Brains! Brains!

One general factor that partially explains our ineffective approach to Wuflu is that too many people in key jobs affecting our response – the press, the medical research establishment, politicians, advisors – aren’t all that smart.

We could  draft all the particle physicists ( for the duration) .  True, most would not have a lot of specialized domain knowledge:  it might take two or three weeks before they were better at their new jobs than typical CDC or WHO employees.

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114 Responses to Brains! Brains!

  1. EvX says:

    It wouldn’t take that long.

  2. dearieme says:

    Particle physicists collectively haven’t achieved much in decades. Why would the sort of people attracted into such a stuck-in-the-mud discipline be any use? Unless you put a high premium on conceit.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Come on. Dumb they’re not.

      • PrinzEugen says:

        Just read this piece by particle physicist Lubos Motl, you might just change your mind:

        https://www.rt.com/op-ed/484041-west-suicide-covid19-response/

        In my experience, a lot of high-IQ people are surprisingly dumb outside their limited area of expertise. The ones who aren’t (like you, for example) are the people you want running things.

        • Gkai says:

          Reading the paper, it’s only on covid-19 response that his opinion differ. He mentIon a lot of non-PC positions on societal issues (maybe non-issues) that are very similar to ones you can find in some posts here.
          So no, dumbness outside particle physics is not the explanation.

          At this point, i do not think a magical IQ increase of the people responsible for Covid-19 strategy will neccesarily change things in Greg’s direction.
          Appart on getting more, cleaner data maybe.
          I hope scientists still gather data to forge opinions, instead of picking data to push opinions. Maybe i’m to optimistic on this

        • R. says:

          Motl is very, very special. For some unknown reason he worships the closeted commie agent fag V.Klaus. Hence this essay.

          Hmm. Maybe he’s gay. That’d explain his long-time bachelor status.

      • dearieme says:

        Well they’ve chosen intellectually dead-end careers while progress has kept being made in molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics. Some might call that dumb.

        Others might say that people who are too arrogant to work at the lab bench are not likely to be the sort you want when they need to have developed a feel for how difficult it can be to get good data.

        If your criterion is simply to hire high IQ people just conscript international chess and bridge players and some pure mathematicians.

        I suppose your suggestion does have the merit that the progress of science would be quite unaffected by taking the particle physicists out of their offices for a few months. There is that to be said for it.

    • Unladen Swallow says:

      They haven’t done much because all their theories require far more energy to test than any machine can currently generate. The SSC would have been almost triple the energy of the LHC, but that was cancelled.

  3. Rosenmops says:

    Trudeau is as dumb as a sack of doorknobs.

  4. casualfan says:

    Interesting how every commenting spectator is always correct. To paraphrase Jesting Pilate, “What is Smart?” Is it just shorthand for “someone who thinks the same way I do”? In the real world, Leaders have to accomodate multiple viewpoints and concerns in their thinking and planning. Singapore, S. Korea, and Taiwan have all managed to control the virus without shutting down their countries, partially due to an “Asian mindset” of obeying authority.
    On the other hand, Tennessee has had more deaths this week from suicide tthan from Covid. So I ask you: Which is the smarter country?!

    • gcochran9 says:

      Interesting how you are never right.

    • Curle says:

      And how many suicides did S. Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have?

    • Magus says:

      if you think all Asians are the same and Chinese ‘obey authority’ you’ve clearly never interacted with the Chinese before. They’re not the Japanese. They’re stubborn and annoying and won’t obey rules. You think the Party was literally welding doors to building in Hubei shut and had drones yelling at people to get back indoors why? Because they know their own people better than you, and that’s what was required to get compliance.

      The Japanese on the other hand……

  5. Edward Beaumont says:

    Interestingly, the infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London who got the UK Government to abandon its “herd immunity” strategy, Professor Neil Ferguson, has a PhD in Theoretical Physics and he’s a professor of mathematical biology.

