IQ Blackout: Why Did Studying Intelligence Become Taboo?
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Jensen's work was a flashpoint dividing the study of human intelligence into two periods: BJ and AJ, you might say.
"The post-Jensen period has not been filled with good research aimed at disproving and discounting Jensen’s hypotheses," Garlick laments, "but rather with treating not just Jensen but the field of IQ in general as persona non grata. What this means for people who are low in intelligence is very much up to debate."
IQ is un-PC, Garlick adds, because "studying IQ is highlighting differences between people. Identifying differences between people in a characteristic where one end of the spectrum is associated with many more negative outcomes can result in hurtful information."
Throughout history, this "hurtful information" has meant the exclusion of those who score low on IQ tests from schools, careers and clubs.
For many, it has also meant the difference between life and death. IQ-test results have been used to justify some of humanity's worst crimes.
"If you believe that IQ measures something genetic, scientifically and precisely measurable, and of paramount importance in life, then it's easy to believe that people who score very low should not be allowed to have children," says human-rights lawyer turned journalist Stephen Murdoch, author of IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea (Wiley, 2007). "In America before WWII, more than 60,0000 low scorers were coercively sexually sterilized. In Europe -- especially Germany, of course -- hundreds of thousands were, as well. ... The Nazis went so far as to execute untold thousands of low IQ scorers."
IQ tests had long been ubiquitous by then.
"IQ tests took off a century ago because many institutions, in America in particular, had an overwhelming number of people to make decisions about," Murdoch explains. "IQ tests, or at least some sorting tool, became necessary as America and other western countries industrialized and modernized. When universal education laws were passed and schools became crowded schools needed a way to determine who went into gifted, average and remedial classes. Doctors on Ellis Island needed a scientific way of sending people back to Europe. When the US Army had to screen and process millions of men to fight in Europe during the first World War, they needed to do so efficiently in large groups.
"IQ tests were born of historical necessity and happenstance, not intelligence theory or science."
Some would argue this point.
"While IQ tests are not a perfect measure of intelligence -- and a perfect measure does not exist -- performance on an IQ test can provide important insight into a person’s relative ability to understand concepts that play a role in successful performance in both educational and work domains," Garlick says.
"The major problem with ignoring differences in intelligence is that this does not resolve the underlying issue. For instance, low IQ can be reflected in poor performance at school. To address this, the criteria for 'successful' performance at school can be lowered. Children will then get higher grades. But simply telling children that they are doing well in their schoolwork when they have not mastered the underlying concepts will not help them later on when they are expected to apply their school learning to other situations.
"I find it ironical that so much research is devoted to disorders like autism that only affect less than 1 percent of the population, but little research is devoted to understanding differences in IQ. ... If the deficits of autism can be improved through research, why not IQ?"
Today's intelligence wars rage around the intersections between science, ethics and politics.