Mensa is a society for those who score high on intelligence quotient (IQ) tests. Invented in 1946, the group is the oldest society for high IQ-scorers in the world. Mensa operates on both international and local chapters and attempts to foster learning and programs for the gifted as well as conducting research and forming special interest groups to study pressing issues.
In 1946, the organization was founded by an Australian barrister named Roland Berrill and Dr. Lancelot Ware, a British layer and scientist. Their goal was to create a group based solely on testable intelligence; one that would have no social, racial or political requirements to join. It was meant to encourage social exchange between some of the smartest people on the planet, to create, in effect, a world-wide think tank of geniuses.
Admission to the organization is based on IQ test scores. Traditionally, membership is limited to those who score in the 98th percentile of specific tests, including the Stanford-Binet and Cattel versions. Currently, there are about 100,000 members across the globe, mostly in the United Kingdom and the United States. Membership is not limited by age, with children as young as toddlers admitted as members. The two youngest admitted members, Ben Woods and Georgia Brown, were both two years and nine months old.
The organization’s member benefits vary by nation, with some countries offering insurance and even credit card plans. Most national organizations put out a monthly or quarterly newsletter, and local chapters hold meetings to discuss general business and form special interest groups. These groups may vary widely in purpose, from brainstorming on local issues to creating support mechanisms for scholarship programs. While the group attempts to remain politically neutral, it supports educational efforts of every size.
Critics suggest that Mensa is overly exclusive, and that it puts a premium on standardized testing as the only true measurement of intelligence. In truth, most IQ tests rely on logic and reasoning ability, as opposed to emotional or artistic intelligence. The organization doesn’t claim that IQ tests are the only means of determining intelligence, just the easiest to quantify.
Naturally, Mensa has attracted a number of famous thinkers, some of whom have served as heads of the organization. Architect Buckminster Fuller and author Isaac Asimov served terms as president and vice-president of Mensa International. Other notable Mensans include Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert, a former Playboy Playmate of the month, and noted actor James Woods.
Whether Mensa is overly dependent on measured intelligence or not, the dedication of the organization to improving educational programs and actively brainstorming complex social issues is doubtless a good idea. To apply for membership in the society, you must submit proof of a score in the 98th percentile of a standard IQ test, or take the Mensa-issued test. Their website provides a practice workout with detailed results, to give you an idea of where you stand in comparison to some of the best minds on earth.