Fjordman: Women and Human Accomplishment

The latest installment in Fjordman’s “Human Accomplishment” series has been published at Vlad Tepes. Some excerpts are below:

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 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.

More than two hundred years passed between the birth of Newton and that of Einstein. We cannot predict where the next super-genius à la these men will be born. It could be another 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 some other 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.

Read the rest at Vlad Tepes.

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

28 thoughts on “Fjordman: Women and Human Accomplishment

  1. All true enough, but unless it converts to ‘any man is smarter than any woman’, it doesn’t necessarily mean much. The highest level of human achievement is, as rightly said, very rare. Most of us aren’t there. What is to be concluded from the fact that overwhelmingly most of those who are there are men? Anything? Just an idle useless historical fact? If so, fine. I’ve got a head full of them. Anything more? That’s where it gets dangerous, and for those who don’t go in for idle useless historical facts, which is a lot of people, that’s where the peril of such observations lies.

  2. To claim that no other woman scientist “comes close” to the level of Marie Curie is grossly unjust to others, e.g. Emmy Noether and Rosalind Franklin. Honestly, Fjordman’s ranking is pretty bad, and the respective contributions of the real top few women are not directly comparable and there is no compelling reason to put any of them so categorically and so peremptorily over the rest.

  3. Cooking is women’s task universally, across 100% of cultures that I am aware of, Cultural Marxism and Critical “Theory” notwithstanding. Nonetheless, nearly 100% of professional cooks are men.

  4. “More than two hundred years passed between the birth of Newton and that of Einstein. We cannot predict where the next super-genius à la these men will be born.”

    Well, there are already two men who are comparable these two giants.

    One of them is Sir Andrew Wiles from England, the man who tamed the Fermat’s last theorem.This was considered one of the most difficult problem in mathematics, along with Riemann Hypotheses and Poincaré conjecture, and has baffled some of greatest mathematicians during the last 400 years.

    The second man is Grigori Perelman who proved the Poincare conjecture mentioned above.He is Russian Jewish in orgins.

  5. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think many (if not most) women in the pool of female scientists suffer from a disadvantage not noted in Fjordman’s essay — a disadvantage perhaps entirely psycho-sociological: They suppress their own feminine side of creativity and imagination, perhaps for fear of losing their scientific edge; perhaps to prove a point (“I’m just as rational as any man!”). This tends to result in a flattening effect on their ability to transcend clinical science to reach the heights of the rare unifying type of science which, as Einstein knew, required poetic sensitivity and flights of fancy in addition to hard science.

  6. “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.”

    Except that GOD is a woman, so that sure shoots a hole in your theory! Ha!

    In any case, what you know about the true accomplishments of women over time is the same as all of us: NOTHING.

    You know NOTHING about how many women throughout history thought up great ideas and produced great art and inventions (in addition to great children) that were publicly attributed to the various men who surrounded them including fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, and male friends.

    For example, I have heard that Zelda Fitzgerald supposedly wrote some works that were attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald because the couple needed the money and his name commanded more income than hers.

    In addition, “Scott used their relationship as material in his novels, even lifting snippets from Zelda’s diary and assigning them to his fictional heroines.” wikipedia

  7. There seems to be a difference between the West and some Asian countries, WRT women in science. I’m often surprised by how many Chinese and Indian women have advanced degrees in technical fields…it seems more ordinary for them than for American women. I’m guessing that there’s something in European culture that holds women back, in comparison with women in China and India.

    Now don’t everyone jump on me about how they kill girl babies, I know all that. But the gifted, upper middle class women in those cultures routinely study science, while their American counterparts go to law school.

    And here’s a random fact about literature: I was reading about Henry James and his extraordinary family, and apparently, his brilliant but alcoholic father decided to educate the boys but not the girls, so even though Alice was pretty smart, she didn’t get the same education as the boys. Could that possibly give people a hint about why women lag behind men in some fields?

  8. Also, there may be some cultural bias in the received wisdom of the relative importance of various cultural figures. In the main article, Fjordman points out that both Hildegard von Bingen and Benjamin Britten weren’t included in the index of composers, even though they were equally prominent.

