Neanderthal’s and Social Darwinism: Perverting Science?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

Among the ongoing battles in anthropology and paleontology since the mid-Nineteenth Century to now, is the distinction between the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon Man. Specifically this devolves down to what happened to the Neanderthals, since the fossil record appears to show their extinction about 20,000 years ago. My assumption is that most readers are familiar with a lot of this material. It is easily attainable through Google or Wiki. What I find most interesting in this ongoing debate is the impact that Social Darwinism might have played in the original depiction of Neanderthals and in the assumptions made by some scientists about this species.

“Social Darwinism is a term used for various late nineteenth century ideologies predicated on the idea of survival of the fittest.[1] It especially refers to notions of struggle for existence being used to justify social policies which make no distinction between those able to support themselves and those unable to support themselves. The most prominent form of such views stressed competition between individuals in laissez-faire capitalism but it is also connected to the ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism,[2], Fascism, Nazism and struggle between national or racial groups.”

The first skull of the Neanderthal had been discovered in 1926, but it was the discovery in 1856, in the Neanderthal Valley, in Germany that gave the species a name. We all know that the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” in 1859 set off a firestorm of both intellectual excitement and angry social resistance. By the end of the Nineteenth Century scientists, sociologists, physicians, philosophers, and politicians had misused Darwin’s phrase “survival of the fittest” to justify a host of theories that boiled down to two intertwined propositions. The first was that White People represented the apogee of human civilization and the second that among white people the Anglo-Saxon Teutonic strain represented the elite. This justified Eugenics, Imperialism and even the attempted genocide of the Native Americans. In politics, it also represented a definite anti-democratic strain, articulated prominently by Theodore Roosevelt, who believed that those of Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic origin should rule the Nation since the “rabble” was incapable of civilized behavior without their strong leadership.

These theories dominated most intellectual thought from the 1870’s through the 1940’s and was adapted accordingly to each new political situation that arose. “Marcellin Boule (1 January 1861 — 4 July 1942) was a French palaeontologist. He studied and published the first analysis of a complete Homo neanderthalensis. The fossil discovered in La Chapelle-aux-Saints was an old man, and Boule characterized it as brutish, bent kneed and not a fully erect biped [1]. In an illustration he commissioned, the Neanderthal was characterized as a hairy gorilla-like figure with opposable toes, according to a skeleton which was already distorted with arthritis. As a result, Neanderthals were viewed as highly primitive creatures in subsequent decades.”

Even before Boule, the discovery of Neanderthal and subsequently Cro-Magnon skeletal remains had become intermixed with racial theories. This was because the skeletal remains of Cro-Magnons were considered to be anatomically those of modern man, while Neanderthals were heavier boned with sloping skulls. Historically, there seems to be no typically Neanderthal remains discovered for perhaps the last 20,000 to 30,000 years. It wasn’t implausible to believe they had become extinct and further that they had lost a battle of survival with the Cro-Magnons, due to the superiority of the Cro-Magnon (modern human) strain. These discoveries were so exciting to the populace in general that it led to many popular depictions of both species. The Neanderthals were depicted as darker skinned, with ape-like bodies and faces. The depictions were strikingly similar to the caricatures of Africans also popular then.

It is little wonder to me that the theories of Neanderthal extinction dovetailed completely into the Social Darwinist concept of survival of the fittest, among what they wrongly characterized as “races” and conflated with ethnicity. With Social Darwinist undertones, it became the dominant theory among anthropologists and paleontologists that the Neanderthal was more primitive socially, technologically and intellectually. This led to their extinction, whether by direct violence or an inability to compete for the necessities of life. Anthropology, Archaeology and Paleontology have always been of great interest to me intellectually. In my readings, one of the most striking things I’ve noticed is the reticence of these sciences to explore or accept new ideas that go against the group’s common wisdom. There is a stultification of ideas in these sciences as the current “stars” of their firmament feel threatened by new ideas that challenge careers spent advocating particular beliefs. Just as Schliemann’s theory that Troy was real was ridiculed by the then Archaeological Establishment, only to be proven correct, so was any suggestion that the Neanderthal may have interbred with the Cro-Magnon’s and modern humans may represent the hybrids of this interbreeding.

Yesterday a story reported on MSNBC brought this to mind, although I was familiar with the ongoing argument.

 There is genetic evidence now that Neanderthals did interbreed with Cro-Magnons coming intoEuropefromAfrica. While this by no means fully settles the question of the fate of the Neanderthals, it does lend credence to the work of Erik Trinkaus, who has led the derided minority faction that believed there was interbreeding.

