There’s the old joke about the guy looking for his keys under the lamplight because, even though that’s not where he lost his keys, the light’s better there. I feel that way about studies of I.Q.. When critics, like Howard Gardner, object that such measurements fail to capture important aspects of thought, psychometricians reply that concepts like Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” don’t produce the same kind of “stable” test results they get from I.Q. tests, so they need to keep using I.Q.! It strikes me that what we have here is a concept that has been perpetuated in order to legitimate the continued existence of a discipline, and of a testing regime, rather than because it tells us anything important about the mental abilities of those tested.
I’ve been looking at this issue because four of the top political bloggers (Atrios, De Long, Kevin Drum, and Matt Yglesias) have ganged up on Andrew Sullivan for his recent endorsement of the central tenants of The Bell Curve. As a result of all these posts we get a great list of online articles debunking the book, to which I’ve added a few more and grouped them all here for your reference. The critiques vary in whether or not they accept the notion of I.Q.. Some accept it, but claim it isn’t genetic, others accept a genetic component, but deny that this correlates with race, while others (like Howard Gardner and Stephen Jay Gould) are more critical of the very notions of intelligence that are supposedly being measured in the first place.
- Thomas Sowell’s American Spectator article, in which he discusses the “the work of James R. Flynn, who found substantial increases in mental test performances from one generation to the next in a number of countries around the world.” Findings which disprove any link between genetics and I.Q. (originally linked in this DeLong post, and metioned in Matt’s post as well.)
- Nicholas Lemann’s debunking in Slate: “What Herrnstein and Murray used to measure IQ is actually a measure of education as well as intelligence.” (also from Matt.)
- “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns.” The report by the American Psychological Association which I make fun of above, but which is well worth reading – especially with regard to whether there is any link between intelligence and race. (via Kevin Drum.)
- Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis 2002 paper, “The Inheritance of Inequality” [PDF] which debunks the notion that social inequality is genetic. (via Brad DeLong, who has a summary of the findings.)
- Howard Gardner’s critique of The Bell Curve in The American Prospect, in which he elaborates on the limitations of I.Q.
- Two defenses of I.Q.: One by Linda S. Gottfredson in Scientific American, and another by Christopher F. Chabris in Commentary.
- Responses by Flynn, Gardner, and others to the article by Chabris.
- Wikipedia pages on The Bell Curve, Race and Intelligence, IQ, the Flynn Effect, Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man, and Howard Gardner’s concept of Multiple Intelligences.