From Wikipedia, the
Marilyn vos Savant (born
1946) is an
playwright who rose to fame through her listing in the
Guinness Book of World Records under "Highest
IQ". Since 1986 she has written Ask Marilyn, a Sunday column
Parade magazine in which she solves puzzles and answers
questions from readers on a variety of subjects.
Born Marilyn Mach in
St. Louis, Missouri, to Mary vos Savant and Joseph Mach. Vos
Savant believes that both men and women should keep their
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
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.
Vos Savant's 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 her books.
Vos Savant lives in
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
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 the
National Women's History Museum, which in 1998 gave her a
"Women Making History" Award, citing "her contribution to
changing stereotypes about women".
She was named by
Toastmasters International as one of the "Five Outstanding
Speakers of 1999," and in 2003 received an
Doctor of Letters from
The College of New Jersey.
Intelligence quotient score
It is generally acknowledged
vos Savant has an extremely high
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 general
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,
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 age 17-10+.
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 M".
Although test designer
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.
The second test reported by
Guinness is the Mega Test, designed by
Ronald K. Hoeflin, administered to vos Savant in the
mid-1980s as an adult. The Mega Test yields
deviation IQ values obtained by multiplying the subjects
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 million.
Assertions 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
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.
Although vos 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 skepticism.
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 useless."
Unfavorable to 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 misunderstanding
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 in
hyperbolic (Lobachevskian) geometry," and because
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."
Mathematicians 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 out that
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
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.
Perhaps the most well known
event involving vos Savant began with a question in her
"Suppose 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. Whitaker,
This question, named "the
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
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 their minds.
Like the Monty Hall problem,
"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:
A 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,
When vos 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
The problem 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?
Vos Savant 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 two boys.
- 1985 - Omni I.Q. Quiz Contest
- 1990 - Brain Building: Exercising Yourself Smarter
(co-written with Leonore Fleischer)
- 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
- 1994 - More Marilyn: Some Like It Bright!
- 1994 - "I've Forgotten Everything I Learned in
School!": A Refresher Course to Help You Reclaim Your
- 1996 - Of Course I'm for Monogamy: I'm Also for
Everlasting Peace and an End to Taxes
- 1996 - The Power of Logical Thinking: Easy Lessons in
the Art of Reasoning…and Hard Facts about Its Absence in Our
- 2000 - The Art of Spelling: The Madness and the
- 2002 - 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 2007). "Ask
c Julie 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
Annual "Women Making History" Awards".
Press release. Retrieved on 2008-02-25.
^ Thompson, D. (5 July 1986). "Marilyn's Most Vital
Statistic", The Courier-Mail.
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.
^ 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). "Ask
Marilyn: Are Men Smarter Than Women?", Parade.
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.
Nigel; Granville, Andrew (May 1995). "Review
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", marilynvossavant.com.
Retrieved on 2008-06-02.
^ Marilyn vos Savant (1992). "Ask Marilyn", Parade.
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,
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