The Bejeezus Out of Me

Startling behavioral science.

How Do You Spell G-E-N-I-U-S

Surprising facts about geniuses old and new.

A large handful of 19th and 20th century creative geniuses acquired a reputation for promiscuity.  Examples include Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Picasso, and Paul Gaugin, but the list goes on.  One theory suggests that prominent male geniuses are unusually endowed with the notoriously testosterone-linked enthusiasm for risk-taking.

One notable exception to the promiscuity principle is Isaac Newton, who apparently had no wives, girlfriends, or mistresses.

Creative genius Andy Warhol is widely reported to have had an IQ of only 86, though none of the sources reporting that score offer backup data and some speculate about whether he was stoned when tested.

A case of genius missed by the eye of the beholder?  In the 1920's, 1,528 Los Angeles children, having been tested with the Stanford-Binet IQ test, were selected as "geniuses or near geniuses" for a longitudinal study—that is, a study that takes place over the course of years.  Most grew to be accomplished adults, but none became as accomplished as two children whom the researchers excluded for IQ scores that were not up to snuff.  Included in the study were a movie director (The Caine Mutiny), a TV writer (I Love Lucy), and director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Excluded were Luis Alvarez, who won a Nobel prize in Physics in 1968, and William Shockley, who won a Nobel for the invention of the transistor.

In 1981 William Shockley co-founded The Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank selling the seed of Nobel Prize winners.  It was in southern California.

Unfortunately, Nobel Prize sperm is usually old (due to the age of the winners by the time they've won). Disappointed by the performance of its genetic resources, The Repository began accepting sperm from younger men who could demonstrate evidence of high IQ or creative genius.

The Repository advertised its services in a magazine published by MENSA International, a society for geniuses and near-geniuses.

According to several British press reports in 1998, the actress Jodie Foster, a MENSA member, had herself impregnated via an unnamed sperm bank with the gametes of a tall, dark, strikingly handsome university scientist with an IQ of 160.

The Repository for Germinal Choice closed its doors in 1999.

No matter how many times you sell your genetic material, being a genius may be no guarantee of financial security.  A study conducted by the Ohio State University Center for Human Resource Research showed that baby boomers with average and low IQs were just as good at saving money as those with high IQs.

For example, Einstein lost most of his Nobel Prize money in bad bond investments on Wall Street. 

Anyone can do that.

You don't have to be classically smart to be a genius.  Indeed, most savants score on tests as developmentally delayed. (Savantism is the presence of almost super-human talent in at least one intellectual or artistic area.  Another way to think of savantism is a trench of ability that is preposterously deep and incredibly narrow.)

When artistic savants are helped to acquire better language skills, some lose their special talents.

The meek may inherit the Employee of the Month award.  Bell Labs found that their most valued and productive electrical engineers are not those endowed with genius but those who excel in rapport, empathy, cooperation, persuasion and the ability to build consensus.

People.com reports that actress and singer Jessica Simpson's elementary school teacher once called her a "space cadet."  In reaction, her mother asked that Simpson be given an IQ test.  According to People.com, her mother claims that Simpson scored a 160.  This genius-level score suggests that Simpson should at least know the difference between a chicken and a fish.  [Note to Jay:  A famous Simpson quote is "'Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it's tuna, but it says 'Chicken of the Sea.'"]

Stephen Hawking was featured as a character in an episode of The Simpsons.  He rescued Lisa from evil MENSA members.

In February of 2008, the chairman of MENSA International picked what he considers the 10 smartest TV shows of all time.  They are "M*A*S*H," "Cosmos" (with Carl Sagan), "CSI" "House," "West Wing," "Boston Legal," "All in the Family," "Frasier," "Mad About You", and "Jeopardy."

"Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."—attributed to Joe Theismann, former quarterback in the National Football League.

Users of Anagram Genius software have produced the following anagrams for "Osama Bin Laden:  Old man in a base; a damn alien S.O.B.  For "President Sadam Hussein," Anagram Genius produced: dispensed human disaster.  

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By day Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist, contributing to Scientific AmericanDiscover, and Vermont Public Radio. She also presents a weekly radio spot, Family Friendly Science, on the nationally syndicated  show, Daybreak USA. By night she is a novelist and humorist. Hysterical: Anna Freud's Story is due out in May 2014 from She Writes Press. Nietzsche's Angel Food Cake: And Other "Recipes" for the Intellectually Famished was published in October 2013 by Beck & Branch.

Send a message to Rebecca Coffey
www.rebeccacoffey.com
Twitter: @rebeccacoffey

 

Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist and broadcast commentator with Vermont Public Radio. 

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