You could fill a library with all the studies that tried to improve people's lives through increased reading. And none of them replicated in large way.
Reading the summary of the book on Amazon, the experiments looked pretty confounded and it didn't mention any successful interventions.
Due to school and forced reading assingments, reading gets associated too often with work or boring assignments.
Even beyond school though, I find the idea that good novels require careful analysis antithetical to the concept of a good book. Good writing should be excellent at every level. It is wonderful if new narratives and ideas can be discovered upon careful analysis, but if that analysis is necessary for comprehension it ruins it for me. I believe that reading a story should be something natural and seamless.
Can you clarify how you think this would work?
I'm actually curious to hear how various HNers have done on on standardized reading comprehension tests. I grew up with massive bookcases in the house, I've now populated my own, I read a lot, get a lot out of it, and enjoy it. On the ACT I had perfect scores on every category but a literal 0 on reading comprehension. As far as I'm aware, that's always been the case on my standardized tests, and I wasn't surprised because the questions seemed ludicrous to me (I nodded vigorously while reading ). I primarily read non-fiction and have wondered if I just don't grok fiction. What are other people's experience on that?
Maybe that is reading comprehension and I am just bad at it, but to me shirt color was unimportant.
But if, for example, the author made it clear that the other kids were all wearing the same color shirt and the main character was not, you might infer something about their relationship from that--like maybe that the other kids all went to the same school, but the lead character went to a different school.
Details do matter for reading comprehension, because every detail is chosen. The real world is full of superfluous detail... writing, especially good writing, is not. Every word on the page represents a choice by the author--a choice to put that detail in, and to use that particular word instead of a different one.
Personally I don't really appreciate any comprehension tests that can be answered somewhat easily by computers, which the "shirt color" thing could be. And tests that are hacked by simple human algorithms are boring. In elementary school I got really far ahead in extra credit reading packets by realizing I could skip the reading and just go straight to the questions, skim for the answer, repeat. Somehow I think that certain peers in high school never mastered this trick since they were complaining about lack of time on the ACT... The better test of comprehension was to read something and then write about it, but the writing section of the ACT was separated and made optional.
Just because every bit of writing is a choice, that doesn't mean the author him- or herself fully understood why they made that choice. We're all shaped by our own life experiences, our family, the time in which we grew up, etc. Often, it's easier for a third party to connect those dots. That's why coaching and therapy works, for instance.
That said, when we're talking about standardized tests, they tend to (and should be) sticking to pretty well-understood and obvious examples of this sort of thing.
And of course, sometimes they're just not well done. Standardized test writers face the same challenges as every other writer, and I think we can guess that the very best writers probably do not end up in that job...
You are supposed to look at the question and then find the answer in the text.
I agree; I typically finished a book a week just reading between classes in highschool (and more at night), and was one of the only ones who could fully read the passage and still have time to answer all the questions. They were weirdly analytical and overly-literal, not something that made any sense in a "comprehension" test.
Non-fiction is different. I read slower and usually end up rereading sections a few times to fully understand them especially if I speed up and start skimming or something.
The thing is, I don't really read much fiction anymore. I find the stories all get kind of samey and findy self leaning towards technical books and non-fiction when I read now.
I do feel like comprehending fiction and non-fiction require two different skill sets in the brain. I've definitely been improving my comprehension of non-fiction stuff but I still don't feel like it's up there with fiction comprehension.
Poetry and stuff like that is something altogether different...i've never really been able to appreciate most poetry. I don't know why. I understand why it's impressive to be able to convey ideas through rythmic or patternised wording...I just don't really care that much.
At age of 28 I took IELTS test or International English Language Testing System, which has four modules Reading Writing Speaking Listening. I always scored full bands on Reading & I believe its because of all those years of me reading & loving enjoying the process of it. Reading module for me felt like always too easy & simple, whereas others used to dread it. Although at same time, I was terrible at explaining the same module to others that why I think x is the answer to y question.
I read a lot of hindi comic books & literally used to feel like watching a movie with all those sound effects of punches flights laughs etc instead of just reading.
