Quick Roundup 283

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Flynn Effect

Having not so long ago considered an oft-ignored aspect of the question of whether intelligence and race are correlated, I was first intrigued and then very impressed with this article on the "Flynn Effect", named for James Flynn, who first noted that scores on IQ tests were rising over time and then asked why that was in a very creative and productive way.

As this article considers the Flynn Effect and the recent revival of the debate about race and IQ, it takes a look at the many pitfalls inherent in attempting to measure intelligence and raises serious questions about more than one popular myth about the genetic basis of IQ. Near the end, it also considers how such factors as the culture in which one is raised can affect one's IQ. Its conclusion was a breath of fresh air:

Flynn then talked about what we've learned from studies of adoption and mixed-race children -- and that evidence didn't fit a genetic model, either. If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn't make a difference whether it's a mixed-race child’s mother or father who is black. But it does: children with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it shouldn't make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born. But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children's blackness, as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their Germanness -- of their being brought up in a different culture, under different circumstances. "The mind is much more like a muscle than we've ever realized," Flynn said. "It needs to get cognitive exercise. It's not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark." The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person's mind but the quality of the world that person lives in. [bold added]
Read the whole thing!

"It was like time stood still!"

If you've ever had a sufficiently frightening experience, you will know exactly what the above title means. Yesterday, I learned from the Houston Chronicle that scientists are attempting to study the commonly-reported feeling that time "slows down" when people are extremely frightened.
Eagleman's research team developed a wristwatch-like device that flashed numbers across a screen at a rate slightly too fast for a normal person to read. He theorized that, if people really could take in more events during times of stress, the free-falling participants should have no problem reading the flashing numbers. But none of them could. "We discovered that people are not like Neo in The Matrix, dodging bullets in slow-mo," he said.
The subjects, who had to read these numbers while free-falling backwards, still reported that the fall seemed to take longer, and this study does not eliminate the possibility that the brain can function more rapidly in other modalities during times of stress.

This is an interesting and very difficult problem to attempt to study, and it is far afield of my area of specialization, but one thing immediately jumps out at me: Reading numbers has nothing to do with ending the free fall early. (This is just an observation, not necessarily a criticism of the study.)

If a remembered feeling of time dilation were an aspect of heightened focus as one attempts to quickly find a solution to a life-threatening problem, rather than some fear-induced higher temporal resolution of one's senses, this test, designed to measure the latter, could well have little or nothing to say on that matter.

For those who find this question interesting, the actual paper is available here. And yes, part of the experimental apparatus was an amusement park ride! See Figure 1.

How NOT to Lay off One's Employees

Leave them off the invitation list to a company Christmas party:
Our source tells us that "when the brain trusts sent out the holiday party email they only sent it to people who would still be here -- even though some of us hadn't been notified we were on the block yet."
That is bad.

I recall hearing awhile back about another firm that laid off some of its employees via a mass memo sent to their PDAs. I never thought I'd see someone equal or exceed even that level of carelessness.

Myrhaf on Reagan's Legacy

Myrhaf considers whether we should include Reagan on Mt. Rushmore:
Reagan's pragmatism toward Iran and terrorism, with his non-response to the Beirut barracks bombing and his Iran-Contra Scandal, makes him the single man most responsible for our feckless Middle East policy. ...

The size of government more than doubled during the Reagan Presidency. You can blame it on Tip O'Neill's Democrat Congress, but the fact is that Reagan didn't have what it takes to stand up to the big spenders. Such weakness is the stuff of mediocrity.

Worst of all, Reagan brought the Religious Right to power, destroying the Goldwater paradigm of a party dedicated to individual rights. ...
That same argument would go for the Reagan dime -- unless you made things interesting by taking the dime to be a commemoration of our worst president, given the welfare statist currently depicted. But then you might want a bigger field to choose from if don't already consider FDR to be our worst President....

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

If you want to use quick-flashing numbers to test the fear time-dilation effect, just tell the subjects of the experiment that they are disarming a bomb and that the numbers are the timer.

Gus Van Horn said...


You'd scare 'em off with the legal paper work beforehand!

madmax said...

"The lesson to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person's mind but the quality of the world that person lives in."

Thanks so much for the link to this article!

Having read a fair amount of the racialist arguments to the effect that non-white, non-Asian peoples are intellectually inferior as a group, I was glad to see Flynn's counter arguments. All of the racialists are racial determinists who have a vested interest in the supposed inferiority of blacks. They want to create an exclusively (or mostly so) white, Christian America and the core part of their arguments is that race determines culture and that blacks do not have the "civilizational capacity" that whites do. So therefore, ultimately, the races must be separated.

These kinds of racists draw heavily from Richard Lynn and his data and research regarding IQ tests. Supposedly there was some study that tracked black middle class kids and found that their IQs were still on average 10 points lower. But Flynn's research shows why this is probably the case; black culture (even middle class black culture) has been so destroyed by the effects of the welfare state, the leftist educational system and the anti-intellectuality of the culture in general that most black kids get *no* exposure to Western culture at all. They grow up in a cultural desert. Their low IQ scores are not surprising given this.

