To cite this paper – Bernard Mulholland, ‘STI – Search for Terrestrial Intelligence: Higher Education and research into IQ’, Polyphony, 365, pp. 24-28. Published by British Mensa Ltd.
A prerequisite for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is, arguably, first to define and then find evidence for intelligent life on Earth. Otherwise, how will searchers know what extraterrestrial evidence to look for? In the absence of this terrestrial evidence the search is merely for extraterrestrials that look like us humans.
The available evidence indicates that humans were not the first choice for life on this planet. In fact, humans are a late arrival, and appear only after several mass extinctions wiped out more successful life forms that existed over millions of years. It was only after the mass extinction 65 million years ago that mammals gained ascendency after dinosaurs were all but wiped out. With dinosaurs gone, mammals were able to spread – to radiate – into habitats previously dominated by dinosaurs.
Today there is some speculation that (Via, 2001) we are witnessing another mass extinction event as many species are going extinct at a rapid rate. Humans are not the most prolific life form on Earth. An estimated 50% of biomass on Earth (Nealson, 2001) is in the form of microbial biomass, and little is known about this biota. This has led some to speculate that humans could be replaced by other dominant species, and hence the current panic over global warming and climate change as politicians and activists move to secure humanity’s domination over these other species.
However, if we are currently witnessing a mass extinction, there are some notable and arguably important differences from previous extinction events. Firstly, it is now known that life can and does exist in what were once thought to be extreme environments that were toxic to life. These organisms are commonly referred to as extremophiles (Nealson, 2001). What is interesting is that we know these organisms are found in these extreme environments because humans have also ventured into these habitats, and survived. Like these organisms, humans are to be commonly found living miles underground in mines, in the most bitterly cold environments in the Arctic and Antarctic, and deep beneath the world’s oceans using rebreathers and nitrogen mixtures.
Whilst humans have adapted to living in these extreme habitats, and natural selection is almost certainly and imperceptibly at work, the key difference that is unique today is that ‘humanity’ has also adapted by constructing microenvironments, such as submarines, drilling rigs, ships, aircraft, spacecraft, polar research stations, and everything in between. What is unique about this development is that humanity is no longer hostage to natural selection per se, but instead increasingly relies upon the ingenuity of a relativity small number of intelligent innovators, engineers, technicians, scientists, and also, yes, politicians, to legislate for and fund these developments. In the real world it is now possible to view those humans subjected to natural selection, e.g. Eskimos, Bushmen, etc. living cheek by jowl beside those who are not subjected to natural selection because they inhabit microclimates constructed to provide what is deemed a comfortable lifestyle for the occupants, e.g. miners, oilmen, administrators, tax collectors, etc. It is now possible to envision a time when these microhabitats with their microenvironments are located not only in space, but also on other planets and orbiting moons in this solar system and elsewhere in the universe. Instead of adapting to these extreme environments through natural selection, humanity, or at least a sub-section of humanity, is instead adapting these extreme environments to suit that subsection of humanity through constructing innovative habitats with microenvironments to provide a comfortable lifestyle for their occupants, and humans (Shostak, 2001) now occupy almost every biological niche on the planet. At one time it was thought that terraforming would be central to humanity’s survival on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe, but now the vast expense involved in this process can be set aside in favour of these proven methods to adapt extreme environments to suit humanity.
As this subsection of humanity has opted to avoid the fate of those species and humans subjected to natural selection it has now become increasingly important to seek out and identify those with either the inherent abilities and intelligence required to innovate and modify our environment, or to identify those capable of being trained to do so. This responsibility arguably lies primarily with politicians who can both fund and legislate for the research into, and development of, the search for terrestrial intelligence.
Higher Education, and the high-IQ society MENSA as a research resource
Define intelligence? How to measure intelligence? In Academia the answer is found through a series of successive examinations designed to measure a number of factors thought to be important for a number of different reasons, and not all of these are to do with intelligence. It can be argued that the Higher Education sector has a hierarchy of proxy tests for intelligence that begin with foundation degrees, progress to the award of tertiary degrees, which are topped by Masters degrees, and then at the apex are doctorates.
Furthermore, is it now time to question the relationship between secondary and tertiary education given that there is now firm evidence that the Higher Education sector (universities) appear to be evolving away from purely charitable status towards a business model (Mulholland, 2021a), and what effect will this have upon their ability to deliver, e.g. can they still be said to providing an education, or just providing training? More research into this phenomenon is clearly required so that schoolchildren and their parents can make an informed decision about whether to go to university and, if so, what subjects to study.
