Interview with Charles Murray

David Kelley, The Atlas Society, August 5, 2010.


Kelley: Let’s begin by talking a little about the method and procedure of Human Accomplishment. You employ a method, which you explain very clearly, of measuring accomplishment through the statistical combination and analysis of the judgments of experts in the twelve fields you cover.

Murray: It is a cousin to citation analysis, where you count the number of times a given work is cited in professional journals. But in the case of historical analyses going back beyond the last century, citation analysis isn’t available because we just didn’t have that kind of journal. But you can do a similar thing by combining major histories, biographical dictionaries, and encyclopedic sources of various kinds. What you are assuming in this case is that, whereas historians did not go into their project saying “I am going to give 5.5 pages to Beethoven and 3.75 pages to Debussy,” they do have to take different amounts of space to describe the work of individual people. The driving force behind those different amounts of space is sometimes merely their historical importance, which technically could be independent of their excellence. The other reason that they have to take a lot of space is simply to describe the meaning and nature of this work; and the better the work, by and large, the more space you have to spend describing it.

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