Apr

15

 "The Surprising Downsides of Being Clever" :

The first steps to answering these questions were taken almost a century ago, at the height of the American Jazz Age. At the time, the new-fangled IQ test was gaining traction, after proving itself in World War One recruitment centres, and in 1926, psychologist Lewis Terman decided to use it to identify and study a group of gifted children. Combing California's schools for the creme de la creme, he selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more – 80 of whom had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the "Termites", and the highs and lows of their lives are still being studied to this day.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Francis Galton had raised the question of intelligence measurement in the 1860s, and it was one that absorbed people's attention because it raised an important issue: could "society" - i.e. civil servant bureaucracies and charitable organizations - make the common people smarter. For the English-speaking world this was a topic for endless debate because it was really about how much more money Progressives could get spent on public schools. The French, with their universal childhood conscription (no child was allowed to avoid public schooling), did not have to debate the issue; they brought their usual scientific rigor (at least in that period) to bear and had Alfred Binet create a standardized test for all elementary school age children in 1905.

By the Jazz Age (sic) the IQ test was anything but "new-fangled"; on the contrary, it was old hat. When Terman's book, The Measurement of Intelligence, was published in the U.S. in 1916 (it was an almost complete rip and translate from Binet's work), it had been "new-fangled" and was wildly popular. One important reason for its popularity was that it was the first book in American education history that allowed parents the opportunity to test their own children. But, ten years later, when Terman began his longitudinal study, people were sour enough on the question of "I.Q." to make jokes about it. For one thing, they had already suffered through the comedy of seeing the U.S. government try to apply the test results to winning the war. (When the U.S. Army hired Terman in 1917 to use the Stanford-Binet test, it was not a "recruiting" device. The Army took everyone who was drafted now matter how stupid; the test was given to people after they were inducted to try to figure out what MOS they should be trained for.)

This article has a decent summary of what Terman did, but you will have to ignore the usual retrospective judgments that have become part of all current academic writing.


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