The Problem with Academia as a Medium of Change or Critique

I have received a lot of correspondence that notes a genuine surprise at the reality of the discipline of I/O psychology. Many people wonder why there is not more of an outcry from academic practitioners for change. The answer to this is it is simply not in the nature of the academic circles to contest these issues.


Looking at a post from another forum, I draw your attention to some recent articles that look at the nature of academia and why it is so limited in its power to deal with these issues. The upshot is that Universities tend to opt for agreeable, nice people who don’t make waves and upset students, rather than brilliant, creative sorts, who change paradigms within the discipline. I have no concluding comment on this as it is summed up so well in the articles below and should be a sharp warning for those expecting revolution in I/O Psychology to come from the Universities:


Charlton, G. (2009) Why are modern scientists so dull? How science selects for perseverance and sociability at the expense of intelligence and creativity. Medical Hypotheses (in press).


The author is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, and Professor of Theoretical Medicine at the University of Buckingham, UK.




Question: why are so many leading modern scientists so dull and lacking in scientific ambition? Answer: because the science selection process ruthlessly weeds-out interesting and imaginative people. At each level in education, training and career progression there is a tendency to exclude smart and creative people by preferring Conscientious and Agreeable people. The progressive lengthening of scientific training and the reduced independence of career scientists have tended to deter vocational ‘revolutionary’ scientists in favour of industrious and socially adept individuals better suited to incremental ‘normal’ science. High general intelligence (IQ) is required for revolutionary science. But educational attainment depends on a combination of intelligence and the personality trait of Conscientiousness; and these attributes do not correlate closely. Therefore elite scientific institutions seeking potential revolutionary scientists need to use IQ tests as well as examination results to pick-out high IQ ‘under-achievers’. As well as high IQ, revolutionary science requires high creativity. Creativity is probably associated with moderately high levels of Eysenck’s personality trait of ‘Psychoticism’. Psychoticism combines qualities such as selfishness, independence from group norms, impulsivity and sensation-seeking; with a style of cognition that involves fluent, associative and rapid production of many ideas. But modern science selects for high Conscientiousness and high Agreeableness; therefore it enforces low Psychoticism and low creativity. Yet my counter-proposal to select elite revolutionary scientists on the basis of high IQ and moderately high Psychoticism may sound like a recipe for disaster, since it resembles a formula for choosing gifted charlatans and confidence tricksters. A further vital ingredient is therefore necessary: devotion to the transcendental value of Truth. Elite revolutionary science should therefore be a place that welcomes brilliant, impulsive, inspired, antisocial oddballs – so long as they are also dedicated truth-seekers”.


And from p. 2:


“Demanding superhuman perseverance filters-out intelligence and creativity…”


The kind of person who can thrive in the world of modern science is likely to be characterized primarily by an almost superhuman level of the personality attribute of perseverance – the ability to doggedly continue a course of action in pursuit of a goal, over a long period, despite setbacks and the lack of immediate rewards (and indeed the lack of any guaranteed ultimate rewards); with simultaneous, continuous productivity. Modern science therefore imposes an extraordinarily high minimum threshold for perseverance. Lacking this will deter many individuals from going into science in the first place, and which will cull and exclude many others during the process of accumulating sufficient qualifications and experience to allow them to embark on independent research. Other near-synonyms for perseverance are ‘self-discipline’ or ‘grit’ [3–5] and the ‘Big Five’ personality trait called ‘Conscientiousness’ (abbreviated here as ‘C’) [6].


Secondarily such an individual will usually need to have high levels of the Big Five personality trait termed ‘Agreeableness’ (abbreviated here as ‘A’) – which encompasses the ability to empathize with others, get along with groups, and compliantly to put the interests of the group above one’s own concerns [6]. Now, both Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are admirable traits in terms of society as a whole. Most people would wish to live in a society where Conscientious and Agreeable people predominated. Furthermore, a higher level of Conscientiousness, in particular, is predictive of better job performance [7]. But, success in top-level revolutionary science demands somewhat different qualities than society as a whole. While high levels of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness make a person an excellent citizen and employee; high average levels of these traits in selected personnel are attainable only at the cost of accepting lower average levels of other attributes (such as IQ and creativity).


This is a serious problem because Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are not the most important traits required for doing ‘revolutionary’ science at the highest level [9, 10]. (Revolutionary science is that type of science which changes the direction of science [9]; a revolutionary scientist is one whose activates are directed at this goal, someone trying to develop qualitatively new theories or methods [10].) Instead, for success in revolutionary science intelligence and creativity are the most important qualities [8]. Further, there is evidence to suggest that very high levels of the traits of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness may actually be hostile to – or even incompatible with – scientific genius; because to be hard-working and pleasant is useful only when these virtues are mobilized in pursuit of worthwhile scientific goals – and not when they become the highest scientific value in their own right.”.


2 thoughts on “The Problem with Academia as a Medium of Change or Critique

  1. Pingback: Is Competition Good for Science? – Dr. Paul Englert

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