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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"The Essex blonde...who's officially smarter than Albert Einstein!"

A friend sent this article about a British girl, Lauren Marbe, who is evidently from a lower middle class background and has normal (plebeian) tastes, but whose IQ has been tested at 161.

The article, from the Mail Online, has a somewhat breathlesss tone, as if the author can't quite believe that such a towering intellect as Marbe would come across like such a normal girl, the type who likes to put blonde highlights in her hair and watch the usual run of TV shows -- although she does plan to apply to Cambridge, where she would like to study architecture

As far as her being smarter than Einstein, I think we'll just have to wait and let history be the judge of that.

But as ridiculous as the comparison of Marbe to Einstein is, the most annoying thing about the article is the chart it provides listing the IQ's of the following famous people: 

Charles Dickens - 180
Dr. David Livingstone - 170
Charles Darwin - 165
Stephen Hawking - 160
Quentin Tarantino 160
Bill Gates - 160
Albert Einstein - 160
Sharon Stone - 154
Bill Clinton - 145
Shakira - 140
JFK - 119

These IQ figures are supposedly excerpted from a well known list of estimated IQ's of historical figures by American psychologist Catharine Cox Miles. The only problem is, Miles died in 1984 (I looked her up), so she couldn't have come up with the numbers for Hawking, Tarantino, Gates, Stone, Clinton, or Shakira. 

Some of those numbers are self-reported, and therefore highly suspect. Sharon Stone has claimed an IQ of 160 (not 154), but she also said that she went to a MENSA school as a child, and it turned out that those schools did not exist when she would have been at an age to attend. (Sociopath alert!)

Quentin Tarantino's IQ has been bruited about ever since he directed Pulp Fiction, but it's unclear what kind of test it was, and what kind of conditions it was administered under. Since it was his mother who originally boasted about his IQ, my guess is that she is the one who gave him the test. 

As far as Hawking's and Gates's IQ's, those sound like suspiciously round numbers that were just randomly assigned to them. It's hard to believe that they themselves went to the trouble to take the tests and then publicize the results. (If you're the world's leading physicist or the world's richest man, you don't really have to boast about your IQ.)

Bill Clinton's number actually seems too low. He may be a sociopath, but he was an awfully smart one. Maybe some of that perceived intelligence was just glibness passing itself off as smarts, but his command of facts (as well as fiction, when it suited him) was legendary.

As far as the 119 figure for JFK before, that number is probably based on the "Gentleman's C" average Kennedy got at Harvard. Yes, he was a lazy playboy who didn't apply himself when young, but that only means that he was lazy. I've known plenty of people with IQ's in that range, and as Lloyd Bentsen once famously said, they were no Jack Kennedy's. 

Shakira's 140 sounds like a number her agent came up with in an attempt to broaden her appeal. I Googled her IQ, but could find no proof of it, only several mentions of the number. It seems that once such a number gets attached to someone famous, it just sticks, no questions asked. (Shakira's hips may not lie, but most likely someone is lying, about her IQ.)

And how does Livingstone get ranked ahead of Einstein and Darwin? He discovered the source of the Nile, so deserves high scores for bravery, but bravery does not necessarily connote intelligence, in fact sometimes it can mean the opposite. His score sounds almost like a misinterpretation of Stanley's famous quote: "Dr. Livingstone, 170 IQ I presume?" 

And speaking of presumptuous, who was it who felt qualified to judge the IQ's of Einstein, Darwin, and Dickens? It's always seemed to me that it's very hard for anyone to estimate the IQ of someone far smarter than he. (How can you judge someone you don't fully understand?)

Assigning an iQ to Charles Dickens which is 15 points higher than Charles Darwin seems both arbitrary and meaningless. How could anybody possibly know that? Also, Dickens may have been a great writer, but Darwin is by far the more important, and influential, thinker. He came up with a unique and revolutionary theory which changed the way humans saw themselves.

I've heard that any points beyond 145 don't really make all that much difference for creative geniuses anyway, and that what distinguishes really special people is some unique undefinable spark, a special twist of mind, that can't be measured by an ordinary test. This could well be true.

Perhaps Lauren Marbe has that spark. Only time will tell. 

Oh, and for the overly gullible writer of the Mail Online article: my IQ is 350. Hey, I said it, so it must be true, right? You believed Sharon Stone and Shakira's self-reported numbers, so believe mine.

At 350, I'm smarter than Dickens and Darwin put together.

I may not have produced anything more of value than Marbe has of yet, but that doesn't matter. It's the number that counts.


Anonymous said...

Sharon Stone's IQ of "154" reflects the comparative, competitive advantage gained when she flashes her beaver, instantly subtracting 40 points from everyone else within eyeshot.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Very good.

Only I think that as she has gotten older her IQ is only around 124, via the same logic.

Anonymous said...

"And speaking of presumptuous, who was it who felt qualified to judge the IQ's of Einstein, Darwin, and Dickens? It's always seemed to me that it's very hard for anyone to estimate the IQ of someone far smarter than he. "

They weren't exactly the smartest folks. Einstein had trouble with mathematics when formulating GR, Darwin lamented on not gaining mathematical expertise like his cousin Francis Galton.
IQ alone doesn't make a genius, but it can be useful to criticize one and evaluate.

"I've heard that any points beyond 145 don't really make all that much difference for creative geniuses anyway"

For us mere mortals that is, these guys can realize when someone is even better than them. I remember Feynman talking of this in his interview, how he found himself confused on various occasions while another great physicist, whose name I can't recall, would effortlessly 'get' the situation. Of course, Feynman's 125IQ is BS.

