Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Science Hall of Fame

 
Science has published the Science Hall of Fame, a list of the most famous scientists of the past few hundred years. They compiled the list by counting the number of times that a scientist was mentioned in books published since 1800. The standard is Charles Darwin whose citations are set at 1000 milliDarwins. The only one who ranked higher was Bertrand Russell at 1500 milliDarwins.

Here are the top 25. The ones on the bottom have scores of 152. One remarkable thing about this list is how few of them are really famous for doing science. Many of them are cited in popular books for other reasons. Another remarkable thing about the list is that all of the scientists in the top 25 are dead.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) (1500mD)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) (1000mD)
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) (878mD)
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) (479mD)
Claude Bernard (1813-1878) (429mD)
Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) (394mD)
Julian Huxley (1887-1975) (350mD)
Karl Pearson (1857-1936) (346mD)
Niels Bohr (1885-1962) (289mD)
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) (274mD)
Max Planck (1858-1947) (256mD)
Francis Galton (1822-1911) (255mD)
Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) (252mD)
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) (237mD)
Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) (236mD)
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) (229mD)
Marie Curie (1867-1934) (189mD)
Robert Koch (1843-1910) (185mD)
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) (183mD)
James Jeans (1877-1946) (182mD)
Ray Lankester (1847-1929) (175mD)
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) (169mD)
Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) (163mD)
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) (152mD)
Carl Sagan (1934-1996) (152mD)

The website has an interactive table that links you to Wikipedia articles. If you click on "Karl Pearson," for example, you'll learn about his science. You can also click on the citation score to see how their citations vary over time. I've copied the charts for Dawkins and Gould so you can see how they compare.




18 comments:

  1. Bertrand Russell? Mathematician and philosopher -- but scientist?

    ReplyDelete
  2. One remarkable thing about this list is how few of them are really famous for doing science. Many of them are cited in popular books for other reasons.

    Right. Weizmann is a particularly striking example. I doubt if one in a hundred of the people who mention him in books as the first President of Israel have the least idea of his contributions to chemistry.

    Another thing to note is that a unit called a darwin has been around (and used) for more than 60 years, since J. B. S. Haldane (a greater scientist than many of the list) proposed it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fun but uninformative. It probably tells us more about the interests of science "writers" rather than any individual's contribution to scientific knowledge.

    Also the list is filled with individuals such as Lewis Carroll??? (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a mathematician, but I'm certain that his contributions on mathematics have little to do with his high ranking)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Obviously, fame/popularity doesn't equate scientific merit. Nobody in their right mind would be asked to draw a list of the top 25 scientists ever and leave out people like Newton, Maxwell, Mendeleyev, Laplace, Turing, or Hubble.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Won't the tops have to be dead? I mean, the dead have a big advantage here no, their position is more established and there's been more time to garner citations.

    ReplyDelete
  6. LOL. Yet another illustration on how Fame = BS. Kimura peaks at barely 20 mD. Personally, I'll take Kimura over Gould and Dawkins combined any time.

    And since when is Asimov a scientist?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wait. The list has got to be wrong - even by its own dubious criteria. Ivan Pavlov didn't make it to this list. Well, OK. But Isaac Newton not making it? LMAO.

    ReplyDelete
  8. If you're not going to include JBS Haldane, then why even have a list? In fact Bertrand Russell referred to Haldane as the smartest man he knew.

    ReplyDelete
  9. And Fisher, where's RA Fisher?

    And the limitation to the last 200 years is kind of pointless, Newton & Galileo get mentioned about as much as Darwin & Einstein.

    Anyway, these aren't necessarily citations, they are frequencies of N-grams, in the scanned books, i.e. the case-specific character string "Charles Darwin".

    It really makes me wonder if someone wrote a lot of books, which ended up in many editions, and which had their name printed at the top of every other page (as is sometimes done), if it would make a prolific popular writer as famous as a scientist who actually is important enough to have his full name mentioned a lot (Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, etc.)

    Based on the list, I think this is a reasonable hypothesis for what is going on...

    ReplyDelete
  10. I wonder how many thousandths of Darwin would Bill Dembski be.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I come to think of an old quote often ascribed to Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

    @DK It's ok that Newton isn't on the list. He hasn't been alive for the last 100 years which is the criterium to be on the list ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. DK,

    Asimov was very much a scientist, indeed he was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University. His fiction books may be why he's known to you, but amongst his over 500 published books are a lot of non-fiction books as well.

    Newton isnt on the list because he was active in the late 17th - early 18th century, and this list is supposed to cover scientists of the last two centuries.

    As to why Pavlov and Haldane aren't featured on the list I would refer to the little disclaimer:

    "This first version of the Science Hall of Fame is a rough draft. There are classification errors, and many famous scientists are excluded at this point for technical reasons."

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm guessing that this list must be conflating a two dimensional field of citations. My guess is that it doesn't make the distinction between popular culture and academic culture; with the latter citations of heavy weight science figures like Maxwell and Newton might have a better showing.

    However, what I think is remarkable is that some heavy weights like Darwin and Einstein have probably got both domains sown up!

    ReplyDelete
  14. And since when is Asimov a scientist?

    He was Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University, and, although I'm not aware of any especially noteworthy research that he did, he was author of a very successful textbook of biochemistry (and I don't think this is the right place for undervaluing authors of successful textbooks of biochemistry).

    ReplyDelete
  15. What's with the blip just after 1900 for both RD and SJG? I'm pretty sure neither was publishing back then.

    Probably an artifact of missing date information.

    ReplyDelete
  16. re: Asimov.

    Thanks to everyone for pointing out that he was professor of biochemistry. I didn't know that.

    ReplyDelete
  17. DK says,

    Thanks to everyone for pointing out that he was professor of biochemistry. I didn't know that.

    On this blog, that's a criminal offense.

    One of his most famous papers was The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline published in 1948. It's required reading for all biochemistry undergraduates.

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Larry Moran One of his most famous papers was The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline published in 1948. It's required reading for all biochemistry undergraduates.

    I wonder if any homeopathic "journals" have ever referenced this article, given Thiotimoline's remarkable relationship with water.

    ReplyDelete