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 BlogviewJames Thompson Archive

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Science and politics make awkward bedfellows. Science is more concerned with the truth, or ought to be; politics more concerned with expediency, survival and the avoidance of blame. For that reason, politics is closer to human nature. It is natural to simply hope for the best, to take precautions a little too late, and relax... Read More
You know the story, but here we go again. The standard account of sex differences in intelligence is that there aren’t any. Or not significant ones, or perhaps some slight ones, but they counter-balance each other. The standard account usually goes on to concede that males are more variable than females, that is to say,... Read More
The UK is under lockdown again. According to YouGov (4340 adults surveyed on 5th January) 85% of citizens approve. There may also be Tiers, of the four former sorts, and a possible fifth for very serious cases, but these have probably been superseded, and should be considered old news. Now it is just lockdown, and... Read More
Despite providing a lot of unsolicited spare time, 2020 was not the best of years. Enough said. Each post got an average of 6000 pageviews, and generated 19,600 comment words, resulting in a total of 530,000 comment words for the year. Since starting in 2013 I have posted 976 items, containing a total of 876,000... Read More
I do not know how many times since 1210 there have been interruptions in the village celebration of Christmas. Few, I would imagine. The present church was built on or near a previous one, and not completed till 1230. There are records a former Lord of the Manor collected and placed in a filing cabinet,... Read More
This has been the year of counting the days. On Saturday morning people in England were preparing for a family Christmas. By 5 pm that afternoon they were phoning their regrets, in sadness and sometimes rage. All this may be good news. Opinions differ. The story so far is that the United Kingdom has not... Read More
James Flynn came to psychology from political science, and was a quick learner. He attacked Arthur Jensen’s 1969 paper, and Art wrote back quickly disposing of his objections, and then suggesting new lines of attack. James Flynn followed those up, and they began working together. I had met Arthur Jensen in 1970, when I gave... Read More
I have excellent memories of Brussels, Belgium, and in particular of the Grande Place, a gem of European architecture, dating back to the 13th century, but in its surviving form mostly the creation of 17th Guilds flaunting their wealth in finely decorated grand trading houses. To stand in it is to savour the refinements of... Read More
With a few weeks to go till the end of 2020 it seems clear that, despite all the other things that have happened, the year will be remembered for the pandemic. Never have so many lives been interrupted for so long. Very roughly, 55 million people across the world die every year. Assume that the... Read More
Many people have very strong beliefs about intelligence testing. All too often those beliefs are negative and unrepresentative of intelligence research. For intelligence researchers, it is a bemusing, irritating, and depressing state of affairs. Steven Pinker, being interviewed at the International Society for Intelligence Research conference in Montreal in 2017, when asked why public understanding... Read More
After a brief summer, in which we dared to hope that we could eventually go to the pub without booking a table, and without choosing our food in advance, the darling buds of May have given way to the surly scowls of September, and we are down in the dumps again. This pandemic is testing... Read More
Without knowing it, I first met Dame Diana Rigg on the afternoon of 23 June 2016, United Kingdom European Union membership referendum day. The day after, I described our meeting thus: In fact, my next meeting with her was also unplanned, in the crockery section of Peter Jones department store, where we talked about the... Read More
The US is unusual in providing racial breakdowns of crime data, including the race of the perpetrators of violent crimes. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics are an excellent source of real data. They do surveys of victimization in the community (National Crime Victimization Survey) which are un-affected by any presumed Police biases, and include... Read More
I don’t usually comment on crime figures, because so many others have done that in full detail before, but my eye was drawn to the BBC News, the major source for most UK citizens, and so well funded by a government levy that it the resources sufficient t have a dominant effect on how British... Read More
You may remember that in 2011 Heiner Rindermann and I worked on the concept of cognitive capitalism, developed that over the next few years, and in 2018 Rindermann published a major book on the topic. Here is a brief interview in which he answers a few questions which generally come up regarding intelligence. Usually, media... Read More
Do genes account for 50—70% of racial differences in intelligence?
It is perfectly reasonable for critics to ask, every so often, if there is any work showing that genes make a contribution to intellectual differences between genetic groups. I assume it can be accepted that genes make a difference within a genetic group, and the animus arises only when genetic groups are being compared. One... Read More
Tony Elliott was at Keele University, from which I graduated in 1968, the same year he dropped out and founded Time Out, thus becoming by far the most famous and influential graduate of that radical institution, which pioneered a 4 year degree course (not the usual 3) , the entire first year dedicated to a... Read More
No one paper can determine a debate, but each contributes to a pattern, and eventually to a shifting of opinion as to where the probable truth lies. Until 2011 the studies of the genetics of intelligence were based on twin studies, which are fine; and adoption studies, which give some indications if the samples are... Read More
Every man has a lurking wish to appear considerable in his native place. Samuel Johnson.
It is a commonplace of school reunions that ex-pupils make a furtive reckoning as to which of them has Done Well. Comparisons are odious, but all too human. How has it gone for you? Naturally, the actuarial odds are against personal success, since success, by definition, must be that which stands out from the crowd,... Read More
Sense and sensitivity
If someone tells me I must not read something, I am tempted to give it a look. If you are reading this, you probably have the same curiosity, and the same wish to rebel against other people telling you what you may not read, and what you must not think. In that light, here is... Read More
Ancestral pathways in the brain
Few scientists write like that anymore. Science is the poorer for it. Sherrington was able to dash that off when the most complicated device to provide an analogy was a 1801 Jacquard loom capable of weaving complicated patterns on the basis of punched cards. So, Sherrington thought of a loom, Freud of a hydraulic system... Read More
This book, shortly to be published in the US, is written by a geneticist. Racism is a topic of contemporary interest, and there are certainly different conceptions of reality. The book is diminished by its title, which proclaims it an aggressive polemic, looking for a fight. “How to argue about race” would advertise a better... Read More
America is in turmoil because of a video in which a Policeman seems very highly likely to have caused the death of an arrested man. He must face trial. Also, the techniques used in making arrests must be put on trial. Kneeling down on the back of the neck of a hand-cuffed man is not... Read More
Uruguay is a small country on the eastern coast of South America between Argentina and Brazil. Mostly European in demographics, it was long considered the Switzerland of South America because, fearful of the usual local tendency towards dictatorship, it shared power in a plural executive, was early in separating Church and State, in giving votes... Read More
Last night the UK Prime Minister said that those who could not work from home, like those in construction and manufacturing should go to work today, maintaining social distancing, and avoiding public transport if possible. Primary schools may begin reopening in June, as may some shops, and some of the hospitality industry may reopen in... Read More
Europe is an ageing continent, with a total fertility rate of 1.6, well below the required 2.1 replacement level. The decline might be reversed, but the trend is downwards. These 747 million Europeans have a life expectancy of 79 years, and three-quarters of them live in urban settings. Of even more relevance in the time... Read More
There are many ways of making the coronavirus epidemic complicated. It is true that the Chinese account of what happened may be deficient, and that the numbers of deaths are probably underestimated. It is true that as each country received cases from China at somewhat different times and in different numbers it then went through... Read More
A few days ago, there was an updated report on critical care for coronavirus patients in hospitals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. ICNARC report on COVID-19in critical care 17 April 2020. Sometimes a single table can be illustrative, and this one gives the characteristics of those who end up in critical care. Covid-19 patients... Read More
The predictions which come out of models of epidemics are often highly sensitive to minor changes in assumptions, so can rightly be accused of being wildly wrong when measured against the eventual outcome. “Improve the model” is a common plea. Of course, the most recent model any team publishes is already a presumed improvement on... Read More
It is disturbing that our Prime Minister is in intensive care. The leader of a nation has symbolic as well as instrumental value. It is reasonable for the public to assume that any Prime Minister has good security, good health care, good advice and plenty of material comforts. 10 Downing Street is not that comfortable,... Read More
It seems an age ago that I was singing the praises of Singapore, who had handled the coronavirus in a highly pragmatic way. In brief, citizens were asked to take their own temperatures and if they were above normal, isolate themselves and be tested for coronavirus. Frequent hand washing and the use of masks helped... Read More
It is a bright new day, so here are some thoughts on various subjects, most of which have the same theme: deciding how bad things are depends on your frame of reference. I had said that excess deaths was the key variable in understanding the coronavirus epidemic, and the policies being deployed against it. Once... Read More
While most countries of the world battle against coronavirus, there is a more conceptual battle raging between different predictive models. Imperial College has predictions for the US and the UK, and has the ear of the Government, but there are other models competing for attention. The Imperial model is now being cast as having been... Read More
Arnold Weinstock, a British industrialist, once said “I’ve forgotten what the 7 wonders of the world are, but the 8th must be compound interest”. Under his cautious guidance General Electric became a great UK company. Under his successors it went bust. Some problems compound and need to be nipped in the bud. A respect for... Read More
The virus needs us to move around.
