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The Big Bang Theory: How Much Smarter Is Sheldon Than Oppenheimer?
2023/09/15

"Which character is better?" is a tried and tested pop culture staple that often extends beyond the borders of a single franchise. This trope tends to turn up whenever a popular show or movie introduces a particularly powerful character, and before you know it, fans start wondering who would . Of course, it's almost impossible to figure out a surefire winner between characters from different series, since they tend to operate within the context and rules of their own fictional universes — but hey, it's a fun thought experiment, if nothing else. Speaking of thought, here's a cerebral version of the theme: Who's smarter, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) from "The Big Bang Theory" or Robert Oppenheimer? 

Since Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" has turned the Cillian Murphy version of the famed theoretical physicist into a cultural juggernaut, it makes a certain amount of sense to compare him to a fellow well-known pop culture presence like Sheldon. Of course, it's a little unfair to compare the two, since Oppenheimer is a real-life person and Sheldon is a decidedly fictional super-genius.

Oppenheimer's exact IQ is lost to history, assuming he was ever tested in the first place. However,  estimates his score at somewhere around 165, which in their books puts him in the same very respectable ballpark as folks like Steve Jobs, military strategist Sun Tzu, and automobile pioneer Henry Ford. However, it still falls well short of Sheldon Cooper's established IQ of 187.

IQ is a tricky way to compare characters

It's easy to stack IQ points on a fictional character until they're precisely as smart as the project needs them to be. This, of course, is exactly how Sheldon Cooper's genius came to be — but it's also worth noting that IQs are quite random and arbitrary tools to measure intelligence in the first place. In fact, even , the organization that exclusively focuses on its members' IQ, fully admits on its website that IQ test scores are a bit of a mess and different tests can yield very different results. 

What's more, the entire concept of IQ tests has been called into question. Per , the tests have several massive flaws that effectively render them untrustworthy as a method to measure genuine intelligence. Harvard professor Howard Gardner has also championed a theory that there are actually no less than eight types of intelligence, very few of which lend themselves to traditional IQ testing (via ). Combine this with the fact that any comparison between Sheldon and Oppenheimer is effectively a comparison between a fictional character with a made-up IQ and a historical one with an untested one, and it's clear that there's no way to make the two characters test their cerebral might against each other in any meaningful way. 

Still, these comparisons are pretty fun — and since Sheldon's sky-high in-universe IQ is a whopping 22 points higher than Oppenheimer's guesstimated one, character gets an easy win in this thoroughly unscientific contest. 

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