Classicists are smart!

By Razib Khan | January 25, 2012 4:15 am

The post below on teachers elicited some strange responses. Its ultimate aim was to show that teachers are not as dull as the average education major may imply to you. Instead many people were highly offended at the idea that physical education teachers may not be the sharpest tools in the shed due to their weak standardized test scores. On average. It turns out that the idea of average, and the reality of variation, is so novel that unless you elaborate in exquisite detail all the common sense qualifications, people feel the need to emphasize exceptions to the rule. For example, over at Fark:

Apparently what had happened was this: He played college football. He majored in math, minored in education. When he went to go get a job, he took it as a math teacher. When the football coach retired/quit, he took over. When funding for an advance computer class was offered, he said he could teach it after he got the certs – he easily got them within a month.

So the anecdote here is a math teacher who also coached. Obviously the primary issue happens to be physical education teachers who become math teachers! (it happened to me, and it happened to other readers apparently) In the course of double checking the previous post I found some more interesting GRE numbers. You remember the post where I analyzed and reported on GRE scores by intended graduate school concentration? It was a very popular post (for example, philosophy departments like it because it highlights that people who want to study philosophy have very strong GRE scores).

As it happens the table which I reported on is relatively coarse. ETS has a much more fine-grained set of results. Want to know how aspiring geneticists stack up against aspiring ecologists? Look no further! There are a lot of disciplines. I wanted to focus on the ones of interest to me, and I limited them to cases where the N was 100 or greater (though many of these have N’s in the thousands).

You’re going to have to click the image to make out where the different disciplines are. But wait! First I need to tell you what I did. I looked at the average verbal and mathematical score for each discipline. Then I converted them to standard deviation units away from the mean. This is useful because there’s an unfortunate compression and inflation on the mathematical scores. Disciplines which are stronger in math are going to have a greater average because the math averages are higher all around. You can see that I divided the chart into quadrants. There are no great surprises. People who want to pursue a doctorate in physical education are in the bottom left quadrant. Sorry. As in my previous post physicists, economists, and philosophers do rather well. But there were some surprises at the more detailed scale. Historians of science, and those graduate students who wish to pursue classics or classical languages are very bright. Budding historians of science have a relatively balanced intellectual profile, and the strongest writing scores of any group except for philosophers. I think I know why: many of these individuals have a science background, but later became interested in history. They are by nature relatively broad generalists. I have no idea why people drawn to traditionally classical fields are bright, but I wonder if it is because these are not “sexy” domains, to the point where you have to have a proactive interest in the intellectual enterprise.

I also wanted to compare aggregate smarts to intellectual balance. In the plot to the right on the x-axis you have the combined value of math and verbal scores in standard deviation units. A negative value indicates lower values combined, and a positive value higher. Obviously though you can have a case where two disciplines have the same average, but the individual scores differ a lot. So I wanted to compare that with the difference between the two scores. You can see then in the plot that disciplines like classics are much more verbal, while engineering is more mathematical. Physical scientists tend to be more balanced and brighter than engineers. Interestingly linguists have a different profile than other social scientists, and cognitive psych people don’t cluster with others in their broader field. Economists are rather like duller physicists. Which makes sense since many economists are washed out or bored physicists. And political science and international relations people don’t stack up very well against the economists. Perhaps this is the source of the problem whereby economists think they’re smarter than they are? Some humility might be instilled if economics was always put in the same building as physics.

In regards to my own field of interest, the biological sciences, not too many surprises. As you should expect biologists are not as smart as physicists or chemists, but there seems to be two clusters, with a quant and verbal bias. This somewhat surprised me. I didn’t expect ecology to be more verbal than genetics! And much respect to the neuroscience people, they’re definitely the smartest biologists in this data set (unless you count biophysicists!). I think that points to the fact that neuroscience is sucking up a lot of talent right now.

The main caution I would offer is that converting to standard deviation units probably means that I underweighted the mathematical fields in their aptitudes, because such a large fraction max out at a perfect 800. That means you can’t get the full range of the distribution and impose an artificial ceiling. In any case, the raw data in the table below. SDU = standard deviation units.

 

