IQ in different academic fields – Interesting? Quite!

You all know how much I detest league tables, especially those that are based on entirely arbitrary criteria but nevertheless promote a feeling of smug self-satisfaction for those who lucky enough to find themselves at the top. So when my attention was drawn to a blog post that shows (or purports to show) the variation of average IQ across different academic disciplines I decided to post the corresponding ranking with the usual health warning that IQ tests only measure a subject’s ability to do IQ tests. This isn’t even based on IQ test results per se, but on a conversion between the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) results and IQ which may be questionable. Moreover, the differences are really rather small and (as usual) no estimate of sampling uncertainty is provided.

Does this list mean that physicists are smarter than anyone else? You might say that. I couldn’t possibly comment…

  • 130.0 Physics
  • 129.0 Mathematics
  • 128.5 Computer Science
  • 128.0 Economics
  • 127.5 Chemical engineering
  • 127.0 Material science
  • 126.0 Electrical engineering
  • 125.5 Mechanical engineering
  • 125.0 Philosophy
  • 124.0 Chemistry
  • 123.0 Earth sciences
  • 122.0 Industrial engineering
  • 122.0 Civil engineering
  • 121.5 Biology
  • 120.1 English/literature
  • 120.0 Religion/theology
  • 119.8 Political science
  • 119.7 History
  • 118.0 Art history
  • 117.7 Anthropology/archeology
  • 116.5 Architecture
  • 116.0 Business
  • 115.0 Sociology
  • 114.0 Psychology
  • 114.0 Medicine
  • 112.0 Communication
  • 109.0 Education
  • 106.0 Public administration
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22 Responses to “IQ in different academic fields – Interesting? Quite!”

  1. […] Other commentary on this can be found here. […]

  2. I hope you didn’t link to that blog to promote it! I found its comment about mentally handicapped people offensive.

    • The Reference Frame? The entire blog is offensive. 😐

      But what comments about mentally handicapped? Do you mean the “idiots, imbeciles and morons”? If so, that really is the standard terminology.

      I also sincerely doubt that Lubos’s IQ is 187.

      • It hasn’t been acceptable terminology for over 50 years and for good reason. Derogatory terms invite aggression and bullying.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Were they terms that were originally medically descriptive and then became derogatory via use as insults? If so, I wonder roughly when.

      • telescoper Says:

        According to Chambers, “moron” used to be applied to a person whose IQ was in the range 50-69, and “idiot” to < 20; "imbecile" was somewhere between the two. But this specific use is obsolete, and all the words have a pretty general meaning nowadays.

        We have no more control over what intelligence we are born with than we do over our physical attributes. What matters is what we do with it. Highly intelligent people sometimes choose to behave like idiots and when they do there should be appropriates words to describe them.

        PS both "idiot" and "moron" come from Greek words; "imbecile" is from Latin (via French)

      • “Were they terms that were originally medically descriptive and then became derogatory via use as insults?”

        As far as I know, yes. It often happens that a certain term acquires a pejorative meaning, so it is replaced by a politically correct term, leaving the original term as an insult or whatever. Then the new term acquires the same undesirable meaning, and is replaced by a new term etc. There is a similar process with euphemisms.

      • Isn’t a “moron” some kind of fundamental particle?

      • telescoper Says:

        The OED gives moron as a kind of salamander…

      • telescoper Says:

        The OED is quite interesting on “moron”. Sense 1 is the specific meaning relating to the range in IQ from 50-70:

        “The term was first adopted and given this meaning by the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded in 1910. It is now generally avoided in technical contexts due to its association with sense 2.”

        Sense 2 being the derogatory meaning. The first appearance of Sense 2 was in 1917, so it took very little time to become simply a pejorative.

        Although with a root in Greek, this word is surprisingly modern in English usage;. no instances recorded in the OED before 1910. I thought it was much older.

        “Imbecile” is much older, but has evolved from an original meaning of weakness or impairment, to one that’s specific to mental incapacity.

        “Idiot” has been around for ages, with references back to Middle English.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Motl is a polariser. I find that I strongly agree with him on some things and strongly disagree with him on others.

      • Right. However, I strongly agree with Anton on some things and strongly disagree on others, but I wouldn’t call either of us a polarizer.

    • telescoper Says:

      I linked to that blog simply to acknowledge the source properly, not to endorse his attitudes. I’m told that people with very high IQs often lack emotional intelligence, so maybe he does have an IQ of 187..

  3. Isaac Asimov remarked that the higher one’s score on an IQ test, the less one believes that they measure something meaningful.

  4. Remember that Eisenhower was shocked when an aide mentioned in passing that half of the population of the United States of America was below average in intelligence.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      If “average” is taken to refer to mode or median and the distribution is heavily skewed then it can be appropriate to be shocked. But I suspect Eisenhower was not making the obvious mistake nor thinking of skewed distributions but took “average” to mean worldwide rather than American, and was assuming US superiority.

  5. What I noticed about the table is that ‘education’ came close to bottom. it’s a bit worrying considering the influence of this field on teaching practice, and it chimes with my own experience that many of the ‘reforms’ pushed by educationalists (at least over here) are changes that suit the weakest students

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