Friday, 24 June 2016



I don’t do policy, but coming back from the swimming pool early in the morning a van plastered with Vote Leave stickers caught my eye, and the organizer standing next to it took up my suggestion that I could help with the final day of the campaign. Those of you who recall my inability to master my postal vote will marvel at my misplaced confidence in taking on a supposedly simple clerical task.

For 6 hours I sat in the corridor leading to the Polling Station collecting Poll Cards after people had voted. The idea is that each campaign ticks off the names of each of their voters and thus identifies those supporters who have not yet cast their vote, then goes round with a car, picks them up and takes them to vote. Anything to win a campaign. My task was to ask voters if they minded handing me their Poll Cards (with names and voting numbers) so that this identification job could be done.

Hence I sat next to a succession of Vote Remain supporters doing the same task for their side. The first Vote Remain lady was Anglo-Argentine, so we discussed Uruguayan beaches together while she taught me how to mark down the names, and outlined the regulations regarding our roles. She, her other Argentine lady friend and I chattered about Uruguay for quite a while. The next Vote Remain teller was civil but a little cooler, and to my mind was often canvassing voters as they went in, which irritated me. Another Vote Remain lady came with chocolate to sustain her colleague and offered me some despite our electoral differences. Finally, as the day wore on a replacement Vote Leave young man showed up, and we had long discussions in which he admitted he was in fact against the free movement of persons, but wanted the free movement only of those with firm job offers. He also, with superior knowledge gained from 3 months with the Remain campaign, said he doubted anyone would bother to chase non-voters because the turnout was so high, so my clerical efforts were very probably futile, a fact I had come to suspect.

Throughout the day there was a civil atmosphere, despite the occasional tension, mostly due to a personality difference with the second lady, who probably did not find me congenial, though she went out of her way to part from me on cordial terms.

The voters deserve a full chapter, but here is a brief sketch. Turnout was very high. The borough has many White British (as they would now be classified), with about 5% of them moving very slowly because of age, and perhaps as much as 1% with wheel chairs and carers. Mostly, although there were a number of young voters, that category looked as if they were dying out. A very few White British came with children, one man explaining to his 7 year old son the instructions for casting a vote, and the nature of the choice.

A separate category of White British were more mobile but rather bewildered working class men and women, who wanted help about where and how to vote. My impression is that they had not done so for many years. They found the process difficult, but wanted to make the effort. Seeing my Vote Leave badge several spoke to me on the way out, often with much emotion, expressing the feeling that they had been ignored, marginalised and taken for granted, and that their history, particularly of war time privation and sacrifice had been forgotten and was of no consequence. They all thought that Vote Leave would lose, and one already expected his vote would be tampered with. They spoke furtively, particularly about the sense of displacement, in an apologetic tone. I became convinced that the London vote was lost, and most probably the national vote  as well, which polls put up to 4 points ahead for Remain.

I greeted various friends, of both Remain and Leave persuasions, and one unknown be-suited man cordially said to me “You are batting for the wrong side”. I had betrayed my class, and was siding with a rough sort of person.

Despite the usually well-to-do profile of the borough quite a number looked relatively poor. At a very rough estimate about 15% of the voters were obviously not European. Many of the women wore headscarves and a few of them full facial black coverings. Almost as if from central casting, one entered with 4 young children. Again, they seemed to be first time voters, civil and polite, mildly amazed at what they were doing.

There is nothing so instructive as meeting a wide selection of people, and hearing their stories. I wished I had recorded some of them. That includes the Remain tellers, who rehearsed their reasons for being of that persuasion, mostly seeking peace in Europe, internationalism and engagement with other countries. The dominant theme for Leave voters was a profound sense of loss.

The day was not without adventures. Dame Maggie Smith handed me her Poll Card, looking every inch her Violet Crawley character in Downton Abbey, though without any catty remarks. Sadly, I did not keep her card, thinking it unseemly. Later that afternoon another lady, who seemed vaguely familiar, came to sit next to me and rest a while and we got chatting. We must have spent 20 minutes covering English history, literature and culture till I finally told her she ought to go in and cast her vote. When she had done so she came out, handed me her card, flashed me a smile and said “I voted Communist”.

After 43 years the United Kingdom left the European Union and the Prime Minister tendered his resignation.

Dear Dame Diana Rigg, I am so very sorry I could not put a name to you until today, but I was in love with you in The Avengers, and next time you vote please come and sit with me again.



Tuesday, 21 June 2016

China getting duller, perhaps


Without knowing much about it, I assumed that China was bright and getting brighter, if only because bright and wealthy Chinese found a way round the One Child policy in order to have two children, thus achieving a eugenics program on the sly.

However, I have now to revise my vague surmise on the basis of some hard facts. It appear that there has been dysgenic fertility in China for both intelligence and educational attainment between the 1960s and the mid-1980s, and the decline owing to dysgenic fertility came out to .31 points per decade between 1986 and 2000.

This is not an enormous amount compared with the positive Flynn effect, if one can rely on that, but as an underlying trend it is worrying.


Mingrui Wang, John Fuerst, Jianjun Ren. Evidence of dysgenic fertility in China. Intelligence 57 (2016) 15-24.

