we’re dumber than the victorians

or so woodley, te nijenhuisc, and murphy have concluded:

Were the Victorians cleverer than us? The decline in general intelligence estimated from a meta-analysis of the slowing of simple reaction time

– Simple reaction time has slowed since 1889.
– Simple reaction time genetically correlates with g.
– Psychometric meta-analysis reveals a decline in g of − 1.23 points per decade.
– The decline between 1889 and 2004 is − 14.1 points.
– This is the first direct measurement of a probable dysgenic trend in IQ.

The Victorian era was marked by an explosion of innovation and genius, per capita rates of which appear to have declined subsequently. The presence of dysgenic fertility for IQ amongst Western nations, starting in the 19th century, suggests that these trends might be related to declining IQ. This is because high-IQ people are more productive and more creative. We tested the hypothesis that the Victorians were cleverer than modern populations, using high-quality instruments, namely measures of simple visual reaction time in a meta-analytic study. Simple reaction time measures correlate substantially with measures of general intelligence (g) and are considered elementary measures of cognition. In this study we used the data on the secular slowing of simple reaction time described in a meta-analysis of 14 age-matched studies from Western countries conducted between 1884 and 2004 to estimate the decline in g that may have resulted from the presence of dysgenic fertility. Using psychometric meta-analysis we computed the true correlation between simple reaction time and g, yielding a decline of − 1.23 IQ points per decade or fourteen IQ points since Victorian times. These findings strongly indicate that with respect to g the Victorians were substantially cleverer than modern Western populations.

interesting!

my first question, of course, would be: are they comparing like with like? the authors write:

“We take our general inclusion rules from the meta-analysis by Silverman (2010)…. Third, given that Galton’s sample was British the studies had to have been conducted in a Western country.”

ehhhh. but the demographics of western nations — especially the u.s. and the u.k. — have changed a lot from victorian days!

i especially started asking myself if they’ve compared like with like when i noticed in their table that the iqs of the finnish in the 1980s-90s — demographically still very much a white northern european in those decades — were pretty much the same as the victorians’ scores:

woodley et al - victorian iq

the two reaction time studies on the victorians were done by galton in the u.k. in 1884-1893 and someone named h.b. thompson in the u.s. in 1898-1900. galton’s study presumably included mostly white britons and perhaps some amount of ashkenazi jews. thompson’s study, which was conducted on university of chicago students, was almost certainly comprised of mostly white americans.

what about all the later studies? well, i don’t have access to most of them, but here’s what i found out about a couple of them (again see the table above):

– the 2002 study from the u.k. (rt=324): Effects of caffeine on mood and performance: a study of realistic consumption [pdf] – the subjects were 24 university of bristol students. now, in 2002 at least 10.5% of the university of bristol student population were non-whites, possibly more since the ethnicities of 17.8% of the student population were unknown. this is not really comparing like with like when at least 1 in 10 of the subjects was not white, unlike in galton’s or thompson’s studies. and, do we even know what the ethnic/racial backgrounds of the subjects in this study were? nope.

– the 1984–85 from the u.k. (rt=300): Age and Sex Differences in Reaction Time in Adulthood: Results From the United Kingdom Health and Lifestyle Survey [pdf] – the subjects in this study were drawn from the 1984-85 health and lifestyles survey. i don’t know for sure, but presumably this was meant to be a representative survey — representative of the population of the u.k. in the early 1980s, minorities were 4.2% of the u.k. population [pdf], so 4 out of every 100. and what about the presence of, say, southern europeans in the u.k. at the time? i have no idea, but clearly these things should be taken into account.

i dunno. this is a really neat study, and maybe woodley, et al., are on to something, but i’d like some reassurance that they’re looking at the same sorts of populations.
_____

see also:

Simple reaction time: it is not what it used to be.

Objective and direct evidence of ‘dysgenic’ decline in genetic ‘g’ (IQ) and Taking on-board that the Victorians were more intelligent than us and Intelligence declined one SD since Victorian times – why NOT? from bruce charlton!

