Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Life is an IQ test (and so are video games)

 

 

Silliness will never end, and clever silliness will never stop getting credulous coverage. In the UK we have to contend with a particular scientist claiming that video games and computer tablets are changing children’s brains, and for the worse. Of course, in a minor way Psychological Comments is changing your brain, but for the better, I hope. When you read some nonsense about IQ in the newspapers you will mutter to yourself: “Wasn’t there a blog somewhere that took this research apart?” thus revealing that in some recess of your cerebral cortex there must be a physical change corresponding to your engraved memory of my wisdom. Brains change to some extent according to how they are used. I doubt any of these changes are as great as those inflicted by normal ageing, or by abnormal drinking of alcohol, but there remains a fear that new technology will change us. The plough changed us. Printing changed us. So did the first representational cave painting, the later adoption of perspective in painting, cinema, television, and video games.

So, what can we say about video games, beyond them being a colossal waste of time, on a par with playing Bridge and visiting relatives? To find out, we need to employ a band of Spanish picadores, those horsemen who lance the bull before the prancing matador shimmies in with his tight trousers to entrance the crowd with cape and sword, and finishes the beast off in with protracted ritual flourishes, the gruesome primeval triumph of man over the animal kingdom, while the band plays.

Although picadores tend to corpulence, this gang, led by the slim Roberto Colom, are of distinctly ectomorphic physique, as befits slaves of the intellect. They hark from Madrid, where by repute the angels part the clouds to look down with longing on the capital city. These picadores have had the temerity to test the IQs of  gamers, and get them to play their games under controlled and monitored conditions. (I do hope their research gets reported in the Daily Mail as “Spanish eggheads find gaming boosts the brain”).

Quiroga, Escorial, Román, Morillo, Jarabo, Privado, Hernández, Gallego and Colom. Can we reliably measure the general factor of intelligence (g) through commercial video games? Yes, we can!   doi:10.1016/j.intell.2015.08.004

One hundred and eighty eight university undergraduates took part in the study. They played twelve commercial video games under strict supervision in the laboratory and completed eleven intelligence tests. Several factor models were tested for answering the question of whether or not video games and intelligence tests do measure the same underlying high-order latent factor. The final model revealed a very high relationship between the high-order latent factors representing video game and intelligence performance (r = .93). General performance scores derived from video games and intelligence tests showed a correlation value of .963 (R2adjusted). Therefore, performance on some video games captures a latent factor common to the variance shared by cognitive performance assessed by standard ability tests.

remarkable relationships are only achieved when video games comprise moderate levels of complexity, display low consistency across practice sessions, and have no possibility of obtaining benefit from previously acquired skills. Importantly, some video games performance show a medium to high correlation with intelligence, even after extensive periods of practice, leading to the conclusion that performance on some video games cannot be automated (Quiroga et al., 2011).

image

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZTHl4ZG9BZ0RoUXc/view?usp=sharing 

 

Unlike a reported 48% of the European population, I am not a gamer, but the games listed in this paper (categorized according to whether they mostly require analysis, visualisation, computing or memorization) seem deathly dull and educational. Years ago Douglas Adams kindly gave me an almost-ready version of his “Starship Titanic” to play with, which was fun, but these particular productions seem to reek of classroom dust. I thought computer games were about stealing fast cars, and then making a getaway. Perhaps that is romantic novels. Hard to keep up with these things.

Incidentally, the authors point out that: video games have been used for training (Granic, Lobel, & Engels, 2014; Green, Pouget, & Bavelier, 2010; Sitzmann, 2011) and for assessment purposes (Zygouris et al., 2014). As discussed by Granic et al. (2014) current video games are much more sophisticated than just a decade ago. Their review suggests that playing video games evoke widespread benefits in the cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social domains.

I particularly like the main finding, which is that good measures of intelligence can be derived from any mentally taxing everyday activity. In that sense we are achieving the goal of an anytime IQ test. Hernández-Orallo and Dowe (2010) Artificial Intelligence 174 1508–1539 Measuring universal intelligence: Towards an anytime intelligence test. It has 4 main features:

•The test should be able to measure the intelligence of any biological or artificial system that exists now or in the future.

•It should be able to evaluate both inept and brilliant systems as well as very slow to very fast systems.

•The test may be interrupted at any time, producing an approximation to the intelligence score, in such a way that the more time is left for the test, the better the assessment will be.

• It utilises the measurement of machine intelligence based on Kolmogorov complexity and universal distributions (a measure of the computational resources needed to specify an object, which were developed in the late 1990s (C-tests and compression-enhanced Turing tests).

It could be that the anytime test will come in the form of a protracted game, for a prize, which takes the contestant up the layers of difficulty, keeping a good record of multi-channel ability. That is the best case. The London tube shows that many passengers are playing versions of Patience, a dull game to distract themselves from a duller journey.

The picadores of Madrid have shown that the medium is not the message. If computer games tax the intellect to any extent (and this selection has probably been chosen to do so) then they tap into the same common factor found in a range of more formal tests of intelligence. Yes, the subjects are the usual suspects: university students, but in this case the unrepresentative sample works against the hypothesis. The restriction of range will reduce g loadings, and brighter samples tend to have lover g scores anyway. Assuming that these students are above average in intelligence, then that will account for so many of the results departing from normal distributions, which has been corrected in the analysis, but remains a reality. In sum, finding a common factor is less likely in this selected population than it would be in the general population.

The results may seem predictable, but that is only because the positive manifold is so easy to replicate because……. it’s true.

