As I first read about this recent study that found that first-borns have a higher IQ than their younger siblings, I started to get worried thinking about Son the Elder and Son the Younger.
I mean, nobody is going to tell me that either of my sons is any less of a genius than anyone else, even his brother. I’m as neurotic as any mother of more than one could be about not pigeonholing or comparing the little guys. So naturally I read every article about the study I ran across, noticing all the “buts,” the hedging and the qualifying, and I wasn’t really satisfied until I found some story that mentioned the most important point for anyone who reads these kinds of studies about human nature (wrongly) for personal insight: that average results say nothing about how particular individuals will be. Which I knew. And which is true of any study like this.
Bu these stories about scientific studies are like horoscopes for the college-educated. I can’t keep myself from reading about the latest one that catches the media’s attention: Study Finds That Music Makes Babies Smarter; Study Finds That People With Friends Are Happier; Study Finds That People Who Eat Are Less Hungry. What do they mean? Who knows?
That’s no comment on the original study. But by the time it gets filtered out into a couple of summary paragraphs and a quote, it’s hard to tell its significance. As the scientists themselves would point out, there’s often important context (like all the other research in a field) or caveats that simply can’t get worked in to a brief mention.
This study, in case you’re curious, and you know you are if you have more than one kid or have siblings yourself, showed a three-point IQ difference for the oldest son. The younger one though, might be the more original thinker, a psychologist pointed out when discussing the study. So really, to fully understand the study, the first thing to ask is, who on the research team had some old sibling rivalries still percolating? No, I’m sure it has its place in the scientific literature, and it might even be the definitive study, but I’m completely unqualified to decide and like most studies it just can’t be changed to a “news you can use” presentation.
Instead, it’s much more soothing to read about Paris Hilton. News about real events can be…disturbing. But with the Paris saga, you have a strong dramatic structure – the rise, the fall, the redemption? – without the necessity of really caring. Sure, it’s a bit disturbing to see a crying woman dragged off to jail screaming for her mother, and maybe for half a second you think, did she really get more jail time than “a regular person” would have?, but then you’re like, “Oh, it’s Paris Hilton. Whatever.” And maybe there’s a vague curiosity to see how the next chapter – Paris renounces her old ways and makes good – plays out, but, whatever. You can always catch up with the summer reruns.
Say what you will about our Paris-ian celebrity circuses, we harm fewer animals with them than the Romans did. So since no innocent children are involved in Paris’ escapades, whatever. I mean, there really aren’t any wider lessons to be picked up here. Are there? Or – wait – isn’t Paris an oldest child? So she’s the smartest of the bunch? I think we need some more research.