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Human Accomplishment

timothy posted about 11 years ago | from the rule-of-graphs-and-charts dept.

Books 620

Joel Eidsath writes "Imagine that you found yourself in a position to write a resume for the whole human species. It is a metaphor that Charles Murray uses several times in his book, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950." Murray not only collects such examples in this book, but attempts to explain why and how they emerge. Murray obviously courts controversy with this book; expect reactions similar to the ones drawn by The Bell Curve, which he co-authored. (Do 97% of the world's significant scientists come from the West? Can personal eminence be objectively measured? Is "accomplishment" really amenable to description by charts and graphs?) Read on for Eidsath's review.

For our species' resume, you probably would not list to put "Defeated Hitler" as one of humanity's accomplishments, because it sounds too much like 'Beat my Heroin Addiction.' You would want to include things like 'Painted the Roof of the Sistine Chapel' or 'Discovered General Relativity.' In other words, you would want to include examples of human excellence throughout the ages.

Not only has Murray set out to compile this resume, but he sought to do it for a reason that is at the same time both interesting and audacious: once you have compiled a list of the several thousand most important creators and discoverers of all time, you can stick it into a database. The idea is that with this database a person can spot trends in accomplishment; he can identify regions and cities where excellence has clustered; he can evaluate qualities of political systems that spur innovation and those that stifle it. Murray's book is a stunning profusion of graphs and plots that do much more to teach us about accomplishment that most narrative histories.

For this to work, however, Murray first had to tackle the problem of differing opinions on who exactly deserves a place in the database. Everybody's list would differ -- yours, mine, and Charles Murray's. There would be substantial similarities between our lists, to be sure; nobody is going to leave out Newton, Darwin, Goethe, Shakespeare, Confucius, or al-Mutanabbi. But when it comes to lesser achievements, the arguments would be endless. Does Hooke make it into the list of the top 20 physicists of all time, or does Pascal make it into the list of the top 10 mathematicians?

So what Murray has done is to split up accomplishment into a number of fields and tried to take a neutral measure of each person's respective 'eminence' in the field. He measures 'eminence' by taking a number of comprehensive sources on each field and counting the references to each person and how many paragraphs they get. The sources are from as many different languages as possible and Murray does a good job of avoiding the distorting effects of ethnocentrism. He uses sharp cutoff dates at 800 B.C. and 1950 A.D. to limit the data.

What Murray winds up with is a procedurally neutral measure of human accomplishment that is stable when new sources are added or taken away, and also has good face validity. In Medicine, for example, Pasteur is first with an index score of 100, Koch is third with 90 and Freud (for clinical descriptions of mental illnesses) is 18th with a score of 34.

The Lotka Curve

Murray's other major work made a certain kind of statistical curve a household word, and Human Accomplishment prepares a second candidate for improving public statistical awareness: the Lotka Curve. In the mid-1920s, Alfred Lotka noticed an interesting pattern in scientific journals. About 60% of people publish only one article for a journal. The number of people publishing more that this falls off very fast with the number of articles. This makes up a Lotka curve and is almost L shaped.

It turns out that in just about every field of human accomplishment significant figures fall along a Lotka curve. In Western literature, Shakespeare is far out along the horizontal part of the curve, Goethe a bit less so, and a whole host of lesser figures make up the nearly vertical part of the data set.

Dead White Males

Despite using several data collection techniques that wind up exaggerating the influence of non-Western cultures, Murray's data shows a strong majority of Westerners among the significant figures of world history.

Fully 97% of significant figures in the sciences come from the West. The same figure is arrived at from looking only at significant events. Even America is dwarfed by European accomplishment in the sciences, hosting less than 20% of significant figures before 1950 compared to Europe's nearly 80%. Europe's dominance over America is even greater in the arts. And though Murray makes sure to calculate what is an upper limit for artistic accomplishment in non-Western parts of the world, the graph is substantially the same as that for the sciences.

One of the astonishing parts of Murray's data is how it demonstrates the significant effects of legal equality. Jewish achievement after 1850 skyrocketed due to their newfound position before the law. Between 1910 and 1950, Jewish achievement tripled despite even the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

The graph of the achievement of woman displays a different pattern, despite their having gained substantial legal equality in the past century. Though there are slight increases in the numbers, women only represent a few percent of Murray's significant figures after 1900. Nor does the data available for the years beyond 1950 bear out any substantial increase in women's achievement during the second half of the twentieth century. Murray provides several possible explanations. Despite legal equality, women did not gain the same degree of immediate social equality that other groups did. Moreover, the substantially greater demands of parenthood upon women make achievement harder.

Decline

The last section of Human Accomplishment is somewhat surprising. When adjusted for population, Murray's numbers show a decline in accomplishment after 1800. When numbers are used that take not only total population in account, but also urban population and educated population, the decline has brought us down to nearly pre-Renaissance levels. For example, we have 65 playwrights alive today for every one in Elizabethan England. Yet do we have dozens of Shakespeares? The picture is even more stark when the 12,000 members of the screen Writers Guild are taken into account.

As a percentage, the number of significant figures in the sciences compared to the total population has dropped a great deal; this is despite a far greater percentage of working scientists and far more science and technical journals being published.

Murray goes through the data and shows why he believes that the decline is real and is not explicable by any procedural artifacts brought about by his methods. It is a somewhat disturbing conclusion to a great work.


