Does academia discriminate against geniuses, and could this explain the decline of science?

[This was inspired by a recent Sean Last article.]

Last makes a compelling case that scientific progress is slowing in the West. To summarize, evidence shows that the rate of new discoveries is falling.

The productivity of researchers is falling while the number of researchers across fields balloons.

Last also makes a compelling case that this isn’t simply due to scientific problems getting harder. He points out that the rate of progress actually increased for quite a long time before beginning to decline, and that it appears to have begun declining across all fields starting around the same time. If this were happening due to low hanging fruit being all picked up, then fields should begin decline at different times. Instead, progress seems to have started to slow universally in the mid to late 20th century.

Next, he shows that most progress is accomplished by a small group of geniuses. If the problems haven’t gotten harder, then the pool of geniuses must have gotten smaller.

There are a number of reasons why this may be. Hypotheses range from the idea that average IQ has declined, and therefore there are less geniuses born, to blaming a myriad of broad social factors. I wish to examine a different hypothesis: that there is less scientific progress not strictly because there are less geniuses born, but because, at least in part, the modern Western academy discriminates against potential genius, selecting against the relevant traits and thereby denying geniuses entry into the ivory tower and access to modern research equipment, condemning them to a life of wage-slaving.

To know if geniuses are discriminated against, we have to know what the markers of genius are. A genius is defined simply as a person with extra-ordinary scientific output, whether that be selective output of high theoretic quality or rapid output of high fact-content quantity.

Last shows that being a gentile white male is an extremely strong predictor of being a genius.

Disregarding theories of “systemic oppression,” the reason why being a white male is such a strong predictor of being genius is probably that white males are more likely to possess genius behavioral traits. The primary trait everyone thinks of is IQ, the threshold of which to be a genius seems to be 125 at a bare minimum and 145 on average (some will claim higher, but I’m extremely skeptical that said IQs can be reasonably assigned by the tests used)( The Making of a Scientist. (Roe 1952) Women have a narrower intelligence distribution, resulting in less geniuses ( Nonwhite, non-Asian races have less geniuses due in part to have lower average intelligence.

Intelligence alone is not sufficient for genius. Ivy league schools are sufficient proof of this: they’re filled with the brightest of the bright, but few of these pursue even simple original ideas. Many scientists posses sufficient intelligent, if not most; the average IQ of one is about 130.

Last sums this up:

This is empirically attested to by Lewis Terman’s famous study of gifted children. Terman collected data on 1528 Californian children who had a mean IQ of 151. The lowest IQ of the bunch was 135. IQs of 170 or higher were found for 77 of the subjects. Relative to the general population, the rate of extreme success among this group was extraordinary. In a 35 year follow up, 77 of the participants had been included in American Men of Science, a list of America’s top scientists, and 33 were included in America’s Who’s Who (Eysenck, 1995). Eventually, two went on to win noble prizes (Feist, 2014). However, the vast majority of the 1,528 subjects studied did not go on to become geniuses, and so these results also make clear that most people with extremely high IQs do not go on to achieve a notable degree of eminence.

What differentiates good from bad scientists then? Last says:

* Van Zelst and Kerr (1954) reported significant partial correlations between productivity and describing oneself as “argumentative,” “assertive,” and “self-confident.”

* Bachtold and Werner (1972)  administered Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor to 146 women scientists and found that they were significantly different from women in general on nine of the 16 scales, including dominance (Factor E) and self-confidence (Factor O).

*  Feist (1993) reported a structural equation model of scientific eminence in which the path between observer-rated hostility and eminence was direct, and the path between arrogant working style and eminence was indirect but significant.

* The scientific elite also tend to be more aloof, asocial, and introverted than their less creative peers. In a classic study concerning the creative person in science, Roe (1952, 1953) found that creative scientists were more achievement oriented and less affiliative than less creative scientists.

* Chambers (1964) reported that creative psychologists and chemists were markedly more dominant, ambitious, and self-sufficient, and had more initiative than their less creative peers.

