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Post IQs of US Presidents
Created by John Eipper on 08/23/15 9:07 AM

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IQs of US Presidents (Richard Hancock, USA, 08/23/15 9:07 am)

GOP Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson responded to this question with, "the thing that is most important is having a brain." This gave rise to an interesting article on the IQ of presidents on the website, "Inside Gov." Dean Simonton of the University of California at Davis, in a 2006 study, estimated the IQs of 27 of the 44 US presidents. He used historiometric methods to do these estimates as well as analysis of biographies and writings that would indicate a higher than average intellect.

Mr. Simonton found that highest intellect was found to be contained by John Quincy Adams at 168.8. Number two was Thomas Jefferson (153.8), number three, John F. Kennedy (150.7), number four Bill Clinton, (148.8), number five Woodrow Wilson, (145.1), number 6 Jimmy Carter (145.1), number 7 John Adams (142.5), number 8 Theodore Roosevelt, (142.4). The numbers continue to decline to number 27 George H.W. Bush (130.1). Dwight Eisenhower was number 22 (131.9), number 20 George Washington (132.5), number 13 Franklin Roosevelt (139.6) number 12 Abraham Lincoln (140), and number 11 James Madison (141.3).

The article also cited a Jan. 15 article by Alan Flippen in the New York Times: "No College Degree? Maybe You Can Still Be President." The article stated that eight presidents never attended college or dropped out before finishing their degrees. Two of the presidents on Mount Rushmore, Washington and Lincoln, had no college degree. The others without a degree are Grover Cleveland, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore and Andrew Johnson. This data is from the book, "Facts About Presidents."

Of the current candidates, only Scott Walker does not have a college degree, since he dropped out of Marquette before graduating. He is in good company with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg, none of whom graduated from college. I don't take issue with the scores given to presidents by Mr. Simonton, although I do think that the job done by presidents would not be much affected by a few points of difference on an IQ test.

I am not well informed about the value of the IQ, although I scored 128 when I took this test in army basic training in 1944. My middle brother, John Hancock, also took the test and scored 165, which is a genius level. He said that his company commander told him that this score entitled him to be the company commander rather than himself. John (we called him Jack) was born in April, 1924, and died in May, 2006. He received a BS in civil engineering from Texas A&M. He was a "construction man." He built dams, hotels, and power plants from Tennessee through Texas, Arizona and California. He built the tallest building in Dallas, as well as the Hotel Anatole there. I visited him many times in Dallas. He was always up before dawn to oversee whatever project he was then involved in. Even after he retired, his ex-employer still called on him to supervise difficult projects. I am not saying he was qualified to be president of the US but I will say that he would have done his best on that job, as he did on everything throughout his life.

JE comments: Nobody ever told me what my IQ is, and I was afraid to ask. Prof. Simonton is a legitimate scholar, and his findings are not to be confused with the US Presidential IQ hoax that did the e-mail rounds in 2001.  But how do you calculate an IQ--to a decimal point--based on historical evidence?

I am puzzled why Prof. Simonton would rank Ulysses S Grant dead last, when Grant is recognized as perhaps the finest memoirist of all the US Presidents.


One other president who didn't graduate from college:  Harry Truman.

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  • IQ, Education, Achievement (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/23/15 2:21 PM)
    The importance of a college education and one's intelligence quotient always provides for a great discussion. (See Richard Hancock, 23 August.) I have learned a few wisdoms but always look forward to learning more about these fascinating issues. A few things I have learned:

    1. The more education/knowledge one gets, the better. In other words, better to be an educated fool than an uneducated one.

    2. Some people may have no formal degrees but are very well educated.

    3. We should never confuse being smart with being knowledgeable/educated. Nevertheless, when competing for a job, at a glance formal degrees are much more visible and many times required.

    4. Someone with special talents (singing, dancing, playing instruments, people skills, entrepreneurship, etc.) can make a lot of money (be very successful) without any formal education.

    5. A high IQ is always better than a low one but Intelligence Quotient generally means mental age divided by chronological age. Mental age can be measured in a million different ways depending on the types of intelligence the test wants to focus on. Therefore, possibly someone with a very high IQ can fail miserably if the job requirements do not coincide with the person's type of intelligence.

    JE comments: What do folks think about #1? An educated fool is often far more dangerous than an uneducated one.

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    • IQ, Education, Achievement (Enrique Torner, USA 08/24/15 4:16 AM)
      I have found the subject of IQ fascinating. I never had any trust in these tests, and never cared for them. I don't know much about them, but my personal experience with these tests growing up taught me one clear lesson, maybe biased, but very impacting.

