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A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
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With Christmas here, I have to wonder, how many kids recognize the parallels between Jesus and Santa and discard the former with the latter. I honestly don’t know. It seems like it should be a lot, but doesn’t seem to be that common. I was raised reform Jewish, so it took me a long time to figure out about Santa, but by that I mean it took me a long time (until I was 11 or so) to figure out that some children *did* believe in Santa. It took me much longer to figure out that actually the overwhelming majority of adults believed something even more silly, and still longer (until late in college) to figure out that no, they don’t, at least if their beliefs are judged by their actions.

As I think about this, I realize that young kids really do believe in Santa however, and I wonder whether this is a function of neotony. Might it be the case that more neotanous people are worse at double-think, and thus that the cost of religion is much greater for them than for their less neotanous companions? Might this also make them less capable in politics and certain other sorts of leadership? Any ideas on any of this?

• Category: Science 
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It’s easy to find articles on the long term impairment to IQ due to fetal alcohol syndrome and other causes, yet terribly difficult to find anything on the much more common-place phenomenon of temporary impairment. I think that it would be very useful to know the number of standard deviations by which a given level blood alcohol, sleep deprivation, or other impairment alters IQ, reaction time, etc. Does anyone here have any idea where this sort of research is published, or if it isn’t published, why it isn’t? Government resistance to research facilitating the direct comparison of the hazards of different drugs is an obvious reason, but doesn’t seem sufficient.

For that matter, any thoughts on why the magnitude of the cognitive benefits of aderall, ritalin, modafinal, caffeine, and the like are so rarely quantified?

• Category: Science 
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Does anyone know, statistically speaking, what sort of product the public schools are producing… according to their own advocates… after excluding 8% of the student body from testing for various reasons?

Here are the actual numbers. To some degree they speak for themselves, but here are the highlights. The top 10% of 4th grade students equal or outperform the bottom 25% (really over 45% after accounting for children excluded from the test and children who dropped out of high school) of 12th grade students, and the top 25% of students outperform the bottom 10% (really over 30% for reasons given above)! For your reference, roughly 25% of the US population gets a college degree, so the average person who will get a college degree has better math ability and reading comprehension in 4th grade than the bottom 4th of the population will have after 8 more years of schooling supposedly teaches them these subjects!

This is all the more remarkable in light of the antiquated concept of IQ as a quotient. Around the mean, this concept is predictively accurate for the most part. From the quotient definition of IQ we can infer that there are many cognitive tasks which are not taught in school in which the 10th percentile 14 year old substantially outperforms the 90th percentile 9 year old. In other words, performance in the subjects which are “taught” improves less than would be expected simply from mental maturation, or at least less than performance in subjects that are not taught.

• Category: Science 
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Having had some more time to digest the NALS study of adult literacy, I few more features of the results seem highly surprising or inconsistant with other information. For one thing, the NALS data suggests an absolute level of unemployment much greater than that which I have seen reason to suspect elsewhere. For another, the median weekly wagest seem far too low. If 70% of the NALS level 5 readers have professional or managerial employment, how can the median wage for NALS level 5 readers have been $650/week as recently as 1993? For that matter, among the NALS level 2 readers only 43% are employed yet 12% are managerial. Who could they possibly be managing? Another oddity is that there does not seem to be a national crisis of illiteracy driven immobility. Given the large number of people scoring at NALS levels 1 and 2, and the general complexity of the written/computer tests required to attain a drivers license, it would seem that a very large fraction of the population would be barred from driving due to functional illiteracy. This does not seem to be the case. More generally, the NALS data seems to suggest that one’s neighboors lack abilities that one would deem essential to day-to-day life, such as the ability to deal with all of the bills, bureaucracy, and paperwork they are faced with. How can they possibly interact with the credit and insurance systems well enough to pay their rent? Does anyone here have any idea?

• Category: Science 
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An examination of Linda Gottfredson’s “why g matters” and of its references, leaves several important questions unanswered. The most striking, in my mind, is “why are all these semi-literate people getting through graduate school”? The average person with a graduate degree is appearently closer to the average BA than the BA is to the average person with an associates degree. Average graduate degree holders just barely make the cut-off for NALS level 4, and are much (as in, by more points than the difference between themselves and holders of associates degrees) closer to the average high school graduate than they are to the people who can complete the most difficult listed tasks, yet none of the listed tasks are very difficult. They are all simply every-day instances of the sort of analysis that middle school students are supposedly taught to do.

This actually leaves me very confused. We all hear how difficult it is to get in to medical school. How is it that with such strong selection the medical schools are unable to attract students with elementary reasoning ability? No wonder medicine appears not to effect health. No wonder Buffet seems to be able to do what he does in spite of solid theories predicting efficient markets.

Might the problem be that an IQ in the low 120s combined with high conscientiousness is sufficient to identify the easy classes and get A’s in them? Might admissions committees be offended by high MCAT scores, discouraging them from giving additional consideration to students with a few B’s and with MCATs better than the committee’s members? I don’t know. Further data indicating higher average wages for college dropouts with level 3 NALS literacy than for high school graduates with level 4 NALS literacy strongly suggests that credentialism dominated the determination of socio-economic status. At any rate, this data suggests to me that and IQ of 120-125 is basically a threshold for the highest levels of socio-economic success (remember the two recent presidential candidates, for instance) but is actually too low to make high level reasoning possible. It may be that IQ tests are not inaccurate when they place the average executive half way between the average Ivy League student (who generally can’t reason very well either, can’t complete a Wason selection task, and doesn’t know what causes the seasons) and the average cashier.

I am left with one important question. What is Le Griffe’s “Smart Fraction” actually doing? Relatedly, if the average engineer or chemist only has an IQ of 116, how does anything work? This question seriously confuses me. How is it possible to get a technical degree, using sciences that require calculus etc, and not be able to summarize a newspaper article, read a bus schedule, or calculate the gas milage a car is getting? Finally, how much weight should I give to the results of large government surveys which were carried out by such people?

• Category: Science 
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