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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Neal Conan is on vacation.

We know intelligence when we see it - someone who's bright, quick, well spoken. But how bright, how quick? In the last century, we've quantified intelligence with a number: your intelligence quotient or IQ. IQ made the qualities of intellectual ability at least seem measurable. However, whatever can be measured can also be ranked, and the history of IQ is less a history of intelligence than attempts to categorize differences and inflame prejudice.

But despite the problems inherent in IQ, we're still taking IQ tests and they still determine crucial parts of our lives. The idea of IQ lives on. But Stephen Murdoch says it's a failed one.

Later in the hour, we're taking a trip down memory lane with author, Christopher Hitchens. He says his old London neighborhood is a bastion of multiculturalism and perhaps, jihadism as well.

But first, have you taken an IQ test? Do you even know your IQ? How has it affected or not affected your life? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation where we have link to a few sample IQ tests you can take.

Joining me is Stephen Murdoch. He's the author of the book, "IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea." He's at the studios of the Production Room in Santa Barbara. Thanks for being here.

Mr. STEPHEN MURDOCH (Author, "IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea"): Rebecca, thanks for having me.

ROBERTS: So why did you take on IQ? What got you interested?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, it's a good question. First of all, I think it's a more interesting idea than people realize. It's had a very, very broad impact on individuals and society. It sends people in a high, middle or low track in life. And surprisingly, there have been people murdered because of their low IQ scores, people coercively sexually sterilized, people prevented from immigrating into America. They've been incarcerated. And, of course, there have been millions and millions of people denied a decent education.

But I think it - your question is a good one in the sense that you have to have a personal reason for getting into a reasonably esoteric subject matter. And for me, it took me a while, while researching the book, to realize what it was for me. But funny enough, it just comes down to the idea that I didn't like taking the tests. I remember taking what I think was my first IQ test in the sixth grade. And it was - whether or not I would get into a gifted and talented education program out here in Santa Barbara in California.

And I remember details of it. I remember my mother dropping me off and walking up the path to a little room where there was a psychologist with a large drooping moustache and a big black phone on his desk. And he asked me a bunch of very strange questions that made me feel uncomfortable, like who was Charles Darwin? And he even had me playing with children's blocks and things like that and making pictures.

And I think my - I ended up doing quite well in it. I don't know what my score was, but I got into that gifted and talented program. But nevertheless, the experience was one of a negative one for me as I think it was for other people. I think many of us have a fear of negative scrutiny and an anxiety that attaches to these exams.

ROBERTS: Do you think that is the place that most people have been tested, if we've been tested at all, is in some sort of admission's process in school?

Mr. MURDOCH: I think that's exactly right. And they often happen far earlier than we remember. They're used by private schools in admissions and at a really early age - 3 and 4. And this is still happening to get into the more competitive, elite schools. In the public schools, they're still sorting their kids by use of IQ tests. You get in the gifted programs through them, put in a middle class, or put in remedial class.

But they're used in many, many other places. They are used by employers, by the military, in courts of law and in medicine.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, when we first started talking about doing this show, one of my first thoughts was, well, who even uses IQ as a standard any more? But then, I have children applying to private school, and they took this WPPSI test, which you cover in the first chapter of your book, which is, by and large, an IQ test. What can you - I mean, little kids. How can you possibly tell something valuable about a child that small from a test?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, I'm not sure that you can. And the WPPSI is the standard test for kids at around the age of 3 and 4, and again, it's used in admissions to private school. And it does put a lot of pressure, not just on the kids, but on the parents as well. It produces a lot of anxiety. And the main problem with the WPPSI and other tests, really - but especially the WPPSI - is that it's not predictive, especially at such a young age.

So really, IQ tests are being used at the time that they shouldn't be, I think. And that's because IQ tests don't settle, really. Your scores go all over the place until about the age of 16. And really, in that context, it's interesting - I interviewed a psychologist in Washington, D.C., where a lot of these tests are being used for these fancy, elite private schools in the area. And she said to me essentially, no, these tests are used to weed out 90 percent or so of the applicants of these schools.