The authors say:

The relationship between fertility, intelligence, and education was examined in China using a large sample sourced from the population-representative China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) dataset. For the 1951–1970 birth cohort, the correlation between fertility and gf was−.10. The strength of recent selection against gf in China substantially increased between the 1960s and the mid-1980s. Later (between 1986 and 2000), the speed of decline in gf due to selection stabilized at about .31 points per decade with a slightly downward trend. The total loss from 1971 to 2000 due to dysgenic fertility is estimated to be .75 points. A negative relationship between educational attainment and fertility was additionally found. Both negative relations were stronger for women.


The authors first examine the dysgenic argument:

In modern times, mortality rates have been reduced as a result of improvements in public health, nutrition, and the control of infectious diseases (Lynn, 2011). As a result, selection against deleterious mutations  has been relaxed. Additionally, in many societies, individuals with lower levels of intelligence and education have begun to reproduce at higher rates than those with higher levels of these traits. Due to a reversal of selection for socially important traits such as intelligence, genes promoting these traits may decline. This phenomenon is termed dysgenics. Intelligence has been found to influence many outcomes both on the individual and societal levels.

Taking data from the China Family Panel study and the cognitive tests used in 2012 were composed of two word memorization tests and a number series test, both of which measure gf. Short term memory ability, in particular, has been found to be moderately to highly correlated with gf. However, this is hardly a broad band assessment of cognitive ability.

China dysgenisis table 2

There is a general downward drift, though the rate of fall appears to be reducing


China dysgenisis fig 1

The authors are very cautious about their findings, making it clear in their discussion that there could be a recent increase in ability, and outlining possible confounding variables, including the urban/rural balance (moving to the cities, citizens become richer and have fewer children), iodine supplementation, selective migration to cities of brighter citizens, more participation in testing by brighter citizens, selective migration of the very brightest citizens to the outside world, and finally the actual operation of the One Child policy, which was more lax in rural areas, particularly if the first born was a girl. However, dysgenesis is even more evident in Taiwan, not affected by the One Child policy.

This is a very interesting paper, taking a cautious and detailed approach to its topic, and the discussion section is well worth reading on its own as an example of the many factors which can complicate the interpretation of these types of data.


Monday, 20 June 2016

Intimate violence

My first contact with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, was when I heard of a researcher there who had attempted to correct the meme “More Vietnam vets died of suicide than died in Vietnam” by showing that the original calculation was a projection based on early results which turned out to be wrong: Vietnam vets showed a high rate mostly because they were young men, and pretty soon as they aged the suicide rates were no different from men in the general population. I do not know what became of the researcher, but I fear he battles on in retirement, writing to journalists every time the mistaken calculation is repeated. If you know him, send him my regards.

The CDC has now done work on intimate violence, and also published the results by sexual orientation, results I quoted when discussing the case of a lesbian couple who murdered the son of one of the pair, but it has wider relevance, including for the massacre in a gay club in Orlando.

Here are the summary results:

Violence by sexual orientation of partner

On its own the table tells a particular story: bisexual women experience lots of violence, as do lesbians, then to a lesser extent bisexual men, male and female heterosexuals, and least so gay men. As a reality check, this measurement technique puts the lifetime prevalence of violence for heterosexual women at 35% which is very high, in my view. The publication gives the results under the different categories of violence, and severe violence is rare.

That is the snapshot of the victims, but the perpetrator profile is almost universally male, with the exception of lesbian couples.

Among women who experienced  rape, physical violence, and/or stalking in the context of an intimate relationship, the majority of bisexual and heterosexual women (89.5% and 98.7%, respectively) reported only male perpetrators (data not shown). More than two-thirds of lesbian women (67.4%) identified only female perpetrators.

One interpretation is that lesbians are masculinized women and therefore violent; homosexuals are feminized men and therefore docile.

Now a gripe about how CDC present their data: clunky, pedestrian, and confusing. The first impression is that the partners did the aggressing, and one has to look at the data in more detail to find that in bisexual couples, for example, it is mostly the men who have been violent. What I want to see is on the left hand side of the picture the violence experienced, and the male/female perpetrator rate on the right hand side. This approach has been used in opinion polls to simultaneously show how each sector of the population intends to vote (left hand side) and how likely they are to vote at all (right hand side), with a ribbon connecting each.

In general men are more violent than women. In intimate relationships most of the violence comes from men. The exception is lesbians, who are responsible for two thirds of the violence they experience, the final third coming from men. Gay men, who on the grounds of being male ought to be very violent to each other are the least violent pairing. Lesbians as masculine women and gays as feminised men is one possible interpretation.





Saturday, 18 June 2016

Explaining murder


At first the news was very confused, just that a woman Member of Parliament had been shot and stabbed by a lone man. The cab driver had an immediate explanation: “He’ll turn out to be a bloke who hasn’t taken his meds”.

