Prometheus Society

Prometheus Society
Motto Ignis Aurum Probat
("Fire tests gold")
Formation 1982
Founder Ronald K. Hoeflin[1]
Type High IQ Society
~120 (as of 2012)[2]

The Prometheus Society is a high IQ society, similar to Mensa International, but much more restrictive. The entry test is designed to be passable by 1 in 30,000 of the population,[3] while Mensa entry is achievable by 1 in 50.[4] The society produces a magazine, Gift of Fire, published ten times per year.



An earlier organization, Mensa International, was founded by Roland Berrill and Lancelot Ware, who noted from their first conversation that although they came from different backgrounds, they were able to communicate and had much in common. They hypothesized that what they had in common was intelligence, and decided to see if a society of people selected for intelligence (using the only means available, IQ tests) would also have much in common.[5][6]

They decided to focus on people whose IQ test scores would place them at or above the 98th percentile.

Beyond the 98th percentile

In the late 1930s Leta Stetter Hollingworth's research examined people with unusually high Stanford-Binet IQ scores. Starting in the early 1960s, when the now-defunct MM was started,[7] there were attempts to form high-IQ societies for people scoring at similar levels on then-current tests. The International Society for Philosophical Enquiry and the Triple Nine Society were founded in the 1970s and still exist today. Their membership requirements were intended to accept one person in one thousand from the general population. Restricting entry still further was difficult; no tests have ever reliably discriminated among test-takers with more selectivity. The paucity of data on persons with unusually high IQ scores, by definition, made ensuring the reliability of such scores very difficult.[8][9] High IQ scores are less reliable than IQ scores nearer to the population median.[10]

Testing difficulties

There were two possible ways to overcome this obstacle. Either the raw data from standardized tests could be obtained and determination could be made if they could be normalized to Hollingworth’s levels, or new tests could be designed and normalized. In the late 1970s, it was the latter approach that was followed. Kevin Langdon and Ronald Hoeflin both developed high-range, untimed tests. Langdon claimed that his Langdon Adult Intelligence Test had a ceiling at the one-in-a-million level (176 IQ [or 171 using the academic-standard 15-point-per-standard-deviation system], or 4.75 standard deviations above the mean). Hoeflin claimed a considerably higher ceiling but the Langdon and Hoeflin tests are closely comparable, with Hoeflin's tests having ceilings only one or two points higher than Langdon's.[11] These tests were given to a pool of about thirty thousand test-takers, recruited through Omni magazine, and the resulting data were used to develop norms. Langdon equated means and standard deviations; Hoeflin used equipercentile equating.[12] Using these tests and norms, Ronald Hoeflin founded the Prometheus Society in 1982.[13] It was the second society to select for the top one in thirty thousand, the first being Kevin Langdon's Four Sigma Society, founded in 1976.[14]

Recent changes

The pool of members was always limited by the number of people who had taken the Langdon and Hoeflin tests, and it was further limited when, in the 1990s, answers for some test questions were put on the Internet. However, there existed a large pool of potential members as tens of millions of people had taken standardized exams such as the SAT, which were, in effect, IQ tests. The problem was to normalize them. In 1999, Prometheus formed a committee of ten members, many of them experts in psychometrics, to attempt this task. The committee produced a long report examining all reputable intelligence tests, determining which tests could screen at the four-sigma level (four standard deviations above the mean of a normal distribution), above 99.9966%, and what the appropriate scores should be. This report recommended that members be chosen based on scores in several widely known and researched standardized tests, including the SAT, the GRE, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Cattell Culture Fair III, and others. This greatly expanded the number of possible members. Today, the number of members hovers around a hundred.


The membership roster is diverse. There are CEOs of high-tech firms, math professors, poets, computer programmers, physics PhDs, army officers, and NASA employees. Quite a few are involved with computer modeling of complex phenomena. Many members have much in common, and the officers try to link members whose business or other interests complement each other. The society produces a 72-page magazine, Gift of Fire, published irregularly (up to ten times a year), which contains many scholarly or speculative articles, along with poetry, artworks, and short stories. Perhaps the best-known article to appear in Gift of Fire is Grady Towers' essay "The Outsiders".[15]

Despite the strong desire of many of its members to maintain a low public profile, the Prometheus Society has achieved a small measure of attention and fame. The society is listed as social network #E240 in Networking: The first report and directory.[16] It has been cited in books and articles dealing with intelligence,[17][18] mentioned in an episode of the ABC television series Castle,[19] used in a brand recognition example in a book by Geoffrey Miller on consumer behaviour,[20] and even appeared in a The New York Times crossword puzzle clue.[21] On April 7, 2016, it was mentioned by contestant Jeff Crosby on the quiz show Jeopardy!.

