Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kristof of the NYT thinks he has made a great discovery

He thinks he has found a book that undermines the heritability of IQ. As I said a couple of weeks ago:

"There are always books and articles coming out that purport to show that IQ is unimportant, not hereditary and uniform across races. The research findings show the opposite but that offends against the "all men are equal" credo of the Left so the facts have to be got rid of somehow. Another such treatise has just arrived. I have not read the book and nothing in the review encourages me to do so but I assume that some of my colleagues who specialize in IQ studies will read it and dissect it in due course. Meanwhile, I just offer a few comments (In italics) that occur to me. The book is INTELLIGENCE AND HOW TO GET IT. Why Schools and Culture Count by Richard E. Nisbett. The book is actually better than most in that it is largely research-based so concedes the two major facts that always stick in Leftist craws: That IQ is important and is largely hereditary"

A point to note is that NOBODY denies that environment has SOME influence on final measured adult IQ but environment can only work within the limits set by heredity. No environment in all the world will make everybody into an Einstein. So there SHOULD be various things you can do which will raise that final adult IQ substantially. They seem very hard to find, however -- which suggests that we tend to UNDERestimate the limits set by genetics.

See my previous comments on the Nisbett work but I also do a bit of fisking of Kristoff's article below
Poor people have I.Q.’s significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large part a function of genetics. After all, a series of studies seemed to indicate that I.Q. is largely inherited. Identical twins raised apart, for example, have I.Q.’s that are remarkably similar. They are even closer on average than those of fraternal twins who grow up together.

If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, “Intelligence and How to Get It,” which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.

Professor Nisbett provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses — praise effort more than achievement, teach delayed gratification, limit reprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity — but focuses on how to raise America’s collective I.Q. That’s important, because while I.Q. doesn’t measure pure intellect — we’re not certain exactly what it does measure [There is not the slightest mystery about what it measures. It measures general problem-solving ability] — differences do matter, and a higher I.Q. correlates to greater success in life.

Intelligence does seem to be highly inherited in middle-class households, and that’s the reason for the findings of the twins studies: very few impoverished kids were included in those studies. But Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia has conducted further research demonstrating that in poor and chaotic [black] households, I.Q. is minimally the result of genetics — because everybody is held back. [Possibly true and not unreasonable but comparable British studies do not confirm that conclusion]. “Bad environments suppress children’s [measured] I.Q.’s,” Professor Turkheimer said.

One gauge of that is that when poor children are adopted into upper-middle-class households, their I.Q.’s rise by 12 to 18 points, depending on the study. For example, a French study showed that children from poor households adopted into upper-middle-class homes averaged an I.Q. of 107 by one test and 111 by another. Their siblings who were not adopted averaged 95 on both tests. [Adoption studies suffer from the problem that only the most attractive children tend to be adopted and I doubt that the French study included many blacks. Even so, the Minnesota adoption study, which DID feature blacks, found a continuing long-term IQ deficit in black children adopted into white households]

Another indication of malleability is that I.Q. has risen sharply over time. Indeed, the average I.Q. of a person in 1917 would amount to only 73 on today’s I.Q. test. Half the population of 1917 would be considered mentally retarded by today’s measurements, Professor Nisbett says. [An old chestnut. This is the "Flynn effect". The short point to note is that BOTH black and white IQs rose. The gap did not close]

Good schooling correlates particularly closely to higher I.Q.’s. One indication of the importance of school is that children’s I.Q.’s drop or stagnate over the summer months when they are on vacation (particularly for kids whose parents don’t inflict books or summer programs on them). [mainly a motivational deficit]

Professor Nisbett strongly advocates intensive early childhood education because of its proven ability to raise I.Q. and improve long-term outcomes. The Milwaukee Project, for example, took African-American children considered at risk for mental retardation and assigned them randomly either to a control group that received no help or to a group that enjoyed intensive day care and education from 6 months of age until they left to enter first grade. By age 5, the children in the program averaged an I.Q. of 110, compared with 83 for children in the control group. Even years later in adolescence, those children were still 10 points ahead in I.Q. [I don't know that study but gains from programs like that do not last into adulthood -- as even the post below this one admits]

Professor Nisbett suggests putting less money into Head Start, which has a mixed record [to put it kindly], and more into these intensive childhood programs. He also notes that schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program (better known as KIPP) have tested exceptionally well and favors experiments to see if they can be scaled up. [KIPP is undoubtedly good at getting the best out of what potential is there]

Another proven intervention is to tell junior-high-school students that I.Q. is expandable, and that their intelligence is something they can help shape. Students exposed to that idea work harder and get better grades. That’s particularly true of girls and math, apparently because some girls assume that they are genetically disadvantaged at numbers; deprived of an excuse for failure, they excel. [Yes. Motivation is a factor -- a small one] “Some of the things that work are very cheap,” Professor Nisbett noted. “Convincing junior-high kids that intelligence is under their control — you could argue that that should be in the junior-high curriculum right now.”

The implication of this new research on intelligence is that the economic-stimulus package should also be an intellectual-stimulus program. By my calculation, if we were to push early childhood education [There is now quite a lot of evidence that early childhood education is harmful to most children in institutional settings such as kindergarten and preschool] and bolster schools in poor neighborhoods, we just might be able to raise the United States collective I.Q. by as much as one billion points. That should be a no-brainer.



More optimistic psychology from the NYT

Some seventh graders who were struggling in class did significantly better after performing a series of brief confidence-building writing exercises, and the improvements continued through eighth grade, researchers reported Thursday. The students who benefited most were blacks who were doing poorly, the study found; the exercises made no difference for white students, or for black ones who were already doing well. Experts cautioned that the writing was hardly transforming. Those who benefited were still barely getting C’s, on average, by the end of middle school.

Yet the results were surprising, because interventions to improve school performance tend to have short-term benefits, and the writing assignments were simple 15-minute efforts. By the end of eighth grade, the students who benefited had nearly a half-point higher grade point average than struggling peers who completed a different writing exercise. The study was published in the journal Science.

“A difference of a third or more on G.P.A. is a large effect, and what’s surprising is that there was apparently no fadeout of the effect,” said Greg Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the research. “Fadeout is the coin of the realm in school intervention studies.” [Nisbett, take note!]


Motivation does have some effect for both good and ill but studies wherein blacks have been highly motivated to do well on tests have shown very little difference in final scores

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