      I have three older brothers, and the four of us had this test done at the same Jesuit school. I don't remember the scores, but I do remember that my two oldest brothers received a high IQ score, while my other brother and I turned out plain normal. Result? My oldest brother couldn't finish his career in architecture; my second one flunked out of medical school; however, the third one and I completed our college degrees without a problem: he is now considered a top cardiologist in Spain, and I am a professor here in Minnesota. Funny enough, my two oldest brothers received fantastic grades through high school, while the third one and I struggled to complete it!

      JE comments: Stories of this type are legion. IQ tests cannot measure the most important metric of success: work ethic. Let's call it inspiration vs. perspiration.  Or pluck.

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      • IQ Tests and "Emotional Intelligence" (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/24/15 2:40 PM)
        When I was young I was invited to take an IQ test by a psychologist friend without knowing what was really all about. The score I got, if I recall correctly, was only 125 on whatever the scale was. Later he explained to me that the score only reflected some intellectual capabilities in the person such as abstraction power, synthesis, calculation, or analysis capabilities, and so on. After that episode I never paid much attention to the IQ concept, considering it incomplete and perhaps biased. I thought there must be better ways to measure "intelligence."

        Much later I found other theories about other forms of intelligence, verbal, linguistic, musical, spatial, etc. and I do not know if there are IQ tests for these kinds of intelligence.

        More interesting to me, I remember two good friends, one in school and other in the university; they both were brilliant students with the best scores and excellent performance. The question is that they were people that catastrophically failed in both their personal and professional lives. I wonder why this phenomenon happens so frequently.

        It was only many years later that I found a concept which perhaps partially explained to me such paradoxical situations, another form of intelligence: "Emotional Intelligence."

        The basic idea underlying this concept, for those who are not familiar with Daniel Goldman's theories and books, is that humans are extremely "sensitive" to "emotions" (thank goodness) and they must be recognized, controlled and managed in order to be successful and make better decisions in life. This idea, very obvious indeed, was never so clearly exposed before.

        It is not enough to be intellectually brilliant. One must have emotional capabilities, exert some prudent and minimum control of emotions and understand and apply empathy in order to be functional in society or life. Many individual attitudes and behaviors seem to be dominated by uncontrolled negative emotions--rage, fear, sense of failure, frustration, depression, sadness, envy, hatred, and so on--which are a tremendous burden in our lives, and lead you to a failure pattern.

        Whether these ideas make sense to you or not, it might in many cases explain why some people are unable to exploit their excellent intellectual capabilities, and in some other cases people with few intellectual abilities are very successful in life.

        JE comments:  Low levels of "emotional intelligence" can run into the Asperger's spectrum.  However--and I must be oversimplifying here--many of the great innovators throughout history were not distracted by "emotional intelligence."  I'm thinking in particular of the IT industry.

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        • IQ Tests and "Emotional Intelligence" (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 08/24/15 4:44 PM)
          I have followed the discussion with interest. My bachillerato graduating class was just 22 guys. (It was an all-boys Catholic school.) I was the salutatorian. The two dumbest guys in the class later on became practicing physicians here in the USA. Given the opportunity, I would not let them touch me with a 10-foot pole, however.

          The moral of the story to me is: IQs are not that relevant when matched against high achievement motivation.

          JE comments:  Yes, worth ethic.  (But Francisco, let's hope your compañeros don't read WAIS!)


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        • Emotional Intelligence: Daniel Goleman (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 08/29/15 5:09 AM)
          José Ignacio Soler wrote about "emotional intelligence" (24 August):

          "The basic idea underlying this concept, for those who are not familiar with Daniel Goldman's theories and books, is that humans are extremely 'sensitive' to 'emotions' (thank goodness), and they must be recognized, controlled and managed in order to be successful and make better decisions in life. This idea, very obvious indeed, was never so clearly exposed before."

          RN: It always good to emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence. Those that have it can be more successful than others with the same level of knowledge. The concept was introduced by Daniel Goleman (not Goldman) in his book Emotional Intelligence. Why it Can Matter More than IQ, published in 1995.

          JE comments: Glad we got the name right.  I'd have to read the Goleman book of course, but I wonder what the substantive difference is here from the Dale Carnegie stuff.  You have to be able to size up people.  And when they like you, success ensues.

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          • More on Emotional Intelligence; Goleman and Carnegie (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/31/15 4:22 AM)
            In his comments on Rodolfo Neirotti´s post (29 August) about Emotional Intelligence--I appreciate Rodolfo's correction on Goleman´s name; auto correction programs are not always reliable!--John Eipper observed, "I wonder what the substantive difference is here from the Dale Carnegie stuff."