But, is there any evidence for correlation between a high-IQ and Higher Education attainment? Have all Mensans been awarded doctorates, or at least a Masters, and if not then why not? Conversely, are all those awarded doctorates automatically a shoo-in for Mensa membership, and if not then why not? Is there any overlap between the two? Are intelligence tests a useful predictor of real world educational attainment? In short, the question arises as to what useful purpose do intelligence tests serve?
Other research methods have been used to explore the relationship between education and IQ such as that by the Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell in Nature plays its part, but school nurtures your brain even better that is referenced by The Observer (December 12, 2021), and which indicates it relies heavily on ‘quasiexperimental methods’.
But, is it really necessary to rely upon ‘quasiexperimental methods’ when there is arguably a readily available valuable resource that provides both direct and indirect access to those said to have tested with an IQ among the top 2% of the population, albeit most are British and American, i.e. Mensa members?
Mensa has used several intelligence tests, such as the Cattell Intelligence test, as a measure of intelligence or IQ. The original intention (Mulholland, 2016a) was for MENSA to conduct three strands of research:
- To test intelligence tests, and identify correlations with intelligence.
- Mensans as the subjects of research.
- The Mensan as an instrument of research, i.e. where they choose areas of research and write reports on them, e.g. through the medium of special interest groups (Sigs), or through other media, e.g. Mulholland (2014, 2015, 2016, 2021 and 2022).
However, is there any evidence that Mensa delivered on these noble aims through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century?
In the United Kingdom the Mensa Register was published in 1962, 1963/4 and 1966, and later retitled as The Mensa Yearbook that was published 1989/90, 1990/91, 1994/95, 1996, and 1999-2000 (for other sources see Mulholland, 2016a). And so it provides a list of most Mensa members over a period of some forty years. The data published in the 1962 register included name, address, tel. no., married/single, religion, DoB and where, number of children, religion, occupation, formal qualifications, club and society membership, and a brief synopsis.
In the United States a similar register was also published for 1967, 1978-79, 1981-82, and 1989. And so these publications together probably list some 200,000-plus members of Mensa, many of whom are still alive, and certain key data about them.
The importance of this resource lies not in the data set itself, which is quite limited in modern terms, but more so in that armed with just the name, address and date of birth (DoB) researchers can cross-reference these data against NHS databases, such as the Trusted Research Environment and NHS Digital, and also social media databases, such as Providers of Very Large Online Platforms (VLOP), to provide a very detailed and up-to-date data set. In short, it is now possible to perform very detailed research into the effects of a high IQ and then compare and contrast this against non-Mensans.
There’s a saying that success has many fathers, and, if Mensa can be adjudged a success, then it likewise can be said to have many fathers (Mulholland, 2016a and 2016b). Serebriakoff’s history of Mensa (1966, p. 89-113), the high I.Q. society, observes that Professor Sir Cyril Burt, at that time the eminent and distinguished British educational psychologist, precipitated the development of Mensa during a media broadcast he made during 1945. At that time organisations, such as the Gallup Poll, were being used for statistical sampling of public opinion, and Burt indicated it would be interesting to know the opinions of highly intelligent members of the population as selected by an objective intelligence test. By happenchance two barristers, Roland Berrill and Dr. Lancelot Lionel Ware, were discussing Gallup Polls and questionnaires and thought it would indeed be useful to governments and other authorities to know the views and attitudes of a panel of those scientifically tested to have a high mental ability. Originally the bar for membership was set at those tested to be among the top 1% of the population, but this was later relaxed to now cater for those among the top 2%.
With this goal in mind, in Oxford during March 1946, Ware subjected Berrill to the Cattell Intelligence Test (Serebriakoff, 1985, p. 19-22) and the high-IQ society Mensa was formed. Initially Berrill favoured limiting membership to just 600 members, but, as both he and Ware were to drift away from Mensa, the society’s aspirations and goals were to be shaped and formed by others.
In his foreword to Victor Serebriakoff’s second volume about Mensa, Sir Clive Sinclair (1985) proclaimed Victor Serebriakoff to be the ‘Father of Mensa’ for his unstinting work in developing the society in a number of diverse roles, including the honorific role of ‘World President’. But in 1996 Mensa published a yearbook to commemorate its golden anniversary (Mensa Publications, 1996), and in its foreword Dr. L.L. Ware was formally acknowledged as the Fons et Origo Mensa (Ware, 1996).
