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BOOK REVIEW



Since Richard Lynn very kindly sent me a copy of his latest book, I thought it would be a good idea to do a review of it. I have had various reviews of academic books published before. I therefore prepared the review below and submitted it to the mainstream Australian e-zine Online Opinion. I have had one previous article published there. Although initially interested in the idea of such a review, they rejected the review when they actually saw it -- on the vaguest of grounds. That the whole topic suffers from severe political incorrectness is, however, the obvious real reason for the rejection. In the age of the internet, however, such editorial filtering of the information available does not work. So I am posting the review here and in a couple of other places



"Race differences in intelligence: An evolutionary analysis" by Richard Lynn. Washington Summit Publishers, Augusta, Georgia, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-1-59368-021-3

Review by John Ray (2006)

Maverick academics such as Frank Ellis in Britain and Andrew Fraser in Australia have recently attracted some press with their public declarations that they believe that there are differences in average IQ between whites and blacks. So this book is a timely one.

The essential thing to note about this book is that it is NOT an expression of opinion. It is an attempt to do something far more difficult -- an attempt to gather together ALL the available scientific evidence on its topic. Let me give you a little personal anecdote to show you how hard that is.

Like Lynn, I am a psychometrician (specialist in psychological measurement) but my interest is in measuring attitudes and personality. And one of my interests is in how to measure ambition (what psychologists call achievement motivation). And roughly once a year somebody publishes a new set of questions designed to do that. But nobody ever seems to be aware of all the previous attempts in the same field. Typically, they seem to know of only two or three attempts to measure ambition in that way. On a couple of occasions, psychologists have published what they thought was a comprehensive survey of the literature in the field but the best of them could find (from memory) no more than 16 such articles in the academic literature. So a couple of years later I published a catalogue of such articles. And I found around 70 such!

How come? It is because the standard resources for searches of the academic literature are very imperfect. They miss heaps. You cannot instantly acquire a knowledge of the findings on a topic simply by doing a search. You have to be a specialist in the field who continually has an eye out for interesting findings and who systematically collects such findings over a period of many years. Richard Lynn is such a person in the field of IQ. Lynn's book is, in other words, about as authoritative as you can get. And in comparison with the measly 70 articles that I could find on my topic, Lynn records over 500 surveys of IQ.

So what the book tells us is not what Richard Lynn thinks. Lynn of course has his opinions and he does express them (he argues, for instance, that an evolutionary history of coping with cold winters selects for high intelligence) but that is not what the book is primarily about. What the book shows us is what the entire body of scientific research on the subject stretching back over the last 100 years or more has shown. And, as all psychometricians know, the findings are remarkably uniform. There is normally a huge gap between the average scores of African-origin populations and European-origin populations. Brilliant blacks do of course exist. The person whom I quote most on my blog is an African-American (Thomas Sowell). But brilliant (high IQ) people are simply much rarer in African-origin populations than in European ones. And all the studies of the genetics of IQ show its transmission to be overwhelmingly genetic.

Confronted with this now very old and very persistent finding, the usual response from those who feel challenged by it has been to dismiss IQ tests. They say that IQ scores mean nothing, do not measure intelligence and are of no importance generally. Lynn of course takes such claims seriously and devotes his opening chapter to such challenges. The essential thing that you need to know in evaluating such challenges is however very simple: IQ is a DISCOVERY, not a product of theory. The whole concept of IQ arose in the late 19th century when educationists began to notice a very strange thing: People who were good at solving one type of problem or puzzle also tended to be good at solving quite different puzzles and problems. There WAS such a thing as a general problem-solving ability. And it is for that reason that the scientific literature does not usually use the term "IQ". In the scientific literature, it is usually referred to as 'g' (short for "general factor"). And that is also why IQ tests normally are comprised of a whole series of quite different and apparently unrelated problems -- because problem-solving ability IS general, regardless of the sort of problem. And something as general as that is obviously of considerable importance.

I will not go on here to look at all the various arguments that have been raised about the utility of IQ tests generally or about non-genetic explanations for the findings with Africans and others. That is what Lynn's book is for. Be assured, however, that all the possible objections are well known to experts in the field and have been extensively researched. It is a case of there being "nothing new under the sun" as far as theories of that kind are concerned and most such theories can be decisively rejected in the light of the research available. The one non-genetic but physical explanation for IQ differences that has stood up fairly well is nutrition. Good or bad nutrition in childhood can affect how well the brain develops and hence IQ. The brain is however pretty good at protecting itself so the differences observed due to nutrition are generally very small, much smaller than the black/white difference, for instance. The best diet in the world won't make a dummy into an Einstein nor will the best education or the best anything else. But if you want to get a doctorate it helps a lot if your father has one -- even if you don't live with him or know him.

Perhaps in closing I should mention the one aspect of Lynn's work which has attracted a lot of press. A reporter from "The Times" of London had a look at the book and from it extracted what he claimed were the average IQ scores for various European countries. And, to much hilarity, Germany was shown as having an average score of 107 compared to Britain's 100. German psychometricians (such as Volkmar Weiss) knew of course that this was a nonsense and there is certainly nothing to that effect in Lynn's book. If you take either the mean or the median scores from the results for Germany presented in Lynn's book you get an unremarkable average of about 99.

What happened was that there was one outlying result from one German survey that showed a mean of 107 and the reporter gleefully seized on that as if it were typical of what is found in Germany generally. Which all goes to reinforce the importance of Lynn's book. You cannot rely on just one survey or one result. You have to have a collection of many findings on any given topic or question before you can confidently make generalizations. And no book does a better job of providing you with such data as "Race differences in intelligence: An evolutionary analysis".

Dr. John Ray was a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of NSW until his retirement in 1983




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