[xmca] Not to stray too far off any point, but....FYI

From: Kevin Rocap <Kevin.Rocap who-is-at liu.edu>
Date: Tue Dec 11 2007 - 09:14:29 PST

Enjoy....IQ test as measure of cultural psychology? ;-)

-------- Original Message --------

  "The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same
  as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just
  the quality of a person’s mind but the quality of the world that
  person lives in. "

  None of the Above: /What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race
  /by Malcolm Gladwell
  December 17, 2007__


/If what I.Q. tests measure is immutable and innate, what explains the
Flynn effect—the steady rise in scores across generations?/
One Saturday in November of 1984, James Flynn, a social scientist at the
University of Otago, in New Zealand, received a large package in the
mail. It was from a colleague in Utrecht, and it contained the results
of I.Q. tests given to two generations of Dutch eighteen-year-olds. When
Flynn looked through the data, he found something puzzling. The Dutch
eighteen-year-olds from the nineteen-eighties scored better than those
who took the same tests in the nineteen-fifties—and not just slightly
better, /much/ better.
Curious, Flynn sent out some letters. He collected intelligence-test
results from Europe, from North America, from Asia, and from the
developing world, until he had data for almost thirty countries. In
every case, the story was pretty much the same. I.Q.s around the world
appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per
decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some
reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.
Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings—now known
as the Flynn effect—for almost twenty-five years. His books consist of a
series of plainly stated statistical observations, in support of
deceptively modest conclusions, and the evidence in support of his
original observation is now so overwhelming that the Flynn effect has
moved from theory to fact. What remains uncertain is how to make sense
of the Flynn effect. If an American born in the nineteen-thirties has an
I.Q. of 100, the Flynn effect says that his children will have I.Q.s of
108, and his grandchildren I.Q.s of close to 120—more than a standard
deviation higher. If we work in the opposite direction, the typical
teen-ager of today, with an I.Q. of 100, would have had grandparents
with average I.Q.s of 82—seemingly below the threshold necessary to
graduate from high school. And, if we go back even farther, the Flynn
effect puts the average I.Q.s of the schoolchildren of 1900 at around
70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States
was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally
For almost as long as there have been I.Q. tests, there have been I.Q.
fundamentalists. H. H. Goddard, in the early years of the past century,
established the idea that intelligence could be measured along a single,
linear scale. One of his particular contributions was to coin the word
“moron.” “The people who are doing the drudgery are, as a rule, in their
proper places,” he wrote. Goddard was followed by Lewis Terman, in the
nineteen-twenties, who rounded up the California children with the
highest I.Q.s, and confidently predicted that they would sit at the top
of every profession. In 1969, the psychometrician Arthur Jensen argued
that programs like Head Start, which tried to boost the academic
performance of minority children, were doomed to failure, because I.Q.
was so heavily genetic; and in 1994 Richard Herrnstein and Charles
Murray, in “The Bell Curve,” notoriously proposed that Americans with
the lowest I.Q.s be sequestered in a “high-tech” version of an Indian
reservation, “while the rest of America tries to go about its business.”
To the I.Q. fundamentalist, two things are beyond dispute: first, that
I.Q. tests measure some hard and identifiable trait that predicts the
quality of our thinking; and, second, that this trait is stable—that is,
it is determined by our genes and largely impervious to environmental
This is what James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, meant when he told
an English newspaper recently that he was “inherently gloomy” about the
prospects for Africa. From the perspective of an I.Q. fundamentalist,
the fact that Africans score lower than Europeans on I.Q. tests suggests
an ineradicable cognitive disability. In the controversy that followed,
Watson was defended by the journalist William Saletan, in a three-part
series for the online magazine /Slate/. Drawing heavily on the work of
J. Philippe Rushton—a psychologist who specializes in comparing the
circumference of what he calls the Negroid brain with the length of the
Negroid penis—Saletan took the fundamentalist position to its logical
conclusion. To erase the difference between blacks and whites, Saletan
wrote, would probably require vigorous interbreeding between the races,
or some kind of corrective genetic engineering aimed at upgrading
African stock. “Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain
most of the pattern,” Saletan declared, claiming to have been “soaking
[his] head in each side’s computations and arguments.” One argument that
Saletan never soaked his head in, however, was Flynn’s, because what
Flynn discovered in his mailbox upsets the certainties upon which I.Q.
fundamentalism rests. If whatever the thing is that I.Q. tests measure
can jump so much in a generation, it can’t be all that immutable and it
doesn’t look all that innate.
The very fact that average I.Q.s shift over time ought to create a
