It is always convenient as a politician to explain circumstances in terms of pre-destiny, natural evolution over which we can do little, as a species, to change. However, it is important to be careful to seek out good evidence for any such views because they can be used falsely to explain and justify economic policies. In the UK economic policies usually fail because such explanations are groundless and therefore result in socially destructive outcomes. A point in question is a peculiar notion about the connections between genetics and intelligence. Before getting to the evaluation of this particular point it is necessary to review a somewhat boring, but revealing, set of events.
A government special adviser is on the record as possessing ill-explained beliefs supporting this sort of drift and recently one of his team resigned over the fuss caused by revelations that he appears to have held similar views. Although much huffing and puffing led to some in government to insinuate such views were unacceptable, it is revealing that the person to spell this out more clearly in policy terms with social implications arising from these errant views, is Boris Johnson. He spelt these out in an odd speech he gave when Mayor of London in November, 2013. Whilst quoting data from a well known book published in the USA (The Bell Curve) without apparently having the interest to critically assess the facts in order to understand the full significance of this topic.
On Wednesday, 27th November 2013 Boris Johnson gave a short speech basically declaring that inequality is essential to fostering "the spirit of envy" and that greed was a "valuable spur to economic activity". He made the comment that 16% of "our species" had an IQ below 85% while he called for more to promote the interests of the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. At this point in his speech he asked whether anyone present had a low IQ and then said "Over 16% anyone? Put up your hands! As a City affair there appeared to be an assumption that most in attendance would have high IQs. He passed on to the notion of stress as a means of separating people into different categories by stating the that harder you shake the pack the easier it is for some cornflakes to get to the top. He then spelt out his thoughts on inequality. "I stress – I don't believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity." But he rounded that off by stating "I hope there is no return to the spirit of loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling banknotes under the noses of the homeless – and I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed, valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress, as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years."
That was seven years ago. Today, the real falls in incomes and continual rise in income disparity since, have become more pronounced and yet no one appears to have responded to his appeal that the "rich" give and do something to help. It would appear that policies to motivate greed have resulted in the greed component being triumphant with any concern for others having withered - clearly, Boris's expressed hopes are empty political rhetoric. In terms of helping the rich, this is exactly what quantitative easing has accomplished as a result of a decade long run while any help for the less fortunate has been at the mercy of "austerity" and cut backs on public services and local government budgets.
Johnson's only evidence to justify such an approach to economic policy is estimates of IQs. Tests to estimate a ratio called the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) do test a particular combination of capabilities and in assessing IQ tests one has to identify what these capabilities are, and then, to determine whether these have anything to do with intelligence. In addition, given the context, it is worth assessing how and to what degree test results can be related to the economy. It can be appreciated that just this initial statement opens the door to a labyrinth within which we will find multiple strands of different capabilities that can be linked together to fashion a profile of "intelligence". There is the notion that people who have high IQs are intelligent or clever, but what does that mean? There is also a widely held belief that our future depends on clever people who discover things, innovate and push the boundaries of our existence to achieve a general state of contentment and happiness. But as anyone who has experience with IQ tests knows, they possess no content that might test the ability to discover, innovate and improve the wellbeing of all. Indeed, there is considerable evidence (Sulloway) which points to the ability to apply knowledge, in the sense of uncovering complex relationships, being inversely related to scores in IQ tests. Thus Frank Sulloway, in his book, cites a passage from a letter from Charles Darwin (1809-1882) to his son in 1871 (E. Darwin, 1915, 2:207) in which he states:
Before delving into how one might detect "discoverers" who possess a quite distinct, valuable and socially significant capability, it is worth reviewing what the standard IQ tests, in fact, evaluate.
Today, IQ tests are just another basis for testing people on their ability to handle specific types of questions made up of patterns, mathematical series, word association and many others. However, in all cases the required skills can be honed through practice and tutoring. The early days of IQ tests the separation of children or adults into categories based on scored achieved in IQ tests were considered to demonstrate just how "effective" the tests were in distinguishing between intelligent and less intelligent individuals based on the equation:
Unfortunately many of these IQ score assignments were incorrect from the standpoint of assessing intelligence, however defined, especially in countries where there were distinct ethnic, religious and even income levels. American work established that IQ tests are not so much intelligence tests but are in fact "culture pattern tests". At the extreme, and based on actual US experiments conducted over 60 years ago, the notion of culture pattern tests was established. For example, by way of example, experiments carried out compared the results of Hopi Indian children, who lived in the sparse arid zones, and urban mainstream American children. In a word association test, the word "crowds" had the following possible associations:
The urban mainstream children associated crowds with "fun" and "togetherness" and the Hopi Indian children associated crowds with "dust" and "danger". Both, of course, are right from the standpoint of their experience and culture but the mainstream examiner, unaware of the cultural patterns of the Hopi Indian children, would have marked them down and maybe even have suggested a visit to the psychiatrist.
In a particular case study an individual, who at 11 scored 95 on his first IQ test, scored 129 after having been tutored for a reasonably short time to explain what IQ tests were. This was not based on rote learning but simply explaining to the child what the examiner expected of him. Rote learning or exposure to multiple IQ tests can help but what is more important is understanding the norms by which the person who designed the test operated. It might be assumed that such a concept would be beyond a child of 11 years of age; it isn't. This same individual while working on a programme concerning pattern recognition in later life, scored 149 on IQ tests that happened to contain several questions concerning shapes and unconventional symbols. This demonstrates that the IQ tests have little to do with any absolute measurement of intelligence but are more to do with mad individual's overall development related to acquisition of knowledge and experience.
One of the negative aspects of the eleven plus was the pressure placed in children to do well without reference their stage of development and the stigma associated with those who did not pass because of the judgement that they were "less intelligent" than those who had passed. The basic injustice here was that many children who eventually would have scored with better results than those who were able to pass at a lower age, were marginalized as a result of their subsequent deficient educational environment leading to a lower probability of a sound professional formation leading to reduced prospects and opportunities for work. We can see here that there is a relationship between this measure of "intelligence" and the economy and, indeed, people's wellbeing. However, the impact of relying on this bogus measurement of "intelligence" was a mis-assignment of a considerable number of intelligent children to deficient educational trajectories leading to prejudice for those concerned and, by extension, the economy.
In realizing this particular problem with the eleven plus, Thomas McNeill (1910-2002), the headmaster of the Portsmouth Technical High School, proposed a real time monitoring and evaluation system through the local education authority and in collaboration with the heads of the Southern, Northern Grammar Schools, to monitor the progress of children who were borderline cases having "failed" the eleven plus. The objective was to identify "late developers" who could be transferred from the modern schools to their school of choice, which in the case of Portsmouth was the Technical High School or any of the grammar schools. This scheme ran between 1956 to 1965 transferring over 200 children, over that period, to schools which offered these children a better future through more effective teaching environments. Many of these children went on to good universities and employment in a wide range of sectors. This system became more difficult to implement when Anthony Crosssland introduced comprehensive schools in 1965.
This has been a very incomplete review of this topic and there is much to add. Perhaps the important take aways are that means of selection and especially IQ tests assign an absolute measure when what is measured is evolving so the results should not be used to tag individuals as being "intelligent". Note that so far we have not yet defined what intelligence is in regard to the underlying topic of the relationship between people's capabilities, the economy and the wellbeing of all. We also have not yet covered the genetics and ethnicity angles. The reasons are that this is a complex topic which possess enormous sensitivities because it intrudes upon the predetermined fixations of some who prefer to affront the facts with facile or convenient interpretations. However, we will attempt to cover all relevant territory concerning this important topic in the following articles in this series ;-).