I know that conjoining the two terms “IQ” and “black” casts me into the outer darkness as far as most people are concerned but psychometrics is my field of academic specialization so I feel that I have an obligation to tell what is known about the topic concerned. And I often do, because so few others are willing to tell the public all that is known.

Chris Brand has drawn our attention to a strange book recently issued by Stephen Murdoch called IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea. Murdoch attacks all use of IQ tests. Since Murdoch appears to have no academic background in psychometrics, the book is a very arrogant one. Murdoch is in effect saying that he can in one fell swoop soar above the combined thinking and research of the hundreds of keen minds who have worked on the IQ concept (which scientists call ‘g’) over the last century or so. There is however no sign in the book that he has anything to say that has not been carefully considered and dismissed many times in the last 100 years. Rather than soaring, he simply shows his ignorance.

I will therefore mention just one point that even Chris does not refute as well as he might: The claim that because IQ tests are devised by whites they cannot validly be used to test blacks. This claim has of course been the focus of a very large body of research and has resulted in the production of widely-used “culture fair” tests — i.e. tests that do not depend on any particular educational or linguistic background but which nonetheless provide good predictions of success in many areas of life for many different populations. These tests show the black/white gap to be at least as large as other tests do.

What is often overlooked, however, is that one group of psychologists (McElwain & Kearney) went even further: Rather than construct a test that had NO cultural biases, they constructed a test that WAS biased — but biased towards blacks rather than towards whites. They included in their test (the Queensland Test or QT) only those items that blacks responded well to and which actually could be shown to be valid predictors of problem solving performance among blacks. In effect, blacks constructed the test themselves — by providing the responses used to select the individual questions within the test.

But you know what happened, don’t you? On a test intrinsically biased against them, whites still greatly outperformed blacks. So there really is an underlying difference between blacks and whites. The difference is not just the result of naively constructed tests. The blacks to which the QT was applied were Australian Aborigines and Melanesians but these groups are very much like people of African ancestry in scoring much below whites on any test that has ever been tried. The QT ended up, in other words, giving results very much like those from culture-fair tests and it is now normally classified as simply another culture-fair test.

A very important point to make here, however, is that general problem-solving ability (which is what IQ tests measure) is not the only ability that is important to survival. A bright smile, an ability to run fast and an ability to get on well with other people are obvious examples of other attributes important to survival. And Australian Aborigines do have some mental attributes that are very well developed indeed. Anybody who knows them well will tell you that they are in general a very friendly and immensely polite and sociable people with an excellent sense of humour — though alcohol transmogrifies them.

And those who know Aborigines really well will tell you that Aborigines have something else: an absolutely eerie ability to observe, remember and interpret the physical landscape around them. For this reason they were widely used in the early days as “trackers” — people who could track someone (usually fleeing criminals) down by observing minute marks he had made while walking through the landscape. This greater spatial ability has been recorded academically in the work of Kearins — and the report by Klekamp et al. (1994) that Australian aboriginals have a larger visual cortex than Caucasians would appear to provide the explanation of the phenomenon.

So any claim that whites are superior to blacks is simply too sweeping. In some ways whites are superior and in other ways blacks are. Which area of superiority is most advantageous will depend on the situation. In situations constructed by whites, blacks often do very poorly. That there is any remedy for that, however, seems most unlikely.

REFERENCES:

McElwain, D. W.& Kearney, G. E. (1973). Intellectual development. In Kearney, G. E., de Lacey, P. R. & Davidson, G. R. (Eds.). The Psychology of Aboriginal Australians (pp. 43-56). Sydney: John Wiley.

Kearins, J. M. (1986). Visual spatial memory in Aboriginal and white Australian children. Australian Journal of Psychology, 38, 203-214

Klekamp, J., Riedel, A., Harper, C., Kretschmann, H. J. (1994). Morphometric study of the postnatal growth of the visual cortex of Australian aborigines and Caucasians. Journal of Brain Research, 35, 541-548.

Ray, J.J. (1972) Are all races equally intelligent? Or: When is knowledge knowledge? J. Human Relations 20, 71-75.

(For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.)

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