Research: Little girl might be smartest of ’em all

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Big brainpower sometimes comes in small packages.

Genius knows no color, culture, or creed. They can be rich or poor, humble or boastful, doctor or high school dropout — if prestigious Mensa membership is anything to go by.

Kid genius. Take Mensa’s newest inductee — an 11-year-old girl whose IQ ranks among the world’s highest (although comparing different IQ tests makes that rank hard to pinpoint). At the very least, no Mensa member’s is higher than hers.

That’s because her score on Mensa’s test was perfect: 162. Einstein never took an IQ test, but was estimated at 160 — as was Hawking’s. Genius is 140 and up.

Young Tara Sharifi is a U.K. resident of Iranian descent with beautiful, big brown eyes. She took the test in Oxford last spring. Neither Tara nor her parents expected she’d qualify. Her dad told reporters he got curious about her IQ because she usually figured the answer to math questions before TV contestants did.

She’s not the only kid who qualified for the high-IQ society; one-third of Mensa members are children.

What’s Mensa? Mensa was founded in 1946 by two Brits — lawyer Roland Barrell and lawyer-scientist Lance Ware. Their goal was to create a supportive forum for IQs in the top 2 percentile to exchange ideas, apolitical and free from all racial and religious distinctions. Today membership tops 140,000 in 100 countries (with active chapters in 50 countries, including the U.S.).

Why is it called “Mensa?” Mensa (Latin for “table”) was designed to be a round-table society, a place where race, color, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational or social background are irrelevant.

Who are Mensans? According to Mensa.org, they range from age 2 to more than 100, although most are between 20 and 60. Some are high-school dropouts; others have multiple Ph.Ds. They’re welfare recipients and millionaires. Professors and truck drivers; scientists and firefighters; computer geeks and farmers, soldiers, artists, musicians, diplomats, manual laborers and unemployed — their diversity seems endless. Famous Mensans include actors Geena Davis and Sylvester Stallone, champion boxer Henry Milligan, sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and Pulitzer finalist Joyce Carol Oates.

How to qualify? Just send an official, qualifying score to Mensa. Mensa has its own test, but a score in the top 2 percent of other tests also qualifies, such as a 132 on the Cognitive Abilities Test or Stanford Binet, and for us old fogies, an ACT score of 29 before 1989 (later ACT scores not accepted). Nothing online qualifies, but you can check the list and take a practice test at US.Mensa.org.

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking, author of the bestselling “A Brief History of Time,” was considered one of the smartest people in the world but wasn’t a member of Mensa.

When asked his IQ by a New York Times reporter in 2004 he replied curtly, “I have no idea. People who boast about their IQ are losers.”

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Apropos of Hawking is today’s weird word: Parsec — a unit of measure for interstellar space, roughly 19.2 trillion miles.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who wouldn’t qualify. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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