Can a 298 IQ be real? No way.
- Subject: Can a 298 IQ be real? No way.
- From: Ed Levine <eddie185@YAHOO.COM>
- Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 08:10:22 -0800
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
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Can IQ of 298 be real? Nah.
>From today's NY Times (Page F1)
March 12, 2002
The Uneasy Fit of the Precocious and the Average Child
By ERICA GOODE
Elizabeth Chapman wanted to give her son, Justin, more opportunities
and a better life, she said.
To do so, Ms. Chapman falsified test records and helped him cheat on
the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale. And for a brief period,
Justin, 8, was known as the smartest child in the world, with an I.Q.
of 298-plus, the highest on record.
But history suggests that the lives of children with prodigious
intellects or extraordinary talents are rarely easy; indeed, in a
world where such children stand out like Gulliver among the
Lilliputians, they are often filled with difficulty.
And had Ms. Chapman, who admitted creating an "injurious environment"
for Justin at a court hearing in Broomfield County, Colo., on Friday,
been more attuned to such challenges, she might have aspired to a
different goal for her young son.
Consider, for example, the case of William James Sidis, the son of a
Russian-born psychologist who entered Harvard in 1909 at age 11.
In keeping with the biographies of many remarkable children, William,
it was reported, began reading adult-level books at 2, completed a
treatise on anatomy at 5, by 6 was proficient in Greek, German,
Russian, Hebrew and French and wrote four books between the ages of 4
Also in accordance with the experience of many prodigies, he was
hounded by the press from the instant his abilities were made public.
Several articles were written about him in The New York Times. One,
on Oct. 11, 1909, noted that "The lad has amazed all who have come in
contact with him by his marvelous grasp on mathematical subjects, the
speed of his calculations, and the ease with which he assimilates the
most intricate branches of the science."
A troop of reporters chronicled the talk Mr. Sidis gave in his
freshman year to the Harvard Mathematical Society on the topic of
"four-dimensional bodies." And the newspapers publicized the
prediction, made by an M.I.T. professor, that the boy would become
the greatest mathematician of the century. Yet the press was equally
fascinated with the young prodigy's failure to live up to the
expectations set for him, gleefully charting his emotional breakdown
during college, his flirtation with communism after graduation, his
terror of dogs, his obsession with streetcar transfers and his
disappearance into reclusive obscurity as an adult ? he worked mostly
at menial jobs and quit when his early feats were discovered.
Mr. Sidis died, from a cerebral hemorrhage, in 1944, still angry at
Through the ages, children with powerful gifts have inspired in the
public both fascination and distrust, said Dr. David Henry Feldman, a
professor of child development at Tufts University and the author of
"Nature's Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human
Such children, Dr. Feldman said, are often regarded as freakish
sideshows, their successes met with gawking and their failures with
"There seems to be a deep contradiction in how we feel about matters
of the mind," Dr. Feldman said. "On the one hand, we believe that
working hard is the way you become whatever you want to become, on
the other hand, that I.Q. is inherited and you have it and that's
When a child prodigy like William Sidis appears, he added: "It makes
us feel uneasy and ambivalent. Nobody likes to feel that someone else
is flat-out better. And almost always what people say is: `Is it a
fraud? Is the child happy? Is the child normal?' "
At the same time, Dr. Feldman and other experts said, children of
remarkable abilities often feel like aliens themselves, traveling at
warp speed through a slow-moving world.
Studies of prodigies ? of necessity small in size, given the rarity
of such gifts ? suggest that as young children many need little sleep
and demand constant stimulation.
Michael Kearney, who graduated from the University of South Alabama
in 1994 at age 10, said in a telephone interview that he remembered
as a toddler "taking apart the television set and trying to see if
the cat would fly."
His parents, who later wrote a book, "Accidental Genius," called him
the Tasmanian Devil.
Had he not been allowed to zoom through secondary school and enter
college so quickly, Michael said, "I would have been seriously
Michael's father, Kevin Kearney, remembers the "almost supernatural"
experience of having such a child. Michael uttered his first words at
4 months and at 6 months informed his pediatrician, "I have a left
"It's good to be somewhat smart," Kevin Kearney said. "It's good to
be in the 120 or 140 I.Q. range. In America that's ideal. But if
you're beyond that, you're in trouble, you're out of sync with
everybody. It's like having an 80 I.Q."