I actually had a whole other experience being a really slow reader, and got taken out of other subjects to spend more time on it even though I scored "college level" on vocabulary. Always wondered if it's due to some mild dyslexia or something.
10 years later Im still of the opinion that if you deduced my intent, how i spelt everything really doesn't matter all that much.
Edit: Oh, they also show that growing up in a home full of books makes you more numerate, too. So, no surprise, there's a general intelligence factor involved that has nothing to do with books.
Per the abstract to the original article, they didn't need to address parental education as a confounding factor by such an indirect means, since parental education (as well as the subject’s education and occupation) was one of the directly studied factors, and the library size contribution existed even after taking those other factors into account.
> and since it's Elsevier I can't look at the original.
Well, yeah, I'd like more than just the abstract and secondhand reporting, too.
I'm definitely not some pillar of intellectual vigor either (I don't even have a college degree), so the fact that my reading comprehension is good, I think, is because of the exposure to books.
That said, I realize that one anecdote doesn't mean anything.
Nevetheless, I appreciate the hack you suggested of excluding books from allowance. As a parent, that's something I'll now implement. Thanks for sharing.
It's odd to me that anyone would ever think of charging their child for a book.
Buying as many books as we read as kids would have cost a fortune.
My great grandma never had the chance to go to school, but she loved to read. She would work, save up, and buy books whenever she could. Books were all she ever wanted for her birthday or Christmas. Even though she had no formal education to speak of, she was an intelligent woman and wrote prose and poetry as good as any I experienced in college.
My great-grandmother's love of reading has been passed down through four generations now (down to my children). I have over a thousand books in my house, some of which belonged to my great-grandmother. I learned software engineering by reading books I borrowed from my local public library and built a successful career through reading and studying these freely available tomes on my own. When my kids were in school, I told them to put all their efforts into reading. I knew from personal experience that if they could read well they would be able to learn anything they wanted to. So far, that has been the case.
If I could only have one life skill, it would be reading. Having access to hundreds of books growing up certainly helped me and made me who I am today. Of course, having books around does nothing for you unless you crack them open and read. The only downside has been schlepping all those books around every time we move.
It did not say “books in the home make you smarter.” It was arguing “books are a reasonable cross-cultural proxy for orientation towards scholasticism in the home.”
This summary, to my reading of the actual article, completely confuses cause and effect.
No doubt its just a proxy for IQ itself (higher IQ people tend to read more books, thus own more books, thus score better on scholastic measures).
My point being that the mere presence of books is not enough.
To kids, reading looks terribly boring, until they actually find a book they like - then they devour everything in sight.
How much I miss the combination of childhood imagination and fantastic stories!
So important and always ignored. My mom read to us often, and I and my brothers hated reading. Later I encountered an Animorphs book and that was my gateway. One of my brothers, several years after that, discovered Redwall, and that did it for him.
Having casual access to books at home is critical for cultivating a talent for reading, because it increases the likelihood of the child stumbling upon the books that will catch their attention.
I am curious if there is a big difference between immersing yourself in video game worlds compared to a books. Books would require more imagination, but early video games were pretty sparse and often required a large amount of imagination as well.
Growing up, we had very few books in my house. My grand parents on the other hand had a library, full encyclopedia, and hundreds of National Geographic back issues. Combined with nothing else to do at their house, I would often just sit and read from random articles. At the time, I found fiction boring. It was not until much later that I began to appreciate fiction.
I would assume on average that the more books your family could afford, the more money they have.
In the omitted variables section:
> However, prior research using longitudinal data from Australia with corrections for
measurement error showed that a substantial impact of home library size on adult education
existed net of the effects of academic ability (IQ) of adults or their father’s scholarly habitus
(i.e. employment in occupations where use of books is common) as well as family income or
wealth (Evans, et al., 2010).
