Should we have a FAQ about I.Q.?

I don’t know what forum this thread should be in. I’ll let the moderators decide that. I’m going to start it here because the people on the SDMB who could really help with this probably spend most of their time reading the GQ forum.

Once or twice a month someone asks a question about I.Q. tests (or vaguely similar tests like the SAT). These questions hardly ever get satisfactorily answered, it seems to me. These questions are usually asked in GQ and should be answered in a fairly objective way, but nearly always someone starts a debate about the subject instead. Furthermore, most of the time instead of trying to answer the question someone recounts some anecdote about their own experience with I.Q. tests that is only marginally related to the subject. Often many of the posts in the thread are full of misinformation about I.Q. testing. Finally, the same questions seem to be asked again and again, and it shouldn’t be necessary to repeatedly answer the same question.

I propose that we write an FAQ about I.Q. testing (and about related subjects like the SAT test). While there are things about I.Q. testing that are controversial, there are also many things about it that are well established and not controversial at all. These are the sorts of questions which should be answered in this FAQ:

  1. When did I.Q. testing begin and who first used it?
  2. What groups have been tested with I.Q. tests?
  3. Did Einstein (or some other person born before the 20th century) have his I.Q. tested?
  4. Is Marilyn Vos Savant’s I.Q. really 228, and does that number make any sense?
  5. How did the older definition of I.Q. as mental age divided by chronological age work?
  6. How does the newer definition of I.Q. as given by standard deviation from the mean work (and what is a standard deviation anyway)?
  7. What is the range of informed opinion about heritability of I.Q. (and what does the term “correlation coefficient” mean in any explanation of it)?
  8. What is the range of informed opinion about whether I.Q. is a single factor or is merely a combination of several different factors?
  9. What is the Flynn effect and what does it tell us about I.Q. testing?
  10. Is it possible to estimate the I.Q. of a famous dead person from their achievements?
  11. Are online I.Q. tests or I.Q. tests found in a book accurate?
  12. What does the SAT test measure (and can it be converted to I.Q.)?
  13. What is the difference between the SAT and the ACT tests and what is their history?

I am not asking for the answer to any of these questions on this thread. I know the answer to most of them reasonably well (but I’m glad to learn more about them). I’m asking for help in writing an FAQ about this subject. We would also need some place online to put the FAQ. We could then refer to this FAQ whenever someone asks a question about I.Q. (In some sense, it would be nice if Cecil wrote this instead of us, but the answers to these questions would clearly be too long for one of his columns.) If you’re interested in helping write this FAQ, please E-mail me. I’m interested in hearing in this thread about what other questions about I.Q. you think belong in this FAQ.

While well intentioned and potentially a big time saver, what you are proposing requires the SDMB (to some exent) to put it’s seal of approval on the contents of the FAQ. IANAEOIM (I am not an expert on “intelligence” metrics) but it seems to me (and I am possibly mistaken) that some of your quesions (the SAT one for example) do not have definitive answers at this point.

I think if you can start a thread that addresses these questions and then summarize the answers the thread itself can serve as a sort of ongoing faq. To a certian extent this entire board and the threads it contains are an ongoing meta faq about the state of knowledge in general. This is why I was horrified when they proposed a few months ago getting rid of large portions of the SDMB database, the contents of which might possibly take up $ 10.00 worth of storage space on a new hard drive. I am convinced that the Chigago Reader has absolutely no idea how valuable historically this message board will be to future historians and researchers as a snapshot of what people were really thinking and talking about in the 90’s and beyond.

As a final point I’m not onboard with the faq idea for the simple reason that addressing these issues and opening new threads on them again and again may be tiresome for long time users but for new posters it presents an interesting and exciting way for them to get involved into he SDMB and an opportunity to discuss and argue about this issues. If, as a new user, I am simply pointed to FAQ after FAQ I don’t think the board will be as appealing but that’s just my take on it.

