The Incredible Sloppiness of Intelligence reporting:

So Alternet released another screed about how Americans are getting dumber.  It is flattering a particular “liberal” conscience, I suppose, to believe that everyone around them is a fundamentalist moron.  Does Alternet have new numbers?  No, its numbers are from 2008 and 2010 when the trends of secularization actually started changing and showing up in the data in an acceleration of secularization started to be visible. 

It may be true that those who remained strongly religious where attached to more “marginal” or “rigorous” (depending on your point of view) belief systems, but even that is declining.

That does not explain anything, but what is you control for other variables.  Looking at PISA scores by race and income.   We are going to use disaggregation to make some talking points.  Let us look at race data first as it is provided by NCES.  We are going to look at reading:


OECD average              496

White 519 * 4.1
Black 443 * 8.3
Hispanic 478 * 4.5
Asian 550 * 8.1
Multiracial 517 * 7.6

Now what is going on here?  You will see that students identifying as “white” are doing above OECD average and on par with Northern Europe.  Asian students in the US are doing extremely well and are on par with Korea and Shanghai.  Now, the cross-cultural comparisons can be tricky since all languages are not equal in difficulty in learning or in structure.  There may be other factors at play as well.

Now, the racialist sees this and goes to talk about genetic determinism, but I should remind that person that Hispanic is not a race.

So what is going on–it is hard to tell, but looking at another data set makes it even more stark:  It gets more extreme when you disaggregated by class, and as we know class and race in the states are intimately tied:

Here’s what the mainstream media will NOT tell you about 2012 PISA. When comparing U.S. schools with less than 10% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, here’s how U.S. students (of which almost 25% are considered poor by OECD standards and of which nationally on average about 50% qualify for free/reduced lunch) rank compared to all other countries including one I chose to purposely compare – Finland (of which about 5% are considered poor by OECD standards):

*Shanghai is disqualified for obvious reasons.

Science literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=556 [1st in the world]

Finland – ranked 4th in the world

Reading literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=559 [1st in the world]

Finland – ranked 5th in the world

This is an ugly truth you can’t blame on fundies. Or lack of belief in evolution, which as I have written about before, does not strongly correlate with understanding of evolution.    The same is probably true for climate change.  The issue is not understanding, but accepting scientific consensus.  Understanding, sadly, is illusive everywhere.

So why is alternet whining about fundies and calling the US dumb while not looking at the class and race implications?   Why are left-liberal blog/magazine avoiding what should be a left-liberal social justice issue and pretending that fundamentalists somehow explain this decline?

In the entire article, Alternet mentions in one paragraph the way district funding makes inequitable outcomes worse in the US across both racial and class lines.  One paragraph. The rest is about fundamentalists and the regional ignorance, which usurps the funding issue.  Yet even beyond funding, as throwing money at a problem does not fix it, the larger structural and cultural issues around student success are explained how?

“Increased fundamentalism in the past 40 years.” 

Sorry, the data for that conclusion is not there.

Indeed, if the US– and the world–is getting dumber is because places like Alternet are not even trying to report facts anymore, or engage in meaningful social justice.  The narratives they spew are cliches that people already believe in and suave worldviews. If this article is evidence at hand, it seems more about stroking a certain demographics ego.


One thought on “The Incredible Sloppiness of Intelligence reporting:

  1. If this article is evidence at hand, it seems more about stroking a certain demographics ego.

    Yup. In a world without actual politics, everything becomes cultural grievances.

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