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Interview with James Flynn (Parts One to Three)


Author(s): James Flynn & Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Noesis: The Journal of the Mega Society

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/02 (Issue #207)


Dr. James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ is an Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He discusses: current intelligence research; evolutionary biology; and the correlation between IQ gains and the advanced moral views.

Keywords: evolutionary biology, intelligence, IQ, James Flynn, morals, political studies.

An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on Intelligence Research, Evolutionary Biology, and IQ Gains and Advanced Moral Views: Emeritus Professor, Political Studies, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (Part One)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let us start from the current empirics of intelligence research. What are the overall findings now? What is the consensus of the field, if there is one?

Professor James Flynn: One of the consensuses of the field is one that I will not explore, that is, the relationship of intelligence to brain physiology. People seem to be inventing all sorts of wonderful new tools to investigate the brain beyond magnetic resonance imaging and see what type of thought processes are going on, and that should be extremely illuminating.

Obviously, cognition has a physiological basis. If we have illusions as to just what the physiological basis of certain cognitive abilities are, they certainly need correcting.

As to other areas of research, many people are not sufficiently sophisticated about the phenomenon of IQ gains over time. They do not seem to entirely grasp its significance and its limitations.

For example, the fact that people are better at generalization often produces a rise in moral reasoning. If you talked to my grandfather about race, he had certain fixed racial mores. But if you take a young person today, they are more flexible. If you ask, “Should you be underprivileged because your skin is black?”, and then ask, “What if your skin turned black?”, they would see the point. You must render your moral principles logically consistent.

They would not do what my father would do. He would say, “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. Who do you know whose skin turned black?” He would not take a hypothetical seriously, or the demands it entails for logical consistency. And once you concede that sheer “blackness” does not count, you would have to list personal traits that made someone worthy of persecution. That immediately gets you down to individuals as individuals, not individuals as a member of a particular race.

In my lifetime; students are less subject to racist and sexist stereotypes. That has had a good deal to do with the nature of the IQ gains over time, our ability to take hypothetical situations seriously, our ability to generalize and to see moral maxims as things that ought to have some type of universal applicability, rather than be just a tribal inheritance.

Jacobsen: Does a modern understanding of evolutionary biology help with this?

Flynn: They do not need anything as sophisticated as that. However, in saying that people today are better at moral assessments, I may give a false impression. Because they do need basic knowledge about the world and its history. You can have a very enlightened point of view towards social justice, and you can be free of racial stereotypes and yet, you can be colossally ignorant. All recent studies show that Americans are reading less and are less aware of how nations and their histories differ.

I emphasize this point in several of my books such as The Torchlight List and More Torchlight Books. People are surrounded by the babble of the media, Fox News and even CBS News. They are surrounded by the rhetoric of politicians. When people reach false conclusions about what ought to be done, it is often just sheer lack of the background knowledge that will allow them to put their egalitarian ideals to work.

Remember how America was talked into going into Iraq. This was not to wreak devastation on Iraqis, it was going to help Iraqis. This was going to give them a modern, stable society. Put that way, it sounds very good, does it not?

All people would have had to do would have been to have read one book on the Middle East, like Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Western Civilisation. They would have found that no Western power that sent troops into the Middle East has had a credit balance. They have always managed to get more people killed than would have been killed otherwise, and when they left, they left behind nations that had to “nation build” themselves, like every other nation in history.

I have often used an example that any properly educated person would think of immediately. That is The Thirty Years’ War in Germany (1618-1648), between Catholic and Protestant. It killed off half of the population. Let us imagine that a Turkish sultan, who in 1618, looked at Germany and said, “Look at how these Catholics and Protestants are torturing each other. Surely if I go in with a Turkish army, I can punish the wicked ones who do the most drawing and quartering, and I can reward the people who are more tolerant, and I will teach Catholic and Protestant to live to together in a nation-built Germany.”

We can all see the absurdity of this. But we can’t see the absurdity of a “benevolent” America sending an army into the Middle East to punish the bad guys and help the good guys, and make Sunnis and Shias love one another and nation build together.

