Those blacks are as smart as our grandfathers

If we’re going to talk about IQ, we might as well talk about the more interesting discovery:  the Flynn effect.   The average IQ  in many parts of the world has been steadily increasing with time.  By today’s normalization, the average IQ in the US in 1932 was 80.  Now, it certainly seems odd to suggest that people today are much smarter than they were less than a century ago, during the age of Dirac, Husserl, and Keynes.  One’s first thought is that maybe IQ doesn’t really measure intelligence at all, but something perhaps correlated with it.  (For example, there is probably a correlation today between being intelligent and being able to program a computer; and there probably was 50 years ago, but one obviously can’t conclude that people are smarter now because more of us can program.)  Or maybe there isn’t really that much variation in human intelligence, so the curve can shift by a standard deviation without anyone much noticing.

The data suggests another possibility.  The Flynn effect is concentrated at the lower end of the distribution; there are fewer people with low scores, but not more people with high scores.  This may be the result of improved nutrition or other environmental factors among the lower class.  Perhaps people were a lot dumber on average in the past, but we don’t notice this, because when we think about a past era, we think about its greatest minds, and the number of these is not changing much.  (Suppose the total number of geniuses were proportional to the population.  That would create a real puzzle.  With the world’s vast population today, why aren’t we outshining all past eras?  I can think of a lot more geniuses active in 1932 than today, even though there were fewer of every race.)  Thus, it must have been very important that the high-IQ classes–presumably the upper classes–kept from interbreeding with the majority, to keep from drowning in the ambient sea of stupidity.

So, what are the implications for the IQ obsessives?  At the least, it seems that average IQ doesn’t tell one much about the intelligence of a society as a whole.  America once–not long ago–had an average IQ similar to that of blacks today, and it wasn’t the third-world dystopia some race-realists predict.  If IQ tells us anything about a society’s intellectual resources, it’s the right tail of the curve that matters most.  Another obvious conclusion:  group IQs are not fixed.

16 Responses

  1. Here is a link to a Rushton and Jensen discussion of the Flynn effect. They claim (w/ evidence) that the Flynn effect largely operates on the non-g-loaded parts of IQ tests (i.e. the questions which appear to measure intelligence less well). They also claim (w/ evidence) that practice makes perfect in taking IQ tests and that there has been a rise in the number of IQ-like tests/tasks over time.

    Dismissing the Flynn Effect as an interesting, unexplained measurement detail seems very reasonable to me, at least until it is explained and we can see whether the explanation has implications for other conclusions. After all, we don’t know of a mechanism for an intelligence rise, nor do we know of much in the way of confirmatory evidence for an intelligence rise. It’s an isolated, oddball, artifactual-looking thing.

    And, the “IQ obsessives” business is pure victim-blaming. When you make something taboo, only people with unusual personalities will take on the taboo. There is no bigger taboo in contemporary society than race-genetics-IQ.

  2. Flynn is a muddled and confusing guide to the world of IQ (he just isn’t very coherent) – Lynn (Richard) much better.

    Lynn’s conclusions – backed by massive evidence, are very much along the lines you indicate:

    1. There has been an increase in IQ at the lower end of the distribution due to improved nutrition and fewer severe infectious diseases acting mostly during early childhood. This has been analogous to the increase in average height over the same period – and this is not at all surprising or mysterious (to a medic, anyway) – the brain is, after all, an organ, and can be starved or otherwise damaged in numerous ways.

    2. And there has been a reducing IQ at the top level, due to use of contraception/ abortion leading to the demographic transition and the inverse relationship between intelligence and fertility – now very substantial. All high IQ groups (except for a few devoutly and traditionally religious, notably Mormons) have fertility rates well below replacement levels.

    3. The average IQ has, in the past decades, been reducing at the global level by massive differentials in population growth (and decline) (median age in nations ranges between about 15 and 45; and all the high IQ nations are at the upper end) – and this is now affecting developed nations due to truly massive population migrations currently afoot.

    I also agree that it is among the very high in intelligence that many differences are to be found in major achievements in the sciences, arts etc (the arena of Human Accomplishment – to use Charles Murray’s title). However, creativity (and some other things) are also extremely important in major accomplishments.

    According to Hans Eysenck, creativity correlates with some personality traits that are generally regarded as undesirable – tendency to psychotic symptoms, low empathy and selfish personality, lowish conscientiousness (all commoner in men) – and therefore creativity is now filtered-out from our ruling elites by numerous selection factors (which I have written about).

    However, national IQ averages are also a powerful predictor of many social variables – for example per capita GDP.

    Nobody supposes that group IQs are fixed, any more than average height is fixed; however IQ differentials have proved extremely stable (unless you treat different groups very differently): and attempts to narrow IQ differentials between groups have been a resounding failure.

  3. I get the impression that society chugs along in Mexico and Africa, despite their measured deficiencies. Those who are predicting some kind of civ-collapse because greater mestizo and black immigration to America are just foolish. Average IQ level is just not that important. FAR more important are the institutional and legal factors that shape behavior and attitudes. THOSE are set by the elite.

  4. According to Hans Eysenck, creativity correlates with some personality traits that are generally regarded as undesirable – tendency to psychotic symptoms, low empathy and selfish personality, lowish conscientiousness (all commoner in men) – and therefore creativity is now filtered-out from our ruling elites by numerous selection factors (which I have written about).

