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people in the United States had less than
four years of education. Between then and
1950, you had the high school revolution.
And then, since 1950, we’ve gone from 12
percent of Americans exposed to tertiary
education to 52 percent. You might say
that this progress has to level off. Unless
we’re going to have 50 percent of people
over the next half century going to
graduate school, it may stop.
But then there is this new creative class:
35 percent of people continually refine
their skills and self-educate after tertiary
education. Will that make a difference or
not? It’s ambiguous at present.
And then there’s the question of
whether we’re as stuffed full of visual
imagery as we can get at this point. It may
be that that shows diminishing returns.
Another thing that’s important is the
nurturing of children by their parents
— children receive more nurturing
as family size decreases. I think that is
important. But you can always say that
today kids are nurtured practically until
it’s running out of their ears, there isn’t
much more nurturing that can be done.
So, it’s a strange situation. I had
predicted that the gains might well have
stopped in the Western world by now,
but I’ve been shaken by data that show
that they have continued for vocabulary,
and for the WISC test.
What’s happening in other parts
of the world?
The developing world is a different kettle
of fish. They’re taking off in the way we
did 100 years ago. Remember that in
America and Britain in 1900, the mean
IQ was 70. And then we introduced a bit
of formal education, and our IQ went
up, and that IQ advance meant that
people pursue more formal education.
So, it’s like going up a ladder one step
at a time. I have no reason to think that
the people of the developing world
have genes that prevent them from
responding to modernity. And indeed
there have been huge IQ gains recently in
places like Kenya.
Your work has surprising
implications in the criminal
justice system. What are they?
In 2000, the Supreme Court decided that
it was cruel and unusual punishment
under the U.S. Constitution to execute
someone who was lacking moral
competence, and that one of the
standards for doing this was low IQ scores
on Wechsler and Stanford Binet and other
tests. And I thought, well look here, there
are going to be people on death row who
took a test that was 10 or 20 years out of
date, and whose IQs have been inflated by
three or six or nine points.
Let’s say there’s a guy on death row,
and at school he was tested on the old
WISC, which was normed back in 1947
and 1948. If he was tested in 1972, just
before the new test came out, then the test
would inflate his IQ by seven points. And
a person who normally had an IQ of 68
would have 75, and would now be eligible
for execution. So I’ve been very active in