> Cross-sectional data with retrospective indicators of scholarly culture are affected by measurement error and indicators could reflect unmeasured influence of other confounding variables which may lead to over-optimistic estimates (de Vries and de Graaf, 2008). However, prior research using longitudinal data from Australia with corrections for measurement error showed that a substantial impact of home library size on adult education existed net of the effects of academic ability (IQ) of adults or their father's scholarly habits (i.e. employment in occupations where use of books is common) as well as family income or wealth (Evans et al., 2010). Although we have no means of correcting for these potential biases in ways available in longitudinal data, we argue that even somewhat optimistic estimates are of value as an initial step in proposing and assessing hypotheses for future, more stringent tests. To limit the potential for confounding adolescent and adult literacy-enhancing activities, we control for adult out-of-work activities related to literacy, numeracy and ICT skills that might correlate with scholarly culture experienced in adolescence but are indicators of adult scholarly culture.
Here you go: https://sci-hub.tw/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2018.10.003
When I was a kid I was reading nearly every waking moment between say 3rd grade and 9th because It was the only form of entertainment I had (until I got a computer). That is because my parents thought that TV rotted a child's brain and didn't have one in the house until after I left.
Today, my kids read, but they have phones, TV's, computers, and a ton of other distractions that have proven nearly impossible to control without an outright ban in the whole house.
So your parents were right.
As a result we read a lot of books. I also spent a lot of time playing with things like Lego and as I got older I was into Meccano and building Model aircraft/cars etc.
Eventually I got into Computers. In my mid teens I bought a second hand computer (a 386) from street market. It wasn't working so I read up on how it all worked tracked down spare parts etc and once I got it booting I spent hours everyday on the thing.
Is it possible to have a non causal correlation that is impossible to bring about without increasing (causing) the effect.
For instance suppose you tried an experiment of getting 500 books into a household with a new infant and zero books. Let’s say you did this with no special attempt to produce the cause, but made no attempt to ensure the process of getting 500 books over there had no influence either.
How would you go about this? Ask for donations? Collect books? How would you find donors, how would you find families to donate to?
My guess, which I make purely on a hunch, is that you would have to make dramatic (perhaps unconscionable) efforts to ensure that this process would not bring about the effect of higher literacy on average.
Not sure by how much but I think (just a thesis) that it would be meaningfully measurable
An interesting and useful experiment would be to place books in the homes of poor people who can read but don't. Turns out cities all over the US are doing this experiment on a large scale right now (often paid for by United Way). While the experiment isn't completely controlled anyone who cares to can collect data and analyse it.
I’ll search for it but please post a link if you have one.
They claim studies support the idea, but I'm not able to figure out which
Also, there are obviously countless examples of seemingly intelligent people having kids which aren’t.
Even correlated high IQ across generations can easily be a nuture over nature deal—see the above article for one hypothesis.
Finally, even if high IQ is genetically heritable, it may still require cultural or experiential “activation” to nuture intrinsic ability.
There are simply too many variables to casually state any causal relation.
Making causal claims without accounting for genetic confounds is simply pseudoscience, there are no excuses.
It's embarrassing to see HN users reflexively posting (and upvoting) five-second internet tropes to swipe something away. We need to avoid that if we're to have substantive conversation. Criticism is fine, but when criticizing, you owe it both to the material and to the community to engage specifically with specific content.
But trying to get others to not read someone else's work or take it seriously based on something you dreamt up that could be wrong with the study design is a completely inappropriate.
So the dismissal reads like "there's no excuse for not doing an extremely difficult thing that no one knows how to do reliably." I don't find that to be a useful or informative comment, so I agree with dang's approach here.
We already know from earlier twin studies that genetics play a large role in literacy and numeracy. So it's not like this is a shot in the dark, everyone already knows it's a confounder that must be taken into account.
On the OP getting warned, it wasn't immediately clear to me if the objection was more about a) knowledge that Matthew Yglesias didn't read the study and therefore was not in a position to summarize his analysis with a pithy analogy and be quoted, b) the use of any pithy analogy itself, or c) the use of an analogy that seemed to explain a confounding issue? There seemed to be some additional, non-obvious context missing (at least to me) that led to the warning.
This study was done in response to the Scarborough and Dobrich paper that found that how much parents read to their children (generally) isn't correlated with children's future reading ability, but how many books are in their household is a positive predictor of future reading ability.
It's one of the most famous and surprising findings in all of social science.
I'd suggest rather than the authors not "understanding science" or whatever, perhaps it's more likely that their target audience wasn't people on HN who would complain without knowing anything about the field.
