When it goes, it goes




My first ever proper job was as a research assistant at Guy’s Hospital Medical School, on a project which led to my PhD thesis:  “Cognitive effects of cortical lesions sustained in childhood”. After 7 long years I finished it, the largest sample of people with brain injuries in childhood who had been followed and fully tested, children who had been injured in car crashes, kicked in the head by horses, and in one case seen 31 years after he had been bombed in his bed as a baby in the London Blitz. I tested their intelligence on the Wechsler scales, tested their learning of new materials, and even their visual dot spans with a portable tachistoscope. My beautifully bound thesis was deposited at the University of London library, and when I happened to be at a meeting in that fortress of a building a decade later, on authorial impulse I went into the library and asked to see my own thesis. I found that it had achieved only one reader, myself in 1976, proudly signing in to check that my contribution to knowledge was available to the interested public. Sic transit gloria mundi

I was supervised by Dr John McFie, and one of the many things he taught me about was the work of Godfrey Thomson, whose 1939 Factorial Analysis of Human Ability had a great impact.   Now Prof Ian Deary has put together an exhibition about him and his work, which is displayed in the Edinburgh Main Library and runs until 29th October. Ian is a worried man. He is studying Scots men and women who took Thomson’s tests as 11 year olds in 1932 and 1947, and his now elderly subjects are often concerned that, as regards the power of their minds, when they go, they go. Out goes the light. However, in Ian’s case he is not worried about his own ageing but about the painful fact that, unlike a book or a published paper, when the exhibition goes out of the library at the end of October, it all goes. Gone, gone, like the proverbial baby down the plughole, in that terrifying music hall lament, redolent of maternal agony and traumatic loss, to be assuaged with coarse communal jollity:

'Your baby has gone down the plug-hole
Your baby has gone down the plug
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
It should have been washed in a jug”

As Noel Coward tartly observed: “Strange how potent cheap music is.”

I digress.

How can these exhibits be saved? One way is for you to look at his introductory video, and then make your way to Edinburgh, to see the exhibition and take down your own notes for posterity. You might be able to suggest a permanent home for the exhibition.


You can also get the explanations, without being able to palpate any physical objects, first in a brief news item, and second in a more detailed lecture:



There you have it. One modest scholar puts together some intelligence tests and we eventually get the longest and most informative intelligence follow-up study ever conducted. Try beating a 66 year follow-up when assessing pre-morbid intelligence estimates.  Have the Scots made a greater contribution to modernity than any other people? I could not possibly comment.


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