 We have been brought up to believe that science is a pure search for the truth, backed by solid theories, proven by experimentation. This isn’t always the case. Scientists are human beings first, with all the frailties that connotes. Jealousy, egotism, greed, and other less than scientific behavior are as rife within the scientific community as with any other profession. Prejudice, in my opinion has played a significant role in the “Social Sciences” since their inception. In this instance I use, I do believe that the popularity of an underlying Social Darwinist perspective had a strong influence for many years as to how we viewed the Neanderthal.  

 There is rarely, if ever, perfect proof of any social science theory, that is to be left to what we call the “Hard Sciences”. Consider for instance the belief as to when the Neanderthal’s became extinct, if indeed they have. This is because we haven’t found any Neanderthal skeletal remains after about 20,000 BCE. The world though is a large place. We also know that around 8,000 to 10,000 BCE much land became flooded. Perhaps the “extinction” date exists only because we have not yet found subsequent evidence. When “social scientists” base their careers on only one system of belief, perhaps informed by their own prejudice, they pervert what we know as the Scientific Method and can often inhibit the growth of knowledge, which after all is the true purpose of science.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

72 thoughts on “Neanderthal’s and Social Darwinism: Perverting Science?

  1. I think the real evolutionary pressures on society are towards cooperation and community building. Look at all of the terrible and wonderful things people have accomplished by forming communities and working together. Great article, Mike – once again you do a better job than I ever could of articulating something I passionately believe in.

  2. We now know that every non-African population has a key chromosomal marker that existed in the Neanderthal genome (which has finally been fully sequenced). Looks like people of European descent are about 4-6% Neanderthal origin. Others slightly less, but that marker on chromosome 10 shows up in every single population, from Australian aborigines to the Chinese to American Indians to Scots…every single human being that isn’t of native ancestral African origin. Going to be interesting to see what scientists can make of it, and how that information will be perverted by those with an axe to grind.

  3. Mike,

    One thing to keep in mind is that there’s no evidence of any mitochondrial DNA from neanderthals in modern man. That argues pretty strongly against any widespread interbreeding between Neanderthal males and modern human females.

  4. Got that bass ackwards. That argues pretty strongly against any widespread interbreeding between Neanderthal females and modern human males .

  5. “there’s no evidence of any mitochondrial DNA from neanderthals in modern man”


    I’m less interested in how the argument finally pans out, than I am in how scientific theory can be influenced by an incorrect reading of Darwin, informed by peoples racial prejudice. That this can pollute science is of interest to me. Also lately I have been re-reading a lot of stuff about the political/social impact of Social Darwinism historically. Teddy Roosevelt was one racist SOB and it wasn’t limited to only blacks and Native Americans.

  6. Act III and oh brother, the dinosaurs are going to come roaring out of their hiding places!

    “We have been brought up to believe that science is a pure search for the truth, backed by solid theories, proven by experimentation.”(Mike Spindell)

    Not me. I had a fantastic eighth grade science teacher who constantly reminded us that science was an “attempt” to search for the truth through a process of theories and proven experimentation but that human error and resistance to new ideas was as prevalent in the science community as in any other community.

    Thanks for another thought provoking post … the grandkids are emailing me and it’s been decided that this is the post for the month of August’s Sunday dinner papers and discussion.

  7. Mike,

    Just adding more info to the mix.


    “resistance to new ideas was as prevalent in the science community as in any other community.”

    Knowing a lot of scientists, I have to disagree. Science is like the arts, it draws people who have to prove they’re better than others. The whole structure of science is based around proving ideas wrong, so some of that seeps over into old ideas as well as new.

    That said, yeah scientists are people like the rest of us.

  8. Or maybe the neanderthals went extinct becasue they were too polyamorous for their own good and didn’t have a legal check on this promiscuous nature.

    The team found that the fossil finger ratios of Neanderthals, and early members of the human species, were lower than most living humans, which suggests that they had been exposed to high levels of prenatal androgens. This indicates that early humans were likely to be more competitive and promiscuous than people today.

    The results also suggest that early hominin, Australopithecus – dating from approximately three to four million years ago – was likely to be monogamous, whereas the earlier Ardipithecus appears to have been highly promiscuous and more similar to living great apes.

    Mike Spinwell appears to be wielding Occam’s butterknife in this post.

  9. Glad you focused on this Mike. Permit me to condense it down a bit further.

    The problem is not “survival of the fittest”, the problem is the definition of “fit” then by extension the definition of “fittest”.

    Social Darwinism embarrassed scientists, like global warming has, in the sense of the public reaction to the fear of death, so they waxed obscure to buy some time.

    Survival of the most fit is not derogatory, the perversion of “what is most fit” is where the perversion entered into the picture.