Other commentators were somewhat more circumspect but, as is the modern way, a picture quickly emerged of the perpetrator: a socially isolated, unemployed, reportedly kindly man who helped elderly neighbours, with former or current right wing political views. There was no mention of previous violence. Within a day there was some evidence of earlier far right links, other reports of his being a recluse, and then an account of his calling in at a clinic the day before the murder, saying that he had walked past it for five years without having the courage to come in for treatment. In a brief 15 minute discussion he complained of long-term depression, and was offered an appointment for later that week. A very reasonable response, in my view.

Most of the coverage, quite properly, was on the person who had been doing the usual thing, in this case the MP meeting constituents at her political surgery. Her work, her character, and her brief political career were celebrated respectfully. Political campaigning was suspended for some days, though on the basis of what we learned about her wish for strong political engagement she probably would not have wanted that.

Public curiosity, of course, latches on to the person who did the unusual thing, murdering another person. The public want explanations, and fast. It would be sensible to avoid a rush to judgment, but probably futile and even wrong: data pours in quickly now, as social networks commonly report the real facts very quickly: the perpetrator’s name (“named locally”, as the media say, cautiously and somewhat disdainfully) is quickly found, and local witness and neighbours give their impressions. We need to be Bayesian about the torrent of information. Some of what is said will turn out to be wrong, but most of it is highly informative. Nowadays the basis of the “why did they do it?” case is assembled very quickly, and possibly 80% of what we will know as members of the public will be known within a week. Left outside the picture will be the mental health records, the bread and butter of clinical work, those bulging files which lay out the progression of troubled lives.

Years ago a psychiatrist friend of mine gave instructions about the management of a particular locked-ward schizophrenic in-patient which were not followed, and he murdered a passer-by in a London park. She was pursued in an enquiry, and heavily criticized. The specifics of the case lead to a larger issue, which is how much compulsion on psychiatric patients should be applied in order to protect the public. In the jargon, what we need to know are the Numbers Needed to Treat, and the Numbers Needed to Harm. Many psychiatrists say that the numbers needed to treat are impossibly high, and that many people would be on forced medication in order to prevent one murderous event. Perhaps so, though that might be improved with better diagnostic techniques, and the downsides of taking medication are less than the downside of being murdered. 

Since the UK murder rate is 1 per 100,000 (actually 14 per million) it is clear that with 4 MPs murdered since 1979 out of 650 per year, the rate is sky high above the population average. If one doubles the number to include a parliamentary aide for every member of parliament, then at 4 MPs plus 1 Parliamentary Assistant murdered per 1300 the rate is even higher. The perpetrators’ backgrounds are shown below.

2016 murder of MP Jo Cox by probable British Nationalist.

2010 attempted murder of MP Stephen Timms by Bengali Islamist woman (no mental illness defence).

2000 MP Nigel Jones stabbed, aide Andrew Pennington murdered by British male judged mentally unfit to stand trial.

1990 MP Ian Gow murdered by Irish Republicans

1984 MP Sir Anthony Berry murdered by Irish Republicans

1979 MP Airey Neave murdered by Irish Republicans

Personally, I would not jump to conclusions about these backgrounds, other than to say that political justifications are prominent, as one might expect if political representatives are the target, with mental illness a contributing factor for the lone operators.  Also, the backgrounds should be compared with population figures to detect over-representation of any particular classification. Furthermore, in looking at apparently conflicting descriptions, it should be remembered that people are multi-faceted, and can be good with dogs whilst running death camps; helpful to elderly neighbours while hating politicians; mild and retiring most of the time and enraged in specific circumstances. Public behaviours are less informative than private readings and writings.

Politics as normal resumes tomorrow.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Postcodes and schizophrenia


The geography of illness has never entirely convinced me, because people move about. So, finding an excess of some disorders in sunny coastal locations may have nothing to do with the local rocks, soils and water courses, and everything to do with pensioners retiring to sea-side resorts.

Humans are difficult to study, not only because they move about, but  because they forget things; tell little and big lies; promise to take their tablets and to avoid salt, sugar and random sex but then do nothing else; won’t take part in studies, or take part and then drop out; change addresses and sometimes surnames; leave the country and then come back again; and all these foibles are exacerbated if they are mentally distressed and cannot keep track of things.

What is one to make of the finding that bad neighbourhoods have a larger than usual number of schizophrenic patients, or that studies of schizophrenic patients find that they often live in poor neighbourhoods? One interpretation is clear: that as their condition worsens they drop down the social hierarchy. The other interpretation is that bad living circumstances either create or worsen their condition. As usual, both interpretations have their adherents.

Into this dispute steps Amir Sariaslan and colleagues, marshalling enormous datasets with familiar aplomb to conclude that…… the diagnosis precedes the fall, and 65% of the effect is heritable. That is to say, that a range of heritable characteristics in the general population (including schizophrenia and also cognitive impairment) accounts for 65% of the effect of ending up in a poor neighbourhood.