*  Helson (1971) compared creative female Mathematicians with less creative female mathematicians, matched on IQ. Observers blindly rated the former as having more “unconventional thought processes,” as being more “rebellious and nonconforming,” and as being less likely to judge “self and others in conventional terms.”

* Wilson and Jackson (1994) reported that both male and female physicists were more introverted and conscientious than nonscientist controls.

That ends my summary of Last’s post. Further evidence that H. J. Eysenck described in his 1995 book Genius is that a higher than normal rate of psychotic illness, and a higher than normal rate of psychopathic traits (which include low Agreeableness and low Conscientiousness but also more subtle characteristics) is found among geniuses.

It would appear in Big 5 terms  that geniuses are more disagreeable, introverted, and open than the typical person or scientist. This lines up perfectly with Dutton and Charlton’s Endogenous Personality theory (see The Genius Famine):

What is the Endogenous Personality? And why is he so important? In a nutshell, we argue that the Endogenous personality is the type of a potential genius – a compound of abilities and attitudes, of intelligence and innerness. As a strong generalization: the true geniuses are Endogenous personalities; and it is from Endogenous personalities that geniuses arise. The Endogenous personality is the ‘inner’ Man; a person whose outlook on life is ‘inward.’ He is inner-directed, inner-driven, inner-motivated; one who uses inner modes of thinking, inner evaluations, in-tuition; one who is to a high degree autonomous, self-sufficient; one who is relatively indifferent to social pressures, influences and inducements. He stands in stark contrast to the Exogenous personality; that is, to most people. The Exogenous Personality is orientated toward the environment, particularly the social environment. These are people who want more than anything else social (including sexual) status, worldly success; people whose perceptions are directed outwards and who try to align their behaviour with group norms. When described in such terms, the Endogenous personality might appear anti-social, uncooperative, a dreamer, not the kind of person we might wish to have to deal with on a regular basis. We would probably be accurate in perceiving the Endogenous Personality in this negative way. We probably wouldn’t want to go for a drink with him, let alone be friends with him. But he is important; he is very important. Because the Endogenous personality is the archetypal ‘genius.’

Asians, then, produce less geniuses,  despite their average intelligence, because they have a higher average for temperamental obedience or “Exogeny.” They are stereotypically more agreeable and most of all less open than the average white person, who still falls far short on these traits compared to a genius.  The evidence is producing strong convergence.

Now that we have a theory of what genius is, we can test whether or not it is discriminated against by the academy. Charlton has extensively argued that it is (Why are modern scientists so dull?, 2009).

Question: why are so many leading modern scientists so dull and lacking in scientific ambition? Answer: because the science selection process ruthlessly weeds-out interesting and imaginative people. At each level in education, training and career progression there is a tendency to exclude smart and creative people by preferring Conscientious and Agreeable people. The progressive lengthening of scientific training and the reduced independence of career scientists have tended to deter vocational ‘revolutionary’ scientists in favour of industrious and socially adept individuals better suited to incremental ‘normal’ science.

A quick look at admissions practices indicates this argument holds water. White males are severely discriminated against for their sex and race in favour of people who have virtually no chance of being a genius.

This is, of course, relatively new. The academy may have not ever been perfect, and for our hypothesis to be supported we must show that there has been a change in the last 100 years or so in how much potential geniuses are selected against. The racial and sexual discrimination alone is a major piece of evidence in favour of our hypothesis, as it simply didn’t occur in the past when Western researchers were almost entirely white males. Now potential-genius white men are told there isn’t any room for them in the Ivory tower — a quick peak in reveals that the reason why is often that it’s filled with women and non-genius-producing races instead!

^ That’s Harvard! Virtually 70% of their hires are guaranteed to not be geniuses.

Nationwide, more than half of the hires into the ivory tower are almost certain to not be geniuses. It would be insane to think potential geniuses aren’t getting cut out of the equation (most people with STEM PhDs don’t get into the academy) given the presented evidence alone. But when we consider what kinds of white males are favored, denial of discrimination against potential geniuses becomes even more bizarre.

