Tuesday 31 December 2013

Ending 2013 on a marihuana high, Uruguayan style


In order to end 2013 on a high note, I have travelled to Uruguay to bring you a first-hand report on the effects of legal, state regulated marihuana. Does it boost IQ, you may well ask? And why not, when so many other activities and substances are reputed to do so?

Marihuana is available legally to anyone who is above 18 and is resident in the country. You get a permit and can then be provided with 40 grams to consume per month. The only time I can recall seeing precisely 40 grams of something in one place is when measuring out my morning porridge. It is about half a bowl full. I do not yet know how generous this is, according to the logical measurement unit of reefers, and whether it will last a hardened user the entire month.

In naming Uruguay “Country of the Year” The Economist has been distracted by the novelty of the legalisation of marihuana into downplaying an aspect of the policy which goes counter to their main creed: the free market. The Uruguayans are fond of state monopolies. Milk is controlled by one state run cooperative, which then produces a range of basic lactic products. Other free enterprises compete, but at something of a disadvantage. Petrol is refined by one state controlled refinery. Telephones are controlled by a state monopoly. Free enterprises can compete in the mobile phone sector, where they have to offer better service, more handsets and shorter queues in order to compete, but the state still has the lion’s share of the market, and all the market for fixed telephony.

You may have missed the sting in the tail in the first paragraph. You have to apply for a permit. All permits are controlled by the state bureaucracy, and since they have no real work to do they make the issuing of permits a form of performance art. Permits take time. Sometimes a year. Tier upon tier of functionaries work slowly to impede each other. Private enterprise is another matter. Getting a new mobile phone number takes no longer than an hour. It should take about 20 minutes, but at least they make a show of attending to their clients. Even in rapacious capitalism, some habits of lethargy remain.

We know something about recreational drug users. They do not rate highly on conscientiousness, patience and future orientation. Filling in forms is not a priority for them. At the moment they are still using their trusted corner street providers, of the free enterprise variety. These providers often have to cope with other rival providers, and they tend to resolve these business challenges by murdering their opponents. The Police refer to these casualties as “settling of accounts” cases. I doubt the investigations take very long. It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “end of year consolidation of corporate accounts”.

Dope heads want instant satisfaction, and value immediacy of supply over cost and quality control. The free market in drugs is not likely to be imperilled by the new policy. It is not my usual habit to comment on policy, but perhaps dropping the requirement for a permit would increase uptake, and increasing the grams per month might really damage the drug peddler’s margins. As currently conceived, this is a damp squib, or a weak reefer. It is a show of radicalism, wrapped in the impediment of caution.

I will leave aside, for the moment, whether marihuana has much of an effect unless taken in heavy doses for protracted periods. I will also leave aside why anyone needs to drug themselves while living in a country with 300 miles of beach, the best beef in the world, and copious entertainment provided by the best footballers.

There are some other options for the determined druggy. Users could try smoking porridge oats or even the local green herb tea. Either may have a significant effect. However, there is a standby. As is usual all over the world, the local papers have been doing a roundup of the year’s news, including key statistics.

Uruguay leads the entire world in the per capital consumption of a particular mind altering drug. The drug in question is something of a surprise. Uruguay leads the world in the consumption of whiskey, at 2.4 litres per person. (I do not know if this includes babes in arms). It is a great achievement on the part of the population, and on the Scottish people, who championed this brew in a culture which was unused to it, but came to learn its merits.

So, the end of year headlines are that marihuana is legal in Uruguay. The footnotes are that the current policy is not dope-head friendly, and will probably not dent street prices for weed, and will certainly not touch street prices for opiates. Old fashioned alcohol, with all its unfortunate side effects, is the stupifier of choice.

Sláinte and Happy New Year!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Carols, and lessons


As is the habit of my tribe, along the valley to the 13th Century Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem church we went again, in that Doomsday village that was home to Waleran the Hunter in Saxon times and after the Norman conquest, Payne de Turberville (later mentioned by Hardy in Tess) for traditional Christmas carols and lessons. What lessons. Once again it grates on the nerves to be told that seeking knowledge is a sin, something to be blamed on women, and serpents. The overall effect of the scattered readings was tachistoscopic: briefly illuminated observations fluttered like torn pages or snatches of overheard conversations, from which just about any story could be weaved, so long as birth was part of it.

In a break from tradition, the opening soprano solo of “Once in Royal David’s City” was sung with the singer facing the audience, not hiding modestly behind the South transept. I commended her afterwards. She replied: “I was asked to sing it as if I was a boy, but I decided to face the audience and sing it as a woman”. We discussed castratos, and decided against it.

The readings this year favoured youth, particularly the young boy who dispatched the text with fine diction and commendable briskness. Some of the more adult readers had been landed with limp modern transliterations which they found “not even grammatical”. They lamented that, in St James’s church, one could not read King James’s Bible. No reading compared to last year’s declamation of Isaiah 9: 6 (King James version) “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”. It was recited from memory by a man who knew it would be his last reading, clenching his hands by his side, the better to proclaim the message. Those things live on in memory.

The sun shone into the little church, illuminating the vestments, the stone ogee arch above, and engendering some sense of the numinous. For reasons best known to the deity, the organist omitted the culminating last verse of one carol, leading to surprise and some pre-orgasmic disappointment. In a further dramatic move, one whole carol had to be abandoned, because the designated older man walked up to give the lesson prematurely. A tricky moment. With minimal hesitation the service moved swiftly on to the next carol, though because of that interpolation the collection plate then took everyone by surprise. The deletion of the previous carol was charitably judged an improvement, in that it lightened the strain on the vocal cords.

Then wine, things to eat, conversations with choristers, some fifty souls chattering in the tiny church, and then out down the winding path past the chest tombs into the winter sunshine.

Merry Christmas.

Monday 23 December 2013

Does architecture lift the spirits?


It is said that all buildings must achieve three things: rigidity, capacity, and delight. In current times rigidity is no problem: steel girders bolted together and anchored on a concrete base can be quickly constructed to almost any height. For the same reason, it is easy to provide capacity: put cladding and glass on the outside of the girders and plasterboard inside for partitions, and you have plenty of useable space.

Achieving delight is harder. Some contemporary architects eschew such objectives. For them, the worst sin is decoration. Such superficialities, they say, are a concession to the foibles of the common folk, and a waste of resources. If the building is to give any pleasure it must arise from the honest and sparse use of materials. Above all, it must not be a pastiche of former styles. Perhaps “pastiche” is the worst insult an architect can level at a building. In their view pure new architecture must be new, though that often means it is a pastiche of 1930 designs rather than 19th Century designs.

So, what is it which makes the passer-by smile at a building? Someone who regularly walked past the Royal Hospital Chelsea, said that he would always raise his hat in salutation, “assuming from its proportions that it had been designed by a gentleman”.

It was with this in mind that I took a break from psychological publications and went on an architectural tour of the City of London, led by an architect friend, and consisting of myself and two other friends with an interest in buildings.

We began at Liverpool Street, with a distant view of the Gherkin


where there is a poignant memorial to the Kindertransport


The Broadgate development (Phase I by Arup Associates and II by SOM);

Exchequer Court (by Raul Curiel)

The Gherkin (by Foster); pictured here with a reflected Exchequer Court in lower foreground



the Bishopsgate tower cluster including Cheesegrater (Richard Rogers),



Lloyds (ditto)




The Walkie-Talkie (Rafael Viñoli) which scorches hapless pedestrians; Leadenhall Market; The Royal Exchange (Fitzroy Robinson);

At this point we had lunch in the cafe on the floor of the Royal Exchange, thus being able to admire the extra story with Corinthian columns which Fitzroy Robinson put in during the restoration, detectable only because the stonework was fractionally lighter in tone.

After lunch we looked at 1 Poultry (James Stirling) and the recently-completed One New Change by  Jean Nouvel; (with the Shard in the distance).








Then a critical evaluation of the banal neo-classicism of Prince Charles’s inspired Paternoster Square; a walk along the Millenium Bridge (Foster/Arup/Caro) to Tate Modern (Herzog and DeMeuron); and then made our way back to Blackfriars.

Although we do not know precisely how, something about the facade, texture and general shape of a building stirs the soul. Some buildings we want to preserve for ever, others we’d like to see demolished immediately. It is a test of aesthetic preferences of the sort that were investigated experimentally decades ago, on irregular polygons, of all things. The idea was to avoid stimuli which were liable to have been conditioned by cultural requirements, and simply to see if any random shapes were preferred over others, regardless of cultural background. The findings seemed to support a general factor of aesthetic sensibility, at the very least between Britain and Japan. A classic paper, which launched a whole field of research.

Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1971, 32, 817-818. @ Perceptual and Motor Skills 1971


These are matters we shall take up on the next outing. Next time we are including a film director/photographer to record it properly, a Professor of Printing to help us with the aesthetics, and a property specialist to give us more insight into commercial intrigues and pressures.

If you would like to join us (probably in March next year) please indicate your own particular interest so as to ensure lively conversation at all times. A background in any of the following is desirable: Architecture, construction, roofing, building conservation, modern materials and construction methods, psychology of building use, office design, aesthetics, history of the City or of cities generally, streetscapes, and the needs of businesses. Failing those, a capacity to recount anecdotes will suffice. The only cost is to chip in to buy the architect his lunch. Applications please.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Uruguay: Economist Country of the Year


As you will know, I have my doubts about The Economist, but they have partly redeemed themselves by naming Uruguay country of the year. Three things seem to have clinched this for them: gay marriage (a big step in Catholic South America); the legalisation of marijuana (a big step anywhere); and a self effacing President (a rarity everywhere).

Of course, this is not the first time Uruguay has decriminalised a formerly prohibited personal pastime. In 1920 duelling was made legal and José Batlle y Ordóñez, the former President and creator of the modern state (in 1911 social security, separation of church and state, divorce, free education and health) killed the editor of the newspaper El País, in a formal duel fought with pistols. It was still a talking point in the 1930s. For all I know, it improved the quality of journalism.

In a regrettable assault on personal liberty, duelling was once again prohibited in 1992. Ever pragmatic, Uruguayans have now suggested that it be made legal again, on the condition that both parties are registered blood donors.

On your behalf, I will be travelling to Uruguay to see what effect marihuana has on my prose style. I will avoid arguments with editors and politicians or, more precisely, that is what I intend to do in my current un-medicated state.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Are you living in a non-shared environment?


In a previous post, I tried to encourage geneticists to simplify their language. They talk about the genetic code in their own linguistic code, with all the baggage of the past. For example, they say “loci” when the usual word would be “location”. Each dollop of jargon halves the audience.


Now I have a further gripe about geneticists: they are messing up the environment. They refer to it as “shared” or “non-shared”. Every time I come across the phrase “non-shared environmental influences” I have to interpret the negative framing, and slowly deduce the meaning.

I think that what geneticists are talking about are “Personally Created Environments”. For example, I can remember a successful executive telling me that as a young girl she coped with her disruptive family life by creating her own study in a garden shed. It became her refuge, and she felt she blossomed thereafter. To what extent is this an “environmental” effect? Once she had built the shed she had to use it regularly for it to have any influence on her studies. To my mind the important factor was that she wanted to do her homework, and searched out a quiet place to do so. The shed on its own would not have attracted the attention of a less studious child, though with external discipline perhaps the latter might have benefitted from using such a facility.

What is the “shared environment”? I think that is the family, mostly, and the school if all of the family’s children go to the same school. Perhaps it should be called the “Imposed environment” or just “family influences”.

Equally, when listening in the child guidance clinic to Bermondsey mothers talking about their delinquent offspring they often used the phrase “and then he fell into bad company”. Similar in interpretative framework was the lament from young girls “Then I fell pregnant”. I was always tempted to ask the latter “Was any sex involved?”

Perhaps it would be simpler to resuscitate the old concept of “locus of control”. When the locus of control is external, as when a child has family influences imposed on them, or is sent to a school chosen by their parents, then that is the imposed environment. Lead in paint on a window frame is an imposed environmental effect. Governments likewise, until you can vote for them, and even then they will probably be imposed on you against your will half of the time.

When the locus of control is internal then I think we are on more debateable grounds. Perhaps we should call these “Personally created niches”. A garden shed does not blot out all social influences for ever. Even university teachers have to notice the world outside the campus. In my view, personally created niches are aspects of our character which can facilitate us in developing our preferences, but they are not truly environmental effects.

Time to turn to the very best measures of environmental influences, evaluated in detail, and ranked according to the scope for personal agency. References, please.

Experts on intelligence, then and now


To repeat my previous comments, but to clear up a few confusions, the most recent survey on expert’s opinions on intelligence is based on 228 participants. The percentage participation rate is lower than in 1984. The academic climate may be more hostile, the questionnaire too long, the nature of the questions not appealing, or other reasons which might be described in the eventual paper (which should also give the precise number of replies for each question).

However, this is the best estimate we have at the moment, short of government surveillance of emails and private conversations…….. Now, there’s a research methodology which should get us a good sample size!



Monday 16 December 2013

Slavery, trafficking and a bit of psychology


You may recall that some time ago I got interested in the way the Press were handling the break up of a group who had been living in a Maoist commune in Brixton, South London. The story was launched by a charity and the Police, who had not yet interviewed the women who had walked out of the commune house. Despite this, the explanatory framework was that these were modern day slaves. I expressed mild surprise at this construction, and mentioned somewhat tentatively that it might have been seen in that way because of an upcoming Bill in Parliament, the draft Modern Slavery Bill which aims to increase the maximum custodial sentence for offenders from 14 years to life.

Today two radio programs rang up wanting a comment from me, because of my knowledge of trauma reactions. I explained that I was not an expert on the topic of trafficking, but they wanted an interview nonetheless, and I did my best to answer their questions, while listening beforehand to proponents and campaigners laying out their case for the new Bill.

By way of background, the UK press have decided to back Mr Frank Field, MP’s estimate that there are 10,000 victims of slavery in the UK.

The Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The honest position is that we don't know whether that is the right figure, or whether there are fewer or indeed more victims in the UK.

"What we do know is that we have seen more referrals to what is called the national referral mechanism, where people are able to refer people who they think have been trafficked, who they think are the victims of modern slavery, into a central mechanism.

"The number of referrals has been increasing, and it's on that basis that we believe that we have seen an increase in this absolutely horrendous and appalling crime."

It seems there were 1,186 cases last year. I will leave aside the methodological issues of capture/recapture estimation, and take these as confirmed cases, providing a minimum figure.

My only psychological contribution was to say that it is very hard indeed to commence therapy until the person has reached a place of safety. If the abused person has a family at risk in their home country, I do not see how the British Police can provide a believable guarantee that the trafficking gangs will not attack those family members. As a rule of thumb, the British Police have considerable difficulty saving battered wives from violent husbands. Charities have also observed, kindly and without criticism, that trafficking allegations often arise when the person concerned has been arrested for a crime. The arrested persons explain that these crimes were committed at the behest of their traffickers. Some of the above cases will involve claim and counter-claim, as part of court cases.

I do not have first hand knowledge of the extent of the problem, nor of the steps which would be required, internationally, to deal with it. Psychological therapy will have to work within that framework, but I do not think that it will be the first thing on victim’s minds, compared with other issues.

Next ISIR conferences


In response to an enthusiastic reader, here are the next four ISIR conference details.

2014 Graz, Austria December 12-14, note this is Friday, Saturday, & Sunday  Local Host: Aljoscha Neubauer. Distinguished Interviewee: Ian J. Deary, University of Edinburgh

2015 Albuquerque, New Mexico September, dates TBD Local Host: Rex Jung

2016 St. Petersburg, Russia Dates: July, TBD (likely last half of July) Local Host: Yulia Kovas

2017  Akron, Ohio, USA July, specific dates TBD,  Local Host: David Baker, Director, Archives of the History of American Psychology.

If you would like to present a paper or a poster session, you can get more details on the ISIR website:


If you are a student with an interest in intelligence research, have a particular look at the student awards page, which has launched many a bright researcher onto a glittering career.


Round up of press coverage of ISIR conference


If you have come across any press coverage of the 2013 Melbourne ISIR conference, could you please let me know?  For example, coverage of dog general intelligence, elephant intelligence, intelligence of crows or coverage of expert opinion on intelligence or coverage of any of the other topics.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Correction on test bias

In my rush to post up the Expert Opinion findings presented yesterday by Rindermann et al, I realise I gave the old 1984 figures for test bias. The newer figures are somewhat lower, a score of 1.86 overall being found, where 1 is an insignificant amount, and 4 is a large amount. Sorry about that. It seems that Jensen (1980) “Bias in mental testing “ has had an educational effect after all. To those of you who queried it, fear not. The experts are responding to rational arguments.




