The Untold Truth Of Marilyn Vos Savant

Marilyn vos Savant might be one of the most intelligent people in the world. The columnist, lecturer, and businesswoman certainly touts her scores on intelligence tests, and her highest-measured Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score, according to Financial Times. Further, she's used that purportedly superhuman intelligence as the basis for her weekly "Ask Marilyn" column in Parade magazine. In the long-running column, she answers readers' questions about thorny logical and mathematical problems (both real and hypothetical), shoots down misconceptions and urban legends, and sometimes wades into intellectual controversies — and has more than once been demonstrably wrong in her explanations and conclusions.

Apart from her column, vos Savant has written plays, married a world-famous inventor, successfully served as the CEO of a lucrative business, made a bold (for her time) choice in the name she chose to use, and has served on the boards of various organizations. But there's much more to vos Savant than her resume, so let's take a closer look.  

Marilyn vos Savant goes by her mother's surname

Marilyn vos Savant was born to Joseph March and Marina vos Savant, according to Geniuses. However, rather than keeping to the European/Western tradition of using her father's name as a surname or, later, her husband's surname, vos Savant has used her mother's surname professionally for as long as she's been publicly known.

In a 2007 "Ask Marilyn" column, vos Savant pointed out what she believes is the flaw in the practice of giving a girl her father's surname. "Daughters are not reared as independent individuals with lifelong surnames, so giving a girl only her mother's first name is mostly pointless. It's the combination of a first name and a surname that creates an identity," she wrote.

The fact that her professional name includes the word "savant," which by some definitions refers to a person of extreme intelligence or ability, was initially lost on her, as she wrote in a 2015 "Ask Marilyn" column. "Growing up, I never thought about 'Savant' being a word, too. I'm sure that people with the name 'Miller' don't think about it, either!" she wrote.

Marilyn vos Savant's claims about her legendary IQ may be inaccurate, irrelevant, or both

By the late 1980s, according to The Orlando Sentinel, vos Savant was making no secret of the fact that her IQ was measured at "228.333 repeating." That figure was, for a time, recognized by "Guinness World Records" as the highest IQ ever measured, according to Financial Times. The record stood until Guinness retired the category.

However, psychology professor Alan S. Kaufman isn't buying it. In his book "IQ Testing 101," Kaufman claimed that there's no practical way vos Savant, or anyone else, could have scored so high. "The psychologist who came up with an IQ of 228 [for Marilyn] committed an extrapolation of a misconception, thereby violating almost every rule imaginable concerning the meaning of IQs," he wrote.

There's also the matter of IQ tests no longer being considered an accurate and reliable way of determining someone's intelligence, a fact that Marilyn herself admitted in a 2005 column. "Even professionally administered IQ tests are primitive measures of intelligence," she wrote.

Marilyn vos Savant once angered thousands of people even though she was right

In a 1990 "Ask Marilyn" column, vos Savant waded into one of the great mathematical controversies of the time: the so-called "Monty Hall Problem."

"Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say #1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say #3, which has a goat. He says to you, "Do you want to pick door #2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?" a reader asked, presenting vos Savant with a mathematical thought experiment that had been around in various forms for decades prior.

Without getting too deeply into the mathematics of it all, suffice to say that the solution offered by Marilyn (yes, you should switch), which is indeed the correct solution, seems counterintuitive to most people.

It also seemed counterintuitive to more than 10,000 readers, some of whom with advanced degrees in mathematics, who sent her angry letters accusing her of being wrong, as Priceonomics reported. "How many irate mathematicians are needed to get you to change your mind?," wrote one angry Ph.D. Vos Savant wrote two follow-up columns explaining why she was right, yet still failed to convince some readers.

She's been demonstrably wrong at least twice

At least twice in her career writing for Parade, vos Savant has owned up to a few obvious and glaring errors. In a 2012 "Ask Marilyn" column, vos Savant admitted that she'd made a mistake in answering a reader's question about drug testing. The reader had stated that they managed 400 employees and that once per quarter 100 are chosen randomly for drug testing. The manager wanted to know the likelihood that any particular employee would be chosen for drug testing in a year. Marilyn said (wrongly) that the answer is 25%, when in fact it's actually closer to 68%, as a reader pointed out. "My neurons must have been napping," vos Savant wrote.

Similarly, in a 2014 "Ask Marilyn" column, vos Savant acknowledged making a mistake in another mathematical thought experiment, this time having to do with how long it takes a person to complete a certain task under certain conditions. Again, the math is complicated, but in essence, the columnist had failed to take into account all of the parameters set forth by the reader in the experiment.

She's married to a world-famous inventor and surgeon

On August 23, 1987, vos Savant married Robert Jarvik, co-inventor of the Jarvik-7 artificial heart. Their wedding, according to The Orlando Sentinel, was an obvious paean to the intellectual strength of the bride and groom. Science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov handled the ceremonial duty of giving away the bride, while the groom bestowed upon his beloved a ring made of gold and pyrolytic carbon, the latter material serving as the basis for the artificial organ that bears the groom's name.

In a 2018 "Healthy Now" column in Parade, vos Savant explained the rules she and her husband follow to keep their union happy and healthy after all these years. Specifically, the two exercise together daily and go ballroom dancing multiple days per week; eschew social media; and spend as much time as possible with their teenage grandchildren. Even the woman with the world's highest-purported IQ seems to prefer the simpler things.