July 11, 2008

Speaking of age ...

Bruce Charlton writes:

Provoked by your red-shirting comments [see below]...

I am re-reading Ian Deary's marvellous, concentrated little book Intelligence: a very short introduction; and from Chapter 2 on ageing (summarizing work by Salthouse) it is very clear that g begins to decline pretty early on average - in the 30s.

At the same time the average educational experience of professionals is now becoming so lengthened that plenty of people are mot starting their real jobs until g is already declining. I

For instance, scientists are now not finishing their post-doctoral training (often 5-6 years) until their mid-thirties - when they become eligible to apply for assistant professorships and (at last) begin their independnt researchers - just as g has started to decline. (and it shows...)

This is insane. We must stop lengthening, and start shortening, the duration of front-end formal education.

Contrast - in the great era of Cambrdige University in the early 20th century, the students would go to college at 19 for three years, and if they graduated with a first might get a college fellowship or equivalent within a year or two - to begin their independent researches in their mid-twenties.

Newton's epochal 18 months came at age 22-23.

James D. Watson retired from scientific research at age 39 and went into research management for the second half of his life.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Stopped Clock said...

I propose the hypothesis that different mental abilities develop at different rates, as opposed to being a simple linear progression of the equivalent of about 5 IQ points per year from birth to 18. There are a few types of intelligence that dont seem to develop much after a certain age: mathematical ability and rote memorization might peak earlier than other, more subjective types of intelligence. To use myself as a sample of size one, I won a spelling bee when I was 10, but I can't say my spelling ability has ever improved beyond that. I remember inventing a formula at age 15 that enabled me to predict the probability of a certain arrangement of cards being in a person's hand at the end of a round of poker ... in other words, a complicated combinatorics problem ... without having access to college-level textbooks on combinatorics. I dont think I would be able to do something like that today.

On the other hand you dont see too many teenagers with bright ideas on how to solve complex economic problems, even though economics is just applied math. I think that it takes a different type of intelligence to handle anything that goes beyond memorization of facts or pure abstract thinking.

oh, and just so you dont all think Im bragging about my abilities, I failed Algebra I in 9th grade, putting me two years behind the average Californian student in the year 2012.

Anonymous said...

I'm about to turn 38, and boy do I feel this. I used to be able to scan a technical book and quickly "get it", no effort. Now I find I really have to work at it, and even then I can't keep everything in my head at once. Sometimes I feel like HAL: "Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it."

Oh, well, hopefully I have a few more decades before I start singing "Daisy"...

Anonymous said...

What about the overproduction of PhDs? They create such a glut you have to go from postdoc to postdoc, and the depressant effect on wages drives people out of the field. I had a friend who went into medicine even though he admitted he should have been a mathematician...

Science, farm labor, and factory work: jobs Americans won't do?

Anonymous said...

Those grad students and post-docs are still doing the best work of their lives during those years. Government subsidies for graduate education play into this. The market is flooded with potential professors so universities wait to see who does the best research in that time. Once someone has earned a good reputation, some university buys it. Most professors never achieve research success beyond what they accomplished as a grad student or post-doc. My advisor is world-renowned for research he did in his mid 20s. He still does good research, but the work he did back then was of far more import than his work now. However, some of the students and post-docs in my group are doing work that rivals my advisor's earlier contributions.

Another part of the problem is that it takes much longer to accumulate the necessary knowledge. Scientists have to know most of the major work in their field. In the 1940s, they could do this in time to become an assistant professor in the their mid to late 20s. But the growth in scientific knowledge has been so tremendous since that time that it takes until the early 30s now. In the core physics courses, we learn things that earned someone their Ph.D. 10-20 years ago. We will have to wait for strong nootropics or genetic engineering for higher IQ before this trend starts to reverse.

Anonymous said...

I have a Ph.D. in experimental physics and really can't imagine keeping up with a school system more intense than the one I had. There is really an awful lot to learn! Maybe the problem isn't the speed of the education system, but a practical limit of human knowledge in some areas. Or maybe I'm just not as bright as some others (very likely).

In any case, had I been smarter or received a better education I would of studied engineering or computer science where I could of made a lot more money without having to spend my 20s working 80 hours a week for less than minimum wage.

