THE Scholarly Web - 10 October 2013

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 10, 2013

If you work in a field in which academics have, on average, higher IQs, then there is a rather good chance that you are not very sexy.

That is the tongue-in-cheek conclusion of Sanjay Srivastava, associate professor and director of the department of psychology at the University of Oregon, on his blog The Hardest Science.

“The other day I came across a blog post ranking academic fields by hotness. Important data for sure. But something about it was gnawing on me for a while, some connection I wasn’t quite making,” he writes.

“And then it hit me. The rankings looked an awful lot like another list I’d once seen of academic fields ranked by intelligence. Only, you know, upside-down.”

The “hotness blog” to which Dr Srivastava refers was written in 2009 by Henry Farrell, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, on The Monkey Cage blog.

In it, Professor Farrell cites a paper that used data collected by the US lecturer ranking website RateMyProfessors, which asks students to state how “hot” they think their teachers are. The post, titled “The Hotties and the Notties”, concludes that lecturers in languages, law and religion are the sexiest, while those lecturing in chemistry, computer science and engineering departments are less easy on the eye.

“Three important research findings leap out from this picture,” explains Professor Farrell, a political scientist. “First, that academic disciplines are, without exception, more ‘not’ than ‘hot’. When adjusted positive and negative hotness scores are totted up against each other, no discipline is even above zero.”

“Second, the above proviso aside, political scientists are pretty damn hot in comparative terms. We rank as number 5, trailing only languages, law, religion and criminal justice,” he continues, before declaring his third conclusion: “Economists are, without any jot, tittle, scintilla or iota of doubt or ambiguity, the notties rather than the hotties of the social sciences.”

Dr Srivastava combined this information with a table published on The Reference Frame, a blog by Czech scientist Lubos Motl. It purports to rank people working in different disciplines by their average IQ. By this reckoning, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists come out on top. Those working in the fields of communication, education and public administration fare less well.

“If you trust these numbers, one of the conclusions is that the economists are the brightest among the social scientists,” the blog concludes.

While admitting to the crudeness of his methodology, Dr Srivastava plots hotness against IQ to produce a brand-new graph, showing some degree of correlation between a lack of intelligence and one’s attractiveness to students.

“I don’t know what this means, but it seems important,” he concludes. “Maybe a mathematician or computer scientist can help me understand it.”

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