    One needs to back off and look into the future in order to discern what is most fit. Looking back into five past mass extinctions, or looking to the current ongoing sixth mass extinction now taking place to grasp the answer has no chance of success.

    Instead, the nature of our solar system around us, as well as the galaxy at large, offer a more clear and unequivocal answer to the question of the nature of what is most fit to survive.

    I think it tells us that our forefathers who were concerned with the common welfare were onto something cosmic.

  10. Gyges,

    What he was attempting to teach our eigrh grade class was the scientists could be as closed minded to new ideas as the next guy … we were studying solar energy at the time … 1958.

    He was right.

  11. Blouise,

    I think scientists should be skeptical of new theories. The theories should have to be proved/experiments replicated before being accepted. I remember discussing Lamarck’s discredited theory of animals being able to inherit characteristics that their parents may have acquired during their lifetimes when I was in high school.

  12. Gyges and Elaine,

    He left teaching the next year (I think we were the only class he taught because he was a very young man) and went to work for the rubber companies in research and development … then was part of the team that developed what became known as “polymer science” (materials science field) and made a ton of money which he called a bi-product.

    He lived one street over from us which is why I know what he did after leaving the classroom.

    I was answering Mike’s “We have been brought up to believe that science is a pure search for the truth …” with my own experience in that I was not brought up to believe that science was a “pure search for the truth” … something more realistic was what I was taught.

    I suspect I was not as clear as I could have been as I was agreeing with the next sentence in Mike’s post: “This isn’t always the case.”

    Good thing I’m not a scientist.

  13. As an aside … I was raised in a small village just outside of Akron which is home to the University of Akron where Goodyear, Firestone and Goodrich were headquartered and where the world’s first courses in rubber chemistry were taught and where the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering is now world renown.

  14. This is interesting….Thanks Mike S….

    I see RatShit4Brains has opened his wounded heart again to test the waters… I really wonder how this clown got through college must less life at this point….It must really be difficult to measure up to the demands of a fool….Very much a sycophant…

  15. Mutations in Moms’ Genes Reveal Human Migration Through the Ages
    Brandon Keim
    Wired, 6/29/07

    DNA passed down through generations of mothers could help answer big questions about the human journey across continents, thanks to a massive new database created by the The Genographic Project.

    The project has already yielded some provocative evidence about modern humans’ interactions with Neanderthals. The DNA data shows no evidence of mutations known to be common in Neanderthals, which suggests that modern humans — at least those of European descent — may not have mated with the long-extinct humans.

    “We don’t see any Neanderthal lineages in the European gene pool,” said Spencer Wells, a population geneticist and director of the Genographic Project. “It would be my guess that there was no interbreeding. I can’t imagine that humans and Neanderthals didn’t give it a try — maybe they formed infertile offspring. But it’s speculative.”


    Genealogist Dr.Spencer Wells talks about Humans Genetics

  16. rafflaw – the problem that a lot have about the religious right is that they are – right. What is “truth” in science today is found to be wrong tomorrow. For example, the alleged age of the earth. Not too long ago it was 2.2 million years old. Now they believe it is in the billions. The truth is, no one really knows. And what we observe doesn’t indicate such an old earth.

  17. I submitted a DNA sample back in 2006-07. They sent back charts and maps showing which migration routes I fit. It was really interesting and informative.

  18. Fruit Flies Like Pears,

    “For example, the alleged age of the earth. Not too long ago it was 2.2 million years old.”

    Can you be more specific than “not too long ago?”


    “And what we observe doesn’t indicate such an old earth.”

    Can you explain what we have observed that proves the Earth isn’t so old?


    And how old do the “religious right” believe the Earth is? About 6,000 years old?

  19. Elaine, is is clear the commenter, “Fruit Flies Like Pears” does not spend much time with geologists or paleontologists.

    I had much the same questions you did.

  20. Neanderthals, Humans Interbred—First Solid DNA Evidence
    Most of us have some Neanderthal genes, study finds.
    Ker Than
    for National Geographic News
    Published May 6, 2010

    The next time you’re tempted to call some oaf a Neanderthal, you might want to take a look in the mirror.

    According to a new DNA study, most humans have a little Neanderthal in them—at least 1 to 4 percent of a person’s genetic makeup.

    The study uncovered the first solid genetic evidence that “modern” humans—or Homo sapiens—interbred with their Neanderthal neighbors, who mysteriously died out about 30,000 years ago.

    What’s more, the Neanderthal-modern human mating apparently took place in the Middle East, shortly after modern humans had left Africa, not in Europe—as has long been suspected.

    “We can now say that, in all probability, there was gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans,” lead study author Ed Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a prepared statement.

