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|"Intelligence of Nation Said to be Declining: Sterilization No Remedy," Daily Telegraph and Morning Post (1/13/1939)
Pages:1 of 1
|University College London,
9 Daily Telegraph and Morning Post [obs]
Intelligence of Nation Said to Be Declining
Sterilisation No Remedy
Duke on Peril of "Broken Homes"
The view that the national intelligence was declining was expressed yesterday at the fifth biennial conference of the National Council for Mental Hygiene, at Central Hall, Westminster.
The Duke of Kent, President, in opening the conference, said that the Council was trying to awaken a mental health conscience in the mind of the nation.
"The question, whether or no the national intelligence is declining, is not merely the result of sensational headlines in irresponsible newspapers," he continued. "It is a subject which enables a great number of highly important individual points to be discussed in their true perspective."
The Council, recognising the great influence of the Press in public opinion, would welcome its co-operation in regard to psychological questions. Development of a stable and well-balanced personality was the surest means of preventing subsequent mental breakdown. Obviously this must start from the earliest years of childhood.
"Recent research has indicated that in cases of juvenile delinquency the 'broken home' is frequently a prominent contributing factor and one which, if generally recognised, should be of considerable help in dealing with this vital problem."
[bold]Direct Proof Lacking[end bold]
Dr. Lionel S. Penrose, Director of Research Department, Royal Counties Institute, Colchester, stated in a paper: "Direct proof of the lowering of average intelligence in this country is lacking, but there is a large amount of indirect evidence which points to a genetic position which is unfavourable from the point of view of national intelligence in the future.
"Surveys of intelligence of children in different localities have indicated fairly consistently that mental ability is, on the average, higher in urban than in rural districts. It does not follow conclusively that townspeople are more intelligent than country people, because the rural inhabitants may be more intelligent about particular matters which concern them."
Irrespective of urban and rural areas, marked differences in mental capacity and in birth-rate were noticeable if different social groups were compared. The assumption was that the genetic factors which produced mental ability of a high standard would become rarer, and those which tended to produce mental abilityof a low standard would be commoner.
The present rate of decline due to genetic changes had been estimated to be of the order of one per cent. in the intelligence quotient every 10 years.
[bold] "Simpletons"[end bold]
"It is clear," said Dr. Penrose, "that such a precipitate fall in general intelligence would soon produce a complete population of simpletons. The process cannot have been going on this way for long, because, if so, a century or so ago we must have been a nation of geniuses."
Sterilisation was an inefficient instrument for dealing on a large scale with the problems of the eugenics of intelligence. Moreover, the application of the significance of declining birth rate was stimulating people to think more carefully of the possibilities of providing postive financial and social inducements to fertile married couples.
"If men and women capable of skilled and professional work could be persuaded to marry young and to risk having large families, the educational outlook for the future would be very much improved."
Dr. Penrose disclaimed any wish to convey the impression that intelligence was the only desirable mental character; mental health and adjustment to society were at least as important.
[bold]Limited Usefulness[end bold]
Mr. Alec Rodger, head of the Vocational Guidance Department, National Institute of Industrial Psychology, said it was essential that they should recognise the fact that the "intelligence" they were talking about was intelligence as measured by psychologists in intelligence tests.
He believed that there were bounds to the usefulness of such tests.
Gone were the days when it was considered "progressive" to dabble in schemes for sterilizing the mentally defective. Before embarking on ambitious eugenic programmes, saturated with a defeatism which seemed out of place in a genuine democracy, they should see what could be done by improving the lot of the less intelligent members of the community.
It would be foolish to deplore the decline in the national intelligence and remain unmoved by the fact that vast funds of the intelligence now possessed were literally wasted.
[bold]Support for Register[end bold]
Many were opposed to the compilation of a national register, but to the social reformer the plan was not without its attractions, for it would exhibit clearly some of the more important defects in our present social and economic order.
Mr. J. H. Nicholson, Principal, University College, Hull, said a perfect system of selecting those whose intelligence warranted higher education had not yet been devised.
At the evening session a discussion took place on the question whether mental treatment should be practised solely by doctors. The Rev. F. E. England, Extension Lecturer in Philosophy and Psychology, University of London, said he looked forward to the day when the two ancient healing ministries originally united on the primitive medicine-man might come once more into close fellowship in the sacred task of physical, mental and spiritual healing.
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