Gene Expression

Sean Carroll points out that physics and math degree holders have the highest LSAT scores. There’s the classic chicken or egg issue implied here: does physics make you smart, or do only smart people manage to complete a degree in physics? I think it is more the latter. How individuals in various disciplines do on standardized tests is strongly predicted by mathphobia in said disciplines.

LSAT scores by degree below….

1 Physics/Math 160.0
2 Economics 157.4
3 Philosophy/Theology 157.4
4 International Relations 156.5
5 Engineering 156.2
6 Government /Service 156.1
7 Chemistry 156.1
8 History 155.9
9 Interdisciplinary Studies 155.5
10 Foreign Languages 155.3
11 English 155.2
12 Biology/Natural Sciences 154.8
13 Arts 154.2
14 Computer Science 154.0
15 Finance 153.4
16 Political Science 153.1
17 Psychology 152.5
18 Liberal Arts 152.4
19 Anthropology/Geography 152.2
20 Accounting 151.7
21 Journalism 151.5
22 Sociology/Social Work 151.2
23 Marketing 150.8
24 Business Management 149.7
25 Education 149.4
26 Business Administration 149.1
27 Health Professions 148.4
28 Prelaw 148.3
29 Criminal Justice 146.0

Comments

  1. #1 Donna B.
    September 5, 2009

    The ranking for prelaw has got to hurt. Wow… beat out journalism and social work.

  2. #2 becca
    September 5, 2009

    Yeah, because CS folks take so much less math than Philosophy/Theology majors.
    I do wonder what kinds of self-selection forces are at work- maybe the smartest physicists decide law school will give them a better life than grad school in physics.

  3. #3 razib
    September 5, 2009

    Yeah, because CS folks take so much less math than Philosophy/Theology majors.

    fucking ‘tard. you know very well that just because i say “strongly predicted” doesn’t mean that it predicts every data point. and aspiring physics grad students have the highest GRE scores too.

  4. #4 Tony Jeremiah
    September 5, 2009

    The rankings for physics (1), chemistry (7), biology (12), psychology (17), and sociology (22) are interesting:

    Psychology’s standing within a hypothesized hierarchy of the sciences was assessed in a 2-part analysis. First, an internally consistent composite measure was constructed from 7 primary indicators of scientific status (theories-to-laws ratio, consultation rate, obsolescence rate, graph prominence, early impact rate, peer evaluation consensus, and citation concentration). Second, this composite measure was validated through 5 secondary indicators (lecture disfluency, citation immediacy, anticipation frequency, age at receipt of Nobel Prize, and rated disciplinary hardness). Analyses showed that the measures reflected a single dimension on which 5 disciplines could be reliably ranked in the following order: physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology. Significantly, psychology placed much closer to biology than to sociology, forming a pair of life sciences clearly separated from the other sciences.

    Simonton, D. K. (2004g). Psychology’s status as a scientific discipline: Its empirical placement within an implicit hierarchy of the sciences. Review of General Psychology, 8, 59-67.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    September 5, 2009

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the average score of those in the physics/math category is skewed by the math part. Math with formal proofs is usually harder than the applied techniques taught to most physics majors, and depends more on analytical and abstract thinking ability.

    “Yeah, because CS folks take so much less math than Philosophy/Theology majors.”

    Many CS programs these days are little more than vocational training for the IT industry. I’ve met my fair share of senior year CS undergrads who didn’t have a clue on how to do things like derive upper bounds on algorithm complexity.

  6. #6 anondoc
    September 5, 2009

    I’m not so surprised by the poor showing of pre-law students. Pre-law (and pre-med) majors are usually offered by less prestigious institutions. I do not believe that any of the “high ivies” offer a formal pre-law major.

  7. #7 lol
    September 5, 2009

    For the data I could find and match, the correlation between entering SAT averages (i.e. before matriculating into these majors) and these LSAT averages is .82.

    Assuming a differential attrition loss and differing definitions used for the two groupings, these seems like it could readily go to ~1.0 with matched measures.

