Marilyn vos Savant, a columnist for a New York magazine, is also a business expert, and dramatist, among other roles. However, she’s most renowned for her intellect: Often dubbed as “the globe’s brightest mind,” she boasts the record for the world’s highest IQ.
But is IQ genuinely that significant? Regarded globally for having an unmatched IQ, Marilyn vos Savant experienced a fairly typical upbringing. Marilyn Mach was her birth name, and she was born on August 11, 1946, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Her roots trace back to coal-mining ancestors (both grandfathers were miners), with her parents originating from Germany and Italy. Coincidentally — or maybe fatefully — both her paternal and maternal lineages bear the ‘Savant’ title.
Her father’s mother had the last name Savant, and the ‘von Savant’ name came from her mother’s father. The term ‘savant’ translates to “an enlightened individual,” aptly reflecting her. Choosing to embrace her mother’s maiden name perhaps as a sign of destiny, Marilyn made it her own.
During her school years, she was particularly adept at math and science. Yet, everything shifted for Marilyn von Savant at age 10.
Marilyn’s intellectual prowess was assessed using two distinct IQ exams. The Stanford-Binet was one, emphasizing verbal skills through five intelligence indicators, primarily meant to detect children’s mental challenges.
Marilyn also took Hoeflin’s Mega Test. Her impressive scores on both tests, especially an IQ score of 228, led to her recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame for “Superior IQ” between 1986 and 1989.
Yet, concerns over the precision of static IQ tests emerged, resulting in the Guinness Book discontinuing the “Top IQ” category in 1990, making Vos Savant its final titleholder. Though extraordinarily bright, Marilyn’s upbringing by her parents was no different from their other children.
Apart from her knack for science and math, Marilyn had a flair for writing. During her teenage years, she helped at her dad’s store and penned articles for regional publications under an alias.
For higher education, contrary to expectations for someone of her intelligence, she chose Meramec Community College, later pursuing philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.
She left college after two years to support her family’s finance venture. Throughout the 1980s, Marilyn’s reputation as the highest IQ individual persisted. Even post her Guinness record removal, she remained a household name.
Her stunning IQ and striking appearance graced numerous magazine and newspaper covers. This included sharing a New York magazine cover with her intellectually gifted husband, Robert Jarvik, creator of the Jarvik-7 artificial heart.
Her media presence also featured an unforgettable 1986 chat on Late Night with David Letterman. Relocating to New York, Marilyn took up writing professionally and soon became a featured writer for Parade magazine, which had previously profiled her.
Recognizing the allure her “most intelligent person” status brought, they gave her a column. Named “Ask Marilyn,” the column invited readers to pose questions on academic subjects, scientific matters, and intricate riddles.
Carrying the title of the world’s brightest individual often meant facing relentless scrutiny, intensified by the era’s prevalent gender bias. Vos Savant has openly admitted the minimal support she received as a young prodigy.
In the 1950s, her extraordinary intellect as a female was often overlooked, as there was a widespread belief that women shouldn’t, or couldn’t, harness their potential. Her conversation with David Letterman illustrated this sentiment.
He cheekily questioned her intellect, asking, “Do you always act intelligent?” and later remarked, “I feel I might be sharper” and “She can’t be the most intelligent!” Furthermore, a particular question posed to Marilyn’s column instigated significant debate.
In 1991, a curious reader reached out to vos Savant, presenting her with the famed Monty Hall problem to decipher. Addressing the puzzle in her column like any other, Marilyn responded, “Indeed; you should change your choice… The initial door has a 1/3 winning probability, whereas the subsequent door offers a 2/3 chance.”
This straightforward reply ignited a vast debate. Not just limited to her regular readers, the dispute escalated to the academic and scientific community. From the myriad of responses, the magazine received upwards of 10,000 letters, a significant portion contesting vos Savant’s solution vehemently.
Many indignant correspondences, in disbelief of her response, resorted to derogatory comments and questioned her acclaimed intellect. The New York Times, reporting on this peculiar backlash, noted that nearly “1,000 of these critiques bore Ph.D. credentials, with several coming from university math and science departments.”
It’s pertinent to note that the Monty Hall problem wasn’t novel. A variant, the Three Prisoner Problem, was explored in 1959 by the esteemed mathematician Martin Gardner in Scientific American. Acknowledging the dilemma, Gardner commented on the deceiving nature of probability theory, where “even the experts easily falter.”
While a majority have since accepted vos Savant’s conclusion, conceding their previous mistakes — some maintain reservations, suggesting overlooked nuances in her solution.
Nevertheless, amidst such scrutiny, Marilyn vos Savant has largely evaded intense media attention. She’s now an esteemed member of various councils and associations and continues her “Ask Marilyn” column, residing with her spouse in Manhattan.
Generally, an individual’s IQ ranges from 85 to 115. Yet, how pivotal is an IQ score in appraising one’s intellectual capacity? Since her acknowledgment as the highest IQ record holder, the accuracy of Marilyn vos Savant’s IQ testing has been questioned.
Both the Stanford-Binet and Hoeflin Mega Test, which Marilyn took in her youth, have since evolved and faced challenges regarding their measurement criteria. The precision of varying IQ assessments has long been debated and remains a topic of contention.
Critics highlight potential biases that may skew scores based on one’s upbringing or mental state. Particularly contentious is the use of IQ tests in educational settings. Studies indicate that basing admissions to specialized programs on mere IQ scores can disadvantage students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Most educators advocate a broader evaluation of student intellect, encompassing creativity and drive, rather than focusing solely on test scores. Vos Savant herself asserts that a high IQ isn’t the sole determiner of intellect.
By her account, intelligence is multifaceted, even among reputed experts. The same principle applies universally. The brightest minds don’t necessarily dominate every realm. An exceptional scientist, for instance, may be reserved or may not possess innate leadership qualities.