Sunday, 22 Dec 2019

High IQ does not make you a rocket scientist

Making the cut in Mensa does not automatically imply a future in science.

School students who score high on IQ tests have always been celebrated as academic heroes in India. Recently, two 11-year-old British students of Indian origin, Kashmea Wahi and Ansuhka Binoy, scored 162/162 in the Mensa IQ test, winning a place in the exclusive Mensa Society. Ecstatic media reports, in both India and the UK, compared them Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
The truth, however, is that making the cut in Mensa does not automatically imply a future in science. “Having a high IQ does not indicate academic excellence or a successful career in physics or pure maths. This is just an indicator of overall intelligence of a person. In the US, we have members who are taxi drivers and fire-fighters,” says Ratan Singh Rathore, a 46-year-old Mensan based in Gurgaon and president of the Delhi chapter.
To explain this point he gives his own example. He undertook the test in 2003 in Germany and scored 145. But Rathore has studied hotel management and worked in hotels and luxury cruises across the world. At present he runs a company that creates software solutions for cruise liners.

Shreya Gupta, a third year B Tech student at Indira Gandhi Technical University for Women in Delhi, says that she usually avoids mentioning that she’s a Mensan. “That’s because people immediately say ‘Oh! You must be a scientist’ or ‘Oh! You must be so studious’. This is a false stereotype. I have been to Mensa get-togethers and the members are not just from science but also from arts, defence and civil services backgrounds,” says Gupta who gave the test at the age of 17 and earned 99+ percentile, the highest that Mensa India awards. A well-rounded personality, Gupta has wide ranging interests — from hybrid cars to dancing to Bollywood songs.
On Mensa Whatsapp groups, conversation threads range veer from mundane topics like the odd-even rule, tax imposed on samosas in Bihar to more philosophical ones like does talent always translate to success? “We are all highly opinionated and love to have lively debates and discussions,” says Rathore.
President of the Mumbai chapter, Dr Rachita Narseria, shares a similar observation. “In Mumbai we have psychologists, special educators and even a cinematographer as members…we all do different things. But what binds us is the passion to learn new ideas, new things,” says Narseria, 28, and a homoeopathic doctor. She says her love for solving online puzzles once took her to the Mensa website and she decided to give the test in 2014. She aced it with 99th percentile.
Another Mensan, Rohit Agarwal took the test in 2006 and scored 99+ percentile. Agarwal, an engineer and an MBA, is an executive director with Ernst & Young in Raipur. “Someone who was doing PhD thesis on intelligence tested my IQ when I was in college and told me that I might be Mensa material. But I managed to take the test only in 2003, 18 years later,” says Agarwal who lists music, cooking, solving math puzzles, trivia and travel as some of his hobbies.
Mensa India gives percentile scores instead of IQ scores like many other country chapters of Mensa. For qualifying for Mensa, the percentile score has to be 98 or above, implying an IQ of over 135 (see box). A score of 99+ implies a score of 145 and above. There are a large number of tests with different scales. A score of 132 on one can be the same as a score 148 on another test. And some tests don’t use IQ scores at all. So to avoid confusion, Mensa has set a percentage as cut-off.

¬†In the West, being a Mensan carries snob value because more people know about exclusive high IQ societies like Mensa and want to get it. A Mensa spokesperson described anyone with an IQ less than 60 as a ‘carrot’ on a BBC interview in 2012. In India, however, its significance is lost on many. Anurag Sharma, a third year B.Tech student at IIT-Kanpur, says that nobody in his school knew about Mensa when he got into the society in Class 9, scoring a 99+ percentile. Sharma, however, fits the Mensa stereotype — he wants to pursue a career in pure mathematics.
¬†Scientific studies conducted in recent years have also questioned relevance of IQ tests as a fool-proof way of gauging someone’s intelligence. Findings of a large study done on 1 lakh people and published in the journal Neuron in 2012 revealed that cognitive abilities cannot be determined just by IQ but is also a function of short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal skills.