Stephen Hsu sometimes posts about such men talking of each other. Perhaps it was von Neumann.

Anonymous said...

coming back to the girl:

much ado about nothing.

"Lauren sat the Cattell III B test under supervision from British Mensa and achieved 161 - one point short of the maximum score you can get if you are under 18.

Adults take the same test as the one Lauren sat but because they have more developed brains British Mensa will only score them a maximum of 161.

This is because a different mathematical equation is used to convert an adult's score into an IQ rating, than is used to convert a child's."

John Craig said...

(First) Anon --
Einstein is on a lot of lists of famous people with Aspergers; I have no idea whether that's true, but if it is, it would explain his relatively narrow focus. And it's hardly fair to compare anyone's mathematical expertise with someone like Galton, who was a recognized genius in that field.

I tend to believe in the "g" theory of intelligence, and think that different people become good at different things simply because that's what they're interested in. I also believe that IQ tests are probably better for measuring populations as a whole than for being reliable indicators of individual genius. You sound like the kind of guy who's probably taken a number of IQ tests just out of curiosity, to see how you would do. (I am, too.) Think of the variation between your individual scores on different tests; which one measures the real you? (I'd like to choose my highest score and say THAT ONE is the real me, but I know about variations between tests, especially some of those you can find on the internet.

Interesting about Feynman, thank you for that.

John Craig said...

(Second) Anon (or are you the same person?) --

I"m familiar with how it's easier to score high if you're a child. I have a friend who scored 211 as a child, and he says that he would do no better than 130 or 140 if he took the test now. I don't entirely believe him, but he's right that he would score lower. (Type in "The Smartest Guy I ever met" into the search bar of this blog, and my post about him will come up, along with my impression of what constitutes intelligence in general.)

I gave my sister a test out of a book when she was 10, made sure she stayed within the time limits etc, and she scored a 210. She, too, would not have scored as well a a later age, although she was extremely, almost freakishly, intelligent. (She did solve some geometry problems on that test without ever having taken geometry.)

Anonymous said...

"Einstein is on a lot of lists of famous people with Aspergers"

he was quite social and a womanizer, Newton the life-long virgin would be a better candidate.

"I tend to believe in the "g" theory of intelligence, and think that different people become good at different things simply because that's what they're interested in."

No. Read the last one here:

and IQ is more about talent than genius.

Genius by Eysenck on Galton's folly and regression to mean

John Craig said...

Anon --
I've always wondered about Einstein; on the one hand there's that famous story about how he didn't learn to speak until he was four, but I've also heard that that story is not true, so I don't know.

And on the other hand he was, as you say, a successful womanizer, and I've never known an Aspie who was one. (Of course, it's also true that women will often flock to celebrities, who can trade off their fame to rack up the numbers no matter how charmless they are.)

But the strongest evidence against Einstein being an Aspie are some of the quotes attributed to him: he seems wise and witty as well, traits not normally associated with Aspergers.

Contrast him to Bill Gates, another guy on a lot of the famous-people-with-Aspergers lists. When was the last time you heard a witty quote attributed to him? His friend Warren Buffett is a veritable fountain of pithy, funny, commonsensical sayings; Gates seems to be a desert. And its not as if if he said something funny, it wouldn't get some publicity.

(By the way, I have no doubt that Gates, had he been inclined that way, could have been a world class womanizer just based on his money and fame.)

As far as Newton, I've heard that was a homosexual; might that not explain his lifelong virginity (at least vis-a-vis women)?

That first article about g was interesting, thank you for that, although I still have my doubts. I'm not the expert in IQ that you are, I'm just someone who's read about it a little. But my everyday experience is that most of the people I've known who are extremely good at one thing show, if not talent, at least a certain amount of common sense about most subjects, even if that not all that interested in those other subjects. I think that at a fairly early age we all just get fixated on certain interests, usually with all the foresight and planning of baby ducks imprinting on their mothers, and those interests tend to turn into lifelong interests. And if you're fixated on certain things, you will just dwell on them more, examine them from all sorts of angles, and think about various possibilities associated with them. And that's how insights spring up. To me, both talent AND genius are matters of fixation and appeal as much as different gene clusters. (Those gene clusters DO explain how much intelligence you can bring to bear on your subject/fixation of choice, but not necessarily why you ended up focusing on one subject and not another.)

The first article you linked concluded that Shakespeare could not have done what Newton did, nor could either have replicated Edison's achievements. True enough; but that statement really applies to the middle-aged versions of each of these men. What if Shakespeare had become fixated on questions of science as a 5-year-old, rather than romance and the mysteries of the human psyche? What would he would have accomplished? We just don't know.

Many of the arguments I've heard against g theory tend to involve, if not autistic savants, at least people who might have Aspergers. But autistics aside, all of my firsthand experience pushes me in the direction of g.

Anonymous said...

I find anyone who goes on about how someone is "cleverer than Einstein" annoying. Even if they're right, then that person is still probably not going to go on to discover as much as he did. Einstein and Feynman both attributed their success not to their intelligence, but to their persistence. The two scientists said they would keep thinking about one phenomenon long after everyone else would have become bored of it, which is why they were able to come up with their ground-breaking new perspectives. IQ alone does not make anyone superior to Einstein.


John Craig said...

Gethin --
No question, obsessiveness is a tremendous asset if you want to really mull something over. But at the same time, obsessiveness without intelligence is sometimes just the mark of a tiresome personality.