Stuart Ritchie is one of the rising stars of intelligence research. Coming from the Ian Deary hothouse, he already has a good publication list to his name. Here are some selected papers drawn from the 28 or so he has published in the last few years: Brain white matter micro-structure and fluid intelligence in later life. Is education associated with improvements in general cognitive ability, or in specific skills? Enduring links between childhood mathematics and reading ability and adult socioeconomic status. Education is associated with higher later life IQ scores, but not with faster cognitive processing speed. Beyond a bigger brain: Multivariable structural brain imaging and intelligence.
Even better than his publication list, Ritchie has an open-minded and optimistic attitude to research. Better still, he has infinite patience with clever sillies, and answers their expostulations and obfuscations with gentle reference to good quality contemporary research.
These characteristics serve him in good stead when taking up the unenviable task of bringing Ian Deary’s “Intelligence: A very short introduction” up to date. Although it is a hard act to follow, Ritchie proves a very worthy successor, capable of explaining without condescending, and confident enough to develop his own prose style, which is clear, direct, uncluttered and at the service of his intended aim: to give an up to date summary of the modern science of intelligence.
The book clears up confusions briskly, with a good understanding of the essentials. The almost compulsory and off-putting walk through the graveyard of past researchers is dumped in favour of simply picking up the important themes and amplifying them. Edinburgh is making history in intelligence research, so why dwell on anything but the best ideas?
The content sticks to the brief: all that matters. The concept of intelligence is introduced, testing explained, why intelligence matters explained, the biology laid out (virtually all of this brand new research), the “boost your IQ” meme dissected (stay at school longer?) and the IQ controversies patiently listed and their varying claims teased out and answered. In no other scholarly topic have the protestors and hecklers against intelligence been given such an easy ride in the popular culture, so it is good to see them wait their turn at the end, not poison the well of research before anyone can drink from it.
I think that it is unwise to summarize a book which is itself a summary of contemporary research and debate, so I will make only a few detailed comments. You will be better off reading the book than reading any further exposition about what is already a concise book.
Quibble: I am not as convinced as Ritchie that the Norwegian “experiment” in increasing the years spent at school really boosted IQ by 3.7 points a year. I think this claim is based on the “difference in difference” statistic which I find problematical. The matter is statistically complex, so I would not argue my view over Ritchie’s with any great confidence, but it seems an unlikely result.
Quibble: On the contentious matter of racial differences in intelligence, although I agree with Ritchie that the data are not good enough to resolve the matter beyond reasonable doubt, I think that on balance of probabilities about half of racial intelligence differences are probably due to genetics. However, I can see that it is hard to get very far with this topic in a brief introduction.
Additional thanks to Ritchie for: Chapter 6, discussing why intelligence is so controversial, and doing so in a fair and straightforward manner; giving good reasons as to why it is worth studying intelligence (health, ageing, societal impact, scientific curiosity); listing 15 intelligence books; listing 5 websites (double thanks for that); 5 commonly used IQ tests, 20 intelligence researchers working today, and their research areas; 10 review papers you must read; 5 surprising things related to intelligence; 5 historical intelligence researchers apart from Galton and Spearman; 5 anti-IQ books; 10 common myths (all debunked in the book); 5 fictional bright people; 5 fictional dull people; and 10 big questions for future research. In fact, Chapter 6 is a mini-book in itself.
In my opinion “Intelligence: All that matters” is the best available short introduction to intelligence, and word for word the most effective. It shows a keen understanding of the misconceptions which bedevil the public understanding of the subject, and the scholarly benefits of replying to these wild imaginings with cool evidence. Indeed, as many intelligence researchers know to their cost, the word “intelligence” carries so much baggage which has been heaped upon it that there is a temptation to retreat to euphemisms: cognitive abilities, learning styles, executive functions, and learning readiness. Anyone who reads this book will understand that intelligence is real, and has important consequences. This is intelligence re-claimed.
I hope the fact that Stuart Ritchie knows a great deal about his subject will not stop his book from being sold in very large quantities. So many other books about intelligence are effusions of babbling, evasion and misapprehension that a work of education imparted by a real researcher deserves a very wide readership. As Ritchie concludes: the intelligent way forward is that which helps us uncover the science of what makes us differ in this most human of attributes.