The names of smartness

Something leapt in my heart when I read Kangana Ranaut’s latest repartee to Saif Ali Khan’s misguided notes on nepotism and eugenics. There were many reasons for this but one in particular was to see the name ‘Terence Tao’ mentioned among the examples Ranaut picked to describe the world’s smartest people (flipside: no women on the list):

You also spoke of eugenics — which means controlled breeding of the human race. So far, I believe that the human race hasn’t found the DNA that can pass on greatness and excellence. If it had, we would’ve loved to repeat the greatness of Einstein, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Vivekananda, Stephen Hawking, Terence Tao, Daniel Day-Lewis, or Gerhard Richter.

The names of Einstein and Hawking are so popular that people include them in rosters of greatness often without being aware of what they have achieved. Tao, on the other hand, isn’t yet that well-known. Not everyone has heard of him, and most of those who have are likely to be aware of his stature as a mathematician.

This isn’t any kind of a comment on Ranaut, who has done everyone a good turn with her letter, but more a confession of my own cynicism. Cynicism that people are likelier than not to know the name of Einstein than of Tao, of Isaac Newton than of Pierre-Simon Laplace, of even Rosalind Franklin than of Rosalyn Yalow.

Featured image credit: jinsngjung/pixabay.

About Me

I’m a science editor and writer in India, interested in high-energy and condensed-matter physics, research misconduct, pseudoscience, science’s relationship with society, epic fantasy, open source/access/knowledge systems, H.R. Giger’s art, Goundamani’s comedy, Factorio, and most things that require a lot of time to get the hang of.