Mega Questions for Renowned Psychologist Dr._Arthur R. Jensen - Interview by Christopher Michael Langan and Dr. Gina LoSasso and members of the Mega Foundation, Mega Society East and Ultranet
Christopher Langan for the Mega Foundation: It is reported that one of this century’s greatest physicists, Nobelist Richard Feynman, had an IQ of 125 or so. Yet, a careful reading of his work reveals amazing powers of concentration and analysis…powers of thought far in excess of those suggested by a z score of well under two standard deviations above the population mean. Could this be evidence that something might be wrong with the way intelligence is tested? Could it mean that early crystallization of intelligence, or specialization of intelligence in a specific set of (sub-g) factors – i.e., a narrow investment of g based on a lopsided combination of opportunity and proclivity - might put it beyond the reach of g-loaded tests weak in those specific factors, leading to deceptive results?
Arthur Jensen: I don’t take anecdotal report of the IQs of famous persons at all seriously. They are often fictitious and are used to make a point - typically a put-down of IQ test and the whole idea that individual differences in intelligence can be ranked or measured. James Watson once claimed an IQ of 115; the daughter of another very famous Nobelist claimed that her father would absolutely “flunk” any IQ test. It’s all ridiculous.
Furthermore, the outstanding feature of any famous and accomplished person, especially a reputed genius, such as Feynman, is never their level of g (or their IQ), but some special talent and some other traits (e.g., zeal, persistence). Outstanding achievements(s) depend on these other qualities besides high intelligence. The special talents, such as mathematical musical, artistic, literary, or any other of the various “multiple intelligences” that have been mentioned by Howard Gardner and others are more salient in the achievements of geniuses than is their typically high level of g. Most very high-IQ people, of course, are not recognized as geniuses, because they haven’t any very outstanding creative achievements to their credit. However, there is a threshold property of IQ, or g, below which few if any individuals are even able to develop high-level complex talents or become known for socially significant intellectual or artistic achievements. This bare minimum threshold is probably somewhere between about +1.5 sigma and +2 sigma from the population mean on highly g-loaded tests.
Childhood IQs that are at least above this threshold can also be misleading. There are two famous scientific geniuses, both Nobelists in physics, whose childhood IQs are very well authenticated to have been in the mid-130s. They are on record and were tested by none other than Lewis Terman himself, in his search for subjects in his well-known study of gifted children with IQs of 140 or above on the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Although these two boys were brought to Terman’s attention because they were mathematical prodigies, they failed by a few IQ points to meet the one and only criterion (IQ > 139) for inclusion in Terman’s study. Although Terman was impressed by them, as a good scientist he had to exclude them from his sample of high-IQ kids. Yet none of the 1,500+ subjects in the study ever won a Nobel Prize or has a biography in the Encyclopedia Britannica as these two fellows did. Not only were they gifted mathematically, they had a combination of other traits without which they probably would not have become generally recognized as scientific and inventive geniuses. So-called intelligence tests, or IQ, are not intended to assess these special abilities unrelated to IQ or any other traits involved in outstanding achievement. It would be undesirable for IQ tests to attempt to do so, as it would be undesirable for a clinical thermometer to measure not just temperature but some combination of temperature, blood count, metabolic rate, etc. A good IQ test attempts to estimate the g factor, which isn’t a mixture, but a distillate of the one factor (i.e., a unitary source of individual differences variance) that is common to all cognitive tests, however diverse.
I have had personal encounters with three Nobelists in science, including Feynman, who attended a lecture I gave at Cal Tech and later discussed it with me. He, like the other two Nobelists I’ve known (Francis Crick and William Shockley), not only came across as extremely sharp, especially in mathematical reasoning, but they were also rather obsessive about making sure they thoroughly understood the topic under immediate discussion. They at times transformed my verbal statements into graphical or mathematical forms and relationships. Two of these men knew each other very well and often discussed problems with each other. Each thought the other was very smart. I got a chance to test one of these Nobelists with Terman’s Concept Mastery Test, which was developed to test the Terman gifted group as adults, and he obtained an exceptionally high score even compared to the Terman group all with IQ > 139 and a mean of 152.
I have written an essay relevant to this whole question: “Giftedness and genius: Crucial differences.” In C. P. Benbow & D. Lubinski (Eds.) Intellectual Talent: Psychometric and Social Issues, pp. 393-411. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.See here for data relevant to this topic and the discussion in the comments.