In his book Wounded Warriors, on people marginalized by society, journalist Mike Sager wrote this:

Thanks to the magic of the World Wide Web, over the past fifteen years, more than a dozen affinity groups for people with superhigh IQs have been formed. More exclusive than Mensa — which accepts those with a minimum IQ of 132, one of every fifty people — clubs like the Triple Nine Society, the Prometheus Society, and the Mega Society (with IQ requirements of 148, 164, and 176, respectively) provide electronic fellowship to an eccentric, far-flung population known as HiQ Society. Though the clubs, like all subcultures, have become petri dishes for ego squabbles and political infighting, they nonetheless supply the comfort of fraternity in a world that doesn't think fast enough, doesn't get the reference, doesn't grasp the point.[17]

Notable members


  1. The Prometheus Society, Past Officers | Presidents, 22 September 2012
  2. The Prometheus Society, Welcome to the Prometheus Society, 2 October 2012
  3. Jacobs, The Know-it-all, p.243, Wall Street Journal article, see also Prometheus Society website
  4. see Mensa website.
  5. "Obituary - Dr Lancelot L Ware, OBE, Fons et Origio of Mensa" (Press release). British Mensa, Limited. August 16, 2000. Retrieved 2006-07-26.
  6. "Get Smart with High-IQ Society" (Press release). Washington Post. November 16, 1997. Retrieved 2006-07-27.
  7. Miyaguchi History of High IQ Societies
  8. Perleth, Christoph; Schatz, Tanja; Mönks, Franz J. (2000). "Early Identification of High Ability". In Heller, Kurt A.; Mönks, Franz J.; Sternberg, Robert J.; Subotnik, Rena F. International Handbook of Giftedness and Talent (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Pergamon. p. 301. ISBN 978-0-08-043796-5. Lay summary (6 October 2013). norm tables that provide you with such extreme values are constructed on the basis of random extrapolation and smoothing but not on the basis of empirical data of representative samples.
  9. Urbina, Susana (2011). "Chapter 2: Tests of Intelligence". In Sternberg, Robert J.; Kaufman, Scott Barry. The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–38. ISBN 9780521739115. Lay summary (9 February 2012). [Curve-fitting] is just one of the reasons to be suspicious of reported IQ scores much higher than 160
  10. Lohman, David F.; Foley Nicpon, Megan (2012). "Chapter 12: Ability Testing & Talent Identification" (PDF). In Hunsaker, Scott. Identification: The Theory and Practice of Identifying Students for Gifted and Talented Education Services. Waco (TX): Prufrock. pp. 287–386. ISBN 978-1-931280-17-4. Lay summary (14 July 2013). The concerns associated with SEMs [standard errors of measurement] are actually substantially worse for scores at the extremes of the distribution, especially when scores approach the maximum possible on a test . . . when students answer most of the items correctly. In these cases, errors of measurement for scale scores will increase substantially at the extremes of the distribution. Commonly the SEM is from two to four times larger for very high scores than for scores near the mean (Lord, 1980).
  11. Miyaguchi, Darryl (1997). "Generic I.Q. Chart". Retrieved 2006-07-23.
  12. Miyaguchi, Darryl (2006). "Uncommonly Difficult IQ Tests". Retrieved 2006-07-25.
  13. Aviv, Rachel (2006-08-02). "The Intelligencer". Village Voice. Retrieved 2006-08-02.
  14. Miyaguchi, Darryl (January 19, 2000). "A Short (and Bloody) History of the High I.Q. Societies". Retrieved 2006-07-30.
  15. Towers, Grady (1987). "The Outsiders". Retrieved 2011-07-21.
  16. Lipnack, Jessica (1982). Networking: The first report and directory. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-18121-1.
  17. 1 2 Sager, Michael (2008). Wounded Warriors: Those for whom the war never ends. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-306-81735-9.
  18. Cloete, D; et al. (2006). "Die intrapersoonlike leerder se ervaring van koöperatiewe leer en groepwerk". South African Journal of Education. 26 (3): 469–82.
  19. Video of Boom episode, which includes the reference.
  20. Spent, p.285, Google Books link: GBooks-MC
  21. puzzle reprinted in The New York Times ferocious crosswords, entry at 45 down
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