September 4, 2007

My review of James R. Flynn's What Is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect

On I offer the first review of the new book on the Flynn Effect by Flynn himself:

Despite hysterical politically-motivated attacks on them that have sometimes turned violent, researchers into human intelligence have by now produced a coherent and compelling scientific picture, as explained in books such as the 1994 best-seller The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.

With one exception.

For uncertain reasons, all over the world, raw IQ scores have been rising, on average at the rate of about 3 points per decade. Thus, a test performance that a half century ago would have ranked at the 84th percentile (a score of 115) now is only good enough for the 50th percentile (a score of 100).

When IQ test publishers revise and renormalize their exams every decade or two, they have to make scoring tougher to make the mean stay at 100.

This is very strange. One of the more dubious-sounding implications is that if you go far enough back into the past, the average person would have been a complete dolt, and the greatest genius of that earlier age would have been no smarter than George W. Bush or John Kerry.

Rising test scores were pointed out by Reed Tuddenham in 1948, when he compared the better performance on the U.S. military's IQ tests of the draftees of WWII compared to WWI.

In the early 1980s, James R. Flynn, an American-born political scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, began to call this phenomenon to academic and then public attention. In his honor, in The Bell Curve, Herrnstein and Murray christened rising IQ scores the "Flynn Effect".

Mainstream IQ researchers, who are used to being demonized when they are not being ignored, admire Flynn, who is politically a man of the left, for his fairness, geniality, insight, and devotion to advancing knowledge. The Flynn Effect has often been seized upon to dismiss IQ testing in general, especially by race-deniers who assume that it will cause racial gaps in IQ to converge out of existence. Flynn himself, however, has never joined the mob in unfairly attacking psychometrics—or psychometricians.

Nevertheless, the Flynn Effect did leave Flynn skeptical about IQ tests. Ulric Neisser wrote in The American Scientist in 1997: "Flynn concludes that the tests do not measure intelligence but only a minor sort of 'abstract problem-solving ability' with little practical significance."

But Flynn has now written a book offering his considered explanation of the Flynn Effect: What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect. (The Psychometrics Centre at Cambridge University has posted online a lecture by Flynn summarizing his book.)

Strikingly, Flynn has changed his mind. He now sees the Flynn Effect not as undermining IQ testing, but as validating it. After decades of reflection, Flynn believes people really are more intelligent in some ways today — just as their raw IQ scores suggest. The reason: we get more mental exercise now than in olden times. [More]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


turkey said...

I'd like to see some data on the national IQs with horror show numbers like Ethiopia or Equatorial Guinea when you look at just the more stable measures like vocabulary. What's the African/African-American gap then? Does it fall to what you would expect from white admixture? I'd guess that whatever gap was left would be what you could expect to make up with public health measures like fortification of salt with iodine.

peewee said...

I'm with Flynn on this one. I have to admit I get the impression that people were pretty moronic in some ways up until recently. For example, who really thought World War I was really going to solve any problems? If you go back far enough, even supposed geniuses like Plato don't really seem all that remarkable. They may have known their math and science, impressive considering they had very little background information to go on, but they don't seem to have had much common sense compared to even the average Joe alive today.

But I think that there are some kinds of intelligence for which the human race has been trending in the opposite direction. It might have something to do with the way humans are getting further and further from nature and from the kind of life that we have lived for millions of years, and closer to a magical and surreal machine world where many tasks formerly done by us humans are no longer necessary. Perhaps human brains are not getting more intelligent, but merely devoting less brain cells to tasks that machines can do for us, and thus having more brain cells left over for the kind of intelligence that IQ tests look for, such as common sense. This kind of in-lifespan adaptation is a characteristic of the human brain. Often people who lose part of their brains in an accident will start to reorganize the surviving parts of their brain to perform different tasks, resulting in an across-the-board decrease in mental ability rather than a complete loss of functionality in one area and no effect in other areas. So I think it is not unreasonable to assume that we are doing better on IQ tests because we have more brain cells focused on that kind of thought. One prediction my hypothesis makes is that humans should be getting dumber and dumber at math skills now that we have calculators, and I wish I could test my hypothesis by looking at old math scores from the early 1900s, and comparing them with modern scores on tests in which calculators are not allowed (unlike SAT tests, in which they are allowed now), but I suspect that what Flynn said about modern people having more mental stimulation in general is also true, and therefore the century-ago people might still score lower than us.

Peewee said...