    He seems smart, and he’s a good communicator.

  6. Philip Neal says:

    In conversation once with two rockstar software developers, one from Ireland and one from New Zealand, I said that the one advantage of coming from a smaller country than Britain must be that it is easier to get into the establishment. “It isn’t worth getting into,” they both said. The brilliant people have better things to do.

    It may well be true that the governing classes are mediocrities, but it is particularly true in small countries, and there is no sign that the rulers of big countries have got a better grip on the epidemic than small ones.

    • Curle says:

      It’s not that the entirety of the governing classes are mediocrities it’s just that a majority are cowards and there is little incentive for risk taking of an prophylactic nature. In all the complaints I’ve read about the response of public health authorities nowhere have I seen aired a phenomenon that grew throughout the Obama years, the replacement of actual health care employees and even health sciences employees with outreach, communications and sociologists.

      It seems to be a phenomenon that has occurred under the radar but became very apparent in my county of 800k people when Health Dept. staff started lecturing elected officials on the claim originating from some wack job NC rural sociologist that racism was the biggest cause of health disparities, the proof allegedly being zip code correlations. Red lining was an alleged delivery device for the health impairing racism.

      About a year after circulating this nonsense, Harvard medical researchers blew the thing up, but the Harvard study got no press whereas the musings of the sociologist was given wide circulation.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      And then there is Lee Kuan Yew.

  7. Smithie says:

    I don’t know enough about physics to understand the weeds of professional terminology, but hasn’t Merkel hovered uncomfortably close to that field?

    • Magus says:

      Yes. Unfortunately she’s also a woman who seems to hate her own country and has no kids thus no tangible investment in the future. Doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to make bad decisions, but not great odds. We ended up getting some really really really boneheaded decisions, biggest ones:
      -let massive amounts of migrants in
      -curbing of nuclear power cuz people are dumb
      -Mismanaging UK (admittedly challenging) and thus putting EU in crisis mode
      – and now, f’ing up virus prep given ample time.

      So it’s not enough to get quantitatively minded people in there, but it’s a start. Ideally, non-insane quantitative people who seem to actually give a sht about their people.

  8. hvlee says:

    My brother and his wife are both retired NIH administrators who may once have been scientists. They both think that Fauci hung the moon (haven’t said that in decades). The slightest expression of doubt results in lengthy condescending emails. I am, after all, by definition, deplorable.

  9. gothamette says:

    The problem is that no one with real brains or balls wants to work for Elgalabus, um, Trump.

  10. gothamette says:

    PS You could send your resume to Jared. Address:
    Kushner Properties
    666 Fifth Ave.,
    New York, NY 10103

    • David Chamberlin says:

      Trump and Jared are very proud of their real estate investments. Hotels, casinos, and New York City high rises. Now I know the casinos are bankrupt, the hotels are empty, and the elevators you must take in a New York City high rise are Covid19 germ traps till further notice. Now I wonder how a highly leveraged real estate investor will do with that portfolio. One would think an urgency to make this particular situation end quickly would be highly motivating to these two fine gentlemen. Not that they have anything but the nations interests in mind.

      • gothamette says:

        He’s definitely running scared. We’re all scared – there’s no shame in that.

        Thing is, fear reveals character.

  11. David Chamberlin says:

    You are blaming the CDC unfairly. The WHO organization however deserves plenty of derision and disrespect. The skilled scientists that were at CDC and would have handled this situation far better, namely the pandemic team, left abruptly in 2018 and weren’t replaced by anybody. So to blame them for not doing their job is inaccurate. Did the people left at CDC totally fuck up? Absolutely. That’s what happens when political hacks try to the job of a scientist. Sure physicists could have done better than the political hacks with two weeks of on the job training. But they wouldn’t have been allowed to do their job. These boobs in the Trump administration don’t trust scientists and think they know better.

    • gothamette says:

      Whenever I see “the WHO” I think of Pete Townsend smashing a guitar.

