Rocket Scientists Are No Smarter Than You
If your IQ is way above average…
I recently came across a BBC article about a study purporting to show, as stated in the headline, that “Rocket scientists and brain surgeons aren’t necessarily more clever”.
Without going into the methodology of the study, basic common sense should be enough to consider its results suspect. And if one were in doubt, a quick Google search of “IQ by profession” would show results that plainly contradict those of the study. To believe that rocket scientists and brain surgeons aren’t smarter than average, one needs to be clueless or espouse an ideological vision that can only be supported by motivated reasoning and dubious analysis. In the study’s introductory section we can detect a whiff of activism as a motivating factor for it.
Promulgating the idea that anybody, or at least anybody of mean intelligence, can be a rocket scientist is well-intentioned. One can certainly sympathize with the motivation behind the claim, as everybody should be encouraged to do their best to maximize their potential, however it may differ from person to person. But since it is patently false, we have to consider the implications. If all average Joes have the potential to be scientists, brain surgeons, and the like, yet such professions elude most of us, what is holding us back? It has nothing to do with mental power, we’re told, so is it perhaps laziness? negligence? complacency? lack of drive or ambition? I’d rather be considered of just average intelligence than a sort of moral failure.
A social activist might counter that we’re all equally talented (at least potentially, if not in actuality) and that the only reason why we can’t all succeed in cognitively demanding professions is social conditioning, or discrimination, or lack of opportunity, etc. That may well be true in some cases but certainly not all — probably not in most (at least in advanced liberal democracies). Such an activist belief may be equally well-intentioned but is not innocuous either. It follows from it that any and all disparities in group outcomes, for example, can only be the result of systemic this or systemic that, from which it further follows that our society must be teeming with Nazis or something. So in effect the activist’s take is counterproductive at best, and divisive and toxic at worst.
So what about group disparities?
In his book Discrimination and Disparities, Thomas Sowell addresses “the seemingly invincible fallacy that statistical disparities in socioeconomic outcomes imply either biased treatment of the less fortunate or genetic deficiencies in the less fortunate.” He demonstrates that neither discrimination nor genetic differences need to be invoked to explain disparities in group outcomes. Myriad other factors are usually sufficient to explain disparate results among groups.
He shows that there’s no basis for the idea, so pervasive today, that even, proportional or statistically random distributions of racial, ethnic, and other groups in different fields is what we should expect if there were no discrimination. And again that’s because other factors can play a decisive role in how people follow one path or another, such as their particular preferences, culture, emphasis on education, average age, immigration status, home environment, etc.
Sowell also writes about erroneously attributing disparities to discrimination, when the reality is that in most cases they’re merely the result of the attributes of the people involved when statistics are taken (e.g., university admissions, school grades, police arrests, STEM professions), and not at all an indication of discrimination at that point. In other words, if it is indeed the case that inequity is partly to blame for unequal results in any given setting, the inequity most likely occurred earlier and not necessarily in the setting in question. Therefore, the fix has to take place earlier.
Despite the great progress we’ve seen over the decades, it would be naive to posit that no prejudices remain today. However, many social-justice activists are reluctant to acknowledge such progress and insist that society is still a cesspool of discrimination and racism, and that that alone explains disparate group outcomes. Such a perspective is neither reasonable nor conducive to improvement — quite the contrary.