Who are the most important social scientists?

On the selection of biographies for the new International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

1. In October 1997 one of the senior editors of the planned International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences approached me informally about whether I would be inclined to accept an invitation to serve as the sub-editor for the section on biographies in the planned International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. He spelled out the following criteria: a maximum of 150 entries on 150 persons who are already deceased. A woman historian of science had (wisely) declined the invitation, but I did not, because I (rightly) assumed that this would be an intellectual challenge and would also be a good scholarly task to compensate for the everyday work of a very specialized researcher.

2. The official invitation dates back to October 20, 1997 and included the Memorandum of Agreement Regarding Biographical Entries which the chief editors Paul B. Baltes and Neil Smelser had conveyed to the publisher in September 1997. The memorandum includes the following selection criteria:

- only deceased behavioral and social scientists concentrating on classical, established individuals;
- 7-10 biographees per discipline, yielding a maximum total of 150 entries;
- the biographical entries should be brief, analytical essays written around a person, rather than a standard citation about life and work; therefore, the entries should include "...a) the briefest indication of the major dates and events in the life of the biographee; b) a sketch of the major contours of the substantive contribution to knowledge of each biographee, including the intellectual contexts within which the biographees worked; c) most important, to assess the importance and relevance of the biographee's work for contemporary behavioral and social sciences. In connection with the last, stress should be placed on the words "contemporary" and "sciences" in the plural ..."
- special attention should be given to the way biographees were interpreted - or ignored - in different disciplines;

a citation analysis was to be performed to identify very frequently cited (deceased) individuals who were not on the initial list; if such persons were identified, an effort was to be made to add such persons to the initial list.



3. In the ensuing discussions between myself and the general editors these criteria were specified and augmented. We agreed that biographies

- should have a major continuing and contemporary impact (and not just be figures recalled in the histories of the various discipines);
- preference should be given to biographees who had an impact on more than one single discipline or sub-discipline;
- that they should represent the full spectrum for the social and behavioral sciences (including neurology and genetics);
- biographees should be acknowledged for more than just one major idea or contribution (for instance, this ruled out Roberto Michel and his "iron law of oligarchy").

that countries and world regions as well as women scientists should get their fair share.



4. The meaning of major continuing impact was at first operationalized in two ways: first, as an explicit reference in current sources, and second, as validated and ranked recognition by contemporary social and behavioral scientists. I compiled an initial list of about 450 names, doing searches in my own library and using various handbooks and monographs on the history of different disciplines. I also consulted Bernard Pivot's "La Bibliothéque Ideale" (Paris: Albin Michel 1988) and his selections for "Les Sciences Humaines" as well as the 815 biographies of the 1968 edition of the International Encyclopedia for the Social Sciences. In these early months I also consulted colleagues wherever I met them, especially during the meetings of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, committee meetings of the Humanities and Social Sciences Section of the Max Planck Society and the meetings of the German Science Council.

5. In early January 1998 the general editors suggested asking the 35 section editors to name and rank 5-10 names in their respective fields. In the end all of them complied, but responded in many different ways. While the majority stuck to the assigned task, some just listed names without ranking. Some responded to the overall task rather than to their specific field. Some named many more than the 5-10 suggested. Some proselytized through e-mails to get their favorite names onto the list. In the April 1998 meeting at Stanford I discussed personally with each of the section editors their own suggestions and alternative names from my initial list.

6. On this basis I constructed a list of 150 names. In this list special preference was given to names which were suggested a) by more than one of the section editors, b) by representatives of more than one discipline and c) to persons which were given the highest rankings. Moreover, various sortings by country and discipline were conducted to ensure sufficient representation. This list was then sent out to 24 consultants - partially suggested by the general editors - asking them to comment on the list and to make suggestions on deletions and additions. Besides experts in specific disciplines I also used this instrument to test the regional distribution, e.g. in regard to East Asia and Eastern Europe. This step grosso modo validated the list and resulted only in minor changes.

7. Taking all the suggestions by section editors, consultants and informal advisors altogether, 461 names were considered in this screening process.

8. Finally, with the assistance of Marianne Müller-Brettel, I conducted a citation analysis covering the period 1973 to 1996 using the names of both the selected and the suggested, but-non-selected biographees. We checked four aspects: 1) whether the selected biographees are indeed still currently cited, 2) whether some of the non-selected, but suggested biographees made strong showings in the citations and should therefore be reconsidered, 3) whether we missed some persons altogether, and 4) how stable citations were over time. The results show clearly that the selected group of persons did much better in the citation counts than the non-selected group. Furthermore, we did not miss a (deceased) scientist with a high citation count. In regard to the issue whether selected persons with lower citation counts should be discarded and should be replaced with suggested, but non-selected persons with higher citation counts, there was consensus between the section editors and the general editors that the criterion of the citation count should not be applied mechanically and should not easily overrule expert consensus. In consultation with the general editors minor adjustments were being made. For instance, based on the citation analysis, we included Adorno, Bowlby, Raymond Cattell, Harlow, Heider and T. H. Marshall. Despite lower citation counts we did not exclude Wilhelm von Humboldt, Montesquieu, Needham, Pareto, Gauss, Helmholtz, Sherrington, and Wundt. And despite high (but unstable) citation counts we did not include George Caspar Homans and C. W. Mills.

9. One person was included who had died during the publication process, Niklas Luhmann. Another person in this category, William O. Quine, was seriously considered, but not included. Partly this was due to the fact that one of the philosophy section editors cast some doubt on the special relevance and impact of Quine for the social and behavioral sciences, partly because it was very late in the game (January 2001).

