I enjoyed this clip from a 1992 episode of Oprah’s syndicated talk show, where she returns to Nashville Tennessee to visit her father, Vernon Winfrey, as well as the men who gave her her first jobs in radio and TV.
No one knows for sure if this really is Oprah’s biological dad; he was just one of many men her mother had been with before getting pregnant. One family member suspects he’s not her real dad because Oprah was born with a “photographic memory”; something Vernon lacks.
What does any of this have to do with Bill Gates? My subjective impression is that Gates is relatively weak at EF. Perhaps not compared to the average person, but certainly compared to his super IQ matched peers. In support of this impression are three (admittedly weak) pieces of evidence.
1) He sucked at petals around the rose
If you’ve never heard of this game please check it out and record how many dice rolls it takes you to get six consecutive correct scores.
This game strikes me as very similar to the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (a common measure of EF) in that it requires you to infer a rule based on repeated feedback. I infered the rule simply from the name of the game even before any feedback.
In Gates’s defense, he thought the game was called “pedal around the roses”, so this may explain his poor score.
2) He can’t control his hands
Anyone who has watched Gates in interviews knows how erratically his hands move around when he talks. I’m no neurologist, but this strikes me as an inability to inhibit certain responses, a lack of cognitive control or self-monitoring, and poor communication between the left and right brain. I tend to overuse my hands when I talk too so I see a bit of myself in Gates but I was insecure enough about it to stop.
I also have a problem where whenever I wave to someone, I also say “hi” even though they’re often too far away to hear me. I think this relates to the huge gap between my verbal (left-brain) and performance (right-brain) IQs. In extreme cases this can lead to unbuttoning your shirt with your left hand while simultaneously buttoning it up with your right-hand, thus never getting undressed.
3) He’s not that articulate
Despite the fact that Bill Gates’s verbal SAT score equates to a spectacular verbal IQ of 157, he’s not an especially impressive impromptu speaker. As commenter ” caffeine withdrawals” noted, he’s clearly above average, but not much more than that.
A professor of linguistics informed me that based on factor analysis, linguistic ability is actually three different abilities: vocabulary, working memory, and executive functioning. We know from Gates’s sky high verbal and math SAT scores that he’s likely extremely high in the first two, so only the third factor could be dragging down his speaking skills.
How does EF affect speaking skills? EF is all about planning and if you can’t plan your sentences and paragraphs in real lime, they wont be especially succinct. EF also relates to fluency because a certain amount of flexibility is needed to find the right word to express a given thought. People who perseverate too much on one word, or one type of word, will not be smooth talkers.
Commenter illuminaticatblog was kind enough to share with us his intelligence test scores at age 12 and at age 26. Both times he took the Wechsler intelligence scales: WISC-III at age 12; WAIS-IV at age 26.
Below is a chart comparing results at both ages. I wanted to compare apples to apples so I only included the subtests that were administered on both occasions, and used only these to calculate his verbal, performance, and full-scale IQs respectively (prorating when required). I did not adjust for the Flynn effect so scores at both ages are likely slightly inflated, but to similar degrees.
Wechsler IQ equivalent at age 12
Wechsler IQ equivalent at age 26
125 (very bright)
Information (general knowledge)
140 (very brilliant)
Similarities (verbal abstract reasoning)
120 (very bright)
Arithmetic (mental math)
125 (very bright)
Vocabulary (word knowledge)
125 (very bright)
120 (very bright)
Comprehension (common sense & social judgement)
NON-VERBAL VISUAL-MOTOR ABILITIES
Picture Completion (visual alertness)
125 (very bright)
Block Design (visual organization)
125 (very bright)
Digit Symbol (Rapid hand-eye coordination)
OVERALL GLOBAL INTELLECTUAL ABILITY
The first thing we notice is how remarkably consistent the overall IQ is from age 12 to 26, declining by only 2 points over those 14 years, despite the incredible amount of drama the he endured over that time.
This remarkable consistency is not surprising, as the long-term stability (over 13+ years) of Wechsler IQ is in the 0.73 to 0.9 range.
Also consistent is his verbal IQ > Performance IQ gap, though this nearly triples from 12 points at age 12 to 34 points at age 26.
At the subtest level, we see a lot less consistency than we observe with the overall score. This is not surprising because individual subtests are a lot less reliable than a composite score that combines eight different subtests (allowing error in both directions to cancel out).
Given the unreliability of individual subtests and the number of subtests, it’s statistically expected to see a few big changes and one shouldn’t over-interpret this. However the 45 point drop on Picture Completion is concerning.
Picture Completion tests one of the most important parts of intelligence because visual awareness to our environment is crucial to our ability to adapt. A close friend of mine scored low on this particular subtest despite being otherwise quite bright and I was shocked when he had driven himself to my remote winter cottage on a deflated tire.
“Did you not notice one side of the car is way lower than the other?” I asked.
No he had not. He’s extremely lucky it didn’t go flat as he was driving up there, otherwise he would have found himself stranded on an unpaved deserted forest road with no cell phone reception in the pitch blackness of a cold Canadian night.
