In a conversation with an IQ-ist, one may eventually find themselves discussing the concept of “superiority” or “inferiority” as it Regards IQ. The IQ-ist may say that only critics of the concept of IQ place any sort of value-judgments on the number one gets when they take an IQ test. But if the IQ-ist says this, then they are showing their ignorance regarding the history of the concept of IQ. The concept was, in fact, formulated to show who was more “intelligent”—“superior”—and who was less “intelligent”—“inferior.” But here is the thing, though: The terms “superior” and “inferior” are, however, anatomic which shows the folly of the attempted appropriation of the term.
Superiority and inferiority
If one wants to find early IQ-ists talking about superiority and inferiority regarding IQ, they would only need to check out Lewis Terman’s very first Stanford-Binet tests. His scales—now in their fifth edition—state that IQs between 120 and 129 are “superior” while 130-144 is “gifted or very advanced” and 145-160 is “very gifted” or “highly advanced.” How strange… But, the IQ-ist can say that they were just products of their time and that no serious researcher believes such foolish things, that one is “superior” to another on the basis of an IQ score. What about proximal IQs? Lateral IQs? Posterior IQs? Distal IQs? It’s ridiculous to use anatomic terminology (for physical things) and attempt to use them to describe mental “things.”
But, perhaps the most famous hereditarian Arthur Jensen, as I have noted, wrongly stated that heritability estimates can be used to estimate one’s “genetic standing” (Jensen, 1970) and that if we continue our current welfare policies then we are in danger of creating a “genetic underclass” (Jensen, 1969). This, as does the creation of the concept of IQ in the early 1900s, speaks to the hereditarian agenda and the reason for the IQ enterprise as a whole. (See Taylor, 1980 for a wonderful discussion of Jensen’s confusion on the concept of heritability.)
This is no surprise when you understand that IQ tests were created to rank people on a mental hierarchy that reflected the current social hierarchy of the time which would then be used as justification for their spot on the social hierarchy (Mensh and Mensh, 1991). So it is no surprise that anatomic terminology was hijacked in an attempt at forwarding eugenic ideas. But the eugenicists concept of superiority didn’t always pan out the way they wanted it to go, which is evidenced a few decades before the conceptualization of standardized testing.
Galton attempted to show that those with the fastest reaction times were more intelligent, but when he found out that the common man had just as quick of a reaction time, he abandoned this test. Then Cattell came along and showed that no relationship existed between sensory perception and IQ scores. Finally, Binet showed that measures of the skull did not correspond with teacher’s assessment of who is or is not “intelligent.” Then, some decades later, Binet and Simon finally construct a test that discriminates between who they feel is or is not intelligent—which discriminated by social class. This test was finally the “measure” that would differentiate between social classes since it was based on a priori notions of an individual’s place in the social hierarchy (Garrison, 2009: 75). Binet and Simon’s “ideal city” would use test scores as a basis to shuttle people into occupations they “should be” in on the basis of their IQ scores which would show how they would work based on their “aptitudes” (Mensh and Mensh, 1991: 24; Garrison, 2009: 79). Bazemore-James, Shinaorayoon, and Martin (2017) write that:
The difference in racial subgroup mean scores mimics the intended outcomes of the original standardized IQ tests, with exception to Asian Americans. Such tests were invented in the 1910s to demonstrate the superiority of rich, U.S.-born, White men of northern European Descent over non-Whites and recent immigrants (Gersh, 1987). By developing an exclusion-inclusion criteria that favored the aforementioned groups, test developers created a norm “intelligent” (Gersh, 1987, p. 166) populationiot “to differentiate subjects of known superiority from subjects of known inferiority” (Terman, 1922, p. 656).
So, as one can see, this “superiority” was baked-in to IQ tests from the very start and the value-judgments, then, are not in the minds of IQ critics but is inherent in the scores themselves as stated by the pioneers of IQ testing in America and the originators of the concept that would become IQ. Garrison (2009: 79) writes:
With this understanding it is possible to make sense of Binet’s thinking on intelligence tests as group differentiation. That is, the goal was to group children as intelligent and unintelligent, and to grade (value) the various levels of the unintelligent (also see Wolf 1973, 152–154). From the point of view of this goal, it mattered little whether such differences were primarily biological or environmental in origin. The genius of the theory rests in how it postulates one group as “naturally” superior to the other without the assumptions of biology, for reason had already been established as a natural basis for distinction, irrespective of the origin of differences in reasoning ability.