The Thirty Years’ war also teaches us a lesson about Israel’s policy in the Middle East. What was Cardinal Richelieu’s policy from1618 to 1648? He said, “I am a Frenchman first, and a Catholic second. What I am going to do is meddle in this war and whoever is losing, I will back. I want these wars to go on forever. The more dead Germans, Catholic or Protestant, the better for France.”

This foreshadows Israel’s stand about the wars that rage in the Middle East. Israel believes that the Arabs will never accept them. It will always have to be stronger than the Arab nations to defend itself, and the weaker and the more divided the Arabs the better. This, of course, has nothing to do with the interests of American foreign policy. America must be talked into creating chaos in the Middle East so as “to do good”.

America is going through a trauma now. We backed Saudi Arabia against Iran, and now it turns out that Saudi Arabia is at least as wicked as Iran, killing people by the millions in Yemen. It still lops people’s hands off for theft. The women who pioneered against the restrictions on driving are all in jail. Until recently the Shiite population could not have cellars because they were suspected of conducting filthy rites down there.

Americans do not know enough to assess either US or Israeli policy. The average person’s “knowledge” is limited to what they are told. They may be well-meaning. But they are told that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant. They meet exiles who dress like Westerners and look like themselves. These exiles use the language of democracy and free speech. However, their real goal is to get back into power in Iraq and their only hope of that is American intervention.

Academics are fixated on whether the 21st Century will see IQ gains or IQ losses. The real question for the 21st century is whether we can produce a better-educated population. The odds seem to be all against it.

I have a book coming out this year called In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor. More and more of America’s students lack either the knowledge or the critical intelligence to come to terms with the modern world. There is nothing the matter with our hearts but the problem is our heads.

If anyone had told me, 50, 60 years ago, when I began lecturing, that we would double the number of university graduates, and have a smaller elite of well-educated critics of our time, I would say that was insane. But all the studies show that adults today read less serious literature, less history than they did 30 or 40 years ago, that they are at least as ignorant of the same basic facts as they were 30 or 40 years ago.

To some degree, America is a special case – it is strange beyond belief. In other countries, people may not be well-educated. But few of them have an alternative view of the world that challenges science and makes education almost impossible. About 35 percent of Americans are raised in a way that provides them with a kind of world view that makes them suspicious of science.

At least in France, over one-third of people do not believe that the solar system began ten thousand years ago, that dinosaurs and human beings existed at the same time, and that if one species differs from another it was because God designed them that way.

This world-view was typical in many nations in the late 19th century. Take Britain: people were enraged by Darwin and thought their next-door neighbour was going to hell because they didn’t baptize their kids correctly. But slowly this world view faded in Britain, and Canada, and Australia, and England, and Spain, and Portugal. People who thought of modern science as an enemy, and had this 19th-century perspective, began to disappear.

What the hell happened to America? It is as if a third of the population was taken to Mars, and then came back a hundred years later, and their minds had been in a refrigerator. That is a terrible burden America must carry: about a third of its population has a world view that makes them systematically opposed to learning and critical intelligence.

Jacobsen: How much is there a correlation between IQ gains and the advanced moral views that you mentioned before?

Flynn: That is hard to tell. I am only familiar with data within the US. The mean IQ is lower in the South than in states like Minnesota, or like Massachusetts. Despite the preaching of the Southern Baptists and Southern Methodists about the value of fundamentalist Christianity, you have more murder, rape, and early pregnancies than you have up north.

You find a correlation that as IQ rises, people have what I would call more enlightened moral judgment. But you must look at all the confounding variables. Ever since the Civil War, the South has been in a state of schizophrenia. Of course, it is a less prosperous part of the nation. It is a more rural part of the nation. It is a more religious part of the nation. How is one to pick out the causes here? I suspect that thanks to IQ gains over time, some kids raised as Southern Baptists, have learned to be skeptical and to think for themselves. But why has the number been so small?

Jacobsen: Why are IQ gains not g gains, that is, general intelligence gains?

