Richard Dawkins named world's top thinker in poll

26.04.2013 04:37

Evolutionary biologist beats
four Nobel prize winners for
his global influence and
significance on the year's
biggest questions
A man of significance ...
Richard Dawkins headed a
longlist of 65 names.
Photograph: Murdo Macleod
for the Guardian
John Dugdale
When Prospect magazine
listed Britain's leading public
intellectuals in 2004 and
invited readers' votes, it was
Richard Dawkins who
emerged as No 1. Nine years
on, the biologist, author and
campaigner has bettered that
by topping its "world
thinkers" rankings, beating
four Nobel prize winners (and
another contender regarded
as certain to receive one
soon) in a poll based on 65
names chosen by a largely
US- and UK-based expert
Joining him in the top 10 are
the psychologists Steven
Pinker (3) and Daniel
Kahneman (10), the
economists Paul Krugman (5)
and Amartya Sen (7) and the
philosopher Slavoj Žižek (6),
who all, like him, figured in
the magazine's first list of
world-class thinkers in 2005.
A late run by the
octogenarian British physicist
Peter Higgs (8) secured him a
place in an elite squad
containing three other
scientists, while the
remaining slots are taken by
academics turned politicians
from the Middle East:
Afghanistan's Ashraf Ghani
(2), an economist who served
as finance minister after the
US-led invasion; Iraq's Ali
Allawi (4), another ex-
minister and author of The
Occupation of Iraq and The
Crisis of Islamic Civilization ;
and Egypt's Mohamed
ElBaradei (9), prominent in
the Arab Spring and now in
opposition to Mohamed
To qualify for this year's
world thinkers rankings, it
was not enough to have
written a seminal book,
inspired an intellectual
movement or won a Nobel
prize several years ago (hence
the absence from the 65-
strong long list of ageing
titans such as Noam Chomsky
or Edward O Wilson); the
selectors' remit ruthlessly
insisted on "influence over
the past 12 months" and
"significance to the year's
biggest questions".
This requirement may have
been a factor in the top 10
being all-male (presumably a
source of frustration to the
five women on the selection
panel, including Prospect's
editor Bronwen Maddox),
with longlistees such as
Hilary Mantel, Martha
Nussbaum and Sheryl
Sandberg not making it
through to the elite of the
elite, and the likes of
Germaine Greer and Naomi
Klein not even making it into
the 65. But it may also, of
course, simply reflect the
gender make-up of the
monthly's readership.
Political engagement was
clearly enough for the Middle
Eastern trio to meet the
criterion of current
influence, and others among
the cerebral galacticos have
been in the news too. The
Higgs boson was identified at
Cern in July and confirmed
there last month, making him
an odds-on favourite for a
Nobel. Kahneman's Thinking,
Fast and Slow became a
worldwide bestseller last
year. Krugman, a New York
Times columnist as well as a
Princeton don, has been the
leading critic of "the austerity
delusion". Pinker might well
have made the chart anyway,
but probably owes his high
position to his switch from
his specialist field of
psycholinguistics to history in
The Better Angels of Our
As for Dawkins, the
continuation of wars of
religion and terrorist
atrocities informed by it
means his atheist crusade
remains relevant to the year's
biggest questions, despite the
end of the Bible-bashing,
war-mongering Bush era in
which he first raised his
banner - this week his
670,000 Twitter followers
could find him (between
musings about socks)
rejoicing in France's
legalisation of gay marriage,
ridiculing a journalist's
Muslim beliefs, and
retweeting a story that the
older Boston bomber "was
angry that the world pictured
Islam as a violent religion".
On Monday, no doubt
manfully resisting efforts to
deify or idolise him, the
world No 1 will attend the
premiere in Toronto of a
documentary about his
roadshow (with Lawrence
Krauss) promoting science
and reason.