            I do not pretend to develop the whole theory, but John might be right in various aspects.

            Goleman´s theory, as well as Carnegie´s, is about behaviors, attitudes and human relations, which of course are more than often conditioned by emotions than intellectual intelligence or any other kind.

            The distinction might be the emphasis and the structure. Carnegie emphasized social aptitudes by prescribing certain "rules of behavior," particularly empathy-related emotions.

            Goleman was more structured in the sense that he prioritize to develop first "personal" aptitudes--self-knowledge of one's own emotions, self-regulation...of emotions, recognition of motivation--and then, consequently, the social aptitudes, such as empathy and social skills.

            Among the personal aptitudes are of course, self-confidence, discipline, self-control, resilience, self-fulfillment, etc.; and among the social skills are to be able to "walk in other people´s shoes," influence, leadership, team work, etc.

            Goleman asserts that according to his research--it remains to be confirmed if it scientifically rigorous--that IQ is less than 25% responsible for success in professional life. In others words, IQ is not determinant in who is going to succeed or fail. That conclusion is what might explain many of the anecdotes and paradoxical personal experiences we have all encountered in life.

            What most impressed me in these theories is that none of them were systematically part of any academic program that I know of--I am not sure if they are now. These are obviously very important skills to develop. They all can be taught and learned by common people.

            JE opens a can of worms:  it's much easier to teach "content" than attitudes.  How, for starters, do you instill self-confidence?

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            • Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 09/05/15 9:09 AM)

              I cannot overlook John E's question on the subject of Emotional Intelligence (31 August). John wrote, "It's much easier to teach ‘content' than attitudes. How, for starters, do you instill self-confidence? "

              He might be right again. It is probably more difficult to teach values, attitudes and behavior than content. However, it is not impossible.

              It is true that personality features and emotional capabilities are inherent and acquired by individuals from a young age; they are the product of environment, family, friends, culture, education, etc., and perhaps genetics. It must be a challenge for professional psychologists to adjust those behavioral patterns that seem to make people unhappy or unable of living their lives in a successful manner.

              Self-confidence must be in fact difficult to "teach," in a traditional sense. I suppose it depends very much on personality. If you are insecure or a shy person, probably it is hard to become confident. However through self-realization and proper recognition, this feature can be controlled.

              The interesting question about "teaching" some of those emotional capabilities is that they could be developed and carried out in many practical ways. I have some experience as a business consultant with these skills through in-company training.

              For instance, being able to recognize our own and anyone else's emotions before they are out of control or lead to an escalation of negative behavior, should be possible with some training. This skill is crucial for very emotional and sensitive people. Also, communication skills are very important in life, and everybody can learn and practice many ways to improve them. To learn how to listen is a major step to developing empathy. Unfortunately, we are frequently most pleased in listen to ourselves rather than to others.

              The same thing happens with leadership and teamwork. These are behaviors that are very much induced by emotional and cultural conditions. Cultures and educational systems where competition is a strong motivation might develop a strong individualistic character, incapable of teamwork. Leadership can be taught, provided it is considered more than an inborn quality of people (the famous notion of "charisma").  Leadership might be structured as a process and then be managed.

              There are many other emotional attributes that can be structured in logical, practical ways that can be taught and learned. This is a subject which I believe has not been properly and seriously considered as part of academic programs despite the evidence of their importance.

              For those interested in this field, I recommend the article by WAISer Henry Levin on this subject: "Develop a World Class Education. More than Just Test Scores," in which he explain the importance of non-cognitive attributes in education.

              JE comments: Here's the link to cuñado Hank Levin's article. I don't recall if it's appeared before on WAIS, but I'll be sure to read it this weekend:


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      • IQ, Education, Achievement; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 08/24/15 4:11 PM)
        Ric Mauricio writes:

        Ah, yes, IQs. I recall being told that mine was a certain number (I cannot remember what that number was), and that it was above average. But then again, I was raised in San Francisco, and there, everyone has an IQ that is above average. I believe it was Garrison Keilor or Timothy Leary who said that; or maybe Jerry Garcia.  John, allow me to donate my two cable car tokens' worth by saying that another metric that IQ tests cannot measure: common sense. I have a saying (although I am sure someone more prominent came out with it first): "they may be too smart for their own good." Here is an example of what I am referring to:

        They had the PhDs. They had the Nobel Prizes. They had the faculty positions. They had the thousands of students. They had the prominence, preeminence. Statistically, they had IQs of 165... they really were smart. Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) had a $1.3 trillion extended balance sheet. This is a hedge fund, not a bank. $1.3 trillion in 1998 dollars. At the end, Peter Fisher (then head of open market operations at the New York Federal Reserve), his face white, exclaims, "I knew they could destroy the bond market, but I didn't realize they could destroy the stock market as well."

