I'm not entirely sure what I thought about IQ prior to the mid-80's. I am aware what surprised me as I learned more, but that is only a clue to previous beliefs. I doubt that my historical opinions matter much at this point, unless they shed light on the change, so I will try and keep it short.
There is a belief that IQ is largely a cultural construct, not a true indicator of anything of much value - every environment requires different skills and what we call intelligence is just what works for the dominant class in the West; there is also a belief that IQ tests measure a factor g, for "general intelligence," that holds up cross-culturally as an indicator of something that really corresponds to being smart. That is, if you test people in Albania, Afghanistan, and Algeria, then ask a sampling of villagers who the smartest people are in the group, there will be a good correspondence.
I thought something between the two. But mostly, I thought it was about individuals. What your individual number was had some importance. It didn't say anything about your musical abilities or writing or humor or emotional balance, but it gave a vague indication that you might pick things up quickly. It was sort of a glorified knack for crossword puzzles, or bridge, or trivial pursuit. For lots of stuff, but not everything. I think I had read about Jensen's research, and people shouting him down on campuses, refusing to let him speak because he claimed there were racial differences in IQ. I had heard that he was not a typical racist, because he believed that orientals were at the top of the pecking order. I noted the irony, but figured it was all a tempest in a teapot, because a few points here or there don't make much difference in an individual.
Which they don't. You cannot differentiate a ten-point IQ difference all that accurately, except among people you know pretty darn well. 20 points is consistently noticeable, but even there you'll make mistakes. Too many other factors get in the way, because they also have real effects on abilities and personality. Determination, charm, expressiveness, discipline - in any given individual, any of these may have been more important than candlepower in determining their life outcome. Ten points of IQ is like being one inch taller. You might be a better athlete, or better looking, or more confident because of it, but not enormously. Certainly no guarantee.
I used to get Games magazine, and as I expected, there were types of puzzles I excelled at, and other types I never quite caught on to. Tracy and I would compete in road rallies with another couple and do quite well. I began to wonder if I might be more than good, but very good, at certain mental pursuits. I saw the Mega test in Omni, did quite well, started corresponding with Ron Hoeflin, and eventually joined a couple of the upper-level IQ societies. After a few years, I did not renew membership. I have stories, but I'm not sure too many folks would be interested.
I did, however, begin to learn some real information about IQ - the things that weren't rumor or opinion, but had some research base. Those are subject to bias and interpretation, same as anything else, but at least it's something. More and more, it became clear that the common beliefs in the social sciences were based on very little. Stephen Jay Gould's Mismeasurement of Man was pretty easily disassembled by anyone with even a little knowledge, yet it remained a sacred text. Scanning the membership lists, I once noted - it was a small, closed, group after all - that there were a preponderance of NW Europeans and Jews, and greatly outnumbered women. I thought that was still at least mostly cultural, and my observation would lead to interesting speculations and discussions about male competitiveness, or didactics, or expectations, or whatever.
One person did write to me privately to say "The Asians are coming. We're not seeing it because it's still an English-based test. Not long now." I became aware that IQ really wasn't much use in predicting individual accomplishments. But it was a good predictor of group accomplishments, because over a large sample, things like attractiveness, grit, luck, and attitude even out. It was any group, not just racial. If you took a pile of 100 people with IQ 85 and 100 people with IQ 95, you were going to find more problems in the first group. More jail time, more illegitimate children, poorer grades, more drug use. There would be a wide variation within each group. Some of the 85's would do just fine and some to the 95's had ruined their lives. But the trend was clear.
For the rest, the response was varied, from "No, that can't be true. It must be accidental, or temporary" to "Yeah, that's pretty much what Jensen found. Be careful where you mention that." There was no discussion. So I went back and read Jensen, and a few other more daring researchers, and found what the problem is. The racial difference was more than a few points. It was a lot. And the traditional arguments put forward that the tests were biased, or wrong, or measured something else, could sustain examination.
This seemed odd to me, and didn't square with my own experience. Yet my experience was from two pools, neither of which is large enough to be a Jeopardy! category: William and Mary students, and Black People From New Hampshire. Not for many years did I notice that neither were a representative sample. I figured it the gap would close. I figured it was a late-blooming civil rights thing. I put it lower in my lists of things to ponder.
I don't know how it came back in my mind. Reading Charles Murray, likely. But almost my first re-experience of the subject was learning that The Gap has not closed. Despite educational experiments galore, all of which promise to bring under-represented black students up to the same accomplishments, the numbers have not budged. It's still one standard deviation. So holding up prejudice and expectations as the main cause is pretty much gone, now; however bad we say prejudice still is, it was clearly worse 50 years ago, yet the scores are the same.
This is a huge problem, for which I have no solution. The pool of people under 85 IQ, which we are going to have a harder and harder time finding jobs for, and who already contribute way more than their share of pathology, is still largely white, though disproportionally black, hispanic, and native. But they are falling behind in a complex society, and things will likely get worse.
Here are the two wincing take-aways. It means that affirmative action problems help the people who need it least, leaving those who need it most untouched. It also means that the nationalistic solution would be to limit immigration, to preserve what jobs we can for people who are already citizens. Yet I don't know that nationalistic and Christian solutions are the same here.