End of an era

In 1995, Oprah’s net worth ballooned to $340 million, allowing her to qualify for Forbes annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans. She had already been the richest woman in entertainment for several years, but the Forbes list put her in a new category, along side the big boys like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Stephen Spielberg. Even though she was dead last on the list, it didn’t matter; she was on the Forbes 400. One of the 400 richest people in the richest country in the history of the World. The only black and only performer to make the list that year.

You could tell she had a new confidence, and she even started dressing more business like and got a new hair style:

At one point she jokingly refered to herself as “Miss Forbes list” and at another point she clapped her hands together and said “y’all know I got a lot of money”.

Even a highly intelligent relative who had nothing but disdain for daytime talk shows and rolled his eyes whenever I mentioned Oprah, suddenly had a new found respect for her, simply because she made that list. At the time it was unimaginable that a mere daytime talk show host, let alone a black female one, could make that list. Even better, with Oprah’s hot new contract, Forbes predicted she’s become a billionaire (unheard of for blacks in those days).

Every year when the leaves changed colours I would bike to the local corner story to get the annual Forbes 400. “Is Oprah a billionaire yet?” I asked the clerk in 1996, “no $415 million”

“Is Oprah a billionaire yet?” I asked in 1997. “no $550 million”

“Is Oprah a billionaire yet?” I asked in 2002. “no $975 million”

At this point Forbes was just being stingy. Round up to a billion already, you’re killing me.

Finally in 2003, Forbes made it official. Oprah was the rarest of creatures: A black billionaire and for three straight years she was the ONLY black billionaire (especially in the United States).

However in the years since black billionaires have become more an more common. No longer the unicons they were in 2007, there are now roughly half a dozen black billionaires in America alone.

Sadly, instead of making our elite more integrated, the rise of black billionaires has meant billionaires are less elite.

In 1982 only $90 million made you one of the 400 richest Americans and roughly $2 billion made you #1, but today you need over $2.9 billion just to make the Forbes 400 and over $200 billion just to be number one.

A new generation of blacks had finally reached the promise land, only to find that the promise land has moved and they’ve been priced out.

And for the first time ever, even Oprah, whose $2.6 billion fortune has stagnated since ending her hugely successful talk show ten years ago, failed to make the cut. Luckily, this rare failure has been eclipsed by the news that Donald Trump has also has been priced out of the Forbes 400 this year. It’s the first time in a quarter century either of these two iconic names (which had become synonymous with wealth itself) have failed to make the rich list.

End of an era indeed.

Usama bin Laden’s IQ

This month was the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, so it is interesting to ask what Usama bin Laden’s IQ was. In all those years he was hiding in the caves of Afghanistan, anyone could have snuck across the border, stumbled upon his cave, and handed him a copy of the Standard Progressive Matrices.

Average IQ of the Arab World: 84 (UK norms)

The first question that needs to be answered is how do Saudi Arabians perform on the SPM? In 2010, 15-year-old Saudis averaged 36 out of 60 on the SPM.


This put them at the 14th percentile of UK 1979 norms which equates to IQ 84 (UK norms). Although these norms were 29 years old, no adjustment for the Flynn effect is needed because the UK’s Raven Flynn effect in teens appears to have plateaued in 1979:

From Lynn, R. (2009). Fluid intelligence but not vocabulary has increased in Britain, 1979–2008. Intelligence, 37(3), 249–255.

Expected IQ of World’s most influential Arab: 117

Now regardless if one considers Usama to have been an evil geopolitical Genius or just a useful idiot for the neocons, there’s no denying that September 11th was arguably the most consequential event of our lifetimes, so by the end of his life, Usama was not just the most evil Arab on the planet, but arguably the most influential. Indeed objectively he should have been Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2001 but fearing this would be misinterpreted as praise, Rudy Giuliani got the title instead after Oprah crowned him “America’s mayor”. Analogously, Einstein had been named Person of the Century because giving that tile to Hitler was anathema. Many years later, when it was safe, Time would name Usama (and Hitler) among of the 100 most influential people of all time.

If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and influence, the most influential Arab out of 423 million would have an IQ 88 points higher than the average Arab. But given the correlation is only about 0.37, the most influential Arab has an expected IQ 88(0.37) = 33 points higher than the average Arab, or IQ 117. The standard error of this estimate would be 13.9. 95% Confidence Interval: IQ 90 to IQ 144.

Expected IQ of a 6’5″ Arab: 97

As a kid, Usama was praised for his light skin and height. The FBI listed him as 6’4″ to 6’6″. Let’s say he was 6’5″. This is about 3.5 standard deviations taller than the average Arab man (5’8″).

If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and height, Usama would have been 53 IQ points smarter than the average Arab, but since the correlation is only 0.24, his expected IQ was 53(0.24) = 13 points above the Arab mean. In other words IQ 97. Standard error: 14.55. 95% Confidence Interval: IQ 68 to IQ 126.

Expected IQ when World’s most influential Arab was also 6’5″: 125

A random Arab has an expected IQ of 84 but being the World’s most influential Arab adds 33 IQ points and being 9 inches taller than average adds 13 IQ points. Since Usama met both of these criteria, it’s tempting to add these expectations together and conclude he was 33 + 13 = 46 points smarter than the average Arab.

However these expectations can not be added because they’re not fully independent. Part of the reason Usama was influential is he was tall enough to command respect. And part of the reason he was so tall, is he comes from an influential well-fed family. For example the correlation between height and income (a proxy for influence) is 0.13.

When we remove this redundancy, and look only at the independent predictive power of influence and height, his influence adds 30 IQ points and his height adds 11, so Usama’s expected IQ is 30 + 11 = 41 points above the Arab mean of 84. In other words, his expected IQ was 125. Standard error: 13.6. 95% confidence interval: IQ 98 to IQ 152

Whoever was the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks likely had an IQ above 120. Planes are transportation, not missiles, so to adapt them to such an evil purpose required thinking outside the box ( lateral thought) which is probably quite g loaded. However a member of a super high IQ society famously said after September 11th (I paraphrase from a 20-year-old memory):

Surprising that anyone smart enough to pull off such an attack would be sufficiently unwise as to actually do it.

Bill Gates’s comment about Epstein implies equally to Usama: “Well, he’s deadso in general you always have to be careful,”

Revisiting the IQs of U.S. presidents: Reagan vs Nixon

Let’s assume Reagan had the lowest elderly IQ of any U.S. President (he got dementia) and Nixon had the highest teenaged IQ (he aced the Ottis). What does this tell us about the average IQ of U.S. Presidents?


About one in six (British?) people over age 80 have dementia. Thus one can consider a dementia diagnosis (over age 80) as more or less equivalent with scoring at or below the 16th percentile (IQ 85) on an IQ test. On the other hand, only the best and brightest tend to live over 80. If everyone in the UK lived over 80, probably 25% would get dementia and the 25th percentile equates to IQ 90.


Daniel Seligman wrote:

 Nixon biographer Roger Morris says RMN tested at 143 when he was in Fullerton High School in California. Kennedy biographer Thomas C. Reeves tells us JFK tested at 119 just before entering Choate Academy. That last figure looks low. Might there have been some kind of testing error? The ”standard error” for the Otis test — the one taken by both future Presidents — was six IQ points.

Fortune magazine, July 15, 1991

I had since learned that the Otis had a standard deviation of about 10 in those days so Nixon’s IQ of 143 would actually equate to about 165 on the standard 15 sigma scale, making him almost certainly the smartest U.S. President ever. Of course the Otis items were not selected at random, so there’s no reason to assume the curve was Gaussian, and thus equivalent to a modern IQ of 165. On the other hand there’s no strong reason to assume it was less than that either.


Assuming Reagan had an IQ around 90 (probably higher when he was younger) and Nixon had an IQ of 165 (probably lower when he was older), let’s split the difference and assume the average U.S. President has an IQ around 130 (two standard deviations above the U.S. mean).

Just as the most physically dominant men in America (heavy weight boxing champions) are 2 standard deviations taller than the average U.S. man (on average), the most socially dominant men in America (U.S. Presidents) are about 2 standard deviations smarter.

The Incredible Shrinking Flynn effect

On page 242 of his book Are We Getting Smarter?, James Flynn claims the original Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC) normed circa 1947.5 yields full-scale IQs 7.63 points higher than those of its revision (WISC-R) normed in 1972. Stats like that are known as the Flynn effect; the notion that IQ is going up at rate of 3 points per decade. Of course by definition the average U.S./U.K. IQ is always around 100, but tests must be constantly re-normed to keep it that way.

However I have long suspected (and largely proven) that the Flynn effect is exaggerated by a statistical artifact. For example, when comparing old and new versions of the Wechsler, half of the test subjects will take the old version first and the other half will take the new version first, so whatever practice effect from being tested twice affects both tests equally. However I had a hunch (as had A.S. Kaufman) that you get more of a practice effect from taking the WISC-R first than from taking the WISC first, thus WISC scores will be spuriously high when people take both tests.

