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My son Rufus, memory and IQ


The complexity of the modern world and IQ
James Watson Scientist
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I think I was, you know, talking about whether the increasingly complex world in which everyone lives is making demands on - of people with lower intelligence that they can't easily handle. That is, we're - as we go more and more into a computer age, certainly if you're not - can't handle a computer, increasingly, you know, you can't be a shop assistant, you can't be - we will sort of declare that or find that we have a higher percentage of people that we now call unemployable or effectively become unemployable because they're not very functional. And this percentage may be higher than it was 100 years ago because life, you can't live by your physical strength. You can't, you know, you probably can't be a traffic warden unless you can use a cell phone. So - and right now the response to the increasing complexity of our lives is to say that we can solve this by keeping our children longer in school and making them learn more and, you know, raising the age of the school leavers and - hope it works, but I don't think we should in any way count on it, because IQ seems to be, as far as we can know, just stable through your life until modified by cognitive decline. That is, you don't get great change, you see. I was just in Edinburgh to meet Ian Deary who's in charge of the Scottish data on studying IQs over a life. In 1947, they did the IQs of everyone in Scotland and repeated it 20 years later, worried about cognitive decline, that people with lower IQs had more children and you might find a dysgenic component, but they found no change. So that was - but you know, logically, you'll say, maybe it's true. But you know, there wasn't big enough - whether the fact that the IQ stayed the same because people are - IQ clearly has to be affected by education on a short term. There's an effect called the Flynn Effect which seems to be real, that IQs have increased over time, but not in the basic core things that they say contributes to genes, things that correlate between different tasks, general intelligence. That has not increased much, but sort of - we can - we've been more stimulated early in childhood, we can handle more, which would mean that, you know, we can do things at an earlier age than we could before. But no one believes that the people today are really any brighter than they were 20 years ago. If you take it and look at it, it would just mean that the average person 20 years ago was almost mentally retarded. It wasn't true. So more, lots more remains to be seen, but I've been dominated by just observing the cognitive limitations of my son.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 5 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010