You can purchase Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Early POst (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348234)

So I accomplished an Early POst

Props to thew RIT crew, boo to the admin/staff

GIVE THAT JENNI A BONE (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348263)



*woof*

Good dog.

Jennicam (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348519)

I haven't checked out her cam for a while but today I was shocked to find out that she's still shagging that sasquatch-man. Shocking.

She's a hottie, though.

Help me, I'm sexually attracted to the *BSD daemon (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348269)

That BSD daemon is so hot, I just want to suck his dick while jerking myself off and then bend him over and stick my dick in his tight red asshole. The fact that I'm an excellent artist only makes matters worse, since I tend to draw him during my Chemistry class in sexually explicit positions instead of taking notes like I should, and I think people are noticing because they give me odd looks and this one guy even asked me if I was gay. Can somebody help me get rid of these urges? I'm sure they're perfectly healthy (hey, what slashdotter *hasn't* had a crush on another guy) but it's starting to intrude on my social life and I'd rather it not. Thanxz, AC

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Thanks! (-1, Redundant)

WebMasterP (642061) | about 11 years ago | (#7348285)

Thank you for the very complete review. I no longer need to read the book.

finally, not a possitive rating on a book! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348296)

though its not really a negative rating...on a scale of 1-10 (or number of appenages up/down) what is a "Thought-provoking"?

Confession: (-1, Flamebait)

Hobophile (602318) | about 11 years ago | (#7348298)

I would probably have left out al-Mutanabbi. Nothing personal, Al, but I've never heard of you before.

very curious indeed. (5, Insightful)

rsfpc (717694) | about 11 years ago | (#7348300)

The numbers are without a doubt skewed. Come on... Saying 97 percent of the significant figures in sciences come from the west is like saying 90 percent of shark bite victims happen within 100 meters of the shoreline. Where did Murray receive his education? I suppose I'll have to read this book now. hmmmm, what to do this weekend, what to do...

Re:very curious indeed. (1)

NoData (9132) | about 11 years ago | (#7348442)

Saying 97 percent of the significant figures in sciences come from the west is like saying 90 percent of shark bite victims happen within 100 meters of the shoreline.

They're alike in that they're both...what?...true?
I don't get your point. I'm sure there will be a huge onslaught of (possibly) valid criticisms from cultural relativists like Jared Diamond, but yours isn't one of them.

Re:very curious indeed. (4, Informative)

rsfpc (717694) | about 11 years ago | (#7348559)

The point is this... metrics are compiled based on reported statistics. If one ascertains from reported numbers that 90 percent of all shark bite victims happen within 100 meters of the shoreline it gives a false indication of where the sharks actually are and why they bite. Everyone swims within 100 meters of the shoreline! Back to the article: In a per-capita sense I'd wager than America has a significant advantage over hmmm... everyone in that its population did not exist during the time period Murray specified. The metrics being reported are most assuredly skewed. Also, based on where Murray received his education, his conciseness is biased towards that culture and the curriculum he paid attention to during his id years.

Re:very curious indeed. (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | about 11 years ago | (#7348583)

Well, they both focus the incidences in regions where the conditions are most appropriate. "Western" culture has a lot more researchers, education, and means to disseminate information than other locations. Likewise, the region within 100m of a beach has a lot more swimmers.

But that may just be my Western upbringing getting in the way of my logic.

Re:very curious indeed. (1)

acd294 (685183) | about 11 years ago | (#7348512)

Saying 97 percent of the significant figures in sciences come from the west is like saying 90 percent of shark bite victims happen within 100 meters of the shoreline.

I dont know what you are trying to say here. If you are trying to disprove the first statistic by equating it to the second, I would say you failed, because (at least to me, who has no background in sharkbites) I would guess that the second is true.

On the other hand, I cant even figure out which is representing what. Are the Sharks the scientists, and the bites achievement and the shore the west? No that cant be it because that disproves your point.
Maybe the sharks are the achievements and the bites are the ones noted by the west, and the shore is the west. I guess that would sort of make sense, but it still doesnt really make sense to be used as an analogy seeing that an analogy is trying to make things clearer, and that sure doesnt clarify anything for me.

Shit, where did YOU receive your education? (0, Flamebait)

FatSean (18753) | about 11 years ago | (#7348547)

Unless you mean to say, that "Duh! Of course all the signifigant figures come from the West, we all know the East and other parts of the world are full of imitators and sub-par intellects."

Which, well, would seem to be supported by the data...

Re:very curious indeed. (3, Insightful)

sql*kitten (1359) | about 11 years ago | (#7348637)

Saying 97 percent of the significant figures in sciences come from the west is like saying 90 percent of shark bite victims happen within 100 meters of the shoreline

Consider, for example, gunpowder. Invented in China, but they only ever used it for fireworks to amuse the aristocrats. In the West, sure it was used as a weapon, but it was also used in mining. Western lateral thinking meant that Western mines were more efficient, which accelerated all forms of technological development.

Or mathematics is another example. Large amounts of it were invented by Arabs, but their religion doesn't permit advanced forms of banking, but when mathematics reached the West it was used for advanced finance, which permitted investment and insurance, which acclerated all forms of technological development.

It's not politically correct to say so, but the West really is a superior culture when it comes to making practical use of theoretical discoveries. Or it was; in the last century the West has spent less of its resources on developing technology and more on supporting those who aren't able to support themselves. Simple natural selection now means that our populations are becoming geared towards those who consume handouts but produce no new discoveries.