Similarly, in the relevant comparisons the contemporary experts see less bias against groups, about 2 and a bit out of 9, though they certainly feel that all immigrants might be at a disadvantage. Jensen had a rule of thumb that immigrants should have 5 years to learn the local ways before it was valid to test them.

So, in summary, there is acknowledgment that the issue of test bias has been worked on, and has been reduced. Test producers now have to meet legal standards for item analysis, and there is double-sampling of minorities so as to achieve better confidence levels.

Genetics, genetic groups, intelligence, expertise


I have been musing over the results of Rindermann, Coyle and Becker’s survey of intelligence experts presented at the ISIR conference. It looks as if many of the invited participants turned down the invitation. It may have been caution on their part that the survey would not remain anonymous (people can lose their jobs just for reporting intelligence results on group differences) or perhaps they were put off by the format and length (62 main questions) or even the idea of trying to investigate underlying opinions in a way that might lead to a conclusion “experts agree that…..”

You will already know that a general theme of this blog is that humans are a pesky lot, and difficult to study. They don’t fill in questionnaires, they forget about how much chocolate they eat, they look with envy at their neighbour’s wife, and very probably his ox, and have strong opinions, secret thoughts, impossible dreams and some highly questionable habits. Experts seem to be just as pesky. Drosophila are much better. Fruit flies are the future.

On another sour note, how does one qualify to be an expert nowadays? Publishing a recent paper in a peer-refereed journal is certainly a start, and should put you ahead of most of the multitude of commentators, journalists and citizens who knew a bright guy in their class who couldn’t tie his shoelaces,  but is it enough? Can we be sure these 228 authors have done the necessary reading? Should we start getting into impact factors and other measures of expert worthiness? Best of all, should we just ferret out the best papers with the best arguments, and tell students that, until they can be torn down, those papers presents the best approximation to the truth?

Anyway, here is the US centric question on racial differences in intelligence (there are other places on the planet like Brazil with different races living together, and there is also Africa, but once again the US leads the news).




Personally, having looked at the literature off and on for 40 years, and more of it in recent years, I cannot see how anyone can really believe that none of the difference is due to genes or that all of the difference is due to genes. I mean, the tiniest contrary finding would prove you wrong. A few genes linked to brain even in a minority of cases, a few environmental toxins linked to brain in a minority of cases and the presumption would be falsified. How could one be “expert” and be so sure of one’s self, given that there is an error term in all investigations?

For example, there is general agreement in this sample (though not universal agreement) that there is strong evidence for the heritability of intelligence within genetic groups. Given a proven cause of intelligence from genes, how could one be so sure that the difference between genetic groups will have no genetic component? It is not proven thereby,  but certainly not disproven, and the possibility remains open, and can be investigated by genetic research.

Equally, given that we can show a likely effect on intelligence of very bad environments, how can one be sure that all the effect is genetic? Jensen, for example, thought the difference was 50% genetic, and then over the years raised that to about 70% genetic (in the US context). All these estimates depend on the circumstances in which the measures are taken. Universally provided reasonable environments boost the genetic estimate by reducing environmental effects. Reduce the quality of the environment, and it jumps back into the equation with a vengeance.

I think that it is the central section in blue which represents main stream opinion among experts, which is those who did not say 0 or 100. Of those, 40% say up to 40% of variance is genetic, 40% say it is as high as 60-100 genetic, and the remaining 20% are in the middle at 50%. This is a split jury in terms of the extent of genetic influence, but the general tendency is towards agreement that genes are involved to some extent. That is a useful finding.

The paper will be presented for publication soon enough, and then we might speed up the tempo of surveys, to say every 5 years or so. Perhaps there needs to be fewer questions and even more consultation with the relevant experts about what should be included. Perhaps there should be even more stratification of experts, setting the bar higher in terms of number of publications on intelligence. However, we are now in a better position to know what experts really think, and that is a very valuable addition.

The quality of intelligence journalism

I have been musing over the results of Rindermann, Coyle and Becker’s survey of intelligence experts presented at the ISIR conference. Since you may well be reading a newspaper this Sunday, I thought it might interest you to show what the experts think of the coverage of intelligence in the public media. By way of explanation, the authors cast their net widely, but did some extra sampling of the German media. Readers might like to suggest their own likes and dislikes in terms of the accuracy of coverage. I will be adding more details on other issues later. In yellow is the original survey 30 years ago, in blue the current 2013 survey.






Saturday 14 December 2013

ISIR closes on dysgenic note


Just as delegates are congratulating themselves on having attended a feast of intelligence research in Melbourne, they are given a reality check by young Woodley, who has been looking at climate data from the cheerful perspective of calculating how much of the peasantry were killed off in cold winters, thus allowing the brighter folk to prosper.

Climatic Variability, Group Selection and Dysgenics: Testing a Multi-Level Selection Model
Michael AWoodley1, Heitor B. F. Fernandes2, Aurelio José Figueredo3
1Umeå University, Sweden & Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
2Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
3University of Arizona
Michael.Woodley@psy.umu.se; heitor.barcellos@ufrgs.br; ajf@u.arizona.edu

Novelty. A multi-level selection model published recently by Woodley and Figueredo
proposes that climatic changes have historically affected the direction of gene-frequency changes for g via their alternating impact on group vs. individual level fitness. In the West, colder environments imposed high extrinsic mortality on peasantry, whilst also creating fitness opportunities for those with higher-g. This also encouraged group selection for ultra high-g but low-fitness geniuses, whose innovations facilitated range expansion (i.e. colonialism).
Warmer environments led to lower mortality amongst those with low-g. Concomitant social and scientific innovations (i.e. welfare, medicine) further increased the mildness of Western environments, leading to diminished group selection, coupled with greater individual level selection for those with low-g responding to the fitness-incentives provided by the improved ecology, in addition to individual level selection against those with high-g, whose fitness diminished in the face of improved fertility control and redistributionist economic policy.
Importance. Multiple indexes of major innovation in science and technology indicate a pronounced per capita decline commencing in the latter half of the 19th century. Indexes of per capita scientific genius show a similar decline. Woodley and Figueredo, using hierarchical structural equations modelling, found that both of these trends relate to simulated declines in heritable g estimated on the basis of the negative relationship between fertility and IQ throughout this period. Recently, much attention was paid to the finding that simple reaction time performance seems to have been slowing throughout this same period, suggesting that the dysgenic decline in g predicted in previous works might be an actuality.
These findings are all consistent with the multi-level selection model as described above. Understanding how these ecological factors might explicitly relate to real changes in the patterns of selective pressure is important for understanding the interconnected and varied nature of the determinants of accelerating adaptive biological and cultural evolution amongst Holocene populations.
Methods. Here we test the multi-level selection model over the last 1.5 centuries using a cascade General Linear Model. Climate warming is operationalized using three convergent indicators of global temperature anomaly means spanning the period from 1859 to 1975. A lexical approach to measuring historical attitudes was used to determine group selection strength in the US+UK. Three convergent group selection \'loaded\' words were selected, and their diminishing frequencies across printed matter were measured using Google Ngram. Declining g was measured using meta-analytically matched simple reaction time trend data from the UK+US corrected for various sources of error, spanning the period 1889 to 1993. US+UK innovations were taken from a database of global innovations and weighted on the basis of US+UK population growth.
The model: Climate warming -> Group selected attitudes (with a lag of ten years) ->
Declining g (with a lag of one generation) -> Innovation rates; fit excellently. The fit
improved when war years were excluded from the innovation index. This is consistent with the model.

Contact the authors above for drafts of their presentation.

Petaflop Computer Clusters Crunch Genomes of Giant Minds

Petaflop Computer Clusters Crunch Genomes of Giant Minds:
Collection, Sequencing, Analysis of the World’s Largest Extreme-IQ
Genomic Cohort. Laurent Tellier et al.

It is not part of the ISIR tradition to give a prize for the best title, since delegates are, of course, not fooled by such things, and are entirely taken up with judging a paper’s content, but, this is one hell of a title.

Unfortunately the authors are coy about the results, and won’t say what has come out of the analysis.

