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UEL academic: anti-IQ terms are hate crime's 'last taboo'

Dr Falck's views are based on eight years of research

Victims of insults like ‘nerd’, ‘geek’ and ‘brainiac’ experience the same level of distress and isolation as other minority groups at the receiving end of verbal abuse or hate-filled online content, Dr Sonja Falck of the University of East London’s School of Psychology has warned.

Dr Falck, a senior lecturer in psychology and psychotherapist who specialises in high-ability adults, is calling for those with highest percentile intelligence – approximately two per cent of the UK population – to be given the same legal protections as other minority groups.

While hostile or inciteful language about race, religion, sexuality, disability or gender identity is classed as a hate crime, “divisive and humiliating” jibes such as ‘smart-arse’, ‘smart alec’, and ‘know-it-all’ are dismissed as “banter” and used with impunity against the country’s high-IQ community, she said.

According to Dr Falck, being labelled a ‘nerd’ in the course of being bullied, especially as a child, can cause psychological damage that may last a lifetime.

Extending legislation to include so-called ‘anti-IQ’ slurs would, she claims, help stamp out the “archaic” victimisation of more than one million Britons with a ‘gifted’ IQ score of 132 or over.

Her views are based on eight years of research and after speaking to dozens of high-ability children, parents and adults about their own experiences.

Non-discrimination against those with very high IQ is also supported by Mensa, the international high IQ society and by Potential Plus UK, the national association for young people with high-learning potential.

Speaking at the launch of her new book Extreme Intelligence, a sweeping study of discrimination against those with especially high IQs, Dr Falck said the next government must take legislative action to force societal change.

Dr Falck, who is herself a member of Mensa and has given presentations for the organisation as well as for the US-based institution SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted), said: “The N-word was common parlance in the UK until at least the 1960s. Other insulting slurs about age, disability, religion and gender identity remained in widespread use until relatively recently.

“Society at the time turned a blind eye to their impact by passing them off as harmless banter. It is only with the benefit of hindsight and academic research that we realise how wrong we were.

“The same can be said about anti-IQ words like ‘nerd’, brainbox’, ‘geek’, ‘egg-head’, ‘smart-arse’, ‘dweeb’ and ‘smarty-pants’ – slurs such as these will continue to be used unabated at the expense of the brightest members of society unless and until legislative action is taken.”

In England and Wales, any communication which is threatening or abusive and directed towards a person on account of their race, colour, disability, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity is classed as a hate crime.

It is covered by a variety of statutes including the Public Order Act 1986. This has been revised over the years to include language that is deemed to incite racial, religious and sexual-orientated hatred. Penalties can include imprisonment, fines or both.

Dr Falck, who also runs a Harley Street psychotherapy practice, said the legislation must be widened to include anti-IQ slurs, which she describes as hate crime’s “last taboo”.

Those with extreme intelligence should receive the same respect, acceptance and legal protection as the LGBT community and other minority groups.

Derogatory terms like ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ should be criminalised, she argued, because they discriminate against the intellectual and propagate the stereotype that a person with a high IQ is an “unwanted misfit who can expect to be socially rejected”.

“The government says it is committed to creating an outward-looking, inclusive society yet continues to tolerate divisive, discriminatory language,” she said.

“In the short space of time since racial, homophobic and religious hate speech was banned, it is now seen by most as morally abhorrent.

“It would be progress for British society to come to feel the same way about hate-filled, prejudicial slurs against our high-IQ community.”

John Stevenage, CEO of Mensa, added: “Very high-IQ individuals often experience isolation or bullying from people around them because they are perceived as being different from the majority.

“Mensa as an organisation gives people with very high IQ a community which is non-judgemental and inclusive of difference – put simply, everybody is different, so no one is.”

Rebecca Howell, senior education consultant at Potential Plus UK, said schools have a duty to support children with high IQs.

“Many children with high intelligence lack a sense of belonging because their needs are not acknowledged or provided for in education and wider society.

“Acceptance of high intelligence as part of human neurodiversity would mean these children’s differences are recognised, understood and better supported.”