Oops. I didnt see the [More] link. I think the rest of the post more or less supports my theory that we're not getting much better at tasks that machines and computers can help us with: mathematics, and rote memorization of factoids and vocabulary. In fact, we might be getting worse at the math ... anyone know if calcs are allowed on the WISC?

If nothing else, it's reassuring to see that the things that are going UP are the ones most valuable to life skills in general, rather the opposite of the pattern I'd expected before I thought about it.

Lester said...

Mainstream IQ researchers, who are used to being demonized when they are not being ignored, admire Flynn, who is politically a man of the left, for his fairness, geniality, insight, and devotion to advancing knowledge. [...]

Flynn told me in an email last week...

I wondered why you were being so nice.

And wouldn't it be nice to find a leading American academic, especially a man of the Left, resident not at the, no doubt, lovely University of Otago, but at a university in sub-Saharan Africa?

MensaRefugee said...

Flynn...fair? Genial maybe, fair and open minded, no.

One look at the Murray/Flynn debate on black IQ will settle that. Flynn sticking to one dubious study vs the massive amount of contrary research.

Murray even called it "The power of One"

dougjnn said...

Excellent and fascinating review.

Flynn's analysis of the different degrees of improvement in different sub tests of the WISC is powerful and convincing.

The shrinking of the degree of "rural idiocy" in recent years to now only a couple of IQ points is also strong evidence.

jody said...

i was under the impression that the flynn effect was not being observed anymore, and that actually, mean IQ was starting to decline in some nations.

i know for sure i read a recent article about that happening in europe, although i can't remember where i read it.

the mean IQ in the US is going down for sure, but i wonder if it's even going down when controlling for race. my guess is that even that is going down now.

Anonymous said...

Steve Sailer: For instance, I recently reread some of the old Time-Life science and nature books that families bought in bulk in the 1960s—such as The Forest and The Desert. They calmly featured text on one page and a picture on the facing page. That made them vastly more readable than the frenetic science books for sale to young people today. Contemporary science books for children are attention deficit-disordered, featuring dozens of images per pair of pages, along with captions, call-outs, and other distractions.

We had those Time-Life books in our house, and I still have one or two of them.

Agree about the frenetic-ness [Merriam-Webster tells me it's freneticism] of modern pseudo-intellectual activity.

People have lost their attention spans - can't participate in conversations, can't watch movies with dialogues or plot developments, don't [can't?] read books, etc.

We're also losing our ability to manipulate the language [particulary as regards subtlety or nuance].

Shakespeare wrote sentences [and pseudo-sentences] which are damned near beyond our ability to comprehend.

[Of course, Shakespeare/Shaksper/DeVere/whomever is a whole 'nother topic of conversation entirely - it's not clear to me that he intended his works to be intelligible, or even that he agreed with the existence of the intelligible in the first place.]

floccina said...

I saw somewhere recently that a scientist was proposing that part of the Flynn effect was due to hybridization as urbanization mixed people more even among people of the same nationality.

Anonymous said...

"After decades of reflection, Flynn believes people really are more intelligent in some ways today — just as their raw IQ scores suggest. The reason: we get more mental exercise now than in olden times."

This most recent of Steve's articles is an interesting read. I have some serious concerns, though, about the Utopian future he intimates will result from modern man interacting with modern technology.

I spent much of my young life around grandparents and people old enough to be grandparents. Contrary to popular belief, these people weren't the least bit dumb though I will admit that while my genius IQ step-father could do complex calculations in his head and read a William F. Buckley article without having to look up one word, he could never program a VCR and could easily be overwhelmed by the microwave.

The only real difference I've seen between the highly intelligent of earlier generations and those born after WWII is the hesitancy of the former to question any kind of authority. The more educated also seemed to have better diction, much larger vocabularies and detailed memories for historical dates and events than even our smartest do today.

Another issue I have is with the specific conclusions about the Flynn Effect. I know Steve would never believe our founding fathers were no smarter than Bush or Kerry. Hmmm. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin dolts by comparison... This anomaly speaks for itself. Either the IQ test is failing to assess important components of intelligence - like actual knowledge base, or schools are purposely or inadvertently teaching to the test.

What I'd like to see is Steve elaborating on exactly what popular IQ tests, test. I think his dismissal of Piaget Conservation tasks as indicating the opposite trend, modern kids at age 11 knowing less about conservation of volume than kids of age 8 in previous generations must be tongue in cheek. Delay in operational thinking should mean a delay in abstract thinking that occurs during adolescence. Then again maybe Steve has some insights into Piaget that I don't.