Over 2,200 DNA samples have been gathered from subjects with very high IQ.
Many (n=1,688) were assessed and identified early on, in nation-wide talent
programmes. Others (n=548) have been enrolled and evaluated through protocols
specially implemented by the Cognitive Genomics Lab project. The procedures applied
for cohort phenotype assessment, the characteristics of the samples gathered so far, the technology involved in their treatment and sequencing, and the bioinformatics methods deployed in the genomic analysis, are reviewed. We describe the model of the genetics of intelligence, variance, and mutation used in the study design, the reasoning underlying this model, the implications on what types of variants we look for, and the prospects for the collection of further, equivalent cohorts in East Asia and Scandinavia.
We state in advance that samples are currently undergoing sequencing - and
resequencing - in BGI’s recently acquired Complete Genomics technology, and that
analysis results therefore will not be revealed prematurely in the lecture or ensuing

You could try emailing the authors so as to be informed the moment the results are made public.

laurent@cog-genomics.org; chris@cog-genomics.org; james@cog-genomics.org;

ISIR What do intelligence researchers really think about intelligence?


There are many reasons for intelligence researchers to keep their opinions to themselves. Intelligence research raises strong emotions, not all of them positive, and a researcher saying the wrong thing in public can lead to disputes, loss of funding, general harassment and sometimes a loss of job.

So, when finding out about real opinions, anonymity is required. Rindermann, Coyle and Becker have replicated the last survey on experts done 30 years ago. Researchers were invited to participate only if they had recent intelligence-related publications in Intelligence, Cognitive Psychology, Biological Psychology, Journal of Mathematical Psychology, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of School-Psychology, New Ideas in Psychology, and Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

Invitations were emailed to 1237 persons and at the end only 228 (18 %) participants completed the process (70 fully and 158 partially). As far as the authors could make it out, “lefties” and “righties” turned down the offer in equal numbers, complaining that the questions were not good enough, the selection of experts would not be good or that they did not want to participate in a process which suggested that the truth could be found by majority decisions. In fact, the authors just wanted to find out what expert opinion was, in all its variety, and were not intending to come to any conclusions of a majority sort. (Perhaps climate research has poisoned the academic atmosphere, and no-one wants to be involved with anything which smacks of consensus science). As many pointed out, one good study can smash down an old consensus.

Experts agreed that the following were sources of reasonable evidence for significant heritability of intelligence: monozygotic twins reared apart, comparisons of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, adoption studies, “patchwork” family studies.

Asked: Is there sufficient evidence to arrive at a reasonable estimate of the
heritability of intelligence in populations of developed countries?” 73% said Yes.

Asked: What are the sources of U.S. black-white differences in IQ?

0% of differences due to genes: (17% of our experts)
0-40% of differences due to genes: 42% of our experts
50% of differences due to genes: 18% of our experts
60-100% of differences due to genes: 39% of our experts
100% of differences due to genes: (5% of our experts)
M=47% of differences due to genes (SD=31%)

As far as I can see, there are two extreme positions, the 17% who think that the difference is none of it due to genes, and the 5% who think it is all due to genes. The rest are in the middle, and the “consensus” is that 47% of the difference is due to genes. (See above why one should not get too excited about consensus results). All this is obviously very different from the public narrative, which is that 0% of the difference is due to genes. Such a view is rejected by the majority of experts, but there is still a sizeable minority of experts who hold that view. In sum, there are a variety of opinions.

Asked: What is the influence of average cognitive ability level and highly cognitive
competent persons on positive development of society, the economy, technology, democracy and culture? All of the results were above the mid point, suggesting agreement about a positive relationship between high intelligence and social progress.

Asked about measurement bias: a majority thought that test taker motivation and  anxiety were important, the race of the examiner much less so.

Asked: Is there racial/ethnic content bias in intelligence tests? The mean agreement was 2.13 out of 4.

Asked whether there was bias against lower SES and Africans in the western world, the mean agreement was about 4 out of 9.

Only a minority wanted separate norms for minority groups.

Out of 26 media sources on intelligence, only 3 were rated better than 5 out of 9.

Steve Sailer, Anatoly Karlin, Die Zeit

Experts rated public debates on intelligence as twice as likely to be ideological than scientific. I think it is plain that most experts do not regard the press as being much good at reporting intelligence. Stories of marginal importance tended to be paid too much attention.

They thought the Flynn Effect was due to educational and other environmental causes. The most important factors for cognitive ability differences between nations were education 21% and genes 15%.

So, to wrap it up: the participation rate was very low, and as readers of this blog will know, that distinctly reduces the representativeness of the sample. On the other hand……. intelligence experts are an independent minded lot, and won’t fill in questionnaires unless they are sure the questions are the correct ones. This is far better than nothing, particularly when some potential respondents must have felt worried about whether their responses would be truly anonymous.

I think that the authors have done a good job, and short of tracking experts down to a private place, buying them a drink and spending an hour or two in conversation, this is the best that can be got at the moment. The authors know they will have to think up some new questions, increase the range of intelligence topics and make even greater efforts to get more people to participate.

Curious, really, that on the key issue of how much we are influenced by genes and the environment, so many experts should have passed by the opportunity to express an (anonymous) opinion.


Friday 13 December 2013

ISIR Alcohol, Dogs, Elephants and Crows


Something for everybody here. I have trailed the dog IQ paper, but here are some others which are equally interesting.


Macpherson (48) Dietary Interventions

Take multivitamins to slow down cognitive decline. Placebo controlled trial finds positive results.

hmacpherson@swin.edu.au; apipingas@swin.edu.au; ascholey@swin.edu.au

Ritchie (54) Alcohol Consumption

Effects of alcohol over a lifetime depend partly on your genetics, which in some cases can mitigate the ill effects.

stuartjritchie1@gmail.com; tim.bates@ed.ac.uk; janie.corley@ed.ac.uk;
g.mcneill@abdn.ac.uk; gail.davies@ed.ac.uk; dave.liewald@ed.ac.uk;
jstarr@staffmail.ed.ac.uk; i.deary@ed.ac.uk

Arden (75) g in Dogs

Yes, dogs have general intelligence (40% of variance) like humans do (50% of variance). Rosalind picked border collies, who are among the brightest breed.

arden.rosalind@gmail.com; r.plomin@kcl.ac.uk

Plotnik (76) The Elephant Model

Elephants in Thailand are studied in terms of their capacity to cooperate, and appear to be capable of complex cognitions.


Taylor (77) Tool-Making Crows "

Crows are good at making tools, but are relatively unsocial, which favours the idea that brains evolve to deal with practical problem solving, not “dealing with other people” problems.

ISIR Intelligence and Creativity



Exploring the Relationship Between Intelligence, Creativity, Inspection Time, and
John H. Song, John G. Chetwynd
De Montfort University

Novelty. The relationship between intelligence and creativity has been examined and
debated relatively extensively. There were investigations about the nature of
intelligence-creativity relationship which were examined through higher order latent
variables, personality, executive processes, and strategy-use. The present study
examines the relationship between intelligence and creativity through the use of higher level inhibitory processes measures and elementary cognitive tasks. A sample of largely university students completed computerised Raven’s Progressive Matrices, Unusual Uses task, Self-rated creativity measure, inspection time task, Stroop and Latent Inhibition task. The results showed that intelligence, as measured using Raven’s Progressive Matrices was significantly predicted only by inspection time, but not inhibition variables, or creativity measured using Unusual Uses task and Self-rated Creativity score. The result suggests that apart from inspection time, other inhibitory processes do not significantly contribute toward intelligence.
Importance. Formal definitions of intelligence have often included problem-solving
ability. However, therein lay the tension between intelligence and creativity. The
former often involves completion of problems with a unique solution whereas creativity encourages generation of multiple solutions. In order to derive a correct solution an intelligent individual would engage in some selection processes. To do so successfully, it may be that inhibition processes which prevents competing solutions from distracting the individual would be necessary. On the contrary, creativity, would usually involve generating as many solutions as possible. These are higher level processes. The current study will add to the current knowledge in this field by examining inhibition processes as higher level processes, but it has also include the use of an elementary cognitive task. It will lead to further refinement of research methodologies and further examination of important variables explaining the intelligence-creativity relationship.
Methods. Although it is moderately small in sample size, this ambitious and labour
intensive study examined intelligence as measured by Raven’s Progressive Matrices;
Creativity as measured subjectively and objectively through Self-rated Creativity scale, and Unusual Uses task respectively; two types of inhibition processes using Cognitive Inhibition (Stroop task) and a Latent Inhibition task; and processing speed measured using elementary cognitive task – Inspection time. The number of variables examined here enables a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between these variable, notably between intelligence and creativity. Multiple regression analyses enabled examination of the ability of various variables in predicting intelligence.

