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"it's not rocket science" and "it's not brain surgery" - "it's a walk in the park": Prospective comparative study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Inga Usher, Peter Hellyer, Keng Siang Lee, Robert Leech, Adam Hampshire, Alexander Alamri, Aswin Chari

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere067883
JournalThe BMJ
Published1 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: Ethical approval: This study was approved by the University College London research ethics committee (19713/001) and is supported by the Society of British Neurological Surgeons and the United Kingdom Space Agency. Data sharing: Technical appendix, statistical code, and dataset are available from the corresponding author. The general population comparison data from the Great British Intelligence Test are not available as an open dataset. The lead author (AC) affirms that the manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained. Dissemination to participants and related patient and public communities: Results will be disseminated primarily through the Brainbook charity. We will design infographics and a lay summary of the study, which will be disseminated through the charity’s website and active social media channels. We will provide avenues for the public to ask questions to the authors (via interactive Q&A sessions on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook). In addition, we aim to disseminate the study findings through press releases. These are with the aims of dispelling myths and increasing access to both specialties and STEM careers in general. Funding Information: This study was commissioned by Brainbook, a United Kingdom charity dedicated to science communication and public engagement in neurosurgery and the neurosciences. We thank the Society of British Neurological Surgeons and the UK Space Agency for support with this study; and the Royal Astronomical Society, European Space Agency, and Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation for publicising the study through various channels. Contributors: IU, KSL, AA, and AC conceived the idea, designed the study, and obtained ethical approval. PH, RL, and AH devised the Cognitron platform and programmed its use for the study. PH and AC analysed the data. IU and AC drafted the manuscript. All authors were involved in the editing of the manuscript and approved the final version before submission. AC is the guarantor. The corresponding author is the guarantor and attests that all listed authors meet authorship criteria and that no others meeting the criteria have been omitted. Funding: IU is funded by a Royal College of Surgeons research fellowship. AC is funded by a Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity surgeon-scientist fellowship. The funders had no input into the study conception, design, analysis, or reporting. Competing interests: Three of the authors are neurosurgical trainees or residents; none are aerospace engineers. All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at disclosure-of-interest/ and declare: support from the Royal College of Surgeons and Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years ; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work. Publisher Copyright: ©

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AbstractObjective To compare cognitive testing scores in neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers to help settle the age old argument of which phrase - "It's not brain surgery"or "It's not rocket science"- is most deserved. Design International prospective comparative study. Setting United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, and Canada. Participants 748 people (600 aerospace engineers and 148 neurosurgeons). After data cleaning, 401 complete datasets were included in the final analysis (329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons). Main outcome measures Validated online test (Cognitron's Great British Intelligence Test) measuring distinct aspects of cognition, spanning planning and reasoning, working memory, attention, and emotion processing abilities. Results The neurosurgeons showed significantly higher scores than the aerospace engineers in semantic problem solving (difference 0.33, 95% confidence interval 0.13 to 0.52). Aerospace engineers showed significantly higher scores in mental manipulation and attention (-0.29, -0.48 to -0.09). No difference was found between groups in domain scores for memory (-0.18, -0.40 to 0.03), spatial problem solving (-0.19, -0.39 to 0.01), problem solving speed (0.03, -0.20 to 0.25), and memory recall speed (0.12, -0.10 to 0.35). When each group's scores for the six domains were compared with those in the general population, only two differences were significant: the neurosurgeons' problem solving speed was quicker (mean z score 0.24, 95% confidence interval 0.07 to 0.41) and their memory recall speed was slower (-0.19, -0.34 to -0.04). Conclusions In situations that do not require rapid problem solving, it might be more correct to use the phrase "It's not brain surgery."It is possible that both neurosurgeons and aerospace engineers are unnecessarily placed on a pedestal and that "It's a walk in the park"or another phrase unrelated to careers might be more appropriate. Other specialties might deserve to be on that pedestal, and future work should aim to determine the most deserving profession.

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