Finally I found some obscure old paper that proves this right. White kids who took the WISC-R first scored 12 points higher on the WISC than WISC-R, but white kids who took the WISC first scored virtually the same on both tests! When you combine the two groups together, the WISC appears 6 points easier than the WISC-R, but that difference is entirely driven by the subset of the sample that took the WISC-R first

A similar (though less extreme pattern) is found for non-whites.

Source: A comparison of the WISC and WISC-R by order of administration
Michael Murphy

Will Bill Gates be tarnished by this?

The recent revelations that Bill Gates had some kind of mysterious relationship with Jeffrey Epstein has caused me stress. Gates has been a hero of mine since childhood. He represented everything that I admired (computer nerds, rich people, super high IQ) and he came of age at a time in America full of promise and wonder. Every Autumn, when the leaves changed colours, I would pick up Forbes annual list of the 400 richest Americans, and there he was, reliably in the #1 spot for decades. No one else could even come close.

As a teenager I used to wonder, “if intelligence is the ability to adapt, and if nerds are the smartest people, why isn’t the World run by nerds?” The answer seemed to be that nerds are interested in nerdy things which often don’t provide much money or status. But Gates was the ultimate exception. The one super high IQ nerd who decided to play the same game as everyone else, and in the words of one Promethean “look at the result”.

Reported to have an IQ of 170 (if you trust the SAT) Gates was literally more than 2 standard deviations smarter than the average U.S. president or billionaire who in turn were more than 2 standard deviations above the average American. And he totally lived up to it, becoming the World’s first centibillionaire more than 20 years before Jeff Bezos would become the second one. By the end of the 1990s his absurdly high wealth and IQ made him like some Revenge of the Nerds comic book villain that only the U.S. government could stop. Some say even today he is the World’s richest man if you look at real wealth, not stock value.

In the words of my sociology professor “Gates took the system, and beat the living shit out of it.”

And that’s why it so sad to see Gates so publicly linked to Jeffrey Epstein and even sadder to see him stumble when asked about it.

What was Gates doing with the hebephile fake billionaire? What were so many rich, famous, and important people doing with him?

According to Israeli-Canadian Ari Ben-Menashe, when Bill Clinton was elected President, people were very concerned he’d be another Jimmy Carter and have sympathy for the Palestinians, and so Epstein was hired to set honey traps that could be used to blackmail him. Epstein impersonated a billionaire investor and girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell’s job was to use her connections to bring in celebs like Prince Andrew to give him credibility.

Armed with fake money AND status, Epstein could get people like Clinton to attend his parties and perhaps by plying him with alcohol poured by underage girls while hidden cameras filmed, they hoped they could get Clinton on tape behaving inappropriately.

Did Epstein try the same thing with Gates?

What really bothers me about all this is that Gates is supposed to be a super Genius who dominates other elites like Epstein. I would hate to think someone seemingly as brilliant as Gates (or Clinton for that matter) was dumb enough to fall for a honey trap and that it was used to control him. So far there’s no evidence of that but this is not a good look.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

Pumpkin Person rating: 9/10

My coworkers and I just watched this movie on CRAVE and I was really impressed with it.

The plot: A 17-year-old girl (Autumn) and her same-age cousin (Skylar) take a bus to New York city because their working class white Rustbelt town doesn’t allow her to get an abortion without parental consent. After getting the abortion, they spend the night bowling and singing karaoke with a boy who gives them enough cash to buy a bus ticket back home.

The End.

That’s literally all that happens, and yet it’s one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. It just feels so real, like you’re watching a documentary. The actors all look like ordinary people, the scenes are all in everyday locations like grocery stores, buses, bowling alleys and medical clinics with fluorescent lighting, and minimal dialogue. Indeed the film’s protagonist hardly speaks and when asked questions, gives one word answers. The only time she comes alive is when she’s singing.

We never really learn who got her pregnant but it doesn’t matter. Every male in the film, from the bullies at their school, to their uncompassionate grocery store boss, to the old man customer at the grocery store, to her own father, comes across as a predator.

“Girl child isn’t safe in a World full of men,” Oprah once said.

Even after leaving their lower class town, it doesn’t stop. While on a bus in New York city a man in a business suit stands looking at them, and then unzips his pants to masturbate.

Finally they meet an innocent looking guy around their age who romantically sings Cherokee to Skylar.

Sadly, even he just wants to ply Skylar with alcohol and take sexual advantage.

By the end of the night he gets Skylar against a circular brick pillar and starts kissing her. What neither of them know is that behind the pillar is Autumn. In an especially poignant scene, Autumn reaches for Sylar’s hand and simply locks pinky fingers with her, as if to say “I’m here for you, and I feel your pain”.