Field V-mean M-mean V-SDU M-SDU Average-SDU Difference-SDU
Anatomy 443 568 -0.16 -0.11 -0.13 -0.05
Biochemistry 486 669 0.20 0.56 0.38 -0.36
Biology 477 606 0.13 0.15 0.14 -0.02
Biophysics 523 727 0.51 0.95 0.73 -0.43
Botany 513 626 0.43 0.28 0.35 0.15
Cell & Mol Bio 497 658 0.29 0.49 0.39 -0.20
Ecology 535 638 0.61 0.36 0.49 0.26
Develop Bio 490 623 0.24 0.26 0.25 -0.02
Entomology 505 606 0.36 0.15 0.25 0.22
Genetics 496 651 0.29 0.44 0.36 -0.16
Marine Biology 499 611 0.31 0.18 0.24 0.13
Microbiology 482 615 0.17 0.21 0.19 -0.04
Neuroscience 533 665 0.60 0.54 0.57 0.06
Nutrition 432 542 -0.25 -0.28 -0.27 0.03
Pathology 468 594 0.05 0.07 0.06 -0.02
Pharmacology 429 634 -0.28 0.33 0.03 -0.61
Physiology 464 606 0.02 0.15 0.08 -0.13
Toxicology 465 610 0.03 0.17 0.10 -0.15
Zoology 505 609 0.36 0.17 0.26 0.20
Other Biology 473 626 0.09 0.28 0.19 -0.19
Chemistry, Gen 483 681 0.18 0.64 0.41 -0.47
Chemistry, Analytical 464 652 0.02 0.45 0.23 -0.43
Chemistry, Inorganic 502 690 0.34 0.70 0.52 -0.37
Chemistry, Organic 490 683 0.24 0.66 0.45 -0.42
Chemistry, Pharm 429 647 -0.28 0.42 0.07 -0.69
Chemistry, Physical 513 708 0.43 0.82 0.62 -0.39
Chemistry, Other 477 659 0.13 0.50 0.31 -0.37
Computer Programming 407 681 -0.46 0.64 0.09 -1.10
Computer Science 453 702 -0.08 0.78 0.35 -0.86
Information Science 446 621 -0.13 0.25 0.06 -0.38
Atmospheric Science 490 673 0.24 0.59 0.41 -0.35
Environ Science 493 615 0.26 0.21 0.23 0.06
Geochemistry 514 657 0.44 0.48 0.46 -0.05
Geology 495 625 0.28 0.27 0.27 0.01
Geophysics 487 676 0.21 0.61 0.41 -0.40
Paleontology 531 621 0.58 0.25 0.41 0.33
Meteology 470 663 0.07 0.52 0.30 -0.46
Epidemiology 485 610 0.19 0.17 0.18 0.02
Immunology 492 662 0.25 0.52 0.38 -0.26
Nursing 452 531 -0.08 -0.35 -0.22 0.27
Actuarial Science 460 726 -0.02 0.94 0.46 -0.96
Applied Math 487 730 0.21 0.97 0.59 -0.76
Mathematics 523 740 0.51 1.03 0.77 -0.52
Probability & Stats 486 728 0.20 0.95 0.58 -0.75
Math, Other 474 715 0.10 0.87 0.48 -0.77
Astronomy 525 706 0.53 0.81 0.67 -0.28
Astrophysics 540 727 0.66 0.95 0.80 -0.29
Atomic Physics 522 739 0.50 1.03 0.77 -0.52
Nuclear Physicsl 506 715 0.37 0.87 0.62 -0.50
Optics 495 729 0.28 0.96 0.62 -0.68
Physics 540 743 0.66 1.05 0.85 -0.40
Planetary Science 545 694 0.70 0.73 0.71 -0.03
Solid State Physics 514 743 0.44 1.05 0.74 -0.62
Physics, Other 519 723 0.48 0.92 0.70 -0.44
Chemical Engineering 490 729 0.24 0.96 0.60 -0.72
Civil Engineering 456 705 -0.05 0.80 0.38 -0.85
Computer Engineering 465 716 0.03 0.87 0.45 -0.85
Electrical Engineering 465 722 0.03 0.91 0.47 -0.89
Industrial Engineering 426 699 -0.30 0.76 0.23 -1.06
Operations Research 483 743 0.18 1.05 0.61 -0.88
Materials Science 509 728 0.39 0.95 0.67 -0.56
Mechanical Engineering 471 721 0.08 0.91 0.49 -0.83
Aerospace Engineering 498 725 0.30 0.93 0.62 -0.63
Biomedical Engineering 504 717 0.35 0.88 0.62 -0.53
Nuclear Engineering 500 720 0.32 0.90 0.61 -0.58
Petroleum Engineering 414 676 -0.40 0.61 0.10 -1.01
Anthropology 532 562 0.59 -0.15 0.22 0.73
Economics 508 707 0.39 0.81 0.60 -0.43
International Relations 531 588 0.58 0.03 0.30 0.55
Political Science 523 574 0.51 -0.07 0.22 0.58
Clinical Psychology 484 554 0.18 -0.20 -0.01 0.38
Cognitive Psychology 532 627 0.59 0.28 0.44 0.30
Community Psychology 441 493 -0.18 -0.60 -0.39 0.43
Counseling Psychology 444 500 -0.15 -0.56 -0.35 0.41
Developmental Psychology 476 563 0.12 -0.14 -0.01 0.26
Psychology 476 546 0.12 -0.25 -0.07 0.37
Quantitative Psychology 515 629 0.45 0.30 0.37 0.15
Social Psychology 518 594 0.47 0.07 0.27 0.40
Sociology 490 541 0.24 -0.28 -0.02 0.52
Criminal Justice/Criminology 418 477 -0.37 -0.71 -0.54 0.34
Art history 536 549 0.62 -0.23 0.20 0.85
Music History 536 596 0.62 0.08 0.35 0.54
Drama 514 541 0.44 -0.28 0.08 0.72
Music History 490 559 0.24 -0.17 0.03 0.40
Creative Writing 553 540 0.76 -0.29 0.24 1.06
Classical Language 619 633 1.32 0.32 0.82 0.99
Russian 584 611 1.03 0.18 0.60 0.85
American History 533 541 0.60 -0.28 0.16 0.88
European History 554 555 0.77 -0.19 0.29 0.97
History of Science 596 661 1.13 0.51 0.82 0.62
Philosophy 591 630 1.08 0.30 0.69 0.78
Classics 609 616 1.24 0.21 0.72 1.02
Comp Lit 591 588 1.08 0.03 0.56 1.06
Linguistics 566 630 0.87 0.30 0.59 0.57
Elementary Education 438 520 -0.20 -0.42 -0.31 0.22
Early Childhood Education 420 497 -0.35 -0.58 -0.46 0.22
Secondary Education 484 576 0.18 -0.05 0.07 0.24
Special Education 424 497 -0.32 -0.58 -0.45 0.26
Physical Education 389 487 -0.61 -0.64 -0.63 0.03
Finance 466 721 0.03 0.91 0.47 -0.87
Business Adminstraiton 434 570 -0.24 -0.09 -0.16 -0.14
Communication 458 517 -0.03 -0.44 -0.24 0.41
Theology 537 583 0.63 -0.01 0.31 0.64
Social Work 428 463 -0.29 -0.80 -0.54 0.52
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Social Science
MORE ABOUT: GRE, Intelligence
  • Konkvistador

