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 +

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Was Winston Churchill real?

You might think this a funny question. However, it was a question that was asked of 3,000 Britons recently in a survey by UKTV Gold, of their tv viewers.

In the survey, the viewers were asked to judge whether various people were real or fictional. You might think this a simple enough task - but it proved to be rather more difficult than you might expect.

23% of the respondents thought that Winston Churchill was a fictional character. You read that correctly - almost a quarter of Britons don't believe Winston Churchill actually existed. They think someone made him up.

Even more intriguingly, 58% of them thought that Sherlock Holmes, the fictional, pipe-smoking, superhuman detective of Arthur Conan Doyle, was a real, formerly living, detective.

I found this profoundly odd. It means that Britons today are more prepared to believe that a work of fiction was real, than that the wartime Prime Minister of Britain, ever existed. It means that, for them, television (through which they no doubt encountered Sherlock Holmes) was greater proof of existence, than a permanent place in the history books.

There is more. 47% of them thought that Richard the Lionheart - the 12th Century crusading King - was a fictional monarch. Even more curiously, 65% of them thought that King Arthur (for whom there is basically no tangible evidence) was a real man who led a round table of Knights at Camelot.

Thus to have been a great King, is less likely to win believers in one's existence, than to have been a great story.

Florence Nightingale never existed, according to 27% of Britons. That is some thanks for all her nursing efforts in the Crimean War.

However, music is so powerful that it has conjured Eleanor Rigby into existence for the 47% of respondents who believe in her reality. She was, of course, a creation of the Beatles to make a musical point.

3% thought that the famed author Charles Dickens was himself a work of fiction. However, 33% of the very same people thought that Biggles, the fictional pilot of W.E Johns, really flew.

The top ten list of generally held fictions, that were actually believed to be real is as follows:

1) King Arthur.
2) Sherlock Holmes.
3) Robin Hood.
4) Eleanor Rigby.
5) Mona Lisa.
6) Dick Turpin.
7) Biggles.
8) The Three Musketeers.
9) Lady Godiva.
10) Robinson Crusoe.

The top ten list of real people who were thought to be fictional creations is:

1) Richard the Lionheart
2) Winston Churchill
3) Florence Nightingale
4) Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery
5) Queen Boadicea
6) Sir Walter Raleigh
7) Duke of Wellington
8) Cleopatra
9) Mahatma Gandhi
10) Charles Dickens

Education is not what it should be in many parts of the world (perhaps all). Clearly, in Britain today - and for some time - education is not fulfilling its purpose of giving people an understanding of the world. Britons today, as this survey shows, quite often cannot tell fiction from reality. They don't know what the real world is - or has been. How, then, can they make realistic decisions in this world, when they don't even know what is real and what is not?

Looking at the fictional characters that they thought were real, I am struck by how unlikely it seems that they could have thought them real. There is something impossible about most of them. Yet, they were believed to be real.

Of course, there are a couple of questionable entries in the "fiction" list which blurs matters somewhat. Someone really did sit for Leonardo da Vinci, to be painted - and her name was Lisa, so perhaps we can discount that one. (Even if the painting wasn't true to her - we will never know). Also, there really was a "Dick Turpin". Unfortunately, he wasn't the one who did what was attributed to him - so in that sense it was fictional. These exceptions aside, however, it is all rather worrying.

Most of the viewers will be young people. What kind of world will they create when they become the backbone of their society? Clearly, they are poorly educated - and perhaps even not very bright as well.

It doesn't forbode well for the UK. However, other nations were not surveyed: would they similarly come off poorly? Is this a global problem for our poorly educated global youth? I rather hope it is not. I would like to think that, in most countries, the young people could tell the difference between a book (ie. Great Expectations) and its author (Charles Dickens). At the very least they should know which one speaks of people who really existed.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:41 AM 


Blogger Punn Siwabutr said...


It's kinda relief to know that Punn won't be confused on this issue, given that he's the resident WWII expert and WILL cross-check all his facts.

He actually found out that most battlefronts on his military strategy games were real places and even most facts (names of generals, etc.) & stats are real - if Google shows the correct results, that is...

6:55 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is good to hear that Punn is doing well. However, Punn is unlike the typical member of this British sample. Punn is an autodidact with many interests and an ability to teach himself - and fact check. Sadly, the typical young Briton doesn't even know what a fact is.

Send Punn my best wishes (and keep some for yourself!)

12:11 PM  
Blogger Punn Siwabutr said...

Punn: You can tell that Mr Winston Churchill was real - you can check with his descendants themselves!!

Oh, he said hello to you too and cross-checked if you had GOOD things to say about him...

9:42 PM  

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