Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Hypatia makes NS most-inspirational woman scientist list

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-25

Recently (I was offline), New Scientist gave out the the results of the "Most inspirational woman scientists of all time" poll.

And Hypatia of Alexandria made it to a well-deserved number 3!

Hypatia was a key part of a post I’m proud of, and a detailed comment thread with LegalEagle, a little while back ("Athena, Hypatia et al" – 2008-03-08).  Actually the comment thread goes into much more detail than the post.

I suspect that a couple of the nominations were for best scientist of all time were based not on inspiration but what they did.  Ros Franklin at number 2 sadly died before probably getting a Nobel.  "Amazing" Grace Hopper (famous early programmer, laid foundations of COBOL – and the term "bug" -see the photo of the actual insect) didn’t get a guernsey.  However, Marie Curie (1), Rachel Carson (9) and Jane Goodall (10) were inspirational to me as a kid.  Carson and Goodall have been inspirational for many non-nerds, male and female alike: Carson as the person who probably kicked off the modern worries about destruction of the environment with "Silent Spring", Goodall for her work with chimps, which hopefully will lead to quasi-human rights legislation.

But, Hypatia – smart, upstanding character, and (less importantly) apparently drop-dead gorgeous, along with the disgusting way Christians killed her because of her qualities, is considered the first Martyr of Science.

My guess is that if more people knew about Hypatia, she’d have made number 1 in the list, for given the relative fame among New Scientist readers, nearly everyone who had heard of her picked her.

There’s a new film coming up on Hypatia’s life, "Agora", (see youtubes below) starring Rachel Weisz.  Even if turns out to be historically inaccurate, if it brings her to the attention of the public, the way the historically awful "Gladiator" made Marcus Aurelius better known, then it’ll be a good thing.  It’ll be even better if more people realize what was destroyed with the rise of Christianity.

The problem is, you cannot make a halfway proper film about Hypatia without depicting her murder – and it is soooo violent there is no way you’ll take little girls to see it.

And I can just imagine the anger of many Christians, offended by the truth of the many deaths caused by Christians in those days.

Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable. – Hypatia

Dawkins would no doubt have been smitten!

And from ABC "Philosopher’s Zone" 2009-04-04: "Hypatia of Alexandria: A philosophical martyr", includes a discussion of history, a Christian on NeoPlatonism, deconstructing the sources about her death, including conflicting accounts from Christians, some who admired her greatly, and others that cast her as a witch that had ensorcelled the city and its prefect.

Amazing Grace Hopper

Amazing Grace Hopper

Hypatia in Raphaels School of Athens

School of Athens by Raphael - figure thought to be Hypatia

Longer clips, including discussion of Aristarchos’ heliocentric views.

Now go and read my earlier post and the comment thread!


5 Responses to “Hypatia makes NS most-inspirational woman scientist list”

  1. Woot, go Hypatia. I’d vote her No. 1 any day….

  2. […] Dave Bath, I’ve learnt that leading Spanish director (he won Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2005 […]

  3. […] Posts Hypatia makes NS most-inspirational woman scientist listNostalgia – I see your emoticon and raise you proper ASCII artAthena, Hypatia, et alPrize-linked […]

  4. It is so wonderful to see a man such as yourself recognizing Hypatia as being deserving of the spot she was awarded. She’s the idol that I identify with most. :)

  5. Baerista said

    Wow, this is asinine. There is absolutely no evidence that Hypatia ever had a single original scientific thought and thus no justification to put her anywhere on this list. And the quote you attribute to her was fabricated by the soap salesman Elbert Hubbard in 1908.

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