Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Are women easily discouraged?

 

I cannot pry into your domestic arrangements, not without a larger budget anyway, but I wonder if you would agree that women are easily discouraged? Personally, I have not found it to be the case. On the contrary, to me women seem to have a well-developed ability to triumph in argument by the vigorous exposition of their cause, and a photographic recollection of such errors and transgressions committed by any man who would dare oppose them. This may be a unique observation. You will tell me. Methodologically, I understand that your perspective may differ if you are a woman or a man, but I trust you will follow the usual calm and detached empirical procedures to ensure an objective evaluation of this contentious matter.

However, my personal impressions may be due to restrictions in sample size. On the basis of studying larger samples of women with social psychology experiments on priming some researchers assert that if you communicate to a woman that she is about to take a test on which women do badly, then she will do badly on that test. That is, worse than she would have done if you had not communicated that negative expectation. This is called “stereotype threat” and is said to be the reason that women and some racial groups do badly on some tasks.

First, let us see if this is true. Paulette Flore works with Jelte Wicherts, who likes nothing more than taking a chainsaw to other people’s statistics, often with good effect. Will stereotype threat survive the investigations of this dynamic duo? Paulette gave an enthusiastic presentation on this subject at ISIR2014 in Graz.

Does stereotype threat influence test performance of girls in stereotyped domains? A metaanalysis. Flore, P.C., Wicherts, J.M.    

P.C.Flore@tilburguniversity.edu; J.M.Wicherts@tilburguniversity.edu

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZUmZONk1zRGJZMEU/view?usp=sharing


The effect of gender stereotype threat on math, science or spatial skills tests performance of girls has been studied in numerous experiments. Although theory predicts that girls in stereotype threat conditions will underperform compared to girls in control conditions, outcomes of the experiments strongly vary. In order to
understand the effect of stereotype threat in school-aged groups, we conducted a meta-analysis of stereotype threat experiments on test performance with schoolgirls as participants. In addition we considered the following theoretically relevant moderators: test difficulty, presence of boys, gender equality within countries, and the type of control group used in the experiments. We also studied the possibility of publication bias.

We carried out an extensive (grey) literature search. Selected papers included a sample of girls in their study, had a sample with mean age younger than 18 years, used a (quasi)-experimental design, administered the stereotype threat between-subjects, and used a math, science or spatial skills test as dependent variable. We used Hedges’ g as the effect size and fitted random and mixed effects meta-regressions with restricted maximum likelihood estimation. We carried out several tests for publication bias and excess of significant results.

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We obtained 26 relevant papers or unpublished reports, out of which we selected 47
independent effect sizes for the analysis (total N= 3760). The estimated average effect size was small, but significant (Hedges’ g = -0.22). None of the theoretical moderators significantly predicted the stereotype threat effect. The tests for publication bias were all significant. Furthermore, the test of the excess of significance results indicated there were more significant studies included in the meta-analysis than to be expected based on the observed power. A consequence of publication bias, or an excess of significant results, is that the average estimated effect size is probably inflated.

Although the theory of stereotype threat has been well established, based on our results we question the robustness of the effect for the population of school-aged girls. To obtain a more reliable estimate of the average effect of stereotype threat we need new cross culturally administered experiments with sufficient power, which would enable us to disentangle the bias from the actual effects of stereotype threat.

Why did papers which showed an apparent effect of stereotype threat have a better chance of getting published? Of course, papers reporting any sort of effect are more attractive than papers which fail to find an effect, though it is important to know about both.  Do editors and reviewers want to find that women are underperforming because of an unfair performance expectation? Have they thought that through?

Let us do a thought experiment. Say you are an employer. (I know this is unlikely, and that probably like so many of us you are now or have been in the past a hireling of the State or their cosmetically enhanced front organisations and running dogs). You are told that if you employ a woman (or an ethnic minority person) they are likely to underperform when given a task on which they are told they will do badly. I am not an employer, but I have listened to employers, and the last thing they want is to hire someone who is “high maintenance”. Imagine you were an employer and one day, coming across a rival product being offered for sale, you rushed into your own office and said to your employees: “Our competitors have come up with a brilliant innovation. We have to use our brains to work out how to improve our own offering, and we have to do so quickly so as to outwit them with our intelligent counter-offer”. At this point you notice all the women are in tears, and all the ethnic minority people are mute with anxiety. From the employers’ point of view, hiring such fragile minds is a dreadful selection error. Never employ people who collapse under pressure and, most certainly, never let them fly an aeroplane in a thunderstorm.

It many be too much to expect, even after this thorough dismissal by Flore and Wicherts, that the notion of stereotype threat will not be pursued further, but brace yourself for further publications purporting to show that girls simply can’t take the pressure of negative expectations, and need to be guided through their fragility by sensitive condescension.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Are you a nuisance?

I can only guess, but I assume that my readers sometimes reflect on their achievements, and within the bounds of modesty assume they have contributed, however mildly, to the societies in which they live. Frontiers of science, alleviation of suffering, careful driving, scrupulous payment of invoices: that sort of thing. Of course, such self-assessments are often delusional. Memory can be selective, and the occasional important publication shines in recollection, while the large pile of unfinished projects, disgruntled colleagues and abortive grand designs fade into oblivion. Pereunt et imputantur.

What if we were to take an objective measure? Track a thousand newborns, and keep a close account of the profit and loss ledger. At this point you may feel a trifle uneasy. Who are we to judge these matters? What price the jocular remark of a mute inglorious Milton? How could one possibly assess the wit of someone who lacks a Twitter account? Furthermore, you may recoil at the possible results of such an enquiry. If some individuals turn out to be a nuisance and a high cost to society, what then? Should they be exiled to some other land whether the natives are even more generous and gullible, or should we intervene as best we can to make them into productive citizens? These are not trivial matters, and the researchers were at pains to highlight the moral choices which arise from a clear headed evaluation of costs and benefits. In particular, their discussion pre-supposes a compassionate society, with redistributive taxation providing educational, health and welfare benefits. The question barely arises outside a welfare states. In such less kindly states, if people are a nuisance they are simply a nuisance, but not a direct cost, since no one will be paying them any benefits.

Terrie E. Moffitt & Avshalom Caspi used the ISIR 2014 conference to test reactions from assembled researchers about the findings so far, and about the issues which arise from them. They presented their data on the Dunedin study, a four-decade longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1000 New Zealanders. They examined risk factors in childhood and measures of social, health, and economic costs in adulthood.

Adult social and economic outcomes fit the Pareto principle: 20% of the cohort accounted for approximately 80% of every outcome: the cohort’s months of social welfare benefits, years of absent-father childrearing, pack-years of cigarette smoking, hospital admissions, pharmacy prescription fills, criminal court convictions, and injury-related insurance claims. Moreover, high-cost individuals with one problem outcome tended to also have multiple problem outcomes. An ultra-high-cost sub-segment of the cohort was identified who accounted for 80% of multiple problems.

I can remember my interest in the Pareto principle when I first came across it, but I now see it as part of what I call “the comparative percentages muddle”. For example, would you be outraged to hear that 90% of national acne is owned by 10% of the population? A moment’s thought will show you that some people have acne and others do not. Comparative percentage obscures a skewed distribution. Teenagers tend to have acne, and some young adults have acne which reaches chronic levels. Then take the more usual diatribe: the top 1% own 10% or 30% or whatever of the national wealth. In the same way that it seemed odd that some some small percentage “own” all the acne it seem iniquitous that another small percentage owns a large percentage of the wealth. The comparative percentage muddle is based on the untested assumption that 1% of the population should own no more than 1% of the wealth. Comparative percentage shares are a clumsy (and perhaps intentionally misleading) way of showing distributions. For example, in a country where every citizen is paid the same wage for 40 years it will still be the case that older workers will have  more savings than the young because they will have had more years in which to build up savings, even in a country where you cannot pass on your wealth to your children. Savings accumulate over the life course, so without age correction the comparative percentage wealth statistic is misleading. Add in compound interest on savings, and add in a mild wage differential for more educated workers and the whole thing becomes a muddle in search of indignation.

