James Flynn (academic)

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James Robert Flynn
Jim Flynn Political Studies University of Otago.jpg
James R. Flynn in June 2007
Born1934 (age 85–86)
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Otago

James Robert Flynn FRSNZ (born 1934) is a New Zealand intelligence researcher. An Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, he is famous for his publications about the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores throughout the world, which is now referred to as the Flynn effect. The Flynn effect is the subject of a multiple-author monograph published by the American Psychological Association in 1998.[1] Originally from Washington, D.C. and educated at the University of Chicago, Flynn emigrated to New Zealand in 1963.

Flynn's son Victor is a mathematics professor at New College, Oxford.

Academic work[edit]

Flynn has written a variety of books. His research interests include humane ideals and ideological debate, classics of political philosophy, and race, class and IQ (see race and intelligence).[2] His books combine political and moral philosophy with psychology to examine problems such as justifying humane ideals and whether it makes sense to rank races and classes by merit. He is currently a member of the editorial board of Intelligence[3] and on the Honorary International Advisory Editorial Board of the Mens Sana Monographs.[4]

Flynn defines intelligence to be independent of culture, emphasising that the style of thought required to deal with problems of survival in a desert (mapping, tracking..), is different from that required to do well in the modern West (academic achievement etc.), but that both undoubtedly require intelligence.

In 1987, Arthur Jensen praised Flynn's criticism of Jensen's own work in a chapter summarizing an academic book about Jensen's research on human intelligence.

Now and then I am asked by colleagues, students, and journalists: who, in my opinion, are the most respectable critics of my position on the race-IQ issue? The name James R. Flynn is by far the first that comes to mind. His book, Race, IQ and Jensen (1980), is a distinguished contribution to the literature on this topic, and, among the critiques I have seen of my position, is virtually in a class by itself for objectivity, thoroughness, and scholarly integrity.[5]

A 1999 article published in American Psychologist summarises much of his research. On the alleged genetic inferiority of Blacks on IQ tests, he lays out the argument and evidence for such a belief and then contests each point. He interprets the direct evidence—when Blacks are raised in settings that are less disadvantageous—as suggesting that environmental factors explain genetic differences. And yet, he argues that the environmental explanation gained force after the discovery that IQ scores were rising over time. Inter-generational IQ differences among Whites and across nations were larger than the Black-White IQ Gap and could not be accounted for by genetic factors, which, if anything, should have reduced IQ, according to scholars he references. He posits that the Black-White IQ score gap can be entirely explained by environmental factors if "the average environment for Blacks in 1995 matches the quality of the average environment for Whites in 1945."[6]

Flynn's 2007 book What Is Intelligence? impressed Charles Murray, a co-author of the book The Bell Curve, who wrote in a statement published on the book's back cover, "This book is a gold mine of pointers to interesting work, much of which was new to me. All of us who wrestle with the extraordinarily difficult questions about intelligence that Flynn discusses are in his debt".[7]

Flynn believes in racial equality. He advocates for open scientific debate about controversial social science claims, and is critical of the suppression of research into race and intelligence.[8] He urges those who believe in racial equality to use solid evidence to advance those beliefs.[6]

Flynn's 2010 book The Torchlight List proposes that a person can learn more from reading great works of literature than they can from going to university.[9] In 2019, Emerald Insight reversed its decision to publish Flynn's then upcoming book In Defence of Free Speech. Their letter to Flynn cited concerns that the book would potentially violate hate speech laws in the United Kingdom.[10]

Flynn has described himself as an "atheist, a scientific realist, a social democrat".[11]

Flynn effect[edit]

External video
Jim Flynn U of Otago.jpg
video icon James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents' on YouTube, TED talks

The "Flynn effect" is the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world. When intelligence quotient (IQ) tests are initially standardised using a sample of test-takers, by convention the average of the test results is set to 100 and their standard deviation is set to 15 IQ points. When IQ tests are revised they are again standardised using a new sample of test-takers, usually born more recently than the first. Again, the average result is set to 100. However, when the new test subjects take the older tests, in almost every case their average scores are significantly above 100.

