Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Great Great-Grandnephew

Claude S. Fischer at Salon asks, Are Humans Getting Smarter?

Psychologists often use puzzles to test intelligence. So, puzzle this: on the one hand, many psychologists tell us that intelligence is an enduring individual trait, pretty much hard-wired by a person’s DNA and by cell development in the fetus’s brain. On the other hand, testing shows that there have been huge increases around the world in IQ scores over the last two or three generations—so large that most Western adults a century ago would be considered dimwits by today’s standards.

This puzzle emerged a couple of decades ago from psychologist James Flynn’s discovery of what is now labeled the Flynn Effect. He found that, in the United States, for instance, IQ scores rose about fifteen points between roughly 1950 and 2000. They are still rising. The ascent in scores can be quite rapid—a half-point per year for young eastern German men in the 1990s. Fragments of earlier American data and more complete testing in other Western nations suggest that the surge in scores began early in the last century. IQ scores may now be leveling off in northern European nations even as they are jumping in developing nations.

Long-term job security has not been the Boomer experience, at least not for many of us who entered the workforce in the recession of the 70’s. At age 58 I’m learning new skills all the time just to keep up. And I experience memory improvement in the areas I use the most. Sometimes I wish I could spend my days gardening, but really, the 21st Century rocks.

This research is an optimistic take on human potential and a good rebuttal to the claim that intelligence is inbred and mostly a virtue of the deserving rich. The Victorian concept of an underclass, unfortunately, won’t rest in peace. Zombie politics in search of brains.

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