[ Question ]

Does scientific productivity correlate with IQ?

by elityre 3mo16th Jun 201912 comments


Anders Ericsson, in his popular book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, claims that though one may need a reasonably high IQ to even be a scientist, after that level, IQ is irrelevant to scientific success.

The average IQ of scientists is certainly higher than the IQ of the general population, but among scientists, there is no correlation between IQ and scientific productivity. Indeed, a number of noble prize winning scientists have had IQs that would not even qualify them for Mensa, an organization who's members must have a measured IQ of at least 132, a number that put's you in the upper 2 percentile of the population.

(From chapter 8: "But What About Natural Talent", of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise)

My understanding is that this is completely wrong, and the best scientists tend to have higher IQs, at all levels of performance. But this is a background belief that I haven't concretely verified.

Is there a canonical reference regarding the impact of IQ on scientific contribution?

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2 Answers

Initial thought upon reading this: I would expect something like the tails coming apart to be going on here. Multiple factors impact scientific output, but once you're looking at the top scientists, IQ doesn't have *that* much power to sort them.

Your question is not well defined. Who are “best scientists”? What is “academic success”? How do you qualify “contribution”? Academia is a social institution as much as a scientific one, recognized success depends on power structures and social skills as much IQ. As far as contributions go, a relevant contribution does not necessarily require high intelligence: for example, the matrix equations used today in quantum electro-dynamics were found by someone remembering that they saw a mathematical formula somewhere that fit the experimental results. Also there is an argument in favor of method and perseverance as opposed to geniality in some fields of study. Depending on what scientific field you are looking at, how you define “best” and “success”, you can find any answer you please to this question really. For example, if you define “best” and “success” to only apply to those endeavors where high IQ is actually required, there you have your correlation.