kitchen table math, the sequel: IQs up, verbal intelligence down

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

IQs up, verbal intelligence down

Andrew Gelman on Science, Nature, & Nature Neuroscience:
As Seth points out, the authors write that many of the mistakes appear in "such prominent journals as Science, Nature, and Nature Neuroscience." My impression is that these hypercompetitive journals have a pretty random reviewing process, at least for articles outside of their core competence of laboratory biology. Publication in such journals is taken much more of a seal of approval than it should be, I think. The authors of this article are doing a useful service by pointing this out.

Suspiciously high correlations in brain imaging studies
Coming across this observation was a case of synchronicity, because I had just yesterday put the finishing touches on a citizen's op ed re: technology vs critical thinking, which I was inspired to write after skimming an article in SCIENCE.

Politically speaking, the article, Technology and Informal Education: What Is Taught, What Is Learned, serves my purposes (my purposes being: I'd like my district to stop buying SMART Boards and start assigning lots of good books for homework). But even on a skim-through, I found problems.

Greenfield's most interesting claim, which I believe until I learn otherwise, concerns the famous rise in IQ scores:
In the midst of much press about the decreasing use of the print medium and failing schools, a countervailing trend may come as a surprise: the continuing global rise in IQ performance over more than 100 years. This rise, known as the Flynn effect, is concentrated in nonverbal IQ performance (mainly tested through visual tests) but has also occurred, albeit to a lesser extent, in verbal IQ (1-5).... Increasing levels of formal education and urbanization were particularly important [as causes of the rise in IQ] in the United States and Europe in the first half of the 20th century (9, 10). More recently, technological change may have taken the dominant role. The changing balance of media technologies has led to losses as well as gains. For example, as verbal IQ has risen, verbal SATs have fallen. Paradoxically, omnipresent television may be responsible for the spread of the basic vocabulary (11) that drives verbal IQ scores, while simultaneously the decline in recreational reading may have led to the loss of the more abstract vocabulary driving verbal SAT scores (6, 12, 13).

The changing balance of media technologies has led to losses as well as gains. For example, as verbal IQ has risen, verbal SATs have fallen. Paradoxically, omnipresent television may be responsible for the spread of the basic vocabulary (11) that drives verbal IQ scores, while simultaneously the decline in recreational reading may have led to the loss of the more abstract vocabulary driving verbal SAT scores (6, 12, 13).

Technology and Informal Education: What Is Taught, What Is Learned
by Patricia Greenfield
Science 2 January 2009:
Vol. 323. no. 5910, pp. 69 - 71


In short, it's not "intelligence" that's gone up, it's scores on the visual scales and basic vocabulary.

Verbal intelligence -- that would be the SAT-V kind of intelligence that predicts college success (and, yes, SATs do predict college success) -- is down.

Unfortunately, Greenfield attributes the decline in verbal intelligence to technology, kids, and parents, not schools. Visual media have replaced books at home; therefore kids can't read challenging texts or think because "reading for pleasure" is the key to critical thinking.

So what should the schools do now that kids can't read?

They should stop using books & switch to PowerPoint:

Schools should make more effort to test students using visual media, she said, by asking them to prepare PowerPoint presentations, for example.

"As students spend more time with visual media and less time with print, evaluation methods that include visual media will give a better picture of what they actually know," said Greenfield, who has been using films in her classes since the 1970s.

"By using more visual media, students will process information better," she said.
Talk about the bad becomes normal.

+++++

Number one: I'm aware of no evidence that "reading for pleasure" produces high verbal intelligence scores (though I assume it helps), and I am aware of informal evidence that reading for school is essential.

Number two: you can't teach verbal disciplines by means of pictures. Period. Ed was working on K12 education back when California teachers were attempting to deliver "sheltered instruction" to ELL students. In theory, sheltered instruction involves a number of strategies, but in practice it meant trying to teach language-based disciplines using pictures instead of words. It didn't work.

PLUS, when it comes to PowerPoint, I am as one with Colonel H.R. McMaster (now Brigadier General McMaster):
McMaster is a humanist, with a doctorate in history, who is allergic to the military’s culture of PowerPoint presentations where the jargon and diagrams do the thinking for you. He once told me that if an idea couldn’t be put in paragraph form, it didn’t deserve consideration.
And number three: wtf?

Kids aren't doing any reading outside school so they should do less reading inside school, too?

Gelman is right.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

to the original point,

the scientific community has lost any adversarial or competitive nature that made peer review work. the researchers need a mutual collusion of accepted research publications in order to keep their own work funded and receive tenure. with tenure based on number of publications and number of times those pubs are cited, no one is going to take aim at anyone lest someone take aim at themselves. at this point, at least in my subfield, the field was so small and the journaled works so far behind the conference presentations that there was no secret about who the authors were, and none about who was qualified to review that literature. it was typical for professors to give their grad students the job of reviewing the works. no grad student was going to look hard at a paper of a future employer. in my subfield in grad school, Science and Nature were big journals for publication long after the results had been disseminated to the community at conferences. as a result, there was precious little editing or peer review at that stage. Errors were frequent. and conference results were almost always results worked out two night before the conference, several months after the abstract was accepted for presentation at the conference.

CassyT said...

Hmmm, USA Today says: Study links children's lead levels, SAT scores. A snippet for your reading enjoyment:

"The findings, to be published this winter in the journal Environmental Research, suggest that from 1953 to 2003, the fall and rise of the average SAT math and verbal score has tracked the rise and fall of blood lead levels so closely that half of the change in scores over 50 years, and possibly more, probably is the result of lead, says economist Rick Nevin."

Catherine Johnson said...

Allison --- thanks!

(It's always worse than you think.)

Lead levels.

hmmm.

I'll have to take a look.

My question there is: the math scores went back up but the verbal scores didn't.

Does lead selectively affect SAT-V?

(Actually, I suppose it could, seeing as how the SAT-V test is the harder of the two -- )