    Well, those two are not in the same league. Britten was a distinguished composer, while von Bingen was a polymath who some musicologists think wrote some of the earliest proto-operas and helped create the form.

    If Fjordman sees the two as equally prominent, this is exactly where part of the problem lies. Luckily, people who have studied the matter in more detail than these surveys with a political agenda, wouldn’t mention von Bingen in the same sentence as Britten, no offense intended to him of course.

  9. lava snit: “Fjordman’s ranking is pretty bad.” What is your alternative list, then? Come up with one, and state your reasons for why it should look like that, and I will consider it.

    Physics is the single most important scientific discipline, the one that all other sciences are ultimately based upon. I put Marie Curie in the undisputed number one position because she is so far the only woman who has ever made truly substantial contributions to fundamental physics. The three next women are the ones closest to her level, but still lagging behind.

    In case you didn’t notice, I put both Emmy Noether and Rosalind Franklin in the top ten. Noether is the only woman to have made substantial contributions to mathematics, which is a very important supporting discipline for all of the sciences, physics included. As for Franklin, her work constituted an important stepping stone for her male colleagues to work out the structure of the DNA molecule, yes, but it was her male colleagues who did that, not her.

    Bourbakifan: As indicated, mathematics is important, but physics is king. Yes, both Andrew Wiles and Grigori Perelman are very fine mathematicians who would deserve a good medium-level ranking in that particular field if we were to update Murray’s book from 1950 until 2010, but no, they are not close to the level of Newton or Einstein in overall importance.

    latté island: Yet I don’t think any Asian woman other than Chien-Shiung Wu could conceivably be put in the top twenty list here. Frankly, if we make a list over, say, the forty most important and influential scientists in world history until 2011, not a single man from any part of the Asian continent would make it to that list in my view. If Charles Murray has documented anything with his book it is just how dominant European men have been in creating modern science. The European dominance is understated today, not exaggerated.

    Even regarding Ashkenazi Jews, I would claim that only a single person – Albert Einstein, obviously – from a Jewish background would make it to the top 25. All of the other ones are European men; a handful from the ancient Greek tradition, the rest from the modern Western European one. Jews have every reason to be proud of their contributions considering their small numbers, but Ashkenazi Jews make for additional peaks within an already established European mountain range. The direct Jewish contributions to science before the nineteenth century were rather tiny. The Scientific Revolution was created by Europeans, not Jews.

  10. Fjordman, how could Ashkenazi Jews have contributed anything to science before the nineteenth century? Only after they were emancipated were they able to catch up. This is the problem I have with your whole essay. On the whole you are right about women and Jews lagging behind, but look at their history!

    Also, you mention that Rosalind Frankin prepared the way for her male colleagues to do the real work on DNA. I remember reading an expose that showed how her male colleagues flat out stole her work. This may or not be true, but this is just one example of how men add insult to injury. First they prevent women from getting an equal education, then if a woman achieves something a man can take credit for it, and then another man writes an essay showing how women can’t achieve as much as men, because they haven’t in the past.

    Oy vey! And you do know, I’m sure, that Britten was only one example of the trend of gay men dominating modern music. Care to write an essay about that? (Kidding, it’s been done, but no one here wants to know, they’re all subversive and should be written out of history.)

  11. latté island: Yes, Benjamin Britten was probably Gay. So was Alan Turing, who was unfortunately actively harassed for this. As a matter of fact, Charles Murray in the book does raise the question of whether homosexuality affects human accomplishment, but leaves the matter undecided due to a lack of reliable data. People from Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman, whose homosexuality is fairly well documented, via more uncertain ones such as Leonardo da Vinci to highly questionable ones like William Shakespeare are all claimed to have been Gay, but the difficulty in identifying homosexuality, especially in historical figures, is too great to establish meaningful statistics on this issue. I personally believe there could be a biological basis for homosexuality and that some people are born Gay. I am perfectly willing to debate the subject. As far as we know, Isaac Newton died a virgin and never had sexual relations with any person, man or woman, throughout his life. Was he Gay? We don’t know for sure, and should perhaps leave the matter at that.

