Earlier (December 11, 2020): James Flynn, RIP
The New York Times finally gets around to running an obituary for James Flynn, the most important leftist intelligence researcher of the last half century, who died December 11 of the last year. Similarly, it took the Times a long time to print an Arthur Jensen obituary. Unlike Jensen’s, however, now that this one is finally here, it’s pretty good:
A philosopher who moved into psychology and studied I.Q., he showed that as society grows more technical, human intellectual abilities expand to meet the challenge.
James R. Flynn in 2016. His research helped discredit the theory that differences in performance on I.Q. tests between Black and white people were a result of genetic differences.
By Clay Risen
Jan. 25, 2021
In 1978, James R. Flynn, a political philosopher at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, was writing a book about what constituted a “humane” society. He considered “inhumane” societies as well — dictatorships, apartheid states — and, in his reading, came across the work of Arthur R. Jensen, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley.
Dr. Jensen was best known for an article he published in 1969 claiming that the differences between Black and white Americans on I.Q. tests resulted from genetic differences between the races — and that programs that tried to improve Black educational outcomes, like Head Start, were bound to fail.
Dr. Flynn, a committed leftist who had once been a civil rights organizer in Kentucky, felt instinctively that Dr. Jensen was wrong, and he set out to prove it. In 1980 he published a thorough, devastating critique of Dr. Jensen’s work — showing, for example, that many groups of whites scored as low as Black Americans. But he didn’t stop there.
Like most researchers in his field, Dr. Jensen had assumed that intelligence was constant across generations, pointing to the relative stability of I.Q. tests over time as evidence. But Dr. Flynn noticed something that no one else had: Those tests were recalibrated every decade or so. When he looked at the raw, uncalibrated data over nearly 100 years, he found that I.Q. scores had gone up, dramatically.
“If you scored people 100 years ago against our norms, they would score a 70,” or borderline mentally disabled, he said later. “If you scored us against their norms, we would score 130” — borderline gifted.
Just as groundbreaking was his explanation for why. The rise was too fast to be genetic, nor could it be that our recent ancestors were less intelligent than we are. Rather, he argued, the last century has seen a revolution in abstract thinking, what he called “scientific spectacles,” brought on by the demands of a technologically robust industrial society. This new order, he maintained, required greater educational attainment and an ability to think in terms of symbols, analogies and complex logic — exactly what many I.Q. tests measure.
Here’s my two lengthy analyses of the Flynn Effect:
“He surprised everyone, despite the fact that the field of intelligence research is intensely data centric,” the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said in an interview. “This philosopher discovered a major phenomenon that everyone had missed.”
Though Dr. Flynn published his research in 1984, it was not until a decade later that it drew attention outside the narrow world of intelligence researchers. The turning point came with the publication in 1994 of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, in which they argued that genes play a dominant role in shaping intelligence, a position that its fiercest critics called racist. In reviewing arguments for and against their position, the authors outlined Dr. Flynn’s research and even gave it a name: the Flynn effect.
A buzzword was born. The Flynn effect became shorthand for an optimistic view of the human condition and made Dr. Flynn something of a pop-culture hero, an image underscored by his lanky build, rumpled outfits and Einsteinian mess of curly white hair. A 2013 TED Talk in which he explained “why our I.Q. levels are higher than our grandparents’” has been viewed 4.4 million times.
Dr. Flynn died at 86 on Dec. 11 at an assisted living center in Dunedin, New Zealand. The cause was intestinal cancer, said his son, Victor Flynn, a math professor at Oxford.
It’s almost as if intelligence is partly hereditary.
…Dr. Flynn and Dr. Murray became frequent debating partners, especially after Dr. Flynn showed in subsequent research, with William T. Dickens, that the Black-white I.Q. gap had diminished significantly between 1972 and 2002.
But while they differed intellectually, Dr. Flynn was also quick to defend Dr. Murray — and Dr. Jensen, for that matter — against the accusations of racism. He dedicated one of his books to Dr. Jensen, and he took Dr. Murray’s side in 2017 after students at Middlebury College in Vermont shut down a speech by Dr. Murray.
“Jim was a paragon of intellectual curiosity and willingness to look at all the evidence,” Dr. Murray said in an interview. “He had almost a childlike curiosity, and I mean that in a good way.” …