Anonymous said...

I don't think g decreases with age, at least until the rest of the body starts seriously deteriorating. Human accomplishment has age-related patterns, but most of the discussion I've seen on this uses as data scientific achievements of young researchers without controlling for the fact that young people are much more likely to devote extremely intense and sustained effort to research, for social reasons (they don't have complicated family responsibilities yet, for one thing, and they have more physical stamina which is a variable independent of g).

I definitely feel smarter than I was in my 20's (I'm 47 now), and I'm sure I'd do better on any standardized test of intelligence, except possibly one with an extremely tight time limit (on a test with an extremely tight time limit I might do better because there are more things I know the right way to think about, but I might be slower on questions requiring very many mental operations such as solving a chess problem).

Truth said...

"James D. Watson retired from scientific research at age 39 and went into research management for the second half of his life."

I read about that in him memoirs. At 37-38 his head and his heart were tearing him in different directions. He finally after much consternation decided upon research management. His genteel Eastern Yankee upbringing influenced him in this direction, yet he, deep down inside from his nether regions had this yearning he could not explain at that time to procure a few "ho's" and try his hand as a ghetto pimp named 'Detroit Whitey!'

"They said that pimpin' game was dead, yet the man has only been mislead!"

"You better come up with my trap money Biiiiiyaatcchhh!"

Luckily the intellectual side prevailed, and he became content with being the guy all of his buddy's wives mysteriously wanted to sleep with at the MENSA society BBQS.

Anonymous said...

Another advantage of starting young is that you've made all your pension payments sooner and you can afford to retire early.

Anonymous said...


Sriram said...

Louis Menand made essentially the same point.. on drastically shortening the length of graduate school education while admitting a larger number of students (the vast majority of whom wont cross the filter for the PhD but get an intermediate qualification such as a masters) and those who get the PhD do so in a time bound manner (4 years). Society overall will benefit and more capable students will undertake research as they can see it ending in a time-bound manner.

Louis Menand, Harvard

Academic Pickles

1. The Problem of General Education

2. Interdisciplinarity and Anxiety

3. Why Do Professors All Think Alike?

These were delivered in Spring 2008 at the university of virginia

Anonymous said...

This is why a lot of university research programs are set up to force the grad students and/or doctoral candidates, rather than the professors, to do the heavy lifting. There are some profs who can continue to roll with youngsters even as they age (geniuses like Feynman) - but from what I've seen in my days as a research assistant in computational linguistics, most of the time the profs write grant proposals and supervise while the youngsters are left to implement HMMs and clustering algorithms and what have you (much more demanding or at least g-loaded tasks).

Anonymous said...

Mathematicians, in one of the most highly g-loaded professions on earth, do their best work in their early 30s. However, the advice to shorten formal training in order to prolong research years may not be applicable.

For one, the body of knowledge in mathematics has exploded in the past half century. So many results have been discovered that one needs many more years of study in order to stay at the top of the game.

Secondly, many mathematicians are able to do their best work (or at least their most interesting work) while graduate students, even if they defer publication for several more years, in order to give their ideas more time to crystalize.

Other professions may benefit from truncated training schedules, but I think heavily theoretic ones still require time to incubate.

Anonymous said...

Charlton is spot on. If all you teach kids is how to go to school, they're going to get good at that one thing and nothing else. So you see lifelong grad students and post-docs who can't find work in their "field" but won't settle for less than they think they deserve.

Psychological neoteny together with academic lobotomy is a deadly combination for a society.

We need to teach kids useful and marketable skills before they enter high school . By the time they graduate high school they should have at least two or three marketable skills (earning 2 or 3 times min. wage). Another year or two should put them solidly in the middle of the middle class in income.

kurt9 said...

We must stop lengthening, and start shortening, the duration of front-end formal education.

I agree this is a problem. However,
I think a far better approach would
be to tackle the root cause of the problem, the aging process itself.

Just 2 weeks ago, there was a conference on this very issue held over at UCLA (not far from our host here).


Unknown said...

