Lewis Terman's study of high-IQ children is not discredited for missing two future Nobelists.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
What is it about?
Some critics claim that Lewis Terman's longitudinal study of high-IQ children (called the Genetic Studies of Genius) is flawed because Terman's team missed two children later earned Nobel Prizes: Luis Alvarez and William Shockley. They say that it makes the study flawed because they were unquestionably geniuses, but they didn't score high enough on intelligence tests to be selected. Some even use this fact to attack intelligence testing in general. However, we show with a simulation study that--under any realistic conditions--Terman always had a low probability of selecting one or both Nobelists for his study. This was because he set the minimum IQ to be part of the study too high and Nobel Prizes are so rare in the general population that predicting who will earn one when using a single variable is nearly impossible. These are not flaws of IQ testing, but rather statistical artifacts that occur for any rare outcome and a high IQ threshold.
Why is it important?
Beyond the historical question of the validity of Lewis Terman's longitudinal Genetic Studies of Genius, this study explores a lot of the challenges of identifying eminent people while in their childhood. It is a valuable educational endeavor to find these people and steer resources to them, but low base rates and reliance on a single variable will hinder these efforts. The article uses Terman's study and later ones to show that finding future eminence requires using several measures and a large sample size.
The following have contributed to this page: Dr Russell T. Warne