It's revealed in the episode "Distant Voices" that Bashir intentionally failed his final exam to make sure he wouldn't be valedictorian.

BASHIR: I made a mistake on the final exam.

ALTOVAR: You mistook a pre-ganglionic fiber for a post-ganglionic nerve.

BASHIR: That's right.

ALTOVAR: But pre-ganglionic fibers and post-ganglionic nerves aren't anything alike. Any first year medical student can tell them apart. You purposely gave the wrong answer.

At the time, the explanation given is that he couldn't handle the pressure. But later, after it's been revealed that he is a genetically-modified human, Bashir says that he's taken steps to not appear as smart as he actually is.

BASHIR: My genetic status wasn't discovered until last year.

LAUREN: How'd you manage to hide it for so long?

BASHIR: I did my best not to... exploit my abilities.

Setting aside out-of-universe reasons (my understanding is the entire storyline was a complete retcon), are there any indications Bashir intentionally didn't become valedictorian to avoid revealing his secret?

  • I can't remember what episode it was, but I thought Bashir mentioned sometime that the person in first got their pick of the fleet ships, the second best was sent to a station, which he seemed to like more. I sure got the impression that he actually aimed at getting second best. – Zoredache Nov 21 '15 at 20:41
  • @Zoredache Having just watched that episode, I think he said that the valedictorian got their pick of assignment, ship or station, but I could be wrong. – TenthJustice Nov 21 '15 at 22:27

The official Star Trek web site lists the exam question as a "trick question".

There is no answer in the episodes themselves. The OP's question contains two of the three references to the exam question that occur in DS9. (The third reference, which is earlier than these two, is when Bashir is anxiously hoping to reconnect with the class valedictorian who did answer the question correctly.)

However, the official Star Trek web site has the following to say:

A trick question during orals at Starfleet Medical about ganglia dropped him to class salutatorian...

(Source — StarTrek.com: Julian Bashir Database Entry)

The database entry, written after the conclusion of DS9, has chosen not to describe the question in terms other than as a trick question. It also makes no mention of Bashir intentionally messing it up. This seems to rob Altovar's claim of some credence.

Furthermore, intentionally messing up the question doesn't seem to fit with Bashir's personality as seen in the show. Throughout DS9, he is very concerned with coming first place in competitions of an academic nature, with curing "incurable" diseases (e.g. the Dominion-engineered Quickening virus), etc.

I suspect that when Bashir refers to not "expoliting his abilities", he is probably referring to holding back on his physical abilities and strength — his Khan-like strength and endurance would surely mark him out as an augmented human.

Finally, let's think about the ganglionic nerves and fibers themselves;

enter image description here

The only difference between preganglionic and postganglionic is the position of the fiber in the (central nervous system) -> (ganglion) -> (organ) chain of communication, as above.

One could imagine a tricky question in which it is unclear which is which (e.g. in a more complicated diagram involving multiple ganglia or organs).

On the other hand, the issue could be with the nerve versus fiber part of the statement rather than preganglionic versus postganglionic. It depends whether "nerve" refers to the "nerve cell" or to the "nerve fiber". With the former, there would be a massive difference.

Finally, the following dialogue from the episode "Dr. Bashir, I Presume" would seem to agree with my assessment above that he was not worried about his intellectual displays attracting the wrong kind of attention:

BASHIR: I was the star pupil.

O'BRIEN: And no one ever suspected?

BASHIR: Oh, there's no stigma attached to success, Chief. After the treatments, I never looked back. But the truth is I'm a fraud.

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    Good answer, but I think that its possible or implied that Altovar might be correct. Bashir wouldn't just hide his physical superiority but also his mental superiority. I think it was also implied that he was not just physically stronger than average, but also generally smarter. And he would want to hide those things, at least to keep his parents out of whatever passes in the federation for legal trouble. – Mark Rogers Nov 21 '15 at 18:24
  • @MarkRogers : I'm not disputing that he is smarter than average --- I'm only pointing out that he didn't seem to have qualms demonstrating his mental prowess. Also, the official Star Trek database describes the questions as a "trick" question. I think we should deter to that. – Praxis Nov 21 '15 at 19:11
  • Whether it was a "trick" question or not, doesn't mean that its also untrue. I respect your position, but its kind of implied that he's faking a lot of things in order to fit in. I think its almost directly implied that he did have qualms about demonstrating his mental prowess. Both to fit in, a classic narrative, and for his parents. I could be wrong, its been years since I've seen the episode. Also I edited out. a bad assertion about the trick question from this comment. – Mark Rogers Nov 21 '15 at 19:26
  • @MarkRogers : I respect your position, too. Someone else doesn't respect mine though (downvoting is for lack of research, not for disagreeing with the conclusion --- it's the job of the asker to pick the best answer). – Praxis Nov 21 '15 at 19:31
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    Note that the linked entry is written from the in-universe perspective of Counselor Telnorri. It's perfectly plausible Bashir referred to it as a trick question to his counselor, or that his counselor was simply choosing favorable wording in his report because he didn't know what happened for sure. – MichaelS Nov 22 '15 at 9:15

Yes, he did.

This line was incorporated by writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe in response to his (at the time pre-vet) wife:

Robert Hewitt Wolfe commented on his wife's reaction to Bashir's mistake: "Celeste was pre-vet. And every time she saw "Emissary" or heard Bashir's line about mistaking a pre-ganglionic fiber for a post-ganglionic nerve, she'd say, They're nothing like each other! No one would make that mistake'". In "Distant Voices", Wolfe had Altovar deliver the line: "But pre-ganglionic fibers and post-ganglionic nerves aren't anything alike. Any first year medical student can tell them apart. You purposely gave the wrong answer". Wolfe commented: "Altovar is correct. That's my way of saying, 'Well, okay' to Celeste".' (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)

From memory alpha entry on "Preganglionic Fiber."

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question. We know the newer episode adds the quoted lines saying he made the "mistake" on purpose. The question is if the real reason was to hide his genetic mods, rather than his stated reason of not wanting to deal with the pressure of being valedictorian. – MichaelS Nov 22 '15 at 8:52

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