Runco: DOI: 10.18536/jge.2016.

Inaugural Editorial

Mark A. Runco
American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, La Jolla

Jump to: Journal of Genius and Eminence | Volume 1

Runco, M. A. (2015). Inaugural editorial.  Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 1-5. http://dx.doi.org/10.18536/jge.2016.

Why study genius and eminence? There are numerous reasons. The most obvious reason is probably that which holds genius and eminence as indicative of the highest level of human functioning. That in turn implies that geniuses and eminent individuals may serve as models or even ideals. This reasoning quickly leads to various questions. Consider the fact that eminence is sometimes acquired, not from a lifetime of achievement, but from one major breakthrough. Along the same lines, luck is sometimes implicated in major breakthroughs and creative discoveries, and this begs the question about the role of chance. There are other questions as well, such as: How is creativity related to genius? How do different domains and disciplines differ from one another? Is there a universal basis for genius? How does genius fluctuate from era to era? What are the key sociocultural, historical, and contextual influences on the development and expression of genius? Several of these are discussed in this inaugural issue of the Journal of Genius and Eminence. All in all, the best answer to the query, “Why study genius” may in fact be “because genius has such enormous impact on society and culture, and yet there are so many unknowns.” What better way to address these unknowns than by applying the scientific method? Part of the scientific method is gatekeeping and the dissemination of sound research, which is why the JGE was founded.

The phrase “the highest level of human functioning” was used above instead of “optimal human functioning.” It could be that development and education can be optimized in order to fulfill the potentials that underlie genius, but that is very different from the claim that genius is indicative of optimal human functioning. As a matter of fact, biographical and autobiographical material suggests that, some of the time, the life of a genius is not to be envied nor recommended. There are various indications that genius and eminence are sometimes associated with psychopathology (Ludwig, 1995) and that, even when the processes are subclinical, they are shared by both creative geniuses and disturbed persons. The relationship of genius and eminence with psychopathology and other observed problems and disturbances is by no means fully understood, which is another reason to devote more attention to the topic(s)–and another reason for the inauguration of this journal.

Scientific study should also put and end to some of the biases and myths surrounding genius and eminence. Consider in this regard the bias toward men, all too obvious in Galton’s (1869) otherwise remarkable work, or the cultural biases toward certain domains. Gardner (1983) described how Western culture values mathematics, logic, and verbal ability above all other domains (e.g., art, naturalistic thinking). Tan’s (2016) article in this inaugural issue of the JGE points to the Eastern view that a genius might have exceptional self-understanding. Yet another problem is the art bias that may plague both implicit and explicit theories (i.e., lay and scientific views) (Cropley, in press; Rocavert, in press; Runco, 2007) . It may even be that the relationship between psychopathology and genius, mentioned above, is in part a reflection of bias. Eysenck (1995, p. 116) summarized research suggesting that eccentricities associated with disturbance are sometimes exaggerated by creative individuals so they will in fact be attributed with genius (cf. Becker, 1978; Gedo, 1972; Kaun, 1991; Lenneberg, 1983/1980). This probably occurs because there are common stereotypes suggesting that geniuses tend to be a few bubbles off plumb. Creators may attempt to take advantage of these stereotypes and earn the label “genius” by simply behaving like a genius is supposed to behave. Admittedly some stereotypes are consistent with fact, and indeed there is a distinct possibility that some characteristics of at least mild disturbance (e.g., overinclusive thinking, cognitive disinhibition, persistence) are functionally related to the attainment of high achievement. The point is that there seem to be biases and myths—about art, psychopathology, gender, and so on—that underscore the need for rigorous scientific study of genius and eminence.

Several new methodologies are described in the articles within this inaugural issue. Runco, Acar, Kaufman, & Halladay (2016, this volume) report analyses of reputational paths (see also Runco, 1993; Runco, Kaufman, Halladay, & Cole, 2010). These utilize archival data in order to compare changes in reputation that occur from era to era. This work uses a new or at least uncommon unit of analysis (cf. Walberg, Rasher, & Hase, 1983). Then there is Simonton’s (2016, this volume) work on Islamic genius and eminence which demonstrates how qualitative data can sometimes be converted to quantities that can then be analyzed with time-series statistical methods. Such data conversion is of enormous importance for studies in this field, given that so much of the information we have about eminence is not initially in numeric form. Related to this are other important findings from Simonton, which he presented as methodological precautions that should be recognized when qualitative information is in fact converted to quantitative data. Additional methodological considerations were presented by Simonton (1999, 2003).

