Letter: Confusing intelligence with class

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The Independent Online
Sir: In his article 'A social division based on merit' (25 October), Peter Saunders rightly says that the 'IQ reliability' debate has still to be resolved, yet he relies heavily on IQ measurements to sustain his argument.

He concludes that a 'race/intelligence' link is not found, but cites exclusively European concepts and achievements in his measurement of intelligence. An implied link with race - a biological, rather than social, category - is not far behind.

The main thrust of Professor Saunders's brief discussion seems to be that intelligence leads to class position leads to intelligence. If, as is the case, middle-class, white, male biological determinists of considerable academic achievement devise tests which they claim measure intelligence, perhaps we should not be surprised that they focus on attributes in which they see themselves or their economic peers reflected. That the most economically successful in our society are those whose attributes typify the skills and attitudes valued by the economic system is another way to interpret Professor Saunders's assertion, as well as a statement of the obvious.

It has been clear for some time that IQ tests are rife with cultural concepts - how they are devised, organised, set and interpreted. Cultures are different, abilities are different; when we begin to confuse 'different' with 'cleverer' or 'better', then we had best beware. I am sure that Charles Murray and Professor Saunders have high IQs; so have I, so have my students (some working class, some black, exclusively female) - so what? Sociologists should not simply accept prevailing definitions; we need to attempt to understand them. What matters is how and why certain skills and abilities are defined and valued as they are, and the repercussions of such evaluation.

Yours sincerely, RALPH LEIGHTON Canterbury 25 September