Re:very curious indeed. (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | about 11 years ago | (#7348657)

Superior culture in what sense? Just because we don't have as many moral qualms about technology doesn't mean we're any better. In fact, from a strictly religious standpoint, that would make Western culture decidedly inferior to periods of Arabic development.

Re:very curious indeed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348703)

Lies.
Damned Lies.
Statistics. ...
Next!

Yeah, Right ... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348307)

The first spin is the fact that he chose the cutoff dates he did. If you chose cutoff dates of 2000 bce - 800 bce and 200 ad - 1200 ad, you'd decide that 97% of scientists and artists were Chinese, Arab, or Persian, and that Europeans were the giggling idiots of the planet.

The second spin is how he defines "significant."

Re:Yeah, Right ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348467)

Right. The idiots were giggling as they built Stonehenge 2,000 years before that.

Re:Yeah, Right ... (2, Funny)

mblase (200735) | about 11 years ago | (#7348469)

The first spin is the fact that he chose the cutoff dates he did.

Well, I know I wouldn't welcome a resume from a species that basically said: "no noteworthy accomplishments for the past eight centuries; too busy with politically correct infighting."

well... (1)

ed.han (444783) | about 11 years ago | (#7348482)

i have 2 primary concerns:

1. what references? i'd be curious about how he selected the references used to cull the paragraphs/mentions.

2. what about cults of personality? while the analysis methodology seems reasonable enough, certain figures are bound to produce more references. while in many cases, this is reasonable (e.g., shakespeare), in others, it's less so (e.g., byron vs. say shelley). this is going to skew things. while this may in fact be part of "eminence", i think it may not produce adequately objective results.

ed

Re:Yeah, Right ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348484)

funny. 200ad - 1200ad is in his range. I guess not much of anything happened in those thousand years.

Re:Yeah, Right ... (1)

SparafucileMan (544171) | about 11 years ago | (#7348513)

Nevermind if he had bothered to include all of the human species, as in those of us who lived some 10,000-100,000 years ago! Saying that humanity didn't exist or do much before 800BC is like saying computers didn't exist until the G5 came along. This book is pure bullshit.

Re:Yeah, Right ... (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | about 11 years ago | (#7348622)

Nevermind if he had bothered to include all of the human species, as in those of us who lived some 10,000-100,000 years ago

I take it you've never calculated how many people lived during that time and compared it to how many people lived since? Or even just to how many people are alive right now?

Shhh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348605)

We're trying to grease the gears of the propaganda machine here. Arabs are just illiterate terrorists. Since the dawn of time actually. They are evil.

-Dubya

Re:Yeah, Right ... (2)

Short Circuit (52384) | about 11 years ago | (#7348635)

Actually, I like the cutoff dates. They start at a time when the human race was reasonably present all over the planet, and end before the massive inrush of technology forces us to be arrogant and pleased with ourselves.

But that could, of course, help account for the slowing of progress between 1800 and 1950. After 1950, our information infrastructure made progress in leaps and bounds.

Existence is Trivial (1)

fozzy(pro) (267441) | about 11 years ago | (#7348310)

To reach a basic understanding of yourself/society everyone needs to realize that human life is trivial, we have existed for a very short time and will most likely exist for a short time before reaching extinction. Furthermore as a piece of the Universe we are extremely trivial. I am not trying to downplay the importance of your life with your family or friends, if humans just realized this, we would have a better more peaceful planet.

People argue that society is non-trivial and chain effect of actions, most chain actions stop and celestial bodies are impacted on a minimal level...if you wanted to be non-trivial perhaps you could exist as a sun, comet, nebula, or some other celestial body.

Definition of Trivial (3, Insightful)

Baron_Yam (643147) | about 11 years ago | (#7348471)

The Universe is a big place. It's mostly empty. Does that mean matter is trivial?

I'd suggest that matter is non-trivial, but in the minority when measured by volume occupied. I think we're like that; I think organized matter supporting intelligence is non-trivial, but is certainly in the minority when measured as a percentage of matter in the universe.

Re:Existence is Trivial (1)

philbert26 (705644) | about 11 years ago | (#7348682)

People argue that society is non-trivial and chain effect of actions, most chain actions stop and celestial bodies are impacted on a minimal level...if you wanted to be non-trivial perhaps you could exist as a sun, comet, nebula, or some other celestial body.

Trivial vs non-trivial is all relative. Even the stars won't live forever. According to the currently popular theories, the universe will eventually become a very dark, cold, boring place. Furthermore, since there are an estimated 10^22 stars, doesn't that make the Sun a bit trivial too? As a piece of the Universe, it could be argued, it's not so important. Would the rest of the Universe miss the Sun if it went away?

800 BCE? (4, Insightful)

Sebastopol (189276) | about 11 years ago | (#7348315)


I would think the author would go back to at least 2,000 BCE or even 10,000 and identify the collosal leap made in farming. For a species to go from forraging to agrigulture seems like an enormous effort of overlapping memes (and luck).

Can't wait to read the book.

Re:800 BCE? (1)

opus18 (691503) | about 11 years ago | (#7348383)

And a lot of luck along the way. Lands that extend east-west had a much better chance of developing that north-south land.

And, whoever stumbled upon beer in this timeframe (Sumerians) should definitely be added to the list. Who goes around tasting rotten barley juice?

