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What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect explores the problem of ever-rising IQ scores over the past hundred years, particularly the last few decades. What is better is that the book's author, James Flynn, is the person responsible for the research leading to what is known in intelligence testing as the "Flynn Effect." Briefly, this is the label given to the increase in IQ scores over time, but weather this effect automatically includes increasing rates of actual intelligence and wisdom is highly controversial. Flynn takes on this controversy for the first time head on and discusses the many facets he feels are missing when the majority evaluates intelligence testing and IQ scores. He writes, "The IQ score is only as valid as the test the person takes, and the test is only as valid as the standardization sample on which it is normed."
The book is saturated in philosophical and sociological insight. He writes that it took him a long time to write about the seeming massive IQ gains because of "...unused brain capacity. My mind was so compartmentalized, I ignored everything I knew from another discipline, namely sociology." Flynn asks us to temporarily place aside the general intelligence factor, what is know as the "g factor," as it only measures limited, static elements of cognitive awareness and ability and cannot accurately assess an individual's ability to function in the world with critical acumen. Flynn covers scientific, as well as psychological ground regarding the nature of intelligence testing. One problem with the g factor is that it "...cannot discriminate between pairs of events in terms of the extent to which they are functionally related."
Flynn's writing style is both research and statistically oriented and philosophical in nature. He invokes current, as well as past research in intelligence testing, giving feedback on the results. He also keeps the reader's attention with creative chapter titles, diagrams, present day examples, and begins each chapter with insights ranging from Aristotle to nursery rhymes and song lyrics and scientific data. One of the main problems Flynn notes are the obsolete norms that current intelligence testing relies on. Old test norms will automatically result in increasing IQ scores over time for example and the WAIS-III norms are currently "atypical" at best. Not only are the obsolete norms a real problem, but also the answers the evaluators who administer the test search for. Flynn notes, "The preference for answers that classify the world (and extra credit for the vocabulary of science) is extraordinary and reaches an even higher level in the WISC-IV..."
Another difficulty Flynn points to is our insistence on the use of logic to test intelligence instead of what it entails to have practical knowledge and use it in everyday life for critical acumen. We certainly can think of cases where a genius could outscore any IQ test, but not tie his shoes or make causal conversation. Flynn points out that if "the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete referents." In other words, how an individual answers a problem cannot be evaluated based solely on logic and categorizing the world alone. When we are speaking about levels of intelligence that require the application of knowledge in everyday living, one does not separate logic from hypothetical abstractions that are both applicable to the concrete situation being referred to or thought about. Flynn notes, "...pure logic cannot tell us anything about facts; only experience can. But this will do [us] no good on current IQ tests." He then goes on to also note, "I'm too much in love with philosophy to collect data or do field studies." This is after he has spent decades mulling over statistics and various types of intelligence testing, as well as been called upon to testify in court hearings regarding the nature of current IQ testing.
Flynn notes that the current IQ tests being relied on do not test the varieties of types of knowledge that compose intelligence, including the effects of practicing any one given skill. He notes that it has been shown that an individual who practices any particular skill, accompanied by the insistence of the individual to seek out cognitive challenges continuously, can improve in that skill significantly and raise their own IQ. He also notes that one's environment plays a significant role, including teachers who encourage students to look for multiple ways to answer any given question instead of punishing them for incorrect answers. Flynn quickly points out that there are many studies to show how being penalized for performance can directly lead to further lower cognitive efficiency. He also notes that factors such as self-confidence, distractibility levels, motivation, and overall social support play a significant role in one's overall intelligence, as well as tacit knowledge. All of these factors can lead to increases in one's IQ over time. He quickly notes that there is also a difference between intelligence and wisdom and he is not sure if we have had an increase in wisdom over the years. "If intelligence is what current IQ tests measure, we could never invent a better IQ test because the new test, by definition, would be a departure from what measures intelligence." We could not possibly include all that is relevant in what composes intelligence or, Flynn notes, we would have to include all of reality. Overall, he is most worried about what he calls "systematic mis-education" which leads to certain populations being regarded as more intelligent than others, not the mention the difficulty that arises when we try to compartmentalize the universe and all of nature and experience.
One element that is particularly disturbing is how obsolete norms in these modern IQ tests are used to prosecute African American males or individuals with disabilities. Flynn does not hesitate to take on important social questions regarding IQ testing and how it is used against the innocent in the judicial system, as well as within academia also. He addresses race, sexism, discrimination against those with learning or developmental difficulties, and so forth. He ends his work with a test professors can administer to their final year college students to evaluate what they have learned and how they will apply it to the real world. He has justifiably named this evaluation SOCRATES: The Social Criticism and Analysis Test. All test questions are listed at the end of this work. He writes that we need to pay more attention to interdisciplinary connections and less attention to mere IQ alone. Flynn writes, "...what we want are measures of real-world functional skills that have great social-significance." He then notes, "Our obsession with IQ is one indication that rising wisdom has not characterized our time."
© 2008 Christina Rawls
Chris Rawls, Department of Philosophy, Duquesne University
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