Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is the Brain Like a Muscle, Really?

I thought I would reproduce the Newsweak column below as proof that Leftists never learn anything. Results such as they describe have been known for years. What nobody has been able to show is that the beneficial effects of special training are lasting. Educationally "enriched" kids are just as dumb when they get to adulthood as are control groups -- mainly because environmental handicaps tend to fade in importance as we get older. I noted recently some very powerful genetic research which showed exactly that: Environmental influences do matter somewhat in childhood but that fades out so that in adulthood it is your genetics that dictate your abilities.

Probably what the findings below show is that if you train kids in doing the sort of tasks that you encounter in IQ tests, they will get better at doing IQ tests for as long as they remember the training.

There is a slightly expanded account of the research concerned here but I can find no trace of it being published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. That leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It is, for instance, normal for there to be a "learning effect" in IQ testing. If you give the same test to the same people two weeks apart, they will do significantly better the second time around. That alone could explain the results below. The proper academic way to circumvent that problem is to use a "parallel form" of the test on the second time around. Most tests do have such forms available. Did the researchers below do that? Who knows? Other Problems: Was the study double-blind? Again, who knows? So I think that the bright-eyed enthusiasm shown below is mainly a product of uncritical and uninformed thinking.

For a sidelight on the issue, I reproduce a recent email from a reader underneath the article below. Some people don't need "enriched" education. In fact they do very well with very little. You will never guess who. In the end genetics rule the roost. Education can increase your knowledge and give you some skills but it cannot increase your ability to learn and figure things out
Back in 2007, Ashley and I reported on the science of praise for New York magazine, highlighting in particular the body of work by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck had done studies for over a decade – and we covered them all – including a brand new semester-long intervention that had been conducted with Lisa Blackwell at Life Sciences Secondary School in East Harlem.

Life Sciences is a health-science magnet school with high aspirations but 700 students whose main attributes are being predominantly minority and low achieving. The scholars split the kids into two groups for an eight-session workshop. The control group was taught study skills, and the others got study skills and a special module on how intelligence is not innate. These students took turns reading aloud an essay on how the brain grows new neurons when challenged. They saw slides of the brain and acted out skits. After the module was concluded, Blackwell tracked her students’ grades to see if it had any effect.

It didn’t take long. The students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed improved their study habits and grades. In a single semester, Blackwell reversed the students’ longtime trend of decreasing math grades.

The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.

Ever since that New York magazine story was published, it’s been common now to tell kids the brain is like a muscle, and intelligence is malleable. The catch was that the students at Life Sciences were reading a four-page middle-reader version of neuroscience-lite that was somewhat edited to enhance, or sell, the idea that IQ isn’t fixed.

So it’s been a legitimate ongoing question whether we’re really now telling kids the truth, when we tell the brain is a muscle. Just how malleable is IQ, really? Are we misleading them at all, when we suggest their IQ is something they can control?

As Ashley and I wrote in NurtureShock, children’s IQs do change a lot as they develop. More than half of children will see significant swings in their IQ – not just once, but three times. And the swings are not minor. Two-thirds of children’s IQ scores improve, or drop, more than 15 points. One-third of kids’ scores jump more than 30 points. So there’s clearly a lot of instability going on.

But does that give us license to suggest to kids their brains can really be altered, quickly? Are we lying to them if we ignore there’s some element of genetic predestination?

Well, that’s why yesterday’s column here was, we believe, so important. Drs. Silvia Bunge and Allyson Mackey set up a special afterschool program at a low-performing elementary school in Oakland. For eight weeks, twice a week, kids came into one of two rooms to play board games, video games, and card games. These are games available at most retailers, but they’d been chosen by Bunge and Mackey because they demanded very specific cognitive skills. One set of games – in one room – challenged the kids’ reasoning ability. The other set of games – in the other room – challenged those kids’ processing speed.

Before and after the training, the scholars measured relevant components of the children’s IQs. The scholars expected some modest improvement. But the results were staggering – the group that trained for reasoning ability saw their non-verbal intelligence scores leap 32%. The group that trained for processing speed saw their brain speed scores jump 27%. In just eight weeks – 20 hours total of training – the games had a drastic impact on the kids’ IQ.

Now, Mackey does warn that kids who already come from enriched home environments might already have these games, or something similar, and in many ways they might have already trained their brains. So while Mackey suspects all kids could benefit from the game training, not all kids would benefit so much, so quickly.

Nevertheless, it’s striking evidence that indeed, the brain is like a muscle. While every individual probably has upper limits to what we might be capable of, brain training – like weight training, or fitness training – can lift us towards those limits.


An email from a reader with some relevance: "My wife is picking up our 10 year old adopted Chinese child at this moment. The little girl speaks 3 dialects, knows well over 1000 Hanzi characters, is able to read (not yet speak) quite a bit of English, and is off the charts in technological aptitude. And this from a girl who hasn't been exposed to 1/5 of what kids from even our lowest, social welfare classes receive. Tell me there's not something biological going on. As well as more courage and determination that what is generally inculcated in our society - at that age, anyway."


Harry Reid and Slavery

In remarks intended to further paint the political right as immoral, racist and evil, Reid offered that, "Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right…When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, things aren't bad enough.' "

Reid is obviously confused. Republicans have no power to block passage of the senate healthcare reform bill. Nor are Republicans delaying passage of Obamacare. If Healthcare reform is being delayed and/or eventually dies it will be because one or more of Reid’s fellow Democrats decided to do the right thing and kill this Frankenbill where it lays.

