Thursday, May 27, 2010

How to Publish a Scientific Comment in 123 Easy Steps

How to Publish a Scientific Comment

in 12 3 Easy Steps

Prof. Rick Trebino

Georgia Institute of Technology

School of Physics

Atlanta, GA 30332

The essence of science is reasoned debate. So, if you disagree with

something reported in a scientific paper, you can write a “Comment”

on it.

Yet you don’t see many Comments.

Some believe that this is because journal editors are reluctant to

publish Comments because Comments reveal their mistakes—papers

they shouldn’t have allowed to be published in the first place. Indeed,

scientists often complain that it can be very difficult to publish one.

Fortunately, in this article, I’ll share with you my recent experience

publishing a Comment, so you can, too. There are just a few simple


1. Read a paper that has a mistake in it.

2. Write and submit a Comment, politely correcting the mistake.

3. Enjoy your Comment in print along with the authors’ equally

polite Reply, basking in the joy of having participated in the

glorious scientific process and of the new friends you’ve made—

the authors whose research you’ve greatly assisted.

Ha ha! You didn’t really believe that, did you? Here’s the actual

sequence of events:

1. Read a paper in the most prestigious journal in your field that

“proves” that your entire life’s work is wrong.

2. Realize that the paper is completely wrong, its conclusions

based entirely on several misconceptions. It also claims that an

approach you showed to be fundamentally impossible is

preferable to one that you pioneered in its place and that

actually works. And among other errors, it also includes a

serious miscalculation—a number wrong by a factor of about

1000—a fact that’s obvious from a glance at the paper’s main


3. Decide to write a Comment to correct these mistakes—the

option conveniently provided by scientific journals precisely for

such situations.

4. Prepare for the writing of your Comment by searching the

journal for all previous Comments, finding about a dozen in the

last decade.

5. Note that almost all such Comments were two to three pages

long, like the other articles in the journal.

6. Prepare further by writing to the authors of the incorrect paper,

politely asking for important details they neglected to provide in

their paper.

7. Receive no response.

8. Persuade a graduate student to write to the authors of the

incorrect paper, politely asking for the important details they

neglected to provide in their paper.

9. Receive no response.

10. Persuade a colleague to write to the authors of the incorrect

paper, politely asking for the important details they neglected to

provide in their paper.

11. Receive no response.

12. Persuade your colleague to ask a friend to write to the authors

of the incorrect paper, politely asking for the important details

they neglected to provide in their paper.

13. Receive no response.

14. Ask the graduate student to estimate these parameters herself,

and observe that she does a very good job of it, reproducing

their plots very accurately and confirming that the authors were

wrong by a factor of about 1000 and that their conclusions were

also wrong.

15. Write a Comment, politely explaining the authors’

misconceptions and correcting their miscalculation, including

illustrative figures, important equations, and simple

explanations of perhaps how they got it wrong, so others won’t

make the same mistake in the future.

16. Submit your Comment.

17. Wait two weeks.

18. Receive a response from the journal, stating that your Comment

is 2.39 pages long. Unfortunately, Comments can be no more

than 1.00 pages long, so your Comment cannot be considered

until it is shortened to less than 1.00 pages long.

19. Take a look at the journal again, and note that the title, author

list, author addresses, submission date, database codes,

abstract, references, and other administrative text occupy about

half a page, leaving only half a page for actual commenting in

your Comment.

20. Remove all unnecessary quantities such as figures, equations,

and explanations. Also remove mention of some of the authors’

numerous errors, for which there is now no room in your

Comment; the archival literature would simply have to be

content with a few uncorrected falsehoods. Note that your

Comment is now 0.90 pages.

21. Resubmit your Comment.

22. Wait two weeks.

23. Receive a response from the journal, stating that your Comment

is 1.07 pages long. Unfortunately, Comments can be no more

than 1.00 pages long, so your Comment cannot be considered

until it is shortened to less than 1.00 pages long.

24. Write to the journal that, in view of the fact that your Comment

is only ever so slightly long, and that it takes quite a while to

resubmit it on the journal’s confusing and dysfunctional web site,

perhaps it could be sent out for review as is and shortened

slightly to 1.00 pages later.

25. Wait a week.

26. Receive a response from the journal, stating that your Comment

is 1.07 pages long. Unfortunately, Comments can be no more

than 1.00 pages long, so your Comment cannot be considered

until it is shortened to less than 1.00 pages long.

27. Shorten your Comment to 0.80 pages, removing such frivolous

linguistic luxuries as adjectives and adverbs.

28. Resubmit your Comment.

29. Wait three months, during which time, answer questions from

numerous competitors regarding the fraudulence of your life’s

work, why you perpetrated such a scam on the scientific

community, and how you got away with it for so long.

30. Read the latest issue of the journal, particularly enjoying an

especially detailed, figure-filled, equation-laden, and

explanation-rich three-page Comment.

31. Receive the reviews of your Comment.

32. Notice that Reviewer #3 likes your Comment, considers it

important that the incorrect paper’s errors be corrected and

recommends publication of your Comment as is.

33. Notice that Reviewer #2 hates your Comment for taking issue

with such a phenomenal paper, which finally debunked such

terrible work as yours, and insists that your Comment not be

published under any circumstances.

34. Notice that Reviewer #1 doesn’t like it either, but considers that

its short length may have prevented him from understanding it.

35. Also receive the topical editor’s response, pointing out that no

decision can be made at this time, but also kindly suggesting

that you consider expanding your Comment to three pages and

resubmitting it along with your responses to the reviews.

36. Expand your Comment back to three pages, replacing adjectives,

adverbs, figures, equations, explanations, and corrections of

author errors you had had to remove earlier to meet the 1.00-

page limit. And, in an attempt to enlighten Reviewers #1 and

#2, include a separate extended response to their reviews.

37. Resubmit your Comment.

38. Wait three months, during which time, receive condolences from

numerous colleagues regarding the fraudulence of your life’s

work and how sorry they are about it having been debunked.

39. Fail to enjoy your colleagues’ stories of other deluded scientists

in history whose work was also eventually debunked, and try to

explain that, in fact, you feel that you don’t actually have that

much in common with alchemists, astrologers, creationists, and


40. Read the latest issue of the journal, which includes another

detailed three-page Comment, almost bursting with colorful and

superfluous adjectives and adverbs, some as many as twenty

letters long.

41. Receive the second set of reviews of your Comment.

42. Notice that Reviewer #3 continues to like your Comment and

continues to recommend its publication.

43. Notice that Reviewer #2 continues to hate it for taking issue

with such a phenomenal paper, which finally debunked such

terrible work as yours, and again insists that your worthless

Comment not be published.

44. Note further that Reviewer #2 now adds that your Comment

should under no circumstances be published until you obtain the

important details from the authors that you confessed in your

response to the reviewers you were not able to obtain and are

not ever going to.

45. Realize that Reviewer #2’s final criticism inevitably dooms your

Comment to oblivion until such time as the authors provide you

with the important details, your best estimate for which is never.

46. Notice, however, that Reviewer #1 now sees your point and

now strongly recommends publication of your Comment. He

also strongly recommends that your Comment remain three

pages long, so that other readers can actually understand what

it is that you’re saying.

47. And, in an absolutely stunning turn of events, note also that

Reviewer #1 writes further that he has also somehow secretly

obtained from the authors the important details they neglected

to provide in their paper and refused to send to you. Even

better, using them, he has actually checked the relevant

calculation. And he finds that the authors are wrong, and you

are correct.

48. Realize that it is now no longer necessary to respond to the

impossible criticism of Reviewer #2, as Reviewer #1 has kindly

done this for you.

49. Add a sentence to your Comment thanking Reviewer #1 for his

heroic efforts in obtaining the authors’ important details and for

confirming your calculations.

50. Receive the editor’s decision that your Comment could perhaps

now be published. Unfortunately, Comments can be no more

than 1.00 pages long, so your Comment cannot be considered

further until it is shortened to less than 1.00 pages long.

51. Point out to the editor that most Comments in his journal are

two to three pages long. Furthermore, it was the editor himself

who suggested lengthening it to three pages in the first place.

And Reviewer #1 strongly recommended leaving it that long.

52. Wait a month for a response, during which time, answer

questions from numerous friends regarding the fraudulence of

your life’s work and asking what new field you’re considering

and reminding you of how lucky you are to still have your job.

53. Turn down a friend’s job offer in his brother-in-law’s septic-tank

pumping company.

54. Obtain the latest issue of the journal and enjoy reading yet

another nice lengthy Comment, this one swimming in such

extravagant grammatical constructions as dependent clauses.

55. Receive the editor’s response, apologizing that, unfortunately,

Comments can be no more than 1.00 pages long, so your

Comment cannot be considered further until it is shortened to

less than 1.00 pages long.

56. Download pdf files of all Comments published in the journal in

the past decade, most of which were three pages long. Send

them to the editor, his boss, and his boss’s boss.

57. Receive the editor’s response, apologizing that, unfortunately,

Comments can be no more than 1.00 pages long, so your

Comment cannot be considered further until it is shortened to

less than 1.00 pages long.