However, perhaps the key figure during its formative years was Sir Cyril Burt (Mulholland, 2016a, pp. 29-33) who, as president of the society from 1960 until his death in 1971, thought that members of the society might serve as guinea pigs or laboratory rats to be studied by psychologists and sociologists. To this end Mensa was declared to have three functions: (i) as a stimulating intellectual and social environment for members, (ii) to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, and (iii) to encourage research into the nature, characteristics, and uses of intelligence (Mulholland, 2016a, p. 22).
At first members of Mensa were subjected to a series of Mensa interrogatories (Mulholland, 2016, pp. 85-90) that were questionnaires designed to tease out views and opinions of members across a range of specific topics perceived to be of interest to government and other authorities in much the same way that a Gallup Poll might interrogate the general public. In later years these questionnaires appear to reflect developments and innovations in social sciences and adapt accordingly. The publication of a series of registers of Mensa members took the opportunity to systematically apply questionnaires and publish the results as a means of fulfilling this remit.
Registers of those with a measured high-IQ
Of the three functions originally charted for Mensa and its members it is the social aspect that has often attracted most media scrutiny, and especially so over the last thirty years. However, the research conducted on and by members of Mensa has arguably been of more significance, and has the potential to become even more important over coming years.
Over the span of forty years from 1962 through to 2000 Mensa published eight registers/yearbooks listing global membership and then later, as membership numbers grew, specialised to list almost all of its British and Irish members and the results of a questionnaire posed to collect data considered useful to researchers at that time. The 1962 edition included all those members who responded, but subsequent editions excluded members from America, who then had their own publication.
From 1967 through to 1989 American Mensa also published a series of four registers of almost all members in North America, and again with results of a detailed questionnaire, i.e. 1967, 1978-79, 1981-82, and 1989.
Together these registers and yearbooks collectively list probably some 200,000-plus members of Mensa, many of whom are still alive, and certain key data about them. It must be acknowledged that registers and yearbooks claim copyright for Mensa, and the legal topography as it applies to this source of data is one that must be negotiated.
However their importance lies not only in what individual members chose to allow to be published about them, but also in what they chose to withhold from publication. For example members of the security and intelligence services might have declined to share any information for reasons of personal and/or national security. Similarly, those incarcerated at the time may have preferred not to be included. That said, only half-a-dozen members requested they be excluded from the 1962 Mensa register.
Therefore this corpus of data arguably provides one of the most important historical sources of data about those said to be tested as having an IQ among the top 2% of the population. And as this resource is relatively recent it also has significance for current research into intelligence. But what data does it include?
Most registers/yearbooks were published without any analysis of the contents, and so, without having access to the original database, data analysis is prohibitively time consuming. Those researchers with the available time and data entry skills, or access to suitable computerised data entry programs, could develop their own database from these registers/yearbooks.
(i) British Mensa Register/Yearbook
In the UK, the Mensa Register was published in 1962, 1963/4 and 1966, and later retitled as The Mensa Yearbook that was published 1989/90, 1990/91, 1994/95, 1996, and 1999-2000. As noted above, initially it included global membership, but then later, as membership numbers increased, listed mostly British and Irish members. And so it provides a list of most Mensa members over a period of some forty years.
The data published in the 1962 register included name, address, tel. no., married/single, religion, place and year of birth and where, no. of children and their age and sex, occupation, formal qualifications, club and society membership, ‘I have special knowledge of’, ‘contact welcome with Ms interested in’, and, arguably as a forerunner to Twitter, a brief synopsis, a ‘self-portrait in not more than 20 words’. This list is consistent throughout with some minor changes and a few additions. For example, ‘interests’ appears to be he abbreviated version of ‘contact with’, and ‘Date of joining Mensa’ was added at one point. By the 90s occupations, interests and personality were pre-listed for members to check off their perceived traits.
By the end of the 80s global membership of Mensa was approaching 100,000 (Schulman, 1990, pp. xiii-xiv) and of these there were now 31,000 members in British Mensa (Allen, 1990, pp. xix-xx). However, there is no significant analysis provided in any of these registers/yearbooks of the membership in British Mensa up to and including the 1999-2000 yearbook. Even though British Mensa collects email addresses for most of its members, and the Internet has made communication with its members much easier, there is little or no evidence that British Mensa has systematically surveyed its members during the 21st century using questionnaires. It’s almost as if there is a perverse inverse relationship between the ease of communication with its members and the dearth of questionnaires. It may be that this is due to the apparent absence of scientists, or those with research degrees, on the governing board of directors.
