02:46:17 pm on
Wednesday 13 Nov 2019

Dumber or Smarter
David Simmonds

Are humans becoming smarter or dumber? This question bugs Intelligence Quotient (IQ) researchers and has for years. The jury has not yet rendered a definitive verdict.


Anecdotes suggest humans are smarter today.

The prevailing view has been that we are getting smarter. A recent study, of all the studies, which measured four million people in thirty-one countries, found an average gain of about three IQ points per decade. So seemingly entrenched was this view that it had its own name, the Flynn Effect, named after a New Zealand professor who first described the phenomenon, in the 1980s.

Not so fast, though. A recent study of some 700,000 Norwegians found intelligence, assuming you are prepared to accept that IQ is an appropriate measure of intelligence, has not grown over the past 40 years, but declined. Other studies of Scandinavian countries yielded similar results.

Before we go any further, we must note the supreme irony in study findings. Not that long ago, the Great Helmsman Donald Trump, of the USA, was fretting to his advisors. It was bad, he claimed, that America had to take immigrants from the cesspool countries of Africa, instead of from Norway.

Now, Norway did finish first in the medal count at the recent Winter Olympics, in South Korea; the US fourth place finish. Yet, it was the Norwegian Olympic team that earned itself press coverage by planning to order 1,500 eggs and what the deliver contained, that is, 15,000 eggs. Not even calorie, protein and carbohydrate-hungry Norwegian cross-country skiers could eat their way through that mistake.

To interject for a moment, Canada came in third at the Olympics in South Korea. This would appear to Trump, with hindsight, to be another stab in the back of his country by Canada. This thus confirms Canada is indeed a threat to US national security and further justifying those huge tariffs.

To interject for a moment, Canada came in third at the Olympics in South Korea. This would appear to Trump, with hindsight, to be another stab in the back of his country by Canada. This thus confirms Canada is indeed a threat to US national security and further justifying those huge tariffs.

Back to Norwegian IQ test results. Two red flags go up regarding the reliability of the study. First, the subjects were all male, a gender not known for its accomplishments, without the help of a woman. A gender which routinely finishes a distant second to the female of the species in many areas, such as common sense, multi-tasking, nurturing, determination and self-awareness.

It may be men are getting dumber. Women could equally be getting so much smarter. The increased smartness of the latter outstrips the increased dumbness of the former.

Second, the subjects, in the Norwegian studies, were recruits to armed forces, as were those in many large-scale studies of IQ. American studies show its military officers, its career hires, are doing worse on IQ tests than their predecessors did a generation ago. You can insert your own joke here about military intelligence.

Assuming that intelligence has declined over the past couple of decades, why would it have done so? Have we reached peak intelligence in the developed western world? Researchers suggest it might have something to do with education, media exposure, nutrition, health or immigration, which covers most of the bases. It’s also a powder keg; we can feed our own biases to our hearts content.

Some will say it confirms technology has rendered us such slaves to specialized knowledge that our general problem-solving capacity has diminished. Others will say it goes to show that more money needs to go to education. Maybe Donald Trump will seize on the immigration explanation and insist he was talking about real Norwegians, not first-generation Norwegians. Others will say the decline confirms the Scandinavian social experiment has failed.


Are we dumber or smarter; worse or better?

It may also inflame the debate about whether these are the best of times or the worst of times. Celebrity academic Steven Pinker has just published a second tome, Enlightenment Now, following on the heels of The Better Angels of Our Nature, to argue that by all broad measurements, society is growing a heck of a lot safer, smarter, healthier and civil over the centuries and the decades. He would no doubt see the study of Norwegian intelligence as a blip on the horizon. Still, he never had to digest his share of 13,500 surplus eggs along with the Norwegian ski jumping team.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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