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In 2012, the Elsevier journal Personality and Individual Differences published a special issue that included articles with titles like “Life history theory and race differences: An appreciation of Richard Lynn’s contribution to science” and “National IQs and economic outcomes.” At a celebratory dinner at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, contributors to the issue awarded Lynn a ceremonial sword and a pair of horns. Lynn, an academic psychologist, was being honored “for his long-standing contributions to Eugenics and Psychometrics.”

Why such honors were bestowed on someone who espoused racist ideas, and even racial cleansing, is perplexing. “I was not sure,” Lynn wrote in his memoir, “why they had given me the horns, which are traditionally presented to cuckolds in England. I then spoke on the decay of European civilisation resulting from … the immigration of non-European peoples.” Even more baffling is why journals and publishers haven’t retracted his paper, and resist calls for retraction.


Lynn, who died in 2023, was a professor at the University of Ulster and the president of the Pioneer Fund, a nonprofit foundation created in 1937 by American Nazi sympathizers to support “race betterment” and “race realism.” It has been a primary funding source of scientific racism and, for decades, Lynn was one of the loudest proponents of the unfounded idea that Western civilization is threatened by “inferior races” that are genetically predisposed to low intelligence, violence, and criminality.

Lynn’s work has been repeatedly condemned by social scientists and biologists for using flawed methodology and deceptively collated data to support racism. In particular, he created deeply flawed datasets purporting to show differences in IQ culminating in a highly cited national IQ database. Many of Lynn’s papers appear in journals owned by the billion-dollar publishing giants Elsevier and Springer, including Personality and Individual Differences and Intelligence.

The last article in a mainstream journal co-authored by Lynn was published early in 2023 in the Elsevier journal Intelligence. His work continues to be cited today; Google Scholar reports more than 22,000 citations, with almost 4,500 of them coming after 2019. A posthumously published article by Lynn recently appeared in the fringe journal Mankind Quarterly. Given that Lynn was embedded in a network of like-minded co-authors who are still active, it is possible that more of his work will be published posthumously. (A list of Lynn’s papers as recorded by World of Science is available here.)


Despite decades of criticism of the poor quality and practices of his work, only a few journals have taken any action to retract his papers or even acknowledge the criticism.

The influence of Lynn’s work has been extensive. He published at least 386 academic articles. His most prominent books have accrued more than 2,200 citations over the past 20 years. Many of those citing this work treat the IQ database, and Lynn’s interpretations of it, as an uncontroversial set of facts and appear to be deliberately laundering his white supremacist ideology behind the facade of legitimate scientific inquiry.

Some publications that use national IQ data, however, do not come to explicitly racist conclusions and may involve researchers who were careless enough to use the dataset without looking into its provenance. These publications further launder the dataset into the legitimate scientific literature and provide cover for Lynn’s ideological activities.

National IQ: origin and evolution

The first appearance of Lynn’s analysis of national IQ scores was published in 1991 in the journal Mankind Quarterly, which was bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund. This journal was described by the eminent population geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky in an oral history interview as “a true racist periodical, the kind of thing which would gladden the heart of Mr. Goebbels or Mr. Hitler if they could read it.” In 2002, Lynn and a colleague expanded on this work and published a collated “national IQ database” which contained what they claimed to be average intelligence estimates for entire nations. Since then, the database has been updated, most recently in 2019, to provide “measured IQ” for 131 countries.

In the original 1991 paper, Lynn made clear that his goal was not simply to compile IQ data as part of an impartial academic review, but to support his view that racial IQ differences have a genetic etiology. To determine the source of IQ differences between presumed “races,” Lynn synthesized what he saw as three lines of evidence:

  • the “contributions to civilization” that he judged different “races” had made
  • the differences in reaction time test scores, which measure the length of time a person takes to react to a stimulus
  • the differences in IQ scores

After reviewing IQ studies from across the world, Lynn determined that the average IQ of racial groups was about 100 for “Caucasoids” (Northern European white people), 105 for “Mongoloids” (East Asian people), but a mere 70 for “Negroids” (African people). Lynn concluded these alleged differences must be genetic in origin. As he wrote in the 1991 paper, “The general consistency of the results from the three sources of evidence, and the consistency of the different intellectual achievements of the races over a long historical period, points to a substantial genetic determination for these differences.”