Ironically, had Reid been speaking to Democrats he would not only have been currently correct, but historically accurate as well. It was of course the Democrat Party that was late recognizing the wrongs of slavery; it was Democrats that wrote the Jim Crow laws and enforced them with fire hoses and attack dogs; it was the progressive hero Woodrow Wilson who segregated the federal government and locked Blacks out of jobs; it was the democrat party that filibustered passage of the civil rights acts of 1964 and ’65 and in fact has opposed every piece of civil rights legislation written since the end of the civil war.

Reid’s remarks might also be more properly directed at Democrats given that the reasoning used by new liberals of the 21st century and Democrats of the 19th century bear a striking similarity.

What is slavery except the usurping of one mans liberty and private property in service of another man? The defenders of slavery argued that the founding was a lie, that all men were in fact not created equal, that, in fact – to borrow from Thomas Jefferson – some were “born with saddles and others with boots and spurs to ride them.” They pointed to advances in science and philosophy that proved Black people were a sub-species of human and thus justified their defense of slavery as a moral good. They further argued that the right to self determination meant slave owners could transport their chattel into non-slave states thus making slavery the law of the land through the back door. The defenders of slavery declared that it was they who were on the “right side” of history and the fact of slavery was proof.

The argument is almost indistinguishable from the case the left makes in defense of abortion, which they demand be a part of what they call healthcare reform. The right to self-determination is sacred yet does not apply to children in utero as they are not human; the Rights articulated in the Declaration do not apply to them. We are an advanced society and history demands that we recognize that abortion is a moral good.

Similar arguments run through most of the new lefts social agenda. They will argue that the founders of this great nation never intended that the rights they spoke of applied to all people in all times. For Reid and the rest of his Democratic cohorts some men were in fact born with saddles and others meant to ride them. To the new left a just government - a moral and compassionate government-is one that secures the newly discovered right to healthcare (or housing; or a job; or food) by confiscating the property of some in service to others. The fact that socialist Europe has already moved in that direction is proof enough that they are on the “right side” of history.

Reid invokes the image of America’s original sin in order to preserve the lefts inflated sense of its own virtue. In 2010 who but the most backward of all thinkers would side with the defenders of slavery? Who indeed?

Harry Reid is free to demonize Republicans and turn the past into fiction; it won’t make a bit of difference. It won’t make the healthcare reform bill any less terrible and it won’t make history anymore than an indifferent and no doubt amused observer.



Obama approval index falls to -16

(-16 means that 16% more strongly disapprove than strongly approve)

Rasmussen reports Saturday's Obama's Presidential Approval Index, fell to -16. Yet another record low for Obama.

Only 25% of the nation's voters still Strongly Approve of the way Obama is performing his role as President. Obama's falling popularity is partly the result of declining enthusiasm among Democrats - only 43% of whom now strongly approve of Obama's performance.

Only 36% of all voters believe that the Obama is doing a good or an excellent job handling the economy, while 45% rate his economic performance as poor.

On national security matters, only 39% rate the Obama's performance as good or excellent while, 36% say poor.

Rasmussen Reports presidential job approval ratings are based upon a sample of likely voters, rather than samples of all adults. Obama’s numbers are always several points higher in a poll of adults rather than likely voters because some of Obama's most enthusiastic supporters, such as young adults, are less likely to turn out to vote.

It's not just Rasmussen, a week ago even CNN found Obama's job approval rating fell 48%, confirming similar results from Gallup, Quinnipiac, and Hawkeye a week earlier.




Rap: What's It Good For?: "I would have said absolutely nothing, until I saw this news story in the New York Post: Times Sq. gunman held weapon like rapper: "A Times Square bloodbath was narrowly avoided because the machine-pistol-toting thug who fired at a cop flipped the gun on its side like a character out of a rap video, causing the weapon to jam after two shots, law-enforcement sources said yesterday. When scam artist Raymond "Ready" Martinez held the MAC-10-style gun parallel to the ground, it caused the ejecting shells to "stovepipe," or get caught vertically in the chamber, the sources said. The gun is designed to be fired only in a vertical position. If he had fired the weapon -- which had another 27 rounds in the clip -- properly, Martinez, 25, could have killed the hero cop pursuing him and countless others walking through the swarming tourist mecca Thursday morning." Heh. Martinez was himself a rapper of little note."

Barack Obama ensures a long depression: "Political success, as reflected in the recent gubernatorial races appears ever-more staked on the state of the economy. Official unemployment recently measured 10 percent, though the more-honest gauge (U-6) shows the nation running unemployment at a Depression-like 17.2 percent. In response to high unemployment numbers, Barack Obama has said, ‘I will not rest until all Americans who want to work can.’ Yet Mr. Obama’s policies belie his words.”

TSA: Worse than useless: "Airport security in the USA is a joke, and a bad one at that. It’s easy to create a fake boarding pass with Photoshop. And it’s not that much more difficult to steal someone’s identity to create fake identification documents. Indeed, the entire U.S. airline security process is nothing but ’security theater,’ a term coined by programmer and security consultant Bruce Schneier. But we still have ID checks, secret databases, and no-fly lists.”

Job Growth By Spring?: "The President’s top economic advisor, Larry Summers, told me that “by spring employment growth will start turning positive. During my "This Week" interview, Summers said that “everybody agrees that the recession is over,” but he did not say when the unemployment rate could be expected to drop further. The unemployment rate dipped last month to 10 percent from a peak of 10.2 percent. Many private economists, like Moody’s Mark Zandi, predict unemployment will climb through the third quarter of next year to 10.6 percent.

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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