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The Dissident Psychologist
Reflections on Professor Richard Lynn & our long awaited interview.
By Matthew Archer.
The chief problem in historical honesty is not outright lying. It is omission or de-emphasis of important data.
— Howard Zinn
In 2021, long before Aporia became a thing, I was writing a book proposal on the mistreatment and undervaluation of gifted children in the West. A non-fiction proposal actually requires writing several chapters and an early idea was to write an empirical reply to the very silly modern notion that every child is gifted or talented in their own special way. I also wanted to push a bit further into sacred territory, comparing the number of gifted children in different countries. Enter Richard Lynn.
I’d heard about Lynn’s work years earlier, but had given it short shrift after reading a Twitter thread about some of the bizarre samples and imputation methods he’d used for certain African countries. I didn’t even bother to check replication attempts because it sounded so…dodgy. Eventually, I found out that despite some bad samples Lynn’s data correlated strongly with other analyses and I began to reexamine his work afresh.
I realised I had dismissed a man's entire life due to a Twitter thread from a credentialed liberal academic and a Wikipedia article written by anonymous enemies. This is quite embarrassing, yet seemingly normal. Here’s the brilliant social scientist and writer (and conservative!) David Hugh-Jones making the same mistake:
If I’d been paying attention, I would have realised that the culture wars came long ago for any mildly controversial Wikipedia article on Human Biological Differences (HBD). A brilliant 2022 Quillette piece titled Cognitive Distortions: How the culture wars came for Wikipedia’s articles about human intelligence runs through the evidence for this topic by topic. One particularly concerning example is a subject Lynn wrote extensively about: dysgenics.
It’s been known since Darwin that industrialisation leads to much weaker natural selection against deleterious genetic mutations. Here’s the Quillette article:
In a discussion about the changes to the “Dysgenics” article, Wikipedia user Ferahgo the Assassin—a postdoctoral researcher in behavior genetics—pointed out that the “no evidence for dysgenic effects” statement contradicts every recent major textbook and literature review about this topic, including The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence and Cognitive Neuroscience (Cambridge University Press, 2021), An Introduction to Statistical Genetic Data Analysis (MIT Press, 2020), and the paper from Nature Human Behavior quoted above. While a few of the site’s members acknowledged the validity of Ferahgo’s objection, the person rewriting the “Dysgenics” article ignored it.
Since that time there have been a few attempts by other people to make this aspect of the Wikipedia article consistent with the field’s source literature, but the person who rewrote the article has undone these attempts, again describing these sources as “profringe.”
Commenting on these attempts, another member of Wikipedia described the sources rejected from the “Dysgenics” article as “the same old garbage from the white supremacist science crew in a very slightly different wrapper.” On this article, most of the rejected sources are by authors who have never discussed race and IQ in any of their publications. “White supremacist science crew” is a particularly ironic description of Kathryn Paige Harden, the author of the Nature Human Behavior paper, who is known for her opposition to race research. However, there is indeed some overlap between the researchers who have studied dysgenics and those who have studied race and IQ, and this overlap is evidently enough for Wikipedia members to reject all sources that support a dysgenic trend in human intelligence, no matter who their authors or publishers are.
Picture the type of person who spends their finite time on Earth anonymously editing Wikipedia as social justice warfare and you’ve pictured precisely the type of person natural selection would long ago have purged. Not even its co-founder Larry Sanger trusts the website anymore.
That such important truths can be omitted in favour of not hurting people’s feelings is almost evidence for dysgenics in itself. And just how important are these facts? Here’s Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Alexy Kondrashov giving a pessimistic scenario in his book Crumbling Genome: The Impact of Deleterious Mutations on Humans:
Selection against deleterious alleles is deeply relaxed under industrialized environments and cannot prevent accumulation of all but the most deleterious mutations. Thus, the mutational pressures on many traits will likely increase with time. As a result, frequencies of overt diseases, in particular those caused by impaired functioning of the brain, will increase rapidly, and the mean values of some key traits which characterize human wellness will decline by ~30–40% in the next 10 generations, making phenotypes that currently correspond to the bottom 10–20% of the population a new norm. Some characteristics of the population, such as the proportion of people with IQ above 140, will decline even more. Soon, improvements of the environment will become unable to mask these declines. Thus, after only ~10 generations societies will begin to crumble, and preventing this is as important as dealing with climate change and habitat loss.
Kondrashov’s optimistic scenario is that the elimination of child mortality is ‘compensated by a reduced random variation of fertility’. He continues:
Moreover, continuing improvement of the environment, including health care, will lead to increased overall wellness. Thus, deleterious alleles will never make their way into the top 10 problems facing humanity.
But as Kondrashov concedes:
The truth must be somewhere in between, and, I believe, is closer to the pessimistic scenario. Still, I freely confess, this is only a judgement call – we do not really know.
The point is that this is a complex academic debate with dramatic consequences. It requires deep expertise. As an interested layman and writer, I can only read the research, highlight what seems important and ask questions. Given the hip thing today is ‘rationalism’, ‘long termism’, and ‘effective altruism’, I’d have expected much more interest in such a subject. Indeed, in all of the subjects Lynn researched.
Gossip being what it is, I know for a fact that some of effective altruism’s leading lights are well aware of these problems, but they regard it as “better optics” not to talk about them. The consequences of 3,500 plus million years of mutational purging potentially grinding to a halt are outweighed by mosquitos and bed nets. Isn’t it interesting that their assessment of the best strategy accords with getting to keep their status and book deals? Strange how that works. But hey, they’re the utilitarian number crunchers!
Of course, I understand how easy it is to convince oneself of one’s moral probity. I imagine people don’t find out about forbidden knowledge until they’re well on their way to acquiring credentials and status. At that point, how many would self-immolate for the truth?
Richard Lynn did. Time and time again.
As a result, the first line of his Wikipedia page is an outright fabrication: Lynn was apparently a ‘self-described “scientific racist”’.
Nobody would pretend that Professor Lynn didn’t have what today would be called “far right” views, but when you track down the actual quote, here’s what you find:
Then comes the emeritus professor of psychology, Richard Lynn, who recently retired from the University of Ulster, in Northern Ireland. Like Brand, Lynn describes himself as scientific racist. “If we are talking about people who believe there are genetic differences between the races, then I am definitely a scientific racist.”
Realising this is gotcha journalism, Lynn is quite obviously — to use a Briticism — taking the piss. For those, like the Wikipedia editors, who need it spelled out, he’s saying the equivalent of:
If believing that any differences between the races, like, let’s say, skin colour, are principally genetic, then I am a big fat racist, which annoyingly makes the truth…racist.
All in all, it is my view that the fires Lynn ignited are vastly disproportionate to the smoke his enemies manufactured and continue to blow.
He was a man who tried to understand a small but important part of how the world works. To quote Richard Hanania,
He’ll be remembered and read while his useless critics will be completely forgotten, if they’re ever even known.
The following interview attempts to give Professor Lynn the final word.
Matthew Archer is the Editor-in-Chief of Aporia.
Next week, supporters will have access to well over an hour of bonus footage of Professor Lynn.