Disclosure: I do not play video games. I played Canasta with my Granny as a child, but I doubt that counts for anything. I liked Pinball, but it was hardly an intellectual pursuit. My brain has probably been distorted by reading and talking to friends, but it is too late to repair that source of continuing damage. No bulls were slaughtered in writing this post.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Doug Detterman on Stuart Ritchie

 

Rising star Stuart Ritchie will be well-known to you by now. I reviewed his book “Intelligence: All that matters” on 1 June (you read it here first), and said: In my opinion “Intelligence: All that matters” is the best available short introduction to intelligence, and word for word the most effective.

http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/intelligence-all-that-matters-stuart.html

Doug Detterman may be less well known, which is a great pity. He founded the scientific journal Intelligence, and only just recently gave up being Editor in chief, which means that he has been evaluating the best intelligence research since January 1977. He must rank as the longest serving prisoner of the intellect.

He also founded the International Society for Intelligence Research and was its President until 2011. In 1995, he was a signatory of a collective statement in response to public discussion of the book The Bell Curve titled "Mainstream Science on Intelligence[1]", written by Intelligence editor Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal and reprinted in Intelligence in 1997.  Even more to the point, he has written or co-written (mostly with Robert Sternberg) 9 books on intelligence. In terms of character he presents as mild, calm, and not given to flights of fancy or wild hyperbole. Many an aspiring author has been submitted to his kind but firm editorial judgment, and several widely published and much cited academics have been cut down to size by his sharp analysis of their work.

So, it was with some trepidation that I turned to his review of Stuart Ritchie’s book, in case both Stuart and myself had to retreat from his critical evaluation, making excuses and hanging our heads in shame.

Detterman, Editor Extraordinaire, says: I hope this book sells a million copies. Stuart Ritchie has written a very brief book (about 130 pages) that offers a superb introduction to the field of human intelligence. It can be read in a few hours and gives an honest, forthright, clear, and most of all, accurate representation of the field.

Ritchie has pulled it off, and his loyal fan Thompson is in the clear.

Read it all here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZOEp5bmV6d3hCSTg/view?usp=sharing

Friday, 28 August 2015

Dyslexia dilemmas: Are your shortcomings specific or general?

 

“Specific learning disability” is a baleful diagnosis: something is wrong with you, but the rot has not spread throughout the system. Much is still well with you, in that, like the curate’s egg, you are good in parts. Despite your specific shortcomings, you will no doubt wish to be judged as mostly good, albeit with a blemish which is worthy of commiseration. On the other hand, a generalized shortcoming puts you in a less fashionable category: you are merely dull. Hence the popular demand for research that shows that your shortcomings are highly specific, and preferably closely allied to creative genius.

A question arises: given that abilities are normally distributed, why should the bottom 2% be any different from the brighter 98%, other than being on the wrong side of the cutoff? There is nothing specific about that. A problem arises: since intelligence is general, because there is a positive manifold between abilities, how can a specific disability be detected? By common convention the answer is: when allowance has been made for general intelligence, any disability which remains must be due from some other specific cause. So, for a shortcoming to be considered specific, it must be 2 standard errors of prediction below the levels expected on the basis of your general intelligence.

I am fond of standard errors of prediction, particularly when they are seen in the light of the standard deviation of the original variable. For example, imagine you had to guess children’s reading scores, whilst knowing nothing about them. The least error prone strategy would be assume that each child was average. Your errors would be equal to the standard deviation. Next, assume you know their intelligence scores, and that intelligence correlates with reading at about r=0.6. Using a regression equation you can now predict their reading scores with more accuracy, though still with error. You will have reduced the uncertainty, and your errors will be smaller than the standard deviation by some measureable amount, which gives you a measure of the utility of the prediction.

As far as I know, there is little high quality epidemiology on reading, apart from the total population study on the Isle of Wight, and that is as far back at 1974. Let me know of more recent findings. Current fashion is for convenience samples, all with a diagnosis of dyslexia, drawn from individual school and university settings. Here as some population results.

W.Yule, M.Rutter, M.Berger and J.Thompson. Over‑ and under‑achievement in reading: distribution in the general population. British Journal of Educational Psychology (1974) 44,1‑12.

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZeGFGVnU1NGEzVHM/view?usp=sharing

 

Reading distributions

If you look at these population distributions you will see that 1) they vary in skewness and kurtosis 2) there tends to be a tail of poorer readers, but not in all samples 3) your conclusions about the distribution of reading ability would differ if you were restricted to analysing one population.

This is what the authors say in their abstract: Empirical findings are presented on the distribution of over- and under-achievement in reading in five general population groups encompassing four age-groups and two parts of the country-a major city and an area of small towns. It is shown that reading achievement does not exactly parallel IQ at all levels of intelligence, confirming the inappropriateness of the achievement ratio and like statistics. It is argued that over- and under-achievement are best defined in terms of a regression equation based on IQ scores. Defined in this way, reading ability follows a generally normal distribution, overachievement and under-achievement occurring with roughly the same frequency. However, there is a significant departure from normality at the extreme lower end of the curve such that gross under-achievement in reading occurs at well above the expected frequency. This suggests that there is a meaningful group of children with specific reading retardation which is not explicable simply in terms of the bottom of a continuum.

On close inspection of the paper, the “meaningful group” are absent in 2 of the 5 samples, (could be a prediction restriction) and there is very little “over-achievement” probably because of ceiling effects on the reading test. Notice the very healthy total population sizes. Every child was tracked down, so we can be confident about the population characteristics.

image

Now to modern times.

The structure of intelligence in children with specific learning disabilities is different as compared to typically development children David Giofrè, Cesare Cornoldi. Intelligence 52 (2015) 36–43

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZVXkteDB6QVFtSlE/view?usp=sharing

Children with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) are characterized by a poor academic achievement despite an average intelligence. They are therefore typically assessed not only with achievement tests, but also with intelligence tests, usually the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). The assumption of a discrepancy between IQ and achievement in children with SLD has been questioned, however, and the implications of using different measures in batteries of intellectual subtests have not been thoroughly investigated. The present study examined these issues, taking advantage of a large database of scores obtained in the ten core subtests of the WISC-IV by a group of 910 Italian children with a clinical diagnosis of SLD, who were compared with the children considered for national standardization purposes. Our results support the doubts raised concerning the IQ-achievement discrepancy model, showing that relevant discrepancies can emerge even within the WISC profile. The four main WISC-IV indexes were found differently related to intelligence (measured by means of the g-factor) and the g content of many subtests differed in children with SLD vis-à-vis typically-developing children. These results have important implications both theoretical, indicating that the g-factor is weakly identified in children with SLD children, and practical, indicating that the QI obtained with the WISC-IV may not be a good measure of intellectual functioning for children with SLD, which are discussed.

