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RS 210 - Stuart Ritchie on "Conceptual objections to IQ testing"

Release date: June 10th, 2018

Stuart Ritchie

This episode features Stuart Ritchie, intelligence researcher and author of the book "Intelligence: All That Matters." Stuart responds to some of the most common conceptual objections to the science of IQ testing. Can we even define intelligence? Aren't there lots of different kinds of intelligence? How do we know the tests are measuring intelligence at all instead of something like motivation or familiarity with the style of testing? Does it undermine the meaningfulness of IQ as a metric that people can improve over time, with practice, or over generations?


Stuart Ritchie, "Intelligence: All that Matters"

Stephen Gould, "The Mismeasure of Man"

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science


Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (12)

I was extremely disappointed with this podcast. Julia, you have had many guests on to talk about IQ in the past, and have consistently defended its use. You have had many guests that make claims about IQ, and specifically about IQ's relationship to genetics, that gets far ahead of where the facts are.

I am guessing that the reason you decided to bring on Stuart Ritchie was to address some objections that your audience has made to how some of these guests assertions. This is the exact opposite of the kind of response you should have had. You often try to signal that you want people to challenge their own prior beliefs, which you do by asking people to cite articles that they think are well written that they disagree with. But this podcast shows how you are unwilling to challenge your own prior beliefs by bringing on someone who you disagree with, someone who intelligently makes the critiques that you tried to respond to in this podcast.

Since both of you believe in the ideas of IQ science so much, neither of you were able to intelligently articulate the objections to IQ. Instead you both just set up strawmen that you could easily knock down.

For example, you both seemed to almost deliberately misinterpret the objection to twin studies. The clothes one wears can affect ones IQ. For example, identical twins may be more likely to need or not need glasses, compared to nonidentical twins, and our culture tends to associate glasses with intelligence. This may affect the expectations people have, and therefore affect IQ. Physical attractiveness, skin color, and height are other factors that may influence intelligence due to cultural practices, and these traits are closer in identical twins than nonidentical twins.

So instead of bringing on a guest that simply repeats back to you what you have already said, and clearly already believe, you should instead be inviting guests like Richard Nisbett, or someone whose scientific research is closer to Nisbett's. That way we could actually hear the valid critiques that you and your guests so flippantly dismiss.
June 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterWill Cromwell
Very interesting Podcast, as always. The extremely strong correlation of any cognitive factor to IQ, and to any other cognitive factor, does make a strong case for the existence of an actual quality of Intelligence. I have heard so many critiques of IQ, that this Podcast opened me up to the idea that IQ actually might have a lot of value.
June 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
I am extremely using the word extreme.
June 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnton
I would like to have heard from the guest a response to the question of what the motives have been from past to present behind attempts to measure intelligence. I suspect that IQ tests have been used to (seek to) justify inequitable social outcomes as they are and have been (and to prepare new inequities) with some subterranean corollary in the minds of IQ test proponents that mainly educational but also other resources need not be expended on those deemed as a result of the tests to have less of the prized trait. The 1994 tract, the Bell Curve, comes to mind in this connection. Certainly this motive would help explain why the subject has been so controversial since Walter Lippman offered up the first prominent takedown of IQ tests in the early 20th century. It might also help to illuminate the issue of whether the tests are scientifically valid, not only in their design but in terms of the value of the factors ("outcomes") which are correlated to the tests and, in turn, purport to justify their usefulness even without a satisfactory definition of intelligence. I do not know, but it appears after listening to an expert on the subject that this area of inquiry could be fruitful if it has not been mined already.
June 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterWortmanberg
Wortmanberg, you didn't listen to the interview, did you: "That is, in fact, the argument that people like Godfrey Thomson and the other early IQ folks gave at the start of the 20th century for changing the UK's education system. From one where essentially, if your parents knew people or if your parents were rich, they got you into a good school — and if not, you were in a really broken-down old building with poor teachers, and all harsh discipline, and all that stuff. IQ testing allowed people who were from poor backgrounds to get into the grammar schools, so the high quality schools."

