In cognitive science there’s a popular law called the 10,000 hour rule.
It states that just about anyone can become an expert at anything if they devote 10,000 hours of active practice to the field. Basketball, acting, speed reading, anything.
It’s been frequently analyzed in pop sociology books like Freakonomics, and guys like Cal Newport devote large amounts of their popular and academic work towards studying its effects.
The notion has a nice meritocratic feel to it, since it implies anyone can be a winner if they’re willing to try hard enough.
With that as a background, here’s an excerpt from a new article that appeared in the New York Times:
The remarkable finding of their study is that, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile — the profoundly gifted — were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work. A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage.
I haven’t read the study yet, but after looking at the article, here are a few thoughts:
1). The “remarkable effects” found in one study often disappear over time once sample sizes get larger, even if the results are statistically significant at small sizes.
2). When you’re studying extreme outliers, it’s hard to ever get very large sample sizes.
3). It’s important to distinguish between events that are “one-off” like an invention, book, etc, and events that happen continuously with no discrete end points. Carpentry, nursing, sports, etc. It wouldn’t shock me if the ultra-talented were very over-represented for the one-off events, but did not have such an advantage for on-going events that require consciencousness as much as talent in order to succeed.
Overall, I think this article, and its implied meaning, are overstated.