Five questions to James Flynn, for European Scientist

  maxresdefaultJames Robert Flynn is a political philosopher and an intelligence researcher based in New Zealand. He is most famous for his publications about the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores throughout the world, which is now referred to as the Flynn Effect. His last manuscript, entitled “In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor,” and initially scheduled for publication in September 2019, was withdrawn by its own publisher.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: Besides your inquiries in intelligence research, you got involved in the exegesis of Aristotle’s philosophy… your very first published book developing “an Aristotelian view” on ideology in politics. What does your current polemical case for free speech owe to this Aristotelian background?

  James Flynn: I believe that I would defend free speech my debt to Aristotle aside. Any censorship turns what should be a contest of ideas into a test of strength—who has the power to shut their opponent up—and “might makes right” is hardly a principle that will maximize truth. But Aristotle was well aware that dialogue rather than authority was the proper method. He said: “Plato was a friend to us all, but an even better friend must be the truth.”

  Grégoire Canlorbe: While Aristotle’s pre-scientific physics attested to a kind of intelligence more empirical than imaginative, and more qualitative than measurement-oriented, Galilei’s intellect would exhibit qualities of speculation and inspiration, and mathematical and logico-experimental aptitudes, from which modern, properly scientific physics would spring. How would those two distinct sorts of intelligence translate into a contemporary IQ test?

  James Flynn: The current IQ tests are culturally relative in the sense that they try to measure skills appropriate in a modern scientific society. Look at the subtests of the Wechsler IQ test: (1) Vocabulary measures when you have a command of the language of a school-educated person; (2) Similarities measures whether you can use abstractions to classify and generalize as scientists do; (3) Arithmetic measures whether you are numerate; (4) Digit span measures whether you have a working memory for numbers; (5) Coding measures whether you note correlations between two systems of identification.

Continuer la lecture de « Five questions to James Flynn, for European Scientist »

A conversation with Gerhard Meisenberg, for Psych

Gerhard Meisenberg is a retired professor of biochemistry who lives in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica. Originally from Germany, he studied at the universities of Bochum and Munich where he obtained his Ph.D. in biology. He then did biochemistry research in the United States for three years, before joining the faculty at Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica. He worked in Dominica from 1984 until the end of 2018. He became known as the senior author of a major textbook of medical biochemistry that has so far been printed in four editions. In addition, he embarked on research in educational research and psychometrics. His special interest is in secular trends of intelligence (Flynn effects), which he studied in Dominica.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: You are best known for your textbook Principles of Medical Biochemistry as well as your evolutionary psychology treatise In God’s Image: The Natural History of Intelligence and Ethics. How do you move from the former to the latter?

  Gerhard Meisenberg: Biochemistry and the study of human behavior both are part of biology, although at slightly different levels. Psychology is one step down in the “hierarchy of sciences”: more complex, and less precise. What attracted me to human behavior are the big questions about why humans are the way they are, how they got that way, and what it means for our ongoing evolution. As Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” I realized that the “big picture” of human history cannot be understood without an understanding of the ongoing evolution of the value systems that determine what aims people pursue and the intelligence that determines how good they are at attaining these aims. Neither of these are etched in stone. They keep evolving, both culturally and biologically.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: A short while ago you co-wrote an article on sex differences in intelligence with Professor Richard Lynn. Could you remind us of the outlines of your perspective on this subject conducive to arousing hysteria?

  Gerhard Meisenberg: There was actually a big debate about sex differences in the journal Mankind Quarterly, where contributors exposed the different views in the field. Briefly, there are those who hold that in modern Western societies there are no sex differences in intelligence that are big enough to have any real-world importance. James Flynn defended this position. The second view is represented by Richard Lynn, who claims that boys and girls start out pretty equal, but from the age of about 15 males gain an advantage over females because their mental as well as physical growth continues to an older age. Lynn estimates that adult men score 3 to 5 IQ points higher than women, which is a very small difference. He thinks that together with a higher male standard deviation, this is sufficient to explain male dominance in many intellectual fields. Then there are those, including myself, who emphasize that males and females have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, males have an up to one standard deviation (15 IQ points) advantage in mechanical reasoning, but females come out on top in tests of emotional intelligence and of verbal and episodic memory. There isn’t a huge amount of disagreement among scientists who study these sex differences. It’s a matter of emphasis.

  Another thing to consider is that sex differences in some non-cognitive traits are much bigger than those in measured intelligence. Some aspects of vocational preferences have sex differences of at least one standard deviation, although this depends much on the way the differences are measured and analyzed. Perhaps the reason why women have lower mechanical comprehension is not that they are innately deficient in this kind of reasoning, but that they have zero interest in the workings of gears and pulleys. Therefore they never bother to develop the ability to understand these things.

Continuer la lecture de « A conversation with Gerhard Meisenberg, for Psych »