Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Test the nation

Good old Beebs run a national IQ test again. Some of you might already know that I'm against IQ testing because it is useless at best and often misleading, and gives people the wrong idea about intelligence in general, their own abilities, and those of others'. But as the whole thing was done under BBC Entertainment rather than their otherwise excellent science and nature section, let's look at it as entertainment.

As such, it was boring. Going through all the questions one by one, twice, was mind-numbing, and while Anne "The Weakest Link" Robinson is fab, the other host wasn't. He probably thinks he's the funniest guy alive, but unfortunately nobody else thinks so.

I liked the idea to bring a bunch of groups to the studio to do the test and be compared. There they were, public school kids taking on the state school kids, butchers battling it out with vegetarians. Estate agents are probably generally hated and considered stupid and useless, at least in relation to the fees they charge for their "services". Footballers wifes, or WAGs are modern bimbos that are known for their imaginative ways of spending money but aren't necessarily otherwise considered as the sharpest tools in the box.

The climax of the programme was when Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend confessed that she really, honestly thought that Winston Churchill was USA's first black president. It's anyone's guess why she thought he was the president of the United States, but she had a very good explanation on why she thought he was black: there's a statue of him close to where she lives, and the statue is... yes, black. Priceless... BTW, funny, how they all looked like clones.

I must make a couple of points about the actual methods and "scientific" content of the otherwise entertaining (not) show. First, I don't quite understand why they had visual illusions such as the Muller-Lyer illusion as test items. Second, as the programme was at parts trying to be educational, as there were two experts explaining the test items and what was being probed, they could have said a word or two about sampling (or I might have missed that in the beginning). The audience at home scored higher than average and higher than most studio teams, which reflects the availability of broadband at home, those with higher level of education are more likely to have it, and as we know IQ tests measure primarily your ability to score in IQ tests, and secondarily this correlates well with the number of years you've spent at school.

Finally, while the public school students scored the most correct answers, the vegetarians scored the highest IQ of the studio teams. This is because converting the scores to IQ points takes your age into account. Ageing is of course highly individual, especially when it comes to your mental age, and so the error from using a universal conversion table for everyone is likely to be large. The person in the studio getting the highest score was an old but very active lady, one of the vegetarians. The highest scoring member of the audience at home was funnily enough a policeman. The scale ended at 146, and both these and one of the celebrity quests scored 146, so there's a slight ceiling effect there. This is understandable, as the test gets very unreliable outside the score range that about 95% of population will get, between about 85 and 115.

As you'd expect, WAGs, butchers, estate agents and the studio team of "celebrities" scored lowest, the differences being very small. School kids are being tested constantly, and this was reflected in their higher scores. I suppose the vegetarians had a relatively high education level, and they were helped to the victory by the age-sensitive conversion.

Looking forward to the next one in a year? Not really, I prefer the Weakest Link.

(Pic: BBC / Wikipedia)

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