Flynn: Simply because IQ gains over time have occurred on all IQ subtests and have not been greater on those subtests that are of the greatest cognitive complexity. However, I do not think that the fact that IQ gains fail to particularly load on g (or cognitive complexity) is a reason to discount their significance. IQ gains on subtests like vocabulary (among adults), matrices, block design, classification, should be very important even if gains are equivalent on other less demanding subtests like digit span, which mainly tests rote memory.

G has an appeal as a concept of intelligence. It shows that individuals who do well on IQ tests beat the average person more and more as problems become more cognitively complex. If you and I were to sit down and say, “What would be one of the characteristics of intelligence?”, we would probably reply, “The person who is intelligent can beat the average person more on complex problems than easy problems,” wouldn’t we?

This mistakenly leads to the conclusion that IQ gains are not really “intelligence” gains and must lack significance. I am not going to get into defining intelligence, but certainly gains on vocabulary are highly socially significant no matter what has happened to other cognitive skills. If you really want to see why IQ gains have not been as significant as they might be, you would do better to focus on the fact that universities are doing such a bad job of educating.

I have a book coming out this year, in September, called In Defence of Free Speech: The University as Censor. At present, universities spend as much time censoring as teaching. Anyone who has unpopular views on race or gender or practically anything is banned: they can’t speak on campus, they are not read, they are derided ignorantly.

In my book, I detail all the things I learned, precisely because I read Jensen, and Murray, and Lynn, and Eysenck. It is wonderful when you encounter a highly intelligent, highly educated opponent, who takes a point of view contrary to your own. You must reassess your arguments. You often find that you have been simplistic, and that arguing with these opponents teaches you ten times as much as you knew when you were naive.

Let us go back to our friend, g. The is overwhelming evidence that cognitive abilities, even when taken individually, are significant. This is true of individual skill in all areas. If we studied drivers in New York, or in Boston, some would be better drivers and some worse drivers. We could rank driving tasks in terms of complexity. We would probably find a “g pattern: that the better drivers bested the average person the more as the complexity of skills rose. I am sure that the better and the worst drivers would not differ much on the simple task of turning on the ignition. But note that the presence or absence of the g pattern would tell us nothing about the causes at work, not even as often thought whether the causes were environmental or genetic

For ordinary city driving, the better drivers would start to forge ahead of the worse ones. This would become more pronounced if you looked at driving around the cities on beltways: that is one of the first things elderly people give up. There are so many cars coming in so many directions and changing lanes. Many elderly people who still drive will not do beltway driving. The better group would be much better at it. Finally, there is the question of parallel parking, which is the part of the driving test most people fear. The better group might better the average person most of all on that.

When we look at these two groups, how useful would it be to derive a g factor? It would be disastrous to assume that since g is influenced by genes the better drivers were somehow a genetic elite. G would tell you nothing about causes. For example, you may discover that the people who are the worst drivers are new arrivals in New York City who have had no experience in beltway driving. You also find that in their town, you just drove into a parking space and didn’t have to know how to come in on a parallel park.

On the other hand, we might find that none of this is true. We might find that they were equally experienced, and then we would say to ourselves, “I bet there is a genetic factor. Perhaps some of these people are better at spatial visualization. Perhaps some of them are better at information processing. Perhaps some of them are better at manual dexterity.” Our minds would go in the direction of skill influence by genes. But it would depend on the case. You must approach each case with fresh eyes, and not be hypnotized by g.

I am quite sure that any two groups can be differentiated by genetic factors, and that this would affect performance. For example, if one group was a lot taller than another, it would affect their basketball performance. But you must take these cases one by one.

I looked at black/white IQ differences in Germany. Blacks in America fall further behind whites the more cognitively complex the task, which leads some to infer that they are lower on g and are genetically inferior. But then you study Eyferth’s children in Germany. These were half-black and all-white children left behind by black and white Ameican servicemen in post-war Germany. The g pattern had disappeared. There was no tendency whatsoever for the half-black kids to fall behind more and more as you go up the complexity ladder.

That seems to imply that this group difference has something to do with culture. The first thing that comes to your mind is that these half-black kids were raised by white German women. There was no real black subculture in Germany after World War II. The black subculture element is totally absent. Then you go to someone like Elsie Moore.

