How many scientists do you recognize?

August 8, 2011 • 2:18 pm

Today’s New York Times has a “name that scientist” quiz, with ten faces and a choice of four names to go with each face.  I got nine of the ten, and I kicked myself for missing one.  I expect you to get at least eight of them, for nearly all are very well known.

And here are two harder ones from me—who are they and why are they famous? Don’t look at the comments till you’ve given it the old college try.

I have to say that the photo of scientist #2 above reminds me of Harry Houdini:

66 thoughts on “How many scientists do you recognize?

    1. Yes, that’s G.L. Stebbins alright. I was lucky enough to have met him once — though when he was much older than in this picture.

    2. Yeah, I knew that was Stebbins. There’s a big display dedicated to him at my college, where he taught, UC Davis. I had no clue that one of the pioneers of the Modern Synthesis was from my school!

  1. Ooh, good ones. The top I think is one of our (Britain’s) few Female Nobel prize winners. For x-ray chemistry. I’ll avoid the name to avoid spoilers.

    The bottom one I haven’t a clue. A botanist of some kind?

  2. First one was too easy for me: I got my PhD from Bristol University (in Chemistry) and it was conferred by Prof H. : although she looked somewhat more frail in 1986, and her hands were crippled by RA, the resemblance still shines through.

  3. You were right. I got 8. The two women I missed were not identified at the end so I don’t know who I missed.

    And your scientists are unknown to me as well. Back to schoool …

    1. I got 8 as well, though one was a guess. The wrong answers had the correct answers immediately displayed on the right

      1. I’m dating myself as well. I loved Ilya Kuryakin too – we had The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on in reruns in the Panama Canal Zone, and I kept a copy of the magazine that the show inspired for years…

        1. In an episode of NCIS (David McCallum’s current gig, where he plays medical examiner Dr. Mallard, known as “Ducky”) one character said, “I wonder what Ducky looked like when he was younger” the reply is, “He looked like Ilya Kuryakin.”

          When I was a kid and we played “Man From U.N.C.L.E., I always got to play Ilya because I had the hair for it. T.H.R.U.S.H., though, had the better acronym: “Technological Heirarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity”.

    1. Same here. I got some easy ones like Richard Dawkins, Brian Greene, Jane Goodall and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Steven Chu was on there as well.

  4. 8/10. Dad-gummit. Sorry Brian Greene & Jane Lubchenko. Failed miserably on Coyne’s examples, though for some weird reason the first photo screamed x-ray crystallography at me. The gray grease is a strange thing.

  5. I got 8 out of 10. That might seem good––pretty much what any aware person would “score”. Not that I think any thinking person shouldn’t have “known” the other 2. (I think my “wrong” 2 were the perhaps standard two. Why?)

    What did my identified 8 “justify” my personal understanding? I think I know why their contributions were important to any thinking ,and still living/rational, person. Can I be satisfied that I “missed” the other 2? The answer is clearly “no”.

    Too bad that perhaps so many have missed my 8–– and perhaps the reasons why the 8, at the very least, were important to rational and humane thought.

  6. 8/10. But at least 3 were guesses. The only woman scientists I knew were “Madam Saturn” (Carolyn Porco) and “Madam Chimpanzee” (Jane Goodall.)
    No idea about the 2 “bonus” faces above, but the man reminds me of Roger Moore.

  7. Well, I got 10/10, but I was lucky. Lubchenko just looked liked . . . a Lubchenko. Wild Russian blue eyes. (I guess it was her sirenesque beckoning me with that goblet of the nectar of the gods.)

    The other two? I’ve seen this photo of this guy. Looks like he’s applying pollen to a stigma. Is it Lysenko? Ah, but he failed, got it wrong. How about the guy whose praises were sung for the 60’s “Green Revolution”? Can I get half credit for that?

    Would have liked to have seen this comely gal in person. 😉 OK, I’m going to say that it’s Barbara McClintock. (Lise Meintner? Doubt it.)

    (Why couldn’t you have posted Rosslyn Franklin? I like looking at her. I don’t give a hoot about Nobel “rules.” She deserved to have shared the prize with Crick and Watson. I’d certainly recognize Glenn Seborg, and Leo Szilard, Hans Bethe.)

  8. First: Dorothy Hodgkin. I couldn’t remember exactly what she was famous for (except being better known than her husband, the sometime master of my old college). Wikipedia answers.

