Monday, December 20, 2010

Philosophy grads smarter than other graduates (incl. sciences)?

If you are wondering what kind of degree programme is likely to boost your general smarts, consider these figures.

Go here. This is one of several graphs from the above article. Based on GRE test performance (Graduate Record Examination) of graduate programme applicants. Quantitative (math) skills on the vertical axis, verbal skills on the horizontal (other graphs include the third component - "analytical writing", at which philosophers also excel, dramatically outperforming all others).

Philosophy graduates are pretty damn smart, the various figures suggest, compared to graduates with other degrees, including most - perhaps even all - sciences (though were they smarter to begin with, or did their degree programme make them smarter, compared to other degrees?). Check the article. Here's the original table of GRE scores of US students completing a variety of degrees.

Notice religion also does very well.

This data suggests (but falls a long way short of establishing) that if we want to produce graduates with general, across-the-board smarts, physics and philosophy are disciplines to encourage [and possibly also that accountancy and business administration should be discouraged (this confirms all my prejudices, I am pleased to say!)].

Note some very weird stats on this graph, such as business administration's woeful performance, doing less well than even "art and performance" on quantitative skills and verbal skills (which is staggering). And accountancy grads less good on quantitative skills than philosophy grads (!) and the worst performers of all on verbal skills. Both business and accountancy are also weak on the analytic writing component.

Of course, as the new business-friendly, market-led Tory vision of degree provision kicks in, we'll probably see philosophy departments up and down the country closing and business administration degrees expanding. Brilliant.

P.S. Just added a second graph comparing analytical writing and verbal. Check out e.g business administration. And where's philosophy?

15 comments:

wombat said...

Sorry to nit-pick but doesn't the title of the data series containing "intended major" indicate that it refers to (at best) undergraduates i.e. what it actually shows is that smart people intend to do philosophy.

Of course George Osborne would have been in the "intending to do" PPE category...

jeremy said...

That's a fascinating trove of data, but I don't think they support your contention.

In the graph you mentioned, the best possible place to be is in the upper right quadrant. So philosophy, while performing outstandingly well in the "verbal" section, only barely does above average for the "quantitative" section.

The graph doesn't really help much in overall aptitude; it's trying to look at the correlation between two variables instead (e.g. there's good correlation between verbal and writing skills - see the second graph).

Indeed, a primitive way of assessing overall "smarts" would be to add up the verbal and the quantitative scores. I'm far too lazy to do this, and it's not a great method anyway, but physics looks like it would come up tops, followed by maths. Philosophy would still be right up there, though!

jeremy said...

By the way, look how badly "communications" does on the verbal score!

Paul P. Mealing said...

Very interesting data. I'm an unqualified engineer so that makes me relatively a dumb-ass, according to this.

Interesting that 'religion' scores higher than physics in the second graph.

Jeremy, 'communications' in this context may refer to technical 'tele-communications', though the first graph suggests not.

My experience with engineers (after 40 years) is that they generally have poor writing skills. Engineers become engineers because they're good at mathematics, and there's not a lot of other professions that demand high mathematical skills like calculus and vectors. Economics attracts mathematicians as well, which is reflected in the first graph.

The discipline of mathematics really divides people I've found, which probably has more to do with the way it was taught to them as a kid than their innate ability, but I'm just speculating.

Just last week, I watched a BBC programme on Genius presented by Marcus du Sautoy, and there is a very simple test one can perform on children that is a good predictor of maths ability (demonstrated in the documentary.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Actually, specific test (referenced in last post) can be found here.

Regards, Paul.

SimonT said...

Well, according to the graph (and according to the original article), "philosophers are the smartest humanists, physicists the smartest scientists, economists the smartest social scientists."

What is most interesting about it, for me, is that none of the "top" subjects (philosophy, physics, maths, English, etc) are especially vocational; and I agree with Stephen that such subjects - with the possible but by no means certain exception of physics - will be the big losers come the UK higher education reforms in 2012. What a shame.

Seer Travis Truman said...

One catagory that is not on the list is "Seer of Forbidden Truth". Now, on most scales, this category would out-perform even philosophy, with the exception being perhaps mathematical tests.

One interesting detail was the "social worker". Now, I have always thought most SWs to be think stumps who are ex-druggies and are simply "shifty" type people who identify with people of similar background and used by society to promote drugs.

clk said...

Many students (particularly Accounting and Business Admin) are also looking at return-to-investment as they end up with huge loans after graduation.

At the end, its the bottom line that counts for many students and I believe Philosophy graduates without a second degree, LLB for example would usually not fare well.

Just look at the number of those from Investment/Merchant banking industry!

Anonymous said...

@wombat, "intended" means that these are undergrads who are in the process of completing this major and are, presumably, in their senior year, when most undergraduates take the GRE. In this way it refers more to "major intended to complete"(shortly, in fact) and not "major intended to study."

--Philosophy Major

Nils V. said...

Fascinating, yet it smells like bias by misclassification to drop all MDs into a box with other "medical professions".

Nils

Nils said...

I found proof. They put the top of the medical professionals in the same class as chiropractors, podiatrists, the nursing staff and obscure "others" - like administration.

Not to offend them, but neither reasoning, logics nor math are fields of their training.

Tor Hershman said...

More adroit orrrrrr simply less insipid?
I’ll give ya that when it comes to trajectories...we humans are the baddest-arse thingy in the universe but beyond that.....well.
Oh, 'beyond' trajectories, not the 'universe'.

Business Administration = Jungle -
or, as moi oft times has stated,
Capitalism = Terrorism
Communism = Impossible.

To sum we’ins humans, here’s me wee 01:11 second tutorial.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LubuSAgB5s

Stay on groovin' safari,
Tor

InTheImageOfDNA said...

I think self-selection is going to be a major factor in this.

One has to be very intellectually inclined to even want to pursue philosophy at the graduate level, hence to even take the GRE with intent to major in philosophy.

Second, there are lots of MBA programs and such--much more than philosophy graduate programs. Programs like MBA are also more for the pragmatically minded and hence you will get a larger quantity of people and that will in turn make the average intelligence--well, more average.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy is a discipline normally only chosen by those who have been strong academically throughout their school career, and are likely to be more intelligent.

More applied degrees, on the other hand, such as accounting and communications, tend to be chosen by those who have a poorer academic record, and are therefore likely to be less intelligent, as they seek to do something different from the academics they have failed to achieve highly in previously, and believe applied degrees offer a good alternative.

Therefore, it is not surprising that philosophy students are more intelligent, but this certainly does not show that studying philosophy is more beneficial than business. They were just more intelligent to begin with.

This point is backed up even more by the fact that people's IQ varies little between 16 and 30, irrelevant of what they study.

Therefore, I wouldn't be as worried about Tori market-lead policies as you are. Also, the sole aim of education is not just intelligence - accountancy students may not be as intelligent, but they have learnt highly applicable, valuable skills (arguably unlike philosophy students).

And here's a bit of disclosure that makes my stance slightly surprising (but perhaps you will be more likely to accept my argument): I'm a philosophy student!

Anonymous said...

I agree that in comparison to other vocational subjects it's not surprising that Philosophy does better. Surely academic subjects will do better if you are testing students academic abilities. However I don't believe the argument that more intelligent students choose Philosophy. In the UK Philosophy has lower entrance grade requirements than other major non-vocational degrees (ie.history or english) and many students that I studied with did philosophy because they were unable to get into these other subjects.