We hear a lot about the richest 1 percent in America, but a Duke University researcher says we should be focusing on the smartest 1 percent.
"Many of the people who are transforming society, advancing knowledge, and inventing modern culture are in the top 1 percent in intellectual ability, wrote Jonathan Wai, research scientist at Duke's Talent Identification Program. "Yet ironically, America undervalues math and spatial skills--it is socially acceptable to be bad at math."
On The Daily Circuit Thursday, Wai said the United States needs to put more funding in gifted and talented programs for students to help nurture their abilities.
"If you look at the federal education budget, funding for gifted students is .02 percent of that entire budget," he said. "So, in terms of investing in our gifted students for public education, it just isn't there... We're basically not funding programs for gifted students and we're not investing in the future of America."
This attitude toward subjects such as science and math continues into adulthood, Wai said.
"Today, if you go out to a meal with a friend or something like that and you can't calculate the tip correctly, your friend probably will laugh with you about it," he said. "If you say 'I can't actually read,' people will laugh at you and be in horror about that... Today in America, it's OK to be bad at math... As a culture and society, that's not a good thing because we need to value math."
As a country, devaluing the education of the "scary smart" could lead to long-term economic challenges, Wai said.
From Wai's Psychology Today piece:
A longitudinal study that I worked on as a graduate student has demonstrated that intellectually talented students in the top 1 percent of ability (the super smart) earn doctorate-level degrees (for example, an M.D., J.D., or Ph.D.) at about 25 times the rate of the general population, and that students in the top .01 percent (the scary smart) earn doctorates at about 50 times the base rate. This Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), led by David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow of Vanderbilt University, found that not only is the number of doctorates earned a function of ability but also that income, number of publications, patents, and even likelihood of tenure at a top university significantly increase as IQ increases.
An average person scores 100 on an IQ test using the Stanford-Binet IQ scale. A score of 137 to 160 is considered the top 1 percent to .01 percent of all scorers.
Frank Lawlis, director of psychological testing for American Mensa, also joined the discussion on The Daily Circuit. While Lawlis said that funding gifted and talented programming for the country's smartest is important, he also stressed the need for fostering their social adjustment too.
"These high IQ kids really do have a tougher time socially because they are in the minority," he said. "They often have difficulties with social skills because they are so smart. Their humor is different, their social relationships are different and they obviously get very involved with abstract ideas that don't particularly agree with their friends and their peers. I would support the notion that we need to give more money in terms of helping these kids adjust to their world."
On Facebook, Clint Buhs brought up the stigma he has encountered.
"There's a social stigma with being labeled intelligent in this country, demonstrated by the often negative perception of Mensa as an organization of snobs," he said. "I'm a member, but I'm almost never comfortable mentioning it to others."