Smart People

Smart People


Leonard Zwelling

There was a time when smart people ran things. The President of the United States was considered a smart guy. In fact, he was a smart guy. In my life time we have had several smart guys as President including Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Nixon, and Mr. Clinton. Lately, we have had some not so smart guys in the Oval Office like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Most notable in the latter group is the current occupant of the Oval Office who has been widely known for his intellectual shortcomings for the bulk of his career.

Thus, one would be forgiven for wondering where the smart people are. Even the rich people like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Trump himself do not seem very smart. It’s hard to imagine how they got rich.

I think there is a simple explanation for the lack of intellect at the top of the political and economic food chain.

Regression to the mean.

The IQ curve is sigmoidal. In the center of the distribution is the IQ of 100. This is by definition. The mistake people make is thinking that if two smart people have children, the kids will be smart. Nope. The IQ of the off-spring regress to the mean—100. That is not to say that smart people don’t have smart kids. They do. But the laws of statistics dictate a regression to the mean.

A similar curve may obtain in all human endeavors. Here is where the Second Law of Thermodynamics kicks in. To prevent everything from degenerating to chaos or even regressing to the mean, energy must be pumped into the system. Smart, hard-working people provide the energy in a society for that society to progress and not regress. Without that energy, society too regresses to the mean.

Look around at former centers of excellence. Look what happened to the American automotive industry until it realized that the Japanese products were beating them in the market and they pumped energy into the design and manufacturing of American cars.

This has now happened with our politics and certainly in higher education.

We are led by non-smart people who cannot pump any energy into the system let alone wisdom as they seem to have neither. That the Congress of the United States should house people like Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz is frightening. And some of the presidents of major universities are wholly unfit for the job.

Clearly, our institutions of higher learning and academic medicine are led by people who cannot even lead their campuses or set examples for the students and faculty. A lot of that may be due to the rise of identity politics as the determinant of who will lead.

Here’s my suggestion. Back to the Future.

I am all for considering those groups who have been historically shut out when selecting leaders, but those selected must have the qualifications and qualities to lead. That was clearly not the case among the leaders of the Ivy League institutions who had to fire their presidents. Frankly, I don’t care what the ethnicity of the leader of any group I am in is. I just want that person to be smart, focused, and up to the job. I find in academia right now, that’s a rarity.

So put me down as looking for the smart people. They can certainly get in trouble (Nixon, Clinton), but they also can perform magnificently under pressure (Kennedy). I’ll take that.

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