03 June 2012

Barking up the wrong tree

Nick Clegg vows to tackle Britain’s lack of social mobility
Nick Clegg said it was a ‘national scandal’ that some of the country’s brightest children were left behind because they came from poor backgrounds. (Guardian)
It should be a national scandal – but apparently is not – that some of the country’s brightest adults are forced out of academia because their IQs are too high.

The account of the situation, and of the supposedly competing views on it, contained in the article from which the above extract is taken is wildly fictitious, and the various unexamined assumptions which are implied in it cannot be analysed without writing at considerable length.

However, I may observe that in 1946 I went to an Ursuline High School with a grammar school scholarship (at the age of 10), and even at that time the egalitarian ideology that would deprive the most able of opportunity was clearly operative, although not yet so explicit as it subsequently became.

I developed an increasingly strong conviction that the real motivation underlying the state-funded educational system was to block the way of the really exceptional. This, after all, is much the easiest way of making space at the top for the mediocre – to knock out the most exceptional (with IQs over 160, say) who would otherwise occupy an ‘unfairly’ high proportion of the top positions in society, so that more spaces are left to be competed for by the much larger population of people with IQs of around 140, or even 130.

What is the IQ profile of the population currently holding salaried academic appointments? I dread to think. Sixty years ago I read that the average IQ of those doing scientific research at Cambridge was – well, I forget the exact figure – something in the region of 120.

Nick Clegg could start to tackle the real problems of stasis in social mobility by addressing the difficulties of those here who have been deprived of the academic or other careers to which they are well suited.