First, we do not know if the sample is representative of the population of those with specific learning disabilities, and reading difficulties are mixed in with other specific difficulties. Even though the diagnostic criteria follow ICD 10 we do not have epidemiological safeguards on this sample. They may simply be backward children who have pushy parents. They used the full 10 core tests of the Wechsler, which is good.

The learning disability sample are above average on Comprehension 10.92, Picture Concepts 10.98, and somewhat on Matrix Reasoning 10.56, and below on Digit Span 8.04, Letter Number Sequencing 8.34, Coding 8.28, and Symbol Search 9.17. Mind you, these results would not have surprised researchers 40 years ago.

To my eye there is not all that much difference in g variances between the standardisation sample and this specific learning difficulty group, other than in the usual culprits, Digit Span and Letter-Number Sequencing. Picture Concepts and Vocabulary are also somewhat discrepant, though less clear why.

 

image

I think this is an interesting paper, but in the absence of a better understanding of the representativeness of the children with learning disabilities studied I cannot be sure that their findings have the implications they state: when assessing intellectual abilities in children with SLD, it therefore seems reasonable to prefer a less biased measure, such as the General Ability Index. Giving the full Wechsler and showing the 10 subtest results would be far better, in my view.

Children with SLD struggle with working memory and processing speed tasks and this can considerably lower their IQ estimates, even though these factors are weakly related to the g-factor compared to typical developing children. Such evidence further confirms that intelligence and other basic aspects (e.g., working memory or processing speed) may be very highly related in the normal population but not necessarily in other groups, suggesting that these constructs should be considered separable.

In my view that is silly. If you struggle with working memory and processing tasks you have lower overall ability. In the decathlon of ability you do badly on some of the main events. If you are honest you would warn potential employers about your real shortcomings. If you want those aspects to be “separable” then you should accept that some employments and achievements are also “separable”.

Our results can also have clinical implications, indicating that it may be very difficult to assess intelligence in children with atypical development, so examiners will need to use their own “intelligence” when interpreting the results of such scales.

No, it is not more difficult to assess intelligence in children diagnosed with learning difficulties. The pattern of abilities on the Wechsler is a very useful guide to explaining strengths and weaknesses. Many children without a diagnosis of learning difficulty also have strengths and weaknesses in their abilities. I myself am particularly susceptible to drafts……

Nice study, but I disagree with what the results mean. See what you think.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Where’s Trotsky?

 

 

 

One of the few protected occupations in Soviet Russia was the airbrush department, which was tasked with removing non-persons from official photographs. Long before PhotoShop they diligently removed those who had fallen from grace. As the number of banished or murdered party members grew the skills required in this department rose to the highest order of visual deceit. In the end they just showed pictures of Stalin, and all was well with them, so long as the pictures were suitably flattering. A Russian Nomenklatura friend of my acquaintance told me that the official architects presented Stalin with their plans for a Moscow skyscraper. He took one look at the design, and without a word drew a big steeple on the top with his red pencil. The architects bowed, and left the room. Back at base they were in a state of terror: they knew that they had to add a large steeple to their building, but they could not work out whether it had to be red.

Something like that seems to be happening in social science research. Just when you would expect to see Trotsky staring out at you, instead you find a piece of old raincoat apparently belonging to a bystander.

For example, let us say that a very large sample of genomes and intelligence results are collected from people who live in very different parts of the world, such that they have different ancestries. The overall sample is analysed, and some overall effect is detected, and reported. The question then arises: what were the results of the comparison of one continental group with another on intelligence? Are there differences, and to what extent can these be explained from the genetics?

Another example, is when you compare two smaller racial groups on intelligence and genetic profiles, but standardise the results for each sample on each sample (show Z scores derived from the group’s own mean results) such that there is no apparent difference between them. Having done that you cannot easily identify genes which might account for the differences between the two groups, which would be a major finding, which might illuminate the development of intelligence.

So, I have decided to write to all researchers who leave out obvious bits of analysis, to ask them whether they intend to publish their findings at a later date or whether they can tell me right now about what they found when they carried out the obvious comparisons. If you find examples of papers in which group comparisons are air-brushed out of the record, can you please send them to me? It would be a great pity if scientists distorted their findings in response to political pressures. A pity, and utterly wrong, if science is still to be a search for truth.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Will Modafinil boost your publication rate?

 

In order to boost my attention, executive function, learning, memory, and creativity, I popped a few tablets of Modafinil before beginning this item. I cannot yet detect how far it has embellished my prose style, but in a possible first flush of boosted intellect I have continued writing whilst also, at the same time, and in parallel, avidly reading a paper published this very morning:

Modafinil for cognitive neuroenhancement in healthy non-sleep-deprived subjects: a systematic review. R.M. Battleday, A-K. Brem

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.07.028 Reference: NEUPSY11089 To appear in: European Neuropsychopharmacology

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZdVg2NHlFZF9DV1k/view?usp=sharing

First of all, I am very glad that Europeans have a journal of Neuro-psycho-pharma-cology. Europeans have not been having a good time recently, what with bailing out Greece (cradle of insolvency) so they need any comfort they can get. The title of the journal is awkward and contrived, as if put together by a European Union committee, but it is August, Europe is on holiday, and one should be as kind as possible.

