Sometimes late at night, I turn on a podcast and just lie in bed listening to it until I fall asleep. Perhaps the best podcast I’ve ever encountered is After On, hosted by Dan Reid because the host really takes the time to thoroughly familiarize himself with the research of whoever he’s interviewing.
On episode 8, which I highly recommend any science types listen to, Reid interviewed British astronomer Stephen Webb about the Fermi’s paradox, which is the mystery of why why we haven’t been visited by aliens yet, given that life on other planets is so probable.
Well, my first question has always been why does anyone think life is probable? Yes it emerged on Earth as soon as conditions were right, but it only emerged once. All life on earth, as far as we know, is descended from a single biogenesis so that right there tells me that life is not that probable, because if it were, then why on even this planet, perfectly suited to life, did it not occur at least twice? Maybe the original life had such a head-start that no new biogenesis could compete?
A popular estimate from the Drake equation is that there are 10,000 intelligent species just in our galaxy alone, with many having had far more time to evolve (both genetically and culturally) than we’ve had. So why haven’t they visited us? One theory is that once life gets intelligent enough to build technology, it destroys itself through nuclear war long before it figures out how to travel to distant planets.
Another theory is that intelligent life is out there watching us, but they want to give us a chance to develop on our own, without interference. While it seems plausible that one advanced species might take this ethical attitude, Webb finds it implausible that thousands of intelligent species would all agree.
However Reid mentions near the end of the show, that all the aliens wouldn’t need to agree, because the first (and thus most advanced) of the intelligent species would call the shots and make the rules. I was thinking the same thing during the interview. Many countries in the World don’t agree with the foreign policy of the United States, but all have to live with it because the U.S. (or those who lobby it) call the shots. so intragalactic politics might work the same way. Webb however thinks that the reason no one’s visited us is because we’re alone.
Existence of God?
The strangest part of the interview comes around the 1 hour and 7 minute mark when Webb starts talking about the universe having about a dozen parameters, each of which are precisely set to allow galaxies and stars to form and so the odds of the universe as we know it is only one in ten to the power of 229. Since such slim odds are unlikely to have occurred by chance, Webb argues that there might be a creator (not necessarily God per se, but a more advanced life form) who created or simulated our universe.
I’m no astronomy expert but this argument sounds fallacious. No matter what parameters the universe had, the odds of it having those precise parameters would be be extremely slim, so by Webb’s logic, anything that would have happened would be evidence for a creator. How do we know that something even more impressive than life (as we know it) would not have occurred with a different set of parameters?
An alternative possibility Webb argues is that there are 10 to the power of 500 universes, and by definition, we just found ourselves in that rare one that supports life.
Many times on this blog I have tried to estimate the IQs of various groups or individuals using simple regression, or in some cases multiple regression (a technique suggested to me by a Promethean).
Back in 2017, commenter Gypsy asked me to apply simple regression to Oxford and Cambridge students. He estimated that only one in 58 UK 18-year-olds qualify for these schools and said the correlation between IQ and GCSE was 0.7.
I replied by saying:
If one in 58 UK teens achieves A*A*A or better, then this implies that the median teen who obtains A*A*A or better is at the one in 116 level in academic achievement. If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and academic success in the UK, we’d expect the median IQ of these academic superstars to be 36 points above the UK mean of 100 (white norms), but since the correlation is probably about 0.7 (using the correlation between IQ and GCSE as a proxy), their expected average IQ would be 0.7(36) points above 100, or IQ 125.
Well it’s very rare that one of these theoretical statistical predictions gets tested by actual empirical data but when Gypsy recently inquired about the Raven scores of UK university students in general, I stumbled upon a startling fact. The median Oxford undergrad obtained a raw score of 27 out of 36 on the Advanced Progressive Matrices Set II:
As table 16 shows, that equates to the 75th percentile among the general young adult population of both the U.S. and the U.K.(circa 1992-1993) which equates to an IQ of 110 (U.S. & U.K. norms).
However the Oxford students had a 40 minute time limit and the general population could stay almost as long as they needed to. How big a difference does the time limit make? In one study, raw scores increased by about 2 points when people had unlimited time compared to just 40 minutes.
Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that if given unlimited time, Oxford undergrads would have averaged 29 instead of 27, moving them up to the 84th and 86th percentile of U.K. and U.S. norms respectively.
I estimated how Oxford undergrads would have scored untimed because it’s hard to find a general population sample in the U.S. or U.K. who took the test in 40 minutes like the Oxford students did, however table 16 does have timed stats for UK retail managers, which seems like the kind of average level occupation that would reflect the general population. A score of 27 in 40 minutes puts one in the 85th percentile of this group (virtually identical to the percentile of their estimated untimed score in general population samples).
This equates to an IQ of 116 (UK norms). This is 9 points lower than the IQ of 125 I had predicted in 2017, however it should be noted that the the Raven is a uni-dimensional test that only correlates 0.74 with more comprehensive tests like the WAIS. Thus it’s likely that on the WAIS, instead of scoring 15 IQ points above 100, they would have scored 15/0.74 = 20 IQ points above 100.
We also don’t know when the data was obtained. I’m assuming it was in the 1978 to 1993 era, however if it was substantially before then, the Flynn effect might have greatly deflated the score.
