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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

Norris Bradbury, a graduate of Hollywood High School, received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley at 23, and by the start of the war he had been recruited for the Manhattan Project, helping to build the atomic bomb. Afterward, he spent a quarter-century--much of the Cold War--as director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory. He was credited with keeping the United States ahead in the arms race. He also was the man who ordered two dozen nuclear tests in the South Pacific that laid waste to the Bikini Atoll, rendering it uninhabitable until recently. He was in charge of more than 120 aboveground nuclear tests in the United States that created an enduring environmental disaster: clouds of radioactive fallout across Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

Victims, who call themselves "downwinders," say 60,000 people were exposed to this radiation, and at least 1,200 have developed cancer because of it. Now 86, Bradbury does not want to talk about the atomic tests or the Terman study. The official line at Bradbury's lab during the 1950s was that the tests were harmless. The government gave no warning to people who lived in the area. But at the time, Bradbury knew of the danger and secretly warned his pregnant daughter-in-law to move her family from their home in southern Utah.

"I understood that it was quite unusual and important that he would have broken this . . . kind of code and said this to me," his former daughter-in-law told the ABC show "Turning Point" last year. "He didn't want anything to go wrong with one of his grandchildren."

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Perhaps Terman's most far-reaching findings came when he tried to figure out why some geniuses do better than others. About 30 years into the study, he chose the 100 most successful Termites, whom he labeled A's, and the 100 least successful, the C's. He and assistant Melita Oden plotted their data and found that three qualities set the A's apart: perseverance, self-confidence and the ability to set goals and achieve them.

Where did these qualities come from? While Terman had believed early on that heredity largely determined intelligence, this study-within-a-study somewhat countered that. The parents of the A's were better educated, had better jobs, fewer divorces and more books than the parents of the C's. The A's parents stressed education far more than C parents, and had high expectations for their children. More A's than C's admired their parents and wanted to be like them.

Between them, the Dmytryk brothers managed to confirm and explode some of Terman's theories. Edward Dmytryk and his late brother, Arthur, shared much besides their genes: a mother who died when they were young, a violent father and a place in Terman's study. But Edward's achievements were matched by Arthur's failure.

Their father, a Ukrainian immigrant, lashed out angrily and unpredictably. He was so powerful that he once felled a horse by striking it in the head. It was a temper he extended to his middle sons. "It wasn't so much planned brutality. It's just if he found something I was doing he didn't approve of, he'd whack me over the head or pick up a two-by-four and hit me." Dmytryk vividly remembers walking down a road when a tremendous blow from behind sent him sprawling. When he protested that he had done nothing wrong, his father accused him of walking with his toes pointing in instead of out.

Reading was their escape. "I used to go to the public library, and I would take home three or four books, and I would go back three or four days later and pick up another three or four books. My brother did the same thing: read, read, read, read, read." Even then, sometimes his father "would get so angry because I was reading, he would pick up the book, even if it was a library book, and tear it up."

All that reading, and almost nothing else, is why the Dmytryk boys scored well on Terman's tests, Edward Dmytryk believes today. "That's what you needed to pass those tests. You need a hell of a lot of general information. They don't determine intelligence. They determine education. I think that's where the tests are unfair." Translating education into accomplishment was another matter. Unlike Arthur, plagued by a lack of confidence, Edward Dmytryk never had any doubts about who he was. "I didn't know what the hell I was going to do in life, but I was always very secure in my ability. I knew if I tried something, I could do it. From the very beginning, I learned you really didn't have to know very much to be top dog."

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