The authors do not say whether they took Modafinil while weaning down the 267 initial papers so as to then plough through the 24 acceptable papers they found on the presumed cognitive effects of this particular substance. By the way, it is time for all scholars to stop rejecting papers not written in English. This linguistic imperialism must cease forthwith. Also, don’t just reject those studies which don’t use a placebo: put them in a quarantine box and estimate the maximal claimed effects of the intervention, which serves as a reality check. For example, if all students now start popping Modafinil after reading this paper (or newspaper accounts of it) then they will be getting the maximal effects of Modafinil plus the placebo effects of all the publicity, which ought to be higher than the pure effectiveness measures produced by the best research. If even those boosted effects are small compared to a cup of coffee, (which you can partly judge from the open, non-placebo trials) why bother any further?

On drugs or not, Battleday and Brem have written a fine paper, best of all when outlining how future research should proceed. I will not bother you with the presumed biochemical bonds involved, but just the cognitive results and the very good discussion about methods.

With a few exceptions, the sample sizes are pitifully small, in the 10-20 subject range, with a few at 64. Yes, these are experimental manipulations, and ought to be able to detect the effects of the drug being administered, but a lot hinges on the volunteers being representative of the population. Experimentalists sneer at that sort of consideration, seeing the world through a Latin square.

The authors say: When simple psychometric assessments are considered, modafinil intake appears to enhance executive function, variably benefit attention and learning and memory, and have little effect on creativity and motor excitability. When more complex tasks are considered, modafinil appears to enhance attention, higher executive functions, and learning and memory. Negative cognitive consequences of modafinil intake were reported in a small minority of tasks, and never consistently on any one: decreased performance on a cognitive flexibility task (the intra/extra-dimensional set shift task in Randall et al., 2004), increased deliberation time during harder trials on a planning task (the One-Touch Stockings of Cambridge task in Randall et al., 2005a), increased deliberation time on one divergent thinking task (the Cambridge Gambling Task in Turner et al., 2003), and decreased performance on another (the abbreviated Torrance in Mohamed, 2014). It appears that modafinil exerts minimal effects on mood – if anything improving it – and only rarely causes minor adverse effects.

Table 1 in the paper gives the brief results for each of the included studies.

Methodological points. The discrepancy between the mainly null results from simple tests, with the exception of those assessing executive functions, and the mainly positive results from more complex testing paradigms highlighted by this review warrants further discussion and investigation. In terms of complex tasks, a systematic bias towards positive results could have been introduced through study design or study execution (a universal bias from task design is less likely because of the varied nature of these tasks). One source of study-design-based error could be the equal weighting we have accorded to results from crossover and between-subject trials. In the former, a participant’s performance on a test under one condition (for example, modafinil intake) is compared to their own performance under another condition (for example, placebo), and in the latter one group’s performance under one condition on a test is compared to a control group’s performance on the same test. It has been argued that repeating psychometric tests in crossover tests introduces practice effects that vary unpredictably between individuals and cognitive tasks, and could bias results (Hartley et al., 2003; Lowe and Rabbitt, 1998; Randall et al., 2004; Rose and Lin, 1984). Fortunately, however, the preponderance for each study design is roughly equal within simple and complex task groups, and repeated dose studies use complex tasks with adaptive assessment platforms that should obviate these practice effects. Equally, the prolonged testing experience associated with complex tasks may have allowed more opportunities for experimenters to influence participants. Against this argument is the fact that in the two studies that did assess participant blinding, participants were able to guess they had taken modafinil 55% of the time in a complex crossover trial (Gilleen et al., 2014), but 75% in a simple between-subjects study (Turner et al., 2003).

Conversely, the simple psychometric tasks used by the majority of studies could have lacked sufficient sensitivity to detect cognitive effects in the healthy and mostly student-based populations tested. With this in mind, it is a notable non sequitur that tests that reliably report cognitive dysfunction are equally qualified to detect improved cognitive performance in healthy adults. A key example of the inadequacy of some testing paradigms is the use of the “clock test” in some of these studies, which involves drawing hands onto a clock at specific times (for example, in Randall et al. 2005a). Whilst in ill populations this test offers a 18 valuable screening tool of poor cognitive function (Shulman, 2000), it is clearly a poor differentiator of normal or high-performing healthy individuals. Indeed, ceiling performances were consistently observed within simple tasks, for example on the pattern recognition memory task (Müller et al., 2013; D. Randall et al., 2005a; Turner et al., 2003; WinderRhodes et al., 2010), the delayed matching to sample task (Randall et al., 2004; Randall et al., 2003; Turner et al., 2003), the rapid visual information processing task (Randall et al., 2005a), the spatial working memory task (Turner et al., 2003; Winder-Rhodes et al., 2010), the preparing-to-overcome-pre-potency tasks (Minzenberg et al., 2014, 2008), and the Sternberg number recognition task (Makris et al., 2007). When these ceiling effects were lessened by only analysing data from low baseline performers, many studies actually did detect significant differences between modafinil and placebo groups (Minzenberg et al., 2014; Mohamed, 2014; Müller et al., 2004; Randall et al., 2005b). Several groups have commented this issue, noting, for example, that it may explain why robust effects on these same tasks are seen with sleep deprivation (Müller et al., 2004), when all participants effectively become low baseline performers. They also suggest that these tasks are in their current state inappropriate for detailed assessment of healthy individuals (Müller et al., 2004), and must be revised or abandoned in favour of more complex testing paradigms (Finke et al., 2010; Müller et al., 2013; Pringle et al., 2013). Recognition of the limitations of simple psychometric tests is also seen in the temporal succession of simple with complex ones over the last decade. Thus, it appears that within research on modafinil, any consensus about cognitive benefits has to this point been limited by the use of simplistic testing paradigms. These ceiling effects must be addressed in future work; certainly before discourse on the ability of low and high baseline participants to benefit from modafinil can offer real value.

