Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rioting in the Ivory Tower

 I have been accused of the heinous social crime of always being the smartest person in the room (or at least trying to prove it in subtle and not so subtle ways). In the 1980's I was a NATO exchange scholar with a graduate student in Durham University (lovely little city near Newcastle, huge cathedral and a prison).

During my time there a nationwide coal miners strike occurred. In the fiery social crucible of the desperation that was Thatcher's England a scholar in the sociology department at Durham U. published a study that showed that the coal miners that moved to where the coal mines were profitable were in fact many IQ points higher than the miners that insisted on not moving and working coal pits that were economically unfeasible. Durham county was a county with old unfeasible coal mines that were now filled with angry miners with below average intelligence. This was not a good time to publish this study. I can remember looking out the chemistry department window and seeing mobs of miners wandering the campus ostensibly with the intent of dragging him out of his ivory tower and introducing him to some learning from the School of Hard Knocks.

Thus I read with some amusement an article today that assesses the intelligence of the inhabitants of the various silos in the Ivory Tower. As anyone who has read the educational literature in the past 20 years knows intelligence cannot be reduced to a simple number but must respect the multifaceted character of multiple intelligences. What it does basically is not identify the intelligent but it really, really does expose to ridicule the less intelligent disciplines. Really. Go have a look, it statistically shores up all the stereotypes and suppositions that we have about the people we work with.

In my opinion Chemistry comes out of this looking pretty good. The authors make the claim that History ranks high because many historians were in fact interested in science before they saw the light of the humanities and therefore history is an anomaly among the humanities. It made me laugh.

And this is their crucial graphic (go to the article to see it in all its statistical glory).

This is the link to the article (LINK).

This whole issue make me think of the famous XKCD cartoon:

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About Me

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.