The 5 Types of Prime-Time Television - Part 2, or Why Spencer Reid Can't Exist

Category 4

Category 4 (law enforcement shows) inspired this post. These shows usually have a genius character or off-topic conversations that cause epiphanies. The best example of a genius character I can think of right now would be Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds.

Reid Joker
Masters of the criminal mind

Castle is a ridiculously terrible abuser of this. He solves the case in every episode through epiphanies that are tangentially related to conversations with his daughter. This is similar to how J.D. solved nearly every medical case in Scrubs. Of course if you are looking for serious mystery material from a weekly comedy, you have other problems that you may need to attend to.

Castle Revelation
Convenient plot contrivance? Who cares!? It's funny!

Rant about Spencer Reid's Existence Starts Here

I understand why TV shows would overuse the crime-solving epiphany. Writers are supposed to be writing about people who are more intelligent than anybody they know or will ever meet, mostly because these people don't exist. Let's use Spencer Reid as an example again. I don't want to crawl through the episodes looking for the quote, so I'm going to trust IMDB for this next part.

He has an IQ of 187, an eidetic memory, and can read 20,000 words per minute. He holds doctorate degrees in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Engineering as well as Bachelor's Degrees in Psychology and Sociology.

Also, not quoted on that page is that Reid graduated high school at age 12 and the show started when the character was at age 24. Because he is specific when he speaks and he didn't specify "joint-degree" or "joint-doctorate," I will assume that all of his degrees are unrelated.

Reid's Degrees

To apply for a doctorate most universities require a master's degree in a related field. To apply for a master's degree most universities require a bachelor's degree in a related field. Most bachelor's degrees take four years to earn. Most master's degrees take two years, but they can be done in one year if done full-time. Most doctorates take four years.

Bachelor of Mathematics4
Master of Mathematics 1
Doctor of Mathematics 4
Bachelor of Chemistry 4
Master of Chemistry 1
Doctor of Chemistry 4
Bachelor of Engineering4
Master of Engineering 1
Doctor of Engineering 4
Bachelor of Psychology 4
Bachelor of Sociology 4

This means that even if Reid had graduated high school at age 12, he wouldn't have joined the B.A.U. until he was 57. Everyone else would have to wait until age 63. Granted, there are caveats that could lower this number, but the concept is still ridiculous.

Reid's IQ

Reid has an IQ of 187. This is literally off most charts.

IQ Curve
Image from Wikipedia

The IQ curve is a normal curve with mean 100 and standard deviation 15 (source).

Reid IQ Z-Score

Because a Z-score of 5.8 is beyond the limit of all the tables I found, I have to do the math to find the probability.


Only 1 person in 3,800,000,000,000 will have an IQ at least as high as Spencer Reid. The official world population at mid-year 2010 is 6,852,472,823 (source). That's 6.85 billion people as we say in the U.S. That means that if there were 555 Earths with the same current population, only 1 person would have Reid's IQ.

As of 2002, the estimated number of people who have ever lived throughout all of time was 106,456,367,669 (source). That's less than 3% of 3,800,000,000,000. That means that if all of human history were repeated 37 times, only one person would have an IQ like Reid's.

If a man with Spencer Reid's IQ did exist, people would be worshiping him as a god in real life, not just in fan fiction.

Reid's Memory

I can't mention anything about this yet due to modern science. There's currently a debate over whether or not this actually exists.

Reid's Reading Ability

Of course the genius can read fast, right! This is a misconception. You can be extremely intelligent and still be a horribly slow reader. Senses and perception aren't intelligence. The amount of knowledge, the ability to gain knowledge, and the ability to apply knowledge are aspects of intelligence. That's why IQ tests are mostly logic problems and patten recognition.

Reid can read (homophones are fun!) at 20,000 words per minute. A common manuscript standard for novelists is 250 words per page. This means Reid can read 80 pages per minute, meaning more than one page per second. He would look like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit when reading a book.

Watch on YouTube

Spencer Reid Rant Stops Here

I researched all off that stuff you just skipped to prove a point. Solving problems takes time. This post is taking me a few hours to put together. If I didn't know how to research easily or format my findings for other people, it would take days. My main point is that most of you skipped down to this point in the post for one major reason: research is boring to most people. To "genius" characters, though, it's fascinating. That is the problem with science in the media. To keep people interested the creators have to make science fast and flashy. In reality research looks like this scene from Big Bang Theory.

Watch on YouTube

The difference between the "genius" stereotype and other people is that a genius would find this fun. Mental challenges are fun. Fictional genius characters are basically walking encyclopedias who can get characters out of a jam when the writer writes himself into a corner. If that character isn't supposed to know the solution right away, he will all-of-a-sudden realize the answer later because the plot says so. This is why most prime-time TV is boring to me.