James Flynn, a moral philosopher who made major scientific contributions to intelligence research, passed away on Friday, December 11, 2020. His passing sparked many tributes to him, some of which I have compiled here.
James Thompson (emeritus at University College London) was the first to write a public tribute. You can read it here, but my favorite passage states:
Above all else, he felt that arguments mattered, and if you avoided them, you avoided the truth.Thompson (2020)
Wall Street Journal columnist Jason L. Riley dedicated a column to Flynn, stating that he “brought more light than heat to this fraught debate” about whether genes could cause the average differences in IQ across different racial groups.
James Flynn’s activities extended far beyond intelligence research. Chris Trotter, a New Zealand columnist discussed Flynn’s political activities.
The International Society for Intelligence Research asked me to write the organization’s tribute. I invite everyone to read the entire piece, but it concludes:
James Flynn has bequeathed to the field of intelligence research more than the books and articles containing his ideas. He leaves a legacy of respect from his colleagues and an example for every seeker of truth to emulate. Nobody can ever replace James Flynn, but scientists and scholars can emulate his example.Warne (2020a)
I was honored to be invited to write the piece. In my new book, In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths About Human Intelligence, I called Flynn “an impeccably honest scientist” (Warne, 2020b, p. 294), and I have written positively about him in my blog posts.
On January 27, 2021, The New York Times published Clay Risen’s obituary of James Flynn. It contains several factual inaccuracies about Flynn’s work. (No, he did not discover the Flynn effect, nor did he ever claim to.) But Risen successfully conveys the importance of Flynn’s work and the respect that he held among his colleagues.
Academica Press’s Paul de Quenoy wrote a beautiful tribute of Flynn as a fighter for free speech. In the piece, de Quenoy tells the story of how Flynn’s final book was pulled by its publisher its British publisher for being too controversial. (Ironically, the book’s topic was the importance of free speech and the harms of censorship.) The author uses this as a springboard to talk about Flynn’s lifelong defense of intellectual inquiry and free speech for all. One telling passage states:
He firmly believed that the best way to deal with an opponent with whom one disagreed . . . was simply to present a better and more persuasive argument, regardless of the subject.de Quenoy (2021, paragraph 9)
I believe that debate would be more civil and that science would make more progress if everyone respected debate and free inquiry and debate as much as James Flynn did.
The first obituary that of James Flynn that I have found in a scholarly journal was written by Dutton (2021). His concluding sentiment states:
Flynn was part of a dying breed: a left-wing academic who had reasoned his way to a left-wing perspective, was motivated by truth not merely ideology, accepted that he may be wrong, believed he could learn from those with whom he had academic disagreements, and believed that through they are wrong, they are nevertheless motivated by the pursuit of truth rather than by heresy and evil.Dutton (2021, p. 777)
Social Media Tributes
Many of the tributes were on social media. Here are some of my favorites.
Richard Haier, the editor of the scholarly journal Intelligence, wrote:
Haier’s associate editor, Thomas Coyle (from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the associate editor of Intelligence) had a great tweet that included a picture of Flynn at the 2017 International Society for Intelligence Research conference (which is where I met Flynn):
Charles Murray (second author of The Bell Curve), wrote:
Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia wrote:
In fact, Turkheimer seems to be the first person to break the news on social media with this tweet:
Jonathan Wai (University of Arkansas) wrote:
Nathan Cofnas told a brief anecdote about having a paper peer reviewed by Flynn:
I have had a paper reviewed by Flynn, and I can attest that he evaluated viewpoints fairly, regardless of whether he agreed with them.
Here is the tweet (by Steve Stewart-Williams) that Cofnas quoted:
Another tribute came from Rogier Kievit in a Twitter thread that starts with:
I encourage people to read the entire 9-tweet thread. Here are a few highlights:
If I missed any tributes, let me know. I will add them to this list.
Dutton, E. (2021). Obituary: James Robert Flynn (1934-2020). Mankind Quarterly, 61(3), 773-779.