They simply have too many people applying to them. And these institutions need a way of saying, right, we're not going to look at nine or ten kids in this way. And they believe that the IQ test is one standard form - standard metric in which to say, we're doing this fairly, but we're really going to - we're not going to look at that 90 percent.

ROBERTS: And - well, let's take a call. This is Ginny(ph) in Mesa, Arizona. Ginny, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

GINNY (Caller): Hello. I ran for sheriff in '86 in a real small community. I was raised in a suburban area and moved to a farm area. And it was so horrible to be a female in a venue of sheriffing, in particular, that I really - I was beaten down. And I decided to take an IQ test. I went to Mensa and they gave me two kinds - one where there was reading and then, one where it was just verbal. And I scored 160.

ROBERTS: Wow.

GINNY: So it really - well, then I went on and got my degree, my bachelors in physics because I thought I could do this. And I've got my masters in administration. I'm working on my doctorate in education.

ROBERTS: So it really gave you confidence?

GINNY: Yeah, it did.

ROBERTS: Ginny, thanks for your call.

That's an interesting perspective, Stephen Murdoch, that someone who was dealing with sort of less quantified measures of how successful she was going to be, saw a number and it helped her feel like she was capable.

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah. And I - during the research for this book, I did speak to people who had experiences like that. And I think it's great for Ginny. I'm sorry that the sheriffing didn't work out for her and she moved on. I always say the vast majority of people, though, I talked to had negative experiences with this. And I think it raises a good point, and that is really we should be worrying more about the false negatives than any false positives.

I suppose we know people in college and elsewhere who scored extremely well in exams, but were lazy or whatever else they were, and didn't do much with their lives. And, you know, that would be a false positive. But it's the false negatives that concern me and I think other people the most. Look, if you've got a kid who's got an IQ of 109 or something like that, that's slightly above average. And as a result, he's not put into college-bound classes.

He's not allowed to take calculus. And, of course, it turned out for other reasons - personality characteristics or whatever it would be - he would do well in calculus, and would do well to go and get a masters in physics or whatever it is. I think it's a shame on the individual level and on the social level that we're barring children like that based on one exam often in one day.

ROBERTS: So do you think this is sort of something that everybody acknowledges that it's a flawed measurement, and keeps it in context and things while we don't have a whole lot else, so we're going to use it for whatever information it provides? Are there people who are really investing a lot of importance in that number?

Mr. MURDOCH: I think that the majority of psychologists, at least the academic ones, believe that this is a valid test of this innate - mainly innate singular ability that they can test us, and they can rank us on. But I think, the rest of us out in society don't necessarily believe that. But, of course, we live in an industrialized, complex society where we need to make decisions over people.

And if you're an admissions officer at Harvard or, you know, you do this for the military, you do have to have a way of making decisions over people. And I'm not sure that they believe that this is a valid test. Maybe some of them do, but I would imagine many of them don't. But they just say, look, we have to make decisions. This is a common yardstick.

It goes back to your initial question of the use in private schools, and so, they simply use it without thinking about it. And you know, I'm not anti-test. I think that these tests can be useful in certain circumstances and it's interesting. My problem, though, is that they claim that they test intelligence. I think that you could call these tests, test of common knowledge and then use them when they're not dangerous, they don't harm anybody.

An interesting example of that is the U.S. military uses a test called the ASVAB to screen young recruits when they're just coming out of high school and they don't know much about them. And historically, at times when the Army has let people in who've scored the equivalent of below an 80 on an IQ test, the Army has been rendered less efficient, so the troops don't follow orders as well, they can't figure out complex machinery like tanks or read maps.

So, it's not that I think these tests measure nothing, it's that I think that's there's a real danger in saying that we can bore down into your core and measure this innate singular ability. And it's like I said earlier, people have been murdered and sexually sterilized based on thinking that you're really getting to their core. And what - I think there's a lot in the history that people don't know about and…

ROBERTS: I want to get to the history in a minute…

Mr. MURDOCH: Okay, sure.

ROBERTS: …but let me take a call from Steve in Boston. Steve, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

STEVE (Caller): Hi, yeah. I'm a clinical psychologist who routinely administers IQ tests as part of a general battery. And I do disagree with a number of things that your guest is saying, I guess. And to quote someone about a different psychological test, I would say that in the hands of the ill trained, it can be misused. Almost anything can be misused.

