Are you a social scientist with a twist on mainstream left-wing views that makes you irresistible to the opposite sex? Don’t be too pleased with yourself: you are the textbook case of a “clever silly”.
The concept of clever sillies was first proposed by Bruce Charlton, reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle University, in a 2009 article in the Elsevier journal Medical Hypotheses – which he edited until he was sacked in 2010 after publishing a paper denying the link between HIV and Aids.
Two psychologists have now taken the idea further, positing two kinds of clever sillies, both of whom find a natural home in the academy.
According to a paper published earlier this year in the journal Intelligence, “Who are the ‘Clever Sillies?’ The intelligence, personality and motives of clever silly originators and those who follow them”, clever silly ideas are “founded on the acceptance of a dogma which either has strong empirical evidence against it or otherwise by its very nature cannot be disproven but which, nevertheless, allows the advocate to advertise their intelligence by virtue of…being highly complex and/or original.”
Examples of clever silly ideas – to which the paper says those outside the sciences are quite partial – include “left-wing values” such as political correctness and postmodernism.
The authors, Edward Dutton, adjunct professor of the anthropology of religion at Oulu University in Finland, and Dimitri van der Linden, assistant professor of psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, note that academics are typically reluctant to break social rules, and are aware of the benefits of ideological conformity.
However, they are – consciously or unconsciously – driven to adopt slightly tweaked versions of prevailing ideologies to make themselves appear to potential sexual partners as intelligent and mildly rebellious.
Much rarer is a different type of clever silly, the groundbreaking genius who risks ostracism by opposing dominant ideology in the hope of a high sexual payoff (although the paper acknowledges that “true geniuses often do not breed”).
Dr Dutton told Times Higher Education that geniuses will have clever silly ideas if their “personality characteristics – which often make them angry, emotional people who do not want to conform and want the taboo idea to be true – are sufficiently strong to overwhelm their high intelligence. [Otherwise], they may well come up with an original idea that is just plain clever.”
Which of these categories Dr Dutton’s theory falls into is a matter for others more intelligent than a silly THE writer to determine.