I was going to ignore this, yet another ridiculous column from the NYT's most overpaid conservative wingnut warrior masquerading as a centrist, but then today I note that since it was written (Thurs) it has become the #1 emailed NYT article.
We're hoping it's #1 because it's so unintentionally funny but the depressing possibility exists that it's #1 because a lot of misguided people think either that he's right or that he's repeating genuine science. Um, he's doing neither of the two.
Brooks seems to want to turn himself into a one-man Heritage Foundation Study Group, reading books he doesn't understand and then "interpreting" them in a way that suits his preconceived conservative notions of what they ought to mean. Here's his thesis, embodied in a column entitled "Genius: the Modern View":
In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.
What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills.
So, folks, according to Brooks' "interpretation" of "the latest research", dominant, autocratic fathers who ruthlessly browbeat their kids are the way to create a genius. Which would be alright, maybe, if that's what the research actually said but of course this is David Brooks and it says no such thing. His two experts - K. Anders Ericsson and the late Benjamin Bloom - weren't studying genius, they were looking at performance, at what makes one person better than another when all other things(intelligence, for example) were equal.
In a 1985 pioneering study, Benjamin S. Bloom and his colleagues studied the developmental history of scientists, athletes, and artists who had attained international awards for their outstanding achievements. These elite performers did not attain their performance from regular experience in their respective domains but were given access to superior instruction in the best educational environments. Their families provided them substantial financial and emotional support to allow them to focus fully on the development of their performance. Bloom's influential research demonstrated the necessity for extended training in the best training environments to reach the highest levels of performance.
The difference between a deeply talented performer and a genius should be (and probably is) obvious to everyone in the known universe except Brooks. No matter how great a player Michael Jordan was, a genius he isn't. Only in the Nazi world of Aryan superiority is physical prowess equated with intellectual creativity. Does Brooks really mean to go there?
Not really. Where he wants to go is toward a new branch of the old conservative "everybody can be rich" fantasy called "Everybody can be a genius." (Sounds like a reality show. Maybe he's developing one for Fox.) With proper support (parental, of course, NOT governmental), why, anybody can be a superior performer. And Mozart wasn't all that surprising, just another kid stealing grown-ups' work and calling it his own. Hell, anybody can do that. That's how rich kids get through high school. And college. And life in general.
We all know that genius is a bit more than superior performance, physical or otherwise. The trouble with all of this is that if you Google "genius" you find out that the top rankings are dominated not by legitimate information but by Brooks' daddy-centric ramblings. There are now a ton of people out there who have been exposed to phony musings under the imprimatur of the NYT while legitimate science-based information gets ignored.
There's a big difference between being really smart and being a genius. While geniuses tend to be exceptionally intelligent, they also use imagination and creativity to invent, discover or create something new within their field of interest. They break new ground rather than simply remembering or reciting existing information.
Geniuses do not usually operate in isolation, either -- nearly all of them analyze the work of other great minds and use that information to make new discoveries. Self-taught geniuses, on the other hand, often explore information in unexpected or inventive ways, due in part to their lack of formal training. In either case, the ability to imagine new possibilities is as important as general intelligence.
Nah. Now it's all just a matter of a strong father figure and lots of repetition. David Brooks, the Genius, said so.
Much of our media is now set up to provide just this kind of pseudoscientific pap, from institutes devoted to providing "evidence" of Intelligent Design paid for by fundamentalist rich guys to pundits like George Will devoted to denying the evidence of global warming who are supported by oil company rich guys. When it isn't focused on trivia, it's focused on propaganda.
A hundred years ago Mark Twain once said that "A lie gets half-way round the world while the truth is getting its boots on". He should know. He was once a reporter.