    In other words, it’s mostly or all selection.

  8. #8 Joshua Zelinsky
    September 5, 2009

    The low score for prelaw is likely explained at least in part by the fact that many of the better universities don’t have prelaw majors. For example, Yale and Harvard both don’t have prelaw majors. So there’s a selection bias going on there. Something similar may be going on with Criminal Justice and some of the other low ranked majors.

  9. #9 Tony P
    September 5, 2009

    I would probably do well on the LSAT but to be honest I’ve never been interested in studying law.

    I looked at the parameters of the test. I’d probably do well but why waste the time.

    For reference, I have my B.Sc in Information Science, a sub branch of Computer Science.

  10. #10 Badger
    September 5, 2009

    Definitely the latter, Razib. Lots of people get weeded out of physics, vanishingly few out of the humanities. However, I wonder what the major breakdown would look like in the >170 crowd. There is still a lot of high iq (especially verbal) folks floating around in the humanities. And the best of the humanities students often target law school, while I imagine the best physics students more often head elsewhere.

    A side not: the LSAT is not a difficult test excluding perhaps the logic games. Even the physics 160 allows for ~25 wrong answers out of one hundred. If one applies that to the reading comp section, should a person who reads with 75 percent comprehension level really be in a profession dominated by reading convulutia?

  11. #11 Michael Blowhard
    September 5, 2009

    I’m surprised the English majors do as well as they seem to do.

    Signed, A Former English Major

  12. #12 Pia Jarvinen
    September 6, 2009

    This assumes that LSAT scores are a measure of intelligence. I am not disputing the importance of any of physics as a science. I simply want to question the status of certain natural sciences as the definitive measures of intelligence. What about social intelligence? We do not live in a vacuum.

  13. #13 nails
    September 6, 2009

    Hilarious.

    If LSAT scores are an indicator of intellect I guess poor, brown, non dude humans are all just inherently dumber.

    Ever think that the white dudes who score the highest are the most likely to get those kinds of degrees, and that other people are discouraged from math heavy degrees by historical bias? Guys like that are going in with the impression that they could get a physics or engineering degree, it is a product of privilege. Multiple studies display how social attitudes towards women doing math have caused a decrease in scores for them. And what do you know? All the degrees women flock to (at least partially for reasons like being discouraged by society or the actual departments) are at the bottom, most likely with a lot of crappier LSAT scores because of a math deficiency. The women who do well at math anyway and take a crack at a career that is math oriented/dude dominated go through an amazingly tough time being one of the few/only women there so a ton of them quit or get different degrees because they are signing up for a career filled with misogynist jerks by completing the degree.

    You need some isis STAT, dude. The LSAT and the degrees students pick do not exist indepedantly of the culture all those people live in every day.

  14. #14 Hilo
    September 6, 2009

    Why are social work and sociology lumped together? Or anthropology and geography? There’s some overlap, sure, but these are very different schools consisting of very different people.

  15. #15 Tony Jeremiah
    September 6, 2009

    An alternative hypothesis is that the LSAT examines a particular experiential learning/thinking style (i.e., abstract conceptualization) specific to physics/math students and is tested in physics/math courses and most science-related courses. Those closer to the bottom of the list probably involve students who have learning styles that involve more hands-on/real life experience (i.e., basically those ranked from 21-29), and associated with more concrete experiences that are likely tested in courses specific to them.

    And of course, one cannot really make any assertions about the data presented without also including the sample size and standard deviations for each mean presented. It’s possible (although probably unlikely), that there is no statistically significant difference between the means of the first and last ranked subjects.

  16. #16 razib
    September 6, 2009

    Ever think that the white dudes who score the highest are the most likely to get those kinds of degrees, and that other people are discouraged from math heavy degrees by historical bias? Guys like that are going in with the impression that they could get a physics or engineering degree, it is a product of privilege.

    unless you count asian americans as white, your stereotype is wrong. click the PDF for data (data is good for you). and i saw plenty of yellow and brown folk in my p-chem class, in fact, somewhat overrepresented. oh wait, i forgot, asians are white when we don’t fit your narrative….

