our disposable world of high technology getting ever cheaper
year by year, we feel a lot smarter than our forebears ever
did. We have
access to greater tools and more information in less time.
I was just reading a June 1969 issue of LIFE
magazine and an entrepreneur was talking about creating
terminals that would allow you to ask any question and get
the answer back on your screen, all ready to go by 1975.
It took a lot longer than 1975 to get there, but now
that we've arrived, all of can gloat at the 1969ers or
1975ers for how primitive and uneducated they were.
Scientists can back that belief up to some degree, with what
is known as the Flynn effect.
It has been observed that scores on IQ tests
throughout the world have been going up continuously over
Neisser, author of The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains In IQ
And Related Measures, says that relative to the average
IQ levels of today (100), the average IQ level of the United
States in 1932 was only 80.
Cultural factors aren't the reason.
The IQ improvements are noted with infants and
preschoolers at equal rates to older students and adults
who've already had plenty of time to become acculturated.
Perhaps nutrition and a change in cranial vault size
lead to the improvements, yielding the IQ boost at the very
youngest ages which is then maintained throughout the
More stimulating environments and better schooling
help, too. Even
terrible schools of today would've had to benefit from more
advanced learning materials and techniques compared with
terrible schools of the past.
There appears to be a limit to these gains, however.
In developed nations,
there've actually been decreases.
British fourteen year olds from 2008 scored more than
two points lower than fourteen year olds from 1980.
The young Danish male IQ rose slightly from 1988 to
1998, then decreased until 2004.
So which is it?
Are we progressively getting smarter, dumber, or
reaching a plateau as a population?
tests purport to measure general intelligence, known as the
The g factor is the correlation between the testing of
different types of intelligence --
in verbal skills,
reading, abstract reasoning, math, spatial awareness,
vocabulary, memory, basic knowledge about things.
To be considered highly intelligent, you need not be
a star in all categories.
You could possess a very broad vocabulary but be poor
at math. Nonetheless, the correlative effect seems to
indicate that someone testing high in memory retention is
likelier to have higher math scores, a better vocabulary,
and more knowledge about the general world.
There's been a debate for over a century over whether
heritable factors or environmental ones contribute more to
There's little question environment plays some role.
A child raised in a stimulating environment and
eating nutritious food is going to score higher on an IQ
test than if the child lived in a hostile and malnourished
what's new there?
That's like saying a runner is going to run faster
if he has a better coach and eats a healthier
diet than if he doesn't.
Superior training and tools will always lead to
better results, but only relative to oneself.
Another runner born with a higher VO2 max rate than
you, using the same superior training and tools as you do,
is going to outrun you.
genetics vs environment studies have been performed already.
Siblings brought together through adoption show the
same correlation in IQ as they would to a man on the street,
whereas blood-related siblings display IQ's significantly
more closely related; and identical twins, almost identical
let's leave the nature vs nurture debate out of this
can assume, if you like, that certain environments lead to
smart people or that it's the parental genetic code that
brings it all about.
It won't affect this discussion.
2002, Dr. Richard Lynn wrote the book IQ and the Wealth
His argument is that average national IQ is one significant
factor in the economic growth and wealth of a nation.
High IQ alone doesn't cut it as a wealth indicator,
Mongolia and Norway are both tied for #19 on the list.
Norway is one of the richest countries in the world
and Mongolia the poorest.
Natural resources and the economic system in effect
play a role, too.
as a whole, if you can get past the way Dr. Lynn computes
national IQ's, the nations scoring at the top of the
national IQ heap are all rich ones or quickly developing
nations scoring at the bottom are economic losers.
The rich exceptions in the low IQ realm, like
Botswana or Saudi Arabia, have resources the rest of the
world lusts after.
However you believe intelligence is passed on, either by
environment or heredity, less intelligent and less
successful people and nations produce more offspring than
rich ones. The
negative correlation between fertility and IQ is not a new
Democratic Republic of the Congo has a birth rate of 49.6
(per 1,000 people), Nigeria 39.9, and Equatorial Guinea
respective national average IQ's are 65, 67, and 59.
Compare that with low birth rate Japan (8.3) , South
Korea (9.3), and Hong Kong (7.6) with IQ's of 105, 106, and
107 respectively, the three highest in the world.
You don't have to be good at math to figure out
what's happening. The
dumber poor are massively outbreeding the smarter rich.
illustrate, imagine a classroom taking an examination.
There are ninety-nine students in the classroom to
start with. The
teacher grades the exams and the average score for the class
is 50%. If a
hundredth student is added to the class, for the average
classroom score to rise, this new student must score above
you think of all the globe's nations contributing additional
students to this world classroom based on their relative
population growths, Nigeria, Congo, Equatorial
Guinea and their like-minded brethren will be submitting a helluva lot more students than brainy Korea, Japan, and Hong
Kong. For every
one student Korea adds to the classroom who would improve
overall class averages, Nigeria adds four more below average
time, the raw classroom average keeps falling.
