December 19, 2006

Solvang Blogging (Solvalogging?): Brain Food

Hatched by Dafydd

This falls into the category of drawing a mountain of conclusion from a molehole of fact: an article in the well-respected British medical journal called the British Medical Journal (as filtered through the tabloidesque This Is London) reports a finding to which they attach great significance:

  1. Test the IQs of a bunch of ten year olds;
  2. Shake well and wait 20 years;
  3. When they're all thirty, evaluate their diets and try to correlate them to their IQs;
  4. In particular, check to see how many of the little buggers became vegetarians and try to draw deep significance from the fact that the average IQ of kids who grew up to be vegetarians (as measured two decades ago) is 105, whereas the average IQ of humanity as a whole is (by definition) 100...
  5. Thus proving that the smart people become vegetarians, eh?

As Tom Lehrer used to sing, "it's so simple, so very simple, that only a child can do it!"

Frequently dismissed as cranks, their fussy eating habits tend to make them unpopular with dinner party hosts and guests alike.

But now it seems they may have the last laugh, with research showing vegetarians are more intelligent than their meat-eating friends.

A study of thousands of men and women revealed that those who stick to a vegetarian diet have IQs that are around five points higher than those who regularly eat meat.

Now, I don't know about you lot, but to me, that reads exactly as if the writer is trying to conclude that vegetarianism raises intelligence. But in fact, the strongest conclusion you can draw is that having a (slightly) higher IQ may cause someone to become a vegetarian... which is hardly surprising, because most people in the West who become vegetarians do so because they have read a book about vegetarianism.

And of course, we already know there is a positive correlation between having a higher IQ and being a reader. Thus, higher IQ kids have more opportunity to run across a book or article about vegetarianism than are those who don't read... hence more of a chance that they'll decide to give it whirl.

For exactly the same reason, I would expect to find that a group of higher-IQ kids yielded more Marxists, more committed capitalists, more science-fiction fans, more Scientologists, and more bloggers (on both left and right). But the correlation between high IQ and being a science-fiction fan is more or less meaningless... you'd also expect to find more romance-novel fans, more western fans, and more technothriller fans: if you're more likely to read a book, then you're more likely to read any particular kind of book -- including a book on vegetarianism.

Curiously, one of the researchers appears to think the arrow of causality may point the other direction:

Researcher Dr Catharine Gale said there could be several explanations for the findings, including intelligent people being more likely to consider both animal welfare issues and the possible health benefits of a vegetarian diet....

Alternatively, a diet which is rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains may somehow boost brain power.

Dr Gale said: 'Although our results suggest that children who are more intelligent may be more likely to become vegetarian as adolescents or young adults, it does not rule out the possibility that such a diet might have some beneficial effect on subsequent cognitive performance.

'Might the nature of the vegetarians' diet have enhanced their apparently superior brain power? Was this the mechanism that helped them achieve the disproportionate nature of degrees?'

Evidently Dr. Gale is not a vegetarian.

Say, here's a thought: might a higher IQ perhaps be the "mechanism" that leads to more college diplomas? Or is that too quotidian an explanation?

But let's not let her skate so easily: is a professor (or a medical doctor) seriously suggesting that becoming a vegetarian later in life retroactively increases your IQ back when you were ten, the only time they measured it?

But here is the Emily Litella moment:

There was no difference in IQ between strict vegetarians and those who classed themselves as veggie but still ate fish or chicken.

However, vegans - vegetarians who also avoid dairy products - scored significantly lower, averaging an IQ score of 95 at the age of 10.

"Never mind!"

Perhaps one of those fish- and cheese-eating vegetarians can explain this to me: if high intelligence leads to moderate vegetarianism, how come only the doofuses become strict vegetarians?

I confess, it's more than my little, carnivorous grey cells can handle. I think I'll stick to my explanation: wiseguys read more books; hence they run across more crackpot ideas, and they're more open to trying them; hence more of them become vegetarians -- but they're also too smart to go whole hog (sorry) about it.

And there, I think, we'll have to leave it. My pork chop is calling.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 19, 2006, at the time of 9:53 PM

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Tracked on December 20, 2006 1:26 PM


The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Assume for the sake of arguement that having a vegetarian diet is a choice that takes effort, not just habit. You could try to make an argument that this choice is a sign of higher base IQ... but you have no evidence for it.

