July 1, 2007

Notions on Quotients

Just recently there's been a controversy in the press over whether recent studies actually demonstrate a 3% difference in IQ on average between first-born and late- to last-born children. Plus speculations on the reason, if these studies are true, for the greater intelligence of first-borns. I suppose I should declare at the start that I'm a last-born, but my reasons for doubting whether IQ is a credible measure of intelligence don't really have much to do with my placement in the family pecking order. (Equally, my view is not confounded by the fact that the one time I was tested, in grade 3, I had the highest score in class. I'm still above average on Trivial Pursuit questions.)

The most damning anecdotal evidence against the IQ test I know of is Billie Holliday's score the one time she was tested--87. It can be argued whether Billie Holliday was a genius or only a near-genius, but in either case, if IQ numbers mean what's routinely claimed for them, this score is out by at least 50 points. It's lucky for the reputation of the IQ test that they were able to assign at random, instead of testing, the IQs of Goethe, Mozart and Da Vinci. And a three point difference in IQ signifies what?

CBC ran a nationally televised IQ test recently. I didn't participate, but I did do a question from the test that was quoted in Toronto Star (Weekend): "Which of these words is closest in meaning to conflict?" a) was contradiction, d) problem. b) and c) weren't close at all. The correct answer given confidently, just below, was contradiction. You see my conflict here? Sure you can argue for contradiction, but--such being the nature of partial synonyms with their irregular areas of overlap--you can arague just as cogently for problem. So I was being asked, in effect, which is the whole number closest in value to 4, and told the correct answer was 5, not 3. And I'd lose points in the test for guessing, incorrectly, 3. And a three point difference in IQ signifies what?

If you tied a Cheetah's hind legs together and sent it running, you'd be surprised how overrated its recorded speed was in comparison to its performance when tested. If you devise an intelligence test which excludes any measure of divergent thinking, your results will be similarly distorted--and there's no way to test for divergent intelligence that can possibly produce a numerical grade. And how well do the two functioning legs of a Cheetah perform if two are hobbled? Not very. It's not possible to improve skills at convergent thinking by ignoring divergent thought--concentrating on correct answers to the exclusion of wide-ranging questions--because the quality of the answers we discover is intimately bound to the scope and free-ranging sweep of the questions we ask.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides


Nonnie Augustine said...

As a special educator, I gave many, many tests. I have no faith in tests. Nuff said. Excellent essay, by the way. Nonnie

Martin Heavisides said...

I thought of expanding this with some material on a really bizarre test published in Village Voice some time ago called the Racist Quotient--but if I do something on that it'll be separate, dig out an old piece and post it. The main problems with that survey were the attitude of the creator--"Everybody's racist. I'm racist, you're racist. The difference is that I'm working on mine." Which means an index of racism was being devised by somebody who admitted no objective distance from it, and felt contemptuously superior to her testees. The second problem is the same as with the IQ test. You were offered five possible answers to test questions and had to choose one. People told the woman who devised it that none of the answers to some questions appealed to them. She said "That does not compute. You must give locked-in answers." So people picking answers that only approximately resembled their own were being graded for racism or its lack. (In some cases, if they resembled me, they'd have to pick the answer that least made them want to vomit.)