How do you Raise a Genius?


Recommended, of course.

Special Announcement: I have launched a new blog, “Unpaused Books“, for my Homeschooling Corner posts and reviews of children’s literature. (The title is a pun.) I try to keep the posts entertaining, in my usual style.

Back to genius:

“My kid is a genius.”

It feels rather like bragging, doesn’t it? So distasteful. No one likes a braggart. Ultimately, though, someone has to be a genius–or brilliant, gifted, talented–it’s a statistical inevitability.

So let’s compromise. Your kid’s the genius; I’m just a very proud parent with a blog.

So how do you raise a genius? Can you make a kid a genius?

Unfortunately, kids don’t come with instructions. As far as anyone can tell, there’s no reliable way to transform an average person into a genius (the much bally-hooed “growth mindset” might be useful for getting a kid to concentrate for a few minutes, but it has no long-term effects:

A growing number of recent studies are casting doubt on the efficacy of mindset interventions at scale. A large-scale study of 36 schools in the UK, in which either pupils or teachers were given training, found that the impact on pupils directly receiving the intervention did not have statistical significance, and that the pupils whose teachers were trained made no gains at all. Another study featuring a large sample of university applicants in the Czech Republic used a scholastic aptitude test to explore the relationship between mindset and achievement. They found a slightly negative correlation, with researchers claiming that ‘the results show that the strength of the association between academic achievement and mindset might be weaker than previously thought’. A 2012 review for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the UK of attitudes to education and participation found ‘no clear evidence of association or sequence between pupils’ attitudes in general and educational outcomes, although there were several studies attempting to provide explanations for the link (if it exists)’. In 2018, two meta-analyses in the US found that claims for the growth mindset might have been overstated, and that there was ‘little to no effect of mindset interventions on academic achievement for typical students’.).

Of course, there are many ways to turn a genius into a much less intelligent person–such as dropping them on their head.

IQ score distribution chart for sample of 905 children tested on 1916 Stanford–Binet Test, from from Terman’s The Measurement of Intelligence

While there is no agreed-upon exact cut-off for genius, it is generally agreed to correlate more or less with the right side of the IQ bell-curve–though exceptions exist. Researchers have studied precocious and gifted children and found that, yes, they tend to turn out to be talented, high-achieving adults:

Terman’s goal was to disprove the then-current belief that gifted children were sickly, socially inept, and not well-rounded. …

Based on data collected in 1921–22, Terman concluded that gifted children suffered no more health problems than normal for their age, save a little more myopia than average. He also found that the children were usually social, were well-adjusted, did better in school, and were even taller than average.[25] A follow-up performed in 1923–1924 found that the children had maintained their high IQs and were still above average overall as a group. …

Well over half of men and women in Terman’s study finished college, compared to 8% of the general population at the time.[31] Some of Terman’s subjects reached great prominence in their fields. Among them were head I Love Lucy writer Jess Oppenheimer,[32] American Psychological Association president and educational psychologist Lee Cronbach,[33] Ancel Keys,[34] and Robert Sears himself.[32] Over fifty men became college and university faculty members.[35] However, the majority of study participants’ lives were more mundane.

The only really useful parenting advice IQ researchers have come up with so far is to make sure your son or daughter has appropriately challenging school work.


The SMPY data supported the idea of accelerating fast learners by allowing them to skip school grades. In a comparison of children who bypassed a grade with a control group of similarly smart children who didn’t, the grade-skippers were 60% more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a PhD in a STEM field6. …

Skipping grades is not the only option. SMPY researchers say that even modest interventions — for example, access to challenging material such as college-level Advanced Placement courses — have a demonstrable effect.

This advice holds true whether one’s children are “geniuses” or not. All children benefit from activities matched to their abilities, high or low; no one benefits from being bored out of their gourd all day or forced into activities that are too difficult to master. It also applies whether a child’s particular abilities lie in schoolwork or not–some children are amazingly talented at art, sports, or other non-academic skills.

Homeschooling, thankfully, allows you to tailor your child’s education to exactly their needs. This is especially useful for kids who are advanced in one or two academic areas, but not all of them, or who have the understanding necessary for advanced academics, but not the age-related maturity to sit through advanced classes.

That all said, gifted children are still children, and all children need time to play, relax, and have fun. They’re smart–not robots.

Is Genius Fragile?

