1

There was an opinion piece in the New York Times titled Do You Have to Be a Jerk to Be Great? in which David Brooks cites from a book called "Range" by David Epstein (emphasis added):

In the first place, being monomaniacal may not even be good for your work. Another book on my summer reading list was “Range,” by David Epstein. It’s a powerful argument that generalists perform better than specialists.

The people who achieve excellence tend to have one foot outside their main world. “Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least 22 times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician or other type of performer,” Epstein writes.

I don't own the book and haven't found any information about how the data was gathered. 22 times sounds unrealistically high and I'm wondering where you'd even get data for normal scientists to compare to nobel laureates.

Is there any evidence for this claim?

  • 1
    I am not good at statistics, but per Wikipedia in the years from 1901 to 2017 there have been 813 nobel laureates (plus 24 Organisations, which I would presume do not dance or do magic tricks) altogether. Comparing that to the hundreds of thousands of active scientists is almost certainly meaningless. – Eike Pierstorff Jul 31 at 19:15
  • 2
    At first glance, looks like it's from Figure 2 in this PDF (2008), with the figure given on printed-page 54 of the same. – Nat Jul 31 at 19:25
  • 1
    @EikePierstorff Naw, the sample sizes being very different isn't a problem so long as they're both large enough. Larger sample sizes are never a bad thing, even if increasing one sample size would cause it to become different from another sample population that it's being compared to. – Nat Jul 31 at 19:29
  • 1
    @EikePierstorff Why do you say it's almost certainly meaningless because of the number of active scientists? – Bryan Krause Jul 31 at 19:29
  • 1
    Some Nobel awards weren't given to scientists. The "peace prize" is an entire category not typically given to scientists. It's also a bit political too (i.e. subjective), so now we may have a strange situation where we might say "selection bias", but would that mean to say that the Nobel deciding committees consider former performers over non-performers? What a weird claim. – fredsbend Jul 31 at 19:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .