her IQ score. She hasn't invented anything, accomplished anything that helped anyone in any serious way - in terms of helping society, she has completely wasted her life. So... who really cares about IQ? What does it ultimately buy us?

2 comments:

Anne Welch said...

Thank You

Fr. VF said...

Different populations do differ in median IQ, and they differ in median income.

The taboo against mentioning these two facts must be smashed, because the alternative is what we have now: Asians and white people have higher median IQ's, and higher median incomes, than blacks and several other groups.

Why must the taboo be smashed? Because the only alternative explanation of income disparities is RACISM.

If we fail to smash the taboo, evil people will never quit pushing the RACISM accusation.