As for this statement:

"After decades of reflection, Flynn believes people really are more intelligent in some ways today — just as their raw IQ scores suggest. The reason: we get more mental exercise now than in olden times."

I'm going to chalk up the 3pt rise in IQ scores per decade to procedural memory. Most of us have already improved our test scores on the SAT or GRE simply by taking practice tests. We've also been taking standardized tests of one form or another since elementary school. I know I even learned to enjoy test days because there was no homework assigned. Knowing how to program electronic gadgets is also procedural memory as is harvesting crops or driving.

After all while the raw IQ scores are rising, the SAT scores are falling. Why would IQ test publishers have to renorm their tests to make them more difficult while ETS has to renorm in the opposite direction?

Bill said...

Actually, what this study says to me is that IQ is indeed a flawed measurement of mankind. Sure, IQ is a pretty accurate gauge of intellectual speed and power, but I see our society as fundamentally stupider in some ways than it used to be.

Obviously, the basic building blocks of intelligence haven't changed much -- only 2 points increase in arithmetic and information, which is probably explained by better nutrition and medical care. However, we perform far better in measurements of our fluency in rationally constructed systems (e.g. dog/rabbit mammal classification).

This brings to mind a passage from Moby Dick:

"The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the whales from the waters, he states as follows: “On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their moveable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem,” and finally, “ex lege naturae jure meritoque.” I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.

Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me."

Ponder this passage for a bit, and then ask yourself what intelligence really is.

There is an intellectual rigidity inherent in our society that gives us a narrow set of parameters in which we are "allowed" to think. For the most part, this works quite well, but it is like a machine with very tight tolerances; it only works under the right environmental conditions. This is really the problem the post-Christian West has in its confrontation with Islam. Objectively viewed, Islam is an insignificant threat with meager resources, yet it provokes fear, contempt and "terror" in our "rational" society. Islam thinks "outside the box" (pardon all the scare quotes; they are simply to identify the clichés that constitute commonly understood memes concerning this issue).

Faith, zeal and a hearty contempt for commonly accepted norms - iconoclasm if you will - presents a challenge that even the greatest minds cannot answer as long as they are slaves to purely rational systems. After all, whether you believe in Him or not, you cannot fight God.

So ultimately, I see some of these indications of increased intelligence as evidence of weakness and vulnerability. They represent an ossification of our civilization, and a re-allocation of mental energy from spiritual to systematic matters.

So now we can talk about hedge funds with authority, or set up a LAN without any trouble. Your typical computer user can manipulate packet flow to optimize upload speed, and we all know that the earth orbits the sun. But ask a westerner why they should procreate, or whether it matters if their people exist in the future, and they may not be able to answer.

So does intelligence have an inverse relationship to spiritual strength? I think it's the opposite, although I know many liberals think it does. However, certain subsets of IQ probably do have such a relationship, on a macro-level. The mind only has so much time and energy, and when you spend all day working with various rational systems other uniquely human mental abilities probably atrophy as a result.

tommy said...

For example, who really thought World War I was really going to solve any problems?

You had to be there to understand the strong sense of nationalism at the time. It is also worth keeping in mind that WWI was a war of great technological transition. Tactics simply didn't keep pace with military technology and this led to a lot of miscalculations on the part of policy makers and generals.

They may have known their math and science, impressive considering they had very little background information to go on, but they don't seem to have had much common sense compared to even the average Joe alive today.

Philosophers have never been big on common sense. I would certainly attribute more common sense to Plato than Heidegger and to Aristotle than Sartre and to practically anybody not named Derrida than Derrida.

In any event, It sounds like Flynn has made some points worth consideration and further investigation. That is a big improvement over his last performance against Murray.

Thursday said...

A 30 point difference in IQ because of a stimulating mental environment? That seems a little implausible. More like 5-7 points at most. Lynn's hypothesis that its mostly nutrition driving the increase seems more likely. But elites, from which people like Newton were drawn, weren't suffering from malnutrition even then. English elites were probably just as smart then as they are now.

Anonymous said...

What a pedantic thinker. Why must IQ improve because of more exercise? Why not better software. Knowledge exists in a hierarchy. If you know formal logic you are better at parsing arguments than a person who lived before the Greeks. Modern people stand on the shoulders of giants, why should not there be little progress every year?

Anonymous said...

I don’t know. The Flynn effect is reasonable, but just too large. The English farmer is one thing, but the Flynn effect claims to show 30 points higher IQ compared to post world war Europe and even larger gains compared to the 1920s. (For whatever reason Raven shows twice as large per decade increase as Wechsler).