While Binet and Simon were agnostic on the nature-nurture debate, the test items that they most liked were those items that differentiated between social classes the most (which means they were consciously chosen for those goals). But reading about their “ideal city”, we can see that those who have higher test scores are “superior” to those who do not. They were operating under the assumption that they would be organizing society along class lines with the tests being measures of group mental ability. For Binet and Simon, it does not matter whether or not the “intelligence he sought to define” was inherited or acquired, they just assumed that it was a property of groups. So, in effect, “Binet and Simon developed a standard whereby the value of people’s thinking could be judged in a standard way, in a way that corresponded with the exigencies of social reproduction at that time” (Garrison, 2009: 94). The only thing such tests do is reproduce the differences they claim to measure—making it circular (Au, 2009).
But the whole reason why Binet and Simon developed their test was to rank people from “best” to “worst”, “good” to “bad.” But, this does not mean that there is some “thing” inherent in individuals or groups that is being “measured” (Nash, 1990). Thus, since their inception, IQ tests (and by proxy all standardized testing) has pronouncements of such ranking built-in, even if it is not explicitly stated today. Such “measures” are not scientific and psychometrics is then shown for what it really is: “best understood as the development of tools for vertical classification and the production of social value” (Garrison, 2009: 5).
The goal, then, of psychometry is clear. Garrison (2009: 12) writes:
Ranking human worth on the basis of how well one competes in academic contests, with the effect that high ranks are associated with privilege, status, and power, suggests that psychometry is premised, not on knowledge of intellectual or emotional development, but on Anglo-American political ideals of rule by the best (most virtuous) and the brightest (most talented), a “natural aristocracy” in Jeffersonian parlance.
But, such notions of superiority and inferiority, as I have stated back in 2018, are nonsense when taken out of anatomic context:
It should be noted that the terms “superior” and “inferior” are nonsensical, when used outside of their anatomic contexts.
An IQ-ist may exclaim “Are you saying that you can’t say that person A has superior sprinting ability or breath-holding ability!? Are you denying that people are different?!” No, what I’m saying is that it is absurd to take anatomic terminology (physical measures) and attempt to liken it to IQ—this is because nothing physical is being measured, not least because the mental isn’t physical nor reducible to it.
They were presuming to measure one’s “intelligence” and then stating that one has ‘superior’ “intelligence” to another—and that IQ tests were measuring this “superiority”. However, pscyhometrics is not a form of measurement—rankings are not measures.
Knowledge becomes reducible to a score in regard to standardized testing, so students, and in effect their learning and knowledge, are then reduced to their scores on these tests. And so, “such inequalities [with the SAT, which holds for all standardized testing] are structured into the very foundations of standardized test construction itself” (Au, 2009: 64). So what is built into a test can also be built out of it (Richardson, 1990, 2000; Hilliard, 2012).
In first constructing its scales and only then preceding to induce what they ‘measure’ from correlational studies, psychometry has got into the habit of trying to do what cannot be done and doing it the wrong way round anyway. (Nash, 1990: 133)
…psychometry fails to meet its claim of measurement and … its object is not the measurement of nonphysical human attributes, but the marking of some human beings as having more worth or value than other human beings … Psychometry’s claim to measurement serves to veil and justify the fundamentally political act of marking social value, and the role this practice plays in legitimating vast social inequalities. (Garrison, 2009: 30-31)
One of the best examples of a valid measure is temperature—and it has a long history (Chang, 2007). It is valid because there is a well-accepted theory of temperature, what is hot and what is cold. It is a physical property of measure which quantitatively expressed heat and cold. So thermometers were invented to quantify temperature, whereas thermometers were invented to quantify “intelligence.” Those, like Jensen, attempt to make the analogy between temperature and IQ, thermometers and IQ tests. Thermometers, with a high degree of reliability, measure temperature and so do, Jensen, claims, IQ tests.
So, IQ-ists claim, temperature is measured by thermometers, by definition, therefore intelligence is what IQ tests measure, by definition. But there is a problem with claims such as this. Temperature was verified independently of the measuring device originally used to measure it. Fixed points were first established, and then numerical thermometers could be constructed in which we then find a procedure to assign numbers to degrees of heat between and beyond the fixed points. The thermoscope was what was used for the establishment of fixed points, The thermoscope has no fixed points, so we do not have to circularly rely on the concept of fixed points for reference. And if it goes up and down, we can then rightly infer that the temperature of blood is not stable. But what validates the thermoscope? Human sensation. We can see that when we put our hand into water that is scalding hot, if we put the thermoscope in the same water and note that it rises rapidly. So the thermoscopes agreement with our basic sensations of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ serve as reliability for the fact that thermoscopes reliably justify (in a non-circular way) that temperature is truly being measured. We are trusting the physical sensation we get from whichever surface we are touching, and from this, we can infer that thermoscopes do indeed validate thermometers making the concept of temperature validated in a non-circular manner and a true measure of hot and cold. (See Chang, 2007 for a full discussion on the measurement of temperature.)
