James R. Flynn, the recently deceased psychologist, philosopher, and intelligence researcher, was generally known as an optimist on the question of the prospects for human general intelligence. After all, the Flynn Effect — the idea that general average IQ seems to have been rising for much of the 20th century, requiring continuous re-norming of tests — was his own discovery. However, Flynn’s most recent work distressingly pointed in the opposite direction.
He wasn’t the only one to reach such pessimistic conclusions, either. Recent studies have been indicating drops in IQ across various Western nations. Some have even indicated that the average IQ may have dropped as much as 14.1% over the last century.
The g Factor and IQ Testing
IQ tests and their validity as a marker of intelligence have long been under fire, but most of that criticism has come from journalists and others with no expertise in the field. When the opinions of actual psychometricians are surveyed, the overwhelming result is nearly always that IQ scores are valid, if imperfect, approximations of intelligence and that they predict many important things about people’s lives.
The correlation between IQ and income, for example, has always been consistently strong. Your IQ is an excellent predictor of not only your academic performance but also of the kind of job you will work at. Over the last few decades, as more cognitively demanding jobs have become more remunerative, the association between high intelligence and high income has only grown stronger.
Back in 1905, Charles Spearman proposed what became known as the g factor hypothesis. The g factor is Spearman’s name for a single, general intelligence factor. The strongest piece of evidence for the idea that there is a single kind of general intelligence rather than multiple specific intelligence is the fact that scores on different IQ subtests all positively correlated with one another. If you do well on one subtest, you’re likely to also do well on all of the others.
Thus, whatever IQ tests measure, they undoubtedly measure something important. The fact that IQ seems to be dropping, therefore, has some pretty ominous consequences for the future of society.
Is Idiocracy in Our Future?
Some time ago, Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist and architect of Obamacare, made a few infamous comments about the stupidity of the average American voter. Even though many others, like economist Bryan Caplan, have also written books describing this phenomenon, the truth is, the rot starts at the top.
Our society’s cognitive elite seems to be becoming less and less impressive as time goes on. The fact that a man like Neil Ferguson, creator of the famous Imperial College pandemic model, could be so disastrously wrong so many times and still remain employed is distressing.
As researchers like Edward Dutton have also pointed out, the kinds of people who make great intellectual breakthroughs tend to be extreme non-conformists who don’t care much about getting along with other people. Our universities, however, have increasingly come to reward things like whether you have the right trendy, progressive opinions.
One can only guess what horrible effects this will eventually have on the progress of science and on intellectual development in all other fields.
No matter what, things don’t look good for the West.