Scribe, take a good look around: In this morning’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof was proclaiming some very unlikely good news.
Right from his puzzling headline on down, the scribe saw the glass very full:
KRISTOF (12/13/12): It’s a Smart, Smart, Smart WorldKristof was citing data from a new book by James Flynn, “the New Zealand scholar who pioneered this area of research.” Eventually, Kristof acknowledged a key fact: “While I.Q. measures something to do with mental acuity, it’s a rubbery and imperfect metric.”
Before I get to the dreary budget debates in Washington, here’s a bright spot of good news: We’re getting smarter.
My readers are all above average. But if I ever had average readers, they would still be brilliant compared with Americans of a century ago.
The average American in the year 1900 had an I.Q. that by today’s standards would measure about 67. Since the traditional definition of mental retardation was an I.Q. of less than 70, that leads to the remarkable conclusion that a majority of Americans a century ago would count today as intellectually disabled.
IQ seems like a somewhat fuzzy concept. Beyond that, we find it hard to believe that the average American was functioning at that level in 1900.
Soon, though, Kristof was believing the best again:
KRISTOF: The average American I.Q. has been rising steadily by 3 points a decade. Spaniards gained 19 points over 28 years, and the Dutch 20 points over 30 years. Kenyan children gained nearly 1 point a year.Is human capacity on the upswing? Of all people, Kristof should know better! Across from him on today’s op-ed page, another piece started like this:
Those figures come from a new book by Flynn from Cambridge University Press called “Are We Getting Smarter?” It’s an uplifting tale, a reminder that human capacity is on the upswing.
COLLINS (12/13/12): It appears that a lot of people believe the world will come to an end next Friday, possibly during a zombie apocalypse.That right! It was Lady Collins, using her favorite hook again. She pretended she was going to discuss something serious, then made a run for the piffle.
Now that I have your attention, let’s proceed with a discussion of how various accounting principles are influencing Congressional negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”
Just kidding! We are going to talk about the end of the world and the zombie apocalypse.
Back to Kristof. “None of this means that people today are born smarter,” he said at one point—a fairly obvious jab at Collins. A bit later on, he even wrote this:
KRISTOF: It’s not that our ancestors were dummies, and I confess to doubts about the Flynn Effect when I contemplate the slide from Shakespeare to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Likewise, politics does not seem to benefit: One academic study found a deterioration in the caliber of discussions of economics in presidential debates from 1960 to 2008.Fifty Shades of Grey? A declining discourse? Was this a shot at Dowd?
Completing the hat trick, Joe Nocera wrote about college sports again on Tuesday morning’s op-ed page. Is it really a smart, smart, smart world?
Scribe, take a good look around!