It is true that much of the increase came from the bottom, but as far as I know there is no evidence for the large variance or range reduction Sailor is describing. Von Neuman and Einstein would be as smart as any of our top guys, but most other people at the level of Zaire? And since the claim is that the increase took place all over the world, including Africa, where would that leave groups that get 80-85 today? Did we have half of all African Americans with an IQ score of below 50 during world war I?

I could buy a 15 point increase during the modern age. But this just doesn’t seems plausible.
Only 25% of the population lives in rural areas now, compared to the majority not many generations ago. Cities are much less “elite” and knowledge focused than they used to be, where the smart rural people would move. The reduced gap is not an evidence for the Flynn-type increase in mental stimulation.

I think we need more indirect tests of mental capability of average American and Europeans 50 years ago. Product design or g-loaded tasks where there is data.

Anonymous said...

If you go back far enough, even supposed geniuses like Plato don't really seem all that remarkable.

Uh huh. Could I get a straw and a napkin with my order please?

Anonymous said...

Steve --

Consider an American Farmer from say, 1875 onwards. No more cheap slave labor (even in the South). Increasing mechanization, including steam and later gas-diesel powered machinery. That is complex and expensive and requires lots of fixing.

Or a couple of bicycle mechanics. Or a seaman's apprentice who took the workings of the ship's wheel as a means of solving repeating firearms (Sam Colt). Or a lazy telegrapher who wanted a repeater telegraph (Tom Edison).

All of these empiricists, who operated on the physical plane also existed in the DIY environment that suggested your own direct physical experience outweighed authoritative knowledge.

I think in certain respects spatial-oriented intelligence is getting LOWER because people have less direct exposure to fixing devices both simple and complex, and work abstracted from things such as gears, resistors, and engines.

What's the spatial intelligence of motorcycle customizer Jessie James? Fairly high I'd suggest. But our modern world has little outlet for guys like that, who have an important role.

Mary Pat said...

For those who are so concerned about those with high spatial reasoning, there are plenty of outlets for such people, and even for those who sit in a cubicle every weekday.

My husband is big on tinkering and messing with stuff, and a year ago he subscribed to Make Magazine:
Lots of people are still getting their hands dirty, even at high operating levels.

beowulf said...

Yes there is an outlet with people with high spatial intelligence that isn't reflected in an IQ test. I'll give you a hint, they'll give you a $20,000 bonus if you'll ship out to basic training before the end of the month.

Does anyone doubt Jessie James would ace the Auto & Shop (AS), Mechanical Comprehension (MC) and Assembling Objects (AO) sections of the ASVAB?

Anonymous said...

1/ Doesn't this relieve your Idiocracy worries?

2/ Do you think that a couple of bicycle mechanics today could invent something like the airplane? A school handyman invent the steam engine?

3/ Do you think today's epidemic of stress related diseases are in part a result of our more intelligent lives?

Anonymous said...

Flynn says:

However, over time, social priorities change. People become obsessed with the 100 meters as the most spectacular spectator event (the world's fastest human).

How can someone be so obtuse. Nutrition has improved so dramatically for the average person over the 20th century that it is no wonder the average performance on IQ tests has gotten better.

Anonymous said...

Since the invention of books, specific individuals have ratcheted up their verbal sophistication. That means their youths were spent with books, and they got "better" than we'll likely ever get, due to the unrelenting rhetoricality of pre-20th century literary production. Sheakespeare proves what Flynn's saying, doesn't contradict it. I doubt anyone could go toe to toe with Samuel Johnson in the idiom of his table-talk, except maybe 10 sponge-prone booknerds. Everybody else back then didn't have that kind of access/time/innate skill.

That kind of verbal "intelligence," tho, doesn't overlap much with procedural memory of machine-functioning. I don't think a lot of machine-functioning intelligence even makes it to the IQ test. A carpenter might score badly on an IQ test, but his procedural memory of interlocking parts, overall design, etc., has been going strong since 1500, and is far in excess of my high IQ ways.

It just goes to show that "g" corresponds with a certain kind of abstracting.

Floccina said...

Flynn talks a lot about wisdom:

I believe wisdom is far more important than IQ (They do correlate). There is some good genetic news, rich men have more children see link below:

Wealth is often gained through wisdom. Wealth to some extent correlates with wisdom.

Mthson said...

"The idiocy of rural life" appears to be a mistranslation of Marx, according to the linked Monthly Review article.

The better translation is argued to be "the isolation of rural life."

