The Dark History of IQ Tests: Eugenic Applications

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The IQ test it is a tool that quantitatively evaluates an individual's general intelligence. The first quantitative test was created in 1905 by the French Alfred Binet And Theodore Simon and was designed for children with the aim of supporting the education system: the aim was to identify through the so-called Binet-Simon scale children who needed more help. Over the decades, the scales and formulas changed (today the IQ score derives from Wechsler's work and corresponds to the average measurement of the population at the value 100), but the concept of assigning a number to a person's intelligence is still in use today. Unfortunately, however, on some occasions over the last century this idea has been used to justify political choices that are anything but ethical.

In the 1924for example, the State of Virginia created a law that allowed the forced sterilization of those who scored low on IQ tests. Supreme Court jurist Oliver Wendall Holmes stated:

Rather than wait for them to be eliminated because of the crimes they will commit in the future or let them starve because of their stupidity, it would be better for the world if society prevented the births of those who are not suitable for the continuation of the species. Three generations of imbeciles is enough.

The American eugenic theses were greatly appreciated by Nazi Germany, where people with mental disabilities believed to be hereditary were compulsorily sterilized. Subsequently we moved on to the actual extermination of people with a lower IQ, which the German psychiatrist Alfred Hoche he went so far as to define them as “unworthy of life”. To the Nuremberg trials some Nazi leaders justified their actions by citing Holmes' phrase.

Nuremberg Trials

After the war, although in the 1950s psychologists and neuropsychiatrists continued to use tests to understand whether their patients had psychiatric disorders (soon discovering that the two things had nothing to do) was precisely thecross between eugenics and IQ to have the validity of the tests re-evaluated.

The first large-scale use of the IQ test for selection purposes occurred in the USA (where the test had been translated into English and revised from year to year), during the First World War, when the army used it to select recruits for the role of officers in the Vietnam War. Although the US Army did not accept recruits with an IQ lower than 80, in those days there was a need for as many applicants as possible, so this requirement became very lax.

About 5478 of the men recruited with a Low IQ (< 70-75) they died in combat, more than 20,000 were injured and around 500 suffered amputations. The mortality rate was 3 times higher compared to men with average or higher IQs.

Vietnam War

At the time, in a highly racist America, the influence ofeugenics, that is, the ideology according to which there are genetic traits that are better than others and that people who do not have them should not reproduce. Among these traits was intelligence, which was thought to be hereditary. In this scenario, it is not surprising to discover that scientists administered tests to people of different ethnic groups with the aim of demonstrating that there were ethnic groups intellectually superior to others.

The scores revealed what the scientists expected: Ashkenazi and Asian Jews obtained the highest scores, as opposed to Hispanics and African Americans. It did not take into account the fact that the subjects who took the test had very different family backgrounds, and that Hispanics and African Americans did not have the same level of education as the former, and above all that many of them did not know English well.

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