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

From: Bruce Robinson <bruce who-is-at>
Date: Tue Dec 11 2007 - 15:39:15 PST

Flynn was on Andrew Marr's Start the week programme on BBC Radio 4 on
Monday. (still available at

The first person he mentioned as giving a possible explanation of his
findings was... Luria, quoting at length from the report of the Central
Asian expedition - the stuff about polar bears. I wasn't convinced
though by the claim that at the start of the 20th century abstract /
hypothetical thinking wasn't sufficiently widespread in the US to give
good scores in IQ tests - the example he quoted was idiotic.

Bruce Robinson

Kevin Rocap wrote:
> Enjoy....IQ test as measure of cultural psychology? ;-)
> -------- Original Message --------
> _Excerpt_:
> "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__
> <_www.newyorker
> <http://www.newyorker/>.com/arts/critics/books/2007/12/17/071217crbo_books_gladwell_>
> /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 retarded.
> 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 influences.
> 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 intelligence.”
> 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 it.
> 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./
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Received on Tue Dec 11 16:47 PST 2007

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