She did a wonderful study in the 1980s. No-one, of course, will repeat it again because of political correctness. She had, as I recall, it was something like 40 kids – or maybe it was 48, that sounds more like it – all of who were black. Half of them were adopted by black parents of high SES and half of whom were adopted by white parents of high SES. At the age of eight and a half, the black kids adopted by white parents of high SES were 13 points ahead of the black kids adopted by black parents.

Elsie Moore called the mothers and kids in. She found that white mothers were universally positive. “That is a good idea. Why don’t we try this?” The black children came in with their black foster mothers. The mother was negative. “You are not that stupid. You know better than that.”

It became quite clear that even though both sets of families had elite SES, there was something in black subculture that found it unwelcome to confront complex cognitive problems. Once again, by the age of eight and a half, the black children adopted by whites of high education and SES were 13 points above the blacks adopted by blacks

You can say, “Is that evidence enough?” It is not enough, of course, but it does tie in with the German data. There, black subculture was absent, and the g effect was absent. In America, black subculture is thriving. Even the black children being raised by white parents, as they grew up, would tend to merge into the black teenage subculture, the “shopping mall” subculture.

My main point is that we must approach all this with an open mind. I am not saying that Jensen’s concept of g does not pose interesting questions. It does, but it cannot be taken as an automatic piece of litmus paper as to when one group is genetically privileged over another. Both options must be open.

I think that a genetically influenced g effect occurs between individuals. I think that when you have sexual reproduction, the higher cognitive abilities are more at risk of “damage” than the lower ones. You can imagine that would be true. You have two siblings. If one had bad luck, he will have more deleterious recessive genes paired. This may damage complex cognitive skills more than less complex ones. The bad luck twin will probably be below his brother more on Raven’s than on rote memory. I published this opinion recently and Woodley took notice of it. Do you know who Woodley is?

Jacobsen: I have heard that name before, but that is about all.

Flynn: He’s a very prolific British researcher, very good indeed. I supplemented my remarks by saying that it was interesting that the higher cognitive abilities were the ones that would have come along latest in the human evolutionary history and, therefore, they might be more fragile in the genome. Woodley is now pursuing this possibility

The concept of g shouldn’t be dismissed. Whenever anything describes a phenomenon in intelligence, we must probe for its causes. It is terribly sad that it is gotten side-tracked: into a debate over whether the fact one group falls further behind another as cognitive complexity increases is an indication that they’ve got to be genetically defective.

As you know, I have done research with Bill Dickens that showed that blacks gained on whites about 5 points in the generation between 1972 and 2002. This correlated with evidence from educational tests, as well. What are we going to say if they gain another 5 points? Are we going to conclude that the g pattern is not as pronounced as we once thought it was? That would fly in the face of evidence in its favour. So, g, to me, is an interesting concept for research but it is not the be all and end all of what we do when we do intelligence research.

Jacobsen: Racial differences also lead to some questions around definitions. For instance, is it a scientific category, race? In other words, is it proper to even talk, in a modern scientific context, about the category “race” when talking about intelligence?

Flynn: I do not have much patience with that. I see that as an evasion of real issues. Imagine that a group of Irish came to America in about 1900. Of course, the Irish have not been a pure race through all of history, but they have much more in common in terms of heredity than they do with Slovaks.

These Irishmen in America settle in a community down by the Mississippi. You will find that when the children send them to school, some Irish kids will do better than others; and the ones who do better will, on average, will grow up to buy more affluent homes.

Thus they divide into two groups. Below the railway tracks near the Mississippi, where it is not so nice, you will have what we used to call “shanty Irish”. Above the railway tracks, where things are much nicer, you will have what we used to call “lace curtain Irish”. If you compare these two groups, you will find an IQ gap between them that has a genetic component.

You can try to dismiss this by repeating the mantra “They are not pure races.” Of course, they are not pure races. They are sociological constructs that have a different sociology because of somewhat different histories. But it still makes perfectly good sense to ask whether there would be a genetic difference in IQ between the shanty Irish and the lace curtain Irish.

