Thursday, November 20, 2014
Our Futile Efforts to Boost Children's IQ
The twin studies have always shown little influence from family environment -- both as regards IQ and personality. Charles Murray notes more evidence to that effect below
It’s one thing to point out that programs to improve children's cognitive functioning have had a dismal track record. We can always focus on short-term improvements, blame the long-term failures on poor execution or lack of follow-up and try, try again. It’s another to say that it's impossible to do much to permanently improve children's intellectual ability through outside interventions. But that’s increasingly where the data are pointing.
Two studies published this year have made life significantly more difficult for those who continue to be optimists. The first one is by Florida State University’s Kevin Beaver and five colleagues, who asked how much effect parenting has on IQ independently of genes. The database they used, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, is large, nationally representative and highly regarded. The measures of parenting included indicators for parental engagement, attachment, involvement and permissiveness. The researchers controlled for age, sex, race and neighborhood disadvantage. Their analytic model, which compares adoptees with biological children, is powerful, and their statistical methods are sophisticated and rigorous.
The answer to their question? Not much. “Taken together,” the authors write, “the results … indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variations in IQ scores.” It gets worse: Some of the slight effects they did find were in the “wrong” direction. For example, maternal attachment was negatively associated with IQ in the children.
There’s nothing new in the finding that the home environment doesn’t explain much about a child’s IQ after controlling for the parents’ IQ, but the quality of the data and analysis in this study address many of the objections that the environmentalists have raised about such results. Their scholarly wiggle-room for disagreement is shrinking.
The second study breaks new ground. Six of its eight authors come from King’s College London, home to what is probably the world’s leading center for the study of the interplay among genes, environment and developmental factors. The authors applied one of the powerful new methods enabled by the decoding of the genome, “Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis,” to ask how much effect socioeconomic status has on IQ independently of genes. The technique does not identify the causal role of specific genes, but rather enables researchers to identify patterns that permit conclusions like the one they reached in this study: “When genes associated with children’s IQ are identified, the same genes will also be likely to be associated with family SES.” Specifically, the researchers calculated that 94 percent of the correlation between socioeconomic status and IQ was mediated by genes at age 7 and 56 percent at age 12.
How can parenting and socioeconomic status play such minor roles in determining IQ, when scholars on all sides of the nature-nurture debate agree that somewhere around half of the variation in IQ is environmental? The short answer is that the environment that affects IQ doesn’t consist of the advantages that most people have in mind -- parents who talk a lot to their toddlers, many books in in the house for the older children, high-quality schools and the like.
Instead, studies over the past two decades have consistently found that an amorphous thing called the “nonshared” environment accounts for most (in many studies, nearly all) of the environmentally grounded variation. Scholars are still trying to figure out what features of the nonshared environment are important. Peers? Events in the womb? Accidents? We can be sure only of this: The nonshared environment does not lend itself to policy interventions intended to affect education, parenting, income or family structure.
The relevance of these findings goes beyond questions of public policy. As a parent of four children who all turned out great (in my opinion), I’d like to take some credit. With every new study telling me that I can’t legitimately do so with regard to IQ or this or that personality trait, I try to come up with something, anything, about my children for which I can still believe my parenting made a positive difference. It’s hard.
There’s no question that we know how to physically and psychologically brutalize children so that they are permanently damaged. But it increasingly appears that once we have provided children with a merely OK environment, our contribution as parents and as society is pretty much over. I’m with most of you: I viscerally resist that conclusion. But my resistance is founded on a sustained triumph of hope over evidence.
Why the November 4th GOP Victory Will Disappoint
By all accounts, the recent mid-term election was a GOP victory of epic proportions. But, as the euphoria dissipates, let me add a cautionary note--the victory was not a grand as it seems since the Left (and this includes the Democratic Party) still dominates the political culture. The parallel is the gambling casino-the house always enjoys the advantage since it sets the odds, the game's rules and who is permitted to play. The recent GOP's victories might be compared to a gambler having a big day but, in the long run, the odds are stacked against him.