58. Shorten your Comment to 0.80 pages, again removing

gratuitous length-increasing luxuries such as figures, equations,

explanations, adjectives, and adverbs. Also again remove your

corrections of some of the authors’ errors.

59. Also, replace extravagant words containing wastefully wide

letters, such as “m” and “w”, with efficient, space-saving words

containing efficient, lean letters, like “i”, “j”, “t”, and “l”. So

what if “global warming” has become “global tilting.”

60. Resubmit your Comment.

61. Wait two weeks.

62. Receive a response from the journal, stating that your Comment

is 1.09 pages long. Unfortunately, Comments can be no more

than 1.00 pages long, so your Comment cannot be considered

further until it is shortened to less than 1.00 pages long.

63. Shorten your Comment by removing such extraneous text as

logical arguments.

64. Also, consider kicking off your coauthor from a different

institution, whose additional address absorbs an entire line of

valuable Comment space. Wonder why you asked him to help

out in the first place.

65. Also, consider performing the necessary legal paperwork to

shorten your last name, which could, as is, extend the author

list to an excessive two lines.

66. Vow that, in the future, you will collaborate only with scientists

with short names (Russians are definitely out).

67. Thank your Chinese grad-student coauthor for having a last

name only two letters long. Make a mental note to include this

important fact in recommendations you will someday write to

her potential employers.

68. Resubmit your Comment.

69. Wait two weeks.

70. Receive a response from the senior editor that you cannot thank

Reviewer #1 for obtaining the missing details and confirming

your results, as this would give the appearance that the journal

was biased in your favor in the Comment review process.

71. Assure the senior editor that, if anyone even considered asking

about this, you would immediately and emphatically confirm

under oath, on a stack of Newton’s Principia Mathematica’s, and

under penalty of torture and death that, in this matter, the

journal was most definitely not biased in your favor in any way,

shape, or form in the current geological epoch or any other and

in this universe or any other, whether real or imagined.

72. Receive a response from the senior editor that you cannot thank

Reviewer #1 for obtaining the missing details and confirming

your results, as this would give the appearance that the journal

was biased in your favor in the Comment review process.

73. Remove mention of Reviewer #1’s having obtained the

necessary details from the acknowledgment, realizing that it’s

probably for the best in the end. If word were to get out that,

in order to do so, he had managed to infiltrate the allegedly

impenetrable ultrahigh-level security of the top-secret United

States government nuclear-weapons lab, where it happens that

the authors worked, he would likely be prosecuted by the

George W. Bush administration for treason. And if he’s

anything like the other scientists you know, he probably

wouldn’t last long in Gitmo.

74. Resubmit your Comment.

75. Wait two weeks.

76. Receive a response from the journal stating that, in your

submitted MS Word file, the references are not double-spaced.

Your Comment cannot be considered for publication until the

references in this document are double-spaced.

77. Add lines between the several references, a process that

requires a total of twelve seconds.

78. Resubmit your Comment, a process that, due to dysfunctional

journal web-site problems, requires a total of three hours.

79. Wait two weeks.

80. Receive a response from the senior editor that, while your

Comment is now short enough and properly formatted, over the

many modifications and shortenings that have occurred, its tone

has become somewhat harsh. For example, a sentence that

originally read, “The authors appear to have perhaps

accidentally utilized an array size that was somewhat

disproportionate for the corresponding and relevant waveform

complexity,” has evolved into: “The authors are wrong.”

81. Have numerous telephone conversations with the senior editor,

in which you overwhelm him with the numerous other issues

you have had to deal with during the Comment evaluation

process until he forgets about your Comment’s tone. Indeed,

compared to your verbal tone during these telephone calls, the

paper’s tone seems downright friendly.

82. Celebrate this minor victory by deciding not to include in the

final draft of the Comment’s Acknowledgments section a

description of certain individuals you’ve encountered during this

process—a description that would have involved such colorful

terms as “bonehead” and “cheese-weenie.”

83. Wonder whether your Comment has finally been sent to the

authors for their Reply, or instead was lost, trashed, or sent

back to the reviewers for further review and possible rejection.

84. Wait four months, during which time, respond to numerous

close relatives regarding the fraudulence of your life’s work and

who remind you that at least you still have your health, albeit in

a noticeably deteriorating state over the past few months. And

perhaps you’d like to join them at the local bar for its daily

Happy Hour.

85. Take them up on their offer, but learn that they expect you to

pay for drinks, which, regrettably, you can’t because sales at

the small company you formed to sell devices based on your

work have fallen to essentially zero.

86. Learn from one of your grad students that a potential employer

asked her, “Hasn’t your work recently been discredited?”

87. Learn that she was not granted an interview.

88. Attend a conference, where a colleague informs you that he is

Reviewer #1. Attempt to hug him, but be advised that a simple

“thank you” for merely doing his job is sufficient.

89. Learn from Reviewer #1 that he has not received the authors’

Reply for review, or any other correspondence from the journal

in the several months since he submitted his review.

90. Realize that you had stopped carefully reading the journal, and,

as a result, had missed the “Erratum” published by the authors

on the paper in question six months earlier, shortly after you

submitted your short-lived three-page version of the Comment.

91. Note that, in this “Erratum,” the authors actually admitted no

errors and instead reported new—similarly incorrect—numbers,

which they concluded “do not change any conclusions” in their

original paper.

92. Feel old, as you can remember the days when Errata involved

correcting old errors and not introducing new ones.

93. Note also that, in their “Erratum,” the authors have actually

responded to some highly specific criticisms of their errors you

mentioned in the three-page version of your Comment—

criticisms that you had removed when shortening it to meet the

journal’s strict 1.00-page limit. Criticisms the authors couldn’t

possibly have known about in view of the journal’s strict

confidentiality rules for submitted papers, unless this version of

your Comment was somehow leaked to them...

94. Realize that, with this “Erratum,” the authors have effectively

already published their “Reply” to your Comment.

95. Note also that, while your Comment has been kicking around for

close to a year, its publication date nowhere in sight, the

authors’ “Erratum” was published in a mere nineteen days.

96. With two mathematical mistakes by the authors to consider now

and plenty of time in which to consider them, realize that their

main mathematical error was simply to forget to take the

square root when computing the “root-mean-square”—a childish


97. Note that this is consistent with the fact that, on both their

paper and “Erratum,” one of the authors’ names is misspelled.

This is consistent with the fact that, by now, you’ve already

spent approximately 100 times as much time correcting their

errors than they spent making them.

98. Realize that you must now modify your Comment to also include

a discussion of the “Erratum.” Ask the editor if you can do this.

99. Receive a response from the editor that, after much discussion

among the journal editors, it has been decided that, yes, you

can do this.

100. Include a couple of short sentences debunking the “Erratum” in

your Comment, using up two valuable lines of text and three

valuable lines in the reference list due to its rather long title.

101. Realize that your Comment is now several lines longer than the

do-or-die 1.00-page limit.

102. Shorten your Comment by omitting noncritical words like “a,”

“an,” and “the,” giving your Comment exotic foreign feel.

103. Also, take advantage of the fact that, in some literary circles,

sentence fragments are considered acceptable. Decide that,

indeed, verbs are highly over-rated.

104. Declare “death to all commas”—a worthless piece of

unnecessary punctuation if ever there was one.

105. Consider using txt msg shorthand 4 actual words 2 further

shorten ur Comment, but decide not 2 when u realize that the

hundreds of frowny-face emoticons u couldn’t resist adding

actually lengthened ur Comment 2 2 pages :(

106. Resubmit your Comment.

107. Realize that modifying your Comment to include the “Erratum”

has now, unfortunately, opened it up for additional criticism

from the editors and possibly the reviewers.

108. Receive a phone call from the senior editor, who takes

advantage of this opportunity. He has suddenly remembered

that your Comment’s tone is a bit harsh. He is concerned that

the authors, who appear to be highly motivated and quite crafty,

will complain loudly and aggressively about the obviously

preferential treatment your Comment is clearly receiving from

the journal and make his life miserable. He objects to nearly

every sentence in your Comment, in each case, insisting on a

considerably longer sentence. He insists that you not say that

the authors are “wrong” and suggests instead “perhaps

mistaken.” He also insists on replacing the word “so” with the

unforgivably long “therefore.”

109. Realize that, if you accede to his demands, your Comment will

be an unacceptable 1.2 pages long, dooming your Comment to


110. Also learn from the senior editor that you cannot thank

Reviewer #1 even for simply “confirming your calculations,” as

this would also reveal the obvious preferential treatment your

Comment has clearly received from the journal.

111. Explain that this is a common type of acknowledgment,

revealing no preferential treatment by the journal whatsoever,

and send him a copy of a recent paper from his journal in which

the authors thank a reviewer for actually proving several

theorems for them.

112. Learn from the senior editor that another reason that you

cannot thank Reviewer #1 is that there is no record of Reviewer

#1 actually having confirmed your calculations. Apparently, the

paper on which it was printed has, over the eons, turned to dust.

113. Send a copy of the email from the journal containing Reviewer

#1’s review to the senior editor.

