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, June 27, 2011

Should presidential candidates have IQ tests?

My provocative opening question is not without reason. I am led to wonder whether Presidential or Prime Ministerial candidates should be forced to undergo IQ tests, before running for office, worldwide. This would ensure that unhelpfully dumb candidates did not get elected based on their charm, charisma, good looks, sonorous voice and popular appeal, alone. Those characteristics, whilst admirable in an actor, do not aid performance in decision making at the helm of a nation - they just make one look good whilst doing it.

This question came to mind after stumbling on some videos of President Obama "speaking", without a teleprompter. This is quite something to watch. He is totally incoherent, the words appearing randomized, without meaning in relation to each other - a stuttering, stumbling, rambling mess. I was shocked. I have never, actually, seen a poorer example of spontaneous speech than the videos of Obama on Youtube, speaking without a teleprompter, on asthma treatment, at a town hall. He quite obviously has no idea at all what he is talking about or what he should be saying. Without the teleprompter - which had failed - he is unable to construct a coherent thought. In the video he is seen to make excuses, saying he hadn't been sleeping much. It is quite sad - and shocking to watch.

Now I must say at this point, that I know very little about American politics, not having followed it closely. I also have no real interest in it. So my pointing out that Obama has trouble speaking without a teleprompter, should not be seen as a political statement. I have no wish to have any influence on American politics. I am just drawing your attention to a remarkable inability to speak spontaneously of a US President. Personally, this is not what I expected to see. I expected much more polish, skill and fluency from President Obama, than that. I suppose, therefore, that I had been influenced by all the image making that surrounds the man. I had not had the chance to see the underlying truth. Well, now I have. It is quietly sobering.

Take a look, if you will at the videos on Youtube that show Obama's propensity for verbal clumsiness and mistaken utterances. Try searching for "Obama without a teleprompter", and "Obama Gaffe Mania". The latter is a compilation of errors which are quite wide ranging in type and subject matter. They show that President Obama has great weaknesses in many areas.

Now, you will no doubt recall that President Bush (the last one), was frequently accused of being dumb. He also made quite a few errors in public, which gave the impression that he wasn't the brightest of the bright. So, my remarks do not just apply to President Obama, but Presidents in general. The question is: how bright should a President be?

I would suggest that a President should be bright enough to be able to understand all the issues put to him, for a decision to be made. A President should also be able to speak spontaneously, without script writers, on any subject pertaining to the ruling of a nation. Thus, a President should be well-informed, bright and capable of speaking clearly and thinking effectively. The gaffes, by President Obama, do not show these qualities. One of them, for instance, speaks of him being able to see many fallen heroes in the audience today. Thus it is that President Obama doesn't know that a fallen hero is a dead person. At least, his tongue doesn't know. This kind of statement does not encourage the belief that President Obama is an intelligent man. However, as I have said, there are other former Presidents, too, who were of questionable intellect.

It seems to me, that a minimal acceptable IQ for a President or Prime Minister, might be 130. That is two standard deviations above the mean for a Caucasian group and at the lower margin of "moderately gifted". One person in forty four has such an IQ, in Western nations. That doesn't seem too stringent, nor does it seem too light a requirement. Basically, such a person, as a child, would typically be the brightest person in the class, of an ordinary school. That should be the minimum intelligence for a candidate for high office. Anything less, risks the election of someone who cannot understand deeply enough the nuances of the decisions they have to make.

It is said, by some researchers, that a leader should not be more than 30 IQ points above the led, if they are to communicate effectively with them. This is an unfortunate constraint since it works directly against the ability of leaders to understand the issues they must grapple with. However, my proposed threshold of 130 is on that limit and is, therefore, still within the optimal range for effective leadership. Furthermore, it seems to me, that higher IQs than that would have the benefit of better decision making, which might overcome any decrement in the ability to lead through effective communication to the masses.

What is President Obama's IQ? I have no idea. However, I would be utterly unsurprised if it were considerably below my suggested cut off. The same applies to former President George Bush, of course. It seems to me that America would be better off with brighter Presidents than it has been its habit to elect. My proposed requirement for a decent IQ, in political candidates for high office, would ensure that politicians, in high office, at least, had the mental wherewithal to make informed decisions.

Do you agree? Do you think politicians should be forced to undergo publicly declared IQ tests? Would this improve the quality of political life, the world over? Or would it be unfair in some way, to require political figures to be at least moderately smart? Please give me your thoughts below.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:44 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that IQ is an effective measurement. Translation is a fascinating aspect of communication.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

IQ is effective at sieving out the dumb, in terms of rational thinking processes. It is not as effective in identifying how bright the very bright are...however that is not required here. It would be a great step forward to measure the IQs of all candidates for political office. I think it would really improve the quality of political life, in a measurable way.

Could you expand on your reference to translation?

6:03 PM  
Blogger Kristianmd said...

Hi Valentine

This comment has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic or issue you've presented in this very post. It's more likely a comment and personal perspective to the whole spectrum of problems you've been facing, with or without your will, regarding Ainan's obvious gift in the form of a very high level of intelligence and an 'unusual'(consdering his age) dedication and need for knowledge in two fields, that can change our understanding of and maybe our ability to ackknowledge the very world we live in.

I myself is not near the level of intelligence your son possess. I'm a memeber of mensa, and my iq is around 133-135, which makes me gifted or 'in possession of a very superior intelligence' according to Wechsler. My own intelligence has never been a direct barrier of social integration, but more likely indirect, which is expressed in my lack of social motivation. It is not direct, because i don't have problems talking to people in general - i just don't want to, because i can't understand the purpose of smalltalk (except for the value of entertainment - but i get more entertained by reading and studying the fields in which I'm interested in). I have to mention, that I'm only 20 years old, and just recently became a member of Mensa, which indeed have contributed to my social life. It's not that I've always isolated myself - but it's really nice to have met some people, who understands my abstract thoughts and wanna listen to my knowledge on anatomy or neurobiology and wanna discuss philosophy with me. Besides that, I've got a memory much similar to the one Kathy described here:

Regarding my own education, i'm planning to study either medicine (probably for the purpose of specialize in and contribute to psychiatry) or psychology to specialize in psychopathology or neuropsychology. I just finished high school (Or what is similar to our educational system in Denmark) and got almost the best grades in every class I could get - by doing almost nothing at all. At some examinations, they told me, that I would have got a top grade on the level above the one I was examinated in. For obvious reasons my teachers doesn't approve of the fact that I don't do my homework, but I really can't see the purpose.

I don't find mathematics, physics or chemistry interesting. I am very fond of psychology, psychiatry, physiology, philosophy and anatomy. Especially the matter of consciousness and how we acknowledge the world - both neurobiologically, psychologically and philosophically.

My comment is already fairly long, but i find that i have to mention, that we in Denmark have partially private, partially public schools aiming for gifted children. Unfortunately, they didn't exist when i was in elementary school.

I guess i haven't made a point yet - or even wrote something that might have lead to one. But i really enjoy reading about Ainan and his development - and i really understand the things you're going through - at least i think i do. I wish the best for him; both in the present and in the future.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Kristian for your kind words regarding my son.

It is good to hear that you have found a social group of other gifted people: you might find good friendships develop out of that.

It is interesting to hear that Denmark actually has gifted schools. I had always thought that your part of the world went in for uniformity - so it is quite a revelation that you are catering for the gifted. How many such schools are there?

How did you learn about Ainan? Did you see his show on TV in Denmark (Superhuman Genius)?

Regarding your career plans, I think it likely you will apply your gifts to the fullest when you actually embark on something that interests you. I wish you luck in that.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Kristianmd said...

Ups, should have been "I myself am" and some other minor misspellings. In my defense it was half past four in the morning, but I felt that i just had to comment. I guess the most encouraging by writing, is knowing that someone is reading whatever is written. What you're writing has to be encouraged.

Actually we are kind of divided in Denmark, regarding liberalism and socialism - but the original definitions are completely out of context. We've got very high taxes and therefore a free education and health system. But i guess you could define our system as a fusion of liberalism and socialism, into what we would call social liberalism or neo-liberalism. We've got the free market, free competition and we value the very same thoughts of democracy and human rights as the rest of the western culture. I guess i got off the track, but i find it somehow relevant to answer your question properly. I don't think there is a direct link between Mensa and the gifted schools - of which there are around 3 or 4 of in Denmark. But there is a direct link between Mensa and another group called 'Gifted Children'. Gifted children is a society for both the gifted children and their parents. The limit is the 95-percentile, both for the gifted schools and the society. Before you think that it is not that high, you have to keep in mind, that we're a very small population consisting of only 5.5 million citizens. My point with the introduction to our political system would be, as you probably figured out, that some people approve of the differences between children and their abilities. Being intelligent myself, i obviously do as well and i can only hope that this is the way it develops around the world in general. Luckily some people has had the idea of starting such projects here - and they are successful enough to keep running. I don't find this lucky for the people running it. I find it lucky for the children having the opportunity to attend them and participate in a higher level of education, when they need it at most.

As you might have figured out, I'm very interested in the mind in general - mostly in its more deviant forms, again with a connection to philosophy (psychopathology, high intelligence, illusion and delusion, psychometrics, psychiatry, psychological assessment and psychiatric assessment and diagnostics). In my search for knowledge on intelligence I would have found your blog one day or another no matter what. So I guess it was random through Google. I actually didn't know that he was starring in a documentary. That is definitely something i have to watch.

I'm sure you're right about the last part. I'm really looking forward to starting studying in the university. I guess i hope for both a higher level of education and an environment that encourages you to do so - and a place where you don't happen to be weird, just because you'd rather wanna read Sartre or Descartes instead of getting drunk and watching football.

I wanna wish your family and especially Ainan good luck, even though i don't think that it is necessary, academically speaking. He will accomplish great things, if that is what he desires most.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Your well wishes for my family are much appreciated.

It is good that giftedness is accepted by some, in Denmark. In too many countries, to be gifted is to be stigmatized in a way. Most countries don't have gifted schools, for instance. Most have little provision in the public schools, too.

You are fortunate if you find your passion and have the chance to study it: too many don't.

Actually, Ainan has been in several documentaries two of which are available in Europe: The World's Cleverest Child and Me and Superhuman Genius.

Best wishes on the adventure ahead of you.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've been enjoying your blog for a little while now. It's interesting: thanks for posting, and very best wishes to you and your family.

I've just watched the Obama video on YouTube and it was embarrassing. However, I'm surprised that you've jumped to the conclusion that Obama is unintelligent because he didn't know what to say when his teleprompt died. It seems fairly obvious to me that he'd not read the speech in advance, and so didn't have a clue what to say. That's unimpressive, but it's a wholly different thing from him actually being unable to formulate and express a series of coherent thoughts. He's clearly (as is demonstrated by his success as an academic lawyer) a very intelligent man. Unfortunately it seems he lacked the common sense to familiarise himself with the issues on this occasion, before attempting to make a speech.

1:11 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your warm words, Pee Wiglet and for being a reader of my blog.

Firstly, you are over-interpreting my statement if you think I have based my view of Obama on one teleprompter interview gone wrong. They are quite a few teleprompter examples of Obama falling apart. There are also many other examples of him seemingly not understanding what he is saying - but saying it anyway. Try looking at all the Gaffe Mania videos, for instance. He has said many silly things in public, none of which supports the idea that he is intelligent.

Regarding the teleprompter situation. Indeed, he may not have read the speech ahead of time - this speaks, at least, most probably of a certain laziness and lack of wisdom. However, even if this was so, an intelligent man would be able to think of SOMETHING appropriate to say. He could think of nothing at all. An intelligent man would not just come out with empty incoherent filler statements, as he did. An intelligent man could even give another speech on something equally interesting. Obama didn't because he couldn't.

As for his "successful career as an academic lawyer" - there is much doubt about this. First of all, he was never a real professor - despite claims to have been one. Secondly, and most unusually, he never published a single paper in his twelve years as a teacher in a university. This shows a lack of creativity and doesn't argue for high intelligence. He was singularly unproductive. Indeed, it is remarkable that for all the claims that he is intelligent, he has actually produced no body of published work in any field, at all. Again, this does suggest that his promoters have been exaggerating his talents.

Appropriate use of Occam's Razor when confronted with his lack of any written evidence of high intelligence, no publication record, no tenure at University (a bad sign after twelve years), inability to speak without a teleprompter, numerous stupid utterances, in public (like the one in which he sees fallen heroes in the audience), do suggest that President Obama cannot be a very intelligent man, since these failings are not the attribute of a very intelligent man.

Please look at all the avail

10:43 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Please look at all the available videoed evidence of his gaffes and
errors. Some of them, I admit, could be accounted for as self-serving lies, instead of errors. That would not be evidence of a lack of intelligence but of dishonesty. A choice has to be made how to interpret those. For instance, the march at Selma - Obama claimed that this led to his conception/birth and was an influence on his life. This is very interesting considering that Obama was born three or four years BEFORE the march. There are quite a few examples like this where he is playing with history, either knowingly or otherwise. How about the one where his uncle liberates Auschwitz? You should note that Auschwitz was got to first by the Russians, not the Americans - and it wasn't liberated, anyway, but abandoned.

By the way, there is a typo above, it should read: "There are quite a few teleprompter examples..."

11:00 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

In interpreting the evidence of Obama's career, one has to be aware that, in America, Affirmative Action is practised, in which minorities, such as Blacks, are given places at University, or jobs, with much lower qualifications, than Whites. They are also given breaks whilst at the Universities, or on the job (lower expectations).

Obama has, in the past, admitted he has been a beneficiary of Affirmative Action. We don't know how much. The question is: how much of his career at University and in work, would he have achieved if he had been white and had the same grades etc? It is possible that none of it might have happened. It is curious that none of Obama's grades and transcripts have been released. Nor do we have an IQ test. If this material was available, there would be no doubt about how intelligent or otherwise he is.

I would like to see his grades throughout school/College and his IQ test - until then, however, I will form my views based on the video evidence of intellectual failings that is widely available.

Bear this in mind: the fact that Obama has hidden all his test results, does indicate that they can't be exceptional, in any way. If they were, a man of his character would be boasting about them. The most likely conclusion is that he would be embarrassed by his test results and it is most probable that they would prove him to be a clear case of Affirmative Action.

Personally, I hope that this hidden material is released some day and we get to hear of his true intellectual merits, or otherwise.

11:07 AM  

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