The Victorians were cleverer than us! and ORIGINAL PAPER: “A response to Prof Rabbitt – The Victorians were still cleverer than us” by Woodley, te Nijenhuis and Murphy and Can I have a reaction? @dr. james thompson’s blog!

The Victorians were smarter than us, study suggests
Were the Victorians cleverer than us?
Victorian Era Brits Were Smarter Than Us
____

edit: see also btw, about those victorians…

(note: comments do not require an email. sir francis galton.)

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21 Comments

  1. @ hbd chick “we’re dumber than the victorians” It’s most odd. Everything else I read says we are getting smarter at about that rate. In my mind I have attributed the rise in IQ to hybrid vigor. At the same time we are having more psychoisis, which I have thought might be due to outbreeding as it occurs more in cities and in people born in cities. Easily understood; one gene is trying to build one brain while another is trying to build a different one. I’m going to withhold judgement on the IQ issue, but my feeling from reading what the Victorians wrote and what we write is that they were unquestionably smarter.
    But if they were so smart, why did they let themselves turn into us?

    Reply

  2. I wonder if Bruce Charlton would also attribute a thirty point increase in performance on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (over the span of half a century) to positive selection for high IQ.

    If not, he is not only sadly misinformed, but inconsistent in his reasoning.

    Reply

  3. Well I live in the UK. I can confirm that a high percentage of my fellow countrymen today are thick as two short planks. But that’s probably due to the marxist idiots in our government who destroyed our education system back in the 1960s by getting rid of grammar schools and replacing them with comprehensive schools.

    Reply

  4. “We” are dumber, on average, than the people writing things down in the Victorian Era. This is unsurprising, and need not imply a genetic trend.

    Reply

  5. Gregory Cochran at West Hunter expressed skepticism about this study’s findings. It’s buried in the comments section of one of his recent posts.

    Reply

  6. There were a lot of clever Victorians, no doubt about that. Especially in the sciences and technology (mathematics not so much). But then there were a lot of clever Germans and French also, according to Charles Murray’s book on human achievement. But here we are talking about the tail of the distribution, not the average for the whole population; when it comes to the average we need to account for the Flynn effect. Reaction time correlates with measured IQ reportedly but maybe it is more purely genetic, whereas IQ test performance has a larger environmental input (diet, etc.).

    Reply

  7. Sampling issues are the major concerns with this study. Though I think it’s a fairly safe bet that people are getting genotypically less intelligent (hard to argue considering the trend, see here, Sure it does… « JayMan’s Blog), I had my reservations about taking this paper’s conclusions at face value.

    For what it’s worth, the good numbers out of Finland aren’t surprising. Based on the PISA data, I pegged Finland’s average IQ at 102 in my maps of average IQ in Europe.

    Woodley’s previous paper suggested a drop of 5 points over that time. That’s far more believable than 1σ drop over that time (which seems might impossible ala the breeder’s equation).

    Cochran on it:

    The long and short of it | West Hunter

    and here.

    Reply

  8. About the decline in innovation, my guess is that it’s just really that most of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked (though not all, see Cochran again on that). During the Victorian era, we were still unlocking deep physical secrets about the universe, such the nature of electromagnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics and nuclear forces. The 20th century has seen understanding of these phenomena put into practice. But today, we need the LHC to make tiny gains in our fundamental understanding of physics. Real progress (in most sectors, at least) is just really, really hard.

    Sure, there’s a lot still to discover in materials science (including electronics), and of course in biology – particularly in genetics and neuroscience, but the physics that allowed the marked progress of the industrial age has mostly been tapped.

    See this rather pessimistic (realistic?) view of the prospects of future innovation:

    Futuristic Physicists? | Do the Math

    Reply

  9. Misdreavus, Woodley has written on the disanalogies between rxn time declines and the FE. In short, he thinks that rxn times are privileged emasures of g – training has very little effect on rxn times, for example – and the FE is on ‘specific’, i.e., non-g abilities.

