The Over Quantification of Society

Alfred Binet was born in 1857 in what is now France. He finished law school when he was 21 but he also studied Physiology. His career focused more on psychology than law or physiology. He became interested in the development of intelligence in children.

When France required schooling for children from 6-14 years of age, Alfred became interested in identifying children’s intelligence so they could be properly placed in school.

Working with a young medical student, Theodore Simon, Alfred developed an intelligence test. The Binet-Simon test was used to identify a child’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ). The test was revised several times.

Alfred was cautious about the use of his intelligence scale. He felt that intelligence wasn’t static. It could increase with experience, and other factors. He didn’t feel that intelligence was not something that a number could sufficiently assess. Unfortunately, others did not acknowledge the limitations of the IQ scale.

There were those who wanted to form a society using the IQ scale as a measure for acceptance. In reality, this was simply a way to rationalize the privilege of the upper class.

Then those who believed in eugenics used the IQ scale as evidence of superiority of the white race. There were efforts to limit reproduction rights of those with low IQ values. What began as a noble effort to place students at the proper education levels became an odious effort to perpetuate caste societies.

Binet never spoke out against these improper practices. He was reluctant to travel or attend professional conferences. Since most of the improper uses of the IQ scale were used outside France, he was not aware of them.

When he did become aware of the improper uses, he denounced them. Alfred continued to revise his scale up until his death at age 59.

Just imagine the avalanche of false quantification that Alfred Binet unleashed. The unintended consequence of his work was to allow a number to replace a real sense of a person’s worth. But now we use false quantification to measure public opinion, compare institutions, gains in academic performance, and in virtually all dimensions of society. And these phony numbers affect our views of others.

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“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

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