The Vegans having a lower IQ is funny... perhaps indicative that people with lower IQs are more likely to be drawn to an extremist existance.

But what we have here is a funny anecdote, not science... albeit one that has been sent to my by e-mail at least a dozen times today, since I'm a vegetarian.

I write back that I've gone vegan.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2006 10:22 PM

The following hissed in response by: Don

I am neither kind of vegetarian but I've done a bit of nutritional research. The fact seems to be that it is quite difficult to get proper nutrition under a strict vegan (no milk or fish) dietary regime. One can look at the 'lower intelligence' of such people in two ways. Either strict vegans are not getting proper nutrition and their brains are not being fed properly - or intelligent people who read are more aware of these facts than usual and tend to avoid strict vegan diets.

Works either way.

The above hissed in response by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 4:14 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

There is so much bad science, and so little time.
It is a shame that the political left uses studies like this to shove agendas on climate, diet, etc. onto the people.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 5:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: nk

Snicker. 95 IQ is not dumb and 105 IQ is not smart. They are both within the average. Stanford-Binet, with a standard deviation of 16, puts 68% of the population within an IQ range of 92 to 108. Click here for the Stanford-Binet and other IQ curves.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 5:17 AM

The following hissed in response by: nk

Forgive me. That should be 50%. 68% would be 84 to 116?

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 5:22 AM

The following hissed in response by: digitsiam

Aren't they putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn't they be asking if the 10 year olds were vegetarians prior to and at the time of the testing? Maybe my high school statistics are rusty.

The above hissed in response by: digitsiam [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2006 6:15 AM

The following hissed in response by: Imagodei

I saw this article too, and my first reaction was a bit meanspirited. Intelligent people are no less influenced by fads and vanity than others, and vegetarianism is the kind of faddish vanity that appeals to intellectuals (or those who would be thought intellectual)--sort of like Marxism. Not to say that there are no sincere vegetarians, just as there may be sincere Marxists, but I still think of vegetarianism as another way for an intellectual person to accessorize and fit in.

The above hissed in response by: Imagodei [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2006 4:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: dasbow

So vegetarians are allowed to eat chicken? I know chickens are stupid, but they're not exactly soybean plants. Hell, cows are dumb, too. Why aren't they considered vegetables?

The above hissed in response by: dasbow [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 22, 2006 7:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Hell, cows are dumb, too. Why aren't they considered vegetables?

Not cows; steers. There are two reasons you don't want to eat cows:

  • Dairy products are an incredibly lucrative business; I venture that most ranches make more money from milk products than from beef;
  • The total number of calves you can produce directly correlates with the number of cows you have, not the number of bulls. In fact, you don't need any bulls at all, if you just buy frozen bull semen through mail order. But if you start killing your cows, you'll be out of business post haste.

Steers (male bovines castrated before sexual maturity), by contrast, are good for nothing alive but very useful when dead. Whenever I eat beef, I feel a sense of fulfillment that I'm validating the existence of some steer.

Same with pork, fish, and poultry: the purpose of such animals is to feed human beings, which is why we farm them. The best thing that can ever happen to a species is to be considered tasty by modern humans: cattle, trout, chicken, and turkey will never, ever, ever become extinct; even after the sun goes nova and we're forced to migrate from Earth throughout the galaxy -- we'll take our beloved food beasts with us.

I totally oppose the eating of horses and dogs (except in an emergency), by contrast. Not only are they much more intelligent than a steer or a turkey, we actually have a very long-term contract with these species... especially with dogs.

Humans have had a symbiotic relationship with dogs for a minimum of 15,000 years and perhaps more than 100,000. The deal is that they hunt with us, protect us, help raise our children, and give us companionship; in exchange, we agree to feed them, love them, let them lie by the fire, brush them, take them to the vet when they're sick -- and most definitly not to kill or eat them. (Some human cultures routinely breach this contract; they're wrong to do so.)

We have a contract with horses, too; not as long and venerable, but still one that should be honored.

Fish are just vegetables with eyes.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 22, 2006 12:22 PM

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