The book Human Accomplishment does not contain many female names. Has the author Charles Murray unfairly discriminated against women? I see little evidence of this. When reading the index for Western music I notice the absence of Hildegard von Bingen from the twelfth century, a German abbess and composer. She should perhaps have been included. Yet I also did not find the English composer and conductor Benjamin Britten, who was at least as prominent as her.
Of women authors renowned for writing about issues relating to Feminism, the highest-ranking one in Western literature is Virginia Woolf, with an index-score of 12 out of 100. Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is not listed, but her daughter Mary Shelley, remembered for the Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818), is.
Outside of Feminism and women’s issues, female contributions to the field of philosophy are quite tiny. Simone de Beauvoir receives a modest listing for The Second Sex (1949), but only in literature, not in Western philosophy. She receives a lower score there than the English sisters Charlotte and Emily Brontë and significantly lower than Sappho of Lesbos, Jane Austen or Mary Ann Evans, also known as George Eliot. Since the book ends in 1950 it does not mention Atlas Shrugged, a novel by Ayn Rand, first published in 1957 in the USA, The Feminine Mystique, published by Betty Friedan in 1963, or Silent Spring (1962) by the American conservationist Rachel Carson, which helped inspire the environmental movement.
Especially after the Second World War, Feminist ideologies grew increasingly radical and often more or less inspired by certain strands of Marxist thought, be that economic or cultural Marxism. This is reflected in the writings of both Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan. From a strictly literary point of view, I would agree with giving a higher ranking to Woolf than to Beauvoir simply because the former was a substantially better writer than the latter.
What about the scientific disciplines? Did Charles Murray leave out many great women scientists? A tiny handful of them, perhaps, but not very many from what I can judge.
Thanks to spectroscopy, it was possible for European astrophysicists to detect the presence of chemical elements such as hydrogen in the Sun’s spectrum, or even helium (He, atomic number 2) from the Greek helios for the Sun. Helium was discovered independently in 1868 by French astronomer Jules Janssen and the English scientist Norman Lockyer. It was, and remains, the only known chemical element detected in space before it was ever found on the Earth. But Western scientists did not yet know how big a percentage of the Sun’s mass was made up of hydrogen. In the 1920s, many of them assumed that it was rich in heavy elements.
This changed with the work of the English-born Cecilia Payne, later Payne-Gaposchkin after she married a Russian astronomer. Her interest in astronomy was triggered after she heard Arthur Eddington lecture on relativity. In 1925 her Stellar Atmospheres, labeled “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy,” showed that stars consist mainly of hydrogen and helium. The Irish astronomer William McCrea and the German astrophysicist Albrecht Unsöld independently established that the prominence of hydrogen in stellar spectra indicates that the presence of hydrogen in stars is greater than that of all other elements put together.
We know a lot more about the surface of other planets like Mars than about the interior of our own, but what little we think we know to a large extent derives from studying seismic waves. The Dutch mathematician Willebrord Snell in the 1600s described the bending of light, or refraction, which takes place when light travels from one medium to another with a different composition and density, for instance from air to water. This can be seen by anybody who puts a pencil into a glass of water and observes how it appears to be “bent.” This phenomenon is caused by the change in velocity that occurs when light waves pass from one medium to a different one. The same principle applies to other waves as well, for example seismic waves, shock waves generated by earthquakes or explosions that travel through the Earth’s interior.
The Irish geophysicist Richard Dixon Oldham discovered that seismic waves travel through the interior of the Earth in different directions and speeds. This insight was utilized by the Croatian seismologist Andrija Mohorovicic, who taught geophysics at the University of Zagreb. By analyzing the data from a 1909 earthquake he realized that the velocity of a seismic wave is related to the density of the material that it is moving through. He interpreted the acceleration of seismic waves observed within Earth’s outer shell as a compositional change within the Earth itself. This Mohorovicic Discontinuity is thought to constitute the boundary between the Earth’s crust and mantle. It can be found at an average depth of 8 kilometers beneath the ocean basin and as much as 32 kilometers beneath the continents.
Beno Gutenberg was born in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1913 he became the first person to give a reasonable estimate of the size and properties of the Earth’s core. In 1930, Gutenberg became a professor of geophysics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the USA, where one of his colleagues was the American seismologist Charles Francis Richter.
They collaborated on the development of various scales using seismic waves so that observers could assign magnitudes to different earthquakes. In 1935 this work resulted in the creation of a logarithmic magnitude scale that came to be named after Richter alone. The alternative Moment Magnitude scale, now preferred by many, was introduced in 1979 at Caltech by the American scientist Thomas C. Hanks and the Japanese-born seismologist Hiroo Kanamori.
Seismologist Inge Lehmann from Denmark studied the shock waves of a large earthquake, some of which were reflected back. In a 1936 she theorized that the Earth’s center consists of two separate parts. The outer core lies below the mantle, ca. 2,900 km beneath the surface.
The inner core begins 5150 kilometers beneath the surface where the temperature is estimated to be perhaps 6000 °C, comparable to that of the Sun’s surface. In total, the Earth’s core is believed to be over 7,000 kilometers in diameter, making it slightly larger than the planet Mars. Yet like Payne-Gaposchkin, Lehmann is not mentioned in Human Accomplishment.
Hans Christian Ørsted in Denmark in 1820 found a connection between electrical and magnetic phenomena and opened up the study of electromagnetism. The French mathematical physicist and astronomer François Arago described the generation of magnetism by rotation in the 1820s, and his observations were expanded by Michael Faraday in England. The German-born physicist Walter M. Elsasser in 1946 published his theory that the Earth’s electromagnetic field is generated by an internal dynamo caused by currents in the liquid outer core. Yet Elsasser’s name is not mentioned by Charles Murray in his book, either.
Apart from Lehmann and Payne-Gaposchkin, both of whom objectively speaking deserve to be listed, one possible female name left out by Murray in the scientific disciplines is Ada King or Ada Lovelace, daughter of the English poet Lord Byron. In 1833 she met Charles Babbage and became interested in his work. She described how his Analytical Engine might be programmed and made what many historians consider to be the first computer program.
If I were to construct my own personal and highly subjective list over the greatest women scientists in recorded history, the top would look something like this:Marie Curie is the undisputed number one, Maria Goeppert-Mayer two and Lise Meitner three. After that it gets trickier. I would say Irène Joliot-Curie, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Vera Rubin, Margaret Burbidge, Emmy Noether, Rosalind Franklin, Antonia Maury, Chien-Shiung Wu, Annie Jump Cannon, Dorothy Hodgkin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Marguerite Davis, Inge Lehmann, Caroline Herschel, Ada King and Florence Nightingale, in roughly that order.
There are other candidates, such as Barbara McClintock, Lene Hau, Jane Goodall, Marguerite Perey, Ida Noddack, Martha Chase, Mary Leakey, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Hypatia, Sonya Kovalevskaya, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Marie-Sophie Germain, Maria Mitchell, Ada Yonath, Carol Greider, Elizabeth Blackburn, Linda Buck, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Gerty Cori, Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, Gertrude Elion or Mary Anning.
I am willing to discuss some of the details here. Should Irène Joliot-Curie be ranked ahead of Goeppert-Mayer, for example? Or should others be pushed into the top twenty list? However, I would claim that if you make a ranking over the top fifty women in the history of science, all of the first twenty suggested by me should be there. Marie Curie should be number one.
By 2010, four individuals had received two Nobel Prizes. Maria Sklodowska-Curie shared the Physics Prize in 1903 for co-discovering radioactivity and received the Chemistry Prize in 1911. An entire century later she is the only person, man or woman, to have received Nobel Prizes in two different sciences, although they were admittedly closely related in this case.
Linus Pauling, a physical chemist from the USA, became the first and so far only person to have won two unshared Nobel Prizes. His first Prize (for Chemistry, in 1954) was awarded for research into the nature of the chemical bond and its use in elucidating molecular structure; the second (for Peace, in 1962) recognized his efforts to ban the testing of nuclear weapons.
The American physicist and electrical engineer John Bardeen is the only person to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics twice: first shared in 1956 with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for their invention of the transistor; and again in 1972 with Leon N. Cooper and John R. Schrieffer for their theory of superconductivity, which became known as the BCS theory.
