Star Trek Discovery: The Red Angel (S2 E10)

An episode that shows some of the strengths of Discovery as well as it’s tendency to plot holes the size of that wormhole from Deep Space Nine.

The episode leads with Airiam’s funeral and various characters get to say something about the character who the show blew out of an airlock. It’s moving and well done and I’m glad that Detmer had a chance to speak. The opening sets the tone: this is an episode of plot exposition and character development — an extended debrief on what has happened and a plan for what happens next.

Section 31 gets to info-dump most of the answers about the mysterious Project Daedalus (a final clue from Airiam and also the title of the last episode) and those revelations keep coming at a personal level for Michael. Doctor Hugh and Stamets continue to negotiate their new reality, while Michael is forced to do the same with both Spock and Ash.

It’s no surprise to have the time-travel plot confirmed. Nor is it a spoiler to reveal that the Red Angel has two agendas: get Star Fleet’s attention and keep Michael alive…or rather keep Michael alive in Season 2, having left her alone in very life threatening situations in Season 1. It’s a big plot hole but we know why it’s there in terms of TV production.

And of course, we finally get to learn who the Red Angel is…and it is…ha, ha I’m not saying but there’s some twisty turns and another plot hole (or maybe Doctor Hugh is bad at doctoring). Either way, no the whole mouse trap plan is full of holes as a plan given what everybody knows but honestly it’s as good a plan as everybody given the obvious paradoxes of fore-knowledge that are implied by their Red Angel theory.

Mainly though this is an episode that keeps up a steady pace and let’s characters talk through issues and theories in a way that feels as genuine as it can be given the inherent absurdities of a Star Trek time travel plot. Discovery’s strength is its characters and their dynamics. With very little action until the end, the episode gave lots of opportunities for different dynamics to play out. The Doctor Hugh, Stamets, Tilly, Georgiou scene was something else but Michael punching Leland was pretty good too.

I’m still not wholly sold on Ethan Peck’s version of Spock but the Spock-Michael dynamic works very nicely. The idea of once character essentially explaining to the other the nature of another character is a bad idea but Michael is well established as a person, mainly though Sonequa Martin-Green’s excellent acting over two seasons. Spock’s multiple assessments of her character are convincing both in their accuracy and as something a sibling might say AND as being very Spock-like in their analysis.

The final part of the story hits all of his analysis perfectly: her tendency towards the dramatic and also placing the whole weight of saving everybody on her own shoulders. So we get a big set piece with Michael centre stage, strapped to a chair facing almost certain death *INTENTIONALLY* in a bid to save all sentient life. Michael is also once again placed in the role of mediator between worlds — a recurring theme for multiple characters in Discovery — in a spot that Georgiou calls “the ninth circle of hell” the circle of traitors, where according to Dante, Judas is held immobile and unable to speak.

Not flawless but I found this a strong episode that made use of Discovery’s story arc structure to do an episode that would have been structurally harder for other Star Trek series to do.

Rankings

  1. An Obol for Charon (e4) – Classic Trek on a magic mushroom trip
  2. Point of Light (e3) – season one Discovery is back for revenge
  3. Brother (e1) – an action orientated fresh start for the Discovery crew
  4. The Red Angel (e10) – the cast gets an episode to catch up with the plot and trap the Red Angel
  5. If Memory Serves (e8) – A sequel to The Cage and a prequel to The Menagerie
  6. New Eden (e2) – The Next Generation of The Next Generation
  7. Saints of Imperfection (e5) – Let’s get the old gang back together!
  8. Project Daedelus (e9) – Airiam we will miss you, though we barely got to know you
  9. Light and Shadow (e7) – Michael goes one way, Discovery goes another
  10. Sound of Thunder (e6) – Non-consensual medical procedures on a whole species

Bits and Pieces

  • So Airiam’s casting. Season 1 Airiam was play by Sara Mitch. Season 2 Airiam was played by Hannah Cheeseman…but Sara Mitch was still in Season 2 but now as Lt Nilsson who had minor appearances. Near the end of this episode Lt Nilsson takes over Airiam’s position on the bridge. 3D chess but with actors and roles.
  • The Red Angel is NOT the missing shuttle pilot from Season 1 and hence the evil AI must be the missing shuttle pilot from Season 1.
  • That’s Sonja Sohn aka Kima Greggs from The Wire.
  • The bridge crew get another let’s exchange glances shot.
  • I’d be OK with Admiral Cornwell also being a therapist if that all therapists are evil hadn’t been the theme of this weeks Brooklyn 99.
  • I haven’t used that EXACT dialogue that Tilly used when she interrupted a meeting of important people because she found something…but close to that.
  • Four more episodes to go…and looking at the dates I’m going to miss the finale as I’ll be traveling!
  • Cora’s review has new candidates for her Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.


