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File:Jim Flynn Political Studies University of Otago.jpg

James R. Flynn in June 2007

James Robert Flynn PhD FRSNZ (born 1934), aka Jim Flynn, Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, researches intelligence and is famous for his publications about the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores throughout the world, which are 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 DC and educated in Chicago, Flynn emigrated to New Zealand in 1963.

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

Academic work

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.

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." However in more recent work, Flynn moves away from this latter claim, stating "American blacks are not in a time warp so that the environmental causes of their IQ gap with whites are identical to the environmental causes of the IQ gap between the generations", and "The Flynn Effect is irrelevant to showing that the racial IQ gap is environmental" [5]

Flynn is transparent about his belief in racial equality in his work, but he advocates for open scientific debate about controversial social science claims and is critical of the suppression of research into race and intelligence, where "courses are taught on the Bell Curve that do not assign the Bell Curve, where courses on intelligence are not offered simply because some student might raise the question of racial differences, where someone taking IQ seriously would be ostracized in an education or gender studies department, where the history of the black family is distorted for political purposes, where scholars rise in wrath when a speaker details obvious ethnic differences".[6] He only urges those with related beliefs to refrain from advancing them without solid evidence.[7]

Flynn's 2010 book The Torchlight List proposes the controversial idea that a person can learn more from reading great works of literature than they can from going to university.[8]

Flynn effect

Main article: Flynn effect

The Flynn effect is the name given to a 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11] Recent research suggests that the Flynn effect may have ended in at least a few developed nations, possibly allowing national differences in IQ scores[12] to diminish if the Flynn effect continues in nations with lower average national IQs.[13]

Political activities

In 1967, Flynn served as a chairperson for the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights organisation in the US South.[7]

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 the general elections on several of occasions, most recently in 2005 as an Alliance list-candidate. In 2008 he acted as the Alliance spokesperson for finance and taxation.

Controversial remarks

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.[14]

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.[15][16]

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.[17][18] 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.[18]

Partial bibliography

Further reading

  • Eckland, Bruce (1983) "Does IQ Mean Anything Anymore?". Contemporary Sociology. Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 15–17.
  • Leventman, Seymour (1981). "Race, IQ and Jensen by James R. Flynn". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 457, pp. 225–226.
  • Smith, Tony (1981). "Statistics replace sentiment". British Medical Journal. Vol. 282, p. 135.


  1. (1998) The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures, Washington (DC): American Psychological Association.
  2. Faculty page
  3. Intelligence publisher's page
  4. Hon Int Edit Adv Board Member
  5. Flynn, James (2010). The spectacles through which I see the race and IQ debate. Intelligence 38, 363–366
  6. Flynn, James (2013). Arthur Robert Jensen (1923–2012). Intelligence 41 144–145
  7. 7.0 7.1 includeonly>Flynn, James R. "Searching for Justice: The Discovery of IQ Gains Over Time", American Psychologist.
  8. includeonly>"Book learning", The Otago Daily Times, 13 November 2010. Retrieved on 2010-11-14.
  9. Raven, John (2000). The Raven's Progressive Matrices: Change and Stability over Culture and Time. Cognitive Psychology 41, 1–48 (2000) DOI:10.1006/cogp.1999.0735 . John Raven, 30 Great King Street, Edinburgh EH3 6QH, Scotland.
  10. Flynn, J. R. (1987). Massive IQ gains in 14 nations: What IQ tests really measure. Psychological Bulletin, 101,171–191.
  11. Rönnlund M, Nilsson LG (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): 2174–80.
  12. Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen (2006). IQ and Global Inequality. Washington Summit Publishers: Augusta, GA. ISBN 1-59368-025-2
  13. Teasdale TW, Owen DR (2008). Secular declines in cognitive test scores: A reversal of the Flynn Effect. Intelligence 36 (2): 121–6.
  14. includeonly>"Brainier mums needed to maintain future generations' intelligence, says professor", NZPA, 8 July 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-09.
  15. includeonly>"Academic in hot water over remarks", The Otago Daily Times, 9 July 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-09.
  16. Nippert, Matt (6 October 2007). Eureka!. New Zealand Listener 210 (3517).
  17. Flynn, J. R., & Rossi-Case, L. (2011). Modern women match men on Raven's Progressive Matrices. Personality and Individual Differences, 50: 799–803.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Kaufman, S.B. Men, Women, and IQ: Setting the Record Straight. Psychology Today. 20 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-27.

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