May 9 • 1HR 8M

35: Baby Brainwaves and Broken Science | Jordan Lasker & Richard Hanania

Why IQ interventions fail in the real world and bad researchers succeed in academia

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Discussions with CSPI scholars and leading thinkers in science, technology, and politics.
Episode details

Jordan Lasker is a PhD student at Texas Tech University and a bioinformatician. He joins the podcast to discuss his recent report for CSPI, “About Those Baby Brainwaves: Why ‘Policy Relevant’ Social Science is Mostly a Fraud.” The report critically examined a recent study claiming small cash transfers to the parents of newborns improved their babies’ brain activity. The study was lauded in the media and by D.C. policymakers, who argued its results supported redistributive policies, most notably the child tax credit.

Jordan demonstrated that the study in question wildly overstated its claims, was methodologically suspect, and that its authors engaged in numerous bad research practices. Social science, he argues, is not a sound basis for policymaking given academia’s warped incentives.

He and Richard talk about why physiological measures like EEGs are taken much more seriously than psychometrics like IQ tests, whether “rich brains” and “poor brains” exist, if the Flynn effect means we’re getting smarter, and the politicization of academia and science more generally. The two agree that the priors of the average researcher or policymaker are way off base: dozens of studies have found cash transfers and even adoption to high SES families have minimal effects on IQ or income. Given that, why would we expect $333/month to move the needle?

They conclude by considering whether society is better off with leaders who “trust the science” or those who are openly anti-intellectual, given broken incentive structures and political bias within the policy relevant literature.

Listen in podcast form or watch at the YouTube link below:

Jordan Lasker, “About Those Baby Brainwaves: Why ‘Policy Relevant’ Social Science is Mostly a Fraud.” 

Troller-Renfree et al. (Baby Brainwaves Study), “The Impact of a Poverty Reduction Intervention on Infant Brain Activity.” 

Richard Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science.” 

Kirkegaard et al., “Nerve Conduction Velocity and Cognitive Ability: A Large Sample Study.” 

Flynn Effect.” 

Wongupparaj et al., “The Flynn Effect for Verbal and Visuospatial Short-Term and Working Memory: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis.” 

Odenstad et al., “Does Age at Adoption and Geographic Origin Matter? A National Cohort Study of Cognitive Test Performance in Adult Inter-Country Adoptees.

Tobias Hübinette, “The Adopted Koreans of Sweden and the Korean Adoption Issue.