How did 1,000 voters and the media respond to our poll?by David Herman / August 22, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
There was a noisy response to Prospect’s list of Britain’s top 100 public intellectuals. Two issues attracted the most attention. First, how few women were on Prospect’s original list (12 out of 100). The Guardian women’s page ran its own alternative list of “101 overlooked women intellectuals” and then added another 42 based on readers’ responses. Both lists, however, confused celebrities or well known media personalities with public intellectuals.
The Guardian failed to address the central issue with any rigour: are there fewer women intellectuals than men? If so, why? Why are women public intellectuals, even taking the Guardian list as a basis, concentrated in so few areas: 30 per cent are writers or critics and 12 per cent journalists or broadcasters? By contrast, there is one scientist, two economists and three women in medicine.
The second issue that came up was the centralisation of British intellectual culture. Newspapers, magazines, publishers and television are overwhelmingly concentrated in the southeast. It is also the home of many of our great teaching hospitals and top universities. The Manchester of Lewis Namier, the young AJP Taylor and Michael Polanyi is no more. Many of Scotland’s top intellectuals are in London.
What do the votes of Prospect readers show? First, there are few surprises. Of the top 30 names the only surprise is Amartya Sen (voted third), a major international figure in his field, but who would have thought that development economics would attract such a popular following without either a significant media presence or a bestselling book? Elsewhere, the names are familiar enough from television or radio: Dawkins and Greer, Miller and Bragg, Ignatieff and Frayn. Historians are prominent: Hobsbawm, Schama and Niall Ferguson are all in the top ten. Political essayists, too: Ignatieff and Garton Ash, Monbiot, Hitchens, Hutton and AC Grayling are all in the top 20.
The dog that didn’t bark is science. Richar…