Science Fair Project Ideas

This project is probably more suitable for high school students and deals with a serious, but generally ignored, social issue.

In American culture, it’s generally accepted that nerds (also called geeks) are people, usually male, who have poor athletic ability, poor social skills (particularly poor ability to find girl/boyfriends) but good academic ability, particularly in math and science. In many schools, bullying nerds seems to be pretty much acceptable (of course it shouldn’t be acceptable to bully anybody!) and has been blamed for such tragedies as the Columbine massacre. Attempts to prevent similar incidents have been made, mostly by taking action against the nerds rather than bullies. Unlike most forms of discrimination, that against nerds doesn’t seem to have an ideological basis and is presumably instinctual. Nerds are probably at least as worthy of human rights protection as homosexuals but AFAIK there is no movement to promote this. It’s also been suggested that high levels of autism in children in Silicon Valley is due to nerds marrying each other, because of positive assortive mating, and producing children (because nerds have a few autism genes). Positive assortive mating is when a gene gives an organism a preference to mate with individuals who have the same gene. This may explain the nerds’ problems in finding dates (do female nerds have as much trouble as male ones?). In the light of this, it seems very strange that very little (if any) scientific research seems to have been done on nerds. It’s not like it’s hard to find nerds on a university campus! This project will try to determine if nerds are a real group or the extreme of a range of variation.

Nerd syndrome seems to have several factors: Tendency towards intellectualism and eccentricity basically the same as the Myers-Briggs N factor or mild Schizophrenia (sometimes called Schizotypal personality disorder or SPD); Tendency to think logically and being unemotional basically the same as the Myers-Briggs T factor or mild autism (Asperger syndrome); Poor coordination; Poor physical strength; High intelligence. Many nerds also seem to have poor eye-site or suffer from respiratory problems. (The Myers-Briggs T factor is reported to exist in 60% of males and 35% of females this is an interesting statistic consistent with a certain genetic mechanism do the math and figure it out!)

It’s normally pretty obvious that a child is a nerd from an early age. The same is true of Autism and Asperger syndrome but Schizophrenia normally develops in the late teens or early twenties. All these conditions are commoner in males than females.

You’re going to need a large number of volunteers to test (or possibly records that can be analyzed). Remember that this is a psychological project so your subjects shouldn’t know what you’re trying to prove (e.g. they may do deliberately badly on intelligence tests so as not too seem nerdy). Perhaps you could tell them that you’re looking for evidence that exercise affects personality and intelligence.

You’re going to need ways of measuring the nerd factors: Myers-Briggs type personality tests (could just have the F/T and S/N factors), intelligence tests, physical tests (treadmills, lifting weights, climbing ropes etc.). You should also record your subjects’ sex but this is normally obvious. (In the unlikely event that you have a large number of volunteers with Turner or Klinefelter syndrome, you can get more creative about investigating the involvement of X-linked genes.)

Now you need to statistically analyze the results. If measurements of a factor show a bell shaped frequency distribution graph (this should be the case with intelligence), it suggests that it’s caused by multiple genes (and possibly environmental factors) or isn’t genetic at all. If it shows a graph with two or three peaks, it suggests that it’s controlled by a single gene with two alleles. (What do other patterns suggest? What if there’s a different shaped graph for males and females which is the case with IQ?) The idea that psychological factors can be controlled by a single gene seems to be an anathema to psychologists (why? Should this be the case?). The latter suggests a distinct group (at least for that factor) rather than a continuous range of variation. Do you find many athletes who are good at science and/or socially inept, nonathletic idiots? (What are such people called, do these groups have names?) If you find that the nerd factors tend to go together, it suggests that there’s an underlying cause for all or some of the factors (or they have cross assortive mating having a certain gene gives you a preference for mates with a certain non-allelic gene). If the factors are independent, it suggests that nerds are just people who happen to get a certain combination of factors.

For sexual differences, the significance is more complicated. Females tend to mature faster so it could just be that the females in your test sample (I’m assuming you’re using high school students) will be more mature. It could also be due to sex hormones, sex-linked genes, sex-limited genes or environmental factors (the sexes being treated differently). It’s thought that most genes for intelligence and social skills are on the X chromosome so X-linked genes are likely to be involved.

Other lines of inquiry might be if nerds tend to have biological relatives with autism or Asperger syndrome, inheritance of nerd factors (look at groups of related people), an anthropological study of nerd culture (RPG’s, science fiction conventions etc.), if couples are unusually likely to share nerd factors (all or some).