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  10. “If not, he is not only sadly misinformed, but inconsistent in his reasoning.”

    he believes in jew on a stick magic so why impute consistency in his reasoning ability?

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  11. re low hanging fruit? Not sure I buy that. It may seem low hanging today with the benefit hindsight. Those who pick the higher hanging fruit today are only able to do so because they stand on the shoulders of the geniuses who preceded them. (hat tip Newton)

    Reply

  12. When you read old books, from a hundred to two hundred odd years ago, does it seem to you than you’re listening to smarter people or dumber people than those writing now?

    When you read old speeches from people like Abraham Lincoln, and compare them to what you heard from George W. Bush or Barack Obama, does it seem to you that the centuries have brought a marvelous improvement in our genetic stock, or that we are on the road to Idiocracy?

    Of course we’re dumber than the Victorians.

    Reply

  13. If the study is correct, the change amounts to a full standard deviation, which is huge. It is the difference between blacks and whites or between whites and jews/east asians. The effects ought to be obvious. Or are we too stupid to see them?

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  14. “There were a lot of clever Victorians, no doubt about that. Especially in the sciences and technology (mathematics not so much). But then there were a lot of clever Germans and French also, according to Charles Murray’s book on human achievement. But here we are talking about the tail of the distribution, not the average for the whole population; when it comes to the average we need to account for the Flynn effect.”

    I’ve seen mainly doubts about the Flynn effect – ” Were our grandparents that much dimmer?”, “Genetics can’t have altered in that short time.”
    But western economies have shifted from brawn to brain and in soc-ec terms from pyramids to onions. I was born in 1950 in relatively poor circumstances but my brain has enabled me to prosper in IT and I have three children and three grandchildren so far. Were I born in 1850 in rural Somerset as were my paternal ancestors what profitable outlets for my talents were there then?
    Things might have become dysgenic now but for most of 20th C. there were increasing chances for smart poors to prosper and breed and the appeal of mass movements for collectivist utopias dimished.

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  15. This is very strange. I agree with Richard Lynn that the Flynn Effect has been caused by nutrition which has also increased height and brain size over the 20th century, so I would expect reaction time to have improved too.

    My guess is that in the Victorian era only the brightest people were tested on reaction time, but today average people get tested, so we’re not actually getting slower, the samples are just getting more accurate.

    It may also be that reaction time reflects a part of intelligence less sensitive to nutrition.

    Reply

  16. “When you read old speeches from people like Abraham Lincoln, and compare them to what you heard from George W. Bush or Barack Obama, does it seem to you that the centuries have brought a marvelous improvement in our genetic stock, or that we are on the road to Idiocracy?”

    You don’t even have to go back that far. Just look at the Reagan vs Carter debates and compare them to Bush or Obama.

    Reagan / Carter: http://youtu.be/_8YxFc_1b_0 (starts kind of weak, but keep watching)

    Bush / Gore: http://youtu.be/cpIqItwCHzs

    Reply

  17. OFF TOPIC. The first commentor LInton Herbert said “In my mind I have attributed the rise in IQ to hybrid vigor”. This clearly is uncorrect. See Woodley’s paper “Heterosis Doesn’t Cause the Flynn Effect: A Critical Examination of Mingroni”.

    Now, I have read those articles on the victorians as well as Woodley’s replies. Although I may need to re-read them once again, I am not convinced by HBD chick counter or Alexander’s. I will probably post a comment here, later (I doubt this will add something new to the debate however).

    Reply

  18. Jayman has a point here, “About the decline in innovation, my guess is that it’s just really that most of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked”.

    By the 20th century, discoveries required hugely expensive labs,etc. and by now there is just less left to discover.

    Also, a big change from Victorian to 1945 UK. Yet very little immigration to the UK in 1945.

    Reply

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