Frederick Sanger is a leading English biochemist, a scientist who conducts research into the molecules that occur in the cells of animals, plants and other living organisms. He has twice received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the first one in 1958 for determining the structure of the insulin molecule, the hormone that regulates the level of sugar (glucose) in our blood. He shared another in 1980 for having developed a method of determining the chemical structure of large pieces of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the substance that makes up our genes.
While a few women have won Nobel Prizes in medicine or chemistry, only two of them as of 2010 have won the Nobel Prize in Physics, the first being Marie Curie in 1903 and the second Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 for her work on the nuclear shell structure of atomic nuclei.
My suggested top twenty list of women extends nearly up until the present day (mid-2011) and includes Rosalind Franklin, Margaret Burbidge, Chien-Shiung Wu, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Vera Rubin, who all made their scientific contributions in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s. So did some of the other potential candidates such as Jane Goodall and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi.
Three of the first twenty are Ashkenazi Jews: Lise Meitner, Vera Rubin and Emmy Noether. This is consistent with the overall picture of the substantial minority contribution made by Jews. One came from Asia. The physicist Chien-Shiung Wu was born in Shanghai but moved to the USA. There she came to know Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, who received the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics, the first individuals of Chinese descent to do so. Wu did not get a Nobel, although she did get the very first Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978, an honor she shares with many Nobel laureates, and as of 2011 she still remains the only woman to have done so.
Many men from China, or from Vietnam in the case of Fields Medalist Ngô B?o Châu, who have won prestigious international awards in science and mathematics, belong to the Chinese diaspora in Western countries, for instance Shing-Tung Yau, Terence Tao or Charles K. Kao. Japan is without question the one Asian country with the highest number of Nobel Prizes.
Virtually all complex societies have been patriarchal to some extent, and the Confucian-influenced ones of East Asia have a reputation for being more than average so. However, by far the highest ranking woman in any of the disciplines in Human Accomplishment is the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, number three in Japanese literature with a score of 86 out of 100.
The most remarkable woman scientist is clearly Marie Curie. Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie together with her French husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 for work on artificial radioactivity, part of the history of nuclear fission.
Even so, it is hard to explain away the strong presence of the English-speaking countries, primarily Britain and the USA, on these lists. If we include German-born individuals such as Maria Goeppert-Mayer and Caroline Herschel plus Scandinavian ones like Inge Lehmann, the overall dominance of Germanic-speaking nations on my ranking becomes very strong. This is no doubt mainly due to the great scientific contributions of the Germanic-speaking nations in general and the English-speaking ones in particular. I would personally suggest that it is also partly due to the high degree of respect traditionally awarded to women in Germanic societies, despite what certain Marxist Feminists in these countries might claim today. I was slightly surprised, though, not to find any Dutch or Swedish women near the top, considering the strong scientific performance of these countries and the freedom enjoyed by women there.
In 1944 the Canadian-born researcher Oswald Avery and his co-workers had more or less demonstrated that DNA was the material behind inheritance. This was further established through experiments conducted by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase in the USA in 1952. The structure of it was finally worked out in Britain in the early 1950s by Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins, who all shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine for demonstrating the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. They were aided by images produced by the English woman biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin.
The period 1950-2010 can alternatively be labeled the space age, the DNA age or the computer age; the nuclear age had begun in the 1930s and 40s but continued to develop after that, for peaceful and non-peaceful purposes. Whereas the first electronic computers existed before 1950, the development of the microchip made them much smaller and more powerful.
DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that contains the genetic code for all currently known life forms on Earth except for some RNA-based viruses. Whether viruses constitute life forms is debatable since they have no metabolism and cannot reproduce without infecting a host cell, but they are certainly important carriers of genetic material. Viruses are suspected by many biologists to have played an important role in evolution, human evolution included.
DNA consists of two long, twisted chains made up of nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains one base, one phosphate molecule and the sugar molecule deoxyribose. A gene is a segment of a DNA molecule that contains information for making a protein. Proteins perform the chemical reactions in our bodies and provide the body’s main building materials, forming the architecture of our cells. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Chromosomes are cellular structures containing genes. Humans normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Photography made it possible to preserve images of the spectra of stars. The Catholic priest and astrophysicist Pietro Angelo Secchi, born in northern Italy, is considered the discoverer of the principle of stellar classification. In the 1860s he began collecting the spectra of stars and classified them according to spectral characteristics, although his particular system didn’t last.
The Harvard system based on the star’s surface temperature was developed from the 1880s onward. Several of its creators were women. Edward CharlesPickering at the Harvard College Observatory hired female assistants such as Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Annie Jump Cannon and Antonia Maury, who classified the prism spectra of thousands of stars. Another system was worked out in the 1940s by William Wilson Morgan and Philip Keenan, aided by Edith Kellman. This is known as the MK or Yerkes spectral classification system after Yerkes Observatory, the astronomical research center of the University of Chicago in the USA. William Wilson Morgan is not listed by Charles Murray. He probably should have been.
Ejnar Hertzsprung, a chemist and astronomer from Copenhagen, Denmark, worked for years at Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands, but made his most important contribution in 1911-13. He discovered the relationship between the brightness of a star and its color, but published his findings in a photographic journal which went largely unnoticed. The talented American astronomer Henry Norris Russell, who spent six decades at Princeton University, made essentially the same discovery, but published it in 1913 in a journal read by astronomers and presented the findings in a graph. The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram helped give astronomers their first insight into the lifecycle of stars. It can be regarded as the Periodic Table of stars.
Changes in the structure of stars are reflected in changes in their temperatures, sizes and luminosities. The smallest ones, red dwarfs, may contain less than 10% the mass of the Sun and emit 0.01% as much energy. The minimum core temperature needed for regular hydrogen fusion and therefore the birth of a star is about 10 million degrees Celsius. Red dwarfs constitute by far the most numerous types of stars and have lifespans of tens or hundreds of billions of years, in other words, far longer than the currently estimated age of our universe.
Rare hypergiants may exceed 100 solar masses and emit hundreds of thousands of times more energy than the Sun. They have lifetimes of a few million years. Stars that are actively fusing hydrogen into helium in their cores are called main sequence stars and are in hydrostatic equilibrium: the outward radiation pressure is balanced by the inward gravitational force.
A common, medium-sized star like our Sun will remain on the main sequence for roughly 10 billion years. The Sun is currently in the middle of its lifespan as it formed 4.57 billion years ago. Even today it daily emits an estimated 30% more energy than it did when it was born. The faint young Sun paradox, proposed by the astronomer, planetary scientist and popular science writer Carl Sagan with his colleague George Mullen in the USA in 1972, refers to the fact that the Earth nevertheless apparently had liquid oceans, not frozen ones, for much its early existence. Scientists have not yet reached an agreement on why this was the case.
When the hydrogen fuel runs out, the core contracts and heats up. The star then brightens and expands, becoming a red giant. The Sun will enter its red giant phase in about 5 billion years. Helium fusion will begin when its core temperature reaches around 100 million K, hot enough to produce carbon. It will then greatly expand in volume and vaporize Mercury, Venus and maybe the Earth. Already now it is slowly growing more luminous. For this reason, in another billion plus years the Earth’s surface may be too hot to contain liquid water. The Sun is not massive enough to explode as a supernova and leave behind a neutron star or a black hole. It will eventually end up as a white dwarf billions of years from now when its active life ends.
The Greeks and other ancient peoples usually viewed stars as unchanging, and indeed they appear to be so within the space of a single human lifetime, or several human lifetimes. We now know that they come in many different sizes and colors, from those that are much bigger than the Sun to stars that are significantly smaller than it. We also know that they have different lifecycles depending upon their masses, and that large ones can “recycle” some of their material in giant explosions, which can in turn form the basis for new stars and planets.
The Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky along with his German colleague Walter Baade – both eventually based in the USA – introduced the term “supernova” and suggested that these explosive events are very different from ordinary novae. They claimed that after the turbulent collapse of a massive star, the residue of which would be an extremely compact neutron star, there would still be a large amount of energy left over. We now know that when a big star explodes as a supernova it can briefly shine brighter than an entire galaxy containing tens or even hundreds of billions of stars. Zwicky and Baade suggested the possible existence of neutron stars in 1933, just a year after the neutron itself had been detected as a particle.
Many astronomers accepted supernovas, but were skeptical of the existence of neutron stars. These objects were first observed in the 1960s, following the development of non-optical astronomy. In 1967 the astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell and the radio astronomer Antony Hewish at Cambridge University in England discovered the first pulsar, tiny, rapidly pulsating radio sources that turned out to be neutron stars with very powerful magnetic fields that sweep around many times per second as they rotate, making them appear as cosmic lighthouses. Hewish won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974, although his graduate student Bell made the initial discovery. He shared the Nobel Prize with the English radio astronomer Martin Ryle.
Fritz Zwicky in 1933 stumbled upon observations indicating that there is more matter out there than what is visible to us and that this affects the behavior of galaxies. In the 1970s the American astrophysicist Jerry Ostriker along with James Peebles also discovered that the visible mass of a galaxy is not sufficient to keep it together. Vera Rubin soon after became a leading authority on the rotation of galaxies. Her calculations based on empirical evidence showed that galaxies must contain ten times as much mass as can be accounted for by visible stars. She realized that she had discovered evidence for Zwicky’s proposed “dark matter.” Vera Rubin is an observant Jew who sees no inherent conflict between science and religion.
The author Murray indicates that the number of women in his rankings can be increased if you relax the criteria for inclusion, but doing the same for men will dramatically increase the number of European men who might be included as well. At the end of the day, the smaller percentage of women in great human accomplishment cannot be changed to any great extent.
Excluded categories are educators who taught science, translators, pioneers (the first to get a degree in a given field etc.), amateurs who collected data that were used by scientists, activists in women’s rights and social reform, plus the wives, sisters and children of famous male scientist who had some involvement in the work of their husbands, brothers or fathers.
Examples of the latter would be Sarah Banks, Giuseppa Barbapiccola, Sophia Brahe or Mary Buckland. Finally, there are the women who did make some direct personal contributions within the confines of the scientific categories listed by Murray, but who were not substantial enough to make it to the inventory, for instance Mary Anning or Elizabeth Gertrude Britton.
Women support the daily social lives of their men, be that their sons or their husbands and fathers. Viewed from that angle, women are tremendously important for virtually all men, regardless of what they accomplish in life. Perhaps women don’t always receive the proper appreciation and recognition for that. Many great men have stated quite sincerely that they could never have achieved what they did without the loyalty and continuous support of their wives, and they have often been right. Unfair as this may be, here we track direct individual contributions to human accomplishment, not indirect ones, no matter how big they might be.
This leaves room for certain borderline categories. For instance, Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze, the young wife of Antoine Lavoisier, acted as the laboratory assistant of her chemist spouse and by so doing contributed to his work. She was also depicted as such by the French painter Jacques-Louis David in 1788. Emily Warren Roebling helped guide the construction of Brooklyn Bridge in New York City (1869-83) throughout the illness of its chief engineer, her husband. Both of these women, partly out of personal devotion to their husbands, made honorable contributions. Should they be credited independently? The question is debatable.
The English-born archaeologist and paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey worked very closely with her husband Louis Leakey in East Africa, uncovering fossils or traces of ancient hominids and by extension of human evolution. In her particular case, she made independent discoveries that were sometimes attributed to her husband. I think it would be fair to treat them as a pair of gifted and devoted scientists of which he was simply the most brilliant.
There are also a few documented cases of women who initially acted as research assistant to talented male family members, but later emerged as scientists in their own right. One of the most famous examples is Caroline Herschel. She started out in a manner similar to Mrs. Lavoisier in that she actively aided her exceptionally gifted older brother William Herschel in his astronomical work. Their story is portrayed in Richard Holmes’ book The Age of Wonder.
Unlike the wife of Lavoisier, though, Caroline Herschel eventually emerged as a scholar in her own right. She was given a telescope by her brother, who was an excellent maker of such devices, and proceeded to discover several comets entirely by herself between 1786 and 1797. Along with William she was granted an annual salary by King George III for their work. She could with some justification be called the first professional woman astronomer in history.
As I stated above, the distinction is tricky when it comes to women supporting their men’s work. All in all, however, I agree with Charles Murray’s conclusion in crediting mainly direct personal contributions, and therefore listing Caroline Herschel but not the wife of Lavoisier.
The author notes that women, contrary to what might have been expected, actually won a slightly smaller percentage (3% as opposed to 4%) of the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Medicine, Physics or Literature from 1951-2000 than they did from 1901-1950. The Nobel Prizes for Economics have been awarded only since 1969. Despite the fact that many more women had higher education by the end of the twentieth century than at the beginning of it, their percentage at the very highest level of scientific achievement was still relatively small.
Larry Summers, President of the prestigious Harvard University in the USA, was forced to resign partly because of a 2005 speech where he suggested that women’s under-representation in the top levels of academia is due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end.” He dared to suggest that innate differences between men and women could explain why men hold more seats as top scientists than women do. This was deemed unacceptable in a society where differences between the sexes are said to be caused by “socially constructed” gender roles.
Yet according to Dr Paul Irwing at Manchester University, there are twice as many men with an IQ of 120-plus as there are women, and a staggering 30 times as many with a genius-level IQ of 170-plus. Other studies have been made indicating a roughly similar, highly disproportionate number of men among individuals with unusually high intelligence.
Generally speaking, men are more “extreme” than women, for better or worse. It is for instance also true that most violent criminals are, always have been men and probably always will be men, and that there are powerful biological and as well as cultural reasons for this. Men are more restless than women. I personally never use the term “stronger” or “weaker” sex. This is not due to fear of social censorship, but simply because I honestly find the term factually incorrect and inappropriate. Women are not weak, nor are men always strong.
If anything, I would call men the restless sex. That would capture much of the good, plus some of the bad, that men do. Male energy is the driving force behind any dynamic culture. It is undeniable that the overwhelming majority of the scientific and technological progress that has made life more materially comfortable and lifted mankind to space was created by men. It is also undeniable that there is a potential for violent destructiveness inherent in human beings in general, but in men in particular. The key to success for any culture is to tap as much as possible into male creative dynamism while at the same time keeping it destructive potential under control. The battle between these two powerful forces has shaped all of human history.
According to Annica Dahlström, a Swedish expert in neuroscience, men are found more frequently than women at the extremes of both high and low intelligence, which is reflected in their socio-economic level. More men than women are multimillionaires, but more are also homeless, imprisoned or otherwise social losers. Men are more frequently killed or injured from dangerous work. Most traditional cultures usually try to put women out of harms way.
Female geniuses exist, but they are much less frequent than male ones. Dahlström says that “The difference between boys and girls, in terms of their biology and brain, is greater than we could ever have imagined.” We can now scan and follow human brain activity in real time. Differences between the sexes are clearly recognizable already at the young age of three, if not before. The centers of the brain dealing with verbal communication, interpretation of facial expressions and body language are more developed in girls even at this early stage. “Female intuition” exists if by that we mean to say that the average woman can sometimes pick up minor details from a conversation that the average man may not have noticed. Forcing boys to behave like girls are vice versa is unnatural and will inevitably hurt them. Such a policy could be viewed as “mental abuse” of children in Professor Dahlström’s view.
Personally, all cultures that I know of state that human beings were created as two distinct sexes, men and women. I have never heard of a single religious tradition anywhere claiming that we were created as a gender neutral entity with a socially constructed penis or vagina.
From the point of evolutionary biology, men and women have had different social functions for so many thousands of years that it would be very strange if this didn’t have a practical effect on the evolution of how the male and female brains are structured and work, which is precisely what modern brain research indicates. The bottom line is that whether from a religious or a non-religious perspective, absolute “gender equality” doesn’t make any sense.
That doesn’t at all mean that we should accept the sometimes very brutal treatment of women found in many cultures, which in some cases is a well-documented fact, not a Marxist myth. But it does mean that we have to deal rationally with the reality of biological inequality.