“crisis of confidence,” Flynn writes in “What Is Intelligence?”
(Cambridge; $22), his latest attempt to puzzle through the implications
of his discovery. “How could such huge gains be intelligence gains?
Either the children of today were far brighter than their parents or, at
least in some circumstances, I.Q. tests were not good measures of
The best way to understand why I.Q.s rise, Flynn argues, is to look at
one of the most widely used I.Q. tests, the so-called WISC (for Wechsler
Intelligence Scale for Children). The WISC is composed of ten subtests,
each of which measures a different aspect of I.Q. Flynn points out that
scores in some of the categories—those measuring general knowledge, say,
or vocabulary or the ability to do basic arithmetic—have risen only
modestly over time. The big gains on the WISC are largely in the
category known as “similarities,” where you get questions such as “In
what way are ‘dogs’ and ‘rabbits’ alike?” Today, we tend to give what,
for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits
are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that
“you use dogs to hunt rabbits.”
“If the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to
detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete
referents,” Flynn writes. Our great-grandparents may have been perfectly
intelligent. But they would have done poorly on I.Q. tests because they
did not participate in the twentieth century’s great cognitive
revolution, in which we learned to sort experience according to a new
set of abstract categories. In Flynn’s phrase, we have now had to put on
“scientific spectacles,” which enable us to make sense of the WISC
questions about similarities. To say that Dutch I.Q. scores rose
substantially between 1952 and 1982 was another way of saying that the
Netherlands in 1982 was, in at least certain respects, much more
cognitively demanding than the Netherlands in 1952. An I.Q., in other
words, measures not so much how smart we are as how /modern/ we are.
This is a critical distinction. When the children of Southern Italian
immigrants were given I.Q. tests in the early part of the past century,
for example, they recorded median scores in the high seventies and low
eighties, a full standard deviation below their American and Western
European counterparts. Southern Italians did as poorly on I.Q. tests as
Hispanics and blacks did. As you can imagine, there was much concerned
talk at the time about the genetic inferiority of Italian stock, of the
inadvisability of letting so many second-class immigrants into the
United States, and of the squalor that seemed endemic to Italian urban
neighborhoods. Sound familiar? These days, when talk turns to the
supposed genetic differences in the intelligence of certain races,
Southern Italians have disappeared from the discussion. “Did their genes
begin to mutate somewhere in the 1930s?” the psychologists Seymour
Sarason and John Doris ask, in their account of the Italian experience.
“Or is it possible that somewhere in the 1920s, if not earlier, the
sociocultural history of Italo-Americans took a turn from the blacks and
the Spanish Americans which permitted their assimilation into the
general undifferentiated mass of Americans?”
The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of
the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test:
they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked
the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the
frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings.
They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a
potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained.
Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen
immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be
argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that
is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and
scientifically, if they started to see the world that way. But to label
them less intelligent than Westerners, on the basis of their performance
on that test, is merely to state that they have different cognitive
preferences and habits. And if I.Q. varies with habits of mind, which
can be adopted or discarded in a generation, what, exactly, is all the
fuss about?
When I was growing up, my family would sometimes play Twenty Questions
on long car trips. My father was one of those people who insist that the
standard categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral be supplemented
with a fourth category: “abstract.” Abstract could mean something like
“whatever it was that was going through my mind when we drove past the
water tower fifty miles back.” That abstract category sounds absurdly
difficult, but it wasn’t: it merely required that we ask a slightly
different set of questions and grasp a slightly different set of
conventions, and, after two or three rounds of practice, guessing the
contents of someone’s mind fifty miles ago becomes as easy as guessing
Winston Churchill. (There is one exception. That was the trip on which
my old roommate Tom Connell chose, as an abstraction, “the Unknown
Soldier”—which allowed him legitimately and gleefully to answer “I have
no idea” to almost every question. There were four of us playing. We
gave up after an hour.) Flynn would say that my father was teaching his
three sons how to put on scientific spectacles, and that extra practice
probably bumped up all of our I.Q.s a few notches. But let’s be clear
about what this means. There’s a world of difference between an I.Q.
advantage that’s genetic and one that depends on extended car time with
