I'm a genius; I have the numbers to prove it.
I took note of Dr. Dan Peters' post,
Speaking as someone with a high IQ score (I'm in Mensa) and a former "gifted child", I have to say I'm skeptical of IQ tests and the whole concept of IQ.
I don't mean to denigrate or arbitrarily challenge Dr. Peters or his views (he makes some good points), but I've given this a lot of thought over the years and I've come to the opinion that IQ tests measure your ability to take IQ tests — and not much else. IQ's predictive value, regarding actual academic or career achievement, seems negligible.
I freely admit that I haven't kept up-to-date on the state of IQ testing, and I recognize that psychological testing generally has gotten much more sophisticated since I was a child; in this regard, jokes about the 1950s being the "late Cenozoic" or "antediluvian" aren't all that far off. Perhaps "medieval" would be more fair. So I'm sure the whole field is more sophisticated these days, and thus, I may be completely full of beans. But still…
What IQ purports to measure can superficially be called "cognitive talent". We use "talent" to describe a predilection or predisposition for a particular skill that appears innate. So we notice the four-year-old who's been picking out especially complex tunes on Grandma's piano, or the second-grader whose crayon work seems more refined than one might otherwise expect. Similarly, cognitive talent typically manifests in early reading (thank you, Ding Dong School) and numerical abilities, the very skills that our educational system tries, almost exclusively these days, to instill in our kids. That talent is — potentially at least — very valuable to the individual possessing it. But I think the idea of trying to measure that talent, and — have mercy! — distill it down to a number, is fundamentally flawed.
Think about our four-year-old pianist or seven-year-old illustrator; to be recognized, "talent" like that needs to be seen by someone with sufficiently broad understanding of the skill set involved. Someone makes an essentially subjective judgment. I can't even imagine expressing artistic talent as a number, measurable by an objective examination — although people have tried. But apparently we can do that with cognitive talent. Or so we're told [insert scoffing sound].
There are things we can measure that are similar to — but not the same as — talent. For example, if you're tall, it's probably easier to be a good basketball player; if you have long fingers, it's probably easier to learn a musical instrument. But being tall doesn't make you a good basketball player, nor does not being tall prevent you from becoming one; similarly, having long fingers doesn't guarantee musical ability, nor do short fingers deny it. But that's not a talent, in the sense of an innate affinity for a skill set.
So the High School coach that sees the tall kid and reflexively recruits her for the basketball team isn't doing so on the basis of talent — no talent has yet been demonstrated; the four-year-old may have long fingers, but does he have any interest in Grandma's piano?
That's how I see IQ; it measures the length of one's fingers, but not one's affinity for the piano.
I agree with Dr. Peters on a couple of counts, however. Children who demonstrate early skills with reading and math stand out from their peers, and frequently are seen as getting more than their fair share of praise in school, despite the best efforts of the teacher. That breeds peer resentment, sometimes violent. And above and beyond what Dr. Peters describes as "asynchronous development," a child's cognitive development might be encouraged while his emotional development gets left behind. This exacerbates socialization issues already engendered by the differences in cognitive abilities.
Chris Hayes' (of MSNBC and The Nation) new book, Twilight of the Elites, is basically a critique of the concept of meritocracy. He challenges the very idea that people can — other than in a few instances — be lined up in order of "merit", who's best, who's second, who's third, and so on. The problems arise in how we make that determination, how we measure merit. He points out that in those areas where we have measures — sports, for example, or how much money one has — cheating is rampant.
While the term "meritocracy" is of recent origin, the idea comes out of the same 19th-Century early Industrial-Age classical Newtonian intellectual milieu that assumed everything was objectively measurable and that any two (or more) measurements could, potentially, be compared. This milieu gave us modern Physics and Chemistry, but it also gave us phrenology, social Darwinism and Female Hysteria. IQ testing (indeed, psychological testing generally) makes that same pre-Einsteinian assumption.
Critiques of IQ testing (if not of the concept of IQ), that the tests are (e.g.) culturally biased, ignore non-cognitive types of intelligence, etc., have been around for decades, and the folks inhabiting the IQ field have been diligent in trying to refine the testing to eliminate or at least reduce the biases, however quixotic that particular quest may be.
But the real danger is when IQ is used as a tool for comparisons among individuals or groups. I'm pretty sure Dr. Peters would advise against that use. But it's a statistic, and that's what we do with statistics, we infer assertions about the subject data population from the comparisons among them. For example, Mensa's "top 2%" roughly corresponds to two standard deviations above the mean. And IQ's statistical character leads — almost inevitably, one might argue — to abominations like Charles Murray's The Bell Curve.
I invite Dr. Peters to disagree with me or to enlighten me concerning any misconceptions I may have expressed.