Click here to see a selected list of citations referencing Lynn’s books on national IQ.

Limitations and flaws of the national IQ idea

Lynn danced around the implications of some key questions. Do IQ scores really represent an individual’s genetically determined intelligence? Are IQ scores set in stone throughout human history? The answers to both questions is a resounding no. There is no such thing as a culture-free test of cognitive ability. Existing intelligence tests, to some degree, inherently reflect formal education.

Lynn’s lack of critical thinking here is not surprising, since the through line of his career was his use of glaringly bad scientific practices to support his viewpoints. Lynn and colleagues constructed the national IQ dataset by searching for studies that contained cognitive test data and picking and choosing only some for inclusion. Normally, researchers who perform this sort of meta-analysis take great care to define strict selection criteria that individual studies must meet. For instance, a basic criterion might be that the test subjects in the study are healthy and not malnourished, or else there would be no way to know if their cognitive scores are normal or a reflection of their health issues. But Lynn never published any sort of selection criteria or methodology for how he decided to include studies into his dataset.

Lynn’s lack of critical thinking here is not surprising, since the through line of his career was his use of glaringly bad scientific practices to support his viewpoints.

In 2010, a group of psychologists led by Jelte Wicherts at the University of Amsterdam conducted their own search of the literature and found evidence that Lynn’s dataset was systematically biased: He had selectively included samples with particularly low scores for sub-Saharan Africa, while disregarding those with higher scores. For example, Lynn rejected a relatively high scoring sample of children with an average IQ of 91 because he said the study lacked information regarding the age of the children. At the same time, he included five studies where age information was also lacking, except these studies reported low IQs ranging from 63 to 72.

Why this inconsistency? Wicherts and colleagues found that the only consistent feature in Lynn’s decision-making process in whether to include a study in his African national IQ dataset was the average IQ reported by the study itself. The lower the IQ score, the more likely it was that Lynn chose to include it. In fact, Lynn did not use a single one of the many studies available that reported an average IQ above 85 in an African sample. The Wicherts study concluded “it is hard to avoid the impression that [Lynn’s] assessment of representativeness [of African IQ] was a function of the average IQ in the sample.”

To make matters worse, the studies Lynn included are generally not suitable for calculating national averages. Most psychological research does not rely on nationally representative data, because psychologists are rarely interested in national level cognitive data. Instead, they generally perform cognitive tests because they want to understand how cognitive performance is affected by particular characteristics. Such research is often based on samples that are easy to collect, such as among schoolchildren or college students. Many of the studies included in Lynn’s dataset tested, for example, how cognitive ability differs between children with and without malnutrition or lead exposure, twins compared with singletons, or adults with and without malaria. The authors of several of these studies explicitly stated that their results were not suitable for use in any research comparing intelligence across populations, yet Lynn included them in his dataset anyway. In addition, sloppy inferences about intelligence were made by making adjustments to national educational assessment data, which are designed to assess learning, not intelligence.

Estimating national IQ averages for populations with millions of people requires enormous sample sizes, usually in the thousands. But the studies Lynn often included few people. The IQs Lynn assigned to half of sub-Saharan African and Latin American nations were calculated from fewer than 1,000 people, sometimes far fewer. He calculated the national IQ of Angola, a nation of 35 million people, from tests performed on 19 individuals, about whom almost the only thing known is that they did not have malaria. He calculated the IQ of the Dominican Republic from 34 individuals; Greenland from 40; Uzbekistan from 51; the Republic of Congo from 88 schoolchildren; Namibia from 103 schoolchildren from an ethnic group which makes up only 7% of the national population; Sierra Leone from 119 individuals, all tested in 1966; and Botswana from 140 adolescents who don’t even appear to have been citizens of Botswana.

Despite the dataset having been updated several times, and critiques describing its flaws having been published over several decades, the flaws described here were still present in the latest 2019 version of the dataset. Even a recent attempt to defend the dataset observed that no methodology had ever been described for selecting samples into the dataset, and that it did not provide comparable estimates of intelligence for different nations. Exactly why the author of that paper concluded the dataset should continue to be used is something of a mystery to us.

Advancing a racist agenda

The glaring shoddiness of Lynn’s academic works does not reflect a man interested in scientific rigor. It does, however, start to make sense in light of Lynn’s intellectual project to, in his own words, “have a go at the rehabilitation of eugenics.” Lynn wanted to prove that the poor are poor because of a problem within them: “they have some deficit,” he claimed. He believed that there exists “a racial hierarchy in the United States of IQs of racial-ethnic groups” and advocated for “secession of the whitest states.” He also believed that “mass immigration of third world peoples … will mean the destruction of European civilization.” He even advocated that non-white societies “have to be allowed to go to the wall” and be “phased out” if European civilization is to be saved. Such white supremacist ideology espoused by Lynn is reminiscent of the racial hygiene concept pursued by the Nazis. In this light, scientific rigor or curiosity were never important to Lynn, his academic work was merely a vehicle to promote these wider ideological goals.

Lynn’s eugenic goals gained access to a wider audience with his involvement in the discredited 1994 book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life” by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. This book cites Lynn’s work 24 times and even thanks him in the acknowledgements. Archival documents were recently uncovered revealing that Herrnstein and Murray solicited Lynn’s feedback multiple times, and corresponded with him in the years prior to publishing. This correspondence, unearthed by historian Quinn Slobodian, includes discussions of how to spread their ideas about ostensible genetically based racial differences in intelligence through academia, policy think tanks, members of the media, and government officials.

In one letter to Herrnstein, Lynn wrote, “one of our most important tasks is to convince the people in the US political economy Think Tanks of the significance of the heritability of intelligence and criminality, and of race differences for the social problems confronting the US. These Think Tanks have considerable influence on informed public opinion and on politicians, far more than we in psychology do, and if some of them could be converted public understanding of these problems would be greatly advanced.”

Lynn’s impact extends far beyond the academic literature: The national IQ dataset is pervasive across the internet. Countless online data almanacs overwhelm Google search results for “Average IQ of [Country]” or similar queries. YouTube videos referencing the dataset accumulate hundreds of thousands of views. Websites that provide information on medical and psychological topics include pages with Lynn’s national IQ tables. The data can even be found on the website for a children’s autism therapy company that serves families in more than 100 U.S. cities. (Authors’ note: We approached this company about Lynn’s work, but it did not respond.)

These reproductions of Lynn’s data typically make no mention of the flawed underlying methodology or his transparent ideological stance. We contacted all of these websites for comment on why they decided to publish Lynn’s national IQ data, but received a response from only one of them, which belligerently defended Lynn’s work.

Given that Lynn’s work is explicitly motivated by white supremacist ideology, its prominence reflects a massive failure among the scientific community to self-correct.

The national IQ dataset has become part of the ideological fabric of contemporary white supremacist movements. Arthur Kemp, a prominent South African-British neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier, includes the entirety of Lynn’s national IQ table in his 2020 book “The War Against Whites: The Racial Psychology Behind the Anti-White Hatred Sweeping the West.” Lynn is regularly cited in white supremacist and anti-immigration forums and publications, such as VDARE (at least 410 times), American Renaissance (more than 480 times), and video sharing site Bitchute (more than 450 times). White supremacist memes based on Lynn’s maps of national IQs are wildly popular on the 4chan imageboards. Lynn’s data, and its derivatives, have been explicitly cited in the manifestos of white supremacist terrorists in Buffalo, N.Y., in May 2022 and Norway in July 2011.

Given that Lynn’s work is explicitly motivated by white supremacist ideology, its prominence reflects a massive failure among the scientific community to self-correct. Its continued popularity in both the scientific literature and mainstream discourse is a disturbing monument to the success of Lynn’s decades-long effort to claim the genetic and intellectual inferiority of historically marginalized groups and countries in the Global South.

Describing countries as having low “national IQ” is often a short step away from dehumanizing — if not outright genocidal — rhetoric. For example, following escalation of the Israel-Hamas War in October 2023, an obscure 2014 paper co-authored by Lynn claiming to estimate the national IQ of Palestine (based on a sample of 257 schoolchildren in Gaza) has been repeatedly invoked to justify Israel’s atrocities against Palestinian civilians. In an essay written for the conservative magazine The American Spectator, commentator Scott McKay cites Lynn’s estimate of the median IQ of Gazans and states:

Yes, it sucks to be a Gazan right now. But here’s the thing — if you’re so indolent and primitive that you can’t run your own water system or power plant, then don’t start a war with the neighbor you depend on.