    “I know a really smart gym teacher.”

    Great for you, have him explain averages to you the next time you hang out.

  • http://www.replicatedtypo.com James Winters

    Cool post. From my own experience, linguistics is increasingly adopting mathematical modelling and advanced-level statistics as pre-requisite courses for its students. But this is certainly more true for some departments rather than others. It’d be interesting to compare what I consider to be the more scientific ends of the spectrum, such as phonetics, with those areas like discourse analysis, which has its methodological roots in qualitative methodologies. Also, in subjects such as corpus linguistics, where datasets are growing in size, I’ve seen a great deal of variety in the papers published: some rely on basic frequency tables, whereas others have employed vector space models.

  • HWA

    Feels bad, man. Stuff like this affects the status of your field, and thereby affects your own status. Stupid physicists and their, their … uh … uhm

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Interesting stats.

    I did not need to take the GRE to go into my masters program. However, when I was floundering after a job loss in my mid 20s, I considered going back to school and getting a PHD in history. I took the GRE then, and was surprised with my score, as my verbal was a bit lower, but my math was significantly higher, than when I took the SAT – despite having taken essentially no math courses in the intervening time period. I can’t remember the exact scores, but it was somewhere in the mid 1200s, with math around 20 points higher than verbal.

    I decided, seeing how my older brother found it totally impossible to find a job in academia with his own PHD in English, that it was a bad idea to go forward with it after all, so I turned down an acceptance with full funding at SUNY Binghamton for another opportunity. But it’s interesting for me to see that, with no math background to speak of, I still scored fairly similar to many soft scientific fields, as the large reason I avoided majoring in the sciences despite great personal interest (particularly paleontology) was I perceived that I was “dumb at math,” because I could get A’s without trying in history, English, or science classes which didn’t require equations, but actually had to study to learn math.

  • http://bloodyshovel.wordpress.com spandrell

    Well learning to read Latin and Greek has nothing to do with math. I can’t do high math but picked up Latin pretty easily.
    Funny thing is the career path for Classics is not precisely high income, I wonder who goes up to graduate school for that. Takes a certain kind of brain for sure. I always wanted to but the pragmatic part of my brain wouldn’t allow me.

  • marcel

    To this economist, the best line (FTW): ‘Economists are rather like duller physicists.”

    2nd best: Some humility might be instilled if economics was always put in the same building as physics.

    The one drawback of this is that our math envy would be stimulated hourly, with the likely result of even more useless models (in both senses: more models that are useless, and models that are more useless than those kicking around already)/

  • miko

    The GRE math section seems easier than the SAT, not sure why. It’s also an easy one to crack for people who have a general aptitude for multiple choice tests. My wife had had no math since high school when she took the GRE and initially bombed the math in a practice test. A week’s review of high school algebra, geometry and trig and she scored in the 80-something percentile. As far as I can tell, it tests nothing of interest among people who have good quantitative reasoning skills and are in fields that require them regularly. For people in non-quantitative fields, it tests willingness to bother relearning high school math — and these people are well aware that their graduate program likely doesn’t give a shit what their math score is and are budgeting their prep time accordingly.

    My impression is that the verbal portion tests how much you read and how enculturated you are. I had a lot of respect for the analytical reasoning portion (dating myself here) that was discontinued. It tested real problem-solving ability and was amenable to a large spectrum of “styles” of problem-solving.

  • observer

    In looking at these results, it’s useful I think to bear in mind the outcome of the study performed by Ann Roe back in the early 50s of eminent American scientists. Perhaps the single most surprising result (certainly to me) was how well these scientists performed on verbal tests, as compared to the typical Ph.D. student in the sciences (and I believe that these students were themselves at top graduate programs). As I recollect, they did about 1.5 SDs better on those verbal tests than did the students. Since the tests were composed by ETS, it’s highly likely they much resembled today’s GRE Verbal tests.

    Somehow, even for scientists, “verbal IQ” seems to be pretty important.

    And, in another odd fact, it seems that in testing highly talented 13 year olds utilizing the SAT, it’s not uncommon to find subjects who test very high on the math, but bomb on the verbal, but, apparently, relatively unusual to find someone who scores very high on the verbal but bombs on the math.

    Verbal intelligence seems more important and basic than one might expect.

