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tokenadult · 2014-07-02 · Original thread
The blog post author did a terrible job of research on IQ by encountering the writings of Richard Lynn (funded by the Pioneer Fund, and later an administrator of the Pioneer Fund) and not finding the writings of James R. Flynn,[1] the acknowledged expert on IQ trends over time, after whom the Flynn effect[2] is named. Flynn's TED talk[3] is the place to start for understanding what is really going on in IQ score trend and in national average IQ differences to date.

By contrast, Lynn is decried as a sloppy scholar,[4] and is not taken seriously by the mainstream of human intelligence researchers.





tokenadult · 2012-12-07 · Original thread
Other comments in this thread helpfully explain the context of these recommendations. The TEDx brand name is now used to label local events set up by busy volunteers who need criteria for evaluating speaking proposals. The majority of the criteria are sensible and helpful, but I see one criterion that is overly broad, as another subthread first noted.

"Holds a nonstandard degree. For instance, if the physics-related speaker has a degree in engineering, not physics; if the medical researcher does not have an M.D. or Ph.D.; if the affiliated university does not have a solid reputation. This is not snobbery; if a scientist truly wishes to make an advance in their chosen field, they’ll make an effort to engage with other scholars."

Well, unless what is meant here by "make an effort to engage with other scholars" is publish in the same peer-reviewed journals as the scholars with the expected credentials, this criterion sweeps up too many path-breaking scientists. I will give one famous example. James R. Flynn is a researcher on human intelligence who has had several peer-reviewed publications in Psychological Bulletin, the premier research journal on psychology in the United States.

But Flynn's Ph.D. degree is in sociology, not in psychology. He looks at the discipline of psychology as an outsider, and it is precisely that outsider's view that helped him make a discovery missed by dozens of psychologists. He discovered that IQ scores have been rising in national populations all over the world during the last century, and that trend of rising raw scores on IQ tests is now called the "Flynn effect" in his honor.

Here is what the late psychologist Arthur Jensen said about Flynn back in the 1980s: "Now and then I am asked . . . who, in my opinion, are the most respectable critics of my position on the race-IQ issue? The name James R. Flynn is by far the first that comes to mind." Modgil, Sohan & Modgil, Celia (Eds.) (1987) Arthur Jensen: Concensus and Controversy New York: Falmer. Here's what Charles Murray (all right, not a psychologist nor a geneticist) says in his back cover blurb for Flynn's book What Is Intelligence?:

"This book is a gold mine of pointers to interesting work, much of which was new to me. All of us who wrestle with the extraordinarily difficult questions about intelligence that Flynn discusses are in his debt." As psychologist N. J. Mackintosh (1998, p. 104) writes about the data Flynn found: "the data are surprising, demolish some long-cherished beliefs, and raise a number of other interesting issues along the way." Flynn has earned the respect and praise of any honest researcher who takes time to read the primary source literature. Robert Sternberg, Ian Deary, Stephen Pinker, Stephen Ceci, Sir Michael Rutter, and plenty of other eminent psychologists recommend Flynn's research. So, yes, sometimes "an effort to engage with other scholars" will happen after a scholar has already earned his last academic degree, and a scholar that has an important concept named after himself by people who have the standard degree will never have the standard degree for the field in which he made his mark.

EDIT PROMPTED BY SECOND REPLY: I'll attempt to be clear here. If the TEDx criteria included "has never been published in any major journal related to their chosen field" rather than "holds a nonstandard degree" not related to their chosen field (to speak about), I might have fully agreed with the criteria from the get-go. But degrees are both an overinclusive criterion and an underinclusive criterion. In other words, using degrees as a criterion for vetting speakers lacks both sensitivity and specificity.

Instead, look at publications as the relevant criterion. A person who has peer-reviewed publications in a good-quality medical journal is competent to speak on the issues discussed in that person's publications, with or without a medical degree, while a person with the M.D. degree who has never published in anything but "alternative medicine" journals is not well qualified to speak about medicine. Publications matter more than degrees, as the example of James R. Flynn I gave in the original edit of this post shows.

