The Flynn Effect Revisited

The Flynn Effect : Another Opinion

The Flynn Effect Revisited

(PD) by Franz Marc — One man's abstract, is another man's cartoon. (Photo modifications by Larry Neal Gowdy)

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright ©2003 - 2023 May 19, 2023

Dated 2003

The following unfinished and unedited article was written February 05, 2003. The article's usefulness today is that it helps to give additional information relative to the modern news reports that are falsely claiming that people with high intelligence are autistic.

Original Article

"Of the several dozen articles I have been able to locate and read concerning the Flynn Effect, it appears to boil down to the human mental capacity as remaining about the same in all topics such as mathematics and vocabulary, including SAT and GRE scores, but increasing in abstract thinking (patterns) as measured by the Raven Advanced Matrixes (RAM) test. Since actual data of sample test scores were markedly absent from every article I found, my conclusions are based on the assumption that surely someone somewhere has seen the actual scores and can testify to the claim by Dr. Flynn that IQ scores have risen.

For over 15 years prior to my hearing of the Flynn Effect in early 2003, I had been told regularly by local teachers that IQ scores were having to be readjusted nationally to compensate for a population with a lessening IQ. According to the information I was told, it was my understanding that the average IQ in the USA had dropped from 100 to about a 90, and in order to re-balance the bell curve, IQ percentiles were being upped, not because of higher scores, but actually because of worsening test results. (As for an example, let’s say 90 out of 100 students all scored 10 points on an IQ test and the average IQ from those scores was standardized as a 100. Now if 90 out of 100 students of a newer generation all scored 9 points on an IQ test, the average IQ would still remain 100 simply because averaging-out scores results in the same final percentile.) Teachers regularly reported observing an obvious decline in mental abilities in their students, and the teachers did not at any time give any comment nor indication to the idea that perhaps students were getting smarter in any degree.

Notice that the same is being said for the Flynn Effect except for opposite reasons, that IQs are actually going up causing previous averages to go down, and thus the need to re-average IQs. Which is correct? Both? Neither? Without hard evidence of raw score data, we cannot honestly say which side is correct.

As is human nature, there will always be opposing sides to any observation, and while one person standing on the north side of a street will see a car departing, the person standing on the south side will see the car approaching. Since it appears unlikely I will ever have access to any real data, the only conclusion possible for those of us inside the car is to evaluate our own circumstances and arrive at reasoning based on personal experience alone.

There have already been numerous authors explain with fine reasoning why the Flynn Effect cannot hold water (namely that if IQs have indeed been going up 3-6 points per decade for the past 200 years then today’s 100 IQ would result in an IQ of 40 to a minus 20 for individuals living in the year 1800). Simple logic and even simpler math tells us the Flynn Effect is measuring something other than human intelligence quotient and it should not be given equal importance in the arena of IQ scoring.

Since IQ tests are regularly changed and "updated", I feel it is unfair to compare the results of one generation to another unless they both take the identical same tests. Sure, there are concerns about people cheating when using well known exams, but then there are also concerns about the test designers altering the questions to make the tests easier or more difficult. I personally have seen numerous tests designed, altered, and graded in such a manner that is blatantly unfair, unethical, and just dumb. I have also witnessed "norms", averages, percentiles, and IQs established for various tests based on a testee base of only 1 to 45, which is of course quite absurd, but commonly accepted as accurate among those individuals who have an interest in creating new tests. If one standard IQ is to be carried from one generation to the next, the same standard of testing must be rigidly maintained irregardless.

Let’s say that Dr. Flynn’s reports about mathematics and vocabulary skills in humans remaining basically unchanged is correct. I would suspect that he is generally correct in this aspect. Some scores go up a little, some go down a little, but they would still average-out about the same. Humans are humans, and for the majority of us, we have not changed much since the beginning of recorded history. Hundreds of millions of us still express the religious belief that a human ought to be worshipped as a god, we still have idols that we worship and pray to, we still eat dead animal flesh, we still live in dwellings made of mud and dead plants, we still repopulate like there is no tomorrow, and except for the new gadgets we have created in the past 50 years, we are no different than our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.