      Maybe he should replace the Ethiop?

    • So the CDC was brilliantly prepared until 2018, and it’s one more thing that’s Trump’s fault?

      • David Chamberlin says:

        If you want to know more read about it. If not believe what you like. The CDC should have had tests ready and the federal government had six weeks to prepare for the coming wave of cases. But it is a political issue so I expect the subject will be clouded by beliefs rather than facts. Hopefully facts rule here on this tiny island.

      • David Chamberlin says:

        Even with all the tests and all the prep and a better president the citizens were not going to stay in their homes. New Yorkers would still flee to Florida and the shoppers would still crowd the grocery stores. But at least the curve could have been lowered so that the refrigeration trucks were not parked outside of the hospitals when the peak hit. Too late now. But it isn’t too late to pay 12 dollars a month to Walmart to have them deliver your groceries to your front door and to temporarily move if you live in a high rise. I would not recommend living in a building where an elevator is required to come and go.

      • Curtis says:

        Yes, the masks and ventilators Obama’s CDC stockpiled all vanished overnight. Along with the European ones.

  12. megabar says:

    I think there are three main traits to being effective in complex situations: 1. Intelligence. 2. Open-mindedness. 3. Good faith.

    is obvious. By 2., I mean not being dogmatic or condescending to new lines of thinking, and a quick willingness to admit you’re wrong or unsure when the evidence suggests that. I do not mean being wishy-washy. And by 3., an orientation towards putting the problem as the first priority, rather than personal gain, etc.

    It is possible that someone can hide a lack of 1. by also exhibiting a lack of 2. and 3. But I think this is a subset of ineffective people, and there exist very smart people who lack 2 and/or 3.

    • Gkai says:

      Finding 3 is really really difficult.
      Maybe unicorn-difficult.
      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
      is true, so are many variants.
      so very likely unicorn-difficult 😉

  13. NamelessNobody says:

    Particle Physicists are very smart, but they are a cohort of people who have already demonstrated that they are happy to play a very Kabbalistic Glass Bead Game for their entire careers. Field is not exactly sprouting Feynmans in the Present Year.

    Hedge Funds recruit a lot of talent by hoovering up the products of pure/applied/modeling heavy PhD programs who have woken up to the nature of the Racket and decided to just go for the money and retire early to pursue other interests.

    Ask Aaron Brown (Poker Face of Wall Street) to chair a Brains Trust before whoever won last year’s Fields Medal.

    Problem is that the super smart analytical/quant guys in Finance are working in a rarified environment where their bosses have regulatory capture and so they don’t necessarily have real skin in the game in the current crisis.

    If society had the willpower to put a blowtorch to the balls of the Hedge Funds and Investment Banks so that their bailouts were contingent on their quantifiable practical contributions to the fight against Covid-19…

    A lot of egos will need to be readjusted. Managerialist Bugmen and most of Credentialed Classes have to face facts that they are not smartest people in the room and Nature Doesn’t Care what they think/wish. Same time the really smart predatory types have to accept that they have a duty to step up and help save the Herd they feast upon in normal times. Soviet style Sharashkas if things get really bad.

    Too much bloviating from me in a blog full of smarter guys. One final suggestion:

    Wartime Measure — Immediately void all PRC patents. All countries did that upon declaring war in both C20 Big Ones. It’s not like there’s anything to lose anyway; PRC doesn’t respect Western IP at all. I say go for it as a shot across the bows.

  14. mapman says:

    Very true. I recently explained a physicist friend how isothermal DNA amplification works. He struggled with the directions of synthesis first but then got it all within an hour. I’ve never seen a future Masters in Public Health student that had even a chance of understanding this relatively basic stuff.

  15. RJ Rock says:

    The fact that intelligence can remove the selective pressure required for it to persist creates an unstable dynamic in civilizations.

