The fully vaccinated Bill Maher (who recently made news by getting covid) has always struck me as one of the most intelligent people in public life. It’s long been known that the higher one’s IQ, the less glucose their brain metabolizes during cognitive activity because they take the more efficient path, and Maher seems to really personify that. I love the effortless way he holds court on his weekly HBO show Real Time and before that Politically Incorrect. He’s so smooth the way he transitions from aggressively debating, to making a witty comeback to offering some deserved praise to elegantly laughing at someone else’s joke. He never belabours a point and always knows when to graciously move on with a chuckle. But he also has this arrogant way of looking at guests that just makes them seem stupid (see above photo). He’s also incredibly funny and it’s because he so good at spotting ironies that most of us miss.
And as an extremely wealthy, Ivy League educated, socially liberal, subversive, half Jewish atheist comic talk show host, he belongs to many high IQ demographics.
So what it is his IQ?
One clue is that in a recent interview, he said he graduated 7th out of 400 students in his high school so one in 57 level. But also consider that 10% of his generation dropped out of high school and in his day, these tend to be the worst students, so really he was one in 63.
Of course we don’t know how hard the school was, at least not in 1974 when Maher graduated. But in 2006 it ranked 8th out of 316 public schools (one in 40 level) in New Jersey based on mathematic and literacy proficiency.
If we multiply Maher’s individual ranking (one in 63) by the ranking of the school (one in 40), we get top one in 2,520 level.
Of course there’s more than just IQ involved in school grades and Maher described himself in the interview as a diligent student who showed up for class.
Before 1983, IQ predicted roughly half the variance in school grades (adjusted for range restriction), leaving traits like conscientiousness to explain the rest. Since Maher described himself as “diligent”, and not “very diligent” student, my guess is he was +1 SD in conscientious, not +2 SD. +1 SD implies top one in 6 level.
If prior to 1983, grades could be roughly modeled as the product of diligence and IQ, (Diligence * IQ = Grades), then IQ = Grades/Diligence.
Thus, the rarity of Bill Maher’s IQ = (1/2520)/(1/6) = 1/420
Top one in 420 level equates to an IQ of 142 (U.S. norms) or 141 (white norms) which sounds about right.