The Left's "house advantage" comes from its domination of the mass media, its army of "expert" talking heads able to quickly spin narratives (think Ferguson) and its overwhelming control of universities. It is this domination that permits it to classify some ideas as "too extreme" and "controversial" and thereby beyond the mainstream. How else can we possibly explain how supporting the legalization of marijuana has suddenly become praiseworthy and drastically curtailing immigration-a long-standing government role is now tantamount to xenophobic hatefulness. Put bluntly, it is the Left that decides "what everybody knows to be good" and, conversely, what is beyond the pale.
The political upshot is that those who reject the Left's cosmology must overcome long odds just to make their case, no different than a blackjack player having to be exceptional skilled just to be even when competing against a mediocre dealer. To continue the gambling parallel, a GOP candidate is advised to avoid "games" where the House has too much of an advantage, e.g., slot machines, and instead play where the House edge may only be 2-3%, e.g., backgammon. .
Consider how GOP candidates steadfastly avoided the hot-button issues of affirmative action, government mandated set-asides, racial quotas and all else in the racial spoils system. This evasion cannot be explained as a rational aversion to an unpopular policy-several states (including liberal California) have banned racial preferences and polls regularly confirm public hostility to race-based preferences. Rather, a GOP candidate who campaigned on an anti-affirmative action position is at an immediate disadvantage since "respectable folk" will accuse him of trying to reverse decades of civil rights progress. Such a candidate's past utterances will also be put under a microscope to uncover any hint of racism, even an ambiguous off-hand remark or Facebook posting as "proof" that opposition to affirmative action is "really" about being anti-black.
In other words, the discussion will go into reverse so instead of, say, discussing how affirmative action makes the US less competitive internationally, the candidate will instead waste time defending himself as having the right to talk openly about an issue that surely deserves a public airing. Only an extraordinarily clever candidate can accomplish this task and so prudence dictates selecting another less "controversial" menu item.
Examples of this Left-defined "no-go" zone abound. Consider the tribulations any Republican will face when addressing the Left's pagan-like infatuation with the environment. Envision a GOP candidate insisting that like any decent human being he has nothing against the Alabama Cave Shrimp, the American Cinchona Plantation Treefrog or the Big-footed Minute Salamander (all actual endangered species) but such protection hurts the creation of decent jobs and with job loss comes poverty and, in turn, poverty brings ill-health, inadequate education, and even upsurges in domestic violence. Again, as with challenging affirmative action, the argument will proceed backwards as the speaker has to explain that he really does love Mother Nature and has no desire to decimate the rain forest. Tellingly, not one in a thousand knows what an Alabama Cave Shrimp looks like let along its contribution to the eco-system though everybody knows the harmful consequences of joblessness.
What is particularly troubling is the asymmetrical nature of these "no go zones." A liberal Democrat might safely suggest all those earning less than $50,000 receive Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP ("food stamps") and that unhealthy food be heavily taxed. This proposal at worst would be deemed impractical but few would castigate the advocate's moral character. But, picture the reaction if a Republican suggests that SNAP benefits ought to be limited to five years and recipients required to learn how to cook healthy, inexpensive meals. Such advocacy is not just impractical -even to suggest it betrays an Ebenezer Scrooge-like mean spirited "war on the poor." And good luck to the GOP candidate who claims that his policy limiting SNAP is a "war on dependency" versus a plan to starve babies.
Clearly, what explains the Republicans flight from is its cowardice, a dread of being labeled "out of the mainstream" albeit a recently defined mainstream that contravenes centuries of tradition, and may actually be unpopular (save, of course, among our Mandarins). Indeed, I suspect that RNC campaign consultants have a secret list of policies that every GOP candidate must avoid lest he becomes politically radioactive and thus run afoul of those who define "the mainstream" and what is out-of-bounds. I can hear the RNC advisor saying "Don't mention the federal government's overreach in trying to combat campus sexual harassment -you will be tarred as being anti-women, pro-rape and no amount of talking about limited government will permit escape. Just mouth the usual banalities about more government funding for a college education."
Short of inventing spine-stiffing pills for nervous GOP candidates, what can be done? Forget about trying to educate the public that, for example, a lifelong dependency on Washington largess is not a constitutionally guaranteed right or that colorblind college admissions is not racist. This is too complicated for TV sound bites and such pronouncements will somehow be twisted into more evidence that the GOP lacks compassion.
