Skepchick Quickies, 2.28


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

Related Articles


  1. The saddest part (well, one of the saddest, it’s all sad and awful) about the Sams is their surprise at being found guilty. They were utterly unprepared.

    You would think the death of their baby would snap these people back into reality but they still have no idea what the hell they did.

  2. So hitting your child on the rear end affects the physiological/genetic roll of the dice that makes you intelligent?

    I’d love to see the IQ and social interaction of the person who came up with that idea.

    Abuse can mess you up emotionally, no arguments there. But I’m trying to understand the causation of how it screws up your native intelligence.

  3. Per the Sams:

    My Bulldog has a tail infection right now (she got something up there that my normal grooming process missed). She’s on heavy-duty antibiotics…which led to a massive yeast infection in her ears. She went right to the vet and two days later, she’s much improved but still itchy and is coming to me for comfort.

    I am beside myself that she is so uncomfortable right now because she’s in pain and I’m doing all the recommended things to clean up the yeast infection and the skin infection in her tail but she’s still pretty miserable. And that’s just my DOG.

    How do you watch your child in that much pain and do nothing about it?

  4. I don’t think those spanking trials were stringent enough. They had too many variables. They need to start fresh with a fresh set of children that have never been spanked before, then spank them before administering the tests.

    It’ll be like Little Albert, but slightly less horrifying. I mean, for all we know it could be that the children that were spanked needed corporal punishment as a motivator. I suggest having a researcher during the study hover over the experimental group with a ruler threatening to pop them one if they don’t do well on the IQ test.

  5. With time already served, Thomas Sam will be eligible for release on July 1, 2015.

    Manju Sam was taken into custody and will be eligible for release on September 27, 2013.

    Am I the only one that thinks this is an incredibly short sentence? I’m sorry, but they should be in prison for a long, long time. They essentially murdered their 9 month old daughter. Disgusting.

  6. @marilove: It’s not you. That’s mad light. Though I don’t know enough about Australian law to know if its normal in a downunderly context.

    The spanking thing strikes me as an example of data looking for an explanation more than as a result that actually makes any meaningful causal staement.

  7. People who consistently spank/slap their children also tend to speak to them like you’d talk to your dog. Go sit down, Shut up, be good, get me a beer, git! Stands to reason those kids would have a lower score. I’m all for the occasionally needed quick spank for children too young to understand logic, but who knows how much smarter I’d be if my mother didn’t slap me upside the head daily, or my father kept his belt in his pants?

    And yes, I think that’s an incredibly short sentence for people who stood by and let their child suffer and die in pain. Of eczema? We should send letters to inmates in the prisons these people were sent to and include this article.

  8. @Chasmosaur: If you carry your baby everywhere, all the time, how will it learn to walk?

    I think they’re talking about a failure to develop a potential.

    They don’t show that the effect is permanent; that is, they don’t show that a positive learning environment later on won’t make up the difference.

    They only look at spanking, they don’t look at negative reinforcement strategies generally vs. positive reinforcement strategies generally.

    The differences are small. I don’t see that the study means much.

  9. @spellwight: These are similar to my thoughts on the subject. I was spanked on occasion, but never talked down to or called names. I was never afraid of my dad nor did I ever feel like he thought I was an idiot. Indeed, he encouraged my love of reading and nerdery (we were/are nerd partners in crime), and when I was spanked it was because I out-right disobeyed him (and knew it).

    *shrug* I can see how regular abuse can be detrimental to someone’s IQ or intelligence (I don’t think they are the same thing, btw), but occasional spanking? I don’t by it.

  10. In looking at spanking just in the United States, Straus and a fellow researcher reviewed data on IQ scores from 806 children between 2 and 4 years old and another 704 kids aged 5 to 9.

    When their IQs were tested again four years later, children in the younger group who were not spanked scored five points higher, on average, than did children who had been spanked. In the group of older children, spanking resulted in an average loss of 2.8 points.

    “How often parents spanked made a difference,” Straus said in a news release from the university. “The more spanking, the slower the development of the child’s mental ability. But even small amounts of spanking made a difference.”

    Dear Dr. Straus,
    Correlation does not equal causation.

    Looking forward to some real research,

  11. I am uncomfortable with the frequency with which “correlation does not equal causation” is somehow extended to mean “correlation is meaningless.”

  12. Correlation can be helpful when trying to theorize variables, however if there is no information linking the corollaries with the identified data the correlation would then seem to be fairly meaningless. I’ve read some studies that indicate the more educated a person is the less likely they are to use corporeal punishment, and we know that having a higher IQ generally means your parents have higher IQ’s and you are more likely to get a better education and have education valued in your family. So it seems that this current research did nothing more than reinforce the previous observations that IQ and education seem to equate to less physical punishment rather than a causal association with physical punishment and lower IQ’s.

  13. Theoretical problems with correlation vs. causation and the construction of IQ aside, this study adds more evidence to the scientific consensus that corporal punishment is a harmful practice, and should be discontinued. I find it interesting how proponents of the practice try to draw up a false controversy regarding the use of such punishments, similar to creationists and those practicing alternative health modalities. There is no controversy – at best corporal punishment is not effective, and at worse it constitutes child abuse.

    Without reading the study itself, it’s hard to speak about the rigor in which it was conducted, but the results are in line with the majority scientific consensus. This is enough to conclude that the study is worth a read and at least a thoughtful critique.

    Shame on you Skepchick, for adding fuel to the false controversy!