Graham Gladwell.
Flynn is a cautious and careful writer. Unlike many others in the I.Q.
debates, he resists grand philosophizing. He comes back again and again
to the fact that I.Q. scores are generated by paper-and-pencil tests—and
making sense of those scores, he tells us, is a messy and complicated
business that requires something closer to the skills of an accountant
than to those of a philosopher.
For instance, Flynn shows what happens when we recognize that I.Q. is
not a freestanding number but a value attached to a specific time and a
specific test. When an I.Q. test is created, he reminds us, it is
calibrated or “normed” so that the test-takers in the fiftieth
percentile—those exactly at the median—are assigned a score of 100. But
since I.Q.s are always rising, the only way to keep that hundred-point
benchmark is periodically to make the tests more difficult—to “renorm”
them. The original WISC was normed in the late nineteen-forties. It was
then renormed in the early nineteen-seventies, as the WISC-R; renormed a
third time in the late eighties, as the WISC III; and renormed again a
few years ago, as the WISC IV—with each version just a little harder
than its predecessor. The notion that anyone “has” an I.Q. of a certain
number, then, is meaningless unless you know which WISC he took, and
when he took it, since there’s a substantial difference between getting
a 130 on the WISC IV and getting a 130 on the much easier WISC.
This is not a trivial issue. I.Q. tests are used to diagnose people as
mentally retarded, with a score of 70 generally taken to be the cutoff.
You can imagine how the Flynn effect plays havoc with that system. In
the nineteen-seventies and eighties, most states used the WISC-R to make
their mental-retardation diagnoses. But since kids—even kids with
disabilities—score a little higher every year, the number of children
whose scores fell below 70 declined steadily through the end of the
eighties. Then, in 1991, the WISC III was introduced, and suddenly the
percentage of kids labelled retarded went up. The psychologists Tomoe
Kanaya, Matthew Scullin, and Stephen Ceci estimated that, if every state
had switched to the WISC III right away, the number of Americans
labelled mentally retarded should have doubled.
That is an extraordinary number. The diagnosis of mental disability is
one of the most stigmatizing of all educational and occupational
classifications—and yet, apparently, the chances of being burdened with
that label are in no small degree a function of the point, in the life
cycle of the WISC, at which a child happens to sit for his evaluation.
“As far as I can determine, no clinical or school psychologists using
the WISC over the relevant 25 years noticed that its criterion of mental
retardation became more lenient over time,” Flynn wrote, in a 2000
paper. “Yet no one drew the obvious moral about psychologists in the
field: They simply were not making any systematic assessment of the I.Q.
criterion for mental retardation.”
Flynn brings a similar precision to the question of whether Asians have
a genetic advantage in I.Q., a possibility that has led to great
excitement among I.Q. fundamentalists in recent years. Data showing that
the Japanese had higher I.Q.s than people of European descent, for
example, prompted the British psychometrician and eugenicist Richard
Lynn to concoct an elaborate evolutionary explanation involving the
Himalayas, really cold weather, premodern hunting practices, brain size,
and specialized vowel sounds. The fact that the I.Q.s of
Chinese-Americans also seemed to be elevated has led I.Q.
fundamentalists to posit the existence of an international I.Q. pyramid,
with Asians at the top, European whites next, and Hispanics and blacks
at the bottom.
Here was a question tailor-made for James Flynn’s accounting skills. He
looked first at Lynn’s data, and realized that the comparison was
skewed. Lynn was comparing American I.Q. estimates based on a
representative sample of schoolchildren with Japanese estimates based on
an upper-income, heavily urban sample. Recalculated, the Japanese
average came in not at 106.6 but at 99.2. Then Flynn turned his
attention to the Chinese-American estimates. They turned out to be based
on a 1975 study in San Francisco’s Chinatown using something called the
Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test. But the Lorge-Thorndike test was
normed in the nineteen-fifties. For children in the nineteen-seventies,
it would have been a piece of cake. When the Chinese-American scores
were reassessed using up-to-date intelligence metrics, Flynn found, they
came in at 97 verbal and 100 nonverbal. Chinese-Americans had slightly
lower I.Q.s than white Americans.
The Asian-American success story had suddenly been turned on its head.
The numbers now suggested, Flynn said, that they had succeeded not
because of their /higher/ I.Q.s. but despite their /lower/ I.Q.s. Asians
were overachievers. In a nifty piece of statistical analysis, Flynn then
worked out just how great that overachievement was. Among whites,
virtually everyone who joins the ranks of the managerial, professional,
and technical occupations has an I.Q. of 97 or above. Among
Chinese-Americans, that threshold is 90. A Chinese-American with an I.Q.
of 90, it would appear, does as much with it as a white American with an
I.Q. of 97.
There should be no great mystery about Asian achievement. It has to do
with hard work and dedication to higher education, and belonging to a
culture that stresses professional success. But Flynn makes one more
observation. The children of that first successful wave of