    It has been suggested that fashion designers are disproportionately Gay men who want female models to look like skinny young men. Don’t know of this is true, but it’s worth considering.

  12. Fjordman, the question of which historical figures might have been gay isn’t just, “we don’t know, oh well.” Recent gay scholarship has established active cover-ups throughout history, in which even the great man’s contemporaries had some anxiety on the subject, and actively rewrote and falsified evidence, to make the subject of their biography seem more straight.

    The gay musicologist Gary Thomas explored this issue WRT Handel, and his point in exploring it wasn’t so much to claim Handel as a role model, so much as it was to illustrate a well-documented example of this type of coverup, and how it does a disservice to history itself. There is still quite a bit of evidence that only needs to be looked at again, without either a gay or straight agenda, for modern people to see what was obvious all along. Even if we will never know about Shakespeare and Newton, that’s not the point…the point is that the modern historian can discover the problems with the old sources, and that is quite fascinating!

    As for Britten, he lived openly with the tenor Peter Pears, and even though both were discreet, being from a more conservative time, everyone knew they were gay, no one thinks otherwise. I’m not a fan of modern music, unfortunately…I admire Britten for being somewhat out when it could have hurt his career.

  13. “Combined sciences” is a category in Human Accomplishment created by comparing the individual contributions in various scientific fields. The top names here according to Charles Murray are Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Aristotle, Johannes Kepler, Antoine Lavoisier, René Descartes, Christiaan Huygens, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, Ptolemy, Robert Hooke, Gottfried Leibniz, Ernest Rutherford, Leonhard Euler, Charles Darwin, Jöns Jakob Berzelius, Euclid and James Clerk Maxwell.

    Personally, I believe that Einstein should be ranked as number two after Newton, and that Gauss should replace Berzelius and perhaps that Copernicus should replace Hooke, too, but the first 25 are all regular Europeans, with the exception of Einstein who was an Ashkenazi Jew. For that matter, even Ashkenazi Jews are part-European, culturally and genetically.

  14. It is interesting to compare the contributions of Greeks vs. Jews. In ancient times, the Greeks produced a number of naturalists, astronomers and mathematicians of the very first order. Yet throughout the post-Roman era, the Greeks haven’t produced a single naturalist of anywhere near the stature of Aristotle, Archimedes or Hipparchus. This trend has been exactly reversed by the Jews, who didn’t produce a single notable naturalist, astronomer or mathematician in ancient times but have produced a steady stream of them in the modern world.

    The simplest possible explanation for this phenomenon is that the average level of intelligence for one of these groups, or perhaps both of them, has changed. Whether dysgenic pressures, for instance interbreeding with Middle Eastern populations, have lowered the mean intelligence of Greeks over the past couple of thousand years I will leave for later, but I find it highly likely that the Jewish level of intelligence has increased during the same time period.

    We know that: 1. There were no important naturalists or prominent individuals among the Jews of Antiquity in fields unrelated to religion, and their contemporaries did not consider Jews to be especially clever. 2. Not all Jews in the modern world are smart; only Western Jews, whose genetic ancestors spent many centuries in Europe, have high intelligence. Oriental Jews do not do so. 3. Some genetic evidence among Ashkenazi Jews could indicate recent selection pressure. 4. Hardly a single Jewish naturalist of importance existed much before the year 1000 even in Europe; the first tiny trickle of Jewish accomplishment can be found in the second half of the Middle Ages, but primarily in the modern age. In combination, these facts strongly indicate that the high IQ of modern Ashkenazi Jews, which I would estimate to be about or just above 110, was the product of selection pressures in post-Roman Europe, from the Early Middle Ages until legal emancipation following the Enlightenment.