  14. Has anyone read “Freakonomics”? The chapter about parenting blew my freakin mind. I don’t know whether to be worried or rest easy in the fact that, according to this guy, a very large percentage of how well your child does in school is sealed at birth via their genetics. All the other stuff we do is just pretty dressing that can apparently, in no way, change the inevitable.

  15. @FFFearlesss: The talk of IQ and educational environments coupled with this reminded me of a debate I had to participate in for Speech in high school. The teacher didn’t ask us what beliefs on the matters at hand we held as she arbitrarily assigned us topics and sides of the topics. I ended up be the Nature side of Nature vs. Nurture.

    I lost points for working my argument to claim that both were important, and there was plenty of evidence for this. Which didn’t fit with me playing Devil’s Advocate by supporting only Nature against my beliefs.

  16. @QuestionAuthority: Thanks. I sent that blog as an email back to the family memeber who had sent me the fwd….

    … no response as of yet….

    Not at all related, but… that family member used to regularly spank me.

    Yet she was the one who bought into the email in the first place.

    Makes me wonder about the IQ of people who spank vs people who don’t…..

  17. @SKrap: Correlation is not meaningless. It gives you a great place to begin research and, as @James Fox: pointed out, to refine your research parameters.

    The problem comes when people jump directly from correlation to conclusion.

    From the article, it appears that Straus et al found that more spankings correlates to less IQ and decided that spanking lowers IQ. They could be right: somehow stimulating the buttocks may prevent neuron formation, but there are a lot of other explanations (some of which have been referenced in comments above) that could account for the correlation but without the same conclusion.

    Until they investigate the causation, they haven’t produced a usable theory. They have only produced a point for conjecture.

    Honestly, I do look forward to more research. As a parent who wants to be a better parent, I am always looking for good, proven strategies for helping my kids to become the rulers of all humanity.

  18. @James Fox: Interestingly, one of them does want to become a chemist. After hearing the news articles about making a peroxide bomb, she came up with a theory on how it would work and used one of the teacher’s computer at school to check her theory against plans on the internet.

    Now, she is waiting to see how long it will take the FBI to show up.

  19. @durnett: Couldn’t agree with you more on the correlation/causation link. I teach experimental psychology and I will be using this article as a great example of making the “leap” from link to *causal* link. A big no, no in my book.

    Hey, did anyone else giggle when they read, “stimulating the buttocks may very well prevent neuron formation” (?)
    Sorry. I’m a 13 year-old boy trapped in a 40-something man’s body.

    In the Sam’s case, I think they should get more time in prison, and they should be refused *all* medical attention while a ward of the state.

  20. The text of the judgement against the Sams is online.

    The originally linked article is unfortunately continuing the Australian media’s trend of underreporting criminal sentences; the dates given in the article are the end of the non-parole portion, not of the whole sentence. The sentences aren’t especially light for manslaughter by criminal negligence.

    163 I accept the Crown submission that the offence of Thomas Sam lies at the higher end of the scale of seriousness for offences of manslaughter by criminal negligence. I accept that the objective seriousness of the offence of Manju Sam lies below that of her husband.

    It’s not all good though:

    158 The verdicts and sentences in this case do not involve some adverse judgment on the practice of homeopathy. The evidence reflected that homeopathy has a significant role to play in the community, as a complement to conventional medicine, for a range of conditions.

    I guess the prosecution felt they had a strong enough case without pointing out that it’s just water…

  21. Gah.. The corporal punishment study seems all sorts of effed up, from my skim of the article…

    And, every time I see the term corporal punishment, I think of how I grew up always referring to it as “capital punishment.” Until someone pointed out to me that that is NOT what my elementary school was dishing out, and I was so dramatic.

  22. @FFFearlesss: My understanding of the freakonomics chapter, when I read it about 5-6 years ago, was that while parents had a very negligible effect on their children, it was more due to children’s peers and not so much a “genetics plays the primary role” argument. Steven Pinker has written a lot about this.

    Anyway, as somebody who does genetics research, I’m inclined to disagree with @James Fox: at least insofar as the number of people who genetically could not be successful in college is, in my opinion, vastly lower than the number of people who currently attend college.

    As far as genetics and intelligence goes, it should surprise no one that there is a link between the types of brain processes that fall under the umbrella of intelligence and groups of many genes — our genes build our body’s blueprint, obviously, and that includes our brains. But to apply this to such a refined thing as “going to college” I think is an unsupported overstatement. The brain power required to read something and think about it critically is surely allowable within a broad range of genetic variance in a population (do you think skepticism is unlikely without the right genes?) I’d say the same about the ability to successfully listen to a lecturer speak and learn chemistry or get a good understanding of american history, or play in an orchestra.

    I really don’t think any serious geneticist thinks basic learning and comprehension and critical thinking is best explained by genetic variance. Human society in general covers such a wide range of skills that I find it incredibly unlikely that genetics will be able to securely distinguish between “intelligence” broadly applied to something like college attendance. It might explain the difference between the top 1% of musicians or physicists, but beyond that I’m not very convinced.

  23. Here’s a link to the actual study –

    They did measure maternal education, and something called “maternal cognitive stimulation” and “maternal emotional support”, as well as race, gender, presence of a father in the home, and several other factors. When looking at the change in IQ from age 2 to 4, the largest predictor was frequency of spanking.

    Yes, correlation is not causation, but they weren’t just comparing kids at a single point in time; they were looking at changes over time. This isn’t “smart kids are spanked less than dumb kids.” It’s that the children who were spanked lost ground compared to those who weren’t.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: