Hard workers are more inspiring than geniuses

Famously, it took Edison over one thousand attempts to successfully create the lightbulb.

Hard workers are more inspiring than geniuses

Hard workers are more inspiring than geniuses

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
Albert Einstein is often used as the ultimate inspirational figure in science: an untamed genius with an abundance of innate brilliance.

The proliferation of memes and inspirational quotes about his allegedly underwhelming school performance only serves to highlight exactly how naturally brilliant he really was, succeeding against the odds.

But, it turns out, he might not be quite as inspiring as you think: according to a study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, it may in fact be hard work, not innate genius, that really inspires people to get into STEM.

The first study focused on two specific scientists: Einstein, who is generally viewed as a genius whose success came from his talent, and Edison, whose success is seen to have come from hard work — famously, it took him over one thousand attempts to successfully create the lightbulb. Danfei Hu from Penn State and colleagues gave 176 participants a story about either Einstein or Edison, both of which included details about struggles, challenges and setbacks the scientists had supposedly faced during their career (in fact, the stories for each scientist were exactly the same).

Participants then filled in a survey to measure their views on talent and intelligence, rating how much they agreed with statements including "only geniuses can be good scientists", "some people just aren't cut out for science" and "you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can't do much to change it". Participants then completed an apparently unconnected maths task, designed to investigate their approaches to problem-solving.

Those in the Edison condition were less likely to see exceptional talent as necessary for a scientist's success, and slightly more likely to believe that intelligence was malleable or changeable. This group also performed better on the mathematical task, suggesting that they'd received a boost in motivation by reading about a scientist known for his work ethic.

To look at the impact of fame on motivation and inspiration, the team recruited 162 participants for a second study. Participants once again read one of two identical stories about a struggling scientist, half reading about Einstein and the other about Mark Johnson, a fictional scientist whom none of them had heard of.

Again, participants who read about Mark Johnson were less likely to believe that innate genius or talent was necessary for success than those who read about Einstein — and they performed better in the maths test, too. This suggests that a non-famous scientist may in fact make for a more effective role model than a famous, "genius" scientist.

A final study looked at all three scientists simultaneously: 288 participants read either about the struggles of Edison, Einstein or the non-famous scientist. Those who read about Einstein appeared less motivated than those who read about the non-famous scientist, while those who read about Edison were more motivated, suggesting that the two role models had opposite effects.

The team suggests that being exposed to a stereotypically "genius" scientist makes people feel brilliance is a prerequisite to succeed — that it's essential, rather than an additional benefit. As many people don't particularly see themselves as innately brilliant, their performance — and their interest and motivation to do well in science — is therefore diminished.

The successes of someone like Edison, however, might seem more in reach — his example suggests that scientific successes are related more to effort and self-control than they are to genius, making people feel more inclined to try.

Role models can play an important part in efforts to encourage a wider range of people to pursue STEM both educationally and professionally: female mentors, for example, have been shown to increase female students' sense of belonging in engineering settings. Understanding what makes certain role models effective could therefore help this process considerably, allowing universities and other institutions to develop mentoring programmes that really help make STEM subjects more diverse and equal places to be.

Not All Scientists Are Equal: Role Aspirants Influence Role Modeling Outcomes in STEM

Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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