Danger in measuring ability by IQ testing

July 14, 1995

Here we go again . . . Every so often somebody resuscitates IQ tests (James Tooley, THES, July 7). I do not think that the anti-IQ lobby believes that the discipline is in disrepute due to the alleged misdeeds of one man. We believe it is in disrepute because such tests fail to measure the totality of what we call "intelligence". There is now a sizable body of informed opinion that the concept of a general intelligence factor is far too simplistic. Many flaws are apparent. Considerable doubt still exists about what exactly constitutes intelligence.

It is not a good predictor of eminence in later life. It has no correlation with originality. It is culturally biased.

IQ is a good predictor of certain kinds of academic achievement at school, but it is of little value beyond this when other factors are taken into account. However, its predictions, while valid for the sciences, are less successful for the arts. In many creative subjects, for example art and design, IQ has no demonstrated advantage for academic or other success. The basis for this kind of creativity is intuitive, and it is difficult to express in language or to measure. Whatever the nature of creatives' originality, IQ tests cannot measure it. Interpreted more broadly, perhaps originality is the greatest human attribute. It is after all the basis of the built environment around us. It has been stated that, if intelligence or scholastic aptitude tests were solely applied, as many as 70 per cent of our most creative thinkers would be eliminated. A mature scientist with an adult IQ of 130 is just as likely to win a Nobel Prize as one with an IQ of 180.

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence of abilities not measurable by IQ tests comes particularly from studies of non-western peoples. These studies include: exceptional spatial abilities among Inuit peoples and South Seas navigators and extraordinary mathematical skills demonstrated by Kikuyu herders who "count" whether any beasts are missing simply by casting their eyes over the herd.

The fashionable theory of multiple intelligences is probably the best description we have of human intelligence at this time. Abilities are seen as arising from several discrete intelligences which are developed, in the individual, to varying degrees. Thus a person may have preference for one kind of intelligence and develop it to a higher degree than one not so favoured. Gardner has proposed several identified, but tentative, intelligences including linguistic; logical-mathematical; musical; spatial; and bodily-kinesthetic.

Perhaps most worrying is the fact that, human variability being what it is, many children's lives will be blighted by the application of an IQ filter. There will always be individuals who have an off day during a crucial test, or a lack of concentration, or who simply develop their talents a little later in life. In a culturally diverse population it is also quite unacceptable to exclude those from ethnic minorities whose intelligence may be culturally situated quite differently.

And before you wonder yes, I was an 11-plus failure. But I obtained a first degree, and then a masters degree and I am soon to submit my doctoral thesis.

DAVID DURLING Edge Ltd, Hartlepool, Cleveland

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