Asian-Americans really did have I.Q.s that were higher than everyone
else’s—coming in somewhere around 103. Having worked their way into the
upper reaches of the occupational scale, and taken note of how much the
professions value abstract thinking, Asian-American parents have
evidently made sure that their own children wore scientific spectacles.
“Chinese Americans are an ethnic group for whom high achievement
preceded high I.Q. rather than the reverse,” Flynn concludes, reminding
us that in our discussions of the relationship between I.Q. and success
we often confuse causes and effects. “It is not easy to view the history
of their achievements without emotion,” he writes. That is exactly
right. To ascribe Asian success to some abstract number is to trivialize
Two weeks ago, Flynn came to Manhattan to debate Charles Murray at a
forum sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. Their subject was the
black-white I.Q. gap in America. During the twenty-five years after the
Second World War, that gap closed considerably. The I.Q.s of white
Americans rose, as part of the general worldwide Flynn effect, but the
I.Q.s of black Americans rose faster. Then, for about a period of
twenty-five years, that trend stalled—and the question was why.
Murray showed a series of PowerPoint slides, each representing different
statistical formulations of the I.Q. gap. He appeared to be pessimistic
that the racial difference would narrow in the future. “By the
nineteen-seventies, you had gotten most of the juice out of the
environment that you were going to get,” he said. That gap, he seemed to
think, reflected some inherent difference between the races. “Starting
in the nineteen-seventies, to put it very crudely, you had a higher
proportion of black kids being born to really dumb mothers,” he said.
When the debate’s moderator, Jane Waldfogel, informed him that the most
recent data showed that the race gap had begun to close again, Murray
seemed unimpressed, as if the possibility that blacks could ever make
further progress was inconceivable.
Flynn took a different approach. The black-white gap, he pointed out,
differs dramatically by age. He noted that the tests we have for
measuring the cognitive functioning of infants, though admittedly crude,
show the races to be almost the same. By age four, the average black
I.Q. is 95.4—only four and a half points behind the average white I.Q.
Then the real gap emerges: from age four through twenty-four, blacks
lose six-tenths of a point a year, until their scores settle at 83.4.
That steady decline, Flynn said, did not resemble the usual pattern of
genetic influence. Instead, it was exactly what you would expect, given
the disparate cognitive environments that whites and blacks encounter as
they grow older. Black children are more likely to be raised in
single-parent homes than are white children—and single-parent homes are
less cognitively complex than two-parent homes. The average I.Q. of
first-grade students in schools that blacks attend is 95, which means
that “kids who want to be above average don’t have to aim as high.”
There were possibly adverse differences between black teen-age culture
and white teen-age culture, and an enormous number of young black men
are in jail—which is hardly the kind of environment in which someone
would learn to put on scientific spectacles.
Flynn then talked about what we’ve learned from studies of adoption and
mixed-race children—and that evidence didn’t fit a genetic model,
either. If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn’t make a difference whether it’s a
mixed-race child’s mother or father who is black. But it does: children
with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q.
advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it
shouldn’t make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born.
But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in
postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same
I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The
difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children’s blackness,
as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their /Germanness/—of
their being brought up in a different culture, under different
circumstances. “The mind is much more like a muscle than we’ve ever
realized,” Flynn said. “It needs to get cognitive exercise. It’s not
some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark.” The lesson to be
drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from
the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a
person’s mind but the quality of the world that person lives in. ♦
*Malcolm Gladwell* /has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine
since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine
Award, and in 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most
Influential People. He is the author of two books, "The Tipping Point:
How Little Things Make a Big Difference," (2000) and "Blink: The Power
of Thinking Without Thinking" (2005), both of which were number one New
York Times bestsellers./
/From 1987 to 1996, he was a reporter with the Washington Post, where he
covered business, science, and then served as the newspaper's New York
City bureau chief. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity
College, with a degree in history. He was born in England, grew up in
rural Ontario, and now lives in New York City./
More new features than ever. Check out the new AOL Mail

xmca mailing list
Received on Tue Dec 11 09:31 PST 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Jan 07 2008 - 10:13:50 PST