Test score increases have been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. For the Raven's Progressive Matrices test, subjects born over a 100-year period were compared in Des Moines, Iowa, and separately in Dumfries, Scotland. Improvements were remarkably consistent across the whole period, in both countries.[12] This effect of an apparent increase in IQ has also been observed in various other parts of the world, though the rates of increase vary.[13]

There are numerous proposed explanations of the Flynn effect, as well as some scepticism about its implications. Similar improvements have been reported for other cognitions such as semantic and episodic memory.[14] Recent research suggests that the Flynn effect may have ended in at least a few developed nations, possibly allowing national differences in IQ scores[15] to diminish if the Flynn effect continues in nations with lower average national IQs.[16]

Flynn himself, with co-worker William Dickens, has suggested an explanatory model which points to two-way causality between IQ and environment: a cognitively challenging environment raises an individual's IQ, while in addition, a higher individual IQ makes it more likely that an individual will self-select or be sorted into more cognitively challenging environments.[17]

Political activities[edit]

In 1967, Flynn served as a chairperson for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organisation in the US South.[6] In Where Have All the Liberals Gone? (p. 278), Flynn states that in the early 1960s in America, he was consistently fired for his social democratic politics, prompting his emigration.

Flynn campaigns passionately for left-wing causes, and became an initiating member of both the NewLabour Party and of the Alliance. He also advised Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk on foreign policy. He has stood as a parliamentary candidate in general elections on several occasions, for example in the Dunedin North electorate in the 1993 and 1996 elections on the Alliance list,[18][19] and most recently in 2005 again as an Alliance list candidate. In 2008 he acted as the Alliance spokesperson for finance and taxation.

Controversial remarks and opinions[edit]

During 2007, new research from the 2006 New Zealand census showed that women without a tertiary (college) education had produced 2.57 babies each, compared to 1.85 babies for those women with a higher education. During July 2007, The Sunday Star-Times quoted Flynn as saying that New Zealand risked having a less intelligent population and that a "persistent genetic trend which lowered the genetic quality for brain physiology would have some effect eventually". He referred to hypothetical eugenicists' suggestions for reversing the trend, including some sort of oral contraceptive "in the water supply and … an antidote" to conceive.[20]

Flynn later articulated his own views on the Close Up television program in an interview with Paul Henry, suggesting that the Sunday Star-Times had grossly misrepresented his opinions. In the article, Flynn argued that he never intended for his suggestion to be taken seriously, as he only said this to illustrate a particular point.[21][22]

In July 2012, several media outlets reported Flynn as claiming that women had, for the first time in a century, surpassed men on IQ tests based on a study he conducted in 2010.[23][24] However, Flynn announced that the media had seriously distorted his results and went beyond his claims, revealing that he had instead discovered that the differences between men and women on one particular test, the Raven's Progressive Matrices, had become minimal in five modernised nations (whereas before 1982 women had scored significantly lower). Women, he argued, caught up to men in these nations as a result of exposure to modernity by entering the professions and being allowed greater educational access. Therefore, he claimed, when a total account of the Flynn effect is considered, women's closing the gap had moved them up in IQ slightly faster than men as a result. Flynn had previously documented this same trend among ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups. According to Flynn, the sexes are "dead equal on cognitive factors ... in their ability to deal with using logic on the abstract problems of Raven's," but that temperamental differences in the way boys and girls take the tests likely account for the tiny variations in mean scores, rather than any difference in intellectual ability.[24]

In 2019 Flynn was told that his new book In Defence of Free Speech: The University as Censor would not be published by an English publisher who had previously accepted it and scheduled it for publication. But it was thought "too controversial" under the United Kingdom's laws about 'hate speech' as the intent is irrelevant if it is thought likely that "racial hatred could be stirred up as a result of the work."[25] Academica Press later agreed to publish the book.[26]

Partial bibliography[edit]


