Make yourself smarter

Theoretically, IQ tests are supposed to measure an immutable feature of your personality.  In reality, not so much.  Among the most interesting features, is something called the Flynn effect:

The term Flynn effect refers to the worldwide phenomenon of markedly increasing mean performance on standardized IQ tests over time. Most current IQ tests are designed to have a population mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 at the time they are developed. The mean and standard deviation are set by administering the test to a large group of individuals designed to be representative of the population as a whole (a process referred to as “standardization” or “norming”). However, a growing body of evidence suggests that the mean population performance on IQ tests has improved markedly over the decades since they were first introduced in 1905. Over a period of several years after an IQ test is introduced, the test’s mean of 100 becomes obsolete and IQ scores become elevated overall. Periodic renorming of IQ tests (typically at twelve- to twenty-five-year intervals) have helped mask the magnitude of this IQ increase. To compensate for improvements in performance over time and to ensure that the mean score is 100, individuals in the standardization group for a newer IQ test typically have to answer more (or harder) questions to obtain the same score on the new test as on an older test.

According to today’s IQ Tests, the people of a century ago would’ve been morons.  Interesting!  Anyway, Jonah Lehrer writes about some new research about a particular type of mental challenge that boosts IQ scores:

Can we make ourselves smarter? In recent decades, scientists have accumulated increasing evidence that our intelligence, at least as measured by the IQ test, is sharply constrained by genetics. Although estimates vary, most studies place the heritability of intelligence at somewhere between 50% and 80%. It’s an uncomfortable fact, but not all brains are created equal.

Which is why there’s so much buzz about a forthcoming study that complicates this assumption. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that it’s possible to boost a core feature of human intelligence through a simple mental training exercise.

In fact, when several dozen elementary- and middle-school kids from the Detroit area used this exercise for 15 minutes a day, many showed significant gains on a widely used intelligence test. Most impressive, perhaps, is that these gains persisted for three months, even though the children had stopped training.

It’s all about something called the n-back game.  Here’s an example I quickly found via Google.  It’s hard!  Lehrer’s conclusion:

I also think it’s worth reiterating an important caution raised by Scott Barry Kaufman. Although the IQ test has been widely used for decades, we still have a poor understanding of what it actually measures. As a result, there’s tremendous debate about it’s overall importance and how much of the individual variation in life success IQ scores can explain. (As one scientist told me, “The IQ test matters. It just doesn’t matter as much as people think.”) So I think it’s worth wondering if this significant increase in fluid intelligence will show significant effects out of the lab. Will it actually lead the children to do better on their algebra homework? Will it lead to more productive employees? Will it improve problem-solving across domains? None of those questions have answers.

Just in case, start playing!


On being your child’s friend

Came across this link to a tongue-in-cheek take of being your child’s “friend” via facebook.  Here’s a sampling:

WARNING: Being Friends With Your Child Is Dangerous. Do Not Attempt Under Any Circumstances.

If you choose to defy this warning and attempt friendship with your child, you better brace yourself for one or more of the following:

  1. It will be inconvenient. Friendships sometimes involve having deep conversations at odd hours. Who wants that? You might rather your child go to his same-age friends for the late-night conversations so you can get some rest. Then when you want to know what’s going on with your child, you can just covertly read through his text messages and emails. You will get his thoughts much more succinctly that way, when it’s convenient for you.
  2. You will have to abandon your hopes of perfection, now. True friends don’t try to mold or shape each other. This may involve you accepting your child for who he is. Sounds like a lot of work. You might rather form expectations about who your child should be, and expect him to conform to those. Then you can be angry or disappointed when he can’t or doesn’t want to live up to those.

Yeah, yeah, very nice self justification for being your child’s friend instead of a parent.    Of course one should have a mutually beneficial, supportive, enjoyable, and honest and open relationship with one’s kids, but that should be the case while being a parent.  Parents place limits on their kids for their own good.  Friends, don’t.  Parents recognize that sharing their own emotional baggage with their kids can be bad for the kids; friends are there to listen.  Parent do what they know will be best for their kids even if it makes the kids mad at them; friends don’t.  I could go on, but you get the picture.  Nothing about being a parent suggests you cannot have a warm, loving, mutually respectful relationship with your kids– but that is most definitely not the same as being a friend.

Photo of the day

Friend emailed me this.  Awesome.

Ethanol and the no-tax pledge



As Jonathan Chait (and I think Ezra, but it all starts to blend together after a while), the Republican “no new taxes” pledge is actually a  “no more government revenue ever” pledge.  Yes, that is of course, ludicrous.  As much as I value high-quality journalism from the Post, Times, and a few other sources, the sad truth is that you just don’t see facts like this pointed out by the conventional, mainstream (liberal) media.  I’m really glad that there are so many smart blogs out there that do things like this.  I feel like I’d simply be much more ignorant and not realize it, if not for the really good work of Chait, Yglesias, Klein, Drum, and others.  Anyway, Chait brings up a notable point about the latest move to cut ethanol subsidies:


The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on Coburn’s motion limiting debate on his amendment that would do away with the 45 cent blender tax credit for ethanol — worth about $6 billion this year — and the 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol.

Wait, don’t go to sleep, there’s something going on here. The press coverage doesn’t say so [emphasis mine], but this is actually not about ethanol. It’s about Republican anti-tax dogma.

I wrote about this a few months ago, but for those readers who haven’t committed my blog to memory — shame on you! —  I’ll refresh. Nearly all Republicans have signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is enforced by Grover Norquist. The pledge forbids the signer from approving any increase in tax revenue under any circumstances whatsoever.

Coburn and a handful of Republicans are trying to get around this pledge. Their tactic is to negotiate revenue increases that take the form of closing loopholes and exemptions rather than raising rates. This would clearly violate the Pledge. But Coburn is trying to expose the silliness of the Pledge. He’s holding a vote on eliminating the ethanol subsidy. Now, conservatives oppose the ethanol subsidy. But since the subsidy is a tax credit, then eliminating it is a tax increase, and forbidden by the Pledge.

So Coburn’s goal here is to drive a wedge between conservative doctrine and Norquist’s anti-tax dogma.

Coburn can be a nut, but when it comes to government revenue, he’s about as sensible as Republicans get in the Senate.  More power to him in this fight.  Why is it, Coburn, though, who’s the one exposing the absurdity of the pledge.  Shouldn’t Democrats being doing stuff like this on a regular basis?

Chart of the day

Via Krugman:

And Republicans think that shifting seniors away from Medicare and onto a voucher system whereby they buy private insurance will do something.  Krugman comments:

If Medicare costs had risen as fast as private insurance premiums, it would cost around 40 percent more than it does. If private insurers had done as well as Medicare at controlling costs, insurance would be a lot cheaper.

It’s a mystery why anyone claims that shifting more people into private insurance is a good idea. Actually, no, it isn’t a mystery; it’s an outrage.

It’s no mystery, it’s simply the fact that the modern Republican party is impervious to data, facts, and objective analysis.  Why bother with such silly things when you know the free market is clearly always better.

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