Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Raise Our I.Q.

Poor people have I.Q.’s significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large part a function of genetics.

After all, a series of studies seemed to indicate that I.Q. is largely inherited. Identical twins raised apart, for example, have I.Q.’s that are remarkably similar. They are even closer on average than those of fraternal twins who grow up together.

If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, “Intelligence and How to Get It,” which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.

Professor Nisbett provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses — praise effort more than achievement, teach delayed gratification, limit reprimands and use praise to stimulate curiosity — but focuses on how to raise America’s collective I.Q. That’s important, because while I.Q. doesn’t measure pure intellect — we’re not certain exactly what it does measure — differences do matter, and a higher I.Q. correlates to greater success in life.

Intelligence does seem to be highly inherited in middle-class households, and that’s the reason for the findings of the twins studies: very few impoverished kids were included in those studies. But Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia has conducted further research demonstrating that in poor and chaotic households, I.Q. is minimally the result of genetics — because everybody is held back.

“Bad environments suppress children’s I.Q.’s,” Professor Turkheimer said.

One gauge of that is that when poor children are adopted into upper-middle-class households, their I.Q.’s rise by 12 to 18 points, depending on the study. For example, a French study showed that children from poor households adopted into upper-middle-class homes averaged an I.Q. of 107 by one test and 111 by another. Their siblings who were not adopted averaged 95 on both tests.

Another indication of malleability is that I.Q. has risen sharply over time. Indeed, the average I.Q. of a person in 1917 would amount to only 73 on today’s I.Q. test. Half the population of 1917 would be considered mentally retarded by today’s measurements, Professor Nisbett says.

Good schooling correlates particularly closely to higher I.Q.’s. One indication of the importance of school is that children’s I.Q.’s drop or stagnate over the summer months when they are on vacation (particularly for kids whose parents don’t inflict books or summer programs on them).

Professor Nisbett strongly advocates intensive early childhood education because of its proven ability to raise I.Q. and improve long-term outcomes. The Milwaukee Project, for example, took African-American children considered at risk for mental retardation and assigned them randomly either to a control group that received no help or to a group that enjoyed intensive day care and education from 6 months of age until they left to enter first grade.

By age 5, the children in the program averaged an I.Q. of 110, compared with 83 for children in the control group. Even years later in adolescence, those children were still 10 points ahead in I.Q.

Professor Nisbett suggests putting less money into Head Start, which has a mixed record, and more into these intensive childhood programs. He also notes that schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program (better known as KIPP) have tested exceptionally well and favors experiments to see if they can be scaled up.

Another proven intervention is to tell junior-high-school students that I.Q. is expandable, and that their intelligence is something they can help shape. Students exposed to that idea work harder and get better grades. That’s particularly true of girls and math, apparently because some girls assume that they are genetically disadvantaged at numbers; deprived of an excuse for failure, they excel.

“Some of the things that work are very cheap,” Professor Nisbett noted. “Convincing junior-high kids that intelligence is under their control — you could argue that that should be in the junior-high curriculum right now.”

The implication of this new research on intelligence is that the economic-stimulus package should also be an intellectual-stimulus program. By my calculation, if we were to push early childhood education and bolster schools in poor neighborhoods, we just might be able to raise the United States collective I.Q. by as much as one billion points.

That should be a no-brainer.

Week of Change for Obama


WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a whirlwind week of change, President Barack Obama jettisoned Bush administration policy on greenhouse gases, shone an unforgiving light on its support for torture as an interrogation tactic and eased its restrictions on Cuba.

But there are limits, even to this new president's power, and a campaign pledge to seek a ban on assault weapons is an early casualty as a result.

And while the promise of change was arguably Obama's single most powerful asset in last year's campaign, the week demonstrated anew how carefully he calibrates its impact.

''We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history,'' the president said in a statement that accompanied the release of once-secret memos outlining torture techniques the Bush administration allowed.

''But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.''

That was designed as a reassurance to the CIA employees who carried out waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and the other harsh interrogation techniques that former President George W. Bush once sanctioned and that Obama has now banned -- much as his decision to leave combat troops in Iraq a few months longer than he once promised was a bow to the Pentagon.

''I will always do whatever is necessary to protect the national security of the United States,'' he said in a statement on the torture memos that could easily have been written about the troop withdrawal.

Attorney General Eric Holder added one more assurance, announcing the administration would pay legal expenses for anyone in the intelligence agency who needs a lawyer as a result of carrying out interrogations covered by the memos.