On the broader "demarcation problem" of distinguishing science from pseudoscience, a really valuable recently published book is The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe by Michael D. Gordin,

which I found to be quite an interesting read, full of historical and ideological connections I had not heard about before. The author, a historian of science based at Princeton University, makes clear that demarcating between "science" and "pseudoscience" is not at all easy in any era. Reviewers generally like this book, as I did.

tokenadult · 2011-07-10 · Original thread
Thanks for the link to Wikipedia, which I help edit, but you have to know that all the Wikipedia articles related to human intelligence are suspect summaries often based on suspect sources, as they have been the focus of a long-standing dispute with much edit-warring

that is still going on. The statement that the world population's IQ is expected to decline is directly contradicted by the Flynn Effect,

the observed steady rise in IQ scores across a large variety of countries over the last century.

tokenadult · 2009-10-06 · Original thread
An interesting review of a very worthwhile book. Here are some more comments on the same book:

"It is not just the fascinating effect that makes the book special. It's also Flynn's style. There's an unusual combination of clarity, wit, apposite allusion, and farsightedness in making connections and exploring unexpected consequences. The Flynn effect, in Flynn's hands, makes a good, gripping, puzzling, and not-quite-finished story..." --Ian Deary, Edinburgh University

"This book is a gold mine of pointers to interesting work, much of which was new to me. All of us who wrestle with the extraordinarily difficult questions about intelligence that Flynn discusses are in his debt.." --Charles Murray, American Enterprise Institute & co-author of The Bell Curve

"This highly engaging, and very readable, book takes forward the Dickens/Flynn model of intelligence in the form of asking yet more provocative questions. . . A most unusual book, one that holds the reader's attention and leaves behind concepts and ideas that force us to rethink all sorts of issues.." --Sir Michael Rutter, Kings College London

"Flynn provides the first satisfying explanation of the massive rise in IQ test scores. He avoids both the absurd conclusion that our great grandparents were all mentally retarded and the equally unsatisfactory suggestion that the rise has just been in performance on IQ tests without any wider implications.." --N. J. Mackintosh, University of Cambridge

"Citing many scholarly works, Flynn paints a dynamic picture of what intelligence is and the role of a person's genetic background, physiology and neurology, immediate environment and broader social factors...he has produced an impressively multidimensional and often wise look at the elusive topic of human intelligence." --Publisher's Weekly

"In What is Intelligence? James R. Flynn...suggests that we should not faciley equate IQ gains with intelligence gains. He says that it's necessary to 'dissect intelligence' into its component parts: 'solving mathematical problems, interpreteing the great works of literature, finding on the spot solutions, assimilating the scientific worldview, critical acumen and wisdom.' When this dissection is carried out, several paradoxes emerge, which Flynn in this engaging book attempts to reconcile." --Richard Restak, American Scholar

"The 20th century saw the "Flynn Effect" - massive gains in IQ from one generation to another." --Scientific American Mind

"In a brilliant interweaving of data and argument, Flynn calls into question fundamental assumptions about the nature of intelligence that have driven the field for the past century. There is something here for everyone to lose sleep over. His solution to the perplexing issues revolving around IQ gains over time will give the IQ Ayatollahs fits!." --S. J. Ceci, Cornell University

"What Is Intelligence? is one of the best books I have read on intelligence-ever...This is a brilliant book because, first, it helps resolve paradoxes that, in the past, seemed not to lend themselves to any sensible of the best things about the book is Flynn's sense of humility...this is a masterful book that will influence thinking about intelligence for many years to come. It is one of those few books for which one can truly say that it is must reading for anyone." --Robert J. Sternberg, PsycCRITIQUES

"...In this thoughtful, well-written book, Flynn offers an account of why the so-called Flynn effect occurs and what it means (and does not mean)....This is the clearest, most engaging work on intelligence....All will learn from the author's nuanced arguments. Some may quibble with Flynn's observations, but their work is cut for them: one cannot fault his clarity or ingenuity. Essential." --D.S. Dunn, Moravian College, CHOICE

"...James Flynn is best known for having discovered a stubborn fact...he established that in every country where consistent IQ tests have been given to large numbers of people over time, scores have been rising as far back as the records go, in some cases to the early 20th century. What Is Intelligence? is Flynn's attempt to explain this phenomenon, now known as the Flynn effect... an important take on what we have made of ourselves over the past few centuries and might yet make of ourselves in the future." --Cosma Shalizi, Assistant Professor in the Statistics Department at Carnegie Mellon University and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, American Scientist

Link to description of the book (whence those reviews came):

An in-depth transcript of a lecture by the author:

tokenadult · 2009-09-01 · Original thread
Assessment of Children: Cognitive Foundations by Jerome Sattler

Assessing Adolescent and Adult Intelligence, Third Edition by Alan S. Kaufman and Elizabeth O. Lichtenberger

What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith Stanovich

What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect by James R. Flynn

Handbook of Intelligence edited by Robert Sternberg

and a host of related books about IQ testing and what it means, to prepare a working paper on the latest research on IQ testing.

tokenadult · 2009-06-12 · Original thread
Okay, let me try to explain why this interesting proposal wouldn't help much with the problem that you mention.