In essence, a very likely explanation for the observed "childhood books vs adult success" observation is that growing up surrounded by books is an indicator that your parents may have higher socioeconomic status than average, or that they have an above average educational background and IQ, or possibly all of it, and for those things it's well known that they have hereditary (both nature-hereditary and nurture-hereditary) effects that indicate that the kids are somewhat more likely to be successful in most aspects of life.
That observation (both in your link and in the studies described in the main article above) is not a reason to assume any causal relationship; the original studies don't claim that, but the article we're discussing does try to imply such claim without any appropriate justification, and that is inexcusable pseudoscience.
Maybe not in this particular study, but the whole point is that any given study is going to be done in the larger context of a one or more fields of pre-existing research.
If you look at the paper I linked to, the proposed model is that in order for kids to be good at reading, they need to read. And the kids who read the most are going to be those who love reading. Now when you as a parent read books to your kids, some kids will love that and others will hate it. And if you read to them if they don't like it, that can actually turn them off from reading and lead to them being worse at reading in the long term. Whereas if you just leave books around the house, sooner or later they're likely going to read some of them, and are more likely to develop a love of reading just by reading things they're interested in when they're interested in them rather than having reading being forced on them before they're interested.
No one is arguing that there isn't an SES component or whatever. But the actual proposed explanation comes from the context of the last 50+ years of research on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, and is interesting on its own.
Any one paper isn't going to look at more than one specific thing, but if you're only looking at that one paper without understanding the larger context of the research then you're not going to understand what's interesting about it or why it was worth doing.
This is self-contradictory. Research that supports “X is a predictor of Y” which does not inherently refute “X is a cause of Y”, in and of itself, is research supporting “X could be a cause of Y”.
Kind of makes sense in a way. Only anecdotal, but I’ve learned to read at 5 years of age almost all by myself (my dad had taught me the letters a little time before that) only because I was bored as hell while I was vacationing at my grandparents’ house and there were a couple of books around. I picked one and started reading it loud while I was alone, and that was it. I’m no genius, mind you, that’s why I think that my experience is not unique.
As for the conclusion of the study, it is rather mild and has been known for a while: social class has impacts on people, especially on education related outcome.
It will be interesting to see how this updates over time. My children are not physically surrounded by books, but they've got Amazon Freetime and nearly blanket permission to use it, which they take advantage of quite a bit. It's a lot more easy access to books than I had at their age.
The quality of this research may indeed be poor, but the "tall pants" analogy seems disingenuous.
I'm finding it interesting to consider all three scenarios together. What is the similarly between your analogy and the book study that makes them sound right while the pants analogy sounds wrong? I contend that it is the aspect of growth through practice. My intuition is that these three scenarios exist on a spectrum with regards to how much affect practice has. It is clear that working out a lot results in more muscles, and it's clear that trying on tall pants a lot does not result in becoming tall. To me, it's also clear that reading a lot of books "exercises" some sort of book-reading "muscle". But it's less clear what the follow-on effects of exercising that muscle might be. It's also not clear whether growing up with either gym equipment or books around usually results in heavy use of those things!
If only we could find some smart parents and get them to deny their kids books, we’d know for sure!
I am really tired of people talking about correlation and causation and completely ignoring carefully hedged phrases. Can we save them for when articles actually make concrete claims about causal links? There’s still interesting stuff here to discuss, and you can even soapbox your favorite theory. But there’s little to gain from actually discussing the (obvious) lack of causal link here.
Unless you can point out how you’d improve the study—it’s not entirely obvious to me what the next step would be as I’m not a scientist.
Fyi... in the abstract of the actual paper that the article is based on, the authors used less hedging and suggested more of a cause & effect:
Even if the underlying reality is that growing up around books is an effect of a shared hidden (genetic or otherwise) cause, the fact that it is a predictor even after for controlling for the identified alternative factors is quite a significant result.
(Though, as other comments point out, self-reporting may be a problem, though “people that are more successful than expected for their occupation, education, and parental education tend to overreport the number of books they grew up with compared to less successful individuals” would be an interesting result in its own way.)
