From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
1946) is an
playwright who rose to fame through her
listing in the
Guinness Book of World Records under
IQ". Since 1986 she has written Ask Marilyn,
a Sunday column in
Parade magazine in which she solves puzzles
and answers questions from readers on a variety
St. Louis, Missouri, to Mary vos Savant and
Joseph Mach. Vos Savant believes that both men
and women should keep their premarital
surnames for life, with sons taking their
father's surname and daughters their mother's.
The word "savant",
meaning a person of learning, appears twice in
her family: her maternal grandmother's
maiden name was Savant, while her maternal
grandfather's surname was vos Savant. She is of
and is a descendant of
Washington University in St. Louis, but
dropped out to help with a family
investment business, seeking financial
freedom to pursue a career in writing.
listing in the 1986 Guinness Book of World
Records brought her widespread media attention.
A profile in Parade accompanied by a selection
of questions and her answers to them proved so
popular that the magazine gave her a weekly
column, "Ask Marilyn". In it, she solves puzzles
of logic and mathematics and answers questions
about philosophy, physics, politics, education,
and human nature, as well as responding to more
traditional requests for personal advice. "Ask
Marilyn" has provided the basis for several of
New York City with her husband
Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the
Jarvik artificial heart, whom she married in
August 1987. They have two children. She is
Chief Financial Officer of Jarvik Heart,
Inc., and is involved in
cardiovascular disease research and
prevention. She has served on the
Board of Directors of the
National Council on Economic Education and
on the advisory boards of the
National Association for Gifted Children and
National Women's History Museum, which in
1998 gave her a "Women Making History" Award,
citing "her contribution to changing stereotypes
She was named by
Toastmasters International as one of the
"Five Outstanding Speakers of 1999," and in 2003
Doctor of Letters from
The College of New Jersey.
generally acknowledged vos Savant has an
intelligence quotient (IQ) score, and she
has held memberships with the
Mensa International and the
But there is much confusion over the actual
value, with data and calculations variously
yielding 167+, 186, 218, 228, and 230. Extremely
high IQ measurement is an inexact science: high
IQs are very difficult to quantify because so
few people have IQs at that level, giving rise
to the problems associated with small
ceiling bumping caused by tests not designed
to measure such high IQs, and
fat tailing which gives the impression more
high IQs exist than predicted by a
normal distribution. Moreover, there are
disagreements and controversies over the
validity of IQ scoring at any level.
Vos Savant was
listed in each edition of the Guinness Book of
World Records from 1986 to 1989 as having the
"Highest IQ." Because subsequent editions have
omitted the category, her column now reports her
listing in "Guinness Hall of Fame." Guinness
cites Vos Savant's performance on two
intelligence tests: the
Stanford-Binet and the
Mega Test. She was administered the 1937
Stanford-Binet, Second Edition test ten,
ratio IQ scores by dividing the subject's
mental age as assessed by the test by
chronological age, then multiplying the
quotient by 100. Vos Savant says her first
test was in September 1956, and measured her
ceiling mental age at 22 years and 10 months
(22-10+), yielding an IQ of 228. This is the
score listed by Guinness and in her books'
"about the author" sections, and it is the one
she gives in interviews. Sometimes, a
rounded value of 230 appears due to the
correct use of
The 167+ IQ
score is derived from school records indicating
vos Savant took the Stanford-Binet in March
1957, at 10 years and 8 months, with a mental
However, it is unclear how the recorded
chronological age was derived as March is six or
seven months from her August birthday. It is
also unclear how this record relates to the
accounts reported in Guinness and by vos Savant.
It is possible she was administered the test
twice, as there were two forms of the
Stanford-Binet at the time, "Form L" and "Form
Ronald K. Hoeflin calculated her IQ at 218,
this value was informally arrived at by using
10-6+ for chronological age, and 22-11+ for
mental age, and thus seemingly has no obvious
rationale. The Second Edition Stanford-Binet
ceiling was 22 years and 10 months, not 11
months; and a 10 years and 6 months
chronological age corresponds to neither the age
in accounts by vos Savant's nor the school
records cited by Baumgold.
test reported by Guinness is the Mega Test,
Ronald K. Hoeflin, administered to vos
Savant in the mid-1980s as an adult. The Mega
deviation IQ values obtained by multiplying
the subjects normalized
z-score, or the rarity of the
raw test score, by a constant
standard deviation, and adding the
product to 100. Vos Savant's raw score was
46 out of a possible 48, with 5.4 z-score, and
standard deviation of 16, arriving at a 186 IQ
in the 99.999997
percentile, with a rarity of 1 in 30
that vos Savant's IQ has dropped from 228 as a
child to 186 as an adult are incorrect as the
two numbers represent different types of IQ.