  16. My old PI as a postdoc had a named chair in the cardiology department and an MD from Harvard. He was doing medical research, mostly with mouse models, but also some clinical trials. He was a good guy, I liked him, and he had a huge breadth of knowledge in his field. I joined up to do some molecular modeling of some key compounds he was studying. That medical paper on how to calculate the area under the curve was going around and I shared it with him as a chuckle.

    Got a message back asking how hard it would be for me to implement it in code and that this seemed really useful, thanks for the reference.

    I had to spend a bit of time re-calibrating my opinion of him after that.

    • mapman says:

      LMAO. This happens all the time. Most practicing biologists wouldn’t be able to solve quadratic equation if their lives dependent on it. Working on my MS, I had to [virtually] fight a giant figure in cancer imaging and the fight effectively was about scaling ratios for area vs volume. During my first postdoc, I discovered an entrenched biochemical dogma that, in effect, was an inability to comprehend a shift in equilibrium due to the law of mass action. It never ends… The only saving grace is that about 1-2% are as sharp as any physicists – and in truth it’s them who drive most of the progress.

  17. Anonymous says:

    You quote is worth remembering. The establishment discourages the flourishing of elite brains from running things. Cochran makes these idealistic comments now and then about how much better things could be run if the smartest ran things. Well they don’t. We all respect Cochran for pointing out when idealists have their head up their ass, well sir,

  18. rgressis says:

    I was tested as having a 143 IQ, I’m very comfortable in front of crowds, I have years of experience as an improvisational comedian, I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, I have a tenured position in a university, and I’ve only recently awakened to the fact that my whole career is a sham, and that I don’t have the horsepower to actually make a useful contribution. If my IQ score is to be trusted I’m, what, 1 in a 1000? And frankly, I’m an idiot. So, while I used to think that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, I now think it’s more like 100% of the work is done by .0001% of the people, and the rest of us might as well die in a mattress fire.

    • Craken says:

      The IQ threshold for capacity to contribute depends on the field. It’s quite a bit lower in biology or engineering than it is in physics or mathematics. As to philosophy…I’ve come to think of it as mostly creative writing for less numerate Aspergers cases. I judge philosophers on the scale of creativity, not analysis.

      • rgressis says:

        If philosophy ceased to exist, would that be a net good, or a net neutral? (I can’t imagine a case for thinking it would be a net bad, but if you can think of one, I’m all ears.)

        I think the main reason for thinking it’s a net good: (1) philosophers specialize in making the obvious confusing, which actually is a bad thing; so, if this stopped, that would be good. (2) The stars of philosophy — people like Saul Kripke, David K. Lewis, Hilary Putnam, Jerry Fodor — are actually quite smart, smart enough even to be a theoretical physicist. If they didn’t do philosophy, they would do something useful.

        The case for thinking it’s a net neutral: the people who are good at philosophy wouldn’t be good at things that are socially useful. They don’t have the personality or brains for it, so the fact that philosophy exists is fine, because it gives such people something to do. (That said, maybe I’m being too hard on philosophy; arguably, Kripke at least is smart enough to get a Ph.D. in physics. Here’s what Wikipedia writes about him, in case you don’t know him: “Kripke was labeled a prodigy, teaching himself Ancient Hebrew by the age of six, reading Shakespeare’s complete works by nine, and mastering the works of Descartes and complex mathematical problems before finishing elementary school.[8][9] He wrote his first completeness theorem in modal logic at 17, and had it published a year later. After graduating from high school in 1958, Kripke attended Harvard University and graduated summa cum laude in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. During his sophomore year at Harvard, he taught a graduate-level logic course at nearby MIT.[10] Upon graduation he received a Fulbright Fellowship, and in 1963 was appointed to the Society of Fellows. Kripke later said, “I wish I could have skipped college. I got to know some interesting people but I can’t say I learned anything. I probably would have learned it all anyway just reading on my own.”[11]”

        ).