Comment: This is an exploratory study, on a small select sample, but it might generate some ideas which could be replicated in larger more representative samples.

ISIR Confidence and achievement



Reasonable weather in Melbourne, but not much different from normal English overcast day.

The relationship between confidence, intelligence, academic achievement and decision-making (64)
lazondi@rocketmail.com; ted.nettelbeck@adelaide.edu.au

These studies have focused on the relationship between one's confidence in the accuracy of the answer to a cognitive test item and measures of intelligence, educational achievement and decision-making. They also include a range of measures of thinking styles, self-beliefs and personality.

Noncognitive predictors of intelligence and academic achievement.
Lazar Stankov

The Stankov paper is an overview of recent findings showing that non-cognitive
measures can be ordered with respect to their predictive validity. Many e.g., measures
of motivation, depression, and most personality traits - are poor predictors of
intelligence and achievement. Measures of self-beliefs - self-efficacy, self-concept and
anxiety - have moderate correlations with cognitive performance but tend to be domain specific. The best predictors of any kind of cognitive performance are measures of confidence that can capture a major part of predictive validity of the self-beliefs.


Intelligence and confidence in relationship to competence, arrogance
and close-mindedness. Sabina Kleitman

The Kleitman paper explores the latent structure of intelligence and confidence,
along with a broad range of self-report measures of need for structure, outward
assuredness, rigid thinking, openness to experience and metacognitive beliefs. The
findings highlight the distinctions and relationships between intelligence, arrogance, and rigid thinking.

Intelligence and confidence as respective predictors of quality and
erroneous decision-making. Simon A Jackson* & Sabina Kleitman

The Jackson paper examines the generality of metacognitive and decision-making
measures derived from a variety of intelligence tests, as well as the predictive validity of intelligence and metacognitive constructs to the quality and types of decisions made.The particular decision making task is tailored along the lines of a test taking scenario.

Confidence: a better predictor of academic achievement than selfefficacy,
self-concept and anxiety? Lazar Stankov, Jihyun Lee et al.

The J. Lee paper report the results from a study that assessed confidence together
with scales measuring self-belief (i.e., self-efficacy, different kinds of self-concepts, and anxiety) among the 15-year old students from Singapore. A distinct confidence factor was identified in the domains of mathematics and English. The results show that confidence is: a) a robust individual differences dimension and it captures much of the predictive variance of other self-beliefs that are, in turn, among the best known
predictors of achievement.

Individual differences in anchoring: Traits and experience Matthew B
Welsh et al.

The Welsh paper is focused on anchoring a well-known effect leading to bias in
estimation in various decision-making contexts. Anchoring was examined in a
simulated poker-like card game. While there were few significant demographic and
cognitive predictors of the overall performance, cognitive ability measures and decision styles were related to decreases in anchoring susceptibility over the period od practice in playing the card game.

Thursday 12 December 2013

ISIR Genetics


For those of you who are really interested in Australian cuisine, the conference proceedings includes suggested lunch places within 5 minutes walk of the lecture hall. Establishments such as Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Subway; those sorts of autochthonous providers of culinary delights.

SES &Heritability of IQ timothy.c.bates@gmail.com;

When Does Socioeconomic Status Moderate the Heritability of IQ? Data from
Australia and the USA. When is the heritability of intelligence dependent on socio economic status and when it is not? US studies largely suggest that cognitive ability is more heritable among those raised in higher socioeconomic status (SES) families. However, the mechanism of this effect is unclear, and the effect may not be universal. We tested for gene × SES interaction effects on Full-scale IQ in 2,307 adolescent Australian twins (mean age 16.2 years). While mean scores in were higher among those from higher SES backgrounds, the magnitude of genetic influences on IQ was constant across the range of SES.
The heritability of intelligence was high, and unrelated to social status.
This suggests that during the development of intelligence, genes multiply cultural inputs supportive of intellectual growth. It suggests also, however, that this interaction can be decoupled from parental SES, possibly via factors such as quality of school provision.

Do Functional SNPs Show an Enriched Association for Intelligence?


In the present study we examined the association of intelligence with
neuronally-expressed functional Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), i.e. SNPs
that alter gene expression and function in the brain. These include promoter SNPs,
SNPs that change gene expression via microRNA binding, methylated SNPs and
eQTLs: SNPs that correlate with quantitative measures of gene expression. Methylated SNPs and eQTLs were further divided according to their region of activation within the brain, including frontal cortex, temporal cortex, cerebellum and pons giving a total of 10 functional SNP sets. Using subjects in the family-based Generation Scotland sample, we tested whether any of these 10 categories of SNP show significant enrichment for fluid or crystallised intelligence by comparison with non-functional SNPs. Results to date support the idea that functional SNPs significantly enriched for association with both gf and gc compared to SNPs which do not alter gene expression in the brain. We will also present data testing whether this minority of SNPs accounts for the majority of heritability.

Intelligence is heritable and predicts wealth, health and mortality. However, whilst twin studies have demonstrated that a heritable component accounts
for around 50% of the variation in intelligence differences, Genome Wide Association
Studies (GWAS) carried out to identify individual variants are currently too small to
reliably reveal such variants. The next challenge is to identify which genetic variants
contribute to variation in human intelligence. If SNPs can be pruned according to their functional role, the power of genetic studies will be enhanced, bringing the prospect of identifying small but true genetic effects on intelligence closer.
Methods. Experimentally validated promoter SNPs were extracted from dbQSNP
(http://qsnp.gen.kyushu-u.ac.jp/) with the functional categories of microRNA,
methylated SNPs, and eQTL SNPs being based on published literature. These functional SNP sets were analysed using robust statistics using empirical tests of significance based on simulations which account for both average background signal enrichment and preserve the linkage disequilibrium (LD) between SNP statistics. This matching strategy ensures that it is the biological group to which the SNPs belong, rather than extraneous genomic features such patterns of LD which link these functional categories to cognitive abilities.

A Pilot Study of Rare Genetic Variants and G  

Various genetic linkage, genome-wide SNP association, and genetic copy
number variant studies have investigated genetic variation in cognitive ability, but no
studies have investigated genetic rare variants. These may be a potentially important
source of genetic variation; exome sequencing studies have already met with success in discovering novel trait-gene associations. Here, we investigate the effects of rare
variants on general cognitive ability. 150 unrelated individuals from the Generation
Scotland: Scottish Family Health Study were selected for high scores (>2.3 SD from themean ability score) on a general component of intelligence (g) based on Logical
Memory immediate and delayed, Digit Symbol, Verbal Fluency, and Mill Hill
Vocabulary test. The DNA of these individuals was exome-sequenced and the
frequency of rare genetic variants compared with those from a control sample who
scored in the lower to middle range of the g distribution. The results of single-SNP and multi-SNP tests will be presented, including a discussion of the merits of these
approaches and their power.

This is one of the first genetic rare variant studies of general cognitive
ability and increases our understanding of the genetic architecture of general cognition.

Methods. Genetic sequencing is expensive, so we were limited to genotyping the
high extreme of our sample. But these methods are becoming more affordable.
Therefore, these preliminary results will be able to inform our future larger genetic rare variant study design. And the sequencing data can be integrated with existing SNP data to improve genome coverage and potential to identify genetic variants associated with cognitive ability.

