Arts Foster Scientific Success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi Members

Various investigators have proposed that "scientific geniuses" are polymaths.

Robert Root-Bernstein et al.

December 11, 2015

Various investigators have proposed that "scientific geniuses" are polymaths. To test this hypothesis, autobiographies, biographies, and obituary notices of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, members of the Royal Society, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences were read and adult arts and crafts avocations tabulated. Data were compared with a 1936 avocation survey of Sigma Xi members and a 1982 survey of arts avocations among the U.S. public. Nobel laureates were significantly more likely to engage in arts and crafts avocations than Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences members, who were in turn significantly more likely than Sigma Xi members and the U.S. public. Scientists and their biographers often commented on the utility of their avocations as stimuli for their science. The utility of arts and crafts training for scientists may have important public policy and educational implications in light of the marginalization of these subjects in most curricula.

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