  • http://whitewashedtomb.com Richard Rothaus

    Once you get into these very high scores, I wonder if you might not be picking up variations in intellectual habits and predilections. In a group of extremely smart people like the classicists, this level of variation might be an indication of test-taking ability, attention span, obsessive seriousness of intent, or similar. You may also be picking up variations that come from socio-economic class and depth of training (training can lead to spectacular skills in test-talking). Classicists tend to be folks have foreign language experience and often some Latin in high school. They also tend to be unbelievably driven in ways other people in graduate studies are not (I’ve got an MA in Classics, PhD in Ancient History; I know these people).

    Are you sure you aren’t pushing this data farther than it will go? For example, what explains the difference between the Classical Languages group and the Classicists? There is no such clear distinction in graduate programs (or anywhere I can think of).

  • observer

    Just to follow up,

    Here are the results Roe found, as measured in IQ:

    Test (Low / Median / High)

    Verbal 121 / 166 / 177

    Spatial 123 / 137 / 164

    Math 128 / 154 / 194

    Importantly, the math test was not administered to those who were physicists, since they found it too easy.

    Among the sorts of scientists for whom all tests were administered were biologists, psychologists, and anthropologists.

    It’s pretty striking to see that it was on verbal abilities that the scientists did best (again, making allowances for how physicists were dealt with).

  • Frederick Jelinek

    I was quite surprised too! … given the little bit of experience I have with CS, EE and linguists.
    Without revealing too much about myself, here is a quote by a famous NLP guy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Jelinek: “Every time I fire a linguist, the performance of the speech recognizer goes up”.

    But I must confess, I don’t have enough experience to make a general statement.

  • S.J. Esposito

    There’s a lot of interesting little tidbits here! I’m particularly surprised by how anatomists and pathologists–though on the opposite sides of the axis–stack up. It seems a bit strange to me that closely aligned fields like toxicology and pharmacology are significantly separated, while others, like zoology and entomology are practically on top of one another.

    What’s not surprising is the void at the intersection of “low intelligence, more mathematical”.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Verbal intelligence seems more important and basic than one might expect.

    verbosity is more fundamental numeracy?

    Are you sure you aren’t pushing this data farther than it will go? For example, what explains the difference between the Classical Languages group and the Classicists?

    well, that’s why i didn’t make the distinction. no idea what it means.

  • Clark

    Canada handles teaching quite a bit different from the US. (Typically you get a full bachelors in something and then go back for graduate studies to get a teaching degree – you can then go further and get a Masters or PhD in education) My brother was a physicist with a teaching degree and did do some PE teaching at one of the schools he taught at early on. So it definitely happens although I’ve no idea how common it is. In High School two of my chemistry teachers has PhDs but the gym classes weren’t up to much.

    (Edit: my bad – I was reading the wrong graph. I was looking at the one that said physicists were balanced between math and verbal and thinking it was the one about math ability)

  • Clark

    Some comments:

    Somehow, even for scientists, “verbal IQ” seems to be pretty important.

    They have to communicate with each other and write papers. Typically some technical writing is required in undergraduate degrees. Still I’ve met plenty who had a hard time communicating so I’m a bit surprised. The difference between students and working scientists can be explained by those with poor communication skills getting weeded out as being less productive scientists (and less able to convince someone to hire them)

  • Jeff

    As an astrophysicist with degrees in both physics and classics, I like the conclusions of this article :)

    I might conjecture, though, that Classics majors get a significant boost to their verbal scores just because so many “GRE words” have Latin roots. I think that would accurately describe my experience, at least.

    Other miscellaneous things:

    - A professor of astrophysics from Princeton once told me that they looked primarily at GRE verbal scores (ahead of even the physics GRE test) in selecting graduate students. There was a study by ETS that tries to correlate GRE scores with graduate school grades that comes to a similar conclusion, as I recall.

    - At least on the old version of the math SAT, missing even one question would lower your score by something like 40 points, while on the (paper) GRE, you could miss several math questions and get a perfect score – it’s much more lenient. I think that’s at least one reason the GRE version was easier for me.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    . Exactly how is chemistry and pharmacology more mathematical than regular physics?

    they aren’t. rather, they are just way worse verbally. the y-axis is measuring the weight of intellectual aptitudes. physicists here are only marginally more mathematical than chemists. part of this is that they score high on the verbal, and part of it score compression at the top of the GRE (i’m sure they would tail out at way above 800 if allowed).

  • Rodeo Jones

    I would venture to guess that people taking the GRE are self-selected at different rates, depending on their field of study. From my own experience, for example, engineers need not be at the top of their class to gain admission to a good graduate program, as many of the best students accept lucrative job offers out of college. In the pure sciences (and presumably fields like philosophy and history) where a graduate degree is imperative, my guess is that marginal students don’t even bother to seek graduate admission.

  • sherifffruitfly

    Classics majors are known by everybody relevant to be at or near the top of the heap in intellectual horsepower as an aggregate. Philosophy, math, physics folks close behind.

    Going the other direction, education majors are known by everybody relevant to be at or near the bottom of said heap. Too bad the one group is teaching our kids, generally, while the other isn’t.

