Re: Serious thoughts about objectivity

Gary Goodman (sap@TANK.RGS.UKY.EDU)
Tue, 8 Oct 1996 00:18:52 EDT

Matthew D. Joanis (Deus Ex Machina) <x8h1@MUSIC.STLAWU.EDU> wrote:

X8>>In message <> Andrew Petto writes:
X8>>> [...] the famous work of the French anatomist Broca, who used comparative
X8>>> studies of male and female brains to answer the question, "Why are women
X8>>> intelligent than men?" A social construction/composition of observations
X8>>> that we fully recognize now, but that was invisible to scientists and
X8>>> in his time.
X8>Ron Kephart writes:

X8>>Another example is the recurring furor over "race" and "IQ" both of which a
X8>>social constructions/compositions masquerading as scientifically objectifia
X8>>"things" in the real world. Another one of those "big ideas" we should be
X8>>working to get across.

X8>I must say that "race" certainly is a construction, however I don't think
X8>the same can be said of IQ. Intelligence can certainly be measured. The
X8>disagreement rests primarily on whether or not intelligence can be
X8>described in one number. How exacting we are in measurements of
X8>intelligence is another question. Then again science is indeed socially
X8>influenced anyway.

"Intelligence" can be measured? Since when?

Sorry but no. We can very roughly get some limited results from testing
people's nearly exclusively academic abilities in relation to taking
*those* tests. We have presumed that these results correspond to the
subjects' current abilities to do well in an linear-based educational
environment. There is some evidence which -- in proper context --
corresponds to that theory.

>From that a huge and profitable industry has sprung up. And a lot of
buck-passing. The educational process-dog itself it seems now is being
wagged by what began as a simple test to detect whether certain incoming
students (for various reasons, many of which -- as the genetic proof
recently of the organic cause of dyslexia makes clear -- have NOTHING to
do with "intelligence" by any definition) would have trouble with the
schooling, and need extra help. A system of self-fulfilling prophecy and
feedback circle appears to be in place, as educational tests (directly
derived from the infamous Army Alpha (IQ) Tests of WW1) determine
school class position and educational opportunity, as well as expectations.
Both of student and teachers. Education 'progress' is measured with
pretty numbers of false precision, determined nearly exclusively just by
the ability to take these and near-identically formatted "standardized"
tests. Even entire schools systems funding as based upon these
"objective" tests.

Which as a multitude of research has determined are neither objective,
nor measure anything that there is any cross-disciple agreement upon
actually corresponding to ANYTHING beyond the ability to take those
tests. An ability it turns out is itself teachable -- not innate.

One thing there is fair certainty upon is that there is NOT a "thingie"
in the human brain we can reliably measure which in fact does correspond
to an agreed upon set of general cognitive abilities we can
scientifically call "intelligence."

We don't have an agreed upon definition for "intelligence." Really!

We don't have an agreed upon means of measuring as a genuine quantity --
nor any real standard to center the tests of what is loosely called
"intelligence." Where is the "meter bar" for IQ? And if you did not know
the tests are rewritten regularly to keep that utterly arbitrary average
of 100 points (of gawd-knows what).

We don't even have an agreed upon standard testing procedure, or true
cross-cultural sampling for these tests for "intelligence." We have
suspect sample populations for which a lot of what I'd call fudging
takes place to come up with differing tests (no such thing as truly
*standard* IQ test, but rather several dozen) which are supposed to give
an average score of 100 across the mythical general population. AND if
you are white and upper-middle class Anglo-Americans like the sample...
Other groups for various reasons (innate mental abilities actually among
the least likely explanations) score on average lower or higher.

Does that make any group "smarter" or dumber" than another?

Heavens no! Where ya get THAT silly idea. They just completed a few more
questions or a few less questions on a set of tests that STILL only
really tell us how well people score in taking those tests and just
*might* perform doing similar tasks under similar situations -- like in

X8>In terms of objectivity, it seems to me, that the biggest mistakes are made
X8>simply because we are ignorant of our biases and assumptions specifically
X8>in the questions we ask, as the Broca example shows clearly. Indeed, in a
X8>way its the answers that are innocent the questions are not.


Exactly. Objectivity lies in knowing and allowing for one's bias -- and
those of the tools and research data one employs. Knowing it comes down
to an educated guess a lot of the time.

And a well-functioning underconsciousness making those intuitive leaps
where data is inadequate.

Gary D. Goodman


"Hypotheses non fingo." ("I feign no hypotheses.")
--Isaac Newton, _General Scholium_ in "Principia," 1779-1785