Reports yesterday in the international press state that new data proves ‘British teams are getting dumber’ and ‘...have lower IQ scores than a generation ago’. ‘Not so !’ says Professor John Rust, the leading UK academic who originated the data on which the claims are based.
Reports yesterday in the international press state that new data proves ‘British teams are getting dumber' and ‘...have lower IQ scores than a generation ago'.
‘Not so!' says Professor John Rust, the leading UK academic who originated the data on which the claims are based. ‘Across the developed world, IQ gains are naturally leveling out. In some ways we're watching the effects of educational success.'
The headlines are based on a paper by Professor Jim Flynn, a renowned IQ specialist. They conclude that while children's IQ average has increased markedly since 1942, there is a slight decline between the ages of 12-13 and 14-15 since 1979.
‘This is a textbook example of over-interpreting data and taking Jim's comments out of context,' says Rust. ‘ His paper is largely about the effect of nutrition - or rather its non-effect - on IQ as measured by the Ravens Progressive Matrices, a major tests of IQ which my centre restandardised.'
The controversy is set against the backdrop of the ‘Flynn Effect': the well-established fact that IQs have increased so rapidly that genetic factors cannot account for that rise. As Flynn points out, IQ gains reflect access to scientific education. IQ measures just one, albeit an important, aspect of how we go about life: solving problems in a scientific way.
‘The first point to make,' says Rust, 'is that the data just can't be interpreted in that sweeping way. The stories take a small detail and base interpretations on that. There's no significant fall among 11-16 years olds. IQ increases are leveling off here for understood reasons.'
‘Of course, as Jim points out in an interview "there may be something screwy about UK teenagers". But to jump to certainty from a query is wrong. One explanation may be that in the 1970s schools concentrated on the top few percent of students who went to university. Policy now is that 50% of students to go to university. More effort has been put into the mid range, hence the reported fall in IQ among the upper half. But that's a policy issue not the effect of Warhammer or Dr. Who.'
But Professor Rust makes one overwhelming point. ‘Given what they reflect - access to scientific education - IQ gains don't go on for ever. They slow and level out, which is exactly what is going on in the developed world, Scandinavia for instance. In the developing world and among disadvantaged groups IQs rise as people get more educational access. You can see the IQ plateauing as an educational success story.'
And Rust echoes one of Flynn's points: 'Once IQ has leveled out everything isn't rosy. Humans have to develop wisdom, judgement, maturity. We don't find evidence of gains there.'
But is teenage culture lowering intelligence ? ‘At a time when our society is worried about the young it's not surprising computer games and TV are blamed. But you'd suspect - commonsensically - that computer games and puzzles like Sudoku would, in fact, help people develop context-free problem solving skills - exactly what IQ measures.'
‘As a society we really need to interpret research evidence better - particularly numbers. This may mean something; It may not. But it doesn't support prejudices against teenagers and their culture.'
To discuss these issues with Professor John Rust, contact him on +44 (0) 1223 769485 or [email protected] or ring Ian Florance on 07966 509390 to set up a call.
To find out background on The Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge, see http://www.psychometrics.sps.cam.ac.uk/
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