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.
Filed under: Wedge Minorities |