The authors know all this, and realise that the beguiling Pareto observation is a post-hoc description, which of itself predicts nothing. In this case it simply asserts: there are some troublesome people, and they will account for most social problems. The critical question is: which kids will grow up to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of trouble (and can anything be done to make them behave better)?

The authors say: Risk factors measured in childhood that characterized this ultra-high-cost group were: low family socio-economic status, child maltreatment, low self-control, and low IQ. Effect sizes were very large. Predictive analyses showed that together, SES, maltreatment, self-control, and IQ measured in the first decade of life were able to predict 80% of the individuals who are using 80% of multiple costly services. We developed an index of the integrity of a child’s brain at age three years. This age-3 brain-integrity index was a strong predictor of the cohort members who four decades later became members of the ultra-high-cost population segment.
Implications: Much research has shown that childhood risk ‘X’ can predict poor adult outcome ‘Y’, but modest effect sizes discourage translation of findings into targeted childhood interventions. This study illustrates that the vast bulk of a nation’s social services, crime control, and health-care are expended on a relatively small population segment. During early childhood, this population segment is characterized by a small set of risk factors: low SES, child maltreatment, low self-control, low IQ, and poor brain integrity. Reducing these factors may bring surprisingly good return on investment.

The comments from the audience were that it would be an error to describe the neurological examination as an “index of the integrity of the child’s brain”. Brains are assumed to be present. Better to say that an examination of behaviour, skills and neurological responses shows that many of the troublesome children can be detected at that age.

The assessment is interesting. It includes the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which is simple and a good predictor. A word is spoken and the child has only to point to the one of four pictures which best describes the word. It has been doing good work since 1959 and is an excellent example of the power of intelligence measures: simple to do but profound in their implications. They also tested language and motor development, and simplest of all, what the child’s behaviour had been like during the 90 minute session.

There were varying views as to whether interventions in early childhood would be effective. I think the Abecedarian project achieved useful results in increasing ability somewhat (by about 4 IQ points on average), but not all researchers are convinced about that. Training parents in how to manage a very difficult and demanding child could be very useful, but that remains to be proved at the scale required, though King’s College has done good pioneering work on this.

The core of the argument is a social one, and goes to the heart of policy making. The authors calculate that about 45% of the population are “low cost users”. In other words, they draw very little on community resources, yet pay most of the taxes that provide those services to others. The authors have identified some ultra high cost users who are a net drain on resources. Compassionate societies pay their bills, including the highest bill, which is often being the target of their bad behaviours. Whilst they remain willing to do so welfare states will survive, and might even invest yet more resources in the hope of bringing about improvements in parenting. If they were to decide to invest all of their resources in their own children rather than divert their earnings to other people’s children the redistributive State would collapse.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

#IQ2014 True but taboo

Excellent talk from Susan Pinker on the difficulties of talking to the press about intelligence. She was able to very quickly explain that scientists often have great difficulty understanding that their interest in whether something is true or not does not meet the basic requirements of dealing with the public’s strong emotions regarding taboo subjects. Researchers cannot understand that a good story (true or not) always trumps their most earnest recital of reliable facts. The wisdom of crowds crowds out even the best statistics. You cannot expect to connect with an audience who are in the throes of righteous indignation by reading them a list of met-analytic effect sizes.

Pinker looked back at Hume’s theory of moral sentiments: Reason alone cannot be a motive to the will, but rather is the “slave of the passions”. Moral distinctions are not derived from reason. Moral distinctions are derived from the moral sentiments: feelings of approval (esteem, praise) and disapproval (blame) felt by spectators who contemplate a character trait or action.

By way of analogy, Pinker argues that the elephant in the room is not individual and group differences in intelligence, but the immense emotions which surround the subject, and reason is no more than the little boy riding the elephant.

