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Birth cohort study inspires Edinburgh show

Posted on 23 August 2011 by Louise Marryat, previous member of staff .
Tags: Growing up in Scotland Survey, Lothian Birth Cohort, ScotCen, Scottish Centre for Social Research

It’s festival time in Edinburgh! The ScotCen team enjoyed a day out last week, when we went to see the fringe show, “Still Life Dreaming”. Inspired by the Lothian Birth Cohort, this play was one of a series of innovative dissemination works based on medial research, put on by the Wellcome Trust as part of their 75th birthday celebrations.

The play told the fascinating story of children born in Scotland in 1921, who at the age of 11 took an intelligence test with the idea that the brightest children, regardless of their background, should be given the opportunity to go onto secondary education. In 1947, the Scottish Mental Survey was repeated with all 11 year olds, in an attempt by the Eugenics Society to prove that the nation’s intelligence was falling due to ‘the poor having too many babies’. Unsurprisingly, the findings disproved this really distasteful theory, and actually showed that intelligence had risen in the period. The test results were then filed in a cellar in the basement of Moray House School of Education at Edinburgh University and forgotten about. But in the 1990’s they were re-discovered by accident, which led to a decision to track down the participants from the Lothians, now all in their 70s, and re-test them to find out the effects of aging on intelligence. Many of these cohort members were in the audience the night we went to see the play.

Watching the play got me thinking about the different ways we engage the public with our own social research. I work on the Growing Up in Scotland Study, which has a great track record of sharing findings with a wide audience including social workers, charities and the NHS. Thanks to funding from the ESRC Social Science Festival we’ve also had the opportunity to develop an interactive quiz using GUS findings. “Still Life Dreaming” was a great reminder that there’s still lots more we can do to disseminate our research findings in exciting ways, and that there’s lots of opportunity for innovation in this area. Who knows, maybe next year the ScotCen team will be making their own stage debut!

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