The Mismeasure of Man


This is one of those thematic books on just one topic, like the one on Pi, or maps, or reaching the North Pole first. Except that this is how humans have attempted, and failed, to measure human intelligence. Its amazing how the IQ test was created.

So you have this French dude (Binet) who is hired by a city council to create a simple test to determine children who need special help in school. He devises a test, and it works very well. Then a bit later, this other dude comes in and applies the same sort of test to all people, not trying to diagnose children that just need help, but to determine intelligence. This is where the IQ test is formalized.

Amazon: The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen J. Gould

This is where the idea of measuring intelligence really gets screwed up. A guy named Goddard creates a complex system of categorizing mental age.

  • Mental age below 3 you are an Idiot
  • Mental age between 3 and 7 you are an Imbecile
  • …and Mental age 7 to 12 you are a Moron (i.e. almost intelligent but not quite there)

Yes, those are the names he gave people. He also believed you could find Morons and anything below that just by looking and in a survey conducted at Elis Island, 80% of the immigrants were considered Morons or inferior. (IQ tests were given to those thought to be Morons just to be sure).

But this is just the beginning. Yerks, a dude that lived sometime around WWI shows up and creates an IQ test for the army. Surprisingly most fail miserably. The main reason being that the questions were filled with American culture trivia that most soldiers (who were fresh out of the ship) had no clue about. But, people saw the results as being good. And in consequence the embargo act (ask Brienne for the date, haha) is skewed based on these results.

But even more scary is what people decided to do with these scores. Communities, one in New Jersey, was created just to be inhabited by Morons and below. Sterilization also become fashionable. Virginia Mass Sterilization was upheld by the Supreme Court (in the case of Buck v Bell). This law was in action for over 40 years, and over 7,500 people were sterilized based on an IQ test.

The most interesting thing that comes out of this is that, all of the scientists who devised these tests later in their career stated that they were wrong, and that no one single test could possibly measure intelligence.


  1. Binet actually believed that kids who scored low could be helped. The game such as statue was actually designed from his work, for it was believed that one that scored low just lacked concentration.
  1. It was believed that intelligence was passed down by genes, and that a Moron was destined to reproduce a lower level of intelligence child. Is this true?