Are We Getting Smarter?

One of today’s forms of multitasking is to read a book while keeping an eye on what is being said about it on the internet. I’m reading James Flynn’s Are We Getting Smarter? along with some of the commentary it has attracted. Maybe I’ll blog about the book later, but here are some interesting secondary pieces:

A NYT column by Nicholas Kristof hails Flynn’s message of rising IQ scores as inspiring.

Flynn outlines in the WSJ his theory of why IQ scores have been rising.

The Independent interviews Flynn:

What about developing countries?

You find large gains in Turkey, you find large gains in Kenya, and you find quite substantial gains in Brazil and the island of Dominica. Some developing countries are a mess, like Sudan and Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, where they have all of their own people sitting around doing make-work on oil royalties, they are not taking off.

You found that there is a growing gap in the US between children and their parents when it comes to active vocabulary – the vocabulary used in everyday speech. What is the reason for this?

Since 1915, adults have made huge vocabulary gains and school children only modest ones. Now that’s a symptom of the growing potency of teenage subculture. Rather than naturally socialising your teenage child to your speech community, they are resistant. They can understand what you say but they’re reluctant to use your language and they want to retreat into their own dialect. In 1950 I could both understand my parents’ language and use it. Teenage subculture is a modern phenomenon and quite bizarre. I was 16 years old in 1950 and it never occurred to any of us that we were in some blessed state that we wanted to perpetuate.

Is IQ not a very divisive tool? You’re dumb. You’re clever.

It is. It’s inherently hierarchical.

But if it’s divisive, why use it?

It yields interesting insights. Look what I’ve learned about teenage subculture. Or look at what we’ve learned about how our minds have evolved.

These last questions seems to reinforce the idea that there as a social bias against talking about IQ. Its an area of science that makes people uncomfortable – and this leads so some science denialism.

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