Friday, 15 July 2016

Is St Petersburg Russia’s Disneyland?


In former times this would get me sent to the Gulag, but is St Petersburg Russia’s Disneyland? Intended to ape Versailles, Venice, and more generally the Western wonders of the world, it succeeded in showing Russia to advantage, and the West to Russians: an accomplishment in all ways. Perhaps every culture wants a magic castle: Russia got St Petersburg and the US got Disneyland. The key may be to start construction in 1703.

The ISIR conference brochure shows a young Lev Vygotsky, together with Luria probably the Russian psychologist best known to the West. Good to put a face to a classic figure, and a cue for a story of his I cherish: a peasant hearing two astronomers discussing distant stars one night was amazed, not that they knew the stars’ distances and types, but that they knew their names.

A conference is a grand place to know Names at close first hand, over many coffees. More details about the conference can be found here:

or just follow the hashtag #isir16 on Twitter.

Also very good to see a page in memory of Earl “Buz” Hunt. I can testify to the immense pains he took to improve papers he reviewed, saying “If I can find errors by spending 15 minutes on Google it would be best if the author reviewed his work again before anyone else sees it”. The obituaries did not exactly say so, but he was pretty tough-minded but admired for his forthright opinions. He tolerated me even when we differed, for which I am grateful.

It was Buz who some years ago reminded me of the work of Warner Schaie, who is being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award. All I had remembered was that in studying ageing effects one had to distinguish between cohort effects and ageing effects, by some technique I needed to look up. Buz immediately understood that attempts to study the Flynn Effect ran up against the same problems as the study of ageing, and that repeated measures of age cohorts provided a better insight. That is, when comparing 60 year olds with 18 year olds you conflate cohort and ageing effects, but if you re-test both groups every 10 or 20 years you can distinguish between effects. Warner Schaie led the way.

In line with conference traditions, here is the Keynote, delivered by Yulia Kovas, who is hosting the conference with colleagues.

Behavioural Genetics for Education:
New Insights into the Origins of Academic Ability,
Motivation and Achievement
Yulia Kovas
Goldsmiths, University of London & Tomsk State University
Many  findings of importance for education have recently emerged from genetic research, suggesting that genetic effects are not static or deterministic, but change throughout life and in different educational and cultural contexts. For example, academic achievement – such as performance in reading, language and mathematics – has been found to be highly heritable throughout school education in the UK. On the contrary, heritability of general cognitive ability is only moderate in the early school years and increases gradually, reaching substantial levels in adulthood. It is possible that high heritability of reading and mathematics can be explained by the high homogeneity of educational environments. For example, the UK National Curriculum is highly uniform
and therefore may decrease the environmental contribution to the variance in these traits. On the contrary, general cognitive ability is not explicitly taught at schools, and therefore may be
under highly variable environmental influences across children, especially early in development.
Gene-environment correlations, whereby children experience, modify, and select their environments – partly because of their genetic propensities – may contribute to the observed increase
in heritability of IQ. Recent large-scale twins studies also provided insights into the origins of individual differences in such educationally-relevant characteristics as motivation, grit, academic anxiety, and choice of specific academic subjects. Incredible recent advances in molecular genetic research have led to identification of specific DNA polymorphisms responsible for ubiquitous genetic influence. Moreover, new methods allow us to make predictions about development directly from DNA, which opens up unprecedented opportunities for further research and educational practice.

More in a moment.




  1. Here's a tale of everyday academic misbehaviour.

  2. Thanks for sharing the information about Warner Schaie. I am expecting and searching a nice Russian name for my baby. I was searching a nice name for many days and refferd to one of my fav. website babynology. Now I am happy to say that I have got a unique name for her.