Let me instead suggest a strategy that goes back a millennium to a Norse fighter -the berserker (as in the phrase "going berserk"). This warrior usually dressed in a bearskin and whose wild, out-of-control behavior and fearlessness verged on insanity. The very sight of the ax wielding, foaming-at-the-mouth madman often caused the enemy to flee.
As with Viking raiding parties, only a few suffice. These "crazy" candidates will confront what the Left has certified as "taboo" and thereby clear the path for more timid types of follow. He (or she) will unashamedly declare that diversity is not our strength, it is a liability and its celebration only invites trouble. He will continue on by insisting that national sovereignty absolutely requires controlling borders and that pouring yet more money into education now resembles trying to get blood from turnips. And that relentlessly expanding government welfare entitlements only creates a nation of docile toy poodles. And on and on. The MSNBC pundits will be horrified! O dear.
His "wild" utterances will not, of course, bring the policy changes that many conservatives crave, at least not immediately. Nor will they win elections. But, they will make "unspeakable" views speakable and therefore stop the process where the unspeakable eventually becomes unthinkable. At a minimum, many who secretly harbor these Left-defined "controversial" views will at least now know that they are not isolated kooks. I look forward to the day when one of the participants in a staid PBS election debate arrives in a bearskin suit and shocks everyone by simply telling the truth.
The Left’s legacy of lies
In her exceptional book "American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character," Diana West writes that Wirt, a Gary, Indiana schools superintendent, asserted before a Congressional committee in May 1934 that there was a deliberately conceived plot among members of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration to overthrow the established social order in the United States and substitute a communist-style planned economy.
For performing his patriotic duty, Wirt was branded a liar by committee Democrats, smeared by the press and even ridiculed by Roosevelt himself, a fate that would likewise befall future anti-communists such as ex-Soviet agent Whittaker Chambers, journalist M. Stanton Evans, Representative Martin Dies (D-TX) and Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI).
According to Diana West, there are many striking parallels between America's struggle with Communism and the present battle with radical Islam. The government's "see-no-Islam" policy makes truth, evidence and reality subservient to cultural sensitivity to maintain the Big Lie that "Islam is the religion of peace." It is the systematic suppression or altering of facts that advances and sustains the ideology of the left and its barricades in academia and the media.
Stated simply, the left has a tradition of deceit and a history of changing history.
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, a leading architect of Obamacare, is now under fire for comments in which he conceded that to pass the healthcare law, supporters relied on "the stupidity of the American voter" to hide its actual effects and represents the latest example of how the law was built on a foundation of lies.
Consistent with the left's pattern of deception, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) denied ever hearing about Gruber, but her website in December 2009 featured a lengthy blog post citing his analysis of Obamacare in an effort to dispel "myths" about the bill. C-SPAN also posted a clip from a Nov. 13, 2009 press conference where she touts Gruber's work.
Obama used the Internal Revenue Service and three-letter security agencies to suppress political speech with which he disagreed and harass news reporters who filed stories critical of him, while claiming there was not a "smidgen of corruption" in the so-called IRS scandal.
Obama supported and armed Islamic jihadists in Egypt, Libya and Syria, some of whose weapons may have ended up in Afghanistan and were used against American troops, while rejecting that his administration has misled the public on the Benghazi, Libya attack.
Military records and sources reveal that on July 25, 2012, Taliban fighters in Kunar province, Afghanistan successfully targeted a US Army CH-47 helicopter with a new generation Stinger missile. According to this report, the US Special Operations believe the Stinger fired against the Chinook was part of the same lot the CIA turned over to the Qataris in early 2011, weapons Hillary Rodham Clinton's State Department intended for anti-Khadafy forces in Libya, but were subsequently given to the Taliban.
Now Obama is planning an executive amnesty that would give work permits, Social Security numbers, and drivers licenses to as many as 8 million illegal immigrants, after insisting for years that he had absolutely no legal authority even to slow deportations.
Leftists have a legacy; they lie to get elected, they lie to enact their policies and they lie when those policies fail.
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Posted by JR at 1:33 AM