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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The talented 1 in 10,000

David Lubinski sent me a copy of his latest paper from a longitudinal study of individuals who scored at the 1 in 10k level (normalized by age) on SAT-M or SAT-V before 13. This population is similar to the one whose DNA we are using in our intelligence GWAS.

How can a brief test administered to a 12 year old be so good at picking out individuals who are likely to be exceptionally successful at age 38? If I hadn't been repeatedly told otherwise by "experts" I might conclude it had some validity ;-)
Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators

Youth identified before age 13 (N = 320) as having profound mathematical or verbal reasoning abilities (top 1 in 10,000) were tracked for nearly three decades. Their awards and creative accomplishments by age 38, in combination with specific details about their occupational responsibilities, illuminate the magnitude of their contribution and professional stature. Many have been entrusted with obligations and resources for making critical decisions about individual and organizational well-being. Their leadership positions in business, health care, law, the professoriate, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) suggest that many are outstanding creators of modern culture, constituting a precious human-capital resource. Identifying truly profound human potential, and forecasting differential development within such populations, requires assessing multiple cognitive abilities and using atypical measurement procedures. This study illustrates how ultimate criteria may be aggregated and longitudinally sequenced to validate such measures.
The authors note that about 2% of the US general population earn doctoral degrees (JD, MD, PhD), whereas about 22% of gifted students who test at the top 1% level do so, and 44% percent of this population (in the 1 in 10k population there were many times more PhDs than MDs and JDs). From the paper:
... Other investigators have observed the importance of ability patterning for differential accomplishments in education and the world of work among talented students (Gottfredson, 2003; Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009), and even students in the top 1% of ability (Gohm, Humphreys, & Yao, 1998; Park, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2007). However, the current investigation studied participants who were profoundly gifted (top 1 in 10,000), as indicated by at least one SAT score. Moreover, for 94% of these participants their less impressive SAT score placed them in the top 1% of ability—and the lower score for 78% was in the top 0.5% (see Fig. S1 in the Supplemental Material); almost all members of this sample had both mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities higher than those of the vast majority of Ph.D.s in any discipline (Wai et al., 2009, Figs. 6 and B1).

... More than 7% of participants held tenure at research intensive universities (including many considered the best in the world) by the time they were age 38. The 14 attorneys were predominantly working in positions of significant responsibility for major firms or organizations. The 19 physicians were also highly accomplished: Seven were assistant professors, 2 were directors of major private practices, and 1 codirected a hospital organ-transplant center serving more than 3 million people. Rather than working for established organizations, 14 individuals founded companies of their own. Two individuals were vice presidents at Fortune 500 companies; 2 others were Fortune 500 senior hardware or software engineers. Several participants were active in government agencies at local and federal levels—one advised the president of the United States on national policy issues.

29 comments:

David Coughlin said...

It makes me chuckle how you leak [I think intentionally] info about yourself.

Stephen Hsu said...

What did I leak? :-)

Polynices said...

Our host is already a PhD physicist. It's not like he has to do anything else to display his ability.

Hauser Quaid said...

Only 1 out of 10 000 can figure that out. :)

David Coughlin said...

1 in 10000 is just a proxy for something else, a limit about which you have expressed interest in the past.

efalken said...

Did they note the average number of children for this group?

David Coughlin said...

I have a different question. You and LondonYoung went through an exercise roughing out the distribution of IQs in the typical Caltech graduating class. How did the actual composition of your class compare to that model [if that rings a bell]?

steve hsu said...

I don't recall seeing it, but Lubinski might know. They have tons of data on this population.

steve hsu said...

In earlier work it was shown that these 1 in 10k kids regress a bit by the time they are high school seniors. This is expected since they use a single test for admission and some of the kids who qualify are a bit below the cutoff but got lucky when taking the SAT at age 12. The typical HS SAT scores for this population (obtained pre-1995 when the ceiling was higher than today) were somewhat lower than 1 in 10k, although, IIRC, above 1 in 1k. Based on this I'd say a good fraction (although less than 50%) of the Caltech class is at the same level, roughly, as this group. Recall about 40% of techers go on to earn STEM PhDs, typically at good places, which is not very different than this group. Techers might have been selected a bit more for conscientiousness.

efalken said...

Satoshi Kanazawa makes an intriguing point in his book The Intelligence Paradox that one can over-rate intelligence if you look at achievement vs. progeny. Basically, he says intelligent people make better physicians, astronauts, better scientists, and better violinists, because all these pursuits are evolutionarily novel. But these are all the unimportant things in life, as they do not make better friends, they do not make better spouses and partners, and they do not make better parents, precisely because these are things our ancestors have done for hundreds of thousands of years on the African savanna.


I would disagree that intelligent people don't make better friends, parents, etc., other things equal, but if you defined 'better' in terms of popularity or fertility, perhaps he is correct.

steve hsu said...

A lot of this is context/society dependent. If you look at the Clark-UK/China data it seems plausible that in the past smarter people who were more economically successful also reproduced more. Today that's not true for a number of reasons.


Re: Kanazawa, agriculture and trading/specialization were evolutionarily novel at first. Then we went through a period where most people were involved in agriculture and/or had specialized roles in society, and their success had "fitness" (defined reproductively) consequences. That period was long enough to have effects on allele frequencies.

BellcurveOli said...

I would be curious to know how their children's IQ stack up against their parents but many of the children may be too young still.

NotaPhysicist said...

Is there any data on 1 in 10,000 female vs. male accomplishment? Any data on how many of the highest achievers had dual professional parents? One of the challenges of raising bright children as a middle income family are the limited opportunities in public schools.

5371 said...

Slightly OT - commiserations on Caltech's lack of success in last year's Putnam competition.

efalken said...

I was just was reading about Liebniz and Newton, and noted both were childless. Kanazawa noted in the book studies of prodigies, and they generally found high accomplishment and below average fertility.

tractal said...

If that's right either Caltech's admissions officers are gods of psychometric intuition or the extra-curriculur achievements of the 1/10,000 stand out very clearly from the 1/200. Either way something interesting is going on there. Or conscientiousness is a huge factor even into the stratosphere of STEM PhD achievement, which would also be interesting.

steve hsu said...

Admissions officers have several tests (SATs, sometimes math/phys/chem/informatics competitions), grades, evaluations, etc. to go on so they have more (good) data than simply one test at age 12. I'd much rather be in their position to pick winners than just having age 12 SATs.

Re: drive and conscientiousness,

"You and Your Research: ... At Los Alamos I was brought in to run the computing machines which other people had got going, so those scientists and physicists could get back to business. I saw I was a stooge. I saw that although physically I was the same, they were different. And to put the thing bluntly, I was envious. I wanted to know why they were so different from me. I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe: he was my boss. I saw quite a few very capable people. I became very interested in the difference between those who do and those who might have done.

... ... Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, ``How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?'' He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, ``You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.'' I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: ``Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. ..."

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-is-difference.html

David Coughlin said...

I love that story.

stevesailer said...

This study of 12-year-olds reminds of something I wanted to bring up: I had little interest in logic before age 13. Suddenly, at age 13 (i.e., puberty), I loved logical argument. My wife says the same thing happened to her. Yet, I've never seen this come up in a psychometric analysis.

steve hsu said...

I've never seen any results on age of onset of interest in logic, but your comment raises the point that this study selects for precocity, which is correlated with, but not perfectly predictive of, maximum adult potential. That is, some of the kids who qualified for this study are more exceptional for precocity than for their adult cognitive ability. See the Caltech comments below.

Iamexpert said...

Intelligence is only correlated with natural selection not sexual selection. In ancestral times fitness was determined by natural selection so brain size tripled in 3 million years. Today with a social safety net, fitness is a function of sexual selection (fertility, litter size) so IQ is almost negatively correlated with fitness and we're almost seeing a dysgenic trends.

Iamexpert said...

They regressed when taking the SAT at two different ages because of the imperfect stability of IQ across the life span but they would regress again if they moved from the SAT to an official IQ test. For example harvard students average the IQ equivalent of 143 on the SAT but 128 on an abbreviated version of the WAIS-R. Now the samples might not have been 100% comparable, but my experience is that extremely high scoring populations can seldom replicate their high scores when given different tests. I would like for these kids to be administered the wechsler during adulthood, preferably old age. Or even the SAT at age 80. :-)

Jason Malloy said...

Yes, in another paper. The 35 year old Talent Search sample was compared with graduate students and the general population:

Moreover, the mean number of biological children for male and female [Graduate Student] participants was 0.57 and 0.54, respectively; corresponding means for their same-sex [Talent Search] counterparts were also low: 0.61 and 0.44 (no significant differences by sex or sample). These reproduction rates are well below the norm for women in general (1.59 for ages 30–34, 1.86 for ages 35–39; National Center for Health Statistics, 1997), but again aligned with rates for women who have earned graduate or professional degrees (0.61 for ages 25–34, 1.43 for ages 35–44; Bachu & O’Connell, 2001)

Jason Malloy said...

Not in psychometrics, but this is the basis of the Piagetian theory of cognitive. Children develop logical thought during the
"Concrete Operational Stage" during middle childhood, and then become capable of abstract thought during the Formal Operational Stage in early adolescence. Piagetian development correlates with IQ though. East Asian children reach the final stage before white children.

LondonYoung said...

For what it is worth, the last I knew, Caltech flew tenured faculty members out to the high schools (no matter how remote) of all applicants they were considering admitting for a pretty serious hour (or more) long conversation with the applicant. So, if you start with the high SAT/GPA applicants, and send the 1 in 1000 quality faculty out to see if they think the applicant is 1 in 10,000 ... well, I can see that working out OK. Note, they didn't sent out admissions staff, they sent out tenured profs ....

tractal said...

That's an awesome commitment on Caltech's part. I also failed to consider the non-SAT objective test metrics Steve mentioned, I just didn't think the participation rates were that high but ofc they might be at the very top end. Seems reasonable to suppose that if you are 1/10k and conscientious enough to do competitions etc. Caltech will find you. I'm now itching to know how many 1/10k are actually that conscientious, though I guess part of Steve's response indicates that might not really matter; the future stars are going to need a steel work ethic anyway. I wonder what happens to the lazy geniuses. Conscientiousness aside, the lesser schools they (might) attend still have a big interest in unleashing their latent talent.

Richard Seiter said...

@LondonYoung that is interesting. I had a Caltech "interviewer" come to my high school years ago, but I was too young/naive to realize/ask if he was a tenured prof (and even if I did know, too naive to realize how unusual that was). That would go a long way towards explaining the type of conversation we had. I was admitted even though I don't think I am 1 in 10,000 ;-) That approach sounds expensive in both money and valuable faculty time (what is Caltech's admission yield? That sounds like a great deal of travel even if the candidates are significantly bunched). I wonder if they still do it? As @tractal says, that is an awesome commitment. I wonder if it is more about assessing the applicant (e.g. finding the "right" temperaments/conscientiousness) or about showing those applicants what kind of place Caltech is?

steve hsu said...

Sadly they stopped using faculty interviewers some years ago. When I was in HS they sent a full professor of experimental high energy physics to interview me and the other applicant from my school. It was the dead of winter in Iowa and I cannot imagine it was anything like a holiday for the professor.


Modern science is such a competitive grind that faculty interviews are totally impossible these days.

stevesailer said...

What happened with me at age 13 was clearly a masculinization of my intellect due to hormones. I'm kind of struck by how this phenomenon doesn't seem all that widely studied.

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