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 +

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why can't the PAP find talent?

The PAP (People's Action Party) of Singapore (in fact, it seems the People's Action Party IS Singapore), has a problem: they can't find new talent. The leaders of the PAP are always bemoaning the great shortage of talent in Singapore and repeatedly state that, despite looking high and low, they can't find anyone to replace themselves, in time to come. The question that comes to me is: why?

You see mathematically, the PAP's complaint is more than a little strange. It is, for instance, a local myth that you need to be particularly talented to be an MP, in fact, Members of Parliament SHOULDN'T be particularly talented. The reason for this is simple, some research that I read long ago, but would have to source again to reference, stated that a leader should be no more than 30 IQ points above the led, so as to preserve the ability to communicate with their constituency. If the leader was too bright, there would be a disconnect with their people and communication would break down. Now, this leads us to a very interesting conclusion: there is no shortage of talent in Singapore for the PAP, or at least, there shouldn't be.

To have an IQ 30 points above the norm is not particularly rare. In fact its theoretical rarity is one person in 44. Thus, one person in 44 in Singapore is at the limit of brightness permissible in an effective leader. This means that among Singapore's 3.16 million citizens (the last time I read a figure in an article), there should be 71,818 people with IQs 30 points above the norm (or about 134 IQ points). That is a very telling result, for all those who have believed that Singapore does, indeed, have a PAP talent shortage. There are 89 PAP MPs. This means that Singapore has enough people of the right IQ to make 807 PAP parties. Furthermore, this is a gross under-estimate of the situation, for it excludes those people whose IQs are less than 134 (who are far more numerous) and who could also do a good job and communicate effectively to the people. It also excludes those whose IQs are slightly above 134 but not so far above as to have a disastrous communication gap.

Thus one can conclude that there are, in Singapore, enough people, with enough "talent" to produce thousands of political parties the size of the PAP. (For the numbers of people with adequate IQs less than 134 is far more numerous than those with IQs of 134. Note the figure 134 comes from the fact that the average IQ in Singapore, according to some studies, is 104).

So, given this super-abundance of appropriate talent, why does the PAP protest the lack of talent for their succession?

There a number of possibilities. Firstly, is the possibility that the PAP has, in its recruitment procedures decided to try to maximise the intelligence of its MPs, to the extreme limit, such that there really are only 89 candidates. This would be a startling scenario, for it implies that the IQs of these MPs is at a rarity of 89/3.16 million. That would be one person in 35,506 people. That means, given Singapore's mean of 104, that the PAP MPs must have IQs of about 168, on average. I find this absurd in the extreme, since the average IQ of Nobel Prize Winners in Science is only 159, according to the Sigma Society.

Are we really expected to believe that PAP MPs are nine IQ points smarter, on average, than Nobel Prize Winners in Science? If so, Singapore would truly have to be run remarkably well. I will leave it to your own opinions to decide whether that is so.

If, however, it is, in fact, so that PAP MPs are as smart as 168 IQ points, each, on average, then that explains something about the way government is conducted locally. People that smart cannot lead ordinary people, because they cannot communicate effectively with them. Thus, if it is so, that the PAP have set things up like this, then it is not surprising that many people are unhappy with them.

Yet, I do not think it is so. Few people who are aware of what a person of an IQ of 168 is like would confuse such a person with local MPs - at least, not from the evidence of their public utterances. Also, it would be reasonable to expect close to perfection from them, in their decision making, were they as smart, as a cohort, as this.

Thus, given the fact that the optimal IQ of a Singaporean MP is only 134 IQ points and that there are 71,818 such people in Singapore, one can conclude that another force must be at work. Quite simply Singaporeans must not want to be PAP MPs. There are over 807 times as many good candidates as there are MP jobs, yet, still the PAP has difficulty with recruitment. This means, basically, that the chance of someone wanting to be an MP is 807 to one (0.001239 of the acceptable population). In fact, of course, this is an underestimate of the unlikelihood of someone wanting to be an MP, since there are many more viable candidates who don't have the exact IQ in question. The true figure would be several thousands to one.

This analysis, which has been guided by numbers and logic alone leads me to ask a question: does the government really believe that the problem is a lack of talent? If so, this would seem to indicate a lack of understanding of the electorate. There is no lack of talent. However, there does appear to be a strong desire, among Singaporeans, NOT to become involved in politics. This could be because of the way politics is conducted in Singapore. For those overseas readers who don't know, the government of Singapore is the PAP and they have a habit of crushing all nascent opposition with every means possible. This makes Singapore effectively a one party state. Perhaps the people of Singapore are uncomfortable with this way of conducting politics and wish to stay out of it.

The tale of the numbers are clear. There are only two evident explanations. Either the PAP has made a fundamental error in selection in thinking that only supersmart people should be MPs, (and the evidence of their public images is against this interpretation) or the people of Singapore simply don't want to be politicians.

The PAP explanation that there is an absence of talent is proven to be false, by these numbers. The talent is there: but perhaps the willingness to be involved is not.

I wonder if the PAP allowed other parties to flourish (which they have not) whether Singapore would discover an abundance of talent, where before there was none? It seems to me that Singapore, which has always justified its one party system on the basis that there was not enough talent to support two parties or more, has more than enough talent, statistically, for a plurality of parties. What it lacks, however, is the willingness of the government to allow any opposition within its shores.

Now, I have written this post, without any interest in the politics of the situation at all. Singapore is not my country. I am merely an observer of it. However, curiosity led me to analyse the IQ distribution and the consequences of that, to see what the true tale of the underlying talent would be. I report the results, much as a scientist does, with no opinion of the results other than to say these are the results. So, let no-one think that I have any political motive in writing this post. I have no interest in the politics of Singapore at all (it is really too dull a subject to have much interest in). I do, however, have a scientific interest in the truth - and the truth is that Singapore has an abundance of talent adequate to the task of being an MP, in Singapore. MPs don't need to be geniuses - in fact they shouldn't be. Given that, Singapore has more than enough talent to run the nation. The big question remains, of course: why is the PAP, then, having such difficulty with recruitment and succession?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, 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, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:51 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I like it.

As a Singaporean in my early 20s, i can offer an explanation.

People all around me do not want to go into politics- but would rather start their own business or enter the corporate world. Only a very very small handful want to actually venture into politics.

I can offer a few explanations, for at least my generation.

1. It's boring. Seriously. Compared to Malaysian, Indonesian politics, our political scene is really underdeveloped.

2. 'Let someone else venture into it' mentality. Politics is one field which a majority of Singaporeans do not like to go into. We have this idea that someone else will step up... and well...
Everyone though that someone will step up, but no-one wanted to... You get the drift.

3. The business and corporate world is so much more desirable.

4. Only high fliers make it big. So don't bother trying unless you ace all the exams or are not looking for a promotion to the very top.

Ok... now let me share about a related issue which i thought of after reading your article.

Consider this statement:
PAP is run by bureaucrats/technocrats rather than politicians.
This is 'Uniquely Singapore' because, while most other countries are run by politicians, Singapore seems to be the only country that does otherwise.
You see, in other countries, while politicians come and go... the ones who stay are actually the bureaucrats. These are the people who actually run the show behind all the talk of the politicians.
That is how countries like Japan, Thailand...etc can continue to function even though the govt changes/parliament is dissolved very regularly.

And i agree that Singapore needs more politicians.
The bureaucrats are very important, for they do the hard work.
But politicians, like you state, are the ones who connect to the people.
Right now, the bureaucrats are trying very hard to double up also as a politician, which is not really working out well...

Alas, I do not think the local population will have many politicians- Although that is better than having all politicians and no bureaucrats.

But nonetheless, politicians are critical in communicating ideas to the ground- and so they are needed- not a lot, but yes, a sizable number will be most helpful.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am glad you enjoy it. Your views on politicians vs bureaucrats are interesting and do provide some insight into the local political peculiarities. Thanks.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be interested to know, that I heard from an acquaintance who was 'scouted' but in the end didn't, who told of their criteria within a candidate's personal background. This criteria includes spouse, family history, social status, etc. This is because they have a strict demographic factor to consider - that although Singapore seems wealthy and developed only on the surface, wealth is still very much concentrated and a huge portion of populace is still far from well-off, perhaps even inadequate or poor owing to problems of their own.

Hence, the ideal candidate is one from this lesser and common folks but whose family background is somewhat stable, financially and in all sense.

In my opinion, there are difficulties because perhaps there none of such candidate in Singapore. If he or she is not the outright stable, well-off belonging to upper classes, then chances are, belong to the rest of the populace, whose family and status always be somewhat unstable. As all the future markets going to be nowadays.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the further background on the situation. It seems that they might be being too picky.

Kind regards

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Saint Splattergut said...

If some of them are getting torched or punched in the face, or otherwise heavily flamed online (WKS, for instance), it suffices to say that EQ, not IQ, is the issue.

I mean... remember the dude who said he agreed that most Singaporeans are "underwhelming, over-assuming leeches", "the sadder class" etc? And the other guy who called most of us folks lesser mortals?


9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your post makes a basic mistake of equating high IQ with 'talent that PAP is looking out for'. You have taken pains to explain why this is not so, but is there any indication that PAP is looking out for high IQ people? They could be looking out for people who are better communicators, show empathy, etc.

I am not being partisan. I'm just trying to highlight a fallacy in the argument.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

My post has NOT made a basic have. You have overlooked another element of the PAP talent search rhetoric: they repeatedly speak of the need to find people with excellent grades at A level. This is most definitely an indirect way of addressing issues of IQ. The PAP has explicitly stated on many occasions that they seek to find the academically talented.

There is little sign of empathy for the people in most PAP utterances, so that casts doubt on the notion that they are seeking people with this outlook. Were it so, the character of the government would be very different. Also, their communication skills don't seem very good to me: some of them, from the point of view of an international standard of English, speak English relatively poorly. I would give them low marks for communication, therefore.

The mystery, therefore, is: what are they looking for? (Apart from the oft stated interest in academic talent?). Perhaps it is nothing more than a willingness to do what they are told...

10:43 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Saint Splattergut. Your observation accords with my view that they are, indeed, focussed on IQ like talent and not EQ. Were they focussed on EQ, so many of them would not be so disastrous in their relationship with the people of Singapore.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep. Bureaucrats do not have high EQ. Politicians on the other hand... often have it the other way round.

It is often difficult to have people to be able to have high EQ and IQ. Usually the high IQ people will do the policy work, while the EQ people will convince the people.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The evidence of the PAP's utterances suggests low to no EQ for some of the MPs...hence all the trouble they keep getting themselves into.

I think they ought to reconsider their recruitment practices. Restricting candidates to those who are demonstrably human, might help. (This would exclude academic robots: all IQ, no EQ.)

Thanks for your comment.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. I agree. Some of MPs have no EQ at all.

Yes, they should re-evaluate their hiring policies to include those who have more EQ, instead of focusing too much on those who are only IQ centric.

7:40 PM  

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