We propose the following framework, centred on the principles of, on one hand, sensitivity and reproducibility, and, on the other, ecological validity (see Table 3).

image

 

The ‘simple’ task designs described above are extremely useful tools for dissecting the influence of a substance or process on higher cognitive functions. Equally important, their internal validity is high, at least within clinical populations (Levaux et al., 2007; Sweeney et al., 2000). Hence, if the ceiling effects encountered in these studies could be ameliorated, they would still add much valuable information to any assessment of supra-normal cognition. One solution to this problem is to integrate them into more advanced software platforms, which would still be standardised, but could be set to increase task difficulty via more complex task demands and shorter response windows. More complex tasks could then be integrated into the basic software package as additional modules, meaning more nebulous domains and cognitive processes could be investigated with reference to changes in basic systems, and a high internal consistency in the literature could be established. The additional advantages of such an approach are myriad: integration of adaptive training and testing regimes, so that learning in each cognitive-subdomain could also be measured; more comprehensive analysis of participant performance, with the ability to compare every aspect of their actions; and game-based incentive structures, obviating the decline in performance that follows prolonged testing (Kennedy and Scholey, 2004). Using the same system, testing could be conducted on untrained tasks and their cognitive sub-domains, to identify any transfer of cognitive ability (see Gilleen et al., 2014), or be used for re-testing at later dates, to identify lasting effects. The output of neuro-enhancement-related research is aimed at a fundamentally different population from most prior work on cognitive modulation – those seeking elective self-improvement of their own cognitive abilities, rather than those hoping to treat cognitive deficits. Consequently, methodologies of research in this area need to be considered anew, in order to probe supra-normal cognitive enhancement in ecologically valid settings whilst retaining rigorous testing conditions. Most tasks and projects in life necessitate learning and operating within a system for multiple days, and individual users are interested primarily in how their own performance will change, rather than the average of a group. Thus, testing regimes should be based over multiple days, and allow analysis within and between single participants’ performances. Baseline testing is also essential; as an absolute measure of individual performance, to ensure that ceiling and floor performances are not limiting the usefulness of results, and to allow speculation on whether and why some groups benefit more from particular agents or techniques. Finally, Makris and colleagues’ finding of decreased reaction times four and five hours after modafinil ingestion serves as a reminder that under real-life conditions, performance is likely to be affected by fatigue even within a single working day (Makris et al. 2007). In this case, modafinil’s eugeroic properties are evidently beneficial; however, more generally studies should make more effort to examine the length of performance benefits offered by an agent or technique for neuro-enhancement.

I like this paper, because it goes into the details of test characteristics, looking at their sensitivity and appropriateness as measures of complex performance. These considerations are sometimes glossed over in reviews. For once, studying students makes ecological sense, because the effect being sought is better studying. I do not find the case for Modafinil proved, and I suspect the authors are not bowled over by the effect, but if their suggestions are followed a larger study with more sensitive, repeated cognitive measures could settle the issue. Till then, it might be best to stick to black coffee.

Psychometric tests are the best predictors of real life outcomes, so now for a real life complex test: disconnect your old router provided as standard by your ISP, as I did last night, and then attempt to connect a new, enhanced, updated and reputedly more powerful, and more expensive version bought elsewhere. I had achieved partial success around about midnight, with many blinking lights blinking, but a few minor details like getting actual internet connectivity remained. This morning the man on the helpline was very kind, and all is now working well, though the wifi seems no stronger or faster than the old model. Whilst filling in the VPN/VCI and subnet masks, together with the usernames, passwords and new wireless PIN I asked him “What characteristics are required for success in your job?”. There was a very long pause, the usual “good question” interpolated in order to gain more time, and finally he said “Patience and compassion”.

By their deeds ye shall know them.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Psychological predictions: Eric Turkheimer 1990

 

“If it is ever documented conclusively, the genetic inferiority of a race on a trait as important as intelligence will rank with the atomic bomb as the most destructive scientific discovery in human history. The correct conclusion is to withhold judgment”.


Review of “Consensus and Controversy about IQ” by Eric Turkheimer, Contemporary Psychology, Vol 35, 428-430 (1990) p. 430,

http://people.virginia.edu/~ent3c/papers2/Articles%20for%20Online%20CV/(77)%20Turkheimer%20(1990).pdf

Turkheimer’s review is interesting and informative, and worth reading. The final remarks jar somewhat with the general reasoned tone of the rest of the review. The phrase “genetic inferiority” inflames emotions. I assumed that this hyperbolic comment might have been attributable to the impetuosity of youth, but a 2007 essay on the subject seems to confirm that this is still his general opinion.

Race and IQ. Cato Unbound, November 21, 2007

  1. The important questions about the role of genetics in the explanation of racial differences in ability are not empirical, but theoretical and philosophical, and,
  2. When the theoretical questions are properly understood, proponents of race science, while entitled to their freedom of inquiry and expression, deserve the vigorous disapprobation they often receive.

http://www.cato-unbound.org/2007/11/21/eric-turkheimer/race-iq

I suppose that evaluating the 1990 prediction may hinge on what counts as “documented conclusively”, so it may be necessary to flesh that out a bit. I assume that within the next five years some researchers will be able to show that genomic analysis alone can account for non-trivial amounts of variance (say roughly 20%) of group differences in intelligence and scholastic ability. I assume it because no one will fund studies to resolve the matter, many secretly fear it to be true, and that on any reasonable reading of the results it is a probable partial cause of genetic group differences. However, that may not be the case. It could be another example of the censorious banning of a research result which turns out not to be replicable anyway.

     http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/microcephalin-makes-comeback.html

However, it might be worth while to generate some predictions as to when results about genetic contributions to genetic group differences in intelligence will  be “documented conclusively”. Apparently most people say “within 20 years” thus appearing wise whilst also giving themselves 19 years in which not to look foolish, by which time their prognostications may be forgotten.

More interestingly, what will such conclusive documentation look like? I assume the hard proof will be as follows: to be able to predict a person’s IQ to within 4 points, regardless of which major genetic group they are drawn from.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Psychological predictions from long ago: Terman 1930

 

Young Elijah Armstrong, like any upstanding Californian, is usually to be found on a surfboard, or later surrounded on the beach by admiring young ladies, but from time to time he is able to tear himself away from such hedonistic pursuits so as to send me little snippets of what must seem to him to be ancient history.