114. Also, offer to put the senior editor in touch with Reviewer #1, in

case all records of Reviewer #1’s identity have also been lost.

115. Also, learn from the senior editor that he admits no expertise in

your field but that he will nevertheless not allow you to say in

your Comment that the approach that you proved twenty years

earlier is “fundamentally impossible” is “fundamentally

impossible.” Instead, you must say that it “has not been shown

to be possible.”

116. Note that, if this could accurately be said about perpetualmotion

machines, it would rekindle interest in that long

forgotten field.

117. Receive no response.

118. Realize that this is probably good news.

119. Encounter a journal representative at a conference, who kindly

mentions that the one-page version of your Comment was, in

fact, sent to the authors for their Reply. And, after a series of

delays, they have submitted it. But, unfortunately, it is extremely

contentious and will be rejected unless toned down significantly.

It’s as if, for some reason, they want it to be rejected.

120. In preparation for the final phase of the Comment process, write

to the editor asking if you will be able to see the Reply to your

Comment and make minor modifications in view of it, as allowed

by most journals.

121. For once, obtain a quick response: “No.”

122. Finally receive notice from the editor that the authors’ official

Reply to your Comment has been reviewed and processed.

Unfortunately, it was not found suitable for publication and so

was rejected. And because, for maximum reader enjoyment, it

is the policy of this journal that a Comment cannot be published

without a Reply, your Comment cannot be published. This

decision is final.

123. Be advised that the journal thanks you for submitting your

Comment, and you should feel free to submit a paper on a

different subject in the future, as this journal features the most

rapid publication of any journal in this field.

Addendum: This ridiculous scenario actually occurred as written; I

didn’t make it up. I confess that, of course, I exaggerated the

responses from competitors, colleagues, friends, relatives, and myself,

but not those of the journal editors or the authors. Those events all

happened exactly as I’ve described them.

The fate described in the last two steps actually occurred to a

different Comment, which I submitted to a different journal a few

years earlier, and which, in fact, never was published, precisely for the

absurd reason given.

Over a year after submitting the Comment discussed in all the other

steps, realizing that it was clearly doomed to oblivion, I sent a copy of

this story to the senior editor’s boss. Shortly afterward, I received a

call from the senior editor, who had suddenly withdrawn all of his

objections. The Comment was fine as it was, and it would be


However, I was still not allowed to see the authors’ Reply until it

was actually in print. And when it appeared, it reiterated the same

erroneous claims and numbers (for the third time!) and then

introduced a few new erroneous claims, which, of course, I am not

allowed to respond to. So I’ve simply given up.

I’ve withheld the names of the various individuals in this story

because my purpose is not to make accusations (as much as I would

like to; they’re certainly deserved), but instead to effect some social

change. Nearly everyone I’ve encountered who has written a

Comment has found the system to be heavily biased against wellintentioned

correcting of errors—often serious ones—in the archival

literature. I find this quite disturbing.

And would it have killed these authors to email me their “results”

prior to publishing them, so I could’ve enlightened them before they

committed themselves to their errors in print, thus avoiding all this


Finally, I should also mention that, to keep this story light and at

least somewhat entertaining, I actually simplified it somewhat,

omitting numerous additional steps involving journal web-site crashes,

undelivered emails, unreturned phone calls to dysfunctional pagers,

complaints to higher levels of journal management, and some rather

disturbing (and decidedly unfunny) behavior by the authors and

certain editors.

After all, I wouldn’t want to discourage you from submitting a



Daily Kos: Progressives have TAKEN OVER (UPDATED)

Daily Kos: Progressives have TAKEN OVER (UPDATED): "Story Updated.
Daily Kos
Progressives have TAKEN OVER (UPDATED)
by Mohner
Digg this! Share this on Twitter - Progressives have TAKEN OVER (UPDATED)Tweet this submit to reddit Share This
Wed May 26, 2010 at 09:19:08 PM PDT

Mitch McConnell, with great fanfare, introduced a GOP website,, to solicit opinions from 'real' Americans on how to lead this country back to prosperity, or gun ownership, or whatever.

Users who sign up to the site can post ideas, comment on those ideas, and vote up or down on each idea or message. Think, for the GOP.

I don't think the result is exactly what the GOP had in mind...

* Mohner's diary :: ::

It turns out that the GOP's 'social-networky', 'media-savvy' site, has been taken over by Birthers, people who can't spell, progressives who like to monkey-wrench, and, possibly, 4chan.

The result is the single greatest comedy website online. You OWE it to yourself to go there.

Some tidbits:

The number one 'new idea' (based on voting) in the 'Liberty & Freedom' category is the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

The fourth most votes under 'Liberty & Freedom' is 'Termination of pregnancy should be safe, legal, and rare.'

The number one 'new idea' in 'National Security' is 'Ban handguns. No exceptions, except for law enforcement and military.' The second most popular is 'Elect a Democrat, for our next President'

Other popular ideas:

'Only straight people should be able to mess up adopted children!'

'The Second Amendment is clear: All Americans should be permitted, even encouraged, to own and carry their own concealed tactical nuclear weapons at all times. '

'In order to strengthen American families, we need to put JESUS back in our physical education classes. With him behind the gym shorts and plastic whistle, our children will FOR SURE do their push-ups, and they will LIKE IT.'

'Gays are horrible, horrible people, but we can't pick and choose parts of Leviticus, so let's deny equal rights to all people who fall into the following group: Men who shave, anyone who touches a menstruating woman, people who eat pork, people who eat shellfish, people who work on Sundays. They're all horrible, horrible people. '

'A 'teacher' told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story.' (note this entry was deleted by the GOP, god love Google Cache)

'Where all the white women at? '

UPDATE 1: It looks like you can no longer submit new ideas. That seems appropriate. It's the GOP, after all.

UPDATE 2: OMG! A rec'd Kos diary! This is going on my CV. No, really. I thank you all!

Who is most responsible for all these great ideas?
Wingnuts and birthers -- they're comedy gold
14% 36 votes
Progressives having a bit of a laugh
58% 149 votes
27% 71 votes

| 256 votes | Vote | Results

Tags: Recommended, americaspeakingout, progressives, GOP, comedy (all tags) :: Previous Tag Versions

View Comments | 119 comments

Comments: Expand Shrink Hide (Always) | Indented Flat (Always)
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Politics as a Dead End, Part One

Politics as a Dead End, Part One: "C4SS
Center for a Stateless Society
building awareness of the market anarchist alternative

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Politics as a Dead End, Part One
Posted by Kevin Carson on May 21, 2010 in Commentary • 5 comments

When I see the same lesson reinforced by two unrelated stories, I have to wonder if the universe isn’t trying to tell me something. It’s called “synchronicity.” Two very different incidents, the BP oil spill and Rand Paul’s comments on discrimination by private businesses, clicked together in my mind as illustrations of the same principle.

First, in his reaction to the BP oil disaster, Paul Krugman comes very close — but not quite — to stating the libertarian argument against attempting libertarian reform through the state. He begins by quoting the standard libertarian argument that the positive goals of the regulatory state could just as easily be achieved through tort law: if there were a vigorous common law liability regime with no state-imposed limits on third-party liability, investors wouldn’t put money into enterprises without robust liability insurance. And the insurance companies would have powerful economic incentives to impose strong inspection regimes on insured companies to make sure they didn’t, say, cut corners on safety measures to cut off oil flow in the event of a mishap on an offshore drilling platform.

The problem, Krugman says, is that the state did cap liability, so this economic incentive doesn’t exist. And captive politicians are now refusing to raise the liability cap, because it would impose such prohibitive costs that fewer people would be drilling for oil. When a politically powerful industry is demonstrated to be incapable of making a profit without the government socializing its costs, you suddenly hear a lot of crickets chirping among those formerly vocal “free market” advocates on the Right. And, Krugman argues, this is a telling argument against the free market agenda: the prerequisites for a properly functioning free market regime are politically impossible. Hence: “If libertarianism requires incorruptible politicians to work, it’s not serious.”

But Krugman also misses something: how is it that free market reforms like restoring vigorous tort liability are impracticable because they require incorruptible institutions, but the same critique doesn’t apply to reforms that require strenthening the regulatory state? Are “progressive” regulations made by legislators from a different species than those who refuse to make the oil companies accountable for the harm they cause? There’s a large body of literature suggesting they aren’t: that regulations usually reflect, in large part, the interests of the regulated industry.

That general principle applies to some of the most popular regulations among “progressives”: for example, the 1906 Meat Inspection Act. As recounted in detail by Gabriel Kolko, in The Triumph of Conservatism, the primary political force behind that legislation was the big meatpackers. And that same general pattern seems to prevail throughout the historical periods that “progressives” consider their Golden Age: the regulatory state wasn’t something imposed on big business from outside, against its will, but rather the creation of the regulated industries themselves acting through THEIR state.

If Krugman’s point is that it’s politically impossible to create a just free market civil liability regime that holds corporate malefactors accountable, because the political pull of the affected industries prevents it, you’d think it would suggest some implications to Krugman about how the sausage is made in the regulatory system he prefers.