  15. Charles Murray’s brilliant book Human Accomplishment has convincingly tracked just how overwhelming the European lead has been in the sciences, historically speaking. If we exclude music, the arts, literature and philosophy, the book lists eight scientific categories: medicine, technology, biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy and Earth sciences. That leaves us with 160 names if we combine each of the top twenty lists in these disciplines. Yes, a few names might be questioned here and there, but doing so would not significantly change the conclusion. Virtually all other potential candidates, with the possible exception of those who invented printed books or gunpowder, whose names we do not know, would still be Europeans, or a couple of them Ashkenazi Jews.

    Of ancient Greek names, I counted 8 of out of these 160, with Archimedes mentioned twice (in mathematics and technology, plus a mid-level ranking in physics.) That’s just five percent, and should remind us that although the ancient Greeks did very well for their time, they did not create modern science. Western Europeans did. Most remarkably, though, only a single Asian person reached the top twenty list in any of the hard sciences: Kitasato Shibasaburo in medicine. Japan has been the leading Asian nation in science over the past 150 years, so the fact that a Japanese man tops the Asian list is fitting. Yet this also means that the entire Asian continent combined contributed one – 1 – person out of 160. That’s a truly remarkable fact.

    When reading the list of scientific names we notice the near-total absence of anybody from sub-Saharan Africa throughout historical times. The contributions of the Middle East and Mediterranean North Africa, which for most practical purposes is an extension of Eurasia, are often exaggerated today for political reasons, but they are greater than zero. The fact that Europeans outperformed Africans and Middle Easterners, and that Ashkenazi Jews constitute a disproportionate minority, within the European tradition, can easily be explained by IQ.

  16. By far the most important thing that IQ does not explain is why Europeans have outperformed East Asians by such a wide margin, despite the fact that the latter are supposed to have a slightly higher mean IQ than northern Europeans do. One could claim that even if you have high IQ you have to live within an urban, literate culture to realize your genetic potential.

    Yet even if we limit ourselves to literate cultures, the East Asian contribution is orders of magnitude smaller than the European one. Germans have a mean IQ of between 102 and 105. Koreans have a mean IQ of between 103 and 108, in other words, at least as high as Germans, perhaps slightly higher. Yet the German rate of accomplishment is vastly greater than the Korean one. There is no Korean Gauss, Leibniz, Planck or for that matter Beethoven, Bach, Goethe or Wernher von Braun. If we limit ourselves to urban, literate cultures and measure accomplishment per million people vs. mean IQ, the Korean Peninsula has a curiously low rate of scientific accomplishment. China is only slightly better and Japan better still, but nevertheless no more than should be expected of a country with a high degree of urbanization and literacy and 100 million plus people with one of the world’s highest national mean IQs.

    IQ is a useful variable that predicts many things, but in the case of Europeans vs. East Asians, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something that average IQ does not pick up.

  17. The gay musicologists have a tendency of finding gays where there aren’t any. Just because a person never marries or never has a relationship with a woman does not automatically imply that he is gay. Some men are not interested in sex. Some are afraid of women for psychological reasons, etc…

    Case in point – Tchaikovsky. It is widely accepted that he was gay. There is absolutely no proof of that! He appears to have had hang-ups about women, but that’s all we know. These imputations are based on grossly misinterpreted letters and diary entries that have more obvious alternative explanations.

  18. “…with the possible exception of those who invented printed books or gunpowder…”

    Inventing something is only the beginning. It’s what you do with that invention that counts. The inventors of gunpowder and printing and their social infrastructures did diddly squat, compared with the astronomic leap the West took once it acquired these inventions.

    As the historian of technology, Lynn White, Jr., showed, the violin was invented in Indonesia in something like the 6th century AD — but its use languished in repetitive folk music stagnation for centuries, until the late medieval West got a hold of it, and within a century or two after that (and only increasing with subsequent centuries) began to create some of the greatest music in history.

  19. IQ is a useful variable that predicts many things, but in the case of Europeans vs. East Asians, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something that average IQ does not pick up.

    Probably one of the explanations consists in higher variation of intelligence among Europeans. For example, the Japanese have an average of 103-104, I think, but most of them reach this IQ and just a few surpass it, while among the Germans (or Europeans in general) you can find people who are much below the average but also a consistent group which surpasses by far the average. Briefly, the Japanese are in general intelligent; the Germans have a consistent group of idiots and also a consistent group of potential geniuses (besides the group with average, normal intelligence).