    Second: Peter Medawar? I nearly said he was famous for telling an Anglican bishop that God “has an inordinate fondness for beetles”, but that was Haldane.

  9. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I only got 7/10.

    But I think a much more significant test rather than recognizing photographs would be a brief description of the person’s most significant accomplishments. To be honest, I don’t think I could pick either Watson or Crick out of a lineup, but I’d of course instantly recognize them from a three-sentence C.V.



  10. 8/10, though I admit to guessing on all the females except for Jane Goodall..and getting one right because of it, so really, I only deserved a 7/10.


    Besides Rosalind Franklin and Madam Curie, I don’t think I can name any other female. Oh wait, Lynn Margulis is another. But that is really about it. I feel so….sexist.

    What I am fairly certain about, however, is that most readers here can easily name at least 10-20 more male scientists. Is that an issue with science, scientists, or society? Sure, there are more males than females in the science field, but that gap is closing, and certainly the ratio isn’t as 10:1 is it?

    Why is there no female version of Einstein, Bohr, Darwin, Fisher, etc? Or even on par with Dawkins, N.D. Tyson, E.O. Wilson? Perhaps it’s a stupid question and there are the equivalents, and I just happen to not know of them.

    I guess what I am asking is this: Do I not know of important figures in science who happen to be female because of an innate prejudice that makes me ignore them without giving it much thought? Is it because there really haven’t been major breakthroughs by them (on par with Theory of Relativity, Evolution, Turing system, and the like)? Is it because historians and scientists alike mitigate, perhaps even unconsciously the accomplishments of females, while proudly displaying and boasting work done by men? Is it only because females haven’t historically been allowed to educate themselves and therefore couldn’t be part of science history? (and is that gap closing now? Is Jane Goodall the epitome?)

    Hope to you hear people’s thoughts on this.

    1. Why is there no female version of Einstein, Bohr, Darwin, Fisher, etc?

      Erm…Madame Curie doesn’t belong in that crowd? As I recall, she’s still the only person to ever be awarded the Nobel in both physics and chemistry, and only one of a very few with multiple Nobels at all. And she’s got both a unit of measurement and an element named after her — at least the only person I can think of who can make such a claim.

      Hell, she invented the whole damn field of radiometry, coined the term, discovered multiple elements…really, what more could one ask for?



      1. That’s kind of what I mean. All I remember hearing about her in school, (highschool and 2 years of college) is that she and her husband were the first to work with radioactive materials. I think radon, and that yes, an element is named after her, and that she did (she did?) discover many elements. I’m not saying she wasn’t or isn’t important, only that, I really don’t see her work as in the same group as Einstein or some of the other names I mentioned. I’ll read up on her now, but I honestly have never heard Curie’s work praised or touted like I have with Einstein and the like. (except of course, your almost impatient endorsement)

        Though I do admit that although I am going into Biochemistry now, where my knowledge is more extensive (though I admit even that is limited) is in Biology/Evolution. So I can see my ignorance being in part due to the fact that women have contributed more to physics and math than in biology? I don’t know.

        Perhaps I am sounding like a fool, but this really is the first time, not that I’ve thought about this disparity, but the first time that it has bothered me enough into asking why that is.

        Having re-read your comment… Are you saying that the lack of recognition that the general public (and perhaps even scientists or undergraduate students of science) has with regards to the importance that women have had in the various fields of science, is most definitely not the fault of scientists, because they have in fact recognized her work and legacy by bestowing upon her some of the highest honors (nobel prize twice, naming an element) avaliable.

        So if not the scientists’ fault? What is the root of the for the lack of recognition? (because I doubt I am alone, or even in the minority, of undergraduate students or general public, that have trouble naming important females of science.)

        1. My opinion on the matter is that men have always been allowed to experiment and do science, so it has never been taboo for them. And even when the profession wasn’t seen as prestigious or even important, it was still only men that did it.

          Males, in essence, had the monopoly on great ideas and discoveries.

          So my guess is that, in much the same way that females have closed the gap, as far as legacies go, in sports and politics, so too, will women in science.

          But perhaps I am wrong, and the gap doesn’t exist at all, as far as substance goes. But only in the presentation/narration of science?

          Anywho, time for me to read up on Madame Curie. (Now that I think about it, I did already know that she was the first, if not the only, to be awarded the 2 nobels that you mentioned, but somehow it doesn’t compute into my sexist-challenged brain to put her in the same class as the others….why? just because she has never been put into that group before by a teacher or textbook?)

