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Exhibition honours forgotten IQ pioneer

A treasure trove of artefacts relating to a pioneering educational psychologist feature in a new University exhibition.

Piles of intriguing ledgers and personal mementos reconstructing the life and work of Professor Sir Godfrey Thomson will go on show at the University’s Main Library from 29 July – 29 October. The exhibition is part of the Festival Fringe.

Innovative educator

Sir Godfrey – who led the world’s only nationwide IQ tests, in Scotland – was an innovative educator who firmly believed that educational opportunity should not be linked to social status. From the 1920s onwards he advocated comprehensive education.

Sir Godfrey was based at the Moray House School of Education, now part of the University of Edinburgh.

Godfrey Thomson: The Man Who Tested Scotland’s IQ

29 July-29 October

University’s Main Library Exhibition Gallery

Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm, Saturday, 10am-1pm

Lasting legacy

Sir Godfrey's greatest legacy for today’s researchers was to test the intelligence of almost every Scottish 11-year-old child in 1932, and again in 1947.

For the first time, the Scottish Mental Surveys’ 69 unique legers will go on public view, with a selection of sample pages on show.

The ledgers - on loan from the University of Glasgow - hold the world’s only record of IQ-type scores from full national year-of-birth cohorts.

World-leading research

Sir Godfrey’s findings have formed the basis of much of the cutting-edge research at the University since the late 1990s into how the brain ages, led by Professor Ian Deary.

His team studies the now-older people who took part in the Scottish Mental Surveys.

Rescued artefacts

Professor Deary has spent the past decade investigating Sir Godfrey’s life, and in 2008 he rescued a mass of never-before-seen documents and objects from the Thomson family home in Edinburgh, just before it was demolished.

A selection of those artefacts, portraits and documents feature in the exhibition, telling the story of who Sir Godfrey was and what his motivations were. 

Godfrey Thomson saw mental ability tests as an imperfect but useful means to give poor children a chance in life. He was determined to look past pupils’ social status, and try to see their underlying ability. By all accounts he was modest, not motivated by money, and happy to share academic wins, which in part led him to fade from the history books. I’m delighted we are now able better to understand and evaluate the pioneering work of this multi-talented and elusive man.

Professor Ian DearyDirector of the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology

Related links

Godfrey Thomson: The Man Who Tested Scotland’s IQ

Events and exhibitions at the University of Edinburgh Main Library

The University at the festivals

University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology