Against the Wind
Memoirs of a Dissident Psychologist, Richard Lynn, Ulster Institute for Social Research, 2020, reviewed by Ed Dutton
At 90 years of age, Richard Lynn is the doyen of differential psychology. His findings on national and race differences in average IQ have made him the bogeyman of anti-science, left-wing ‘scientists’. But, as Memoirs of a Dissident Psychologist makes clear, Lynn’s contribution to the study of psychological differences goes far beyond the dogma-questioning research that persuaded the University of Ulster to spitefully strip him of his Emeritus Professorship. Truth to tell, Lynn discovered the ‘Flynn Effect’ – the secular rise in IQ scores of around 2.5 points per decade that took place in Western countries across the twentieth century. Often derided as a ‘racist’ by anti-science opponents, he also demonstrated that Northeast Asians have higher average IQ than Europeans, overturning the previous ethnocentric assumption that they were the world’s most intelligent race.
One fascinating aspect of this book is the insight it provides into how scientists come up with their theories. There are relatively few autobiographies penned by scientists – at least compared to politicians and other limelight-seeking celebrities – so it is rare to see this process described. For example, Lynn was inspired to look into the issue of reading ability by noticing that his two year-old daughter appeared to be capable of learning individual letters. His finding that the Irish had particularly low levels of anxiety – when he also disproved that the stereotype that the Irish are heavy drinkers – came out of his period working for a research institute in Dublin, during which time he dined with the then Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Reading about how Napoleon’s soldiers survived eating frozen horses in Russia engendered Lynn’s Cold Winter’s Theory, his thesis that high intelligence was selected for among Europeans due to the complexity of the problems they had to solve, especially during the last Ice Age.
In Memoirs of a Dissident Scientist, we are taken on an absorbing journey into a fascinating, hilarious and at times poignant life. Lynn bears his soul in this valedictory book. He was born in 1930, the illegitimate son of Sydney Cross Harland, an academic scientist and Ann Freeman. Married, although separated, Harland had an affair with Lynn’s mother in New York and, thanks to creative chicanery to avoid the stain of illegitimacy, she became ‘Mrs Richard Lynn,’ and returned to her parents to give birth to Richard Lynn’s posthumous son, after whom the boy was named. Lynn did not discover who his real father was until he was 16, when his grandmother broke the news.
Raised in a respectable, though not especially wealthy home in Bristol, Lynn was painfully aware of social class when he was boy and, while an evacuee with a working class couple, he decided to go to Bristol Grammar School in order to get on in life. We learn many intriguing details about Lynn’s childhood, as he transports us to a world so trusting that cars were built without locks and stamp-sellers sent customers entire books of stamps inviting them to take those they wanted and send the rest back along with payment.
Throughout his life, Lynn experienced setbacks which jolted him into action towards self-improvement: experiencing working class life as an evacuee and deciding to go to a good school; getting into Cambridge thanks to the encouragement of an ambitious but critical teacher; blotting his copybook at Exeter University and so moving to Dublin (a promotion); offending the Establishment there, inspiring him to look for new work, thus ending up in Ulster (another promotion). There is a sense in which Lynn was the perpetual outsider: beginning in the lowest stream at an academic school, surrounded by public school boys in the officer’s mess and at Cambridge, and then an intellectual outsider during his career.
Lynn’s account of his life is replete with memorable anecdotes. His mother was an active Communist who took the boy on holiday to Paris where they dined with a prominent family of ‘Champagne Communists.’ Lynn himself was a member of the ‘Young Communist League,’ before maturing into a socialist and ultimately a conservative, disillusioned by Britain’s post-War Labour government. It seems that Lynn’s habit of being ‘controversial’ was already present in his early-30s, when he was fired from a wardenship at Exeter University for turning a blind eye to the students’ sexual libertinism. Likewise, working for the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, the conclusions of his report on how to improve the Irish economy were condemned by Dr Garret Fitzgerald, later the country’s Taoiseach. Throughout his career, Lynn has encountered numerous famous people, of which we get his frank and sometimes acerbic impressions. The novelist E. M. Forster was Lynn’s tutor at Cambridge. At a lunch sat opposite Enoch Powell, Lynn concluded that the ‘Rivers of Blood’ politician was autistic. We also get the author’s take on Margaret Thatcher, with whom he discussed his research on race differences, plus his impressions of Hans Eysenck, and of assorted friends from his National Service, student days and academic career who’ve gained particular eminence.
Lynn shares his personal feelings, either on salient political issues such as the obscenity trial relating to Lady Chatterley’s Lover or his ‘controversial’ views on Churchill and World War II, or on personal issues. He describes his relationship with his father and long-lost half-siblings, his reaction to the death of his mother, and, most painfully of all, the despair he felt when his second wife died prematurely, after a long and excruciating illness. Lynn recalls the scene in the hospital the last time that he saw his wife: “I bent down and whispered into [my wife’s] ear “Hello my darling, it’s me, your Richy. She moved her lips slightly but it was impossible to make out what she was trying to say . . . I thought of the ups and downs of the years we had spent together and of her long and courageous fight against her illness, which she had now finally lost, and my eyes filled with tears.”
For the most part, this is an engrossing autobiography. I first met Lynn in 2012 and consider myself his protégé. We have collaborated on many projects and it was he who first directed me towards the study of intelligence, which has fascinated me ever since. There are, however, certain omissions. In particular, the London Conference on Intelligence, which Lynn helped to organise, was a media sensation when it was ‘outed’ by leftist anti-scientists in 2018. It isn’t even mentioned. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed in the on-line version of the book and in any subsequent re-print. These quibbles aside, this is a really well-written and informative autobiography, perhaps the best I’ve read by a scientist.
Editorial endnote; I have known Richard Lynn for over twenty years. Like the late Arthur R. Jensen, he has always been a fearless seeker after truth
Dr Edward Dutton is the author of Churchill’s headmaster: the ‘sadist’ who nearly saved the British Empire and of How to judge people by what they look like