The 16-Year-Old Who's Smarter than Einstein

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A 16-year-old girl from Essex, England made headlines in February for a shocking scandal of the academic variety: After a wild weekend out with some friends from school taking the Mensa IQ test, she came away with an intelligence score a single point higher than Albert Einstein’s.

Lauren Marbe, self-professed normal teenager with a fondness for acrylic nails and getting dressed up for nights out, tested with an IQ of 161—higher than Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and celebrated cosmologist Stephen Hawking, and both Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and co-founder Paul Allen, all of whom are estimated by experts to have IQs topping out at 160. Despite maintaining a consistent record of straight-A grades and acing her science GCSE—a British standardized test—a year before her peers were scheduled to take it, Marbe surprised her parents, teachers, and herself by so thoroughly bucking both the “Essex girl” and dumb blonde stereotypes.

With her new membership in Mensa and certified intelligence, this teenage genius can be confident that she has a wealth of potential at her disposal, which she hopes to put to use either as a singer and actress on London’s West End or in studying for an architecture degree at the University of Cambridge, consistently ranked one of the best educational institutions in the world. She’ll be able to wear her 161 score as a badge of honor, and there has to be some thrill in thinking, “I’m smarter than Einstein!”

Detractors, however, point out that IQ scores are poor measures of actual intelligence, failing to account for all of its often untestable dimensions. While high-IQ individuals like Einstein, Charles Darwin, and chess Grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer may go on to successful, celebrated careers as intellectuals, others may as easily fade quietly into the woodwork. Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis of Greece, currently the living holder of the highest IQ in the world at 198, signs off as “MD, MSc, PhD,” emphasizing to the world that he is all kinds of smart. Nevertheless, his achievements are relatively modest compared to evolution and E=mc2. (He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.)

It’s also important to note that Einstein’s 160 IQ was never official—that is, he was never tested for it. Today’s standardized intelligence tests did not exist at the time Einstein was living; his supposed IQ is an estimate based on his achievements, much like the supposedly high IQs of fellow historical “geniuses” like Descartes, Mozart, Galileo Galilei, and Immanuel Kant, some of whom were estimated to have higher scores than Einstein. In that case, Lauren Marbe’s achievement isn’t the one point she has over Einstein, but what she eventually does with it. After all, IQ ain’t nothing but a number.

Curious how you might stack up against the geniuses of yesterday and today? Check out the IQ Test Gift Box in the Mental Floss store—get one for yourself and one for a friend, and fight over who gets to be Einstein and who gets to be Lauren Marbe.

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March 13, 2013 - 8:00am
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