Election day tomorrow

It’s the fourth Saturday in March and on a four year cycle that means it is State Election Day in New South Wales. It’s not that there aren’t important issues at stake but it isn’t the most exciting of topics. The differences between the two major parties (the incumbent Liberal/Nationals and Labor) are not huge. Over the time I’ve been in Australia, the process has mainly been one of each party having a long stint in power which it finally loses when people get bored of them, they get into a cycle of ditching leaders and the close connection between state government and building developers mires the ruling party in corruption.

Corruption in particular was rife amid the NSW Australian Labor Party during its last tenure in power. High profile court cases and a loss of more famous names means Labor has been lacking in star power. The current state Labor leader Michale Daley, has only been in that role since last November when the previous leader resigned because of a sexual harassment scandal.

You would think that would bode well for the ruling Liberal Party but no. The current Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is competent enough (not ideologically somebody I’d vote for but given the current horror show of right of centre politicians worldwide looks like a paragon of reasonableness) but is also leader by default of more popular leaders having resigned for various reasons. However, she lacks the full-throated support of Sydney’s rightwing talk radio. Also, her showpiece public transport infrastructure projects, which should have all been completed before this election, are still ongoing after delays and cost blowouts.

With the centre looking unappetizing, that leaves the possibility of many minor parties making some gains this cycle. The left has the Green Party (which has had its own internal strife recently) plus some other minor parties. The right is a banquet of deplorables, chief of which is the unholy team-up of former Labor Leader turned alt-lite misogynist Mark Latham with Queensland racist Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. Latham is running for the ‘legislative council’ upper house (basically a Senate). While these wingnutty parties won’t get the votes to actually form a government, there’s a strong chance of a hung parliament which might put the balance of power in the hands of somebody less than in tune with either reality or ethics.

Yes there will be sausages.

Dragon Award Rules

I was asked elsewhere whether there was any substantial change to the Dragon Award rules. I don’t believe so but so much of it is boiler plate aimed at protecting Dragon Con from anything that it is hard to tell. An Wayback Machine archive of the rules from 2018 is here: https://web.archive.org/web/20180722193700/http://application.dragoncon.org/dragon_awards_terms_conditions.php

The two bits of most interest haven’t changed other that dates:

“ONLINE VOTING: One (1) vote in each category is allowed per person. The most popular Entries, as determined by number of nomination submissions during the Nomination Period, will be featured on the Website between 9:00 A.M. ET on August 1, 2018 and 11:59 P.M. ET on August 31, 2018 (hereinafter, “Voting Period”). Voting shall occur in a manner as determined by DRAGON CON.
No automatic, programmed, robotic or similar means of voting are permitted. Participants who do not comply with these Rules, or who attempt to interfere with the voting process or the operation of the Website in any way will be disqualified and their votes will not be counted. DRAGON CON reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify, or suspend voting should any virus, bug, non-authorized human intervention, fraud or other causes beyond its control corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness or proper conduct of the voting process. All decisions regarding the voting process or acceptance of votes shall be final and shall not be subject to challenge or appeal.
SELECTION OF WINNERS: All decisions regarding the voting process and selection of winners shall be made by DRAGON CON in its sole discretion, shall be final, and shall not be subject to challenge or appeal”

There is a commitment to count nominations and use that to identify finalists and zero commitment to count votes in the second stage of voting. This has always been the case.

The other thing that hasn’t changed is the reference to ‘sweepstakes’:

PRIVACY POLICY: Personal information collected by DRAGON CON during the administration of this Award may be used by DRAGON CON to contact Entrants regarding DRAGON CON’s products or services, for its marketing purposes, in conjunction with executing the terms of this Sweepstakes.

A sweepstakes has randomly chosen winners. Which sounds at odds with the Dragon Awards but it’s even weirder than that. The term here is applying to the people nominating or voting, not the works in the contest.

So no particular news here other than the WTF aspect hasn’t changed.

Today’s Infographic: Brexit – next steps

With only days to go before the UK topples out of the EU onto the hard pavement outside the pub and wallows in its own vomit drunk on the heady liquor of confused nationalism, here is a helpful flowchart to show how the next events may progress.

With apologies to this Guardian chart: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/19/brexit-will-uk-leave-29-march-delayed-stopped

Love, Death + Robots: A viewing guide

I can’t recommend this series as a whole, there are just too many episodes that manage to be dull, ugly and offensive in one go. However, there are some gems and there are some episodes that are diverting if not great. Also, everybody’s taste in this stuff is very variable, so while I expect nobody is going to universally love every episode, the particular bad v good will be different per person. If it had been only nine episodes (omitting the ones I wished I’d not bothered with) it would have been quite interesting.

The following is a list of my impressions and some aspects that you might want to know in advance if you want to just watch some episodes rather than the whole bunch. Obviously your own mileage may vary. “CGI realism” means the episode has gone for the video-game cut scene look. Episode details (Director, writer etc) are from Wikipedia. [ETA According to this post https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/netflix-love-death-robots-episode-order/ Netflix have confirmed that they present different viewing orders to some people.]

Episode 1 “Sonnie’s Edge” Directed by Dave Wilson Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Peter F. Hamilton.
Violence, gore, nudity, sexualised violence, references to rape.
Watch or Skip? If you want a sense of what the ones I say ‘skip’ too, this is the best of them.
Style: CGI Realism
In a cyberpunk future a woman controls a bioengineered monster in cage fights. There are some nice visuals and an extended monster gladiator battle but the film suffers from male-gaze and dead-eyed CGI characters.

Episode 2 “Three Robots” Directed by Victor Maldonado & Alfredo Torres Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by John Scalzi.
Some corpses, cats.
Watch or Skip? Watch. Entertaining and nicely done.
Style: CGI Realism but as there’s no humans it works.
This starts with a Terminator visual joke and keeps the charm going through out. Maybe one transphobic joke about robot gender and genitals. Some good cat jokes.

Episode 3 “The Witness” Directed by Alberto Mielgo Screenplay by Alberto Mielgo
Violence, nudity, sexualised violence
Watch or Skip? Skip – an ugly mess
Style: CGI Realism but with some hectic edits and stylised aspects (written sound effects etc)
A woman is putting on make-up when she witnesses a murder in the building opposite. Realising the killer has seen her, she runs for her life to the sex club where she works as a dancer. Chaotic, violent and ridiculous in its use of nudity to the point of parody. There’s a weird little time loop story hidden inside this but the whole thing feels like a bad migraine but with the addition of CGI boobs.

Episode 4 “Suits” Directed by Franck Balson Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Steven Lewis.
Violence
Watch or Skip? Fun and diverting if you don’t think about it too deeply.
Style: CGI stylised
Some salt-of-the-Earth American farmers on an alien planet have to contend with incursions from bug like aliens. To survive they team up as a community in combat mechas. The big bonus with this one is a nice visual style that cuts down on the realism just a bit to give a better overall effect. Of course, American colonist being besieged by the native creatures starts looking less like a feel good story of people coming together the more you think about it.

Episode 5 “Sucker of Souls” Directed by Owen Sullivan Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Kirsten Cross.
Violence, some very stylised male nudity
Watch or Skip? Nice animation but not much substance.
Style: A traditional animation look.
This is self-aware enough in its own stupidity to be fun. Mercenaries helping an archeologist accidentally awaken a monstrous vampire. This also has some nice cats.

Episode 6 “When The Yogurt Took Over” Directed by Victor Maldonado & Alfredo Torres Screenplay by Janis Robertson Based on a story by John Scalzi.
Tiny bit of comical nudity but yes, even this one has some CGI boobs in it.
Watch or Skip? Watch. Funny and clever.
Style: Comical CGI
Humanity’s future history after the yogurt takes over. Told in a fun style with more comical CGI.

Episode 7 “Beyond the Aquila Rift” Directed by Léon Bérelle, Dominique Boidin, Rémi Kozyra, Maxime Luère Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Alastair Reynolds.
Nudity, sex
Watch or Skip? Skip – dull and dead-eyed CGI
Style: CGI realism
Or how to make an Alastair Reynolds story dull. A spaceship with a crew of three enters a hyperspace portal on a routine job. The captain wakes up with the ship being towed into a mysterious space station far from its original course. Waiting for him, to his surprise, is a former lover…but is everything is at it seems to be? An episode that absolutely depends on good acting and characterisation falls flat with CGI marionettes having sex unconvincingly. There’s a twist that you’ll guess fairly quickly.

Episode 8 “Good Hunting” Directed by Oliver Thomas Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Ken Liu.
Violence, gore, nudity, sexualised violence
Watch or Skip? On balance, skip. Starts well but wanders off course.
Style: A traditional animation look.
A story in three parts. It begins in rural China with a story about fox-spirits but which then reveals is set just when the industrial revolution impacts China. The protagonist (a boy in the first part) moves to Hong Kong and becomes a an engineer for the British and the episode segues into a cyberpunk version of the early 20th century. The young fox-spirit returns but is unable to use magic in this new world and is trapped in a life of sex work…and we get into a sex/torture plot.

Episode 9 “The Dump” Directed by Javier Recio Gracia Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Joe Lansdale.
Violence, gore, some comical nudity and indirect nudity
Watch or Skip? Depends – you might find it funny but I thought it was all a bit obvious.
Style: CGI stylised
A tall tale about an old man who lives in a dump with his pet. There are worse episodes.

Episode 10 “Shape-Shifters” Directed by Gabriele Pennacchioli Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Marko Kloos.
Violence, gore
Watch or Skip? Skip
Style: CGI realism
In an alternate present, the US Army employs werewolves (derogatorily called ‘dog soldiers’) to aid patrols in Afghanistan. Two friends find their loyalty tested when they encounter prejudice from their own side and a more supernatural threat from the enemy. Another unconvincing piece of hyperrealism. It looks better when everybody is werewolves but there’s not much to the story and what there is you’ll guess in advance.

Episode 11 “Helping Hand” Directed by Jon Yeo Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Claudine Griggs.
Some self inflicted gore.
Positive female protagonist.
Watch or Skip? Watch – the story is nothing new but it’s well put together.
Style: CGI realism
A ‘Gravity’ scenario with an astronaut on a routine solo repair mission in orbit. Things go badly wrong very quickly and she has to make a desperate choice to survive. The CGI realism here is less of an issue because the central character is mainly in a space helmet. This radically reduces how distractingly unconvincing facial expressions are in this medium.

Episode 12 “Fish Night” Directed by Damian Nenow Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Joe Lansdale.
One moment of violence, stylised.
Watch or Skip? Watch, nice visually but there’s not much to the story.
Style: A traditional animation look.
Two traveling salesmen get stuck on a deserted desert highway. At night the desert comes alive with the (mainly benign) ghosts of things long dead. Visually great but almost no plot.

Episode 13 “Lucky 13” Directed by Jerome Chen Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Marko Kloos.
Violent war theme
Positive female protagonist.
Watch or Skip? Watch – decent MilSF story.
Style: CGI realism
Another story whose hyper-realism is saved by helmets! This is what I call an ambiguous sentience story – where a machine might have a mind of its own and the story strongly implies that it does but with enough ambiguity that maybe it doesn’t. A pilot is assigned an apparently deeply unlucky drop ship/troop carrier with a serial number that’s got far too much 13 in it. She narrates her time with the ship and how its reputation changed.

Episode 14 “Zima Blue” Directed by Robert Valley Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Alastair Reynolds.
Some very stylised male nudity
Watch or Skip? Watch – strong visual style and a good story
Style: A traditional animation look.
A journalist is given the opportunity to interview the elusive conceptual artist Zima. He reveals to her the purpose of his final and greatest artwork and his own secret history that explains his obsession with rectangles and a very specific shade of blue that has become his signature. Nice.

Episode 15 “Blindspot” Directed by Vitaliy Shushko Screenplay by Vitaliy Shushko
Violence, sexual humour
Watch or Skip? Skip – sort of a kid’s cartoon for adults. Pointless.
Style: CGI stylised
A wild west train robbery except the outlaw gang are cyborgs in cars and the train is a big lorry. Trying too hard to be cool.