        • Curle says:

          “(1) philosophers specialize in making the obvious confusing“

          Don’t things like Baysianism, Occam’s razor, debunking Historicism (Popper) and debunking the fallacy of exceptionalism operate to show that things that ‘seem’ obvious can wrong? Isn’t this what this blog’s host does every day?

          • rgressis says:

            I mean, as a philosophy professor, I’d like to think so (but why? Do I somehow get some of the glory just because some people in my field have done useful things?), but couldn’t one say that actual practitioners knew all these things anyway, without needing a philosopher to make them explicit?

        • Deckin says:

          I think you’re asking the wrong question. If anything is already achieved, yet the knowledge to keep it going and useful (but no net increase), ceased to exist, the loss of it now would be zero–over the present baseline.

          I think the question is, had philosophy never existed…? And not just the philosophers, their results/ideas. To that the answer has to be, the world wouldn’t look like it does. Just take the lowest hanging fruit: Aristotle’s discovery of the logical form of a proposition: How can there be Boolean algebra without it?

          Also, maybe if Kripke had spent more time learning other areas of philosophy (the study of virtue), he might not have had his famous problems with female students–he was removed from classrooms way before the me too thing.

        • Curle says:

          “couldn’t one say that actual practitioners knew all these things anyway”

          You could say it, but I don’t think it would be true. Certainly not outside the sciences.

          Was that quasi-famous 70% of Rutgers (Or was it Cornell?) students who predicted they would be in the top 10% (IIRC) of their class all Humanities majors? Given that large numbers of former students are in major debt because of the fallacy of exceptionalism I’d assume it’s an idea that is insufficiently obvious.

          • j says:

            “Why the State pays salaries to philosophers?” by Leszek Kolakovski, a philosophy professor in the Polish Communist Party Central Committee dedicated to training politically correct scholars, provides a good answer to your question. In the article, published in samizdat, analyses what philosophers produce and why they are so important for a
            Communist State (and to all States in general), to the point that they are included in the privileged nomenclatura. Unfortunately I cannot find a link in English. Even in capitalist countries philosophy teachers are respected and relatively well-paid.

    • Bert says:

      E. O. Wilson’s self-reported IQ if I recall correctly is 122, but he has had numerous “great ideas.” My IQ is higher than Wilson’s, and I’ve had some good ideas, but my drive for academic fame was never strong at all. Now beyond academia, I find the independent researcher role less appealing than doing idiosyncratic things.

      • rgressis says:

        You put “great ideas” in quotes; should I conclude from this that you think that his ideas are only properly thought of as great but are not actually great? If so, then the fact that his IQ is only 122 would seem to confirm that he wasn’t really socially useful. (I know who E. O. Wilson is, but I don’t know what contributions he’s made.)

        • Ben says:

          E.O. Wilson put up the good fight against the Marxists in academic biology, that’s definitely socially useful. I have more respect for E.O. Wilson than the marxist brigade (Lewontin, Kamin, Rose et al) even if some of those Marxists had “high IQs.”

          • gcochran9 says:

            Those commies weren’t interested in the truth. But, they weren’t all that sharp either, especially Gould.

            • Bert says:

              Gould was a total fraud. Even his little bit of empirical work was dishonest. He is an example of what can happen when someone who doesn’t know much math wants desperately to be a theoretician.

        • Bert says:

          No, you should not conclude that I am denigrating Wilson. He is the greatest naturalist evolutionist of the 20th century. His influence will be far more lasting than that of his closest competitor, W. D. Hamilton. Wilson’s contributions include work in ant taxonomy and ant social behavior, crystallizing the core ideas of sociobiology, development of the theory of species/area relationships in ecology and biogeography, gene-culture coevolution. He not only fought the blank-slaters in academia, but has been a leading spokesperson for preserving biodiversity.

    • Lance says:

      According to Pareto, it’s a square-root law, so out of ~320 million Americans, somewhere on the order of 18,000, or 0.006% are actually doing most of the real work, so you’re not far off.