Low IQ and Mild Mental Retardation are Heritable But Severe Mental
Retardation is Not: a Genetic Analysis of 740,000 Siblings and 18,000 Twins


Despite the obvious societal importance of mental retardation (MR) in our
increasingly technological world, the most fundamental question about the genetic and environmental origins of MR has not been definitively addressed. We will report new results showing that diagnosed mild MR (IQ 50-70) and low IQ in the general
population are caused by the same genetic and environmental factors responsible for the normal range of intelligence. In contrast, most severe MR (IQ <50) is not inherited, despite hundreds of known single-gene causes of MR. Because severe MR is not inherited, its most likely causes are environmental factors, some of which are well known, such as prenatal trauma, neurotoxicity, and infections. Although severe MR is not inherited, MR is a burgeoning area of genetic research using new techniques (exome and whole genome sequencing) to identify non-inherited (de novo) mutations.
Importance. Molecular genetic research attempting to identify de novo mutations
responsible for MR will benefit from focusing on severe MR (IQ < 50), which is not
inherited. Although research on de novo mutations is an exciting new direction for
identifying causes of severe MR, severe MR is fortunately rare (.001). Much more of
the societal burden of intellectual disability lies with mild MR, which is the low extreme of the same genetic and environmental factors responsible for the normal distribution of intelligence. In other words, genes responsible for the substantial heritability of intelligence are the same genes responsible for MR. Finding genes for MR other than severe MR will involve the same problems faced throughout the life sciences for common disorders and complex traits: many genes of very small effect and ‘missing heritability’. A possible advantage for IQ is that it has a high end as well as a low end: It might be easier finding genes associated with high IQ than low IQ, even though these genes are expected to be associated with low IQ as well as MR.
Methods. We used data from 3 million 18-year-old males assessed for cognitive
abilities as part of compulsory military service in Sweden 1950-1990, which included
370,000 sibling pairs and 9000 twin pairs. We then linked these individuals to the
Swedish National Patient Register to identify 308 siblings with a diagnosis of severe
MR and 813 siblings with a diagnosis of mild MR. Two major findings emerged from
our analyses of sibling and twin correlations and concordances and model-fitting. First, severe MR is not heritable in that siblings of individuals with severe MR had IQ means and variances not significantly different from the population. Second, mild MR as well as the lowest 3% of IQ scores in the population is familial, heritable, and caused by the same genetic and environmental factors responsible for the normal distribution of intelligence.


After that there will be an interview with Prof Nick Mackintosh carried out by David Lubinski. These are always recorded, and will be available later on the ISIR website.

ISIR Worst Performance Rule


It is hardly in the popular “How to boost your IQ” genre to title a symposium the “Worst Performance Rule” but that gives you an indication of the media savviness of us intelligence researchers. It would have been better to entitle it: “How to boost your already high performance by avoiding a few silly errors”. Any, too late to talk the fearsome Dodonovas into a proper PR campaign.

ya.dodonova@mail.ru; ys.dodonov@gmail.com

This is what they have to say about their symposium:

To obtain a reliable measure of the speed of information processing, elementary
cognitive tasks are designed to include multiply repeated trials, for which
response times are recorded. This produces a set of individual-level RTs, which
do not necessarily equally well predict cognitive ability. A frequently observed effect is
that when individual-level RTs are ordered from fastest to slowest, the slowest RTs
produce higher correlations with cognitive ability than the fastest RTs. This effect is
called the worst performance rule (WPR). An explanation for WPR suggested by
previous studies has implied that individuals differ in efficiency of memory and
attention, or in some basic characteristics of neuron functioning, and this is what matters when both ECTs and intelligence-like tests are performed. However, previous studies on WPR have been too rare to accumulate consistent evidence of its causes,
confounding the variables and the implications for an analysis of the association
between intelligence and the speed of processing of various ECTs.
Taken together, the three papers of this symposium reconsider the issue of different
RT-IQ associations reported for best- and worst-performance trials and discuss their
possible causes and implications for studies examining the association between
cognitive ability and the speed of information processing.

In the first paper, Yulia Dodonova analyzes a set of elementary cognitive tasks and questions whether WPR is indeed present in these tasks and whether it can be explained via the effect of confounding variables and statistical artifacts.

In the second paper, Natalie Borter discusses the implications of WPR when
analyzing individual performance in tasks of varying complexity. Such tasks imply that individual differences in the speed of basic constant processes and task-specific
experimentally-induced processes can be analyzed at the latent level, and their
associations with cognitive ability can be evaluated. However, as shown in this study,
averaging across best and worst trials within each complexity level can mask another
source of variance, which can also be meaningful and can provide additional insights
into the associations between the speed of task processing and intelligence.


Finally, a paper by Yury Dodonov analyzes WPR-like effects in the context of
speed-accuracy relations that are always present when a participant performs speeded
tasks. This study suggests that accuracy rate is another factor that must be considered in any WPR-type analysis of associations between individual-level response times and intelligence.

And then lunch.

ISIR Conference: Basic predictors of intelligence


The conference has now moved on to the first symposium, which is mostly about basic predictors. Dr Neubauer has taken the Chair:

Neural efficiency as a function of task demands.

Brighter individuals show lower brain activation than less bright individuals when working on the same cognitive tasks. Consequently, the same task is more easy for individuals with higher cognitive ability, but more difficult for less intelligent individuals. The new results suggest that neural efficiency reflects an ability-dependent adaption of brain activation to task demands. According to the refined definition, neural efficiency describes the phenomenon that more intelligent individuals show lower brain activity than less intelligent ones only when working on cognitive tasks with a comparable sample-based difficulty. It looks as if each person works out the difficulty level for them of each task, and then has to devote less brain activation to the tasks they find manageable. Interestingly, it is still the case that bright people use less of their brain when doing difficult tasks.

Perceived workload and performance in difficult nonverbal cognitive
tasks predict academic achievement.
  MFrey@Otterbein.edu; CLaurie-Rose@Otterbein.edu

This study is trying to find out why high-achieving students sometimes take longer to solve difficult nonverbal cognitive task items.


The structure of working memory and how it relates to intelligence in
david.giofre@gmail.com; irene.mammarella@unipd.it; cesare.cornoldi@unipd.it

It seems that working memory predicts a large portion (66%) of the variance in general intelligence, confirming that the two constructs are separable but
closely related in young children.

Genetic and environmental influences on the relationship between
musical discrimination tasks and IQ.
Miriam.Mosing@ki.se; Fredrik.Ullen@ki.se

Rhythm, melody and pitch discrimination is associated with intelligence at about r=0.39, as measured in 10,000 twins.

ISIR 2013 Conference begins


Currently, Prof Linda Gottfredson, University of Delaware

is giving her Lifetime Achievement award talk “Empirical Treasure, Lost and Found”

In 1904 Charles Spearman demonstrated that human intelligence is a general
capacity, that is, it aids performance in diverse activities and content domains. His
discovery lay fallow until Arthur Jensen realized how profound it was. This single fact
about intelligence, its generality, allowed him to predict that g’s genetic roots would be dispersed in the genome and its physiological manifestations distributed across the
brain. He showed at the behavioral level that individual and group differences in g
generate predictable variations in performance whenever tasks require us to mentally
manipulate information—learn, reason, think abstractly, “connect the dots,” “figure
things out,” and so on. Jensen gradually built a theoretically coherent body of empirical evidence, a nomological network, integrating many types of evidence and attracting other scholars to the enterprise.
Jensen reintroduced Spearman’s discovery about the time I entered graduate
school (1973). It was the worst of times for objective inquiry into a trait so enmeshed in socioeconomic outcomes. Social scientists were disparaging the notion of intelligence and tests that measure it. Leading figures in my discipline, sociology, asserted that differences in ability and achievement are manufactured by elites to maintain their privileges. Some said that most everyone could do almost any job, and one that doctors could work their way up from orderly.
Their assertions violated common sense, ignored evidence in other disciplines,
and assumed causal forces never demonstrated empirically. I therefore began looking
more deeply into mechanisms that might generate occupational inequality — not just
differences in the occupations individuals prefer and enter, but also how today’s finely
graded occupational prestige hierarchy evolved in the first place. That search soon led to g and, more importantly, to asking exactly which aspects of a job magnify the
advantages of higher g. The answer, found in job analyses data, was anything that
increases the complexity of a job’s information processing demands: irrelevant, abstract, additional, or insufficient information; ambiguity, novelty, and uncertainty; need to continually update knowledge, draw inferences, spot lurking hazards, visualize the unobservable, and much more. Complexity is also the active ingredient in IQ tests and what modern life heaps upon us. We all have to contend with its proliferating cognitive burdens, but they weigh more heavily on individuals lower on the IQ continuum or experiencing normal age-related cognitive decline.
Following g’s footprints across the social landscape led me from one discipline
to another, each stopover replicating my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in South East Asia—being the proverbial Man from Mars. It always yielded unexpected
insights. One was the transformative power of individually inconsequential effects that cumulate over time, tasks, or populations. Another was that we can improve the welfare of less able citizens—literally, reduce their disproportionately high odds of premature death—without having to raise their intelligence. That is what occupies me now— bringing critical tasks in health self-care within the cognitive reach of patients currently unable to perform them effectively (i.e., “non-compliant” patients).

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Is PISA arguing equitably?


