The Science and Politics of IQ
The IQ Controversy
If a broad line of demarcation is drawn between the natural sciences and what can only be described as the unnatural sciences, it will at once be recognized as a distinguishing mark of the latter that their practitioners try most painstakingly to imitate what they believe—quite wrongly, alas for them—to be the distinctive manners and observances of the natural sciences. Among these are:
(a) the belief that measurement and numeration are intrinsically praiseworthy activities (the worship, indeed, of what Ernst Gombrich calls idola quantitatis);
(b) the whole discredited farrago of inductivism—especially the belief that facts are prior to ideas and that a sufficiently voluminous compilation of facts can be processed by a calculus of discovery in such a way as to yield general principles and natural-seeming laws;
(c) another distinguishing mark of unnatural scientists is their faith in the efficacy of statistical formulas, particularly when processed by a computer—the use of which is in itself interpreted as a mark of scientific manhood. There is no need to cause offense by specifying the unnatural sciences, for their practitioners will recognize themselves easily: the shoe belongs where it fits.
The objections of the educated to IQ psychology arise from several sets of causes: first, misgivings about whether it is indeed possible to attach a single-number valuation to an endowment as complex and as various as intelligence; second, a biologically well-founded feeling of repugnance to the notion that differences of intelligence are to so high a degree under genetic control that all the apparatus of pedagogy and special training is necessarily relegated to an altogether minor role. To these have recently been added a third, some grave doubts about the probity of Cyril Burt’s investigations of intelligence quotients in twins—researches which led him to conclusions which have had a profound and by no means wholly beneficent effect on educational theory and practice. Burt’s work has been the subject of extensive correspondence and annotation in both the London Times and the Sunday Times.
We must consider first the illusion embodied in the ambition to attach a single number valuation to complex quantities—a problem that has vexed demographers in the past, and also soil physicists—as Dr. J.R. Philip, FRS, has pointed out.1 It bothers economists, too.
Although the more disputative IQ psychologists give the impression of being incapable of learning anything from anybody, it seems only fair to give them a chance not to persist in the errors of judgment that have been avoided in so many other areas of learning. Let us discuss the single number valuation of complex variables in a number of different contexts.
First, demography. In the days when it was believed that the people of the Western world were dying out through infertility, it was thought an obligation upon demographers to devise a single value measure of a nation’s reproductive prowess and future population prospects. Kuczynski accordingly offered up his “net reproduction rate” and R.A. Fisher and A.J. Lotka the “Malthusian parameter” or “true rate of natural increase.”…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue – that’s 10 issues online plus six months of full archive access for just $10.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.