Just back from teaching, James R. Flynn darts into his office to write down a revelation about Marx, free will, Catholicism and the development of the steam engine that came to him in the midst of his lecture. Busily scribbling, the professor of political science at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, declares that extemporaneous talking leads to creative thinking and new ideas. His pronouncement made, Flynn--who, it should be noted, talks for a living--is ready to discuss the insight that made him famous: the observation that intelligence quotients, as measured by certain tests, have been steadily growing since the turn of the century.
Flynn's carefully documented findings have provoked a sort of soul-searching among many in the psychological and sociological communities. Before Flynn published his research in the 1980s, IQ tests had their critics. In general, however, the tests were viewed as imperfect yet highly helpful indicators of a person's acuity and various mental abilities or lack thereof. But after the widespread discussion of the eponymous Flynn effect, nothing has been the same. Debates roil about what the tests really measure, what kinds of intelligence there are, whether racial differences persist and, if IQ truly is increasing, why and what the political and social implications are.
This article was originally published with the title Flynn's Effect.