In fact, through whatever combination of circumstances, Michael and
his sister Maeghan, 16, who graduates from college this year, have
Dr. Martha J. Morelock, a professor of psychology at Elmira College
in New York who has studied Michael, said she believed his parents'
determination and take-on-the-world approach ? an attitude passed
down through the Kearney family ? helped him adjust. When the school
system posed obstacles to Michael's education, his family knocked
them down. "Nothing stopped them," Dr. Morelock said.
Michael, who is now 18 and has finished work on a second master's
degree, credited his parents with making sure that he had friends his
own age, that he had fun, engaged in the normal activities of
childhood and did not take himself too seriously.
"Their plan was always, what can we do to have a happy, healthy 25-
year-old," he said, "a 25-year-old who has a wife, has kids, is a
normal person. There are so many ways that you can go wrong."
But Dr. Ellen Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College and
the author of "Gifted Children: Myths and Realities," said many
children with greatly accelerated abilities or talents had trouble
making friends and, if stuck in traditional classrooms, ended up
"They're teased, they're isolated, they're different from other
kids," Dr. Winner said.
One child, an art prodigy, "would invite kids over to his house, but
only to have them pose for him," she recalled. "He didn't have any
friends because they didn't find it interesting, but it was all he
wanted to do."
And in regular classrooms, frustration and boredom create their own
Marlo Payne Rice, a school psychologist and the director of the
Brideun School for Exceptional Children in Broomfield, where Justin
Chapman was a student for a few months last fall, said, "So much of
what we do in our program is damage control."
"We are undoing the damage that has been done to these kids in public
education for years," Ms. Rice said. "Many have behavior problems,
many have depression. They've known more than their teachers for the
Though some public school systems include programs for the gifted and
talented, few can meet the needs of a true prodigy, she added.
The Brideun School now enrolls 38 children ages 6 to 14 but is
expanding to accommodate 160 students. Most are what some experts
call "twice exceptional," that is they are both intellectually
accelerated and have difficulties, including behavior problems,
attention deficit disorder, manic-depression and dyslexia. The number
of very bright children who also have learning disabilities is
unknown, but a 1996 study estimated there were 120,000 to 180,000
such children in the United States.
Ms. Rice described one child with scores at the top of the I.Q. scale
who because of a severe behavior disorder was referred to the school,
where he does some college-level work.
"The most interesting thing he found to do in seven years of public
school was to see how badly he could make the teachers hate him," she
Dr. Lewis Terman, the Stanford psychologist famous for his study of a
group of gifted children begun in the 1920's and continuing over
decades, argued that exceptionally bright children were emotionally
healthy. But a contemporary, Dr. Leta Hollingworth, disagreed.
Following a more select group of children with I.Q.'s over 180, she
found that these extremely smart children often had social
difficulties. And Dr. Winner said other studies had shown that highly
gifted children were more introverted than their peers.
"They're both more lonely than other kids and they don't mind being
alone as much as typical kids," Dr. Winner said. "And the more
profound the gift, the more isolated they are."
What remains a mystery is why some prodigies become brilliant adults
while for others precocity fades.
Dr. Robert Sternberg, the director of Yale's Center for the
Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise, said what made a
child a prodigy was not necessarily similar to what made the child a
"Most prodigies do not become highly gifted adults, and most highly
gifted adults were not prodigies," Dr. Sternberg said. "To succeed as
a gifted adult, one must undergo a certain kind of transformation."
For example, Dr. Winner noted that the mathematician Norbert Wiener
was a contemporary of William Sidis and that the two had much in
common. Like Mr. Sidis, Dr. Wiener had been spookily smart as a
toddler and entered college at 9. Both men had overbearing fathers
who pushed them relentlessly to excel. But unlike Mr. Sidis, Dr.
Wiener was able to harness his early powers in a creative adult life.
Dr. Feldman of Tufts, who studied six child prodigies over 10 years,
said he suspected that though such children seemed more likely than
others to fulfill their promise, they were actually less likely to do
"The truth is, we don't really know," Dr. Feldman said. "But
generally speaking, it's a treacherous path."
In Justin Chapman's case, it remains unclear if the remarkable
accomplishments his mother described ? playing the violin at 2,
competitive chess at 3 ? were factual or part of the web of
fabrication Ms. Chapman wove. Justin remains in foster care, where he
was placed last fall after he became suicidal and was hospitalized.
Ms. Chapman admitted her falsification of Justin's intellectual
credentials in an interview with The Times last month.
What is clear, however, is that the public's reaction to him has
followed a predictable trajectory.
"I think this thing has shown us that the world wants a prodigy," Ms.
Rice of the Brideun School said, "and they want to watch a prodigy
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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