Krugman actually hits on the precise reason why attempting libertarian free market reforms through the state is an uphill struggle: the state, by its very nature, is a tool to be used by corrupt interests, and they will always have the political advantage over those who attack them. Whatever effort we make to remove subsidies and protections from politically favored corporations, the final form of any legislation will reflect in large part the influence of those corporations on the legislative process.

For market anarchists, therefore, the way to achieve free market reform is to treat the state as irrelevant. The most productive thing we can do is build the counter-institutions for an alternative society despite the state, while state capitalism dies from its own internal contradictions.

To be continued.

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C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, both of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.
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1. AnarchoJesse on May 22, 2010, 2:57 pm:

How do you reconcile this post with your past advocacy of using the devices of the State (i.e. voting, participation in the political process) in order to create disorder within their system. If we understand that the state is irrelevant, wouldn’t it behoove us to devote our energy to more and more towards the development of counter-institutions? I guess what I’m trying to understand is if this is an indication in a shift of your views concerning using the political process, which I always understood to be a sort of “run interference” advocacy rather than a more absolutist position of refusing even to vote, which to me this article would logically conclude by way of simply measuring the effort needed to actually be politically aware and active. Contrasted with direct action, political effort is arguably more wasteful for the fact that no actual return for the effort is made after getting involved. Or do you believe that these views are not exclusionary to each other and can be synthesized?
2. Nathan on May 23, 2010, 2:30 pm:

I think Krugman is, like you say, failing in his use of logic. He wouldn’t be the only person who has trouble grasping the vision of a world where politicians have been made superfluous. To me it seems like another reason why “Libertarianism” is a corrupted term similar to “Capitalism”, because it is twisted to mean something different depending on who is talking. I start to think that you almost have to redefine what terms mean in almost everything you write, because the army of straw men is just waiting to be mobilised.

Is this a problem with English, or is intellectual sloppiness just too easy to get away with?
3. ricketson on May 24, 2010, 12:11 pm:

“I start to think that you almost have to redefine what terms mean in almost everything you write, because the army of straw men is just waiting to be mobilised.

Is this a problem with English, or is intellectual sloppiness just too easy to get away with?”

Nathan, I think that this is a general problem with communication. When words are used in a casual manner to describe complicated (and poorly delimited) concepts, and the people involved in a conversation have different frames of reference, this is almost inevitable.

In technical communication, writers go to great lengths to make sure that words are clearly defined…often saying “I’m using this term in the same way that Joe Smith used it” (then citing the paper where J.S. defined the term). Technical writing relies on everyone sharing the same background and understanding the context within which the word is interpreted. Often different fields use the same term, but with different meanings–and it isn’t always clear to a casual reader that the term is being used with a slightly different meaning.

Technical communications are very carefully thought out, and typically edited several times before publication to make sure that everything is clear and precise…and there can still be confusion.
4. ricketson on May 24, 2010, 12:25 pm:


“simply measuring the effort needed to actually be politically aware and active. ”

Without trying to speak for Kevin, I think that there are two levels of political activity/awareness. At the lower level, you are aware of the big issues of the day; at the higher level, you are aware of the politicians and their record. At the lower level, you talk with your peers, at the higher level, you talk to the politicians.

I think that the lower level of awareness and activity is beneficial even outside of electoral activism. It provides the context within which people organize to change society. I think that electoral activism can even contribute to that lower-level discussion, by gaining attention for an issue, and providing a framework for networking with other activists. You just have to be careful not to get sucked into the partisanship or legalistic mentality of elections.
5. Kevin Carson on May 24, 2010, 1:00 pm:

Anarcho-Jesse: I’ve got no problem with people who engage in political action to increase the scope of freedom–and if they succeed in (say) getting pot decriminalized in some jurisdiction, more power to them. I’d even go so far as to say political activism is a lot more feasible at the local level. But in general, I think going after enforcement capabilities and developing means of circumvention, building counter-institutions, etc., is a lot more cost-effective. At the federal level in particular, implementing a vision of deregulation coupled with an end to subsidies and protections isn’t just an uphill battle; it’s positively sisyphean, because that rock’s going to keep making it almost to the summit and then rolling back down all the way to the bottom again.

And for libertarians as such, the best division of labor is probably just to publicize the information about corporate welfare and its effects (or law enforcement abuses) as effectively as possible, and leave it to issue-oriented groups who aren’t libertarian per se to do the lobbying and organizing, the same way Woodward and Bernstein just published the story and then sat back to enjoy the show (we’re back to stigmergy again). Which dovetails pretty well with what ricketson says, I think. The best way to leverage voter sentiment in scaling back the state is probably just to put your main effort into changing the culture and increasing the total level of friction politicians have to work against to get something implemented. There are some things the state just can’t get away with, mainly as a result of the general political culture, and the more things we can shift into that category (as opposed to how deftly Bush et al shifted torture, indefinite detention, etc. out of it) the better.

Nathan, I think the problem is just blinders–the stuff that doesn’t even register on Krugman’s radar. He’s effectively arguing against how sick you’ll get if you eat the mushrooms with white sauce or pesto sauce, but if someone suggested maybe it’s the mushrooms, he’d say “That’s crazy talk!” Judging the effectiveness of state action by the same standard you use to evaluate voluntary alternatives just isn’t conceivable to them. The fact that the regulations are made by the same corrupt human beings who won’t remove the liability caps, that regulations are made by the same fallible human beings who’d be carrying out the voluntary alternatives–that doesn’t even register in their consciousness.

If you Google Rad Geek’s “Reasons for Counter-Economic Optimism,” he says it pretty well.

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Microsoft Shakes Up Consumer Products Unit -

Microsoft Shakes Up Consumer Products Unit - "Microsoft Shakes Up Its Consumer Products Unit
Published: May 25, 2010

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It’s game time for Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive.
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JB Reed/Bloomberg News

Robbie Bach, head of the entertainment and devices group, will retire from Microsoft.
Jeff Holt/Bloomberg News

The departure of Robbie Bach will give the chief, Steven Ballmer, a more hands-on role in gadgets and games.

Microsoft disclosed a series of management changes on Tuesday that will alter the shape of its business unit responsible for products like the Zune music player, Xbox gaming console and phones.

Most notably, Robbie Bach, the head of the entertainment and devices group, will retire from Microsoft after 22 years at the company. As a result, Mr. Ballmer will take a more hands-on role in Microsoft’s gadgets and games by having various division heads report directly to him.

In a statement and in discussions with reporters, Microsoft representatives stressed that Mr. Bach would leave the company on good terms.

Mr. Bach’s division has had a number of successes, including the Xbox, but has also produced some of the company’s greatest disappointments, including lackluster phone software and the slow-selling Zune. It also botched its approach to the tablet computer market.

“For the past 22 years, Robbie has personified creativity, innovation and drive,” Mr. Ballmer said in a statement. “With this spirit, he has led a division passionately devoted to making Microsoft successful in interactive entertainment and mobility.”

Mr. Bach, 48, will remain at Microsoft until the fall, at which point he plans to spend more time with his family, Microsoft said. During a meeting with reporters and editors at The New York Times on May 14, Mr. Bach did not mention any plans to leave the company, instead focusing on the future of the Xbox and new phone software.

J Allard, the head of design and development in Mr. Bach’s group, will also leave Microsoft after 19 years at the company, although he will continue to advise Mr. Ballmer, the company said. Mr. Allard has worked on a variety of products, including Windows, Xbox and Zune.

Microsoft recently scrapped a project code-named Courier that included a new type of tablet computer that would have competed against Apple’s iPad. Mr. Allard had backed the product internally.

Microsoft’s entertainment and devices group, which competes against Apple, Sony, Nokia, Google and others, has failed to turn into the large profit center that the company envisioned.

“They certainly expect to be one of the top two companies in market share in the areas where they play,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. “With the exception of Xbox, they have failed to achieve that with any of the components in Robbie’s organization.”

Some of the recent shifts in the computing industry have dealt particularly hard blows to Mr. Bach’s group.

For example, Microsoft spent years working on tablet computers, only to watch as Apple’s iPad took over the market in a matter of weeks. In addition, Hewlett-Packard, one of Microsoft’s closest partners, just moved to acquire Palm, a maker of mobile device software. This deal sent a clear signal that H.P. thought it could no longer bet on Microsoft’s Windows software in the mobile market, analysts said.

Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, said he questioned Mr. Ballmer’s ability to correct some of these problems by embracing a more direct role in overseeing the products.

Microsoft continues to lack what Mr. Kay described as a “maestro” who is capable of reading the tastes of the consumer device market and moving the company quickly enough to take advantage of that intuition.

“I think that is a very special thing that Apple has, and that Microsoft doesn’t,” Mr. Kay said.

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They need to get me to talk at TED

They need to get me to talk at TED: "They need to get me to talk at TED
Seriously. Tell the TED people!