Because upper half of the population, ratio IQs
seem to follow a
log-normal distribution, with a standard
deviation of 0.15 for the
natural logarithm of the ratio of mental age
to chronological age, vos Savant's
Stanford-Binet ratio IQ of 228 corresponds to a
deviation IQ of 188, and her Mega Test deviation
IQ of 186 corresponds to a ratio IQ of 224.
Savant's IQ scores are among the highest
recorded, the more extravagant claims, stating
that she is the smartest person in the world
and/or was a
child prodigy, should be received with
Vos Savant herself values IQ tests as
measurements of a variety of mental abilities,
and believes intelligence itself involves so
many factors that "attempts to measure it are
Fermat's last theorem
vos Savant was the outcome of the controversy
following the publication of her book The
World's Most Famous Math Problem in October
1993, a few months after the announcement by
Andrew Wiles that he had proved
Fermat's Last Theorem.
The book, which surveys the history of the
theorem, drew criticism for its discontent with
Wiles's proof; vos Savant was accused of
proof by contradiction, and
Especially contested was her view that Wiles's
proof should be rejected for its use of
non-Euclidean geometry. Specifically, she
argued that because "the chain of proof is based
hyperbolic (Lobachevskian) geometry," and
squaring the circle is considered a "famous
impossibility" despite being possible in
hyperbolic geometry, then "if we reject a
hyperbolic method of squaring the circle, we
should also reject a hyperbolic proof of
Fermat's last theorem."
pointed to differences between the two cases,
distinguishing the use of hyperbolic geometry as
a tool for proving Fermat's last theorem, from
its use as a setting for squaring the circle:
squaring the circle in hyperbolic geometry is a
different problem from that of squaring it in
Euclidean geometry. She was also criticized for
rejecting hyperbolic geometry as a satisfactory
basis for Wiles's proof, with critics pointing
axiomatic set theory (rather than Euclidean
geometry) is now the accepted foundation of
mathematical proofs and that set theory is
sufficiently robust to encompass both Euclidean
and non-Euclidean geometry.
In a July 1995
addendum to the book, vos Savant retracts the
argument, writing that she had viewed the
theorem as "an intellectual challenge—'to find a
proof with Fermat's tools,'" but that she is now
willing to agree that there are no restrictions
on what tools may be used.
The Monty Hall problem
most well known event involving vos Savant began
with a question in her
you're on a game show, and you're given the
choice of three doors. Behind one door is a
car, the others, goats. You pick a door, say
#1, and the host, who knows what's behind
the doors, opens another door, say #3, which
has a goat. He says to you: 'Do you want to
pick door #2?' Is it to your advantage to
switch your choice of doors?" —Craig F.
Monty Hall problem" because of its
similarity to scenarios on game show
Let's Make a Deal, existed long before being
posed to vos Savant, but was brought to
nationwide attention by her column. Vos Savant
answered arguing that the selection should be
switched to door #2 because it has a 2/3 chance
of success, while door #1 has just 1/3. This
response provoked letters of thousands of
readers, nearly all arguing doors #1 and #2 each
have an equal chance of success. A follow-up
column reaffirming her position served only to
intensify the debate and soon became a feature
article on the front page of
The New York Times. Among the ranks of
dissenting arguments were hundreds of academics
and mathematicians excoriating her for
Under the most
common interpretation of the problem where the
host opens a losing door and offers a switch,
vos Savant's answer is correct because her
interpretation assumes the host will always
avoid the door with the prize. However, having
the host opening a door at random, or offering a
switch only if the initial choice is correct, is
a completely different problem, and is not the
question for which she provided a solution.
Marilyn addressed these issues by writing the
following in Parade Magazine, "...the original
answer defines certain conditions, the most
significant of which is that the host always
opens a losing door on purpose. Anything else is
a different question."
 In Vos Savant's second followup,
she went further into an explanation of her
assumptions and reasoning, and called on school
teachers to present the problem to each of their
classrooms. In her final column on the problem,
she announced the results of the more than a
thousand school experiments. Nearly 100% of the
results concluded that it pays to switch. Of the
readers who wrote computer simulations of the
problem, about 97% reached the same conclusion.
A majority of respondents now agree with her
original solution, with half of the published
letters declaring the letter writers had changed
"Two boys" problem
Like the Monty
Hall problem, the
"two boys" or "second-sibling" problem
predates Ask Marilyn, but generated controversy
in the column,
first appearing there in 1991-92 in the context
of baby beagles:
shopkeeper says she has two new baby beagles
to show you, but she doesn't know whether
they're male, female, or a pair. You tell
her that you want only a male, and she
telephones the fellow who's giving them a
bath. "Is at least one a male?" she asks
him. "Yes!" she informs you with a smile.
