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