Anti-Science

“Gifted” Kids Have Thinner Skulls & Alien Brains….OK

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Sorta transcript:

In Australia, some schools hire third party organizations to run programs for gifted children that help them succeed. If you’re not familiar with these sorts of programs, your first thought might be, if they’re so gifted, why do they need extra help to succeed? Shouldn’t the schools focus on programs that help low-performing students succeed? I don’t know. My school had an in-house gifted program and I loved it, because I was a giant nerd, so I’m actually in favor of the programs provided the school is giving all kids the resources necessary to catch up to the “gifted” kids.

But I do have a problem with one particular Australian gifted program, known as WiseOnes, because it’s run by a woman who thinks that gifted kids are particularly susceptible to harm from wifi signals and vaccines due to their thinner skulls and extra “neurological connections vibrating at alien frequency.” Pat Slattery also thinks that she nearly died from radiation poisoning before she moved into a caravan with no electricity and started eating “anti-radiation herbs.” Again, this is the person who runs the gifted program for some Australian schools.

This revelation brings up a number of interesting issues. First among them is how easy it is for complete maniacs to have access and authority over children with little to no vetting or oversight.

It also shows how so much pseudoscience succeeds by flattering the person who is being conned. If you’re told that your child got autism from vaccines because he’s super intelligent, you’re way more likely to buy it.

Finally, this case highlights the problem of how people categorize “gifted” children. Slattery clearly believes that some children are smarter due to innate characteristics, seeing as their skulls are thinner and they have neural connections that vibrate at alien frequency, whatever that means.

That’s obviously batshit, but it’s in line with what many people believe about IQ, which is that it’s fixed at birth and either you’ve got it or you haven’t. But studies haven’t shown that to be true–a few show a very weak correlation between traits like brain size or certain genetic markers and results on IQ tests, but it’s extremely muddy. In fact, other studies show that if you believe that intelligence can be improved, you’re more likely to do well on tests compared to people who believe it’s innate.

Maybe I got into a gifted program because I was born smarter than everyone else, but I think it’s more likely that I got in because my family taught me to read as soon as possible and then read to me constantly. I grew up surrounded by books and unhampered by worries like whether I’d get enough to eat or where I would sleep or whether I’d be shot walking to school.

When we accept that IQ isn’t the be-all end-all of a child’s existence, we can better focus on providing all kids with the opportunity to succeed, instead of just writing them off as low-intelligence.

I hope this case encourages Australia and other countries with similar programs to vet the people who have access to kids.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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3 Comments

  1. June 30, 2016 at 3:05 pm —

    IQ is so tricky for me, because I’m a strong anti-essentialist. Humans are so immensely complicated that trying to pin any one emergent trait, such as intelligence onto any relatively small group of factors is always going to be more wrong than right.

    At the same time, youth IQ is a hugely predictive of lifetime success for an arbitrary number. Enormously, massively predictive, beating out even social class at birth. The scientist in me can’t discount its importance. I don’t like to see people reduced to a single number, but that number has a lot of predictive value.

  2. June 30, 2016 at 5:43 pm —

    This program exists only in the State of Victoria, so far.
    Wow, the Victorian education system brings back memories!
    I grew up there.

    Let’s see, encouragement of gifted children? No, we just considered ourselves lucky to get through the week without a thrashing from the teachers or the bullies. Fuck, it was a pretty terrifying time in retrospect, mind you this was the late fifties.

    Not that we had no fun, we played and there were lots of exciting things (OMG there were steam trains EVERYWHERE, it was heaven!) but we all hated school.

    Anyway my main point is, things got more progressive in the sixties and seventies and in all States we had a world class education system, one to be proud of – until successive fascist governments started making cutbacks and bringing in Reagan/Thatcher type policies (long after that had been discredited elsewhere!).

    So now we have essential functions outsourced to save money and the sort of shit you describe is bound to happen.

    In defence of the Vics though (Ha! Irony!) the principals and even some of the franchisees of the program seem universally horrified by the views expressed by the founder so I doubt those views were manifested in the program itself.

  3. June 30, 2016 at 7:06 pm —

    Having been pegged as ‘gifted’ and left to fail in public school, I think the notion of ‘gifted’ programs has considerable merit, not to exploit the nerd’s ‘superiority’ but to provide safe space for the ‘different.’

    I recall that Jenny McCarthy had first declared her son to be an ‘Indigo Child’ (presumably with Alien Vibrations) before she decided he was struck autistic by vaccines, and before she claimed to have ‘cured’ his autism with…was it herbs?

    Have Slattery and McCarthy ever been seen in the same place?

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