Here is Lewis Terman in 1930 replying to a request for his views about current psychological positions and movements. Then afterwards Elijah, Panjoomby and I discuss the accuracy of Terman’s predictions. This gives you an insight as to what the three of us regard as light relief from blogging:

In response to the Editor's request for a statement of my position with reference to current psychological issues and movements, I venture to offer the following credos, which range all the way from tentative beliefs to fairly positive convictions:

That mental testing is in its merest infancy and will develop to a lusty maturity within the next half century; that its developments will include improved tests of general intelligence (in the reality of which I believe), tests of many kinds of special ability, and tests of personality traits which no one has yet even thought of measuring;

That within a few score years school children from the kindergarten to the university will be subjected to several times as many hours of testing as would now be thought reasonable;

That educational and vocational guidance will be based chiefly on test ratings, and that Hull's proposal to measure every important ability and personality trait and to "grind out" a hundred or more occupational success predictions for every youth is practicable and will be realized;

That public vocational testing bureaus, employing methods of the kind referred to in the preceding paragraph, will be operated for the benefit of adults of all ages and both sexes;

That it will some day be possible to identify, largely by means of tests, the pre-delinquent and the pre-psychotic, and that effective preventive measures will result from this advance;

That matrimonial clinics will become common and that couples in large numbers will submit themselves to extensive batteries of ability, personality, interest, and compatibility tests before deciding to embark together;

That mental testing is destined to exert a profound influence on economic theory, industrial methods, politics, and the administration of law;

That the major differences between children of high and low IQ, and the major differences in the intelligence test scores of certain races, as Negroes and whites, will never be fully accounted for on the environmental hypothesis;

That mental testing will be more and more recognized as an integral part of experimental psychology, and that this recognition will be reflected increasingly in undergraduate instruction;

That psychiatry will not be pulled out of the mire until it lays down the requirement of two or three solid years of training in psychology, including psychobiology, mentality and personality testing, and statistical methods;

That psychology will, in time, give us a new type of biographical literature in which the interpretation of a subject's life will be based largely upon quantitative measurements of abilities, personality traits, and interest-attitudes;

That contrary to what would be suggested by an examination of the courses in teachers colleges and schools of education, psychology offers almost the sole basis for a science of education;

That the revival of associationism and the vogue given it during the last quarter century by the "bond" psychologists has about run its course;

That the Watsonian brand of behaviorism is a cult, and that its presumption in claiming the whole of psychology and in basing a theory of child training and a denial of heredity on a few minor experiments in the emotional conditioning of infants is ridiculous;

That the method of introspection has not been and never will be rendered obsolete by objective psychology, and that much greater use should be made of it in experimental learning and mental test construction than is customary at present;

That Gestalt psychology, even though its formulations are largely a matter of renaming old concepts, is exerting a wholesome influence on experimental work and on psychological theorizing;

That animal psychology is extremely important because of the greater opportunity it affords, in comparison with human psychology, of securing crucial data on certain types of problems in the fields of learning, mental inheritance, and the relation of intelligence and instinct to neural functioning;

That the Freudian concepts, even when their validity has been discounted about 90 per cent, nevertheless, constitute one of the two most important contributions to modern psychology, mental tests being the other.

Elijah  Rather accurate, if a tad optimistic, you will agree.

James Well, he was right about psychiatry, and education.

Panjoomby  Stirring, uplifting, motivational, & plenty true! Yet, Terman's achilles' heel - political naivety/innocence. Terman would've been mortified at the fallout from the Larry P. v. Wilson Riles decision in California. He would never expect such a "shoot the messenger" reaction to the offerings of honest science.

Elijah A final clarification from Boring's obituary of Terman: Terman in his personal copy of his autobiography wrote in the margin opposite the sentence just quoted about Negroes and whites, "I am less sure of this now (1951)!" and later, "And still less sure in 1955!" 

Panjoomby Interesting that Terman was either sensing the oncoming civil rights/political correctness era, or he was politely noticing that if you control for enough variables --& with each variable controlled for, taking a further step away from reality (!) --(variables like "# of books in the home, education, income, neighborhood status, etc.) control for enough things & you eventually you can get those pesky mean differences to almost go away -but doing that is far more smoke & mirrors than it is reality. It's a sneaky way of pretending "those aren't really differences". I doubt Terman was fooled by that - but he might've seen some of what was coming & softened his stance to be nice (rather than scientifically correct)!

Elijah  I actually think that the 'sociologist's fallacy' is a legitimate procedure in some circumstances –– as aggregate childhood SES (including all the things you mentioned) is g-loaded at ~.5, less than almost all subtests in the WISC, you shouldn't expect controlling for SES to eliminate virtually all mean differences –– and if it does, you have pretty good prima facie evidence that SES is causing the observed difference. 

Panjoomby  Good point. I once told my boss:  "each variable you control for takes you another step away from reality". My boss, ever the gentleman & diplomat, said of group differences: "although they exist, i don't think any good can come from studying them" & I remember thinking (but not saying) well, that's not very scientific.

What are your views about Terman’s predictions?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Reflections on the lack of revolution in France

Few parts of the planet contain as many natural treasures as that large chunk of Europe called France. As I said before, when discussing falling French national IQ:

There are few territories more blessed with natural treasures, agreeable climates and regional cuisines than the Grand Hexagonal, that gorgeous chunk of Europe called France. By every environmental theory this part of the planet should breed a race of super-folk: Asterix the Gaul on natural geographical steriods, a fraternal band of clever Gallic communards.