And that was what they’ll remember of their big trip to New York city, as they take the long bus ride back to Pennsylvania…

… in the dark.

The Wechsler IQs of Jewish America Part 1: Early childhood

In 1959, a comprehensive study of Jewish American intelligence was published by B.M. Levinson in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. The subjects were “candidates for admission to the kindergarten or first grade of day (Yeshiva) schools and ranged in age from four years six months to six years seven

Below are the scores of the kids on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). Because the WISC was normed circa 1947.5 and this study was published in 1959, in the third column I adjusted the scores for norm inflation.


Flynn effect was adjusted for using page 241 of James Flynn’s Are We Getting Smarter? (2012). The yearly rate of increase was inferred from the gains made from 1947.5 (WISC) to 1972 (WISC-R) except in the case of Similarities where Flynn is suspected of overestimating gains (Kaufman, 2010). For this subtest, the rate from 1972 to 1989 was assumed instead.


After adjusting for the Flynn effect, the monolingual kids averaged a verbal IQ of 106 and the bilingual averaged 99, suggesting a verbal IQ of 103 for the combined sample.

For Performance IQ, the monolinguals averaged 101 and bilinguals averaged 95, for an overall average of 98.

On full-scale IQ the monolinguals averaged 104 and bilinguals averaged 98, for an overall group average of 101.

Although this study confirms the verbal > performance IQ pattern that Jewish intelligence is known for, the scores are not as high as usually reported. There are several reasons for this:

  • The original WISC excluded non-whites from their norming sample so an IQ of 100 represents the average score of just white America, not America as a whole. Their scores would have been a couple points higher using norms for the entire U.S. population.
  • Roughly half the sample was bilingual and these may have been unfairly penalized by language barriers (their lowest score was Vocabulary). They may also have been raised bilingual for religious reasons, suggesting low IQ heritage.
  • Finally, the subjects were young children. Daniel Seligman writes: “Some studies show rising verbal scores as the Jewish children pass through school but the reasons for this increase are unclear. Some scholars view it as a maturational change, that is, the group is genetically programmed to improve its already superior verbal skills with age.” (source: A Question of Intelligence by D. Seligman, pg 131)

The Raven IQ of Israeli Jews

Although the Raven Matrices is a visual test, thus making it potentially biased against Jewish verbal talent, it’s not an especially spatial test either, and seems to load on a higher level abstract thinking that transcends both domains. Indeed Jensen regarded the Raven as the purest measure of g (general intelligence).

One major Israeli study using the Raven was published by S Kaniel & S Fisherman in 1990. They compared 250 Ethiopian Jews, ages 14-15, on the Progressive Matrices Standard (PMS) test to1740 Israeli Jews, ages 9-15. They claimed “Most of the Israeli age groups functioned near the 50th percentile of Raven’s normative scale, whereas the performance of the Ethiopian Jews fell between the 5th and the 10th percentile”

However Richard Lynn was having none of it. In a 1994 commentary, Lynn noted that the that the actual percentiles of the Israeli Jews ranged from 20th to 37th and the Ethiopian Jews were at the 2nd percentile.

Source: Lynn, R. (1994). The intelligence of ethiopian immigrant and israeli adolescents: A comment on kaniel and fisherman. International Journal of Psychology, 29(1), 55–56. doi:10.1080/00207599408246531

Over the weekend Pumpkin Person verified that the Israeli Jews did indeed score from the 20th to 37th percentile on 1979 UK norms just as Lynn claimed (IQ 87 at age 10.5 to IQ 95 at age 14.5; averaging across all ages, IQ 92), however Ethiopian Jews actually scored in the 1st percentile (IQ 65) not the 2nd percentile as Lynn had claimed.

Although the British norms were 11-years old by the time the Israeli study was published, I decided not to adjust for the Flynn effect because “Anglo” kids tested in Iowa in 1986, scored no higher than the UK 1979 norming, suggesting the Flynn effect had plateaued during that period.

If Israeli Jews average IQ 92 on the Raven, it is interesting to ask what Ashkenazi Israeli Jews score. An analysis by Hanna David and Richard Lynn found that in Israel, European Jews score about 14 IQ points higher than Oriental Jews though the gap is bigger on verbal tests. For example on the Israeli WISC, the gap was 1.1 standard deviations (SD) (17 IQ points) on verbal IQ but only 0.93 SD on Performance IQ (14 IQ points).

