Some silly website called Tickle seems to pop up (quite literately) all over the place with offers of free IQ tests, personality tests, how hip you are tests and all sorts of other nonsense. The site is all about ‘social networking’ (i.e. matchmaking) for people so out of touch with themselves they have to take a test to find out whether they like their own CD collection.
If the IQ tests are anything to go by, they’re being somewhat misled. Take the question on the right, which appears regularly in the New York Times asking which US state is surrounded by the most water. It’s not testing intelligence at all, but general knowledge. To answer correctly, you must know the size of these states and which borders are marked by land and which by water. You could expect Americans to do better here than Africans, say, but Africans would most likely do better than Americans with African countries. This is a particularly blatant example, but all IQ tests (which are supposed to measure innate abilities) have strong cultural bias. They attempt to measure of the kind of knowledge the unthinking believe we should all magically know; the stuff that forms the basis of common sense.
IQ tests are founded on discredited research by Cyril Burt. Most believe he forged data to prove intelligence as measured by IQ to be inherited; his supporters argue he was merely prone to make mistakes. Burt’s research led to the 11+, by which British children were labelled successes or failures and schooled appropriately and his downfall helped the winning case for its abolition. Yet IQ remains a popular myth, because it justifies inequality by saying some people are born stupid.