  1. ^ Neisser, Ulric, ed. (1998). The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures. APA Science Volume Series. Washington (DC): American Psychological Association. ISBN 978-1-55798-503-3. Lay summary (16 May 2013).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link) This review of contemporary research includes chapters by Ulric Neisser, James R. Flynn, Carmi Schooler, Patricia M. Greenfield, Wendy M. Williams, Marian Sigman, Shannon E. Whaley, Reynaldo Martorell, Richard Lynn, Robert M. Hauser, David W. Grissmer, Stephanie Williamson, Sheila Nataraj Kirby, Mark Berends, Stephen J. Ceci, Tina B. Rosenblum, Matthew Kumpf, Min-Hsiung Huang, Irwin D. Waldman, Samuel H. Preston, and John C. Loehlin.
  2. ^ "Faculty page". University of Otago. Archived from the original on 30 April 2010.
  3. ^ Intelligence (publisher's page).
  4. ^ "Hon Int Edit Adv Board Member". Mens Sana Monographs.
  5. ^ Jensen, Arthur (1987). "Chapter 21: Differential Psychology: Towards Consensus". In Modgil, Sohan; Modgil, Celia (eds.). Arthur Jensen: Consensus and Controversy. Falmer international master-minds challenged; 4. London: Falmer Press. p. 379. ISBN 978-1-85000-093-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. ^ a b c Flynn, James R. (1999). "Searching for justice: The discovery of IQ gains over time" (PDF). American Psychologist. 54 (1): 5–20. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.54.1.5.
  7. ^ Murray, Charles (2009). "Back Cover Review". What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect (expanded paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. back cover. ISBN 978-0-521-74147-7. Retrieved 6 October 2014. Lay summary (6 October 2014).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ Flynn, James (2013). "Arthur Robert Jensen (1923–2012)". Intelligence. 41 (2): 144–145. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2012.10.012.
  9. ^ Gilchrist, Shane (13 November 2010). "Book learning". The Otago Daily Times. New Zealand.
  10. ^ Walters, Laura (26 September 2019). "A book defending free speech rejected for fear of hate speech". Newsroom. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  11. ^ Noted. "Interview: James Flynn - The Listener". Noted. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  12. ^ Raven, John (2000). "The Raven's Progressive Matrices: Change and Stability over Culture and Time" (PDF). Cognitive Psychology. 41 (1): 1–48. doi:10.1006/cogp.1999.0735. PMID 10945921.
  13. ^ Flynn, J. R. (1987). "Massive IQ gains in 14 nations: What IQ tests really measure". Psychological Bulletin. 101 (2): 171–191. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.101.2.171.
  14. ^ Rönnlund, M.; Nilsson, L. G. (September 2009). "Flynn effects on sub-factors of episodic and semantic memory: parallel gains over time and the same set of determining factors". Neuropsychologia. 47 (11): 2174–2180. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.11.007. PMID 19056409.
  15. ^ Lynn, Richard; Vanhanen, Tatu (2006). IQ and Global Inequality. Augusta, GA.: Washington Summit Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59368-025-1.
  16. ^ Teasdale, T. W.; Owen, D. R. (2008). "Secular declines in cognitive test scores: A reversal of the Flynn Effect" (PDF). Intelligence. 36 (2): 121–126. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2007.01.007.
  17. ^ Dickens, William T., and James R. Flynn. "Heritability estimates versus large environmental effects: the IQ paradox resolved." Psychological Review 108.2 (2001): 346.
  18. ^ Part 1: Votes recorded at each polling place (Technical report). Chief Electoral Office. 1993.
  19. ^ "Part III – Party Lists of Successful Registered Parties" (PDF). New Zealand: Electoral Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  20. ^ "Brainier mums needed to maintain future generations' intelligence, says professor". New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 8 July 2007.
  21. ^ Loughrey, David (9 July 2007). "Academic in hot water over remarks". The Otago Daily Times. New Zealand. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.
  22. ^ Nippert, Matt (6 October 2007). "Eureka!". New Zealand Listener. 210 (3517).
  23. ^ Flynn, J. R.; Rossi-Case, L. (2011). "Modern women match men on Raven's Progressive Matrices". Personality and Individual Differences. 50 (6): 799–803. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.12.035.
  24. ^ a b Kaufman, S. B. (20 July 2012). "Men, Women, and IQ: Setting the Record Straight". Psychology Today.
  25. ^ "Refusal to publish NZ academic's book is a worrying blow for free speech". Stuff (Fairfax). 9 October 2019.
  26. ^ Bakshian, Aram Jr. "BOOK REVIEW: 'A Book Too Risky to Publish'". The Washington Times, 14 February 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]