'Higher' Japanese IQs traced to education

It looked bad for Western egos last May when Richard Lynn, an Irish psychologist, reported that the average IQ of Japanese youngsters stood some 11 points above that of US and Western European counterparts. But Lynn's analysis isn't holding up under criticism.

For example, James R. Flynn of the University of Otago in New Zealand took the analysis apart recently in Nature. He concludes that, when IQ test scores are compared on a truly equivalent basis, there is no significant difference in the averages. Furthermore, he says, there appear to have been impressive IQ gains in the United States as well as in Japan in recent decades.

Another study often mentioned in relation to Lynn's analysis was carried out by the University of Michigan's Center for Human Growth and Development. This used tests (not IQ tests) designed to assess ''cognitive ability'' among 240 first-grade and 240 fifth-grade pupils in Minneapolis; Taipei, Taiwan; and Sendai, Japan. No significant difference was found.

Yet when it came to math skills, Japanese and Taiwanese students were significantly ahead. Strong emphasis on mathematics education was apparently decisive.

There is, of course, no agreement among psychologists as to what standard IQ tests actually measure. Yet, if they are to be used for comparative purposes, two sets of test scores must be truly comparable. Several critics have challenged Lynn's data on this point. Now James Flynn points out that the Japanese scores can't be compared directly with US IQ norms. Once the test scores are put on a comparable basis, according to Flynn, the Japanese average is only 5 to 7 points above that for the US.

Flynn does not consider this significant. He, and others, also note that the Japanese scores cluster more tightly about the average score than do the US results. Flynn observes that ''there would be the same percentage of Americans over (IQ score) 125 and Japanese over 130, hardly a matter of national concern.''

''As for the notion that IQ differences of . . . , say, 5-7 points, have influenced economic history,'' Flynn says, ''. . . recall the fact that white Americans have gained 8 or 9 points during that time.'' (IQ tests for US minority groups can't be compared here because of questions of cultural bias.) Flynn adds, ''It seems unlikely that this sort of IQ advantage means that Americans today are so much brighter than their parents. . . .''

Thus the upshot of the IQ story seems to be that comparison of test scores are meaningless, but for important factors such as math skills, superior education pays off.

Thirty million kinds of insects . . .m

It is sometimes said in jest that the insects will inherit the earth. They may have already done so.

Biologists have estimated the number of arthropod species, of which insects make up some 75 percent, as running between 1 and 2 million. Based on research in Central American rain forests, T. L. Erwin of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History has upped that estimate to an astounding 30 million. This compares with about 250,000 known plant species and 21,000 vertebrates.

Erwin and his co-workers found an unexpectedly large number of arthropod species, most previously unknown, in just a few Panamanian trees. For example, over 950 species of beetles, with an estimated total of 1,200, came from 19 Luehea semanni trees. Extrapolating statistically from such findings, Erwin arrives at the 30 million estimate.

Many of the unknown species would be living in the world's tropical rain forests, which are fast being cut down. This has alarming implications both of losing vast numbers of the planet's insects and of never even knowing about them scientifically.

. . . and 6 million chemicalsm

According to the American Chemical Society, the six-millionth chemical has been officially recorded. It's an industrial product from Japan.

The society says its uses have yet to be reported. It is, however, derived from cyclopentenone, which is widely used in production of pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. ACS notes that, of some 360,000 new chemicals reported each year, only a few are heard of again. In fact, of the 6 million chemicals now recorded, about 75 percent have been mentioned in the scientific literature only once.

The name of the new substance? It's ''2-cyclohexyl-3-methyl-4-(pentylamino)-2 -cyclopentene-1-one.'' Take a deep breath before trying to pronounce it.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.