Peering through the window of my study because of an unusual noise in the street last night, I saw three loud men walk by, one of whom saw me at the window, and gave a sardonic half-acknowledgement. Then, shortly afterward three women walked after them. It may not be relevant, but they were all young,... Read More
Draco was a democratic legislator in 622 B.C. who moved Athenian law from an oral tradition known only to the elite, to a written code of law, which could be called upon by any citizen. A reformer. However, his laws were very harsh, applying the death penalty for minor offences, and his code was repealed... Read More
The best intelligence items are usually those at the very end of the test, where only one or two percent of test takers will reach them. Of course, for the very bright these will be too easy, but standard tests are designed for us common folk, not the genius fringe. Facing the coronavirus, it is... Read More
It is hard to be grateful that the coronavirus is now working its way through us, but it is certainly a vivid illustration of evolution at work. With no motivation beyond the joy of reproducing itself, it hops from one host to another, an equal-opportunity free rider. If it becomes too greedy in taking over... Read More
If life is an IQ test, then dealing with pandemics is a high-priority item. Getting the right answer may save your life, so test-taking motivation ought to be high. At first glance, the answer is obvious: avoid ill people, and if in doubt, avoid people. That ought to do it. Stay quietly in a room... Read More
Seen from a historical perspective, the Andrew Sabisky affair is a litmus test of contemporary sensibilities. A recently appointed advisor to the new UK government, which is recruiting candidates outside the usual profile of special advisors, has been criticized for previous comments about racial differences in intelligence, about possible benefits of eugenics and even about... Read More
Charles Murray, a sociologist by background and a datanaut by inclination, has carved out a prominent place in American intellectual debate by the simple expedient of writing clearly about difficult subjects. He is an Enlightenment Regular Guy, who does not want Americans to lose ground, or be split apart or be cast asunder by imperious... Read More
I barely noticed the first crash. Driving the new hire car from the airport, the rain was pouring down on the highway, spray everywhere, a high risk of aquaplaning, and we were still on the outskirts of town, with traffic lights, cross-roads, bus stops, shops and lots of local motorbikes and pedestrians moving along and... Read More
The start of a decade is traditionally ushered in with a flurry of predictions. Those usually turn out to be wrong, but are illustrative of the expectations of the current age. Errors are informative, and show our limitations, our fads and misunderstandings. Looking back at predictions can be fun. Hindsight allows us to feel superior.... Read More
This has been my best ever year, with 448,525 pageviews, an average of almost 9000 pageviews per post. These posts provoked 1.25 million words of comments, another all-time record, not bad for a mere 50 posts. The range of comment was very broad, the positions adopted often diametrically opposed, and quality of the best commentators... Read More
To the Church of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, as is my wont, to celebrate the habits of my tribe, as parishioners have done since 1211. They must have done so before that, but not in this building. The service of Nine Carols was just after dark, with the rain lashing down in the bleak... Read More
Usually, British politicians take inspiration from US election campaigns. Very occasionally, the traffic goes the other way. Poorer cousins can sometimes make a contribution. Perhaps this election repays attention, since it is about a party winning an absolute majority against apparent odds. The 2019 UK election has brought about the biggest political opportunity for a... Read More
A few days ago, I was worried we would have a Hung Parliament, as a resurgent youth-led voting public scooped up the free offers showered on it by the Labour Party Manifesto. Discussing this some days ago with people in a position to know better, the younger of the two contacts feared that the Conservatives... Read More
Sceptics say the best way of predicting tomorrow’s weather is to say it will be the same as today. Predictive models struggle to beat that pedestrian approach, which one could label a rolling null hypothesis. Today, Wednesday, pollsters are predicting how voters will behave tomorrow, Thursday 12th December, election day. That ought to be fairly... Read More
Tomorrow, Wednesday, is the last campaigning day of the UK 2019 election. The vote takes place on Thursday, and the result should be known by the end of Friday. If the result is very close and re-counts are required, it could take longer, and not be settled until next week. As already discussed, political polls... Read More
I have no idea what you will be thinking or doing on 12th December, but efforts are being made to determine how UK citizens will vote on that day. Why the fuss? A rational approach to elections is to read the party manifestos, judge the personal and societal impact of the proposals, calculate the probability... Read More
James Thompson
About James Thompson

James Thompson has lectured in Psychology at the University of London all his working life. His first publication and conference presentation was a critique of Jensen’s 1969 paper, with Arthur Jensen in the audience. He also taught Arthur how to use an English public telephone. Many topics have taken up his attention since then, but mostly he comments on intelligence research.