1) First of all, it is very possible for high-IQ persons to have irrational ideas. It happens all the time. Most high-IQ people don't notice when they are being irrational.

The author of the article I have just linked has gathered numerous examples in a very readable and impeccably referenced book

that I have had occasion to recommend here on HN before. Read the book at your earliest opportunity if you would like to understand all the barriers to human understanding and rationality besides IQ. You'll learn a lot from the book, particularly numerous cases of high-IQ persons (including members of high-IQ societies) believing things that are false and irrational.

See also

for additional forms of evidence showing that wisdom and correct beliefs are distinct from IQ scores.

2) Second, no one knows his IQ exactly, so no one can pull rank this way. All IQ tests have error of estimation, and no one brand of IQ test will yield the same score for the same individual on every occasion, nor will two different brands of IQ tests necessarily sort the same group of test-takers into the same rank order. Terman (the developer of the first widely used IQ test in the United States, the Stanford-Binet) noted that error of estimation in IQ scores increases as IQ scores are above the mean:

"The reader should not lose sight of the fact that a test with even a high reliability yields scores which have an appreciable probable error. The probable error in terms of mental age is of course larger with older than with young children because of the increasing spread of mental age as we go from younger to older groups. For this reason it has been customary to express the P.E. [probable error] of a Binet score in terms of I.Q., since the spread of Binet I.Q.'s is fairly constant from age to age. However, when our correlation arrays [between Form L and Form M] were plotted for separate age groups they were all discovered to be distinctly fan-shaped. Figure 3 is typical of the arrays at every age level.

"From Figure 3 [not shown here on HN, alas] it becomes clear that the probable error of an I.Q. score is not a constant amount, but a variable which increases as I.Q. increases. It has frequently been noted in the literature that gifted subjects show greater I.Q. fluctuation than do clinical cases with low I.Q.'s . . . . we now see that this trend is inherent in the I.Q. technique itself, and might have been predicted on logical grounds." (Terman & Merrill, 1937, p. 44)

3) Third, a slightly different point from point 2), anyone's IQ can change over the course of life. (Pinneau 1961; Truch 1993, page 78; Howe 1998; Deary 2000, table 1.3). "Correlation studies of test scores provide actuarial data, applicable to group predictions. . . . Studies of individuals, on the other hand, may reveal large upward or downward shifts in test scores." (Anastasi & Urbina 1997 p. 326).

4) The best way to put this method to the test, I suppose, is to ask you which of my opinions you would accept if I could show that I have a higher IQ than you have. How much of a difference would force you to credit my opinions with being true? If the difference in IQ score were slight, would you propose that we each be retested?

5) Anyway, the suggestion, although interesting, is illogical, because what someone's IQ score is has no sure relationship with the truth of a person's beliefs, the adequacy of the person's education on particular matters of fact, or the person's willingness to reconsider opinions based on new evidence.


Anastasi, Anne & Urbina, Susana (1997). Psychological Testing. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Deary, Ian J. (2000) Looking Down on Human Intelligence: From Psychometrics to the Brain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Howe, Michael J. A. (1998). Can IQ Change?. The Psychologist, February 1998 pages 69-72.

Pinneau, Samuel R. (1961). Changes in Intelligence Quotient Infancy to Maturity: New Insights from the Berkeley Growth Study with Implications for the Stanford-Binet Scales and Applications to Professional Practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Terman, Lewis & Merrill, Maude (1937). Measuring Intelligence: A Guide to the Administration of the New Revised Stanford-Binet Tests of Intelligence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Truch, Steve (1993). The WISC-III(R) Companion: A Guide to Interpretation and Educational Intervention. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

tokenadult · 2009-04-17 · Original thread
My grand parents in their prime were just as smart as my parents, and my parents and uncles are just as smart as my cousins.

