27 June 2007

We are with the stupid

So, what are we going to do with the stupid? is the question Michael Hanlon, the science editor of the Daily Mail in London, asks in a thought-provoking essay in the 23 June issue of the New Scientist. It hadn't occurred to me that those who are not-so-gifted may be subject to some sort of discrimination for being so.

In this case, the discrimination in question is neither government-sanctioned, nor is it culturally based. Most of us, including those who may be subject to it, may not even be aware that it exists, partly because it has arisen relatively recently as an inevitable product of our culture and society that are being guided increasingly by information and technology. While the smart move on with the times, those who are low on intelligence may be left behind, without proper education and decent jobs or unemployed, or worse yet, unemployable. Nevertheless, they are still part of the society and they get to vote. We cannot reverse our direction, but may be able to help them out before they are too far behind.

According to Hanlon, in the UK there may be 2 to 6 million people with IQ scores between about 70 and 85. In the U.S., the number would be higher, because the population is larger. The Census Bureau reports the total number of Americans in 2000 aged 15 to 74 as roughly 200 million. How do we decide how many of them are "stupid"? The IQ tests are controversial and problematic; one's IQ score, although it may have a strong genetic component, could improve with practice and education-if one gets it. Nevertheless, they are a convenient rough guide for intelligence, while keeping in mind that the threshold below which one could be considered stupid is arbitrary.

Assuming that in the general population the distribution of the IQ scores is normal, Hanlon's IQ range of 70 to 85 falls conveniently within 2 to 1 standard deviation units below the mean score of 100, implying that about 13.6% of the U.S. population aged 15 to 74 is expected to have an IQ in the range 70 to 85. That is approximately 27 million fellow Americans.

Shall we ship them all to Oodaaq Island? In a democratic society, it would be unthinkable to attempt to grade and treat the citizens according to their intelligence unless they required special care. In any case, who would do the grading (never trust any government or "authority" when it comes to such matters) and what would be the arbitrary cut-off points anyway?

Hanlon offers a more sensible solution, undoubtedly one of many one can think of: Education systems that properly value vocational skills such as caring, craft or manual work would be a good start. That might require an overhaul of the current education policies as well as the establishment of government-sponsored employment agencies specifically tailored for the needs of the less-skilled workers without attaching any stigma to being so. With proper training, the not-so-gifted could be employed even in service to technology and information, for example as data-entry or library personnel. And who knows, they could even get to serve as politicians.


Nuthatch said...

You know, I don't mind if folks are a little "slow." If everyone were rocket scientists, then nobody would pick up the trash or roof houses (not that all garbage collectors or roofers are dumb, you know what I mean). So better vocational training is right on.

The people that need to be shipped off to some island are people of normal intelligence who are IGNORANT: those who to not bother to think, use logic or common sense, or don't give a crap. And there are a hell of a lot more of them in this country than 27 million. And a lot of them vote.

romunov said...

And who knows, they could even get to serve as politicians.

Already there!