What is the probability that the other one
is a male?
—Stephen I. Geller,
Savant replied "One out of three" readers
Boy or Girl paradox for solution details. wrote to argue that the
odds were fifty-fifty. In a follow-up, she
defended her answer, observing that "If we could
shake a pair of puppies out of a cup the way we
do dice, there are four ways they could land",
in three of which at least one is male, but in
only one of which both are male. See
re-emerged in 1996-97 with two cases juxtaposed:
Say that a
woman and a man (who are unrelated) each has
two children. We know that at least one of
the woman's children is a boy and that the
man's oldest child is a boy. Can you explain
why the chances that the woman has two boys
do not equal the chances that the man has
two boys? My algebra teacher insists that
the probability is greater that the man has
two boys, but I think the chances may be the
same. What do you think?
agreed with the algebra teacher, writing that
the chances are only 1 out of 3 that the woman
has two boys, but 1 out of 2 that the man has
two boys. Readers argued for 1 out of 2 in both
cases, prompting multiple follow-ups. Finally
vos Savant started a survey, calling on women
readers with exactly two children and at least
one boy to tell her the sex of both children.
With almost eighteen thousand responses, the
results showed 35.9% (a little over 1 in 3) with
1985 - Omni I.Q. Quiz Contest
1990 - Brain Building: Exercising
Yourself Smarter (co-written with Leonore
1992 - Ask Marilyn: Answers to America's
Most Frequently Asked Questions
1993 - The World's Most Famous Math
Problem: The Proof of Fermat's Last Theorem
and Other Mathematical Mysteries
1994 - More Marilyn: Some Like It Bright!
1994 - "I've Forgotten Everything I
Learned in School!": A Refresher Course to
Help You Reclaim Your Education
1996 - Of Course I'm for Monogamy: I'm
Also for Everlasting Peace and an End to
1996 - The Power of Logical Thinking:
Easy Lessons in the Art of Reasoning…and
Hard Facts about Its Absence in Our Lives
2000 - The Art of Spelling: The Madness
and the Method
Growing Up: A Classic American Childhood
In addition to
her published works, Marilyn has written a
collection of humorous short stories called
Short Shorts, a stage play called It Was Poppa's
Will, and two novels: a satire of a dozen
classical civilizations in history called The
Re-Creation, and a futuristic political fantasy,
as yet untitled.
^ Marilyn vos Savant (25 November
Baumgold (6 February 1989). "In the
Kingdom of the Brain", New York.
^ Michael Vitez (12 October 1988).
"Two of a Kind", The Chicago Tribune.
^ National Women's History Museum
(28 September 1998). "First
Annual "Women Making History" Awards".
Press release. Retrieved on
^ Thompson, D. (5 July 1986).
"Marilyn's Most Vital Statistic", The
Retrieved on 2008-02-25.
Terman, Lewis M.; Merrill, Maud A.
(1937). Measuring Intelligence. Boston;
New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.
^ Hoeflin, Ronald K. (1989). "The
Sixth Norming of the Mega Test".
Darryl Miyaguchi. Retrieved on
^ Scoville, John (28 June 1999). "Statistical
Distribution of Childhood IQ Scores".
University of Kentucky. Archived from
the original on
^ Schmich, Mary T (29 September
1985). "Meet the World's Smartest
Person", Chicago Tribune.
Retrieved on 2008-02-25.
^ Marilyn vos Savant (17 July 2005).
Marilyn: Are Men Smarter Than Women?",
Retrieved on 2008-02-25.
^ Fermat's Last Theorem and Wiles's
proof were also discussed in vos
Savant's Parade column of November 21,
1993, which introduced the book.
Boston, Nigel; Granville, Andrew (May
of The World's Most Famous Math Problem"
(.PDF). American Mathematical Monthly
102 (5): 470–473.
Retrieved on 2008-02-25.
^ Tierney, John (21 July 1991). "Behind
Monty Hall's Doors: Puzzle, Debate and
Answer?", The New York Times.
Retrieved on 2008-08-07.
^ "Game Show Problem",
Retrieved on 2008-06-02.
^ Marilyn vos Savant (1992). "Ask
Retrieved on 2008-02-25.
^ The problem appeared in Ask
Marilyn on October 13, 1991 with a
follow-up on January 5, 1992 (initially
involving two baby beagles instead of
two children), and then on May 26, 1996
with follow-ups on December 1, 1996,
March 30, 1997, July 27, 1997, and
October 19, 1997.
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