(originally posted 8/4/2012)
Steve Shapiro has been running the Scared Smart program at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University for the past five years. Recently it has come under criticism for its harsh techniques but he insists the program gets results.
“The biggest obstacles that many of our brightest kids face is their own arrogance. After spending years being smarter than their peers and teachers they develop a sense of infallibility when it comes to their own theories and self-worth. Socially they become intolerable, in some cases their own parents can’t wait to get them out of the house. At Scared Smart we try to give them a more balanced perspective of their own intelligence.”
Critics of the program say the methods employed are “not only ineffective but potentially harmful” to the kids involved.
Tom Stimpley is a 17 year old who recently achieved a perfect score on his SAT, is valedictorian at his high school and has accepted a full ride at Stanford University. He is currently working on new ways to make synthetic collagen for regenerating tissue. At the moment he is standing in front of two older men at the Institute for Advanced Study and shifting nervously from one foot to the other.
“I read your work. I wouldn’t wipe my ass with it! Are you fucking retarded?! Your peptides are too long!” bellows Jeffrey Hartgerink, associate professor of chemistry and of bioengineering at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative. His spit covering Tom’s face.
“You’re an embarrassment Stimpley! You just want to ignore the complexity collagen exhibits at different scales?” screams another balding bespeckled professor in a corduroy jacket with tan elbow pads. “That kind of sloppy view of multi-hierarchical self-assembly of a collagen mimetic peptide from triple helix to nanofibre and hydrogel is going to get you fucked in the ass pretty boy!”
Further down the same hallway that the likes of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Panofsky and Flexner once strode down, Cindy Chen and her work on dot symmetry (a building block for quantum computers) is receiving similar treatment.
“After reviewing your data I would suggest you become a prostitute.” an animated physicist Marc-André Dupertuis suggests to her. “You obviously have the brains of a filthy whore.”
After the small group of young achievers have finished their day at Princeton and are returned, teary eyed and silent, to their parents Dr. Shapiro explains the long-term benefits of Scared Smart.
“You have to understand what these at-risk teens are at-risk for. They are at-risk of growing up to be total asshole know-it-alls. We try and prevent that. The fields that they are entering are filled with brilliant minds and if we let them come crashing in with these inflated views of their own intellect the entire community suffers.”
Detractors of the program point out that there have been no studies indicating that these “traumatizing” experiences have any long-term effect on the participants other than a lot of questions about human sexuality.
Steve is quick to answer these allegations. “We simply don’t have the time or interest to find out whether or not a cocky 8 year old prodigy understands what giving a blumpkin is and how it relates to his work on iodine-doped, double-walled carbon nanotube cables, but I do know it shuts him the fuck up for awhile. Ask his parents… that in itself is a good thing.”