And I remember thinking like, “What makes an idea dangerous?”
August 13, 2019 9:36 PM   Subscribe

Radiolab turns its Radiolab style toward their series G, which explores ideas surrounding intelligence, the possible measuring of which may be a dangerous idea. Beginning with The Miseducation Of Larry P [1h6m] - "We begin Radiolab Presents: “G” with a sentence that stopped us all in our tracks: In the state of California, it is off-limits to administer an IQ test to a child if he or she is Black."

Problem Space [43m] - "This week, we meet the families in California dealing with that ban forty years later. Families the ban was designed to protect, but who now say it discriminates against their children. How much have IQ tests changed since the 70s? And can they be used for good?"

Relative Genius [1h4m] - "We follow Einstein’s stolen brain from that Princeton autopsy table, to a cider box in Wichita, Kansas, to labs all across the country. And eventually, beyond the brain itself entirely."

Unfit [52m] - "When a law student named Mark Bold came across a Supreme Court decision from the 1920s that allowed for the forced sterilization of people deemed “unfit,” he was shocked to discover that it had never been overturned."

Unnatural Selection [36m] - "This past fall, a scientist named Steve Hsu made headlines with a provocative announcement. He would start selling a genetic intelligence test to couples doing IVF: a sophisticated prediction tool, built on big data and machine learning, designed to help couples select the best embryo in their batch."

World's Smartest Animal [50m30s] - "What is the smartest animal in the world? And if we threw out our human intelligence rubric, is there a fair way to figure it out? Obviously, there is. And it’s a live game show, judged by Jad, Robert … and a dog."

Each episode page has a play button and a transcript button and a download button, and Radiolab is also found as a podcast.
posted by hippybear (10 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this.
posted by jpziller at 9:57 PM on August 13

Really interesting, thanks hippybear.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:10 AM on August 14

I look forward to having a listen to these. There's an interesting BBC documentary from 1994 on the story of Einstein's brain that's worth a look (it is on Youtube) if you want to dive a bit deeper into that story.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:47 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]

Also on Einstein's brain, there is Possessing Genius from 2002. Great read.
posted by ecco at 7:19 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]

Still more on Einstein's brain: Driving Mr. Albert, in which the doctor who stole Einstein's brain goes on a road trip to return it to the family. They stop off to visit William Burroughs along the way.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:28 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]

After listening to the first two episodes I think the framing here may not be completely honest.

It seems like the ruling is not a blanket ban on IQ testing of black children by any group for any purpose. It seems its actually a ban on schools using IQ tests with a racially discriminatory history for the purposes of placement into special education classes.

The second episode "Problem Space" makes an apples-to-oranges comparison. It compares the use of IQ tests in a study establishing the effects of lead exposure in the environment to the use of IQ tests for special education placement. It does this to imply that the California ban on testing for special education is wrong.

Maybe what makes an idea dangerous is dishonesty by those who are proposing it.
posted by Reverend John at 9:50 AM on August 14 [9 favorites]

I agree that the framing seems to be taking a pretty reasonable situation and spinning it into clickbait. From the court:

Defendants are enjoined from utilizing, permitting the use of, or approving the use of any standardized intelligence tests, including those now approved pursuant to Cal.Admin.Code § 3401, for the identification of black E.M.R. children or their placement into E.M.R. classes, without securing prior approval by this court...

In order to obtain court approval of the use of any standardized intelligence tests, the State Board of Education must take the following steps:

(1) make a written request to the court that the standardized intelligence test or tests be approved. The request must be authorized by a majority of the Board, and it must state whether the Board has determined that the test or tests

(a) are not racially or culturally discriminatory,

(b) will be administered in a manner which is nondiscriminatory in its impact on black children,

(c) have been validated for the determination of E.M.R. status or placement in E.M.R. classes;

(2) accompany their application with supporting evidence produced under oath, which must include:

*990 (a) statistics on the average or mean scores of blacks and whites on the test or tests,

(b) statistics or other data, reported separately for blacks and whites, which form the basis for the Board's determination that the tests are validated for the purpose(s) for which they are to be used,

(c) a certification that the State Board has held open public hearings on the proposed test or tests before reaching its determination.

(EMR stands for "educable mentally retarded.")

This seems like an excessively reasonable consequence of California schools using clearly culture-unfair tests that were producing biased results for black and Hispanic students, and administrators showing no interest in giving a shit or improving anything until a court forced them to act.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for school administrators who, forty years later, are still basing their special education process on tests which they have apparently not submitted to this procedure, and who, instead of using different tests or validating the tests they prefer, sit around telling black kids to change their race on a form because, gosh, their hands are tied, the courts say they can't do anything anymore.
posted by value of information at 4:36 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]

Standardized aptitude tests simply measure how closely you fit the mold of the Princeton graduates who created them. As a lower middle-class midwesterner with a naive assumption of the fairness and objectivity of the system it never occurred to me that you would prepare for an SAT or PSAT. I mean, that would be like preparing for a urine test! (Which, I later learned is also a thing people do.)

I did fine, I guess, but I did notice that it was the doctor's and lawyer's kids that got the higher scores and acceptance at the schools I couldn't afford anyway.

And that was just my experience, as a relatively privileged kid. It gets worse--much worse--for people from marginalized communities. The unfairness is staggering, but we cling to "meritocracy" as a simulacrum of fairness.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:54 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]

Another interesting footnote from the court decision:
The [1916 Stanford-Binet] test was modified somewhat and restandardized in 1937 ... In the report on the 1937 restandardizing, Terman and Merrill stated that they eliminated some test items for which there was a gross discrepancy in the ability of boys and girls to answer correctly. They left in the test some items which tended to favor one sex, but they balanced such items so that boys and girls would both have an average score of 100.
The decision notes proof the test was biased between genders was eliminated on the assumption that it should not show bias there, but they were never troubled by race or class bias when that was shown; they just left those questions in.
posted by fleacircus at 7:18 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]

After listening to the first two episodes I think the framing here may not be completely honest.

The framing for the entire series is, should we even try to define General Intelligence ("G"), or is it impossible for us to define what general intelligence is with the ways we try to measure it because every way we try to measure it comes with inbuilt prejudices based on who is doing the testing.

Perhaps that is the metric by which you should be measuring across all six episodes, and not judging the first two within a smaller box than that.
posted by hippybear at 8:52 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]

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