Holder also formally revoked every legal opinion or memo issued during Bush's presidency that justified interrogation programs, a largely symbolic step since Obama had already said his administration would not rely on them.

The release of the documents had been the subject of a long, fierce debate, with a deadline looming as the result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

No lawsuit drove the timing of the new Cuba policy, which was released in the run-up to Obama's first presidential trip to Latin America and the Caribbean. And here again, Obama went further than some wanted and not as far as others had hoped.

Under the new policy, the administration lifted restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to their island homeland and freed U.S. telecommunications companies to seek business there.

Some of the changes specifically undid what Bush had imposed: tightened travel restrictions on Americans wishing to visit relatives in Cuba; limiting payments to immediate family; and bans on seeds, clothing, personal hygiene items, veterinary medicines and -- later -- cell phones from humanitarian parcels.

But the broader embargo remains in place as it has since the Kennedy administration, its existence meant now as then to prod the Cuban government into democratic reforms.

In response to the announcement, Cuban President Raul Castro said he is ready to put ''everything'' on the table in talks with Americans, including questions of human rights and political prisoners. If so, that would mark a change from decades of Cuban insistence that those issues were not subject for discussion.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pronounced Castro's comments an overture, and said, ''We are taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond.''

Still, despite sentiment within the 15-member Caribbean Community to lift the U.S. embargo, Jamaica's prime minister, Bruce Golding, said the organization had agreed not to push Obama too hard on the issue.

By contrast, there was little that was nuanced about the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement Friday that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases emitted by cars and many industrial plants ''endanger public health and welfare.''

It was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that said greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if found to be a danger to human health or public welfare.

Confronted with the high court's decision, the Bush administration stalled, leaving for Obama an issue he was only too happy to seize. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said while the agency is prepared to move forward with regulations under the Clean Air Act, the administration would rather defer to Congress.

''The (EPA) decision is a game changer,'' said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who is involved in drafting legislation to limit greenhouse emissions.

For all the changes Obama has piled up since taking office 87 days ago, his retreat on assault weapons is hardly unique. He has already yielded on other relatively minor issues, giving in to veterans groups during the budget debate, for example.

Pressed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon to help stem the flow of military-style assault weapons from the United States, Obama said he still believed that the ban made sense. And yet, he added: ''None of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy.'' He said he would focus instead on using existing laws to stop the flow of weapons prized by elements of the Mexican drug trade.

If anything, Obama's closest allies in Congress are probably relieved.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California signaled as much several weeks ago after Holder said the administration wanted to renew a ban that lapsed and that the powerful National Rifle Association opposes strenuously.

''One good place to start would be to enforce the laws that are on the books right now,'' she said on Feb. 26. ''And I think the evidence points this out, that the Bush administration was not enforcing law.''

Next Choler, Please WPost-Dana Milbank

Sunday, April 19, 2009
Dear Reader:

I wish to apologize to you for my behavior last week.

On Tuesday, I learned that I am a right-wing hack. I am not a journalist. I am typical of the right wing. I am why newspapers are going broke. I write garbage. I am angry with Barack Obama. I misquote Obama. I am bitter. I am a certified idiot. I am lame. I am a Republican flack.

On Thursday, I realized that I am a media pimp with my lips on Obama's butt. I am a bleeding-heart liberal who wants nothing more than for the right to fall on its face. I am part of the ObamaMedia. I am pimping for the left. I am carrying water for Obama. Lord, am I an idiot.

I discovered all this from the helpful feedback provided to me in the "reader comments" section at the end of my past four columns on I undertook this exercise on the advice of former editor Doug Feaver, who wrote on these pages recently that journalists need to take the comments seriously ["Listening to the Dot-Comments," op-ed, April 9]. Further, he added in his blog, "those who don't are making a mistake."

Now, I may be a pimp and an idiot -- but I did not want to make a mistake. So I reviewed all 1,800 comments posted on my columns over the course of a week. As a sociological experiment, it was fascinating.

The comments are naturally an unscientific indicator, but the impression I got is consistent with what I've heard from colleagues: The vitriol of last year's presidential campaign has outlasted the election. For the right, this isn't terribly surprising; their guys lost the White House in 2008 and control of both chambers of Congress in 2006, so lashing out in frustration is to be expected. The left, however, is more difficult to explain. It made sense for them to be angry when George W. Bush was in the White House. But now, even under Obama, the anger on the left is, if anything, more personal and vitriolic than on the right.