But what are the motives of those who study genetics, evolution, mental illness, climate change? They must all have sinister motives, which means they're wrong about everything.
June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMax
I never said the word sinister. One can have invalid motives which taint a scientific project, by causing it to be approached from a loaded perspective, without the motives of the investigators being necessarily sinister. They could just be unconscious. But I do also question mental illness, as Thomas Szasz did. In any case, the motives of any ostensibly scientific study of any socially consequential subject whose definition is conceded by the people who study it to be inadequate is absolutely relevant to assessing what the people who study it are up to and, by extension, the validity of what they come up with. Mental illness is a case in point. It was conceived of as an illness long before it was even shown to be an illness, or even any independently existing thing, as Szasz has demonstrated. Much damage was done to many people on the theory that, for example, homosexuality was an illness, because it was generally assumed that because psychiatrists had pronounced "it" to be a "condition", it therefore was. Lo and behold, it was just social prejudice in disguise. But let's refine the point. The part of the interview you highlight alludes to criticism of the tests on the ground of motive but does not discuss the motive's importance in light of the failure even to this day to adequately define intelligence in a way that is in the least degree uncontroversial. From the Godfrey quotation you adduce to prove that I wasn’t listening (it’s not clear exactly what he said), even he appears to have accepted the idea that IQ tests should be used to grant privileges to people who ordinarily would be excluded from them, based on this unwieldy abstraction called intelligence, and thus to beg the question
June 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterWortmanberg
Run a system where the resources you gain for living are determined by a limited skill set. Call that limited skill "intelligence" and then find a way to measure it. Call it "IQ" and then pretend you're somehow being objective. Job done.
June 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterinfovoy
Regarding 'multiple intelligences.' Your guest was very generous in this matter. The concept of multiple intelligences was posited in a disingenuous attempt to cloud the waters. Intelligence is exactly what you think it is. The word has had a perfectly good definition and usage for a long time, and there is no need to redefine it. No doubt there are other 'abilities' than intelligence, but the ability to dance, or to intuit emotion is not intelligence. Intelligence refers to intellectual ability. If the word intelligence were to be re-defined out of it's plain English meaning, we'd just need a new word for what we all think of when we hear the word intelligence now.

This sort of thing has been called a ball and cup game - someone manipulates ball and cups to mislead the eye. In this case, the effort is to mislead understanding of a very simple matter. Some people are much smarter than I am - I have known this since I was in grade school. I am not offended by the fact, and I have no reason to believe that I've been cheated somehow.
June 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarkB
thanks for sharing information. i like your blog
July 1, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterslither io
Fascinating stuff, thank you both for sharing your thoughts! On the question from Julie that you could design a different IQ test which differently weights creativity, Stuart answered that Wendy Johnson did lots and lots of different tests, covering “absolutely everything you can think of that would come under the rubric of a cognitive task” and that “when you take just what is common, that general intelligence factor seems to be something very similar across all different tests”. But when I look at the recent genetic evidence (mentioned at the end of the podcast?), the number of loci coding for intelligence has just gone up from 74 (Okbay et al, Nature 533, 2016) to 205 (Savage et al Nature Genetics 2018) and is likely to go further up. It will be interesting to see how these cluster into traits, but could it be that there are just a lot of different variables which have so far be overlooked and that the current intelligent testing is just a very blunt tool which misses almost all of the important bits of intelligence?

Your argument that IQ tests predict people’s success in education and occupation (at population level would argue against missing a large part of the picture, but is this not a circular argument? Are we not just teaching what is easy to measure (math, reading, writing and facts), then test according to these criteria, select employees based on these tests and promote them based on how well they perform against the same measure? So the correlation with g is already build into the system?

What makes me think that there is a whole story missing is that, when reading chapter II of the ‘bell curve’ (Sam Harris podcast with Charles Murray made me do this), all the data looks very similar, every outcome correlates more negatively with intelligence than with social economic background (except chronic welfare dependence). This looks suspicious to me, I would expect a much richer picture which should give some clues as how things actually work, but intelligence testing (or the other factors taken into account) seem not to give this, hence my opinion that IQ testing is a blunt tool.
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