We also don’t know how representative the Oxford undergrads were. I’m guessing they were psychology students, who are likely fairly representative because I know at least at the University of Toronto, 60% of all undergrads take psychology.
But taking things at face value, it seems the most prestigious university in Europe has an average IQ of 120. No wonder David Wechsler defined IQs of 120+ as “superior intelligence”.
I was listening to Quirks & Quarks on CBC radio in my car a few months ago and they were discussing the incredible intelligence of octopuses. As my old chemistry teacher would say, they can adapt: take whatever situation they’re in and turn it around to their advantage. For example:
In 2016, an octopus named Inky made a daring escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand. The eight-armed Houdini squeezed through a tiny gap a maintenance worker left at the top of its tank.
Inky slithered across the floor and made his escape down a drain pipe that exits into the ocean.
The guest, Piero Amodio, was explaining that their high intelligence was surprising because as commenter Melo has noted, intelligence is often selected in social animals and octopuses are very solitary. Also, as r/K theory would predict, bigger brains are more common in long-lived species and octopuses have short lives.
But because intelligence is arguably the ultimate evolutionary adaptation, it seems to have evolved even under very different selection pressures from other intelligent animals like primates and crows.
One possibility suggested by Amodio is that octopuses needed to be smart because they didn’t have a shell to protect them from predators. If commenter RR were conducting the interview, he would immediately complain that that’s a just-so story as he does for all attempts to explain how intelligence evolved.
However Amodio plans to test the hypothesis by seeing if there’s a correlation between cephalopod brain size and the number and variety of predators in their environment. If a positive correlation is found, the hypothesis made a meaningful prediction and is not a mere just-so story. That wouldn’t satisfy RR, but it would satisfy the scientific community.
A lot of us tend to think of intelligence as a property of the brain but commenter Melo has argued it’s a function of the entire nervous system. I suspect Amodio would agree with Melo because an octopus can move its arms without getting signals from its brain, or one could even argue most of its brain is in its arms. Amodio states:
Two thirds of their neuron cells, they are not located in the brains, but they are located in their arms. In octopus, there is a big level of independence of movement for the arms. It’s something completely different from our way of thinking about brains and of course about apes and crows…
Meanwhile Oprah’s best fried Gayle King Bumpus is getting praise of her own for keeping her cool during an interview with R Kelley:
Oprah and Gayle became best friends 43 years ago, when Oprah was just a local anchor woman in Baltimore and Gayle was just a production assistant. Gayle approached Oprah to tell her how honored she was to be working on Oprah’s team. During a snow storm, Gayle crashed at Oprah’s apartment and the two women stayed up talking all night, and have been talking every night since.
After a stressful week at work, the two women would hit the Baltimore bars looking for love in the heart of the 1970s.
In the aftermath of HBO’s shocking documentary Leaving Neverland, people are asking whether Jackson was really a child molester.
Jackson has never denied sharing his bed with young children, but has always maintained these were innocent sleepovers.
But in 1993 Jackson was accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy named Jordy Chandler. This resulted in a police raid of Jackson’s home (Neverland) and a strip search of Jackson’s body. The evidence reportedly found in both convinced me he was a child molester.
Neverland raid August 1993
The first major reason for believing Jackson was a child molester are the items police found in Jackson’s bedroom in 1993.
Most incriminating is the nude photo believed to be Jonathan Spence. According to page 130 of Diane Diamond’s book Be Careful who you Love, Spence was a “small angelic blond boy” who lived with the Jacksons at their Hayvenhurst house in the 1980s. Spence has always denied being sexually abused by Jackson.
Dec 1993: Strip search
On Sept 1, 1993, law enforcement asked Jackson’s 13-year-old accuser Jordy to draw a picture of Jackson’s erect penis and to locate on that drawing any distinctive marks he recalled.
On Dec 20, 1993, police came to Jackson’s Neverland mansion with a search warrant allowing them to photograph his private parts.
According to an affidavit by Santa Barbara district attorney Thomas Sneddon, the boy’s drawing matched the photos taken in the strip search:
Some might argue that this only proves Jordy saw Jackson naked, not that he was molested, however others argue the spot Jordy drew was only visible when Jackson’s penis was lifted (as in arousal). If that’s true, it’s especially incriminating.
Jackson fans claim Jordy incorrectly identified Jackson as circumcised but they never cite any legal documents proving it. But even if true, an erect penis can look circumcised, especially to a child.
If you were an informed American adult by the early 2000s, there were two big questions you had to answer: “Should we invade Iraq?” and “Was Michael Jackson a child molester?” The first question is biased against conservatives who are more pro-war, regardless of social IQ. The second question is biased against liberals, who are more sympathetic to black and gay seeming people, regardless of social IQ. But the compensate score on both questions might give a quick, very rough proxy for social IQ.
Iraq subscale (seeing through conservative BS)
On the eve of the Iraq War (March 17th, 2003) 66% of Americans supported the war, and 34% did not. If you think of this as a kind of social IQ test, then the the median score of those who opposed it was the 83rd percentile (half of 34% subtracted from 100%), and the medium score of those who supported it was the 33rd percentile (half of 66%).
So if as of March 2003, you believed it was in America’s interests to take out Saddam Hussein, give yourself an IQ of 93 on this subscale, while if you saw through the BS, you get a 114 (U.S. norms). If you knew the real reason for the war back then (whatever that real reason might be), you’d probably get a 138.