    That’s no surprise to anthropologist Erik Trinkhaus, whose skeleton-based claims of Neanderthal-modern human interbreeding—previously contradicted with DNA evidence—appear to have been vindicated by the new gene study, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

    “They’ve finally seen the light … because it’s been obvious to many us that this happened,” said Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who wasn’t part of the new study.

    Trinkhaus adds that most living humans probably have much more Neanderthal DNA than the new study suggests.

    “One to 4 percent is truly a minimum,” Trinkaus added. “But is it 10 percent? Twenty percent? I have no idea.”


    Were Neandertals and Modern Humans Just Ships in the Night?
    by Michael Balter on 9 May 2011

    Researchers have long debated how long Neandertals stuck around after modern humans invaded their home territories in Europe and Asia around 40,000 years ago. Some say as long as 10,000 years; others think Neandertals went extinct almost immediately. A new radiocarbon dating study of a Neandertal site in Russia concludes that the latter scenario is most likely, and that Neandertals and modern humans were probably like ships in the night. But don’t expect this to be the last word on this contentious subject.

    Neandertals and modern humans likely encountered one another at least twice during prehistory. The first time was at least 80,000 years ago in the Near East, as evidenced by findings of both Neandertal and modern human bones in caves in Israel. But the moderns, who came up from Africa, apparently did not venture any farther than the Near East at that time, possibly due to competition from the Neandertals who were then occupying much of Europe and Asia.

    Then, shortly before 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens—possibly now armed with more sophisticated technology and adaptive skills—began the massive migration that would take our species to pretty much everywhere on the globe, including the territories in Europe and Asia that were already occupied by Neandertals.

    Recent genetic studies suggest that Neandertals and moderns interbred the first time but not the second. That has led some researchers to suspect that they were not neighbors for very long during the more recent overlap, especially in Europe. Some scientists, however, say that Neandertals hung on in “refugia” like southern Spain and Gibraltar until as late as 32,000 years ago. (All dates in this story are in calibrated radiocarbon years.)

  21. “Survival of the most fit is not derogatory, the perversion of “what is most fit” is where the perversion entered into the picture.”


    Thank you for the condensing, which is really an elegant clarification. As happens to many people who revolutionize knowledge, some who followed in Darwin’s footsteps, used his theories to reinforce their own prejudice.In the case of the “Social Darwinist” types it was their definitions of “fit” that served their own bigotry. It provided a rationale for the attempted extermination of Native Americans, the enslavement of Blacks, the control of America by a “managerial elite” rudely defined as Anglo-Saxon and the extension of imperialism. Putative historians like Roosevelt and F.J. Turner
    provided the “scholarship” that allowed entertainers like Bill Cody and novelists like Owen Wister, to turn have a groundwork to create the myth
    popularizing in effect “The White Man’s Burden”.

  22. Mike S.,

    Years ago, I read a book written by the late Stephen J. Gould titled “The Mismeasure of Man.” Have you read it?
    The Mismeasure of Man is a 1981 book written by the now deceased Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. The book is a history and critique of the methods and motivations underlying biological determinism, defined by Gould as the belief that “the social and economic differences between human groups — primarily races, classes, and sexes — arise from inherited, inborn distinctions and that society, in this sense, is an accurate reflection of biology.”[1]

    The book also critiqued what Gould argued was the principal theme of biological determinism, that “worth can be assigned to individuals and groups by measuring intelligence as a single quantity.” Gould discussed two prominent techniques used to measure such a quantity, craniometry and psychological testing. Gould described these methods as suffering from “two deep fallacies”. The first fallacy, Gould argued, is of reification, that is, “our tendency to convert abstract concepts into entities.” These entities include IQ (the intelligence quotient) and g (the general intelligence factor), which have been the cornerstone of much intelligence research. The second fallacy is one of ranking, or our “propensity for ordering complex variation as a gradual ascending scale.”

    The Mismeasure of Man criticized “the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups—races, classes, or sexes—are innately inferior and deserve their status.”[2]

  23. Elaine and Mespo,

    Thank you for your links which illustrate that while science has made wonderful strides, the history of theories is such that they are only temporary diagnoses, needing revision as new experiments are performed and new discoveries are made. It is when a scientist, or a groups of same, base their entire careers on new insights they’ve developed, that problems arise. The tendency to reject out of hand any evidence that hurts the logic of ones’ pet theories is quite human, but doesn’t serve knowledge. Elaine’s links bear out that the riddle of the Neanderthal’s is an ongoing problem, that has been far from solved. Erik Trinkhaus was marginalized for years and has now received a measure of vindication, but the battle is yet over and the opposition has not acknowledged defeat.

