Re: Flynn Effect in SciAm

Timothy Bates (
Fri, 18 Dec 1998 21:13:22 +1100

Hal Finney said

>The January, 1999 issue of Scientific American has a profile of James
>R. Flynn, discoverer of the Flynn effect

Actually it was well known prior to James' popularisation of the effect. Until his work, most of us had simply discounted it as an artifact of something unrelated to underlying intelligence. It may turn out to be such.

>which we have discussed here
>occasionally. This is the observation that IQ test raw scores have
>steadily risen over the last century, suggesting that people are in some
>sense getting smarter. It appears that the average person today would
>have scored at near genius levels on IQ tests 100 years ago.

Not the average person by any means, but yes, since the war increases of up to a standard deviation have been observed on some, but not all, tests.

Defining genius as scores >140, 9.2% of Netherlanders would score in this range using 1945 norms.

>Flynn is an interesting character, with a far left wing background
and foreground as well, i understand. far left for this list anyhow ;-)

>Despite Flynn's political beliefs, he says he has deep regards for Jensen
>as a scholar. Nevertheless, he "nearly roars" out a denial when asked
>directly whether he believes that black people "are genetically inferior
>for a kind of intelligence that pays dividends in the computer age."

>I found this somewhat inconsistent; if he is so certain about this that
>he is willing to shout his denial, how could he respect someone who has
>come to the other view?

because anyone who has talked to Art for more than 10 minutes recognises that he is a real scientist: insightful and precise with an honest curiosity. his latest book on the g factor is virtually an encyclopedia. His previous works are in daily use when most texts are propping up equipment in the back of the lab.

>My conclusion is that Flynn probably does not view the matter as clearly
>established, and that intellectually he can see how someone could come
>to the opposite conclusion.

The "matter" is simply one of fact: scores have increased.

The real question is why? This is in no-way settled.

Flynn argues that we cannot be more intelligent (he sees no signs of it) and that therefore the tests are to be viewed as rather distant indicators of general ability.

There are a range of other interpretations, most simply, there are two main alternatives.

  1. Average IQ HAS increased. Scholars argue that this could be due to either a decrease in the the number of people with nutritional deficiencies for instance.
  2. The tests have been made less valid as all children now have 7 years of head start at macdonalds (it is the macDonalds place-mat type tests which have shown the greatest grade inflation. This could easily account for the increase in the same way that giving a person the same crossword puzzle every day for 7 years might explain their filling it out rather rapidly ;-)

I have a set of web pages on IQ that some of you may find useful in navigating these issues for yourselves. cheers,

Dr. Timothy Bates                   Don't compromise.  Use QuickTime.
Dept Psychology                     <>
Macquarie University                <>
Sydney NSW 2109 Australia   

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