Michael Jackson subscale (seeing through liberal BS)
In early July 2009 (shortly after his death) roughly 51% of Americans were Michael Jackson fans (and likely thought he never molested a child) and 49% were not. So if you thought (correctly, in my opinion) that he was a molester in early July 2009, give yourself an IQ of 111 on this sub-scale (76th percentile), if not, give yourself a 90 (26th percentile). If you thought he was a molester before 1993, you probably deserve 150+.
Composite score (seeing through all BS)
Because the angry lynch mob type people who supported the Iraq war are very different from the bleeding heart liberal types who felt sorry for a feminine black man like Michael Jackson, there’s probably a negative correlation between these two subscales. That’s a bad thing for the test’s reliability, but a good thing for extending its range.
If we assume the correlation between subscales is -0.5, then:
Composite Social IQ = [(Iraq IQ + Jackson IQ) – 200] + 100
It’s interesting to ask how commenter philosopher (aka The Social Justice Warrior) would have scored on this test since he fancies himself a social genius. He claims to have known the Iraq war was BS but claims he didn’t understand the motives so he gets a 114 on the Iraq subscale. Meanwhile, until recently he believed Jackson was innocent, so a 90 on the Jackson subscale. Thus his composite social IQ is 104. That’s somewhat above average, but nowhere near social genius level.
By contrast I would have scored an incredible 149 🙂 though I chose the questions (and the right answers) so my score would be greatly inflated by selection bias. I would probably regress precipitously to the mean on randomly selected questions. I also had the unfair advantage of understanding Occam’s razor and having an objective personality that is not easily swayed by groupthink.
Both Oprah and Michael Jackson were allegedly sexually abused as a child, but Oprah led millions of abuse survivors to recovery, while Jackson may have dealt with his issues more destructively.
By 1986, Oprah was the #1 talk show in America, and by 1993, Michael Jackson wanted to jump on the Oprah bandwagon, so she interviewed him live from Neverland around the World. Even back then, Oprah sensed there was something strange about Michael’s sexuality.
“Are you a virgin?” she asked him.
“I’m a gentleman,” he replied.
She was also cleverly suspicious of his childlike persona.
“A child did not build on this,” she told him, pointing to his huge empire.
She also had no choice but to ask him if he bleached his skin, given the shocking change in color the public was obsessing about.
There’s no such thing as skin bleaching, Jackson insisted.
Actually there is, Oprah informed him. She recalled seeing commercials for it growing up. Jackson claimed his lighter skin was caused by a skin disease he had no control over.
Oprah seemed skeptical, perhaps because she understood what a big deal skin colour was among African Americans of their era. When she was a little girl, and was sent to live with her unwed mother in Milwaukee, the landlady was a very light skinned African American. She adored Oprah’s light skinned half-sister, while Oprah was stuck sleeping on the porch because she was dark skinned. It was never something that was said, but even as a child, Oprah intuitively understood.
Oprah was far too shrewd to call Jackson a liar to his face, so she found a more passive aggressive way of venting. When Elizabeth Taylor came out and took Jackson’s seat, Oprah let Jackson stand. So while Oprah and Taylor chatted like two A list celebs, Jackson was left standing like a second class citizen in his own home. He could have humorously ask for a chair, but instead he just stood there looking stupid.
For Oprah it was the ultimate alpha power play. It was as if she were saying “I’m the top star in this country now, so you’re gona stand until I allow you to sit”. Jackson lacked the social IQ to adapt to this unexpected aggression.
Oprah and Jackson would continue to talk after the interview. He begged her to have his friend Deepak Choprah on her show. “If she marries me she could be Oprah Choprah,” Deepak joked.
But when sexual abuse allegations came against Jackson, Oprah decided to keep her distance. When Jackson died in 2009, the vast majority of Americans decided he was innocent and returned to celebrating his music, and Jackson fans were expecting Oprah to comment within hours like every other celeb. But Oprah waited months. It was reminiscent of the Queen not commenting on the death of Princess Di.
Tonight part 1 of HBO’s shocking documentary about the alleged sexual abuse, Leaving Neverland, airs on HBO (airing later this week in the UK). Jackson fans and his estate are going absolutely ballistic, even suing HBO for $100 million. In the decade since Jackson’s death, his image had been whitewashed and he had become a wildly popular brand again, and this documentary threatens everything.
With all the controversy and anger the film has unleashed, you would think Oprah would keep her distance, but instead she’s diving right in, hosting a special on HBO and her OWN network that airs after part 2 of the documentary where she interviews Jackson’s alleged victims and film maker Dan Reed in-front of an audience of sexual abuse survivors.
Oprah predicts she’ll suffer a huge backlash for doing this, but feels compelled to do it anyways, because the film explains what Oprah had tried to explain to the World for decades on her syndicated talk show: sexual abuse is sexual seduction. It’s not about the physical damage it does, it’s about the shame, the cover-up, the secrets you must carry. It’s about who you must become to cope with it. In Oprah’s case, she became a promiscuous teen who was pregnant by the age of 14.
Sexually abused by a series of men from age 9 to 14, Oprah knows all too well what it’s like to be molested, and what it’s like not to be believed. She knows all too well how abusers charm, seduce and groom the victims. She once recalled how a cousin’s boyfriend took an obsessive interest in her when she was just a kid, telling everyone how Oprah was smarter than everyone. The family turned a blind eye as he would follow her around like a lost puppy dog.