  • http://www.wired.com/ Schrödinger’s Hat

    It’s all in the headline. Stick ‘smart’ in the headline, and reasonable discussion (with copious anecdotes) follows. Add a ‘not’ in front of that ‘smart,’ and expect posts about: 1) ‘what does intelligence even mean?’ 2) ‘how can you know these tests correlate with intelligence?’ 3) ‘my friend is a PE teacher who’s very smart,’ and 4) some fruitful discussion.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #20, excellent point

  • Michael Watts

    As a person interested in languages generally, I can comment on what drew me to classical languages in particular. It’s the teaching style. A course in a modern language is heavily focused on propositions like “don’t worry too much about the meaning of what you’re saying” and “learn enough to get by” and, above all, “let’s look at the culture of places where this language is spoken”. A classical language course presents the language as an elaborate system full of rules to be learned (so, for me, I’d draw a connection to math, yes). There’s no comparison; the atmosphere of, say, my high school french class, was stifling where the latin class was wonderful.

  • Violet

    I wonder how Engineering GRE Verbal is skewed due to foreign graduates. A quick summation from the ETS link, gives N ~ 50,000 for all engineers over 3 years. A quick google search shows, Institute of International Education in US has incoming foreign engineering students at ~30,000 (2005/6-2008/9 — for physical sciences ~5000). Let’s say half of them are graduate level (based on 50-50 division between undergrad-grad in foreign students) and these are people who got admission.

    *Assuming* that most engineers would know that they are going to end up in engineering, at least about a quarter of engineering GRE-takers will be foreign graduates. Wouldn’t that skew verbal for engineers relative to other academic fields? (Indians + Chinese are about 50% of foreign engineering students)

    Also, MS/grad studies are value-add for a foreign engineering degree while Undergrad+P.E/P.Eng is going to be more useful for a North American engineering graduate. It will be interesting to see break-down of practicing U.S. Engineers with or without a graduate degree.

  • Kiwiguy

    Interesting, I remember the majority of duxes at my school in NZ ended up studying law. Although I don’t think any of them were particularly strong at math.

  • JVC

    Not too surprised by the results, if you ask this question: “Could you do well in this field if you didn’t have good {math, verbal} skills?” This really cuts out the down-side of the averages. I mean, who could stay in Physics without math skills? You might compensate in other fields, but when the actual study itself closely mirrors the sorts of tasks you complete on the exam, then of course the exam is tuned in with score and field.

    IMO, mathematically, it’s more powerful to get rid of the downside scores than to push the upside scores just given how the bell curve works.

    That’s another thought on this. Not the nebulous “what is intelligence” sort of nonsense, but what is being tested and how well does the field match the sorts of things that are being tested.

    Physical Education has very little relevance to GRE testing, the actual business of PE has much more to do with coordination, fitness, etc. than anything done with a pencil and paper answering questions. And of course you CAN get along in that field with poor math and verbal skills (especially the sort tested by the GRE).

    I’m amused that my fields fall on the low verbal side (not counting minors and honors work) but my scores do not, and I’m rather fixated on the typos like “Creative Wriging” and “Acturial Science.”

  • ackbark

    Pardon me for being thick, but why is Russian in there as a distinct subject?

    As for physicists having both high verbal and high math, I’d have said they need to talk about what they’re trying to figure out first, then they try get the math right, that the concepts are organized first verbally.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    “Creative Wriging” and “Acturial Science.

    i fixed the first typo like 6 hours before your comment. so u must have read that in the RSS version….

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    also, i guess i should add that these results are actually aligned with that of the CTY study of gifted youth. high math + high verbal correlates with natural science concentration in later life.

  • Rob

    I think some classics departments comprise sub-fields, such as ancient history or archaeology, in addition to what one might think of as the pure study of classical languages. So, maybe Classics is the inclusive category and inclusion in Classical Languages is limited to those students who focus specifically on Latin and Greek. Not sure, though.

  • Clark

    Razib (27) Whew. I’m glad I’m not the only one who makes typos like that. I guess I’m blowing the verbal average for physicists. Sorry about the confusion on the graph. I caught my error quickly but I guess you replied before I deleted the evidence for my embarrassment.

    Ackbark (26), I suspect you’re right. The reasoning ability to do theory in physics probably does use the same part of the brain dealing with language skills. It may be similar to what is used within philosophy. I wonder if anyone has done any study on that within cognitive science? I unfortunately don’t have a JSTOR account anymore (don’t get me started) but a quick Google found a few interesting articles like this one. It doesn’t explicitly deal with the verbal aspect but a lot of the discussion seems oriented around traditional verbal skills rather than mathematical ones.

    Jeff (16) I’ve heard from lots of people that physicists think the GRE is a joke and no one takes it seriously in most graduate admissions.

  • Chris Ann Matteo

    Dear Friends: This is an interesting article. I myself have a Ph.D. from Princeton in Comparative Literature and Classical languages; for my day job I teach Latin, Greek (when possible), etymology in the English language, and classics in translation. I have also taught art history, studio art, historical periods where classical influences play a large part in the culture, women’s studies, and literary theory. Language literacy is truly as important as numeracy. I can always find a tool to help me with problems involving anything more advanced than trigonometry. I aced my mathematics, including applied math for astrophysics, in college, so I could graduate with university honors and college honors. But I know of few fields that are as versatile as classical humanities or the languages that develop deep expertise in classical humanities. It is the ability to acquire basic skill sets (language, math, science, history and art) as well as to work between them that distinguishes the talent of a good classicist, especially one who can tell her or his story to others.