And this is one of the best empirical proofs that IQ scores are not a "measure" of how smart someone is. James Flynn discusses exactly this point of yours in several of his writings. He relates a story from Arthur Jensen about a mentally retarded man who claimed to be baseball fan, but who was very vague about the rules of baseball and didn't seem to know the names of many professional players. Yet that man had an IQ score that would relate back in time to a population average score from the era when baseball became a popular sport, widely followed in the United States.

All the Flynn effect means is that people have much more exposure to the type of puzzles in the Raven Progressive Matrix today than they did in the 1950's.

I'm very sympathetic to this statement, because I used to think that it offered the best explanation for the Flynn effect. But I am now convinced by Flynn's latest book

that on the one hand the gains in IQ test scores are real, and not just artifacts of familiarity with test item content (in large part because so many different kinds of tests have all shown this effect) and on the other hand that IQ has increased in society, and has been applied in the labor market and other aspects of daily life, without wisdom (Flynn's term) or rationality (Stanovich's) term increasing as generally in society.

You'd probably enjoy reading Mackintosh's book,

by far the best introductory text on IQ testing, and Flynn's latest

to delight your mind by grappling with how some specialist researchers have attempted to resolve the interesting issues you bring up in your reply.

tokenadult · 2009-03-23 · Original thread
Ai. Once more a journalistic report that confuses having a high IQ with being smart. This is not the current thinking among the best researchers on human intelligence.

As the current researchers put it, you can be "intelligent" (= score high on IQ tests) without being "rational" (above reference) or wise (below reference).

But this idea goes back a lot further, all the way to the beginning of IQ testing. Lewis Terman himself wrote, "There are, however, certain characteristics of age scores with which the reader should be familiar. For one thing, it is necessary to bear in mind that the true mental age as we have used it refers to the mental age on a particular intelligence test. A subject's mental age in this sense may not coincide with the age score he would make in tests of musical ability, mechanical ability, social adjustment, etc. A subject has, strictly speaking, a number of mental ages; we are here concerned only with that which depends on the abilities tested by the new Stanford-Binet scales." (Terman & Merrill 1937, p. 25)

Ian Deary has very trenchant comments on how poorly understood "ability to think quickly" is in his book Looking Down on Human Intelligence: From Psychometrics to the Brain

But, really, the obligatory link for any discussion of a report on a research result like that is the article by Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, on how to interpret scientific research.

Check each news story you read for how many of the important issues in interpreting research are NOT discussed in the story.

P.S. I saw another news story about this research announcement,

and it included this interesting paragraph:

"Just because intelligence is strongly genetic, that doesn't mean it cannot be improved. 'It's just the opposite,' says Richard Haier, of the University of California, Irvine, who works with Thompson. 'If it's genetic, it's biochemical, and we have all kinds of ways of influencing biochemistry.'"

tokenadult · 2009-03-12 · Original thread
The test that measures this the best is Raven's progressive matrices which is culture and language negative.

I've attended a lecture by John Raven, the publisher of that test, and he doesn't make that claim.

The long, careful examination of what the Raven tests show, in conjunction with other evidence, can be found in James R. Flynn's excellent book What Is Intelligence?, which is about to come out in a new, expanded edition.

Also very good for reconsidering the importance of IQ tests is Keith Stanovich's What Intelligence Tests Miss.

tokenadult · 2009-02-20 · Original thread
Scientists have studied race and IQ. The foremost scientist who has looked at the issue is James R. Flynn, who discovered an important phenomenon, increases in IQ scores over time, that had not been noticed by psychologists in data sets that Flynn reexamined. As Mackintosh (1998, p. 104) writes about the data Flynn found: "the data are surprising, demolish some long-cherished beliefs, and raise a number of other interesting issues along the way." His book, by the way,

is the best first book to read about IQ testing. The best second book to read about IQ testing is Flynn's latest book,

and the best third book on IQ testing to read, after the other two books have given you a conceptual foundation, is Keith Stanovich's latest.

A more complete annotated bibliography

lists other books, not all from the same point of view.

tokenadult · 2008-12-21 · Original thread
"Noting that raw I.Q. scores have been climbing by three points a decade since World War II across racial, income and regional boundaries"

I hope he has the decency to cite James R. Flynn's book What Is Intelligence

which is by far the best scholarly discussion of that phenomenon.

In most of these sorts of social trends, there are usually trade-offs. If I were hiring an editor of books or magazine articles, I might look for candidates from a different generation from the candidates I'd look for if hiring a video game designer.

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