Scientists May Not Be As Clever As We Think, According To Scientific Study

by : Emily Brown on :
Scientists May Not Be As Clever As We Think, According To Scientific StudyAlamy

‘How am I supposed to know? I’m not a rocket scientist!’

Unless you’re involved in a discussion specifically about the engineering of a rocket, chances are you’ve heard this phrase used when someone wants to make it clear they’re not a genius.


As it turns out, however, rocket scientists and brain surgeons may not necessarily be more clever than members of the general public – so if you’ve ever thought about taking on a dramatic career change, there’s really nothing holding you back.

Rocket scientist (Alamy)Alamy

Researchers hoped the study would identify which profession had the intellectual edge, as well as indicate whether public perceptions of the sectors had a basis in reality.

In order to answer these questions, researchers asked 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons to complete a series of tasks in six cognitive domains using a ‘Great British Intelligence Test’, which looked at areas like working memory, attention and emotion processing.


Respondents were asked about their age, sex and industry experience, and the results were then compared between each group as well as with data previously gathered from 18,000 members of the British public.

Results of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that while each group had its strengths, overall there were few differences between aerospace engineers, neurosurgeons and members of the public.


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Neurosurgeons were found to score significantly higher than rocket scientists in semantic problem solving, like defining rare words. However, aerospace engineers performed better in tests relating to attention and to mental manipulation tasks.


When compared with members of the public, rocket scientists didn’t show significant differences in any of the areas tested. Neuroscientists were found to be quicker at problem solving than the public, but their memory recall was slower.

Researchers cited by BBC News suggested this may be due to the ‘fast-paced nature of neurosurgery… or it could be, albeit less likely, a product of training for rapid decision-making in time-critical situations’. The study noted that it ‘is possible that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers are unnecessarily placed on a pedestal’ and added that ‘other specialties might deserve to be on that pedestal’.

In the future, work should be done to ‘aim to determine the most deserving profession’, the researchers said.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University and went on to contribute to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming Senior Journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news, trending stories and longer form features.

Topics: Science, Now


BBC News
  1. BBC News

    Rocket scientists and brain surgeons aren't necessarily more clever - study