Stefan Molyneux, IQ and race: What the experts think

One of the world's leading experts on intelligence says no one should listen to anything Stefan Molyneux has to say on the topic.

But not necessarily because he's wrong.

Emeritus Professor James Flynn of the University of Otago has published a number of books and papers on intelligence, what it is, and what's behind it. He's best-known internationally for the 'Flynn effect' - the gradual improvement in intelligence - as measured in IQ tests - that occurred throughout the 20th century.

If you've been following the news over the past few weeks, Mr Molyneux probably needs no introduction. For the rest of you, he's a Canadian podcaster and YouTube personality who was going to speak in Auckland last Friday with alt-right provocateur Lauren Southern, before a backlash convinced the venue's operators to cancel the show at the last minute.

He argues there is a racial link to intelligence, with a hierarchy that puts Ashkenazi Jews at the top, African-Americans, sub-Saharan Africans, pygmys and indigenous Australians at the bottom, and the rest of us somewhere in between.

Mr Molyneux says while he doesn't like that different races have different levels of intelligence, it's what the research says, citing work by the likes of Prof Flynn and Charles Murray. The latter published a book in 1994 called The Bell Curve, which presented evidence of IQ differences between the different races. While it didn't flat-out say the differences were the result of genetics, in promotion for the book Dr Murray said it was likely.

Prof Flynn was interviewed by Mr Molyneux in 2015 - the hour-long chat is on YouTube - but said if the Canadian called now, he wouldn't answer.

"I wouldn't think of going within a mile of him if he talked," Prof Flynn told Newshub, saying while he enjoyed debating the subject of race and IQ with academics he disagreed with, such as Dr Murray and the late Arthur Jensen, there was no point in listening to what Mr Molyneux has to say.

"These people are just coattail-hangers. They don't have anything new to contribute to the debate - they just try and make the debate spectacular. I've invested a huge amount of time on this issue, read all the best thinkers, and wouldn't think it would be worth my time."

In his 1980 book Race, IQ and Jensen, Prof Flynn called attempts to link IQ squarely to race "disturbing", expressing great scepticism.

Most researchers now say the evidence strongly favours environmental factors - the Flynn effect itself has been linked to improved pre- and post-natal nutrition and better education, for example, as well as the growing complexity of life.

Prof Flynn couldn't recall anything Mr Molyneux told him in 2015, but doubts the interview would be worth revisiting.

"I've never seen him in the literature as having made any supplementary points to the points Jensen made, and his reputation is such that one suspects he oversimplifies the debate. You have a limited amount of time in your life, and if you look at what every nut says about every issue, you'll never have time to do anything else."

But that doesn't mean he agrees with Mr Molyneux and Ms Southern being hounded out of the country.

"When you say I'm going to oppose you by force, you're reducing freedom of speech to a contest of force. Do you really want debating an issue not to be a contest of ideas and evidence and logic, do you really want whether views are head to be a matter of 'I'm bigger than this guy and I can drive him out of the country'?

"I would say however bad free speech is in terms of determining the validity of an idea, a test of strength is worse."

Protesters against Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux in Aotea Square.
Protesters against Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux in Aotea Square. Photo credit: Getty

Newshub suggested to Prof Flynn that while he might not be convinced by Mr Molyneux's arguments, less academic minds might be. He said that is "always the excuse" given when a group wants to silence another.

"I'm a socialist - in America, that's anathema. Whenever someone wanted to shut me up, they'd say, 'I could debate with you - I'm a sophisticated person - but you'll mislead all of the young naive people and get them to embrace socialism, which is next to communism.'

"I quite agree - if there's free speech, some people will be naïve enough to endorse views I think are [not rational]… If you were to tell me over the phone today the theory of evolution was wrong and every little fish was created by God, I would think, 'How pathetic.' But I certainly wouldn't try and shut you up. I might think to myself, 'I hope he doesn't get hold of some naïve young person who'll believe him, but I wouldn't stop you.'"

Rather than give the pair publicity by opposing their presence - as some have accused Auckland Mayor Phil Goff of doing - Prof Flynn says we all should have just ignored them.

"This clown is coming here and if he speaks in Auckland he'll get about 50 people, all of whom agree with him anyway, and best to ignore him. But no, all sorts of people become champions of anti-racism and they get huge publicity."

James Flynn.
James Flynn. Photo credit: Bryce Edwards/Wikipedia

If there's a silver lining for the Canadians' opponents, it's that the cancellation of the gig left them out of pocket - Mr Molyneux was last seen on YouTube pleading for donations from supporters.