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Talent Isn't a Number

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Jordan Ellenberg argues that what he calls the "cult of genius" overemphasizes the role of prodigies in solving problems—mathematical and otherwise.

"Most child prodigies are highly successful—but most highly successful people weren't child prodigies," Ellenberg writes. And mathematics is a communal enterprise, one advanced by the work of many, many of whom did not distinguish themselves by performing amazing feats of mental arithmetic as toddlers.

Ellenberg writes:

Talent isn't a number. We would never presume to identify the great novelists of the future by counting the number of vocabulary words they knew at age 10. To think we can do the same for math and science—as if proving the Riemann hypothesis were something like getting 100,000 on the math SAT—is to adopt a depressingly impoverished view of science and its demands on its practitioners. The cult of genius tends to undervalue hard work and the productive persistence that psychologists nowadays like to call 'grit'—not to mention creativity, perspective and taste, without which all those other virtues may be wasted on pointless projects.

Read the essay (or watch Ellenberg be interviewed on WSJ Live).

Start Date: 
Tuesday, June 24, 2014