  17. #17 Cameron H
    September 6, 2009

    Perhaps Math and Physics majors do better on the LSAT because they perceive that they must. If one has other options, graduate school begins to appear less and less imperative.

  18. #18 Lab Rat
    September 6, 2009

    I know nothing about this intelligence test, but I suspect it is testing academic intelligence, of the kind taught best in physics and maths style claasses.

    Anyone think to test for social intelligence? emotional? Intelligence which aids networking or sales skills?

    Maths students are indeed smarter at being maths students. But there are a whole lot of other equally valid ways of being smart.

  19. #19 razib
    September 6, 2009

    Perhaps Math and Physics majors do better on the LSAT because they perceive that they must. If one has other options, graduate school begins to appear less and less imperative.

    this is on a relative scale. take a look at the ones scoring low. what other options do “prelaw” students have? someone with a physics degree might not be able to be a working physicist, but i’m sure they could get a job as a programmer or in some cases as engineers.

    Anyone think to test for social intelligence? emotional? Intelligence which aids networking or sales skills?

    do you really want someone whose strength is networking and sales to look over your contracts with a fine-tooth? :-)

  20. #20 Lassi Hippeläinen
    September 6, 2009

    #5: I wouldn’t be surprised if the average score of those in the physics/math category is skewed by the math part. Math with formal proofs is usually harder than the applied techniques taught to most physics majors, and depends more on analytical and abstract thinking ability.

    If that were an important difference, engineering wouldn’t be that close to the top.

    What I see is a difference in the structure of the diciplines. At the top are highly structural sciences, where new things depend on old ones, and dependencies are quite accurate (“standing on the shoulders of giants”). At the bottom are studies that are collections of details, loosely bound together by some framework. Ernest Rutherford called them “stamp collecting”. The former emphasises logical thinking, the latter good memory.

    Of course it is possible to claim that that is a political choice, and then go on and design a test that puts your own favourite to the top of the class…

  21. #21 Bob
    September 6, 2009

    @Tony Jeremia has a point. What the lsat tests is the ability to read and understand a narrative and to do logic problems. Or at least that’s what I remember when I took it 15 years ago. A lot like the GRE too.

    I’m actually surprised that physics majors score so highly since there was no math at all on the LSAT. Perhaps it has to do with training in physics thought experiments or something.

    When I took the LSAT there were long reading sections with questions about what did and did not follow logically from the passage, nuances of what had been written, etc. This is why I’m surprised English majors do so poorly. OK, 11th isn’t horrible, but considering they majored in half the test, they should do better. Perhaps the reason Philosophy majors do so well is that they get all of the reading and interpretation background that English majors have plus the logic background. The lack of a background in logic would also explain the performance of English majors.

    The other main section of the test was basically a series of puzzles. 13 people eat dinner at a round table. Jeff sits on Ann’s left, Fred orders the fish, Paul has a red tie. What did James have for an entree? Assume Paul had pie for dessert, who sits on Ann’s right? Those sorts of puzzles. They are very easy to do. You just draw the matrix of choices and start eliminating possibilities as the come up. Then go through the hypothetical situation of each question and find the answer.

    Most people don’t finish the LSAT either. You have to both read and think very quickly(like you have to do in court) to finish. And people really get ticked at you if you finish ten minutes early and start looking bored. :)

    For those interested in anecdotes, not data, I took both the GRE and the LSAT. BA in English(early English lit, linguistics, classics in translation, and folklore were my interests). I scored +95 percentile in all sections. MA in English, thesis on Twelfth Night and fairy tale analogs. I scored above the 95 percentile in the LSAT as it was given at the time. I think both the LSAT and the GRE have changed formats since the early ’90′s, but I haven’t compared the modern versions to my memories.

  22. #22 Tony Jeremiah
    September 6, 2009

    Anyone think to test for social intelligence? emotional? Intelligence which aids networking or sales skills?

    Maths students are indeed smarter at being maths students. But there are a whole lot of other equally valid ways of being smart.