It won't happen any time soon - the way for someone like me to get such gigs is, I suppose, to write a best-selling book. That's easier said than done, as Ophelia was saying the other day. But I keep thinking that it's possible to give a better approximation to the truth on the whole 'science of morality' and 'is morality objective' thing. Even a 20-minute summary of the full thesis (not just part 1) of Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong would actually be worthwhile. This thesis is unknown to the general public, but very important. Mackie makes all the good points that Sam Harris makes and others besides, without falling into any serious metaethical traps. Obviously, the book could do with some slight updating, as it was published over 30 years ago. But I've been reading it (yet again) and am amazed (yet again) at how solid it still seems. It was way ahead of its time in 1977 - though in another sense long overdue, as Hume's useful ground-clearing work, which Mackie follows, was resisted by philosophers for over 200 years.

Hume and Mackie do, in fact, provide the foundation for something like a scientifically-informed practice of ethics. They also show that philosophy can make progress.

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Facebook to Simplify Privacy Controls -

Facebook to Simplify Privacy Controls - "Facebook Bows to Pressure Over Privacy
Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, said the company had taken users’ fears seriously.
Published: May 26, 2010

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Ever since Facebook was founded in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, has pushed its users to share more information about themselves. Time and again, users have pushed back, complaining that some new feature or setting on the site violated their privacy.
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Bits Blog: Q. and A.: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief (May 26, 2010)
Bits: Facebook Unveils New Approach to Privacy Settings (May 26, 2010)

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But the reaction has rarely been as strong as in the last few weeks, as users, privacy advocates and government officials in many countries lobbed a series of increasingly vociferous complaints against the company. On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg responded, unveiling a set of controls that he said would help people better understand what they were sharing online, and with whom.

“It has been a pretty intense few weeks for us,” said Mr. Zuckerberg, who added that he had been huddled with other senior executives for the last two weeks to help shape Facebook’s response.

The back and forth between Facebook and its users over privacy is gaining importance as the company’s growth continues unabated. It now has nearly 500 million users around the world, and its policies, more than those of any other company, are helping to define standards for privacy in the Internet age.

The new settings would simplify a system that required users to sort through about 150 options.

“Facebook is trying to change privacy on the Internet, and users are pushing back,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which recently filed a complaint about Facebook’s privacy practices with the Federal Trade Commission. “This is about who controls the disclosure of data. Facebook cannot make that decision for users.”

Mr. Rotenberg and other privacy advocates said the changes that Facebook announced on Wednesday were generally positive ones, but they said they hoped for further changes and for more oversight from Congress and regulators.

Mr. Zuckerberg announced the changes during a press conference at Facebook’s headquarters here. He appeared contrite and conceded mistakes, but he did not apologize to users.

He said the new privacy settings, which will show up in users’ accounts over the next couple of weeks, would make it easier for users to understand how much of their personal information was publicly accessible. “The settings have gotten complex, and it has become hard for people to use them effectively,” he said.

Facebook said it would give its users simple controls to determine whether their information was visible to only friends, friends of friends, or everyone on the Internet. Those settings will be applied retroactively to everything users have already published on Facebook.

In addition, Facebook said it was changing its directory of users to show only minimal information when people search for others, like name, profile picture and gender. It had earlier required users to make more information public.

Facebook will also include an easy way for users to turn off its new and controversial “instant personalization” feature, which allows partner sites like Yelp and Pandora to gain access to their personal data.

The latest crisis for Facebook began to build shortly after its conference for software developers in late April, where it unveiled new features and a plan to extend Facebook functions across the Web.

The company argued, as it has for some time, that more and broader sharing makes the site better for everyone. While getting more information about users also helps Facebook customize the advertising it displays, Mr. Zuckerberg said none of the changes affecting privacy were financially motivated.

Some critics say the company was slow to respond to the resulting criticisms. But internally a debate was brewing, with some executives arguing that Facebook might be able to get away with making no changes to the site, said Facebook employees who asked not to be named.

Earlier user rebellions had eventually died down, and despite some defections publicized by technology blogs, Facebook users were not canceling their accounts any more than at any other time.

But eventually the amount of bad publicity became impossible to ignore. “No one likes to see the amount of feedback that we are getting,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in an interview. “A lot of the blogs and feedback were really negative.”

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Sex and the City 2 :: :: Reviews

Sex and the City 2 :: :: Reviews: "Sex and the City 2 (R)
Ebert: Users:

You know who they are.

Sex and the City 2

BY ROGER EBERT / May 25, 2010

Cast & Credits
Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker
Samantha Jones Kim Cattrall
Charlotte York Kristin Davis
Miranda Hobbes Cynthia Nixon
Mr. Big Chris Noth
Aidan John Corbett
Steve David Eigenberg
Harry Evan Handler
Smith Jason Lewis
Stanford Willie Garson
Anthony Mario Cantone

New Line presents a film written and directed by Michael Patrick King, based on the TV series created by Star, based on characters from the book by Candace Bushnell. Running time: 146 minutes. MPAA rating: R

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Some of these people make my skin crawl. The characters of 'Sex and the City 2' are flyweight bubbleheads living in a world which rarely requires three sentences in a row. Their defining quality is consuming things. They gobble food, fashion, houses, husbands, children, vitamins and freebies. They must plan their wardrobes on the phone, so often do they appear in different basic colors, like the plugs you pound into a Playskool workbench.

As we return to the trivialities of their lives for a sequel, marriage is the issue. The institution is affirmed in an opening sequence at a gay wedding in Connecticut that looks like a Fred Astaire production number gone horribly over budget. There's a 16-man chorus in white formal wear, a pond with swans, and Liza Minnelli to perform the ceremony. Her religious or legal qualifications are unexplained; perhaps she is present merely as the patron saint of gay men. After the ceremony, she changes to a Vegas lounge outfit and is joined by two lookalike backups for a song and dance routine possibly frowned upon in some denominations.

Then it's back to the humdrum married life of our gal Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and the loathsome Mr. Big (Chris Noth). Carrie, honey, how can you endure life with this purring, narcissistic, soft-velvet idiot? He speaks loudly enough to be heard mostly by himself, his most appreciative audience. And he never wants to leave the house at night, preferring to watch classic black-and-white movies on TV. This leads to a marital crisis. Carrie thinks they should talk more. But sweetheart, Mr. Big has nothing to say. At least he's provided you with a Manhattan apartment that looks like an Architectural Digest wet dream.

Brief updates. Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) is a high-powered lawyer who is dissed by her male chauvinist pig boss. Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is still a sexaholic slut. Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) has the two little girls she thought she wanted, but now discovers that they actually expect to be raised. Mothers, if you are reading, run this through your head. One little girl dips her hands in strawberry topping and plants two big handprints on your butt. You are on the cell to a girlfriend. How do you report this? You moan and wail out: 'My vintage Valentino!' Any mother who wears her vintage Valentino while making muffin topping with her kids should be hauled up before the Department of Children and Family Services.

All of this is pretty thin gruel. The movie shows enterprise, and flies the entire cast away to the emirate of Abu Dhabi, where the girls are given a $22,000-a-night suite and matching Maybachs and butlers, courtesy of a sheik who wants to have a meeting with Samantha and talk about publicity for his hotel.

This sequence is an exercise in obscenely conspicuous consumption, in which the girls appear in so many different outfits they must have been followed to the Middle East by a luggage plane. I don't know a whole lot about fashion, but I know something about taste, and these women spend much of the movie dressed in tacky, vulgar clothing. Carrie and Samantha also display the maximum possible boobage, oblivious to Arab ideas about women's modesty. There's more cleavage in this film than at a pro wrestler's wedding.

And crotches, have we got crotches for you. Big close-ups of the girls themselves, and some of the bulgers they meet. And they meet some. They meet the Australian world cup team, for example, which seems to have left its cups at home. And then there's the intriguing stranger Samantha meets at the hotel, whose zipper-straining arousal evokes the fury of an offended Arab guest and his wife. This prodigy's name is Rikard Spirt. Think about it.

Samantha is arrested for kissing on the beach, and there's an uncomfortable scene in which the girls are menaced by outraged men in a public market, where all they've done is dress in a way more appropriate for a sales reception at Victoria's Secret. They're rescued by Arab women so well covered only their eyes are visible, and in private these women reveal that underneath the burkas they're wearing Dior gowns and so forth. Must get hot.

I wondered briefly whether Abu Dhabi had underwritten all this product placement, but I learn the 'SATC2' was filmed in Morocco, which must be Morocco's little joke. That nation supplies magnificent desert scenes, achieved with CGI, I assume, during which two of the girls fall off a camel. I haven't seen such hilarity since 'Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion.'

The movie's visual style is arthritic. Director Michael Patrick King covers the sitcom dialogue by dutifully cutting back and forth to whoever is speaking. A sample of Carrie's realistic dialogue in a marital argument: 'You knew when I married you I was more Coco Chanel than coq au vin.' Carrie also narrates the film, providing useful guidelines for those challenged by its intricacies. Sample: 'Later that day, Big and I arrived home.'

Truth in reviewing: I am obliged to report that this film will no doubt be deliriously enjoyed by its fans, for the reasons described above. Male couch potatoes dragged to the film against their will may find some consolation. Reader, I must confess that while attending the sneak preview with its overwhelmingly female audience, I was gob-smacked by the delightful cleavage on display. Do women wear their lowest-cut frocks for each other?

