People are getting stupider, it’s a scientific fact

The “Flynn Effect” is the phenomenon identified by intelligence researcher James Flynn. He found that average intelligence quotients, or IQ’s, as measured by standardized tests were steadily increasing through the course of the 20th century.

That sounds quite natural because, after all, each generation gets better nurturing. They get better health, improved medical care, more nutritious food and greater schooling.

But IQ is supposed to be mainly about nature, not nurture. Nurturing can certainly affect a person’s well-being, but in theory it doesn’t change a person’s IQ much (except of course when the nurturing is so bad that it produces negative neurological effects).

Flynn and other scientists puzzled for years over the reasons we kept getting smarter. Even as scientists themselves along with everyone else got smarter and smarter, they still never managed to figure out why.

Now they have a reverse Flynn Effect to figure out. In recent decades, average IQ’s have gone down, not up. For those of you who are personally experiencing this reverse effect, I’ll put it in simple terms: People are getting stupider.

As when people were getting smarter, we don’t know why. Even worse, it stands to reason that it’ll be even harder to figure out why people are getting stupider than it was to figure out why they were getting smarter, since the people doing the figuring are themselves getting stupider in their ability to figure. It’s quite possible that we’ll get too stupid too fast to figure out why and how to stop it.

But I can speculate about the reasons.

Students used to be taught how to think. Some learned how to think better than others, and that made the ones who learned poorly feel badly. Poor students feeling badly about their lousy learning is something Western Civilization used to accept. We were running a civilization, not a pep club. Sometimes society even reveled in it. (I went to law school back when professors reduced students to tears.) 

But then it became apparent that a disproportionate number of poor students fell into identifiable demographic groups, and a disproportionate number of good students fell into different demographic groups.

Without much analysis or debate or even consciousness of our decision, society decided that this outcome was unacceptable. Tests were designed to improve the scores of the poorly performing groups, and reduce the scores of the well performing groups.

No matter. They were unable to concoct any tests that achieved their desired equitable results. The best they could do was to concoct tests where all groups performed equally badly. But those tests were gibberish – they were simply games of chance – and had no actual testing value.

Now, schools are abandoning tests altogether. The standard college admissions test – the SAT – has been dropped at many schools including schools that used to pride themselves on their high educational standards. Better not to test applicants, went the thinking, than to get results that disfavor a favored group and favor a disfavored group.

But if individual applicants are not tested, how is a school supposed to decide among them? The answer is that the school decides on the basis of their group. And they do it exactly backwards of how you might expect a successful society to do it. They don’t favor the high-performing groups. No, they favor the low-performing groups.

You ask, what happens to the students when they graduate and enter the workforce? Ah, but workplaces are going down the same path. Increasingly, career advancement is tied not to merit but to membership in favored groups. 

In politics, they call this “identity politics.” In education, it’s the abolition of merit. In the workplace, it’s the triumph of mediocrity.

We are raising a generation that has been indoctrinated into the notion that thinking is bad because it’s a dead white European male trait that leads to oppression, racism, misogyny and misery. Nobody with a brain really believes that, of course, but they need an excuse to discredit the concept of thinking so that the poor performance of favored groups and good performance of disfavored groups can be hidden.

Even though we stop thinking about causes and effects, however, that doesn’t stop causes from having effects. The effect of discontinuing rigorous thinking has been a decline in our ability to do so. The average IQ – a measure of thinking and not demographics – is declining for the first time since we developed ways to measure it.

Once merit is abolished as a measure for individuals, those individuals become less productive. A society where “bad” is judged no worse than “good” produces less good and more bad.  We now have a full generation or two that have been rewarded for their demographic and penalized for their brain.

We’re on the brink of a slow-motion apocalypse.  A generation or two from now, humans may live in a world where they still have access to amazing old machines left over from a smarter civilization, but lack the brains to make new ones or even service the old ones. A generation or two later, after all the old miracle machines have worn out, feral humans may wander the burnt-out ruins of the civilization we left them, like barbarians gawking at the wonders of Rome. 

From those ruins, merit will be rise again. Because merit rewards the meritorious. In the meantime, welcome to the new Dark Ages.

39 thoughts on “People are getting stupider, it’s a scientific fact

    • Technically, you are correct — adjectives of two or more syllables use “more,” instead of “-er.” However, “stupider” is one of those few two-syllable words where adding “-er” is acceptable.
      In a world where one can now “partner,” “transition,” “helm,” and Lord-knows-what other nouns which have become verbs (I will soon be able to car to King Soopers to grocery), and everything is either awesome, super, or beyond, because of a lack of vocabulary, this is a non-issue, IMHO.
      Don’t even get me started on “its/it’s,” your/you’re,” there/they’re/their,” and so forth, not to mention lack of and superfluous commas and hyphens.
      Excuse me — I must go take my blood-pressure pills!