This makes me worried about myself, now that I'm 45. I do recall, though, that I was in a doctoral program in my 20s, and I worked hard and intensively then, learning, inter alia, two foreign languages. Could I do it all again now? No telling.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another uplifting post from Realismland, Steve. So not only do I look like a beat-down 40 something but all those asshole 20 year olds probably have a higher g than me too. Great. But on a serious note, do you believe it is the expanding growth of democracy in the 20th Century and its stress on egalitarianism that is leading many gifted students to spend too much time in class with the less gifted? As they say, democracy is cruelest both to the gifted and the slow.


Anonymous said...

Well I can see how the accumulation of knowledge in scientific fields might require more time to master, so that a prodigy will be able to move on to cutting-edge work. But why do we have to wait until 25 or 26 to get an apprentice lawyer, a starting journalist or for that matter a competent entry-level business person?

What exactly is going on in college, except the certification by elite institutions of qualifying SAT scores, which must otherwise be hidden from potential employers or business partners? And many college careers consist of an actual retrogression in the self-discipline and practical habits necessary for real jobs.

The British ruled a world empire with, largely, graduates of very demanding high schools.

agnostic said...

If only there were a way to heavily tax "finding yourself" activities among 20-somethings. Plenty of smart people piss away, cumulatively, at least 2 or 3 years of their 20s like this.

But as Stuff White People Like keeps pointing out, a lot of their obsessions aren't expensive -- they rely instead on pouring tremendous time and effort into appearing authentic and credible.

Anonymous said...

More doomsday from Sailer.

Maths-men do their best work in their mid-20s. This has always been the case and remains the case today. There are a lot of young maths fellows at Oxbridge. Look it up.

Other than maths and some sciences, most fields require the maturity and knowledge that comes with age before respective scholars can make their best contributions. There is no doubt, for instance, that historians get better and better as they age.

I suppose you could say -- shock! -- that g isn't everything.

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that my IQ plummeted at puberty and then recovered somewhat after the hormones began to stabilize.

Whatever the case, I don't think it's so bad that people don't get their professorships until later in life. Professors can and should manage students and encourage them to get involved in research. Most young people, even brilliant ones, need some management from experienced elders. Guys like Newton are exceptions, and won't be held back by institutional barriers because they think on an entirely different level. That said, I fully agree that college should begin and end earlier. I also think community colleges should expand enrollment and universities should pare themselves down. Community colleges, despite what some people here may think of them, do a pretty good job of training average and even bright young people in occupational skills. Better than high school, for sure.

One thing that's missing from this conversation, however, is the demographic pressure to keep younger people on the back burner for a long time. Baby boomers want to keep their jobs and have their say, so letting others move in and shove them out of the spotlight is definitely not in keeping with the boomer mentality.

Anonymous said...

If by IQ no gender differences are discernible, then that can't be the 'X-factor' which gave rise to civilization. You just have to work with a large group of women for a couple of years to know they could never progress on their own. Patriarchy? Yeah, so what?

The world is actually 'ruled' by some sort of animal cunning or instinct, and the West has now clearly lost it.

Old people gain such cunning by hard bitter experience. Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Churchill...

Young people are smarter? Give me a break, they are in charge everywhere now and make the most stupid decisions, having been brainwashed by mostly women teachers (unable to question but only dogmatise) and been raised mostly by their ('empowered' divorce-addicted) mothers as no previous generation in history.

Only we older white males see the course of history - the Heart of Darkness - the Eloi and the Morlocks.

God help us all.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Steve/Bruce's problem exists. I get the impression innovative seeds sow 18-24, then come to greater maturity later. Depending on their nature, even much later. Being embroiled in various study allows those seeds to sow, regardless of your official status, or what the world allows you to say or do. But I guess there is the issue of "independent research," unconstrained by inhibiting institutional idiocies, which could lead to concrete advancement, so maybe yall have a point.

Convincing arguments for everybody being preening, deluded jackasses only strengthen with time and experience, thank God.

Anonymous said...

"It's a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age...
he'd been dead for two years."
- Tom Lehrer

Luke Lea said...

I believe the British university system -- Oxford and Cambridge anyway -- does what you are advocating. Students specialize early.

Anonymous said...

Are there any actual, scientifically proven methods to preserve or enhance "g" as you age?

