05 November, 2006

Evolutionary psycho-babble.

More dodgy science. This time mindless drivel from the realm of psychology. The Guardian reports a row has broken out after lecturer at the London School of Economics published a paper arguing that

African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is now accused of reviving the politics of eugenics by publishing the research which concludes that low IQ levels, rather than poverty and disease, are the reason why life expectancy is low and infant mortality high. His paper, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, compares IQ scores with indicators of ill health in 126 countries and claims that nations at the top of the ill health league also have the lowest intelligence ratings.
Here we go again, The old thing about IQ tests and intelligence. IQ tests are constructed by psychologists to measure this thing called intelligence. If, the argument goes, your IQ score is low, then it is deduced you are of low intelligence.

As an academic, I once interviewed one of the UK's leading experts on intelligence testing, a distinguished psychologist who has developed various intelligence tests for the armed forces, including aptitude tests for pilot selection. The interview was about another educational field, but during the interview, to illustrate a point he said that IQ scores measure the individual's performance on a particular test, no more no less. So intelligence, as defined by IQ tests, is just an indication of how an individual performed on that test. Taking different tests or taking the same test on different days can give very different results.

If Africans are getting poor test scores, it is due to problems within the education systems on the continent rather than any innate lack of abilities. I have known African educators from a wide range of countries and have always been astounded by the wide range of severe difficulties they battle against.

As for evolutionary psychology, Paul Johnson and Jerry Fodor have each dealt with that.

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