Monday, August 17, 2009

Memory exam as good as IQ test?

This is not exactly new. It has long been known that memory is a factor in IQ but the claim that it predicts academic success better is new. It may depend on the type of academic success and the way it is measured. Verbal ability is the component of IQ most usually found to be the best predictor of academic success, which may be part of the reason why women generally outpace men in the numbers gaining academic qualifications these days.

The article mentioned below must be a very recent acceptance as it is not at the time of writing listed as "In press" at the journal concerned.

A previous recent publication of Prof. Alloway's work says that it was done among children with learning difficulties. That would severely limit the generalizability of her findings

Scientists are calling for a new way of testing intelligence. As the internet cuts the need for the brain to store facts, “working memory” - our ability to retain and juggle information for brief periods - could be as much a measure of modern mental abilities as traditional IQ tests.

For decades psychologists, teachers and employers have relied on IQ testing to assess people’s learning potential. The tests measure problem-solving ability and a person’s capacity for abstract reasoning. Now, however, scientists are suggesting that short-term or working memory is a better and simpler measure of the skills modern youngsters will need in school and in their eventual careers.

Tracy Alloway, director of the centre for memory and learning at Stirling University, is to release the latest research suggesting that tests of children’s working memory helped predict their grades more accurately than IQ tests. “Working memory measures our ability to process and remember short-term information. It’s about how well we juggle different thoughts and tasks,” she said. “There is a great deal of variation between different individuals and it is becoming clear that it is a much better way of predicting academic attainment.”

Such findings are likely to prove controversial, especially as Alloway claims that testing working memory also avoids the cultural bias built into IQ tests. Such bias has been blamed, for example, for the way different racial groups achieve significant variations in their average scores.

In her latest research Alloway gave working memory and IQ tests to 98 children aged 4.3 to 5.7 years in full-time preschool education. Recently, six years on, she revisited the children, now aged 10 and 11, asking them to take a battery of tests to measure working memory and IQ. She said: “Critically, we find that working memory at the start of formal education is a more powerful predictor of subsequent academic success than IQ.” Alloway’s research is due to be published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Some link psychology’s new focus on short-term memory with the rise of the internet and other electronic databases which makes the ability to juggle facts and figures more important than remembering them for long periods.

Alloway believes there are other factors at work too. “Working memory assesses people’s ability to process information and keep track of complex tasks, so it is relevant to many aspects of modern lifestyles,” she said.

Other psychologists believe IQ tests still have a lot to offer. Robert Logie, professor of human cognitive neuroscience at Edinburgh University and an expert in working memory, said measuring IQ gave a far more complete view of a person’s all-round mental abilities. He said: “There are many aspects to intelligence, and working memory is important but it is far from being the whole story.”


Great dangers in the rushed-out swine flu vaccine

The entire population of Britain are about to become guinea pigs in a risky experiment

A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter. The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine. GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications. It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:

* More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
* 500 cases of GBS were detected.
* The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
* The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
* The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.

Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown. It is being developed by pharmaceutical companies and will be given to about 13 million people during the first wave of immunisation, expected to start in October. Top priority will be given to everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.

The British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU), part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out. One senior neurologist said last night: ‘I would not have the swine flu jab because of the GBS risk.’

There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the ‘1976 debacle’ in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people – more than the virus itself. A mass vaccination was given the go-ahead by President Gerald Ford because scientists believed that the swine flu strain was similar to the one responsible for the 1918-19 pandemic, which killed half a million Americans and 20million people worldwide.

Within days, symptoms of GBS were reported among those who had been immunised and 25 people died from respiratory failure after severe paralysis. One in 80,000 people came down with the condition. In contrast, just one person died of swine flu. More than 40million Americans had received the vaccine by the time the programme was stopped after ten weeks. The US Government paid out millions of dollars in compensation to those affected.

The swine flu virus in the new vaccine is a slightly different strain from the 1976 virus, but the possibility of an increased incidence of GBS remains a concern. Shadow health spokesman Mike Penning said last night: ‘The last thing we want is secret letters handed around experts within the NHS. We need a vaccine but we also need to know about potential risks. ‘Our job is to make sure that the public knows what’s going on. Why is the Government not being open about this? It’s also very worrying if GPs, who will be administering the vaccine, aren’t being warned.’ ....

Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the vaccines section of the influential Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group that reviews research, said: ‘New vaccines never behave in the way you expect them to. It may be that there is a link to GBS, which is certainly not something I would wish on anybody. ‘But it could end up being anything because one of the additives in one of the vaccines is a substance called squalene, and none of the studies we’ve extracted have any research on it at all.’ He said squalene, a naturally occurring enzyme, could potentially cause so-far-undiscovered side effects.

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