In the past, entrance exams were a much bigger deal. This can be gleamed from sufficient historical reading. Now, universities are obsessed with things that might be antithetical to genius – volunteering, social extracurriculars, and non-genius personality traits in general that have nothing positive to do with academic abilities. The personal experience of anyone born in the last 40 years should be sufficient to attest to this, but more evidence exists.

In 2018 Harvard was sued, and in the   “PLAINTIFF’S MEMORANDUM OF REASONS IN SUPPORT OF ITS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT,” the college was exposed for discriminating against the genius-phenotype directly:

Each applicant is given four component ratings and an overall score by the Admissions Office: (1) academic; (2) extracurricular; (3) athletic; (4) personal; and (5) overall.  …  The last, “overall” score, is not a formulaic compilation of the scores in the other ratings. Instead, Harvard instructs readers to assign the score by “stepping back and taking all the factors into account and then assigning that overall rating.” … [Personal is] a “subjective” assessment of such traits as whether the student has a “positive personality” and “others like to be around him or her,” has “character traits” such as “likability … helpfulness, courage, [and] kindness,” is an “attractive person to be with,” is “widely respected,” is a “good person,” and has good “human qualities.”

Potential geniuses are bound to fail on this abomination of an admissions standard independent of race or sex. Such types are introverted and disagreeable, the opposite of the feminine type they select for in the personal rating; potential geniuses are not going to be kind, agreeable, “positive,” “attractive” to the exogenous judges, and so on. They are also less likely to engage in athletics or extracurriculars, especially to a significant degree. Such things will simply not interest them as much as reading a textbook on quantitative genetics. Being disagreeable, potential geniuses will be less susceptible to pressures to spend more time than they already do pleasing their “superiors.” The type who has stellar, resume fit extracurricular and sportsball achievements is the type that does things because they’re the “in” thing. This is the opposite to the type that revolutionizes science, yet this is what is getting picked while potential geniuses are left out to dry. It’s no wonder that scientific progress is slowing.

Sadly in the literature there is a daunting lack where bountiful research exposing the phenotype of the average elite admittee or tenure-track hiree of 2020 should be. No matter, because we have sufficient evidence as it is that this phenotype is very domesticated, the opposite of potential-genius.

The question as to what caused all of this shall be left for another time. Suffice it to say that the hypothesis is supported: in being more concerned with diversity, “kindness,” “likability,” “diversity,” token-economy extracurriculars, and athletics than creativity, originality, autonomy, and dignity, academia does discriminate against potential geniuses, contributing to the downfall of Western science.

5 thoughts on “Does academia discriminate against geniuses, and could this explain the decline of science?

  1. I remember reading “The Pragmatic and the Dogmatic Spirit in Physics” (Johannes Stark, Nature 1938) and wondering what would an essay of this kind look like today. Thank you for the excellent example.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I recall reading somewhere that people at the top of the class at lesser universities actually are a lot more successful and publish a lot papers than people below the top at elite universities. Some sort of “Big fish in a small pond”-syndrome. If so, pushing white male geniuses to lesser universities should actually increase their performance.

    Of course Asians have probably occupied many of the top spots at lesser universities, that would depress scientific research.

    By the way, I’m not sure how representative US admissions process are for white countries as a whole. In Sweden for example, only grades and test scores matter.


  3. A fine post.

    The question as to what caused all of this shall be left for another time.

    Did you ever get to this question?

    Also: it’s worth considering how relevant academic discrimination is to the decline of genius output. By definition, a disagreeable person should not be especially discouraged by being ostracised. I guess that what’s far more important is that the genius pool doesn’t have the money and free time – that is, the patronage – to pursue their interests; and perhaps also that, left to pursuing their own interests (in what little spare time they have), today’s potential geniuses are perhaps not getting the broad and rigorous education that might spark fresh insights. (They also would not get this education even if they did make it into university.)


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