        At its peak, LTCM was leveraged 250-1. And they had made derivative bets totaling $1.25 trillion that connected them to nearly every market on the globe. Then came the Asian Crisis and Russia's default on its national debt in August 1998, and the models showing a likely reversion to the mean for trillions in outstanding trades were simply proven wrong.

        In an instant, LTCM's derivative bets started going bad and the firm took $1.85 billion in losses.

        Peter Fisher told them, ‘You guys are gonna close every stock market in the world and every bond market in the world, and take down the banks.' David Stockman was a partner at Salomon Bros. in the late 1980s when LTCM founder John Meriwether was still a partner at the firm.

        When Meriwether left Salomon, the team at Salomon joined him and he launched Long Term Capital Management, raising a billion dollars, which in those days was unheard of. Meriwether had a cocktail party. One of the attendants was Myron Scholes. The Black-Scholes system of valuing contracts, specifically option contracts. is the bible of option contracts in the financial world. His strategy in terms of your targets and expected returns and level of risk, must have been something, because it was quite a phenomenon that they raised a billion dollars in something like two months. Their target return was 45%. Wow! Wouldn't they take a lot of risk for that to do that? His response "No risk whatsoever.'

        They had a black box. And it worked for like four or five years. The made huge returns, and more money piled in... until 1998, and then the thing blew sky-high. The episode is famously described in Roger Lowenstein's When Genius Failed. And I tell you, this was the absolute scariest moment in my entire financial career.  This almost destroyed the entire global financial system .... not one company, like Barings.  Oh, no, this was whole enchilada. This was like launching a nuclear warhead on every central bank, banks, and securities market in one fell swoop.

        And let us not forget the Nixon team. Haldeman, Erlichman, etc. all very smart guys. All too smart for their own good.

        And, of course, there is Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton, who looked us all straight in the eye on national television and said, "I did not have sex with that woman." I guess he figured he was smart enough to redefine the word "sex".

        Does ego trump common sense?

        JE comments:  Did Ric Mauricio juxtapose the words "ego" and "Trump" on purpose?

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  • IQ in Context (Timothy Brown, USA 08/23/15 4:30 PM)
    Interesting. To put these rankings in context, the Stanford-Binet and Weschler bell curves are scored as below. By either scale, per Mr. Hancock's posting (23 August), our presidents were fairly brainy. Of course, intelligence and common sense aren't the same thing. So, unless the estimated score in this message, have been adjusted for the ideological bent of the scorekeeper, there's ample room here for those with ideological preferences to invert the curve.

    According to Stanford-Binet scale, IQ is classified as following:

    Over 140 - Genius or almost genius

    120 - 140 - Very superior intelligence

    110 - 119 - Superior intelligence

    90 - 109 - Average or normal intelligence

    80 - 89 - Dullness

    70 - 79 - Borderline deficiency in intelligence

    Under 70 - Feeble-mindedness

    Apart from the Stanford Binet-Scale, another scale popularly used is the Wechsler scale. Here, IQ is classified as:

    Over 130 - Very superior

    120 - 129 - Superior

    110 - 119 - High average

    90 - 109 - Average

    80 - 89 - Low average

    70 - 79 - Borderline

    Under 70 - Extremely low/intellectually deficient

    JE comments:  I've spent a lifetime in education, but have no exposure to IQ metrics, either for myself or my students.  Is it because the whole notion of IQ has become politically incorrect?  What we used to label as "feeble-minded" we now call a "different learning style."

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    • Presidential IQs; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/24/15 4:25 AM)

      Gary Moore responds to Tim Brown (23 August):

      How many IQs can dance on the head of a pin?

      Exactly 5,683.972 (being even smaller than angels).
      (That magnificent discussion by A. J. Cave of Alexander
      myths nicely backlights the IQ-at-a-distance revelations.)

      In the days when (Helen Thomas?) said George W. Bush
      was the worst president in history, there were musings that
      he was even worse than Franklin Pierce. Was Pierce the real
      nadir? Or was it Buchanan? Or a more cherished icon?

      JE comments: Besides his obvious virtues, Lincoln stands out as all the more spectacular because his presidency was framed by a host of nadirs: Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan...and following his assassination, Andrew Johnson.

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