There’s a scene in Leaving Neverland where the mother of one of Jackson’s accusers says she did the moonwalk when Jackson died.
The audience of sexual abuse survivors roared with approval.
Some of these abilities may load too much on physicality (body-kinesthetic) or personality (intrapersonal) to seem appropriate for an IQ test. Others may seem too narrow or specific (musical) to measure the broad adaptability we associate with the word “intelligence”.
Because IQ tests typically only directly measure the first two or three of these domains, yet still claim to measure all of intelligence, it’s fascinating to ask what would be the IQ of someone brilliant enough to qualify as a Genius in two of these domains, especially two of those domains not directly measured by IQ tests.
Perhaps one such person is Michael Jackson. Jackson’s musical Genius is shown by the fact that he largely composed the songs of Thriller, which reigned as the best selling album of all time for three decades.
In a court appearance, Jackson explained how he composes music, simulating musical instruments with his voice:
His bodily-kinesthetic genius is shown by Fred Astaire calling him the greatest dancer of the 20th century and Gene Kelley praising his “native histrionic intelligence”.
So powerful was Jackson’s rare combination of musical and kinesthetic Genius that while only a young child, he propelled himself and his lower class family to fame and fortune by leading the Jackson 5, and was already being compared to James Brown for his dazzling stage moves and incredible singing range. Jackson has always maintained that his musical and dancing talents were natural. When journalist Martin Bashir asked Jackson if anyone taught him, he replied “no, you can’t teach that”.
The money started pouring in. By the 1980s, Jackson was packing stadiums full of hysterical screaming fainting fans of every race all over the World. Unthinkable of for a black man in that era. By now he was making money on top of money and was so worshiped by his fans that when he’d get plastic surgery, they would too and when Jackson was accused of crimes, they would travel thousands of miles to harass his accusers. At his peak, Jackson was a deity, his bleached skin glowing like a Hindu God.
And yet for all his talent, wealth and adulation, Jackson would spend the final years of his life in exile, unwelcome in the U.S., hiding under a burqa in Bahrain, laughed at on late night TV, shunned by other stars, prank called on radio, trapped by debt and dubbed “Wacko Jacko” by the British press.
Like Leonardo da Vinci, another multi-domain Genius who would reject social norms, Jackson was accused of homosexual crimes in a court of law (settling out of court for tens of millions the first time, winning in court the second time).
And yet despite such disturbing developments, the power of Jackson’s talent was so great that when he died at age 50, the whole World slipped into mass hysteria with people crying on the streets from Toronto to Tokyo, the internet crashing, stars paying tribute, and his music playing everywhere. So powerful was Jackson’s death that it upstaged the election of the first black President, causing some fans to complain that Obama, (who declined to make an official statement) was jealous.
So what was his IQ?
This is a very tricky question to answer because Jackson was a man of contradictions. On the one-hand described as a street-smart, multi-talented Genius, but on the other hand, pitied as childlike and naive.
PART 1: EVIDENCE OF HIGH IQ
Wealth and status
Jackson showed great adaptability in that despite growing up poor and black during an era of great racial prejudice, he went on to become one of the richest and most worshiped people in America, revered by millions around the World including show business royalty like Elizabeth Taylor and Fred Astaire.
Publicist Bob Jones would stand in awe that all those white fans would pay money to see a black man. Unheard of at the time.
Then Jackson did what no one thought a black man could ever do. Zack O’Malley Greenburg writes:
In 1985, he shelled out $47.5 million to buy a publishing catalog that included 250 Beatles songs. Ten years later Sony paid Jackson $90 million for half the rights, forming a joint venture called Sony/ATV.
Today, the Jackson estate and Sony share ownership of the catalog, which now boasts half a million songs including titles by Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Eminem and other artists. Insiders place the catalog’s value somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion, based on estimated proceeds of $50 million to $100 million per year. The estimate marks a 3,000% increase in value from the catalog’s initial purchase price — better than the 1,650% return on Class A shares of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway since 1990.
Additional evidence of Jackson’s high IQ comes from the subjective impressions of those who knew him best.
In a 1993 interview, Elizabeth Taylor told Oprah that Jackson was “highly intelligent”, “shrewd”, and “intuitive”.
According to Steven Spielberg:
He’s in full control. Sometimes he appears to other people to be wavering on the fringe of twilight, but there is great conscious forethought behind everything he does. He is definitely a man of two personalities.
From Michael Jackson Unauthorized by Christopher Andersen
According to one member of his staff:
He has a split personality. He is very bright and self-destructively brilliant. He has an extremely high IQ and certain quirks and personality disorders. He might have six or twenty sides of him, and they’re all competing against each other.
From Michael Jackson Unauthorized by Christopher Andersen
This quote is insightful because it explains how even though intelligence is cognitive adaptability, smart people can be maladaptive if they have competing goals to adapt to.
Alleged evil genius
Evan Chandler, the father of Jackson’s first sexual abuse accuser, Jordy, felt he was a master-manipulator and one of the “smartest streetwise people” he’d “ever met, and if you sit down and have any long conversations with him…that guy is extremely bright.”