ROBERTS: What do use it for, Steve?

STEVE: I use it as part of a generalized test battery along with personality tests, and I also do reevaluations for a local school for their special education program. The thing you have to consider - there are two aspects, one is an IQ is just a number that summarizes various components of the test, and by itself, it's not very helpful. It also is seen as a range. So that 109, well, really if you look at the test, the test statistics, maybe that 109 really is a range from 100 to a hundred, you know, fifteen or something.

So, almost nobody just will give one figure like that. And it's the subtests that really make the test so helpful. I agree with your guest that using one number to say, well, he's got a 109, he's not going to, you know, Fred's fancy private school. But by looking at the subtests and seeing what their profile is, you can see, well, you know, this kid is going to have a pretty tough time with math but, you know, he'd feel really great in something that requires a different kind of verbal ability or so on. So, I really think that you don't want to, kind of, throw the baby out with a bath water because I found it to be extremely helpful over the years in a number of different settings.

ROBERTS: Steve, thanks for you call. Stephen Murdoch?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, I think Steve raised some good issues, and he might be surprised to hear that I agree with him. I mean, Steve is essentially a professional assessor for an education.

And I think it's okay to use IQ tests in that context, but as he points out, a global number doesn't help you much. There are other tests that I would imagine he uses that are more helpful, like test of achievement and cognitive processing and things like that. And - so, I'm not - I don't think they should really be using it in that context, but it's more when the children are being sorted that in Steve's context that I'm worried about. Like for instance…

ROBERTS: We're talking with Steven Murdock about the concept of IQ. We'll talk a little bit more about the history of IQ testing when we come back from a break and take more of your calls, 800-989-TALK, or email talk@npr.org.

I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington.

Christopher Hitchens will be with us a little bit later in a Vanity Fair article. He wonders how his old neighborhood in London moved from a cricket and fish and chips sort of a place to burqas and shoe bombers in a single generation.

But right now we're talking about intelligence tests and if IQ scores really matter. Our guest is Stephen Murdoch. He wrote the book, "IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea." You can read an excerpt about one family's struggle to improve their 3-year-old son's IQ score at npr.org/talk. If you have taken an IQ test and know your IQ and think how it's affected or not affected your life, give us a call, 800-989-TALK or send us email talk@npr.org. You can also check out our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

Stephen Murdoch, before the break, we were talking a little bit about putting these tests in context. We had heard from Steve in Boston, who's a clinical psychologist who uses them regularly, and you were talking about some of the more useful ways he might be able to find out about his patients.

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah, that's right. I mean, I guess what I was saying is I would disagree with Steve in the sense that these tests are used in a global number, that's one number that you come up with, a 120 or whatever. And kids still are getting in the gifted and talented programs or not based on the one number. I think that Steve is - he could do a great job of assessing the whole child's personality and strengths and weakness. And there are other tests that are probably better, just like cognitive assessment tests, where they're testing what they believe is actual brain functioning. They have theory underneath - underlying their tests, which IQ tests do not.

ROBERTS: But, let's talk a little bit about the background here, how was the test developed?

Mr. MURDOCH: The test was developed by a guy named Francis Galton or the - he came up with the idea of doing it first. And really, what he wanted to do in the 1870s and 1880s in Victorian England was to get to our inner core because he wanted to breed humanity. That's essentially the reason why IQ tests were first developed.

He wanted to breed us like cattle or dogs and do nothing less than improve the human race, which is why as you can imagine when that idea floated out in the 20th century, it led some of the gravest deeds committed. And in fact, eugenics, which is a science that he created, this idea of breeding humans, was the science that the Nazis used during the Holocaust. And so what they…

ROBERTS: In fact, he coined the term eugenics, right?

Mr. MURDOCH: He coined the terms eugenics, absolutely. And he was applying consciously natural selection, Darwin's idea to people. And what he wanted to do was find out who is innately and genetically worthy for breeding before it was too late. I mean, if you had to wait until Einstein was 50 or so when he had revolutionized physics, you are too late. You wanted to find out who Einstein was at age 18 and then promote those race - smart people to have children and then discourage, of course, rather negatively, the people who shouldn't be having children.