One of the subjects people care most about in ev psych and related disciplines is intelligence. Teachers would love it if all of their students suddenly began scoring in the 90th %; so would parents, of course. Tons of psychological studies have been done on subjects like “Do people score better on tests after thinking about famous scientists,” (without finding much useful,) not to mention millions of dollars spent on education reform without, as far as I can tell, much real change in school performances.

Since “IQ”–our best attempt at measuring and quantifying intelligence–appears to be at least 50% genetic, genes are a good spot to look when attempting to unravel the mystery of genius.

One of my theories on the subject is that if there are two kinds of dumb, perhaps there are two kinds of smart. Obviously dropping someone on their head is probably not going to result in genius, but perhaps there are some people who are smart due to having the good luck to have a variety of genes that generally code for things leading to high IQ, while other people are smart because they have a few particular genes or mutations. The folks with the generally IQ-boosting all-around genes are people who come from a background of parents and extended families with similar IQs to themselves, but folks with rare, particular, or novel mutations/genes would likely stand out even from their families. Such genes might have deleterious side effects or only confer genius in one or two particular arenas, resulting in, say, the stereotypical absent-minded professor or idiot savants.

If genius is fragile–my definition of fragile, not necessarily anyone else’s–then it is easily damaged; the difference between high-IQ and low-IQ in a particular population will be related to the possession of deleterious mutations that damage IQ. If IQ is not fragile–that is, if it is robust–then we would find rare, beneficial genes that boost IQ.

Environmentally, it is already obvious that genius is fragile–that is, it is much easier to drop someone one their head and subtract 40 IQ points than to find any intervention that will reliably add 40 points, but this does not necessarily preclude a variety of interesting genetic findings.

Perhaps I am thinking about this all wrong, but that’s the structure I’ve got worked out so far.

Anyway, so people have been searching for genes linked to IQ. Will they find specific IQ-boosting genes that highly intelligent people have, but dump people don’t? Or will they find specific IQ-damaging genes that dumb people have but intelligent people don’t? (Or maybe a combination of both?)

So, Neuroscience News recently covered a study published in Molecular Psychology that looked at genetic differences between highly intelligent people and the general population.

Now, I’m going to have to stop and point out a potential design flaw, at least according to the article:

“Published today in Molecular Psychiatry, the King’s College London study selected 1,400 high-intelligence individuals from the Duke University Talent Identification Program. Representing the top 0.03 per cent of the ‘intelligence distribution’, these individuals have an IQ of 170 or more – substantially higher than that of Nobel Prize winners, who have an average IQ of around 145.”

Duke TIP is aimed at middle schoolers, based largely on their elementary school test scores Anything that starts out by comparing the IQs of elementary school kids to people who’ve already won Nobel Prizes may not be saying much.

Second, I’d just like to note that while the article is unclear, they are probably not claiming that all Duke TIP participants have IQs over 170, since they don’t–Duke TIP’s own website states that they only require IQ scores over 125. Rather, I suspect they used the test scores submitted to the TIP program to select students with IQs over 170. If some confusion has occurred and they actually used people with 125s, well, results may not be as claimed.

Quick rough calculations indicate that 1,400 people in the top 0.03% is not an unreasonable number, since it would only require 4.667 million people, and there are about 4 million kids per grade level in the US, TIP takes from multiple grades, and they could have used multiple years’ worth of participants. But I don’t know how many kids TIP takes each year.

Anyway, results:

“The study focused, for the first time, on rare, functional SNPs – rare because previous research had only considered common SNPs and functional because these are SNPs that are likely to cause differences in the creation of proteins.

“The researchers did not find any individual protein-altering SNPs that met strict criteria for differences between the high-intelligence group and the control group. However, for SNPs that showed some difference between the groups, the rare allele was less frequently observed in the high intelligence group. This observation is consistent with research indicating that rare functional alleles are more often detrimental than beneficial to intelligence. …

‘Rare functional alleles do not account for much on their own but in combination, their impact is significant.

‘Our research shows that there are not genes for genius. However, to have super-high intelligence you need to have many of the positive alleles and importantly few of the negative rare effects, such as the rare functional alleles identified in our study.’

Or as the abstract puts it:

We did not observe any individual protein-altering variants that are reproducibly associated with extremely high intelligence and within the entire distribution of intelligence.* Moreover, no significant associations were found for multiple rare alleles within individual genes. However, analyses using genome-wide similarity between unrelated individuals (genome-wide complex trait analysis) indicate that the genotyped functional protein-altering variation yields a heritability estimate of 17.4% (s.e. 1.7%) based on a liability model. In addition, investigation of nominally significant associations revealed fewer rare alleles associated with extremely high intelligence than would be expected under the null hypothesis. This observation is consistent with the hypothesis that rare functional alleles are more frequently detrimental than beneficial to intelligence.

