After more than 10,000 votes from over 100 countries, the results of Prospect’s world thinkers 2013 poll are in. Online polls often throw up curious results, but this top 10 offers a snapshot of the intellectual trends that dominate our age.
Left to right: Ashraf Ghani, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker © US Embassy, Kabul © Rex Features
1. Richard Dawkins
When Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist, coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene 37 years ago, he can’t have anticipated its current popularity as a word to describe internet fads. But this is only one of the ways in which he thrives as an intellectual in the internet age. He is also prolific on Twitter, with more than half a million followers—and his success in this poll attests to his popularity online. He uses this platform to attack his old foe, religion, and to promote science and rationalism. Uncompromising as his message may be, he’s not averse to poking fun at himself: in March he made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, lending his voice to a demon version of himself.
2. Ashraf Ghani
Few academics get the chance to put their ideas into practice. But after decades of research into building states at Columbia, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, followed by a stint at the World Bank, Ashraf Ghani returned to his native Afghanistan to do just that. He served as the country’s finance minister and advised the UN on the transfer of power to the Afghans. He is now in charge of the Afghan Transition Coordination Commission and the Institute for State Effectiveness, applying his experience in Afghanistan elsewhere. He is already looking beyond the current crisis in Syria, raising important questions about what kind of state it will eventually become.
3. Steven Pinker
Long admired for his work on language and cognition, the latest book by the Harvard professor Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, was a panoramic sweep through history. Marshalling a huge range of evidence, Pinker argued that humanity has become less violent over time. As with Pinker’s previous books, it sparked fierce debate. Whether writing about evolutionary psychology, linguistics or history, what unites Pinker’s work is a fascination with human nature and an enthusiasm for sharing new discoveries in accessible, elegant prose.
Unsurprising that Dawkins would win such a poll in the UK. He's popular everywhere, but especially in his native UK.
I had never heard of Ghani, so, thanks for posing, now I learned something new!