      In reality it probably breaks down better by institution or industry, so perhaps between .02% and 10% are doing most of the real work in the range of a 10-million strong industry to a 100-headcount company. The fabled 80/20 rule works best in small groups, up to perhaps 20 or 30 people.

      Waiting now for Greg to explain how either the math or assumptions are all wrong – but regardless, I think the rhetorical point still stands, which is that in any given field, a terrifyingly small number of people actually have any competence. Particle physicists might be a much smarter group than bureaucrats, but within the field of particle physics, there are still only a small handful of physicists actually advancing the discipline.

      • gcochran9 says:

        I had a friend whose formal job at a small technical college was environmental hazards, as when someone found a dollop of radium compounds in the back of an old safe, or let a bottle of ether vaporize and blow up a lab, but he also took care of everyone’s computer problems, wrote software to catch the students blue-boxing, and stepped in to negotiate various contracts because the friend responsible was ill. So he was figuring out whether continuing the school’s cogeneration program was preferable to taking the local power utility’s last offer.

        I talked to him over the weekend. Turns out he just happened to have some N-95 masks in the basement….

    • frege23 says:

      Ha, nice to see you posting here, do your departmental colleagues know this?. Couple of things:

      Sorry, but I don’t know what to think about this post of yours. Did you really think that you would make a long-lasting contribution to philosophy? In my opinion, the increased publishing, the hosting of conferences, graduate seminars focused on work of the lecturer and so on has given contemporary “philosophers” (I hate that term! As if you could gain wisdom via a certificate.) a false sense of importance. Just because bright people talk about certain things does not make those important or long-lasting, especially if it is itself derivative of other people’s work and does not present a definite solution (as is usually the case in philosophy).

      There are at most 10-20 philosophers each century that stand out and will be read in the following centuries, the rest of them will be forgotten and rightly so. But that is the plight of the humanities and its standards. You either produce something really great, like Kant or Shakespeare, or you should not waste everybody’s time and stick to teaching.

      Contrary to science and to some small extent mathematics, there seems to be less of a chance for incremental progress/results/achievement over time. A mediocre poem is a mediocre poem and not worth reading. A less than outstanding theorem or algorithm, even just a novel implementation of one, can still serve an important purpose.

    • dearieme says:

      It’s a new excuse for the sort of people who go to Accident and Emergency with foreign objects stuck up their bum.

    • swampr says:

      “The 27 year-old astrophysicist, who studies pulsars and gravitational waves, said he was trying to liven up the boredom of self-isolation with the four powerful neodymium magnets.”

      LOL. Maybe we need to keep physicists busy just so they don’t dream up with clever ways of hurting themselves.

      I invented a safer way to keep from touching your face. Tie your wrists together with cord passed between your legs. It works.

  19. Hoptoaf says:

    I’m thick as mince but do I get a brownie point for spotting the Terry Pratchett reference in the post title?

  20. Ludwig Fahrbach says:

    Here are two pieces of anecdotal evidence supporting the opposite claim. A friend of mine is one of the best law experts in his field in Germany. He is regularly invited to give counsel in specialized sub-committees of the German parliament. He says that he is pleasantly surprised by the competence of the German parliamentarians in those committees. They know their subject, are very well-informed, and ask very good questions. Which is why he keeps accepting their invitations to go there.

    Another friend works for the EU in Brussels in the statistics department. He says job applications include IQ-tests. You have to score in the 140s to get a job there. (Jobs in the EU burocracy are popular, he says.)

    Politicians have to have many skills. They have to deliberate, decide, and implement. To deliberate they have to listen to the right information sources. Often the sources give conflicting information. For example, the medical experts said different things about the Corona virus. The politicians have to be able to judge which sources can be trusted in each case, for a very wide variety of subjects. Then they have to reach a decision, typically in a short amount of time, under a lot of uncertainty. The decision has to be such that it balances the conflicting interests of a number of different agents, that it can be defended in public and that they know how to implement it. Then they have to implement it, including communicating it to the public. And occasionally they have to see to it that they get re-elected. They are actually held responsible for what they say and do. I doubt that a typical theoretical physicist would be better at all these things. For example, you don’t have the luxury to spout out every idea that pops into your mind. This is stimulating in an academic context, but not good for a politician, as one saw several times with Trump.

    • Curle says:

      “Another friend works for the EU in Brussels in the statistics department. He says job applications include IQ-tests. You have to score in the 140s to get a job there. (Jobs in the EU burocracy are popular, he says.)”

      Which may explain why ‘sociology’ jobs are expanding in local government health depts and Human Resources depts. The intersection of 140 IQ candidates with sociology degrees must be small.

    • ‘Another friend works for the EU in Brussels in the statistics department. He says job applications include IQ-tests. You have to score in the 140s to get a job there.’

      Maybe they could apply their high-powered brains to re-designing the Eurostat website.

      The current one is un-navigable. Your idiot nephew, who spends every waking hour failing at Minecraft, could design a better site.

      • Анисимов Дмитрий says:

        The website is a feature, not a bug. Minecraft loses profits it people can’t use their site; contra, EU is taxpayer-funded.

  21. Barry Cotter says:

    If physicists are that great why aren’t they all rich? Why isn’t the story of every quantitative discipline that of the invasion of the physicists every ten to twenty years? It’s not like there are enough jobs in Physics to go round; they should be conquering finance, mathematical sociology, circuit design, economics, epidemiology, music theory…

    If sheer brains are that powerful and physicists have that much are you personally rich?

  22. gothamette says:

    You don’t have to be brilliant to be president. You have to have the brains to recognize intelligence in other people.

  23. Bert says:

    To extend the concept of brains running the show, a protocol for that would be Demarchy coupled with the candidates for random selection being tested to insure a range of IQ between 115 and 140, an absence of sociopaths, and a uniform distribution across all of the Myers-Briggs personality types. Such a demarchic set of persons would be far more functional than politicians, who are first of all self-selected, a trait which should in fact disqualify them from exercising any public power.

    • Ben says:

      Dominic Cummings of the UK has repeatedly called for the need for something like this in the political apparatus. He uses the term ‘cognitive diversity.’

      I think this is the fundamental problem with the ruling western political class. They aren’t bright and beyond that, they’re also self-selected in terms of personality and even political views. The system is literally designed to select for elite university educated but not too bright salesman types whose main talent is selling to the masses. This is obviously very different from competence in any domain perhaps excepting the sales profession and the media.

  24. ASR says:

    A physicist on the right way to graph cases in the current pandemic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54XLXg4fYsc It certainly makes sense. The problem is explaining this to anyone who isn’t comfortable with log-log graphs and that two related variables may be expressed as implicit functions of a third.

  25. catte says:

    No idea of the veracity of this, but it’s interesting if true. The CFR for under 35s is like 0.1% or less. If my calculations are right, 2 dying out of 22 has a probability of ~0.0002. Pre-existing conditions might push it up a bit, but it’s still pretty unlikely. Could support the viral load hypothesis — if they were deliberately huffing up virus-laden coughs and sneezes, they’d start with way more viral particles in their respiratory tracts than the average new infectee. Their immune systems would have much less time to react.

    There have been many reports of “corona parties”; it might be worth keeping an eye out for confirmed results and whether they really do have much higher mortality.

  26. gyddyn says:

    They ARE smart. They are not smart in “solve the problem”. They’re smart in “win the war about who is on top”.

    Getting problem-solvers to the top requieres either a world of fantasy or large scale catastrophe (not near enough at this time).