Episode 16 “Ice Age” Directed by Tim Miller Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by Michael Swanwick.
Technically there’s a whole war but not really violent
Watch or Skip? Watch – unoriginal premise but nicely executed.
Style: Live action mixed with CGI
A brief return to live action reveals to viewers what real humans look like! A couple discover a civilisation living in their frosted-up ancient fridge and watch it evolve rapidly. Some familiar tropes played with some low-key humour.

Episode 17 “Alternate Histories” Directed by Victor Maldonado & Alfredo Torres Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by John Scalzi.
Comical violence, sex and nudity
Watch or Skip? On balance I’d say skip but it’s short
Style: Very stylised CGI
A series of comical ‘what ifs’ on the theme of killing Hitler. It’s OK I guess,

Episode 18 “Secret War” Directed by István Zorkóczy Screenplay by Philip Gelatt Based on a story by David W. Amendola.
Mainly violence and gore but one brief scene of sexualised violence (a woman sacrificed in an occult ritual)
Watch or Skip? Skip. Feels like an idea for a movie that somebody thought would be great when they were 18 and stoned.
Style: CGI realism
WW2 Russian soldiers have to fight aliens or demons (not clear what they are) in a Siberian forest. That’s about it. Everybody talks in comedy Russian accents and the CGI makes it looked dubbed.

Love, Death + Robots: Initial Impressions

I’ve watched eight episodes (out of eighteen) of Netflix’s “Adult” anthology series based on contemporary SF short stories. It’s ‘Adult’ in the sense of stereotypes of adolescent male interests which means many episodes with gore and most episodes with CGI boobs. There are some good pieces but they are ones that differ sharply from the general aesthetic.

The animation ranges from interesting to video-game cut-scene aesthetic, with photo-realistic dead-eyed CGI characters hitting that just unconvincing enough to be annoying look. When it tries for something less focused on looking super-real, the show is usually more entertaining.

So far only two episodes that are genuinely good, both of which are coincidentally based on stories by John Scalzi. The first, Three Robots, is the only that makes the ultra-realism CGI work mainly by avoiding having any (living) humans in it. Instead, three very different styles of robots wander through a post-apocalyptic human city cracking jokes and trying to make sense of the decaying elements of human culture and encounter a cat.

Speaking of culture, the second episode I’d recommend is ‘When the Yogurt Took Over’. The episode eschews a realistic style and goes for a more cartoonish CGI approach to tell Scalzi’s amusing story of a sentient dairy product.

Of the OKish episodes, ‘Suits’ is about midwestern-like US famers but on an alien world besieged by creatures lifted from the movie version of Starship Troopers. No big surprises in the story but it’s nicely animated and the story is OK if you don’t think about it too much. Similarly “Sucker of Souls” is an action-adventure pastiche that doesn’t do very much but at least has its own visual style.

I’ll probably watch the rest. The ratio of ‘nope’ to ‘that was interesting’ favours the ‘nope’ but with just enough ‘interesting’ to make you think ‘maybe the next one will be good’.

Poverty and IQ

Among the section of the right that regards IQ as the only explanatory variable in society aside from money, the relationship between poverty and IQ is used to defend the huge inequities in ours society as an outcome of a functioning meritocracy. It does not require much deep inspection of how modern capitalist societies work to see that they are neither functioning well not are they meritocracies.

The opposite view is that difference in performance on IQ is more caused by poverty than vice-versa. There are multiple reasons for believing this from access to education, motivation and attitudes towards the role of test taking in a person’s life (e.g. how much effort do you put into something that you expect to do poorly in?) However, specific causes are hard to demonstrate empirically. Hard to demonstrate, perhaps, but maybe a clever experimental design can shed more light on that.

I was just reading a 2013 paper that looked at the impact of poverty on cognition in an interesting way: Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, Jiaying Zhao (Abstract http://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6149/976 )

“The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.”

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function Anandi Mani et al. Science 341, 976 (2013); DOI: 10.1126/science.1238041

First some caveats. It’s two fairly narrow experiments both of which have some contrived circumstances (for good reasons). I don’t know if these results have been reproduced.

Having said that it is interesting to look at the two experiments and what the results were.

The basic hypothesis was this:

“We propose a different kind of explanation, which focuses on the mental processes required by poverty. The poor must manage sporadic in- come, juggle expenses, and make difficult trade- offs. Even when not actually making a financial decision, these preoccupations can be present and distracting. The human cognitive system has lim- ited capacity (12–15). Preoccupations with pressing budgetary concerns leave fewer cognitive resources available to guide choice and action.