    HERMANN BRAIN DOMINANCE INVENTORY (PDF)

  23. #23 sg
    September 6, 2009

    Physics was my favorite class in HS and my physics teacher helped me get a scholarship to college. Anyway, I changed majors from Physics to foreign languages after I got my Mrs. degree. I mean there were too damned many curve-wrecking smart guys in those classes! ;-) In foreign languages I could get A’s with bare minimum effort.

  24. #24 Matt Springer
    September 7, 2009

    My impression based on SATs and GREs of my peer group is that there are very few people with physics degrees and IQs less than 130. As such I’m strongly inclined to think this ranking by major is a roundabout way of sorting by innate ability.

    The “product of privilege” comment is just risible. I have seen more wealthy white males crash and burn as undergraduate physics majors than I can count. I have also had poor immigrant women think rings around me and blow away their classes with ease. Three guesses where the latter are mostly from.

  25. #26 J.J.E.
    September 7, 2009

    @Razib #19

    Yeah, the point you rebutted was sloppy and obviously wrong, but your reply was only a notch or two higher. It isn’t as if you don’t know this, maybe you’re just too annoyed to be bothered with the details.

    But, regarding the performance of “yellow and brown” people, there is clearly a selection bias interacting with race and class. And your rebuttal works only as long as those “yellow” people are CJK or those brown people aren’t Hispanic. Educational achievement among Hmong, Vietnamese, Laotians, and Vietnamese (especially the refugee populations) is much lower.

    So, essentially, what you’re saying is that, if you are derived from a traditionally socially privileged family (which is biased towards whites, but can be any race) or if you succeeded in making the arduous journey 1,000s of miles from your original home and made it through the visa process, etc. (ie a huge selection process) you’ll do better than people who are less stringently selected and biased towards lower classes (black people who had no choice as slaves and Hispanic immigrants who face lower hurdles than Chinese, for example, in immigrating or were in the U.S. when it was Mexico).

    Just walking through the streets in the city of the “highly achieving Asian country” that I live in, it is clear that the dullards and slackers are legion. But they tend to stay here. The smart/motivated/successful/skilled/wealthy ones get over there to the U.S. much more frequently.

  26. #27 razib
    September 8, 2009

    But, regarding the performance of “yellow and brown” people, there is clearly a selection bias interacting with race and class. And your rebuttal works only as long as those “yellow” people are CJK or those brown people aren’t Hispanic. Educational achievement among Hmong, Vietnamese, Laotians, and Vietnamese (especially the refugee populations) is much lower.

    you’re rebuttal to my rebuttal is kind of funny. i was talking about asians, so when i refer to yellows & browns i’m talking east and south asians. of course i’m not talking about hispanics, especially when 50% of them identify as white on the census, and from what i can tell they are not overrepresented in the american sciences.

    as for the exceptions, there are plenty of exceptions. southeast asians are not the preponderance of the asian american community, as defined by the census (they are 25%).

    btw, my asian american activist friends loved the hmong, because they were hating it. but really, they’ve come a long way educationally. pretty soon there needs to be a new poster child for underserved asian american communities.

    as for all the stuff about selection. sure. what’s your point? my point was that american science has plenty of colored people, just not all sorts of colored people. and in fact, those colored people in american science do fine on the standardized tests. in the case of east asians it isn’t selection, they do fine on standardized tests in east asia too, somewhat better than american whites. the japanese and chinese who showed up in the early 20th century were not elites; in fact, it was disproportionately landless peasants who left for the new world in japan. these were the grandparents of the kids who created the idea of the “model minority.” more recent asian immigrants, especially south asians, exhibit selection to a much greater extent. of course you can say that those who immigrant have drive, etc. that’s fine. drive can overcome. my point wasn’t that not all non-whites have the gifts which can overcome the all-powerful oppression of the albino-hegemony, but that that hegemony can seem somewhat laughable in the physical sciences in the united states if you go by the diverse composition of the study body.