Why should any member of the public listen to a treatise on intelligence testing when they are overcome with repugnance at, for example, the use of IQ tests to determine who can be subjected to capital punishment in America, and hold you responsible like a corrupt doctor attending a torture session? Unless emotions are understood, communication about facts is unlikely. Where there have been historical injuries these should be talked about, or it will seem that the researcher knows but does not care that abuses took place.

The next points apply even to non-taboo subjects. Experts are cursed with knowledge, often too much and of the wrong sort (too detailed, too complex, of marginal interest to most people). Jargon is a real problem, as is the lack of connection between a finding and everyday life, which may make researcher look utterly cold and heartless (particularly if it involves explaining to the journalist that they cannot boost their IQ).

It is essential to know your audience. Lecturing about sex differences, Pinker fell foul of a particular German audience who assumed that all science was a social construction of oppressive patriarchs. Forewarned, she would have discussed this view at the very beginning, and explained that she was describing the world as it is, not as it ought to be. She imagined that it would be clear to the audience, as an independent-minded professional woman who combined clinical psychology practice with science journalism, that she was not a stooge or a push-over as regards male domination.

Pinker’s one plea was “prepare yourself for talking to a journalist as you would for a job interview”. Understand your audience, and their interests and background before saying a word. Aim to make three points. If you want to say more, only do so if you can branch your additional remark off those three points. Never say anything “off the record”. There is no such thing. Watch your step, take care, and remember “the journalist always wins”. If you attack back (other than correcting an obvious major error) you will look petulant, and also give further publicity to whatever the journalist’s implied about you, for example that you want to use IQ tests to slaughter somebody, or clone a master race.

Finally, in defence of journalists, Pinker pointed out that they had to get the equivalent of a research grant every single day. They have little job security, and have to get something printed somewhere so as to survive till the following day. Their 24 hours is as big as your 24 month research project.

Finally: tell a tell a story. For example, what is the chance that a woman science journalist who was invited to give a lecture about a woman science journalist who died when a lorry hit her would herself be hit by a lorry a month before the lecture?

Damn, damn, damn. I should have started with that story. Anyway, let me tell you what happened next.

There was a lot of good stuff in this talk, and I hope she will get it printed somewhere so why not ask her to do so?  info@thelavinagency.com

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Competences of immigrants and natives

J. Biosoc. Sci., page 1 of 28, 6 Cambridge University Press, 2014
doi:10.1017/S0021932014000480

 

HEINER RINDERMANN*1 and JAMES THOMPSON†

THE COGNITIVE COMPETENCES OF IMMIGRANT AND NATIVE STUDENTS ACROSS THE WORLD: AN ANALYSIS OF GAPS, POSSIBLE CAUSES AND IMPACT

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3c4TxciNeJZX0FHTnpiV3JPZDA/view?usp=sharing

Above is the link to the paper. No comments from me, but look forward to comments from you.

#IQ2014 second day so far

 

Numerical ability is the gateway into STEM success finds E.Stern at ETH Zurich, looking at engineering and maths/physics students, average IQ roughly 120. Sample size still small, will report when up to 200 subjects.

Paulette Flore (P.C.Flore@tilburgunivesity.edu) looked at stereotype threat on girls’ test performance. She finds that the effect is at best slight, and probably due to publication bias. 26 relevant papers found total n=3760 and although a positive effect was initially found the Hedges’ g –0.22 effect size was very small. The power of most studies was low, below .4 with one exception at .8

Georg Kramer (georg.kramer@phst.at) finds that a general mental ability test plus a structured interview were a good predictor of academic achievement in college bachelor degree admission, predicting grade point average every year, and did better  in predicting final grades than the 3rd year grade point average.

#IQ2014 first day

 

This is a jumble, just to prove I arrive at the conference.

Ian Deary presented an extraordinary range of his work covering over 30 years showing how (rewinding) he came to write particular papers and then how the new generation of younger colleagues in his department “remixed” them with better techniques and data sets.