Re:800 BCE? (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 11 years ago | (#7348417)

I strongly suspect that the cutoff at 800 BCE is due in part to the quantity of data available. Such a thoughtful author would not choose the date arbitrarily or based on simply one factor; I would hope that in the book somewhere he will tell us why he picked that particular time to begin, but the quantity of available trustworthy data is always significant.

Human Accomplishment (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348334)

1. Build civilization
2. ???
3. Profit!

Re:Human Accomplishment (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348370)

Please stop posting this stale, asinine, UNFUNNY bullshit.

Oh, who am I kidding, it'll probably be modded up to +5.

October 30th, 2003 : clueless coward gets first! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348538)

Firstus postus, beeeeeeotchae!

Charles Murray bows down and worships my splendiferous accomplishment!


pleeeeeeease?!!!

A nit on the "dead white males" section... (5, Insightful)

tcopeland (32225) | about 11 years ago | (#7348337)

....this line:

"Moreover, the substantially greater demands of parenthood upon women make achievement harder."

The problem is that it's difficult to quantify the contribution of a stay-at-home Mom to her childrens' education, welfare, development, etc. It's very significant; it's just difficult to measure with numbers. "Achievement" means different things to different people.

Re:A nit on the "dead white males" section... (4, Insightful)

Khomar (529552) | about 11 years ago | (#7348421)

Amen! This is one thing that has bothered me in today's society. It is assumed that because women do not make money or invent new technologies or lead successful companies that they are somehow inferior. The fact is that men and geared biologically and mentally to strive for what is commonly referred to as "achievement", but nearly every achievement can probably be traced back to the man's mother and her wise care and raising of him. Man affects the present. It is the teaching of the mother in the home that affects the future.

Re:A nit on the "dead white males" section... (1)

didipickles (566798) | about 11 years ago | (#7348437)

That is so right. My wife stays at home to raise our three kids and home schools them as well, since the Seattle public school system kind of sucks.
And if he wants to come over to my house and tell my wife that she really hasn't achieved much in her life, he is more then welcome too. But I am guessing that those karate classes I paid for her to go to, would pay off.
Achievement is measured by how you define success. To me, and my wife, her success will be raising three intelligent well rounded kids while maintaining a good marriage and sense of community.

Re:A nit on the "dead white males" section... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 11 years ago | (#7348465)

While raising a prodigy could definitely be considered an achivement, it's difficult to measure because you simply don't know what part of someone's upbringing is responsible for their achievements, and ultimately it could even turn out to be some physical trait. As you are no doubt aware, these people come from quite diverse backgrounds and led all sorts of lives.

I strongly suspect that it has to do with some sort of societal pressure, though, that explains the decline of overall per capita achievement. The world has simply become an easier place to live in. You can walk through parks at night in many major cities, for example, without being part of an armed party.

Re:A nit on the "dead white males" section... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348660)

In Murray's book, achievement specifically meant getting listed in the biographical sources he used.

I am entirely in agreement with your comment, and I suspect Murray would be as well.

--Joel Eidsath

what? yeah! huh? yaah? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348341)

TOSS TAHT TACO SALAD

no holes barred, chief.

Not anymore (0, Flamebait)

infinite9 (319274) | about 11 years ago | (#7348345)

Do 97% of the world's significant scientists come from the West?

No, they come from India.

Re:Not anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348496)

Do 97% of the world's significant scientists come from the West?
No, they come from India.


No, the come from masturbation. Too busy researching mouse genes to find a real girlfriend in any country.

Re:Not anymore (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348572)

Too busy researching mouse genes to find a real girlfriend in any country.

As a matter of fact, I am too busy building my career to look for a girlfriend (in any country).

What's the problem with that? I just value my career higher than wasting my finite life looking for sex.

Re:Not anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348498)

Right. Once they're launching their own space stations and shuttles and making some decent electronics then I'll believe you.

We're not running around buying Indian Plasma TV's or computers yet.

India does have some brilliant scietists, but don't get carried away there squirrely.

2 reasons for the West's dominance (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348346)

1. The west embraces the free marketplace of ideas more than others.

2. Western dead white males write the history books that most of us read.

Re:2 reasons for the West's dominance (1)

Lord Kholdan (670731) | about 11 years ago | (#7348426)

1. The west embraces the free marketplace of ideas more than others.

yet the idea of free market is quite young. Adam Smith published Wealth of Nation in 1776. How do you explain all the innovations during the reneissance when merchantilism ruled? Or perhaps during the height of Greeks?

Re:2 reasons for the West's dominance (1)

Otter (3800) | about 11 years ago | (#7348592)

That's like claiming that gravity wasn't a factor prior to Newton.

It's much more complicated than that (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348483)

Much of the world's different development is due to geography. For example, agricultural civilizations developed faster in Europe/Asia because of it's long East-West length, and the ability to grow similar things across this huge continent in the same temperate zones. Africa on the other hand had many more temperate zones, making it more difficult to spread agricultural ways.

Second, a lot of Asia's early success was due to natural irrigation, however, this also created a lot of central authority. It was the only way to make sure each year's harvest worked. This central authority allowed Chinese emperors to basically prohibit their population from trade with the rest of the world.