    “The truth is, no one really knows. And what we observe doesn’t indicate such an old earth.”


    I was expecting someone to react as you did, however, the connotation that because of the lack clarity we don’t even know if the creationists are correct is simply not true. Radio-Carbon dating is based on experiment proven radioactive decay. The rate of decay is measurable and remains pretty much constant. Based on studies of rock alone the age of the planet is at least in the tens of millions of years. The other evidence is archaeological and that shows artifacts of civilization surpassing 7 to 10,000 years. As more is learned actually, the age of human civilization keeps being pushed farther into the past.


  24. @Elaine, be careful with the Gould references, his “scholarship” has been taking a hit lately:

    A new study of Morton’s old skulls by Jason E. Lewis, Ralph L. Holloway, et al, shows that Gould was projecting.

    The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias

    Stephen Jay Gould, the prominent evolutionary biologist and science historian, argued that “unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm” because “scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth” [1], a view now popular in social studies of science [2]–[4]. In support of his argument Gould presented the case of Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century physician and physical anthropologist famous for his measurements of human skulls. Morton was considered the objectivist of his era, but Gould reanalyzed Morton’s data and in his prize-winning book The Mismeasure of Man [5] argued that Morton skewed his data to fit his preconceptions about human variation. Morton is now viewed as a canonical example of scientific misconduct. But did Morton really fudge his data? Are studies of human variation inevitably biased, as per Gould, or are objective accounts attainable, as Morton attempted? We investigated these questions by remeasuring Morton’s skulls and reexamining both Morton’s and Gould’s analyses. Our results resolve this historical controversy, demonstrating that Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould. In fact, the Morton case provides an example of how the scientific method can shield results from cultural biases.

    … Our analysis of Gould’s claims reveals that most of Gould’s criticisms are poorly supported or falsified.

  25. According to what I have been able to find out, Gould did not personally examine the skulls, but used Morton’s own measurements for his analysis. Too bad both men are now deceased. It would be wonderful to be treated to an vigorous scientific debate of them defending their positions, or perhaps altering their conclusions in light of new discoveries.

  26. OS, see the Jason E. Lewis, Ralph L. Holloway, et al study. tThis ties in well to the discussion of scientific consensus and the inherent problems thereof. Where is slartifartblast when you need him?

  27. “I read a book written by the late Stephen J. Gould”


    Gould is a scientific hero of mine. I didn’t read that book, but I regularly enjoyed his essays in the “Natural History” magazine and his participation in PBS programming. His stance on IQ testing has been my own for a very long time. This may seem a personal paradox, since I have a “MENSA” class IQ, but always found the organization distasteful. Insert the old Groucho line: “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me”.

    Knowing myself well I know that my IQ scores (and SAT scores) were inflated by my verbal skills, developed by growing up in a family of readers, who from my earliest age bequeathed on me a library of good books to read. Since I was a lazy and rebellious student I was constantly told I wasn’t living up to my potential. I actually admired those students who worked laboriously on their studies and achieved great marks. I lacked their capacity for serious focus and so was outdistanced by them academically.
    Intellectually, I’m more of a trickster, than savant. Perhaps some would see that assessment as a harsh judgment, but I’m quite happy with myself and unashamed of who I am.

    As Gould pointed out IQ is merely an arbitrary test of intelligence biased by factors that ignore many other criteria. As a Gestalt Therapist I believe that we are not beings with a mind ruling a body, “The Mind/Body Split”, but can only be measured as one organism, with “intelligence” located throughout and importantly informed by our “feelings”. Gould presciently questioned the arbitrary criteria used to define “intelligence” and that for me says it all. IQ tests and SAT’s have inherent biases that make them unhelpful in measuring intelligence.


  28. “As Gould pointed out IQ is merely an arbitrary test of intelligence biased by factors that ignore many other criteria.”

    Ok, so let’s just assume IQ tests measure intelligence plus a whole host of other intertwined executive functions. Does that make you feel better? The point is that, IQ has high predictive value and we don’t know how to affect it much beyond adolescence. This has profound implications for education policy.

    “Knowing myself well I know that my IQ scores (and SAT scores) were inflated by my verbal skills, developed by growing up in a family of readers, who from my earliest age bequeathed on me a library of good books to read.”

    Did your love for reading cause your high verbal skills? Or were your high verbal skills the cause of your love for reading? Because we’ve tried to instill a love of reading in kids without high verbal skills, and it hasn’t worked out so well.

  29. In any scientific debate it is always helpful to view who has what ax to grind.

    “That Morton’s data are reliable despite his clear bias weakens the argument of Gould and others that biased results are endemic in science. Gould was certainly correct to note that scientists are human beings and, as such, are inevitably biased, a point frequently made in “science studies.” But the power of the scientific approach is that a properly designed and executed methodology can largely shield the outcome from the influence of the investigator’s bias.”