So let’s say on the Raven, Ashkenazi Jews score 14 IQ points above non-Ashkenzi Jews in Israel, and are 32% of Israeli Jews. Since the average Israel Jews scores IQ 92 on the Raven (if the above study was representative), then simple arithmetic tells us that non-Ashkenazi IQ is 88 and Ashkenazi IQ is 102 (at least on the Raven) though looking at table I, there might be a small tendency for Jewish IQ to improve during childhood.

Jewish IQ in Serbia

In 2015, the journal Mankind Quarterly published a study called The Intelligence of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in Serbia by Richard Lynn and Jelena Čvorović.

The authors write:

They shouldn’t mix individually tested people with group-tested people since the latter score higher on the Raven.

They write:

An average IQ of 104 (white norms) is much lower than the 110 IQ Ashkenazim score in the United States, but considering Serbia has an average IQ of 90, it is quite high for that environment. And given how well integrated the Ashkenazim and Sephardim are in Serbia, even the self-identified Ashkenazim might be somewhat mixed.

The IQ of Jewish prisoners

In 1992 the journal Psychological Reports published an interesting paper called “JEWISH INMATES: AN ATYPICAL PRISON GROUP” by DONALD I. TEMPLER and PENNY A. JACKSON

The study design was as follows:

All inmates were in the Southern Desert Correctional Center, a medium security prison in whch most convicted felons in the southern half of Nevada are processed and incarcerated. The identities of the 13 Jewish inmates were obtained from prison records and word of mouth; it appears that these men constituted the total population of Jewish inmates.
The quantitative part of this study focused upon two different sorts of information in the records of inmates. One was Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices percentile based on norms in Table SPM 25 of the manual (Raven,
Court, & Raven, 1986). Because Jews in general tend to score higher than non-Jews on tests of mental ability, it was hypothesized that Jewish inmates would have higher scores on the matrices thin non-Jewish inmates. It was
also hypothesized that Jewish inmates would have fewer violent crimes.

The unstructured interviews were held with a Jewish custody staff Lieutenant, a Jewish Correctional Case Worker Supervisor, and 10 of the 13 Jewish inmates. In addition, a director of a half-way house for the Jewish exfelons in Los Angeles was interviewed by telephone.

Here are the results:

One of the Jewish inmates did not have a Raven’s score or percentile in his records. For the 12 Jewish men who did, nine (75%) were over the 80th percentile of the Matrices manual, but only 27% of the 1477 general population inmates were over the 80th percentile (x2 = 14.03, p< 0.001). Four (31%) of the 13 Jewish inmates and 578 (52%) of the 1477 general population inmates had one or more violent felony convictions (x2 = 2.35, p<0.20).

The 80th percentile is IQ 113 (white norms) so assuming a normal curve and a standard deviation of about 15 for both the Jewish and Gentile inmates, these results suggest the average Jewish prisoner scored IQ 123 and the average Gentile prisoner scored 104.

However the Raven norms were probably about 50 years too old, and it’s well known that Raven ability increased precipitously over the 20th century because of prenatal nutrition and/or schooling (the Flynn effect). It’s also well known that prisoners average IQs around 90. So let’s say the scores were inflated by about 14 IQ points. This would suggest Jewish prisoners have a mean IQ of 109 (19 points higher than their Gentile counterparts!).

Of course with only 12 Jews in the study, one shouldn’t overinterpret these results.

The study is also odd because the Jewish IQ advantage is seen on a non-verbal test where Jews typically have less of an advantage. On the other hand, the Raven aimed to measure higher level conceptual abstract ability that transcends the traditional verbal vs spatial dichotomy.

The authors noted that the Jewish prisoners did not strongly identify with Judaism and had middle class backgrounds. They also showed high achievement motivation.

The authors write:

The reason(s) the Jewish inmates scored higher on the Raven Matrices are not certain. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the test is a nonverbal and purported culture-fair test with content that appears less relevant
to formal education than most standard tests of intelligence. Further, Jewish culture is heavily saturated with verbal learning and performance. A large number of Jews do not enter occupations dependent on spatial relations such
as those of machinists, mechanics, draftsmen, and mechanical engineers. To ascribe automatically the high Raven scores entirely to education of high quality or ephemeral characteristics would be simplistic and is unwarranted
at this time.

On the other hand, one of the reasons the Raven has been so sensitive to the Flynn effect is that scores likely can be propped up by education. This seems counter-intuitive because the test is so culturally reduced, but because there’s no time limit and the task is so abstract, educated people likely approach the test with much more confidence, interest, and persistence. By contrast gypsies, who have a subculture quite opposite from Jews when it comes to education, typically dropping out of school in 8th grade, have adult Raven IQs around 70 and complain that it gives them a headache. It would be most interesting to compare the IQs of Roma raised by Ashkenazim and vice versa.