  • The Kutra

    Nothing of value to add by way of a comment.

    If you’re interested, here’s an additional resource that you could use to sort schools and programs by average GRE sub-section scores:

    http://graduate-school.phds.org/rankings

    For example, for the Classics:

    http://graduate-school.phds.org/rankings/classics/rank/_________________M______________________________________________U

    The top ten look like this (GRE V):

    Harvard University Classics 737.0
    Columbia University in the City of New York Classics 717.0
    Princeton University Classics 721.0
    University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Classical Studies 716.0
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Classics 715.0
    University of California-Berkeley Classics 705.0
    Stanford University Classics 696.0
    Yale University Classics 694.0
    University of Washington-Seattle Campus Classics 686.0
    University of California-Los Angeles Classics 681.0

  • 4runner

    It would be interesting to see the results controlled for economic/demographic background.

    For example, majoring in “classics,” philosophy, or the like may not be an economically viable option for many. Even the backgrounds of people who chose to study physics may differ from those who chose to study engineering.

    The results may not reflect the qualities actually required by the profession so much as the background of the people who can afford to work in the profession.

  • http://emilkirkegaard.com Emil

    Very interesting data. I had been looking for such data for a while. I’m not surprised that physicists score highest in IQ, but I am surprised to see classicists up there. Not that I had bad experience with them, I have never spoken with one. Their friday bar is not near mine or the physics one. I am somewhat surprised to see that philosophy scores so high. I find them rather misguided in practice. FYI, I’m a philosophy student but spend most of my fridays at the physics friday bar because I find the humanities students too dull (generally speaking).

  • A Erickson

    How much is the date skewed by non-native speakers of English? I was surprised to learn how different the percentile rankings for a given score were between V and M when my brother took the test: he was 800M, which is 95th percentile (so about 5% of takers get perfect scores– very low ceiling), and lower 700s V, which I believe was 99th percentile. Having lived in China for a few years, and having many Chinese friends who at the time were taking the GREs and getting in the upper 700s on M and 400s on V (including non-STEM people– the EE guys were more like 800M and 350V), I assumed that this disparity must be due to the demographics of test takers. Does this influence the average V scores on the types of disciplines (mostly STEM) that have larger numbers of foreign students? I remember reading that over 50% of EE PhDs in the US are foreign, and relatively few of these foreign students come from Anglophone backgrounds. Is there a way to control for this effect? Like only look at American test takers? (Or those with Bachelor’s degrees from a US university, etc.)

  • ClassicsPhD

    As a Classics PhD (Berkeley; BAs in Philosophy and Classics) and professor of Classics, the only thing I find surprising—or rather, we’re chuckling at it here at the dept.—in the article above is the author’s apparent surprise at the overarching intelligence of Classicists.

    A few observations:

    Classical Languages should be in the plural; no one studies but one in grad school. Although we generally specialize, as researchers, in one or the other (i.e., Latin or Greek), both languages are studied and examined equally in grad school (as are, of course, the modern scholarly languages required).

    I am unclear on the differentiation between “Classics” and “Classical Language (sic)” here; there are no PhD programs that allow one to earn an advanced degree in “Classics” without the Classical languages (there are “Classical Studies” BAs that may require only two years in one of the languages, but such degrees do not lead to graduate study). I suspect that this may have something to do with the ways in which reporting depts. identify themselves, but I am not at all sure.

    Emil: “I am surprised to see classicists up there… [though] I have never spoken with one.” Indeed.

  • Justin Loe

    Carpe diem.

  • ClassicsPhD-2

    #22 – yes, learning the classical languages — the so-called “dead” languages — has a great deal in common with math. This type of study is far more analytical, and the languages themselves are complex, with multiple gender, tense, aspect, case, and person forms that must be mastered.

    Also, let’s not overlook the fact that Classics, or however a program identifies itself, is multi-disciplinary. All Classics graduate students must spend time learning history, languages, art/archaeology, and other cultural, technical, or social topics. The field attracts polymaths.

  • JMM

    #32… damn I could have gotten my Classics degree from Harvard, I got a 799. Shoot! What was I thinking going to a public university?? ;)

    Ok, so I am a Classicist (with a mere M.A.) and a certified Latin teacher (with a separate M.S. in that).

    All my [anecdotal] experience suggests this… phys ed teachers are not the brightest light bulbs in the building. The only dimmer bulb is usually the principal, who, by the way was either the business teacher or the phys ed teacher.

  • Paul Rain

    #24:.. Well most duxes didn’t get there by impressing their teachers with their excellent math skills, so this isn’t a great surprise.

  • ClassicsPhD

    I’m going to ask for a shout out from the Classicists (I’ll provide a fairly loose translation below for those with no Latin [but, hey: it's not too late to learn!]):

    Quod si non hic tantus fructus ostenderetur, et si ex his studiis delectatio sola peteretur, tamen (ut opinor) hanc animi adversionem humanissimam ac liberalissimam iudicaretis. Nam ceterae neque temporum sunt neque aetatum omnium neque locorum: haec studia adulescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.

