Asked by: Dylan Ritchie, by email
Einstein has become synonymous with brilliance, and he’s certainly one of the greatest scientists of all time. But it’s hard to claim he’s the smartest person who ever lived. It’s often said (with scant evidence) that his IQ was 160; even if true, that would make him less intelligent than thousands of people alive today. In terms of mathematical ability, Einstein would not come close to matching today’s leading physicists like Stephen Hawking.
The depth and range of his achievements are not without precedent, either. Far less well-known scientists such as Carl Gauss and Leonhard Euler made fundamental contributions in many more fields. The person with perhaps the strongest claim to being the smartest person of all time is the Victorian polymath Sir Francis Galton, whose work on everything from statistics and evolution to the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is still used every day by researchers a century after his death.
Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.