Sunday, January 03, 2010

George Smoot Is Smarter (And A Whole Lot More Fascinating) Than A 5th Grader

This is a very interesting "mini biography" of the life of Nobel Laureate George Smoot. It of course came with a lot of references to his participation in the TV Game Show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader", which he clearly established that he is.

Brushing aside objections from his Lawrence Berkeley lab colleagues, who argued it would not portray the world's premiere research lab in the right light, he decided to appear in September on the Fox TV game show, "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"

He appeared earlier in the year on the CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," playing himself as the keynote speaker at a conference attended by the main characters, ultra nerdy scientists. He said he agreed to go on the show because he likes that the scientists are portrayed as heroes.

But "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" was different.

"It was kind of like rebelling," Smoot said. "It was risky because there was a big chance you wouldn't answer everything correctly. You are supposed to be this example to new generations, and to have to say you are not smarter than a fifth-grader would be embarrassing."

It certainly was a huge risk, because these shows don't actually test how "smart" you are, but whether you can remember or memorize disjointed facts and information. He had everything to lose, and not much of anything to gain. I think for those of us in this field, it was more of a sigh of relief that he performed brilliantly on that show.

This article conveys many aspect of Smoot that I'm sure many of us don't know about. So it gives an insight and further depths into this fascinating person.



rallain said...

First, I agree that "Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader" is a silly demonstration of the ability to memorize facts.

But, I also think it is not the best thing that Smoot did so well. What message does that send to the public? That you can't be a great scientist unless you are awesome at memorizing trivial facts. I guess this is what the public already thinks - right?

Anonymous said...

If what's important isn't rote knowledge but deep understanding, then it might have been better for Smoot to get a bunch of the 5th-Grader questions wrong. Otherwise, are we interested in showing that Nobelers are, in the words of Mr Burns' attorney, "not like other men"?