*What does “and within the entire distribution of intelligence” mean in this sentence?

To be honest, I’m not sure about the interpretation that only genetic differences between high IQ and low IQ people is that the low-IQ have more deleterious mutations and the high-IQ don’t. For starters, we observe ethnic variation in IQ scores, and I find it difficult to believe that vast swathes of the planet, some of which have very different marriage patterns, have abnormally high levels of deleterious, fitness-reducing mutations that other swathes of the planet don’t.

I certainly can believe, though, that there are deleterious mutations that reduce IQ.

What do you guys think?




Tesla vs. Edison

... and fight! 220px-Thomas_Edison2

It has become popular of late, especially on the left, to love Tesla and hate Edison. (Warning: that is a link to the Oatmeal, which is very funny and will suck up large quantities of your time if you let it, but if you aren’t familiar with the leftists hate of Edison and valorization of Tesla, it’s a necessary read.)

Edison, (1847 – 1931) was an American-born (son of a Canadian war refugee of Dutch descent) auto-didact, inventor, and businessman who was awarded over a thousand patents. His most important inventions (or inventions produced by his lab,) include the first actually useful lightbulb, the phonograph, the first movie camera and a device to view the movies on, the electrical grid necessary to power the lightbulb, the movie studio necessary to make the films for people to watch, and the scientific research lab.

He was friends with Henry Ford, a community volunteer, deaf, and a general humanitarian who abhorred violence and prided himself on having never invented an offensive weapon.

His worst mistake appears to have been not realizing what business he was in during the “War of the Currents;” Edison thought he was in the lightbulb-selling business, and since he had invented a lightbulb that ran on DC, he wanted everyone to use DC. He also seems to have been genuinely concerned about the high voltages used by AC, but DC just drops off too quickly to be used in non-urban areas; to get the country electrified required DC. Edison not only lost the Currents War, but also got kicked out of the company he’d founded by his stock holders. The company’s name was later changed to General Electric.

His political views were fairly common for his day–he advocated the populist position on abolishing the gold standard, tax reform, and making loans interest free to help farmers. Religiously, he was basically a GNON-believing deist. He preferred silent films over “talkies” due to being deaf, and had six children, three of whom went into science/inventing, one with a degree from Yale and one from MIT.

The idea that Edison was “merely” a businessman or CEO is completely bollocks. He was not only a brilliant inventor, but also understood how his inventions would be used and created the systems–both human and mechanical–necessary to bring them to full fruition.

Edison's lab in Menlo Park
Edison’s lab in Menlo Park


Tesla (1856-1943) was a Serb born in Croatia back when Croatia was part of the Austrian empire. By all accounts, he was exceedingly brilliant. His father was a priest and his mother was the daughter of a priest, but he received a scholarship to the Austrian Polytechnic University, where he burned like a meteor for his first year, earning the highest grades possible in 9 subjects (almost twice the required course load.) In his second year, he became addicted to gambling, then gambled away his tuition money in year three and forgot to study for his finals. He flunked out and ran away.

A couple of years later, his family raised money to send him to university again, which was another fiasco, since Tesla didn’t have training in two of the required subjects and so couldn’t actually attend.

Nevertheless, Tesla managed to get work at a telegraph company and was eventually invited to the US to work under Edison. Here he did excellent work, but quit over a rather stupid sounding misunderstanding about pay, wherein Tesla expected to be paid far more for an invention than Edison had in funds to pay anyone. Edison offered a raise instead, but Tesla decided to strike out on his own.

Tesla attempted to start a business, which ended badly (it sounds like it went south because he wasn’t focusing on the stated goals of the company,) and left him a penniless ditch-digger.

He then hit on a series of successes, including the polyphase induction motor, which ended with him quite handsomely employed by one of Edison’s competitors, Westinghouse, but even here he had difficulties getting along with his co-workers. Eventually it seems he established his own lab and convinced investors to give him $100,000, which he promptly spent on more lab equipment instead of the new lighting system he’d promised. His lab was later sold and torn down to pay off debts.

Tesla received yet another major investment, $150,000 to build a wireless telegraph facility, but appears to have blown the money on stock market speculation. He did manage to finish the project, though without any more funds from his now very jaded investors, but eventually he had to sell the building, and it was demolished.

