You May Be as Bright as a Rocket Scientist

Or even a brain surgeon for that matter, according to a new study
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2021 1:18 PM CST
You May Be as Bright as a Rocket Scientist
It's not brain surgery, man.   (Getty/conceptualmotion)

Everyone is familiar with the phrase "It's not rocket science" or "It's not brain surgery," and that got researchers wondering whether rocket scientists or brain surgeons were most justified in saying it. Answer: Neither camp outdid the other in a general cognitive test, reports the BBC. But more interesting is that neither camp outperformed the general population, either. And, yes, this is an authentic peer-reviewed study in the British Medical Journal. But as CNN notes, studies in the year-end edition tend to be lighter fare. In the study, researchers borrowed from the Great British Intelligence Test and assessed subjects in six general areas such as memory, word problems, spatial problems, etc.

Overall, rocket scientists and brain surgeons were "equally matched across most domains," the researchers found. Brain surgeons were better than rocket scientists at "semantic problem solving," while rocket scientists were better in "mental manipulation and attention." The latter might involve "rotating objects in one's head," per the Guardian. And when both camps were compared with the general population, only two differences stood out in results: Brain surgeons solved problems more quickly than the average Joe, but their memory recall was slower.

The upshot? "It is possible that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers are unnecessarily placed on a pedestal and that 'It’s a walk in the park' or another phrase unrelated to careers might be more appropriate," write the researchers. They further suggest that "other specialties might deserve to be on that pedestal, and future work should aim to determine the most deserving profession." They do, however, give technical bragging rights: "In situations that do not require rapid problem solving, it might be more correct to use the phrase 'It’s not brain surgery." (Read more intelligence stories.)

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