    Gould’s assault on scientific bias was and is a threat to the scientific establishment as a whole. This was true not because he disparaged research, but because he sought to contextualize it and thus bring to it further clarity. All those who wrote the referenced study are research scientists who have their careers funded through their research. As such any possible hint that they’re biases might influence their results is one that puts them on the defensive. Reading the entire article quoted, Morton’s research of skull size was a biased attempt to define worthiness of “race”, by defining people’s intelligence via cranial capacity, as the authors admit.
    I wonder why the effort was put into this misguided research except to discredit Gould’s contentions that bias sometimes influences science, a fact
    well discussed in even diverse fields like physics. Their tactic appears to me to be like a child saying, “well he did it too”.

  30. “Because we’ve tried to instill a love of reading in kids without high verbal skills, and it hasn’t worked out so well.”

    Is that an assertion, or based on some evidence? Tests of verbal skills are measures of vocabulary. Growing up in a family with a large vocabulary and reading many books, tends to expand ones vocabulary greatly. Vocabulary is a trick in that makes a person seem far more intelligent than they are. William F. Buckley used it for years to make himself appear intelligent, but unfortunately had poor reasoning skills in debate, glossed over by the persiflage of his verbosity.

  31. Ask Elaine. She would know.

    Actually verbal IQ scores test mostly reasoning ability. Developing a large vocabulary, especially through reading, is highly dependent on your ability to discern meaning through exposure to language in the environment, i.e, reasoning. peopel don’t learn vocabulary through direct teaching of word-meaning correspondences.

    If you still want some cites, Mike, I can provide them for you later today.

  32. “Did your love for reading cause your high verbal skills? Or were your high verbal skills the cause of your love for reading? Because we’ve tried to instill a love of reading in kids without high verbal skills, and it hasn’t worked out so well.”

    There are some children who may have difficulty learning to read because they may have dyslexia or some other reading disability. Many of these same children are very intelligent and articulate and have excellent comprehension. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to read quality literature aloud to all children. There are some who may appear to be low level learners who are actually well above average in intelligence.


    “peopel don’t learn vocabulary through direct teaching of word-meaning correspondences.”

    They learn vocabulary best when they hear it/read it used in context.

  33. Mike, verbal skills as measured by IQ tests such as the Wechsler series depend on far more than vocabulary. Of course, vocabulary is important, but there are other skills such as verbal reasoning. Being asked how one would go about solving an everyday problem or explain a social issue are examples. Explaining proverbs of increasing complexity are other tasks. Verbal memory is also tested. Knowledge of the world is one of the subtests; for example, what is some famous person (naming a historical figure) known for?

    Way more than simple vocabulary. A professor of education at Washington University in St. Louis gave the best simple definition of intelligence I have ever heard: “The level of ability to learn quickly and easily.”

  34. “In this essay, I have cited a wealth of evidence that biased research interpretation is a common phenomenon, and an overdetermined one, with a variety of intentional, motivational, and purely cognitive determinants. But there is a danger of excessive cynicism here. First, the evidence suggests that the biases are often subtle and small in magnitude; few research consumers see whatever they want in the data. The available evidence constrains our interpretations – even when intentions are fraudulent – and the stronger and more comprehensive the evidence, the less wiggle room available for bias. Second, far from condemning the research enterprise, the evidence cited here provides grounds for celebrating it; systematic empirical research methods have played a powerful role in identifying biased research interpretation and uncovering its sources”

    MM at JCU,

    I have to go out shortly but I quickly read through the essay and on a superficial basis it seems quite reasonable to me and not at odds with my points. I am a believer in and lover of science. This is especially true with the “Social Sciences” where I have a decent knowledge base. As with this essay, I don’t see science as being less valuable, because bias slips into the equation. However, we must allow and look for bias as new research evolves.

    Where I become annoyed is when the debates turn into personal contests of ego and where the investment in peoples theories gets written in stone. The Neanderthal extinction debate is ongoing and far from proven, one way or the other. Erik Trinkhaus was for years ridiculed for his theories and attempts were made to marginalize his research, that there is now some evidence of his theories is a measure of vindication. I’ll reread the piece critically when I have more time because it is an interesting contribution. Thank you.

  35. “Mike, verbal skills as measured by IQ tests such as the Wechsler series depend on far more than vocabulary.”


    i’m well aware of that and don’t discount it. However, a good vocabulary is important in understanding the wording of reasoning questions. Also there is an ability I think to do well on tests by enjoying them. A brilliant cousin of mine was a straight A student, but did poorly on standardized tests, because they made her tense. I was a C- student, but walked into standardized tests confidently and enjoyed them and so I always scored very well. I don’t think that I am any more intelligent than my cousin.

