James Flynn came to psychology from political science, and was a quick learner. He attacked Arthur Jensen’s 1969 paper, and Art wrote back quickly disposing of his objections, and then suggesting new lines of attack. James Flynn followed those up, and they began working together.
I had met Arthur Jensen in 1970, when I gave him a lecture on race and intelligence. It is odd to write that sentence. I had been invited to a conference at Cambridge University where I was going to report on my results on how children’s intelligence recovered after an acquired brain injury. When I realized Jensen was at the conference, I asked the organizers if I could instead give an account of my first paper (not yet published) in which I showed that non-verbal intelligence scores increased in West Indian children if they were born in England or arrived before primary school age, as compared to those who arrived later in their schooling. To my surprise, Art seemed to enjoy my results showing (to my mind) that he was wrong to assume that differences in non-verbal scores strengthened the genetic hypothesis. I argued, as proposed by my boss Dr John McFie, that European children gained by having easy access to educational constructional toys.
I stayed the night in the same staff residence as Jensen, and the next morning showed him how to use an English telephone, which had an alphanumeric dialling system. So, as I explained to him in an email decades later, that was two triumphs for cultural/environmental explanations. After chatting over breakfast, I then walked with him to the Debate of the Century (there have been many of those) where he met his critics at the Cambridge Union. He did his best to hold his audience to the main arguments. He knew he would not be able to quote all his references to them. His critics had a broader canvas, and threw a few wild punches. I felt that the best way to debate was to collect new data.
I met James Flynn in 2007. By then I was far more of a Jensenist, but did not realize how much James Flynn admired Arthur Jensen. “He taught me everything” James Flynn said. I was sceptical about the cultural explanation for the secular rise in intelligence scores, because Maths scores had not budged at all. Given that the survival test of intelligence is dealing with novel problems, I accepted that when problem forms become known they are less valid tests. Nonetheless, if a measure of ability produces higher scores at a rate which cannot be explained by genetic factors, then it has to be debated and researched.
In 2013 I edited a special edition of the journal Intelligence on the Flynn Effect. We did not come to any settled conclusion, and the evidence for narrowing of gaps between races was ambiguous. Apparent gains during schooling came to very little at age 17. Rising ability levels in parts of Africa suggested progress, but no prompt leveling of gaps. Flynn was very complimentary about the contributors, saying: “Collectively the scholars in this volume are beginning to write the cognitive history of the 20th Century”.
Flynn wrote a warm obituary on Jensen, in which he said of him: “To paraphrase Whitehead on Plato, the theories of intelligence of the late 20th century are a series of footnotes to Jensen.” When I commended him, he wrote back to say he meant every single word of it.
In 2017, when I warned colleagues about a Press attack on the London Conference on Intelligence he immediately offered to give public support, asking to see the titles of the papers presented, in order to be prepared.
I met Flynn for the last time at the ISIR conference in Montreal. He was taking a strong anti-Flynn Effect stance, based on Shayer’s work on the alarming drop in bright children’s ability to solve Piagetian problems.
At the end of his talk delegates started a detailed discussion, which had to be stopped because the next talk was due. I offered to chair a meeting with him and the main hereditarian protagonists, which we did later that evening. It was a very muscular critical discussion on the critics part, and after an hour I called it to a close.
He came to dinner with many of us on the last night, talking with many, particularly Woodley. I think the Piagetian data had made him even more sympathetic to the Woodley effect, but they had worked together easily for several years anyway.
The last time I saw him was next day. He was at a coffee table and we talked for a while. He’d been reading a biography of Stalin, and I asked him how that changed his view of Trotsky. Her ran with that one easily. After some other topics, he said with a smile, of the general public’s view of the intelligence and race debate: “I know I am on the side of the angels”, and we both laughed. He did not absolve himself from partisanship. He once observed that no-one was funding research into the genetics of racial differences in intelligence because they feared they would find something.
Above all else, he felt that arguments mattered, and if you avoided them, you avoided the truth.