Smile-a-while: Kristof believes some very good news!


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 World

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.
Kristof 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.”

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.

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.
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:
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.

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.
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.

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!


  1. Susan Rice withdraws name for consideration as SecState.

    1. good, because the next nominee will be better how exactly?

  2. The irony - it burns!!! An overrated intellectually-challenged ideologue who thinks we're smarter than our ancestors? We've made strides as a culture but centuries ago it was quite common for people to speak multiple languages, and yeah, where's all the new-age Shakespeares??? I.Q. tests re notoriously biased - how would you even formulate one for a 19th-century person. GAH

    It's similar to these creeps making repugnant statements like "The most beautiful generation" or the "bravest" or the "best" generation - just inane verbal diarreah.

  3. This is the first time I came across an article, and knew with certainty that it would show up on TDH.

    Truly, this is some rich stuff. I'm reminded of a Greg Giraldo bit about the letters from Civil War soldiers vs. the letters from modern soldiers. I guess I'd have to read the book to see what methodology they used, but the entirety of the evidence I've seen says that we're no smarter, and possibly much dumber, than previous generations.

  4. The latest theory I read was that human intelligence peaked thousands of years ago because natural selection "stopped" when we moved into cities, just like Idiocracy said. But it feels good to assume that everyone in the past was dumber because they didn't know about penicillin or the internal combustion engine, much less ipads.

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