  1. Dear Glenn,
    I am convinced the problem begins at the family. How many sit to meals together at the kitchen table where dad and mom are able to question and develop thinking? The disentrigation of the family has abandoned the kitchen table. Eric Metaxas wrote a biography of Dietric Bonhoeffer and it emphasized the vigorating discussions at the Bonhoeffer dining room table. The Bonhoeffers because of their thinking were not part of Hitler’s lemmings. My family grew up around the kitchen table and I am proud of my two sons and two daughters who are thinking parents who have made the kitchen table a non dispensable. The failure to think is a moral failure….”.just distract me from thoughts that I migh have to deal with.” TV, ear buds, iPhones, twitter…anything to drown out questions of the soul. The New Testament Book of Hebrews offers the following: “and no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” 4:13 our question….”how can I drown out this sense of accountability?” From another who knew…”All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
– President Ronald Reagan

    • My brother often invokes the decline in education as bringing us to this point, and that is absolutely true. But there’s more to it than that. The family was historically a powerful influence and counter to bad ideas and herd mentality. But the family is a threat to the Left and is also in serious decline from relentless cultural assault. Too many parents have been tricked into believing that education occurs only in school or they are complaisant and are themselves products of the assault.

  2. I think you are being too pessimistic. Nobody picks a neurosurgeon based on their diversity, not even their lawyer. Businesses that hire purely on the basis of diversity will go the way of Sears, Roebuck and be replaced by companies that mainly hire on the basis of smarts and initiative. Who would have thought 25 years ago that Sears, Roebuck would have mostly disappeared and that Amazon would be one of the biggest retailers in the US.

  3. We called it dumbing down in the 70’s. I was quite concerned about the education my kids were getting in public school and never understood the busing thing. I made sure we lived in areas where the schools were the highest rated in the state. It was like the limbo dance.

  4. It is said money is the root of all evil. When I was in school, I’m 72 now, teacher’s main goals were tenure. To achieve that, one would ensure that all students passed their courses whether deserved or not. Schools needed income from sports, so the best way to get top players was to give them passing grades deserved or not. Administrators wanted higher pay. The best way to achieve that was to guarantee entry to generous donor’s kids, deserved or not. I became suspicious of college when the first two years of a university education was to repeat everything I studied in high school. Then the propaganda from required social sciences courses introduced me to the highly touted breakdown of the family unit. “Summer Hill” was required reading which espoused the theory that government could do a better job of raising children than the family unit. This was in 1968 at the University of Kentucky. At no time in my schooling was I ever taught to balance a check book, or how to budget or manage money. Fortunately my parents took on that chore, so I could see that schools were severely lacking in real life survival lessons…..why? Because teachers went from attending school to teaching school with no experience in between.

  5. This is by no means unique. All of recorded history tells us the trajectory followed by great nations or civilizations. There is a period of general chaos or decline followed by the formation of (usually) powerful racial groups, followed by a period of rapid societal improvements and widespread material wellness, then the Roman-like rapid descent into another primitive state.

  6. Insanity will destroy America before stupidity destroys America.

    Open borders and the obsession with “systemic racism” are insane.

  7. The Flynn Effect seems to have been conducted solely on those living in the United State in the early 1980’s. Judging by casual observation of what I see in this country over the past decade or so the results seem unsurprising. What would the study show today for other countries, say India and China, to name two? I’ll wager the results would be different, based on a 30+ year career of living or working in third world countries. As for causes, there are many but perhaps the most politically incorrect would be to blame the rise if feminism. Think about it,

  8. Good article, Glenn. Very interesting and makes total sense. Education is the root of the majority of our problems and division nowadays.

  9. Surely the decline in academic merit and intellectual excellence goes hand in hand with our declining interest in the pursuit of moral development and virtue.

    The word “university” signifies a place where everything turns (vers-) around one (uni-) pursuit, that being the knowledge of God — theology. And so it was initially at Oxford and Cambridge and Wittenberg and Yale and Harvard. Even at my school, which had been founded in 1709 at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, the motto was “labore et virtute,” signifying the pursuit of both academic and moral excellence. Alas, that school now seems to feel that the principal virtue to be pursued is Marxist egalitarianism, and it has an anti-racist task force in place to ensure that no one is any better than anyone else, in any sense.

