The final word on intelligence

6 November 2007

I didn’t want to say anymore on intelligence but I had to relate the story of the party I went to on Friday. There I bumped into an old friend of an old friend – one of those people you see regularly at certain parties and have a good chat with.

I asked about her circle of friends, whom I know vaguely, and it turned there’d been a major fallout. One was all fired up about IQ tests after watching some TV prog and challenged the others to take the test too. They were less keen. It ended with the first person storming out of the house and not talking to the others since.

Now I’ve no doubt the person in question scores very highly on IQ tests. But after doing something like that, you’ve got to ask just how good a measure of intelligence IQ really is. In his book, James Flynn discusses the other measures that relate to people’s performance. The candidates include emotional intelligence, motivation and, yes, wisdom. 

What made me think about this were all the posts following Watson’s comments. I can understand people getting worked up about the freedom of speech issue – I think the habit in the media of shutting down any discussion that involves the word “race” is wrong – but they do it because the level of racism revealed by such discussions is so frighteningly high.

Indeed, what possesses people to write mega-posts like this? Which conflates IQ tests with “intelligence testing”. Which quotes Flynn but utterly misunderstands his views. Could it be that what is upsetting most people is not that Watson lost his job, but the idea that they might not be more intelligent than black people after all?

Now of course I like to think I’m more intelligent than average. But then polls suggest 90 per cent of people think they are too, and we can’t all be right. It’s perhaps that other 10 per who are really bright.

What really matters, of course, is not some abstract measure but what we do. I bet Nelson Mandela wouldn’t have scored that highly on an IQ test even in his prime due to his background – privileged relative to other black people in SA but incredibly disadvantaged nevertheless – but he’s achieved a million times more than all the idiotic bloggers quibbling about the Watson affair ever will. Including me.