Anonymous said...

Having turned 51 a couple of weeks ago, the only age-related decline I've noticed is that my reading speed isn't quite as fast as it used to be. The slowdown is relatively minor but noticeable, and varies a bit depending on what I'm reading. It seems somewhat more pronounced with fiction than with nonfiction and doesn't affect my work-related reading at all. It might have something to do with my ability to focus on things than with intelligence per se.

With this one fairly minor exception, I've noticed no other deterioration at all. My verbal skills and ability to comprehend new materials haven't changed at all and indeed the former might even be improving. And it surely helps that my physical fitness is by far the best it's ever been in my life :)

Anonymous said...

"I'm convinced that my IQ plummeted at puberty and then recovered somewhat after the hormones began to stabilize. "

You know, I always thought that too. Of course at 13 or 14 I had no intellectual interests at all but things just came to me very easily. I drank very heavily for a few years and now I'm in my early 20s. I don't feel as smart and I don't know if it's the age or booze. Or maybe the hormones just make us think we're smarter, the way Rushton explained with low IQ, high testosterone blacks


Anonymous said...

During World War II, colleges were put on accelerated year-round schedules, the idea was to get college boys out as commissioned officers as soon as possible. Instead of 4 years, a bachelors degree took 3 years on the V-12 (as the Navy called it) schedule.

Perhaps bringing back the V-12 schedule is the way to go to save time and money. Unless a college student gets a cool internship, what's the use of summer breaks? Some Caribbean med schools still use the V-12 schedule. http://www.mua.edu/regis_universitycalendar.php

As for why people peak intellectually in their 20's, I'm reminded of Prince Andrei's advice in War and Peace:

Never, never marry, my dear fellow! That's my advice: never marry till you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of... Marry when you are old and good for nothing- or all that is good and noble in you will be lost. It will all be wasted on trifles. Yes! Yes! Yes! Don't look at me with such surprise. If you marry expecting anything from yourself in the future, you will feel at every step that for you all is ended...

You talk of Bonaparte and his career," said he (though Pierre had not mentioned Bonaparte), "but Bonaparte when he worked went step by step toward his goal. He was free, he had nothing but his aim to consider, and he reached it. But tie yourself up with a woman and, like a chained convict, you lose all freedom!


That's a happy thought. Makes you wonder if "nature's bachelors" have the same dropoff in achievement that straight guys do.

Anonymous said...

kevin k

I have a Ph.D. in experimental physics...
...I would of studied engineering or computer science where I could of made a lot more money without having to spend my 20s working 80 hours a week for less than minimum wage.

You should have done theory. Wall street pays big money for mathy people. Even many experimentalists know enough math to satisfy their requirements.

albertosaurus said...

There is a cult-like mind control aspect to college and graduate school. The academics themselves do not create the conditions for mind control as a self aware conspiracy but they nuture and promote it nonetheless. They are victims who perpetuate a trap.

Higher education acts as a trap for the intelligent but innocent young people. Several of the commenters to this post testify that they have been so trapped.

If you are smart in college your brains are acknowledged at least a little. You are shown the academic ladder and challenged to meet its demands. Challenges are very seductive to youth. The Marine Corps TIs know this too.

People respond to organized hierarchies of accomplishment. Take a bright young guy and show him a system of rankings and he will try to prove himself to himself. He will behave more or less like an automaton.

Martial arts works this way too. Its not the actual fighting knowledge that is so valuable to accolytes but rather the chance to test themselves on a scale against others. Unarmed fighting knowledge itself is nearly worthless. Young men will nearly kill themselves trying to earn a black belt - a skill that qualifies you to win a bar fight. If the Dojo simply advised prospective fighters to avoid drinking in public, those young men could save themselves a lot of pointless effort.

True wisdom comes when you master your pride fueled drives and reject the allure of graduate school.

Bill Gates and Michael Dell are often cited as counter examples of the value of education. Supposedly they succeeded in spite of dropping out of school. In fact they succeeded because they recognized early on that spending time in school was a fool's game.

As an undergraduate I once signed up for an anatomy class - so did a lot of others. The professor wanted a smaller class so he acted obnoxiously. He tried to drive students out by telling the class how many he would flunk and by refusing to answer questions. He implied that none of us was quite up to his lofty standards.

He made me mad. I immediately resolved to show him. Later that night I came to my senses. He had evoked a response in me but if I succomed to that emotion I was being a fool. Why take a class from someone who wanted me to fail? If I succeeded in spite of him, what would it matter? I was being manipulated by my own intellectual competitiveness.

I dropped that class. I only wish that I had dropped out of school altogether.

Anonymous said...

@beowulf: "The enemy of promise is the pram in the hall".

Anonymous said...

By the time they graduate high school they should have at least two or three marketable skills (earning 2 or 3 times min. wage). Another year or two should put them solidly in the middle of the middle class in income.

That seems a little optimistic. Could you give some specific examples? What specific marketable skills?

Dissertations consume a lot of the time in the American PhD process, sometimes multiple calendar years. Yes, this is true for engineering and physical science doctorates as well as the humanities.

One proposal I've heard is to cut the dissertation down to s shorter, smaller opus. However, during th3e post-doc or assistant prof. years, one would be expected to present a second major paper. Of course, this could be construed as merely devaluing the PhD.

Also keep in mind that an underlying cause of the present protracted PhD process is lack of tenure-track jobs relative to all the PhD's being produced.

Lastly, we need to consider the implications of the overall increase in average life expectancy that has happened the past few decades, at least in the developed world.

Anonymous said...


The Navy V12 program is very interesting. If you look at who was in the program:


it seems pretty obvious that a lot of these guys benefited from going into the real world much sooner. Compare the guys on the list with Clinton, Obama or Dubya, who never really did anything before gaining office. They go from a long childhood to important positions of power, without experiencing much of the real world.

Anonymous said...

From a recent Arts & Letters Daily article on marriage:
"Some years ago a noted Japanese researcher analyzed the biographical data of some 280 famous mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and biologists and discovered that all peaked professionally in their twenties, at which point their careers spiraled downward. Married scientists suffered the worst decline in productivity. However, those who never married remained highly productive well into their fifties. "Scientists tend to 'desist' from scientific research upon marriage,” the researcher told an interviewer, “just like criminals desist from crime upon marriage." One theory suggests married men lack an evolutionary reason to continue working hard (i.e., to attract females). Though it likely they similarly lack the prerequisite time and solitude."

Anonymous said...

"From a recent Arts & Letters Daily article on marriage:

How awful! Even for the best of us, life is a choice between meaningful relationships and accomplishing things.

Sad, sad, sad. Well, I guess I knew that.

Simfish InquilineKea said...

There is actually experimental evidence to suggest that g starts to decline by (gasp!) the 20s. You should look at books like Dean Simonton's "Scientific Genius" for some charts. Simonton's website is @ psychology.ucdavis.edu/simonton/ .

And as for a solution, I think for the most part that school is a collosal waste of time, especially in the age of the Internet and of free textbooks (or textbooks you can download off BitTorrent - nowadays you can download pretty much every major textbook off BitTorrent and homeschool yourself entirely off those materials). If people were able to homeschool themselves, the smarter of them would be able to teach themselves graduate level math by their early teens or even earlier (I know early entrance students at the university of washington who are acing their grad-level math courses at age 15/16). And they lost loads of time on public education, and could have arguably learned grad-level math by, say, age 13 if not for the "one size fits all" model of public education (the early entrance students I know find acceleration to be too slow since they are faster than people years above their age - but still have to go at the same pace as those people).

Anonymous said...

Bear in mind that you can wander through mathematics in your twenties, fail to make any noteworthy contributions, and then be scooped up at thirty-five to do engineering.

Pure math and engineering offer many different challenges.

To stay productive, techies may need to learn a new field every ten years.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading about pundit people, during the introduction of television, speculating (reasonably enough?) everybody everywhere could be wise now, you could put professorial instruction on television (ha, ha).

Weird thing is, the Internet could be having a similar crazy effect now (on the small percentage of people with the IQ for it). As a high-IQ kid, the most interesting thing in the world was the Encyclopedia on CD when I was 12, and now they've all got Wikipedia. And way, way too much porn. I feel like the video store a block away, and that independent ability to rent any trashy films, was a huge factor in my development. Not to get stupidly philosophical, but the general role of passive spectator of brilliance to dynamic interactive agent with brilliance could yield some amazing kids. I spent years on those AOL atheism forums, arguing about religion.