When individuals within a group compete, genetically influenced cognitive skills are involved. Some people, as I have said, will do better at school and, on average, they will have a better genetic endowment. It will not be a huge gulf. American children from parents in the top and bottom third of SES tend to have an IQ gap of 10 points; and perhaps 5 of these may be genetic rather than environmental.

I hope this cuts through all of this nonsense. Also, the “irrelevance” of race seems to be special pleading. If we cannot talk about blacks as a “pure race”, and that disqualifies grouping them together, how can we have anything like affirmative action? The answer will be, “Well of course they are not a pure race. But they identify themselves as black, and whites identify them as black, and despite the fact that they are a social construct, they get the short end of the stick.”

If you can compare blacks and whites as to who gets the short end of the stick, you can also give them IQ tests, and you can also ask yourself as to whether in the histories of these two peoples, there has not been sufficient genetic diversity that one has built up an advantage over the other.

The causes of the black-white IQ gap are an empirical question. It has nothing to do with the stuff about pure races. There are groups that are socially identified as different, groups that identify themselves as socially different, groups that have histories that could conceivably lead to a genetic gap between them. You have got to look at the evidence.

It is an evasion. You ignore the fact that there are no pure races when you say, “more blacks live in poverty.” Why drag it in when you compare races for genetic differences?

Jacobsen: What about the shift in the conversation in terms of talking more about species rather than races, and then looking at different ethnic groupings? So, it is doing it within what probably are more accurate depictions than terminology such as “race”.

In terms of reframing it within a more modern scientific context, in terms of having species, and then having different groupings, as you noted, it is with ethnic groupings with different histories, rather than talking about races.

Flynn: That is fine. I have no objection to that, but it is not going to make anything go away, is it?

Jacobsen: No.

Flynn: There are still going to be 10% of Americans who self-identify as “black” and virtually all whites will identify blacks as “black”, and then we will still have to ask the question, “Do black and white at this point in time differ for cognitive abilities entirely environmentally?” I do not see how any verbal device will change this

There used to be academics who said that since humans share 99% of their genes with bonobos, you could dismiss the notion that genes have something to do with intelligence. The significance of this was exactly the opposite. If one percent difference made a huge difference in intelligence, then if racial groups differed by 1/100 of a percent, it might create the IQ gap difference that we see today.

I haven’t found any argument yet for sweeping the race and IQ debate under the carpet which is anything but special pleading. I do not think these arguments would be used in any other context whatsoever. They are used in this context so that we can all say, “We do not have to investigate these matters. We can pat ourselves on the back.” When actually, we should feel scholarly remiss.

Jacobsen: What about the declines, or apparent declines, in IQ over the last decade or so?

Professor James Flynn: People have never understood that the factors that feed into IQ gains are quite complex and interlinked. I do not know if you have seen the article with the very distinguished British psychologist, Michael Shayer, that we published in Intelligence.

People focus on Scandinavia but most of the Scandinavian data are young adults taking military tests, and it could well be that the environmental triggers for IQ gains have declined for that age-group while they have not declined for other age-groups. For example, in all cultures today, including Scandinavia, there is much more emphasis on cognitive exercise in old age. This may still be progressing today and if you looked at the aged in Scandinavia, you would find gains.

I have studied the Dutch. I suspect that the Dutch are still treating their aged better, making them healthier, and giving them more food, and more cognitive stimulation. Then we go down to mature adults who are in the world of work. There is some Wechsler data showing that in that age group, IQ gains are still proceeding, meaning the world of work in Holland is still more cognitively challenging than it was 30 years ago.

Then you come down to the kids just out of school who aren’t in the world of work. There is overwhelming data that in most Western societies, males are interfacing with formal education worse than they did in the past: more expulsions, less homework, more rebellion. At that age, Dutch IQ may be slightly lower than in the previous generation.

Then you look at the Dutch down at preschool and you find, essentially, stasis. This is before kids go to school. It appears that their environment is neither better nor worse. Perhaps parents have exhausted their bag of tricks for making the childhood environment cognitively demanding, but they haven’t lost any ground either.