I'm glad to see Flynn's comments. You are right. They *are* a breath of fresh air.

John Kim

Gus Van Horn said...


See also Thomas Sowell in Black Rednecks and White Liberals, where he compares the races in the northern and southern parts of the country. If I recall correctly, northern blacks as a whole did as well or better than southern whites as a whole. (But it has been about two years since I read this book, I think....)

The importance of these arguments is that they help the thinking man see through the arguments of the various racists and racialists out there.

This will not change the prejudiced minds of those who need to look into a mirror and see white skin to feel "superior".


Big Don said...

American military excludes those below IQ 85 via the AFQT. That group is half of the blacks but only 10% of the whites. So the "US military matings with Germans" study is bogus. If only the smartest half of the white military were involved, the children of whites would have easily excelled. PC types are so driven to condemn the genetic/IQ relationship, they conveniently overlook this huge error in the German study...

Gus Van Horn said...

The fact that a flawed study arrives at a given conclusion means that the flawed study should be thrown out, but not necessarily its conclusion. Not the latter if other non-flawed evidence supports its conclusion.

The sample bias, if true, is an interesting point, but (1) perhaps Flynn accounts for it in his book and (2) even if he did not, evidence from other studies leads to this same conclusion, which also fits with general evidence that a child's cultural background has a greater effect on his intelligence than racial determinists feel like admitting.

Furthermore, your implied dismissal of me as a PC type is both insulting and factually wrong. In my previous posts I (1) admit that while genetic racial differences in intelligence are possible, I have no opinion on the matter one way or another, and (2) indicate that even if such differences were eventually proven to exist, that would not make any difference in how individuals of any race should be treated under the law.

In fact, let me help you read between the lines here. What I just said is that black culture is inferior to Western culture in terms of how children raised in it develop cognitively. Multiculturalism holds that all cultures are equal.

The debate over racial differences in IQ is interesting, but ultimately is being made much more of than it should be by bigots who want to find that blacks are innately inferior so that they can claim that they should be treated as less-than-human under the law, and by multiculturalists who want to prevent science from inquirng freely about matters that might upset their egalitarian (vice pro-individual rights) agenda.

I oppose both of these camps.

Galileo Blogs said...

Regarding IQs and race, I recall a fascinating study of incomes from the 1980s. It showed that blacks of West Indian descent earned more in the United States than either American-born blacks *or whites*.

Such a fact clearly illustrates the influence of cultural values on income. I suspect that a similar difference in IQ among these groups would be found.

West Indian blacks, of course, were typically educated under the British-style educational system, which is far superior to American public schools.

Of course, one could raise the objection that West Indian immigrants are a self-selected group that is more motivated and has more initiative than those who did not emigrate. Nevertheless, the disparity in incomes remains an illuminating datum on this discussion.

Galileo Blogs said...

Regarding time slowing down in life-threatening situations, I (unfortunately) had one of these experiences when I was mugged by three men wielding knives in the 1980s.

The teenagers ran at me from behind and "yoked" me. That is, one of them put his arm around my throat and poked his knife into my ribs (without serious injury, fortunately). Another thug stood in front of me and held a knife poised a few inches from my stomach, and a third was standing nearby.

These kids were young, maybe 14 years old, and very nervous, actually scared.

What I experienced was immediate time dilation. I was in a foreign country in South America and immediately told the kids in Spanish that I would "give them everything" and not to do anything. I gave them my wallet and watch immediately.

After my initial response, everything was in slow motion. When the kids started walking with me *after* I had given them my things, I seemingly calmly and slowly deliberated in my mind what I would do. I concluded that because they did not let me go and were walking me toward a dark corner that they were probably going to kill me. I made the decision that if they walked two more steps I would try to break free. I realized that I would probably be murdered in the attempt but I had decided to make the attempt anyway.

During the entire time my mind felt super-rational. I was making these horrible deliberations seemingly calmly and rationally. I was completely aware of my circumstance and had only one objective: the best chance of survival. There was no panic.

Fortunately, for some reason, before those two steps were taken, the kids threw me to the ground and ordered me to run away while they picked up the package (of schoolbooks!) that I had been carrying.

Only when I had safely run about 50 yards away and I saw them bending down to get my stuff did my knees start to shake.

In thinking about this incident, I will have to say that I was impressed by the way my mind operated in a life-threatening situation. I suspect that this is what soldiers and others feel in similar situations.

In the movies, people so often panic to their demise when faced with mortal danger. I marvel at the human mind whose rationality can shift into over-drive when confronted with real-life threatening situations.

Although this is quite interesting in retrospect, I hope for no more real-life opportunities to study how the human mind performs in deadly emergencies!

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the two very pertinent comments.

I, too, have been grabbed from behind and mugged, although as this occurred in a parking lot, I knew that it would be over fast, and that the best bet was probably just to let them have whatever they wanted. I was surprised at how calmly my voice told them, "Take whatever you want."

This took only a few seconds, but it seemed like minutes.