Answer to the SuperFreakonomics Quiz: Name This University of Chicago Alum

Last week I posted the following quiz:

I ran into someone the other day whom I had never met and who fit the following five criteria:

  1. He/she attended the University of Chicago.
  2. He/she is still alive.
  3. He/she is a whole lot smarter than I am.
  4. He/she is a whole lot more famous than I am.
  5. He/she is even more controversial/notorious than I am.

There a lot of people who satisfy many of these criteria (especially #2 and #3), but I think the set of folks who satisfy all five of these criteria is not very large.

There were many good guesses (Ashcroft, Bork, Corzine, etc.). There were also some really awful guesses, like my colleagues Robert Lucas and Gary Becker, who fit many of the criteria, but obviously I was not meeting for the first time last week.

It took until the 47th commenter to get the correct answer to the quiz. Jonathon K. came up with the right name: James Watson.

I ran into James Watson, who attended University of Chicago in the 1940’s while taping the Charlie Rose show. It would be hard to dispute that he satisfies all five of the criteria I laid out.

I have to say I found him to be a very charming man, and he told me some wonderful stories about his life. Absent anything else to write on, I even got him to sign my copy of SuperFreakonomics.


I caught that Charlie Rose show--wow! That guy gave me great hope for the future. Not necessarily my future, but the future of my son.

As the Bible says, there will come a day when the good man, being a hundred years old, will be called but a child.


James Watson attended Chicago in the 40s while taping the Charlie Rose show??


Wasn't he at TED at the same time as you. I think I was there one year when you were both there, surprised you didn't meet then.

Eric M. Jones

"He/she is even more controversial/notorious than I am."

I think this is untrue. I know Watson's stumble with the race and intelligence quote, but I had to look it up. Hardly anyone remembers it. "Watson-Crick" will be famous and celebrated for a thousand years.

Liz in Seattle

You must not have talked to him for very long if you found him charming. As a genticist and U of C alum myself I had the honor of hearing him speak more than once and found him to be rather obnoxious and self-promoting. And I would agree that anyone who publicly promoted eugenics, even if it was awhile ago, still rightfully deserves the whiff of controversy that is associated with him.


Well, I have to say you are quite famous and controvertial, but I doubt 10-15 million people would recognize you from a picture, like my countrymen Joaquín Lavín or José Piñera, both former U. of Chicago students.

And I have to say both are quite smart and controversial, one for being an opus-dei, Pinochet supporting (for a while, at least) politician that run for chilean presidency 2 times, the other one for a very controvertial and world famous pention fund strategy. But probably you never heard of them ;)


Thank goodness it wasn't Tucker Max.


I too would dispute #5. Watson is known for "Watson-Crick" and the discovery of DNA far more than anything else he ever did or said.

David Hart

Watson may have been an undergraduate at Chicago, but he went to graduate school in Indiana.

E, of U of C alum

I think Eric M. Jones and Gabe are mistaken, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that Watson is controversial: not only for his racist comments (which were not a single incident: I once heard him speak at the University of Chicago, and more than one person got up and left the auditorium in rage), but also for the allegations that he stole data from Rosalind Franklin's unpublished results in order to put forward his namemaking (and Nobel-prizewinning) hypothesis.

I'm going to dispute #3: I don't believe he's smarter than you, let alone a whole lot. Arrogance is not the same thing as intelligence.