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An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on Intelligence, Academic Freedom, and Life’s Work (Part Three)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/07/08


Dr. James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ is an Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He discusses: declines or apparent declines in IQ over the last decade or so; the changes in the notions, or the formal definitions, and research, and trends into race, class, and IQ over time; general thoughts about the state of academic freedom and the state of graduates; modern developments of things like research ethics boards, REB and IRB; what the socio-political left and right are doing right and wrong in the academic system, in the humanities, regarding academic freedom; justifications for an ethics review or not; historical precedents of adherence to the principles of freedom of academic inquiry; persecution comparable to The Red Scare and the McCarthy Era; egregious cases in the modern period of persecution; trajectories into research on IQ and intelligence; the future of the academic system regarding freedom of expression (and so freedom of speech); and overall thoughts on life’s work. 

Keywords: academic freedom, general intelligence, intelligence, IQ, James Flynn, political studies.

An Interview with Emeritus Professor James Robert Flynn, FRSNZ on Intelligence, Academic Freedom, and Life’s Work: Emeritus Professor, Political Studies, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (Part Three)[1],[2],[3]

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

1. Scott Douglas 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.

2. 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?

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. Jacobsen: Excellent. Thank you very much.

Flynn: Good-bye.

Appendix I: Footnotes

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

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 8, 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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