Thermometers could be tested by the criterion of comparability, whereas IQ tests, on the other hand, are “validated” circularly with tests of educational achievement, other IQ tests which were not themselves validated. and job performance (Howe, 1997; Richardson and Norgate, 2015; Richardson, 2017) which makes the “validation” circular since IQ tests and achievement tests are different versions of the same test (Schwartz, 1975).
For example, take intro chemistry. When one takes the intro course, they see how things are measured. Chemists may be measuring in mols, grams, the physical state of a substance, etc. We may measure water displacement, reactions between different chemicals or whatnot. And although chemistry does not reduce to physics, these are all actual physical measures.
But the same cannot be said for IQ (Nash, 1990). We can rightly say that one scores higher than another on an IQ tests but that does not signify that some “thing” is being measured and this is because, to use the temperature example again, there is no independent validation of the “construct.” IQ is a (latent) construct but temperature is a quantitative measure of hot and cold. It really exists, though the same cannot be said about IQ or “intelligence.” The concept of “intelligence” does not refer to something like weight and temperature, for example (Midgley, 2018).
Physical properties are observables. We observe the mercury in a thermometer change based on the temperature inside a building or outside. One may say that we observe “intelligence” daily, but that is NOT a “measure”, it’s just a descriptive claim. Blood pressure is another physical measure. It refers to the pressure in large arteries of the system. This is due to the heart pumping blood. An IQ-ist may say that intelligence is the emergent product of thinking and that this is due to the brain and that correlations between life outcomes, IQ tests and educational achievements then validate the measure. But, as noted above, this is circular. The two examples given—blood pressure and temperature—are real things that are physically measurable, unlike IQ (a latent construct).
It also should be noted that Eysenck claimed that if the measurement of temperature is scientific, then so is the measurement of intelligence. But thermometers are not identical to standardized scales. However, this claim fails, as Nash (1990: 131) notes:
In order to measure temperature three requirements are necessary: (i) a scale, (ii) some thermometric property of an object and, (iii) fixed points of reference. Zero temperature is defined theoretically and successive interval points are fixed by the physical properties of material objects. As Byerly (p. 379) notes, that ‘the length of a column of mercury is a thermometric property presupposes a lawful relationship between the order of length and the temperature order under certain conditions.’ It is precisely this lawful relationship which does not exist between the normative IQ scale and any property of intelligence.
This is where IQ-ists go the most wrong: the emphatically state that their tests are measuring SOMETHING! which is important for life success since they correlate with them. Though, there is no precise specification of the measured object, no object of measurement and no measurement unit, so this “means that the necessary conditions for metrication do not exist [for IQ]” (Nash, 1990: 145).
Since IQ tests have a scoring system, the general impressions is that IQ tests measure intelligence just like thermometers measure temperature—but this is a nonsense claim. IQ is an artifact of the test’s norming population. These points do not reflect any inherent property of individuals, they reflect one’s relation to the society they are in (since all standardized tests are proxies for social class).
One only needs to read into the history of IQ testing—and standardized testing as a whole—to see how and why these tests were first devised. From their beginnings wkth Binet and then over to Terman, Yerkes, and Goddard, the goal has been clear—enact eugenic policies on those deemed “unintelligent” by IQ tests which just so happen to correspond with lower classes in virtue of how the tests were constructed, which goes back originally to Binet and Simon. The history of the concept makes it clear that it’s not based on any kind of measurement theory like blood pressure and temperature. It is based on a priori notions of the structure and distribution of “intelligence” which then reproduces the social structure and “justifies” notions of superiority and inferiority on the basis of “intelligence tests” (Mensh and Mensh, 1991; Au, 2009; Garrison, 2009).
The attempts to hijack anatomic terminology, as I have shown, are nonsense since one doesn’t talk in other anatomic terminology about other kinds of things; the first IQ-ists’ intentions were explicit in what they were attempting to “show” which still holds for all standardized testing today.
Binet, Terman, Yerkes, Goddard and others all had their own priors which then led them to construct tests in such a way that would lead to their desired conclusions. No “property” is being “measured” by these tests, nor can they be used to show one’s “genetic standing” (Jensen, 1970) which implies that one is “genetically superior” (this can be justified by reading Jensen’s interview with American Renaissance and his comments on the “genetic enslavement” of a group of we continued our welfare policy).
Physiological measures, such as blood pressure, and measures of hot and cold, such as temperature, are valid measures and in no way, shape or form—contra Jensen—like the concept of IQ/”intelligence”, which Jensen conflates (Edwards, 1973). Intelligence (which is extra-physical) cannot be measured (see Berka, 1983 and see Nash, 1990: chapter 8 for a discussion of the measurement objection of Berka).
For these reasons, we should not claim that IQ tests ‘measure’ “intelligence”, nor do they measure one’s “genetic standing” or how “superior” one is to another and we should claim that psychometrics is nothing more than a political ring.