Physicists are more intelligent than social scientists, paper says

Social scientists are of ‘lower average intelligence’ than those in natural sciences - at least at elite universities, authors argue

February 20, 2014

Source: Getty

Give us this day: wisdom to tell statistical significance from scientific significance

If you have glimpsed social scientists alone in their offices with hands clasped in prayer, you might have assumed that they were fearing Armageddon for their discipline in an era of high tuition fees.

But, according to a new paper, the real explanation may be that social scientists are of “lower average intelligence” than their scientific colleagues – at least at elite universities.

“Intelligence and religious and political differences among members of the US academic elite”, published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, draws primarily on a 1967 study of 148 male academics at the University of Cambridge to demonstrate that the scientists at top institutions are more intelligent than the social scientists.

It then cites a 2007 study of academic religiosity at top US universities as evidence of the greater godliness of social scientists.

The difference is statistically significant only for physics and political science. But the paper’s co-author, Edward Dutton, adjunct professor (docent) in anthropology at the University of Oulu in Finland, said that the smaller differences between other subjects “went the same way”, while physics’ high mathematical content made it “the most scientific of the sciences”.

The paper also argues that scientists’ higher intelligence accounts for their political moderation. In a 2005 survey of 1,643 US academics, larger proportions of physicists and engineers than social scientists described themselves as moderate – although smaller proportions of biology, maths and chemistry academics did so.

The paper’s other co-author, Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, has previously published controversial studies linking intelligence differences to race and sex. In 2008 he argued that scholars’ lower religiosity compared with the general public was explained by their greater intelligence.

Robert Dingwall, a freelance sociologist, criticised the latest paper’s use of “a hodge-podge of studies” to find “some weak correlations”.

He said: “I may be mainly a qualitative social scientist, but even I know enough to question an unsystematic review that does not consider the difference between statistical significance and scientific significance.”

Dr Dutton admitted that a “niggle” of doubt remained, which required replication with a larger sample to eliminate. However, many data problems that he had anticipated “didn’t seem to be that problematic” when the paper was peer-reviewed.

He said that he could imagine some academics saying the paper is “specious and doesn’t make any sense”. But, he added, “you really need [a month] to consider it”.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Reader's comments (6)

Which reminds me of that famous mathematician and political moderate, Theodore Kaczinski, aka the Unabomber. Though there was no doubting his intelligence, for a given value of "intelligence", of course.

Really? Next you'll be telling us that there is a scientific study underway to find the genetic underpinnings of "Physics Envy"!

It's clcikbait

Why is THE reporting on such a week, divisive and frankly useless piece of research?

" Edward Dutton, adjunct professor (docent) in anthropology at the University of Oulu in Finland" FWIW, this is somewhere between mis-leading and inaccurate: it looks like Dutton doesn't work at the University of Oulu. Docent is an academic degree, not a job. It's similar to the German habilitation.

Bob O'Hara: "FWIW, this is somewhere between mis-leading and inaccurate: it looks like Dutton doesn't work at the University of Oulu. Docent is an academic degree, not a job. It's similar to the German habilitation." Entirely incorrect. As you would have found out, had you bothered to verify your idea first. 1- Ed Dutton IS dosentti at the University of Oulu, in the Faculty of Humanities - Department of Cultural Anthropology. 2- In Finnish universities, 'dosentti' (docent) is NOT an academic degree: it is an academic POSITION, equivalent to that of 'reader' (UK-style universities) or 'adjunct professor' (US-style universities). Hint- before saying something, make sure it's correct.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Lecturer in Islamic Studies QATAR UNIVERSITY
Lecturer in Social Studies QATAR UNIVERSITY

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Boats docked in Port Hercule, Monaco

Richard Murphy praises a bold effort to halt tax-dodging by the 1 per cent

It’s a question with no easy answer, finds James Derounian

  • Man walking, University of Oxford campus, photo negative

Donald Brown shares the experiences that prompted him to talk about ‘institutional racism’ at Oxford

  • Egg timer and clock showing deadlines

Meghan Duffy thinks you can get on in academia without being chained to your desk

  • James Fryer illustration (19 November 2015)

With no time for proper peer review and with grade inflation inevitable, one academic felt compelled to resign