    And if there were no great advantage to be rendered from these studies, and they were to be sought only for pleasure, nevertheless (in my opinion), you would judge this to be a most cultured and dignified expenditure of time. For the other pursuits [which we have available] are fitted neither to all contingencies nor ages nor locales. But these [literary] pursuits nourish our youth, soothe our maturity, adorn our victories, provide refuge and solace in our times of trouble, are a delight in the home, cause no hindrance abroad, stay up with us at night, travel with us, share our campfire.

    Oh, also: Classicists study ancient physics, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, linguistics, religion, mythology, philosophy, history, comedy, tragedy, historiography, warfare, athletics, metrics, narratology, poetry, prose, rhetoric, oratory, archaeology, numismatics, economy.

    But that’s only to get to orals. After that, things get really tough.

    (Quote from Cicero, pro Archia, delivered in 62 BCE)

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com Peter

    Especially with some of the scientific subjects, I would suspect that the n= fields are very small.

  • John Smith

    Where’s African-American Studies?

  • Dan

    Three points:

    (1) If you are studing classics in grad school, you are probably upper class. In undergrad, people study all kinds of things. Then they go to grad school because they must actually get qualified for a job. Unless of course they rest upon a bed of family money.

    I cannot imagine being able to safely study Latin or old literature in grad school, financially speaking. And my family is not upper class.

    (2) The most apparent career path for people who go to grad school in classics is academia. If you judge yourself smart enough to be a professor, you may be pretty smart.

    (3) To have gotten a deep interest in classics, you have probably read a lot of older things and come across many, many words. This would give you a high verbal score.

  • jorma

    ClassicsPhD:
    >And if there were no great advantage to be rendered from these studies, and they were to be sought only for pleasure, nevertheless (in my opinion), you would judge this to be a most cultured and dignified expenditure of time.

    This brought to my mind the term that a blogger that I sometimes read uses for such studies: “Veblen degree”, a variation of the economics term “Veblen good”.

  • Dan Kurt

    Interesting thread. The two questions below have been on my mind since college.

    Question: When I was in college in 1959 there was a young man age circa 17 who took the Navy Flight Officer exams given by the Navy to interested students. One of the exams was an IQ test that was entirely visual. It was not the Ravens. It was in color and illustrations depicted many tools. There were 116 questions. One of the testing officers made a big deal over the fact that the young man scored a perfect 116 out of 116. He had never heard of anyone finishing the test in the allotted time let alone scored a perfect result. What was the test and what was the IQ of a perfect 116/116 result?

    Question: In 1963 one of the students in my college, age circa 21, took the GRE and scored 800 verbal, 800 quantitative, and 960 on his subject exam which was either Chemistry or Biology. Could anyone suggest what his IQ was given the above scores and that the test was given in 1963.

    Dan Kurt

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Especially with some of the scientific subjects, I would suspect that the n= fields are very small.

    follow the link and you won’t have to suspect. the data are there.

  • Anonymous

    @Dan Kurt
    http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/GREIQ.aspx indicates that a person with a perfect 1600 on the GRE would have an IQ somewhere around 160. Certainly genius-level, although not impossibly rare (you might expect to meet one or two people in your lifetime with a similar IQ). This is just an estimate though, and the chart doesn’t supply correlation coefficients or any data on the accuracy of this estimate.

    “Economists are rather like duller physicists. Which makes sense since many economists are washed out or bored physicists.”

    This is a critical problem with Economics today. Economists produce millions of pages of experimentally unprovable mathematics each year without once leaving their offices to study markets wholistically or empirically. Maybe if economists stopped trying to be physicists and embraced the uncertain complexity of human life they might discover something useful.

  • Anthony

    (2) The most apparent career path for people who go to grad school in classics is academia. If you judge yourself smart enough to be a professor, you may be pretty smart.

    More importantly, if your undergrad professors think you’re smart enough to be a professor, and are willing to write letters of recommendation for you, you may be pretty smart.

  • Ethan

    I did 2 years of a PhD program in Classics at the University of Michigan. The head of the department seemed quite impressed by my (old GRE) combined score of 2340, enough so to lead off with that when I visited during selection. It looks though like I was not much above the average, so I’ll fall back to my alternative hypothesis for why he said that, which is that he is brilliant but terrible with people and had to say something.

    Spandrell asks who would choose the low-income path of classics. I went into the program because the breadth and depth of classics is unparalleled, the fullest expression of the liberal arts, through the study of some of the most beautiful and most horrifying worlds man has created. Who could resist that? I left the program because I blew myself up on a foolish marriage. Had I come from even a middle-class family I would have had the resources to weather the storm, but what can you do. Other than not make stupid life errors, at least.

    In response to Dan, in my experience it’s not very true that classics graduate students are predominantly upper class. My fellow students were mostly upper middle, with a few outright upper class and a few middle. Remember, if you’re smart they pay you to study. If you love the subject and scholarly study, it feels like being paid to be happy, not at all like being poorer than a fastfood worker, though you are.

    I’m now a software engineer making money that would have boggled my mind back then, but though I like the work, I have to rely on the money to generate happiness that came gratis with classics. The equation just barely balances–I’m sure that’s true for a lot of low-SES-background academically-inclined people, whichever side they choose.

