27 October 2013

Michael Gove, Robert Plomin and heredity

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, appears to be paying some attention to the possibility of heredity as a factor in intelligence. He has been having talks with Professor Robert Plomin, who has done research on the heritability of intelligence, and who is said to believe that ‘genetics, not teaching, plays a major part in the intelligence of schoolchildren.’

One may wonder why it is of any interest to attempt to evaluate the relative importance of heredity and environmental factors on functionality. It only becomes of interest, surely, when opportunity of various kinds is not paid for directly by the individual, or his parents or guardian, but supplied by the state.

At present, many people, or at least many among the most influential, seem to wish to believe that there is no such thing as innate ability, and that there should be equality of opportunity (and hence equality of outcome). But what are we to understand by equality of opportunity? In practice, this is taken to mean that resources should be applied lavishly to those whose performance is below the average. Thus children with ‘special needs’, for example, are to be sent in taxis, accompanied by social workers, to special schools. And, although this is less explicitly advocated, those who are far ahead should be held back.

Most current discussion of educational issues, such as the distribution of above-average ability in different sectors of the population, is wildly fictitious. The online comments on educational articles in the Guardian, for example, show a persistent belief in the inferior average intelligence of middle-class children, and the superior average intelligence of working-class children, who are supposedly prevented by bad circumstances from showing their ability.

It has become fashionable among certain sectors of society to be very aware of the possibility of working-class children with high IQs getting no opportunity of using their intelligence to attain the academic and career success of their middle-class peers. Arguably, these sectors of society should also be aware of the possibility of high-IQ adults whose educations were ruined and who have had (and still have) no opportunity to enter high-status academic careers, which they need to have, so as to be in a position to use their abilities to the full. In practice, however, people claiming to be concerned for the plight of the unfortunate do not show any sympathy for those whose education has been ruined in this way.

When I was growing up in East London, my parents and their friends, being teachers working in schools where their undoubted hard work was rewarded with substandard results in the achievements of their pupils, never appeared to be concerned that the pupils were being unfairly deprived of opportunity. It seems quite possible that this did not reflect ideologically unsound attitudes on their part, but a genuine awareness of underlying abilities and the limits of what education can do.

In classical Greece, the belief in hereditary ability seems to have been much as it was in this country seventy years ago.
Much education would have taken place in an aristocracy informally through institutions like the symposium ... backed up by the old assumption that the aristocracy possessed inherited, not instructed, excellence.*
Now the concept of hereditary ability is described as old-fashioned, implying that it has been dismissed from consideration; or is even regarded as taboo. And indeed, most ‘research’ in education and related areas now simply assumes that ability is not inherited, without even bothering to state the assumption.

* ‘Education, Greek’, Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition, 2003, p.506

Message to the Education Secretary from Andrew Legge, Research Officer at Oxford Forum:
‘We strongly recommend that you appoint Dr Celia Green as your chief educational advisor, either in a consultancy role or as the head of an independent education department. Her experiences of both state and private education, combined with her unique psychological observations, would provide you with a source of incisive pedagogical insight distinct from any others that are available.
If you are sincere in your efforts to understand the true causes underlying Britain’s deteriorating education system, then arguably you have a duty to support us. No one else is going to penetrate to the realities of the situation in a way that is free from ideological baggage.’

18 October 2013

Collectivism and old-fashioned morality

[The Home Secretary] Theresa May last night called on a chief constable to apologise after an explosive report suggested senior officers had lied to blacken the name of former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell.

In a devastating judgment, the Independent Police Complaints Commission indicated that an inquiry by West Mercia Police which cleared [the three senior officers] of misconduct was a whitewash.

Mrs May called for disciplinary action against the officers, who are accused of giving a false account of a private meeting with Mr Mitchell as part of a ‘wider agenda’ to heap pressure on him to resign. (Daily Mail, 15 October 2013)
Many primitive and communist countries are said to have corrupt and persecutory police forces.

I am reminded of many incidents in my life and those of my associates which demonstrate the same indifference to objective reality, and to the rights of the individual to use his own judgement within the area of legality.

Examples: 1) persecution of my father by the local authority, to prevent him from allowing me to take the School Certificate exam, when there was no need for the local authority to have any opinion about this; 2) Charles McCreery’s father (General Sir Richard McCreery), and senior academics, slandering him when he had done nothing to justify this.

It appears that once there is a concept of responsibility to the collective, previous standards of individual morality, and respect for the individuality of others, lapse, even in the case of highly respectable individuals who might not be expected to be particularly identified with the collectivist ideology.

