Fun Experiment: Same Odds, Different Lucky

There’s a good measure of odds called the “percentile.”

Let’s say you have an Stanford-Binet IQ of 150. What are the odds of that?

According to, that’s the 99.9110907427 percentile. That means that 1 person in 1,125 will have that IQ or higher.

To put it in more graphic terms, that’s as unusual as a man that is 6′ 6″ tall. (You can look it up: go to WolframAlpha, enter the terms “99.91109 percentile height” and set the age to “30 years.”)

Wait a minute! Six-foot-six?

  • If you were 6′ 6″, would you fit in? Literally? Airplane seats, back seats of cars, stadium seats?
  • Could you walk into WalMart and buy clothes that fit?
  • Would you pass unnoticed anywhere in person? You’re shy? Tough!
  • Would people expect different things from you?
  • Would they expect you to somehow fit yourself in?

So, if you have an IQ of 150, you’re just as exceptional as a man that’s 6′ 6″, but it’s invisible! (Unless you also happen to be 6′ 6″, but what are the odds?) The thing that struck me is how differently these “rare birds” are treated.

LeBron James, who is a basketball genius, at least, was identified and set apart when he was 11 years old. By the time he started in the NBA, he’d had 8 years of intensive basketball education. He always had high potential, but without that 8 years of intensive coaching, he couldn’t have achieved such high performance.

LeBron James 2

(Yes, I know he’s 6′ 8″, but the principle is the same.)

Compare a teacher with a 150 IQ kid (IQ) and a coach with a kid that’s going to be 6′ 6″ (TALL):

 (IQ) If the teacher says, “He’s smart, he’ll be fine. I need to concentrate on the kids that can’t pass proficiency,” people might cluck their tongues.

(TALL) If the coach says, “He’s tall, he’ll be fine. I need to concentrate on kids that are going to top out at 5′ 10″,” he’ll be spending more time with his family. Probably the next morning, in fact.

(IQ) If the teacher feels threatened because a kid is smarter than he is, people will call him democratic.

(TALL) If the coach feels threatened because a kid is taller than he is, people will call him to fix their garage doors.

(IQ) If the teacher consistently prefers average work to superior work, he’s working on the kids’ social skills.

(TALL) If the coach consistently plays his average players and benches the tall kid, he’s working on getting his food stamps.

(IQ) “We have a new gifted coordinator. One of the new teachers shows a real talent for working with smaller groups,” i.e., is hopeless in a classroom.

(TALL) “We have a new coach. We hired him away from last year’s city championship-winning school! They’re willing to drop all charges.”

How do they spend their free time?

(IQ) If the 150 IQ kid spends his summers at a computer camp, you’re pushing him.

(TALL) If the 6′ 6″ kid doesn’t spend his summers at basketball camps, you’re holding him back. 

Emotional development?

(IQ) If the 150 IQ kid knows he’s smarter than everyone around him, he has an emotional problem.

(IQ) If the 6′ 6″ kid knows he’s taller than everyone around him, he has a mirror.

Now it’s your turn: who are they talking about here?

(?) “Geek.”

(?) “Standout.”

Access to tools?

(?) “We have a resource room they can use during study hall. I think it has a computer.”

(?) “Outside of gym class? Well, our standouts have use of the gym through the summer, and lighted courts outdoors, and the Booster Club is equipping a weight room, and the coaches have a couple of training camps during the summer. The coaches each make an additional $5000/year.”

(?) “It looks like you can get a $1000/yr from the alumni association, and $500/yr from the Left-handed Plumbers Memorial fund.”

(?) “Full ride at any of three competing state schools. Just don’t get hurt next year when you’re a senior, and the rest will probably make offers, too.”

So, as Wired Magazine puts it:

Bill James, the pioneer of Moneyball-style statistical baseball analysis, points out that modern America is already very good at generating geniuses. The problem is that the geniuses we’ve created are athletes. As James says, this is largely because we treat athletes differently.

  • We encourage them when they’re young, chauffeuring our kids to practice and tournaments.
  • We also have mechanisms for cultivating athletic talent at every step in the process, from Little League to the Majors.
  • Lastly, professional teams are willing to take risks, betting big bucks on draft picks who never pan out.

Because of these successful meta-ideas, even a small city like Topeka, Kansas—roughly the same size as Elizabethan London, James points out—can produce an athletic genius every few years.

And, finally, there’s this from Forbes Magazine:

University of Florida Eliminates Computer Science Department, Increases Athletic Budgets. Hmm.

Go Gators! Go get in line for food stamps!


This entry was posted in Commentary, Information. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s