The IQ test, just like many other tests, is restricted to its own closed territory of questions and answers.

Child with Einsteins IQ Why the hype about intelligence tests and Spelling Bees should end
Voices Opinion Saturday, September 02, 2017 - 17:03

Aswin Sekhar

Lately, media is clogged with articles appearing every few months about a random school child securing an Intelligent Quotient (IQ) score apparently better than Einstein’s IQ score and hence proclaiming him/her officially as a ‘world genius’.

This method is perhaps one of the biggest blunders of our times in terms of evaluating academic, intellectual and creative abilities of child.

The IQ test, just like many other tests, is restricted to its own closed territory of questions and answers. No such test can be generalised to evaluate the overall intellectual, creative and academic abilities of any single individual. Moreover, each individual has different sets of strengths and weaknesses in such abilities and that is what makes every person unique and interesting.

Using one single system or exam to classify people (who are gifted with multiple shades of varying talents) is a silly exercise. A direct one-to-one comparison of a school kid’s IQ test score with some world famous scientist or artist is doing disservice to both sides. The human brain is so complicated that it is nearly impossible to find the exact parallels and differences between the thought processes, analytical, logical, creative and computational abilities of two distinct people.

Moreover, it is futile to compare people with different skills on the same basis using an identical test which has limited scope of testing in any case. Hypothetically if you manage to distribute the most updated and recent IQ test question sheet to Ramanujan, Einstein, Marie Curie, Darwin, Freud, Marx and so on, most likely there will be a few who will end up with miserable IQ scores and there might be a few who will end up with super high IQ scores.

However, either of these test score scenarios do not affect, change or determine the reason why these people are the most celebrated brains in the history of human race. In my limited understanding, the modern day legends in basic sciences like Andrew Wiles or Peter Higgs or Stephen Hawking or Venki Ramakrishnan or Richard Dawkins are not the people who topped the IQ score tests and never made repeated records in IQ rank database.

However the modern day world knows that they are well respected pioneers in their respective fields and have redefined the intellectual landscapes in their domains in an extraordinary way. And this is the main reason why the media reports comparing some school kid’s IQ test score with Einstein’s score and drawing the hasty conclusion of identical levels of intelligence makes zero sense. Great minds like Einstein had the impeccable ability of thinking out-of-the-box complimented with highest levels of creativity, imagination and vision.

This made him stand apart from most other conventional scientists of his time. And these traits and qualities are hard to measure or rank upon using any conventional or routine tests. It is almost like giving a mathematics question paper to an imaginative painter and then expect him to win the first rank. This is precisely the reason why the present human beings’ craze for comparing with Einstein’s IQ test score makes this whole exercise totally meaningless.

The same applies to the recent mania about comparing Spelling Bee contestants’ vocabulary with literary giants in history and trying to make a direct comparison or parallel in their talents. This again is a futile exercise because the Shakespeares, Frosts, Tagores, MTs, Bacons, Narayans and so on were not known for knowing the maximum number of words but for their prowess in using different words to make beautiful prose, poetry and essays.

Any literary giant has the unique ability to strike a chord with human emotions and feelings using the magic of words by constructing and weaving them in unconventional patterns and forms. The sheer volume of words in the authors’ arsenal is immaterial here. In addition to this, using the most complicated or under used or obscure jargons (often celebrated on Spelling Bee competition platforms) just for the sake of knowing them is not something the truly celebrated writers do. Most likely the present literary prodigies like J K Rowling, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk and so on may not even know all these obscure and heavy words from the dictionary used in Spelling Bee routines. The best writers often use ordinary words in an extraordinary way!

This does mean that all tests, ranking systems and comparisons are absurd. A good example is the widely used Elo system for rating chess players based on rating scores. These rating systems are much more structured, logical and well designed for the exact purpose of drawing comparisons between different players.

In this system, there is a range of rating scores for different levels of chess players like national masters, international masters, grandmasters and world championship contenders. Most of the sports and games have some fine systems in place to rank and compare players and assess people’s talents and success rates.

However using IQ test scores and Spelling Bee awards for this purpose in ordinary people and comparing them directly to past legends in science and arts is one of the biggest blunders of our times! Parents and teachers have to recognise the fact that each and every child is gifted in their own unique ways and direct comparison with others (living or dead) is the most illogical thing to do! Let us hope more kids do not fall for this silly trap!!!

Dr Aswin Sekhar is an Indian astrophysicst based in Norway.

Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.

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