  36. Mike, tension is a function of the examiner, not the examinee. Individual tests take much more time and are labor intensive, but are far more accurate than a paper-and-pencil test for the exact reason you name. If someone has test anxiety, any halfway decent psychologist or examiner will take time and try to make it fun. There is no excuse for having a panicky or anxious subject.

  37. “If someone has test anxiety, any halfway decent psychologist or examiner will take time and try to make it fun. There is no excuse for having a panicky or anxious subject.”


    That should be true but and when administered individually the tester can make a significant difference. However, when you look at tests like the SAT’s and standardized school IQ testing making the individual comfortable is not happening. Got to run, more later.

  38. Regarding vocabulary, of course that is one function of learning easily. The easier it is to learn; e.g., the higher the intelligence functioning, the greater the vocabulary. I don’t think IQ is necessarily completely static, and that if a child is exposed to a “target rich” environment, they expand their abilities. There is a limit to what can be poured in, but think of it like growing a plant. No corn stalk will grow twenty feet tall, but a good one might grow taller than either of us. If a corn seed is planted in poor soil, the farmer will be lucky if it gets five feet tall, but add fertilizer and it may grow to its maximum height.

    You are not going to take a child without the genetic makeup and potential and turn them into a Mozart of Einstein; however, even a potential genius needs stimulation. However, a high IQ is no guarantee that things will turn out well. Caryl Chessman had a 136 IQ, but was a drifter before being arrested for murder. As I recall, Ted Bundy was a bright law student with an IQ of 124.

  39. Mike S. & Otteray,

    IQ tests don’t test for creativity–nor do they test the passion one may have for learning…or for learning about a particular subject. They also don’t test one’s ability/desire to work hard to achieve one’s goals.

  40. Regarding creativity, Jacob Getzels wrote a book back in the early 1960s, entitled “Creativity and Intelligence: Explorations With Gifted Students.”

    IIRC, Getzels and his researchers found the most highly creative students tended to have an IQ somewhere around 135. That is really bright, but not what is generally considered “genius.”

    Terman’s studies of genius are very instructive. Several of the most creative people in history had an IQ in the average range.

    As for motive and drive, that is a function of personalty rather than native intelligence. I know average people who are almost driven, and some very bright people who are almost too lazy to breathe.

  41. Elaine, i do not recall that one. I have been looking for my copy of Getzel’s book. I bought it new back about 1963. Cannot find it, so I suppose it has been taken to the storage shed with about fifty to a hundred other boxes of books. No shelf space either at the office or at home–I gotta stop buying stuff, but I can’t seem to help myself.

  42. Otteray,

    I know about the shelf space problem myself. When I retired from my school library position, we built a library/office in the basement for me with ten floor to ceiling bookcases. Before work was finished on my library, my husband looked around and said, “I don’t think there’s going to be enough space for all your books. He was right!

    I’ve given away many of my old adult books. I kept all the poetry books and some of my other favorites. I have thousands of children’s books. Many of which I plan to read to my first grandchild–who should be born any day now.

  43. Gardner, merely expanded “intelligence” to include a bunch of unrelated talents. It’s one of those interesting unfalsifiable theories that hasn’t really benefited our understanding of IQ in anyway.

    And as far as motivation and IQ goes, the same gaps between groups show up in both low-stake and high-stake tests where motivation should play a factor.

  44. Congratulations on your first grandchild. By all means, reading to children is good. We have a number of boxes of children’s books that we saved. They never go out of date. When my youngest was getting chemotherapy, I would recite Dr. Seuss to her from memory (I had lots of practice). She was only two at the time. It helped her relax and seemed to help with the nausea. One of the nurses said she had never seen anything like the way I worked.

  45. @Elaine:

    Gardner listed seven intelligences: Visual-Spatial, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic, and Logical -Mathematical.

    Some are part of cognitive intelligence – Visual-Spatial, Logical-Mathematical, and perhaps Linguistic.

    The others are unrelated talents that are not.

  46. @Elaine, it includes a bunch of things that aren’t normally included under the traditional definition. And, that bunch of things adds nothing to the predictive value of IQ. So while an interesting theory, it has no practical application, except perhaps for people who are lacking in the IQ department but exceling in one or more of the other talents to feel good about themselves.

  47. The faq does highlight one of the disadvantages of following MI theory — the pernicious practice of learning styles which is the fad today.

