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Posted By Patrick

How time does fly. Somehow, an absence of several months has inserted itself into this blog posting - I can only assume that I was extremely busy & excited with other things.I've sorted out much of that excitement though, and am back to regular blogging. And, handily providing a transition from my last blog, I see that we have just passed the birthday of Lewis Terman, who took Alfred Binet & Theodore Simon's intelligence test and transformed it into the Stanford-Binet test, which still exists today (with revisions, of course). And, of course, he coined the term "intelligence quotient." I boldly predict here that the notion of "IQ" is, while not quite on its deathbed, in a severe decline. More on this later! In the meantime, Happy Belated Birthday, Lewis. Your contribution to the history of intelligence has had a good run...

Posted By Patrick

It almost passed by without me noticing... but I figure that in my family we're allowed to be many weeks late with birthday greetings, so a couple of days lag for a couple of old dead guys shouldn't matter too much. But - July 11, last Sunday, marked the birthday of Alfred Binet, creator, with Theodore Simon, of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Test, the first widely adopted test, in 1905. He was born on that day in 1857, 153 years ago. And, in a nice chrono-coincidence, Simon himself, the other half of that team, was born on July 10, 1872 - a comparatively recent 138 years ago. Happy birthday Alfred & Theo! Everybody sing along!


But even though Binet and Simon came up with the first IQ test, which still is used in a much revised form, they didn't create the term "intelligence quotient" - that was Lewis Terman, who adapted their test into the Stanford Binet Intelligence Test in 1916. His birthday was January 15, 1877, so we're way to late for him. No song for you, Lewis!

Posted By Patrick

Here’s a little bit of an excerpt on somthing like intelligence - wit, perhaps, or speeds of thinking - from George Cheyne, an 18th century physician to the stars (everyone from literary folk like Samuel Richardson, James Boswell and Alexander Pope to minor aristocracy like the  Countess of Huntingdon, who was apparently a very pious lady). Cheyne was renowned in his day for numerous medical treatises, including most famously The English Malady, or, a treatise on nervous diseases of all kinds (1733). The book was a hit, going through six editions in six years, and addressing all kinds of nervous disorders. In it, he claimed that some people were more likely to experience nervous disorders than others: specifically, quick-witted folk were more likely to be afflicted by diseased nerves, on account of their more highly attuned sensitivity. “The common Division of Mankind, into Quick Thinkers, Slow Thinkers, and No Thinkers, is not without Foundation in Nature and true Philosophy. Persons of slender and weak nerves are generally of the first Class: the Activity, Mobility and Delicacy of their Intellectual Organs make them so, and thereby weakens and relaxes the Material Organs of the Intellectual Faculties; and therefore ingenious flattering, easy and agreeable Amusements, and Intervals of No-thinking and Swiss-Meditation, (as it is maliciously called) is as necessary for such, as Sleep to the Weary, or Meat to the Hungry, else the Spring will break, and the Sword wear out the Scabbard.” Your quick wit, says Cheyne, is a sign that you may also be a bit on the high-strung side. In fact, he also likes to compare good mental health to the proper tuning of an instrument, so that “the Intelligent Principle, or Soul, resides somewhere in the Brain, where all the Nerves, or Instruments of Sensation terminate, like a Musician in a finely fram’d and well-tuned Organ-Case; that the Nerves are like Keys, which, being struck or touch’d, convey the Sound and Harmony to this sentient Principle, or Musician”.


I couldn't say off hand what "Swiss meditation" refers to.. and for the rest, I'm not convinced how common Cheyne's Quick/Slow/No-thinking division might have been back in the day... but that's a question, isn't it? Was this really a common division? And were the quick-witted really liable to great mental distress, thanks to their inner musician being over-burdened with keeping the instrument in tune?


Posted By Patrick

David Heron was named the first Francis Galton Fellow in National Eugenics in 1907, plying his trade in the Eugenics Laboratory of the University of London. He wanted to measure whether external factors had an impact on intelligence, and in 1910 published on “The Influence of Defective Physique and Unfavourable Home Environment on the Intelligence of School Children.” He found what he expected: environment, he said, had little effect on intelligence. Not surprisingly, some critics disagreed with his analysis, but not always for reasons we might think today.

Heron’s most potent critic was George Udney Yule, a mathematician interested in applying statistical methods to social sciences (and author of An Introduction to the Theory of Statistics, a standard textbook published first in 1911 and revised through many subsequent editions). Yule’s main objection was that Heron’s research relied on teachers' assessments of intelligence in order to evaluate and categorize students, and that these assessments were vague and flawed.

Heron had asked teachers to classify their students as "brilliant," "above the average," average," "below the average," or "very dull and backward"; he also drew on another study in which teachers assigned their students to the categories “excellent,” “good,” “moderate,” or “dull.” Yule, on the other hand, endorsed measurements gathered between 1888 and 1894 by Dr. Francis Warner, who claimed to have assessed some 50,000 “dull” children for various physical characteristics, including the form of the external ear, quality of hand balance, and degree of “grinning or over-smiling.” In Yule’s estimation, Warner’s warehouse of anthropometric data provided a physical shape for “dullness” – it didn’t rely simply on the assessments of teachers, but instead was shaped by a hefty load of apparently related information.

Heron responded in “Mental Defect, Mal-Nutrition, and the Teacher's Appreciation of Intelligence,” a short booklet published in 1911. First of all, he wrote, many of Warner’s measurements were entirely unrelated to intelligence – at any rate, no evidence clearly linked ears to intelligence. Secondly, he took aim at Warner’s methodology, questioning just how precise it could be: after all, in order to examine all of the people he claimed, he must have galloped along at a pace of well under 20 minutes per individual, if working each day from 1888 to 1894. Then, he pointed out, Warner does not bother to provide measurements from all the “normal” subjects he also claimed to have examined in his survey. And, finally, wrote an exasperated Heron, Warner’s subjects were categorized – by teachers, no less! – as simply “under the average,” or left entirely uncategorized. Warner’s data, he claimed, was worthless.

Lying at the heart of this dispute was not simply a disagreement over how to collect data, but more fundamentally over how to identify intelligence. Researchers were assessing intelligence more and more often at the turn of the century, mainly because of fears that the allegedly  “feeble-minded” would procreate wildly, thus weakening the national breeding stock (Heron’s pamphlet was part of a series published by the Francis Galton Eugenics Laboratory called “Questions of the Day and of the Fray,” so the researchers clearly imagined a social dimension to their work – this was no abstract ivory tower stuff). Subjective assessments of intelligence, including the “idiot/imbecile” diagnoses used by 19th century physicians, had worked just fine
for most of the nineteenth century. But clearly something more precise, more nuanced, was required to confront the twentieth century’s eugenic challenges.

Posted By Patrick

A couple of Francis Galton factoids: the phrase “nature and nurture,” that catchy cliché opposing the influences of heredity and environment, was coined by Galton, who uses it in the title of his 1874 book English Men of Science: their nature and nurture. And of course he also neologized “eugenics” in 1883 to refer to his program to improve the stock of the human race (well, the anglo-saxon part of it, at any rate) in Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development.

Not all of Galton’s neologisms stuck. For instance, “stirp,” designating the total of “germs” or “gemmules” carried in a fertilized egg (the term is from stirpes, the latin word for “root”).  The gemmules and germs were Galton’s versions of the carriers of heredity, which we now recognize to be chromosomes and DNA. So the stirp would be roughly like the genome. And the gene pool would be the, ahhh, germ pool?? Too bad we missed that one…


And Galton's friends & family called him Frank, so I'm being factual, not frivolous, with my title for this post. In addition to being alliterative, of course.