  • ClassicsPhD

    @Dan: I do not believe that studying Classics in grad school points to socioeconomic status so much as upbringing. Well, let’s correct that: studying *anything* in grad school depends on a great many factors, and if you are economically compelled or expected *not* to attend grad school, then you are highly unlikely to get through it. However, most Classics profs I know (and I include myself here) come from families of professors, doctors, and so on. Growing up, I knew it was a familial expectation that I would get a PhD (or MD) in *something*; the only question was *what*.

    It is true that a PhD in Classics is not very good for much—in terms of direct application—unless you can make it into academia. And most people can’t make it in academia, esp. these days. And lots of people (sadly) judge themselves to be smart enough to be a professor, when in fact they are not.

    This, however, you have backwards:

    “To have gotten a deep interest in classics, you have probably read a lot of older things and come across many, many words. This would give you a high verbal score.”

    It is not that an interest in Classics *produces* a high verbal aptitude or ability, but that individuals with a high V aptitude are frequently drawn to Classics. I have witnessed too many highly enthusiastic students who lack sufficient V aptitude to succeed even at the ug level, and it is heartbreaking. Classicists tend to have a high V aptitude not because they have “come across many, many words,” but because they easily grasp some of the most complex ancient languages around, which are taught, perforce, in the worst way a language could possibly be taught (imagine trying to teach English to someone who has never read or heard English without ever speaking English, diving head first into the intricacies of English grammatical rules, and giving them Shakespeare and Chaucer to read as their first texts.), and see grammar and syntax as a form of chemistry.

    @Jorma: I hadn’t encountered the term “Veblen good” before (though I am familiar with other terms expressing similar concepts), so thanks for that. However, I assure you that Cicero was not speaking about a university degree, or indeed any course of study. It was, when it all comes down to it, a forensic oration with a very specific purpose (for his client, a Greek poet, to retain Roman citizenship rights which had come under attack). At the time of delivery, however, such pursuits (literary ones, that is), held negative social capital (publicly, officially, at least: it was a sort of dirty little secret in the 1st c BCE), which is part of why Cicero is arguing in defense of them.

    @Anonymous: I don’t believe that IQs of 160+ are that rare at all, if one works in certain areas of the academy. (Then again, I don’t believe they are the norm; only that I am quite certain that I have known more such individuals that I can count on both hands, should I take into the equation family, colleagues, and students.)

    @Ethan: Yes. I went into Classics because I loved it. Attic Greek was the first thing in university that had challenged me remotely. I actually had to study—unthinkable; absurd. When I made the choice to do Classics at the PhD level, income did not come to mind. I had grown up the child of an academic; it’s not such a bad life. It will never be an economically wealthy life, and I am not occasionally pissed off by how much a tenured professor has to struggle financially (and yes, occasionally, I do). But it is a life, and a job, I would not change for the wealth of Croesus. Or Crassus. I love my job. I adore what I do. I am surrounded by highly intelligent people. I am, as you say, paid to be happy.

    And I’m sorry we lost you due to personal circumstances. It sounds as though you’d have made a fine Classicist.

  • Trew

    I don’t know, maybe gym teachers are the smartest of all — $50K+ per year for nine months of work; dress in shorts & sweats everyday; get outside and move around; no cubicle; no business reports; no business trips; off at 3:00pm every day; great benefits; retire at 55 on a full pension. Is it too late for this 48 year old management analyst to change careers?

  • Trew

    The poor showing for Business Administration must reflect students seeking to get a 1-year grad degree in something like MS Management, not MBA students that take the GMAT.

  • Trew

    The abysmal showing for Criminal Justice majors is scary. These test takers would be the best of the best of law enforcement seeking to move into management roles. Gee, I wonder what that says about the average cop on the beat.

    @miko: ” I had a lot of respect for the analytical reasoning portion (dating myself here) that was discontinued. It tested real problem-solving ability and was amenable to a large spectrum of “styles” of problem-solving.” Yes, me too. I read somewhere that this section was removed because certain protected groups performed especially poorly on it.

  • Dale

    Perhaps we haven’t diagnosed what really makes the classicist do so well on the GRE.
    1. Classicists are generally passable (at least in reading and writing) in Greek or Latin, and have a background in both. This helps immensely with the vocabulary portion of the GRE, which tests vocabulary of Greek or Latin origin which is almost never employed other than as jargon. Similarly, the classicist is used to dissecting dense prose, as the ancients were haphazard about their organization in writing. This skill helps with the critical reading portion. They are also trained in writing economically and purposefully, a skill the Greeks and especially the Romans valued.
    As far as mathematics goes, the ancients were gifted theoretical mathematicians, and any classics scholar will have at least read Euclid’s ‘Elements’, along with other texts. This produces strong skills in mathematical logic, if not in modern mathematics itself.
    It’s not the fact that classicists are smart that makes them good test-takers, it’s that their course of study prepares them well for the GRE.

  • Dexter Hate

    Great follow-up to your last post on this subject. A lot more precise and interesting.

    The gap between Teaching and Learning theory and core biological research is still vast. Much of the research done in Teaching and Learning is poorly designed, uses qualitative data and/or neglects testing the learner to see what they’ve actually learned.

    Anyone who wants to see this, just do a search on Eric (the big T&L database) for quantitative results of any kind. Some of the best T&L research is coming out of medical education right now, but even much of that is pretty weak.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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