(ii) American Mensa Register
By the mid-1960s Mensa membership had grown to such an extent, and especially in the United States, that the Mensa Committee decided to publish a second volume of the Mensa register listing only members in America. A series of four registers with results of a detailed questionnaire were published during 1967, 1978-79, 1981-82, and 1989.
The questionnaire for the first register includes name, address, marital status, number and sex of children, year and country of birth, telephone no., religion, occupation, formal qualifications, special knowledge, self-portrait, major interests, and coding for reference to indices. The last three volumes were altered slightly to list name, address, telephone no., sex, date of birth, education level, marital status, number of children, occupation area, occupations, hobbies and interests, languages, race, and religion.
The first register to include any data analysis is American Mensa register 1978-79, and it also appears to be a computerised database. There were some 68% males and 31.74% females. Perhaps surprisingly, 31% were never married. Gentry (1978) observes that of those that answered the questionnaire 18% were four-year college graduates, 21% were still attending college or had some college education, and 9% were graduate students. Notably, there were a few professors among the respondents, but only 4% used the prefix ‘Dr’.
The subsequent 1981-82 American Mensa register also included a brief analysis (Wright, 1982, p.5). Some 10.4% did not want to be included in the register. Of those that answered the questionnaire, there were 65.71% males and 33.45% females, and 31% were never married. Of respondents, there were 17% four-year college graduates, another 17% were awarded MA or equivalent degrees, and 502 indicated they held multiple graduate degrees.
The 1989 American Mensa register also included brief analysis of the Personal Data Questionnaire for this register. Kageyama (1989) observes that 64.4% of respondents were male and 35.4% were female, and 29.82% were never married. Of respondents some 17.56% were four-year college graduates, another 17.93% were awarded a Masters degree or equivalent, and just under 10% were awarded a Ph.D.
Data from these American registers suggest that the membership was evolving over time, and it would be interesting to observe how it changed over the interim period of time.
It can be argued that Brexit has opened up the opportunity for politicians in the United Kingdom to legislate to allow (i) the collection and publication of data about Mensa members in such a way that the individual’s right to privacy is also protected, e.g. anonymised data. Furthermore it would seem sensible that invigilators at Mensa testing sessions supervise collection of mouth swabs for DNA samples that can be subjected to testing and analysis. The difficulty lies in funding this process, and it must be open to question why none of the Higher Education or research institutions in either the UK or USA, or elsewhere, have thought to partner with Mensa to conduct this potentially valuable research into intelligence. It is certainly unusual to have mass testing on this scale available to researchers.
What does the future hold? One perspective (Mulholland, 2016a, p. 49) envisions a fusion between X-men and Mensans:
X-men are the vision
Mensa is the reality
X-Mensans are the future
This epigram was designed to illustrate the inherent potential that a high-IQ may hold for humanity, or, for a new branch of humanity. But, should this development be subject to random processes, or should there be a drive to actively promote this opportunity? What is un/acceptable? A century ago Eugenics was thought to usher in a brave new world, but could modern science avoid the pitfalls experienced during the early twentieth century? What are the political and ethical obstacles and/or pathways available? Further research is needed into this relationship to better understand whether it is altruistic or potentially harmful.
The search for terrestrial intelligence suggests other avenues of research. Are there IQ tests for AIs (artificial intelligence) and, if so, should Mensa accept AI members? Or, should a separate high-IQ society be established for AIs? Do AIs have a God? If not, should or could we create a God for them, and if so, then what qualities should this AI God possess? Or, can AIs share our God – if we have one? Whilst these may appear to be whimsical questions, there is a more serious subtext in that if human intelligence is found to be wonting then is there a case for those at the apex of human intelligence to abandon biological intelligence in favour of AI? Either way, there must be a cogent argument that human intelligence, or the lack thereof, should be treated in much the same way as other perceived human problems (e.g. Ferris and Grisso, 1996). How can politicians legislate to accommodate developments such as these? Should they legislate, or is this the sole remit of scientists, engineers and technicians with the necessary intelligence to comprehend the ramifications?
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