Every so often some neophyte, convinced that intelligence is undefinable,
attempts to debunk the validity of IQ tests. The subject is ripe for
upstart freelance journalists who believe the concept is a sham.
A case in point is Stephen Murdoch’s IQ:
A Smart History of a Failed Idea. The gist of Murdoch’s book is that IQ tests are
unreliable measures of mental ability. He challenges the accuracy of
their utility as a tool for educational advancement or employment selection.
Publishers Weekly describes Murdoch’s book as “fast-paced
storytelling.” If one knew nothing about the subject and relied
on Murdoch’s warped tale, the uninformed reader would get the
impression that IQ tests were devised to sterilize the inferior, suppress
illiterates, stem the flow of nonwhite immigrants, and sort the mentally
defective for the Third Reich’s Erwachseneneuthanasie program.
Murdoch’s position at best is rather equivocal. He says on the
one hand “it is untrue… that the IQ test is a measure
of innate intelligence.” Yet three paragraphs down he claims, “The
argument here is not that IQ tests are never useful…. IQ tests
can predict, with varying and debated degrees, that higher scorers
on average will perform better than low ones in certain settings.” If
IQ tests cannot measure “innate” intelligence and are unreliable,
how can these tests therefore be useful (even on a limited basis) with
predictable results (in certain settings)? An unresolved problem for
the author is whether or not IQ tests are really useful regardless
of their so-called limited applicability.
Murdoch’s thesis rests on common fallacies often attributed
to IQ testing and the broader history of psychometrics as a subfield
of psychology. For example, using questionable historical inferences,
the author makes unreasonable claims about the contemporary state of
IQ research based on generalizations from the earliest era of IQ testing.
This is comparable to using the standards of a Model-T Ford to evaluate
the performance of a Corvette.
The claim that IQ tests were instrumental in restricting immigration
and played a major role in the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924
was refuted by Mark Snyderman and Richard Herrnstein in the American
Psychologist. In their informative book The
IQ Controversy, Mark Snyderman
and Stanley Rothman point out, “An examination of the relevant
legislative history reveals that the Act would have been passed had
the testing data never existed.”
Critiques of IQ testing are nothing new. They have been around since
the early 1900s during the pioneering period of intelligence testing.
However, the flippant nature of more recent criticism in the post-Bell
Curve era reveals the ideological fanaticism behind these egalitarian
critics. Murdoch dwells on irrelevant straw-man fallacies and yet skillfully
avoids any sustained analysis of valid contemporary findings from recent
trends in IQ research. The field of psychometrics has moved way beyond
Goddard’s assessment of “feeblemindedness” from the
Murdoch’s book reveals a great deal about not only the mindset
of freelance journalists but also about the influential reporters and
editors of the Fourth Estate. Much is made of the liberal tilt of the
media elite, but the underlying nature of this well-documented bias
is an entrenched radical egalitarianism among the upper echelons of
broadcast and print media. Aggregated test scores over several decades
indicate that average group differences (race, social class, or sex)
are not superficial constructs of the tests; rather, they reflect latent
differences in mental ability.
Radical egalitarians find these results disturbing because, in their
view, something other than discrimination plausibly accounts for racial
inequalities. The persistence of racial disparities across a vast array
of socioeconomic indicators is usually blamed on discrimination, society-at-large,
or the lingering aspects of slavery.
In a review of the late Stephen Jay Gould’s revised edition
of The Mismeasure of Man, Frank L. Schmidt, an award-winning psychologist
and one of the foremost authorities on the utility of IQ tests in personnel
selection, dismissed Gould’s book as “not really a serious
book” and described it as “merely a (Marxist) polemic.” Schmidt
then pondered the question why, after so many qualified experts discovered “so
many errors in excruciating detail,” Gould’s book was taken
seriously by so many people and sold so well. His answer:
“I think the reason is that it panders to what people want to
believe. No one wants to believe that there are real important individual
and group differences in general intelligence. That makes people uncomfortable….
It is threatening to our hopes and beliefs. This same process explains
the popular appeal of Howard Gardiner’s theory of ‘multiple
intelligences’ and Dan Goleman’s concept of “emotional
intelligence.” We want to believe that there is no one single
intelligence; we want to believe there are many different kinds
of intelligence. Unfortunately this is just not true.”
Similarly, Murdoch and other egalitarian polemicists want to believe
there is no one single intelligence, that mental ability does not vary
between individuals and groups, that intelligence cannot be measured,
and that assessing differences in intelligence is a frivolous exercise.
After dissecting the hollow rhetoric, slipshod analysis, flawed anecdotes,
and falsehoods presented as fact, such a case has yet to be made by
Murdoch or anyone else.
What is truly scandalous about Murdoch’s book is that the publisher,
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in the mid-1990s rejected the manuscript
of Arthur R. Jensen’s landmark study, The
g Factor (arguably
the most exhaustive analysis of general mental ability published to
date), over the recommendation of their book
editor who reviewed Jensen’s
manuscript. Wiley’s Manager of Corporate Communications Susan
Spilka disclosed in an interview with the author that Wiley’s “rejection
of Professor Jensen’s book was a ‘very deliberate decision’ since
Wiley does ‘not want to publish in this field.’” It
appears that the publisher has reversed course and is perfectly willing
to publish a nonscientific, polemical diatribe in the pseudoscientific
field of IQ criticism.
Lamb Amongst Wolves column by Kevin Lamb is copyright © 2008
by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfbooks.com.
All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint if credit is given to the
author and the Foundation.
Kevin Lamb is managing editor of The Social
Contract magazine. His
articles have appeared on VDARE.com and in National Review,
Human Events, Chronicles, Middle American News, and the Journal of Social,
Political, and Economic Studies.
To sponsor the FGF E-Package:
please send a tax-deductible donation to the
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
or sponsor online.