Do you block out the idiot comments, Steve? Those arguments can be fun. Sometimes you leave in the weird anti-semitic people, which is weird to me. You should include some of those anti-Sailer "cranks," just for your fanbase to ritually destroy. If you haven't noticed, we're pretty hardcore operators. Rhetorically speaking, you do not want to meet one of your commenters in a dark, ideological alley, or they will decisively hand your ass to you.

Mark the words, the ten-years-from-now laptops in school generation will be revolutionary, someways. We have no idea what these kids are going to get up to. The 10s will be another 60s, one way or another. They could shake things up for the better or worse. I am suspicious age brings wisdom, especially in myself. I'm trying to isolate and nurture the little diamond-crystals of originality and talent that roughly emerged during my youth, and it's frustrating and weird.

Anonymous said...

I think grad school and medical school are the wrong places to shorten. For anyone bright enough to be a scientist, doctor, lawyer, or engineer, I suspect K-12 took at least twice as many years as it should have, during most of which you were bored to tears. Figuring out a way to give those years back to the bright kids would get them graduated from college years early. Imagine if most bright kids graduated high school at 16, with the equivalent of the first two years of general college requirements done as AP classes/test results, as though they'd gone to a community college for their first two years. Those kids could start working or start grad school, medical school, or law school three or four years earlier than they do now. That would mean an extra three or four years of working lifetime for the brightest people in the society, which would be a tremendous benefit. Just think about the impact for medicine in the US, of having essentially every doctor get another three years before retiring, and the same for engineers and scientists.

Anonymous said...

I am 53 and my field is biology. I certainly don't feel any less intelligent now that when I was younger. Moreover, I think I am much better at navigating the world and society. Also, biology is a field where the more facts you collect, and the more concepts you come across, the better. It's a rich field, and there is no end to it.


Anonymous said...

As exhibit A for the case that intelligence doesn't necessarily go downhill that drastically, I'd like to present Tom Wolfe, who wrote "I Am Charlotte Simmons", the best book about college life I've ever read (I know, it wasn't his best, but it was still impressive), in his early seventies. Elmore Leonard seems to be keep churning out high quality fiction well into his seventies as well. (He's now 82, but I haven't read his last two books.)

Anonymous said...

... but the general role of passive spectator of brilliance to dynamic interactive agent with brilliance could yield some amazing kids.

Is that a Babelfish translation from some other language?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous none of the above said...

I think grad school and medical school are the wrong places to shorten. For anyone bright enough to be a scientist, doctor, lawyer, or engineer, I suspect K-12 took at least twice as many years as it should have, during most of which you were bored to tears. Figuring out a way to give those years back to the bright kids would get them graduated from college years early.

This is very true. So put K-12 schools on the V12 schedule. At a rate of 3 semesters a year, the 26 semesters of the K-12 curriculum would be completed in less than 9 years. Of course, that may still be too slow for the prodigies and too fast for the slow pokes.

The future is tracking at the level of the individual student. Certainly computer-aided instruction would be the most efficient way to accomplish this, but the Kumon Method demonstrates that a series of worksheets and a pencil are all the technology you need to allow a student learn at his own pace.

"Students do not work together as a class but progress through the curriculum at their own pace, moving on to the next level when they have achieved mastery of the previous level.[3] This sometimes involves repeating the same set of worksheets until the student achieves a satisfactory score within a specified time limit."

Anonymous said...

Steve, you should read this guy's book and this article. Epstein says the education system is very wrong, at the elementary and high school levels it shouldn't be a collective age based system but an individualistic competency based system. Not only the current system limits the potential of the best minds but it creates psychological an social turmoil

Let's abolish high school
By Robert Epstein


"Finally, whereas that first compulsory-education law in Massachusetts was competency-based, the system that grew in its wake requires all young people to attend school, no matter what they know. Even worse, the system provides no incentives for students to master material quickly, and few or no meaningful options for young people who do leave school."