The question of IQ gains over time must be looked at in the light of full data that involves all age groups. Remember, again, my point, that whether we have slight increases in IQ during the 21st century, is far less important than the level of ignorance during the 21st century.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Looking at the research since 2000, how have the notions, or the formal definitions, and research, and trends into race, class, and IQ changed over time as further research has been done?

Flynn: As for race, those who want to evade the issue still say, “Oh, the races just differ in term of class.” This is ludicrous because as you know, if you match black and whites for socioeconomic status, it does almost nothing to eliminate the IQ gap.

Then you say: “But the black class is more insecure, they are more recently arrived at middle-class status, and thus class does not mean the same thing for black and white.” Note those words. Although it is never admitted, you have slipped from a class analysis into a black subculture analysis. You are saying that you can no longer look at this issue purely in terms of socioeconomic status. You must look behind matching for SES and see what is going on in the minds and hearts of people. Despite this, there is an enormous inhibition against using the notion of subculture. This has to do with weird notions about praise and blame.

If you look at Elsie Moore, you think, “Isn’t she saying that black mothers are less efficient mothers than white mothers? Isn’t she saying that they are more negative? Isn’t more corporal punishment waiting in the wings?” Maybe there is. If so, these things must be isolated and altered. But they make white scholars shudder. If they talk about black subculture, they will be accused of “blaming the victim”.

The cover is to talk vaguely about the fact that blacks have a history of slavery for which they are not to blame. And that they are poor for which they are not to blame. This is a sad evasion. Unless the history of blacks has current effects on their subculture, it would be irrelevant. Once again, you must come back to subculture. Note that the Chinese have a history of persecution but that is irrelevant because their subculture today is not affected in a way that lowers their mean IQ.

I do think that there has been a rise in the number of people who take Jensen’s hypotheses seriously. I have. Dick Nisbett has. Steve Cici has. Bill Dickens has. How do you balance that against this deeply rooted feeling that any investigation in this area has to be subject to a moral censor?

Jacobsen: This leads into the book you are going to be publishing later.

Flynn: The one on the universities?

Jacobsen: Yes. It has to do with academic freedom and the prevention of certain research. Also, in terms of what is coming out of the universities in terms of the graduates, what are your first general thoughts about the state of academic freedom and the state of graduates?

Flynn: There is a sad intolerance on the parts of students when they encounter people who hold ideals or ideas that they find repugnant. Look at the persecution of Charles Murray. I do not, by the way, deny that this sort of thing happened in the past. When I was a young academic, I was persecuted for being a social democrat and driven out of US academia, so I am not one of these elderly people who say, “It was nice in my day.”

It is ironic that the left today seem as intolerant as the right were in my day. When students banished Charles Murray at Middlebury University, they merely proved they were more powerful than he was and could threaten him with violence. There was not one person in that mob educated enough to argue effectively against his views. They did not know what he had to say and never having heard him, they will never know. They mimicked lecturers who said, “This man is a racist. Let us keep him off campus.” That is one force against academic freedom.

The is also the fact that no young academic has security. Over half of the courses in America today are taught by adjunct professors.

They have no tenure and can be fired at the drop of the hat. They know where their careers lie. Imagine giving a vita to a university and saying on it, “One of my chief interests is research into racial differences and intelligence and the necessity of an evidential approach to the work of Arthur Jensen.” What chance do you think you would have? You wouldn’t get hired. You wouldn’t get given tenure. You might as well jump off a bridge.

People are being fired in American universities today, merely because they use the term “wetback” in a lecture, which is considered so offensive that they could not possibly apologize for it.

The administrators, of course, are supine. They just want as little trouble as possible, and the least trouble possible is to have a speech code. When a student is upset, you get the lecturer fired. If the lecturer remains, there is trouble and controversy. What other people do to academics is one source.

The second source is what academics do to themselves. There are certain departments where there is what I call “a Walden Code”. The phrase is taken from Skinner’s book Walden Two, which has a code that describes what is permissable. Various academic departments tend to enforce such a code.