10. There was one worthy attempt to include a living scientist, Robert K. Merton. Although there would probably have been general agreement with this proposal, it would have opened the question of inclusion of a larger number of persons. Especially in the field of economics the discipline actually ranks a number of living economists higher than many of the deceased. In the latter regard we succeeded quite well in recruiting three of these major living economists as authors (Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson and Gary Becker).

11. There was one nomination well supported by number of citations (11948) which was after much controversy not included due to "unprofessional conduct": Hans Eysenck.

12. Three selected persons are not included because the authors did not honor their contracts and no replacements could be found in time: Lasswell, Dobzhansky and Braudel. While Lasswell and Dobzhansky could be considered borderline cases anyhow, the omission of Braudel must be considered a major deficit.

13. One other implicit selection criterion that should also be mentioned has to do with the problem of when the social and behavioral sciences historically began. The whole history of philosophy could be legitimately claimed as precursors of the social and behavioral sciences. With some legitimate exceptions - Macchiavelli, Jacob Bernoulli, Hobbes, Locke, and Montesquieu - we entered the 18th century as the beginning of the history of the social and behavioral sciences, i.e. with Hume, Kant and Rousseau. Only one scholar dates before these times and that is Aristotle, who actually has, after Adam Smith with 3948 citations, the highest citation rate among all persons examined who were born before 1780.

14. The 148 biographies now included can be probably best characterized into three major groups which reflect the secular process of differentiation between the social and behavioral sciences.The first group consists of - mostly 18th century - scientists and writers who form something like a common cognitive origin for several, if not most of the disciplines represented in the encyclopedia. Scholars like Aristotle, Bentham, Jacob Bernoulli, Galton, Gauss, Hegel, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Laplace, Locke, Mill, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Tocqueville fall into this category. The second group is comprised of scientists and scholars - mostly 19th and early 20th century - who have achieved major intellectual status not only across a number of disciplines, but frequently also among the general public. Among those we can count Adorno, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacob Burckhardt, Charles Darwin, Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Norbert Elias, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Antonio Gramsci, Friedrich von Hayek, Helmholtz, Carl Gustav Jung, John Maynard Keynes, Thomas S. Kuhn, Konrad Lorenz, Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx, Margaret Mead, Friedrich Nietzsche, Pestalozzi, Piaget, Popper, Schumpeter, Skinner, Simmel, Max Weber, Wittgenstein, and Wundt. The third group is comprised of scientists - mostly 20th century - who are responsible for major ideas and breakthroughs in their specific disciplines but who have not cast their shadows much beyond. Their names might not be immediately recognized by members of disciplines further removed, e.g. neurologists like Sherrington and Sperry by sociologists or lawyers like Hart or Hurst by psychologists. But on the list of rankings within disciplines they show up on very high ladders. Not infrequently were they also important academic organizers and leaders. In this group we find such scientists as Eugen Bleuler, Bowlby, Franz Boas, Donald Broadbent, Raymond Cattell, Bruno DeFinetti, Francis Edgeworth, Erving Goffman, Elie Halevy, Donald Olding Hebb, Harald Hotelling, Harald Jeffreys, V.O. Key, Motoo Kimura, Paul Lazarsfeld, Aleksandr Luria, Jerzy Neyman, Frank Notestein, George Stigler and many others.

15. Despite considerable efforts we have clearly failed to include enough women. We could not rewrite the history of science to allow women their fair place in the highest ranks of the social and behavioral sciences. Thus, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft was in the end not included. To remedy this deficit to some extent I list here all the names of the women suggested and those included in order to provide maximum opportunity for criticism and further suggestions (possibly to be augmented in the electronic version of the IESBS). Included were Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Ruth Benedict, Jessie Bernard, Esther Boserup, Melanie Klein, Margaret Mead, and Joan Robinson. Nominated but not included were Charlotte Bühler, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Florence Nightingale, Ellen Key, Maria Montessori, Margaret Reid, Ellen Churchill Semple, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Harriet Taylor.

16. Harriet Zuckerman wrote in her book about Nobel Laureates that there are scientists who match the Nobel Laureates in their contributions to science but never won the prize. In analogy to the 40 seats in the Académie Française she called them the incumbents of the 41st chair of science. Who were those social and behavioral scientists from our nominations who came very close to be included and therefore to occupy the 151st "chair of the social behavioral sciences"? Again I am listing them to let the readers judge whether they actually should have been preferred to the ones included: M.S. Bartlett, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Shils, Pitrim Sorokin, Niko Tinbergen, Thorsten Veblen, Frank Beach, Antoine Meillet, Roman Jacobson, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Friedrich Carl von Savigny, William Stern, Léon Walras, George Yule.

17. The procedures for selecting the biographees - especially the strong voice accorded to the 35 section editors of the IESBS and the high respect I paid to their expertise - had certainly the effect that the classification of disciplines developed by the general editors is well-reflected in the ensemble of those biographical entries included. Moreover, the two general editors, Paul B. Baltes and Neil Smelser, were not only generous with their advice and suggestions, but also exemplary in respecting the prerogatives of the sub-editor. In the final analysis, however, judgments had to be made by the section editor and I bear full responsibility for them. I probably have been too restrictive in regard to nominations close to my own fields of knowledge and competence and probably too tolerant in regard to fields of which I know little. I leave this, therefore, up to the readers to judge.

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