    I’ve read some of Dr Charleton’s stuff here, and it is very interesting. In economics, what he is talking about is very visible. Even 20 years ago, there were many more smart oddballs than there are now. And reading and talking to people leads me to believe that there were even more, proportionally, earlier. It is difficult for people with unusual behavior or poor interpersonal skills to complete a PhD or get a first job, now. Every year this selection gets stronger. I think Paul Krugman would have difficulty getting a first academic job today.

    The selection is not arbitrary, however. As Dr Charleton has described, peer review is a key. One can’t afford to make enemies, so conscientiousness and self-control are really important. Peer review differs across fields, but in economics it generates an enormous amount of utterly pointless busywork. Conscientiousness is key to doing it.

    I wonder how much of it is the entry of women. In the bad old days, you could give smart, creative, sporadically productive people who looked bad on paper but were obviously an asset to a department tenure while denying it to better-looking drudges. But, since these two groups have a sex disparity, you can’t do that anymore without risking a lawsuit

    Another thing is the improvement in the job. Being an academic used to be a mediocre job—poor pay, lots of teaching, middling status. Now it is a great job. So, it has attracted an enormous number of careerists. Most of the PhD students (including those at very good schools) I have come into contact with want to be academics because it is a good, high status job, not because it is any kind of calling. These people want to know 1-2-3 what they have to do to secure their career. The answer “publish X peer reviewed articles” appeals to them.

  5. Yeah, the real problem for the West is the Secular Hedonist-Cultural Marxist elite.

  6. Two, not particularly original, thoughts

    1) The abilities that IQ tests measure are not wholly innate. I recall taking part in a large sample at Oxford, back in the ‘Sixties and mathematicians, as a group, did significantly better than any other group (about 10 points better than classicists, for example) This suggests the possibility that the skills that IQ tests test can be improved with use.

    2) That, above a certain level, the advantage of increments of intelligence, in terms of overall performance diminishes; a person with an IQ of 120 may be as good a scholar, or better, than one with an IQ of 125, perhaps, because other factors assume a greater importance

  7. 1. Several studies have shown that mathematicians do in fact have the highest average intelligence of all academics.

    2. Naturally, there is an element of imprecision or ‘tolerance’ to the measurement of IQ – and IQ is a measure of ‘perfomacnce’ in tests; but the assumption is that the underlying general intelligence or ‘g’ is not alterable – it usually rises with maturity to a certain age (c 16 in women, c 18 in men) and then holds steady for some years before (probably) declining due to accumulation of various pathologies.

  8. “Several studies have shown that mathematicians do in fact have the highest average intelligence of all academics.”

    Of course, but that is precisely what make me dubious about the method being used to measure intelligence. One possible explanation is that the tests favour those with (acquired) mathematical skills.

  9. MP-S – I’m sorry if you already know about the history and nature of general intelligence, but if not then I would recommend the following as a very mainstream statement of the area:

    Ian Deary’s very short ‘Intelligence’ book can be read in 2 hours and is even clearer and better explained.

    IQ is a very old, very robust area of psychological research – probably the best validated; and almost everything of significance was pretty much known about the subject before 1950, probably earlier.

    What has happened since c1965 has been *mostly* suppression (HJ Eysenck being among the first victims), distortion, misinformation among nearly everybody except a ‘handful’ of diligent researchers who have sustained and continued to refine this useful concept: Jensen, Lynn, Gottfredson, Deary, Furnham etc.

    My point is that it is difficult for a newcomer (whose mind is muddled by the prevailing coverage of IQ) to come up with an objection that was not raised and dealt with many decades ago.

    This applied to me. I was a psychology professor with a couple of decades of research/ publishing into psychiatry, the brain and evolutionary psychology behind me before I ever actually engaged with the IQ literature (as a result of reading economics!) and was amazed by what I found: ‘hidden in plain sight’.

  10. I think Paul Krugman would have difficulty getting a first academic job today.

    So the effect is not entirely without an upside…

  11. Heh.

  12. I’m all in favor of intellectual mediocrities being able to make it in academia, since by most measures I’m one of them.

  13. Ordering error. My Heh belongs after Mr Nicoloso’s post.

  14. Perhaps some of the IQ tests back in the day were flawed. There is also European blood mixing with Africans in America. African-Americans have possibly anywhere between 10 to 70% European blood in their lineages and another factor for increase in IQ.

  15. I wrote a post on this subject a little bit ago – “IQ, the Flynn Effect, and Africa“. IQ and the Flynn effect are really poorly understood by most people, and I think you’re overestimating how much the Flynn effect proves. Read my post, hopefully you will find it interesting.

  16. Hello Mr. Finbarr,

    Thank you for sending me your article. The Wikipedia article I linked on the Flynn effect did mention the possibility that test-taking exposure has increased with time, although it leaned against this explanation. I didn’t look into the details, although I really must if I want to have a well-informed opinion. I don’t think, though, that we can conclude anything about average IQs from a period’s intellectual output, even as humble output as newspaper articles and political speeches. Those are aimed at the upper-IQ segment of the population, which hasn’t been effected by whatever is causing the Flynn effect. So I expect that Africa could perform just as well with a low mean IQ as long as their right tail was similar to ours. I don’t know whether that’s the case or not.

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