I have been working through Volume II of PISA 2012, and I now have less idea of what is going on than when I started. The OECD technique is to use a version of visual Chi-square, and plod through every country’s results one variable at a time, depicted on a four by four table. The underlying statistics are not given. The correlations between measures are not given. Even when they plot out the data in a traditional scatterplot and draw a line of best fit (Fig 11.2.1) no correlation is given. Figure 11.2.11 is a good example. There are 11 categories plotted out for each country. It appears that Luxembourg has few average schools, Finland has many. I cannot work out what point is being made, if any. These data call out for a simple correlation matrix, and some simple regression equations, with attainment being predicted by all the main variables. Researchers seem to be kept at arm’s length while the drum roll of national comparisons surge across page after page of the report. “Concentrate on our conclusions” seems to be the message, “and leave the details till later, far later.”

Seeking clarity wherever I could find it, I read one of the key conclusions in Vol II, which is that learning opportunities must be distributed equitably in society. Here is their argument:

“In OECD countries, parents of socio-economically advantaged students (those in the top quarter of the socio-economic distribution in their country, or one standard deviation above the average on the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status) are highly educated (95% have attained a tertiary education) and work in skilled occupations (97%). In contrast, the parents of socio-economically disadvantaged students (those in the bottom quarter of the socio-economic distribution in their country, or one standard deviation below the average on the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status), have much lower educational attainment, and very few (6%) work in skilled occupations. Advantaged students also report having many more books at home than their disadvantaged peers (282 compared with 69 on average), as well as works of art, classical literature and books of poetry (Table II.2.2). While disadvantaged students have fewer books, cultural possessions and some educational resources at home, a large majority has access to a desk, a quiet place to study, a dictionary, a computer and an Internet connection at home (Table II.2.2). For a more detailed definition of socio-economic advantage and disadvantage, as measured by PISA, see Box II.2.1 below.

Large differences in performance associated with the background of students and schools – whether socio-economic status, immigrant or language background – signal that learning opportunities are not equitably distributed throughout a school system or that not all students have access to the high-quality instruction and material, financial and human resources that could help them succeed in school and beyond.”

Of course, there is another interpretation of these findings, which is that bright parents have better jobs, save more money, and give birth to brighter children. A good proportion of the variance could be genetic. Indeed, Robert Plomin and his team have shown this to be the case. Books do not magically boost intelligence. They have to be read. That means that the parents have got to want to read to their children, to encourage them to read, to talk about what they have read, and to suggest further books to read. A proper study would consider that possibility, and attempt to test the power of the conflicting interpretations. There is also an assumption that home environments are de facto part of the school system, and that if a family supports their children they are also contributing to inequity.

One way to look at this claim would be to show the correlations between attainment and social variables, but I cannot find these as I work through Volume II.

PISA continues:

What the data tell us

Some 6% of students across OECD countries – nearly one million students – are “resilient”, meaning that they beat the socio-economic odds against them and exceed expectations, when compared with students in other countries. In Korea, Hong Kong-China, Macao-China, Shanghai-China, Singapore and Viet Nam, 13% of students or more are resilient and perform among the top 25% of students across all participating countries and economies.

Across OECD countries, a more socio-economically advantaged student scores 39 points higher in mathematics – the equivalent of nearly one year of schooling – than a less-advantaged student.

For some reason, “resilience” is very similar to “intelligent even though relatively poor” and is most frequent among people of Far Eastern descent. The OECD has assumed that wealth and social status leads to scholastic success. Then they find that their theory has a significant hole in it. Rather than re-thinking their theory, they keep the theory but argue that some people are exceptions because of some mystical “resilience”. It would be better to ask more generally why some people are studious and intelligent, and then see how that relates to other variables.

Also, consider for a moment why SES should be related to scholastic outcome. One possibility, the one favoured by PISA, is that differences in SES are due to the unfair allocation of resources in a society. The rich get all the pleasure, the poor get all the blame, and at the very least there should be compensatory spending within the education system to make up for this gross unfairness. The other explanation is that a society has achieved social mobility. The brightest have risen to the top, though they may not remain there if they lack the ability to do so. At any one time there will be some people who are well educated and rich, though they may not be exactly the same people 15 years later.

For example, one way to understand what is happening is to try to distinguish between the wealth of the well-educated, and the education/intelligence of the well-educated. Is it better to be well-educated and poor than less well educated and rich?

Heiner Rindermann looked at this in 16 cross-sectional and 3 longitudinal samples in six countries (USA, Austria, Germany, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil) and analyzed the relative impact of parental education compared to wealth on the cognitive ability of children (aged 2 to 23, total N=15,325). The social background ranged from welfare recipients and poor indigenous people in remote villages to professional (academic) families in developing and developed countries. Children’s cognitive ability was measured with different tests (mental speed tests, CFT, the Ravens, Stanford-Binet, PPVT-R, WET, CogAT, Piagetian tasks, ASVAB, PIRLS, TIMSS, PISA). Parental wealth was estimated through questionnaires by directly asking for income, indirectly by self-assessment of wealth compared to others, and by evaluating assets. Parental education comprised school and professional education. The mean direct effect of parental education was bEd=.40, of income/wealth bIn=.16 (N=15019, k=16 samples). In all path analyses parental education showed a stronger impact on intelligence than economic status (total effects: bEd=.45 for education, bIn=.12 for wealth, N=15019, k=16). Further important factors for children’s cognitive ability depending on parental education are number of books (bBo=.18), marital status (bCF=.17), educational behavior of parents (bEB=.12) and behavior of children themselves (bBC=.19). So, books do have an effect, and so does marital status and parent’s helping their children, but all those are not as powerful as parent’s education. Of course, parent’s education is related to parent’s intelligence, which could not be measured directly in these samples.

Possibly, somewhere in these many volumes of PISA results this very calculation has been done. Please help me find it. If it is not there, we should ask them to work on it, because it would be very interesting to see if their very large sample replicates what Rindermann found.

I continue to plod through the Volumes, and have now got a helper in the OECD library to guide me to the bits I want to see. Will try to keep you posted.

The Danish Minister replies on the Nyborg case


There has been a flurry of pro-forma letters from the Danish Minister for Scientific Dishonesty explaining their processes to researchers who had questioned what they were doing as a government body getting involved in an academic dispute. In their defence they contend that:

Based on the conclusions of the Committees they recommend that the article be withdrawn. But, as you will see, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty have not in any way considered the conclusions drawn by Dr. Nyborg, nor have they ordered him to withdraw the article.

Frankly, this is a bit of a disappointment. It would make a change if governments were so against dishonesty that they ordered dishonest statements to be withdrawn, and commanded the dishonest persons to be lashed to a stone pillar while ravens pecked their eyes out. Is it just me, or is the quality of outrage not what it was? Consider in contrast Jonathan Swift’s own epitaph “where fierce Indignation can no longer pierce his Heart.” Where is the fierce indignation of the Danish Government? I don’t see what the Committee has done to justify their wages. They seem to be the Committee for Innuendo and Pedantry. I am not usually in favour of academics suggesting public policy, but I think they need to increase the savagery of their condemnation.

However, the good news is that, as requested, they have now issued an English translation of their judgment  http://fivu.dk/en/research-and-innovation/councils-and-commissions/the-danish-committees-on-scientific-dishonesty/decisions/2013/decisions-of-28-october-2013-on-authorship-and-misleading-reference.pdf

I have read through it, and it is a long mess. Despite their excuses, of course they are considering Nyborg’s paper, and whether he should have included a co-author who did not want to be included, and whether his reference to the UN data should have included a separate reference to a demographic adjustment and all the rest of it. They did not have the gumption to say to the complaining academics: “Why don’t you just sort this out yourselves?”

It must have crossed the mind of the committee that one of the reasons that people don’t want to be authors of unpopular papers is that they might be dragged before the committee. The more the Committee spreads its baleful influence the more research will have to be done by Anon and Anon and Anon. Things are bad enough when researchers dare not give their names because they fear they will be cut off from research funding. We are supposed to be a community of scholars, not a gang of paid informers.

If a paper has errors, this is something for the academic community to sort out, not a government department. The judgment confirms what we suspected: by a majority verdict he has been condemned on two technical counts. He didn’t make up his data, as others have done. Fraudulent papers are presented, from time to time, and this is a test of our academic standards and methodological awareness. They are eventually detected, and withdrawn. Nyborg gave a reference which, in hindsight, was incomplete, so he wrote to the journal giving further details. This is all very petty.