    I think the same explanation applies regarding the difference in scientific or artistic achievements between men and women. While men and women tend to have, in general, similar IQs if they belong to the same ethnic group (maybe 1-2 points in favor of men, but that’s insignificant), an overwhelming majority of women belong to the average intelligence of the group, while among men you can find the extremely intelligent or creative and the extremely dysfunctional (“There’s no female Mozart for the same reason there’s no female Jack the Ripper”).

  20. “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.”

    .. as far as formalized history is recorded.

    I always wonder what achievements have been left out of history that would suggest other perspectives on what women and/or men contribute, which do not garner a formal historic record.

  21. What’ up Lawrence?

    “.. as far as formalized history is recorded. …I always wonder what achievements have been left out of history that would suggest other perspectives on what women and/or men contribute, which do not garner a formal historic record.”

    Yes, there is a system explains women and has almost entirely been ignored by historians and experts. It is elegant, logical and explains the female contributions, contributions which moderns both male and female, cannot see.

    It’s the original (not folk) Taoism. It is rare to find serious or accurate material on it. The Taoist wisdom was largely lost in ancient China at the rise of Confucian scientism, which is also why China never caught fire creatively like Europe did later on after Christ.

  22. Felicie, granted there are false positives due to a political agenda, but in some cases, there is real scholarship that has revealed deliberate coverups of substantial evidence. Music fans like me are interested in knowing the truth about this or that musician. It goes beyond sexuality…it helps people understand history and music.

    Example: the conventional wisdom is that at a certain point in English history, baroque opera “fell out of favor” and was replaced by religious oratorio. True enough, but if one looks into the matter, this falling out of favor may have been partly due to the crackdown on the perceived immorality of opera, and happened to coincide with raids on the gay bars of that time (molly houses).

    I deplore bad scholarship no matter what agenda it has, gay, straight, bi or a, because when I read something that helps me understand history in a real way, not the cant of the time that has been recycled endlessly by the lazy and/or repressed, and sometimes laziness is a symptom of repression–when I read something better, I enjoy it as much as I enjoy great music.

  23. OK. So, here’s where I’ll tell you ONE of my many stories that bears on this topic.

    I am QUITE intelligent, and all of my standardized test scores and advanced academic performance contribute to that conclusion. Indeed, I would wager that I am a genius – and that all of you will probably know my name some day in another context.

    But, I dropped out of my Ph.D. program after a male professor granted me a handsome stipend to ghost write a book for him.

    Both he and I knew that I could ghost write a quite incredible book, but something in me refused to give the credit for my original work to my male professor.

  24. The achievement disparity between males and females both at the level of genius may also be explained by a difference in attitude. Males are far more inclined to a singular, even reckless, commitment to challenges.

  25. Or, maybe men have a better financial and emotional support system – that includes professional support from men and personal support from women.

    One other point that bears noting is that using awards as a system to judge who is “accomplished” or who is a genius is a self-fulfilling prophecy to reward men because most awards including Ph.D.s are judged by men for men using male standards – with a few token women thrown in as judges and recipients who are expected to value merit in the same way as men do.

  26. There are suposed to be twice more men then women with a higher IQ then 120? Realy? Most of the university-graduate in the past years were women and to graduate you need at least an IQ of 120.

    It’s true, even nowdays women haven’t achieved much yet, but are you telling me, women should achive in 40 years for which men required hundreds and hundreds of years?!
    Of course. I forgott, women must be at least three times better then men to be appreciated.

    According to that professor or whatsoever there are also suposed to be more stupid men then women, though sounds this article to me as if men were something “better” or “superior”. If that would be true, i would be very glad about it. I realy hope it for you guys. There are only few decades passed since women can work and study without needing permission from their husbands or fathers and we are already ruin the world.
    The “fact” that there are more intelligent men then women is becomming some kind of lollipop, which little boys can lick and scratch around it and comfort themselves.

    What happend with “Men don’t cry”???

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