A Sariaslan, S Fazel, B M D'Onofrio, N Långström, H Larsson, S E Bergen, R Kuja-Halkola and P Lichtenstein

Schizophrenia and subsequent neighbourhood deprivation: revisiting the social drift hypothesis using population, twin and molecular genetic data

Translational Psychiatry (2016) 6, e796; doi:10.1038/tp.2016.62
Published online 3 May 2016

Neighbourhood influences in the aetiology of schizophrenia have been emphasized in a number of systematic reviews, but causality remains uncertain. To test the social drift hypothesis, we used three complementary genetically informed Swedish cohorts. First, we used nationwide Swedish data on approximately 760 000 full- and half-sibling pairs born between 1951 and 1974 and quantitative genetic models to study genetic and environmental influences on the overlap between schizophrenia in young adulthood and subsequent residence in socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods. Schizophrenia diagnoses were ascertained using the National Patient Registry. Second, we tested the overlap between childhood psychotic experiences and neighbourhood deprivation in early adulthood in the longitudinal Twin Study of Child and Adolescent Development (TCHAD; n=2960). Third, we investigated to what extent polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia predicted residence in deprived neighbourhoods during late adulthood using the TwinGene sample (n=6796). Sibling data suggested that living in deprived neighbourhoods was substantially heritable; 65% (95% confidence interval (95% CI): 60–71%) of the variance was attributed to genetic influences. Although the correlation between schizophrenia and neighbourhood deprivation was moderate in magnitude (r=0.22; 95% CI: 0.20–0.24), it was entirely explained by genetic influences. We replicated these findings in the TCHAD sample. Moreover, the association between polygenic risk for schizophrenia and neighbourhood deprivation was statistically significant (R2=0.15%, P=0.002). Our findings are primarily consistent with a genetic selection interpretation where genetic liability for schizophrenia also predicts subsequent residence in socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods. Previous studies may have overemphasized the relative importance of environmental influences in the social drift of schizophrenia patients. Clinical and policy interventions will therefore benefit from the future identification of potentially causal pathways between different dimensions of cognitive functions and socioeconomic trajectories derived from studies adopting family-based research designs.


Schizo and poor neighbourhood

The study confirms in considerable detail what I had always regarded as highly likely, simply from observation of the the life course of schizophrenia, namely that as the condition progresses then sufferers are less able to make any contribution, and fall in their living circumstances. Second, yet another study shows that shared environmental influences are either zero or fairly small, which goes against the whole environmentalist creed, which I for one had always assumed was a reasonable explanation for the non-inherited chunk of the variance. The reality seems to be that things are for the most part inherited + random/unique. Here is table 3 ranked by additive genetic influence:

Psychotic experiences .90

Schizophrenia              .73

Deprivation                  .41 - .65

Having psychotic experiences is very highly heritable; having the diagnosis of of schizophrenia also highly heritable; and ending up into a deprived neighbourhood also is heritable.

This paper ought to be seen as a definitive finding, although of course no finding is the final word. It will be interesting to see whether it is accepted within the social sciences as being the strongest contemporary explanation for why people end up in bad neighbourhoods.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Why did they do it?


In the 1970s the British Psychological Society, after much soul searching, decided that it would engage with the Fourth Estate, a term attributed to Edmund Burke in a 1787 debate on the first Press reporting of Parliament. The distaste shown by Parliamentarians for reporters had not diminished in genteel circles two centuries later, and many psychologists looked on the Press Committee as the embodiment of a lamentable lapse in standards, a headlong rush into simplistic pandering to the mob.

Undaunted, a group of reformist psychologists began to learn the arts of the Press Release, and a few carefully selected quality press journalists began appearing at annual conferences, reporting on chosen papers. My first encounter was in 1975 when I gave a paper on training medical students to interview patients, and got some press coverage and a BBC Radio 4 interview. Not only was this my first ever interview, but also the first time the British Psychological Society officer had ever seen a radio interview conducted, so she came to the studio with me, just for the experience.

In that session I learned the basics: the apparent instant camaraderie between interviewer and talking head, as if they were old friends chatting together about a topic of mutual interest; the skilful introduction of the basic issues by the interviewer, which set the scene and teed up the audience interest; the need for absolute simplicity in giving answers; and then the final playful sucker punch of the well-briefed interviewer, picking a minor finding to spring a question which showed the audience he knew the details of the research and could challenge the expert. At the end of the interview the radio show host came back on a direct line to say cheerily “That went very well” so I felt I had done my public duty, and launched my media career. The next interview turned up 5 years later.

After that TV interview in 1980 things picked up a bit, and the British Psychological Society’s investment in understanding the needs of journalists gave psychology far greater visibility. Even the diehards were convinced it would boost public understanding, and probably help raise if not awareness, at least research funding.

Even now I still get the odd request for a radio or television interview, which allows me to set you a task: suppose you get a request to explain why two women have murdered one of the women’s young sons. I got such a request, and immediately replied that I could not give a full answer to the big question: why did they do it? However, I could suggest some contributory factors. I outlined a few, and although I was already looking up the case, I asked to be sent a link to the story.

Here is that article on the Liam Fee case;

Use this link as a stimulus and your own knowledge and research to work out what to say, and send me very brief key points. At most you will be able to mention a few pieces of research, and will have to take your chances with replies to some very general but pointed questions. Usually you will get about 4 minutes, and 5 if things are going well.

Then, and this is only one possible approach, and certainly not a model answer, but just a quick reply based on some old data and one new reference, here is what I said:

The interview starts at 01:13:12 and ends at 01:24:10 which at 11 minutes is probably one of the longest radio interviews I have ever done. However, it was local radio, and they have more time.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Voting as an IQ test


This morning I voted by post in the Referendum election. At least, that was my intention. Instead, I may have sent myself a stamped addressed envelope with my ballot inside it, which will arrive back home through the post in a few days time.

Leaving aside for a moment the psychological and quasi-intellectual reasons for the way I voted in terms of Remaining or Leaving the European Union, I’d like to discuss the way I voted in terms of the intellectual process of filling in the forms correctly, and placing them in the correct envelopes. As you know, I find these tasks difficult.

First, a confession. At a previous election I filled in the forms without looking at the instructions (instructions are for wimps) and had already half torn up the many redundant forms and envelopes before I realised that the process had been so badly designed that doing it my intended intuitive, logical way would lead to my ballot paper being rejected. I had to read the instructions several times, then sticky tape together a discarded envelope and get everything into the absurd but required format so I could post it off properly.

The ballot paper comes with a set of instructions written on one side of a ballot sized white paper, and further written instructions and diagrams on the other  side. Also in the pack is an envelope A and and envelope B, and also a double folded ballot sized page with a Postal Voting Statement and a Ballot Paper. These last two are joined together, but must be torn asunder, so it seems, if I can understand the instructions.


I have a high regard for the mental abilities of my readers, and assume that you have been following all this carefully. What I have to do is to fill in the Postal Voting Statement (not shown), which is quite easy, because it requires only the filling in of one’s date of birth, and a signature. The attached bottom part is the Ballot Paper (not shown), and that too is very simple, in that it requires simply a cross next to Remain or Leave.

There is a tendency, task completed, to put the folded page into any one of the envelopes with the correct address showing, and send the whole thing off. Error. For no stated reason, the ballot paper has to be put into Envelope A with no address showing, and the Postal Voting Statement into Envelope B together with Envelope A, with the electoral office address showing. This is very odd, because one perfectly good envelope is being put into another envelope, when it is clear that one would be enough.

Call me pedantic, or merely stupid, but the instructions do not make it clear why I am going through this palaver. I want to use a postal ballot because I want to stick my vote in an envelope, because I may not be able to get to the physical voting place on the particular date of the election. Simplicity is what I am after.

How does envelope A relate to envelope B? Why must I detach two related pages which make more sense stuck together, exactly as received, since it says who I am and what my vote is? Why am I given two pages of instructions just to put a piece of paper in an envelope?  Furthermore, why does my vote require steps A, B, C, D and how do these steps relate to Envelopes A and B? Could the steps be 1, 2, 3, 4 and the envelopes C and D? Furthermore, admiring Edward Tufte as I do, shouldn’t I look at the instructions in the light of his dictum “For non-data-ink, less is more” and re-write the whole damn thing?

Here is my attempt. The key is to describe the postal voting process in terms of voting in person. Voters receive a Poll Card sent to them by post. On election day they go to the polling station, usually taking their Poll Card with them. (If they forget their Poll Card they give their names and addresses to the electoral officers). Their names are ticked off the electoral list and they are given their Ballot Paper which they mark in secret and put into a ballot box. In this way their vote is secret, but the fact that they voted is vetted by the electoral officers, who check that they are allowed to vote, and vote only once.

The postal vote instructions should follow the same sequence and nomenclature. The envelopes should be called Ballot Box and Returning Envelope respectively. The Ballot Paper and the Ballot Box envelope should be the same colour, say brown. The Returning Letter and the Returning Envelope should be the same colour, say white.

Then the instructions are simple: Mark your cross on the Ballot Paper and put it into the Ballot Box envelope and seal it. Put that envelope into the Returning Envelope with your Returning Letter with the electoral address showing, seal it and post it.

There will be a few bits and pieces to add, but these need to be kept very short.

I predict that making these changes would reduce errors in postal votes, and would reduce the number of postal voters requiring help from others to fill in their forms, a step might leave them open to undue influence and corruption. Voting is an IQ test, and the postal vote process requires a higher IQ than voting in person. I would estimate that understanding these instructions requires an intelligence of roughly IQ 100  thus effectively disenfranchising 50% of the general population, and 84% of any population with an average intelligence of IQ 85.  Perhaps setting the pass mark at IQ 100 is too harsh. Perhaps IQ 90 would be enough, in which case 75% of the general population can vote, though 25% cannot do the task without help. In the low ability group of average IQ 85 37% will be able to vote on their own, 63% will fail, or require help.

A very good study of the ability to use in person automated voting systems in the US was conducted by La Griffe du Lion in January 2001, who showed that the intellectual demands of particular voting systems selectively disenfranchised low ability citizens. This was the famous “dangling chad” episode which paralyzed the presidential electoral process. La Griffe used the method of thresholds to calculate the IQ required for every in-person voting system.

I would need to see the actual requirements of the most difficult system to use, the Sequoia Pacific in order to compare it with the Postal Voting system I received. The language in the postal voting instructions is reasonably easy, so it should be readable, though the instructions are very long, and as discussed lack any explanatory logic. It is hard to be sure what level is required for the postal ballot, but it seems a harder task than voting in person, mostly because of the confusion about envelopes. On the other hand, the instructions have a good picture of a post box, so that is a help.

Of course, all this raises moral and political issues. On the basis of one-person-one-vote, then all voting systems should be capable of being used by even the dullest citizens. Complicated systems are unfair.  Conversely, it could be argued that if a citizen cannot understand a relatively simple voting system then they cannot understand the greater complexity of governance, and should be kept away from decision-making about policy, simply as a prudent precaution in the national interest, and certainly in their own interest, given their diminished responsibility. Complicated systems serve as a discreet check on the incompetent, and are effective political quality control mechanisms for the greater good.

On reflection, perhaps my well meaning attempt to simplify postal voting will lead to the political triumph of the dull. I leave it up to you whether you circulate these calculations to the general public.

Vote early, vote often.



Thursday, 2 June 2016

Some characteristics of eminent persons


Although it is my fond hope that “Psychological Comments” is becoming widely known, at least in the highly discerning circles inhabited by my distinguished readers, I sometimes wonder whether it would have been more accurate to call it “Supplementary Annexes”. As you will discern, I am not good at dreaming up best-selling brand names. However, the answer to interesting questions about scientific findings are often buried in supplementary annexes. The authors are not to be blamed for space limitations, though sometimes important matters are consigned to dark corners, and readers have to dig a little.

Who are the eminent persons who get very high scores at age 13 on tests which most 18 year olds find very difficult?

Here is the relevant table S1 in Supplementary Annex 1 to the paper by Makel et al. described in my previous posting.

Demography of eminence

First, as regards the sex ratio, in the TIP sample we have 215 men to 44 women, and in the SMPY sample 253 men to 67 women, so 81% of the overall sample are male, and 19% women, and the sex ratio is 468:111 or 4.22 to 1.

My view on this finding is that:

1) According to the Lynn hypothesis, males are late developers, so at 13 years of age sex differences in ability should be very small, but in maturity there will be a 4 IQ point male advantage. It would be good to look at the Verbal versus Maths scores (probably to be found in previous publications by these same authors) but in this case the male advantage is already evident at age 13.

2) Overall sex differences of this magnitude are closest to what we get by assuming that Males are IQ 102(15) and Females  IQ 98(14) and assuming that the cut-off is IQ140. At this level 0.56% of men make the cut and 0.13% of women: the sex ratio is 4.18. That means that 81% of bright people will be men. This is a good match with these actual results.

However, it is pretty clear that these particular students are in the top 1 in 10,000, so the IQ equivalent is 155. At that level, to get a 4.2 sex ratio we get closest by assuming Males are IQ101(15) and Females IQ100(14). The issue of sex differences is not perfectly resolvable at the moment, because neither of these two talent searches will have found all the bright persons at that age (though I bet they will have found most of them), and the population of Scottish 11 year old shows an actual 8 to 1 sex ratio for the top scorers. However, the Scottish population data is a population N which takes precedence over a sample s. Nevertheless, both are highly informative

The data on ethnicity are rather sparse, but we can do a little bit of work on them by looking at US Census figures for the 1970s when most of these children were born.

White 178,119,221      Eminents 418         Rate  .0000023467

Black   22,539,362     Eminents None stated.

Asian    1,526,401     Eminents 126          Rate .000082549

So, in the absence of more detailed particulars about the Other category, Asians win the race by a country mile. If we simplify things by considering only Whites, Blacks and Asians the US in 1970 then the country at that time was 88% White, 11% Black, and less than 1% Asian. The actual results of eminent students are 77% White, 0% Black, 22% Asian. No need for a Chi square.

In terms of eminence, Whites are somewhat under-represented, Blacks massively under-represented, Asians massively over-represented. We would need more detail about ethnic groupings before refining these numbers, but it is clear that some groups are far brighter than others, as intelligence testing reveals.

Another approach is to use the visualizer, putting Asians at IQ 106 (15) and Whites at IQ 100 (15) and the cut-off at IQ155. Then Asians achieve eminence 4.4 times more often than Whites.

Putting Blacks at IQ 85(15) against Whites IQ 100(15) then Whites achieve the eminence level 355 times more often. If we put Black IQ at 90 then Whites achieve the eminence level 74 times more often.

In general terms, the study of eminent minds identified at age 13 reveals significant male advantage, consistent with greater male variance and probably with somewhat higher male intelligence, though not conclusively. The study also reveals highly significant Asian advantage over Caucasians, consistent with higher intelligence, and Caucasian advantage over Africans, as revealed by intelligence testing.




Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The comparative advantage of eminence


No sooner do I post a little meditation on the sex ratio of superior minds, taking the metric up to the absurdly high levels of IQ 155, than onto my metaphorical desk plonks a paper by David Lubinski and colleagues on two large samples of these very same very bright persons, paragons of problem-solving, front runners of intellect, those who through the vivid force of their minds prevail and fare forth far beyond the flaming ramparts of the heavens and traverse the boundless universe in thought and mind, and in a short space like runners carry the torch of civilization ever forwards.

