Smarter than Einstein? These people have the highest IQs in the world

How accurate are IQ tests, anyway?
Maia Mulko
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Wikimedia Commons 

  • The IQ test is not only widely known and employed but is also highly controversial.
  • Albert Einstein is the most famous and influential physicist of the 20th century.
  • Though Albert Einstein never took an IQ test, experts speculated that his IQ was at least 160.

Albert Einstein, the most famous and influential physicist of the 20th century, is generally regarded as a genius.

But what is a genius? One of the most accepted definitions is “someone whose intelligence is exceptional.” And how do we know if someone has exceptional intelligence?

Einstein’s brilliance was undeniable — he essentially founded modern physics with his theory of relativity and his contributions to quantum mechanics. But we’ve also developed other methods to measure human intelligence, such as the famous Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test.

The IQ test is not only widely known and employed but is also highly controversial. Some critics point out that most IQ tests are concerned with only a narrow set of skills, and some may measure primarily the person's ability to take tests. Some experts also argue that IQ tests are often full of cultural and context-related biases, particularly toward the values of white, Western, middle-class society. Moreover, the IQ test focuses largely on reasoning and problem-solving abilities —it doesn’t cover many other types of human intelligence, such as motivation, emotion, and attitudes.

Environmental factors may also play a large role in determining IQ, including nutrition, illness, attendance at school, and pollution levels.

There are a wide number of IQ tests, and they are usually made up of several parts or subtests. Each subtest will measure a different aspect of IQ, such as language, reasoning, memory, and information-processing speed. The results are then combined into a single score, which is generally adjusted by age.

Although its accuracy is frequently questioned, the IQ test is still considered by some to be a helpful tool to evaluate at least a few of a person’s cognitive abilities in a general way. It is also important to remember that a high IQ may also not correlate with a successful or satisfying career. Raw intelligence is not the same as how that intelligence is used.

IQ tests are revised every few years in order to maintain a score of 100 as the average. Most people have an IQ between 85 and 115. People who score between 115 and 140 on the test are considered gifted, and people with scores above 160 are considered geniuses.

That being said, what are some of the highest IQs in the world, and who scored them? Here’s a list of people who, IQ-wise, might be or might have been even smarter than Einstein.

What was Albert Einstein's IQ?

Here’s the catch: Albert Einstein never took an IQ test. Experts calculated his IQ using historical records and speculated that his IQ was at least 160.

Other famous people who are thought to have (or have had) a 160 IQ score are Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin, and Bill Gates. So, even though we use his name as a synonym for “genius,” Albert Einstein isn’t necessarily the person with the highest IQ.

1) Marilyn Vos Savant

Marilyn Vos Savant (born 1946) is an American author and columnist who scored 228 on two different IQ tests. She was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under "Highest IQ" in 1985. The category was removed in 1990 due to the IQ tests being considered unreliable.

But Vos Savant kept her fame primarily through her column “Ask Marilyn” in Parade magazine, in which she has been answering readers’ philosophical and mathematical questions since 1986.

2) Michael Kearney

Michael Kearney (born 1984) is a former child prodigy who set world records for being the youngest person to graduate and teach at a university. His IQ has been calculated at somewhere between 200 and 325.

Kearney graduated from high school at age 6. At age 8, he earned an associate degree in geology from Santa Rosa Junior College. Then, he attended the University of South Alabama and earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at age 10.

He earned a master’s degree in biochemistry when he was 14, becoming the world’s youngest postgraduate until 1999 when Indian child prodigy Tathagat Avatar Tulsi completed a Master of Science at age 12.

Kearney received his doctorate in chemistry at age 22 and returned to Middle Tennessee State University to work as a chemistry teaching assistant. He has also won around $1 million as a game show participant.

3) William James Sidis

One of the highest IQs ever recorded belongs to William James Sidis (1898-1944), an American child prodigy with great linguistic and mathematic abilities.

Sidis could speak eight languages at the age of eight and had even invented his own language, which he called “Vendergood”. By the time he was nine, he was studying mathematics at Tufts University and had been accepted into Harvard University. He enrolled in that college when he was 11, and graduated at 16.

Smarter than Einstein? These people have the highest IQs in the world
William James Sidis in 1914

There is no official IQ test result for William James Sidis, but experts speculate that he had an IQ of 210-250.

If he isn’t as famous as Einstein, it is because he chose to live in seclusion. After working as an assistant mathematics professor at Rice University, he became a bookkeeper. He did other unskilled jobs and wrote some books covering different topics, although he published them under different aliases so that no one would recognize him.

His most remarkable work is his 1925 book The Animate and the Inanimate, in which he explores the origins of life and predicts the existence of black holes.

4) Marie Curie

Smarter than Einstein? These people have the highest IQs in the world
Marie Curie

Marie Curie (1867-1934) was a Polish scientist who is best known for her research on radioactivity, which earned her two Nobel Prizes. She invented methods to isolate radioactive isotopes and discovered the elements radium and polonium, which were essential for the development of X-rays.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields (chemistry and physics). She never took an IQ test, but experts estimate that she would have scored between 180 to 200, one of the highest IQs on record.

5) Kim Ung-Yong

Kim Ung-Yong (1962) is a former child prodigy from South Korea. He used to be listed in the Guinness Book of Worlds Records for his IQ of 210, one of the highest IQ scores at that time.

Kim Ung-Yong learned to speak fluent Korean, his native language, at the age of one year old. By the time he was five, he could also speak English, German, French, and Japanese. He was still five years old when he demonstrated his mathematic abilities on Japanese television, solving differential equations in front of an audience.

Smarter than Einstein? These people have the highest IQs in the world
Kim Ung-Yong solving an integral calculus problem.

That same year, he was enrolled at Grant High School in Los Angeles, but he ended up completing his education in South Korea. He earned his elementary, middle, and high school degrees in just two years. Then, he studied civil engineering at Chungbuk National University and earned a Ph.D. Today, he is said to teach and work as a civil engineer.

Who has the highest IQ?

Ainan Cawley (1999) is a Singaporean child prodigy who has the highest IQ ever recorded, at 263.

According to some sources, he passed his GCSE chemistry exam (generally taken at age 16) at seven years old. At eight years old, he started studying chemistry at Singapore Polytechnic. At the age of nine, he could recite pi to 518 decimal places. He had also memorized the periodic table.

At age 12, he scored the music for a short film, which premiered at the Vilnius International Film Festival in 2013. Ainan is currently pursuing a career in music.

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