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An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on IQ, g, Racial Differences, Ethnicity, Species, and Affluence (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/06/22


Dr. James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ is an Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He discusses: IQ gains as not necessarily g, or general intelligence, gains; racial differences and definitions in intelligence research; and ethnic groupings, species, and getting to the roots of the research regardless.

Keywords: ethnicity, g, general intelligence, intelligence, IQ, James Flynn, morals, political studies, race.

An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on IQ, g, Racial Differences, Ethnicity, Species, and Affluence: Emeritus Professor, Political Studies, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Why are IQ gains not g gains, that is, general intelligence gains?

Professor James 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.

2. 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?

3. 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.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Emeritus Professor, Political Studies, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 22, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:

[3] Image Credit: James Flynn.


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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