Retractions are in order, but journals and publishers are resistant

Elsevier, Springer, and other publishers should retract all of Lynn’s articles on the topic of national IQ. Further, all academic publishers should conduct investigations into articles that use or cite Lynn’s national IQ database — at least 70 of which were published in just the past five years — with a view to correcting or retracting those that uncritically rely on his canon to support their findings.

Some work using Lynn’s data has already been involved in retractions, and his emeritus status was revoked by his former university due to his racist and sexist views.

In 2020, the journal Psychological Science, owned by Sage, retracted an article at the request of its authors due to its reliance on Lynn’s 2019 national IQ dataset. Facing pressure from critics, the authors were forced to acknowledge concerns over “lack of representativeness of the samples, questionable support for some of the measures, an excess of researcher degrees of freedom, and concern about the vulnerability of the data to bias.” In 2019, an editorial written by Lynn in the MDPI journal Psych was recategorized to an opinion piece. The journal wrote “we recommend against using [Lynn’s piece] as established fact, and … statements made in the article should be treated with skepticism,” pointing to Lynn’s failure to distinguish correlation from causation for national IQ’s relationship to gross domestic product, for advocating statements not supported by current research, and for exaggerating the mainstream acceptance of the work.

Around that time, five papers authored by Jean-Philippe Rushton, a longtime Lynn associate (who published an “appreciation” of Lynn’s work in the Elsevier journal Personality and Individual Differences), were retracted by the journal Psychological Reports, also owned by Sage. “This retraction is following a review that found that the research was unethical, scientifically flawed, and based on racist ideas and agenda,” the journal said in a statement.

More recently, a journal published by nonprofit publisher Royal Society Publishing acted swiftly and transparently to conduct an investigation when one of us (R.S.) raised a concern about a paper using Lynn’s national IQ data, and then decided to retract the paper, stating “the manifest problems in the data warranted retraction in order to uphold [the journal’s] standards.” Similarly, an article posted to ResearchSquare, a preprint server acquired by SpringerNature in 2022, was recently withdrawn by the editors, with a note saying “This decision reflects our commitment to disseminate research that meets our rigorous standards for integrity and respect for all individuals.”

These examples set a precedent for a thorough scientific appraisal of literature that cites Lynn’s deeply flawed and ideologically motivated work. In 2020, the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association issued a statement on the national IQ dataset, explicitly highlighting its flaws and role in the history of racism in the evolutionary behavioral sciences, writing, “Any conclusions drawn from these data are both untenable, and likely to give rise to racist conclusions, even where that is not the intention of the authors.” This statement was publicized and emailed directly to all editors of journals in the human evolutionary behavioral sciences.

Although papers citing Lynn or using his database are widespread, they are especially concentrated in a small number of journals: the Elsevier journals Intelligence and Personality and Individual Differences (at least six in each in the past five years), and the Springer journal Evolutionary Psychological Science (at least three in the past five years).

When one of us (R.S.) raised concerns with editors at several different Elsevier and Springer journals about some of the papers that used Lynn’s national IQ data, editors either declined to act or simply did not respond to emails. Elsevier and Springer declined to conduct independent investigations into these papers, saying that such decisions were left in the hands of journal editors. A paper using national IQ data was also published by the academic publisher Frontiers. In this case, while the editor was responsive to an email raising a concern about the paper, later emails to Frontiers’ research integrity office then received no response.

When we reached out to Springer and Elsevier for comment on this article in late February 2024, a Springer spokesperson wrote: “Springer Nature was already aware of concerns raised regarding the national IQ dataset. Springer Nature has placed a Publisher’s Note onto the article which uses the dataset to alert our readers to the criticisms raised. Springer Nature takes all concerns about papers we have published seriously, and whenever concerns are raised about any paper we have published, we look into them carefully, following an established process. However, whilst we can provide advice and support, editors of a journal are responsible for decisions regarding what papers they select for publication in their journals and any editorial actions taken post publication.” (The Publisher’s Note appeared only after we asked the publisher for comment about this article).