Evan was quoted in his brother Raymond’s book as saying Jackson would deny child molestation in a “little-boy voice” but that “his smile was chilling…the entire world had been fooled by this pitiful creature with a brilliant but criminal mind”
“He knew what he was doing,” said Jimmy Safechuck , a 40-year-old computer programmer who claims he was molested by Jackson as a boy in HBO’s new documentary Leaving Neverland. “He has a way of sensing weakness in families. He has a really good sense of people and can read people really well. First, I think he’s physically attracted to the kid, and then he reads the family and just knows how to work it”
If Jackson was indeed guilty of these horrific crimes, it’s most remarkable that in a country where black men were lynched for just looking at a white man’s woman sexually, that a black man could actually molest the white males themselves, and so blatantly and when they tried to complain, their reputations were lynched by Jackson’s fans. In a sick way, Jackson may have been quite cunning in turning the racial tables so completely, so soon after the civil rights movement.
After Jackson held a boy on his lap while sitting next to the Prince of Monoco at an award show and continued to flout his critics by traveling with boys after being accused of molestation, the message was clear according to journalist Diane Diamond: You can’t stop me. I’m Michael Jackson
High IQ physique
As I’ve previously discussed, weight/height ratio is negatively correlated with IQ, so Jackson’s low body mass index at death (5’9″ 136 lbs) is very mildly indicative of high IQ
PART 2: EVIDENCE OF LOW IQ
Contrary to the business savvy, street smart man described above, Jackson showed incredibly bad judgement in the final decades of his life. He gave journalist Martin Bashir unprecedented access to his personal life, naively trusting him to to do a flattering documentary, only to find himself portrayed as a pedophile, leading to criminal charges. Contrary to the master manipulator described by Evan Chandler, it seemed Jackson was the one who got played.
He used further bad judgement in dangling his baby from a balcony to placate screaming fans who wanted to see it, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on high interest credit, bizarrely covering his children’s faces with masks to hide their identity, and using propofol as a sleeping aid, causing his early death.
How does one reconcile such bad judgement with the artistic and business savvy he showed early in his career? Oprah has argued that by seldom attending high school, he missed out on the socialization process. J.P. Rushton also blamed socialization, telling me that eminent blacks may fall from grace because they never learned white middle class norms. Others argue that by constantly being catered to, he began to see himself as untouchable and invincible. Some have even suggested he had schizophrenia or autism (a disorder in which some have islands of Genius despite social retardation) however this explanation is hard to square with Evan Chandler’s description of Jackson as a master manipulator. One possibility is that his judgement was impaired by extreme drug use.
In her book The Secret: The Story of Brilliant, Beautiful, Handicapped, Michael Jackson special education teacher Patricia Eddington argues that despite being extremely gifted on the right-side of the brain, the left-side of his brain is like a young child’s.
In support of her provocative theory she cites, among other things, the fact that he had hundreds of children sleep in his bed and hung out with them playing with water balloons and giving them babyish nicknames, cries all the time, is lonely all the time, blows kisses, covers his mouth in public, started an “Apple Head Club” and was nicknamed Apple Head (and Doo Doo head) through his life, waved to the audience after being severely burned, lived with his parents until 27, stated “that’s not nice, right?” at age 45, had manikins in his room and a secret room with rag dolls and Peter Pan sheets, had three hour phone calls to a child, was best friends with Bubbles the Chimp and brought him to a formal tea party, told a person in labor not to curse but to say “shoot”and “fudge”, owns statues of Pinocchio and Mickey Mouse, said “I always want to play hide and seek”, claimed he could have healed Hitler, said “I’d be walking around holding these baby dolls and I’d be crying”, called a music executive “very very devilish”, and said “I’m the one who looks stinky”.
According to director Brett Ratner, Jackson put on an incredible hulk mask, and through a water balloon at a homeless man from his limo. According to testimony, Jackson would throw stones at the lion in his private zoo, just to make it roar.
Alleged racial prejudice
Some studies suggest racism is a sign of low IQ.
Although Jackson’s incredible talents and success helped blacks to gain social acceptance in the racist 1980s, there are claims that he may have dramatically altered his skin colour and facial features to look white and didn’t want black kids, and reportedly described blacks as “splaboos” and/or “spabooks” according to Bob Jones and journalist Maureen Orth respectively. Jackson however denied racial self-hatred, claiming his vitiligo is genetic.
But when facing legal trouble, Jackson was not above playing the race card according to journalist Roger Friedman:
Jackson, according to my sources, knew he was in trouble after the arrest in November 2003—not so much with the police but with the public. My sources insist that he called his inner circle together and said, “We have to push the ‘red’ button.” His idea was to create sympathy for himself by inventing a race war of some kind. “He wanted it to be like O.J., a black vs. white issue,” says my source. “He wanted the black community to burn down police stations, riot and protest if they [the police and authorities] went against him.”
At autopsy, Jackson’s brain weight at age 50 in 2009 was 1380 g. By contrast white and black men (average age 60) averaged 1392 g and 1286 g respectively circa 1980.
PART 3: STATISTICALLY EXPECTED IQ
Since IQ correlates positively with all mental abilities, including those not directly measured by IQ tests, it’s interesting to ask “what is the statistically expected IQ of the greatest black musical and kinesthetic Genius of the boomer generation?”
At their peak, there were 78.8 million boomers and perhaps 11.67% were black. If Jackson was arguably the greatest black musical and the greatest black body-kinesthetic Genius of his generation, he would have been in the top one in 9.2 million level among black Americans (+5.2 standard deviations on a normalized curve) in both domains.
However great achievement requires more than just raw talent. It also helps to have 10,000 hours of practice, among other things. Raw talent seems to explain 66% to 70% of the variance in various cognitive performance, suggesting talent correlates 0.82 with performance. Thus we might guess Jackson was 0.82(+5.2 SD) = +4.3 SD above the U.S. black mean in both domains.
Musical ability correlates about 0.59 with IQ so we’d expect black Americans with Jackson’s musical gifts to average 0.59(+4.3 SD) = +2.5 SD above their mean. When the U.S. white distribution is set to have a mean and SD of 100 and 15 respectively, black Americans average about 85 (SD 15) so blacks as musically gifted as Jackson would average IQs of 2.5(15) + 85 = 123.
Similarly, physical coordination correlates 0.35 with IQ so black Americans as kinesthetically gifted as Jackson would average 0.35(+4.3 SD) = 1.5 standard deviations above the black mean of 85, which is IQ 108.
What would be the expected IQ of a black American who was +5.2 SD in both domains? If we assume musical and kinesthetic ability are only correlated because of their shared correlation with IQ (0.59 and 0.35 respectively), then we assume their correlation is the product of both numbers (0.21) which means their joint independent predictive power is as follows (hat-tip to a Promethean who taught me this math so very long ago):
IQ = 0.54(musical talent) + 0.24(kinesthetic talent) above black mean
IQ =0.54(+4.3 SD) + 0.24(+4.3 SD) above black mean
IQ = 2.3 SD + 1.0 SD above black mean
IQ = 3.3 SD above black mean
IQ =3.3(15) + 85
IQ = 135
Note, this was not nessessarily Jackson’s actual IQ, it’s simply the average IQ you’d expect from African Americans with such spectacular musical and bodily-kinesthetic achievements. In part 4 we’ll try to see how close the statistical prediction came to the psychometric reality.
PART 4: ESTIMATED PSYCHOMETRIC DATA
To my knowledge, no actual IQ scores or achievement scores obtained by Jackson have ever been publicly revealed. However from various writings, drawings, and anecdotes, it might be possible to reconstruct how he would have scored on IQ type tests.
Estimated verbal knowledge IQ 98 (average range)
Biographer Christopher P. Andersen writes about Jackson playing the scarecrow in The Wiz (a 1978 black version of The Wizard of Oz):
Michael might have seemed typecast as the Scarecrow, a good-natured but dim-witted character who is searching for a brain. As he neared adulthood, it was becoming increasingly clear to Michael that his formal education was sadly lacking. And never more so than, while filming a scene, he unintentionally broke up the crew during rehearsals by pronouncing Socrates “So-crates” (as in packing Crates”). From the wings, Quincy Jones whispered the correct pronunciation–much to Michael’s relief.
Anybody who spent time with Michael soon realized that his inability to pronounce the names of ancient Greek philosophers was not his only failing. No one, for example, had ever bothered to teach him how to eat with utensils. Rock journalist Timothy White recalled what it was like to dine with Michael and two record company executives at an elegant French restaurant in Manhattan. “When his Caesar salad is placed before him, he looks down at the plate and begins eating each dripping leaf with his spidery fingers, oily dressing accumulating on the table cloth.
Michael, tucking his napkin into the collar of his T-shirt, then whispered to the waiter, “What’s qweech?” When the quiche lorraine arrived, Michael “stabs his fingers into the steaming wedge, gathers up a gooey hunk, and begins gobbling it off his palm. ‘It’s like ham and eggs!'”
When he wasn’t “licking his gooey knuckles,” Michael also displayed an alarming ignorance of current events during this particularly revealing meal. He admitted that he had no idea what Watergate was all about. “It was terrible wasn’t it?” he said. “I guess it was. Have you met Nixon? Is he happy? I saw him on TV last year, and he looked so unhappy!”
When someone at the table alluded to the president Jimmy Carter’s White House predecessor, an incredulous Michael gasped, “Excuse me? Vice President Ford was a president? Really? Boy, I gotta keep up on these things!”
Michael Jackson Unauthorized by Christopher Andersen
Elsewhere in the book Andersen notes that an adult Jackson did not know who James Dean was, couldn’t define the word “mystique” and claims Norman Winter was flabbergasted that despite pushing thirty and spending a quarter of his life in show business, Jackson had never heard of Greta Garbo.
“The guy never grew up,” said Winters. ” That doesn’t mean he’s not bright. He is, but there is so much he doesn’t know.”
I too have noticed Jackson’s lack of knowledge. When Jesse Jackson asked him if he was “stung” by child molestation accusations, Jackson seemed baffled by that word in that context. In a discussion with rabbi Shmuley Boteach, he didn’t know what a “secular Jew” was.
According to blogger Sam L Parity, Jackson could not spell the word “pen” in a handwritten note he left.
Jackson’s lack of general knowledge is important because in most versions of the Wechsler intelligence scales, general knowledge correlates very highly with overall IQ.
On the other hand the correlation may not apply in Jackson’s case. Most low IQ people have poor general knowledge in part because they dropped out of school, but Jackson missed out on school not because he couldn’t hack it, but because he was so talented he didn’t need it.
