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The Secret IQ Diaries : They Were Guinea Pigs in the Longest-Running Psychological Study Ever, Their Identities Largely Kept a Mystery. Now in Their 80s, the 'Children' of Lewis Terman Are Still Defining What It Really Means to Be A Genius.

July 30, 1995|Richard C. Paddock | Richard C. Paddock covers Northern California for The Times

One Termite who balanced career and motherhood was Shelley Smith Mydans, whose father was the chairman of the Stanford journalism department. Shelley, her brother and her sister were all included in the study. But the knowledge that they were gifted somehow made the Smith kids believe success would come without hard work. "It took my brother five years to get through high school," recalled Mydans, the youngest of the trio. "It gave us the impression we did not have to do another thing. It was conducive to laziness."

Shelley flunked seventh grade but later made it into Stanford, then dropped out and moved to New York and joined a dance company. Barely able to support herself, she took a job as a researcher at a new magazine called Life. As war broke out in Europe, she married Life photographer Carl Mydans and the pair were sent to cover the conflict, first in Europe and then following the war to Asia. As the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, the Mydanses were captured and imprisoned for 21 months. Half the world away at Stanford, Terman recorded the events for Shelley's file: "They had a chance to escape imprisonment by taking the last boat that left, but felt that they shouldn't do so because it would deprive others of the opportunity. They also could have joined the [U.S.] army on Corregidor, but they refused that also because it would have meant taking food that should have gone to the army." After eight months, the Japanese shipped the Mydanses to Shanghai, where they were freed in a 1943 prisoner exchange.

Shelley, who lost sight in one eye, returned to her family home at Stanford and wrote a novel on her prison camp years. Then it was back to Asia with Carl, who arrived in time to take the famous picture of Gen. Douglas MacArthur wading ashore on his return to the Philippines, a scene re-enacted by the general because no photographer was there the first time. A GI newspaper found her newsworthy: "Shelley Smith Mydans, the Pacific's first gorgeous war correspondent, is here . . . She's an able newspaperwoman who has been more places than a globe-trotter, has had more adventures than a soldier of fortune, knows more about the [Japanese] than most military commanders, and, at twenty-nine, is better to look at than 75 percent of the movie stars." Shelley, now 80, and Carl, 87, will soon publish a book in Japan--a 50th anniversary history of the American occupation.

Even Terman admitted his feelings for her were more subjective than scientific. "Ratings possibly biased, as she is one of my most favorite subjects," he noted in her file in 1950. Shelley, however, regrets being a Termite and found Terman's standards "very surface. I lost my temper and wrote [the researchers] about it." For herself, "I was so lucky the places I happened to be. I don't think that has anything to do with intelligence. Dr. Terman was a wonderful man, but he was studying this very small area."

Like so many Termites, she gives more credit to hard work and good fortune than to inherited intelligence. In this, she is in sync with modern thinking. Terman's theory of a single intelligence has come under assault from the likes of Harvard's Howard Gardner, who believes there are multiple intelligences that govern different abilities. He argues for seven: mathematical-logical, linguistic, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Terman's IQ test, Shelley says, "tests a very narrow range of intelligence, if you want to call it that. It tests how quick you are to make connections--not ambition, memory, creativity, energy. Another part of intelligence is handling human relations, and that wasn't tested at all."

The war did much to shape the destinies of Terman's brilliant children, but it also unleashed demons that would later claim two of its more famous members.

Douglas McGlashan Kelley became a psychiatrist and was assigned by the Army to examine Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. Among them were Rudolf Hess and Hermann Goring, who cheated his executioners by swallowing cyanide when they came to take him to the gallows. Kelley wrote a book about his experience and, with Terman's backing, became a professor of criminology at UC Berkeley. A pioneer in the use of so-called "truth drugs" akin to sodium pentothal and in the psychological screening of police officers, he and Terman talked about why his gifteds were committing suicide. Then on the first day of 1958, Kelley swallowed poison in his study, walked out to tell his wife what he had done, collapsed and died. The poison was cyanide, a Nazi souvenir he had brought back from Nuremberg. He was 45.

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