Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Experts are made, not born

Science writer John Horgan writes:
A pat for Philip E. Ross, whose article in the August Scientific American, "The Expert Mind," states that the "preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born."

Ross?s article focuses on chess, called "the Drosophila of cognitive science" because it serves as a testbed for theories of cognition. Phil has written a lot about chess; as his bio points out, he plays himself, and his teenage daughter Laura is "a master who outranks him  by 199 points." The article presents evidence that motivation and hard work more than innate ability explain success in chess as well as in other fields, such as music, mathematics and sports.

The article seems to contradict The Bell Curve, which I?ve been thrashing lately.
The article has some interesting info, but it is wildly implausible and politically correct in its main thesis. It says:
At this point, many skeptics will finally lose patience. Surely, they will say, it takes more to get to Carnegie Hall than practice, practice, practice. Yet this belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence to substantiate it. In 2002 Gobet conducted a study of British chess players ranging from amateurs to grandmasters and found no connection at all between their playing strengths and their visual-spatial abilities, as measured by shape-memory tests. Other researchers have found that the abilities of professional handicappers to predict the results of horse races did not correlate at all with their mathematical abilities.
No, there is a huge amount of evidence that champions in an assortment of fields have had innate advantages. Ross must be wearing blinders not to see it.

More curious is Ross's argument against innate talent. The only way I can make sense out of his argument is if he is making two implicit assumptions: that certain mathematical abilities are innate, and that all other innate talents are correlated with those abilities.

These are the assumptions that drive leftist egalitarians nuts. Instead of contradicting The Bell Curve, Ross seems to have more extreme pro-IQ biases.

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