Truly is the blogger’s lot a happy one, with so many contributions to ponder in the quiet precincts which are well protected by the teachings of the wise. Even Lucretius would have been excited.

When Lightning Strikes Twice: Profoundly Gifted, Profoundly Accomplished. Matthew C. Makel, Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, Martha Putallaz, and Camilla P. Benbow

Psychological Science 1–15  2016
DOI: 10.1177/0956797616644735


The educational, occupational, and creative accomplishments of the profoundly gifted participants (IQs > 160) in the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) are astounding, but are they representative of equally able 12-year-olds? Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) identified 259 young adolescents who were equally gifted. By age 40, their life accomplishments also were extraordinary: Thirty-seven percent had earned doctorates, 7.5% had achieved academic tenure (4.3% at research-intensive universities), and 9% held patents; many were high level leaders in major organizations. As was the case for the SMPY sample before them, differential ability strengths predicted their contrasting and eventual developmental trajectories—even though essentially all participants possessed both mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities far superior to those of typical Ph.D. recipients. Individuals, even profoundly gifted ones, primarily do what they are best at. Differences in ability patterns, like differences in interests, guide development along different paths, but ability level, coupled with commitment, determines whether and the extent to which noteworthy accomplishments are reached if opportunity presents itself.

First, let us get a grip on who these people are: they are the brightest in 10,000 persons. Eminent minds, Galton called them. If our tests are valid they should go on to a lifetime of intellectual achievements. If our tests are arbitrary, partial, narrow and invalid then their lives will be no different from the average person, possibly worse, as they will be enmeshed in useless analytic ponderings, and lack multiple intelligence, emotional intelligence, everyday intelligence, street smarts and common sense. They will be freaks, basket cases, quivering incompetent wrecks cowering in the far reaches of sanatoria and liberal arts departments.

The paper begins with a striking sentence, unusual in any part of an academic paper:

Extraordinary economies are created by extraordinary minds. More than ever, the strength of countries and their competitiveness depends on exceptional human capital (Friedman, 2007; National Science Board, 2010). This leads to the question: Is it possible to identify those individuals who possess this exceptional human capital early in their lives so that their talents can be fostered for the good of society as well as their own?

The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY; Lubinski & Benbow, 2006), Kell, Lubinski, and Benbow (2013) tracked the educational, occupational, and creative accomplishments of 320 youths assessed before age 13 as being in the top 1 in 10,000 in mathematical or verbal reasoning ability (or both). They were identified through talent searches using above-level assessments (I.e. mathematical and verbal reasoning measures designed for college-bound high school seniors). By age 38, the magnitude of their creativity, occupational success, and professional stature was astonishing. Specifically, over the course of 25 years, the individuals who had been identified by SMPY before age 13 accomplished the following: Forty-four percent had obtained doctoral degrees, 7.5% had secured academic tenure at research-intensive universities, and 15% held one or more patents (Kell, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2013).
Several were highly successful vice presidents, partners, and department heads in the corporate sector or in the field of law, medicine, or information technology. Yet, even though essentially all participants possessed quantitative and verbal reasoning abilities far superior to those of typical Ph.D. recipients (Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009), different patterns of profound intellectual talent uncovered in their youth were predictive of qualitatively different educational, occupational, and creative outcomes.

To be sure, other things (e.g., commitment, interests, opportunity), clearly mattered (Lubinski & Benbow, 2000, 2006; Simonton, 2014). Nonetheless, participants seemed to prefer to, and did, develop their talents in those areas in which they displayed the highest potential. The policy implications for developing human capital across the life span and for biosocial research are evident and range from calibrating expectations for educational interventions (Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius, & Worrell, 2011) to illuminating phenotypes for neuroscientific inquiry into human cognition (Jung & Haier, 2007).

Convincing as this is, a replication is always desirable. This was provided by another similar talent spotting program.

The  Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP; Putallaz, Baldwin, & Selph, 2005) began conducting annual above-level assessments on 10s of thousands of intellectually talented youth in 1981 and, thus, affords the opportunity to satisfy all the methodological requirements to evaluate the generalizability of the SMPY findings (Kell, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2013). The present study, a collaboration between SMPY and Duke TIP, was designed to determine if an independent sample of equally able young adolescents would yield results conceptually equivalent to the two general findings for the SMPY sample: Specifically, we examined whether (a) the magnitude of the educational, occupational, and creative accomplishments of the SMPY sample would be commensurate with that of the TIP sample, and (b) whether patterns of mathematical and verbal abilities would have the same potency in predicting qualitatively different accomplishments over time in the TIP sample as they had in the SMPY sample. Would lightning strike twice?

The authors put the two studies together, using a common framework of achievements in the educational, occupational and creative spheres, and depicting them by the technique of astronomical blinking. There! Just after saying in a previous post that the best ever statistical depiction is Minard’s map of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, here is a new technique. By looking in quick succession at pictures of the stars in the heavens at different times, differences and apparent movement can be detected. Actually, not that new. Photo reconnaissance used stereoscopic techniques to identify unusual military targets in 1912.