Anonymous said...


that was the best comment ever left on any blog

ai said...

Methink "Farewell to Alms"
- rich are better at procreating, is as good as the "better nutrition" in explaining Flynn.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 9/5 349am:

It seems to me that a fair number of successful software developers have done something at least somewhat similar to building the first workable airplane.

IMO, speed of innovation has a lot to do with how many people are able to take part in the field. Software development is something that doesn't require degrees, certification, or permission from a gatekeeper, and so it becomes possible for great innovation to take place. One thing I worry about with our creeping credentialism as a culture is that we're adding more and more barriers to people contributing innovation where they can. The extreme end of this is stuff where you need a security clearance to even learn about the field, and then you can only talk to a small set of authorized people about it.

Anonymous said...

An additional factor under the "ersatz quality of life in the digital age" heading is a reduction in practical, hands-on resourcefulness of the 50s-era variety, a product of: increasing commercial service options, increasing product sophistication making D-I-Y less practical, increasing wealth making product preservation less economic, increasing hours worked (post-1980) leaving less time for D-I-Y, and a reflexive factor in which reduced general resourcefulness of consumers from all factors is catered to by business (more disposable options, more service options), resulting in less resourcefulness in a cycle. While it's true that the home improvement DIY industry has grown massively during the digital age, most of the demand is from homeowners born before 1965, i.e. pre-dig types. In cuba, which has none of the anti-resourcefulness factors going, everyone knows any neighborhood can fix any broken 50s era auto, often with improvised parts. In the states, too, you occasionally see a group of young male latinos puzzling out a fix under a car hood, so the change may not cut across all groups equally.

Anonymous said...

"While it's true that the home improvement DIY industry has grown massively during the digital age, most of the demand is from homeowners born before 1965, i.e. pre-dig types. In cuba, which has none of the anti-resourcefulness factors going, everyone knows any neighborhood can fix any broken 50s era auto, often with improvised parts. "

You've hit on a train of thought that counters the stark conclusions intelligence researchers all tend to draw from their empirical (s/b value neutral) evidence. This I why I get so frustrated with the rat race mentality of people who can see nothing else than a Darwinian disaster in the making for those who don't have a small set of skills that will get them the jobs of the future. If these thinkers were the least bit creative or insightful they might see that the opposite outcome could be equally possible. A disaster that crashed our infrastructure would make programming skills obsolete. Can these skilled highly linear thinkers create an economy in the face of chaos or even fix their own cars when they can't afford a mechanic?

The more specialized we get as producers, the more vulnerable we are to a natural or manmade disaster in some country halfway around the world that we've become dependent on to grow our food for instance. A Chernobyl in China or Mexico would contaminate the food supply. At this point, we can still revert but if the globalists have their way, not too many generations in the future there might be social unrest and starvation as we try to remember how we used to go about growing and distributing our own food.

On a more individual level, we are more than our professions. Some of those who theorize about the value of IQ only think of people in terms of the kinds of jobs they can get and place them in a hierarchy based on how much money these skills command hence the rat race. You must give your child the best quality education possible focusing on the "right" skills ie math and science. Then you must be able to afford 4 years at an Ivy League college so that jr can command the best salary as a computer programmer, researcher, etc where jr will work 60 - 80 hrs a week, get married at age 28, have 2.5 children with his similarly skilled wife. They in turn will provide their offspring with the best education possible leading to acceptance to an Ivy League school, etc, etc, etc.

Any other life plan or outcome is a sign of inferiority. You and your offspring are in danger of marginalization and will eventually die as a victim of gang violence in the crime/minority infested neighborhood that's the only place they can afford to live. Adapt and be miserable or die! Those are the only two choices.

The example about the latinos/cubans retrofitting old cars is a good reminder that skills that are currently considered obsolete won't necessarily always be so. Working as mechanics and construction workers has allowed hispanics to survive very well in a technology oriented economy. These jobs will always exist to a certain extent so it was a bit foolish for educators and pundits to relegate them to losers, ragamuffins, and foreigners.

As a result of these old white men pondering a desperate future for the unmathematical, I've decided to escape civilization by moving to the country and learning to grow my own food, can, make my own clothes. I also started looking for my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (still haven't found the darn thing must have ended up at a garage sale). Anyone know where to find a cheap set of the Foxfire series? Please help. There must be some other way than the twin evils of striving to be one of the technorati or succumbing to despair. Or is it that these guys are a bunch of ignoramoses with PhDs who have nothing better to do than make the rest us miserable with dire predictions?