I don’t see that the SDMB would be endorsing this FAQ in any sense. We wouldn’t have to put it online in a space owned by the Chicago Reader. We could put it in a space that one of us owned. Whenever a question arose about I.Q., one of us could say, “You might want to look at the following question numbers in a FAQ that some of us wrote,” giving the URL for the FAQ.

I think that most of the questions about I.Q. do have definitive answers, although there are some things that are still in doubt. My problem is that whenever these questions come up, there’s so much misinformation in the resulting thread that the person who asks the question often learns nothing because there’s no way for him to separate the baseless speculation in the thread from the facts there. The SDMB is supposed to be about fighting ignorance, not eternally rehashing debates without even adding any new information.

Every time there’s a new thread about I.Q., there’s another discussion about whether I.Q. is really measured by dividing mental age by chronological age or by using standard deviation from the mean. This is a pointless thing to argue about, since it’s just a matter of which definition you use. There’s usually also a discussion of whether I.Q. is determined by heredity or environment. In fact, no one who studied the issue carefully thinks that it’s completely one or the other. Whenever a discussion of the SAT test comes up, usually someone claims that there’s a way to convert SAT scores to I.Q. scores. In fact, no informed source thinks of the SAT test as an I.Q. test. Even the people at ETS, who wrote the SAT test, say that the SAT is only supposed to be a test of your preparation in high school for college. It only correlates modestly well with first-year college grades (a correlation coefficient of .4, to be exact) and is only very vaguely related to I.Q.

I applaud your efforts and I hope you do compile such a FAQ. However, this isn’t really a GQ, so I’ll move this thread. Since your proposal is to post the FAQ on another site and not on the SD, I don’t think this really belongs in ATMB either. I’ll move it to MPSIMS.

Incidentally, we are working on compiling a list of questions frequently asked in GQ with links to threads, columns and staff reports that have the answers. I’m not sure how many of the questions on your list are asked frequently enough to warrant inclusion in our list, but we’ll certainly consider them.


Would there be room in the FAQ to cover areas where there is controversy and disagreement? I’m pretty certain there are at least a couple of areas in which you and I disagree Wendell but I also know that I am not plucking my opinions from my backside unlike certain other posters I’m reluctant to name ;).

I do agree completely with you on areas such as SATs and nurture vs nature. The Flynn effect - I’m not sure. How familiar are you with the research of Gross and Silverman? My area of interest is exceptionally and profoundly gifted children and IQ testing.

Of course I once scored 90 on an on-line IQ test so that probably disqualifies me from any contribution.


I quite agree that in this FAQ we should discuss areas in which there is controversy and disagreement. However, we need to make it clear that not everything is just opinion. For instance, the most enthusiastic scientifically credible defenders of I.Q. testing think that it’s about 70% heredity and 30% environment and the least enthusiastic scientifically credible ones think that it’s about 30% heredity and 70% environment, but no one credible thinks that it’s all heredity or all environment. Or, for another instance, everyone agrees that (as the Flynn effect shows) the average I.Q., in nearly all populations where I.Q. testing has been done in large numbers for decades, has been going up by about 3 points per decade, but no one agrees what causes this (better nutrition? better education? a quirk of the test?). A third example is that when someone asks about the SAT and ACT tests we can point out the different history of these tests and why they are used at a different set of universities. It’s silly though to debate which of them is the “better” test. We also should put a list of important books about I.Q. testing in this FAQ.

It would be good to put something in this FAQ about gifted children, so why don’t you tell me something about them that would make a good question? Please tell me about the work of Gross and Silverman too. E-mail me please. Does anyone else have some questions that should be included in the FAQ?

Perhaps there should be some questions regarding:

What is intelligence? (operational definitions)
How can intelligence be measured?
How is intelligence measured?
What different tests/scales are used? (It’s not all WAIS anymore.)

Would anyone else like to volunteer to help with this FAQ?