The Cote d’Azur is a country in itself, and Provence would stand proud if it ever chose self-government. All these advantages, on any environmental theory, should bode well for the French as a people. However, they often tend to be morose and self-critical, and resentful that they too had to follow the British into losing an Empire without finding a role. Worse, French as a language is in retreat, not least among the upcoming French, who have adopted English as the global language, because it connotes modernity, progress, high incomes and lots of air miles. French, the former language of diplomats and high culture, is now passe. So, the French are morose, somewhat disorientated, and resentful at their global relegation from Parisians to peasants in France profonde, that empty hinterland where crops grow high and pointless windmills turn, but no-one of ambition stops longer than required to urinate.

Are the French right to bemoan their lot? And estimated 300,00 well qualified young French graduates have decided to dump France and live in London, where they flourish in the free wheeling Anglo Saxon marketplace of capitalism raw in tooth and claw. Presidential candidates now make a one day campaign stop in London, France’s fifth largest city, to sing the praises of the mother country, though not yet to drop marginal tax rates for the smart fraction and simplify the bureaucratic hurdles which prevent them from starting new businesses in France.

Horror stories abound. Friends who run a hotel tell of staff who work to the clock regardless of the demands of the business, and bring malicious lawsuits as a matter of course. Being English, these friends  defended themselves in court, rather than just agree a settlement, and have surprised everyone by winning two of the three cases, and have even been awarded small symbolic payments, which have yet to be honoured. Their legal bills are very much higher than if they had just settled.

Everything takes an age. The banks are slow and obstructive, the inspectors quick to find fault and lethargic otherwise, the tax authorities relentless, and the cultural norm is to do nothing, other than to fiddle the books so that there are false accounts for the inspectors and cash between confederates. Workmen show up by negotiation, make a few holes, and then leave for more interesting jobs. If you want something done, it must be achieved by Poles working illegally. Even patriotic French are employing Polish workmen, whom they had formerly denounced to the authorities. A well known French transport company stopped employing local drivers, and made Poles a large part of their workforce. The French are even agreeing that it makes sense to buy German cars. However, France is well short of a revolution. Labour is highly unionised and strike action a national pastime. Market shares are protected, and new entrants generally discouraged. Medieval agriculture is retained and given patent protection. Functionaries are preferred to entrepreneurs. Indeed, their current President was elected because this embodiment of a bland functionary was seen as preferable to a flashy iconoclast who had mildly upset the status quo: a dull flan less troublesome than a brittle creme brulee. The French revolution merely replaced the ancient aristocracy with the aristocracy of the pen-pusher, and the grand Chateaux are often closed because the guides require a lunch break, in almost greater disdain of the general public than exhibited by the nobility.

Against all this, French productivity is judged good, when measured against hours worked. Although creaky, the economy functions. Living standards are high. Trains run fast. For most people the living is easy. France may not shine in science but there is still a core of engineering skill, and some flourishing global businesses. Perhaps France is a shining example of the power of the environment: given that they hold some of the best real estate on the planet, they are proving Adam Smith’s adage: “there is a lot of ruin in a nation”.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The 4 stages of tourism

 

1    Travelling Guest

Locals are astounded to receive visitors, and greet and care for them according to local customs of hospitality. Locals are usually friendly, very curious, see visitors as cultural trophies to show off to their friends, are interested in learning about their habits, clothing, possessions and stories. Sometimes they will take you home and offer food and lodging almost for free. They will take you places, introduce you to local dignitaries, advise you about where to get the best food and lodging, and warn you about dangers and cultural taboos. The country makes no concessions to your foreign needs, so you had better understand local signage, language, currency and transport systems. Food, newspapers and music will be local, as will be toilet facilities and health services, where present. There are local trinkets for sale, and much local produce, clothing and footwear. Prices of everything will be ridiculously low. Locals maintain their dignity and keep their local traditions.

2    Golden Adventure

Locals now realise that visitors are increasing in number and come for 14 day tours, during which they will pay silly prices for mundane objects, and are mostly interested in inebriation and fornication. Local entrepreneurs cater to these tourist needs by setting up bars, small hotels, tour groups, restaurants, beach restaurants, ferries and hire cars, all of these services signed in the tourist language, and at prices considered normal for foreigners and criminal for locals. The habits of tourists are condoned, but locals do not participate, other than local men with tourist women.  Local entrepreneurs cannot believe how much money they are making, nor that the bonanza will last, but make hay while the sun shines. The entire location evolves to be the tourist’s idea of what a holiday should be, and the transition irritates those who came years before as travelling guests. (They either complain loudly so as to be bought drinks as they regale newbies about ancient times, or move to less “spoilt” locations, which they then proceed to spoil in their quiet way, leading the impressionable in their wake).  You can get your local newspaper, at a price and perhaps a day late, and restaurants will  have learned about your peculiarities regarding ice in drinks, types of food, music and the sorts of toilet you are used to. There will be many more trinkets for sale, and whichever items of clothing and footwear brought back home by the first wave of travelling guests. There will be some emergency health services. Prices will be relatively low for most things, high for imported luxuries. Locals are willing to be servants for the summer season, and maintain their dignity for winter.

3    Mature exploitation

By now tourist areas have become totally distorted, or more kindly, cleverly adapted to large numbers of tourists. The location will be well known, to judge from T shirts.  Hotels are larger, entirely created for tourist comfort and requirements. Prices will be much higher, set by international expectations, with different offerings according to income. There will be very many restaurants and bars, all designed for tourist tastes. Everything will be written in the tourist’s language, and most locals will be able to speak in that language. Newspapers will be up to date. Local customs are an inconvenience, aside from the hotel floor shows every evening.  Cuisine will be up to the standards found in the tourist’s country of origin. Some of the more individual offerings, like trinkets and small food stands will have been banished by the hotel chains, which know that their guests find them irritating.  Health services will, mostly, be of a high standard, with some lapses. The wealthier locals are regaining their dignity, and the proprietors at least have first world living standards.

