Saturday, January 3, 2015

Some Lessons from Madame Curie on Handling the Press and the Intelligence of Women

From Lion Hear Autographs:
 Polish-born French physicist [Marie Skłodowska-Curie ] discovered, along with her husband, Pierre, the elements radium and polonium. Winner of the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics and the 1911 prize in chemistry... 
Following the outbreak of World War I, Curie aided the French army by equipping ambulances – which she accompanied to the front line – with portable x-ray apparatuses. The French Red Cross, then the Union de Femmes Françaises, made her the official head of its Radiological Service. As such, she created advanced courses in the medical uses of radiology and taught doctors new methods for locating foreign objects in the human body. Curie published her wartime notes as La radiologie et la guerre in 1920... 
[I]n 1920, during an interview with Marie Meloney, the editor of the American women’s magazine The Delineator, Curie expressed her desire for a second gram of radium in order to continue her valuable research. “Undeterred by the knowledge that a gram of radium costs about $100,000, almost overnight Meloney organized what she called the Marie Curie Radium Campaign to grant Marie’s wish. Through her many contacts, she put together a committee of wealthy American women and distinguished American scientists willing to promote the cause and to encourage American citizens to contribute toward it,” (Marie Curie: And the Science of Radioactivity, Pasachoff). Through a national subscription, the Marie Curie Radium Campaign raised the necessary funds, much coming from American women moved by Curie’s war efforts. Executive committee members included, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Thomas Edison, Mrs. Herbert Hoover, Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt.

In May 1921, Curie traveled to the United States to receive the gift. Meloney “arranged for the gram of radium that the campaign would buy to be handed to Marie at a White House reception given by the President of the United States himself… Meloney’s plan was based on the assumption that Marie would be willing to make a publicity tour of the United States. It was not easy for such a shy, private, and modest person to agree to this scheme of self-promotion, but Meloney was persuasive. Marie agreed to make the trip on one condition, that the American press must be muzzled. Not a word of the Langevin affair [her scandalous affair with a younger, married colleague] could appear in print. Meloney succeeded in charming promises out of every editor she approached, even editors of newspapers known for muckraking. From some she even managed to wheedle contributions to the Marie Curie Radium Fund, along with their pledge to suppress the Langevin story,”

The New York Tribune of May 12, 1921, carried a front page story about the historic arrival of Madame Curie in New York, “…Mme. Curie passed the afternoon resting and denied herself to all callers. Her only conversation with newspaper folk took place on board the Olympic as the vessel was steaming up the bay. She spoke in English, in a frank, unaffected manner. She was asked if she believed the mental equipment of women was equal to that of men. ‘Why do you speak of men and women?’ she retorted. ‘Why not speak of intelligent people and those not so intelligent? Some women are intelligent; some are not.’ ‘But do you think women in general – of course you are an exception, Madame,’ blundered the hapless questioner – ‘do you think women generally as capable of intellectual achievement as men?’ ‘I dislike,’ responded Madame, ‘to make any statement I can not prove.’


  1. Because there are FAR more male geniuses than female that's why Curie.

    The funny thing is that most women's IQs are huddled in the middle; not too bright but not too dumb. but men are scattered all over the place. Men usually make up the dumbest of the dumb but also the vast majority of the geniuses. Weird isn't it?

    1. How do you make the leap from "more men geniuses have been identified" to "there are more male geniuses"? I would suggest that many average women are stupid or brilliant in ways not detected by typical IQ tests. It's really an epistemology question.

    2. This is actually a well-known biological phenomenon - the phenotype traits (IQ is just one of them, in humans) have higher divergence in males (there are exceptions, which I would omit for clarity).

      The reason for that is very simple: females are critical for the population reproduction. Males aren't so (one male can have a very large number of children with many females). Therefore it is evolutionary advantageous to have females to keep stable and proven "design" while experimenting with wider range of phenotypes on males.

      This tendency is most pronounced in cases when male either doesn't contribute much to the offispring rearing, or if dependency of productivity on traits is very high (think of warrior cultures, where winners come back with tons of loot, while losers are dead). In situation when this dependency is not so large (think of non-mechanized agriculture) a male can only feed so many children, no matter how good he is. Thus, pre-industrialization agricultural societies benefited from memes (such as religious institution of marriage) pairing females with males. Ironically, the high-tech society (in which the difference in productivity between mediocre and the best can be orders of magnitude, as common in software engineering, for example) would be better served by polygamy.

    3. No leap was made. Do some research.

    4. There are many men as well that are not detected by IQ tests. Test taking is a skill like any other and tests often detect good test takers. What you need to show is that the detection methods which vary from tests to particular achievements to social success are not proportional in their success between men and women.

      But also what is a genius? Is it someone who is extraordinary in one area at the expense of others? Is it someone who achieves a solid mastery of many areas but is not extraordinary in any of them? Is it someone who has insights that nobody else has had? There are so many possible forms of genius. If we can't really define the terms how can we even start to answer the question?

    5. @ B

      I like your statement. I've always found the subject of what 'intelligence" is interesting as the concept and any metric used to measure it seems anything but simple.

  2. Hilarious, that IQ bounces around by as much as 20 points:

    As I see it, IQ, like presence of a college degree and college pedigree, is useful in the absence of work history. But, a few years after college, track record -- e.g., getting good and important things done quickly and on budget -- matters more than IQ, at least in the military and business world, based on my experience.