The only way this wouldn't hold true is if
intelligence is purely a random trait, that all people,
regardless of their native intelligence, are equally likely
to produce geniuses or idiots.
No data supports that conclusion.
Heredity and environment each play a role, the exact
amount open to debate, and neither are random.
can scoff at the methodology of the
IQ and the Wealth
of Nations and the whole idea of a national IQ.
I used national IQ's as a simple illustrative device.
They don't affect the conclusions.
Smarter people reproduce less.
That's part of the reason they're smart.
Kids cost time, money,
and energy, and smarter people have more of all with
These falling intelligence levels are hidden from view
because IQ is graded on a bell-shaped distribution curve,
with the median always set to 100 and a standard deviation
(usually) of 15.
But this is all relative, isn't it.
Someone two deviations above the median always has
an IQ of 130, even if on some absolute scale the number may
not mean what it used to.
Doesn't the falling average argument contradict the
aforementioned Flynn effect of IQ scores rising over time?
Think of a test like the Scholastic Aptitude Test
(SAT), the standardized test taken by American high
schoolers for entrance to university.
Aptitude is defined as a natural tendency to
do something well.
It's something you're born with.
In theory, you shouldn't be able to study for the SAT
and improve your score.
Believing this, I took the SAT without preparation two-and-a-half decades
obtained a decent score.
My brother took it a year later and didn't.
He enrolled in an SAT preparation courses and retook
the test six months later and earned a 150 point gain.
Five years later, I took two more standardized
-- the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Graduate
Management Admissions Test (GMAT).
This time I bought preparation books and, on my own,
reviewed them 2 months in advance.
My scores were far, far better than decent this time
around, one hundred points short of perfect on both.
It's been documented that if one takes the same test over
and over again in a narrow time frame, his scores will
always fall within a very narrow range.
These tests do accurately measure something,
whatever that something is.
So how could my brother and I have seen such
improvements if all these tests were aptitude tests?
Because preparation always leads to improvement.
All of us are born with a certain potential. We
may only actualize a percentage of that.
I'm not currently a great tennis player.
If I practice every day for eight hours, I would
invariably become better.
My biggest improvements would come at the beginning,
with only marginal improvements later.
In time, my actualized results would approach my
After a number of months of practice, a professional
tennis coach would be able to judge on the spot whether or
not I was "a natural."
Even with all that practice, the likelihood of me
becoming as good as a Roger Federer or Pete Sampras is near
zero, as evidenced by the fact that just a small percentage
of players ever enter the professional tours.
There's a ceiling, too, on how high on a college entrance
examination or an IQ test one can score.
A dim witted person can study for the SAT or an IQ
test for years.
He'll probably improve a few points, but he'll never score a
deviation above the mean.
My brother's and my first forays into standardized
testing did not yield our full potential. Only some
preparation unleashed it.
that is my point.
People taking IQ tests 80 years ago, due to
nutrition, the educational system, cranial vault size, or
whatever, were not taking those tests at the same unleashed
potential as testers today.
Their results were as accurate as my brother's first
Today's system slightly better activates the abilities that
are measured on these IQ tests.
as the actualization percentage of potential intelligence
has gone up, the numerical value of average potential
intelligence, which has never been truly measured, is
dropping and has been ever since the world's population
exploded after the industrialized era began.
As a whole, we're getting a larger room in the house,
but the overall size of the house is getting smaller.
decline in overall intelligence is almost imperceptible.
Technology brings more tools to more (dumber) people
and skill sets become more specialized.
It is drilled into us to do one thing and do it
right, like Kentucky Fried Chicken. "We do chicken, and we do
it right" one of their old advertisement campaigns chimed.
Modern economics has proved that specialization of
labor makes all the trading parties richer in the long run.
There's no room left for the Renaissance Man, for
what is a Renaissance Man but someone who has potential in a
lot of areas and has actualized it?
stage has changed.
And with its more flattering technological wonders,
we don't realize we've become dumber.
Our wonderful mobile technologies that people just
twenty years ago could only dream about distract us from the
fact that now most of us have attention spans no longer than
Convenient and free to-the-door deliveries distract us from
the fact that most of
the food we consume has very little nutritional value.
Transportation advances and discounted deregulated
airfares distract us from the fact that few of us walk or
exercise at all anymore.
We think technology will take care of us, as most of
us, dumbed down by breeding and by IQ-destroying passive entertainment
(TV, YouTube, 24/7 online gaming), lose the ability to fend