Tuesday 30 August 2016

When it goes, it goes




My first ever proper job was as a research assistant at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, on a project which led to my PhD thesis:  “Cognitive effects of cortical lesions sustained in childhood”. After 7 long years I finished it, the largest sample of people with brain injuries in childhood who had been followed and fully tested, children who had been injured in car crashes, kicked in the head by horses, and in one case seen 31 years after he had been bombed in his bed as a baby in the London Blitz. I tested their intelligence on the Wechsler scales, tested their learning of new materials, and even their visual dot spans with a portable tachistoscope. My beautifully bound thesis was deposited at the University of London library, and when I happened to be at a meeting in that fortress of a building a decade later, on authorial impulse I went into the library and asked to see my own thesis. I found that it had achieved only one reader, myself in 1976, proudly signing in to check that my contribution to knowledge was available to the interested public. Sic transit gloria mundi

I was supervised by Dr John McFie, and one of the many things he taught me about was the work of Godfrey Thomson, whose 1939 Factorial Analysis of Human Ability had a great impact.   Now Prof Ian Deary has put together an exhibition about him and his work, which is displayed in the Edinburgh Main Library and runs until 29th October. Ian is a worried man. He is studying Scots men and women who took Thomson’s tests as 11 year olds in 1932 and 1947, and his now elderly subjects are often concerned that, as regards the power of their minds, when they go, they go. Out goes the light. However, in Ian’s case he is not worried about his own ageing but about the painful fact that, unlike a book or a published paper, when the exhibition goes out of the library at the end of October, it all goes. Gone, gone, like the proverbial baby down the plughole, in that terrifying music hall lament, redolent of maternal agony and traumatic loss, to be assuaged with coarse communal jollity:

'Your baby has gone down the plug-hole
Your baby has gone down the plug
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
It should have been washed in a jug”

As Noel Coward tartly observed: “Strange how potent cheap music is.”

I digress.

How can these exhibits be saved? One way is for you to look at his introductory video, and then make your way to Edinburgh, to see the exhibition and take down your own notes for posterity. You might be able to suggest a permanent home for the exhibition.


You can also get the explanations, without being able to palpate any physical objects, first in a brief news item, and second in a more detailed lecture:



There you have it. One modest scholar puts together some intelligence tests and we eventually get the longest and most informative intelligence follow-up study ever conducted. Try beating a 66 year follow-up when assessing pre-morbid intelligence estimates.  Have the Scots made a greater contribution to modernity than any other people? I could not possibly comment.



  1. I remember the God Thom. Buccleuch Place, if I'm not mistaken.

    (I used to know a very pretty girl who worked there. Them wuz the days.)

  2. The thing to do with a very pretty girl is to pop her on the back of your motorbike and zoom around Arthur's Seat. Then take her to the opera.

    Should I start a lonelyheart's column?

    1. Yes. I need to "monetize" the blog, and that would be an excellent starting point.

  3. Asian Kids' IQ Lift: Reading System May Boost Chinese Scores

    "The study shows that "what have previously been argued to be differences based on biological qualities can be explained by differences in experience that often vary with racial or cultural membership," remarks psychologist Marc Lewis of the University of Toronto."

    "The new evidence that the Chinese writing system influences spatial perception "is plausible but far from definitive," says Yale University psychologist Robert J. Sternberg. For instance, he notes, Asians might possess an evolved spatial facility that promoted their adoption of pictorial symbols in writing rather than alphabetic ones."

    "Canadian psychologist J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario in London says that other evidence leans toward a biological basis for the IQ differences. "Something innate" gives the Chinese a mental edge over whites, he says, noting that Chinese kids adopted at birth by U.S. parents also tend to score higher on IQ tests than their white peers do. Rushton champions a controversial evolutionary hierarchy of racial intelligence in which East Asians come out on top."

    One of the enjoyable parts is that "controversial".
    They aren't even aware "controversial" is synonym with "true". When was the last time we've had an "uncontroversial" truth in social sciences?

    It's obvious that languages and writing systems (or the lack of them) mirror the intelligence of a people. Still, I think it's not impossible that learning such a taxing writing system may boost Mongolids' IQ a little (1-2 points?).

  4. "that promoted their adoption of pictorial symbols in writing rather than alphabetic ones": or maybe no Chinese was clever enough to invent a consonantry (like the Phoenicians) or turn one into an alphabet (Greeks).

    "It's obvious that ... writing systems (or the lack of them) mirror the intelligence of a people": so the people of NW Europe were pretty stupid until the Romans taught them writing? And then in about 1500 years became the most intellectually creative people in history?

    Come to that, must we assume that the populations of the Middle East and Europe were stupid until they received a superior way of writing numbers from the Hindus?

    At least the enormous contribution of the Scots to modern civilisation is explained: they became much more intelligent when Baron Napier invented for them an even cleverer way of writing numbers. Hurray for the logarithm!

    1. In about 1500 years became the most intellectually creative people in history? Yes, 60 generations is more than enough if selection for intelligence is extremely hard, which it very probably was till 1870.

    2. But why would selection for intelligence suddenly apply to NW Europeans and not, at least not to the same extent, to others?

      What selective pressure led to the flowering of classical Athens?

    3. The traditional reply is winter, which selects harshly, though I don't think it applies all that much to Greece. There is a good fit with the general world data, but a number of exceptions: doesn't work that well for small populations up North like Eskimos, and not a good fit with contemporary India.

    4. Then why hadn't winter done its work before the Romans flourished?

  5. I don't think exactly selective pressures (imperial public exames) shaped avg chineese mindset but already existent and dominant chinese mind-type (pragmatic, less verbal, less emotional/neurotic) reinforced their own trends throughout the long time of chineese history Again, mongolid temperament seems constant in space and time even among amerindians, something clearly more deep/rooted than just the result of the relatively recent selective pressures.

    ''taciturn indian 'natives' '' ...

  6. https://www.1843magazine.com/features/its-a-boy-thing

    a extreme ''male' brain theory thing*

    ''extreme [cognitive] male brain theory''

    My family is like that

    my mother have

    higher verbal intelligence

    is more emotionally passive,

    is more concerned about social status,

    perfectionistic (with its area of specialization/strenghtness),



    my father display

    higher spatial intelligence,

    is more emotionally dominant, at least with my mother,

    is relatively less concerned about social status,

    perfectionistic (with its area of specialization)



    they tend to be more mutually similar and in the same time complementar.

    but this study is talking about current situation where families with 3 childs is considered bigger...

    My father is more colaborative with my mother with domestic tasks...

    less circular testosterone*