Beck, Marks, and Plescia (2016, this volume) also offer an illustration of how qualitative information can be analyzed. Their work illustrates what has been called the digital humanities movement. Beck et al. begin with the work of George Herbert, the 17th century lyric poet. They examined Internet poetry archives, MLA citations, collections of quotations, and anthologies to quantify Herbert’s continued influence. Interestingly, Beck et al. found that the aesthetic qualities of Herbert’s work had an impact on the likelihood of eminence and influence. They also found indications of “changing fortunes,” which was their way of describing how reputations change as time passes. Such changes may parallel the reputational paths, mentioned earlier in this JGE Editorial (also see Runco, 1991). Note that unlike Runco et al. (2016, this volume) and Simonton (2016, this volume), Beck et al. (2016, this volume) examined one individual, and indeed one poem (The Tempest). Simonton has also reported historiometric analyses of single individuals and works, including Shakespeare (Simonton, 1999, 2004) and Picasso (Simonton, 2007).

Gute, Gute, and Csikszentmihalyi’s (2016, this volume) contribution to this inaugural issue of JGE is also idiographic. They examine the eminent Jazz musician Oscar Peterson. This article is one report from the Creativity in Later Life (CLL) Project. As such, Peterson was interviewed and received various standardized personality inventories (e.g., NEO, Q-Sort). Significantly, Gute et al. found that the standardized measures “fell short of capturing Peterson’s complexity” (p. 16). This is not really surprising, given Csikszentmihalyi’s (1996) interest in the paradoxes of creativity and personality (also see MacKinnon, 1960/1983, p. 125; Runco, in press). Gute et al. pointed to the paradoxical presence of both introversion and extraversion, for example, which allowed Peterson to meet challenges, adapt, and evolve. Peterson was certainly successful: he won eight Grammy awards, was given 16 honorary degrees (and once served as a university chancellor), in addition to composing some 400 songs.

Bannister’s (2016, this volume) contribution to this inaugural issue starts with the ideas of eminent French philosopher, Henri Bergson (1859–1941). This was an excellent choice for Bannister, and for JGE, because Bergson had so much to say about creative evolution (the title of one of his books) and the creative mind (the title of another). Indeed, Bergson was interested in the most important question there is for creativity studies, central as well to studies of genius, namely, “is anything new actually possible?” In other words, is it possible to be original? This is central in part because all creativity depends in part on originality (Runco & Jaeger, 2012), so if originality is not possible, creativity might be questioned. Bannister outlines Bergson’s thinking quite well and applies it to several assumptions made in studies of creativity and genius, including that of originality, but also that of mechanism. As he puts it,

Traditionally creativity has been explained as a mysterious force issuing from a deity, or, in the case of artistic creation, from the intuitive “genius” of the human mind. More recently it has been demystified and theorized as a mechanism—ranging from materialist accounts of evolution in science to theoretical reflections on art and culture as the product of complex cultural systems—creative systems theory…. Bergson can be used to argue that neither model is adequate, because both assume that “all is given”—i.e., either that there is a first cause or author, or that phenomena can be adequately understood as determined by a set of mechanical laws that arise from scientific observation. What both accounts omit, according to Bergson, is time. Time means that all is not given: the future is unknown, which is both frightening (because human knowledge is not absolute) and exciting, because it makes novelty possible. (p. 72)

Bannister goes into some depth about Bergson but brings these ideas to the present, both by applying them to current studies of creativity and genius and to popular music.

Root-Bernstein and Pawelec (2016, this volume) approach the topic of eminence by investigating National Academy of Sciences members and American Nobel laureates. Root-Bernstein and Pawelec start with a very practical question, namely, how should resources be distributed in order to best fulfill scientific potentials? They were particularly interested in examining the tendency to devote resources only to the small number of proven institutions and centers and ask if it makes more sense to distribute key resources more broadly. The results from analyses of Root-Bernstein and Pawelec suggest that the training of elite scientists is not concentrated, as might be expected. The undergraduate education of elite scientists is often in the liberal arts and by no means always only at top notch universities. Graduate training is also disbursed and is not concentrated at elite graduate schools, and many highly talented scientists graduate and join moderate laboratories or universities rather than committing to an elite university. It is interesting to relate the findings regarding the liberal arts education of future scientists to previous research on the diverse avocations and artistic interests of scientists (Root-Bernstein, Bernstein, & Garnier, 1992, 1995), and to the hypothesized benefit of cross-disciplinary thinking or even marginality (Runco, 2014, p. 155; Simonton, 1984). It is also interesting to relate these new findings to Zukerman’s (1978) research on Nobel Laureates (and their education and mentors) and to Simonton’s (1984) report of elite scientists often not completing the requirements of a Ph.D.

The diverse avocations of scientists just mentioned was found in Root-Bernstein’s previous research with MacArthur Foundation Award winners (Root-Bernstein, Bernstein, & Garnier, 1992, 1995). This same group is also represented in the present volume, in the research reported by Hennessey (2016, this volume). Her sample is not large, but it represents a few disciplines and domains not otherwise mentioned herein, including environmental policy, physics, agriculture, computer technology, human rights, conservation, and pharmaceuticals. Most important is that each of the MacArthur Foundation award winners in this sample had founded a nonprofit or for-profit organization. Hennessy concluded that each participant was open to combining widely disparate ideas and capable of standing back to see the “big picture.” She also found the participants to be capable of living with the ambiguity that so often characterizes the creative process.

Domains, Key Questions, and Goals

The research contained in this inaugural issue samples a variety of domains and disciplines. Colomer Sanchez and Herrera-Peco (2016, this volume) insure that the culinary arts are represented in this issue of JGE, as they well should be. Colomer Sanchez and Herrera-Peco’s sample was only moderate in number, but many of the participants of the research were head chefs in restaurants which had been awarded a Michelin Star. Colomer Sanchez and Herrera-Peco compared these award-winning chefs with students of the culinary arts, as well as with norms from the 16pf, a common personality inventory which includes traits previously associated with creative potential. This article therefore adds the personality angle to the present issue of JGE, as well as a cultural and domain specific one (Spanish chefs). The goal of the JGE to publish papers on the full range of domains of genius and eminence is exemplified by Colomer Sanchez and Herrera-Peco’s study of high level chefs and the culinary arts.

Another goal is also satisfied, at least in an initial fashion, in this issue of JGE. This is the goal to publish research on both current (Colomer Sanchez and Herrera-Peco, 2016) and historial (Runco et al., 2016; Simonton, 2016) genius. Studying both will surely offer a useful perspective and bring any historical biases or Zeitgeist idiosyncracies to light. Simonton’s article on Islamic genius and eminence covers the the 8th through the 13th centuries, and Runco et al. collected data from 1911, 1929, 1986, 2002 Encyclopedias. No doubt many articles in the JGE will similarly touch on history and historical changes, given that genius and eminence are often not adequately appreciated until some time has passed. Admittedly, there are questions in the research about potential genius (which would be someone who has the talent but has not yet performed at a high level) and a related question concerning what Albert (1975) called genius ahead of its time. Certainly potential genius is a crucial question because information about it might be used to insure that the relevant potentials are fulfilled and, as a result, we have more geniuses to solve societal problems and to entertain and challenge the rest of us! Then again, Albert’s (1975) conclusion was the there is no genius ahead of his or her time. This conclusion follows from his behavioral definition which requires that genius be socially recognized. An alternative view is that eminence is the manifestation of genius, but genius may indeed be defined such that it is mere potential. Clearly these issues and definitions should be explored further, which is yet more reason for the introduction of the JGE.

Final Introductory Comments about the JGE

It is no doubt apparent that various key questions in studies of genius and creativity are addressed in this inaugural issue. In addition to genius ahead of its time (Albert, 1975) there is Bannister’s (2016, this volume) exploration of the possibility of actual originality and creativity. These and the other questions posed herein may be viewed as important directions for future research. Additional questions may be suggested by the popular press. These might be important considerations, given what was said above about common myths and misunderstandings about genius. One function of the JGE is to bring data to bear on, and correct, the misunderstandings of the popular press and media.

Consider in this regard the claim from an article in the 2014 Nautilus Magazine that the concept of genius is no longer useful. It might be best to put that position aside for, say, one to two years, and then review what has appeared in the JGE! The same magazine also claimed that “geniuses transcend the time in which they live, contributing insights that allow future scientists to be smarter than the geniuses of the past” (Siegfried, 2014, para 4). That takes us right back to the genius ahead of its time because it implies that, although genius may not be recognized in its own time, it will eventually be recognized. One problem with that view is that little information may be recorded about the genius, if it is not recognized, in which case historical records will not have anything to go on (Runco, 1991)! This idea is actually part of a criticism of judgments of genius (and high level creativity) that rely on reputations (Runco, 1995; Runco et al., 2010, 2016). A third claim made by Nautilus is also consistent with some sound research. This is the claim that scientific breakthroughs are the result of a conceptual blending and analogical thinking process (cf. Miller, 1992a, 1992b).

By way of summary, the JGE will address the important questions about genius and eminence. It should help bust various myths about genius and inform such that misunderstandings are avoided. It will publish papers demonstrating new methods and analyzing reliable data about genius, domain differences and universals, culture, history, and the bases for genius and eminence. You might say that various levels of analysis will be used, at least in the sense that culture (Simonton, 2016), organizations (Hennessey, 2016), and individuals (Beck et al., 2016) are each examined. The inaugural issue touches on many of the goals set out here, and even offers concrete practical suggestions, such as those presented by Root-Bernstein and Pawelec (2016) concerning the distribution of resources. The JGE is off to a good start.

The JGE may in fact contribute to the demand for rigorous research on genius and eminence, or at least insure that the demand is widely known. New journals do this: they introduce an outlet for research, which once recognized, signals to scientists that their work in that area will be published and recognized. The JGE will make the demand for reliable research on genius and eminence more visible and, at the same time, increase the supply of the same. The benefits may very well be apparent in the solving of societal problems, improvements to education and the allocation of resources, and even improvements in the quality of life.


Albert, R. S. (1975). Toward a behavioral definition of genius. American Psychologist, 30, 140-151.

Beck, J. P., Marks, D. R., & Plescia, J. (2016). Assessing eminence in the lyrics of The Temple: Quantifying George Herbert’s lightning strikes. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 43-51.

Becker, G. (1978). The mad genius controversy: A study in the sociology of deviance. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Gedo, J. E. (1972 ). On the psychology of genius. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 53, 199-203.

Colomer Sanchez, A., & Herrera-Peco, I. (2016). The personality and creative potential of eminent Spanish chefs. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 85-91.

Gute, G., Gute, D., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2016). Assessing psychological complexity in highly creative persons: The case of jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 16-27.

Bannister, M. (2015). Nothing but time: Bergson’s Duration, Systems Theory, and musical creativity. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 72-78.

Hennessy, L. A. (2015). High-level creativity for nonprofit and for-profit organizations: Inspiration or perspiration. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 61-71.

Kaun, D. E. (1991). Writers die young: The impact of work and leisure on longevity. Journal of Economic Psychology, 12, 381-399.

Lenneberg, H. The myth of unappreciated genius. In R. S. Albert (Ed.), Genius and eminence: The social psychology of creativity and exceptional achievement (pp. 40-43). Oxford, England: Pergamon Press. Originally published 1980.

MacKinnon D W. (1983). The highly effective individual. In R. S. Albert (Ed.), Genius and eminence: The social psychology of creativity and exceptional achievement (pp. 114-127). Oxford, England: Pergamon Press. Originally published 1960.

Miller, A. (1992a). Metaphors in creative scientific thought. Creativity Research Journal. 9, 113-130.

Miller, A. I. (1992b). Scientific creativity: A comparative study of Henri Poincare and Albert Einstein. Creativity Research Journal, 5, 385-418.

Root-Bernstein, R. S., Bernstein, M. and Garnier, H. (1993). Identification of scientists making long-term high-impact contributions, with notes on their methods of working. Creativity Research Journal, 6, 329-343.

Root-Bernstein, R. S., Bernstein, M., & Garnier, H. (1995). Correlations between avocations, scientific style, work habits, and professional impact of scientists. Creativity Research Journal, 8, 115-137.

Root-Bernstein, R., & Pawelec, K. (2016). Toward a geography of scientific discovery: Economic implications of understanding where U.S. Nobel Laureates and National Academy of Sciences members get trained. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 28-42.

Runco, M. A., & Jaeger, G. (2012). The standard definition of creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 24(1), 92-96. 

Runco, M. A. (1993). On reputational paths and case studies. Creativity Research Journal, 6, 487-488.

Runco, M. A. (1995). Insight for creativity, expression for impact. Creativity Research Journal, 8, 377-390.

Runco, M. A., Acar, S., Kaufman, J. C., & Halliday, L. R. (2015). Changes in reputation and associations with fame and biographical data. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 52-60.

Runco, M. A., Kaufman, J. C., Halladay, L. R., & Cole, J. C. (2010). Change in reputation as index of genius and eminence. Historical Methods, 43, 91-96.

Siegfried, T. (2014, October 16).  Top 10 unsung geniuses: For these scientists, success and fame did not come in equal measure. Nautilus Magazine. http://nautil.us/issue/18/genius/top-ten-unsung-geniuses.

Simonton, D. K. (1984). Genius, leadership, and creativity: Historiometric inquiries. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1999). Significant samples: The psychological study of eminent individuals. Psychological Methods, 4, 425-451.

Simonton, D. K. (2003). Qualitative and quantitative analyses of historical data. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 617-640.

Simonton, D. K. (2004). Thematic content and political context in Shakespeare’s dramatic output, with implications for authorship and chronology controversies. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 22, 201-213.

Simonton, D. K. (2007). The creative process in Picasso’s Guernica sketches: Monotonic improvements or nonmonotonic variants? Creativity Research Journal, 19, 329-344.

Simonton, D. K. (2016). Scientific genius in Islamic civilization: Quantified time series from qualitative historical narratives. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 6-15.

Tan, C. (2016). Creativity and Confucius. Journal of Genius and Eminence, 1(1), 79-84.

Note: The editor would like to acknowledge the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State, State University of New York, the publisher of both Journal of Genius and Eminence and Business Creativity and the Creative Economy, which have their inaugural issues published under the Center’s imprint, ICSC Press.

Correspondence should be sent to Mark A. Runco, email: mrunco@aibrt.org.