Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Will organic milk shrink your baby's brain?

There is no doubt that iodine deficiency has a disastrous effect on infant IQ so health freaks who avoid salt are already skating on thin ice -- since iodized table salt is the main source of iodine in a Western diet.  But health freaks are usually also devotees of everything "organic", so the warning below addresses a serious concern for them.  Their children are doubly at risk

Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers who drink organic milk may be putting their child’s health at risk, scientists claim.  They say it contains a third less iodine than normal milk – which could affect infant brain growth and intelligence later in life.

UHT longlife milk was also found to have similarly low levels of the mineral, academics from Reading University found.

Because milk is the main source of iodine in the British diet – providing 40 per cent of the average daily intake – switching to organic may have a significant impact on health, they warn.

Organic milk is often drunk for its supposed health benefits, with claims that it contains omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the heart. And in response to environmental and animal welfare concerns, the sector is growing.

But researchers said that because organic farmers do not give their cows as many artificial supplements the milk lacks iodine, which is important for the healthy development of babies in the womb and in their first months of life.

The mineral is thought to have a major impact on the formation of the brain, with repercussions for IQ and school success later in life.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Enjoyment of school is highly heritable

A huge and fascinating article below but it is greatly regrettable that the authors failed to control for an obvious confounder -- IQ.  I reproduce only the abstract below but I have read the whole article and I can see no mention of IQ in it at all.  Yet it seems to me that we have here a clear case of double counting.  It is highly likely that dull kids find school a trial and that smart kids find it a breeze, not only being easy but producing praise from teachers and others.  Many teachers smiled on me in my schooldays.

So are we just measuring IQ below?  Impossible to be certain but highly likely, I think.  I suspect that the authors have simply found that smart kids enjoy school more.  Which is much less surprising than their findings initially appear.  Try alternative explanations for the findings.  I can't think of any.  

With all the data that the authors must have had, it is strange  that IQ was not controlled for. Why did they not?  They DID control for social class, which it is often too politically incorrect to mention, so why not IQ?  Perhaps that was a step too far in what they felt free to mention. 

I have myself had a considerable number of articles published in the academic journal concerned so it vexes me that the current editor has put out an article with such a large and unacknowledged hole in it. There is a layman's version of the article here

Why children differ in motivation to learn: Insights from over 13,000 twins from 6 countries

Yulia Kovasa et al.


Little is known about why people differ in their levels of academic motivation. This study explored the etiology of individual differences in enjoyment and self-perceived ability for several school subjects in nearly 13,000 twins aged 9–16 from 6 countries. The results showed a striking consistency across ages, school subjects, and cultures. Contrary to common belief, enjoyment of learning and children's perceptions of their competence were no less heritable than cognitive ability. Genetic factors explained approximately 40% of the variance and all of the observed twins' similarity in academic motivation. Shared environmental factors, such as home or classroom, did not contribute to the twin's similarity in academic motivation. Environmental influences stemmed entirely from individual specific experiences.


Monday, April 6, 2015

There are TWO elephants in Acemoglu's bedroom

Why are some countries rich while others are poor?  The answer to that is not far to seek.  With apologies for the army expression, the major differentiating factors stand out "like dog's balls".  The factors concerned, however, challenge basic Leftist beliefs so Leftists do their usual trick of ignoring the elephant in the room -- seeking more politically acceptable explanations.  So the theses put up by the absurd Leftist economist Daren Acemoglu have been eagerly seized on by the Left. Sadly, however, Acemoglu's theories are as full of holes as a Swiss cheese -- as I have already pointed out.  I would have failed his thesis as a Ph.D. dissertation.  There is however a saying that bad theories are driven out only by better theories so  I think it is incumbent on me to spell out what the obvious factors are.  I attempt that below

Acemoglu has addressed the "geography hypothesis", which points to the rather striking fact that poverty mostly seems to  be concentrated in the tropics and their immediately adjacent area.  So is climate the key to wealth and poverty?  Having myself been born and bred in the tropics, I hope not.  Acemoglu rejects the hypothesis in favour of his own tale about governmental institutions but makes a pretty thin argument of it. 

His chief counter-argument is the prosperity of the Inca and Aztec civilizations prior to the Conquistadores.  And it is certainly notable that those civilizations were in the warmer parts of the Americas.  One swallow doesn't make a summer however and no statistician would let pass a generalization based on a sample size of one. 

Furthermore, I think that what actually went on is fairly clear.  The areas where the meso-American civilizations arose are very fertile agriculturally and easily produced the food  surpluses that are needed for civilization to arise.  Whereas in what is today the USA and Canada, European farming technology was needed before large agricultural surpluses could be produced.

So I think the geography hypothesis is pretty good.  It fits almost all the examples.  Though we could argue about Tasmania, I suppose. But the interesting question is why.  How come that climate makes such a difference?  My answer to that is a very old one.  To oversimplify, in the tropics you just have to pick fruit off a tree to survive whereas in the cold climates you have to lay up food months in advance if you are to survive the winter.  Putting it generally, survival is much harder in cold climates so you need to be smarter to do so.  You have to use a mental model of the future for a start, and that sort of abstract thinking is what lies behind a higher IQ. 