In words I will not repeat to sensitive readers he spoke of the power of massive samples, or better still, entire populations, to silence carping critics who claim that psychometricians always use small samples. I will try to get further detail from the very full presentation.

Gignac presented data on digit span, formerly the ugly duckling of intelligence assessment, and saved only by Jensen from being dropped from the Wechsler. Giofre put in a plea for sensitive scoring systems which incorporated partially correct scores when studying working memory.

In a very big meta-analysis Tim Bates showed that social class interacts with intelligence to some extent in US samples, but not in other parts of the world. It suggests that the much quoted Turkheimer (2003) is something of an outlier in the US funnel plot, but there is a US/rest of world difference, though hard to be sure why, possibly less supportive welfare environment for poor Americans.

Latvala showed that parent’s anti-social behaviour did not have behavioural effect on offspring. Effects seemed to be primarily genetic.

This morning we had a keynote address by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi on how one identifies the children who will later turn out to be ultra-high cost individuals in society, using welfare, health service and getting into trouble with the law. With 81% efficiency such children can be spotted at age 3. However, whether anything can be done about it is unclear, though training in self-control seems to be a possible avenue of intervention.

 

 

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Attending conferences: a test of intelligence?

 

The cognitive load imposed by attending a conference is considerable. One must book the conference, then the hotel, calculating whether you will need an extra night before or after the conference. Then you must book flights so as to arrive in good time before, and leave in good time afterwards. If necessary, you must book a car, taxi or a train to get from the airport to the conference hotel, allowing a time for the transfer. If these arrangement mean you stray into another day, then the dates must be coordinated again. The plane must not leave the airport before the car has been returned. It is almost as hard as digits backwards.

You must also ensure you have the necessary currency, passports, travel tickets, and the correct clothing. It is prudent to carry a universal power adapter, extra batteries for devices and a satnav for the car.

Is it any wonder that most people stay at home and read the abstracts afterwards? However, conferences sometimes engender the sensation that something is being achieved, that a contribution is being made to knowledge.

The notion of being a contributor to society runs deep with many citizens, and the distinction between contributors and non-contributors is both interesting and sometimes upsetting. The very young and the very old are understood to contribute less at those ages, though they will generally have contributed much over the bulk of their lifetimes. Setting aside age differences, what distinguishes contributors from non-contributors?

One of the keynote addresses at #IQ2014 looks at this contentious issue.

In “Early childhood origins of an ultra-high-cost segment of the population” Keynote Terrie E. Moffitt of Duke University and Avshalom Caspi of King’s College London
(terrie.moffitt@duke.edu; avshalom.caspi@duke.edu) say:

Worldwide, the population is aging and children are becoming rare. Nations increasingly view young people as a valuable resource for the economic and social wellbeing of whole societies. There is intense interest in early interventions to help all children achieve their potential. However, evidence is lacking to identify which
childhood risk factors to target, to yield the best return on investment.
Method: We used data from the Dunedin Study, a four-decade longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1000 New Zealanders. We examined risk factors in childhood and measures of social, health, and economic costs in adulthood.
Results: Adult social and economic outcomes fit the Pareto principle: 20% of the cohort accounted for approximately 80% of every outcome: the cohort’s months of social welfare benefits, years of absent-father childrearing, pack-years of cigarette smoking, hospital admissions, pharmacy prescription fills, criminal court convictions, and injury-related insurance claims. Moreover, high-cost individuals with one problem outcome tended to also have multiple problem outcomes. An ultra-high-cost sub-segment of the cohort was identified who accounted for 80% of multiple problems.
Risk factors measured in childhood that characterized this ultra-high-cost group were: low family socio-economic status, child maltreatment, low self-control, and low IQ. Effect sizes were very large. Predictive analyses showed that together, SES, maltreatment, self-control, and IQ measured in the first decade of life were able to predict 80% of the individuals who are using 80% of multiple costly services. We developed an index of the integrity of a child’s brain at age three years. This age-3 brain-integrity index was a strong predictor of the cohort members who four decades later became members of the ultra-high-cost population segment.
Implications: Much research has shown that childhood risk ‘X’ can predict poor adult outcome ‘Y’, but modest effect sizes discourage translation of findings into targeted childhood interventions. This study illustrates that the vast bulk of a nation’s social services, crime control, and health-care are expended on a relatively small population segment.
During early childhood, this population segment is characterized by a small set of risk factors: low SES, child maltreatment, low self-control, low IQ, and poor brain integrity. Reducing these factors may bring surprisingly good return on investment.