Here are our questions and the responses from the Elsevier spokesperson:

Has Elsevier considered retracting Lynn’s work before? Yes, papers by Richard Lynn have been considered for retraction in the past.

Will it consider retracting these articles in the future? Yes, Elsevier takes all claims and allegations of unethical behaviour related to published research seriously and all are investigated by our Research Integrity and Ethics teams in accordance with our standard policies on retractions. We will consider any future retractions also in accordance with those policies. Information on those policies may be found at this link.

What standards does Elsevier use to ensure it is not (intentionally or unintentionally) publishing racist pseudo-science? Elsevier abides by the same standards for every paper submitted for publishing to ensure scientific rigour. Ultimately, we can’t be responsible for how papers that meet our standards for scientific rigour are used or misused. It is important to remember that Elsevier’s journals operate under the guidance of an Editor-in-Chief and an Editorial Board. Editors-in-Chief are established researchers with a broad interest in their field and are well connected and respected in their subject community. They are ultimately responsible for the journal’s content and editorial processes and assess incoming submissions, make decisions and manage the peer review process. As publishers, we must follow the principles of academic freedom and editorial independence.

Retracting Lynn’s egregiously racist studies would not be censorship. … Over and over, Lynn stated his racist beliefs, used biased practices to justify them, and actively worked to spread and amplify them.

Despite Elsevier’s claim that its research integrity and ethics teams investigate all claims and allegations of unethical behavior, there is no evidence that an investigation was conducted when one of us (R.S.) raised concerns about a paper that used national IQ in an Elsevier journal. Instead, an Elsevier representative replied, “I respectfully decline your request for an independent Elsevier investigation regarding the paper.” Similarly, when she requested in 2023 that Springer’s research integrity team conduct an investigation into a paper published in one of their journals that used Lynn’s national IQ data, the response was merely that “the Research Integrity Group has an advisory role and editorial decisions on whether to take action on published articles lies with the Editor-in-Chief of the relevant journal.”

We also contacted the editors-in-chief of the journal Intelligence, Personality and Individual Differences, and the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science. We received one response, from Richard Haier, editor-in-chief at Intelligence, which offered no insight and referred us to guidelines on retractions from the Committee on Publication Ethics.

It is worth noting that the journals that have been most willing to correct or retract articles are those that didn’t habitually publish work by Lynn or those not heavily influenced by him. Intelligence has published at least 43 articles by Lynn, many of which used his national IQ data. Lynn also sat on Intelligence’s editorial board until 2018. This highlights the necessity for publishers to get involved when concerns are raised about publications, and to conduct independent investigations where necessary, rather than leaving decisions entirely in the hands of editors, who may experience conflicts of interest.

Prioritizing integrity

The refusal to correct the scientific record when inconvertible flaws are pointed out reflects the lack of priority given to research integrity at academic journals.

Retracting Lynn’s egregiously racist studies would not be censorship. He was not a dispassionate scientist following the data where it led him. Over and over, Lynn stated his racist beliefs, used biased practices to justify them, and actively worked to spread and amplify them.

Given the systematic flaws in the national IQ dataset and evidence that Lynn’s research was a white supremacist propaganda project, widespread retractions are in order, in line with widely accepted standards set out by the Committee on Publication Ethics. We urge Elsevier, Springer, and the editorial boards of other scientific journals to conduct investigations into Lynn’s articles and those that cite him. As stewards of the scientific record, journals must avoid the publication of misleading research that derives from Lynn’s canon.

Dan Samorodnitsky is a science journalist covering biology, genetics, and medicine, and a co-founder of Sequencer Magazine. Kevin Bird is an evolutionary biologist at the University of California-Davis who studies genome evolution in plants. Jedidiah Carlson is a population geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin who studies human genome evolution, in addition to work in meta-research and scientometrics. James Lingford is a biochemist at Monash University who studies protein structure and evolution. Jon Phillips is a historian of science who studies the histories of evolutionary biology and scientific racism in addition to the history of the physical sciences. Rebecca Sear is an interdisciplinary researcher, drawing on anthropology, demography and human behavioral ecology at Brunel University London. Cathryn Townsend is an anthropologist at Baylor University who studies cooperation and social equality.

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