Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 is a book published in 2003 by Charles Murray, most widely known as the co-author of The Bell Curve. It surveyed outstanding contributions to the arts and sciences from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century. The book attempts to quantify and explain human accomplishment worldwide in the fields of arts and sciences, by calculating the amount of space allocated to them in reference works, an area of research sometimes referred to as historiometry. The book stated that "Whether measured in people or events, 97 percent of accomplishment in the scientific inventories occurred in Europe and North America".
Murray ranks the leading 4,000 innovators in several fields of human accomplishment from 800 BC to 1950. In each field, Murray identifies a number of sources (leading encyclopedias, histories and surveys) providing information about the leading figures in the field. The rankings are made from information in these sources. A raw score is determined, based on how many sources mention and on how much space in each source is devoted to a person. Then these raw scores are normalized so that the lowest score is 1 and the highest score is 100. The resulting scores are called "Index Scores".
The categories of human accomplishment where significant figures are ranked in the book are as follows: Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Physics, Mathematics, Medicine, Technology, Combined Sciences, Chinese Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Western Philosophy, Western Music, Chinese Painting, Japanese Art, Western Art, Arabic Literature, Chinese Literature, Indian Literature, Japanese Literature, and Western Literature. The omission of several relative categories, including a broader Chinese art category or an Indian art category, are due to a lack of identifiable figures as most of the work is anonymous.
The following are some examples of the rankings found for some individual categories.
Top Figures by Field
Murray collected many data for each innovator and did a statistical analysis. One result was that accomplishment has not been uniformly distributed. For example, during the Italian Renaissance, accomplishment was concentrated in Florence and Venice. In the British Isles, around London, the industrial north, and lowland Scotland. Murray argued that most innovation has been accomplished by men, not women, and Europeans, not other ethnic and cultural groups.
The book stated that "Whether measured in people or events, 97 percent of accomplishment in the scientific inventories occurred in Europe and North America".
Murray argued that one important explanations for the racial differences are race and intelligence differences. Women are affected by the requirements of motherhood, which are both physical and emotional. Another explanation is that men's IQ are more variable than women, meaning that there are more high IQ men than women. Men are also relatively better at mathematical and visual-spatial skills, which may be particularly important for science, while women are relatively better at verbal skills. Men also have on average somewhat larger brain size than women
There is a relationship between closeness to elite universities and human accomplishment (but not between non-elite universities and accomplishment). Furthermore, innovation is self–reinforcing: Where there has been innovation, likely more will occur.
The book argued that "Streams of accomplishment are fostered by political regimes that give de facto freedom of action to their potential artists and scholars". This means freedom of expression and innovation. It does not necessarily mean democracy, although totalitarianism suppressed innovation. War and civil unrest did not affect innovation.
Murray writes that Jews had "sparse representation in European arts and sciences through the beginning of the 19C", but within a century Jews were disproportionately represented (except in astronomy). This coincided with the access to universities and public offices for Jews.
The highest scoring woman in a category was Murasaki Shikibu among Japanese literature. The highest in western literature was Virginia Woolf. The highest in science was Marie Curie.
Murray argued that the world's per capita progress in the sciences and especially the arts have declined, usually starting sometimes in the nineteenth century. In part this is due to diminishing returns. In the final chapters he abandons empirical analysis, writing "I cannot supply quantitative measures", and the analysis is "less quantitative, more speculative, and definitely more opinionated." He argued, based on Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, that innovation is increased by beliefs that life has a purpose and that the function of life is to fulfill that purpose; by beliefs about transcendental goods and a sense of goodness, truth and beauty; and by beliefs that individuals can act efficaciously as individuals, and a culture that enables them to do so. The conservative Murray argued that there is an absence of this in the current secularist and nihilist society, which has caused the decline.
He also argued that one reason for the prominence of the West is that Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274) influentially argued that human intelligence is a gift from God and using it to understand the world is pleasing to God.
Steve Sailer in an interview asked who was the most accomplished person who ever lived. Murray replied that this would be his subjective opinion, since the quantitative methodology used did not allow such comparisons across different domains. In his personal opinion, it was Aristotle, who more or less invented logic, which was of fundamental importance for later science. No other civilization ever came up with it independently. He also made huge contributions to ethics, political theory, methods of classification, and scientific observation. Murray also argued that the methods used have high reliability. There was also high validity, in the sense that the results of his objective method largely corresponded to common-sense expectations. He was surprised that Asian accomplishment was not higher. He argued, and had discussed thin extensively in the book, that the methods used was not biased against non-Western accomplishment.
The Tech Law journal in a review criticized the claim that there has been a decline. "In short, Murray's statistical methods are thorough and objective up to the point where he argues that innovation is on the decline. Then, he manipulates his data."
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