In anthropology, if you are a Piagetian, and you think that societies could be ranked in terms of mental maturity, you are considered unholy. If you are in education and you think that IQ tests have a role to play, people recoil in horror. IQ tests rank people, and what education is all about is producing a society in which no-one ranks anyone else.

Then there are the new groups like black studies where there is often a fierce fight between ideologies as to who gets control. Who gets control is very likely to banish the others. Whether you are a revolutionary black Marxist, or whether you are this or that. There is a great deal of intolerance.

The same is true of women’s studies, though by no means in all departments. My department here at Otago is good. But in many of them, you cannot seriously investigate the reasons why women have less pay than men. It is automatically attributed to male malice without looking at all the sociological variables.

There is also the larger issue of what universities are doing to their students in general. They do not educate them for critical intelligence but to just get a certificate for a job. And some departments see themselves as sending out missionaries, for example, Schools of Education send students out to turn the schools into an imitation of a “liberated” society.

The teachers and students bat ideas around, but the teacher steers the conversation toward America’s ills points out that there are poor people in America, and that rich people profit from the poor, and that blacks and gays suffer. All very true. But the students arrive at university without learning what they need to cope.

My book gives a classical defence of free speech. It details the knowledge I would have been cheated out of had I not benefited from arguing against Jensen, and Murray, and Lynn, and Eysenck. It details all the threats to free speech posed by the university environment.

Jacobsen: How important are modern developments of things like research ethics boards, REB and IRB?

Flynn: Some of these, of course, are appropriate. You do not want psychologists experimenting with how students perform at various levels of inebriation, and then let them drive home and kill each other in traffic accidents. Certain ethical codes are important. The abuse is when they are used to ban research that the university knows is unpopular.

A point that I haven’t touched on. The natural sciences, the mathematical sciences, and professions like law and medicine are not exempt from pressures toward conformity, but they do have to educate for the relevant knowledge, and they are less subject to corruption. I guess you could take an ideological line in favour of Newton, an Englishman, and against Leibniz, a Frenchman. I once knew a lecturer who turned his Accounting classes into a plea for Social Darwinism. But still, students have got to learn to do the math.

In physics, it is hard to take an ideological line when you teach the oxygen theory of combustion against the phlogiston theory. The same is true of chemistry. After all, your graduates go on to graduate schools and you don’t want them to embarrass you by seeming woefully inept. Someone must be able to do surgery without always nicking the tonsils in the process.

The hard sciences have an incentive to maintain a higher standard of intellectual training than the humanities and social sciences. Yet they can easily be corrupted by the fact that they usually require lots of money. The government put strings on what money it is willing to give, and corporations put strings on what money they are willing to give. They can effectively forbid research that they dislike.

My book does not go into that. It is mainly about the humanities and the social sciences. I am told that the Trump administration is trying to do awful things to the biological sciences when funding the National Health Foundation. He is certainly discouraging research into climate change.

Jacobsen: If you were to take what would be termed the socio-political left and the socio-political right in the academic system, in the humanities, what are they doing right and what are they doing wrong regarding academic freedom?

Flynn: They are doing something right insofar as they are scientific realists, and they are doing something wrong insofar as they are not. [Laughing] Of course, that is not purely a political divide. There are plenty of people both on the so-called left and on the right who live in an ideological dream world, an image of man and society which they try to “protect” by getting people fired they disagree with.

But fortunately, on both right and left, there are people who say, “We have got the scientific method. It is the only method that actually teaches us what the real world is like, and we’re going to fight like crazy to apply it despite all of the forces against us.

Jacobsen: If an academic on either side of the aisle want to make a point as in the ends justify the means, is it justified for them to simply ignore or skip an ethics review and potential need for ethics approval in a university when they are doing research?

Flynn: The notion that the end justifies the means, if stretched far enough, will open the door to censorship. There are limits, of course. I wouldn’t be in favour of a physics department that spent all of its time trying to develop a doomsday machine: how to dig a hole, and put enough nuclear weapons in there, so that any nuclear attack on your soil would trigger a nuclear explosion that would tilt the earth on its axis. [Laughing]

There are also limits in the humanities. To have a whole department of geology dominated by people who believe in crop circles, would also be bizarre. What you have got to do is say, “The scientific community recognizes that there are screwballs out there. We have got to take efforts to try to limit their presence in the classroom. But we must always, always be alert to the difference between necessary guidelines and censorship guidelines that allow us to shut up people we disagree with.”