  27. LuFa says:

    I think it is obvious that pure IQ is not enough to survive in politics. You need communication skills (to talk to people in all kinds of situations), social abilities (to judge all kinds of people), and practical skills (initiative, and so on). But there are also skills that are purely cognitive and not necessarily highly correlated with IQ. One is dealing with uncertainty. I met some very good mathematicians (as I am one) who couldn’t deal with uncertainty. They had no sound judgement for situations with partial information. They were just too opiniated, or dogmatic. This matters little when you only have to construct proofs and have enough IQ for that. Similarly, I would say, for theoretical physics. There is uncertainty there, but it is of a simple kind. A politician, by contrast, has to deal with a lot of uncertainty of many different kinds. He needs sound judgement in many different kinds of contexts. He is subject to a barrage of opinions from all sides and constantly has to judge what is plausible and important, and what is not. (I actually think that all American presidents of the recent past including Bush and Trump (when he was younger, let’s say) were good at that.)
    In my opinion one of the reasons for the big problems the U.S. now finds itself, is that there is so little trust in the government. Why, on earth, do Americans hate and despise their government so much? Americans seem unable to assess fairly any action of a government entity. This is really bad, when you have to deal with a crisis like this.

  28. frege23 says:

    Sorry, but this belief in intelligence as a panacea is just dumb. What you want is people in power with a cautious and pessimistic disposition advised by a variety of smart and inventive people. Intelligence alone is not much when it comes to navigating in the world, you need certain character traits and a critical independent mindset. How many geniuses had very bad ideas when it came to the political realm?

  29. j mct says:

    I’m recently retired from a hedge fund, and we liked to hire physicists, they’re great calculators! Though they were/are smart though, they aren’t as smart as they think they are, no one is as smart as physicists think they are.

  30. Rob says:

    How much can colleges be blamed? French colleges admit entirely on ability, and the French economy punches far above their weight. At least if you buy free market dogma.

    The best schools aren’t admitting their smartest applicants, as a general rule. Perhaps affirmative action can be blamed for this, but I’m sure there are other factors. Medical schools, for example, prefer grades and extracurriculars over stellar MCAT scores. The MCAT has recently been dumbed down, as well.

    Some graduate programs don’t consider the math portion of the GRE, and it’s dumbed down from the SAT math portion to boot.

    Maybe having lawyers running everything isn’t a great idea overall. At least when those lawyers don’t have any reality-based education after high school.

    • Curle says:

      “Maybe having lawyers running everything isn’t a great idea overall.”

      There are very few lawyers in elected office at either the state or local level in my state. The ones that are elected get more attention because they tend to rise into leadership. I’ll bet there’s more nurses, teachers, social workers and union reps elected to our Legislature than lawyers. Many legislators now go into the politics right out of college and have no work experience before politics. Think Paul Ryan.

  31. Tl Howard says:

    The people at WHO are simply corrupt and taking money from the Chinese.

    • gcochran9 says:

      On a lot of these questions, the wrong answer is what epidemiologists were taught in school: like the inefficacy of quarantine. The CDC was against quarantine with HIV ( which Castro made work): was that the fault of the Chicoms?

  32. BB753 says:

    So, your three traits: intelligence, openness and good faith make up what we use to call wisdom, or is wisdom some other trait? Or perhaps wisdom is 2) and 3)?
    Whatever your definition, in my experience intelligence and wisdom rarely co-exist in the same person, at least, most of the time.
    I stand by Aristotle’s definition: “practical wisdom, or phronesis, is also aimed at truth, but truth in the service of action.” (as opposed to theoretical wisdom, which aims at truth for its own sake, discovering the first principles of knowledge, that is, more or less what we call science today).

  33. david says:

    This would be a great think tank. Group together absolute spatial geniuses and have them disrupt every industry. What would a genius do as a police officer or firefighter? How about as a sports analyst or a landscaper?

  34. Eoan says:

    So how does a super-smart person convince the public not to go to the beach after staying inside for a month?
    https://local.theonion.com/man-not-sure-he-can-take-another-6-weeks-of-barely-foll-1843201749

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