We banned TV shows with kids in beauty contests. What about Mensa’s brain contests?

June 12, 2013

TV review of Child Genius Channel four

“This will split the critics” I thought, watching Channel Four’s first episode of Child Genius yesterday evening.

A bunch of very bright per-teenagers were competing in the programme to find Britain’s top child genius. The producers had no trouble sticking to the guidelines from countless quiz and celebrity shows. Mensa , the high IQ society, provided dubious cover for the methodology.

Was the show watchable? Enough to keep our domestic group from voting with the remote. Compelling? In a guilty voyeuristic way for me. Convincing? Only if you believed genius can be measured and ranked. It’s about as convincing as The Apprentice is in identifying business genius.

Hero villains

The parents were set up as hero villains and could have also been ranked on a tiger mother scale. Some were up there in the near crazed obsessional league. One or two looked more bemused than bullying.

Chess and genius

I watched because of the news that Josh, a per-teen chess prodigy , ould take part. My interest in these rare creatures began when I had the fortune to be utterly outclassed in a competitive chess game by English prodigy Nigel Short, who was thirteen at the time. Many years earlier, I had had more success as a schoolboy playing against Brian Josephson, who was already considered the brightest kid ever to have come out of the Welsh valleys, and who later won a Nobel Prize in theoretical Physics.

Chess is a field that reinforced the view of the need for ten thousand hours of study for a child to develop into a grand-master. Josh’s mother is a born again ten-thousand hours acolyte. As often happens, a dominant idea resists scientific evidence that challenges it. So I won’t try, although the notion at very least it could benefit from a Richard Dawkins to provide a contrary explanation of giftedness.

Then there’s Einstein, Newton and Mozart

A thought experiment. The young Einstein, Newton, and Mozart are brought together to compete in the international all-time child genius TV show. What’s that? Mensa flunked them Einstein and Newton before they got into the televised bit, as slow, possibly of low IQ. That’s what their school teachers thought. But, hey, their teachers didn’t have the help of Mensa to identify their potential genius. Mozart, by the way, had been wowing them musically since the age of four, and was given special dispensation to appear.