Re: [xmca] In case you missed it

From: David Preiss (
Date: Wed Jan 17 2007 - 07:45:55 PST

Dear colleagues,

Please see below a letter sent by Robert Sternberg to WSJ as an
answer to Murray's piece.


Charles Murray's "Intelligence in the Classroom" is an article by a
non-scientist filled with serious distortions and misunderstandings
of the current state of scientific theory and research on intelligence.

First, Murray is roughly correct in the assertion that "Half of all
children are below average in intelligence." This is true in the
same sense that half of today's children are below the median (not
average) in height, or below the median age of the population. But
median heights have risen greatly over the past several generations,
as have median age spans. Indeed, research by James Flynn shows
conclusively that median IQs have risen as well since 1900. Contrary
to the tone of Murray's comments, most of the increase is due to the
so-called general factor, not to other factors. So Murray's comments
regarding possibilities for educational achievement make no sense. A
child of today with an IQ of 100 would have been scored as having a
substantially higher IQ 100 years ago. Given that the increase in IQs
has been about 9 points per generation, that person would have had an
IQ in excess of 127 at that time, which would have led to educational
predictions very different from Murray's doom-and-gloom predictions.
Similarly, a 6-footer today is not much above average and would not
be considered particularly tall, whereas 100 years ago, he or she
would have been looked at as exceptionally tall.

Second, IQ is NOT a "ceiling," and I don't know of any responsible
psychologist who believes it is. IQ gives rough prediction of a
child's school performance, as does socioeconomic status, motivation,
and any other number of variables. But none of these variables sets a
ceiling on children's performance. First, they are all highly
imperfect predictors--success is multi-factorial. Second, they are
subject to error of
measurement. Third, they are not etched in stone. Research by
Stephen Ceci and others has shown that IQ increases as a function of
schooling, and that it is the schooling that is responsible for the
increase, not the other way around.

Third, the temporary effects of interventions to increase
intelligence are in large part because the interventions themselves
are temporary and usually extremely short-lived. If you have a child
living in extreme poverty, in a challenging and possibly dangerous
environment, and with parents who are not in a position to provide
the best possible education for
their children, it is not surprising that short interventions--the
kinds most easily funded by grants--are difficult to maintain.
Consider an oft-made analogy to exercise. You can exercise to
improve your muscles. But if you stop exercising, your muscles
revert to what they were before. The same is true of your
intelligence, and research by Carmi Schooler and others shows
precisely that.

Fourth, it is fallacious to believe that brain development is etched
in stone. Research by William Greenough, Marian Diamond, and others
has shown that learning changes the brain--permanently. Experience
matters for brain development. Charles Murray had the good fortune
to be exposed to experiences that children in many parts of the
United States and elsewhere never will have. Indeed, children growing
up in war zones often need to devote all their resources just to
staying alive. They cannot have the kind of schooling that optimizes
their scores on the tests of which Mr. Murray is so fond.

Fifth, our own peer-reviewed, published research has shown that
broader measures of abilities--based on the "multiple intelligences"
that Murray disdains--can substantially improve prediction of
academic success at the college level at the same time that they
reduce ethnic-group differences. These assessments do not replace
traditional measures--they supplement them. They are not
"refutations" of the existence of the analytical skills measured by
tests of general ability, but rather, demonstrations that such
measures are relatively narrow and incomplete in their measurements
of abilities. These conventional tests measure important skills, but
not the only skills that matter for academic and other forms of
success. Indeed, teaching to a broader range of abilities, our
research shows, also can significantly improve school
achievement over teaching that is more narrowly focused.

In sum, Murray's column gives a false and misleading view of the
state of research on intelligence. I blieve responsible scientists
will not take it seriously. Unfortunately, many laypeople will not be
in a position to
realize that the statements are seriously misleading and paint a
picture of research on intelligence that does not correspond to reality.

Robert J. Sternberg

(Robert J. Sternberg is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and
Professor of Psychology at Tufts University. Previously, he was IBM
Professor of Psychology and Education and Professor of Management at
Yale University and President of the American Psychological

On Jan 16, 2007, at 5:51 PM, J. Mark Jackson wrote:

> This article ran in today's WSJ. The link below takes you directly
> to the full article without registration.
> Scary, very scary!
> Mark
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

David Preiss, Ph.D.
Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor

Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
Escuela de Psicología
Av Vicuña Mackenna 4860
Macul, Santiago

Fono: 3544605
Fax: 3544844
web personal:
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