Over the past fifty years, a new area of quasi-crimininality seems to have been created, in which it has become an offence (punishable by extra-legal means) to attempt to do something that does not receive the approval of collectivist society. Opposition to those now regarded as quasi-criminal seems to involve abandoning respect for old-fashioned morality. Yet there is apparently universal acceptance of this state of affairs, or at least no murmur of opposition.

Thus it is apparently acceptable for respectable middle-class families to slander and disinherit offspring who had done nothing illegal, and nothing even a trifle wild or demoralised, but were supporting the setting up of an independent organisation for academic research and publishing, but without having been appointed to do so by officially recognised agents of the collective.

This would not previously have happened. If it had, people would have been shocked if they had been told about it.

It appears to be the case that as socialist or communist ideology becomes dominant, previous standards of individual morality are abandoned even by the formerly respectable; and new standards of individual morality are accepted, which make it acceptable to oppose individuals whose IQs are very much above the average or who show signs of independence and initiative.

This is what underlies both the taboo against complaining of being badly treated by the educational system, and the demands for a ‘level playing field’ in the educational system.

'There are many other examples of abandonment of principles which could be subjected to critical analysis if Oxford Forum were provided with adequate funding, We appeal for such funding to enable us to write and publish analyses of issues which are currently being ignored in favour of the usual pro-collectivist arguments.' Charles McCreery, DPhil

10 October 2013

Chicken research versus significant progress

Further to my post No need to be ‘committed’, there is much more that should be said about the impossibility of getting a supporter for:
(a) research in general
(b) research by those trying to regain access to a university career (I do not use the expression ‘academic career’ because people are liable to say, ‘Oh but you are doing academic research,’ regardless of the fact that we do not have the living conditions which a university career might, at least to some extent, provide.)
(c) research done by people with high IQs
(d) research taking into account factors which are habitually omitted from consideration.

What is the motivation underlying research that is provided with funding which is often lavish? For example, £2 million is reportedly to be devoted to investigating the historical development of the relationship between humans and chickens. Meanwhile, individuals who could be making significant advances in understanding of key topics are kept out in the cold.

Apart from the fact that all academics should feel a responsibility for taking an interest in, and supporting, academics or potential academics struggling in conditions far worse than their own, they should also feel a sense of responsibility for finding out about the circumstances of modern life for people in disadvantaged positions. As it is, there is sometimes an interest taken in the difficulties of the disadvantaged low-IQ population, but not of the disadvantaged high-IQ population.

It is of the utmost importance to us to gain ground financially as we continue to work towards the capital endowment necessary to set up even the smallest independent research department with dining hall facilities and domestic and administrative staff. At the same time we are, and always have been, determined never to get into debt.

In the past, when we still went in for making grant applications on normal terms, we used to be told that we might get a modicum of finance for capital equipment or specific research expenses, but we would not get our living expenses paid. This, of course, is ludicrous. You cannot do research unless you are paid a salary for doing research.

Some attitudes to doing research demonstrate a degree of unrealism even more extreme than this. According to some people, it ought to be possible to do ‘research’ without any money at all, just by living on the breadline and thinking profound thoughts. Some of these people, I suppose, even imagine that they themselves are actually doing research under such conditions.

However, if you look at actual results, a clear correlation emerges which contradicts this. The most significant of the research that gets done (though even that, these days, is usually not very significant) tends to be associated with the largest sums of money spent. And in those cases, nobody bothers to inconvenience themselves with the assumption that the bulk of the money should go to anything other than salaries for researchers and research assistants, and basic background property and other administrative expenses; in other words, things that would have to be paid regardless of whether or not anything that looks to outsiders like research actually takes place. Moreover, those leading the research are liable to be living comfortable, well set-up lives, with infrastructure and administration being taken care of by others, and with the equivalent of a hotel environment in terms of domestic support within a college.

At least, that is the case in the sciences, which is the only area in which I have any serious desire to do research. Other people may like to describe me as a philosopher, but I actually have little interest in the questions that are normally considered under that heading. My interest in lucid dreams and out-of-the-body experiences is purely in terms of the progress that could be made by studying these phenomena in the context of a sophisticated electrophysiological laboratory.

I cannot of course prove that I am more likely to make important progress, given a high-grade research and college environment, than someone with a conventionally illustrious CV; without actually being given funding to provide such an environment. However, a wealthy individual who wanted to make progress happen should consider the factors mentioned above, namely:

- that a high IQ and a high degree of motivation may count for more, in certain contexts, than any amount of experience or prestige;

- that a relatively high level of progress is likely to be made by taking factors into account which are usually omitted from consideration;

- that someone desperately trying to regain access to a university career after having had their education ruined by a hostile state education system should be supported.