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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why the Left Now Hates IQ Tests

I doubt if it's a matter of racism; they're able to support policies that are objectively anti-minority. I think they feel betrayed by IQ tests which are no longer useful for anti-capitalist propaganda.

According to a recent article by Malcolm Gladwell on the Flynn effect:

The best way to understand why I.Q.s rise, Flynn argues, is to look at one of the most widely used I.Q. tests, the so-called WISC (for Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). The WISC is composed of ten subtests, each of which measures a different aspect of I.Q. Flynn points out that scores in some of the categories—those measuring general knowledge, say, or vocabulary or the ability to do basic arithmetic—have risen only modestly over time. The big gains on the WISC are largely in the category known as “similarities,” where you get questions such as “In what way are ‘dogs’ and ‘rabbits’ alike?” Today, we tend to give what, for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that “you use dogs to hunt rabbits.”

………

The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world that way. But to label them less intelligent than Westerners, on the basis of their performance on that test, is merely to state that they have different cognitive preferences and habits. And if I.Q. varies with habits of mind, which can be adopted or discarded in a generation, what, exactly, is all the fuss about?

In other words, a person working in the private sector who has been unbriefed on IQ tests would have a lower measured IQ than a civil servant with the same ability to think. Nowadays nearly everybody knows what IQ tests are about. (It is possible that members of some minority groups haven't realized it yet. Affirmative action may have interfered with learning.) IQ tests used to be useful for bashing capitalism but not any more.

I have earlier blogged about a similar phenomenon in the case of standardized tests used for college admissions. It looks like it applies to economics as well.

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