Women have played a minor part in the history of the arts and sciences. As of 2010, all winners of the Fields Medal have been men. The same goes for other mathematical awards such as the Abel Prize. The question is whether social and legal exclusion of women is a sufficient explanation for this fact or whether sex-specific characteristics are at work as well.
Girls earn better grades in mathematics than boys, but boys usually do better on standardized tests. The difference in means is modest, but the male advantage increases as the focus shifts from means to extremes. In test scores, the male advantage is most pronounced in the most abstract items. In the humanities, the most abstract field is philosophy. So far, no woman has ever been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions.
According to Murray, “In the sciences, the most abstract field is mathematics, where the number of great women mathematicians is approximately two (Emmy Noether definitely, Sonya Kovalevskaya maybe). In the other hard sciences, the contributions of great women scientists have usually been empirical rather than theoretical, with leading cases in point being Henrietta Leavitt, Dorothy Hodgkin, Lise Meitner, Irene Joliot-Curie, and Marie Curie herself. In the arts, literature is the least abstract and by far the most rooted in human interaction; visual art incorporates a greater admixture of the abstract; musical composition is the most abstract of all the arts, using neither words nor images. The role of women has varied accordingly. Women have been represented among great writers virtually from the beginning of literature, in East Asia and South Asia as well as in the West. Women have produced a smaller number of important visual artists, and none that is clearly in the first rank. No female composer is even close to the first rank. Social restrictions undoubtedly damped down women’s contributions in all of the arts, but the pattern of accomplishment that did break through is strikingly consistent with what we know about the respective strengths of male and female cognitive repertoires.”
Men take more risks, and are also more competitive and are more aggressive than women. Turning to race, we must begin with the fraught question of whether it even exists, or whether it is instead a social construct. The Jewish biologists Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould in the USA promoted the idea that race is “social constructed” from the 1970s onward, and the idea can be traced further back to such individuals as the highly influential Franz Boas, an anthropologist in the USA born to a family of non-practicing German Jews. Gould has later been accused of deliberately tampering with the data to support his view that there are no significant differences between ethnic groups. Murray calls this the Inequality Taboo:
“Elites throughout the West are living a lie, basing the futures of their societies on the assumption that all groups of people are equal in all respects. Lie is a strong word, but justified. It is a lie because so many elite politicians who profess to believe it in public do not believe it in private. It is a lie because so many elite scholars choose to ignore what is already known and choose not to inquire into what they suspect. We enable ourselves to continue to live the lie by establishing a taboo against discussion of group differences. The taboo is not perfect–otherwise, I would not have been able to document this essay–but it is powerful. Witness how few of Harvard’s faculty who understood the state of knowledge about sex differences were willing to speak out during the Summers affair….The taboo arises from an admirable idealism about human equality. If it did no harm, or if the harm it did were minor, there would be no need to write about it. But taboos have consequences.”
I showed my proposed top twenty list of women scientists to several persons with above average education, and none of them were able to recognize the majority of the names that I had suggested, exceptions being famous ones such as Marie Curie or Florence Nightingale. If we make a list in 2011 over the 100 most important and influential scientists in world history, Marie Curie is the only woman who might, objectively speaking, be included among them. Nobody else comes close to her level, a full century after Curie got her second Nobel Prize.
Out of the different categories of human accomplishment, women clearly have the strongest minority presence in literature. No surprise there. It is a minority presence there as well, though; the greatest writers have disproportionately been men. Literature implies verbal skills, psychological insight and talent for observing people and their relationships, all traditional feminine virtues. Women’s presence is modest, but not necessarily insignificant, in some of the sciences that require observational skills and patience, but it is very tiny and close to zero in disciplines such as mathematics, theoretical physics and philosophy. Generally speaking, the more logic is needed in a particular field, the fewer women you are likely to find there.
At the highest level of accomplishment, the differences between men and women are so large that they have to be partly caused by differences in extreme ability, not merely restrictions or social discrimination. After a great revolution where women now numerically dominate many universities, at least in the social sciences (not the hard sciences), Marie Curie still reigns supreme among women scientists, and she was never close to the level of Newton or Einstein.