During all this time Nyborg has been under a shadow. To my certain personal knowledge, a student has told me that although he was recommended to read his paper by a referee, he was not willing to read it while Nyborg and his work was being judged for scientific dishonesty. These endless quasi-judicial  processes are enemies of open debate. It means that some students will be pushed into not being able to judge academic work on its own merits, and will be depending on legal authorities to tell them what to think. Court room science is rarely the best guide to knowledge.

Reluctant as I am to make policy recommendations, why doesn’t the Danish Government just wind up this committee, which is making them look very foolish?

Does it really matter if you talk to your babies?

For many mothers and fathers, it is the most natural thing in the world to talk to their baby. Babies may not understand what you say, not initially at least, but why not talk to them anyway? It gets you in the habit of explaining things to them, and they get in the habit of hearing you talk. This habit should lead to happiness and learning and the transmission of culture. Hard to see anything wrong with it.

However, it is another step to attribute a great deal to this verbosity. Some talking may be enough, and more talking may not add much. Sometimes a parent may not feel like talking, perhaps because they have been up all night dealing with a crying baby and find that, as the famous Guardian editorial put it, “a period of silence would be welcome”.

However, there is a body of research which seems to suggest that talking has a strong causal effect, and that failure to talk enough to a baby can have a deleterious impact on their linguistic and cognitive development. The argument makes sense. Children need stimulation, and need to learn the intricacies of the local language.

Is it true? A paper in Psychological Science suggests that it is. Adriana Weisleder and Anne Fernald “Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary” http://pss.sagepub.com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/content/24/11/2143.full

However, on closer examination it begins to fall apart somewhat. The obvious major confounder is that brighter, more verbally competent parents are likely to give birth to brighter children, given that intelligence is roughly 60% heritable when assessed in maturity, though it will appear to be less than that when assessed on younger children. Any researcher needs to be alive to that possibility, and find a way of dealing with it. The authors mention Oliver and Plomin (2007) so they are aware of the issue. A very, very obvious way of dealing with this is to give the mothers (and the fathers) an IQ test. Even a simple vocabulary test, plus a digit span test or speeded coding task would provide a working answer to this question. The authors did not do this, or did not report it. So we are left with an observational study which did not control for parental intelligence, so it is difficult to sustain a causal interpretation of any results.

The authors chose to study low SES Latino families. They have data on maternal education, which ranged from 4 to 16 years (M = 10, SD = 3) and that was used as the primary index of SES which was “controlled in all analyses”. (My emphasis). Incidentally, this is a very big range, which makes it better as a predictor, but is also something of a worry. It suggests that some mothers simply did not see the need to stay in school for very long. Mexican schooling has been free, secular and accessible to all since 1917.  It is also said to be not very good, but that is another matter. The US also has a free public school system. In both systems brighter children with brighter parents tend to stay longer in school, but length of schooling is a crude measures. A test of written Spanish or some other simple scholastic test would be a better measure. The authors do not report such assessments.

Anyway, years of maternal education, the only proxy for intelligence, was controlled for, which means controlled OUT! Classifying education as SES imposed from outside obscures the potential contribution of genetic intelligence revealed by maternal education. It is the sociologist’s fallacy again and again. You might wish to stop reading now.

The authors found enormous variation in the number of words heard by babies, particularly those directed at the baby. Of this very interesting finding they say: “These differences in parental engagement were uncorrelated with maternal education (r = .29, p = .13)” So, they accept the null hypothesis of no correlation in this case.

At this stage I have to point out that 29 subjects is too low for rejecting the influence of education at r = .29.  The study does not have sufficient power to determine whether that correlation can be set aside. In fact, given that length of education is a weak measure of intelligence, and that the link between maternal IQ and child IQ is lower in infancy, and grows with age (and grows more when children leave home!) it is likely that 0.29 is probably as sizeable a correlation as one would be likely to find if there was a true relationship tested at this age. Furthermore, even if one accepts the small sample, the correlation is close to significant on a one tailed test, which is a valid assumption because in virtually all studies vocabulary is associated with higher intelligence. Enough special pleading: the sample is too small. Years of education and talking to babies are probably weakly correlated, which is informative.

Here are their rather bold conclusions: “Our results reveal that caregiver talk has direct as well as indirect influences on lexical development. More exposure to child-directed speech not only provides more models for learning words but also sharpens infants’ emerging lexical processing skills, with cascading benefits for vocabulary learning. If increased opportunities for verbal interaction can strengthen critical processing skills that enable more efficient learning, then interventions aimed at increasing parents’ verbal engagement with their infants have the potential to change the course of vocabulary growth and, in turn, to improve later outcomes for disadvantaged children.”

All of this may be true, for all I know, but the paper does not prove their case. It is observational, not experimental, and they haven’t bothered to collect that little bit of extra data on the mother’s intelligence which would show a possible maternal IQ/child vocabulary link. If they were to go back to the mothers and quickly do the tests I had mentioned, the paper could be improved considerably. Worth a try? I think so.

In the mean time, talk to your baby if you have something interesting to say, but please do not prattle at them out of a sense of social duty. Babies may prefer to concentrate on something else, without background chatter.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Question: PISA and cheating

Has anyone been able to find the part of the technical appendix in PISA 2012 which deals with the issue of whether China cheated? Or, for that matter, whether any other country cheated?

Andreas Schleicher wrote in his blog today that this is a nonsense, and that critics like Time magazine “didn't bother to read the PISA 2012 Technical Background Annex, which shows there was no cheating, whatsoever, involved.”

I can’t find that bit in the technical background annex, and the page to which Schleicher directs readers in his blog is a very general one, including parts which the system says I don’t have access to. I have sent an email requesting access, and have looked through lots of tables but can only find lots and lots of country tables and figures.

Can anyone help direct me to the relevant part of the annex?

ISIR Press Release: Where are the keys to the castle?


from the International Society for Intelligence Research Conference in Melbourne Australia. NO EMBARGO.

The story so far is that the DNA of 2,200 extremely intelligent people has been handed over to the Beijing Genetics Institute, so that they can work out the genetics of genius. The preliminary results are to be presented at the Melbourne conference.

The abstracts of the relevant papers are pretty cagey, not to say inscrutable. Deducing whether they have found anything is like working out the power relationships in the Chinese Politburo. The news is that they are still crunching the data on these 2,200 very high ability persons. However, as a warm up they have looked at the top 3% scorers on the cognitive assessments administered to 3 million 18-year-old males as part of compulsory military service in Sweden 1950-1990.

They identified 370,00 sibling pairs and 9,000 twin pairs. The top 3% of intelligence composite scores was familial, heritable, and caused by the same genetic and environmental factors responsible for the normal distribution of intelligence. These results imply that any genetic effects identified in the HiQ project will not be ‘genes for genius’; rather, they will apply to IQ throughout the distribution, including low IQ.

So, not exactly the keys of the inner keep of the castle, but a useful impression of the keys to the outer walls. Genius will probably be just more of what constitutes intelligence for the rest  of us. By the way, they are still looking for more highly intelligent subjects. Tell them I recommended that you apply.

Contact: Prof Robert Plomin robert.plomin@kcl.ac.uk

ISIR Press Release: Like humans, dogs have general intelligence


from the International Society for Intelligence Research Conference in Melbourne Australia. NO EMBARGO.

General intelligence in dogs

Arguments have raged as to whether human intelligence contains a large general component, or whether that just arises from the way that IQ tests are constructed. Now Dr Rosalind Arden, Dr Mark Adams and Prof Robert Plomin have tested the intelligence of border collies on four different detour route-finding tasks and two different tests of pointing.

They say: A higher order factor accounted for 40% of the reliable variance in performance. Dogs that quickly completed the detour tasks also tended to score higher on the choice tasks and take less time to make a choice, and this could be explained by a general intelligence factor. The weaker inter-correlations among test performance implies that dog intelligence may have evolved in response to selection for specific behaviors and abilities.

So, if you consider that general intelligence account for 50% of human ability, and 40% of border collie ability they have much in common in terms of mental organisation, but dogs are more likely to have some specific abilities because they were bred up to do specific tasks by humans.

Contact: Dr Rosalind Arden   Rosalind.arden@kcl.ac.uk

If she is on a plane at the moment, I can provide a preliminary summary.