That’s right. IQ scores have been rising by an average of three points per decade since they were first introduced about 100 years ago. The people who administer these tests have to keep adjusting them (make them harder) so that the mean score will remain 100. The scores have been adjusted upward for so long that a genius 100 years ago would apparently now score less than average on a standard IQ test today.

That is quite odd considering that a quick look through social media demonstrates quite clearly something that contradicts this. There are stupid people everywhere!

IQ tests measure computational power or reasoning skills. It would follow that if reasoning skills are going up, then people should be and behave more intelligently than they once were. Yet these days reasonable and seemingly intelligent people are quick to believe a variety of claims that have no basis in reality. Why would people with higher reasoning skills than ever before in the history of mankind be so quick to believe outrageous claims that have little or no supporting evidence?

Perhaps it is because they have not been trained on how to use reason properly. Imagine our genius of 100 years ago sawing a piece of wood. If I could travel back in time and give him a power saw but fail to teach him how to safely use it, chances are that a terrible injury would ensue. Reason is a very useful tool, but misused or skillfully misled and it can lead to terribly erroneous conclusions. We are also all humans, and take cues about what we should believe from our peer groups: allowing a few misled individuals to spread fallacy much farther.

Reason affords us the ability to remember events in time and to abstractly connect them to later events that occur. This leads to observations that can appear causal even if there is no causal relationship. For example, a study of heart attack patients may reveal that people who have heart attacks have a higher rate of gray hair than the general population. Is it then reasonable to conclude that gray hair causes heart attacks?

Of course not. This is a logical fallacy that people who have strong reasoning skills, but have not been taught how to use them, can fall for. People have a higher risk of heart attack the older they get. People also tend to get gray hair as they get older. There is a correlation between gray hair and heart attack, but gray hair is not the cause. Age is the causal factor for both gray hair and heart attack. A common mistake for those not trained on the use of reason is to assume correlation is necessarily causal…it is not.

When a child is vaccinated, and that child develops Autism two weeks later, there is an immediate correlation. There is no shortage of people who believe that the mercury in vaccines cause autism because so many parents have seen this same correlation and they believe it must be causal. The fact that no study anywhere has been able to find such a causal relationship is ignored in favor of the correlated relationship right before the parent’s eyes. They are in effect saying the same thing as, “I know that gray hair caused my dad’s heart attack because his hair turned gray shortly before he fell ill.” The reasonable mind that has not been trained to detect logical fallacies sees this evidence as compelling.

The fact that the first symptoms of autism normally show in a child at the same age as vaccines are given does not occur to them. The fact that Danish studies of children who took the vaccine containing Thimerosal showed the exact same Autism rates as those who did not, does not occur to them. The fact that the type of mercury in Thimerosal is also found in breast milk in higher levels than in the vaccines, does not occur to them. Their kid got sick, Thimerosal caused it, end of story. Their strong reasoning ability has misled them, but since they have not been taught how to properly use reason, they cannot see it.

From this point reasoning runs wild. Like the genius of 100 years ago who, when handed the power saw, presses the red button and the thing jumped out of his hands, the parents who believe Thimerosal caused their child’s Autism sees their reason spin out of control. Logical fallacies compound. Mercury causes brain damage, Thimerosal is a form of mercury, and therefore Thimerosal causes autism is the next logical fallacy—jumping to conclusions based on erroneous or mistaken data.

Then they move onto the next fallacy, believing that anecdotal evidence is compelling. Then they find one professional who supports their position in a sea of those who don’t, and then commit the fallacy of an appeal to authority for authenticity. They seek out articles that support their position (mistaking claims as evidence), they accept anything that supports their belief and reject whatever does not (confirmation bias), and they reject any actual study on the premise that the evil pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and scientists are lying to make money (ad homonym attack).

The power of a reasoning brain in the hands of someone who does not know how to use it properly is a dangerous thing indeed. Are human beings getting smarter? Not really. They have a high horsepower engine, and in many people it is running out of control and causing all manner of harm. If you care about the truth, then you can acquire no better skill than learning to debunk flimsy claims.