25 August 2014. The cover story of New Scientist’s current issue asks: “Are we evolving stupidity?” The magazine highlights that the well documented increase in intelligence scores has reversed, at least in countries with long-term records, such as Australia, Denmark, and the UK. The previous increase in test scores is often called the Flynn effect, as it was first reported by social scientist James R. Flynn. The new data show that the increase has stopped and that average scores are dropping. But is this a real phenomenon or is it due to test procedures, educational trends, computer experience, or social changes that have nothing to do with the underlying cognitive skills?
This question is a matter of much controversy. As this site has previously reported, some evidence suggests that the cognitive decline began a long time ago and that trends based on intelligence scales may be artificially inflated due to such factors as better education. Perhaps the new downward trend is a delayed reflection of a tendency that has been in operation for a long time.
In a comment, the New Scientist refers to “an underlying decline in our genetic potential” and suggests that “the stupid, having outbred the smart, now spend their days guzzling junk while gawping at utterly inane TV”. Although it may be true that natural selection pays little heed to intelligence, do we have to accept a genetic cause?
This site and “Only one chance” provide support for a very different causation. Industrial chemicals can damage brain development, and the global exposure to brain-draining substances would produce exactly the type of intellectual decline that is now being documented. Luckily, toxic chemicals can be controlled to prevent chemical brain drain. It would be dumb not to believe in this opportunity.