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function Anandi Mani et al. Science 341, 976 (2013); DOI: 10.1126/science.1238041

To test this they compared individual performance on cognitive test both with and without some degree of financial stress. The first was a ‘laboratory study’ that demonstrates the impact as a kind of proof of concept. The financial stress here is artificial but if anything that makes the results more interesting.

In the first study the researchers went to a New Jersey shopping mall and recruited shoppers (who got paid) to take part in four related experiments. The basic principle of each experiment was two tasks. One task asked people to consider a realistic but hypothetical financial problem. For example, they might be asked about their car having to get some urgent repairs. Participants randomly were given a ‘hard’ situation were the costs would be high or an ‘easy’ situation were the costs were low but both easy & hard situations were cognitively similar. The second task was a more classic IQ style test (Raven’s Progressive Matrices) and a spatial compatibility task.

The four versions were designed to control for cognitive impacts of the first activity. The first two versions changed the amount of maths needed in the financial scenario. The third version added incentives to correct answers. The fourth version separated the two activities so that the first was completely finished before the person sat the IQ style test.

The group being studied also provided information on their income and the the data was analysed by looking at the participants as either rich or poor. The point being to see not if the ‘rich’ participants performed better on the IQ test but rather how much impact did the first activity (i.e. having to engage with a potentially financial stressful situation) have on the cognitive scores

Accuracy on the Raven’s matrices and the cognitive control tasks in the hard and easy conditions, for the poor and the rich participants in experiment 1

The graph is for experiment 1 but the results were similar for all four. The impact of ‘hard’ versus ‘easy’ of the first activity on the second activity was much bigger for people with less money. For the wealthier participants, the ‘hard’ scenario had less impact, almost certainly because they were faced with a situation that would have less of an impact on their own finances. In short having to worry about money and how you will pay for things that you need has a genuine and measurable impact on your ability to perform some cognitive tasks… At least within this experimental scenario but that a PRETEND bit of financial stress had a measurable impact is itself notable.

The second study was quite different and looked at some real financial stress.

“Our second study examined 464 sugarcane farmers living in 54 villages in the sugarcane- growing areas around the districts of Villupuram and Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, India. These were a random sample of small farmers (with land plots of between 1.5 and 3 acres) who earned at least 60% of their income from sugarcane and were interviewed twice—before and after harvest—over a 4-month period in 2010. There were occasional nonresponses, but all of our pre- post comparisons include only farmers we surveyed twice. “

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function Anandi Mani et al. Science 341, 976 (2013); DOI: 10.1126/science.1238041

The work of the sugarcane farmers created a set of natural controls. An individual farmer has only one harvest a year and hence essentially only one pay-day a year. However, the timing of harvests are staggered over several months. So at a particular time of year it maybe post-harvest for one farmer but pre-harvest for another. The farmers naturally face greater financial pressure the longer it has been since their last harvest.

The results showed a similar but slightly smaller impact than the laboratory study. Farmers performed better on an IQ style test (Raven’s Progressive Matrices) after* they had been paid than before and the difference was large.

How large are these effects? Sleep researchers have examined the cognitive impact (on Raven’s) of losing a full night of sleep through experi- mental manipulations (38). In standard deviation terms, the laboratory study findings are of the same size, and the field findings are three quarters that size. Put simply, evoking financial concerns has a cognitive impact comparable with losing a full night of sleep. In addition, similar effect sizes have been observed in the performance on Raven’s matrices of chronic alcoholics versus normal adults (39) and of 60- versus 45-year-olds (40). By way of calibration, according to a common approximation used by intelligence researchers, with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 the effects we observed correspond to ~13 IQ points. These sizable magnitudes suggest the cognitive impact of poverty could have large real consequences.

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function Anandi Mani et al. Science 341, 976 (2013); DOI: 10.1126/science.1238041

Put another way: we don’t think in isolation (even if you aren’t neurotypical). Background concerns and worries all have an impact on how you think and your capacity to problem solve. They definitely have an impact on your thinking in the artificial conditions of an IQ test.

*[There were also controls on the order they did the tests. Some of the participants took the test first after they had been paid and then were tested later in the year when their money had run low.]