Not only is science overwhelmingly created by men; it is usually created by relatively young men. The most extreme example of this would be mathematics. Many of the famous (male) mathematicians showed great aptitude already as a child. If a person has not demonstrated unusual mathematical abilities before the age of 30, it is very unlikely that he possesses such abilities at all. In literature and the visual arts, skills and wisdom can mature with age. It is not unusual for artists to make some of their best work late in life. This is not totally unheard of in the sciences, either, but it is less common there. One could almost claim that having too much experience can be an obstacle because you get mentally stuck in traditional ways of thinking.
“It is important to foster individuality,” Albert Einstein stated, “for only the individual can produce the new ideas.” “Anything truly novel is invented only during one’s youth,” he once lamented to a friend after finishing his work on general relativity and cosmology. “Later one becomes more experienced, more famous – and more blockheaded.” Great emphasis is placed on nonconformity in the biography about him written by Walter Isaacson. Einstein’s fundamental creed was that freedom is the lifeblood of creativity. “The development of science and of the creative activities of the spirit,” he said, “requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice.”
The English scholar Edmund Halley is most famous as a mathematical astronomer and for being the first person to calculate the orbit of a comet, the one later named after him. Yet he was also a talented geophysicist and meteorologist who found the time to participate in non-astronomical activities, too, created an improved diving bell, studied magnetic variation and served as a sea captain. He enhanced our understanding of trade winds, tides and navigation and even contributed to medicine and medical statistics by publishing mortality tables. Halley was clearly an unusually clever and prolific man. We still remember his name centuries later. He is also noted for his role in the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia and was in awe of Newton’s intellect. He allegedly stated that “Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.”
Murray Gell-Mann, an Ashkenazi Jew from the USA, won the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on “quarks” and other elementary particles. Quarks are permanently trapped inside other particles like neutrons and protons under normal physical conditions. Gell-Mann worked with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago and debated passionately with renowned physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman during his many years at Caltech.
Gell-Mann doesn’t put people on pedestals very much. Paul Dirac “was a remarkably eccentric person.” Feynman “was pretty good, although not as good as he thought he was. He was too self-absorbed and spent a huge amount of energy generating anecdotes about himself. Fermi [who developed the first nuclear reactor] was good, but again with limitations – every now and then he was wrong. I didn’t know anybody without some limitations in my field of theoretical physics. I grew up thinking that the previous people were the special ones. Even though I knew most of them. I didn’t know Erwin Schrödinger [a pioneer of quantum mechanics]; I passed up a chance to meet him for some reason. But I did know Werner Heisenberg fairly well. He was one of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, which is one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. But by the time I knew him, although he was not extremely old, he was more or less a crank. He was talking a lot of nonsense.”
Critical words about some of the most famous physicists of the twentieth century. Does Gell-Mann believe there is such a thing as geniuses at all? “Einstein was very special – I mean, creating that theory, general relativity [which describes gravity as a product of the geometry of space and time]. To do it today or to do it 34 years ago would be striking, remarkable, an utterly remarkable achievement. But to do it when he did, in 1915, that’s just unbelievable.”
Edmund Halley was an unusually accomplished man who knew some of the leading scholars of his day, but he nevertheless considered Newton to be very special. Murray Gell-Mann won prestigious international awards and personally knew some of the most famous scientists of his age, yet he still thought that Einstein was “very special.” What we can deduce from these examples is that Newton and Einstein belonged to a very rare and extremely tiny group of people. Perhaps we can call them super-geniuses, individuals who are so intelligent that they appear as geniuses even to those who are themselves considered geniuses by regular people.
More than two hundred years passed between the birth of Isaac Newton and that of Albert Einstein. We cannot predict where the next super-genius à la these men will be born. It could be a European, especially a northern European like Newton, or it could be an Ashkenazi Jew like Einstein. Based on historical experience, those would be the two most likely groups. Asians have not produced many individuals of that stature before, but that might change in the future. Theoretically speaking, the next Newton could come from East Asia, or, less likely but not unthinkable, from India or another Asian nation. What we can say is that the next Newton or Einstein is overwhelmingly likely to be a man. Individuals with such an exceptionally high level of intelligence are rare among men, but they are practically non-existent among women.