What ‘intelligence’ is and how, and if, we can measure it has puzzled us for the better part of 100 years. A few surveys have been done on what ‘intelligence’ is, and there has been little agreement on what it is and even if IQ tests measure ‘intelligence.’ Richardson (2002: 284) noted that:
Of the 25 attributes of intelligence mentioned, only 3 were mentioned by 25 per cent or more of respondents (half of the respondents mentioned ‘higher level components’; 25 per cent mentioned ‘executive processes’; and 29 per cent mentioned ‘that which is valued by culture’). Over a third of the attributes were mentioned by less than 10 per cent of respondents (only 8 per cent of the 1986 respondents mentioned ‘ability to learn’).
As can be seen, even IQ-ists today cannot agree upon a definition—indeed, even Ian Deary admits that “There is no such thing as a theory of human intelligence differences—not in the way that grown-up sciences like physics or chemistry have theories” (quoted in Richardson, 2012). (Also note that attempts of validity are circular, relying on correlations with other, similar tests; Richardson and Norgate, 2015; Richardson, 2017b.)
Linda Gottfredson, University of Delaware sociologist and well-known hereditarian, is a staunch defender of JP Rushton (Gottfredson, 2013) and the hereditarian hypothesis (Gottfredson, 2005, 2009). Her ‘definition’ of intelligence is one of the most-oft cited ones, eg, Gottfredson et al (1993: 13) notes that (my emphasis):
Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings-“catching on,” “ making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.
So ‘intelligence’ is “a very general mental capability”, its main ‘measure’ IQ tests (knowledge tests), but ‘intelligence’ “is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts.” Here’s some more hereditarian “reasoning” (which you can contrast with the hereditarian “reasoning” on race—just assume it exists). Gottfredson also argues that ‘intelligence’ or ‘g’ is learning ability. But, as Richardson (2017a: 100) notes, “it will always be quite impossible to measure ability with an instrument that depends on learning in one particular culture“—which he terms “the g paradox, or a general measurement paradox.”
Gottfredson (1997) also argues that the “active ingredient” in IQ testing is the “complexity” of the items—what makes one item more difficult than another, such as a 3×3 matrix item being more complex than a 2×2 matrix item and giving some examples of analogies which she believes to show a type of higher, more complex cognition in order to figure out the answer to the problem. (Also see Richardson and Norgate, 2014 for further critiques of Gottfredson.)
The trouble with this argument is that IQ test items are remarkably simple in their cognitive demands compared with, say, the cognitive demands of ordinary social life and other activities that the vast majority of children and adults can meet adequately every day.
For example, many test items demand little more than rote reproduction of factual knowledge most likely acquired from experience at home or by being taught in school. Opportunities and pressures for acquiring such valued pieces of information, from books in the home to parents’ interests and educational level, are more likely to be found in middle-class than in working-class homes. So the causes of differences could be causes in opportunities for such learning.
The same could be said about other frequently used items, such as “vocabulary” (or word definitions); “similarities” (describing how two things are the same); “comprehension” (explaining common phenomena, such as why doctors need more training). This helps explain why differences in home background correlate so highly with school performance—a common finding. In effect, such items could simply reflect the specific learning demanded by the items, rather than a more general cognitive strength. (Richardson, 2017a: 91)
IQ-ists, of course, would then state that there is utility in such “simple-looking” test items, but we have to remember that items on IQ tests are not selected based on a theoretical cognitive model, but are selected to give the desired distributions that the test constructors want (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). “… those items in IQ tests have been selected because they help produce the expected pattern of scores. A mere assertion of complexity about IQ test items is not good enough” (Richardson, 2017a: 93). “The items selected for inclusion [on Binet’s test] were those that in the judgment of the teachers distinguished bright from dull students” (Castles, 2012: 88). It seems that all hereditarians do is “assert” or “assume” things—like the equal environments assumption (EEA), the existence of race, and now, the existence of “intelligence”. Just presuppose what you want and, unsurprisingly, you get what you wanted. The IQ-ist then triumphs that the test did its job—sorting high- and low-quality thinkers on the basis of their IQ scores. But that’s exactly the problem: prior assumptions on the nature of ‘intelligence’ and its distribution dictate the construction of the tests in question.