*Because he took the WAIS-IV as an adult, which does not allow for verbal or performance IQs, I had to convert using the WAIS-III.
I enjoyed the below interview with Bill Gates by NY Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin.
The interview begins with Sorkin praising Gates as “the most consequential individual of our generation”. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it was refreshing to see Gates fully accepting praise of that magnitude without even feigning humility.
Aside from the erratic hand gestures and awkward foot tapping (which may be involuntary ticks), Gates showed good social IQ. He got laughs from the audience when he said people at bars feel comfortable talking to him so “I try to stay away”. When mocking other billionaires’ obsession with space travel, Gates admitted he’s read a lot of sci fi, but “not as much as them”: Audience laughter.
It was also interesting the way a super high IQ billionaire like Gates looks down on investment billionaires for engaging in zero sum parasitic behavior. Just as in every day life, criminals tend to be less intelligent than productive citizens, it could be that even among the smartest billionaires, (i.e. those that made their wealth in math related fields), the most productive math billionaires are smarter than the psychopathic math billionaires.
Gates’s thinly veiled criticism of Elizabeth Warrens wealth tax was also interesting. Warren wants people to pay 2% a year on every dollar of net worth over $50 million and 6% a year on every dollar over $1 billion. According to Warren’s wealth tax calculator, Gates would have to pay $6.4 billion a year on his $107.4 billion fortune (as of today). That really adds up over the decades and if she wins the nomination, a lot of rich folks will go absolutely ballistic.
Defenders of the wealth tax insist the rich would still get richer because simply putting all your money in the S&P 500 increases wealth by 9.8% a year on average, but if it were that simple, why do so many rich people fall off the Forbes 400 every year? Indeed of the 400 richest Americans in 1982, only two still rank among the 400 richest today.
The fact is few billionaires are liquid enough to put most of their fortune in the S&P 500. Their fortunes are typically stocks in the companies they built and selling them would cause them to lose value.
It seems unfair to tax people just because they are rich. If there must be a wealth tax, Warren should tax people with a high ratio of wealth to lifetime taxes already paid. So someone who has only paid $100 k in cumulative taxes, yet has a net worth of $1 million should perhaps be forced to pay a wealth tax, but someone worth $1 billion who has already paid $500 million in taxes, should not.
Better yet, skip the wealth tax and simply increase the estate tax and capital gains taxes as Gates suggests.
For years this blog has has discussed Gates’s spectacular verbal and math IQ. But what about other parts of his intelligence?
Evidence of Gate’s social IQ can be gleaned from his performance at poker (a game involving bluffing and reading people). The late Paul Allen writes:
I spent more time with Bill at Currier House before his nightly Poker games with the local cardsharps. He was getting some costly lessons in bluffing; he’d win three hundred dollars one night and lose six hundred the next. As Bill dropped thousands that fall, he kept telling me, “I’m getting better”. I knew what he was thinking: I’m smarter than those guys.
From pages 71-72 of Idea Man by Paul Allen
Were the other players letting Gates win the first night so he would bet double the next night, or was he legitimately winning only half as often as he lost? Let’s assume the latter, in which case was likely a worse poker player than 2/3rds of the Harvard poker club.
On an abbreviated version of the WAIS-R, a sample of 86 Harvard students averaged IQ 128. Commenters Swank and pumpkinhead have argued this is an underestimate because the sample may not have been representative. On the other hand the WAIS-R norms were 25 years old, so the Flynn effect predicts IQ 128 would have been an overestimate. Error in both directions likely cancels each-other out, making 128 perhaps a plausible estimate.
Now if we assume Poker skill (like other measures of Theory of Mind) only correlates 0.43 with conventional measures of IQ, the Harvard poker club like averaged 28(0.43) + 100 = 112 in Poker IQ, and if Gates was worse than 2/3rds of them, his “Poker IQ” was likely only 107 (assuming similar practice, or assuming all had enough practice to reach diminishing returns).
So now we have two very rough estimates of Gates’s social IQ. “Fashion IQ” was 84 and “poker IQ” was 107. Both measures are of highly questionable validity, so unlikely correlate more than 0.5, thus a composite measure of his social IQ might be very crudely estimated at 95 which is extremely low compared to his his verbal and math IQ, but only slightly below the U.S. mean of 100.
Commenter Philosopher often mocks Bill Gates and other math Geniuses for lacking social IQ, recently stating:
Whenever I see gates in that pink sweater for big interviews i laugh as well. It reminds me of Terry Tao wearing that jumper on Colbert’s show. These people are missing a part of their brain.
This got me thinking: Is our choice of clothing a measure of intelligence? At first glance it sounds silly, but the granddaddy of IQ testing himself, Alfred Binet, included aesthetic judgment on his test, famously asking children to pick the prettiest face from each of three pairs.
This requires the same aesthetic judgement as picking what clothes look best on you. An important part of social cognition.
In 2015 Gates ranked as the 13th worst dressed billionaire on the planet. Of the 562 U.S. billionaires, Gates was the 9th worst dressed. This implies he’s in the bottom 1.6% of billionaire fashion, or 2.13 standard deviations below the billionaire mean.