I will give you more details from the conference, that is, if I manage to get myself there successfully.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Job opportunities in intelligence research

 

I don’t know how many jobs are ever offered directly to students who want to do research on intelligence, but currently they must be few and far between. However, here are some opportunities for students who already have a Master’s degree.

The Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology in Edinburgh is offering 3-year fully-funded PhD studentships commencing September 2015.
The studentships are in cognitive ageing/cognitive epidemiology or experimental and human neuroscience and the ageing brain. A number of projects spanning the Centre's 6 research groups are available:
- Cognitive Epidemiology
- Human cognitive ageing: Individual differences
- Human cognitive ageing: Human cognitive neuropsychology
- Mechanisms of cognitive ageing
- Genetics, genomics and epigenetics: Experimental, pathway and statistical analysis in brain ageing
- Human and animal brain imaging

Further information and an application form is available on the CCACE website: www.ccace.ed.ac.uk.
The deadline is Friday 30th January 2015; interviews will be held in March 2015. Candidates must already hold a Master's degree in a relevant field.

If your own department is looking for intelligence researchers, please send me the details so I can circulate them as well.

Listen to her play

 

To Holy Trinity Church last night, the Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts movement , to listen to the Carol Service, the celebration somewhat perturbed by the ministrations of a Sky TV crew such that the opening address was a safety announcement by an AFM (assistant floor manager), providing the most lowering introduction to Christmas imaginable, but the mood lifted quickly to the finely detailed rafters with the opening carol.

Then a feast of performers: Actors Robert Lindsay, Sally Phillips (Bridget Jones’ Diary), James Norton; the Freshfields Choir and CMS Chorale, that ensemble blessed with one soprano with a clarion descant. I suggested to her later that she get an agent, but her husband said she already sang just for him and he did not want his domestic arrangements perturbed, and who could blame him.

Then the astonishing Katherine Jenkins, OBE, whose slight form packs a mighty voice. She delivered a great Leonard Cohen Hallelujah; a beautiful Silent Night; and a Placide Cappeau/Adolphe-Charles Adam O Holy Night which would have gained approbation from anyone who ever sung in the Welsh valleys. An ex-teacher before her first record contract, she paid particular attention to the kids in the Colvestone Primary School Choir, beneficiaries of the The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts http://www.childrenandarts.org.uk/

I mean no disrespect to the aforementioned great performers, but let me continue as I had intended.

Then the star: This lady rocks. Just off the plane with her violin that morning at 3 am from a Sony recording session in Poland, Jennifer Pike gave a commanding performance of transformative power. Her playing of Vaughan William’s The Lark Ascending was a masterpiece. Power, precision and infinite tenderness from the first note.

She closes her eyes while playing, she says, because she wants to see the form of the music in her mind, visualising where it must move to next. From time to time she looks at the faces in the audience, and seeing them changes her performance, making it different and more fun than the empty studio she was recording in the day before. She doesn’t consciously aim for a particular style, though Menuhin is always in her mind, not surprising given that she won the Menuhin International Violin Competition at the age of 12.

And so to bed.

Link for “Are bright people normal” paper

 

http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/are-bright-people-normal.html

Last week I posted about normal brightness, but did not at that time have a link to the actual paper. This is a legitimate open source link. You can read it without a publisher visiting you at home and disembowelling you. Well, I cannot exclude the possibility that they will do so out of sheer devilment, but your grieving family will probably win the case against them.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2014.11.005