Mensh and Mensh (1991: 30) state that “The [IQ] tests do what their construction dictates; they correlate a group’s mental worth with its place in the social hierarchy.” That is, who is or is not “intelligent” is already presupposed. There has been ample admission of such presumptions affecting the distribution of scores, as some critics have documented (e.g., Hilliard, 2012’s documentation of test norming for two different white cultural groups in South Africa and that Terman equalized scores on his 1937 revision of the Stanford-Binet).
Herrnstein and Murray (1994: 1) write that:
That the word intelligence describes something real and that it varies from person to person is as universal and ancient as any understanding about the state of being human. Literate cultures everywhere and throughout history have had words for saying that some people are smarter than others. Given the survival value of intelligence, the concept must be still older than that. Gossip about who in the tribe is cleverest has probably been a topic of conversation around the fire since fires, and conversation, were invented.
Castles (2012: 83) responds to these assertions stating that “the concept of intelligence is indeed a “brashing modern notion.” 1” Herrnstein and Murray, of course, are in the “Of COURSE intelligence exists!” camp, for, to them, it conferred survival advantages and so, it must exist and we can, therefore, measure it in humans.
Howe (1997), in his book IQ in Question, asks us to imagine someone asking to construct a vanity test. Vanity, like ‘intelligence’, has no agreed-upon definition which states how it should be measured nor anything that makes it possible to check that we are measuring the supposed construct correctly. So the one who wants to assess vanity needs to construct a test with questions he presumes tests vanity. So if the questions he asks relates to how others perceive vanity, then the ‘vanity test’ has been successfully constructed and the test constructor can then believe that he’s measuring “differences in” vanity. But, of course, selecting items on a test is a subjective matter; there is no objective way for this to occur. We can say, with length for instance, that line A is twice as long as line B. But we could not, then, state that person A is twice as vain as person B—nor could we say that person A is twice as intelligent as person B (on the basis of IQ scores)—for what would it mean for someone to be twice as vain as someone else, just like what would it mean for someone to be twice as intelligent as someone else?
Howe (1997: 6) writes:
The measurement of intelligence is bedeviled by the same problems that make it virtually impossible to measure vanity. It is of course possible to construct intelligence tests, and the tests can be useful in a number of ways for assessing human mental abilities, but it is wrong to assume that such tests have the capability of measuring an underlying quality of intelligence, if by ‘measuring’ we have in mind the same operations that are involved in the measurement of a physical quality such as length. A psychological test score is no more than an indication of how well someone has performed at a number of questions that have been chosen for largely practical reasons. Nothing is genuinely being measured.
But if “A psychological test score is no more an indication of how well someone has performed at a number of questions that have been chosen largely for practical reasons”, then it follows that knowledge exposure explains outcomes in psychological test scores. Richardson (1998: 127) writes:
The most reasonable answer to the question “What is being measured?”, then, is ‘degree of cultural affiliation’: to the culture of test constructors, school teachers and school curricula. It is (unconsciously) to conceal this that all the manipulations of item selection, evasions about test validities, and searches for post hoc theoretical underpinning seem to be about. What is being measured is certainly not genetically constrained complexity of general reasoning ability as such,
Mensh and Mensh (1991: 73) note that “In reality — which is precisely the opposite of what Jensen claims it to be — test discrimination among individuals within any group is the incidental by-product of tests constructed to discriminate between groups. Because the tests’ class and racial bias ensures that some groups will be higher and others lower in the scoring hierarchy, the status of an individual member of a group is as a rule predetermined by the status of that group.”
In sum, what these tests test is what the test constructors presume—mainly, class and racial bias—so they get what they want to see. If the test does not match their presuppositions, the test gets discarded or reconstructed to fit with their biases. Thus, definitions of ‘intelligence’ will always be, as Castles (2012: 29), “intelligence is a cultural construct, specific to a certain time and place.” The definition from Gottfredson doesn’t make sense, as the “test-taking smarts” is the main “measure” of ‘intelligence’, and so intelligence’s “main measure” is the IQ test—which presupposes the distribution of scores as developed by the test constructors (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). Herrnstein and Murray’s definition does not make sense either, as the concept of “intelligence” is a modern notion.
At best, IQ test scores measure the degree of cultural acquisition of knowledge; they do not, nor can they, measure ‘intelligence’—which is a cultural concept which changes with the times. The tests are inherently biased against certain groups; looking at the history and construction of IQ testing will make that clear. The tests are middle-class knowledge tests; not tests of ‘intelligence.’