Europe on the other hand had lots of mountains and rivers. This allowed various kingdoms to develop in relative peace, and gave them the freedom to experiment a bit more. Eventually people began to work ways around these natural barriers which led to tons of competition. This competition to get ahead helped things keep from stagnating. Plus, the populace in Europe developed power faster than elsewhere, as early mercantilism developed. Oh, and you also have to credit the early Protestant "work ethic" which had people working hard, but not buying much. They could sell their goods to the rich, and this redistribution of wealth eventually led to loss of power for the nobility.

The United States flourished for a combination of these same reasons. The spread across the continent, it had huge natural boundaries to protect it from most enemies, and it was originally colonized by fairly strict Protestants.

Surprising figures! (2, Insightful)

DrEldarion (114072) | about 11 years ago | (#7348348)

Fully 97% of significant figures in the sciences come from the West. The same figure is arrived at from looking only at significant events. Even America is dwarfed by European accomplishment in the sciences, hosting less than 20% of significant figures before 1950 compared to Europe's nearly 80%

Wow, that's surprising! I would have NEVER expected that Europe, with LOADS more people than America, would have more significant figures! Especially before 1950, when America hadn't really gotten up to full speed yet.

Re:Surprising figures! (4, Insightful)

DG (989) | about 11 years ago | (#7348529)

More to the point, given that his date range is 800 BCE to 1950 CE, and the Americas were colonies struggling to be self-sufficiant (with little time for art or science) up until about 1800 or so, that gives Europe a much larger time window.

And then there's a classification problem related to the increase in global travel post 1900-ish. Is Einstein American, or European?

As for the decline in achievement post 1800... that's probably because all the low-hanging fruit are gone. The remaining problems tend to be "hard" in some non-trivial sense.

DG

AC emblem (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348377)

I think we can all agree on the penis bird.

Lotka Curve (1)

DLWormwood (154934) | about 11 years ago | (#7348385)

If Lotka Curves were known since early last century, why do I find just one occurance of "Lotka Curve" (in quotes) on Google?

Re:Lotka Curve (1)

mblase (200735) | about 11 years ago | (#7348515)

If Lotka Curves were known since early last century, why do I find just one occurance of "Lotka Curve" (in quotes) on Google?

Not everything that's worth knowing is available on the Internet, no matter what Microsoft thinks.

Re:Lotka Curve (1)

ShadarLogoth (716690) | about 11 years ago | (#7348535)

Looks more like a power curve to me, although i suppose the crucial difference would be that due to the higher entry barrier there're lots of 1s and lots of 0s, and then after that it follows a power curve.

there're plenty examples of power curves, the 80/20 rules and 90/10 things are special cases of it.

--Shadar

Re:Lotka Curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348587)

Try
"Lotka Distribution" (38 occurrences)
"Lotka's Law" (440 occurrences)
"Zipf Distribution" (2320 occurrences)
"Power Law" (282,000 occurences)

The Zipf name is probably more familiar than Lotka but the last term is most commonly used (well, doh). Quoting from a citation [nec.com] of Lotka's paper...

"...Zipf is often credited with noting that city sizes appear to match a power law, although this idea can be traced back further to 1913 and Auerbach Lotka (circa 1926) found in examining the number of articles produced by chemists that the distribution followed a power law."

Re:Lotka Curve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348600)

I believe that the reviewer is suggesting that this new book will make the Lotka Curve a household word, not that it already is. :-)

This item prompts a discussion about education (1)

FrankoBoy (677614) | about 11 years ago | (#7348393)

I guess most people will agree with me that most of mankind's biggest accomplishments have been made possible by either great minds ( Einstein ), mass mobilization ( the Pyramids ) or both ( French and American revolutions ). I think this implies that top notch and accessible education ( be it at schools or in independant organizations ) is a must for any ambitious society.

However, we live in a time when information is being bought as merchandise and considered as a mere product ( proprietary software and copyrighted works come to mind ), and, in America's case, lower education is in a much worse situation than in many other developed countries while having the highest tuitions fees for higher education in that same bunch. I think this state of affairs have grave consequences for the American society, and since it is so powerful, for the whole world as well.

Just my 2 cents here, comment if you please.

Re:This item prompts a discussion about education (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348576)

>Just my 2 cents here, comment if you please.

The USA is dying.

It's dying if you compared what they got now to what they had before, and what it could (should?) have been.

He Missed A Spot... (0)

DoctorScooby (669432) | about 11 years ago | (#7348399)

... the advances in Religious Fundamentalism have far outstripped our scientific achievements.

"I am right, you are wrong; god told me, simple as that. You must die."

Typical Murray (1, Interesting)

madprof (4723) | about 11 years ago | (#7348401)

What else were we expecting from Charles Murray? Lots of clever-sounding numbers and an inherent bias towards male white westerners.
Because of the clear subjectivity in deciding what makes something an achievement he is free to exercise his partiality.
It may be asking too much to ask for a book that contains no stupid figures but then didn't we all cotton on to his agenda back in 1994?

Time will tell (4, Interesting)

BWJones (18351) | about 11 years ago | (#7348407)

The other significant problem with assigning "value" to more current achievements is that we have yet to find out what the implications of much research is. For instance, many people do not know who Mario Capecchi is, as he has yet to win a Nobel prize (but he will given his contributions to genetics). Furthermore, folks like Shakespeare were not recognized as the geniuses they were until long after their time on earth had passed.

Re:Time will tell (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348463)

Shakespeare was one of the best-selling playwrights in Elizabethan England. What makes you think he wasn't recognised?

