Jewgenics: Jewish intelligence, Jewish genes, and Jewish values is the latest by William Saletan in Slate. If you can, ignore the ethnic side of the story and concentrate on this excerpt: Entine laid out the data. The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is 107 to 115, well above the human average of 100.
Note the word “data”.
Saletan accepts it without question. So do most of us. Since the dawn of the Industrial Education Revolution, we have accepted the notion that our most distinctively human quality — our intelligence — is actually a quantity measurable on a single scale. We speak of a person’s IQ (“Intelligence Quotient”) as if it were a thing, like body fat or hemoglobin, that each of us possesses in differing amounts, and that IQ tests are no less precise and diagnostic than blood pressure gauges or engine dipsticks.
Yet IQ tests are puzzle-solving exercises that in fact say no more about you than whether or not you’re good at solving those puzzles, in a single setting on a single day.
Thus every Sudoku and crossword puzzle is also an IQ test, because you need to be smart to do well at them. The difference is that we don’t use Sudoko or crossword puzzle performance to tell schools, parents, children and entire races and ethnic groups what they’re worth.
But that’s exactly what we do with IQ tests. We do it as institutions, and we do it as individuals. The weight those test scores carry is huge and hard to deny.
For example, if I tell you I have an IQ of 125, can you forget that number? Can it not color what you think of me from then on, even if I tell you I just made that number up (which I did)?
In fact my known IQ scores have an eighty (80!) point range. A high score when I was five years old placed me in the “fast” kindergarten. And, even though I stayed in that group through 6th grade, I hated school. So, by junior high, my grades and test scores were so far behind the norm that the school placed me on the loser track, vectored toward a “vocational-technical” (aka “trade”) school, where I would at least earn a high school diploma. If my parents hadn’t believed in me (and if my mother hadn’t been a teacher in my school system) that would have been my fate. Fortunately, they sent me off to a boarding school where my grades still sucked but I learned a lot.
Today I’m sure I’d do much worse on an IQ test than I would have done in my teens or twenties. Does that make me dumber? Fact is, I’m a helluva lot smarter, and far better informed, even if my memory isn’t as good and I’ve been losing neurons steadily for decades, as do we all.
“I was never measured, and never will be measured”, Whitman said. “I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass.”
The measure of us all is what cannot be measured—and with it the ability to prove all measures wrong. We need to remember that.