4    Sanatorium

For some inexplicable reason, tourists start finding that the tourist location no longer attracts them. It may be the great number of buildings, the presence of many other tourists, the loud noises, the banality of the food and the music, or perhaps even the prices. There are too many hotel rooms and too many people just like the people at work, who as a consequence will not be impressed by holiday stories about a cheap, vulgar, and “spoilt” tourist trap. Hoteliers struggle to fill their rooms, other than to pensioners on long lets, just to keep the staff occupied. The young, put off by the presence of the elderly, with whom fornication is not appetising, decamp elsewhere for an unspoilt location which is far more fashionable. Everything is a trinket. Prices tumble, and every balcony has a “To Let” sign, and in the back streets every house is for sale. Indeed, everything is for sale. Health services are over-subscribed, mostly prescribing anti-depressants to retirees. The name of the location is mentioned with contempt. The locals move from being waiters to care assistants, and convince themselves that this is a dignified calling, in line with their ancient cultural values, which they vaguely recall.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

More educational bang for a private buck?

The Economist, a magazine, has written an interesting item “Learning Unleashed” in its 1 August print edition. They look at the cost-effectiveness of state and private education in poor countries, and come to the conclusion that private education is at least as effective as state education, but at a gratifyingly lower cost.

They draw their data from UNESCO and the World Bank, but there are no direct links to all the studies mentioned, though the digital edition may be more illuminating in that regard. It being August, we shall have to take it on trust, and I will not be able to lead you, as is my habit, to the all-revealing supplementary tables, in which the authors furtively confess their foul adulterations of the pure mother-load of Truth.

The first 1000 word picture reveals four African school children holding pens and working attentively, usually the signal for uplifting copy, of which I am in favour, at least in the holiday season. Lagos, Nigeria, is estimated to have 18,000 such private schools, where fees average $35 per term. By 2010 someone has estimated that there are 1 million private schools in the poor and disorganised world, though I would suggest the million be taken in the medieval sense of that word, meaning “lots”. Another estimate is that half of all spending in such countries comes out of parents’ pockets, driven to private providers by dismal state schools, where salaries are being paid to teachers who have moved or died. Sierra Leone got rid of 6,000 fake teachers by checking identities, and Pakistan found that over 8,000 state schools did not actually exist. In some African countries teachers are absent 25% of the time.

By now many of you will be warming to the benefits of private enterprise. However, if disorganised and corrupt countries cannot educate their children on the public purse, still less can they set and mark fair and honest exams. Absent those, the private schools could be an expensive con trick, giving kids high marks in the hope of high profits. A further artefact is that children at private schools, while still very poor, are the better-off of the poor.

Chile instituted a voucher scheme in 1981 which resulted in 38% of pupils ending up in state schools, 51% in private schools accepting vouchers, and 7% in fully fee-paying schools, which may be a cause of it doing well in PISA tests relative to the rest of South America. “A recent study in the state of Andra Pradesh” found good results after random allocation of vouchers, up to state standards but at one third of the cost. Lagos state education rates of $230 per are twice private school costs. Pakistan is now experimenting with voucher schemes and private providers. Inspectors sent out to test teachers themselves on the material they were supposed to be teaching found very poor results. Letting parents know about average results for nearby schools boosted performance. NGOs and the United Nations often oppose private education for ideological reasons. Regulations are often used to hamstring private competitors, for example demanding school playgrounds in slums, requiring teachers be paid high salaries and obtain complicated official qualifications, and inspectors simply requiring bribes or the private school will be closed down.

Some low cost schools are forming chains, providing shipping container buildings, and scripted lessons from a hand held computers linked to a central teaching system. All these sound excellent steps. In my view it is a good thing if education does not fall into the hands of any monopoly, not even a state monopoly, and there should be no monopoly of examining powers.

The cost-effectiveness of education is no small matter. If one looks at the current population of under 15 year olds, and then the UN forecasts for 2050 (The Economist, The World If, page 16) there are three major regions where the number of children is predicted to fall: Europe from 117 million to 109 million; China from 255 million to 204 million; India from 364 million to 317 million; and South America from 104 million to 86 million. United States is predicted to go from 63 million to 73 million, presumably through immigration and the higher fertility of immigrants; and Sub-Saharan Africa, from an enormous 406 million currently to an astounding 698 million, due to no immigration and the higher fertility of the locals.

I can only conclude that the UN, whose confident predictions of world wide reductions in family size I remember being comforted by in the 1980s, did not have the foresight to put up sufficient of those same posters in Africa, where people could see them, and fall meekly into line. So, I know that the UN is not flawless as a forecaster, but if their current view has any merit then The Economist’s strapline looks apposite: “The Future looks African”. Africa must rise from its present lamentable educational performance to the highest standards of quality and productivity if it is to avoid creating a massive under-skilled under-class. It also casts an informed light on Europe’s current asylum seeker crisis. African children currently outnumber European children 4 to 1 and over the next decades will outnumber them 7 to 1.

Three comments come to mind. First, even allowing for generous adjustments for purchasing power parity, the basics of education can be delivered very cheaply. Perhaps it is as cost-effective as a simple vaccine, an ignorance-preventing vaccine if you like. Second, it is hard to provide good education for citizens when corruption is endemic. When neither school inspectors, teachers, examiners or government education departments can be trusted, then strict cultural isolation in self-supporting educational systems (on the medieval Jewish basis) or emigration seem the only options for those who want to educate themselves. Thirdly, there seems to be an open space for information-age teaching systems, computer based teaching and examining. Technology is not a panacea, but could be a very cost-effective adjunct to classroom teachers for many subjects. Stories abound of iPad based transformations of poor children, but we need better evaluations before coming to any conclusions.

I hope I have given you food for thought, and even something to make you splutter over your cup of coffee. Non-existent teachers, non-existent schools, ever-existent officials.

As to why some countries have slums and others do not, and likewise why some have absentee teachers, corrupt officials, corrupt examiners, non-existent schools and very fast growing populations, The Economist is silent, presumably because they fear that you might conclude that part of the reason was the ability and character of the people who live there. Banish the thought. Onwards and upwards.