Note: From my understanding of the guidelines of the MPAA Code and Ratings Administration, Samantha and Mr. Spirt have one scene that far, far surpasses the traditional MPAA limits for pumping and thrusting.

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The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand -

The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand - "The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand
Kristoffer Tripplaar/Getty Images

President Obama spoke about the “Race to the Top“ program at an elementary school in Falls Church, Va. With him is Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Published: May 17, 2010

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MICHAEL MULGREW is an affable former Brooklyn vocational-high-school teacher who took over last year as head of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers when his predecessor, Randi Weingarten, moved to Washington to run the national American Federation of Teachers. Over breakfast in March, we talked about a movement spreading across the country to hold public-school teachers accountable by compensating, promoting or even removing them according to the results they produce in class, as measured in part by student test scores. Mulgrew’s 165-page union contract takes the opposite approach. It not only specifies everything that teachers will do and will not do during a six-hour-57 ½-minute workday but also requires that teachers be paid based on how long they have been on the job. Once they’ve been teaching for three years and judged satisfactory in a process that invariably judges all but a few of them satisfactory, they are ensured lifetime tenure.
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Share your thoughts on Race to the Top, school reform and teachers’ unions at the Learning Network blog.

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Scoring Race to the Top: A Look Behind the Curtain (

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President Obama and Mr. Duncan with sixth grade students in Falls Church, Va.

Next to Mulgrew was his press aide, Richard Riley. “Suppose you decide that Riley is lazy or incompetent,” I asked Mulgrew. “Should you be able to fire him?”

“He’s not a teacher,” Mulgrew responded. “And I need to be able to pick my own person for a job like that.” Then he grinned, adding: “I know where you’re going, but you don’t understand. Teachers are just different.”

That is the kind of story that makes Jon Schnur smile. Schnur, who runs a Manhattan-based school-reform group called New Leaders for New Schools, sits informally at the center of a network of self-styled reformers dedicated to overhauling public education in the United States. They have been building in strength and numbers over the last two decades and now seem to be planted everywhere that counts. They are working in key positions in school districts and charter-school networks, legislating in state capitals, staffing city halls and statehouses for reform-minded mayors and governors, writing papers for policy groups and dispensing grants from billion-dollar philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp; and the New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein could be considered the patron saints of the network.

Over the last several months, Schnur and the well-positioned fellow travelers on his speed dial have seen the cause of their lives take center stage. Why the sudden shift from long-simmering wonk debate to political front burner? Because there is now a president who, when it comes to school reform, really does seem to be a new kind of Democrat — and because of a clever idea Schnur had last year to package what might otherwise have been just another federal grant program into a media-alluring, if cheesy-sounding, contest called Race to the Top. It has turned a relatively modest federal program (the $4.3 billion budget represents less than 1 percent of all federal, state and local education spending) into high-yield leverage that could end up overshadowing health care reform in its impact and that is already upending traditional Democratic Party politics. The activity set off by the contest has enabled Schnur’s network to press as never before its frontal challenge to the teachers’ unions: they argue that a country that spends more per pupil than any other but whose student performance ranks in the bottom third among developed nations isn’t failing its children for lack of resources but for lack of trained, motivated, accountable talent at the front of the class.

Schnur, who is 44, became interested in education when, as an editor of his high-school newspaper, he read a draft of an article from a student who had transferred from a Milwaukee public school to his school in the suburbs. “She was savvier than any of us on the editorial board, but the draft was just so terribly written,” he told me. Schnur added that “the more I got to know her, the more I became obsessed with why public education hadn’t reached people like her.” After graduating from Princeton, he worked in the Clinton campaign and then landed an education-policy job in the Clinton administration.

Schnur recalls that when he met Barack Obama before his Senate campaign in 2004, and heard him talk about education, “I figured this guy could be the great education president — in 2017.” When Obama moved up the timetable, Schnur joined his 2008 campaign as a policy adviser. Six months later, he was working as a counselor to Education Secretary Duncan. As the Obama administration prepared to spend $80 billion in education aid as part of the economic stimulus program, Duncan and Schnur diverted $4.3 billion to the contest aimed at encouraging cash-strapped states to overhaul their public schools. Schnur came up with the name and pushed the overall spin of the contest, and it was clear from conversations with people in the school-reform movement that he is the one person who seems to know everything happening on all fronts, from the White House to legislative chambers in Albany or Sacramento to charter schools in New Orleans. Joel Klein, for example, said he talks to Schnur about once a week.

The winners of the Race would be those states that submitted the best blueprints for fulfilling the reform agenda, which includes allowing school districts to take over failing schools, improving curriculum standards and encouraging school innovation (which means, in part, allowing charter schools to flourish). But what the reformers have come to believe matters most is good teachers. “It’s all about the talent,” Secretary Duncan told me. Thus, the highest number of points — 138 of the 500-point scale that Duncan and his staff created for the Race — would be awarded based on a commitment to eliminate what teachers’ union leaders consider the most important protections enjoyed by their members: seniority-based compensation and permanent job security. To win the contest, the states had to present new laws, contracts and data systems making teachers individually responsible for what their students achieve, and demonstrating, for example, that budget-forced teacher layoffs will be based on the quality of the teacher, not simply on seniority. (Fifteen states, including New York and California, now operate under union-backed state laws mandating that seniority, or “last in/first out,” determines layoffs. These quality-blind layoffs could force a new generation of teachers, like those recruited by Teach for America, out of classrooms in the coming months.) To enable teacher evaluations, another 47 points would be allocated based on the quality of a state’s “data systems” for tracking student performance in all grades — which is a euphemism for the kind of full-bore testing regime that makes many parents and children cringe but that the reformers argue is necessary for any serious attempt to track not only student progress but also teacher effectiveness.

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Flynn effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flynn effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Flynn effect
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The Flynn effect describes an increase in the average intelligence quotient (IQ) test scores over generations (IQ gains over time). Similar improvements have been reported for other cognitions such as semantic and episodic memory.[1] The effect has been observed in most parts of the world at different rates.

The Flynn effect is named for James R. Flynn, who did much to document it and promote awareness of its implications. The term itself was coined by the authors of The Bell Curve.[2]

The effect increase has been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. 'Test scores are certainly going up all over the world, but whether intelligence itself has risen remains controversial,' psychologist Ulric Neisser wrote in an article during 1997 in The American Scientist.[3] The Flynn effect may have ended in some developed nations starting during the mid 1990s although other studies, such as Black Americans reduce the racial IQ gap: Evidence from standardization samples (Dickens, Flynn; 2006), still show gains between 1972 and 2002.

* 1 The rise
* 2 Proposed explanations
* 3 Has progression ended?
* 4 The social multiplier effect
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links

[edit] The rise

IQ tests are re-normalized periodically, in order to maintain an average score at 100. In fact, the necessity of this re-normalization provided an early indication that IQ was changing over time. The revised versions are standardized on new samples and scored with respect to those samples alone, so the only way to compare the difficulty of two versions of a test is to conduct a separate study in which the same subjects take both versions.[3] Doing so confirms IQ gains over time.

The average rate of increase seems to be about three IQ points per decade. Because children attend school longer now and have become much more familiar with the testing of school-related material, one might expect the greatest gains to occur on such school content-related tests as vocabulary, arithmetic or general information. Just the opposite is the case: abilities such as these have experienced relatively small gains and even occasional decreases over the years. The greatest Flynn effects occur instead for general intelligence factor loaded (g-loaded) tests such as Raven's Progressive Matrices. For example, Dutch conscripts gained 21 points during only 30 years, or 7 points per decade, between 1952 and 1982.[3]

Some studies emphasizing the distribution of scores have found the Flynn effect to be primarily a phenomenon of the lower end of the distribution. Teasdale and Owen (1987), for example, found the effect primarily reduced the number of low-end scores, resulting in an increased number of moderately high scores, with no increase in very high scores.[4] However, Raven (2000) found that, as Flynn suggested, data interpreted as showing a decrease in many abilities with increasing age must be re-interpreted as showing that there has been a dramatic increase of these abilities with date of birth. On many tests this occurs at all levels of ability.[5] Two large samples of Spanish children were assessed with a 30-year gap. Comparison of the IQ distributions indicated that

1. the mean IQ had increased by 9.7 points (the Flynn effect),
2. the gains were concentrated in the lower half of the distribution and negligible in the top half, and
3. the gains gradually decreased as the IQ of the individuals increased.[6]

Possible projection of Flynn through ages[citation needed]

If accepted at face value, these changes are considered large by some. Ulric Neisser, who, during 1995, headed an American Psychological Association task force writing a consensus statement on the state of intelligence research, estimates that if American children of 1932 could take an IQ test normed during 1997 their average IQ would have been only about 80,[3] which would be classified as having borderline mental retardation or worse. Considering Ravens, Neisser estimates that if he extrapolates beyond the data, which shows a 21-point gain between 1952 and 1982, an even larger gain of 35 IQ points can be argued. However Arthur Jensen warns that extrapolating leads to results such as an IQ of -1000 for Aristotle (even assuming he would have scored 200 in his day).[7]

Though the effect is most associated with IQ increases, a similar effect has been found with increases of semantic and episodic memory.[1]
[edit] Proposed explanations
See also: Health and intelligence

Attempted explanations have included improved nutrition, a trend toward smaller families, better education, greater environmental complexity, and heterosis[8]. Another proposition is greater familiarity with multiple-choice questions and experience with brain-teaser IQ problems.

Duration of average schooling has increased steadily. One problem with this explanation is that if comparing older and more recent subjects with similar educational levels, then the IQ gains appear almost undiminished in each such group considered individually.[3] Mathematics has been proposed as particularly important.[9]

Many studies find that children who do not attend school score lower on the tests than their regularly attending peers. During the 1960s, when some Virginia counties closed their public schools to avoid racial integration, compensatory private schooling was available only for Caucasian children. On average, the scores of African-American children who did not receive formal education during that period decreased at a rate of about six IQ points per year.

Another explanation is an increased familiarity of the general population with tests and testing. For example, children who take the very same IQ test a second time usually gain five or six points. However, this seems to set an upper limit on the effects of test sophistication. One problem with this explanation and other related to the schooling is, as noted above, that those subsets one would expect to be affected the most show the least increases.[3]

Another theory is that many parents are now interested in their children's intellectual development and are probably doing more to encourage it than parents did in the past. Early intervention programs have shown mixed results. Some preschool (ages 3-4) intervention programs like 'Head Start' do not produce lasting changes of IQ, although they may confer other benefits. The 'Abecedarian Early Intervention Project', an all-day program that provided various forms of environmental enrichment to children from infancy onward, showed IQ gains that did not diminish over time. The IQ difference between the groups, although only five points, was still present at age 12. Not all such projects have been successful.[3] Also, such IQ gains can diminish until age 18.[10] Several other studies have also found lasting cognitive gains.[11]

Still another theory is that the general environment today is much more complex and stimulating. One of the most striking 20th century changes of the human intellectual environment has come from the increase of exposure to many types of visual media. From pictures on the wall to movies to television to video games to computers, each successive generation has been exposed to richer optical displays than the one before and may have become more adept at visual analysis. This would explain why tests like the Raven's have shown the greatest increases—they depend on such analysis. This explanation may imply that IQ tests do not necessarily measure a general intelligence factor, especially not Raven's as often argued, but instead may measure different types of intelligence that are developed by different experiences (this argument is against the notion of an underlying general intelligence, or g factor). An increase only of particular form(s) of intelligence would explain why the Flynn effect has not caused a 'cultural renaissance too great to be overlooked.'[3]

Related to this, James Flynn's current explanation (Flynn 2007) is that environmental changes resulting from modernization—such as more intellectually demanding work, greater use of technology and smaller families—have meant that a much larger proportion of people are more accustomed to manipulating abstract concepts such as hypotheses and categories than a century ago. Substantial portions of IQ tests deal with these abilities. Flynn gives, as an example, the question 'What do a dog and a rabbit have in common?' A modern respondent might say they are both mammals (an abstract answer), whereas someone a century ago might have said that humans catch rabbits with dogs (a concrete answer).

Improved nutrition is another explanation. Today's average adult from an industrialized nation is taller than a comparable adult of a century ago. That increase of stature, likely the result of general improvements of nutrition and health[citation needed], has been at a rate of more than a centimeter per decade. Available data suggest that these gains have been accompanied by analogous increases of head size, and presumably by an increase of the average size of the brain. This argument has the difficulty that groups who tend to be of smaller overall body size (e.g. women, people of Asian ancestry) do not show lower average IQs.

A 2005 study presented data supporting the nutrition hypothesis, which predicts that gains of IQ will occur predominantly at the low end of the distribution where nutritional deprivation is (was) most severe.[6] Richard Lynn first proposed the nutrition hypothesis and defends it as the only plausible explanation for the Flynn effect in most samples. Lynn argues that cultural factors cannot typically explain the Flynn effect because its gains are observed even with infant development tests, thus nutrition at the earliest stages of life is the best explanation.

Possibly related to the Flynn effect is change of cranial vault size and shape during the last 150 years in the US. These changes must occur by early childhood because of the early development of the vault.[12]

Flynn argued earlier that the very large increase indicates that IQ tests do not measure intelligence well but only a minor sort of 'abstract problem-solving ability' with little practical significance.[3] This refers to the validity of IQ tests and whether they assess something akin to most people's everyday understanding of 'intelligence'. Some have argued that if IQ gains do reflect intelligence increases in this sense, there would have been consequent changes of our society that have not been observed (given the presumed non-occurrence of the 'cultural renaissance' referred to above.[3]

In 2001, Dickens and Flynn presented a model for resolving several contradictory findings regarding IQ. They argue that the measure 'heritability' includes both a direct effect of the genotype on IQ and also indirect effects such that the genotype changes the environment, thereby affecting IQ. That is, those with a greater IQ tend to seek stimulating environments that further increase IQ. These reciprocal effects result in gene environment correlation. The direct effect could initially have been very small but feedback can create large differences of IQ. In their model, an environmental stimulus can have a very great effect on IQ, even for adults, but this effect also decays over time unless the stimulus continues (the model could be adapted to include possible factors, like nutrition during early childhood, that may cause permanent effects). The Flynn effect can be explained by a generally more stimulating environment for all people. The authors suggest that programs intending to increase IQ may produce long-term IQ gains if the programs taught children how to replicate the types of cognitively demanding experiences that produce IQ gains outside the program. To maximize lifetime IQ, the programs should also motivate them to continue searching for cognitively demanding experiences after they have left the program.[13][14]

However if the Flynn effect is caused by intellectual stimulation, this may suggest that the Flynn effect is unrelated to g[dubious – discuss] because according to Jensen 'the preponderance of evidence argues that variance in the level of g is not a psychologically manipulable variable, but rather a biological phenomenon under the control both of the genes and of those external physical variables that affect the physiological and biochemical functioning of the central nervous system, which mediates the behavioral manifestations of g[15] ...Anything less than very early and intensive intervention, including medical and nutritional advances, during the preschool years (and also prenatally) is probably inadequate to cause a lasting increase in the child's level of g.'[16] However, Dickens and Flynn's paper, which was written after Jensen's book, disputes Jensen's claims, for example arguing that using Jensen's method the Flynn effect is found to be substantially due to genetic improvements, an extremely unlikely cause.[dubious – discuss]

Some studies indicate that the Flynn effect has not substantially affected the general intelligence factor (g), which would mean that the practical significance of the effect would be limited.[17][18][19] However, a Dutch study found g gains in descendants of non-Western immigrants[20], while another study found g gains in Spanish students.[21]

Studies that use multi-group confirmatory factor analysis test for 'measurement invariance'. Where tenable, invariance demonstrates that group differences exist in the latent constructs the tests contain and not, for example, as a result of measurement artifacts or cultural bias. Wicherts et al. (2004) found evidence from five data sets that IQ scores are not measurement invariant over time, and thus 'the gains cannot be explained solely by increases at the level of the latent variables (common factors), which IQ tests purport to measure'. In other words, some of the inter-generational differences of IQ are attributable to bias or other artifacts, and not real gains of general intelligence or higher-order ability factors.[22]

A 2003 study looking at the Flynn effect in Kenya between 1984 and 1998 found that the increase was best explained by parents' literacy, family structure, and children's nutrition and health.[23]

A 2006 study from Brazil examined data from testing children during 1930 and 2002–2004, the largest time gap ever considered. The results are consistent with both the cognitive stimulation and the nutritional hypotheses.[24]
[edit] Has progression ended?
William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn write that blacks have gained five or six IQ points as compared to non-Hispanic whites between 1972 and 2002. This graph shows the gains for various tests.[25]

The Flynn effect may have ended in some developed nations starting during the mid-1990s. In the United Kingdom among teenagers, IQ maximized during the 1980s and has since remained the same.[26] [27]

Teasdale and Owen (2005) 'report intelligence test results from over 500,000 young Danish men, tested between 1959 and 2004, showing that performance peaked in the late 1990s, and has since declined moderately to pre-1991 levels'. They speculate that 'a contributing factor in this recent fall could be a simultaneous decline in proportions of students entering 3-year advanced-level school programs for 16–18 year olds.'[28]

During 2004, Jon Martin Sundet of the University of Oslo and colleagues published an article documenting scores on intelligence tests given to Norwegian conscripts between the 1950s and 2002, showing that the increase of scores of general intelligence stopped after the mid-1990s and in numerical reasoning sub-tests, declined.[29]

Some have claimed that the Flynn effect was masking a dysgenic decrease of human reproduction and that in developed countries the only direction that IQ scores will now trend is downward. However, even if there is a decrease, this may have causes other than dysgenics. Genetic changes usually happen relatively slowly. For example, the Flynn effect has been too rapid for a genetic explanation.[9] Researchers have warned that constantly greater exposure to industrial chemicals proven to damage the nervous system, especially in children, in industrialized nations may be responsible for a 'silent pandemic' of brain development disorders.[30]