The ratio decreases with population increase.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348411)

Maybe we'll see an even steadier decline. People are, overall content with the status quo. In school, we aren't taught creativity, we aren't taught balls.

We are taught life will be ok just as long as we can watch Friends every Thursday night. We're complacent and lazy. But, is there a limit to human achievement? Some think that we've reached the pinnacle.

What will spark the next revoloution in human development? We'll go from the electronic age to the ?? age?

I hope it's the human age. Once all our basic needs are satisfied easily, food, shelter, etc, I hope our creative energies are spent exploring the human possibilites. Such as longivity, what happens when we die, why do we think the way we do, why do people murder others, how do we effectively teach our children, how do we effectively punish criminals? etc.. etc..

If you look in a henhouse you're gonna find hens.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348419)

Do 97% of the world's significant scientists come from the West?

97% of the world's significant persons (sorry MEN) in *WESTERN* science come from the West.

The thing is, all of those scientists in China, India, Arabia, Indigeonous American Cultures, etc don't count. They don't count because either 1) we've lost track of them since they aren't in *western* history, and thus "aren't important" to western historians (whom we count as the authorities) or 2) they don't follow greek principles and as such their achievements "aren't science".

This is why we give kudos to European "scientists" which are trying to discover how God made the world, but immediately blow off Chinese scientists because they talk in terms of Qi (Chi), as if one supernatural force is somehow better than another.

List your Accomplishments: (0)

bcolflesh (710514) | about 11 years ago | (#7348434)

1. Engineered a strain of mouse-pox virus which kills 100% of animals it infects.

No ESR (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348449)

You can bet damn sure that there wouldn't be anything that ESR has done on it.

That guy is such a dork. Talented, probably, but now his club needs a secret badge.

All about the frames, all about the assumptions (3, Interesting)

nanojath (265940) | about 11 years ago | (#7348451)

The principle of academy comes through european civilisations. Doing basic science is a luxury of people who don't have to go and scrape some kind of survival out of the dirt - if you look at the resumes of natural philosophers of yore you can't help but notice a preponderance of gentlemen of leisure - they had the means and the opportunity. And of course, any system (be it political, academic, ideological) ends up defining what is "significant" to some degree, how much being debatable to a well-nigh infinite degree. That these definitions tend to group within the boundaries of the system is hardly surprising.


It sounds like an interesting read, perhaps, but I tend to need to take these kinds of things with a whole shakerfull of salt. Human civilization is something that is occurring over a timescale of millions of years, not a couple thousand, and it is the seemingly inescapable tendency of every age to think it can see past the cultural and temporal blinders and set down the "objective" view of the way things are. If you believe anyone really has it, I've got a bottle of phlogiston to sell you.

Test (And Distortion Filter) Of Time (1)

Steve B (42864) | about 11 years ago | (#7348464)

For example, we have 65 playwrights alive today for every one in Elizabethan England. Yet do we have dozens of Shakespeares? The picture is even more stark when the 12,000 members of the screen Writers Guild are taken into account.

We have a reasonably good count of the writers and actors who are waiting tables for a living while awaiting their big break. We do not have a good count -- I'd be surprised if we have any count at all -- of similar people in Elizabethan England.

Re:Test (And Distortion Filter) Of Time (1)

mblase (200735) | about 11 years ago | (#7348542)

We have a reasonably good count of the writers and actors who are waiting tables for a living while awaiting their big break.

Yes, we do: the entire minimum-wage work force of the city of Los Angeles.

Re:Test (And Distortion Filter) Of Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348700)

For example, we have 65 playwrights alive today for every one in Elizabethan England. Yet do we have dozens of Shakespeares?

So everything is a matter of qualification, and what is so great about Shakespeare anyway... Besides the fact that there is debate about his existance.
Perhaps we do have dozens of Shakespeares, but they are not as 'over'-hyped yet.
I find this list a bit cruel, and would opt for improvements in farming (previous poster), numbers (arabic countries), astronomy (a whole bunch of people: South Americans, Egyptians, Chinese) and electricity (lots of claims here).
Personally I don't think major inventions have come out of either Europe or the US. Though antibiotics would probably qualify.

al-Mutanabbi (1)

IshanCaspian (625325) | about 11 years ago | (#7348472)

Here is a poem by al-Mutanabbi: "Glory and honour were healed when you were healed, and your pain passed on to your enemies. Light, that had left the sun, as if it was sick in its body, came back to it. By race, the Arabs are supreme in the world, but a foreigner will take part with the Arabs of good heart." And I wondered why I've never heard of him.

Interesting - are we declining? (1)

under_score (65824) | about 11 years ago | (#7348485)

I've always felt like the world is in a period of decline despite the amazing advances in the sciences and arts. If asked, I would normally frame that decline as somehow moral or spiritual in nature. I'm going to seek out this book to investigate this idea of decline more carefully.

Decline (1)

Khomar (529552) | about 11 years ago | (#7348490)

I found this last part the most intriguing, and it is something that I have suspected for a long time. When you consider that in ancient times it took 9 out of every 10 people just to produce enough food to feed everyone, it makes the accomplishments and inventions of those times even more astounding.

We are building our new technology on the backs of the inventiveness of our ancestors. We don't have to re-invent the wheel... or the combustion engine... or depth perspective art. It has already been done for us. So while our technology seems to be advancing at an incredible rate, this does not mean that we as a people have improved in our mental capacity. Maybe we are so busy using our technology that we have forgotten how to use our minds.

