Tag Archives: jerks

Francis Galton could be kind of a jerk

As here (from Hereditary Genius, p. 21)

Every tutor knows how difficult it is to drive abstract conceptions, even of the simplest kind, into the brains of most people—how feeble and hesitating is their mental grasp—how easily their brains are mazed—how incapable they are of precision and soundness of knowledge. It often occurs to persons familiar with some scientific subject to hear men and women of mediocre gifts relate to one another what they have picked up about it from some lecture—say at the Royal Institution, where they have sat for an hour listening with delighted attention to an admirably lucid account, illustrated by experiments of the most perfect and beautiful character, in all of which they expressed themselves intensely gratified and highly instructed. It is positively painful to hear what they say. Their recollections seem to be a mere chaos of mist and misapprehension, to which some sort of shape and organization has been given by the action of their own pure fancy, altogether alien to what the lecturer intended to convey. The average mental grasp even of what is called a well-educated audience, will be found to be ludicrously small when rigorously tested.


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Professor Severi is a JERK!

So I learned from the interesting historical sketch of the big personalities of Italian algebraic geometry in this month’s Notices of the AMS. After Severi’s death, Roth wrote of him:

Personal relationships with Severi, however complicated in appearance, were always reducible to two basically simple situations: either he had just taken offence or else he was in the process of giving it.

He also made a point of jumping to the top of the academic ladder in Mussolini’s Italy, taking advantage of the barring of his Jewish colleagues from the highest positions.  And the Notices article excerpts a magnificently peevish letter he wrote to his student Beniamino Segre, commanding him to add more about Severi’s work to his survey article on the history of algebraic geometry in Italy.

I predict only Steve will know the reason for the title of this post, or at least that it will please no one else so much as him.

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