And that idea crossed over into America in a lot of interesting ways. So we had American psychologists and doctors on Ellis Island trying to screen out the feeble-minded in the 1910s, people who they thought were genetically inferior. And they developed a lot of test questions there. They were doing it to prepare the Army, U.S. Army for World War I and trying to keep out the feeble-minded; also in the schools. So that sort of basic eugenic idea that they're boring to the core of us and can narrow us down to one number really has remained certainly in the first half of the 20th century, but in ways even today for those of us who think that IQ tests really measure our innate core.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Kevin in Berkeley, California. Kevin, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Mr. Murdoch, I'd like for you, if you would, to discuss the correlation between IQ - the numbers so to speak -with school-age children as it relates to race, and particularly given that a lot of inner city children do not develop the vocabulary necessary early on to do well on these tests. And if you could just speak more on that, that would be great. Thank you guys so much for this subject. And thank you for your work.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Kevin.

Mr. MURDOCH: Kevin, thanks for the question. And this is a sort of classic American question. We are obsessed, of course, with race for obvious historical reasons, and it's one that can make people pretty uncomfortable. The basic historical thing that's going on with IQ test and race, and essentially, what I mean by that is average white score versus average African-American score. There has been 15 points spread over the past 90 years, with white scoring on average, 15 points higher than African-Americans.

And what Kevin was alluding to is, of course, a lot of IQ tests are about language, the ability to speak. They test vocabulary. Even their mathematic questions often involve words. And so, people think that you're testing things indirectly like environment and how many words are used at home and in school and in different socio-economic situations.

So really with this 15 points spread, you either believe that IQ tests measure this innate ability and that there are differences genetically between blacks and whites, or you think that there's something environmentally going on. And the environment, on average, is different from blacks and whites.

ROBERT: That toss right in to this e-mail for Carol, who says this is a personal story. I was tested when I was a child and scored in the near genius range. I was then expected by my parents to perform at that level. I never could measure up. When I was in college, we took an IQ test as part of a psychology class and that time I scored 130. I was so relieved. It fit with my performance level. I was a good student, but not a genius. I figured out that my childhood score had been the result of being isolated in the country with my mother who didn't know how to play with me but really knew how to teach me things. One thing we did for entertainment was diagram sentences. Unfortunately, the feeling of not measuring up was ingrained me from childhood and has been hard for me to shake.

I also like that story because, frankly, Carol is the first person who has admitted to score under 140. I think a lot of people who want to participate in this program want to brag.

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah, I think that's right. I think it's also interesting that I think - the e-mail said that her parents told her the score or - and/or the school. But what's interesting about this is the people I talked to, they often didn't know their test score but they inferred it from what class they are placed in. You know, they're obviously given - apparently given thick books or thin books depending on how they did. But that sort of not knowing but knowing the test was somehow important empowered the exam.

But I also think the e-mail points out how much environment matters a lot. She was in a place with the mother who, you know, grilled her on vocabulary, parts of sentences or whatever they did. It's been a criticism of IQ test going back a hundred years. This is really testing our ability to talk and think or talk about the world with words rather than actually doing in the world.

ROBERTS: We also have an e-mail that says isn't it true that people can be trained to take an IQ test? If so, doesn't this call into question the validity of the exam and the concept itself?

Mr. MURDOCH: It's a good question. For - throughout the past hundred years, test creators and test companies have claimed that this tests an innate ability that cannot be trained for. I mean, the classic example of that are the SATs with ETS saying that you couldn't train for it. And then, of course, Stanley Kaplan and Princeton Review have shown time and time again that, of course, you can train for them.

And, you know, I think you can train - I don't know if you can go from an 80 to 140. There are probably limits. But it certainly does make you wonder how valid in a sense the tests are at just boring our core. It matters. I mean, there's a guy on death row in Virginia who will be executed if he's got a score of less than 70 and he will not be executed if his score is higher. And his test scores have gone from, I think, a 59 up to a 76. So he's gone from being protected to not.

ROBERTS: So you - I'm sorry. He'll be executed if his scores are high?

Mr. MURDOCH: I'm sorry. Did I get that wrong?