Aristotle called finding this balance “practical wisdom”. I do not know how to give say 90% of academics practical wisdom so they can tell the difference between the two, but it is what academics have got to strive for whether they are right or left.

Jacobsen: In what contexts in history have there been academics as a majority who have adhered to those freedom of academic inquiry principles?

Flynn: I am not sure that they have ever been a majority. It is better to ask, “Are there universities today that sin less than others?” I would say that the University of Chicago sins much less than Harvard or Yale. In my book, I detail the extent to which the University of Chicago tries to deal with the forces against free speech on campus, and the extent to which Yale and Harvard have succumbed to these.

When you look at the history of universities, there sure as hell was not much tolerance before let us say about 1920, if only because of the influence the churches and their respectable members. In the 1920s, the Red Scare intimidated thousands of academics. Later, there was the McCarthy period. But in all those periods, there were academics who fought for free speech come hell or high water.

It is hard for me to say what the ebb and flow has been over history. It is much better to look at universities today and see who the worst sinners are.

Jacobsen: If you were to take a period-based qualitative analysis, is the persecution now from the so-called left, as you labelled them, worse than those from the so-called right towards the left during, for instance, The Red Scare, or the McCarthy era?

Flynn: I am trying to say that it is too hard to tell. I lived through the McCarthy period. I was damaged by it. My wife was damaged by it. My friends were damaged by it. Obviously, it has an immediacy for me. But at that time, even then, I felt I could probably find somewhere in the academic world where I might find a home.

Today, I look at the young adjunct professor in Virginia frantically trying, despite being an outstanding researcher, to find a berth somewhere, and being terrified of being thought unorthodox. I think today is at least comparable to what went on in the McCarthy period. It shouldn’t be thought of as somehow a lesser influence against freedom of inquiry than what went on then.

Jacobsen: What are the more egregious cases in the modern period that come to mind regarding this?

Flynn: The continual firing of adjunct professors because of a slip of the tongue. In my book, I also examine cases in which tenured professors have either been fired or have had their research curtailed. All sorts of things are done to them because they were investigating the wrong issue at the wrong time. Hiring policies. The banning of speakers on campus. All these things are at present in full swing.

Jacobsen: What do you see as the trajectory of research into the 2020s on IQ and on intelligence?

Flynn: If you look at problems that do not raise the spectre of race, there’ll be very considerable progress, particularly from the brain physiologists. Also people are becoming more sophisticated in understanding that you must deal with g and not be hypnotized by it.

Jacobsen: What about the future of the academic system regarding freedom of expression, not just freedom of speech?

Flynn: There is a real reaction against what is going on. The interesting thing will be to see how far it will go. It will go far only if principled university lecturers get behind the various groups that are fighting like crazy to have a more open university. Heterodox Academy is one such.

I do not know how many university staff still retain academic integrity. I do not know how many of them, integrity aside, can no longer think clearly about issues. I do not know how many of them have sold out to careerist interests, but there do seem to be encouraging signs. A lot of academics are saying, “We’d rather teach in a place like Chicago, and not a place like Yale.” Let us just hope we can turn the tide.

A lot of it will have to do with exterior events. If you get a wartime climate, all reason goes out of the window. What the effects will be of global warming, I would hate to guess. I have no crystal ball, but the universities are in the balance. There are significant pressures against the forces of reaction.

Jacobsen: Do you have any further thoughts, overall, just on your life’s work?

Flynn: I do not want to comment on my life’s work. Either it has had an influence, or it hasn’t. [Laughing]

Jacobsen: I think it has. It was nice to talk to you again. Take care. I hope you have a wonderful evening.

Flynn: We will be in touch.

Jacobsen: Excellent. Thank you very much.

Flynn: Good-bye.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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