If intelligence were increasing, shouldn’t there be some sign of its existence? Hunger and poverty remains unchanged, and about the only noticeable thing increasing is crime, violence, and the lack of manners. Watch a movie made 50 years ago and observe the actors’ suitable manners. Then watch a modern movie or television commercial with its unconcealed rudeness, meanness, and selfishness. Sure, people of 50 years ago were not of higher morals, they were humans too, but they did have the self-restraint to not carelessly express bad manners in public.

Some authors have expressed their view that IQs are increasing because the authors have observed young people being highly proficient in the use of computers, remote controls, and video games. Well of course each generation will be better at dealing with its environment*, but at the same time, what each generation learns it also unlearns from the previous environments. With all the hoopla about rising IQs and increased abstract thinking, why did I not find any comment as to the cause of the effect resulting in the decreasing of other abilities? If there is an action causing a certain effect, then by the same methods it should also cause other effects, which in this case would be a dumbing-down in other categories of mental abilities. Since no other author I found touched on this subject, I felt the need to bring it out into the open.

Although today’s child may know how to push a button to turn on a computer, perhaps plug-in more RAM, maybe even write a program in C++ and figure out how to click on screen icons to burn a CD, yet where is the skill to do a valve job, handle a horse, grow vegetables, or even light a fire in a wood stove? Did the child design and manufacture the computer? No. Did the child design and write machine code for the CD burning software? No. Did the child invent or even know how the solid state RAM PCB is manufactured? No. Did the child know anything at all about the actual creation of computer technology? Very unlikely. All the child knows is how to push buttons, not much removed from the button-pushing monkeys in the space programs of the 1950s. Sure, some children do in fact know a lot about the actual manufacturing methods and technology that goes into creating computers and other gadgets, but it is rare to find such a child, no less rare than finding a child today that knows how to... [the sentence was uncompleted]

What about the reported rise in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)? It has been said that we have gone from having perhaps one child in 100 with ADD 50 years ago to now having 1 in 10. If IQ has risen 15-30 points in the past 50 years as the Flynn Effect reports, then why are so many children having such difficulty thinking?

Yes I’m pointing out topics that might not readily relate to IQ scores, but then too, doesn’t all intelligence and behavior as a whole relate to IQ scores as a whole?

Take for example a man riding his horse across North America in the 1700s. He knows how to find water and food, he can build a fire to stay warm, he can build a shelter to escape the weather, he can mend his clothing and gear, and he can choose his direction according to the angle of the sun and stars. Irregardless of what today’s survivalists like to believe, very very few modern men could accomplish what our ancestors did as a way of life. By the same token of course, the 1700s man would find it difficult to endure today’s technology of gadgets and confinement.

Nevertheless, focus on the cities throughout all of history. Authors living in northern USA cities in the 1800s often commented on how primitive people were who lived in the country, especially the southern states. It literally scared city dwellers to consider the idea of living without restaurants and shops, just like city dwellers today. City dwellers have always been citified and incapable of survival without someone else tending to their needs. Consider Egypt and their government grain storage programs to fight famine several thousand years ago. The same applies today in that if the electricity were turned off nationwide, people would simply begin dying within days, and within 6 months over half of the population would be dead. Within two years roughly 80% of everyone would die from lack of food, water, heat, and intelligence enough to survive.

From my viewpoint, I see a generation that has adapted to the need to use gadgets, and that is all. Just because a person can operate a gadget, that in no manner implies the person knows how the gadget works. As an experiment, ask a dozen people at random if they know how to operate a television’s remote control. You will most likely hear all twelve individuals claim they do know how. Then ask them to first explain and then demonstrate to you how every button on the remote control works. Well of course none of the individuals will know all buttons. Yet there is more to remote controls, their being used to actually program electronic settings within the television itself that only television repairmen know about.

