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Marilyn Vos Savant, Ron Hoeflin, and High IQ

Marilyn Vos Savant: "the surname is real, it was her mother’s maiden name – has had a unique claim to fame since the mid-1980s. It was then, almost 30 years after she took a test as a schoolgirl in downtown St Louis, Missouri, that her IQ came to light. In 1985, Guinness World Records accepted that she had answered every question correctly on an adult Stanford-Binet IQ test at the age of just 10, a result that gave her a corresponding mental age of 22 years and 11 months, and an unearthly IQ of 228.

The resulting publicity changed Savant’s life. She appeared on television and in the press, including on the cover of an in-flight magazine that [Robert] Jarvik chanced to pick up. He decided to track her down and ask her out. It also led to the role for which she remains best known in America, writing a question-and-answer column, 'Ask Marilyn', for Parade, a Sunday magazine syndicated to more than 400 regional newspapers. For the past 22 years, Savant has tended their ceaseless queries – 'How happy are larks, really?' 'My wife blow-dries her hair every day. Can the noise damage her hearing?' "

Some question the importance of a very high IQ if it is used only for the rather dumbed-down Sunday Parade Magazine.

"To her fans and other members of the world of high IQ, Savant is a prodigious, unusual talent who delights in solving problems. To her detractors, she is either trivial, someone who has squandered her gift, or proof, if they needed it, that IQ scores don’t add up to anything."

The writer comments:

"All of which only makes people wonder why Savant has found no higher purpose. In 1995, the issue became so bothersome to Herb Weiner, a software engineer in Portland, Oregon, that he set up a website called Marilyn is Wrong! Weiner says that he aims to redress errors in her column and ensure that Savant’s daunting IQ does not mean that she goes unquestioned. But what really seems to nag him is that she writes the column at all. “Look at Barack Obama, look at how he is applying his intelligence,” he told me. “It just sort of seems strange to me that instead of dealing with more complex problems, a lot of what she does is just answer riddles or simple research things, things that anybody could go to a library and look up the answer to."

That raises a question about intelligence itself. Is intelligence multiple? What about motivation? Passion? What about Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences?

"For many people, the story of Savant and “Ask Marilyn” are just two more pieces of evidence in a larger, decades-long argument about the accuracy and objectivity of intelligence testing. Even Guinness has succumbed. In 1990, two years after inducting Savant into its Hall of Fame, the publisher, in its parlance, “rested” its high IQ category altogether, saying it was no longer satisfied that intelligence tests were either uniform or reliable enough to produce a single record holder. Depending on how you look at it, Savant will either never be beaten, or was not worth beating in the first place." (Sam Knight, Financial Times, online magazine section, April 10, 2009)

Then there is Ron Hoeflin, IQ of 190 and like Vos Savant also from St Louis. He had an abusive father, and defended his brothers against the dad. Ridiculed by his father for his smarts, Ron has found his own kind of peace away from people and in the quiet of open country.

"Hoeflin is two years older than Savant, also from St Louis, and also has a remarkable IQ score – 190 – yet has frustratingly little to show for it. He lives only a few blocks from Savant’s penthouse, above a café/Laundromat, and describes himself as self-employed. I met Hoeflin in the local Wendy’s, a hamburger place where he spends every afternoon working on the final volume of a self-published philosophical treatise called The Encyclo­paedia of Categories: A Theory of Categories and Unifying Paradigm for Philosophy With Over 1,000 Examples." (Knight, ibid.)

Also see Mind Shadows, William James Sidis, World's Smartest Person? Here as well as myths about him. Notable is Chris Langan, who has an IQ off the charts. Then there is a Mind Shadows post, Dumb Things Smart People Do.

Like Howard Gardner, I challenge the idea that intelligence is a single entity. I don't believe it results from a single factor, or that an IQ test measures all its dimensions.

Finally, and as an aside, in my opinion and experience, Mensa, with its SIGs, or Special Interest Groups, is a rather dismal and boring failure. It is a frivolous organization bent on good times, socializing, and mutual admiration. That is largely its footprint. On the one hand, I commend its lack of social barriers, with the only requirement a verifiable score on a reputable form of intelligence test. On the other, its members seem to think belonging to it is a kind of surrogate accomplishment.

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