    We are not just “stupider,” we are emptier, and badder. As for being in a “slow-motion apocalypse,” it seems to me to be happening with blitzkrieg rapidity. Just look at what our government is becoming and doing since driving Trump out of our lives, just weeks ago.

    • Steady on, friend. Our government is in exile and PDJT is our president in exile and very much in our lives. Point of Latin: university means turning to one, not turning around one.

      FWIW, last month I directed the Vicar of our small mountain valley town to remove my name from the rolls of The Episcopal Church. She agreed to do that. Years ago I asked the UCC to remove my name from the rolls of their ordained clergy. They refused to do that, said my name would go on the inactive list, as if there is such a thing for clergy. Ordination is indelible, unless one is defrocked, which I am not, so far, unlike denominational membership, which is mutable and even fungible.

      Large majority electorate support for POTUS Trump suggests to me that considerable IQ remains a possession of the American electorate. Fear not. God is not dead. 🙂

      • . . . “Nor doth He sleep,” as Longfellow put it —

        “The wrong shall fail,
        The right prevail.”

        Anyway, thanks for the pepper-upper, David.

  10. When I was a child I read! In the summer I insisted my children read for at least an hour a day. Now children play computer games. That may teach “quickness” and hand agility, but you really don’t learn anything of any depth from it.

  11. Re, “identifiable demographic groups.” I appreciate the thrust of your argument and agree with your conclusions, to a large degree, but why fall back on euphemisms when we all know to what groups you refer? As long as we are required to speak in code, to dance around uncomfortable truths, to ignore undisputed facts and defer to the likely-to-be-offended segment in our society, no progress can be made toward eliminating the problem. Why pretend that there is the slightest likelihood that a typical “family” of blacks will enjoy scintillating dinner table conversations when there is usually no father in the household to lead the conversation, the siblings each have a different sire and the mother is a junkie, prostitute or both? I do not mean to disparage the small proportion of blacks who actually have functional family units; to the contrary, I find such to be admirable. I only wish it were more prevalent, but the undeniable hereditability of IQ will preclude this from ever happening and also preclude any improvement in their general condition.

  12. There’s a particular political party affiliated with (an understatement) making us collectively stupider. Making us stupider and as a result, more dependent upon the government, upon them, is a feature, not a defect. These are people who can’t design wondrous machines or even fix them when they break – yet they will design a future that takes all that for granted. We didn’t wander into this forest by accident. It is designed.

    • Indeed. As I tried to say above, with the left we are looking less at the lack of IQ than at the capacity for evil. And the stupider our children become, the more they become the playthings of demons.

  13. The downward slide starts in grade school. Woke teachers. Low expectations. Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague Letter” on school discipline in 2014 has really greased the skids.

  14. Pingback: Dumbing Down of the Nations | Truth or Fiction

  15. Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man” In its march through the institutions, the left has obviously caught on and is bothering our children. I’ve been a great believer in the importance of nature and nurture. Give it another generation or two and there won’t be anyone left capable of independent thought.

  16. Can I add, whether it makes sense or not, that we live in the era of the mindless mob? I can’t help thinking of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. She believed that individualism was superior to collectivism. That was in 1943. How prophetic.

  17. College educated is the code word for I am indoctrinated. You older people ask some questions of your college educated relatives. Not the ones from 50’s and 60’s but the late 70’s
    through today. You will be surprised at how few facts are known. You will also be amazed at how much political correctness and ignorance of the real world is displayed. Now,in our upside down world,we have this indoctrination happening as soon as elementary school.
    We have no trade schools to speak of. Everyone wants their child to go to college. The big question is WHY? This country has adapted an idea,foreign to most other civilized countries.
    Instead of giving scholarships and accolades to the brightest,we make them wait until the numbers correspond to political correct standards. Then to prove this is not a mistake,the
    schools dumb down their curricula so everyone gets a trophy. Our colleges are rife with
    socialist and communist professors who steal our secrets,dumb down our colleges and invent
    or remove history,words,nouns and pro-nouns they either like or dislike.

  18. There are a lot of great comments and ideas here, but I’d like to bring up another theory. It’s not necessarily one that I would hang my hat on, but it makes a certain amount of sense to me. Basically, it’s that the incentives in the Western world have more recently encouraged the poor to have more children, and the relatively well-to-do to have less. Statistically, there is a solid correlation between IQ and income, and IQ is also strongly inherited. We are basically turning Survival of the Fittest upside down. Again, it’s just a theory, and perhaps a bit of an elitist one, but I think it deserves more investigation.

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