A reader in an online chat brought this to my attention a couple of months ago, noting the animosity in the comments following a column. "Did you torture their cats and grandmothers? Most of the truly unhinged comments appear to come from Democrats, who apparently think you're Cindy McCain in reverse drag."

I replied that, to keep my blood pressure under control, I don't read the comments, and that I did, in fact, torture their cats.

Well, last week I read the comments. On April 10, I wrote a column about an Obama appearance urging Americans to refinance their mortgages -- a fairly gentle piece pointing out that the president sounded like a pitchman. The comments compared me to Bernard Goldberg and Glenn Beck. One complained that "I gave Bush and the Republicans a pass."

Actually, a National Review column called me "the most anti-Bush reporter" in the White House press corps, but never mind that. "Uh oh, Milbank," wrote commenter "farfalle44." "Now the Obamabots have labeled you an Obama hater -- watch out!"

For Thursday's column, I criticized the "tea party" outside the White House. Conservatives left hundreds of indignant comments -- I was an Obama "lap dog" and "licking Obama's shoes" -- but that didn't buy me credibility with the left. "You do a real good job of attracting all the ill-informed, mathematically challenged, left-wing haters," said one reader. "I bet ya mom's really proud!"

So why is the left so angry? I don't know (I'm an idiot), so I put the question to the readers in my weekly online chat on Friday.

A reader from Rockville described it as a "sore winner" phenomenon. "People get used to being angry and when things change, they don't. So they find stuff to be mad about." Another said that some on the left "feel obligated to stay in the fight" because of the harsh treatment of Obama by the right.

But many focused on a frustration on the left caused by Obama's centrism -- his opposition to prosecuting those involved with torture, for example. "I am angry because the whole Republican party has not been rounded up and thrown into a black site," one wrote. A reader in Evanston, Ill., took a similar view, that true believers on the left don't want "b.s. rhetoric about looking forward." Okay, but why wouldn't this be directed at Obama? Readers explained that some of it is. But, "if we yell obscenities at Obama," replied a reader in Dunnellon, Fla., "we get a visit from the Secret Service. Yelling them at you is worry-free."

So the angry left should thank me: I'm taking one for the team.

from the NEW YORK TIMES 'climate change'

A Danger to Public Health and Welfare
In what could be a historic moment in the struggle against climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday confirmed what most people have long suspected but had never been declared as a matter of federal law: carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a danger to public health and welfare.

The formal “endangerment finding” names carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases as pollutants subject to regulation under the federal Clean Air Act. This in turn sets the stage — after a 60-day comment period — for broad new rules touching major sectors of the American economy and profoundly influencing how Americans use and generate energy.

The finding is also likely to accelerate the progress of climate legislation in Congress and will give the United States the credibility it lost in international climate negotiations during the Bush administration. The next round of talks is scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

The decision has been a long time coming. Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court ordered the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases harmed the environment and public health and, if so, to regulate them. Scientists at former President George W. Bush’s E.P.A. largely agreed that greenhouse gases are harmful and should be regulated. In December 2007, the agency forwarded an endangerment finding to the White House, where senior officials promptly suppressed it, refusing even to open the e-mail to which it was attached.

Though they put greater emphasis on the health effects, the E.P.A.’s scientists came to much the same conclusions: that concentrations of greenhouse gases had reached unprecedented levels and had already contributed to increased drought, more frequent and intense heat waves, rising sea levels and damage to water resources, food supplies and ecosystems.

This time, fortunately, the findings were not ignored at the White House. Nor should they be ignored anywhere, most especially in Congress, which is where the solution may ultimately lie.

The E.P.A.’s new administrator, Lisa Jackson, is to be applauded for moving so quickly, and she should move as aggressively as she can to develop whatever rules she thinks are necessary. But as Ms. Jackson is the first to say, legislation addressing climate change would be more effective and inclusive than top-down regulation. It would require broad consensus in Congress and command a wider political consensus going forward. It would also be less vulnerable to legal challenge.

Whether Congress can rise to the challenge this year is an open question. Mr. Obama hopes it can, and so do we. In the House, Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have crafted an ambitious, many-layered bill that would impose a price on older, dirtier fossil fuels while encouraging newer, cleaner fuels. Though it lacks many important details, the bill provides a plausible framework for the urgent discussion that Congress needs to have and the urgent action it needs to take.