Just because a person can operate perhaps 10 out of 50 buttons on a gadget that has hundreds of other functions, and that fewer than one person in a thousand knows more about the inner design of the remote control aside from needing batteries, that shows us that the Flynn Effect, while it may be factual, is not being found in the real world’s day-to-day activities.

[deleted] I cannot speak of anything that has occurred outside my life span, but from my viewpoint, I have seen no signs of intellectual increase among the masses, and about the only thing I have witnessed degrade are manners, not that people 50 years ago were [smarter], but that at least they were a little more conscious of not making a show of rudeness. I suspect that this trend will also sway and average back out within another few generations.

*Unfortunately, science still appears to not comprehend how humans adapt to our environment while in the womb. Until science books are written explaining the process, we will be forced to continue enduring the endlessly boring debates of environment/nurturing as to which is the cause of increased adaptation."


The old article is useful as an example of opinions from twenty years ago. The "Watch a movie made 50 years ago and observe the actors’ suitable manners. Then watch a modern movie or television commercial with its unconcealed rudeness, meanness, and selfishness" gives a measure-point of reference as compared to how today's movies, television, commercials, and the Internet have intensely increased of violence, hate, rudeness, and perverted aberrant behaviors. If the Flynn Effect were valid, then why are people not behaving more intelligently?

If the Flynn Effect were valid, then why has "abstract thinking (patterns)" not increased? The masses are not recognizing the patterns of their behavior, nor are the masses abstractly reasoning their own behavior. If anything, the opposite has happened. The Flynn Effect theory, regardless of whatsoever mathematical evidence might exist, does not hold water to what is observable in real life. In many ways, the Flynn Effect is pathological science because it speaks of "1. The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause. 2. The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability; or, many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results. 3. Claims of great accuracy. 4. Fantastic theories contrary to experience. 5. Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment. 6. Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then falls gradually to oblivion."

If, according to the Flynn Effect, IQs have indeed been going up 3-6 points per decade, then during the past twenty years the average person's IQ ought to have risen about 6 to 12 points, and, if IQ tests are measures of intelligence as is claimed by the masses, then the masses ought to be behaving more intelligently. Quite the opposite has happened. The masses are behaving much worse than any known generation before them.

There is zero known evidence that the Flynn Effect is valid. There are mountains of evidence that the opposite is true.

Up through the 1930s and 1940s it was common for people to grow up in environments that required firsthand self-thinking and self-effort (farming, machinery, ranching, etc.), and a large percentage of children did not attend schools for long (dropping out of school by the age of ~nine was not uncommon). Regardless of how skilled an individual is of art, mechanics, husbandry, carpentry, or any other hands-on skill, the individual will likely not score well on an IQ test because the individual would not be familiar with the English and mathematics used in IQ tests. Therefore it appears reasonable to assume that IQ scores would indeed increase if all children were mandated by law to attend government schools for no less than ten years (which has indeed happened). If anything, at best the Flynn Effect appears to only suggest that IQ tests and IQ scores may be dependent on the memorizing of words in schools, which invalidates the claim that IQ tests measure intelligence.

An important comment: "but increasing in abstract thinking (patterns) as measured by the Raven Advanced Matrixes (RAM) test". If abstract-pattern thinking were indeed increasing, then scores on the SQ test ought to have increased, and too, people ought to be exhibiting increased abstract thinking in their own personal lives. It is not happening. A related series of articles begins with The World's Smartest Man on Earth, Might Be You : Part 1.

The comment "If there is an action causing a certain effect, then by the same methods it should also cause other effects" points at commonsense, physics, and, the comment parallels the idea of 'mutuals' in the ancient Daodejing book (up down, left right, polarities, etc.). What was true 20 years and 2,000 years ago, is still true today. No known author ever recognized the Flynn Effect's contradiction: if "increasing in abstract thinking (patterns)" were true, then there must be a decrease of something else. What is it? Why are the people with alleged 'increased abstract thinking' not able to think abstractly? Why are the people with 'increased abstract thinking' still not able to read and to explain what 道德經 means?