on 2 November 2012
Apart from being an eye-opener and marvellously thought provoking, this is quite an uplifting book; any sagging faith in the human race you might have had is at least partially restored. As our minds become increasingly challenged and exercised by modern-day life, we are far from being in mental decline. No phenomenon of future shock so far, so it would seem. The author is responsible for the now-accepted `Flynn effect' whereby, on a constant measurement basis, IQ scores continue to improve by 0.3 points per year (for example, the USA gained in IQ from 67 points in 1900 to 100 today). Work environment seems to be more important than education. We learn differences between countries, the effects of urbanisation, the variations with age. We hear how the subject has involved Flynn in fighting life-and-death cases regarding death-row prisoners in the USA (where an IQ score below 70 denotes mental retardation and therefore exemption form the death penalty). In a sea of statistics cleverly presented so as not to put us off too much, Flynn analyses phenomena arising from IQ tests and dispels some myths (re nutrition, gender, race, etc). He explains why, for example, developing nations lag behind, including mention of recent findings related to the strong correlation between IQ and country levels of `parasitic stress'). We learn about the significant effect of heredity; the teenager effect that has appeared in developed nations since 1950; about bright tax (more rapid decline of analytical skills with age for bright people); the discovery that experienced London taxi drivers experience exceptional growth of the hippocampus area of the brain. Because statistics are so important (measure of IQ is relative) we are made aware of the failure of many IQ studies to properly take into account particularities related to the population they have studied before making claims. For example, Flynn cites the study that proved that duller Maryland 8th graders drove cars, whereas the correct picture was that those who had fallen behind were, unlike their classmates, old enough to be allowed to drive.
For newcomers like myself, I recommend beforehand a good read of Wikipedia articles on IQ, g-factor, and Raven's Progressive Matrices, because they get mentioned so often. Also recommended is a similar read on Arthur Jensen, so often cited and to whom the book is dedicated despite his differences with the author.
One reaction I had towards the end of the book (179 pages are devoted to the text, the rest to references and tables derived from past studies) was that the role of motivation is not specifically highlighted in relation to IQ improvement.