Magazine article The Spectator

Big Heads

Magazine article The Spectator

Big Heads

Article excerpt

There is something absurd and nerd-- like about Mensa, the high-IQ society, a view confirmed when I heard one of its members on Radio Four last week in Measuring the Mind, a two-part series about intelligence and how it can be gauged (Wednesday). He had a slightly high-- pitched strangled voice and was wearing a Mensa T-shirt while playing board games in a London pub. As a friend of genuinely high intelligence told me, `You can't be thick to join but you're usually an anorak.'

In any case, you can be good at grasping certain abstractions but hopeless at other things. A psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud, the presenter of this first programme, IQ - the Numbers Game, attempted to see if you really could measure intelligence but didn't seem to get very far; there were plenty of questions but not many definitive answers. Of course, people have been trying to do this for many years without a great deal of success. Sir Francis Galton, the Victorian founder of eugenics (recently the subject of a programme on Radio Four, Darwin's Clever Cousin), noticed that when he gave lectures the most eminent members of the Royal Society, eligible to sit at the front, had bigger heads than those who had to sit at the back.

Outdoing Swift's Academy of Lagado, he set about measuring heads and it became so fashionable that even Gladstone arrived for a session. Persaud, using Galton's head spanner which is still at University College London, measured his own head and that of Galton's biographer, a professor of psychology at Trinity College, Dublin. `Your head's smaller than mine!' he exclaimed. Galton had thought he was on to something but clearly wasn't. We can all think of someone with a big head who isn't that bright.

Over the years, the IQ test was developed. They were used on Ellis Island to keep the feeble-minded out of the United States and for the first time the science of the measurement of human ability became a weapon of social policy, as Persaud put it. There was mass IQ testing in the US army during the first world war. One of the questions was: A certain division contains 3,000 artillery, 15,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. If each branch is expanded proportionately until there are, in all, 20,900 men, how many will be added to the artillery?

Persaud scratched his head and confessed he didn't know; nor, for that matter, did many soldiers at the time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.