It’s even possible that Jackson exaggerated his ignorance at times, to fit his childlike persona. Jackson’s childlike voice, for example, was an affectation and behind the scenes was quite manly.
Biographer J. Randy Taraborelli writes:
When in private school, which occurred from time to time between touring, Michael was bored by his studies, refused to do his homework, and was a terrible student. When called upon for an answer, Michael didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, and he didn’t care…Though technically graduated, the three younger Jacksons certainly did not obtain a good grounding in basic subjects…To this day, each has problems with penmanship, grammar, and (Michael in particular) spelling. They also lack a sense of history, except that which they managed to pick up during their travels.
MICHAEL JACKSON The Magic, the Madness, the Whole Story, 1958-2009 by J. Randy Taraborrelli
In response to his critics, Jackson sent the following handwritten letter to People magazine in 1987.
Like the old Indian proverb says, do not judge a man until you’ve walked 2 moons in his moccosins [sic].
Most people don’t know me, that is why they write such things in wich [sic] most is not true. I cry very very often because it hurts and I worry about the children, all my children all over the world, I live for them.
If a man could say nothing against a character but what he could prove, history could not be written. Animals strike not from malice but because they want to live, it is the same with those who criticize, they desire our blood not our pain. But still I must achieve. I must seek truth in all things. I must endure for the power I was sent forth, for the world for the children. But have mercy, for I’ve been bleeding a long time now.
letter by Michael Jackson, published in People magazine
Biographer Christopher Anderson wrote that the letter showed Jackson’s writing skills to be scarcely above a 10-year-old’s, however I wanted a more objective assessment. According to a Flesh-Kincaid analysis, his letter is written at a grade 5.83 level.
A Promethean once suggested, half seriously, that one could crudely estimate IQ from writing samples by doing a Flesch-Kincaid grade level calculation. Since the average American adult reads at an 8th grade level, that might reflect an IQ around 100.
In 2016, I created the following formula for convert reading level to IQ:
IQ = 62.333+4.333(reading level)
If we assume Jackson’s reading level was no higher than his writing level, which seems like a reasonable assumption based on the low verbal knowledge his biographers have described, this formula gives an IQ equivalent of 88 (white norms), but U.S. blacks who came of age prior to the 1980s scored the equivalent of 10 IQ points below their potential on reading tests, and this would have been especially true for Jackson who missed so much school. Thus his reading IQ (a proxy for verbal knowledge) is adjusted to 98.
Estimated Draw-a-Person IQ 191 (profoundly gifted)
Originally developed by Florence Goodenough in 1926, Draw-a-Person is one of the oldest and simplest IQ tests. It was based on the observation that as children develop intellectually, their drawings become increasingly complex, accurate and detailed.
Michael Jackson left behind many sketches, though only those of the full human figure can be scored. I chose to score a painting he did at age nine of Charlie Chaplin, since the test seems most valid in young children.
Using the point scale Jackson’s drawing scored 58 out of 73 which equated to a deviation IQ of 146 for nine-year-old boys drawing men.
However for rapid evaluation, the Goodenough-Harris test also includes a quality scale where the examiner can rate the drawing on a scale of 1 to 12 by comparing it to a succession of very primitive (level 1) to very advanced (level 12) drawings.
Jackson’s drawing was clearly level 12+ but because the test does not permit IQs much beyond 160, no IQ equivalent is provided for nine-year-old boys scoring above level 11 (IQ 153).
Nonetheless, when I asked readers to rate Jackson’s drawing (along with several others) on the Goodenough-Harris quality scale (without telling them who drew it) and also allowed them to extend the scale to levels beyond 12, the median rating was 15!
When I compared this to the sex-combined distribution for nine-year-olds in the tests norming sample, Jackson was six standard deviations above the mean!
Of course the norms are based on a scale where the highest score is 12, but so few children would have scored 12+ had the scale extended that my extension is unlikely to invalidate the norms. +6 SD equates to an IQ of 190 (U.S. norms), and perhaps 191 (white norms). No need to adjust for the Flynn effect since Jackson drew the picture in the 1960s (when the test was normed).
Although technically a deviation IQ based on an interval scale, it does not necessarily imply one in a billion level ability, because the scale lacks precision (big jumps in IQ between levels) and scores have not been forced to fit the bell curve, though I suspect drawing ability has a naturally normal distribution among biologically normal (i.e. non-savant) people with no special training.
Estimated Math IQ 109 (average range)
Jackson’s brother Jermaine writes the following:
Michael ended his school years at Cal Prep, where, in art classes he sketched version after version of Charlie Chaplin. One of his classmates was a girl called Lori Shapiro: she quietly observed my brother immersed in his drawings, then scrunching them up and throwing them away. “Michael,” she said one day, “that drawing of Charlie Chaplin? Before you ball it up, can I have it?”
“Sure he said, signing his name in black felt tip and handing it over.
But Michael knew that a favor deserves its return. He hated algebra and he knew Lori was “the brains.” So sitting near her desk, he swapped math books with her when the teacher wasn’t looking and she worked out his x + y = z. I reckon Lori was the chief reason he got an A grade in math!