"Well, no," he continued. "Much more likely is that any family that has 100 children's books in the home is likely to be pretty highly educated to begin with, is starting out with a pretty high IQ, and values or treasures or rewards education to begin with."
'Respondents, who ranged in age from 25 to 65, were asked to estimate how many books were in their house when they were 16 years old.'
It's very likely that avid readers will overreport the books, while reluctant readers are likely to underreport.
Parenting is rife with cargo cult activity. Even (or perhaps especially) in places like Palo Alto where you'd think parents would have some understanding of statistics and causality.
One thing I noticed, and a reason that I depended on my local public library so much more than the school ones, is that the selection for libraries in schools before high school is way too age restricted. I once tried to donate a few of my favorite paperbacks (Stephen King novels) for future students, but the librarian told me the school system would just end up transferring those to a high school library.
Anyhow, my point is, I would be interested to know if living within walking distance of a public library is similarly correlated with better outcomes.
I wonder what that idea is based on. Any actual experimental studies that imply a causal link between any kind of reading and intelligence or success or some such metric? Anything to show how a heavy-reading childhood compares to a heavy-videogames childhood?
The answer is of course no. You can't run such a study and have it be experimental. So I'm extremely skeptical of this idea.
Not that I keep books from my children. Reading is one of life's great joys, and that's enough of a reason to encourage it, in my opinion.
I would think, the ultimate study would be of adopted and/or children who do not share DNA with their parents, or other siblings. Is the environment an equalizer, so to speak?
This is certainly interesting, but it's more correlation than cause.
In order words, they just used the number of books as an indicator that very likely correlates with how much people used to read as kids, how many books their parents could afford and how much their parents cared about education and so on. If you accept this correlation, the results of the study become somewhat trivial.
It's amazing how the people at Smithsonian Magazine maganaged to spin this as a causal relationship, though, in the sense of "Just surround yourself with books and it'll have a powerful, lasting effect on your mind." Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/552/
...but I thought I would at least give it 5 minutes of googling.
Here's the first randomized controlled trial I could find testing whether access to libraries had any impact on literacy. TLDR (for this one study): access to libraries does not improve literacy.
"We conduct a randomized controlled trial of an Indian school library program. Overall, the program had no impact on students' scores on a language skills test administered after 16 months. The estimates are sufficiently precise to rule out effects larger than 0.053 and 0.037 standard deviations, based on the 95 and 90 percent confidence intervals. This finding is robust across individual competencies and subsets of the sample. The method of treatment, however, does seem to matter--physical libraries have no effect, while visiting librarians actually reduce test scores."
I will repeat the last line "visiting librarians actually reduce test scores." That seems counter intuitive. Maybe we should write articles w/ titles "LIBRARIES INCREASE ILLITERACY." That would be a dump article to write, but only slightly more dumb than the current article ;)
p.s. I like libraries.
On reading and books.
But good fiction is also one of the most effective ways--apart from deep listening--of training empathy because it lets you step into someone's inner life. Rarely do we get a chance to see the world through someone else's eyes for long stretches.
If you're not an immigrant, you can vicariously live the life of one through fiction and see what they have to deal with.
If you're not a news reporter or a cop or a tycoon during the Great Depression, you can tag along with one through fiction.
The point of reading fiction isn't about content, but how they change you as a person.
Just making it up without adapting from anything real usually isn't something that good fiction is built up from, though. That path goes directly to cliche, and it's easy to find cliched fiction.
Anecdotally, of course.
Good fiction trains your mind to understand different world-views and other peoples' narratives of themselves and the world (as opposed to satisfying yourself with your own narrative as the "objective truth").
I also find that there is deeper meaning in analyzing fiction as to how its mythologies can be applied to personal growth and the journey towards it. I recommend reading Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces to help engender this critical view of thought when thinking about the templating of fiction.
(see what I did?)
What is fiction? How is it different from philosophy? What about soft sciences like sociology or psychology that rely heavily on trying to interpret human behavior (presumably based on their warped, distorted brains). What about theology? How about art as a whole? Or music?
Are you trying to propose that ENTIRE world would be better if there were no fictional creations?
IDK my dude, this seems like a pretty extreme and indefensible position...