I have a feeling this push towards educating students to excel at the latest technology at the expense of all other abilities has contributed as much to our malaise as a society as the emphasis on experimenting with drugs, sex and violence in popular culture. Kids learn early whether they have the aptitudes for the careers that "really " matter. For many reasons, they're also not taught to do things for themselves that pre-1965 generations did - home repair, car maintenance, for girls sewing, growing food often even cooking goes by the wayside. Then they are left totally at the mercy of the kind of salary they can command as adults. I'm not saying such skills can save a person from economic disaster but they can certainly help when money is scarce and could even make a person employable if illegal immigrants hadn't been allowed exclusive rights to such jobs.

I could continue in this vein but I won't. Suffice it to say that I don't think someone's quality of life s/b solely determined by their ability to compete for a certain type of job. It's gotten to the point that being hardworking and resourceful are just considered traits that make a person uniquely qualified to be a low wage worker, sort of like a faithful, obedient pet who can be depended upon to get your paper from the end of the drive, rain or shine. It doesn't have to be this way. And these dire predictions that I hope aren't part of Flynn's work lead me to conclude that genius is much more than an intelligence quotient.

David said...

The widespread DIY culture of the America of yesteryear was less a sign of native intelligence than of a general relative lack of wealth. Cf. Red Cuba.

I'm thinking of the TV repair shops that used to proliferate here, as well as the sewing machine repair shops. That ultra precious miracle metal - TIN - constituted the basis of the "fix-it" "culture": the tin can, that versatile friend.

Other such friends were bondo and chewing gum. Or as our soon-to-be-compatriots and well-known mechanical geniuses the Latinos call it - how you say? - chicklets.

Liam said...

Truth be told, this Flynn effect is rather unsatisfactory, and in defence of our ancestors, it has some usually faithful IQ defenders sounding curiously like liberal sceptics.

Anonymous said...

I've heard so many ignorant arguments from this Sailer guy suggesting that blacks IQ's are inferior. What a fallacy. I'm a black young intelligent person and althouh I'm a teen I can asure you that I'm more intelligent than Sailer will ever be. I have more wisdom than he'll ever have, but maybe a little less knowledge due to my youth. Please people, do not fall into ignorance by listening to ignorant educated people. God bless ." God, bless the world,ignorance blossoming, how about your book of wisdom to unfold, new and old lies growing in minds.... this is something more than intelligence, that your now being told
God Bless once again

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

"I'd like to see some data on the national IQs with horror show numbers like Ethiopia"

I've travelled through that country on a motorbike. Even in South Africa I have not seen such agriculturally suitable land. I reckon that a handfull of Boers (Afrikaner farmers) will be able to feed the entire population of Ethiopia all year round.

Ethiopians really seem incapable of tilling the wonderful land they live on.

Bob said...

Your review does not resemble Richard Lynn's review of the same book:
J.R. Flynn, What is intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect, Cambridge University Press (2007).
Intelligence, September-October 2007, Pages 515-516
Richard Lynn

Your review suggests (incorrectly) that intelligence is influenced by education, home environment, and related social interactions. The meat of intelligence is g and so far, there is no evidence that there is any influence by the shared environment after age 12 or so. There is a shared environmental variance in young children, but it vanishes as they reach puberty. IQ tests measure g and gets virtually all of its external validity from its g loading. The other two loadings are on specificity and error, neither of which are useful in predicting such things as academic and career success.

Among the things you failed to mention:
The Flynn effect can be seen in children by age 4; this eliminates many hypothetical causes.
The Flynn effect is more pronounced on the left (low IQ) side of the bell curve.
The Flynn effect has reversed in some countries and leveled off to zero gain in others.
When generations of children, separated by 20 years, from the same school were tested by the same researchers, they found the expected Flynn effect gains, but no inspection time gains. This strongly suggests that the gains are not g loaded.
When specifically analyzed for g loading, the gains in some countries have shown none. That means that the Flynn effect is not a Jensen Effect (per Rushton's terminology).

From Lynn's review: "It has even been shown that theWechsler subtests that are most impaired by sub-optimal nutrition observations and I recommend it in the confident and improve most with nutritional supplements are those expectation that many potential readers will find the for which the Flynn Effects have been the greatest (e.g. arithmetic, similarities and block design) (Botez, Botez, & Maag, 1984)."

Anonymous said...