You are Not Alone by Jermaine Jackson (pg 151)
In his book, Bias in Mental Testing, Arthur Jensen noted that succeeding in academic or college preparatory curriculum through high school almost always requires an IQ of 105 (at least circa 1980, the year book was published). Jackson attended Cal Prep in 1976, and from his brother’s description, it sounds like his IQ was only barely 105 when it comes to math. High enough to to get an A, but largely through cheating and perhaps celebrity favoritism.
However in those day, U.S. blacks scored at least 4 points below their potential on math tests, so Jackson’s math IQ is adjusted to 109.
Estimated Spatial IQ 76 (borderline retarded)
According to blogger Sam L Parity, who claims to have worked at a record studio in 1989:
I guess I should mention at this point that Michael is an awful driver. He hit everyone’s car in the studio lot at least once, including mine. One time, he rear-ended a guy on the 101 freeway, and just left the scene because the guy got out of his car and started screaming at him. Eventually, he gave up and got someone to drive him in to work every day.
Jackson’s poor driving skills were further confirmed by his mother Katherine who wrote in her book My Family, The Jacksons that he did not get his driver’s licence until 23, and that the first time he took family members driving, his terrified sister Latoya tried desperately to help him keep the car on the road. He also feared going on freeways in the beginning and had a habit of “driving right up to the car in front and stopping on a dime”.
Biographer Taraborerelli reports that in 1981, Jackson offered to drive singer Mikey Free home, but Free had to parallel park because Jackson couldn’t do so.
Circa 1983, 91.8% of 20 to 24-year-old Americans had driver’s licences, according to a study by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute . This implies that at most, being able to drive required one to be at the 8.2 percentile of U.S. spatial ability (IQ 79 U.S. norms)(IQ 76 white norms). By all accounts, Jackson only barely made the cut, perhaps even benefiting from star struck examiners when taking his driver’s test.
Arthur Jensen noted that when controlling for the general intelligence factor, blacks tend to score worst on tasks calling for spatial visualization. If you believe IQ is cultural, this could be because of lack of exposure to white middle class toys, but if you believe it’s genetic, it may be that whites evolved more spatial ability to make warm structures, tight clothes, good hunting tools and large fires to survive the ice age.
Further evidence of Jackson’s poor driving skills comes from the documentary Living with Michael Jackson. Martin Bashir observes Jackson playing a video game and says he’d hate to see him drive a car.
During Jackson’s child molestation trial, Macaulay Culkin testified that Jackson was not as good at video games as the children he played with:
He liked playing the arcade games. Though he wasn’t as good as us, usually, but, you know, he still enjoyed doing it, because, you know, it was one of those things.
court transcript, May 11, 2005
On a perhaps related note, Frank Cascio writes:
Michael was, as I saw many times, shockingly bad at sports. I could never understand that. Here was the guy with the most extraordinary sense of rhythm in the world. . .and he couldn’t even dribble a basketball properly. He said he was even worse at baseball.
My Friend Michael by Frank Cascio
Estimated verbal fluency IQ 140 (very brilliant)
When convincing Evan Chandler of the educational value of letting his son Jordy miss school to travel the World with Jackson, Jackson showed unexpected fluency and erudition, according to the boy’s uncle:
“He’ll learn about things he could never learn in school,” the star said. “He’ll learn about music, art, and history. He’ll meet the greatest minds in the world!” Michael went on, espousing like an old wise man about the places he’d been and the people he met. He was talking about unparalleled learning experiences, including exclusive tours of the world’s greatest cities and the opportunity to meet and converse with the most powerful and successful people in their fields. Milken, Chopra, McCartney — the names fell from his lips like rain drops — a downpour from an international “Who’s Who.”
Evan became entranced, not only by the content of the oration, but also by the power of the orator. It was a side of this childlike man he never expected to see. “He could carry on an intelligent discussion on a wide range of subjects, from classics to cartoons.”
All THAT GLITTERS The Crime and the Cover-Up by Raymond Chandler
I know exactly what they mean by “names fell from his lips like rain drops.” In the below the clip where Jackson talks about his musical influences, notice the speed and fluency with which he retrieves names (and his shrewdness in praising Africa, since he was talking to a black show while on trial):
The ability to rapidly retrieve information from a certain category of long-term memory is known as verbal fluency and has long been part of IQ tests. Questions like “name 60 words in 3 minutes” were part of the Binet-Simon intelligence test.
With the exception of Bill Clinton, it’s hard to imagine even any any living U.S. president showing as much verbal fluency as Jackson shows in the above clip. On a scale where U.S. whites average 100 (SD 15), U.S. presidents seem to average 130 (SD 12), so for Jackson to rank above the top 20% of the latter, implies a fluency IQ of 140.
Estimated composite IQ 133 (Brilliant)
Given a verbal knowledge IQ of 98, a Draw-a-person IQ of 191, a math IQ of 109, a spatial IQ of 76 and a verbal fluency IQ of 140, Jackson appeared to have been cognitively averaging at the 123 level (+1.53 SD). However because it’s much harder to average at a high level on many abilities than it is to score high on any single one, people who averaged +1.53 SD on the subtests of the WISC-R IQ test obtained full-scale IQs of 133.
A composite IQ of 133 is almost exactly what you’d statistically expect from the greatest musical and kinesthetic black Genius of Jackson’s generation (see part 3) and shows that high IQ predicts worldly success, even among people with very little formal schooling.