  48. kderosa,

    So if something isn’t included under the traditional definition of intelligence and doesn’t add to the predictive value of IQ, we shouldn’t consider it as a form of intelligence? I’m not sure what you mean by practical application. I think if we look beyond the typical ways of defining intelligence and testing for intelligence–we may find new methods and inventive ways to teach and better meet the needs of all students.

  49. @Elaine, shouldn’t the burder be on Gardner to show that usefulness? It may be that it does add something to our undrstanding of intelligence, it just hasn’t yet.

  50. kderosa,

    “…the pernicious practice of learning styles which is the fad today.”

    I’m not sure what you mean exactly when you write “the practice of learning styles.”

    I wouldn’t call the theory that people have different styles of learning a fad. It’s been around for more than three decades.

  51. @Elaine,

    “I wouldn’t call the theory that people have different styles of learning a fad. It’s been around for more than three decades.”

    Good point. It’s a fad with a very long half life.

    “What usefulness are you talking about?”

    The usefulness of changing the definition of intelligence to encompass the multiple intelligences that are not typically part of cognitive intelligence.

  52. “….multiple intelligences that are not typically part of cognitive intelligence.”

    That statement makes no sense, since it is not true. All top end intelligence tests assess a panoply of skills and abilities, including processing speed. Emotional responsiveness is not intelligence, since it is a reaction to the environment; however, emotional responsiveness can be measured rather well. Other tests of achievement measure how much one has learned in one’s life when compared with a normative sample of the population. Still other tests of social skill evaluate how one interacts with others and with the community.

    The brain is the organ of all emotion, behavior and awareness. ALL those functions are subsumed into cognition, since that is what the brain does. Cognitive processing.

  53. “….multiple intelligences that are not typically part of cognitive intelligence.”


    Perhaps I should ask, to what are you referring, specifically? Examples?

  54. @OS, “ps I should ask, to what are you referring, specifically? Examples?”

    We are talking about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences which include Visual-Spatial, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic, and Logical-Mathematical.

    Some are recognized as being part of cognitive ability, others are not.

  55. All those functions are subsumed into cognitive functioning–none can be excluded since all are the product of brain function, which by definition is a cognitive process. None are excluded and all are measurable. Most of those functions are measured by the Wechsler series of ability and achievement tests. If we add a full neuropsychological test battery, every one of those basic functions will be quantified and compared with a normative sample of the general population. For example, the Luria-Nebraska Neuropsychological Test Battery and the Halstead-Reitan Neuropsychological Test Battery.

  56. @OS

    “All those functions are subsumed into cognitive functioning–none can be excluded since all are the product of brain function”

    Cognitive functioning — yes.
    Cognitive ability/intelligence/IQ — no.

    And while you can certainly measure IQ in many ways, a simple inductive reasoning test like Raven’s Progressive Matrices tells you pretty much the same thing as more complex tests.

    Are you saying that the WAIS IV directly tests Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal ability? Which subtests are you referring to?

  57. If you noticed, I mentioned the LNNB and the HRNB which have specific subtests that measure things like kinesthetic and other complex processes. Interpersonal functioning is measured by other tests. The RPM is limited, given that it measures non-verbal ability only. No single test measures everything and not all those functions mentioned, while measurable, are not considered a part of most standardized IQ measures.

  58. @OS

    “No single test measures everything and not all those functions mentioned, while measurable, are not considered a part of most standardized IQ measures.”

    Is there an extra “not” in there?

    If there is, then I agree.

    BTW, here are some critiques of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory.

  59. Typo…..should read: “No single test measures everything. SOME OF those functions mentioned, while measurable, are not considered a part of most standardized IQ measures.”

  60. I am also a scientist. Paleontology is not my subject, but I’m very much interested in the “Neandertal case”. We know now that neandertals were humans like ourselves. Even Paabo said it recently: “take two unrelated humans today: their genomes will differ likely in millions of places; but the neandertal genome varies in average from modern humans in only about a hundred thousand positions”. The neanderthal project reports modern humans and neandertals have 99.7% identity! Consider then the global diversity in humans today: about 40 million SNPs, which is 1 % of the whole genome. Therefore, the variation observed in neandertals is within the observed variation among modern people. I am still struggling to understand what does mean that “1-4% contribution” of neanderthal into modern humans. Please can someone explain how it is estimated? Besides, the mitDNA data, seems IMHO contradict the nuclear genome data: the neandertal mitochondrial DNA is much more divergent than it is its nuclear genome, relative to modern humans; how could that be possible?
    As far as I’m concerned, neanderthals are humans like me and you, so no need to explain any supposed “extinction”; the wishful thinking and stubor belief in a darwinian theory can blind anyone.

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