Many of Tesla’s inventions were clearly brilliant and far ahead of their time. Others are delusions, like his mechanical oscillator. Tesla claimed it nearly brought down the building; Mythbusters built one themselves, and it did no such thing.

There is a kind of brilliance that slides easily into madness, and Tesla’s was clearly of this sort. He was too adept at pattern matching (he could do calculus in his head) to sort out real patterns from ones he’d dreamed up. He never married, but once fell in love with a pigeon at the park, feeding it daily and spending over $2000 dollars on it when its wing was injured.

In his personal life, he was extremely rigid–working and eating at the exact same times every day, eating a very restricted diet, and wearing a fastidiously neat and regimented wardrobe. He was extremely thin and slept very little–perhaps only 2 hours a day. (There are a vanishingly few people in the world who actually do function like this.) He was critical and harsh toward people who didn’t meet his standards, like fat people or secretaries whose clothes he thought were insufficiently attractive. Despite not having any children of his own, he believed the unfit should be sterilized and the rest of the population coerced into a selective breeding program. He also said some unflattering things about Edison upon the man’s death, which is kind of rude.

To prevent him from sinking further into poverty, his former employer, Westinghouse, took pity on him and started paying his hotel bills, (Tesla seems to have not thought of living in a house.) Tesla spent much of his final years claiming to have built a “Death Ray” and claiming that various thieves had broken into his hotel room to steal it.

Upon his death in 1943, the government seized all of his belongings just in case there were actual Death Rays or other such inventions in there that the Nazis might try to steal. The box with Tesla’s Death Ray turned out to have nothing more than an old battery inside. The investigator concluded:

“[Tesla’s] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.

To be frank, I’ve talked to homeless schizophrenics who sound a lot like Tesla; the line between correct pattern matching and incorrect pattern matching is, at times, easily crossed.


The modern habit of shitting on Edison and glorifying Tesla stems from the tendency to see Edison as a stereotypically American businessman who wickedly and cunningly stole ideas from from smarter people to build up his own wealth and reputation. It feeds into the notion that Americans (white Americans, especially,) have built nothing of their own, but stolen all of their wealth and a great many of their ideas from others. Here Tesla–attractive, urbane, brilliant, and most of all, not tainted by the blight of having been born in America–gets to stand in for the usual victimized classes.

Ironically, Edison’s political beliefs line up with the Progressives of his day–that is, socialists/liberals like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Tesla, at least as far as the Wikipedia describes any of his beliefs, favored Nazi-style forced sterilization and eugenics. In daily life, Tesla may have been a nicer person than Edison (it is rather difficult to tell from Wikipedia articles what people were like personally,) but I question a left that denigrates one of their own Progressives while upholding a man whose political beliefs are, at best, anathema to their own.

Regardless, Tesla’s failures were not Edison’s fault. Edison may have screwed him on pay, but he didn’t gamble away Tesla’s tuition money, make him fail his classes, nor convince him not to marry. Edison didn’t make him blow his investment money on the stock market or wander around NYC at all hours of the night, feeding pigeons.

Edison, deaf since childhood, didn’t have half the advantages handed to him as Tesla. He had all of three months of schooling; no one ever sent him to university or gave him a scholarship to waste. He may not have been as smart as Tesla, but he was still an intensely intelligent man and adeptly capable of carrying out the business side of the operation, without which no research could get done. Without funding, you don’t have a lab; no lab, no research. Humans do not live in isolation; someone has to do the inglorious work of coordinate things so that other people can reap the benefits of a system set up for them to work in.

Ultimately, Tesla was a brilliant man who should not have been allowed to run his affairs. He needed the structure of a boss, a wife, parents, family, etc., to keep him on track and stop him from doing idiotic things like gambling away his tuition money.

Familial supervision during college could have ensured that he graduated and gotten him on the path toward a tenured position. Perhaps he would have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Einstein and Curie at the Solvay Conference. A boss would have ensured that the strategic, business ends of things–the ends Tesla had no great talent for–got done, leaving Tesla to do the things he did best, to reach far more of his full potential. (In this regard, Edison had advantages Tesla lacked–a wife, family, and a country he had grown up in.) But Tesla was too rigid to submit to someone of inferior intellect (real or perceived), and his family back in Europe was too far away to help him. Loneliness is madness, for humans are social animals, and so brilliant Tesla died alone, poor, and in love with a pigeon.

Tesla's wireless telegraph tower, 1904
Tesla’s wireless telegraph tower, 1904

Just imagine what Edison and Tesla could have created had they put their animosity aside and worked together.

Part 2 coming soon.