Summary: In terms of general intelligence, rocket scientists and brain surgeons are no smarter than the general population, researchers report.
Rocket scientists and brain surgeons are no smarter than the general population, suggests a study in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.
Despite the commonly used phrases “It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery” the findings show that both aerospace engineers and neurosurgeons have similar levels of intelligence to those in the general population.
As such, the researchers say that both specialties might be unnecessarily put on a pedestal, and that phrases unrelated to careers such as “It’s a walk in the park” might be more appropriate.
To help settle the age-old argument of which phrase—”It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science”—is most deserved, researchers compared the intelligence of 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons with 18,257 members of the general population.
All participants completed a validated online test to measure six distinct aspects (domains) of cognition, spanning planning and reasoning, working memory, attention, and emotion processing abilities.
Potentially influential factors, such as gender, handedness, and experience (years) in their specialty, were taken into account in the analysis.
The results show that aerospace engineers and neurosurgeons were equally matched across most domains but differed in two respects: aerospace engineers showed better mental manipulation abilities, whereas neurosurgeons were better at semantic problem solving.
When these scores were compared to the general population, aerospace engineers did not show significant differences in any domains. Neurosurgeons were able to solve problems faster than the general population but showed a slower memory recall speed.
These results suggest that, despite the stereotypes depicted by the phrases “It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery,” all three groups showed a wide range of cognitive abilities, explain the researchers.
They acknowledge that this is an observational study that does not represent the global range of aerospace engineers and neurosurgeons.
They say their results suggest that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers might be unnecessarily placed on a pedestal and that “It’s a walk in the park” or another phrase unrelated to careers might be more appropriate.
About this intelligence research news
Author: Press Office
Contact: Press Office – BMJ
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Open access.
““It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery”—”It’s a walk in the park”: prospective comparative study” by Inga Usher et al. BMJ
“It’s not rocket science” and “It’s not brain surgery”—”It’s a walk in the park”: prospective comparative study
To compare cognitive testing scores in neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers to help settle the age old argument of which phrase—“It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science”—is most deserved.
International prospective comparative study.
United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, and Canada.
748 people (600 aerospace engineers and 148 neurosurgeons). After data cleaning, 401 complete datasets were included in the final analysis (329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons).
Main outcome measures
Validated online test (Cognitron’s Great British Intelligence Test) measuring distinct aspects of cognition, spanning planning and reasoning, working memory, attention, and emotion processing abilities.
The neurosurgeons showed significantly higher scores than the aerospace engineers in semantic problem solving (difference 0.33, 95% confidence interval 0.13 to 0.52). Aerospace engineers showed significantly higher scores in mental manipulation and attention (−0.29, −0.48 to −0.09). No difference was found between groups in domain scores for memory (−0.18, −0.40 to 0.03), spatial problem solving (−0.19, −0.39 to 0.01), problem solving speed (0.03, −0.20 to 0.25), and memory recall speed (0.12, −0.10 to 0.35). When each group’s scores for the six domains were compared with those in the general population, only two differences were significant: the neurosurgeons’ problem solving speed was quicker (mean z score 0.24, 95% confidence interval 0.07 to 0.41) and their memory recall speed was slower (−0.19, −0.34 to −0.04).
In situations that do not require rapid problem solving, it might be more correct to use the phrase “It’s not brain surgery.” It is possible that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers are unnecessarily placed on a pedestal and that “It’s a walk in the park” or another phrase unrelated to careers might be more appropriate. Other specialties might deserve to be on that pedestal, and future work should aim to determine the most deserving profession.