  27. #28 J.J.E.
    September 8, 2009

    You are of course correct. This is the sort of nuance that I was thirsting for, not the facile quasi-one-liner you actually rebutted with:

    unless you count asian americans as white, your stereotype is wrong. click the PDF for data (data is good for you). and i saw plenty of yellow and brown folk in my p-chem class, in fact, somewhat overrepresented. oh wait, i forgot, asians are white when we don’t fit your narrative….

    The nuance involves race (sociological and genetic), class, selection biases, contingency, prejudice, education, culture, and many things I’m probably leaving out in my haste. Anyway, when some squishy touchy-feely liberal has a knee-jerk reaction that all disparities are the results of chauvinism, colonialism, racism, whatever, ad nauseum, the crass lack of nuance irritates me. Similarly, the facile rebuttal of such claims without invoking the crucial nuance (and frankly our ignorance in many) of the causes strikes me as only a little better.

    Maybe I’m just being that annoying combination of pedantic and confrontational…

    And purely as a point of clarification, if you were talking about Asians specifically and not colors, then you would have to account for the status of “underperforming” Asian groups. And conversely if you were talking about colors specifically and not Asians per se, you’d have to account for other “brown” people, ie non-white Hispanics. My comments were to cover both bases. Your response actually zigged to the Asian side, so you can ignore my response to zagging to the color side.

    Also regarding the one-dimensional assessment of that monolith, “Asians”, in terms of international standardized test comparisons, it extends to Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Hong Kong, India (?) and maybe a few more. Again, almost all of SE Asia doesn’t stack up well in any data I’ve been able to come across:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/7126388.stm
    http://www.npf.org.tw/post/2/4601

    Thailand and Vietnam, even in international comparisons don’t stack up well. I doubt Pakistan, Laos, or Cambodia will do much better. And there are more references, but those are the first two I was able to vet as being moderately relevant.

    You’ve already expressed the point well, so I won’t belabor it beyond this final conclusion. Certainly white and/or class advantage doesn’t explain everything, but rebutting such a one-dimensional claim in the way you do does a mockery to what I see as the most likely real explanations. And a lot of problems do in fact involve race and class, though as you rightly point out, they aren’t exclusively to blame.

    Or maybe I’m just splitting hairs.

  28. #29 razib
    September 8, 2009

    J.J.E., the post wasn’t talking about race, but about how smart physics graduates are. so that is why i didn’t explore the relationships you allude to above.

    in any case:
    extends to Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Hong Kong, India (?)

    you are right to put a question mark. adult literacy rate:
    china – 91%
    taiwan – 95%
    japan – 99%
    s. korea – 98%
    india – 61%

    …one of these nations doesn’t belong with the others ;-)

  29. #30 E.J.J.
    October 9, 2009

    J.J.E. really needs to update his information concerning SE Asians, particularly the Vietnamese. In many countries, Vietnamese immigrants have surpased their white counterparts in some or even all the key SES indicators, such as income and academic achievement by the youth, such as France, America, Sweden, Australia, Canada. With the possible exception of Australia, Vietnamese also have lower crime rates than their native whtie counterparts.

    J.J.E., you should try comparing the Vietnamese to the Chinese-Vietnamese immigrants. You’ll be quite surprised. The Chinese Vietnamese have never done better than the Vietnamese. However, they do have access to vast pools of overseas Chinese cash, from which to start businesses, which in and of itself is a huge advantage. (Funny how so many mindless people always attribute the successs of Vietnamese to the Chinese Vietnamese, but never the past gang problems that existed about 10-20 years ago. LEA data is clear, the Chinese Vietnamese were disproportionately responsible for the so called “Vietnamese gang” problem of the late 1980′s to the late 1990′s. It’s a fact, look it up. Further, in Vietnam, the major organized crime groups are the Chinese Triads.

    On a tangential note, around 1916, 60% of all people arrested in Manhattan were… Surprise, surprise… JEWISH.

    BTW, have you notice how the Vietnamese routinely beat France, Germany, UK, Japan, etc. in the Inter. Math Olypiads, etc.?