Having whetted your appetite, let me keep up suspense by first showing you two bog-standard tables revealing that the achievements of these two groups are remarkable similar.

Achievements of bright people

These people have done well, as I imagine have many of my readers, who will be able to match them on many of these accomplishments.  However, within this bright bunch, some particularly eminent minds have done even better. Looking at the list in in Table 2 I think it will be harder for most of us to match these or comparable accomplishments.

Outlying achievements of bright people

Now, as trailed above, here is one example of astronomical blinking, in this case the occupational accomplishments of the two samples compared in the same statistical skies.

Occupations of very bright persons

Verbal abilities are on the ordinate, mathematical abilities on abscissa.

One reason for presenting these plots is to highlight the vast amount of psychological diversity reliably found among young adolescents selected for an extreme specific ability. They vary in psychologically meaningful ways not only on the measure on which they were selected but also on other specific ability measures on which they were not selected. For example, consider the participants scoring 700 or above on the SAT-Math. Some have SAT-Verbal scores that are even more impressive, whereas others have SAT-Verbal scores that are “merely” around the cut-off for the top 1% (I.e., just under 400) in verbal reasoning ability. But do these differences matter for important life outcomes? This question is answered empirically and in the affirmative by examining the outcomes.

Salient clusters reliably emerged within and across time, revealing that individuals with profound intellectual talent tend to gravitate toward domains congruent with their intellectual strengths. At all three time points, impressive and rare outcomes in the arts and humanities were much more likely to emerge in the northwest quadrant within the Cartesian coordinate panel than in the other quadrants; that is, these accomplishments were found primarily among participants whose SAT-Verbal scores were higher than their SAT-Math scores. Conversely, impressive and rare science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outcomes were found primarily among participants whose SAT-Math scores were higher than their SAT-Verbal scores. Law degrees, careers in law, and creative accomplishments in this field (I.e., legal publications) occupied an intermediate location within the space defined by these dimensions.

Accomplishments of a profoundly gifted sample of 259 individuals identified by Duke TIP at age 13 and tracked over three decades (Tables 1–5) are consistent with the extraordinary occupational and creative outcomes
observed earlier in an independent sample of 320 of their
intellectual peers identified at a similar age and followed
up through age 38 by SMPY (see Tables 1–3 in Kell,
Lubinski, & Benbow, 2013). In addition, we observed
coherent cross-sample qualitative differences in graduate
degrees, occupations, and creative accomplishments as a
function of distinct ability patterns identified by age 13
(Figs. 2–4). In short, the SMPY results were replicated, and thus, these findings have important implications for
the biosocial sciences and policy. It is possible to identify,
at an early age, rare human capital that is needed to
move society forward in multiple ways, which are differentially predictable.

Selecting the top 0.01% in ability identified an inordinate
number of future innovators, corporate leaders, and builders
of modern economies. They were “discovered” because
above-level (developmentally appropriate) and sufficiently
challenging intellectual assessments were used for these

A summary first, then a digression. In summary, you can spot exceptional minds early, if you bother to test for them. Verbal and mathematical tests provide powerful predictors. Adding spatial tests (done for some of them in later testing) assists in getting even better predictions. There is no upper limit after which additional smarts make no contribution. On the contrary, every increase in ability, like additional height in a basketball player, adds to achievement in life. Very bright people contribute a lot to society.

My digression is to note that although a simple explanation for the different directions these very bright people take in their occupations is that they play to their strengths, the observed differentiation is similar to the patterns of international trade as noted by Ricardo in his theory of comparative advantage. Ricardo sought to explain why a country like England which in 1817 could produce many things more efficiently than most other countries (such as Portugal) still bothered to trade with them. Similarly, why do very bright people, very much better at virtually all intellectual tasks than most people, still bother to specialise in only one of their manifold talents? Applying Ricardo’s theory to these very bright people, if any two eminent minds capable of producing two products, say Words and Sums, engage in a free market then each eminent mind can increase their overall consumption by selling the good for which they have comparative advantage while buying the other good, provided there are differences in productivity between both eminent minds. Bright people who are better at words will do wordy work, even though they are very much better than 9,999 other people at Maths. It is comparative advantage rather than absolute advantage that is responsible for intellectual specialisation and the trading of intellectual products.

I digress. Must concentrate on something patentable.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Never march on Moscow, not in winter anyway


March on Moscow

A reader requests a classic map by Minard, popularized by Tufte, depicting the overleaping ambition of a grand campaign on a continental scale, showing how the thick river of Napoleon’s soldiers set out to conquer Russia, their numbers thinning as they finally reached their prize at Moscow, and then the diminished and rapidly shrunken rivulet of survivors making their pitiful way home, gathering one bunch of auxiliary troops who had been left behind to protect their way, only to perish in a particularly badly handled Berezina river crossing. Not only is the army size shown sequentially in time and space, but the crucial impact of the falling temperatures during the retreat are coldly laid out to make their mute case.

Tufte says: “it may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn”.  It certainly sets a benchmark for contemporary statisticians to strive to attain. Are there any current figures which match this one for economy and dramatic impact?