The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, April 02, 2007

William James Sidis and Ratio IQ

William James Sidis was a child prodigy. Indeed, he was one of the greatest child prodigies ever recorded. Yet, what would happen to him today? Would the magnitude of his gifts be recognized were he tested by modern psychometricians?

The short answer is a definite no. You see estimates of William James Sidis ratio IQ place it at least 250 to 300. This might even be conservative in some ways, if you look closely at his life - but nevertheless, this is a significant IQ figure. But what would happen if he was tested by modern IQ tests? They would grossly underestimate him - and here is why. Modern tests tend to have a ceiling of a deviation IQ of 160. Ceiling effects will actually depress most gifted people's scores. Everyone has a different pattern of peaks in their subtests - and these peaks will be cut off at varying points by the test limit. Some subtests may show weaknesses - and these will lower the overall score. In fact, if William James Sidis took a modern IQ test he may not have even got a score of 160 - depending on his pattern of strengths and weaknesses, he may have had a depressed score of 150 or 140 or any other number below 160.

So, a psychologist testing Sidis today would most probably completely miss the magnitude of his gifts, in terms of a test result - because the test is incapable of measuring his gifts, as they truly are - but it is only capable of underestimating them, to an unknown degree. Of course, the same applies to any extremely gifted child today. The IQ tests are only capable of underestimating and not of measuring such children.

I do not know why, as a profession, the designers of such tests have decided to introduce this limit to the tests. Perhaps it is an economic decision: it simply wasn't thought worth having a test with a long tail with all the work that would require for only a relatively few test subjects to benefit from. Perhaps that is what it comes down to. Or perhaps scoring high in such a test is thought enough - perhaps the actual truth of the situation is not regarded as important.

Anyway, this situation with Sidis and all even remotely like him - the extremely gifted - points us to an unavoidable conclusion: ratio IQs remain valuable and should be reinstated as one of the tools of estimation of a child's intelligence.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and four months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three and Tiarnan, fourteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:51 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

An explanation:

"I do not know why, as a profession, the designers of such tests have decided to introduce this limit to the tests."

What it is, is this. IQ 160 is found in about 1 in 5000 people or so. (The estimates Ive seen are all different, but thats one of them.) IQ's near 200 are found more like 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 1,000,000. Ive even seen that IQ estimated as being as uncommon as 1 in 1,000,000,000. Ive seen it estimated to be more common than 1 in 100,000. Whatever the incidence, those people are extremely rare.

In order to test the test, to make sure the TEST is an accurate measure, they have to have a lot of people actually take the test. How do you KNOW that this question about whether all bleeps are bloops correlates to IQ 111 or 147? How do you know the questions are hard enough? You could guess... but guessing isn't scientific enough.

I don't know how many people at each IQ range they have to test to make sure the test is good, but since they tend to find 100 people to survey before considering it a meaningful result on surveys, I will use that figure.

To find 100 people of IQ 100 to take the test, and make sure it accurately measures average people is very easy. You just go to a mall, and test 200 people. (50% of the population has IQ 100).

To find 100 people of IQ 130 to test and make sure the test tests them reliably, you would have to test 5,000 people, because only 2% are going to be gifted. This is doable.

To find 100 people of IQ 160, you have to test a half a million people. This can be done, but it probably IS rather expensive. I'm not sure how profitable IQ tests are... But they may not be profitable enough to justify much more of an expense than this.

To find 100 people of IQ 200... (Lets assume that they're as "common" as 1 in 100,000) you would have to test 10 million people. That can be done, but only at a gargantuan expense.

If IQ 200 is present in 1 in 1,000,000 people... then you'd have to test a third of America to test 100 of them. That definitely is not financially feasible for the company that writes the tests.

If it turns out that people of IQ 200 are actually as rare as 1 in 1 billion then there simply aren't enough people on the planet at that IQ level to ensure the test will test them accurately.

And then... even if it were possible to fund such a test, who would write the questions? You would have to go on a quest to find a person smart enough to write test questions of that difficulty level.

Then that person would need training in order to write questions that specifically tested for intelligence, without allowing other things to interfere. And how will you be sure the person writing the questions is smart enough?

There are some alternatives, however, to these new tests. The old Stanford Binet IQ test is still used to score extremely intelligent people. I'm pretty sure you can get scores over 200 on it. has written a test that, according to a friend, goes up to at least 177 (That was what he claimed his score was). The test attempts to thwart cheating, and does not generate high scores for everyone (indicating that it is not a scam and that the high IQ society is serious about designing a meaningful test). Its scores are not officially approved by the psychological associations as far as I know, but you could give it a try for the sake of a score, as it is free and only takes 15 minutes. I think its fun. also has a "Smartest person in the world" contest every year - a bunch of very difficult and extremely fascinating puzzles which are the best Ive ever seen. Id say that its a darned good substitute for a super hard IQ test. I have never seen puzzles that held my attention the way that those do. I don't bother with crosswords or anything, because they bore me, but once in a while, Ill give the smartest person in the world challenge another whack, just for fun. As a set of puzzles, its very good.

Now that I think of it, maybe what you should be looking for are worldwide intelligence contests...

- Kathy

7:48 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Kathy for a comprehensive analysis of what may be going on.

Your argument is a good one and is, essentially two-fold: an economic argument in that it becomes too expensive to test at the higher ranges owing to verification problems - and a practical one: it can't be "normed" without huge effort.

I think you have divined the causes of the present situation. Yet I don't think it need be this way. It is only this way because they have become obsessed with deviation IQ - with ratio IQ it is easier to design a test, I think. It seems quite straightforward to me.

Best wishes to you

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, you're right.

It is still common practice to administer the old Stanford Binet to gifted children. I do believe that the version they use is a ratio test.

- Kathy

5:52 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your corroboration on the issue. It is good to hear that some psychologists, at least, are aware of the issue and are acting on it.

Kind regards

8:38 AM  

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