OK, riddle me this:

How do you reconcile the low IQ numbers recorded in Ethiopia with the region's pretty impressive record of achievment: monumental architecture and early state formation, independent development of agriculture, literate and theologically sophisticated priesthood, and fairly capable military defense against European colonization (despite sitting on some of the most desirable real estate in sub-Saharan Africa)? In short, Ethiopia has arguably the most impressive history in sub-Saharan Africa. Why would the country's current residents be dumber than their neighbors? It just doesn't track.

tommy said...

How do you reconcile the low IQ numbers recorded in Ethiopia with the region's pretty impressive record of achievment: monumental architecture and early state formation, independent development of agriculture, literate and theologically sophisticated priesthood, and fairly capable military defense against European colonization (despite sitting on some of the most desirable real estate in sub-Saharan Africa)? In short, Ethiopia has arguably the most impressive history in sub-Saharan Africa. Why would the country's current residents be dumber than their neighbors? It just doesn't track.

Ethiopia has long had contact with Egyptian and even Greek civilization and nobody is denying that there are some smart Ethiopians. Also, Ethiopia's achievements are all in the distant past. The country certainly hasn't kept pace or caught up the way countries like Japan have. Ancient tyrannical governments, like those of the pharaohs of old, were necessarily administered by the brightest of otherwise dull populations. If the intelligence of the average ancient Egyptian or Ethiopian is anything like it is today, then Athenian-style democracy was probably not an option in those lands. Finally, Ethiopia's IQ is probably depressed somewhat by malnutrition.

Anonymous said...

If a feedback loop for smart people explains a lot of the Flynn effect, then it seems like we should be able to find natural experiments to test this. For example, let's assume that exposure to TV is an important driver. Then we ought to be able to see the effects of different times that TV stations moved in and started broadcasting. Similarly, if the issue is access to computers, the net, cable or satellite TV, even good libraries. It ought to be possible to compare towns or counties a few years before and after these things became available there. This effect should also be clear for countries, with stuff like when public access internet became available.

I don't have any intuition for whether g is affected by this sort of feedback process, but knowledge and nature of thought processes certainly is, especially with libraries and the net. You can go from a mild interest in some field to being at least a very well-informed amateur in about a year, just by finding experts on the net and reading Wikipedia and researchers' websites and recommended books and papers.

TabooTruth said...

If you look at the history of human civilization, as time passes, more high IQ/northern civilizations gain power. Ethiopia, as the first area where humans emerged, would naturally have some point at which it had a decent civilization.

The thing is, is that MODERN society requires decent average IQ in order to be successful. In the ancient world, most people farmed so it didn't matter.

Just look at R. Lynn's analysis. And also, Ethiopia beat Italy's army, which was the worst in Europe.

Anonymous said...

So Steve, is it Flynn or Idiocracy?

Anonymous said...

People get very defensive about IQ, with the usual arguments: it's just a test, tests how you take tests, more to life than paper intelligence, wisdom more important than intelligence (as if the two were mutually exclusive or "wisdom" is really animal instinct and not informed by deliberate mental process at all.
The debate is ultimately futile. Of course great achievement requires other factors than high IQ, but high IQ is an essential component. IQ does not guarantee achievement but high achievement that requires brain-work is predicated upon it. People speak of "music IQ" or "art IQ" yet highly accomplished musicians and artists do have IQs above the average in instances where they are on record. Why would they not? Producing art that embodies technique with insight would require a piercing and comprehensive intellect, even if an unorthodox one.
At any rate, it has already been shown over and over that IQ is greatest SINGLE indicator of how you do in life. This is a GENERALIZATION. In discussions of race, gender and IQ, peoples' defensiveness prevents them from using their brains. Because if you just use your brain, even an average IQ person can easily understand the concept of averages.
And it is averages that create the tenor of society and culture, although it is the above-averages that drive the changes, especially those of a progressive nature.
But fear and loathing is such that we shut our brains down, put our hands over our ears, and say, NONONO, it can't be true because we're all the equal! There is no differences among races or genders. In fact, there are no races! (Please tell that to the AA promoters). "They" tell us so! These days, "they" are mainly journalists and social studies sorts, not scientists, who are quitely admitting that genetics is the main determinant of mentality. Environment forms it, but environment can only work with the material it has.
Truth is rarely simple and easy to accept, and nature and genetics are not "fair" or "just." They just are.
A good web-site outlining the practical details of how IQ affects daily life for people in general, is Linda Gottfredson's. Most of her research is accessible with a click of the mouse.

Karl Smith said...

Flynn makes an excellent point - that you have to be careful about what you are measuring and who correlations change over time.

For example, suppose I am measuring abstract thinking ability. Now suppose that an emotionally stable child in 2007 will be exposed to lots of stimuli which give him practice in abstract thinking.