Also, if the Flynn effect has ended for the majority, it may still continue for minorities, especially for groups like immigrants where many may have received poor nutrition during early childhood.[28] For example, Dickens and Flynn write in their 2006 paper Black Americans reduce the racial IQ gap: Evidence from standardization samples that blacks have gained five or six IQ points compared to non-Hispanic whites between 1972 and 2002. Gains have been fairly uniform across the entire range of black cognitive ability.[25] J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur R. Jensen have disputed Dickens's and Flynn's findings, calculating a mean gain for Blacks of zero to 3.44 IQ points, and questioned the exclusion of four independent tests that showed low or negative IQ gains.[31]
[edit] The social multiplier effect

The primary causative agent of the Flynn effect is believed to be the social multiplier effect. This effect is based on the idea that the ambient cognitive background of societies passively increases IQ by the provision of iteratively more complex forms of environmental stimulus (such as improvements of media, technology and nutrition).[32] The reality of the effect has been challenged, however, most notably by Mingroni, who says that the heritability of g is too great to be affected significantly by environmental factors. Mingroni has proposed heterosis (hybrid vigor associated with historical reductions of the levels of inbreeding) as an alternative explanation of the Flynn effect as it pertains to increases of g.[33]
[edit] See also

* Dysgenics
* Gene-environment correlation
* Heterosis
* Intelligence
* IQ testing environmental variances

[edit] References

1. ^ a b Rönnlund M, Nilsson LG. (2009). Flynn effects on sub-factors of episodic and semantic memory: parallel gains over time and the same set of determining factors. Neuropsychologia. 47(11):2174-80. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.05.001 PMID 19056409
2. ^ Flynn, J. R., 2007, page 2.
3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rising Scores on Intelligence Tests Neisser, U. (1997). American Scientist, 85, 440-447.
4. ^ Teasdale, Thomas W., and David R. Owen. (1987). ‘National secular trends in intelligence and education: a twenty year cross-sectional study’, Nature, 325, 119-21.
5. ^ Raven, J. (2000). The Raven’s Progressive Matrices: Change and stability over culture and time. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 1-48.
6. ^ a b Colom, R., Lluis-Font, J.M., and Andrés-Pueyo, A. (2005). 'The generational intelligence gains are caused by decreasing variance in the lower half of the distribution: Supporting evidence for the nutrition hypothesis'. Intelligence 33: 83–91. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2004.07.010.
7. ^ The g factor, by Arthur Jensen pg 328
8. ^ Mingroni, M.A. (2004). 'The secular rise in IQ: Giving heterosis a closer look'. Intelligence 32: 65–83. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(03)00058-8.
9. ^ a b Rising mean IQ: Cognitive demand of mathematics education for young children, population exposure to formal schooling, and the neurobiology of the prefrontal cortex Clancy Blair, David Gamson, Steven Thorne, David Baker. Intelligence 33 (2005) 93-106
10. ^ Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., Craig, I. W., & McGuffin, P. (2003). Behavioral genetics in the postgenomic era. 4th Ed.
11. ^ Contributions of early childhood education to age-14 performance Cathy Wylie, Edith Hodgen, Hilary Ferral, and Jean Thompson. NEW ZEALAND COUNCIL FOR EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH TE RÜNANGA O AOTEAROA MÖ TE RANGAHAU I TE MÄTAURANGA WELLINGTON 2006
12. ^ 'Changes in vault dimensions must occur by early childhood because of the early development of the vault.' Secular change in craniofacial morphology 'During the 125 years under consideration, cranial vaults have become markedly higher, somewhat narrower, with narrower faces. The changes in cranial morphology are probably in large part due to changes in growth at the cranial base due to improved environmental conditions. The changes are likely a combination of phenotypic plasticity and genetic changes over this period.' Cranial change in Americans: 1850-1975.
13. ^ William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn, Heritability Estimates Versus Large Environmental Effects:The IQ Paradox Resolved, Psychological Review 2001. Vol. 108, No. 2. 346-369.
14. ^ William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn, 'The IQ Paradox: Still Resolved,' Psychological Review 109, no. 4 (2002).
15. ^ The g factor by Arthur Jensen pg 336
16. ^ The g factor by Arthur Jensen pg 344
17. ^ Rushton, J. P. (1999). 'Secular Gains in IQ Not Related to the g Factor and Inbreeding Depression--Unlike Black-White Differences: A Reply to Flynn' (PDF). Personality and Individual Difference 26: 381–389. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(98)00148-2.
18. ^ Must O, Must A and Raudik V (2003). 'The secular rise in IQs: In Estonia, the Flynn effect is not a Jensen effect'. Intelligence 31: 461–471. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(03)00013-8.
19. ^ Rushton, J. P. and Jensen, A. (2010). 'The rise and fall of the Flynn effect as a reason to expect a narrowing of the Black–White IQ gap'. Intelligence 38: 213–219. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2009.12.002.
20. ^ Te Nijenhuis J, De Jong M-J, Evers A, Van Der Flier H. (2004). 'Are cognitive differences between immigrant and majority groups diminishing?'. European Journal of Personality 18 (5): 405–434. doi:10.1002/per.511.
21. ^ Colom R & Garcia-Lopez O (2003). 'Secular Gains in Fluid Intelligence: Evidence from the Culture-Fair Intelligence Test'. Journal of Biosocial Science 35: 33–39. doi:10.1017/S0021932003000336.
22. ^ Wicherts, J.M., Dolan, C.V., Hessen, D.J., Oosterveld, P., Baal, G.C.M. van, Boomsma, D.I., & Span, M.M. (2004). 'Are intelligence tests measurement invariant over time? Investigating the nature of the Flynn effect' (PDF). Intelligence 32: 509–537. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2004.07.002. (links to PDF file)
23. ^ Daley TC, Whaley SE, Sigman MD, Espinosa MP & Neumann C. 'Iq on the rise: The Flynn Effect in Rural Kenyan Children'. Psychological Science 14 (3): 215–219. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.02434/abs/+Iq+on+the+rise:+The+Flynn+Effect+in+Rural+Kenyan+Children].
24. ^ Colom R, Flores-Mendoza CE, & Abad FJ (2007). 'Generational changes on the draw-a-man test: a comparison of Brazilian urban and rural children tested in 1930, 2002 and 2004'. J Biosoc Sci 39 (1): 79–89. doi:10.1017/S0021932005001173.
25. ^ a b Black Americans reduce the racial IQ gap: Evidence from standardization samples William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn. Oct. 2006
26. ^ British teenagers have lower IQs than their counterparts did 30 years ago. The Telegraph. Feb 7, 2009.
27. ^ [1] Thomas W. Teasdale, David R. Owen (2008) Secular declines in cognitive test scores: A reversal of the Flynn Effect. Intelligence Volume 36, Issue 2, Pages 121-126
28. ^ a b Teasdale TW & Owen DR (2005). 'A long-term rise and recent decline in intelligence test performance: The Flynn Effect in reverse'. Personality and Individual Differences 39 (4): 837–843. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.01.029.
29. ^ Sundet, J (2004). 'The end of the Flynn Effect. A study of secular trends in mean intelligence scores of Norwegian conscripts during half a century'. Intelligence 32: 349. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2004.06.004.
30. ^ Boyles, Salynn (November 7, 2006). 'A 'Silent Pandemic' Of Brain Disorders'. CBS News. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
31. ^ Rushton JP, Jensen AR (October 2006). 'The Totality of Available Evidence Shows the Race IQ Gap Still Remains' (PDF). Psychological Science 19 (10): 921–922. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01803.x. PMID 17100794.
32. ^ Dickens, W. T., & Flynn, J. R. (2001). Heritability estimates versus large environmental effects: The IQ paradox resolved. Psychological Review, 108, 346-369.
33. ^ Mingroni, M. A. (2007). Resolving the IQ paradox: Heterosis as a cause of the Flynn effect and other trends. Psychological Review, 114, 806-829.

[edit] Further reading

* Flynn, J. R. (1984). The mean IQ of Americans: Massive gains 1932 to 1978. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 29-51.
* Flynn, J. R. (1987). Massive IQ gains in 14 nations: What IQ tests really measure. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 171-191.
* Flynn, J. R., What is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect, Cambridge University Press (2007).
* Ulric Neisser et al.: The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures. American Psychological Association (APA), 1998, ISBN 1-55798-503-0.

[edit] External links

* The Flynn Effect by Indiana University.
* Marguerite Holloway, Flynn's effect, Scientific American, January 1999; online edition
* Increasing intelligence: the Flynn effect
* Flynn biography
* 'An Explanation for the Flynn Effect'
* 'Heritability Estimates Versus Large Environmental Effects: The IQ Paradox Resolved' - article by Dickens and Flynn
* Heredity, Environment, and Cranial Form: A Reanalysis of Boas’s Immigrant Data
* Did Boas get it right or wrong?
* 'Dome Improvement' (Wired article)
* Malcolm Gladwell from the New Yorker on race, I.Q., and the Flynn effect

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