So IQ is the first elephant in Acemoglu's bedroom.  You need information about IQ in order to understand relative wealth and poverty. It is high average IQ that produces wealth-creating behaviour.  Even within modern countries, there is a correlation between low IQ and relative poverty. And, as is now I think well-known, Lynn and Vanhanen have shown a strong correlation between average national IQ and national prosperity.  The catastrophically low average IQ of Africans corresponds closely with the pervasive  dysfunction of African societies -- and indeed of African populations everywhere.  If you want evidence that IQ tests measure what they purport to measure, Africa is very strong evidence that they do.

BUT:  IQ is not the sole foundation of national prosperity.  It suits Leftists like Acemoglu to use simplistic single-factor explanations for everything but most of the world is more complex than that.  China is the obvious counter-example.  The average Chinese IQ appears to be very high (though studies of IQ in China have mostly been confined to coastal areas) and China has long been very poor.

My favourite example however is South India.  South India is very warm and yet the average IQ there appears to be high.  It was South Indian mathematicians and engineers who were behind India's recent remarkable Mars shot. In one bound India leapt to near parity with other space-exploring nations.  And South India is well and truly in the tropics. 

How South Indians got so smart I will have to leave for another day but the continuity of civilization there has to have a lot to do with it.  Tamil Nadu claims to be the only place where a classical civilization has survived into modern times. And the constant wars between South Indian states probably also had a eugenic effect.

The interesting question, then, is why, like China, South India has long been poor.  And in both cases the answer is blindingly clear:  Socialism.  It is particularly clear in South India, which is the land of envy. All the States have been very socialist for a long time and Kerala for a while even had the distinction of having the world's only freely elected Communist government.  Even the present government is very Leftist.

And the same of course goes for China.  It was the virtual relinquishment of socialism under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping  that allowed the recent breakout into prosperity by China.  No matter how smart the people of a country are, socialism will impoverish them.  We saw that also in Russia.  Russia has made great strides since it abandoned Communism. And even India's recent surge was fired up by the big attack on the "Regulation Raj" in the 1990s.

There are of course numerous other examples of the economic benefits of winding back socialism:  Margaret Thatcher's privatizations and Ronald Reagan's tax cuts both ushered in long booms, for instance.  But let me mention another example that might otherwise go largely unheeded:  New Zealand.

New Zealand had some pretty socialistic governments during the 20th century (even the nominally conservative Muldoon regime was a big government regime) while Australia had long periods of conservative rule (including the market-oriented but nominally Leftist Hawke regime).  And that meant that New Zealand was always a poorer country than Australia. Recently however New Zealand has almost completely caught up.  Why?  Australia recently had 6 years of a vastly wasteful socialist government (the Rudd/Gillard regime) whose only notable legacy was a mountain of debt -- while New Zealand has now for over five years been under the prudent premiership of the conservative John Key.  The results were predictable.

So that is the second -- and presumably most unwelcome -- elephant in Acemoglu's bedroom:  Socialism.  High IQ makes you rich and socialism makes you poor.  You need the right combination of those two factors to have prosperity  -- JR.

John Key.  It's rarely mentioned but Key is New Zealand's third Jewish Prime Minister. He is apparently not religious, however

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More scientific brains fried by political correctness

One hopes that the authors below knew what was really going on in their data but they show no sign of it.  Their basic finding is that kids from rich families have bigger brains -- and they claim that wealth somehow has a direct effect on brain size.  Researcher Dr Kimberley Noble is quoted as saying: 

"The brain is the product of both genetics and experience and experience is particularly powerful in moulding brain development in childhood.  This suggests that interventions to improve socioeconomic circumstance, family life and/or educational opportunity can make a vast difference."

It does nothing of the sort.  What is being ignored is that naughty IQ again.  The findings were entirely predictable from what we have long known about IQ.  IQ is both hereditary, tends to be higher among successful people and is associated with larger brain size.  All that the stupid woman has discovered is the old old fact that IQ is hereditary.  And no "interventions" will change that

Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents

By Kimberly G Noble et al.


Socioeconomic disparities are associated with differences in cognitive development. The extent to which this translates to disparities in brain structure is unclear. We investigated relationships between socioeconomic factors and brain morphometry, independently of genetic ancestry, among a cohort of 1,099 typically developing individuals between 3 and 20 years of age. Income was logarithmically associated with brain surface area.

Among children from lower income families, small differences in income were associated with relatively large differences in surface area, whereas, among children from higher income families, similar income increments were associated with smaller differences in surface area.

These relationships were most prominent in regions supporting language, reading, executive functions and spatial skills; surface area mediated socioeconomic differences in certain neurocognitive abilities. These data imply that income relates most strongly to brain structure among the most disadvantaged children.

Nature Neuroscience, 2015