ROBERTS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. MURDOCH: That's right. Sorry, I flipped that. But essentially, the Supreme Court had said that you cannot be executed if you're mentally retarded, which is beneath the 70 - excuse me. So the prosecutors are now arguing and trying to show that he's got an IQ score of above 70. And so that he can be executed. And it goes to your e-mail or thought, which is essentially he has practiced taking the test. This defendant has taken the test four or five times, if not more and his test score has gone up. And so he's got into the category of somebody who can be executed.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from George in Buffalo. George, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

GEORGE (Caller): Hi, how are you doing? Good afternoon.

ROBERTS: Good afternoon.

GEORGE: I'm an intensive case manager and I work with the Office of Mental Health in New York State. And one of the things that I do is basically help people access services that they require. One of the problems I have with the IQ test is that whenever I'm referring somebody to the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities in New York State, the IQ test is really used as a single number or a single discriminate number to determine a service. And it's not really taking into context.

The flipside of that is I've also been in the situation where a child needs a psychiatric hospitalization, long-term, and because of their IQ being kind of in the low end, then they're not accepted into a psychiatric hospital for children. So there are some children who fall within that 65 to 75 range that sometimes services are being denied and people who work in the community and let us say also the families and the children are kind of stuck in the middle trying to figure out, okay, how do we get services for this child, how do we get this child to flourish. And that's really difficult when people are just looking at that one number.

ROBERTS: And in New York, George, is there a number requirement or is it just sort of part of the decision-making process?

GEORGE: For OMRDD, Office of Mental Retardation services, the number is 70. For intensive case management services, in my case for example, I can take anybody with an IQ of 75. Now, honestly, we don't always look at that when we take a case. So sometimes I'll take a case and the child ends up having a lower IQ but because I've already accepted them, we don't close the services. The problem is getting them into new services that might be long-term just because of that one number.

ROBERTS: George, thanks for your call. Stephen, is that pretty standard that a Department of Health or a Department of Mental Retardation uses a number as a standard of care?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah, it's exactly how it goes. I had one psychologist say to me the worst thing you want to be in life is a 70. Obviously, it depends on which institutions you're talking to, and the number changes. But the idea is that at 70, it goes back to what I was referring to before. You can be executed if you're a murderer on trial at a 70.

And government health benefits are tied to IQ scores like that. And it's often a dead breaking point. It's a bright line and these things are not such tight gauges of our mental ability. That's really the problem with them. They can shift around.

ROBERTS: What would your alternative be?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, it depends on the context. It's a good question. But the alternative, of course, in schools is to stop using them. I don't mean in terms of assessment of abilities. You could do that, although, I would shy away from them.

But in terms of these bright line situations where it really matters what happens to people, I would shy away from it, especially in schools. You don't want people put or not put into gifted and talented programs based on this one score.

The second thing to do is actually harder. And that is, I think, that want to start persuading psychology to stop saying that IQ tests measure intelligence, and they should be promoted to give us new tests. And fortunately, there are actually psychologists in the minority out there who are giving us tests that actually have theory underlying them.

And I'm thinking here specifically about the people who were looking into how the brain functions. There's been a revolution in the cognitive sciences in the past 50 or 60 years. And people are now, since about the 1980s, coming up with the ways for testing brain functioning.

ROBERTS: You mean, actually sort of how efficient your brain works?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah.

ROBERTS: How the synapses fire and how good it is at storing information?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah, yeah. Well, sort of. It's not that they're taking a brain scan and saying, you know, now we know - understand your brain, and that you can take calculus or you can't. But, you know, they understand now what part of the brain and how the brain allows us to pay attention, and if we're good at paying attention; and how we process stimuli, how we process it when a stimuli comes out as sequentially like A, B, C, D; or how we process it when we're bombarded with stimuli simultaneously.

And so what they're trying to do is devise pen-and-paper test questions that will get at that - those processes in the brain. So it's actually theory-based exams. And you can imagine when it comes to learning disabilities and things like that in schools, well, it helps if Johnny can't read and you know that he's having problems processing information simultaneously, well, then you can have a lesson plan geared toward those problems. And they now do.

ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's hear from Paul in Eugene, Oregon. Paul, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

PAUL (Caller): Thank you for taking my call.

ROBERTS: Sure.

PAUL: I remember as a third grader, being - my whole class was given a test and they put us into a room one by one, where a fellow had us draw things on a piece of paper and worked with blocks. I remember one describing or asking me to draw a picture of my family. So I started doing the details of my father's beard and all those stuff and that the test giver said no, no, no, just do stick figures. And I didn't know what stick figures were. And I still remember him taking careful notes and he ushered me out of the room.

I spent several years in special education in that elementary school. And through my childhood and into my teens, I had a lot of self-esteem issues, but then, when I was in my mid teens, my brother who was just graduating from Harvard with his doctorate in education, told me that I shouldn't put too much weight in a test, that a test can't accurately define or describe a human's potential. And - long story short, I graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's degree.

ROBERTS: Paul, thank you so much for your call. Let's hear from Toni in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

TONI (Caller): Hi.

ROBERTS: Hi. It was funny. I have a true story to tell you. When I was in pre-school, I had my IQ tested. And one part, just like this gentleman, was to draw someone and I drew my parents. And I was extremely detailed in the drawing, except I didn't draw her eyebrows on her, reason why was that my mom's eyebrows were indistinguishable. So my IQ was stated at 150. My mom always thought I should be at 160 and, yes, I do want a break.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: And if you had had a brunette mother with more prominent eyebrows, if you were Frida Kahlo's kid, you would have gotten 160.

TONI: Oh, yes.

ROBERTS: Thank you for your call. Do you think, Stephen Murdoch, that in the Internet age, when you can take a test online that more people actually know their score? It used to sort of be something that was kept from you, or if you'd taken a test, you didn't even know it?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yeah. I do think if you go online, you Google IQ, it's amazing the number of exams that come up. I don't really know - a lot of these exams, I think are made up by people who don't know what they're doing very much. And so, you know, it's not clear what kind of number you're going to get. And also they want you to join up. I think that's really going on online.

They want to give them the 15 bucks or the 30 bucks and, you know, surprisingly enough, you take that test and you end up in the top two percent, and then you send them a check for 30 bucks. But I was really saddened just to hear those callers right now. I think it's exactly what we should all be concerned about, are these false negative, these very capable, bright people who are scoring low, at least initially on the IQ test.

And what's good about it is that over the past 25 years or so, psychologists, some of them, have started to move away from this basic model. And I'm thinking about, of course, Howard Gardner at Harvard. And - sorry, go ahead.

ROBERTS: No, go ahead. Tell me about this model.

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, what's interesting about it is it's actually going to a sort of pre-IQ model, where in the 19th century, people thought of intelligence as far more nebulous and a broader idea. When the IQ guys came along, that became far more narrow. It was this sort of set of discrete, almost trivia-like questions. And Howard Gardner and other people as well have sort of wrestled control of that idea and made intelligence far more multifaceted and flexible.

So Howard Gardner in the early '80s came up with his idea of multiple intelligences and said, look, it's not just this sort of linguistic mathematical ability. There's musical intelligence. There's physical intelligence. There are all these other things that educators in particular can understand.

ROBERTS: So after doing all these research, did you come down to think that you actually can measure intelligence in some way, that it's a quality that can be quantified?

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, it's an interesting question. Look, I think the basic reality - this is what I think. I think that Albert Einstein in some basic, innate, genetic level probably was a better physicist than your average bartender. It's not that I think that we're all created equal, and it's just that our experiences make us different.

No, the question is do you have a test where Einstein is 18 and you can sum up his abilities? We're nowhere near that right now and the problem is the proclamations from psychology that we've got them. But someday in the future, yeah, I think we'll move closer to it.

ROBERTS: Stephen Murdoch is the author of "IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea." You can read an excerpt from the book about one family's struggle to improve their 3-year-old son's IQ score at npr.org/talk. He joined us from the studios of the Production Room in Santa Barbara, California. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Up next, Christopher Hitchens joins us in the June issue of Vanity Fair. He remembers the London neighborhood he grew up in and wonders how it became a breeding ground for jihadists.

I'm Rebecca Roberts, it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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