Sarah-Jane Leslie and her co-authors have done some really great work showing that fields which are thought to require genius show the lowest representations of both women and black people. We discussed this a while back, but now it’s get a ton of well-deserved attention after being published in Science.
One thing that’s interesting is the extent to which many of have sensed this as a problem for a field for quite a long time. See, for example, this post from 2010 on Seeming Smart.
Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate. And what do people associate with intelligence? Some things that are good: Poise, confidence (but not defensiveness), giving a moderate amount of detail but not too much, providing some frame and jargon, etc. But also, unfortunately, I suspect: whiteness, maleness, a certain physical bearing, a certain dialect (one American type, one British type), certain patterns of prosody — all of which favor, I suspect, upper- to upper-middle class white men.
I think it’s also notable who insensitive the smartness/genius judgments are to evidence. It makes perfect sense to say “he’s really smart, it just doesn’t come through in his papers”; or ” She’s not that smart, she just works really hard”.
It’s fantastic to have people talking about this! Maybe now we can all finally stop talking about who’s smart. (And don’t get me started on genius projects.)