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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Peak IQ?

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Michael McDonald, Echo editor, 1995–2010

BBC Future journalist David Robson suggested in a recent article that we have hit peak intelligence. The material in the article comes from his book The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes.

Robson’s argument that people are smarter now than when the IQ test was invented more than 100 years ago is based on the notion that people are better at doing IQ tests, which are chiefly designed to gauge a particular kind of reasoning ability. He cites as evidence the Flynn Effect, named after the NZ intelligence researcher James R Flynn.

Being good at an IQ test meant you were good at doing IQ tests

I have some familiarity with the intelligence quotient. My father was a vocational guidance counsellor for the NSW education department and administered hundreds of the tests.

His conclusion was that being good at an IQ test meant you were good at doing IQ tests. It didn’t mean you were a genius or an outstanding human being.

Robson does allow that a change in culture (and nutrition) rather than an increase in average human intelligence might result in better IQ-test results: ‘Just think about a computer and all the symbols you have to recognise and manipulate to do even the simplest task. Growing up immersed in this kind of thinking should allow everyone to cultivate the skills needed to perform well in an IQ test.’

The author then suggests that peak IQ has been reached and is stalling and ‘even reversing’. While earlier pointing out that intelligence might have increased because of the removal of lead from petrol, he does not move on to one bogey that might be precipitating a decline: the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

An increasing number of recent studies have produced strong evidence that breathing moderate levels of carbon dioxide reduces human cognitive abilities

A paper by Phil Bierwith of the Australian National University asserted in November last year that ‘an increasing number of recent studies have produced strong evidence that breathing moderate levels of carbon dioxide reduces human cognitive abilities’. The unfortunate consequence is that the lessened ability to think reduces our chances of solving the climate-crisis conundrum.

People who stream porn could be one group that helps turn this impasse around. According to the French think-tank The Shift Project, the watching of online porn globally generates as much CO2 per year as does the nation of Belgium, a comparison the good citizens of Belgium must have welcomed.

While one of the report’s authors puts the onus on digital-service providers to mend their ways, it would seem there is a great opportunity for porn watchers themselves to switch to black-and-white still photos of the gender of their choice, thereby lessening emissions (of CO2 at least) and increasing the ability of their own imaginations, perhaps leading to higher intelligence. A win-win.


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