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IQ Test Controversies Persist

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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What do IQ tests measure? Can intelligence be improved? How should we select students for gifted and talented programs? How well do IQ tests predict success in life? How important are characteristics such as self-regulation and ambition? What about deliberate practice? What is the neuroscience of intelligence?

These are some of the most hot button issues facing us today in society.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of misunderstandings about the IQ test– what they measure, what they predict, how they should be used — which get repeated over and over again in these discussions.

For his radio show Science Fantastic, physicist Michio Kaku interviewed me about these issues, and I had the opportunity to dispel some common myths.

Have a listen here:





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Scott Barry Kaufman About the Author: Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow on Twitter @sbkaufman.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. rkipling 12:08 pm 08/23/2013

    Our son took an IQ test to get into gifted classes in grade and high school. That gave him access to teachers with PhDs in several classes in high school. He started university at 16 on full scholarship and got his PhD by 22. I guess the tests measure something?

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  2. 2. tuned 12:23 pm 08/23/2013

    What is the journalism of asking nothing but questions?

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  3. 3. rshoff 2:05 pm 08/23/2013

    I can’t find the link to the radio-cast. But without hearing it, I can see the questions you listed in the text are themselves the answers. The problem is that we can’t rely upon government run bureaucratic or school administered academic programs to make these choices. We (those amongst us who care about it) need to individual identify kids with potential (potential for what, you may ask) and advocate for them.

    Will the goal be for improving society? Humanity? Or to help them attain personal wealth, status, and power?

    So, my belief? IQ testing is practically meaningless. Maybe for a parlor game.

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  4. 4. Scienceisnotagenda 3:21 pm 08/23/2013

    IQ testing isn’t all that controversial. The use and interpretation of results sometimes is in western countries.

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  5. 5. phalaris 3:44 pm 08/23/2013

    Yet another plug for Kaufman’s book.
    Of course Einstein didn’t take “the IQ exam” – nothing like that existed at the time. No sensible person ever argued that, it’s a strawman. But he must have passed tests to get to college, like everyone else. We don’t need to define IQ, intelligence or whatever, or have exams for these concepts. But we do need to make sure that those who can benefit from them get to the higher level courses. And that won’t include everyone. There must be some sort of aptitude bar for that.

    What exactly are these people proposing? : integral calculus for everyone?
    Of course these mealy-mouthed obscurantists are not going to answer that.
    The whole wordy audio-plug is intended to obfuscate the issue.

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  6. 6. zstansfi 6:36 pm 08/23/2013


    Not sure if your comment was tongue-in-cheek.

    If you were indeed serious, keep in mind that you cannot evaluate the utility of an IQ test based upon a one off case. Moreover, your comment nicely indicates how the correlation between “IQ scores” and positive outcomes is confounded by the opportunities gained by having a high IQ score. Indeed, it was this simple oversight which so profoundly mislead Lewis Terman, one of the greatest drivers behind the modern concept of IQ.

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  7. 7. Ar U. Gaetü 7:36 pm 08/23/2013

    If IQ testing actually proves potential -and- there are schools nearby that can properly teach such a student -and- someone has money to assist the student through college, then it might be useful. But, testing by itself is useless.

    All through my childhood, about every other year, I was tested and found to be “gifted” but there was nothing in the schools for me. I had one Math class in the 7th grade that was “at your own pace” that I zipped through in less than half the expected time. That would have been a good start, but they had nothing more for such children, so for the rest of the year, I spent the class hour rotting in the library doing nothing, while the others did their work. Funny, in the end, my A+ didn’t make any difference, it was seen in my records as the same as A+ as anyone else’s A+. High School had nothing either.

    I’d go to FermiLab during the summer for something to do. After creating a boat load of tuition financial debt, I eventually graduated college with a BS in Elec. Eng. Now, with decades of management experience. Still with my tons of debt, here I sit. Over 50. Too young to retire (if I had any money). Fixing relatives computers and unemployed. Fired from my last 3 jobs for being Gay. One was Apple, Inc. (true story). Competing with high school kids for a job.

    No one wants to employ an old fart, no matter how intelligent he is. Sadly, I have friends in nearly identical situations; very bright, peaked at 30, now very unemployed, and rendered unemployable.

    You can’t just fix tiny parts of the monstrous disaster known as American schools. Stop buying tanks approved by Congressmen, that will be paid millions by tank manufacturers when they retire. The school system money was spent on a row of 1000 rusted, unused, tanks in the desert.

    Why is the US in such bad shape? Easy. The adults stopped carrying about children back in the 70′s, and it has never changed.

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  8. 8. m 10:45 pm 08/23/2013

    Ar U. Gaetü

    Many smart people do not like working under stupid people.

    There is one tank factory left if I recall, producing one every month or so. The US military doesn’t use tanks, they are just for show at military conventions.

    That might change with active camouflage so Apache helicopters cant easily take them out, or a person on the ground with a sticky bomb.

    Tanks are still exported though, but the industry must be subsidised to produce a product the world doesn’t need.

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  9. 9. Moroccobound 7:52 am 08/24/2013

    The biggest problem with IQ tests is the word intelligence. It can’t even be defined very well, much less measured, and for the simple reason that intelligence is not a single substance, but a complicated mix of neural functions, many resistant to quantification. Was Picasso a genius? No test would have decided the issue. IQ tests predict success in school with a statistical significance because the other standard assessments for students are quite similar in format and testing conditions. For those who do well the result is indeed a positive feedback loop leading to college and professional opportunities.

    The good news, once one casts aside the absurd notion that intelligence is a fixed, measurable quantity, IQ scores can be improved with the right training. And perhaps, as in Lake Wobegon, all of our children can be above average.

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  10. 10. jtdwyer 4:39 pm 08/24/2013

    There’s quite a bit of actual scientific research on the subject available from practitioners in the field that might provide much more enlightening information on the subject! For example, it might be interesting to report on:
    I expect that a more rigorous search would yield more interesting results.

    See and its extensive references

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  11. 11. oliveas 6:00 am 08/26/2013

    Thanks for this post regarding IQ test preparation.

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  12. 12. hannahwilliam 7:05 am 10/25/2013

    the IQ test simply measure the analysis and sharpness.

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  13. 13. Alan John 6:32 am 11/4/2013

    thanks for the posting but IQ testing isn’t all that controversial. The use and interpretation of results sometimes is in western countries.

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