        2. I’m not saying she wasn’t or isn’t important, only that, I really don’t see her work as in the same group as Einstein or some of the other names I mentioned.

          I’d be loathe to put anybody in the same class as Einstein for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which include his rock star public reputation.

          But Niels Bohr? Absolutely. And I think he would have been flattered at being put in the same company as Madame Curie.

          As to the nature and origins of the gender gap in science, I’ll withhold speculation. I’ve encountered many explanations of the years, a number of them plausible, none convincing. I suspect the truth is a combination of factors — and I have no clue whatsoever as to how to go about weighting them properly.



          1. Ok, fair enough.

            And I agree with what you say, with there being a host of explanations for the gender gap in science, with none being completely convincing on their own, though not exactly mutually exclusive either.

            And I’m not saying that it’s a trajedy that there is a gender gap, or that we HAVE to close it. If that’s the way it is, and the reasons are not prejudicial or repressive, then it is not something we can really change, or should even worry about.

            though it does bother me a little bit that of all the science presenters I can think of, (Sir David Attn, Alkalili, Greene, Hawkings, Dawkins, Sagan, etc) none are female.

            I think in the end, I am just trying to justify my 7/10 on the quiz, and instead of blaming my general ignorance and lack of knowledge, I am diverting attention to a problem that doesn’t exist…oh well.

          2. I suspect Marie Curie is probably better well known than Niels Bohr. And in fact than other double Nobel winners like Bardeen and probably even Sanger.

            But I do think the gap is real and problematic. But improving rapidly.

            There was a superb xkcd a couple of months back featuring the zombie of Marie Curie.

  11. I failed: 4/10. What I learned from WEIT and the many posts on literature is that scientists read more literature (fiction) and know more about literature (fiction) than literature majors read science books or know about science.

    Mea culpa!

    1. Hey! Nothing to apologize for. You’re here. Besides, much of what we scientists write is nearly unreadable, even for the folks in the next discipline over.

      Folks like Jerry and Richard Dawkins with a talent for making difficult or complex scientific subjects interesting to general readers are not too common.

      And — sometimes I find literature to be unreadable for me. I was never able to finish “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” for example, and it’s supposed to be non-fiction and very well written. The way my brain works, it’s just not palatable. I probably should have kept going, but I quit.

      All we can do is try to read widely in as many fields as we can manage.

  12. 10/10 with a bit of guessing. Yes, Lubchenko looked Ukrainian. I haven’t a clue who the other two are.

    1. Dialogue from The Man Who Fell To Earth between Thomas Jerome Newton (a Martian played by David Bowie) and Dr. Nathan Bryce (a scientist played by Rip Torn):

      NEWTON: Ask me.

      BRYCE: What?

      NEWTON: The question you’ve been wanting to ask ever since we met.

      BRYCE: Are you — Lithuanian?

    1. I was looking at that last week but got the new Switek, Written in Stone, instead.
      Nature says about the Vermeij “In his far-ranging book, geologist Geerat Vermeij stretches the implications of evolution to all aspects of society, from religion to morality. With a focus on adaptation and using examples from ecosystems around the world, he explains how natural selection has influenced human civilization and underpins our economic system, the development of communities and our attitudes to risk. Only by understanding these forces, he argues, can we prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.”

  13. Only got 6/10, not very impressive but I more often read about their achievements than look at pics, and I’m not that great with faces anyway.

  14. I missed Jane Lubchenco, who I had never heard of or seen before. I didn’t have to guess on any of the others, though, so I’ll take that over a lucky 10/10 result.

      1. I was not suggesting that it was silly to think I should know who she was. I’m not the kind of person who twists my own personal ignorance into a point of pride.

        The fact that I hadn’t heard of her was merely the reason I got that one wrong.

        I like the letter. You can almost imagine the guy reading where she got her initial degree, calling his research complete, and proceeding to make an ass of himself.

  15. 6/10, using 6 guesses. I could have scored 8/10 if I took the first plausible guess going down each list of choices.

    1. Yes – really it is cheating giving a choice. the bare question & no alternatives will stump more people.

  16. 10/10 with a couple of lucky guesses for the two women I didn’t recognize. Stumped me for these extra credit scientists, but the 10 are alive aren’t they? These two aren’t.

  17. I have to say that the photo of scientist #2 above reminds me of Harry Houdini

    Or maybe of Trofim Lysenko:

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