Another one (2, Informative)

Otter (3800) | about 11 years ago | (#7348491)

One of my favorite books, with a less controversial orientation -- The Discoverers [amazon.com] , by Daniel Boorstin. It reviews the progress of science, engineering and invention from ancient times until recently.

(And to head off the inevitable complaining: no, there is no referrer tag in that URL. Whatever you're bitching about, it's Amazon's, not mine.)

Bias (1)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | about 11 years ago | (#7348494)

Are we supposed to believe that "how many paragraphs were written about person X" is a reasonable measurement of how good a scientist person X is? It might be something of a indication, but it is almost certainly not enough to rank people in a meaningful order.

If he had just chosen his favorites (and defended his choices), that would be reasonable, but claiming that this method is objective is ridiculous.

Simple (1)

MyFourthAccount (719363) | about 11 years ago | (#7348499)

Imagine that you found yourself in a position to write a resume for the whole human species

Still not evolved enough to quit killing its own species.

(until that threshold is reached we should consider taking ourselves less seriously. hint: several other species seem to be able to get by without killing eachother...)

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348520)

God I hate Jared Diamond and those who read his books...

Re:Simple (1)

SparafucileMan (544171) | about 11 years ago | (#7348550)

Well evolution isn't species based, its individual-and-"gene" based. There are alot of species that tend to kill themselves quite a bit, but it's all part of the game. As long as after the nuclear holocaust 1 guy is left with about 100 women, it really won't matter to that guy (nor evolution) that the rest of the species butchered itself!

Re:Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348645)

Unless the radiation has made them infertile.

decline in production - because we consume more (1)

crash biker (711424) | about 11 years ago | (#7348528)

How many bright minds would *do* something if it wasn't so easy to go to the library, surf the web, ... or (dare I say?) turn on the tv?

poop (0)

ronaldyang (167602) | about 11 years ago | (#7348539)

Not enough great discoveries in recent times?

Has this stiff ever seen a goddamn Tivo??

Or internet porn??

Don't feed the Amazon trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348540)

AllDirect [alldirect.com] has the same book for $18.57, with no patent-supporting [gnu.org] nastiness.

Re:Don't feed the Amazon trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348613)

You're such a dufus...if you're going to provide a link, at least give us one without your stupid shopping cart ID in it

Citation Index. (1)

canineK9 (688795) | about 11 years ago | (#7348541)

Institute for Scientific Infromation has an index that judges the relevance and current utility of publications by the number of times it is cited in other publications. But really seminal work is often not recognized for the paradigm shift it brings until later. So the apparent fall off in creativity the author sees may be due to the length of time it takes before a work is acknowledged to be great. Shakespeare (or whoever) was a prolific playwright but was not given great respect until much later. Gregor Mendel described genetic theory but the significance not realized until years later. The Western bias may be real based on the published observation that creative scientists tend to be from rather secular families. Cultures that bow to a rigid religious standard would be expected to have fewer creative types or not allow creativity to be widely encouraged or expressed.

and what we could have accomplished... (0, Offtopic)

NSupremo (161699) | about 11 years ago | (#7348543)

Look at our Military Budget compared to everything else and you will notice a major problem, a major catastrophe and a major crime.

The only thing our military is doing for us right now is being used as a tool for evil.

Human Resume (3, Funny)

NightWulf (672561) | about 11 years ago | (#7348551)

Human Race

humanrace@earth.com

Third Planet from Sun

Sol, Milky Way 90210

(555)0000001

MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Sucessful downsizing of pesky animal and plant problem on planet.

Created science, religion, and McDonalds.

Created bureaucracy.

We're the ones sending out 50 year old "I Love Lucy" episodes in space.

Created the atomic bomb.

QUALIFICATIONS

Ability to split everything in to groups, reduce them to superficial views then discriminate.

Can eradicate anything you want in a quick, effeciant manner.

We laugh, we love, we play, we're like sea monkeys except we breathe air.

Terraforming.

Created computers, then made them useful enough to take over the jobs of 80% of our species, smart eh?

EMPLOYMENT HISTORY

Stone Age, Earth: (10KBC - 2000BC)

Mostly went around grunting at eachother.

Occasionaly raped and pillaged another cave.

Created art using feces and cave walls.

Dark Ages, Earth: (500AD- 800AD)

Not too much happened. We did kill off a shitload of our own people cause we lived like pigs and ended up catching the black plauge.

Technology Age, Earth: (1900AD - Current)

Created manned flight, space travel, robotics, computers, cloning and bio terrorism. Job seems risky right now and looking for new oppurtunities before recently created AI becomes new manager.

EDUCATION

Graduated first in class of 1,000,000,000,000 species on planet.

Top 1% of tool using monkeys.

HONORS

Created especially by this God fellow.

A thought... (1)

Jhon (241832) | about 11 years ago | (#7348565)

For example, we have 65 playwrights alive today for every one in Elizabethan England. Yet do we have dozens of Shakespeares?
I hardly think Shakespeare was considered an icon in his time. Similarly, If there are "dozens of Shakespeares" running around today, we wont know about it. Maybe our grandchildren will turn them in to icons. Or their grandchildren.

It's not uncommon for "greatness" in (literature, painting, scupture -- "the arts") not to be generally recognized until well after the artists death. This might accuont for the recent "Decline" the author talks about.

