Hotties and Notties

by Henry Farrell on January 22, 2009

There’s been a “serious”: “debate”: at the “other place where I blog”: over whether academia in general, and political science in particular is a sexy profession. I’m glad to say that we actually have Real Social Scientific Data1 that we can bring to bear on this topic. In 2006, James Felton, Peter T. Koper, John Mitchell and Michael Stinson “conducted research”: that sought to establish, _inter alia_ how perceived hotness of professors affected their RateMyProfessors evaluations for teaching quality. As part of this exercise, Felton et al. ranked (Table 2 in their paper) the relative hotness quotients of 36 different academic disciplines. My estimable colleague John Sides prepared a nice graph of the Felton et al. data (see below).


Three important research findings leap out from this picture.

First – that academic disciplines are, without exception, more ‘not’ than ‘hot.’ When adjusted positive and negative hotness scores are totted up against each other, no discipline does better than – 0.062 (Languages). Thus, the main hypothesis of “Careerbuilder et al. 2009”: is decisively refuted.

Second, the above proviso aside, political scientists are pretty damn hot in comparative terms. We rank as number 5, trailing only languages, law, religion and criminal justice. From eyeballing the data, it looks as though there is a minor discontinuity right after political science, where the hotness lurches down a notch, and another, more significant one between psychology (at number 10) and finance (at number 11).

Third, economists are, without any jot, tittle, scintilla or iota of doubt or ambiguity, the notties rather than the hotties of the social sciences (coming 30th out of 36). Tough luck, John. Sociologists are sixth (heh), philosophers come in at number 9 (which is a perfectly respectable score, I suppose), and English professors are middlin’, at number 12 in the ranking.

(An earlier version of this post appeared at “The Monkey Cage”:

1 Real Social Scientific Data is a term of art here, meaning ‘statistics that are sufficiently entertaining and gratifying2 that I really don’t want to look at them too hard.’ This understanding of data is very commonly applied in the public sphere of learned debate although it is, perhaps surprisingly, rarely spelled out in explicit terms. I note in passing that some commenter at the Monkey Cage wants to control for differences in sex ratios between professors and students and similar irrelevant persnickets. All I want to say to this pedant (whom I suspect to be a jealous chemistry professor or denizen of a similarly low-ranked discipline) is _political science is number 5! Suck on it._

2 In a collective rather than individual sense (I don’t imagine that I’m pulling my discipline’s score up).



Barry 01.22.09 at 2:24 pm


Barry 01.22.09 at 2:25 pm

Voila – fixed! (Henry, I put an ending tag for the strike in the preceeding comment)


Tom Hurka 01.22.09 at 2:33 pm

1. Yeah, Henry, but Religion is #3. Sexy priests?

2. And how about controlling for the hot/notness-sensitivity of different groups of students? Maybe Political Science students (and even more Religion students!) are just less good at detecting the utter notness of their professors than those worldly, sensitive, and irony-prone literature students.


tom s. 01.22.09 at 2:38 pm

You can do whatever you want to massage the data, but as an ex-chemist I have to say things are looking pretty grim.


dsquared 01.22.09 at 2:49 pm

I think that this dataset might have been collected before John shaved his beard off.


Matt 01.22.09 at 2:53 pm

Daniel- would that have helped or hurt philosophy? I’m unsure, myself.

Tom H- not at all on topic, but I very much enjoyed your review of Geuss’s book in the NDPR today.


notsneaky 01.22.09 at 4:00 pm

“some commenter at the Monkey Cage wants to control for differences in sex ratios between professors and students and similar irrelevant persnickets”

But yes, isn’t this mostly just a measure of gender diversity within a discipline?


SamChevre 01.22.09 at 4:10 pm

Are the scores additive if you’re multi-talented? Because as an Econ major, Math minor, doing accounting work–things look rather bad in that case.


Ciarán 01.22.09 at 5:24 pm

Good to see that a move to Law from politics was a good shift for me, involving as it did my belonging to a somewhat less repulsive group, at least to the eye.

Who, on the other hand, wants to be an engineer?


rm 01.22.09 at 6:13 pm

There are separate categories for “literature” and “English,” from which I can only conclude that we rhetoricians are much less deficient in hotness than are literary critics. Which makes sense.


Barry 01.22.09 at 6:23 pm

SamChevre 01.22.09 at 4:10 pm

“Are the scores additive if you’re multi-talented? Because as an Econ major, Math minor, doing accounting work—things look rather bad in that case.”

You didn’t figure that out when they gave you and ‘office’ in the sub-sub-basement? :)


gdr 01.22.09 at 6:43 pm

I don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun … but Table 2 of the paper has standard deviations of the hotness scores, which suggest that the null hypothesis (that there is no significant difference between the hotness of disciplines) is far from refuted.


John Emerson 01.22.09 at 7:33 pm

Foreign language students are all driven by their plan to travel to exotic places and screw exotic chicks / guys. That’s what motivates the faculty too. FL is this big international singles club.


Watson Aname 01.22.09 at 7:41 pm

I don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun … but …. you’ll go ahead and do it anyway?


Henry 01.22.09 at 7:41 pm

gdr – No fair. We don’t want any of that ‘hypothesis testing’ nonsense to get between us and a good tendentious generalization, thank you very much!


MarkUp 01.22.09 at 7:52 pm

I want to know why Poly Sci gets red. Isn’t that an unfair advantage in an otherwise black and white world?


Paul Gowder 01.22.09 at 7:55 pm

Are the scores additive if you’re multi-talented? Because as an Econ major, Math minor, doing accounting work—things look rather bad in that case.

Yes. Yes they are. (Quoth the JD in a poli sci PhD program.) Come and get it, everyone.


weserei 01.22.09 at 8:06 pm

@13: For what it’s worth, at the higher-ed institutions I’ve attended, about half the total student/faculty affairs I’ve been aware of have involved foreign-language profs.

One hypothesis I’m disappointed to see that Felton et al. don’t give any space to is that being more attractive may make you a better teacher. After all, aren’t we inclined to pay more attention to people we find attractive? On the other hand, sometimes one’s mind wanders away from the subject matter.


MH 01.22.09 at 8:13 pm

“On the other hand, sometimes one’s mind wanders away from the subject matter.”

I think you’re talking about a higher level on the attractiveness scale than is needed for this topic.


Hermenauta 01.22.09 at 8:37 pm

All this is fine, but where is the Stross seminar?

Not that I think Stross is hot. :)


spence-bob 01.22.09 at 8:45 pm

Wow, that move from economics to geography just before I started my Ph.D. looks like a smart move. For all kinds of reasons, really.


Matthew Kuzma 01.22.09 at 8:48 pm

What’s with those categories? Chemistry and Biology get their own sections, but then there’s a Science section. Is that the catch-all for Physicists and Agriculture- and Mortuary-Scientists? Or are the groups not mutually exclusive? Or are we just calling Physics “Science” now because, as everyone knows, it’s the only true science?


jacob 01.22.09 at 8:59 pm

I think weserai (at 18) makes a good point. Much has been made of the fact that course evaluations tend to rate attractive professors more highly. Usually, this is described as a point against such evaluations, but perhaps we’re reading them wrong. Perhaps the evaluations are correct, and better looking teachers are in fact better teachers. That would presumably explain why Americans are so famous for speaking so many foreign languages and so well.


Kenny Easwaran 01.22.09 at 8:59 pm

I imagine that these data will show not just that being attractive makes you a better teacher, but also that being attractive makes your subject material more interesting, and prevents your students from being pre-meds.


weserei 01.22.09 at 9:14 pm

jacob, I think the dwarfish size of the US, its utter geopolitical marginalization, the paucity of other countries where English is spoken, especially by the elite, and the language’s general uselessness abroad (along with our general cosmopolitanism), more than explain why we’re all such impressive polyglots. xD


kid bitzer 01.22.09 at 10:09 pm

i’m baffled by econ’s low scores.

for god’s sake–larry summers? brad delong? alan greenspan? (just to show it’s cross-ideological).

veritable adonises.

i had a slightly different thought than john emerson’s about foreign languages.
at many universities, intro language courses are staffed by casual labour, i.e. not tenured faculty but rather lecturers, who are usually young and frequently female. both of which may help their hotness scores.

and really–the very first break-out i’d want to see is by gender of instructor.

(not that guys can’t be hot–witness larry summers, brad delong, etc.)


Bloix 01.22.09 at 10:19 pm

The title of the article at the link is “Attractiveness, Easiness, and Other Issues etc.” Easy how? And what the heck is the point of a post like this without any pictures?


onymous 01.22.09 at 11:39 pm

Or are we just calling Physics “Science” now because, as everyone knows, it’s the only true science?

I prefer to think the right interpretation is that physicists are just off the charts when it comes to hotness.


jorod 01.22.09 at 11:43 pm

It shows that lawyers have their brains between their legs. Bill Clinton anyone?


Ginger Yellow 01.22.09 at 11:57 pm

Is the “hot or not” part of this research limited only to votes from within the discipline? In other words, are foreign language academics judged only by foreign language students? If so, maybe it’s not a question of how hot the academics are, but how demanding the students are.


engels 01.22.09 at 11:58 pm

I just know there’s an EvPsych explanation of all this. Paging Kanazawa….


mangy cat 01.23.09 at 12:01 am

“languages” top
must be due to linguistic skills
oral probably beats writing


weserei 01.23.09 at 12:30 am

GY: Nonmajors are not excluded from the voting. In fact, non-students could easily post ratings–although that’s a lot of effort to go through for a pretty transparent piece of revenge.


JH 01.23.09 at 12:46 am

This is stupid. Engineering is too diverse and interdisciplinary of a field to lump into one category/profession. Also, engineering ranks lower than “Management”?! C’MON


MH 01.23.09 at 1:29 am

One thing is certain. If philosophy got that high, the students are really focusing on the instructor, not the clothes.


John Quiggin 01.23.09 at 2:40 am

Since I’m obviously not going to comment on the topic at hand, I’ll answer Hermenauta.

Real Soon Now.


Hattie 01.23.09 at 3:28 am

French, maybe. But German…


mollymooly 01.23.09 at 3:58 am

(1) Why were Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies combined? And (2) why do they score so low? My theory is that the authors’ theory is (1) that “X Studies” means “Who to blame for the problems of X” and so mere variants of a single subject; and (2) that all students of “X studies” are bitter Xs with no capacity for love and hence no ability to respond to the hotness of their professors.

I want to claim that answer (2) is part of the authors’ theory rather than my theory, but in that case it doesn’t actually answer question (2).


raina 01.23.09 at 4:38 am

One more thing–in my experience, hotness is not really correlated with teaching ability (and, if there were a correlation, I would be on a negative, not positive, one). However, having a hot professor could motivate students to try harder and perform better (this would only apply to those students who found the professor attractive, of course).


Frank 01.23.09 at 4:52 am

This is great data! It tells us all about the preferences of the mob posting on RMP.
Those posting on RMP are, on average, idiots.


Zamfir 01.23.09 at 8:22 am

My girlfriend switched from engineering chemistry (just imagine!) to history to a language. I, on the other hand, stayed safely in the lower regions of this chart


Scott Martens 01.23.09 at 8:23 am

The linguistics grad student laughs at all you nerds!

(Nevermind that 90% of what I actually do is computer science and math.)


Zamfir 01.23.09 at 8:27 am

Very weird: “Athletics” (that’s definitely not a discipline where I come from) scores 23rd in hotness, but 7th in quality, making it the strongest outlier in the general trend that hotter teachers are also rated higher quality.


Moe Green 01.23.09 at 2:25 pm

Well the Poli-scie people have to crow about something. Discipline is internally focused and no major ideas have broken out to influence anyting. The nexus of psychology, sociology and economics and attendant advances are dominating social science (such as it is) and sicence and engineerng is also emergent. Last but not least lots of literature shows that IQ and GRE scores are highly correlated and Poli-sci is down the list. Larry Summers is right–you guys may be hot but you are not very smart or relevant…
Check the GRE scores–the hoties are not so brainy….


Barry 01.23.09 at 2:27 pm

Hermenauta 01.22.09 at 8:37 pm

“All this is fine, but where is the Stross seminar?

Not that I think Stross is hot. :)”

Come on, a Scottish SF writer? He’ll certainly know out of this world techniques for stuffing a haggis, so to speak :)


Paul 01.23.09 at 3:27 pm

Is academia sexy you ask. Well perhaps it is. However, I am a retired fireman. Now women really like firemen. That much I can tell you! :-)


Greg 01.23.09 at 4:44 pm

The gender break down of the discipline would greatly effect the ratings of the professors. Because most colleges have some language requirements for graduation, the gender break down of the students would be roughly equivalent to that of the university. But in disciplines that are still skewed toward one gender, the students and professors would be more likely to share a gender (and thus be unable/unwilling to accurately describe the attractiveness of their professor).


R. L. Pour 01.24.09 at 4:39 am

Social scientests are neither.


salient 01.24.09 at 4:39 am

1 Real Social Scientific Data is a term of art here

You stole that from a CNN news ticker, didn’t you?


fmackay 01.24.09 at 8:12 pm

Barry@45: Although Stross lives in Edinburgh, he is in fact English.

Re: hotness – I am worried by the absence of Physics – not enough data, or off the bottom of the chart?


Tom Carter 01.24.09 at 9:56 pm

Seems like some folks are running out of useful things to survey.

Having labored many years in the vineyard of political science, I have to wonder who would rate it as almost “hot.” I mean, sure, it’s hotter than chemistry, but what isn’t?

I also notice that among the hottest disciplines, the only one that people sometimes make serious money at is law. Maybe the message here is the high-achievers were under-represented in the survey sample….


Joe S. 01.25.09 at 2:40 pm

I was a chemist. I went to law school to find a bride. Mission successful. Hah!


MikeN 01.26.09 at 2:17 am

Who was the famous European physicist whose outraged comment when his wife ran off with another man was “a bullfighter I could understand, but a chemist??!!”


R. L. P. 01.26.09 at 5:58 pm

Let’s face it. This shows that Academics in general are not hot.


Ben 01.27.09 at 12:59 pm

Isn’t it a bit odd that none of the possible disciplines record a score even of nought? Maybe this says something about the mood-killing atmosphere of a survey, rather than much about the hotness of academia in general.

I wonder what the results would be if it weren’t actual students scoring professors, but rather members of the public faced with a photo and some summary information about each person (like a Top Trumps card).

I also wonder what a bespectacled chess player with a passion for mortgages, and who moonlights as a bull-fighting martial artist astro-fireman would score on this scale.


polis 01.27.09 at 11:00 pm

See another strong correlation here.

The Cost of Being PC

Here is a ranking of academic disciplines by political correctness:

The most PC: Psychology, Sociology, English, History, Elementary education

The least PC: Criminal justice, Economics, Marketing, Accounting, Computer science, Biology, Finance, Management information, Mechanical engineering, Electrical engineering

Political correctness is defined here as “the belief that gender gaps in math and science fields are largely due to discrimination; support for affirmative action; and belief that discrimination is a key cause of racial inequities in American society. Generally, members of this cohort see race and gender as fundamental .”

I notice that the non-PC disciplines appear to correlate with the most lucrative college majors. Some might take this fact as even more evidence that life is fundamentally unfair.

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