The ongoing feud between President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reached absolutely bizarre, reality-bending levels this week, with Trump responding to reports Tillerson had called him a “moron” by suggesting that they could “compare IQ tests ... I can tell you who is going to win.”
This juicy little distraction was apparently irresistible to Mensa, the world’s largest association of people with very high IQs. In an unfortunate interview with the Boston Globe, spokesman Charles Brown said that “We’re happy to offer our test to anybody really who’s interested in joining our society.” Mensa also issued a press release proclaiming, “Mensa IQ Tests Abound in October — Politicians Welcome,” noting that “all brilliance is welcome” and “IQ testing can provide insight on how one’s brain processes information.”
Mensa, an organization which was originally intended as a sort of aristocratic private club for geniuses, requires its members to demonstrate their above-average intelligence by providing qualifying results from one of roughly 200 tests. None of these tests apparently measure your willingness to cater to the whims of a wilting carrot who, despite the numerous pressures of a tanking presidency, seems much more interested in litigating his feuds through the media.
Of course, all of this glosses over that psychology currently recognizes IQ tests as not measuring actual intelligence, a concept which is incredibly hard to define, and which is inevitably linked to both social and individual conceptions. IQ tests primarily measure a range of skills, academic achievements and acquired knowledge—things that tend to have to do with social standing, not innate intelligence.
For example, judging the intelligence of racial or ethnic groups by IQ tests is now commonly acknowledged in the scientific community as racist pseudoscience, since the results are related to socioeconomic status.
As Illinois State University psychologist W. Joel Schneider noted in an interview with Scientific American, the value of an IQ test is its correlation with factors society deems intellectually important:
IQ tests did not begin as operational definitions of theories that happened to correlate with important outcomes. The reason that IQ tests correlate with so many important outcomes is that they have undergone a long process akin to natural selection.
“IQ is an imperfect predictor of many outcomes,” Schneider added. “A person who scores very low on a competently administered IQ test is likely to struggle in many domains. However, an IQ score will miss the mark in many individuals, in both directions.”
Hmm. That sounds very much like a situation the nation may currently be experiencing.