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Monday, June 3, 2013

I.Q. and the Immigration Question

If you Google “I.Q. Immigration” you get 4,580,000 hits.  I don’t know how much of that is the responsibility of the Heritage Foundation, but everything on the first two screens has Heritage in the title line.  I started wondering about I.Q. testing, so I took three different tests on the internet.  The results were nothing to brag about, but nothing to be ashamed of either.  The last time I took an I.Q. test was in the spring of 1948 as part of the entrance exam for Regis High School in Denver.  I remember that day well.  I had the flu and I can still see the numbers and diagrams sort of swimming around the page.  My score was so bad that even 30 years later I couldn’t get my mother to tell me just how bad.  I must have gotten into Regis solely on the basis of my record in grammar school; they did put me in the “B” class – there were three sections, A,B and C.  I assume that was sort of a compromise between my terrible exam results and my academic record, which was “all A’s.”  I did well in the three years that I was there before we moved to New York and never had to take a final exam in anything.  Nothing went that well after that.

Recently I wrote a short review in this blog of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.  The book is about declining levels of violence in modern Western society, but he has a lot to say about I.Q  The bell curve of measured intelligence comes up in his discussion of the “Flynn Effect.”  It seems the keepers of I.Q. tests have to add about 3.5 points every decade to keep the average at 100.  An I.Q. of 100 in 1910 would measure about 70 today and an I.Q. of 100 today would be equivalent to 130 in 1910.  Are we actually smarter than our grandparents and great grandparents?  Maybe so, but I.Q. is supposedly stable over a lifetime.  Despite my lousy performance in 1948, I’m quite sure I was actually well above average, i.e., above 100, at that time, or I couldn’t have had the academic record that I had.  If I add 3.5 points for each of the six decades since 1948, that’s 21 points which would put me up there close to the genius category.  So I have my doubts about the Flynn Effect.  I’ve always suspected that even the most primitive people are as intelligent as we are, but that they just know different things.  After reading Pinker, I will have to rethink that.

According to Pinker and the myriad of studies he consulted the change in handling of answers on I.Q. tests from decade to decade doesn’t happen in questions that test math and language.  It’s all in the questions that test abstract reasoning.  Our apparent gains in intelligence have not raised scores on tests like the SATs.  I didn’t notice whether Pinker described results for tests of abstract reasoning other than those within standard I.Q. tests, but I Googled results for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) and compared verbal, quantitative and analytical reasoning scores.  I remember it well.  The third section tested reasoning and problem solving and would seem to be testing the kind of development that has caused the Flynn Effect.  Unfortunately the series only runs from 1982 through 2002, when it seems to have been replaced by an analytical writing section.  Verbal scores dropped steadily from 530 in 1965 to 462 in 2007; quantitative scores dropped from 533 in 1965 to a low of 510 in 1976 and then rose to 584 in 2007; analytical reasoning scores started at 498 in 1982 and rose to 571 in 2002, hooking up sharply the last couple of years. I don’t see anything conclusive in these numbers.

Pinker distinguishes between 1910 and the present by suggesting it is the difference between pre-scientific and post scientific reasoning and points out a major difference between then and now.  We routinely use terms like percentage, rates of change, correlation, causation, post hoc, representative sample, statistical control group, placebo, empirical, median, circular argument, cost benefit analysis, false positive, trade off and so on.  If you tried these in 1910 your listener might think you were speaking a foreign language.  If you have enough Spanish, try cost benefit analysis on the guy who mows your lawn.

This brings us to all of the guys who mow our lawns.  If you Google “bell Curve,” you will find charts that show people on the Asian rim including all of China are smarter than the rest of us, and there are a plethora of charts showing I.Q. by race, region, income level, years of education and perhaps other characteristics.  Perhaps we should only allow immigration from Asia.  To me it seems only natural that there would be differences among cultures, and I don’t see how it would be possible to develop I.Q. tests that would predict success rates for people with different cultural experiences. 

If Hispanics and African Americans measure lower as groups than white Americans and do so over several generations, it seems to me that our educational system is failing to bring these groups into the intellectual climate that has been developing in Europe and the United States since the Enlightenment, i.e., into the era of post scientific reasoning.  We are smarter than our forebears about the things that are important in modern society, but very likely so are the potential immigrants because even in third world societies, most people have had more exposure to the modern world than our forebears.  This takes me back to Pinker again.  His book wasn’t about I.Q. but rather about how the development of a reasoning society has led to the decrease of violence in all aspects of our lives, but along the way he makes a strong case for doing what is necessary to bring everyone into our post scientific society that is based on reason.

How would the Knights of the Roundtable or any other pre-Enlightenment European group do on a modern intelligence test?  They had the same genes as us white folks, but they would be unlikely to survive in our modern society unless we imparted to them the knowledge required to be successful in a post scientific society  --  exactly the same thing we should be doing with minority groups.

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