Then it is plausible that low abstract thinking ability will be correlated with emotional instability.

Observing this causally you conclude, low IQ people are emotionally unstable.

Yet, this is a recent phenomenon. In the past it might have been likely that plenty of low IQ people were stable.

I think there is probably a similar correlation between IQ and rate of time preference. Rate of time preference is related to what most people might call laziness.

Karen said...

Why wouldn't the Flynn effect be caused by improvments in childhood nutrition since the late 19th century? Anyone who's ever been around kids can tell you that reliable food and decent sleep make a nearly-immeasurable difference in how they learn. Starting in the late 19th C in this country, and after WWII in Europe, improvements in agriculture eliminated famines, which meant that only a vanishingly small number of children went hungry. Malnourished kids simply can't afford the metabolically-expensive brain activities of learning. Also, antibiotics and vaccinations eliminated many debilitating childhood illnesses and rendered others harmless. Even when a kid didn't die, the effects of an untreated infection could impair hearing or eyesight to the point that schooling was nearly impossible. (Read William McNeil's Plagues and Peoples for an interesting discussion of the effects of illnesses on populations.) Finally, the elimination in the industrial countries of child labor meant that kids have time to learn more and more interesting things. Backbreaking labor in a mine or factory beginning at age 10 or so surely had a dampening effect on test scores.

On an unrelated point, I think one reason IQ studies draw so much fire is because there really isn't a good definition of what intelligence is. Most definitions that I've read mention verbal or spatial skills, but those are as likely to be acquired as innate. I, therefore, propose the following one: intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns and distinguish ones mean something from ones that don't. For example, the ability to notice that certain fruit is disgusting when it's green but delicious when it's red, and that it turns red shortly after the longest days in the year.

Bob said...


You are correct that nutrition is a likely contributor to the Flynn Effect. It meets the following requirements: it is consistent with the gains occurring primarily in the lower half of the IQ distribution; it has the opportunity to operate before the Flynn Effect is observed at age 4; the leveling off and reversal of the Flynn Effect that has been reported for several years is reasonable; and it could relate to improvements in nutrition during the time the effect was observed.

It is likely that the Flynn Effect is not caused by a single factor and that the end product is the sum of several contributors, one of which may be the decrease in family size over the past decades. This means that a larger portion of the population are first-born (higher IQ) and a smaller fraction are later-born.

I also agree that medical considerations are a possible contributor, because they act in a way that is parallel to nutrition. About 18% of the adult variance in intelligence is accounted for by environmental factors, all of which are directly related to chemical and biological factors and all impact IQ negatively.

Learning does not boost IQ. The differences in IQ that are seen in adults are present at age 2-1/2. A recent paper from Joe Fagan shows that IQ measurements at age 3 are as predictive of academic accomplishment, at age 21, as are IQ measurements at age 18. He also demonstrated that IQ is reasonably stable over this age span.

[The prediction, from infancy, of adult IQ and achievement, Pages 225-231, Joseph F. Fagan, Cynthia R. Holland and Karyn Wheeler]

Intelligence is not defined in science, but psychometric g is defined and is the factor that accounts for virtually all of the validity of IQ tests. There is no known way to boost g by social, chemical, or biological means, other than to prevent its degradation by poor nutrition.

Your assertion that verbal and spatial skills are acquired is mostly wrong. The underlying g loading of measurements based on these skills does not change from learning, but non-g loading can and does increase with learning, but that inherently caused the g-loading of verbal and spatial subtests to decrease. Learning is a real boost to human ability, but it does not increase intelligence. Intelligence in adults is more than 80% heritable, with the remaining variance due to nutrition, disease, etc.

Lionel Braithwaite said...

Sorry Steve, but judging by your blatherings, it seems that racism is on the rise, and the national EQ of overprivileged racist morons like yourself is at an all time low. How else to explain all the Islamaphobia and Arabaphobia we're all seeing from right-wing, warmongering racist chickenhawk Keyboard Kommandos like you?

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billy said...

My take on the book was that Flynn, while validating the practicallity of IQ (ie its usefullness in predicting academic and job sucess), denies it is any measure of inate intelligence. He openly calls it culturally biased and states that the rises in IQ are result of mentally stimulating lifestyle, which undermines any idea that IQ is immutable.

I used to be much more hereditarian, but with all of the studies lately showing the effects on schooling, mental stimulation and parenting on IQ, I'm starting the question whether IQ tells us anything anymore.