How aesthetically intelligent is the average billionaire. When it comes to conventional IQ, self-made billionaires recently averaged IQ 133 (U.S. norms), though this number continues to fall as billionaires become more common. Of course only 2/3rds of U.S. billionaires are self-made. Billionaires who inherited their wealth likely average an IQ of 115, given the 0.45 IQ correlation an individual has with his spouse or child. Thus all U.S. billionaires combined likely average IQ 127. Meanwhile, aesthetic judgement has a g loading of 0.6 (see table 6.14) so we might expect them to average 0.6(27) + 100 = 116 in fashion sense.
Thus Gates being 2.13 SD below the average billionaire fashion implies an aesthetic IQ of:
116 – 2.13(15) = 84.
Of course one shouldn’t take these numbers too serious. Gates’s poor dressing might simply reflect a lack of social motivation or a mind with more important things to consider. But if the number is corroborated by other evidence of social obtuseness (i.e. Gates’s distracting hand gestures), it may serve as important proxy.
By contrast in 2005, Oprah was ranked as the third best dressed billionaire on the planet, behind only fashion moguls Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren. She was the second best dressed in America.
In 2005 there were 341 billionaires in America so Oprah’s second place fashion put her near the top 0.5%, or 2.53 SD above the billionaire mean. This implies an aesthetic IQ of:
116 + 2.53(15) = 153.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing Oprah’s overall IQ is higher than Gates’s. Overall Oprah is probably around 140 while Gates could be anywhere from 150 to 170.
But when it comes to abilities related to social IQ, Oprah’s off the charts, as even conservatives admit:
Below is a Theory of Mind test used in actual autism research. The test consists of six scenarios, each of which is followed by a question or two. Please watch the video only once and as you do, write down the answer to the questions as quickly as you can. Post your answers in the comment section. I will not publish your answers to avoid compromising the test, but if you post a SEPARATE comment asking how you did, I will publish that, and respond to it with your score.
Each of the six items is scored on a scale of 2, 1 or 0, for a maximum score of 12.
A published study of 163 autistic adults who averaged normal Wechsler IQs found they averaged 9.1 on this test (SD = 2.4) while the non-autistic control group (n = 80) averaged 10.4 (SD = 1.5). This shows that when you control for IQ, people diagnosed with autism have an average social IQ of 87 and that a score of 9.1 on this test, equates to a social IQ of 100.
As I was driving home from work tonight I managed to listen to a really great episode of Ideas on CBC radio. The show talked about how a study claiming psychic powers were real managed to get published in a reputable psychology journal because the results were statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.
This led to a crisis in the field and the realization that we can’t be 95% confident in the 95% confidence level because scientists cherry pick which way they’re going to analyze the data, so that 95% is a biased sample of what they’re trying to measure (a phenomenon known as p-hacking). Kind of reminds me of how people only report their highest ever score when telling their IQ.
It turns out that only about one third to one half of all psychological claims proven at the 95% confidence level can be replicated by independent researchers. In other words, there’s regression to the mean.
And it’s not just psychology but almost the entire field of science is afflicted by this replication crisis.
The following video is only 3 seconds long but utterly terrifying. It contains no violence, no dialogue, no gore and no blood. Simply a middle aged suburban man opening a refrigerator and smiling.
What’s so scary about that you might ask? Well imagine if that were your father, or your husband, or your son…
You’re sleeping underneath your covers in the middle of the night and he decides to go down to the kitchen to make a sandwich. But upon opening the fridge he suddenly smiles. Something in his declining middle aged brain has snapped. Is it early onset Alzheimer’s? A mid-life crisis? Demonic possession? Whatever it is, you’re no longer safe in that house.
This clip is from a new TV series called Evil. The show itself is not worth watching, but that commercial made my skin crawl. If I had seen it as a child I would not have been able to sleep for weeks.
I’ve been a horror fans since childhood and despite my love for the genre, I never found them all that scary. Often what scared me the most were the things that weren’t meant to be scary, like a commercial they used to run about Parkinson’s disease in which a middle aged suburban man with Parkinson’s could complete a jig-saw puzzle because his hand kept shaking until finally his young son holds his hand down so it can fit the pieces together. It was a metaphor for hope, but in my pre-school mind it was horrific.
Every night I would have vivid images of the parkison man wheeling himself out of my bedroom closet and shaking, shaking, shaking as he wheeled his way closer to me.
Perhaps my most traumatic experience came during a trip to Alberta to visit relatives. That day my father and/or my uncle mysteriously had his/their camera(s) stolen from the front of my uncle’s house in broad daylight. Well that’s odd, they though. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in suburbia.
That night I was sleeping in an unfamiliar room and could have sworn I saw a woman standing in the closet. An older woman with red hair, who looked a lot like this.
She was smiling, as if to say “it was me, silly! I stole the camera(s)”.
I suddenly started screaming waking up the entire house, who raced to the room to see what the matter was.
“You just had a bad dream,” they told me.
But it seemed so real, and I spent a big chunk of my childhood being terrified of my bedroom closet.