g spots of bother

December 10, 1999

Genetic determinism is the new religion, and Rosalind Arden ("g whiz! IQ is a clever concept", THES, December 3) seems determined to be one its apostles. Before people rush to "accept the facts", here are a few others: * No gene or genes that "contribute" to intelligence have been identified

* Critiques of sloppy methodology (as in IQ testing on twins) are not "prejudices", but responsible science

* Psychologists may find IQ tests "vital tools" but still cannot agree about what these tools tell them except in the vaguest terms

* After 70 years, g still has no agreed cognitive description beyond that of a statistical abstraction

* Scores on IQ tests correlate at least partly because the tests are constructed to do just that

* Correlations are not causes, a point hammered home to every first-year student

* Correlations between IQ scores and educational attainments are ones deliberately "built in" to tests

* There is little if any evidence that IQ (or g) scores are associated with intelligence in the wider world, such as occupational performance

* Suggestions that differences in g are caused by differences in myelination are speculation

* Traits that are "highly heritable" (genetically vary) tend not to be evolutionarily very important (and vice versa).

IQ is a clever concept. By converting a social ladder to a numerical surrogate and claiming the numbers reflect the ultimate (biological) limits of people helps keep them in their places. But how many times has that kind of cleverness been used in history? The richness, diversity and historically self-transforming nature of human intelligence far outstrips the straitjacket of genes or that of the IQ tester. Isn't it amazing then that g theorists, as Arden puts it, "after decades of research" still "haven't a clue" about anything in experience that "makes a damn bit of difference"? Could it be that they are looking at the subject all wrong?

Ken Richardson

Wolsingham, Co. Durham

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