Lotka curve (1)

SiliconEntity (448450) | about 11 years ago | (#7348566)

This L-shaped Lotka curve bears a suspicious resemblance to the Zipf distribution [useit.com] , which describes the popularity or prominence of objects in a wide range of fields. It is better displayed on a logarithmic scale, where the L shaped curve becomes a straight line. It would be interesting to see if Murray's data also showed that effect.

Sounds like ``The Ascent of Man'' (1)

caek (571864) | about 11 years ago | (#7348571)

The Ascent of Man [museum.tv] was a BBC TV Series broadcast in the early 70s that. It was Jakob Bronowski's (one of the first serious theoretical physicists to move into quantitative and social biology and take the ideas of physics with them) idiosyncratic take on human culture and technology since, well, the beginning. It's ludicrously ambitious, and often brilliant.

The book reviewed book sounds like a crude quantization of the joy of culture. Not that I've read it, which makes my criticism phillistine at best.

But seriously, if you get a chance to pick up the book [amazon.com] of the TV Series (or they rerun the series--I believe it was broadcast on PBS in the states) I highly recommend it.

same price at amazon (0)

zontroll (714448) | about 11 years ago | (#7348579)

Referral Link: Amazon has this book for the same price as bn [amazon.com]
Spend $4 more to get free shipping.

Re:same price at amazon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7348611)

Wow, ccats [slashdot.org] is recruiting other shills now.

I for one (1)

TKinias (455818) | about 11 years ago | (#7348636)

I for one welcome our new Western overlords...

Um...

Resume? Accompliment? (1)

UrgleHoth (50415) | about 11 years ago | (#7348642)

We made plastic. That is our sole purpose. What else is left?

Something to consider (1)

TnkMkr (666446) | about 11 years ago | (#7348650)

Being the egotistical SOB that I am, when I first started my Masters degree I was disappointed when I sat down with my advisor and was forced to narrow my research from inventing a perpetual motion machine to a (what I thought at the time) simple diesel engine emission model.

My professor tried to explain to me that great leaps in advancement only happen after many small advancements have built up and are available to reference. An example would be Newton; he is recognized as a great physist, however his theories did not materialize out of thin air. Almost everything he put forward had been said before by his peers at the time, he was just able to organize all the ideas and present them in one place.

A more accurate study of achievement should not be how many references one received, but who the great achievers reference themselves.

I also believe that may explains why 'large scale' achievement has slowed in the modern day. It now takes many more small steps forward to really set the stage for great advancement.

Of course, I could be wrong

this is BS (1)

p2sam (139950) | about 11 years ago | (#7348652)

what about the guy (or gal) who invented FIRE!!! That accomplishment is no less than frigging Einstein!! Also, I sure would like to invent the dude who learnt to count with his fingers, that's pretty smart too.

The Ascent of Man (1)

L0C0loco (320848) | about 11 years ago | (#7348665)

I agree with previous posters about the skewed results occuring as a natural result of the time period selected. That is why I have always been fond of "The Ascent of Man" (book and TV series) from the mid-to-late 1970's, as I recall. While I never read that book by Jacob Bronowski, I was captivated by his TV series and developed a respect for the achievements of our ancestors. I've always loved science, but I learned of the deep connection it has with art from the serires. I wish some network would re-run that series so I and my kid could experience it again.

TNG (1)

rm_monterey (671976) | about 11 years ago | (#7348666)

I remember when Jean-Luc Picard stood trial for all of humanity. He also had to present a resume of human accomplishment to Q.

Well, since the conclusion of his last book (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 11 years ago | (#7348667)

was that blacks are inherently stupid, I'm not surprised that he comes to the conclusion in this book that Westerners do all the great work. Does George Washington Carver (presumeably an outlier on the Bell Curve) make the list?

Are there a dozen Shakespeares? Maybe! How would you know? There are dozens of great playwrights in the world today, and dozens of authors, etc. Which are today's Shakespeare? Ask me in three hundred years when can see which authors are still talked about and studied in school. Was Shakespeare hailed as "the Homer of today" at the time? No!

"Significant" figures in science are decreasing? Maybe it's because more science is being done by groups of scientists collaborating. If a dozen papers come out of one university research group, but each has a different author's name on the top, then is that less accomplishment than six papers with one author? I guess the accomplishments of groups of scientists working together isn't significant.

Frankly, I think the absence of "significant" figures is a sign of progress. It shows that our scientific base is widening, so that contributions come from a greater number of individuals. Contrast for example Galileo, one of the only people doing astrological work at the time. Whereas now there are observatories around the world with thousands upon thousands of individuals studying the stars, each making their own contributions.

This book sounds like crap, which I base half on the review and half on my opinion that the Bell Curve was crap. Knowing the way he covers his crap assumptions and the resulting crap conclusions with statistics and charts that seem reasonable at first, I'm seeing heavy potential for the same kind of thing here. Starting with taking whatever statistical feature he's actually looking at and calling it "Achievment", a mirror of taking scores from a military aptitude test and calling that "Intelligence".

But he'll probably get a lot of book sales from people who want to hear about how white folk from the west are the producers of all human achievment.

One human, please (2, Funny)

InsaneCreator (209742) | about 11 years ago | (#7348693)

write a resume for the whole human species

Tastes great with ketchup...
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